“Is this customary?” Admiral Thrawn leaned to the side, gesturing for his aide to come closer. Eli Vanto raised an eyebrow.
“Which part, sir?”
“This,” He gestured at the packed and screaming stadium. The tallest boxes were full of Imperial soldiers, officers, and the lower stands were full of civilians. A race track wound around the track and vanished into a dusty horizon, enormous screens hoved at strategic spots over the crowd.
“The Uron race is very popular. It is one of the largest and dirtiest races in the galaxy,” Eli told him. “Weapons are allowed, and the local gang jostle for control. Not to mention, there are always a few daredevil pilots who fly without armor or weapons.”
“Thank you, Eli.” Thrawn watched the screen in front of him, which relayed the camera feed hovering above the line of preparing pilots. He could see the ships, modified and heavily armed, their pilots and gunners stood to the side. “That was not what I was speaking about.”
“Sir?” The admiral nodded to the image the appeared on the screen. Darth Vader was elbow deep in a modified swoop. The pilots in stations near him were eyeing him with every sign of concern and fear.
“Does Lord Vader often participate in these races?”
“No, sir,” Eli Vanto paused, “I think this is new.”
“I see.” Another pilot caught his eye. They were toward the end of the line, the pilot was short and wore what looked like a rented jumpsuit. Thrawn noted that the pilot’s swoop was also rented. “And that pilot?”
“This promises to be a very interesting race,” Thrawn said slowly, as the Master and Commander of the Imperial Navy mounted his swoop and switched his ready light. A second later, the smallest pilot in the line did the same.
“Yes, sir,” Elu glanced to the side. “Do you want to place a bet, sir? Some of the other officers do that same.”
“Betting on a race is a time-honored tradition,” Thrawn said slowly, “I am sure that many of the bets are being placed on Lord Vader.”
“Yes, some of them are a little more obscure. Someone have placed a bet that the little pilot is going to maintain a lead for two laps. There are eighty bets against it.”
“The people have confidence in Lord Vader.”
The screens around the stadium changed to the host, a tall human with narrow features and a pouting expression that filled the admiral with an urge to hit him. Apparently it was an echoed sentiment, because the entire lower stands began to boo at him.
“Greeting guests and newcomers!” The man’s voice boomed around that stadium, echoing through the enormous speakers. “To the 309th run of the Uron race! Today’s race is going the most interesting yet! We have two racers without weapons,” the screen split and showed the form of Vader, who was sitting upright and his arms were crossed. The second pilot was stretching his arms upward and gave a half-hearted waved at the cameras that had probably gotten too close. The crowd muttered as if unsure if they should cheer or not. Officers and Imperials applauded politely. “More racers that you know!” Vader and the small pilot were replaced by a scarred twi’lek pilot whose gunners glowered balefully at the surrounding pilots. Thrawn pegged them as racers for the Tilly gang, spicers with deep pockets. More pilots were shown off.
As the display went on, Thrawn understood how ridiculous it was that Vader was racing without armor. He might not have needed it, given his supernatural skills and abilities. That didn’t mean, Thrawn focused on the small pilot, that that pilot didn’t need more protection. They were either suicidal or arrogant.
“Eli, what do you think of the little pilot?”
“He won’t last very long, sir. Unarmored racers usually don’t last past the first lap. Plenty have tried.”
“I see,” the roar of the crowd surged as the countdown began, music blared from the speakers and the anticipation mounted. Vader finally leaned over his swoop, revving the engine. The crowd continued to shout. The officers assembled in the high box all shifted with anticipation, but didn’t dare make too much noise.
Thrawn, though anticipating it, jumped at the starting cannon. Immediately blaster fire erupted at the starting line. Ships crashed before they even began to race, some were shot up, and some had been sabotaged. Fire and smoke billowed out and from it, five swoops emerged. A gasp ran around the stadium, drowning out the explosions, as Vader was dead second.
The little pilot was first, and in a move that was both dirty and brilliant, cut the Sith Lord off and nearly ran him into the first obstacle. Since it would have killed anyone else, it was a testament to the man’s skill that he swerved at the last second.
“The brat takes the lead!” With a thick black helmet, the person’s face was obscured, but apparently the audience had decided on a nickname. “Nearly ending the illustrious career of Lord Vader. Too bad that man’s as good as a pilot as they come.” Thrawn felt his eyebrows twitch upward as the commenter’s cheerful voice echoed around him. “Alright, the brat’s in the lead, the Sith’s second, and then comes the Uno Gang. LAst years winners because they killed pretty much everyone else at the starting line. Changing up their strategy this year, they seemed to have invested in shields rather than blasters. Let’s see how long this lasts! Alright, the smoke cleared and now we’ve got five left in the race! Brat! Vader, Uno, So’pio, and the truly unfortunate racer that represented the Cardia racing academy. They probably won’t make it!” Thrawn watched the small pilot and Vader weave almost effortlessly through the first few sets of obstacles. This would have killed a normal pilot and it took out the So’pio pilot at the first fire trap.
The race continued, the cameras keeping pace and showing off brilliantly edited shots of the racers. Thrawn had to admit that the whole raced was very exciting. The drama of Vader as second place, and the upstart who had snagged first. He wasn’t concerned with the other pilots.
“I guess I was wrong,” Eli said, “he’s got the lead.” Vader and the newly dubbed pilot ‘Brat’ entered a stretch of seemingly open space. Mostly open plain that disguised the traps that lay within. Instead of opening the throttle and using only speed to take a lead, pilots had to dodge the spikes, the bombs, the explosions, the fire hoses, and water hoses. It was chaos which Vader and Brat navigated with almost supernatural ability.
“AMAZING! Brat keeps the lead, nearly sending Vader into a wall of ice! They’re out of the stretch and into the twists and turns. A race and be made or broken here! Take a lead here and it’s near impossible to lose it! Remember! Bets are final so if you’re regretting not putting one on the kid, it’s your loss! We’re up to lap two!” Thrawn wondered why called it lap two when the track didn’t lap at all. Humans were an odd species though, so he said nothing. “The canyon!”
The canyon was exactly what it sounded like. A stretch of track made to look like a canyon. The racing academy pilot crashed just a few turns in, vanishing into a billowing smoke and fire cloud. Improbably, the boy maintained the lead. It was as if he knew exactly what was going to happen before it happened. As if he’d grown up racing in a canyon. With similar ease though with much greater skill, Vader tailed just a few feet behind him.
“He only needs one little opening,” the commenter exclaimed, “and Vader can take the lead. But this isn’t just a race between the Brat, Vader, so don’t forget that Uno is racing today!”
It was as if that was the signal. Blaster fire erupted around the two unarmored swoops, which swerved to avoid being hit. Screams and horror rose in the crowds as the boy’s swoop was hit, listing to the side and aiming for the next canyon wall.
Thrawn clenched at the arm rests, almost rising from his chair at the tension. Faster than an eye could follow; Vader swerved just enough to deflect the the next bolt with his lightsaber and grab the back of the pilot jumpsuit before he could crash.
It was too fantastical for the audience to comprehend. Silence reigned as people tried to process what they had seen. By now, Vader had tucked the little pilot under his arm, and was racing around the last few corners of the canyon. The Uno pilot had been felled by their own redirected blaster bolt.
“WHAT A CATCH!” The commentator screamed. The audience lurched to their feet as Vader effortlessly dodged the last trap and sped across the finish line. “WHAT A CATCH LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AND THE GENTLE THEMS!” Muttering and cheerings broke out in the Imperial section of the stadium. “WHAT A SAVE!” Vader slowed to a halt amid the cheering crowd which threw flowers and flower pedals on him, as they usually did with the winner. The Sith looked vaguely ridiculous, but he set down the squirming pilot on their feet. The pilot staggered away from Vader and hastily brushed down his front. The cameras were focused more on the Sith, someone had managed to throw a flower crown well enough that it sat on his helmet. Instead of sticking around for the award ceremony, the small pilot scrambled off the stage and into the crowd, vanishing from sight. Ignoring the crowd of regulatory congratulations, Vader followed the progress of the small pilot into the crowd.
“It was a very interesting race,” Thrawn agreed, the chaos around him began to pick up. Since his utter hatred of crowds of humans had not dissipated in the years in the Empire, he left early.
Captain Piett mourned the fact that had had been dispatched by the admiralty to fetch Lord Vader. The man, not occupied with his win or the fawning that followed; had vanished. Through gossip and rumors and the general panic that he could follow, Piett located Vader in the hanger.
He paused at the door, catching sight of the Sith Lord. A second later, a young girl in a pilots uniform appeared. She was shouting indistinctly at the Sith, waving her arms around and then she stomped away. A second later she appeared with a box, which she set on the ground, climbed on and began to shout at Vader at eye level. It would have been hilarious, if she hadn’t been shouting at one of the most powerful men in the universe. Vader gestured just as violently as the girl. Piett wasn’t sure if he should try to interject himself into the argument.
He inched a little bit more into the room, and finally heard their argument.
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR EXCUSE IS! YOU CAN’T STAND THERE ALL SMUG AND STUPID AND GIVE ME A DEAL LIKE THAT!” Piett stared as she jabbed a finger into his chest. “I AM NOT GOING!”
“This is your destiny!”
“No!,” she stepped down of her box and vanished from Piett’s view. “My destiny is to go back to the farm and fix the moisture vaporators. Harvest season is about to start and I can’t be off on a ship! I have to help Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru! I’ve got chores.”
“Your first time on a swoop and you out race nearly every pilot out there and you want to go back to fixing moisture vaporators?”
“It’s what I’m good at!”
“You are good at flying. You are strong with the force! You can be trained to be one of the most powerful person in the galaxy.”
“Well, I don’t want it!” Piett froze, knowing the likelihood that if he was caught then he’d be executed in an instant. “I’ve got to get back to the hotel and leave. Stop bothering me!”
“Little one, you cannot squander this gift.” Vader hadn’t moved, but his voice had taken a dangerous edge.
“I have a name!” The girl shouted, still out of sight, “it’s a very nice name! I’m very proud of it!”
“Then what is it?”
“Luke,” the girl appeared, wiping her hands off, and still frowning. “Skywalker, but you can call me Luke.” Vader froze stiff. Piett wondered what had just happened. “My friends would call me Luke if I had any friends but everyone at Anchorhead just calls me Wormie. I don’t even know why? They just do. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t asked them to please not call me Wormie,” Luke was rambling, and seemed to not notice how shocked the Sith lord obviously was. “They just do. Uncle Owen says not to look too much into it, but I don’t understand why they do it. I have a good name. It’s a strong name too. I mean, I know that Luke is a boys name but my parents picked it out and it’s all that I’ve got of them.” She looked up at Vader, “what’s wrong?” Vader remained silent for a bit.
“Luke Skywalker,” he rumbled. Piett and Luke both sensed his panic and his shock.
“Duh,” she said, “that’s what I just said.”
“Your father was Anakin Skywalker?”
“Yeah, he was a spice navigator. A pilot,” Luke stared wistfully off into the distance, and stuffed her hands in her pockets. “That’s why I wanted to fly.”
“I see,” Vader moved faster than he could see, in seconds he had grabbed the slight teenger and tossed her over his shoulder. Luke was motionless with shock, enough to for Vader to securely grab her legs and secure his grip.
“WHAT?” She shouted, finally realizing what was going on. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“We are leaving, my child,” Vader rumbled, turned around and finally catching sight of Piett. The captain was flabbergasted and confused, staring at the scene with his mouth hanging wide open. “Captain, is the shuttle prepared for take-off?”
“PUT ME DOWN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CAN’T KIDNAP ME!” Luke twisted and squirmed every which way, yelling and pounding her fists on his back. “LET ME DOWN!”
“Yes, sir,” he couldn’t help but stare at the girl. Her bright blonde hair flopped over her eyes, which were a shocking icy, blue. “Congratulations on your win, sir.”
“It is inconsequential,” Vader said, stomping past him, “I have found something far more precious and valuable.”
“Sir,” Piett scurried after the man and the shouting girl, “Sir!”
Thrawn had bought, on impulse, a large and artistically arranged desert from a local food stand. It proved too sweet for his tastes, so he handed it over to now happy aide. Eli had eaten more food than Thrawn had ever seen a human put away and he was now only half-way through eating the desert.
He watch, with horrified fascination, as Eli took another large bite and nearly choke on it.
“You shouldn’t have eaten that so fast,” Thrawn sighed, standing up to help him spit out the food. Eli pointed frantically enough that Thrawn turned around.
It was Vader, a small figure in a black flightsuit hung over his shoulder. They were shouting at the Sith. Captain Piett followed just a few steps behind, looking harried.
“Lord Vader,” Thrawn caught the man’s attention, ignoring the fact that Eli was still choking on desert.
“Who’s that?” The person twisted around and was revealed to be a young girl. Her attention slid from the Admiral, to his coughing assistant. “Ohhh! Chocolate! Bring that!” She pointed at the chocolate as Vader continued carrying her away. Thrawn nodded at Eli as they followed the nervous captain toward the shuttle. As they boarded the shuttle. The ramp began to fold upwards as the crowd took their seats. Vader finally let the girl down, sliding her off his shoulder and setting her on the metal floor. “What’s the big idea?” She took a step away from him, glancing around at the men in the room. “Just because you saved me doesn’t mean that you don’t get to take what you want!”
“Lord Vader!” Piett fluttered around nervously, the girl took a few steps back until she was stood beside Eli. As the youngest of the group, chocolate on his face, and still holding the fairly ridiculous desert he looked the least threatening. “Why would you take?”
“What’s the point of kidnapping me? Are you still sore that I nearly out-raced you? Are you that sore of a looser?”
“Your piloting skills are impressive,” Vader agreed, “keep her contained.” He vanished into the cockpit, tossing the terrified pilot out. The ship rumbled to life and the girl stared around, panicked. Eli, sensing an imminent fight, shoved the desert at her.
“Did you still want this?” He asked. “I think I’ve eaten too much.”
“I,” she glanced down at the desert. Thrawn watched her struggle to keep her panic down. “But what about my aunt and uncle? I have to go home. I don’t have time to be kidnapped!”
“I’m sure we can get this sorted out,” Eli said agreeably as she stared around. “A simple misunderstanding.” Thrawn knew that Eli was doing this to make her calm down. Vader wouldn’t have taken her if he didn’t have a reason.
“I don’t think so,” she said dolefully, picking up the spoon and poking at the mound of chocolate. “How are you?”
“I’m Eli Vanto,” he gestured grandly at a seat, “would you like to sit down?”
“I guess,” she sat down reluctantly and frowned at the group of people, “does anyone know what’s going on?”
“No,” Captain Piett said nervously. The pilot shrugged, Thrawn watched the proceedings carefully. “Miss.” She ignored him, taking a bit of the desert.
“This is pretty good,” she said, turning to Eli. He smiled, hoping to distract her from the fact that the ship was rising into the air.
“I don’t normally eat that,” Eli said, “but it’s too sweet for some and also we were waiting for several hours.”
“Huh,” bit bit more calm, she continued to eat as if she wanted to drown out her fear with chocolate. She glanced around the ship and every imperial could sense what she was thinking.
Luke had regretted eating the chocolate desert so quickly, because now she felt sick. The enormous guest quarters that she’d been shown by a terrified Captain Piett, only looked more inviting as she grew more and more tired.
She’d been up for at least two days now. She’d been working on the farm, sneaking off world to make it to the race, renting an expensive swoop and jumpsuit, racing, nearly dying, getting tracked down by Vader, getting kidnapped by Vader. Eating too much and too quickly.
She sank down onto the couch and watched the door for the appearance of the Sith. He’d promised, threatened, that he was going to be meeting with her again.
Uncle Owen was going to be furious. Aunt Beru was going to kill her. She didn’t think that the race would get her in this sort of trouble. Kidnapped by an Imperial officer and stuck in some fancy room. Half-heartedly she kicked at the couch and closed her eyes
If there was any reason for the kidnapping it was because she was great flyer. She’d almost beat him, she’d been close too if she hadn’t got a blast to the back of her swoop. She was good pilot, and she had wanted to go to the flight academy, but not like this.
Luke managed a light doze, and woke up as soon as the door slid open and the thin gray captain hurried through. He stared for a moment and offered a short bow. “Excuse me, Ms. Skywalker. Lord Vader was unable to make it and sends his regrets. I have brought,” he stood to the side to show a droid with a cart of food, “dinner.”
Piett didn’t want to be delivering food to some strange girl. He wanted to be doing his real job for the Empire, which was running the secondary bridge. She didn’t seem like a criminal, and Vader wasn’t the type for women or men.
She was short and thin, with narrow shoulders, a strong shin, bright blue eyes, blond hair that was chopped short, and she was nearly drowning the black fabric of her flight suit.
“You were eavesdropping. Do you know why he grabbed me like a sac of tubers? I mean? I’m not in prison which is nice, but I still have to call my guardians! Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen need my help.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Skywalker,” he decided to ignore the jab of his eavesdropping, “Lord Vader’s orders are clear. Until he grants permission, you are not allowed to contact anyone.”
“But why?” She was whining at him. Piett blinked, surprised. No one had whined at him since he’d refused to buy alcohol for the kids in the neighborhood.
“It is what he has ordered.”
“But why would he kidnap me?” Luke exclaimed, throwing her hands up. “I’m just a farmer. That’s all!”
“You are a rather fantastic flyer,” he pointed out.
“But then wouldn’t I be in the brig or something?”
Piett didn’t argue, he wasn’t sure what to say. The droid had started setting up the food on the table, and Piett pretended to oversee the process. He glanced back at the girl, who had stomped around the room a few times and then come back to the food.
“Are you going to eat?” Luke didn’t bother sitting down. She grabbed a plate of very expensive and difficult to make meat pastries and ate standing up. Her expression was open and guileless, which was the only way that Piett knew she wasn’t intentionally mocking him.
“No, Ms. Skywalker.” He tightened his hands be his back and stared at her. “Would you please.” She licked her fingers.
“I’d have more manners,” she said, “but I haven’t eaten in almost two days aside from the chocolate thing and I’m really hungry. You sure you don’t want any? There’s no way that I could eat all of this.”
“No thank you, it wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“It’s just eating,” Luke looked over at the door. “Come one, no one is watching us….right?”
“This is a guest quarters,” Piett said slowly, “there are no cameras here.”
“Then be picky,” Luke scarfed down the last of the pastries with a smacking noise that set his teeth on edge. He was about to say something when the door slid open and Lord Vader marched through.
“Leave us,” he ordered and the captain was grateful enough that he missed the suddenly terrified expression on Luke’s face.
His daughter. Vader considered the girl for a moment and wondered if Padme had expected a scene like this. He had never expected a scene like this.
“So what’s the deal?” Under the bravado, he could see her terror easily. “I fly in the race and suddenly you kidnap me? What’s going on?”
He wasn’t sure what to say. Her eyes were so blue. Her hair was so blond. She was so delicate and small.
Vader paused. “Your father was Anakin Skywalker.”
“Yeah, so. He was just a pilot,” Luke looked away, “he wasn’t important.”
“That is for me to decide,” he ordered. She didn’t look impressed. “Who told you he was a pilot?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Who told you?”
Luke dug in, “I don’t know.”
“Do not lie to me, young one. I know someone lied to you. I demand to know who.”
“Lied! What do you mean?” The sudden curiosity nearly swamped him. No one had taught her to shield and she was broadcasting her feelings everywhere. It was how he had sensed her during the race. She had been so deeply sunk into the force it would have made a master jealous. “Who lied to me?”
“Your father was no a pilot,” Vader rushed out. Luke blinked wide blue eyes at him, her guileless expression of total surprise, was almost disgusting. He was fascinated.
“What? What do you mean? He wasn’t a pilot!”
“No, he was a pilot,” Vader hastily corrected.
“But you just said he wasn’t a pilot!” She threw her hands up. “He has to be a pilot! I’m a pilot! He has to be a pilot!”
“Your father was a pilot,” Vader said, booming over her enraged ramblings. “I was intending to tell you that your father was not only a pilot. He was a general during the clone wars.”
“He commanded entire legions of clones.”
“Alright,” Luke ran a hand through her hair, smearing oil onto the blond locks .”Alright. I get the much, but you’re sure he was pilot? 100% sure.”
“Oh good,” Luke shook her head, and turned around. “I was afraid that everything I knew was just about to be thrown out a window! Can you believe it! I almost thought my father wasn’t a pilot! I mean, that’s the whole reason that I wanted to be a pilot! I wanted to fly because he did! I mean.”
“Your father is not dead,” Vader said, cutting off more babbling. He stood still as Luke’s voice trailed off slowly. Petering out like a dying engine.
“WHAT?” The scream was a surprise. Luke whirled around and seized his arms. “What do you mean?”
“Your father is not dead.” He repeated. The absolute attention of such a powerful and emotional force user was almost dizzying. “He lives.”
“WHERE?” She tried to shake his arms, except they were drasteel and he didn’t want to move. “Where is he? Do I have to bust him out of prison? Which gangsters do we have to shoot up? I can shoot up gangsters!” He believed her. She might have only been 16, but her spirit was near boundless.
“Young one.” He tried to placate her, but she would have none of it. She continued to talk over him, excited and furious in equal measure. When he couldn’t get a word in edgewise, he settled for volume. “I AM YOUR FATHER!”
Luke leaned away as far as she was able, staring up at him.
“I am your father.” He repeated.
“I don’t believe you,” she said slowly, staring up at his mask. Her blue eyes roved over his face. “I don’t,” she continued to stare. “My father’s name was Anakin Skywalker.”
“That name no longer has any meaning to me,” he said gruffly. “Do not use it.”
“How can you be alive? How can you be Darth Vader? I am so,” Luke took a step away and pressed her hands to her head. “Okay. I just need a moment. I’ve a long two days and I haven’t slept and I’ve hardly eaten.” She took another step backward and a proceeded to crumple soundlessly onto the couch.
Later, she would blame the fainting on low blood sugar and exhaustion; not shock. Neither her Aunt Beru or Uncle Owen really believed her. Her father certainly didn’t.