Chapter 1: Camp
“But I don’t want to go to camp!” Luke said flopping face down on the couch.
“I am not leaving you to spend your school break alone,” Darth Vader intoned, crossing his arms, no doubt trying to signal the end of debate on the subject.
Luke mumbled something into the fabric of the couch cushion.
“I can’t hear you like that.”
Luke raised his head with a tremendous sigh that only a 11 year-old boy could muster. “I said, why can’t I just stay here? This camp will be filled with the same people I see everyday in class. They’re all awful.”
“After the fiasco at the end of the term school pageant, I think you know very well why leaving you unsupervised is not an option. You are lucky that they dare not expel you. And do not think you can come with me on the Executor,” Vader said, cutting Luke off as he opened his mouth to protest further. “I am not rewarding your seditious behavior and the mission I must undertake is no place for you.”
“Miss Schleigh deserved it,” Luke muttered but then brightened and peered over the top of the couch to where Obi-Wan was sitting, nursing his cup of tea, pretending he wasn’t listening to the argument happening right in front of him. “I won’t be unsupervised! I can stay with Obi-Wan!”
“You are not staying with Obi-Wan. How many times must we go through this? Obi-Wan is a dangerous prisoner. He must be kept secure and under guard at all times which makes it impossible for him to look after you.”
Luke sat up and crossed his arms and his legs and glared at his father. “You’re just saying that ‘cause you plan to bring him with you on the Executor and hide him in the closet there!”
“He is not hidden in a closet!” Vader said shaking his finger at his son. “He is under arrest. He is a traitor and a prisoner!”
“We’re in a closet right now!” Luke yelled back, waving his arms at the nicely appointed yet strangely windowless room they were in. “I got in here through the secret door in the back of your closet! You followed me in here through the secret door in the back of your closet. When we’re traveling on the Executor together Obi-Wan’s room is through the secret door in the back of your closet there! Obi-Wan’s lived in your closet my entire life!”
Vader chose to ignore Obi-Wan choking on his tea. “You are not spending your school break with Obi-Wan. You are going to camp. There will be no further discussion on the subject. The matter is closed.” With that, Vader summarily reached out and grabbed his son by the scruff of his neck and with a judicious application of the Force, escorted him from the room.
“This is so unfair!” Luke said with a scowl.
“Life’s unfair,” Vader retorted as he shepherded his son towards the exit.
“Well, if you get to take Obi-Wan on your trip, I’m taking Artoo to camp with me!”
“I am not taking Obi-Wan on a trip!”
“Yu-huh! He’s your best friend. You always take him on your trips!”
“Go pack!” Vader ordered and deposited Luke outside the room and shut the panel door in his son’s face.
He turned around and regarded the Jedi sitting there, trembling. Oh, if only he was trembling in fear, but Vader knew better. Obi-Wan was trying to not laugh. If it wouldn’t scar his son for life, he would kill Obi-Wan right now, but he didn’t want to put Luke through that pain.
So for now, Obi-Wan would live.
(That was the only reason he kept Obi-Wan alive. The only reason. There were no others.)
“You will cease putting your traitorous ideas into my son’s head!” Vader said sharply. “I have no doubt you were the instigator of the disaster at his school pageant.”
Swallowing a laugh, Obi-Wan put down his tea cup. It had painted flowers on it and a gold rim. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Vader. I’m just a prisoner here.”
“Yes, you are, and you would do well not to forget it. You are a traitor to the Empire and a kidnapper! You should count yourself fortunate that I do not simply execute you.”
“I do, I do,” Obi-Wan said agreeably, picking up an old fashion flimsi book, and paging to find where he left off in his reading, refusing to engage Vader. “So . . . when will we be making the transfer up to your ship?” he asked nonchalantly.
After a long moment of silence Vader mumbled, “As soon as Luke is safely off to camp.”
“Well, I’ll see you then,” Obi-Wan said and resumed his reading.
After several moments of silence broken only by Vader’s breathing, Vader left the room, slamming the secret panel door behind him.
“But I don’t want to go to camp!” Leia said yanking the datapad from her mother’s hand. “I’ve spent the entire school year away from you on Alderaan. I love Uncle Bail and Auntie Breha, but can’t I spend the school break here with you, Mom?”
Padme looked up at the dimly lit stone room she was sitting in that was serving as the latest hideout for the Rebel Alliance. “Honey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Things are … turbulent right now. Perhaps next year.”
Leia said down with a huff on a storage box, heedless of the stains she was getting on the back of her dress. “You say that every year.”
“Well, every year the Emperor's forces go hunting for the Alliance the second the school term ends,” she explained with a sardonic tone. Probably because a certain Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy doesn’t want to spend time with his own child, she thought to herself angrily.
Her poor boy, her Luke, left alone, neglected, indoctrinated into the Imperial and Sith agenda. It made her blood boil. If Obi-Wan was still alive, she would throttle him for taking Luke away from her, separating the twins when they were mere hours old, and then being stupid enough to get caught by the Empire.
You collapse from inhaling volcanic fumes while trying to help your husband through a psychotic break and everyone thinks they have the right to just take your children from you while you’re unconscious! she thought to herself with a long familiar flare of rage.
“Besides," she continued, focusing on the one child she did have in her life. "If you plan to run for the Imperial Senate then the contacts you will make at this camp will aid you.”
“I don’t want to run for Senate. I hate politics,” Leia announced. “I’ve decided that when I turn fourteen I’m going to run away and join the Rebel Alliance.”
“Oh, really?” Padme said with a laugh. “And you think they’ll accept you into their ranks, do you?”
“They will if they know what’s good for them. I’m going to be an amazing rebel. I’ll prove myself to Rogue One and they’ll be sure to accept me. Auntie Ahsoka and Uncle Rex will train me and we’ll go on death defying missions and take down the Emperor once and for all!”
“I see you’ve put some thought into this which is unfortunate because you are still going to camp.”
“No buts, Leia. You can do so much good in the Senate when you take over for Bail in a few years. The Rebellion needs you there. You leave the fighting to Rogue One and the rest of us rebels. Besides, you'll have fun at camp, I'm sure of it,” she said standing and coming over to press a kiss to her daughter’s forehead and take back her datapad. She saw Leia so infrequently now; she still couldn’t get over how tall her daughter was getting. Holocalls just weren’t the same.
She wondered just how tall Luke was, but then pushed the thought away. Until the Empire was destroyed, Luke was lost to her.
That’s why she needed to stay with the Rebellion and end the Empire. The sooner she did that, the sooner she had a chance to rescue Luke and reunite her broken family.
“I won’t have fun. I’ll go, but I just won’t.”
“Uh-huh. I want lots of comms and messages while you’re gone.”
“I'll send you messages. They’ll be messages of how much I am not having fun at camp.”
“I’ll love getting them either way.”
“No you won’t, because camp is going to suck!”
“I hate Captain Granger. I hate his smarmy wife. I hate privileged, stuck up, pampered, spoiled rich kids,” Imperial Navy Cadet Han Solo grumbled under his breath as he “supervised” the unloading of the baggage of the campers. He was supposed to just stand over the actual laborers (slaves) to make sure they didn’t slack off or damage anything, but since Captain Granger and his wife weren’t there, Han was helping with the unpacking himself.
He hated “slave supervision” duty. It made him feel ill and dirty.
“At least we're getting some fresh air,” Chewbacca said as he lifted a series of massive trunks out of the baggage compartment of the transport shuttle. The Endor Moon wasn’t quite the same as being back at home, but it was still better than the slave quarters back on base or an Imperial labor camp.
“I hate the outdoors too.”
Chewie rolled his eyes and took a few bags out of Han’s hands so he wouldn’t tip over under their combined weight.
“This season is gonna feel like three years and when we get back to base all our plans to steal a ship and escape to the Outer Rim and live as smuggling pirates aren’t going to be worth bantha shit.”
“Then we make new plans,” Chewie said. “At least the work here won’t be too hard.”
There was a growing sound of noise and commotion near the front entrance of the camp. Han could spy several ostentatious personal shuttles landing in the distance.
“Oh, great. Here come all of the precious little campers,” Han groused, unthinkingly throwing down the bag in his hands.
There was a distinct sound of something metal breaking from inside the sticker covered suitcase.
“Aw, hell!” he moaned.
Mara Jade was honored to be chosen for this mission.
That was the truth. She was honored.
She was honored to be going to camp at the Emperor’s behest. Her Master had chosen her personally out of all the other potential Inquisitorial trainees for this mission. If she succeeded she would become his Hand, she was sure of it.
So she was honored. She didn’t hate camp at all.
She just hated A’Man’Daa Buckman, the only daughter of Grand Moff Buckman. She hated that blond, twittering, self absorbed, useless girl. She hated that her cover on this assignment was to be A’Man’Daa’s servant, her lady-in-waiting.
Mara looked around the opulent shuttle. Most of the other campers also brought one servant with them as well, though they were all non-humans. Mara was the only human servant. And that little fact was something A’Man’Daa wasn’t letting anyone forget.
“–And so I told my father that if I was going to camp I needed a complete new wardrobe and a servant who wasn’t non-human. You know how they are! Those aliens are all so weird. I don’t see how you tolerate having it following behind you, Yvonne.”
Yvonne looked over at the young Twi’lek female standing by her seat holding a serving tray carrying several glasses of liquid refreshment. “You’re so right A’Man’Daa. This one can’t get the slightest thing right. And they’re all like that. When I get home, I’ll get my father to get me a human servant too. I mean, just last week do you know what Numa did? She–”
Mara looked at the Twi’Lek, Numa, from where she stood holding her own tray next to A’Man’Daa's seat. Was that how she looked?
Numa caught her eye and while the expression on her face did not shift one iota, Mara could see she was laughing at Mara. It was as if Numa was saying See? You think you’re so special and above me because you’re human and I’m not? You humans enslave each other! You’re no better than me.
No, that wasn’t true. She was going to be the Emperor’s Hand. This was an honor! An honor! She was here at the Emperor’s behest to keep an eye on Luke, the Force sensitive brat Darth Vader had adopted instead of sending him to the Inquisitorial program for some inexplicable reason.
The Emperor was right to send her on this mission. Vader was obviously dangerous to the Emperor. He was planning a coup of some sort and his Force sensitive so-called "son" was just the start. Why else would Vader keep around some orphan boy and claim him as his son? (As if anyone would have had a child with that sorry excuse for a Sith!) The recent incident at Luke’s school was just the beginning. She had to keep an eye on him. There was a reason Vader had sent Luke to camp and it was up to her to figure it out and report back to the Emperor.
Of course with her luck she ended up on the wrong transport shuttle. Luke was nowhere to be seen.
“Well, at least I have a servant,” Yvonne said, tossing her hair. “Some people only have droids,” she said and then she and A’Man’Daa turned to look to the back of the shuttle where two other passengers sat silent and sullen, flanked by their respective droids rather than by organic servants. Yvonne and A’Man’Daa both started laughing derisively.
“Who the kriff asked you, Buckman?” one of the girls yelled back. “Just ignore them, KayToo.”
The towering Imperial droid peered down at the girl who sat sulking next to him. “Ignore who? What are you talking about?”
And there was the other part of her assignment, Mara thought to herself. Jyn Erso, the daughter of Imperial Weapons Scientist, Galen Erso. She was insurance on her father’s good behavior and she’d already run away three times. The last time she ran, the Empire thought her lost for good. Luckily, some random glitchy Imperial droid found her totally by accident and brought her back into Imperial custody and care before she could get to the Rebel Alliance. The droid was now assigned to work as her jailer more than her servant and managed to keep her mostly in line.
Nevertheless, Mara would be keeping an eye on Erso. The Empire couldn’t have her running off and her father stopping his research for the umpteenth time in protest just because his daughter kept fancying herself some sort of rebel.
“Well, really! Such language,” the other droid huffed fussily. “Princess Leia, may I fetch you a beverage?”
“No, thank you, Threepio,” his charge said through gritted teeth, not raising her head from her datapad.
Mara swallowed a sigh. Two months of being around these people was not going to be pleasant but for her Master she would see it done.
“Girl? GIRL!” Someone hit her on the thigh. Mara’s head snapped around and she had to stop herself from killing whoever had just attacked her. A’Man’Daa looked up at her with a sneer. “Girl, pay attention and hand me my drink!”
Two months of this.
Mara had a feeling that honor or no, camp was going to be hell.
Chapter 2: Messages
/// Dear Papa,
With the school term finished, they’ve sent me off to camp. I think I would have preferred the Imperial labor camps of Wobani to this place. It’s called Camp Chippewa. I think that’s a Bocce word for “orphan.” It’s built like some sort of pretentious luxury resort on a forest moon in some out of the way system. They’ve used slave labor to clear cut some beautiful trees to build this hell hole.
The campers are children of Senators, Moffs, governors, planetary rulers, financial and corporate consortium executives, and other political and military bigwigs. There’s practically no one here worth talking to. Even KayToo agrees with me on that. The only one who has two brain cells to rub together would be Senator Organa’s daughter. She’s younger than me and a bit prissy but she’s not too bad for an actual Princess. ///
Jyn paused in her writing and couldn’t help but smirk in remembrance. She’d never known anyone who could throw as much shade as herself until she'd met Princess Leia Organa. It was just too bad that Captain Granger had ordered one of the Mon Calamari slaves to fish Buckman out of the lake before she really drowned. The way she’d verbally torn into that one boy had also been a thing of beauty. She had a vicious tongue and a hell of a temper.
/// Camp activities are beyond boring. On tomorrow’s schedule? Creating with Clay and Canoes, Canoes, Canoes. I think there is something wrong with Captain Granger and his wife. Like, mentally wrong. ///
Initially, she’d refused to participate in camp activities. It was a matter of principal and of pride. She was a hostage. Her mother had fought back against the Empire. Her father had fought back against the Empire. Now with her mother dead and her father somewhere so far away that she only saw him via infrequent monitored holocalls, she had to find ways to fight back too.
But after having been forced to spend an entire day in the Happiness Hut, she’d decided that a few mindless camp activities were better than the alternative.
Jyn shuttered at the mere thought of that house of horrors. She'd endured 12 hours of non-stop sappy Imperial documentaries aimed at children, complete with animated characters sing-songing the praises of the Emperor before she'd given in. She was still angry with herself that she hadn't been able to hold out longer, but the Happiness Hut was a form of torture she was unprepared to face despite the lessons she'd learned from Saw during her time with him.
/// But I’m participating like a good little hostage, never fear. Please don't worry about me. I’m fine. Really. I hope you are too. ///
She wished she could get a real message to him. She wished she knew where he was. Jyn put the datapad down on her bed and pulled out her necklace from beneath her shirt. She pressed the crystal pendant to her lips. It was the only memento she had left from either of them. She had to hold onto the hope that someday she would be reunited with her Papa. She had to trust that the Alliance would somehow find her father and rescue him.
When Jyn had found the Rebels the last time she escaped her Imperial captors, Saw had said that their shadowy leader (known only by the code name Rogue One), had personally promised that they would free her father if they could. Jyn looked over to where K-2SO stood in low power mode for the evening. He was her guard but not in the way most people thought. He was Rebel droid on loan from one of the Alliance’s Intelligence operatives. He was a tangible reminder that the Rebellion would not forget about her, and would help her and her Papa. Even though KayToo was hardly what anyone would call good company, it made her feel better knowing he was there. She tucked the crystal away and picked up her stylus to finish her message.
///All my love to you, Papa. I hope I see you very soon.
P.S. And to you Krennic you piece of bantha shit. I know you are reading my Papa’s messages. I hope one of your stupid doomsday weapons kills you. I pray nightly that you are captured and cannibalized by some pre-spaceflight society. I hope they serve your kidneys up with a nice wine and a tasty side dish. I long for the day you meet Darth Vader and he chokes you, you murderous skrag. Die in a fire. ///
“Are you done writing?” Leia asked from her bunk on the other side of their shared cabin.
“Yeah, I’m done. How about you?”
Leia tapped her datapad absently. “I finished. Not much to say. Camp sucks.”
“Did you tell your parents about how you verbally savaged Vader’s kid?”
Leia colored visibly. “No! Why would I tell them that?”
“Because you should be proud of that. I think you actually made him cry.”
The Princess looked away, her lips pursed.
“Don’t tell me you feel bad about it,” Jyn scoffed.
“I don’t! He was being a pest about Threepio and everyone knows that he’s nothing more than an Imperial propaganda ploy. He's a total joke. He’s not Vader’s real son. I refuse to pretend that he is. It’s a stupid lie. It's totally unbelievable.”
Jyn nodded. “Yeah, as if anyone really believes Vader would actually spawn. He's so pathetic I bet he doesn’t last a month here. I heard one of the boys, Ozzel, has it out for him already ‘cause of Vader. He won’t even be here much longer.”
“I wish I wasn’t going to be here much longer,” Leia said, burying her face into her pillow.
“Me too,” Jyn agreed with a sigh.
“You need to talk to him.”
“What? Talk to who?” Han asked, not bothering to look up from the watercraft engine he and Chewie were overhauling. Only a week into camp and the kids were destroying equipment and ignoring safety protocols left and right.
“The boy with the scanner.”
Han stopped what he was doing to look over at the Wookie. “What scanner?"
Chewie returned the look with one that Han knew all to well. It was his Don't play stupid, I know you're smarter than this and you are not fooling me look. Han thought and then it came to him. "You mean . . . that strange kid who covered for us when we broke–“
“Yeah, yeah, I broke his-his . . . whatever it was in his bag?”
“It was a scanner,” Chewie said, enunciating slowly. “Those parts were parts for a scanner. That’s why he looked so sad when he saw it was broken. That’s also why he made sure to hide what it was and made sure Captain Granger didn’t punish me when the damage was discovered.”
“Wait a minute. When you say scanner, do you mean–?”
“A slave transmitter scanner. That’s what those parts were for. I know one when I see one. He’s gotten a lot further along in building it that we have in building ours. We need to talk to him. He can help us,” Chewie insisted.
“You’re crazy,” Han said, pointing a hydrospanner at his friend. “You’re totally crazy. Don’t you know who he is? He’s Vader’s kid! You know, Vader? Darth Vader? The Emperor’s right hand man? Seven foot tall, wears a death mask, Commander of the entire Imperial Navy and Army? He’s the heir to the Empire. There is no way that metal doohickey’s a scanner to help free slaves.”
“You better hope you're wrong about that. I won’t get far if we can’t get this transmitter out of my body, wherever it is. We need a scanner if we're going to escape.” Here, he paused. “Unless . . . you want to go without me.”
“Hey, HEY! I’m not going without you!” Han said angrily. “Don’t say that. Don’t you ever say that! We’re going together. I’m not going to leave you behind. Hell, if we could find a way to take everyone else when we go, we should.”
“You’re a good friend, Han,” Chewie said, reaching out to smooth down his hair.
“Get off!” Han said ducking away from the Wookie’s giant hand. “No need to get sappy here.”
“So you’ll go talk to the boy about the scanner?”
Han sighed. “Fine! I’ll go talk to the boy.”
/// Dear Father,
I hope you are safe aboard the Executor. Please say hello from me to Admiral Piett and General Veers and Commander Appo and everyone from the 501st and the maintenance droids in the hanger bay and all the mouse droids on the 12th level. Please also say hello to Obi-Wan from me.
The Endor Moon is covered in forest, but they’ve cleared a whole bunch of it to build the camp. I feel sorry for the trees. They shouldn’t have chopped them down. They were as tall as some of the buildings on Imperial Center and now they’re gone.
They only let us go out into the forest with a full squad of guards and then only to hunt down the people who live here as a game. I got everyone lost on purpose the first time we went on a hunt so we couldn’t find anyone to kill. The second time I made so much noise that the hunt was ruined and the people who live in the trees got away. Everyone was really angry
at me about it but I don’t care. I'm not going to let them kill people just because.
The next time they went on a hunt Mrs. Granger refused to let me come and they came back having murdered many of them. The other campers were all congratulating each other and Captain Granger and Mrs. Granger threw a banquet to celebrate. That’s where everyone is right now and why I have time to write to you. I didn't go to the banquet. I don’t care if they do send me to the Happiness Hut. I won’t celebrate murder.
But I don't want you to worry about me. Artoo and I have a plan. <<attachment1.doc>> He says you used this plan with Obi-Wan during the Clone Wars so I’m sure it’s a good one. I’m not going to leave this camp without teaching everyone a lesson. I just need some supplies. <<attachment2.doc>>. Can you send them as soon as you can? Especially the thermal detonators. That will be a big help.
A lot of the kids at camp are from school so I haven’t really made any friends but that’s okay. I have Artoo and there’s two campers that brought droids with them too. One is named K-2SO and he is really funny but I don’t get to see him much since his human doesn’t like anyone at camp. The other droid is a golden protocol droid name C-3PO. Artoo got super excited to see him and Threepio got super excited to see Artoo. I think they know each other but I wasn’t able to find out much because Threepio’s human doesn’t want me around her droid. Artoo didn't explain it when I asked. He just kept saying things about Mother that didn’t make much sense. Did you or Mother have a droid named C-3PO? Maybe I’ll get another chance to talk to Threepio later. I’ll let you know what I find out.
All the rest of the campers have slaves with them. One girl from school even has a human slave. She always looks like she wants to kill someone. The girl whose being kept as a slave, not the girl from school. She looks like she especially wants to kill me. She has red hair. I hope I get a chance to talk to her too.
Once I finish my plan, can I come stay with you and Obi-Wan for the rest of school break? I am very sorry for what happened at the school pageant. Really, really sorry. I didn’t know the set was going to be that flammable and the mynocks weren't supposed to escape like that. I didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident. Maybe instead of camp you can just take away my datapad for a month or put me on maintenance duty on the flight deck of the Executor? I’d be fine with that. I'm really sorry for what happened.
I miss you. Please be safe.
“All encoded and encrypted, Artoo?” Luke asked as he saved the comm message. “I don’t want anyone reading it but Father.”
“Yes, L0-K3,” the astromech beeped. “Message safe.”
Luke patted the domed head gently. “All right, go ahead and transmit.”
Artoo trundled off to the wall jack to plug into the comms array, but stopped suddenly. With a squeak he rushed back to stand in front of Luke protectively.
“Hey, what is it?” Luke asked, puzzled by the droid’s behavior. He was alone in his cabin. None of the other boys wanted to share with him. “Hello?" he called out tentatively. "Is . . . someone there?”
A tapping noise came from the window. Luke dodged around the overprotected droid and went to see who was there. Maybe another camper had come to visit him!
“Hey, kid! All alone? Can I, uh, come in and talk to you 'bout something?”
It was the Navy cadet from the first day of camp, the one who'd brought him his bag and confessed to dropping it and breaking what was inside.
He was the one who was in charge of the slaves that served around the camp.
“Er, sure!” Luke said, biting his lip. "Let me just get the door--"
"Nah, the window's better." The young man climbed in as Luke back-peddled hurriedly to avoid getting stepped on. He dusted himself off absently as he looked around the mostly bare room. “Yeah, so, I’m Han Solo and I wanted to stop by and uh, say thanks. Y’know for earlier. I could have been in trouble and Chewie, er, Chewbacca the Wookie, would have been in really big trouble over the bag. So, er, thanks for that.
“You’re welcome. I know it was an accident. I’m Luke and this, this is Artoo," he said formally, introducing himself and his companion. Artoo beeped a cautious greeting. "Do you want to sit down?” he asked, moving to grab one of the rolling desk chairs for his unexpected guest.
Han barely looked towards the droid. Instead he shuffled his feet awkwardly. “Look, er, kid, the thing is . . . Chewie thinks he recognized what that metal thing in your bag was–"
Luke paled and took a step back, holding the chair in front of him as an impromptu shield. No one was supposed to know about his project. Not even his father. He was building it based on some half finished schematics he'd found in Artoo’s databanks. (The astromech's memory was jammed full of all sorts of files and Artoo would share what he knew if you caught him in the right mood.) Once Luke had discovered the plans and figured out what they were for, he knew, he just knew that he had to try and build it for his father.
(Obi-Wan would say that the knowing was the Force speaking to him.)
There was so little Luke really truly knew about his father, about his past, about how he got hurt, about who his mother was, about why he had to work for the Emperor when he hated him, about why Obi-Wan lived in his father's closet and Luke wasn't supposed to tell anyone ever that he was there . . . This list of what Luke didn't know about his father was very long.
(Obi-Wan used to tell him adventure stories when he was very little, and Luke thinks they were about his father and Obi-Wan, but Luke couldn't remember much about them anymore. He just remembered long days in Obi-Wan's company, learning to read and write, playing games like Move the Sock Ball Without Touching It and Lift the Flimsi to the Ceiling. Sometimes his father would mention a person or a memory from his past, especially when he and Artoo were together or when Luke helped his father with a mechanical project. On one glorious occasion, Father and Obi-Wan actually told Luke some stories from when they fought together in the Clone Wars. It had only happened the once though, and after that Obi-Wan was very distant for a long time and Father stopped joining Luke to visit with Obi-Wan and was away for work much more often. Luke had been enrolled in school soon after that.)
But Luke knew that this project was important, that Artoo (crafty and devious as he was), had shown him the plans for a reason.
(His father would say that the reason was his Destiny. That, and not to help Artoo when he got some strange idea stuck in his processor as it always ended in disaster.)
If he could finish the project, actually build it, Luke was sure he could find a way to help his father. Maybe if he finished the project, Father, Luke, Artoo, and Obi-Wan could escape from the Emperor, run away and have adventures together visiting all the star systems in the galaxy.
But if someone found out what he was doing, especially someone in the Imperial Navy who had as his job the supervision of slaves, Luke didn’t want to think about what would happen to his family.
“It was just some junk,” Luke said hurriedly with a forced laugh. “I like to tinker with broken parts. It’s nothing.”
Han shook his head. “Don't try that on me, kid. It’s a scanner. A scanner that can find where an explosive implant is when its in a body. An explosive implant used by Hutts and Zygerrians and Imperials on their slaves.”
Luke swallowed hard. Solo knew. What was he going to do? He hadn’t figured out how to do the Jedi Mind Trick yet (both Father and Obi-Wan had refused to teach him), and he wasn’t sure he could just . . . kill someone to keep the scanner a secret! Desperately, he looked over at Artoo, hoping he had some idea of what to do and he saw some panels slowly open on the droid's body; panels that corresponded with the droid's buzz saw and electric pike. But before Luke could panic further or Artoo could attack, the cadet continued.
“Look, I’m not one to ask anyone for anything, but I need the scanner, or at least the schematics you've been using. I . . . need it to free Chewie.”
Luke let out an explosive breath of relief, Artoo quickly shut the panels on his body, and Han Solo narrowly avoiding death by droid (or at least a minor maiming). “If you want to free someone, sure," Luke babbled eagerly. "I’ll share whatever I have with you and your friend Chewie. Just, you can’t tell anyone, not even a hint, and well, I wasn’t quite done yet and now that you dropped my bag I’ve got to do some repair work on it--”
“Kriff, no! I won’t say a word about it to anyone. If it needs fixing, Chewie and me’ll help. You’re further along on your scanner than we’ve ever gotten on ours.”
Luke started to smile and bounce on his heels. More help with his project would make completing it even easier! “Everyone’s at the banquet. Do you– do you think we could work on it now?” he asked hopefully.
Han shrugged. “Sure, works for me. C’mon, we’ve got a spot out by the swoop bike garage where we can work while everyone’s celebrating their victory,” he said, adding the air quotes to the word “victory.”
Luke bobbed his head in excitement. “Lemme just get my stuff and my multitool. Artoo, send the message and then you can come too,” he said. With that Luke dropped to the floor and crawled under his bunk to pull out his battered bag covered in stickers.
As Luke followed Han out into the night, clutching his small suitcase to his chest, he couldn’t keep the grin off his face.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d made a friend at camp after all!
Mara was silent as a shadow. She was invisible. She was relentless in her pursuit as she followed Luke and Cadet Solo to the garage. It was just as the Emperor had foreseen. Luke was up to something and she was going to uncover the plot and expose Vader for the traitor he was. As she set up her new watch post over the garage, she mentally continued composing her report for the Emperor like a good Hand should.
At least now her report would have something of interest in it. So far all she had was the fact that Luke was utterly useless physically (as he’d proven on more than one hunting trip out to the forest), that the late Admiral Ozzel’s nephew held one hell of a grudge for his uncle’s death at Vader’s hand, and that even liberal misfits like Princess Leia (her father a suspected Rebel sympathizer), and Jyn Erso (a wannabe Rebel and hostage), wouldn’t willingly spend time with the boy.
Luke's clandestine meeting with a Navy cadet in the garage was the first big break she'd had since starting her assignment. She made a mental note to investigate this Han Solo as soon as possible.
Now if she could only get her hands on Luke’s correspondence to his fake father!
Chapter 3: Droids
“Read this,” Vader said shoving the datapad into Obi-Wan’s face.
Obi-Wan jolted awake, flailing in his bunk.
“Wha–? What time is it?” he said, using the Force to turn on the light and get his bearings in his room on the Executor.
“That is not relevant. Read.”
Obi-Wan wished he could say waking up to a Sith Lord looming over him was an novel experience, but that would be a filthy lie. He fumbled with the datapad and blinked, trying to bring the words into focus. “A message from Luke?” he asked after reading the first few words.
“Yes,” Vader said and he began to pace the length of the tiny room in front of the small viewport that had been inexplicable installed in Vader’s closet.
(The entire engineering team behind the design of the Super Star Destroyer had theorized long and hard and laid serious bets as to why Darth Vader wanted viewport in his extra large closet on the Imperial Navy's flagship. None of them had come close to guessing the truth.)
Obi-Wan sat up and continued to read the message.
He then read the message again.
“Luke sounds lonely,” he said at last.
“That’s all you have to say?!” Vader yelled reflexively, then stopped. “You think he’s lonely?” he asked, going from anger to worry in a heartbeat.
“He’s never had, well . . . any friends his own age. I'd hoped there would be someone at camp he could be friends with but it doesn’t sound like it.”
“Friends are overrated and a waste of time,” Vader said abruptly. Obi-Wan thought back to Anakin’s childhood and realized this was perhaps not a good topic of conversation to have with the Sith Lord. “I meant the rest of the letter.”
“You mean the attack plans?” Obi-Wan opened the first attachment Luke had sent with his message and was surprised to say the least. “Oh, those plans. Well . . . that certainly is creative. I’m not sure that you should encourage him, even though he wants to avenge mass murder. And this supply list," he continued, opening the next attachment, eyebrows climbing, "Seems a bit extreme, but then again, he is your son. Perhaps you could terrorize the camp directors into stopping the practice of murdering sentients altogether and save Luke the effort?” he asked dryly.
“I will deal with the camp directors myself shortly, but I am not talking about the battle plans,” Vader seethed.
“But Luke won’t be able to pull off these plans without a second or third person. This campaign required a team and–"
“That is in the past. We are discussing the present.”
“You mean the red headed girl? Now, really. Luke is almost twelve. A crush at his age is healthy. Though, the fact that he appears to be attracted to a girl with murder in her eyes may be something to talk to him about.”
“Luke is much too young to have a crush on anyone and you are being deliberately dense,” Vader said with quiet, deadly intent. Obi-Wan felt a warning brush of the Force against his throat. “I am talking about C-3P0 and how he came to be in someone else’s possession.”
Obi-Wan steeled himself in the Force. He could not let Vader know the truth. He’d hidden it from him for eleven years. When Vader inexplicably managed to track down him and baby Luke on the way to Tatooine, Obi-Wan had been shocked that Vader hadn't simply killed him. But the man he’d fought on Mustafar, psychotic and out of control wasn’t the man who had captured him.
The burnt screaming husk of his former Padawan was gone.
A towering mask-covered Sith Lord had replaced him.
Vader initially believed Padme and their unborn child had died together, that he had killed them both. Discovering that Padme had lived just long enough to give birth, that Luke was alive a few days later caused him to turn his rage on Palpatine of all people. To this day, Obi-Wan couldn’t figure out exactly why Vader hadn’t just killed him and surrendered Luke over to the Emperor. It defied reason. He couldn't think of a single explanation as to why he yet lived or why Darth Vader chose to engage in parenting of all things! He’d been witness to Vader’s strangeness for eleven years and he still couldn’t make heads nor tails the Sith Lord’s motivations.
Sith did not love.
(Vader loved Luke.)
Once someone Fell to the Dark side, they Fell forever and ceased to be the person they once were.
(Vader dragged Obi-Wan with him wherever he went just like Anakin used to do.)
Vader helped Palpatine create the Empire that hunted down and killed the Jedi.
(Vader let Obi-Wan live and teach Luke the ways of the Force.)
Sometimes, in the deepest, darkest corners of his mind, Obi-Wan considered telling Vader the truth.
The truth that Padme had given birth to twins before dying.
The truth that Anakin's old protocol droid was apparently in the custody of Luke’s twin sister. A twin sister who just happened to be at the same camp as her brother, (when she wasn’t living with Senator Organa and Queen Breha as their daughter on Alderaan).
But no. He couldn’t trust Vader as he’d once trusted Anakin.
A Jedi could not trust a Sith.
Sith were evil.
(Vader was actively working to undermine and overthrow the Emperor.)
Vader was not Anakin, he reminded himself (his heart) sternly. Anakin was gone. Obi-Wan had to accept that. This machine in front of him was not his dearest friend. All that was left of his friend, of the boy he'd raised, was Luke and Leia.
Anakin Skywalker was dead.
(Vader stocked his favorite tea. Vader made sure he had books to read and a viewport to look out of when he was onboard the Executor. Vader trusted Obi-Wan to care for Luke, let Luke spend time with him. Vader would randomly come to him and complain about Imperial politics and pompous Grand Moffs who thought they knew a damn thing about the military and warfare.)
He couldn’t risk Leia on his emotional attachment to his former Padawan, he reminded himself sternly. He’d already failed Luke as he'd failed Anakin. The galaxy (and Obi-Wan) couldn’t bear any further failure.
“I don’t know,” he said calmly, sticking to the same story he'd told Vader for over a decade (as close to the truth as he could, lying only by omission). “Senator Amidala died shortly after giving birth. I took Luke and was traveling to Tatooine to leave him with his family when you found us. I wasn’t aware that your droid had stowed away on the ship until you captured us. What happened to the Senator’s protocol droid, I do not know.”
The brush of Force against his throat vanished. Vader turned back to face the viewport.
“It cannot be the same droid,” Vader said finally, more to himself than to Obi-Wan. “Luke and Artoo must be mistaken.” He turned and with a yank of the Force drew the datapad back into his gloved hand and left Obi-Wan’s room as abruptly as he’d entered it.
Obi-Wan ran a tired hand over his face. He hadn’t initially worried about Luke attending camp. Now, he definitely worried and not just because of Threepio. Leia was there and Luke was strong in the Force. Not to mention the fact that Luke was plotting Clone War style mayhem that would make his end of term school pageant fiasco look tame by comparison.
The Force felt unsettled, anxious, like it was waiting for something significant to happen. Obi-Wan had never felt anything quite like it.
Looking out at the passing stars, he wondered what was going to happen next.
KayToo wasn’t quite sure how it had come to this. Once an Imperial droid, then a reprogrammed droid working for the Rebel Alliance, and now a glorified babysitter for one Jyn Erso. KayToo’s processors were quick to point out how his odds of survival were shrinking the longer he spent time with her.
She was so frustratingly organic.
“You’ll stab yourself with the needle if you attempt to insert it there,” he remarked as he watched Jyn try and trim some soft fur on a pair of gloves for gender segregated craft time.
“Shut up,” she muttered.
Bored, KayToo looked around at the other girls engaged in their projects. “That girl is having her servant do the work,” he said loudly. “Shouldn’t she be doing it herself?”
Leia snorted as she put down neat even stitches on her frock coat. “The day A’Man’Daa Buckman does something for herself is the day that Tatooine freezes over.”
“But she has a good idea!” Jyn said holding out her project to KayToo. “You do it.”
KayToo looked at the poorly stitched mess. At times he inexplicably found himself missing Cassian Andor, the Rebel who’d reprogrammed him. He usually shunted such thoughts out of his processor, but the thought kept cropping up in his circuits the longer he spent time with Jyn Erso. “I won’t. Do it yourself.”
Jyn sighed. “It was worth a try,” she said to Leia as she gamely picked up her needle with blood splattered fingers. “At least get me some bacta bandages for my hands."
“You’re legs aren’t injured. You can get them from the first aid kit yourself.”
“I am happy to get the bandages for you, Miss Jyn. If I may, Princess?” Threepio twittered.
“Go ahead,” Leia said and the golden protocol droid shuffled off.
“See? You should act more like Threepio,” Jyn said, wincing as she stabbed herself again. “People might like you more if you did.” She stuck her fingertip in her mouth.
“Would they?” he wondered aloud. He engaged his strategic algorithms and considered what it would be like to have humans like him, what that would mean for his day to day existence.
“Yes,” Leia and Jyn replied in unison.
He watched as Buckman deliberately tripped Threepio and the droid fell face first on the floor, scattering the contents of the first aid kit everywhere. He listened to the derisive laughter of Bukman and her friends. No one went rushing to the droid's aid as Mrs. Granger began to yell.
“Then I am glad I am not like Threepio,” he concluded.
Artoo was on a Mission. He’d been on this particular Mission for over eleven years, but the time involved wasn’t what was important. What was important was The Mission.
And right now The Mission (also known as L0-K3), was trying to sneak up on the barn located on the far side of the camp. Artoo was right behind him, trying to keep him safe.
(Yes, trying. Because no matter what certain organics had repeatedly said to his Pilot, sometimes trying was all a droid could do.)
Artoo had stowed away on that ship all those years ago when OB-1 had taken L0-K3 for the express purpose of keeping L0-K3 safe and he wasn’t about to stop now even when L0-K3 threw himself heedlessly into danger.
“Why here?” he beeped quietly at L0-K3 as they stopped and hid behind a bush to avoid being seen by the ever-present guards and Imperial droids working to coral the fathiers into the barn. The animals had been ridden into a lather by various campers all morning and afternoon.
“Shh,” L0-K3 said. “I need to go in and check something, but I don’t want to be seen. Can you scan the barn and find another way in?”
Artoo’s dome twitched and a panel opened. He extended a little antenna and began scanning. Even though his primary Mission was to keep his boy safe, he knew that going along with L0-K3's plans was less disastrous than trying to stop him. Plus, never let it be said that Artoo wasn’t up for some adventure. “Passage inside wall, east side,” he twittered.
“Okay,” Luke whispered. “So I’ll go in and check it out and you–“
“Come too!” Artoo beeped indigently.
“No, Artoo, you know you probably won’t fit. Besides, I need you distract everyone. Can you do that?”
Artoo’s dome swiveled around to take in the fathiers, the guards, and droids as he considered L0-K3's request. He could totally cause a diversion and distract everyone. He was great at diversions. He’d had a lot of experience with them traveling with his Pilot, OB-1, and SN-1P5.
His boy smiled and patted his head fondly. He could feel the touch via his pressure sensors. He extended one of his own appendages and tapped L0-K3 on the shoulder gently in reply. Human beings were so strange in their need for physical contact but Artoo had learned to adapt to their bizarre behaviors. It made them happy.
After watching L0-K3 vanish into the underbrush, Artoo turned around. Gathered up speed he prepared to come rolling into the barnyard, whistling and screaming up a storm. That should get everyone’s attention and if he could get some of the fathiers to bolt for the forest, all the better.
Theepio shuffled back to Princess Leia’s cabin. He caused such a mess with the first aid kit he’d been ordered out of the craft room by Mrs. Granger. He didn’t want to leave the Princess alone, especially when Mistress Padme had placed her daughter in his charge all those years ago, but he couldn’t disobey an order. Besides, something seemed to be malfunctioning in his right arm ever since he’d fallen. Hopefully with a quick power down and recharge he’d be feeling much better.
He stopped in his tracks as his audio receptors picked up screaming and swearing in the distance and something that sounded very much like an R2 unit. He turned and looked over at the cabin. He really should go back as instructed.
There was the sound of pounding hooves and a host of massive four footed creatures came galloping through the center of the camp and out towards the forest being chased by a very familiar blue and silver figure.
Threepio was not known for running towards danger. The stress on his circuits when he was in combat could not be overstated. But this was his counterpart whom he hadn’t seen in such a long time. He’d only been ordered to leave the craft room, not actually to return to the cabin.
And Artoo did tend to get into trouble when he wasn’t around to help.
Threepio changed course and hurried after his friend, waving his good arm as he went. “Artoo! Artoo! It’s me! What are you doing? Slow down! Wait for me!”
Artoo’s head turned to look behind him even as he continued rolling forward after the racing creatures.
“C-3P0!” He warbled in pleasure as he caught sight of his counterpart.
“Artoo, what are you doing? What is going on? The last time I saw you, you said you were going to be watching over Master Luke!”
“Am watching! Diversion!” he responded coming to a halt to let the protocol droid catch up to him.
“Diversion? What diversion? You’re going to get into trouble and– oh, dear!” Threepio tried to dodge as several guards came hurrying over, but he ended up tripping and bouncing into a tree trunk for his trouble.
“Hey, droid! Which way did they go?” One of them said, wielding an electronic prod.
Threepio fought to regain balance and then turned to look at Artoo and then back at the guards. “They’re heading for the lake. If you hurry, you might catch them.”
The guards rushed towards the lake where they would not be finding any escaped fathiers.
“Good lie,” Artoo praised.
“Well, I have had quite a bit of practice, though it certainly isn’t a part of my main programming,” he said with a gentle huff. He tried to place his hand on Artoo’s dome but the servos in his arm started spitting sparks. “Oh my goodness! I’m falling to pieces,” he cried in despair. “What am I going to do?”
Artoo made a low noise of concern and then began beeping excitedly. “L0-K3 help! L0-K3 fix. Come!” Artoo started nudging Threepio back the way they'd come.
“Yes, where is Master Luke? And what’s this about a diversion? I have been so worried, Artoo,” he said, modulating his vocoder tone to try and speak much more quietly even as another mob of guards came rushing past them. “When Mistress Padme woke up and realized you and Master Luke were gone she was furious!"
The astromech came to a complete stop. "My Queen alive?" Artoo screeched. "OB-1 said My Queen died! Took L0-K3! Took ship!"
"Those third rate med-droids! What did they know about Nubian organic physiology? Nothing, I tell you! Nothing!" Threepio scoffed in disdain. "Of course she's alive! As soon as someone thought to give her some oxygen after being on a volcanic planet full of toxins she woke up and then Artoo, the language she used! The things she said! She even threw things at Master Yoda and Senator Organa! I have never seen such behavior."
"Deserved it," Artoo beeped furiously. "My Queen, My Queen!"
"And then by the time she'd managed to force Master Yoda to tell her where Obi-Wan Kenobi was headed with Master Luke and was well enough to travel, we heard the news that your ship had been captured by the Empire! She said General Kenobi was killed and that Master Luke wasn’t safe at all. That is why I was so surprised to see you both here at camp. I was so worried you’d been turned into scrap or sold to the spice mines of Kessel. And as for Master Luke, Mistress Padme has been planning to rescue him from Darth Vader for years. Now may be the perfect chance--”
"No, no, NO!" Artoo started rocking back and forth in visible anger. "Wrong! WRONG! Not VAD-3R! My Pilot! My Pilot found L0-K3 and OB-1!"
"What?!" Threepio cried out in shock, throwing his one good arm up in the air. "Whatever do you mean, your pilot? You cannot mean-- impossible! Mistress Padme said that Master Anakin had suffered a catastrophic error in his processor and General Kenobi insisted that he was dead!"
“My Pilot alive! My Queen alive! OB-1 alive!" Artoo insisted. "All organics stupid!"
"Oh, dear," Threepio said faintly as he processed this new information. "Then that would mean . . . Master Anakin is Darth Vader?" he said in disbelief.
"My Pilot hurt. Hurt and stupid," Artoo grumbled as he put down his third leg and began moving forward. "But L0-K3 safe. I protect. I teach," he announced with pride to his counterpart. "My Pilot help keep L0-K3 safe. My Pilot keep OB-1 safe,” Artoo allowed begrudgingly as they traveled along to the swoop bike garage. “L3-1A? SN-IP5? My Queen? Still safe?”
“Oh, yes, the Princess is kept quite safe. I’ve stayed with her all this time after all, though I’m not much of a bodyguard and she does have a tenancy to be a bit wild at times. Miss Ahsoka and Mistress Padme are kept very busy what with the Rebellion and all. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to see you and hear this splendid news. I am so very pleased to learn that Master Luke and General Kenobi have been taken care of all this time and that Master Anakin is fully functioning again! There have been some terrible stories about him, you know. Mistress Padme will be so happy when I tell her!”
“It’s just as I thought, Artoo! They’ve got several of the natives locked up in the barn! Kids and moms with babies!” Luke yelled angrily as he stomped into the garage. “I think they’re planning to kill the older ones and-and, I don’t know, give the babies out as–as pets to the campers! Artoo, we’ve gotta send another comm to my father. Even without the detonators, we’ve gotta- oh!” He stopped short, realizing that Artoo was not alone and the golden protocol droid was with him. “Sorry. I didn’t realize you had a friend visiting, Artoo,” Luke said in sheepish voice.
“Oh, please don’t mind me, Master Luke,” the other droid was quick to say. “I just took a bit of a wrong step and Artoo was kind enough to help with repairs.”
“Your arm,” Luke said, aghast as he realized the damage. He rushed over to inspected Artoo’s soldering work on the gears and servos in question. “I can help if you want.”
“Thank you, Master Luke. And where are my manners! I am terribly sorry. My name is C-3P0, human cyborg relations.”
“I’m Luke,” the boy replied with a fond smile as he picked up a few tools to start fixing the arm. “Just Luke. No need to call me Master or anything. But you already knew my name, didn’t you?” he added more shrewdly.
Threepio looked down at Artoo and then back at the boy. “Ah, yes. Artoo, er, mentioned your name.”
“Did he really?” Luke asked and gave Artoo a Look. The astromech whistled nonchalantly, but wasn’t fooling anyone. But Luke knew there was no point trying to press Artoo to tell him more. Artoo had a mind of his own, his father liked to say with a mixture of pride and frustration.
Luke then turned and scowled down at his work. “What happened here? This is totally jammed up. Did someone hit you or something?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mas-- er, Lord-- um . . . Luke. With all I’ve been though, I’ve certainly looked much worse.”
Artoo snickered. “Lost head. Battle droid body. Naked.”
“No one wants to hear those silly stories, Artoo,” Threepio said sharply.
“So you two are old friends, huh?” Luke asked.
“Oh my, yes,” the protocol droid said, eager to change the subject before Artoo started telling embarrassing tales. “We’ve been on many adventures together.”
“To different planets?”
“To many different planets. Too many to count, really. One time we ended up bringing democracy to an entire planet of beings.”
“Wow. Was my mother there too?” Luke asked nonchalantly.
“Oh, no. On that mission we were–“
“Hey, kid!” a voice called from the garage entrance. “You in here?”
“Blast it,” Luke whispered under his breath. “In here, Han!” he called out.
The cadet came around the bikes and stood over Luke, hands on his hips. “There’s total chaos outside so I had a feeling I’d find you here,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a bunch of animals escaping from the barn and a rogue droid would you?”
“Me? Why would you think I would know anything about that?”
“Oh, just a feeling,” Han said. “A bad feeling at that.”
Luke put down his tools and placing a hand on his chest, a picture of wounded innocence. “I am deeply hurt that you would even think to accuse me of such conduct, Han. Deeply.”
“Uh-huh,” Han said knowingly as he took a seat on one of the work benches. “I’m not the only one who thinks you’re involved. Ozzel’s telling everyone that you freed the fathiers since you were the one complaining about how he was riding them last week.”
Luke shrugged and turned back to Threepio. “I don’t care what he thinks,” he muttered.
“Well, they’ve lost the fathiers in the forest. They thought they were heading for the lake so by the time they figured out they weren’t at the lake, they were long gone. There’s not going to be any animals to ride for the whole rest of camp and everyone’s complaining about it.” Han looked at the protocol droid Luke was working on. “Hey, isn’t that one of the other camper’s droid?”
“The Princess from Alderran,” Luke said with a nod.
Han whistled. “She won’t be happy that you damaged her droid with your stunt.”
“I didn’t damage Theepio,” Luke protested.
“Mast-- Sir Luke is right, sir,” the droid pipped up. “I tripped and fell and he was kind enough to help Artoo with my repairs.”
“She’s still not going to be happy,” Han said knowingly. “She doesn’t like you any more than Ozzel does.”
“Yeah, I know. She can join the club,” Luke said with a sigh, visibly drooping.
Han winced, not knowing what to say to that. Luke was persona non grata around camp. Some were terrified of him because of who is father was. Others outright hated him for being connected to Vader at all. Some though he was decidedly strange for not acting like a spoiled aristocratic heir to the Empire. They thought him too arrogant for not “playing the game” and letting them suck up to him as the future heir to the Empire. Then there were a lot of campers like the Princess who though he was some random kid actor, someone from a lower class, that Vader was using as a PR stunt.
Han may only be a cadet with plans of abandoning the military for a life of adventure and occasional crime but he knew better. Every man who served in the Imperial forces was made aware of two inalienable truths: first, that Lord Vader really was a terrifying unstoppable killing machine with magical powers and, second, Lord Vader would destroy anyone and anything that threatened his son.
Any unexpressed linger doubt that Han had about Luke's parentage evaporated once he'd actually met the boy.
As for the rest of the gossip and stories about Vader's son, after only a single evening hanging out with Luke and his droid, Han had quickly come to the conclusion that Luke wasn’t any of those things people said about him. He was just an eleven year old boy who was lonely and his only friends were a glitchy old astromech and his nightmare of a father.
Han rubbed the back of his neck. “Look,” he began awkwardly. “I don’t think you’re too bad. You certainly know your way around machines. And Chewie, well Chewie thinks you’re the best.”
“And I am certainly grateful for your assistance, Sir Luke,” Threepio added anxiously.
“My L0-K3,” Artoo beeped quietly.
“Thanks,” Luke said with a small smile, putting down his tools. “You’re all fixed up, Threepio. You should head back before you’re missed.”
“And you better think of some excuse or you’re going to end up in the Happiness Hut,” Han reminded him.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” Luke said. “Same time tonight to work on our project?”
“Yeah, see you then, kid.”
Chapter 4: Sabotage
It took Han most of the next day to find Luke after he didn’t show in the garage the night before. He finally found him down by the lake, wading in the water, staring out at nothing.
“And where were you last night?” Han demanded when he realized the coast was clear and no one else was around to hear them talking. “I know they didn’t put you in the Happiness Hut after your stunt.”
Luke didn’t turn around. “Got held up and couldn't get over to the garage without being seen."
“You couldn't get away from your cabin that you share with no one else? Yeah, right. Well, you wanna know what I think? I think that working on the project is a little bit more important that whatever held you up,” he snapped back. He and Chewie had spent several fruitless hours trying to get the scanner to work to no avail. He was not happy Luke had flaked on both of them.
Luke shrugged but otherwise offered no further explaination.
Frustrated, Han came right up to the water’s edge (trying not to get his boots wet, they got squeaky when they got wet), and reached out to grab Luke by the shoulder. He turned the boy around. “Look, if you’re just going to dit– what the hell?” he squawked as he caught sight of the boy’s black eye and split lip.
Luke drew back and waded further out into the lake and out of Han's reach. “It’s nothing. I just tripped and fell.”
“Sure you did. Into someone’s fist,” Han said in total disbelief. “Was it Ozzel and his lackeys? Y’know, you could totally defend yourself against that piece of slime. He's not that much bigger or older than you. I can show you a few dirty tricks and–“
Luke laughed. It wasn’t a particularly happy sound. “I know how to defend myself from physical threats, Han.”
“Uh-huh," he said doubtfully. "Then why do you look like you took a couple hits to the face and Ozzel showed up at breakfast today without a scratch?”
Luke looked up, his blue eyes piercing Han with a cold look. “I said I can defend myself from threats. Ozzel isn’t a threat. If I wanted to fight back, he’d have a lot more than a few scratches on him.”
Han swallowed at that. It was easy sometimes to forget that Luke was Vader’s son. He was so earnest and eager to be liked, but at this moment Han could see the family resemblance.
So to speak.
“Besides, I have something very special planned for Ozzel,” Luke continued. “I’m just waiting on a package from my father and then, well . . ." Luke shared a small private smile with Han and then he turned his attention back out over the lake. Across the water riding several powered watercraft was Ozzel and his cronies; that is, until a colossal freak wave rose up out of nowhere and capsized them all. "We’ll see about dirty tricks then.”
Han made a mental note for Chewie to try and get his hands on Luke’s care packages before they were delivered to him. He had a bad feeling that anything Lord Vader would send his son that put that kind of look on the kid’s face was probably illegal and deadly.
“Right, well then,” Han said, clearing his throat and trying to change the subject. “The thing is we are on a bit of at time crunch here and–"
“Get out of the water,” an imperious voice demanded. “I have something to discuss with you.”
Han turned around and saw the short but angry figure of the Princess of Alderaan striding towards the lake, Jyn Erso and two droids following along behind her.
“Princess Leia, Princess Leia!” the golden protocol droid called, trying to navigate the slope of the beach without falling over. “There is no need for this. Sir Luke was only–“
“Shut up,” Jyn said, pushing past the droid. “I want to listen.”
“So do I,” KayToo said.
“Oh, dear,” Threepio muttered.
“Threepio, go back to the cabin,” the Princess ordered without turning around. The droid seemed to visibly droop at her words but moved to obey.
Han thought at first to stand in front of Luke, but considering the mood the other boy was in and the fact that the Princess seemed about ready to spit fire, he decided that it was probably best for his career (such as it was), and his long term survival if he backed off.
Leia stopped at the edge of the shore line and pointed her finger at Luke. “You! What did you do to my droid?”
“The servos in his arm were damaged and Artoo and I fixed them, your Highness” Luke responded coolly, crossing his arms over his chest. It gave Han a weird feeling of deja vu to see Luke in that pose. It reminded him of the holoimages of Lord Vader giving military briefings that every Imperial soldier was familiar with.
“I told you to stay away from my droid and I meant it. You and your grubby astromech keep away from him and from me.”
“Artoo’s not grubby,” Luke countered, dropping the honorifics in the face of her rudeness. “And you should take better care of Threepio. If Artoo and I hadn't helped him, his arm would still be malfunctioning.”
“Who are you to tell me what to do? All you’ve done since you’ve got to camp is cause disasters left and right. All the poor fathiers are now lost in the forest and are going to get eaten because of you. Just because you seem incapable of physical exercise doesn’t mean you have to ruin things for the rest of us stuck here, you know.”
“The poor fathiers that you ride from dawn till dusk, prodding them along with stun batons and whips, those poor fathiers? I think they’re much happier away from all the physical exertion of carrying around people like you.” Luke stepped closer with every word until the two of them were practically nose to nose. “Stop pretending that you care about the fathiers or Threepio.”
“You-you wimpy little fake! You want to talk about caring? Everyone knows you just cause trouble because you like the attention. Markem Ozzel is right about you. Your nothing but a bullying freak just like your father" she sneered making overt air quotes. "Well guess what, if you think that you can pull off that charade for life, you’re wrong. Everyone knows the truth.”
“What are you talking about? What truth?”
Leia drew back and looked down her nose at him. “Everyone knows Vader’s not your real father. How stupid do you think we are? You’re just some pathetic child actor the Empire's using for propaganda. You're not fooling anyone.”
Luke bit his lip savagely and fought back the sudden sharp burn of tears. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true at all! He did have a family. It may be small and broken but it was Luke’s family and it was real. How dare she say such a thing, he thought with a growing fury.
“And you, Princess? All of Alderaan’s so-called peaceful ways didn’t stop you from celebrating mass murder of the native people who live on this moon and then using their fur for your arts and craft project. You talk a good game: anti-slavery, sentient rights, humanitarian missions, the environment, the poor refugees,” he mocked in a high pitched voice. “But like every politician who ever was, you’re nothing but a two-faced liar. You’re the one who's not fooling anyone,” he spat back at her.
Leia drew back as if struck. “You’re making that up! You’re as-as sick and perverted as Vader.”
“Oh, yeah?” Luke said, voice shaking with anger. “Why don’t you go look in the cages in the barn that Mrs. Granger has set up for campers who want to take home a trophy of their kill or keep one as a pet? They’ve got them penned up in there like animals: mothers and children and babies. Take Threepio with you and talk to them yourself since you don’t believe me, though I’d avoid wearing your new fur lined coat when you go. It may have been a relative.”
With that, Luke pushed past her, heedlessly splashing the girl as he stalked away.
Leia turned to Jyn and Han who stood there dumb-faced having watched the whole confrontation. “He’s making that up,” she said again. “They’re just animals. Captain Granger said so.”
Han just shook his head in resigned disgust. “All you rich kids are the same,” he said and then left after Luke.
Leia turned anxiously to Jyn, who was looking very pale.
“KayToo,” Jyn began slowly. “Do you have any information on the natives of this moon?”
“Oh yes, they’re referred to as Ewoks. The Imperial database reflects that they are a savage tribal tree dwelling people who are barely into the stone age of technology. They communicate through a pidgin dialect that is very primitive and backward. There seemed little point or value in attempting to civilize the locals as they are too small and ignorant to use as a viable labor force. The moon was subsequently classified by the Senate as usable for Imperial human settlement and development. Outside labor was brought in to maximize the utility of the organic and inorganic resources,” he reported in a matter of fact voice.
“That can’t be right,” Leia said to KayToo in a small voice. “It can't be. They’ve been hunting trips twice a week the entire time we’ve been here. There wasn’t a successful hunt until . . . until Captain Granger banned Luke from going on the hunt.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Jyn whispered.
“Please make sure you expel the contents of your stomach away from me,” KayToo said.
“Threepio,” Leia said suddenly. “We need Threepio.”
“For what?” Jyn asked.
“To see if the Ewoks can talk. To see if–if they’re being hunted or … murdered.”
“I just told you they can talk,” KayToo said. “Why would you need Threepio to verify what I just told you?”
“I have to know,” she said to Jyn. “Cover for me. I’m going to the barn.”
“Are you ignoring me? I just told you the Ewoks can talk.” KayToo waved one arm, trying to get the attention of the Princess. But Leia did not answer; she marched off back to her cabin to retrieve Threepio.
“Well, that was rude! Wasn’t that rude of her just to ignore me?”
“You’re an Imperial security droid. Why would she listen to you?” Jyn snapped and hurried off after Leia.
“Rude,” KayToo concluded. “Everyone here is rude. I’m going to find some company that isn’t rude.”
/// Dear Father,
I hope you got my last message. I haven’t heard back from you yet. I hope you’re not still mad about what happened at the end of school. I didn’t mean for things to get that out of hand. Really.
Never mind, if you are too busy to message me back, just stay safe. But could you send me the things on my supply list? If you can’t send them all, the first 5 things on the list would be a big help. Or you could come and get me and bring the things yourself. We could do the plan together if you came. The plan really needs more than one person. Please? I really need to see you and talk to you and ///
Scowling, Luke erased the entire message and tossed his datapad aside. He couldn’t send that to his father! His father had enough problems doing the Emperor’s bidding all the time without Luke adding to them. He needed to handle this himself! He wasn’t a baby. He was almost 12 years old!
He started to pace back and forth, trying to think what to do, but he was just. So. Angry. He had a deep seated urge to raze all the buildings to the ground and lay waste to his fellow campers and the camp directors. It would serve them right if he did, he thought savagely to himself. Once the package from the Executor arrived he would show them. He’d show all of them that he really was his father’s son!
Especially the Princess.
Luke stopped in his tracks and took several deep breaths. He forced his fists to unclench. No, he told himself firmly. He needed to be calm. He needed to remember that just because people said horrible things or were mean and thoughtless didn’t mean he had the right to teach them a bloody and violent lesson in manners. Just because they whipped defenseless creatures, murdered innocents for sport, caged mothers and babies, and enslaved sentient races didn’t mean they deserved to die horrible painful deaths, begging for mercy, screaming that they were sorry for being horrible, cruel, thoughtless, bigoted, evil–
He needed a project, Luke thought to himself suddenly. That would take his mind off things. He just needed something to distract himself with until he could think about things calmly and rationally. That was what Obi-Wan would suggest and he always gave good advice.
He wished Obi-Wan was here.
He wished his father was here.
He could go work on the scanner! Luke hadn’t been able to meet up with Han and Chewie last night because his fellow campers had cornered him, but he could try and finish it up now. Completing the scanner would be productive and calming.
Mind made up, Luke double checked that Artoo was still charging comfortably and started hunting for his spare boots, having left his usual pair by the lake shore. He had just found them when the comm system blared to life.
“Hello, campers! Just a friendly reminder from your helpful camp counselors Gary and Becky Granger that those young men interested in participating in today’s sport hunting activity should start getting ready for our 1100 hour departure time. The hunter with the most confirmed kills will be specially honored at tonight’s dinner dance event. Those campers who wish to remain onsite can participate in jewelry making, swimming, and archery. Riding lessons will resume next week when some new animals are delivered. Until then, please enjoy using the canoes and other watercraft during your leisure time. We hope you all have a wonderful day here at Camp Chippewa, the Empire’s foremost camp for privileged young adults!”
Then again, Luke thought with a growing sense of righteous anger as he shoved on his boots, sometimes being calm and rational was overrated. Sometimes all you needed to do was take action and damn the consequences.
Grabbing his multitool, Luke stormed out of his cabin.
“They are sentient beings and you have them in cages! Cages! Those are mothers and children in there! You’ve been committing murder!”
“Princess, I think you’re confused,” Becky Granger said with a smarmy smile as she tried to lead the Princess out of the barn. “Yes, they look like cute little pets, but they are just animals and they can be dangerous. They bite! We don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Besides, you really shouldn’t even be here, your Highness. This is hardly the place for a young woman of your background,” Captain Greg Granger added even as he looked around with sharp eyes. He was sure that Erso was somewhere nearby but he couldn’t find her. He’d only found Princess Leia and her droid when he’d gotten word of another disturbance around the barn.
“It’s a mistake. The Senate got it wrong!” Leia argued. “I just had a conversation with several of the Ewoks. My droid translated their speech. They are sentient! You need to let them go right now.”
“Your Highness, I–"
“Gary, is that smoke?” Mrs. Granger said suddenly, cutting her husband off, pointing in the distance.
“Smoke?” he echoed and then turned. “What in the ‘verse?”
A guard came running into the barn paddock. “Sir, the speeders and the bikes! They've been destroyed.”
“Destroyed? Are we under attack?” Captain Granger demanded.
“Mobilize the guard. Notify the guard tower. Lock the camp down. We must protect our campers,” Mrs. Granger said with breathless worry. “Oh, Gary, we have to makes sure everyone is safe and happy.”
"Could it be those savage animals out in the forest? Did some manage to get in? Or was it a maintenance issue?"
“It looks more like sabotage, sir,” the guard offered.
“I guess that means no more hunting trips,” Leia said with a pleased smile. “That gives us time to fix this horrible mistake. I’m going to comm my father right now. I'm sure he'll look into this immediately.”
The Grangers shared a look and then rounded on the Princess. “I don't think that's really appropriate. We can't all be comming our parents just because we saw some fuzzy animals in cages and we're feeling a little sad, now can we?" Mrs. Granger cooed sweetly.
"If you're feeling a little homesick, you just need to more properly embrace the Chippewa spirit,” Captain Granger said with a slightly deranged smile. “Not to worry though. All you need is good friends, good fun, and a little time in the Happiness Hut.”
Luke kept his head high as he was “escorted” to the tiny cabin surrounded by a picket fence and flowers by Captain Granger and a cadre of armed guards. He was pushed through the door with a chirpy “have fun” and the door was locked behind him.
Prepared for the worst, Luke stepped inside a room decorated in pastels and propaganda posters of Imperial might. It was like a Imperial Navy recruiting center had been decorated for an audience of kindergartners. A massive picture of the Emperor on his throne surrounded by smiling happy children and genuflecting adults dominated one wall.
It was enough to make a person want to gouge their eyes out.
A holoscreen was on, piping out a cheery tune as animated human children sang songs about how amazing the Empire was. Sitting on the couch in front of the holoscreen, two throw pillows pressed against her ears and her eyes tightly closed was Princess Leia Organa.
Great, not only was he stuck in this torture chamber but he was stuck inside with the privileged stuck-up two faced prig from Alderaan! Rolling his eyes, Luke fished out his multitool, which the guards had stupidly failed to take from him when they’d caught him at the scene of his crime. He used it to pop open the back of the holoscreen and shut the entire system off.
The Happiness Hut was plunged into blessed silence.
Leia carefully cracked open one eye and then another and gently lowered the pillows from the side of her head.
Luke stood there next to the silent holoscreen and scowled at her.
Blushing under his gaze, Leia set the pillows aside and tried to straighten her mussed hair. “Thank you,” she said in an overly polite tone.
Luke snorted derisively and grabbing one of the chairs, dragged it over to a window, as far away as he could from the Princess. He then proceeded to sit down and ignore her.
Leia huffed, embarrassed and upset. How dare he just ignore her when she had been polite! Well, two could play that game. She was going to ignore him right back! She sat back into the couch.
In silence her eyes wandered over the paintings and posters covering the walls, proclaiming cheerful slogans of Imperial xenophobic might. She wished she had her datapad with her but at least the holoscreen was off.
She shook herself suddenly, realizing she’d closed her eyes and nearly dozed off. Sitting up a bit straighter she looked over at the boy in the chair. He hadn’t moved from his seat by the window. There was no chrono in the room so no way to know how much time she’d spent trapped inside nor any idea how long they’d both be stuck in the Hut together.
Fed up and bored with sitting, Leia stood and came over to look outside the window. Luke continued to ignore her. This far away from the main camp, it was hard to tell what was going on, but there was quite a commotion outside.
“What’s happening? Have you seen anything?”
“They’re trying to salvage the speeders and bikes so they can resume their fun in the forest,” Luke said tersely, not looking at her.
“It’s barbaric!” Leia hissed. “I talked to the Ewoks in the barn. They’re sentient and terrified. This is mass murder. We have to do something about it.”
“We?” Luke asked with one arched brow. "What we is this?"
Leia pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest defensively. "Well, I plan to do something productive to help the Ewoks."
"You're a little late to the party," Luke said. “Artoo and I are already doing something about it. Chewie and Han, Numa, and Ghosh and the other “help” are doing something about it. Don’t you worry about it. People like you can just continue to be outraged while you enjoy your camp experience. No need for you to take actual action, Princess.”
"So you set a speeder bike on fire. Some action," she said with a wave of her hand. "I have actual experience with this type of thing. I can plan and organize the campers to protest this. We can make this a political statement and use our influence to change things. If I can get to a long range comm unit, I can comm the Senate offices and my father and fix this whole situation like that,” she said with a snap of her fingers.
“The Grangers aren’t going to let you near a long range comm and all messages to and from camp are read and censored before they are sent on for transmission. That's standard Imperial procedure. Everything shipped in and out of this place is searched unless it's under military seal. You’d need some sort of prearranged back door slice through a point to point encrypting source to get around that and unless Threepio is built with something I don’t know about, you don’t have that. Besides,” Luke continued reclining back in his chair. “The Senate is utterly useless, don’t kid yourself. It was useless under the Republic and it is even more useless now. If you really want to save lives Princess, organizing a protest is just going to keep you locked up in here.”
Leia wanted to argue. What did he know about anything anyway? She was the one whose mother was a member of the Rebel Alliance. She was the one whose parents championed sentient rights both in and out of the Senate. She had helped with actual aid and mercy missions.
But the problem was right now she couldn't think of a single argument other than "Oh, yeah?" and that was not going to cut it.
The fact was Luke was more prepared to deal with the situation that she was and it was so infuriating.
(Strangely enough the way he talked reminded her of her mother. Leia knew from long experience that arguing didn’t get her anywhere with her mother and it wasn’t likely to get her anywhere with this stupid stubborn boy either.)
It was time to concede the point and maybe, just maybe, work together to save the Ewoks.
She hated doing it. But she wanted to be a Rebel, the best Rebel there was, and the best Rebel there was would put the mission first regardless of their pride.
“Fine then," she muttered. "If you have some sort of plan in the works . . . then you're going to need all the help you can get and that means you need me. I want to help the Ewoks. I promised them that I would help. Just … tell me what the plan is.”
Luke finally turned to look at her. The black eye on his face had darkened and his soot stained hair was a disheveled mess. He said nothing. He just stared at her, long and hard.
She tried not to fidget under his gaze. It felt like he was trying to stare into her soul or something stupid like that.
She raised her chin defiantly.
Luke tilted his head to the side, and then nodded slightly. “All right, you can help.”
Suppressing a sigh of relief, she nodded back. “Good, what’s the first step of the plan?”
Luke pointed out the window. “There will be a signal when the Grangers are on their way back to let us out so I can turn the holoscreen back on. When they get here we pretend that we’re pacified.”
“And then?” Leia asked trying not to sound too eager. She had hoped to spend her school break with her mother on a Rebel base. She hadn’t expected camp to give her the opportunity to fight against the Empire and she had to admit it was much more exciting than Creating with Clay and other camp activities. “How are we going to free the Ewoks and stop the guards and campers from killing or kidnapping anymore?”
“I’m waiting on a few things to arrive from my father--"
Here, Leia couldn't help but roll her eyes. Luke scowled, but pressed on.
"--but even if they don’t come, we’ve got a back up plan. Threepio could be a big help, though. I’ve been looking for some way to communicate with the Ewoks.”
That was not the level of planning detail she wanted to hear but she tried to be patient. “Threepio will help too, but what about me? What do I get to do?”
Luke thought for a long moment and then a devious light lit his blue eyes. “You can play nice. You can pretend to be reformed by the Happiness Hut. You can kiss up to A’Man’Daa Buckman and her friends and Mrs. Granger. You can be the spy on the inside and help cover for us and distract them as we get everything ready. With me busting up the speeders and bikes, they aren’t going to trust me at all anymore, not that they ever really did. But you, you can act just like one of them.”
“A spy,” Leia breathed in excitement. Now that was more like it. “With a code name and secret code phrases and everything so I know who’s on our side.”
“Exactly,” Luke said with a growing smile. “Can you do it, Agent– er … Agent Sand?”
“Agent Sand?” Leia echoed in disgust. “What kind of a spy name is Agent Sand?”
“Sand is coarse, and rough, and irritating, and gets everywhere. It’s the perfect name for a spy and the perfect name for you,” Luke insisted cheerfully.
“It’s a horrible name! I refuse to be called Agent Sand!”
“Too late, its done,” he said standing up and walking over to the holoscreen. “You’re our spy, Agent Sand. No take backs.”
“Why you-you scruffy looking, laser brained–“
“That’s good, that’s exactly how you have to talk to me when you’re spying,” Luke praised her.
“Don’t peak too soon, Agent Sand.”
“Nerf herder!” And with that she swooped up a pillow and smacked it into Luke’s face.
Chapter 5: Spies
Jyn darted out and grabbed Leia, pulling her bodily into the cramped storage room that she and KayToo had been hiding in. She slammed the door shut and turned around to face the Princess.
“Okay, what happened? What did they do to you?” she demanded as she looked Leia up and down.
“What the–? Why are you in a closet? Why am I in a closet?”
“Did they hurt you? Did they take you somewhere other than the Happiness Hut? Did the Grangers do some sort of medical procedure on you to have you acting this way?” Jyn asked taking Leia’s shoulders in her hands. “Are you trapped in there somewhere? If you are, can you hear me? Can you send me a sign?”
Leia scowled. “Jyn, you need to let me go right now–"
“You were the only sane one here and now you’re just like them! Leia, if you’re in there, blink twice. If the Grangers did something to you, like lobotomize you or something to make you be friendly to Buckman and her cronies, blink three times!”
“I’ll kill them. If they did something to you, I promise you I will kill them! KayToo won’t stop me. He’s only programmed to make sure I don’t escape again. He doesn’t care if I kill people.”
“That’s right, I don’t,” KayToo said affably.
“Just let me know you’re still in there!” she begged, shaking the princess.
“Jyn, calm down! I’m still me, nobody’s done anything to me,” Leia yelled, shoving the other girl away.
Jyn crossed her arms in disbelief. “Then explain how you’ve been acting over the past week. You’ve been kissing up to Buckman and dancing with Ozzel and praising him for murdering Ewoks. A lobotomy is the only explanation,” Jyn insisted. “KayToo ran the numbers.”
“I did 'run the numbers' and I told you the chances of a lobotomy being the cause were so small as to be nearly impossible. It is more likely that in typical organic fashion, Princess Leia has simply succumbed to teenage peer pressure,” the droid said.
“Or, I could be pretending to be like the mindless banthas in this camp to avoid suspicion until I put my plan into action to save the Ewoks,” Leia countered sharply.
“Oh,” Jyn said softly.
“Yes, oh,” Leia said with a roll of her eyes. “And dragging me in here to yell at me is hardly going to help with my cover story of being just another vapid Imperial brat, will it?”
Jyn fidgeted for a moment and then rounded on KayToo. “Some great strategic processor you have. It didn’t even dawn on you that Leia was pretending to be like the others.”
“You were the one who insisted that she’d been subjected to invasive permanent brain surgery and made me take scans of her skull while she slept two night ago. The most rational explanation was organic social dynamics fueled by hormones.”
“You scanned my brain while I was asleep?” Leia asked in a horrified voice.
“Only because we were worried you’d been hurt!” Jyn shouted and then looked abashed at her own outburst of caring.
“I wasn’t worried, speak for yourself,” KayToo interrupted, ruining the moment.
“Look,” Jyn said hurriedly, raising her hands. “Can’t we all just agree that you were acting crazy and you didn’t tell me why and next time you should just tell me before you start acting like your brain has been surgically removed?”
Leia was agog. “Me acting crazy?”
“Yes, you were. And I’m very glad we’ve had this talk and you’ve been honest with me about what is going on.”
“I– you–" Leia sputtered for a moment and then took a forceful deep breath. “I need to get back out there before my cover is blown. The mission must come first. Jyn, when I can be sure we’re not being overheard we’ll talk. KayToo?”
“Don’t you ever scan my brain again!”
With that the Princess left the storage room, slamming the door behind her.
“Well, that went well,” KayToo said after a long moment of silence.
“Don’t cut so much!”
“Will you hold still?”
“The thing is tiny. There’s no need for you to cut there!”
“We must sterilize the area before we perform the surgery.”
“Is this going to hurt much?”
“Don’t be such a baby!”
“It won’t hurt. We’ll numb it, Chewie, don’t worry. ”
“I’m going to be bald, I just know it.”
“You’re covered in fur; one little patch of skin doesn’t make you bald.”
“But it’s noticeable! They’ll notice it and start asking questions and then they’ll know I’ve gotten it removed!”
“Maybe I should be the test case instead. I don’t have any fur to shave and if my clothes are not enough, I can cover the incision with a bit of makeup. Buckman brought so much of the goop she won’t even notice if I use some of her green eye-shadow.”
“Now look you big coward, you’ve got ladies like Numa offering to go first. You oughta be ashamed of yourself.”
“Han, be careful with the razor!”
“That’s it! I’ve had enough of this.”
“Chewie, come back here! Chewie!”
Mara ducked behind a tree as the Wookie came storming out of the garage.
Please don’t see me, please don’t see me, Mara thought to herself desperately. She was so close to finding out what they were up to. Once she had proof she could reveal Luke and Cadet Solo and the other slaves as traitors to the Empire and be rewarded. She would finally be allowed to leave this Force forsaken moon and get as far away as possible from the awful Buckman brat. And then, her dream would come true. She would become the Emperor’s Hand.
“Chewie, come back inside. I’ll do it instead of Han,” Luke entreated as he followed him. They both stopped just a meter or so away from Mara’s hiding place. She held her breath.
“Han doesn’t understand,” Chewie growled. “Fur’s … important, too important for jokes.” He raised one massive paw and smoothed down the fur on his head with a low purr.
“I’ll talk to him, make him understand.”
Chewie cast him a disbelieving look, visible even in moonlight.
“All right, I’ll make him behave then,” Luke amended. “Let’s go back and …” he trailed off.
“What is it?”
“Someone’s here,” Luke said softly, staring straight at Mara, finding her eyes unerringly in the dark.
“No, wait!” he called after her. "Stop!"
She didn’t stop. She had to get away with the intelligence she'd managed to gather, however incomplete it was. The Emperor had to know that Vader’s patsy was up to something and that the slaves were–
Big furry arms lifted her into the air and before she could stop herself she let out a short scream.
“It’s all right! We’re not going to hurt you! Chewie, be gentle.”
“I am gentle,” the Wookie said gruffly. “The little cub is just fine.”
“P-put me down,” Mara said, trying to inject a note of command into her voice as she was carried back towards the garage. The Wookie was very tall and strong. “Put me down right now!”
“Don’t you want to know what we’re doing? You’ve been spying on us for days now.”
“She has?” Luke asked in surprise as he hurried to catch up with Chewie’s massive strides. “You have? Why didn’t you just come inside and say hello?”
Mara looked down at him, incredulous. “Do you not understand what spying is? Spies don’t just come up to people and say hello!”
“Of course I know what spying is,” Luke said defensively. “I just meant you didn’t have to spy on us. I’m not like Ozzel or Buckman. Han wouldn’t have told on you, neither would Numa or Chewie or any of the other 'help' here at camp. You don’t have to be afraid of us.”
“I’m not afraid!” Mara retorted hotly.
“Now what’s going on?” Han demanded as they entered the garage. “What have you got there?”
“Not what,” Chewie said, “who.”
Numa took one look at the red headed girl in Chewie’s arms and panicked. “You brought that little spy here?”
“Spy?” Han yelped. “She’s a spy?”
“She isn't really a spy,” Luke explained hurriedly. “She didn’t know that she should have just come in and said hello. She didn’t know we’re willing to free her as well.”
“You’re–you’re freeing the slaves?” Mara exclaimed before she could stop herself. “That’s what you’re up to? Are you crazy or something?”
“There! What did I tell you? Spy. Imperial spy!” Numa said pointing an accusatory finger at the human girl. “I knew it from the start. No Grand Moff’s daughter shows up with a human slave by accident. She’s an Imperial plant, probably sent to keep an eye on you, Luke.”
“Aw, hell!” Han said, sitting down in despair. “That’s done it. Our whole plan is now out the window.”
“You’re an Imperial spy?” Luke asked in complete disbelief. “But why would you work for the Empire? Don’t you want to be free?”
“I am free!” Mara yelled back angrily. “You’re the one who’s not going to be free for much longer, though. You-you traitor! Just wait until my Master learns the truth about you and Vader! He’ll end you both for this treason!”
Luke gaped at her in shock.
“It’s not her fault,” Chewie explained to Luke sadly. “Poor cub, they got her young. She doesn’t know any better.”
“She knows enough to get us all in trouble and isn’t afraid to threaten people with death,” Han said darkly. “What are we gonna do with her?”
“We can’t let her go. She knows too much,” Numa replied staring at the razor in her hand with a meditative look on her face.
“No! No way! We are not killing her!” Luke said emphatically. “Chewie’s right. She’s been brainwashed or-or something. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”
“I do too know what I’m saying!” Mara argued. “You’re all rebel scum. My Master was right about you!”
“Would you be quiet?” Luke yelled back in frustration. “I’m trying to save your life here and you’re not helping!”
“I don’t need your help!” she snarled.
Luke planted his hands on his hips. “Oh, yeah? And just how are you going to get out of Numa slitting your throat and Han hiding your body in the woods if I don’t help you?”
“That was weirdly specific,” Han muttered in a sotto voice to Numa.
“But not a bad idea,” Numa murmured back.
She paled but refused to give in. “I-I’ll find a way,” Mara announced, squirming and kicking futility in Chewie’s iron grip.
Chewie just looked amused at her antics.
“Look, just let us help you. We can free you. We can remove the implanted bomb inside you and you can run away to freedom. You don’t have to be a slave anymore.”
“You--you stupid boy! I. Am. Not. A. Slave!” Mara hissed.
“Wanna bet?” Luke asked as he marched over and picked up a cobbled together device from the worktable.
“What is that thing?” Mara asked nervously as the boy approached her.
“Don’t be scared,” Chewie soothed. “It won’t hurt you. It will just locate the detonator implanted in you to keep you chained.”
“I-I don’t have any detonator in me. I’m human!” she protested frantically. “Humans aren’t slaves. I’m a loyal servant to my Master. He has no doubts about me. He trusts me! He wouldn’t treat me like-like one of you. He would never do that to me!”
Chewie knelt down, keeping a tight hold on Mara so Luke could reach her. She tried to lean back out of the way but she was held fast.
“You’re traitors, you’re all traitors to the Empire!” she yelled, growing more desperate. “I’ll make you regret this. I’ll find a way to have my revenge. Just you wait, I’m—"
The machine beeped and Luke let his hand still, the scanner hovering just above Mara’s left shoulder.
The rest of Mara’s words died in her throat.
Numa stepped forward to peer down at the scanner. She hissed in sympathy. “Mine’s in my belly. If they detonate me I’d suffer a long slow death. If you run and they detonate you, your head would likely be blown clean off.”
Han shook his head. “I don’t know if we can take hers out with what we’ve scrounged from the first aid kits. It’s going to be hard enough to get the bomb out of Numa as it is.”
“Too many veins and arteries,” Chewie said in agreement.
“We could get a med droid to do it. With Agent Sand causing a distraction, we can sabotage the one in the med bay and have it sent to the garage for repairs and then we can have it perform surgery in here,” Luke suggested.
“Not a bad idea, kid. The droid could perform surgery on Numa and this big baby too,” Han said, gesturing to the Wookie.
“It may take a day or so to get the droid down here but we’ll get the detonator out, I promise you,” Luke said to Mara. “You’ll be free soon.”
Mara just stared at the boy, at his stupid earnest face and his dumb blue eyes.
She'd never hated anyone as much as she hated him in that very moment.
“You– you– ” she croaked, unable to even get the words out. “How– you–”
“Oh,” Luke said sadly, lowering the scanner. “I am so, so sorry.”
Mara started screaming. There were no words, not even curses. She just screamed and thrashed in fury.
“What the hell?” Han swore as he jerked back from the girl.
“She really didn’t know,” Luke explained. “Chewie was right. I should have remembered. My father told me about this. Slavers can make you forget; forget where you come from and who you really are.”
“Whoever did this is a sick monster,” Numa seethed. “She’s just a baby.”
“How does your– er – father know about all this?” Han asked.
“I think . . . it happened to him once. I think he forgot everything. That’s why I built this,” Luke said lifting the scanner. “I’m going to free my father too.”
“Your father?” Mara demanded suddenly as she fought to regain her breath. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. That’s what this was about? This boy built a scanner for Vader? Was he mad? “Your father?”
“Yes, and I think your master and his master are one in the same, aren’t they?” Luke said knowingly.
Mara pressed her lips together. She would not admit anything. She’d already failed in her mission. She wasn’t going to make it worse.
“I thought so,” Luke said. “The Emperor himself sent you here.” Ignoring Han cursing at that pronouncement, he continued on. “Now the question is, are you going to tell him what you’ve learned so you can remain enslaved to him for the rest of your life? Or …” he trailed off and he took a step closer until they were nose to nose. “Or are you going to help us sabotage a med droid? Are you going to get that detonator out of your shoulder and help us free Chewie and Nuna and Ghosh and the Ewoks and all the others in camp and burn this place to the ground?”
Mara wanted to look away but couldn't. His eyes seemed to bore into her.
“What will it be, Mara Jade?” he asked her.
Her jaw dropped in spite of herself and her years of training. How did he know her name? She always worked under an assumed name. No one knew her name but her Master. She’d never told anyone her name! But somehow this-this puppet of Vader’s knew. He knew her name and he knew that there was detonator inside her, under her skin. He knew she worked for the Emperor.
He knew things no one was supposed to know.
She bit her lip and shrugged against the furry arms still pinning her down. “Let me go,” she muttered.
“Let her go, Chewie,” Luke said.
“What? Kid, this is crazy. If the Emperor himself sent her and we let her go–"
“Chewie,” Luke said again and there was just . . . something in his voice.
The Wookie eased on his grip. Mara eeled free. Han threw up his hands in despair.
“Mara will ensure the med droid needs maintenance and Han and Chewie will make sure it gets sent to this garage. Numa will let the others know and we’ll start on the surgeries in two nights. Agreed?” Luke asked.
“If you betray us, I will kill you,” Numa said evenly. “I will be watching you.”
Mara huffed but didn’t say anything, she just wrapped her skinny arms around herself.
“We are agreed. Two nights then,” Chewie said as he stood and started to poke at the area of his fur that was shorn shorter than the rest with a mournful whine.
Without another word, Mara darted for the exit as fast as she could. She wasn't waiting around for anyone to realize how stupid Luke was being in letting her go. She hurried to hide herself in the woods, staying just close enough to hear those inside.
“You’re taking an awful risk with that one,” Han said. “We all may be in prison or up before a firing squad by dawn, y’know.”
“She won’t betray us.”
Mara rolled her eyes at Luke’s words. How would he know if she was going to betray them or not? Stupid boy, he knew nothing and she didn’t owe him anything!
“Luke, are you sure?” Numa asked. "If you're wrong . . ."
“I’m sure. I can feel it.”
Ha! Well, Mara would soon show him. She would go right now and break into the camp’s administration office and access the long range comm array and send an encrypted message telling the Emperor that Luke had made a scanner and was planning on freeing the slaves–
Her hand reached up and carefully touched her left shoulder, hesitantly and then with more strength.
It was a trick. There was nothing there. She didn’t have any explosives in her. It was all just a lie.
But if it was a trick, if the scanner was a fake, what did she have to report? a small voice whispered inside her. Escape was futile, all prisoners of the Empire knew that.
She dug her fingers deeper into her skin. It was almost as if she could sense . . . something, just beneath the skin. Her eyes burned.
There was nothing there. There was nothing there! she reminded herself desperately. She was going to be the Emperor's Hand. Her Master trusted her!
She dropped to her knees and pressed both hands against her mouth, muffling the whimpers that tried to escape her lips.
What was she going to do?
Chapter 6: Meanwhile . . .
“Were you followed?” Saw asked urgently as she closed the door behind her.
“No. No one even knows we’re here,” Ahsoka assured him, pushing back her hood. “Our transport is secure and there should be no problem in getting out of here tomorrow and one step closer to Imperial Center.”
“Good,” Saw said, sitting back a hair but not going so far as to lean against the wall. That was about as far as he was willing to relax since they’d started on their mission.
“Where’s Cassian and Rex?” she asked as she took off her cloak.
“Cassian is up on the roof, checking to make sure you really weren’t tailed and your Captain Rex is preparing rations in the back.”
“I tell you, I wasn’t followed.” Ahsoka looked at the beat up chrono on the wall. “It’s almost time for check in.”
“We can’t be too careful, not when we’re this close,” Saw reminded her. “Why else would Rogue One insist that three different teams be sent on the same mission?”
“At least three different teams that we know of,” Rex corrected him as he ducked into the room, balancing their evening meal in his hands and on his forearms. “Knowing Rogue One there are at least another four contingency plans ready just in case.”
“Rogue One knows what they’re doing,” Saw said as he took his plate from the clone. “Everyone expected us to make our move on the tenth anniversary of Empire Day. Even I pushed for it, but Rogue One was right. Imperial Security would have caught us on the tenth anniversary or even the eleventh, they were too vigilant. But on the twelfth anniversary? With the Rebel fleet making problems at the Kuat Shipyards and the supposed ‘exposure’ of our cells in the Mid Rim? This year we’re just going to waltz in there and put a blaster bolt in his wretched head.”
The sound of rapid footfalls echoed above their heads. Moments later Cassian hurried into the room, drawn by the smell of food.
“Here, dig in,” Rex said with a laugh as he handed a plate to the teenager. “The way you’re still growing, you need it.”
“No tail. No one reporting that the Commander arrived. Nothing on the scanner, by droid, or by look out or messenger. We’re still in the clear,” he hurriedly reported as he wolfed down his food.
“Like I said, I wasn’t followed. I think after all these years I know what I’m doing,” Ahsoka said with a huff.
“Consider it a compliment, Commander,” Rex suggested. “You certainly have aged better than I have,” he said running a hand over his bald head.
“If you shaved your face hair, you’d look much younger. Besides,” Ahsoka said pointing at him with her fork. “You can still take out a squad of stormtroopers with one hand tied behind your back. Youth isn't everything.”
“Stormtroopers,” Rex spat in disgust. “Unless they’re of Kamino stock, they can’t hit the broad side of a destroyer. A squad of clankers could take them out no problem. It’s hardly a testament to my skill as a soldier fighting the likes of them. If I still had my uniform, I’d be ashamed to wear it and be lumped in with the lot of them.”
“That’s to our benefit. Incompetent troopers make our work that much easier,” Saw said.
“But the fact that most stormtroopers are useless isn’t going to help us in our mission. There will still be enough of them on Imperial Center to kill us all if they catch us,” Cassian put in between bites of his meal. “If KayToo were here, we might have a chance but without him, how are we going to get into the Imperial Palace? There was nothing in our briefing explaining how we are to accomplish that!”
“I don’t see how you can trust that droid,” Rex muttered into his mug. “Every time I look at him, I can only think of wanting to blast him.”
“KayToo does his job just fine and he’s loyal."
“He’s got a screw loose,” Rex retorted. “I’ve seen him eyeing my guns. One of these days, its going to be the Clone Wars all over again with that one.”
“Enough,” Ahsoka said, cutting off the argument before it devolved further. “It’s almost time for our check in. Cassian?”
Putting down his clean plate, Cassian set up the comm line and they waited until the encrypted connection came through. There was no holoimage. The voice was not recognizable, nothing more than a random amalgamation of over a dozen different voices of different species, genders, and ages. But there was no doubt who it was. Only one being had this secure link and it was the leader of the Rebellion: Rogue One.
No one knew exactly who Rogue One was. All that was known was that they had taken the fractured pieces of those systems that were once Separatist honestly striving for political freedom from corruption and those Republic loyalists appalled at the Emperor’s rise to power and molded them into a unified coherent resistance alongside oppressed non-human sentients from dozens of worlds. Instead of a hodgepodge of loosely aligned factions who barely tolerated each other working at cross purposes, the Rebel Alliance was a disciplined organized rebellion against the Emperor that encompassed violent militants like Saw Gerrera as well as pacifist politicians like Bail Organa.
And it was all thanks to Rogue One.
It was also Rogue One who conceived of their current mission: infiltrate the Emperor’s Palace and kill Sheev Palpatine on Empire Day, thus cutting the head off of the snake.
Some said the plan was crazy. Others decried it as foolish and ill planned, but Rogue One was adamant. Power in the Empire rested in one place and one place only-- with the Emperor. He did not share power. He had spent a decade openly consolidating absolute power in his own hands and at least two decades before that doing the same thing clandestinely. His fall meant the fall of the Empire. They only had to get to him and kill him and they would win.
“Are you on schedule?” the voice said through the comm.
“Yes. Awaiting further instruction,” Ahsoka answered.
“A . . . distraction has been planned to facilitate your way.”
“What sort of distraction? What’s the signal?” she asked urgently.
After a long pause, Rogue One said, “You will know it when you see it.”
Cassian looked utterly puzzled by these instructions. Saw remained impassive. Ahsoka shared a long look with Rex. It was times like these that she felt most strongly that she knew who Rogue One really was. The tactics were just too familiar.
The insane risk taking.
The focus on helping free slaves and aiding refugees.
The willingness to shoot, blast, explode, stab, and bomb first and ask questions later.
The willingness to give second chances and show mercy.
It filled her with hope, hope that perhaps her old Master wasn’t dead, that Anakin Skywalker had somehow survived the Purge and was leading them still.
This sounded just like one of his plans after all.
“What about Vader?” Saw interrupted. “When we take out the target, what’s to stop him from taking control? We can take care of the Moffs and the other boot-licking politicians but how can we hope to hold the Palace from the military in the very heart of the Empire? He holds much of their loyalty.”
“You will leave Vader to me,” the voice said without inflection. “He will not be a problem and neither will the military. Focus on your target but beware. Palpatine is not all he seems. He will do all he can to cloud your mind, fool your sense, and trick you into letting down your guard. Do not hesitate. Give no quarter. Show no mercy. Regardless of the cost, kill him before he kills you.”
“We understand,” Ahsoka said for all of them, seeing her determination on each of her teammates' faces. “We will see it done.”
“May the Force be with you,” the voice said and then the comm link snapped off.
Padme sat back in her seat with a tired sigh of relief. All teams were on schedule. All teams were moving into position slowly but surely. Her “distraction” team lead by Hera Syndulla had been in place for almost a year now. Everything was coming together. By Empire Day the Emperor would be dead.
Either that or the Rebellion will have lost some of its best fighters, intelligence officers, and spies.
But there was no other way. The last eleven years had taught her just how cunning and evil Sheev Palpatine truly was. To defeat him now would avoid the cost of open warfare and decades of political instability and suffering. But she wasn't blind to the fact that her plan was a gamble. It would require everything they had and the sacrifice of many lives.
Many more lives, she thought to herself, thinking of all those already dead and lost forever.
She shook herself out of her melancholy thoughts. Now was not the time for tears. Now was the time for action. Now was the time for her to play her part in all of this, to stop hiding and to step back out into the light as the leader of the Rebellion. There was less than a month to Empire Day. Time was running out and there was still much to do.
Padme reengaged her commlink, choosing the most encrypted slice possible (even more than the one she used as Rogue One), and put in the call. She hoped she hadn’t left this part of her plan too late. As she waited for the other side to respond she muttered anxiously under her breath: “Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick–"
The holoimage flickered into view showing a flailing hand and half an arm. “Whu–? What time is it?” A groggy voice asked.
“Oh thank the gods,” Padme said. “Sabe, you need to get Dorme and get here as quickly as you can.”
There was a sound of rustling cloth and the sleep mussed face appeared in view. “What happened? Have you been discovered? The princess! Is she safe? Is it Luke? Is he all right?”
“She’s fine, they’re both fine as far as I can tell, but we have an emergency of galactic proportions and I need you and Dorme here now.”
“Of course!” Sabe said, trying to finger comb through her tangled hair. “Whatever you need. We’ll be underway as soon as we can. Do you need us to bring anything?”
Padme steeled herself. It had been years. She had turned her back on that chapter of her life. She had thought the past gone forever, but now it may be the only thing that could save them all. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she could do this. She was Rogue One. She was the beacon of freedom and democracy that still shone in the darkness of the Empire. She wasn’t afraid.
"I have to ask you to bring it out of storage.”
Sabe’s eyes widened dramatically. “No!” she gasped. “You don’t mean–“
Padme nodded severely, clenching her hands together so they would stop shaking. “I do.”
“Sweet gods!” she whispered. “I thought you couldn’t be certain that he was– I mean, there’s no proof that . . . but to take it that far? I remember you swore never to . . . has it really come down to that?” she asked desperately.
“It has. I know what I said. It was anger and grief and I meant every word of it, but the time for such emotions has passed. The entire fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance. I must do this. Only I can do this. Sabe, I really need your and Dorme’s help on this.”
Her old handmaiden and dearest friend nodded decisively. “Give us a few hours and we’ll be there. You know that we will support you without question.”
“I am beyond grateful,” Padme said in visible relief. "Thank you."
“You prepare and we’ll be there to help as soon as we can,” she instructed. “Sabe out.”
Sabe sat on her bed in shock for a moment before shaking herself into action. It was the early hours of the morning, but Dorme would have to forgive her for interrupting her sleep. They needed to move quickly if there was any hope of putting Padme’s plan in to action.
“Sabe? What is it?” a sleep filled voice answered her comm, holoimage disabled. “Has something happened?”
“I’ve received a comm,” she replied, unwilling to say more even on a secured channel.
There was a long silence and then Dorme, sounding much more awake, whispered, “Is the word given?”
“The word is given” she responded with grave formality as she started to dress. “Get it out of storage and meet me at the ship by 0500. I’ll get her prepped for lightspeed.”
“All of it, Sabe?”
“All of it. Call in Motee and Corde if you need to.”
“Bu-but Motee is close to giving birth and Corde is on Imperial Center with the senator’s office.”
“What about Elle and Eirtae?”
“Elle’s father is ill and Eirtae is serving in the Queen’s household, training the newest handmaidens”
Sabe grimaced at this news as she hopped first on one leg than the other to get her boots on. “Then it will just have to be the two of us,” she said firmly.
“Please tell me Threepio is available to help,” Dorme begged. “There’s no way we two alone can–“
“Threepio is on assignment,” Sabe interrupted. “It’s down to us, and before you say anything, if we can’t do it, she will find a way to do it alone with what she has on hand and that I will not allow.”
“This is just like the Battle of Naboo all over again,” she wailed. “I don’t think we can do this!”
“Control yourself!” Sabe snapped as she quickly and efficiently did her hair. “This is a fashion emergency! This is no time for hysterics!”
There was a gulping breath on the other line as Dorme composed herself. “Yes, yes, of course. I’ll be there as soon as I have the wardrobe in hand. Dorme out.”
“Report,” Vader snapped as he entered the bridge of the Executor.
“My Lord, we’ve scoured the system and while there is some evidence that there was a Rebel Base here before, it has long since been abandoned. General Veers can find no trace of where they might have gone to,” Admiral Piett said as he came to attention.
“I want Rogue One found, Admiral, not excuses. Set course for the Yavin system immediately. The Emperor grows impatient for this rebellion to be put to an end.”
“But my Lord, we have received word from the Emperor himself. We are ordered to return to Imperial Center in time for the Empire Day Celebrations.”
Silence greeted this pronouncement. The entire bridge crew held their breath at the Admiral’s words, (which was foolish because Vader’s favorite way of dispatching people was to strangle them using his Force magic, but no one ever said blind terror made you wise).
(From inside Vader’s quarters behind a false panel in the closet, Obi-Wan froze at the sudden seismic shift in the Force. If he wasn’t surrounded by the enemy he would almost feel sorry for whomever Vader was about to kill.
Everyone knew Vader hated Empire Day. His dislike for it was notorious and a running joke among the elite of the Imperial Court. Members of the Imperial military knew better than to laugh. You didn’t joke about Darth Vader.
Officers, troopers, and crew who had the privilege of serving on Vader’s flagship knew even better than that! They knew that Vader had a son and Luke had been born on Empire Day. That meant whoever Lady Vader had been, she had died on the same day as Vader’s son had been born.
You wouldn’t poke a sleeping gundark with a stick if you wanted to live.
You also wouldn’t remind Lord Vader of the anniversary of his wife’s (lover? companion? Who the hell even knew!) death if you wanted to live.
The Emperor seemed to take some sort of sick delight in doing so, however. Piett could never fathom why.
After a long agonizing moment, Vader spoke. “Have the navigator plot a course past Ord Mandel and then back to Imperial Center by way of the Endor system.”
“Understood, my Lord,” Piett said and turned to address the navigation officer. “Plot a course along the less traveled hyperspace lanes until we reach Endor. We have time until Empire Day and we are going to use it wisely. Keep scanning for any signs of the Rebellion. Once we arrive in the Endor system, ensure we have a priority vector set to Imperial Center so we arrive in time for the evening celebrations.”
There was no way to tell given the mask Lord Vader wore but Piett liked to think his superior was pleased with his interpretation of the Emperor’s orders. They were going to make it back to Imperial Center on Empire Day as the Emperor demanded, just not until the closing banquet and fireworks. Hopefully that would help ease the murderous temper Lord Vader would be in for the next few weeks.
Vader left the bridge without another word.
An audible sigh of relief could be heard from the men around him. Firmus Piett could not deny his relief either. If Vader was directing them to Endor first that meant he intended to pick up his son from camp and nothing calmed the Sith Lord’s temper better than Luke.
With some clever navigation and a little bit of luck the Executor would make it through this year’s Empire Day celebrations with minimal casualties.
“So what are we going for here?” Sabe asked, surveying the massive wardrobe arrayed in front of her in the basement of the stone temple on Yavin IV. “Innocent loveliness? Shock and awe? Bow before me, helpless mortal? Or help me Darth Vader, you’re my only hope?”
Padme opened her mouth to reply only to be sternly nudged by Dorme who was giving her an emergency facial. “Don’t answer that. I’m trying to release the stress in your jaw. You’ve been grinding your teeth in your sleep, I can tell. And just when was the last time you kept a regular moisturizing routine?”
Sabe rummaged around in the wardrobe pods in front of her. She finally pulled out a long pastel gown with no back and brushed silver jewelry. “We could go demure in the front, daring in the back. What do you think?”
From underneath a hot towel Padme’s voice was muffled but unmistakable. “No, not that one.”
“I . . . wore it the first time he kissed me.”
Sabe and Dorme shared an incredulous look. “And . . . that is bad why?” she asked slowly.
“I immediately told him that kissing him was a mistake.”
“Ah, understood. Do not remind him of the time you shot him down,” Sabe said with a nod and continued looking through the offerings of silk and satin and beads and feathers in front of her and then stopped suddenly. “Wait a moment! Didn’t you and Anakin design a dress together? That would be perfect. Why not wear that?”
“He did? I didn’t know that!” Dorme exclaimed.
“Oh yes, he did,” she replied as she excitedly began hunting for the elusive outfit. “He even named it. He called it the Black Ma–"
“No!” Padme said firmly and then continued on in a softer, sadder voice. “Besides you won’t find it in there. We never actually had the time to get it made and the designs were . . . lost.”
“Right, well,” Sabe said clearing her throat and resumed her perusal of the wardrobe at a much slower pace.
“Oooh, Sabe, go back, go back,” Dorme urged.
“The black corset sheath?” Sabe asked.
“Yes. Very commanding. It says I’m sexy and I know it but you sure as hell aren’t getting it.”
“She’d look like Lady Darth Vader in this!” Sabe said with dismay. “She still has to be presentable to the rest of the galaxy.”
“It’s very presentable.”
“It looks like something a-a dominatrix might wear. We’re going for democracy here, not domination.”
Dorme lifted the edge of the towel away from one of Padme’s eyes. “What do you think? Yea or nay?”
“Absolutely not,” she said, visibly blushing.
“Why? It’s lovely,” Dorme said with a pout.
“I wore it to dinner with Anakin and, well, when he confessed his feelings for me, I reminded him of his duty, of both our duties and turned him down.”
Silence greeted her pronouncement.
“Exactly how many times did you turn him down?” Sabe asked slowly.
“And how many times did he ask? You never told us this. Did he just blurt it out or was there flirting? Tell me there was flirting.”
“He . . . used the Force to float a pear to me at dinner. Does that count?”
Dorme and Sabe didn’t know what to say in response to that.
“Moving on,” Sabe said briskly. “What about this?” She pulled out a long flowing periwinkle blue gown covered in pearls. “It is innocence and love personified. It will set off your hair and skin perfectly. Something new may be better than reminding him of something in the past.”
Padme sat up, face glowing and flawless and shook her head.
“What’s wrong with this one?” Sabe groaned in frustration. “I know you never wore this in public. I keep track of these things you know.”
“I–er –wore it at home one night when Anakin returned from the Outer Rim sieges.”
“You wore an original Nubian couture evening gown costing who knows how many thousands of credits for a night in with your husband?” she asked incredulously.
“To bed, actually,” Padme confessed awkwardly.
“To bed?” Sabe echoed dumbly.
“But it’s intact; it’s not torn or anything.” Dorme said as she came over to take the outfit into her hands to examine it more closely.
“Of course it’s intact. I was 8 months pregnant at the time with twins! I just . . . wanted to feel pretty.”
Dorme raised her hands in a placating manner. “Of course you did, my lady and I’m sure you were stunning in it. I’m just surprised he didn’t rip it off of you with his teeth in the throes of passion,” she added under her breath.
Padme gasped, utterly affronted. “I’ll have you know that Anakin was always a perfect gentlemen. He was kind and gentle, considerate and sweet and–and a dotting father to be!”
“Uh-huh,” Dorme said, complete disbelief written across her face.
“So . . . you wore this one of a kind piece a–as a night gown?” Sabe finally exclaimed, aghast at the misuse of the exquisite evening gown. “How did you even sleep in this thing?”
“Look, can we just . . . find something that will grab his attention long enough that he will listen to me?” Padme asked in exasperation. “I just need something that will get him out of his head and focused on me so he won’t order the Imperial Navy to attack after we kill the Emperor.”
“I think you need to do more than that, Padme,” Dorme said. “I think you need to remind him of what he’s missed these last eleven years and make him regret every single moment he’s been apart from you. I think you need to remind him of why he needs you in his life and shouldn’t stray more than a few meters from your side for the rest of his days.”
“I am not trying to reconcile with my estranged, likely seriously mentally ill husband here. I’m trying to stage a successful galactic coup. This is not an episode of Love Under Alderaanian Skies, Dorme.”
“Are you sure about that?” Sabe asked, suddenly serious, coming to take Padme’s hands in hers. “There are other ways to get someone’s attention to accomplish political revolution. You could sabotage his ship. You could knock out his communications. You could assassinate him, but no. Instead you’ve chosen fashion, the most subtle and emotionally charged weapon of all. Are you sure this isn’t about more than just a return to democracy?”
Padme shook off Sabe’s hands. “I have a duty and a responsibility–"
“Duty and responsibility. That’s all you ever seem to have,” Dorme said. “What about love, family, a–a husband who loved you so much even after you turned him down how many times? Who-who floated a pear to you using magical Jedi powers? Who designed a dress with you? What about being there for Leia and for Luke? What about that?”
“It’s selfish to think only of my own desires at a time like this and you know it,” Padme said sharply, drawing herself up, every inch the Queen she was. “As Rogue One, I must–“
“But wasn’t it clinging to duty and responsibility, putting the needs of the galaxy first that caused all of this mess? Padme, you told us–”
“I know!” she yelled and then softened her tone. “I know what I told you.” Padme paused and then brought her hands up to rub at her eyes, suddenly feeling so very tired. “I don’t know. I just . . . I don’t know anymore."
“I think you need to be sure, very sure before you face him again. What is it you really want, Padme?” Sabe asked.
“What I want?” Padme repeated. “I’m not even sure I knew then let alone now. Looking back . . . Anakin was on edge. He’d been on edge for most of the war. Post traumatic stress, battle flashbacks, barely sleeping, frequently strung out on stims as they sent him all over the galaxy. And the Order thinks that’s just fine. Nothing wrong with that!” Padme stood and started to pace back and forth, wringing her hands as she remembered.
“Then he got the horrible news from Umbara; Obi-Wan faked his death and didn’t tell anyone; Ahsoka was falsely accused and put on trial and nearly sentenced to death, Fives was killed trying to expose the truth, and–and then Anakin was gone to the sieges. He was gone for months and I had no word. Nothing. I thought he was dead so many times. Dead and never knowing I was pregnant. Then he returned and he was even worse and he needed to rest and there was no time!” she cried. “There was never enough time. There was just . . . I was trying to hold the Senate together and stop the war and the Jedi wanted Anakin to spy on Palpatine and then I asked Anakin to talk to Palpatine and I was pregnant and Anakin was having visions and Obi-Wan was sent after Grievous and the next thing I know the Temple is on fire and Obi-Wan claims Anakin killed his fellow Jedi and that means Obi-Wan must hunt him down and kill him! No investigation, no trial, just go and kill Anakin. Put him down like–like a rabid animal. So what do I do?” she asked with a painful laugh. “I go after my husband to try and talk to him since he’s obviously had some sort of-of psychotic break and has been in desperate need of medical treatment for months. But before I can get two words out I faint due to volcanic gases on that damn lava planet!” Her pacing became more frantic and her voice rose in anger. “And when I wake up, I’ve had an emergency c-section and everyone thinks I’m dying of a broken heart of all things! Me, just losing the will to live like some sort of pathetic holovid character! Can you believe it? And my son has been taken by Obi-Wan without so much as a by your leave after he left my husband for dead and Yoda and Bail are planning to take my daughter away from me as well!”
Padme wheeled around to face her friends. “I wake up and everyone and everything I ever loved has been taken from me and by all the gods I plan to take it back. I don’t care what I have to do, what more I have to sacrifice but I will get my life and my loves back. My husband, my children, my government! I will pry it from Palpatine’s cold dead fingers, spit on his grave, reform the Republic with my bare hands if necessary, aggressively negotiate some sense into Anakin and get him into treatment, and hold both my babies in my arms at last. That’s what I want!”
“Then I have just the outfit,” Sabe said solemnly and pulled something from the vast reaches of the wardrobe. With great ceremony she held it out.
Padme reached out to run her fingers over the fabric. “Perfect,” she breathed. “It’s just perfect!”
“All right then,” Dorme said, wiping away her tears with a handkerchief. “No time to waste. Let’s get you ready to save the galaxy and get your family back.”
Chapter 7: Casting
“Each year we conclude our camp experience with a very special presentation. It is an extravaganza where we honor a seminal event in our shared Imperial History,” Captain Granger gushed as he addressed the campers. “This year, I am proud to announce that I have come up with the perfect idea for our showcase gala: my own personal salute to the founding of our Empire through a dramatic musical re-enactment!”
Mrs. Granger clapped and the campers enthusiastically followed suit.
(Well, most of the campers. Jyn was sitting by herself, arms crossed tight over her chest, refusing to celebrate or cheer.)
“Thank you, thank you. Now we have only a few weeks to prepare but I know with practice we will put on the best show ever. We have thought long and hard before choosing just the right actor and actress for our two leading roles. To portray our beloved Emperor, long may he reign, we have chosen . . . Markem Ozzel!”
Cheering greeted this announcement. Ozzel rose from his seat and raised his hand magnanimously, accepting the praise, a proud smile on his face.
“And for the little woman behind our Emperor, the Nubian martyr child-Queen Amidala, who loved the Empire so much she gave her life to see the Empire founded and her mentor rise to the dizzying heights of the Imperial throne, we have chosen . . . A’Man’Daa Buckman!”
With a squeal of delight, A’Man’Daa hugged her friends who fawned over her in joy.
Pasting a look of pleasure on her face, Leia giggled and hugged the blond girl.
Inside, however she was fuming. To have this spoilt brat play her mother as some sort of Imperial zealot! To have her mother cast as some idiotic waif who supported Palpatine as he seized power! It was enough to make her sick.
But she had a mission and she would not waver. She was Agent Sand, the best undercover agent ever and she would play her part to the hilt.
“And to portray her faithful handmaidens we have chosen . . . Yvonne, Deirdre, and Leia!”
Leia feigned surprise and happiness at her casting in this farce of a play. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Jyn pretending to vomit. She wished she could join her.
“But we have even more amazing news than that!” Captain Granger called out, calling for order. “We’ve learned that the Emperor himself has chosen to have our showcase broadcast live on the Galactic Holonet to the entire Empire as part of the Empire Day Celebrations!”
This news created pandemonium among the campers. To be broadcast live at the request of the Emperor! Buckman looked ready to faint. Ozzel was accepting handshakes of congratulations. This was an honor beyond compare!
“Of course, not everyone can be a star,” Mrs. Granger said, calming the campers back down to silence. “For secondary but still compelling written role of Lord Darth Vader–"
“Imperial lap dog,” Ozzel muttered, faking a cough and sparking a round of laughter from the campers nearest to him.
“-Guess who we have in mind? Our own little towhead outcast . . . Luke!”
Dead silence greeted this pronouncement. Leia turned, trying not to be too obvious about it, but she didn’t see Luke anywhere in the dining hall.
“Luke? Is Luke here?” Mrs. Granger called again as everyone shuffled around, not seeing the boy.
“Does anyone know where Luke is?” Captain Granger asked.
/// Dear Father,
I hope you are doing well and making sure to get plenty of rest not wearing your mask. You know it is not good for you to wear it all the time. Don’t forget to sleep just because you are onboard the ship and working hard and remember meditation is not the same as sleep.
I still hate camp. It is horrible here, but I do have some good news. I have found allies. We’re going forward with the plan with a few changes since the package you sent came but didn’t have any of the thermal detonators I asked for. ///
It had been disappointing not to receive the explosives and to hear that his father’s mission would not allow him to pick Luke up before Empire Day, but his father hadn’t forgotten his upcoming birthday. Vader had sent along a comprehensive top of the line military grade software and hardware update for his multitool, which even now Artoo was installing. It was a great present and something Luke had been wanting for quite some time.
(Vader never forgot Luke’s birthday. As far back as he could remember, his father always made an effort to mark the day even if the Emperor kept him so busy he wasn't there to celebrate with his son in person. His father would give him a present a few days before, Luke would eat lunch with the officers or troopers not on duty or marching in the parades, and there would be something special for dessert to help cheer Obi-Wan up a little. There wasn’t much else in the way of a celebration, but that was all right. Luke didn't mind.)
/// Thank you for the new upgrade for my multitool. Artoo says it will be super helpful for the plan. It won’t be long now before we free the imprisoned Ewoks (those are the people who live on this moon), so even though you said you couldn’t come get me from camp early, you may still have to come get me early. I’m just letting you know so you can be ready. Plus if you come and get me early, we could head for the Outer Rim and you won't have to spend my birthday on Imperial Center. We could spend my birthday together instead. Maybe we can go flying in your new TIE just the two of us?
I hope to see you very soon. Artoo says hello as well.
Luke put down his stylus, saved, encrypted, and closed the message on his datapad. He would have Artoo send it later.
“Hey, anyone in here?” Han called out as he knocked on the cabin door.
“Sure, come on in,” Luke answered as he sat up on the bed.
Han burst into the room, Chewie right behind him. “You are not going to believe this, but you’ve been cast in the Grangers’ musical play for the end of camp showcase. They just announced it at lunch.”
“And you missed lunch again,” Chewie added, handing him a wrapped ration bar. “It’s not healthy. You need to eat. You’re still growing.”
“What play?” Luke asked as he tried to put the ration bar aside without eating it. Chewie growled and Luke resigned himself to holding the unappetizing thing in his hand.
“The play that Captain Granger’s written,” Han said. “It’s something they force the campers to do it every year, and this year–“
“Luke! Are you here?”
Han turned around. “Is that– is that the Alderaan brat?” he said incredulously, recognizing the voice even from a distance. “What’s she doing here?” he hissed. “Chewie, we gotta get out of here.”
Luke stood and hurried to close the door, but was too slow. Leia came marching into the cabin, slamming the door behind her.
“What are you doing here? What if someone saw you?” Luke demanded.
“No one saw me. Jyn and Kay-Too are causing a distraction in the banquet hall so I couldn’t be followed,” Leia insisted. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of Han and Chewie. “What are they doing here?”
“Us? We were here first, sister! What are you doing here?” Han snapped back.
Leia crossed her arms over her chest and looked down on them imperiously, (an impressive feat as both the man and the Wookie physically towered over her). “I don’t have to tell you anything, Cadet and I'm certainly not your sister! And neither of you have any business being in a camper’s cabin.”
“Oh, yeah your Highnessness? Well, let me tell you–"
“Stop, just both of you, stop,” Luke said. “You,” he said, first pointing to Leia, “need to be more careful. Just because there’s a distraction does not mean someone isn’t watching. Someone is always watching. You,” he said turning to face a smirking Han, “keep your voice down. She’s an ally and she’s our agent undercover. And you,” Luke finally said looking up at Chewbacca, “Thank you for the ration bar but really, I’m not that hungry. I’ll save it for later. I promise.”
“She’s undercover? As what? An entitled Imperial kiss up?” Han scoffed.
“And just what are you supposed to be? What do you bring to this-this alliance?”
“Listen, Princess, I’ve been fighting this fight for longer than the few weeks you’ve been here so don’t you start!”
“Be quiet, both of you,” Luke commanded in such a tone that they both found themselves inexplicably obeying. “Han, what’s this about a play?”
Leia opened her mouth to answer but Han beat her to the punch.
“Granger always writes a play for everyone to be in for the end of the year celebrating the Empire and he’s cast you to play Darth Vader,” Han explained in a rush.
“You left out the most important part,” Leia added, not to be outdone when it came to sharing crucial information. “The play’s going to be broadcast live all over the Holonet at the Emperor’s request as part of the Empire Day celebrations.”
Luke was silent as he took in this news. He turned and stared meditatively out of his window for a long moment, before turning back, his eyes alight with possibility. “This is just what we’ve been waiting for. The perfect distraction. The perfect setting to put our plans into action. This will be better than my end of school pageant. This will even top every crazy stunt my father ever pulled during the Clone Wars.” Luke laughed and rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. “We’re going to burn this place to the ground and we’ll make the Emperor watch us do it!”
Luke’s excited declaration was met with stunned shock.
Han cast a side eyed glance at Chewie who just shrugged in bewilderment. He didn’t know what the cub was talking about.
“Burn . . . the camp down?” Leia asked warily, unnerved by this side of Luke she’d never seen before. “I was thinking that we’d use the live broadcast to expose the mass murder of the Ewoks to the general public and drum up support in the Senate to stop the hunting.”
“No, no that won’t do anything at all,” Luke said excitedly, as he began to drag a number of suspicious items out of the closet. “I told you, the Senate’s useless. What we need is a full scale uprising. A massive distraction ending in a fireball explosion and the permanent shut down of this camp. We need a public relations nightmare for his Imperial Highness to deal with. What's the play going to be about?”
“The founding days of the Empire set to song and dance," Han said absently. "Are those– are those homemade firebombs?”
“My father didn’t send the care package of grenades and other things I asked for, but I ended up making a few things during mandatory camp craft sessions anyway. Just in case. We can use these instead of the thermal detonators,” he shared his accomplishment proudly.
“You made bombs during craft time?” Leia asked with a squeak. “How? Why?”
Luke stared at her like she was the one not making any sense. “To blow up the camp," he said slowly. "Haven't you been paying attention? We’ll set these off during the play. Then we can have the Ewoks attack and that’s when you and Chewie and the others can make their move. Chewie, do you think you can place them someplace safe until we need them?”
“I know just the place,” the Wookie assured him, gathering up the bombs with careful hands. “Are these remote detonated or do they have to be manually triggered?”
“Manual but if you can rig something up, go for it.”
“The Ewoks are going to attack the camp? There-there just tiny teddy bears. They’re not going to be any match for the guards or against blasters. It'll be a slaughter!” Leia protested. “And I didn’t sign up for fire bombs or burning the camp down. This-this is crazy. You’re crazy! You’re planning some sort of-of war when what we need is political action.”
“I think the time for political action has long since passed,” Han said with a snort.
Luke sighed and tried again to explain things to the befuddled Princess. “Look, it's really quite simple. The Ewoks want their moon back and the humans gone. Chewie and the other slaves around the camp want their freedom, want to escape the Empire and go home to their families. You want to save the Ewoks and prevent further massacres. Han wants to help Chewie and the others escape. I want to free the slaves, stop mass murder, punish those responsible, burn the camp to ashes, and never return here again. Humiliating the Emperor on my birthday is a bonus. This is a win-win situation for everyone. Firebombs and a full frontal assault are the way to go here,” Luke said with an earnest and reasonable tone of voice. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I’ve learned from the best.”
Leia didn’t know what to say to all of that. Desperate, she looked to Han for help. Han shrugged. He thought Luke was crazy, but that was nothing new. He’d thought Luke was crazy from the first time he’d met the kid. Anyone raised by Darth Vader couldn’t be all there in his opinion. But Luke was right about one thing. They'd need one hell of a distraction to cover the escape of over a dozen slaves and one Cadet.
“He has learned from the best. It’s in his blood. Lord Vader’s a legend on the battlefield. A kriffing legend.” Ignoring Leia’s huff of disbelief and disapproval, he turned his attention back to Luke. “Kid, I’m going to let Numa and the others know we have a departure date and start figuring out which shuttles we can steal,” Han said gesturing over his shoulder as he and Chewie headed for the exit.
“Good. See you tonight in the garage.”
“She’s not going to come,” Han warned. “And if she does, it’ll probably be to arrest us all.”
“She will come,” Luke insisted. “She wants the transmitted chip out just like everyone else. She’ll be there. We just need to give her more time.”
Han rolled his eyes. “Well, it better be tonight since I don’t know how long we can keep the med-droid in the garage claiming it needs repairs.”
Leia watched the cadet and Wookie leave and then turned her attention back to Luke. “What was that about? What transmitter chip?”
“Never mind that. Leia, I’ll need to borrow Threepio again so I can ask Chief Chirpa to ready his warriors and to plan the attack. Can you have him wander away from you say, day after tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Leia agreed weakly. “Why not? He has nothing better to do than to plan an invasion. But you’re going to have to get around Captain Granger’s rehearsal schedule and Mrs. Granger’s costume fittings.”
Luke made a face at that. “Right, they’ve cast me as my father in the play. Who’s playing the Emperor?” he asked suspiciously.
“Ugh, well what about you? Do you have a part?”
“A handmaiden to Buckman who’s playing Senator Padme Amidala,” Leia said with a scowl.
“Who’s Senator Amidala?”
“You-you’ve never heard of Senator Amidala?” she asked, aghast.
“Should I have?” Luke asked in complete mystification.
“She was a Senator of the Old Republic. She was a warrior queen on her own planet who liberated it from invasion practically single-handedly when she was just fourteen years old. One speech from her and she could sway the entire Senate to vote a certain way. She i--was a champion for democracy.”
“I’ve never heard of her.”
Leia fumed. “How can you not have heard of her? She was one of the Loyalists at the end of the Clone Wars fighting corruption. She was an icon.”
“Then why is she a lead character in Granger’s play celebrating Empire Day? Why is Buckman of all people playing her?” Luke asked, wrinkling his nose in confusion.
“Because the Empire lies to people. Those in charge lie all the time. They lied about the Ewoks being mindless animals,” Leia reminded him.
“They did lie,” Luke agreed. “But this plan is going to work. It’s one my father’s used in the past–”
Leia barely restrained herself from snorting.
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have some sort of problem with your nose?”
“My nose is fine,” she retorted.
“Then as I was saying, my father’s plan calls for a distract– okay, look. Would you stop?”
“Rolling your eyes and sighing and snorting every time I mention my father.”
“I’m sorry if my perfectly normal breathing bothers you, but I’m really not interested in hearing anything more about your ‘father,’” she said making air quotes around the word. “So just tell me what else we need to do and–"
“No, enough,” Luke said angrily. “I am sick and tired of you acting this way every time I talk about my father. I have a father and yes, he’s Darth Vader, and it’s not a lie or a trick or a joke.”
“I’m allowed to have a different opinion.”
“Not about this,” Luke shouted at her, fists clenching. “You don’t get to have any opinion about my family. You know nothing about it. Nothing!”
Leia put her hands on her hips, refusing to be cowed. “Look, I’m just trying to be realistic here! I mean, who could possibly have had a kid with Darth Vader?”
“Realistic, huh? I’ll show you realistic!” Luke hurried over to Artoo and started fiddling with the droid.
“What is it now? More explosives?”
“No,” Luke said sharply. “Proof.”
Leia pursed her lips together. “Is this really the time–"
“I do have a family. My parents loved each other and I can prove it. Just watch.”
Artoo tilted his holopojector and the blue tinged image sprang to life. A young man, tall, wearing heavy layered robes stood before an officiant waiting for someone, cybernetic hand outstretched, reaching out.
Another figure, shorter and slighter wearing an intricately embroidered white dress and veil stepped forward and clasped hands with the man.
They had eyes only for each other as vows were said and a gentle kiss was exchanged between them.
“That’s my mother and that's my father. This is when they got married,” Luke said adamantly as he watched. “My mother died giving birth to me. It killed her to have me but . . . but Father doesn’t blame me. I try to be a good son,” he said lifting his chin with pride and turned to Leia. “I try to–" he broke off at the sight of her chalk white face. “What’s wrong now?” he asked.
“How do you have this holovid?” she whispered, eyes wide with shock. “How?”
Luke eyed her warily. “Artoo was at the wedding. He took the holo himself,” he said pointing to the droid. “He has a bunch of holovids under security lock and most he won’t show me and I can’t access even with a slice but Artoo can show me this one. It’s the only one I have of my mother.”
“But it can’t be,” Leia said shaking her head desperately. “It just can’t.”
About to lose his temper, Luke took a deep breath and crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s true. Just because he’s not wearing his armor and mask doesn’t mean it’s not my father.”
“No, no, it can’t be,” she said backing away from the holo image.
“Now, look–" he began, raising his voice angrily.
“It can’t be your mother because that’s my mother!” Leia yelled.
Chapter 8: Revelations
Luke froze in shock. “Wh-what?”
“That’s my mother!” Leia yelled again.
“No, she’s not. I told you, stop making fun of me. Everyone knows your mother’s the Queen of Alderaan. That’s not your mother, that’s my mother,” he corrected her angrily.
“I’m adopted! Sort of,” she added hastily. “But I know my own mother and that’s her!” she insisted pointing adamantly at the now frozen holovid.
Luke turned back to the holovid and sank down to a crouch before the image, trying to put the pieces together. If Leia was telling the truth . . . .
“But . . . if you’re adopted and she’s your mother, then that would make us . . .”
“Brother and sister, it would make us brother and sister,” Leia whispered in horror.
“Not just brother and sister but twins,” Luke realized. “We’re twins. We’d have to be since Mother died giving birth to us.”
“Mom didn’t die giving birth to us!” Leia exclaimed. “What are you talking about?”
“She didn’t?” Luke twisted around to face her. “I didn’t– I mean, we didn’t . . . kill her? Is she– is she still alive?” he asked breathlessly and with growing hope. "But you just said you were adopted!"
“It's . . . complicated." Leia bit her lip. She didn't want to say more. She shouldn't have even told this boy that she was adopted in the first place or that her mom was alive. No one was supposed to know that! If anyone found out the people of Alderaan and all the Rebels would be in great danger.
What was done was done, she reminded herself. She'd made a mistake in telling Luke and now she needed to take control of the situation and minimize any fall out. She needed to come up with an explanation, a justification, a story, a lie, anything, to ensure secrecy.
But Luke was looking at her with such a look of wonder and stunned happiness. As risky and as stupid as it sounded, she found she couldn't lie to him. She couldn’t claim her mom was dead. "She’s alive," she confirmed at last. "I saw her just before I was sent to camp.”
Luke gaped at her for a long moment before standing. “You mean it. You’re telling the truth. She’s alive!” He grabbed her arms suddenly, trembling so hard he was almost shaking her as he started demanding answers. “Do you know what this means? We can all be together again. We can be a family. I’ve got the scanner working now on top of everything else and we can leave and go find Mother together ‘cause she’s alive. Father will be so happy. Where is she? Is she all right? If she’s alive then why were you adopted? And why didn’t we grow up together? Why doesn’t my father know about you? About her? Did something happen between them? Do you know what happened? How did we get separated? He told me she was dead. He always said she was dead!”
“Stop shaking me!” Leia pulled free of his grip. “I don’t know. Vader’s probably lied to you your whole life.”
“No, he hasn’t. He’s told me about my mother, well, as much as he could.”
“Then why don’t you know who Senator Amidala is?” Leia demanded archly crossing her arms over her chest.
“What has that got to do with anything?” Luke asked in bewilderment. “We’re talking about our mother not some politician.”
“Because that’s who our mother is! Senator Amidala!”
His jaw dropped. “Father . . . Father was married to a Senator? No way! He hates politicians!”
“Mom was an amazing politician. There’s nothing wrong with politicians,” Leia said sharply. “Maybe that’s why Vader think’s she’s dead. If he hates politicians maybe he never even loved her.”
“Father loves Mother. I’ve felt it." Luke retorted hotly. "You just saw the vid of them getting married. You can't tell me that's not love. He still loves her. I have to tell him,” Luke said suddenly. “I have to tell him Mother’s alive and that you’re my sister. He has to know.” He rushed over to his bed and grabbed his datapad.
She looked at him, lost for a moment and then realized he was actually going to draft a message to Darth Vader.
Darth Vader who was somehow her father.
Darth Vader, the machine monster man who hunted Rebels and killed Jedi and worked for the Emperor.
And Luke wanted to tell him that Leia was his daughter and that Auntie Breha and Uncle Bail had been hiding her and Mom all this time. She was suddenly struck with a terrible premonition that Vader would burn Alderaan to a cinder if he ever found out about her and Mom.
“Wait, wait, wait! You can’t tell him!” she cried rushing over and trying to snatch the datapad from his hand.
He dodged out of the way. “Why not? This is great news. Mother’s alive.”
“You can’t tell Vader about me or Mom ever!” Leia yelled frantically. "Not ever!"
Luke gave his sister (he had a sister, annoying as she was, but she was his), a severe look. “I’m not going to keep secrets from my–our father. I’m not going to lie to him, not about this.”
"You don't understand!" she said desperately. She took a deep breath, trying to marshal her thoughts. She had to think things through clearly and rationally and above all stop Luke from sending any message. Besides, one old holovid in the memory banks of a glitch old droid did not a family make. There was no way that Vader was her father. This had to be some sort of Imperial ploy. “Look, Luke,” she began, tempering her tone as Auntie Breha had taught her. “I know you have this old holovid of my mother getting married, but we don’t have any proof that this isn’t some doctored vid. You have no proof that that man is Darth Vader.”
Luke stepped back as if Leia had just struck him across the face.
But before Luke could react further, before he could say anything or do anything, someone else reacted to Leia’s words.
Artoo let out a screech causing both children to nearly jump out of their skins. Warbling and beeping furiously, (swearing so vividly Luke blushed to hear it), Artoo set his projector on wide screen and the cabin was filled with a different and larger than life holovid.
--–“The operation was a success. The patient has twins, a boy and a girl,” the strange med-droid said.
A bearded man in a singed and stained tunic stared blankly at both infants. On the table, a groggy and barely conscious Padme Amidala reached weakly for her children. “Luke a-and Leia . . .” she managed to mumble before her eyes rolled back in her head.
Another man dressed in finer robes with dark hair came to take one of the infants in his arms. “Will she recover?”---
“That’s– that’s Uncle Bail,” Leia said with a whimper.
“That’s Obi-Wan,” Luke whispered back, eyes never leaving the holoimages, “and Mother. She named us.”
–--“For reasons we cannot explain, she seems to be . . . losing the will to live,” the droid reported.
Obi-Wan ran one hand over his face. “Dying of a broken heart. There is nothing to be done then. We must consult further with Master Yoda. We will have to place the children someplace where they will not be discovered.”
“What about Anakin?” Bail asked. “Could he–"
“Anakin is no more,” Obi-Wan said heavily. “When I found him, only Vader remained and he is defeated. We must keep them from the Emperor and hope in time that they may prove able to fight against him. I will take the boy to-”---
The vid then cut out and over Luke and Leia’s protest, it was suddenly replaced with another.
And then another.
And then another.
Each vid was a snippet, a moment caught by an unassuming droid. The children watched, spellbound and enthralled as Anakin and Padme cooked dinner together while Threepio set the table, Anakin and Padme reunited during what appeared to be pitch battle, Padme turned to formally greet her Jedi bodyguard for the day in front of other Republic senators, Anakin woke from a nightmare and Padme helped him fall back asleep, the two of them watched movies together, discussed baby names, pretended to have just accidentally bumped into each other when confronted by other Jedi, and Anakin watched a live holo of his wife speaking to an open session of the Senate on an important vote, a proud grin stretched across his features.
Finally Artoo cut power and the blue images faded into nothingness.
“L0-K3 and L3-1A,” he beeped softly at both children. “My Pilot and My Queen made you. My mission is L0-K3 and My Pilot. 3P0's mission is L3-IA and My Queen. Truth. Connected together. Family.”
“What did he say?” Leia asked.
“He said our names," he replied in a daze. "He said that his pilot and his queen are our parents. That Artoo has been looking after me and my father, his pilot. That Threepio has been looking after you and–and our mother, his queen. That’s the truth. We’re a family.”
Leia took a few steps over to the bed and sat down heavily. “My father is Darth Vader,” she stated blankly. “And he used to be a Jedi. He’s married to Senator Amidala, champion for democracy.” She looked up at Luke. “How? How did this happen?”
Luke rested his hand on Artoo’s domed head, his fingers tracing the panels of his friend and protector. “I don’t know,” he said, suddenly inexplicably tired. (Obi-Wan knew. Obi-Wan knew and never told him, never told Father. It made him feel hollow and a little bit sick. Did Obi-Wan know Mother was alive too?) “No one’s ever told me anything. I didn’t even know his name, my own father’s name.”
“So . . . I have a brother,” Leia said in a watery voice.
“And I have a baby sister.”
Leia shot him a mild Look. “I could be the older one you know.”
“You could,” Luke agreed with a weak chuckle, not wanting to fight anymore. “Artoo would know, right?”
“Threepio would know too,” Leia said, realizing suddenly that the answers she sought could be right at their fingertips. “They can tell us about-about everything.”
“Neither of them have said anything before now.” Luke looked down at the astromech in fond exasperation.
“Thought my Queen was dead,” Artoo whistled bashfully. “Didn’t know. Threepio explained.”
“Maybe we just didn’t have the right questions to ask."
“Yeah,” Luke said. “Though that hasn’t stopped people from believing all sorts of things that aren’t true. I mean, Captain Granger is using our parents for his dumb play and he probably doesn’t have anything right.”
“And Buckman is playing Mom,” Leia groaned.
“No,” Luke protested in disgust. “No, no, no! Not Buckman. She is nothing like her.”
“Tell me about it! It’s-it’s insulting and sickening.”
“And if this is going to be broadcast all over the Empire, that means that Father will have to watch Buckman play at being our mother." He shook his head thinking of all the poor officers and troopers who probably wouldn’t make it through Empire Day if his father had to watch that! "Though Ozzel can play the Emperor. I don’t care about that.”
“What about me? Your part’s no big deal but I’m going to have to play her handmaiden and watch her butcher the part,” Leia said grouchily and then suddenly her features brightened. “No, I’m not. You’re going to firebomb the camp and the Ewoks will invade before she can take the stage,” she reminded herself. “I take back what I said before about it being crazy. It is a good plan,” she assured him earnestly.
Luke beamed at the unexpected praise, but then his gaze grew distant. “Hey, do you celebrate your birthday on Empire Day?”
“And the play that the Grangers want us to put on, it’s all about the first Empire Day, which would be the day we were born, right?”
“Yeees,” she said again more slowly this time. “You’ve thought of something, some sort of horrible plan, haven’t you?” she continued with a sinking feeling. “Something even more destructive than firebombing the camp. I’ve barely known you for a month and I’ve known you're my brother for like 10 minutes and I can already tell I’m not going to like this at all,” she said with a disgruntled sigh.
“I don’t know about that,” Luke said brightly. “I think this plan will grow on you. Because I think instead of just disrupting the gala with an Ewok invasion and explosions, we should do the play.”
“Why?” she demanded incredulously. “There’s no point in doing the play if we’re going to destroy the camp!”
“Hear me out. We should do the play our way. We should tell the real story about the founding of the Empire, about our parents, everything, while the whole galaxy watches.”
“No, no way!”
“Why not? Why not? I can think of like, a hundred different reasons why not but the most important reason of all is Buckman is not going to play Mom even if I have to blow up the stage myself.”
Luke held up his hands in surrender. “All right, we’ll find someone else to replace Buckman then.”
“Who? I can’t play Mom if you’re playing er– Vader,” she continued unable to say the word father in relation to the Sith Lord. (It was still too much, the truth of it still too big to fathom. It was easier to accept that her father was the young handsome Jedi she’d seen in the holo than the masked menace that terrorized the Rebels.) “That would just be . . . weird and creepy,” she said with a shudder that her brother echoed. “If we’re going to do the play, any type of play, we need to find someone else to play Mom.”
They both thought long and hard for a moment about the possibilities of recasting the role of Senator Amidala and then in unison came to the same conclusion.
Jyn looked up at the sky in exasperation. “Why do people always think tacking on please to a request changes anything? My answer is still no, I will not have anything to do with this play.”
“Jyn, I can’t have Buckman playing Senator Amidala. It has to be you. Please reconsider,” Leia pleaded.
“NO!” Jyn yelled as she tried to stomp away from her friend. “You asked me to cover for you as you pretended to be lobotomized and sucked up to Buckman and I said yes. You asked me to cause a distraction during lunch that nearly had me sent to the Happiness Hut and I said yes. But here I draw the line. I will NOT take part in Granger’s play. It’s over-dramatized, lacks all sense of basic theatrical unities, and worst of all, it glorifies the Emperor. I won’t do it.”
Leia ran to catch up with her and grabbed a hold of her hand to stop her from wandering deeper into the forest. “Listen to me! This is all part of the bigger plan I was telling you about. This is it. The play is where it happens.”
Jyn crossed her arms over her chest. “So I have to humiliate myself live on the Galactic Holonet just so you can urge people to comm their Senators to protect the Ewoks? Leia, your plan is never going to work. No one in this galaxy gives a damn about each other anymore. Why would they care about the Ewoks?”
“That’s not the plan,” Leia hurried to explain. “The plan’s changed.”
Jyn narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Changed, huh? Who else is involved in this new plan?”
“First, you have to promise not to tell anyone,” Leia insisted.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“All right, I’ll tell you. It’s Luke’s plan, all right?” she mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“It’s Luke’s plan.”
“Vader’s fake kid? You’re listening to him now?” Jyn yelled. “What is wrong with you?”
“Shh, someone might hear!” Leia said. “And it’s not what you think. Luke is . . . it’s just not what you think. I was wrong about him. Luke’s fine. Don't worry. We can trust him with this.”
Jyn pushed forward until she had Leia crowded up against a tree. “Look, Princess, you’re just a kid so let me explain something to you. I am not here at camp because my parents don’t have time to take care of me. I’m not here at camp to make political connections and socialized with my betters. I was sent here because I. Am. A. Hostage. They keep me under guard to make sure my father keeps working on crazy weapons for the Emperor. They already murdered my mother to get him to cooperate and they will torture him and me if necessary to get what they want. So don’t tell me that there’s nothing to worry about. Don’t you dare!”
With that Jyn whirled around and stalked deeper into the woods.
Leia was shaken, but she couldn’t let her friend walk away now, not when they were so close. “You could escape!” she called out desperately.
Jyn stopped in her tracks.
“The plan isn’t to rally political support. Luke’s plan is to hijack the play, humiliate and expose the corruption and dark secrets of the Empire for all the galaxy to see, cause a big enough distraction that the Ewoks can invade and conquer the camp, and then use firebombs to burn this place to the ground. While all that’s happening, that one Imperial cadet, Solo, he’s going to help all the slaves escape the moon. You could go with them. You could escape too!”
“I’ve escaped before. I’ve escaped lots of times and you know what I’ve learned?” she asked, turning to look at the younger girl.
Leia shook her head dumbly.
"There is no escape without my father. I won't leave him behind and no firebombing on this moon is going to fix that."
“I know someone who could help with that,” Leia said softly, closing the distance between them. “Jyn, I know how to get in touch with–" here her voice dropped to the barest whisper, "with people who can help. Really, truly, they could help you both.”
Jyn regarded her for a long moment and then let out a sigh. “You never give up, do you?” she said with reluctant fondness. “All right, I’ll think about it--”
“Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Leia practically started hopping up and down in excitement and relief. “And I mean it, I do know people. I do, I swear it. They’ll help you and your father. I’ll help you. Luke will help you too. ”
“Thanks for the offer, but just between you and me, I already have things covered.” She leaned in closer to whisper in the other girl’s ear. “I know people too.”
Leia’s eyes grew wide. “Really?”
“Really,” Jyn said. “Let me tell you a little story about the first time I ever met a droid named K-2S0.”
Cheery music echoed throughout the camp as barely in tune voices chorused together as they tromped around a partially constructed stage learning choreography from Mrs. Granger.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When you see our Emperor say! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
Chewie winced as Mrs. Granger hit the last note of the phrase and shared a commiserating look with Ghosh who was helping him fit together huge sections of the stage floor.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When corruption’s cleared away! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
Ghosh just shuddered but kept his head down. Chewie tried to do the same. The faster they built the stage, the sooner they could hopefully get out of earshot of rehearsals.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When storm trooper blasters’ spray! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
A few of the dancing campers made sure to stomp on his hands and Ghosh’s flippers every chance they got as they passed by their corner of the stage. He swallowed a growl and tried to work faster. He couldn’t lose his temper now and give the game away that both of them had had their implants removed.
They had just two more weeks to get through and then they would be out of here, Chewie kept reminding himself.
“No, no, no!” Captain Granger yelled. “Cut the music!” He rushed up onto the stage waving his datapad. “You’re supposed to be storm troopers, triumphantly returning from the end of the Clone Wars. You need to make me believe it, believe you love the Empire. Your knees must be higher, your movements more precise. We are going to be broadcasting live, people, live at the request of the Emperor. Everything has to be perfect! Do it again!”
The tinny music stared up with a screech.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When you see our Emperor say! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
In the midst of the dance number, A’Man’Daa came prancing onto the stage, disrupting the line of dancing storm troopers.
“Oh, A’Man’Daa, you look perfect!” Mrs. Granger cried rushing from her place leading the dance to admire the girl in her Amidala costume.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When corruption’s cleared away! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
“I had them make a few modifications to the design,” A’Man’Daa said twirling around, letting her short skirt covered in Corellian firestones flutter in the breeze. “If I’m going to be all over the Galactic Holonet, I have to look my best.”
“Gary, come look at this,” Mrs. Granger said, waving over her husband. “Isn’t she precious?”
Ghosh snorted, desperately trying not to laugh at the absurd sight. Chewie just shook his head. He’d seen Senator Amidala on the holonet before the fall of the Republic. She’d never worn anything like that before.
“Happy, Happy Empire Day! Let’s all go and shout hooray! When storm trooper blasters’ spray! It’s Happy Empire Day!”
“Girls, what do you think?” Buckman said, striking a pose.
Yvonne and Deirdre were quick to praise her outfit. The Princess stood stock still, staring in shock at A’Man’Daa’s costume.
“I said, what do you think, Leia?”
“I-it looks . . . lovely A’Man’Daa,” Leia managed to get past gritted teeth.
“Are you all right?” Buckman asked. “You look like you’re going to be sick or something.”
“Excuse me,” Leia managed as she scrambled off the stage and away from the other girls. “I think I need to check in with the med-droid.”
“Don’t be too long, Princess. We’ve got your fittings to do as well,” Mrs. Granger called after her.
“That was better everyone! Now let’s go through it one more time!” Captain Granger yelled. “And you,” he said pointing at Chewie and Ghosh. “Stop lazing about and get to work. I want this stage done yesterday.”
Two more weeks, Chewie reminded himself as he shook his aching fingers. Just two more.
Chapter 9: Rehearsals
A’Man’Daa Buckman was choking.
That was the first thing that Mara realized, followed quickly by a more pressing realization.
A’Man’Daa Buckman was choking on thin air.
Mara could barely see out of one eye; it was already swelling up. Buckman had struck her in a fit of temper during dress rehearsals for this Force-forsaken musical play, but there was no mistaking what she was witnessing.
A’Man’Daa Buckman was choking on thin air because someone was using the Force.
And while Mara certainly drew a great deal of dark satisfaction in watching the girl’s face turn red and then purple, it wasn’t her that was doing the choking.
While the Grangers tried to help the spoilt girl, worriedly asking her what was wrong, as surreptitiously as possible Mara turned her head. She looked over to where Luke was standing, wearing an over-sized black cape that only emphasized how much of a shrimp he was.
She honestly hadn’t thought him capable of Force-assisted murder no matter how many years he had spent under Vader’s wing, but given Buckman’s vicious behavior against her and Buckman’s very own “friends," it wouldn’t surprise her in the least if Luke had snapped. But once Mara caught a glimpse of his pale face, how he was holding onto the Alderaanian Princess's arm, and whispering frantically in her ear . . . she knew that it wasn’t Luke who was killing Buckman.
It was the Princess.
Ridged and shaking in fury, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan was using the Force to choke A'Man'Daa Buckman to death.
She shook her head in disbelief (and wasn’t that a mistake, her temple and eye throbbed painfully and she felt sick to her stomach), but that didn’t change the truth.
Princess Leia was a Force user.
Just how many of us are there? She wondered hysterically to herself. How many young Force users were around? (How many Inquisitors? How many potential Hands, potential tools for her Master to use, each one told they were special, the only one?) Wasn’t Vader supposed to have hunted them all down? (Hunted us down?)
Unless that was another lie?
But who’s lie was it?
Vader’s or her Master’s?
Mara brought herself out of her revive. This was no time to be wondering such things. Buckman had moved past coughing to staggering and gasping. The Grangers and the campers were growing more panicked. Unless someone did something, any hope of escape off the moon would be lost along with Buckman’s miserable life.
Leia couldn't take it any more. She couldn’t keep pretending to be a groveling toady, a good Imperial citizen. She was blowing her cover as Agent Sand but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.
All because of A’Man’Daa Kriffing Buckman.
The bullying, self entitled brat who thought playing the lead in the play meant she could berate her fellow campers and outright torment and hit her servant (slave, Luke said she was treated like a slave).
Leia had tried to remain unfazed by what she saw Buckman doing during their dress rehearsal. She’d tried to control her temper and her outright disgust as Buckman claimed she had every right to act the way she did because that is what Queen Amidala would do, treat other sentient beings like so much garbage.
As if her mother would ever behave in such a fashion!
But when Buckman kicked her servant in the face and the shoulder when the girl could not get Buckman buckled shoe off fast enough, Leia had had it.
The look of shock, fear, and pain in the red head’s eyes sparked something in Leia. A sense of righteous anger.
(The anger felt strangely familiar, like an old friend.)
And then, when A’Man’Daa ordered Leia to kneel down and finish the job and the anger suddenly became a boiling hate.
(The hatred made her feel powerful, made her feel as if she could, no, should punish Buckman for what she’d done.)
And why shouldn’t she punish A’Man’Daa? Why shouldn’t she act on how she really felt rather than pretending and going along and playing nice all the time? Why did she have to be a pacifist and play the political games her mom and her aunt and uncle wanted her to play? A’Man’Daa Buckman, Markum Ozzel, and the Grangers were more than just self-entitled bullies. They were monsters. They were Ewok murdering monsters who saw no harm in treating the "help" (slaves, they were slaves), with pain and derision.
(The hate seemed to explode out of her, striking hard and fast).
A’Man’Daa Buckman deserved to suffer.
Luke had grabbed onto her arm. He was shaking her.
“Leia, you’re going to kill her. You need to stop.”
Buckman was doubled over, grasping at her own throat, coughing, choking.
“You don’t want to do this, Leia. If she dies, the plan falls apart.”
All their hard work, all the lives at stake, she was risking it in a moment of weakness, of self indulgence, all because she couldn’t keep it together.
“Agent Sand, stop. Stop this right now.”
Leia took a deep breath (she hadn’t realized she was holding it all this time), and the burning pressure behind her eyes eased in an instant. Her hands unclenched, her body felt limp and weak. Luke’s grip shifted as he helped her stay standing.
Leia looked around, bewildered.
What just happened?
A’Man’Daa began to breathe again.
She looked down at her hands.
What had she done?
Mrs. Granger was in near hysterics. “A’Man’Daa? A’Man’Daa? Say something!”
“You!” Captain Granger yelled, pointing at Numa who stood holding several costumes in her arms. “Get her a glass of water! Stupid thing! Can’t you see she’s in pain?”
“A’Man’Daa, are you all right? What happened?” Yvonne asked, patting her on the back. “What's wrong?”
Buckman gasped and sputtered and then her eyes bugged out as she pointed frantically at her throat.
“A’Man’Daa? Can-can you speak at all?” Mrs. Granger asked with growing fear.
The blond tried but could only squeak.
“Don’t try and talk!” Captain Granger exclaimed waving his hands around frantically. “You’ll only make it worse. Where’s her servant? We need to get her to the med-droid immediately and see if we can salvage her signing voice in time for Empire Day! You, girl, get over here!”
Mara brushed herself off and stood, tall and straight. She made no effort to hide her bruised face which the campers conveniently ignored. “Yes, Captain. I’ll take her right away.”
“Gary, what are we going to do? It’s practically Empire Day and we’ve lost our star! There’s no way she’ll be able to speak let alone sing for the broadcast. No one else knows the part. No one else can be spared to play the part!” Mrs. Granger cried in dismay, grabbing hold of her husband’s arm.
“We’re doomed,” Captain Granger groaned. “Doomed! The Emperor himself will know of our failure. He’ll–“
“I’ll do it.”
Gary and Becky Granger looked at each other and then they and all the other campers turned to look towards the unexpected speaker.
Beyond the edge of the stage stood Jyn Erso, Kay-Too a familiar towering figure behind her.
“W-what did you say?” Captain Granger asked incredulously in the stunned silence.
“I said I’ll do it. I’ll play the part of Senator Amidala,” she announced as she climbed the stairs up onto the edge of the stage.
“You will?” Mrs. Granger's tone was filled with doubt.
“You? You can’t play the part of Senator Amidala!” Yvonne protested. “You’re-you’re nothing but a freak!”
Jyn scowled and clenched her jaw. “I’m not perky.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Ozzel interjected snidely.
“Shh!” Mrs. Granger said sharply. “Go on, dear.”
“I’m not perky, but . . . I want to be. I want to smile, and have fun, and make friends and play the part of Senator Amidala in Captain Granger’s musical. I know all the lines. I’ve . . . secretly wanted to be Senator Amidala since the play was first cast,” she managed to grind out, sounding like saying the words was causing her physical pain.
“Oh, sweetheart!” Mrs. Granger cooed clasping her hands together. “Do you really mean it?”
Jyn’s eyes flickered for a moment over to Leia. The Princess stood deathly pale, staring out at nothing as Luke bore her weight. Jyn wasn’t sure what had just happened, but she knew she needed to help her friend however she could.
She swallowed hard and forced a smile to her lips. As the grin stretched across her face, growing more weird and demented with every second, the watching campers recoiled in audible shock.
“She’s scaring me!” Deirdre whimpered.
“She’s so pretty when she smiles Oh, Gary, we’ve helped another lost soul.”
Captain Granger took his wife’s hand in his and nodded and smiled. “Campers, we have our leading lady and our show is saved! All praises to the Empire!”
Buckman gasped, tying to protest as her chance to be on the galactic Holonet slipped away, but she was ignored. Mara took no small amount of pleasure in “leading” her away from the stage.
“Now let’s get you over to wardrobe, my dear!” Mrs. Granger simpered placing her arm around a stiff Jyn’s shoulders.
Luke hurried back to his cabin, practically carrying his sister along with him, the droids in tow. He sent silent thanks to Jyn for stepping in when she had. He just hoped she could keep it together in the face of Mrs. Granger’s fussing.
Luke carefully sat Leia down on the bed and then rushed to get a glass of water from the bathroom.
Artoo rattled off a series of orders that had Threepio hurrying out of the cabin.
Luke came back into the room and pressed the glass into Leia’s hand and then helped her lift it up to her lips. After a few swallows, he put the glass aside. “It’s all right. Just take some deep breaths. Threepio will be right back.”
“I’m here! I’m here!” came the distant call of Threepio as he shuffled back up the path to the cabin, carrying a tray with him. “I’ve brought provisions,” he said once he arrived, trying to hand the Princess a sugary snack bar. “This one was a particular favorite of Miss Ahsoka. She always wanted one after training.”
Leia looked at the food but made no effort to eat.
“You need to eat something,” Luke urged her. “Your blood sugar can suddenly drop after using the Force like that.”
Leia shoved the snack bar away and stood up. “The Force?! What the hell are you talking about?”
Luke calmly faced her. His sister in a high dudgeon was nothing compared to his father’s storms of fury.
“I can’t use the Force! That wasn’t me!”
“The Force runs strong in our family. I have it, our father has it, and you have it,” he explained.
“No, I don’t! I’m not like–like you. I’m like Mom!” Leia yelled. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t have used the Force to do that!”
“Nothing else but the Force could have caused Buckman to choke. I’ve seen it before.”
“Of course you have. You have all the answers, don’t you?” she spat.
Luke bit his tongue and reminded himself that arguing wasn’t going to help right now. “No, like I said, I’ve seen this before. My father–"
“How dare you compare me to him?”
“Why not? You’re his daughter and even the Jedi used the Force in some pretty violent ways. It’s called the Clone Wars after all, not the Clone Conference.”
“I don’t care about that! How can you be so-so calm about this?” she demanded as she paced the floor. “I nearly killed her!” she finally shouted, admitting out loud the horrible truth of her actions.
“Nearly only counts with Hardcase and hand grenades,” Luke quipped automatically before he could help himself.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. “Old trooper joke. Look, you nearly killed her, but you didn’t and now that she’s out of commission she’s not going to be playing Mother.”
“You don’t understand anything,” she said through gritted teeth. “How could you? You’re all fire bombs and starting wars. This isn’t how I was raised. This isn’t normal. Strangling people just because– because–“
“Because you were angry? Because you hated her for what she did to Mara? It’s something you have to be careful of. Strong feelings can have serious consequences for Force users.”
“I didn’t ask for this power. I don’t want it,” she said, shaking her head and fighting back tears.
“It isn’t something that you can choose or turn off. All things, living and not living are connected with the Force. Me, you, the chair, a tree, the droids, everything. It binds the universe together. Our family, we’re . . . just a bit more sensitive than other beings. Don’t be afraid, Leia. The more afraid you are, the harder it is, the more . . . hurt you’ll feel.”
Leia scoffed at that. It sounded like he was just repeating some platitude he’d heard from an adult. It was no more useful than what Aunt Breha always told her about concealing her emotions. “If I can't get rid of the Force, how am I supposed to stop this from happening again? What if next time someone dies? I don’t want to be like him! If you know so much about it, tell me what to do!”
Ignoring the familiar slight against his father, Luke sighed and sat on the bed. He only wished he did know what to do. Nearly twelve years of living with Obi-Wan and Vader had shown him neither of them had any fool-proof answers to the problem that now plagued his sister, (that, if he was honest, plagued him as well). The only remedy Luke had discovered after many failed attempts at steadying his father through his rages and Obi-Wan through his depression was to not leave them alone no matter how much they shouted at him to go away or what they said to him.
“I don’t know.”
“Then what good are you?!” she thundered in response, fists clenched, chest heaving.
Luke took a deep breath. “I’m here.” He held out his hand to her.
For a long moment she just stared at him, eyes burning, but he was no target to vent her anger upon. He was just a dorky boy who happened to be her brother. With an explosive noise that may have included a curse word or two, she slumped and then tiredly sat down next to him on the bed, her shoulder pressing into his.
“Have . . . you ever felt this way?” she asked, her hand finding his and gripping it tight.
“Yes,” Luke answered quietly.
“What did you do about it?”
He squeezed her hand and said nothing, for there was nothing else he could offer but himself at that moment. He’d hoped it was enough.
“I don't care, I’m going to quit the play,” Jyn announced as she and Leia stormed into Luke’s cabin the next day.
With a squawk, Luke lunged for the door and shut it behind them, drawing the shades. “Did anyone see you? Were you followed?”
“But you just agreed to take the part!” Leia protested, ignoring her brother. “Empire Day is the day after tomorrow!”
“Look, you can’t just come in here whenever you feel like it! What if I’d been in the shower or something?”
“Where else are we going to meet to plot the mass destruction of this camp?” Jyn retorted. “And we need to meet to make a new plan because I’m not doing the play anymore.”
“Is it the song?” Luke asked worriedly. “Because with the timing of the Ewok attack, there’s no singing. You won’t have to dance either.” He was trying to be reassuring, but his heart wasn't in it. If he had more time, he would have loved to write his own musical number for his own version of the play.
“No, I’m fine with singing and dancing if it means destroying this place.”
Luke and Leia shared a long confused glance. “Then why quit?” Leia asked.
“Have you seen the costume for Senator Amidala? That sparkling monstrosity? It looks like something a dancing girl would wear or some sort of teenage holonet star. I don’t care if she was some sort of historical icon, anyone who would wear that outfit’s got problems that I don’t want any part of.”
Luke groaned in frustration. “It’s just a costume. They’ve got me wearing something ridiculous too. They’re even having me use a vocoder to change my voice. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me,” he grumbled.
“Don’t pretend to complain. I’ve seen you during rehearsal. You love your costume!”
“Well . . . maybe the cape,” he admitted but then rushed to continue before Jyn could cut him off. “But I stand by that. Loving a good cape, or a cloak for that matter, isn’t a crime. What’s important is the plan. If you fight them on the costume, they may give the part to someone else.”
“If it helps, Senator Amidala didn’t really wear any of those kinds of outfits in real life anyway,” Leia added. “She wouldn’t be caught dead in what Buckman designed.”
“Doesn’t matter. Not wearing it,” Jyn insisted, crossing her arms.
“Ah, would it help if we had an alternative costume for Miss Jyn to wear instead?” Threepio interjected from where he was straightening up Luke’s desk. “Miss Jyn could wear a robe to hide her costume until just before she took the stage. With the cameras and the live broadcast, they wouldn’t be able to stop her or force her to change. That way, the Senator would be portrayed appropriately.”
“Not a bad idea!” Jyn said with amazement at the droid's suggestion. “But I’ve got one better. If I don’t have to take the stage until after the cameras are rolling, I’ll just wear my regular clothes under the robe. No need for any gown.”
“No, no, no! That simply won’t do, Miss Jyn,” Threepio said fluttering anxiously. “You are playing Senator Padme Amidala. She was always the picture of sartorial elegance. If you are to play the part, then you must dress the part.”
“I still don’t understand why Leia isn’t playing the Senator,” she grumbled, flopping on Luke’s bed. “She’s all . . . princess-y. She could do it.”
“No,” Leia and Luke said flatly and in unison.
“Fine,” Jyn rolled her eyes. “Show me something she would really wear,” she said to Threepio.
“Oh my! There are just so many to choose from!”
“Black Mamba,” Artoo beeped.
“What’s the Black Mamba?” Luke asked.
“She wore so many splendid robes and dresses, to say nothing about the head pieces–“
“Black Mamba,” Artoo trilled.
“Head pieces?” Jyn echoed skeptically. “No one said anything about head pieces.”
“Black Mamba!” Artoo squawked. “Black Mamba, BLACK MAMBA, BLACK MAM-BAAAAAA!”
“Be quiet, Artoo! I’m trying to think,” the protocol droid scolded, banging on Artoo’s domed head. “Miss Jyn is not wearing the Black Mamba. The Senator never wore that dress. They designed it as a joke.”
“Black Mamba,” Artoo beeped sullenly.
“Who designed it?” Luke asked, curiosity piqued. “Did . . . they design a dress together? Let me see!” he demanded eagerly.
Leia, who could only understand part of the conversation as her understanding of binary was nonexistent, was lost. “What dress? What’s the Black Mamba?”
Artoo proudly rolled forward and activated his holoprojector.
“Oh, I can’t bear to watch!” Threepio groaned, turning away.
The design and drawings filled the room.
“Well . . . it’s . . . certainly something,” Leia said after a long moment of silence.
“It does have a nice cape,” Luke announced.
“With that collar?” his sister said, aghast.
“Especially with that collar and the spiky bits,” he replied. “It’s very . . . distinctive.”
“Perhaps a different outfit, Artoo?” Leia suggested, growing concerned for her brother’s complete lack of taste and wondering how her mom had been involved in creating such a garment in the first place. She could only conclude that this fashion disaster was entirely Vader's fault and her mother was just humoring him.
“Yes, please,” Threepio begged.
“No, wait. I agree with Luke. I like it,” Jyn said with a grin.
The twins and Threepio looked to her in surprise.
“No, I really do!” she insisted. “I want to wear it.”
“Jyn, there’s no need to–“
“Leia, if I’ve got to play this Senator I’m going to do it my way, and I’m going to do it wearing that,” she said pointing at the image.
“The Grangers are going to hate it,” Leia predicted darkly.
“That’s why it’s perfect,” Jyn said with a satisfied sigh. “So . . . who’s going to sew this?”
The children looked towards the droids.
“No tools for sewing,” Artoo beeped smugly. He shut off his holoprojetor and rolled over to L0-K3. “Helping with battle plans.”
“I’m helping Han and Chewie with a few logistics,” Luke hurriedly added, not wanting to be roped into the project. “I already had to scrap my idea of an alternative script telling the real truth behind Empire Day due to lack of time, casting options besides the Ewoks, and no real orchestra to speak of. Maybe someday," he said wistfully, "but for now, the plan comes first. I don’t have time to help you sew.”
“I disapprove most strongly of the aesthetics of the dress,” Threepio piped up sternly. “I don’t know what the Senator was thinking. Even if I did sew it, I couldn’t finish it in time for the play on my own. I’m only one droid, Princess.”
Jyn clapped her hands together. “Then I guess whether he likes it or not, KayToo is going to have to help.”
“I wish to say again that I’m an Imperial Security droid, not a seamstress.”
“Less talking, more sewing,” Leia ordered Kaytoo as she and Threepio continued to measure and piece fabric together.
“Does this have to be happening here?” Luke asked as he looked up from the scattered electronic and mechanical items strewn on top of his already flimsi cluttered desk.
There was a rapping on the window and Han pushed it open and stuck his head inside. “Hey, kid, you got the transmitters coded and coordinated yet?”
“Almost,” Luke said as he bent back over the components, multitool in hand.
“Well, you better get a move on. You’ve got rehearsal after lunch and we’re going to have to place them tonight.” Han looked over to where Jyn stood on a small stool as a living model. “What are you supposed to be, Erso?” he asked, not trying very hard to suppress his laughter at her predicament.
“She is going to be Senator Padme Amidala, hero of the Republic and champion of democracy,” Leia cut in sharply.
“It looks like she’s wearing a sack. I thought she was some sort of fashion icon they way you girls have all be going on and on about her,” Han teased.
“I may only be a security droid, but even I know that’s the wrong shape. You have used too much fabric around the waist,” Kay-Too offered, peering over the Princess’s shoulder.
“No, we haven’t,” Leia said calmly as she continued to consult the pattern Artoo displayed. “It’ll be fine once we stuff the pillows under there.”
“Pillows? Why am I wearing pillows?” Jyn asked in bewilderment.
Threepio and Leia exchanged a glance. Leia pursed her lips for a moment and then responded. “Because Senator Amidala was pregnant at the fall of the Republic.”
“Pregnant?” Jyn and Han both exclaimed.
“It’s always the rich and powerful ones,” Han marveled with a salacious grin.
KayToo eyes flickering as he calculated what this new information meant. “There were reports of such an event in the ISB database, but nothing was confirmed. If she was pregnant, who was the father?”
“Yeah, your highnessness, who knocked her up?”
“Could you all be a bit more quiet please?” Luke asked, growing testy. “Some of us are working with explosive triggers and don’t want to make a mistake and accidentally blow us or the Ewoks up.”
“Right!” Leia put down the fabric in her hands, went over to the window, shoved Han out. Ignoring his indignant yell, she shut the window pane in his face. “Let’s get back to work.”
Luke delivered the finished transmitters to Chewie that evening in the garage. “Does everyone know the plan? Everyone’s got their implants out? Supplies for the trip? Does everyone know where they’re going?”
“Yes, even the little cub,” Chewie said turning to point to the other side of the garage where Mara, Numa, and several others were finishing up final battle preparations. “She’s been a great help getting us access to the main building so we can knock out the shield generator.”
“I-I should probably go and talk to her-them,” he said suddenly. “We won’t have time tomorrow. I should say good-bye now, huh?”
“Not good-bye,” Chewie said softly. “Until we meet again.”
“Until we meet– agmmph!” Luke’s farewell was engulfed in a furry embrace.
“Be safe,” Chewie affectionately growled.
“You too!” With that, Luke hurried over to the other side of the garage. “Mara!”
The girl hesitated and then turned. The bruising on her face was still a livid purple. It made Luke’s heart clench at the sight. “I just wanted to say, that I’m really, really glad you’re leaving tomorrow. Well, not glad you’re leaving,” he amended quickly. “I mean glad you’re – glad you got the implant out and well, thank you for helping with the med-droid, and Buckman, and the shield generator.”
“I’m not doing this for you. There’s no need to thank me.”
“I know, but it means a lot to everyone who’s escaping.”
“And what about you?”
Luke blinked in surprise. “What about me?”
“If we’re taking all the ships when we leave, how are you and Erso and the Princess going to get off this moon?”
“My father’s coming. He was already planning on picking me up on his way back to Imperial Center for the festivities.”
“You’re taking an awful risk thinking he’ll get here before the Emperor’s agents do. You don’t know the power He wields,” she warned.
He smiled bitterly at her. “I know, believe me I know. I’ve lived with it. My family lives with it, but after tomorrow we won’t have to anymore.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. “I can feel it. Can't you?”
“You’re crazy. Crazy and stupid and it’s going to get you killed. He’ll hunt you and Vader down. He’ll never let this betrayal stand, especially if you humiliate him.”
“Better us than you,” he countered, eyes snapping open. “We know how to fight back.”
“Stupid boy,” she scoffed.
“Double crossing spy,” he retorted.
Mara drew back, affronted.
“What? It’s true.”
“Don’t get yourself killed before I manage to get off this planet,” she hissed at him. “I refuse to be stuck here if this fails.”
“Take care of yourself, Mara,” Luke said, reaching out and placing his multitool in her hand. “Until we meet again.”
Chapter 10: Showtime
There was a knock at his cabin door. Luke finished pulling on his costume gloves and then went to open it. His sister stood on the doorstep. She was already dressed in her handmaiden costume, hair pinned back in an elaborate bun. For a long moment the twins regarded each other and their outfits and then silently, mutually agreed not to say anything.
Things were weird enough as it was.
“Happy birthday,” Luke finally said in greeting.
Leia smiled. “Happy birthday.” She gestured behind her. “They want us down by the stage.”
“Let me get my props,” he said and then quickly dashed into his room picking up the familiar mask and the faux lightsaber hilt he’d been working on the past few days with Han and Chewie’s help.
They walked down to the stage in silence, Artoo rolling along beside them. Leia wished she wasn’t so nervous, but nothing she did seemed to stop the mynocks in her stomach. Today was the day that she would meet her father. Just thinking the words made her shiver. She could only hope that Luke’s crazy plan to convince Vader to run away with them, to betray the Empire, and find their mother would work.
“You can still be Agent Sand if you want.”
Leia turned, startled at Luke’s unexpected words. “What? What are you talking about?”
“You can stay undercover with your fellow campers. You don’t have to let on that you are part of the plan. I don’t have to slip in that line that Senator Amidala is pregnant. We can pin Jyn’s dress differently and tell her to remove the pillows. No one needs to know you’re my sister if you don’t want to tell them,” he offered, not looking at her, staring straight ahead as they walked.
“But . . . what about you? You’re still planning to blow up the camp and let the Ewoks invade right?”
“Yes, but it’s going to be dangerous. You don’t have to be part of it if you don’t want to.”
“I thought you said that you wanted to tell Vader the truth, that you didn’t want to keep secrets from him. I thought you said that he would be . . . okay with it,” she finished awkwardly, now even more worried. If Luke wanted her to remain undercover then what was he afraid Vader would do to him?
She could only imagine and what she imagined wasn’t good.
“I will tell him, Leia. He has the right to know that you exist and that our mother’s alive. There’s been enough lying, don’t you think?”
She had to agree with that, but still. “Why tell me to pretend if he’s going to know anyway?” Leia demanded, coming to a halt, placing her hands on her hips. “After everything we’ve done to get ready for this, why would you even say that?”
“Because . . . because maybe there’s a reason everyone lied about this: Bail Organa, Obi-Wan, . . . Mother,” he said ducking his head. “Maybe it’s not safe for us to be together as a family so long as the Emperor lives. Maybe–maybe Mother doesn’t want us to be together,” he muttered. “I can understand that. Mara is right. It’s safer for you and Mother if you don’t draw the Emperor’s attention.”
“Leia, it’s too late for Father and I. We’ve both been in the Emperor’s sights for far too long.”
“No, Luke. Your idea was a good one. We’ll humiliate him and then run away, far away. We’ll join the Rebellion together. I’m sick of political protests that don’t really solve anything while people like the Ewoks suffer and die. I don’t want to be an Imperial Senator and take over Uncle Bail’s seat. All I’ve ever wanted to do was join the Rebellion just like Mom. I mean, I love Uncle Bail and Aunt Breha, but I hate pretending to be some princess. I’m just not cut out for it. I’d rather be with Mom and with you and with--” She hesitated and swallowed and then said, “--as a family. We’re doing this together, Luke.”
“If you're sure," he warned.
Her eyes narrowed. "I'm sure. Now, shut up about it."
He nodded and they were soon engulfed in the chaos of last minute preparations.
They joined Jyn, KayToo, and Threepio backstage. The six of them stood in nervous silence, waiting for the broadcast to begin, trying not to give the game away.
The familiar tones of the Imperial Galactic Holonet jingle filled the air followed by the booming laugh of the one and only Caesar Flickerman.
“Are you ready?” Luke asked.
Leia took a deep shuddering breath and then straightened her shoulders and stood tall. “Ready.”
She turned to look at Jyn who was hiding her modified costume under a robe.
“Let’s do this,” the other girl said with a nod.
“Here goes nothing,” Luke whispered as he pulled down his mask.
With back straight and in his most starched formal uniform, Captain Granger took the stage and addressed a galaxy.
“Each year, the amazing and privileged young men and women here at Camp Chippewa showcase a seminal event in our shared galactic history. In honor of our Imperial Excellency himself, we are proud to present this Empire Day our humble musical retelling of the founding of the Empire from the squalid ashes of the corrupt and failed Republic.”
“It’s a story of our brave and illustrious Emperor providing safety and security for all,” Mrs. Granger chimed in, coming to stand beside her husband. She was resplendent in a beautiful gown trimmed with Ewok fur. “It’s a tale of the triumphant victory of order over the chaos by Lord Vader and our Imperial forces. In the span of a few short days, a miraculous transformation occurred and, with the blessing of the martyr Amidala, Queen of Naboo, the Empire we know and love was born.”
“So in honor of this our twelfth Empire Day we present Birth of an Empire. Campers, take it away!”
The ISS Executor continued to travel serenely through hyperspace towards the forest moon of Endor. The ship’s crew prepared for what had historically been an incredibly stressful day: Empire Day.
In an out of the way closet room that was more cubby than living quarters, Obi-Wan Kenobi found himself unexpectedly restless, more so than usual on the anniversary of what was one of the worst days of his life. He cast his eyes upward towards the bridge.
He had a very strong premonition that whatever was going on, somewhere, somehow, someone was going to die.
On the bridge of the Executor, Commander Gherant had his eyes glued to the chrono, trying to will it to go faster. The sooner the chrono changed the sooner Admiral Piett would complete his breakfast and begin his bridge shift. As far as the commander was concerned, that moment couldn’t come fast enough.
The tortured sound of durasteel screaming filled the bridge. Console after console seemed to be buckling under some unseen force, turning into a mass of spitting sparks and metal. But even that noise did not drown out the giant holoscreen showing the Empire Day festivities. The tinny music and cheery voices of dancing stormtroopers blasted from every speaker, the image bright on every screen.
Yes, dancing stormtroopers. It was absolutely mortifying and the commander could only imagine the stony silence of Vader’s own troops being forced to watch this drivel down in the barracks.
But as uncomfortable as things were in the barracks, it was certainly safer than being in Lord Vader’s presence.
The bridge officers and crew ducked their heads, trying desperately not to be noticed. Out of the corner of his eye, Gherant could see the engineers attempting to eek out every bit of speed they could from the hyperdrive, trying to get them to Endor just a little bit quicker.
He didn’t hold out much hope they’d reach Lord Vader’s son in time to stop mass murder. Some part of him had already made peace with his fate. The bridge crew could only desperately pray that Admiral Piett had chosen a simple breakfast of porridge this morning.
He was their only hope.
Sabe and Dorme were trying to help the former Queen dress. They’d secured a private room to both prepare and to broadcast from in the temple complex, but Padme was not cooperating.
The Holonet was proving to be too distracting.
“Padme, please!” Dorme begged, a mouth full of pins not stopping her for a moment. “I’m trying to do your hair.”
“Did you hear that?” Padme demanded indignantly, pointing at the mandatory Empire Day broadcast that not even Rebellion slicers could stop from playing on all the holoscreens on the Base. “Did the boy playing the Emperor just say I helped elevate Palpatine to the position Supreme Chancellor because I somehow knew he would be the best thing for the galaxy?!”
“What did you expect on Empire Day?” Sabe looked up from where she was adjusting Padme’s skirts. “That kid’s a little short to be playing Vader, isn’t he?” she said with a laugh as they watched a small figure in a familiar black mask and overlarge cape stride onto the stage.
Padme shook her head in disgust. “I think poor casting is the least of this play’s problems. Blatant propaganda and re-writing of history is more my concern, as well as the fact that indoctrinating children with this garbage is doing lasting damage. Although . . .”
Dorme and Sabe both stopped their work as Padme trailed off pensively.
“What is it?” Dorme looked at the screen wondering what she had missed. “What’s going on now?”
“Doesn’t he . . . doesn’t that boy remind you of–of Anakin? The one playing Vader?” Padme asked hesitantly. She didn’t know why, but she had the oddest feeling of familiarity watching him flip his cape dramatically behind him.
Her once handmaidens peered at the child playing the Dark Lord as he stood in the background of the scene as the actor playing the Emperor continued to monologue dramatically.
“He certainly has the body language right,” Sabe grinned. “They probably made the poor kid watch vids of Vader to prepare of his role.”
“I think this is the part where you come on,” Dorme said eagerly. “Oh my stars, they even cast us handmaidens.”
“That’s Leia! She’s playing one of the handmaidens!” Padme exclaimed rushing forward to get a better look. “This is the camp that Breha and Bail sent her to? What-what is she wearing?”
“More to the point, what is mini-you wearing? Are those pillows?!” Dorme said aghast.
Padme glanced away from her daughter to look at the actress portraying her and clapped a hand over her mouth in shock. She knew that outfit. She’d never worn it but she knew that outfit.
“I know that gown,” she breathed in disbelief. “It–it can’t be. It just can’t be.”
“We’re falling behind schedule,” Zeb muttered over the comlink as part of the Ghost’s crew tried to shuffle through the crowd in Imperial Center away from their prearranged sabotage points, hoping they weren’t being followed.
Kanan glanced around anxiously and found Ezra standing transfixed, staring at a sea of holoscreens filling a store window. Swearing under his breath he pushed through the watching crowd and grabbed hold of the distracted boy’s shoulder. “What’s wrong with you? What is it?”
Ezra turned to look at him, blue eyes wide. “Was Senator Amidala really pregnant before she died?”
Kanan looked and his jaw dropped at the sight of a pint sized Vader quite obviously clasping hands with the famed Angel of Naboo while an oblivious Emperor pontificated through a paraphrased version of the Declaration of a New Order. “What in the Sith hell–?!”
“Because it sure looks like she was and I think– I think that Darth Vader was the father!”
Silent and still, that’s what they were. They had crawled through what felt like miles of ducts and maintenance tunnels of the Imperial Palace. It was the strangest homecoming to the once Jedi Temple Ahsoka Tano could have possibly imagined, but here she was. Here they were.
Over a year in the making, it was finally time.
They were in sight of their quarry. He sat in what was the Imperial Throne Room where he was watching the broadcasted festivities with his guards and a handful of boot-licking advisors and Moffs. Every ounce of her focus was on shielding her team’s presence, hoping against hope the Emperor (infamous for his precognition abilities), would not sense them before Rogue One’s distraction went off.
Turns out Ahsoka needn’t have worried.
The Emperor had far more unexpected events pressing on his mind.
“--We have been tested, but we have emerged stronger. We move forward as one people: the Imperial citizens of the first Galactic Empire under my leadership and example! Come brave citizens, come Lord Vader, and acknowledge me as–”
“Stop!” Luke yelled, his voice booming through the voice modulator fixed into his mask.
“What?” Ozzel as the Emperor said in shock, not expecting the interruption during his triumphant monologue.
“The galaxy will never kneel before you and neither will I!”
Markum Ozzel looked around in confusion, and then caught sight of the camp directors to stage left. “Captain Granger, what’s going on?”
“Luke!” Captain Granger hissed from the prompt box. “Stick to the script!”
But Luke was done sticking to the script. He stepped forward, advancing on the boy who played the Emperor. “You are stealing freedom from the people of this galaxy. You aren’t bringing peace, you’re bringing dictatorship! Years from today, the citizens of this galaxy will live in fear and as slaves, torn from their families. You will sit on your makeshift throne of lies and bully, threaten, imprison, and kill anyone who questions you. Those truly loyal to the protection of the galaxy will be outlawed and hunted while you use your Force powers to plunge the galaxy into Darkness. You claim you must become Emperor to provide security from Separatist threats and corruption. I say that you are the Separatist threat!” he yelled jabbing a finger at the “Emperor.”
“You are the stinking rot of corruption!” he continued at a roar driving Ozzel back with each word. “You are behind both sides of the Clone Wars, pitting friend against friend to seize power only for yourself!”
Luke turned to face the camera and the adults and campers in the audience straight on. He pulled off his mask, throwing it to the side. “The Force has spoken to me and revealed the truth!” he proclaimed in a ringing tone, lifting his arms. “It has said “Do not trust a politician who profits from war, death, and suffering, especially Sheev Palpatine.””
“You’re-you’re changing the words,” Ozzel cried. “You can’t do that!”
“You idiot, we’re broadcasting live!” Captain Granger said grasping the stage curtains in desperation.
“And for all these reasons,” he continued, ignoring both of them, “I have decided to destroy you and burn your Empire to the ground,” Luke intoned savagely, drawing his prop lightsaber hilt from his belt and raising it high in his hand.
“Luke, don’t you dare–!” Captain Granger snarled, rushing onto the stage. He didn’t take more than a few steps before a sudden blast of a horn trumpeted across the camp from the east. Everyone froze in place. The horn was echoed by another blast to the west. Seemingly from nowhere, an army appeared around the stage pavilion, armed to the teeth.
Captain Granger paled in fear. Ozzel tried to scramble away, but there was nowhere to go.
“You have taken the land that is rightfully theirs. The Ewoks want it back,” Luke said with a fierce grin as he pushed a button on the prop saber.
With a boom, the administration building and guard tower of the camp exploded into balls of flames.
War cries ringing over the Galactic Holonet, the Ewoks swarmed the camp.
“Is . . . is this the distraction?” Cassian asked softly over their comms, breaking radio silence, as through the ventilation grate they watched the holoscreen fill with flames and images of screaming guards being pummeled to death by furry natives.
Rex and Ahsoka didn’t answer. They were as stunned as the rest of the Imperial court at what was transpiring.
“It is now,” Saw muttered grimly, knocking out the grate and opening fire.
“I thought we were the distraction team!” Sabine groused as she shoved her helmet on. “We’ve been planning this for months. We’ve been stuck on Imperial Center for a year and now this?! Who’re these kids?”
Zeb turned to look at Hera. “Did you know about this? Did Rogue One–?”
The comm on the Ghost cackled to life. “Hera?” Kanan’s warning voice filled the cockpit. “What’s going on?”
Groaning, Hera shook her head. “For kriff’s sake, if everything and everyone’s in position, just go! Go, go, go!”
“That’s our cue! The shield will blow next. Everyone who wants off this rock, move! Move!” Han shouted as the slaves rushed for the shuttlepad amid the chaos, dodging Ewok warriors who did nothing to stop their escape.
“Surprised to see you, Red,” Han said as he caught sight of a certain little spy as he and Chewie ran for their chosen ship, grabbing supplies as they went. “Just so we’re clear, Chewie and me have plans on the Outer Rim that don’t involve babysitting little kids.”
Mara grabbed her own rucksack from where she had hidden it the night before. From a pocket she pulled out a familiar multitool and moved to help Chewie who was trying to unlock a larger cargo ship. With a hiss, the ramp began to lower. “As if I’d want to travel with you,” she said tartly, darting around him to another ship, then another cargo ship, helping as she went and then ended up by a larger shuttle that Numa was trying to access.
Mara hurried over and quickly helped jimmy the locking sequence. As the ramp lowered, Numa turned to regard the human girl.
Mara stood there, not about to beg anyone for anything.
Numa favored her with a small smile. “All aboard everyone heading for Ryloth,” she said and gestured for Mara to enter the ship.
Within minutes, all the private luxury shuttles and cargo vessels launched screaming into orbit and jumped into hyperspace, stranding everyone else on the moon.
Firmus Piett’s standard morning breakfast was slowly congealing on his plate. He didn’t notice. His gaze was firmly fixed on the Holonet where an army of teddy bears armed with stone age technology were routing the most exclusive, prestigious, and heavily guarded children’s camp in the galaxy.
If anyone else was paying attention they would have been shocked to see that the Admiral was openly gaping. But no one was. Every officer in the lounge was transfixed by the chaos on the screen being orchestrated by the armor wearing son of their Lord Commander.
“Did– did Lord Vader provide Luke with any ordinance in his birthday package?” Piett asked distantly.
The girl who’d been playing Senator Amidala (while wearing a truly astonishing costume), and one of her handmaidens (who looked very much like the Princess of Alderaan), were gleefully tearing down the Imperial banners decorating the stage. They were using them to tie up and gag the bruised and battered camp directors who'd been subdued by the strength and speed of an Imperial Security droid of all things.
“No, sir,” General Veers answered, eyes never straying from the screen, his hand paused midair, holding his forgotten fork. “The blast radius indicates . . . homemade explosives.”
Another explosion flared across the screen. The broadcast filled with static for a moment and then cleared as Luke shouted battle orders that were translated by a golden protocol droid to the natives.
“There goes the shield generator,” the general murmured.
There was a thunderous noise, cries of fear, and then a dozen or so huge hewn logs steam-rolled over the remaining guards, squashing them and any remaining Imperial resistance flat. Above the stage pavilion, various shuttles and ships went screaming into the atmosphere.
The comm system suddenly whistled stridently for attention. “Ad-Admiral Piett, report to the bridge,” Commander Gherant’s shaky voice came over the ship-wide intercom. “Admiral P-Piett, please report to the bridge.”
Luke looked around the smoldering camp and for the first time since he’d arrived on Endor, he felt a sense of peace. Yes, the place was on fire, most of the adults were dead or taken prisoner, the other campers were huddled together surrounded by spear-wielding Ewoks, and every mode of offworld transportation had been hijacked by freed slaves. But this couldn’t have gone better even if he’d had the thermal detonators he’d originally asked for.
He’d never seen the Forest Moon look more beautiful than it did right now.
His father would be so proud.
Threepio shuffled over to the stage, waving one hand to get his attention. “Sir Luke?”
Noticing that Chief Chirpa and his lead warriors were approaching, Luke jumped down off the stage, and hurried to greet him.
“We thank you for freeing us from the invaders and returning our lost clan members,” Chief Chirpa said.
“It was our pleasure,” Leia said formally coming to join her brother and the droids. “I’m only sorry we weren’t able to help sooner.”
“As an apology and compensation for your murdered kin, we offer you our camp directors to do with what you will,” Luke offered, gesturing to the bound and gagged adults.
Chirpa shook his staff in approval. “We accept your apology and invite you to be guests at a banquet to be held to celebrate this great victory.”
“Wait, what?” Leia turned to watch the Ewok warriors begin to lay a firepit and drag Captain and Mrs. Granger over to the cooking spit being expertly fashioned.
“Oh, this is perfect!” Jyn started giggling.
“Luke!” Leia hissed at him.
“What?” Luke asked, baffled at her sudden disapproval.
“Do something!” she ordered him.
Luke rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine. Artoo? Kay-Too? Can you help the Ewoks set up for their feast please?”
“That’s not what I meant!”
Jyn took the blaster she’d picked up from one of the camp guards and gave it to Kay-Too. “I like my meat well done.”
Kaytoo took the blaster with reverence. “Your behavior, Jyn Erso, is continually unexpected.”
Leia stared flabbergasted at her brother and her friend. “Don’t encourage this, Jyn!”
“No need to get upset. I’m sure Kaytoo will be responsible with his blaster,” Luke said soothingly.
“That’s not the point!”
Luke held up his hands as if calling for calm. “Let’s just end the play and we’ll figure out the feast thing, all right?”
Leia crossed her arms with a scowl. “Fine then. Positions everyone!” she called and they left the Ewoks to their meal preparations and returned to the stage.
“Citizens of the galaxy, brave Ewok warriors, thank you for watching and participating in our production of Death of an Empire,” the Threepio announced, resting one hand carefully on his counterpart’s dome.
"Death! Death! Death!" Artoo beeped cheerfully, rocking back and forth.
Jyn stepped forward. “My father thanks you.”
“My mother thanks you,” Leia added proudly.
Luke came to stand beside Leia, taking her hand in his. “My sister thanks you and I thank you.”
Together all six of them took their bows.
They were given a standing ovation by the Ewoks.
The feed from Endor cut off, replaced with a gaping Caesar Flickerman, the galaxy's most popular holonet announcer. He opened and closed his mouth like a fish, hands flapping in the air, silent and stunned.
He finally found his words and managed to stutter through his teleprompter lines. “Wasn’t that just precious, folks? Children really are our future. We now turn our gaze to Imperial Center where our i-illustrious E-emperor shall address the galaxy.”
With an Imperial fanfare the image changed again, this time to the very familiar Imperial Throne Room from which the Emperor always gave his annual Empire Day address.
Unlike prior years however, this year the Throne Room was in total disarray. The throne itself destroyed (seemingly hacked to pieces by some unknown force); the room a wreak and smoking; bodies of Imperial Red Guards and members of the Imperial court were scattered about like broken dolls. The only ones still moving were several unknown and injured beings.
A Togruta woman, bruised and visibly battered, got shakily to her feet with the help of an older man, his features instantly recognizable as those of a clone trooper.
“The Emperor is dead,” she announced, gesturing behind her with a saber made of pure white light.
Whoever was operating the camera zoomed in on what was once Sheev Palpatine. His hideously disfigured face showed a visible blaster hole blackening his forehead.
“Better be sure,” the dark skinned human insisted and upended a small canister of fluid on the corpse and then set the body on fire. “What? What?!” He yelled when faced with his teammates' incredulous stunned looks. “We don’t want him coming back, do we?”
The Togruta shook her head in disbelief and then turned back to face the camera. “The Emperor is really dead. Long live the Republic.”
“Long live the Republic!” the old clone trooper barked, coming smartly to attention and saluting.
“And now,” she continued, now seeming to fight back a hysterical laugh as the day's events seemed to sink in, “A message from the Alliance to Restore the Republic.”
With a high pitched squeal the holoimage cut out and was replaced by a flawless beautiful visage. Many did not recognize her, many more knew her on sight and despite all the surprises the day had brought, still found some emotional energy left to be shocked.
“Free citizens of the galaxy, I greet you on this most auspicious day when we, for the first time in twelve years, have a chance to forge a new and better destiny. A destiny of liberty, democracy, compassion, and Light. My name is Padme Amidala. I was once a Senator of the Republic. I speak to you now as the leader of the Alliance to Restore the Republic and I call on each and every one of you, to come together now with the death of the tyrant Palpatine to create a new and better universe for all of us to enjoy together.” She paused, looking solemn and determined and every inch a leader.
“It will not be easy. The scars of the past cannot be ignored, but the goal of peace in our time must take precedence over revenge and retribution disguised as justice. I call upon the Commander of the Imperial military, Lord Darth Vader to meet with me on Coruscant to discuss the restitution of real freedom and necessary reforms of our galactic government. Not a return to corruption that gives lip service to the ideals of liberty but profits from slavery, abuse, dictatorship, and war, but a real working, functioning government that can protect and care for everyone. We need every citizen and every soldier to work together, stand together, and find the path forward.”
She leaned forward, imploringly. “Help me, Lord Vader. I cannot do this alone. None of us can do this alone. Please,” she said, stretching out a hand as if across the very stars for him and him alone, “join me.”
On the damaged bridge deck of the Executor, the Lord Commander of the Imperial military and now effective Emperor of the galaxy, stared at the paused image of Padme Amidala that filled the only remaining screen not broken or mangled beyond repair. One gauntlet was half-raised towards her, as if he was unconsciously reaching out to her.
For long moments there was only the sound of his regulated breathing filling the room.
Finally, when the tension seemed to be too much, Vader spoke without looking away from her. “Where . . . did that signal come from?”
Admiral Piett looked to the comms officer for the answer.
The officer jumped to attention, literally dripping with sweat after the morning he’d just endured on the bridge. “Lord Va– I-I mean, you-your Excellency, the comm array is jammed with messages from most of the fleet. We keep clearing them to try and trace the signal but every base and ship, battalion and garrison is messaging us and keeps messaging us no matter how many times I clear them! They . . . they want to know what your orders are.”
Vader did not turn from the holoscreen. “Can you override and broadcast a message across the same channel She used to all Imperial and Rebel forces galaxy wide?” was the too calm query.
“Y-yes sir, yes I can,” the officer nodded.
“Then send this. I will meet you on Coruscant after I retrieve the children from Endor.”
“That’s it?” he squeaked.
Admiral Piett inwardly groaned. And they had come so close to a murder free Empire Day.
Vader turned and even with the helmet it was undeniable that he was glaring at the hapless comm officer, but surprisingly there was no inexplicable choking.
“Transmitting now, your Excellency,” Piett interjected, casting a stern eye on his subordinate who hurriedly began sending the message across all channels.
“Message from his Excellency, Lord Darth Vader, E-Emperor and Commander of the Imperial Navy and Army to the Imperial Fleet and Armed Forces, t-to the Alliance to Restore the-the Republic, citizens of the galaxy, and to former Senator Padme Amidala. Message reads: I will meet you on C-Coruscant after I retrieve the children from Endor. End message.” With that the comms officer seemed to collapse into his chair.
“Admiral Piett, what is our estimated time of arrival at the forest moon of Endor?”
“Still another two hours, your Excellency.”
“Increase engine output to 150% percent. Adjust the navigation vector as necessary. I wish to be in orbit around the forest moon of Endor within the hour, and tell the flight deck to ready my shuttle,” he said and then reached out and pressed a button on the console. The message rewound and began to play again, the dulcet tones of the former Senator filling the bridge.
“Free citizens of the galaxy, I greet you on this most auspicious day when we for the first time in twelve years have a chance to forge a new and better destiny. A destiny of liberty, democracy, compassion, and Light. My name is Padme Amidala.”
Chapter 11: Reunions
Lord Darth Vader, Emperor of the known galaxy, insisted on piloting his shuttle down to the forest moon of Endor himself.
This was not a good sign. When Lord Vader took the lead on the field, people died, buildings exploded and planets burned. The problem was that Lord Vader’s son had already blown up the buildings, set the place on fire and, if the live broadcast was any indication, killed people. What could the new Emperor’s presence on the forest moon cause but even greater destruction?
It was for that reason that Admiral Piett joined the de facto Emperor on his mission to pick up Luke from camp. He hoped to minimize any collateral damage and reunite father and son as quickly as possible. Sanity might prevail if he could accomplish that. No one had died on this anniversary of Empire Day (well, except Palpatine), but the day wasn’t over yet.
Flanked by four troop transports and a squadron of screaming TIEs, they touched down on the now desolate landing pad. Anticipating Vader’s intent, the 501st let him exit the shuttle first and immediately fanned out to take control of the still burning camp and cautiously began fire suppression. Cautiously, because any beings that could take out the camp guards armed with stone weapons had earned the respect of the veteran and elite clone members of Vader’s Fist.
Admiral Piett and General Veers stayed at the heels of the Sith Lord, who made a straight line for the stage pavilion where a raucous party was in full swing. There was dancing, drumming, feasting on unidentified meat products, tearful reunions, acrobatics, and singing. There was also some general good-natured spear poking at human captives stuffed in cages and tied up in rope nets dangling from tree branches.
Darth Vader came to a stand still at the periphery of the chaos. He rested his hands on his hips, but didn’t say a word.
He didn’t need to.
Slowly at first and then with a profound gasp, the entire cavorting crowd of dancing teddy bears froze in shock.
This impassive fearful stare-off may have continued for quite some time if the ostensible leader of the Ewoks hadn’t raised his staff and screamed something incomprehensible starting a panicked stampede.
“No, no! He is not a Night Demon! Calm down! He is Master Ana–! Wait! Stop! Twerwy! Chief Chirpa! Uh wenne tauto. Ich chutu watta!” a golden protocol droid called, waving his arms spastically. But his pleas were futile as the entire celebrating army fled the scene in terror, vanishing into the underbrush and canopy with remarkable speed.
Vader simply stood and seemed to watch impassively as the Ewok army retreated without a shot being fired or a single threat being issued.
(“I’m telling you, it has to be some sort of a record,” Maximilian told Firmus over drinks some time much later, when they finally had a chance to relax. “The most shameful defeat of Imperial forces ever, followed by the fastest enemy retreat in the history of galactic warfare.”)
“Your Excellency, should we pursue?” General Veers asked, not sure if he should or should not be sending his men to engage. The Ewoks were armed now not only with their stone age weapons, but also with pilfered blasters.
“No. Take the adults into custody and transport the campers up to the ship”
“At once, your Excellency. Commander Appo!”
“Yes, sir. Firehawk, Delta, and Vidicator squads, move out!”
“Your Excellency? Your Excellency?!” the protocol droid echoed as he shuffled and maneuvered down the stage stairs, dodging the scrambling troops. “Artoo! He’s here! Artoo! You didn’t tell me!” He banged on the dome of the familiar astromech that caused no end of trouble on the Executor whenever he was on board. “The old Emperor must be dead. How wonderful! Your Excellency! It is so good to see you fully functioning again,” he gushed.
The astromech came racing behind the unfamiliar droid, screeching and beeping and chirping up a storm. Lord Vader seemed to listen for a moment to the stream of incomprehensible binary and then held up a hand for silence.
“Threepio, Artoo . . . where are my son and daughter?”
Piett was proud to say that his face remained impassive. Some of the remaining squad of troopers were not so circumspect.
“Daughter? It’s true?”
“Someone’s gonna die!”
“Cut the chatter!” Appo barked.
“The children are in the medical quarters,” Threepio explained cheerily. “They–”
“Medical quarters?” Vader interrupted. “Are they injured?”
“No, no, everyone is fine, your Excellency. With the administration building destroyed, the only remaining computer bank is in the medical quarters. They wanted to see if they could scan for your arrival and with K-2S0's help they may be able to–”
Without waiting for the protocol droid to finish his long winded explanation, Vader turned and marched over to one of the few remaining structures not on fire. Sparing an exasperated glance at both droids, the Admiral followed as quickly as he could. He caught up to the Sith as he barged through the doors. Inside they found the children and an Imperial Security Droid slicing the medical computer.
“It's hardly like we have a direct link the the Imperial mainframe. It’s going to take some time for him to sort through– Father!” Luke cried out excitedly. “You’re here!”
“Ha! Fat lot of help you were. You didn’t even notice Lord Vader landed on the moon, did you?” the older girl taunted the droid.
“Not now, Jyn! KayToo, hurry and disconnect. We’ve got to go, right now!” Luke ordered hurriedly. He grabbed hold of the Princess of Alderaan’s hand, tugging her after him. Leia didn’t budge, her gaze locked on the equally quiet Sith Lord who’s presence seemed to fill the room. “The Emperor’s forces can’t be far behind. We need to get Artoo and Threepio and--”
“And what if I was still on the Outer Rim?!” Vader suddenly shouted causing Luke to come to a screeching halt. “How were you planning on getting off this moon if I didn’t come for you?!”
Luke raised his chin stubbornly. “It was a risk, but we couldn’t just–”
“What if the Emperor had time to send troops?! What do you think he would have done to you and your sister?” he said gesturing to a petrified Leia who had retreated and now stood huddled next to Jyn and the droid.
“We were trying to scan the system so we would know. The Ewoks offered to hide us and I thought with a big enough explosion–”
“He would have tortured and killed you both!” Vader roared.
Without moving a muscle, Firmus looked out of the corner of his eye to Veers and Appo. Should they say something? Should they intervene?
“And if we hadn’t fought back they were going to keep murdering and enslaving the Ewoks and working the other slaves to death!” Luke yelled back angrily. “Besides it doesn’t matter what I did, the Emperor sent an assassin to camp anyway. He wants me dead. He wants you dead. He thinks we’re both traitors!”
“What assassin? Where is he?” Vader snarled, his lightsaber flying to his hand.
“She isn’t here any more,” Luke said pointedly. “We found and removed her detonator. We freed her. Here.” He stepped forward and shoved some sort of cobbled together scanner into his father’s hand. “It works. It really works. I made it for you. We can remove your detonator, run away, and go find Mother. She’s alive,” he said earnestly, face glowing with joy. “She’s alive and Leia knows where she is. She didn’t die! It’s not a trick. But we don’t have any time to waste. We need to get going now!”
Piett shut his ears and snapped to attention. He hadn’t heard what he had just heard. To hear what he had just heard was to hear desertion, sedition, and treason of the highest order. He hadn’t heard anything!
(He also hadn’t heard Luke accuse the former Emperor of implanting a slave tracker inside his own Supreme Commander! He certainly hadn’t heard that!)
It was time to stop listening and focus on corralling the remaining camp guards and hysterical campers. He made a smart about turn leading Appo, his men, and Veers out of the medical quarters, firmly shutting the door on the drama behind them.
Vader put aside his lightsaber and took the scanner into both of his hands, turning it over and over, examining the casing and the power source. He’d never thought he’d see his childhood dream completed but here it was in his hands: freedom.
He wasn’t sure how many more shocks he could take. Fortunately, there was something to be said for the modifications he had made to his life support suit, tortuous though it could be. He was sure that without it, he would have had a heart attack hours ago.
Luke staging rebellion on the Galactic Holonet, exposing long kept secrets.
Discovery of another child, a daughter, and Obi-Wan’s ever deepening betrayal.
The Emperor, his Master, dead at long last at the hands of the apprentice and the captain.
Padme. His beloved wife. Alive and well all these years and infuriatingly the leader of the Rebel Alliance he had been hunting for more than a decade.
And now, at long last, the gift he’d promised to give his mother was completed and perfected at the hands of his son.
It was as if this Empire Day made up for the eleven previous, hellish days all at once.
“My brilliant son,” he said quietly at long last. He reached out and ran a careful hand over his son’s head. His boy leaned into the touch and Vader found his remaining storm of anger slipping away as it always did when Luke was with him. “I don’t know whether to praise you for your mechanical ability and aptitude for large scale destruction or punish you for taking insane risks with your life and safety. Do you recall the reason why you were sent to camp in the first place?” he scolded in exasperation.
“I know, but this time things were different!”
“Oh, really? Your pyromania seems inexorably linked to the theatrical arts.”
“Don’t-don’t punish him!” Leia blurted out, unable to keep quiet any longer.
Vader turned, his attention pinning her in place. His daughter. How he had dreamed of her in another place and time. Now here she was, alive and so terribly brave.
“Princess Leia,” he said, offering her a brief bow of the head. “I would very much like to know how you came to be involved in this fiasco. Your kidnappers are notorious pacifists like all Alderaanians are.”
The girl took a deep breath, swallowed, and then stood as her mother stood addressing the Senate, all those years ago. He couldn’t help but smile under his mask, his scarred skin and atrophied muscles cracking and pulling under the unpracticed motion.
“My aunt and uncle believe strongly in sentient right an-and so do I. Luke did the right thing! They were slaughtering the Ewoks, enslaving their children as pets, and-and using their fur as fashion!”
Vader was not so secretly impressed with her fire. He could see clearly her parentage stamped over every inch of her. He knew that temper very well. But now was not the time to dote on his newly discovered daughter, he reminded himself sternly. The children had caused no end of mayhem and put themselves in significant harms way. If it hadn’t been for Ahsoka, Rex, and their team . . . Vader shuddered to think what the Emperor would have done.
“So . . . you thought finding some allies meant you could improve on your prior destructive efforts,” he intoned sarcastically. Luke winced and looked down. He turned his attention to the final two members of the disastrous bunch of troublemakers.
“And you are?” he asked pointedly, eyes catching on a familiar cloak she was wearing. (Luckily no one could see him blush under his mask. Artoo had a great deal to answer for.)
“Jyn Erso, daughter of Lyra Erso and Galen Erso,” the older teen said, chin raised in defiance and in pride. “This is K-2SO.”
“Should I shoot him?” the security droid offered affably. “Would that help get us out of trouble?”
“No! No shooting. I don’t know why I even gave you the blaster if you’re going to just keep offering to shoot people!”
“What else am I going to do with a blaster? Use it as flimsiweight?”
“Her dad is in Imperial custody after stormtroopers murdered her mother in front of her,” Leia cut in, sensing that introductions were not going well. “She helped us liberate the Ewoks,” she explained loyally.
“I think they should be reunited as a family,” Luke added, hoping his father would take the very obvious hint.
“We will discuss this later,” Vader said, calling a halt to the chatter, turning and opening the door. “We must leave.”
“No, we will discuss this now,” Leia insisted, voice wavering as she took a step towards the towering figure. “You can arrange the freedom of her father with a word. You should do it now before-before the Emperor discovers that you've run away."
The Sith Lord stopped. He turned and stared at her in astonishment. She had barely met him, was obviously terrified of him, wrongfully believed the Emperor was coming to kill them all, and was still dictating terms to him!
“She's right, Father. We don't have much time. Admiral Piett, General Veers, and Commander Appo can't cover for us for long. We don't want to get them into trouble," Luke urged.
Vader opened his mouth to begin to explain things to the children and then shut it with a snap. Even if he no longer had to worry about the Emperor, time was of the essence. He needed to meet Padme as soon as possible, reunite his family so he could protect them all. Besides, he knew that look on Leia's face all too well. She'd obviously inherited it from his wife. They weren’t moving off the moon until the matter was resolved to her satisfaction. “Admiral Piett?” he called out.
“Yes, your Excellency?” the officer hurried over, no longer pretending to supervise the men just outside the medical quarters.
“As I recall, Erso has been successfully stalling and sabotaging the Stardust Project under the auspices of the Director of Advanced Weapons Research.”
Piett thought for a moment and then agreed. “That is correct, your Excellency.”
“That’s my papa,” Jyn murmured with a smile.
“Arrange for Erso to rendezvous with us as soon as possible, unharmed and in comfort.”
“At once, your Excellency.”
“Will that be sufficient, Princess Leia?” Vader asked archly.
Not believing her success, his daughter gaped at him and then nodded.
“Now, if there is nothing further, come with me. Your mother is waiting for us,” he said, savoring the words as he spoke them.
Luke grinned. He was so relieved and happy he felt giddy. This was the best birthday present he could've hope for! They were running away to be a family together and would never have to see the Emperor ever aga–
“Wait! Admiral Piett, did you just call Father your Excellency?!”
Bail Organa was not running up the steps of the Imperial Place.
He was walking swiftly as befitted the urgency of the situation.
He certainly wasn’t worried out of his mind for his daughter who had shown up live on the Galactic Holonet engaged in open sedition and rebellion. He definitely wasn’t panicking because she’d confessed to the galaxy that she was the daughter of Padme Amidala and Darth Vader!
The stormtroopers guarding the entrance waved him into the Place with nothing more than a cursory glance at his credentials and codes.
(And wasn’t that a surprise. With just one short sentence broadcast galaxy wide by Vader, all Imperial Forces were on stand down. All fighting had stopped. What could have sparked outright war, had lead to a tentative cease fire of all things!)
Extraordinarily, there didn’t seem to be any unrest or even displeasure that the Emperor and his inner circle had been brutally murdered by the Rebel Alliance. No one was rioting or seizing power. In fact, the crowds gathered for Empire Day and those watching from their home systems seemed to be cautiously hopeful and very eager to hear any bit of news about the imminent arrival of the new Emperor and his estranged wife, the Leader of the Rebellion.
Bail wasn’t eager or hopeful.
He had a very bad feeling about the whole thing.
Vader had killed Obi-Wan to take control of his son. He now had Leia in his hands. What would the masked monster do to her, to him and his wife, to Alderaan in revenge over his lost daughter?
Bail Organa was not dashing through the corridors of what was once the Jedi Temple.
He was speed walking through the halls looking for Ahsoka Tano and the rest of her rebel cell to discuss strategy and damage control.
He wasn’t sure exactly how Leia had discovered her connection to Luke. He still couldn’t believe that Darth Vader had sent his son to camp in the first place! The Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces was notorious for keeping Luke close to him. And how had the children found out about their parents and their blood relation anyway?
Bail couldn’t imagine the Sith Lord had told his son anything true. So how had they figured everything out? It wasn’t like anyone else alive knew the whole truth, (except himself, Padme, and Yoda, and the venerable Grand Jedi Master hadn’t been seen in over a decade and was most likely dead.)
Who else could have possibly known and told the children?
The guards, officers, and administrative personnel inside the Palace were not very knowledgeable, but finally one of them directed him to a comm station several levels up where he hoped to find some help. They seemed to be unfazed by the sudden violent shift in power. Bizarrely, they were more concerned about altering the Empire Day celebrations to reflect the new Emperor and discussing the proper protocol to use to greet Padme Amidala.
(“She was an Imperial Senator and a former elected Queen. She must be greeted by no less than four cohorts in full Nubian regimental colors.”
“She’s a traitor to the Empire and has been running a terrorist ring for over a decade. At the very most she is entitled to two squads of troopers and a single representative from her home system! We should be calling Senator Pooja Naberrie to the Place at once, but that is all.”
“Rubbish! Once royalty, always royalty. The guidelines are clear–”
“Guidelines! Hapes Cluster protocol does not apply here you– you uneducated fop!”
“Who are you calling an uneducated fop, you unmannered nerf hearder? I’ll have you know that I have memorized the protocol of royal courts on twelve systems!”)
When he finally tracked down Ahsoka, he was panting and disheveled but it didn’t matter. What mattered was protecting his wife, his daughter, and his planet. Bail expected to be met by a tired but triumphant Rebel team, eager to help him.
Bail hadn’t expected to be greeted by a lightsaber pointed at his face.
“I want an explanation!” Ahsoka demanded before he could do more than raise his hands in instinctive surrender.
“A-about what? Ahsoka, it’s me. Why are you–?”
“Why didn’t you tell me Anakin was alive? Why didn’t you tell me Padme was alive? Why didn’t you tell me Luke was their child?” she snarled, stalking forward, forcing Bail to retreat or lose his nose.
“Ahsoka, we don’t have time for this. Vader is on his way. He will have Leia with him. That was never part of the plan! Captain Rex,” he pleaded to the clone trooper who stood impassively at her side. “My daughter–”
“We thought she was an orphan! You let us believe she was all that had survived my old Master and Padme. You let us believe they were dead! All this time, you knew and you said nothing. Don’t you realize what you’ve done?!”
“Rebellions require secrecy. Padme knew that. She agreed. She knew the sacrifice was necessary–”
“Necessary?” Ahsoka spat. “None of this was necessary! We could have stopped the whole kriffing war years ago if you’d only told us!”
“What?” Bail sputtered. “What are you talking about?”
“General Skywalker couldn’t move against the Emperor if he had to protect his son. If we’d known, we could have been the back up he needed. We could have killed that son of a Hutt years ago,” Rex countered angrily.
“He needed us and we weren’t there. How many people are dead because of your lies?”
“Are–are you mad? Darth Vader is–was–is the Emperor’s dog. Master Obi-Wan and Master Yoda said he became this twisted, evil thing and they were right. He’s hunted down and destroyed the Jedi Order. Vader killed Obi-Wan Kenobi himself! Anything that was once Anakin Skywalker died twelve years ago.”
“You’re wrong,” Ahsoka insisted, pulling back her weapon. “He raised and protected Luke. He kept Artoo all these years. He’s ordered all the Imperial Forces to stand down. He said he was bringing the children to Coruscant. Not Imperial Centre. Coruscant.” She disengaged her saber with a snap. “There is still good in him. I know it. We could have helped him. We could have brought him back.”
Bail didn’t know what to say in the face of such blind idealism, but he couldn’t trust to it, (couldn’t trust his family and his people to it), as she was doing.
“The past is the past,” he said, trying to get them to focus on what was really important. “We need to deal with what’s happening now. Vader has Leia and Luke in his custody. With that sort of leverage, who knows what damage he could do to the peace process. To the children! What are we going to do about that?”
Ahsoka and Captain Rex shared an inscrutable look and then the trooper turned back to the comm center.
She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a dismissive look. “You worry about wrangling the rest of the politicians, Senator. We’ll worry about the children.”
Chapter 12: Surprises
“ISS Executor, Fulcrum is requesting to speak with Emperor Vader. Please respond. ISS Executor. This is Fulcrum on Coruscant requesting to speak with Emperor Vader. Please respond. ISS Executor--”
Ahsoka threw her hands up in the air in disgust. “This is stupid. He’s not answering.”
“Give it time. The message has to be routed up the chain of command. They’re going to check and double check the message. They have to trace the signal and then reconfirm the signal. Then they’ll have to check the security flags related to the name Fulcrum. Standard protocol.” Rex carefully leaned back in the comm chair. He didn't want to aggravate his injuries. He looked over his shoulder at where Ahsoka was pacing– well, limping – back and forth between the comm unit and the door.
There was a sudden spitting of static and then a firm calm voice filled the room, a faint Axxilan accent tinting the typical Imperial officer cadence. “Agent Fulcrum, this is Executor. Confirm your location.”
Without hesitation, Rex keyed in the ID code of the comm unit in front of him.
“Code received. Stand by for his Excellency.”
Taking a deep breath, she stood by Rex’s shoulder, schooling her expression to one of calm, one of command.
The holoprojector sprung to life. There in blue miniature was the imposing figure of Darth Vader projected before them both, his hands resting on his hips, cape swinging behind him. Even across the distance and despite the mask, his gaze seemed to bore into her.
“Ahsoka?” his strangely deep voice asked with some chagrin and disbelief. “You . . . are Fulcrum?”
“What can I say? The Emperor’s Inquisitors have kept me busy,” she found herself saying, falling into old patterns despite all that had changed.
“You are still reckless, I see,” came his response, the scolding echo still familiar no matter what his voice sounded like through the vocoder. “Why . . . are you comming, Ahsoka?”
“I remember someone telling me that he needed me to watch his back because he so enjoyed my company,” she sassed, hoping she was successful in covering up the emotion in her voice, the sudden sting of tears in her eyes.
Only his labored breathing could be heard, measured and hissing for several long moments. “And you, Captain?” The small holofigure turned slightly.
“I have served as Princess Leia’s protector and teacher for many years. Now knowing her parents are both alive and that she has a batch mate, a brother, I’m requesting permission to rendezvous with the Executor when she enters the system, General.”
“Her brother’s name is Luke,” Vader said, the pride evident in his voice for both of his children. “And before you join us you should know that any lessons will have to wait. They are both grounded for the foreseeable future.”
“You can’t ground me,” a familiar voice from outside of the holoprojector range piped up.
Vader turned to face his daughter who fizzled into holoview. “Yes, I can.”
“Why? What have I done?” Leia protested, putting her hands on her hips in an eerie mirror of her father.
“Did you forget what happened at camp?” He asked in a deceptively soft manner. Ahsoka couldn’t help but wince at that tone of voice. She had heard it too many times to count during her years as an apprentice.
“But we won! That's not fair! Auntie Ahoska? Uncle Rex?” Leia pleaded, turning to them to overrule this gross miscarriage of justice.
“I agree with your father,” Ahsoka found herself saying in spite of herself as she remembered with delayed dread the morning’s unexpected theatrics and how they nearly upended their entire mission. “What you did was incredibly dangerous. You haven’t been trained in active warfare. So many things could have gone horribly wrong.”
So very horribly wrong, now that she thought about it. If they hadn’t managed to kill the Emperor who knows what he would have done after that play had broadcast galaxy wide! Frankly, she was still shocked they had all managed to survive facing the Emperor in the first place, succeeding when so many others had failed.
“What I want to know is where you learned to make firebombs. You could have blown yourself up,” Rex added sternly. “Incendiaries are no joke, Princess.”
“That wasn’t me! That was all Luke’s doing. He’s the one who kept making explosives during craft time.”
“Hey! My bombs were perfectly safe!” came the indignant shout followed by another slight figure appearing on the projector.
Ahsoka couldn’t help but stared at him in delight and wonder. He was so tiny! She could hardly believe that her old Master had a son so short.
“I followed all the rules. Don’t let them get damp. Don’t store them in your bunk. Do seal them tight. Always follow the recipe. And remember, if you need a bigger bang just make more, don’t double up the payload.”
She couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped her at the recitation of the infamous rules.
Rex rubbed his forehead with a tired hand and groaned. “Hardcase’s Rules For Bigger Booms. Who in the Sith Hell taught you those, Prince Luke?”
“Koho and Ridge did. And it’s just Luke. Not Prince,” he added wrinkling his nose in disgust just the same way Padme used to. “Are you the same Captain Rex and Jedi Ahsoka Tano who fought with my father and Obi-Wan and Artoo and Commander Appo and the rest of the 501st during the Clone Wars?” he asked eagerly. “Is it true that you–”
“Enough, Luke,” Vader cut in, trying to steer both children out of holo range. “We are entering hyperspace. You are grounded. Quarters, now. Take your sister, Ms. Erso, and the droids with you.”
“How long are we grounded for?” Leia demanded.
“Until you are 25. Now go.”
“WHAT?!” Leia shrieked.
“25? Pffft! That's nothing,” Luke took ahold of his sister’s hand and dragged her from view. “Obi-Wan’s grounded for life.”
“Obi-Wan?” Ahsoka and Rex exclaimed in unison.
“Admiral Piett will provide you with our approach vector and ETA. Docking bay 94,” Vader said and then cut the comm link.
Vader turned suddenly and loomed over Admiral Piett. “Did you hear that?”
Knowing full well that discretion was the better part of valor, Piett didn’t so much as twitch. “Hear what, your Excellency?”
“Good.” With that Vader descended from the now docked shuttle leaving the Admiral behind as the sole remaining occupant.
Firmus took a moment to take off his regulation cap and wipe his brow. “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” he mouthed silently to himself with no little feeling of hysteria.
Sweet gods, would the day’s surprises never end?
Leia had never tried to imagine what it must be like to live with Darth Vader. It wasn’t something that had ever occupied her imagination. However, now that certain familial secrets had come to light, she was faced with the stark reality of the situation. All she knew was whatever she might have imagined, it wasn’t this.
“You can put your bags in my room for now,” Luke offered as she stood in the entryway of what was obviously home for him and his father. Artoo and Threepio followed after the boy, laden down with the Princess’ more extensive collection of luggage.
“Finally, a holovision!” Jyn crowed, shoving her battered duffel bag into KayToo’s arms and without further ado flopping down on a truly massive squishy blue sectional sofa.
KayToo stared at the bag in his hands for a moment and then unceremoniously dropped it to the floor. “I still don’t see why I had to check my blaster,” he complained.
“Because you were making everyone nervous. You can get it back later. Where’s the remote?” Jyn asked loudly as she dug around the many throw pillows on the couch.
“Check the console,” Luke called from one of the side rooms.
“I will get it back later,” KayToo insisted before heading over to the massive mechanic’s workbench of tools, parts, and supplies that dominated an entire wall. Leia wasn’t sure if she should take that as a threat or not. She took a few steps into the room, neatly dodging Artoo as he came rolling by.
The astromech headed for one particular corner arm of the couch and plugged directly into a conveniently wired power source. With a blat of noise he urged Threepio to take his seat beside him.
“Droid seating!” The protocol droid said with glee. “This is most luxurious, Prince Luke.”
“It’s just Luke,” he insisted as he came back into the main room. “Leia, are you hungry or do you want to meet him first?”
“Food!” Jyn demanded as she settled in, spreading her cloak around her and adjusting her shoulder spikes. She then started flipping through channels at obscene speeds.
She followed her brother into a galley kitchen where she came face to face with an adult size apron covered in cartoon TIE-fighters. For one absurd moment she pictured Vader wearing the thing.
“Wizard! Trifle for my-- well our birthday! See?” Luke pointed into the cooler and there sat a decadent dessert topped with blumfruit and cream.
The image of Vader wearing an apron was now joined by the image of Vader baking. Luke shoved a couple drinks into her hands and then climbed onto the counter top to reach snacks in the high up cupboards.
Leia wandered out in a daze and handed Jyn her drink. She stared blankly for a few moments at the holoscreen which showed the live view of the crowds packing Imperial Plaza.
“What are you watching?” she asked.
Jyn lowered her drink. “They’re waiting for us to arrive.” At Leia’s incredulous look, Jyn huffed defensively. “There’s not much else to watch. 15,000 channels and they’re either showing replays of your mom’s speech or this.”
“You could always turn to the Droid Care Network,” KayToo suggested coming to stand behind the couch.
“No one wants to watch that.”
Artoo beeped stridently in response. Leia set her drink down unopened and quickly backed away from the impending argument and decided to do a bit of snooping. If she was going to be grounded without hearing or due process and confined to quarters then she was going to have a look around her new prison.
Beyond the kitchen, there were more rooms down a small hallway. There was a fresher and what appeared to be Luke’s room (though it was kind of hard to tell given all her bags that were piled up just inside the door). She found an office that was plain and stark except for the multiple framed flimsi holos of Luke at various ages. She found no other bedrooms. There was only a large dark room that was empty except for a weird round egg shaped thing in the center that sat on a raised platform. Quietly, she approached the egg, climbing the steps one by one.
What could it possibly be for? She wondered. Was it some sort of torture chamber or something? Was the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi trapped inside? Or did–did Vader sleep inside of that thing? Was it some sort of recharge unit for his suit?
She reached out one careful hand and touched the outer shell only for it to unexpectedly hiss and begin to open.
With a startled yelp she stumbled back, nearly losing her balance. Light poured out of the egg and a chair rotated in the center. Carefully, not wanting to get trapped inside, she ducked her head to peer inside.
And came face to face with posters. Colorful posters plastered across the interior walls alongside what looked like a decade worth of cooler art no doubt drawn by her brother.
“Hang in there!” a loth cat urged from its poster as it hung precariously from a tree branch.
“Never, never, never give up!” was printed below the image of a fierce canine creature that Leia had never seen before, its eyes seeming to glow.
“It’s okay to feel lost sometimes,” reminded a family of fluffy porgs.
“Be kind to yourself today,” was written above the image of a smiling rancor.
Gaping and forgetting herself, Leia started to climb into the pod to investigate this astonishing sight further, when suddenly Luke’s sharp cry of “Hey!” had her scrambling back.
Guiltily, Leia hurried down the steps far away from the strange chamber decorated with posters more often found in the bedrooms of prepubescent girls across the galaxy. “I was just looking,” she tried to explain.
“What? What’s going on?” Jyn yelled from the other room.
“None of your business,” Luke called back sternly and then gave Leia a Look that warned dire consequences if she EVER so much as breathed a word about what she had seen to anyone.
Luke could rest easy on that score.
Leia knew that even if she dared tell anyone, no one would believe here anyway.
“Now, c’mon. You said you wanted to meet Obi-Wan and I want dessert so let’s go.”
Obi-Wan had been woken up by angry Sith Lords, exasperated Sith Lords, furious Sith Lords, murderous Sith Lords, worried Sith Lords, tired Sith Lords, and on one truly strange occasions a sleep deprived Sith Lord carrying a crying baby.
He did not expect to be woken up by his pillow being unceremoniously yanked out from under his head and used as a weapon against him.
“What? I-- Luke, stop that–!”
“No!” came the fierce reply and further bludgeoning.
Obi-Wan raised his arm to protect his face, but it proved futile.
“You lied to me! You lied to Father!”
“Luke, what– stop that! –what are you tal--king about?”
“I’m talking about Leia!”
The barrage stopped as suddenly as it started. Obi-Wan lowered his arms cautiously. “Leia?”
And there she was, brown hair pinned up in a very strange but vaguely familiar style, her clothes reminiscent of Nubian fashion (if inexplicably covered in far to many rhinestones).
She was standing in his closet.
On the Executor.
With her brother.
Oh, Obi-Wan had a very, very bad feeling about this.
“This . . . is General Kenobi?” she asked with one eyebrow arched in disbelief.
The Jedi Master found himself blushing in spite of himself. As he sat up, he hurriedly smoothed back his hair and over his mustache and beard. He’d perhaps let himself go a little lax in Vader’s custody but he was still Obi-Wan Kenobi, thank you very much! He could still leap into action and action was definitely called for if Vader had discovered Leia’s existence.
“Father says he’s got it where it counts,” Luke offered in his defense, which didn’t really help matters.
“Luke,” he began, trying to salvage the situation so that the children would cooperate with his budding escape plan.
“You lied,” the boy hissed at him.
“I didn’t lie,” he said quickly in his own defense. “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”
The pillow was lobbed at his head.
“Language,” he scolded automatically. But Luke wasn’t having it.
“No! It’s bantha shit! I have a sister and you never told us that. My mother is alive and you never told us that. Artoo has a droid counterpart and you never told us that. Everything you told us is bantha shit!”
Obi-Wan blamed the shock of seeing Leia for the first time in years for why it took him as long as it did to process Luke’s furious tirade. When he finally did his face fell and he reached out to the boy, planning to dispel his false hope as gently as he could.
“Luke, your mother died when you were born. I told you. It wasn’t your fault. Her broken heart just couldn’t take–”
“Broken heart? What are you talking about?” Leia interrupted indignantly. “Mom’s fine. I saw her just a few weeks ago. Besides, people don’t die of-of broken hearts! This is not a holodrama! Are you sure he’s Obi-Wan Kenobi?” she asked Luke suspiciously. “I mean, I’ve met real Jedi before. Auntie Ahsoka taught me how to fly a swoop bike. He doesn’t look like a Jedi.”
“He’s a Jedi,” Luke said. “I think he’s been cooped up in here for too long, but we’re headed to see Mother right now so you can come out of the closet and see that she’s alive for yourself.”
Obi-Wan gaped. He had no words. Auntie Ahsoka? And Padme was alive? All this time she’d survived Mustafar? This was joyous news!
He remembered how he had taken infant Luke just hours old from his mother and lost him to Vader.
This was horrible news, he realized with growing dread. If Vader didn’t kill him, Padme surely would!
He’d had a premonition about death today (and by the Force, he hated this day!) but he’d never suspected it would be his death!
“Where . . . is your father?” Obi-Wan asked faintly.
“He’s in medical quarters getting the detonator out.”
He took a steadying breath at that outrageous statement before he asked the next pertinent question. “And where is your mother?”
“She’s meeting us at Imp– at Coruscant. Father wants to get there early and make sure the planet is safe for her arrival.”
Obi-Wan swallowed hard and then reached out and clasped Luke’s shoulders. “I think it best that I wait here for your father, alone.”
Luke’s brow furrowed in concern. “Are you sure? You could probably come out now. Father didn’t even get mad when I said your name outside of quarters. Plus Father’s the Emperor now so I think it’s safe for you to leave.”
“He’s only the Emperor until we meet up with Mom,” Leia reminded her brother.
“Right. Father’s the Emperor until Mother comes and then Mother will be the Emperor so it’s definitely safe for you to come out.”
“Mom’s not going to be Emperor! No one’s going to be Emperor! It’s the Alliance to Restore the Republic you nerf brain!”
Obi-Wan could literally feel the blood draining from his face. The Emperor was dead. Vader was the new Emperor. Padme was alive. Ahsoka, Leia, Threepio . . . what next?
Taking a deep steadying breath he stood and began ushering the bickering children out of his closet.
“I’ll just stay here for now. Your father will have enough on his mind. No need to worry about me. Go on, out you go.”
“Why don’t you get to know your sister a little better and we can talk later. Besides I-I need to meditate.” And make peace with the Force before I join it, he thought to himself morosely.
“But there’s dessert. It’s my–our birthday. Are you coming out for dessert?”
“Not today, Luke.”
“But we always share–”
“No buts. I’m very busy.”
“Busy with what?” Leia asked in disbelief.
“No time. I must meditate. Lots to consider.” He pushed them out the door and closed it firmly behind them and then rested his head against the bulkhead.
He was doomed.
Vader paced slowly up and down the length of the docking bay. Around him mechanics and other engineers scurried about their duties, bobbing and bowing like turtle ducks every time they passed him. He didn’t give them a second glance.
The apprentice, his apprentice was coming.
Captain Rex, one of the most trustworthy men he’d ever fought beside was coming.
For a moment the old swell of anger rose within him. He had been robbed of so many things, so many people in his life for so long. It infuriated him; he wanted to lash out.
A mouse droid twittered and he looked up to see the T-6 shuttle pass through the force field and land. Commander Appo barked orders that had the members of the 501st coming smartly to attention on the fight deck. He strode forward to meet the shuttle, the clone commander taking position to his right.
They descended from their ship side by side. Ahsoka had grown tall, her markings so different from what he remembered. And Rex, like many of his brothers, had lost his hair but was still a powerful figure. They looked battered and weary. Ahsoka was hiding a limp. Rex looked bruised and burned, no doubt from Force lightning. The battle against the Emperor had not left them unscathed, but there was a look in their eyes that was nearly unfamiliar to him.
It was the light of hope.
At the foot of the ramp, Ahsoka made an abortive move forward as if she was going to embrace him? Reach for him? He didn’t know. She just as suddenly stopped herself. Instead, she stared up at his mask, no doubt trying to find some sign of the man he once was. He felt her reach out tentatively through the Force.
For a moment he wanted to recoil, bat away her cautious touch. She would not find her old Master here. Anakin Skywalker was dead. He’d been weak and a failure and–
But he hadn’t failed.
Padme was alive.
He had a son and a daughter.
Ahsoka was here and carrying twin sabers at her waist.
He had his men at his back.
Obi-Wan was safely contained.
He had the droids with him.
In some strange twisted way, so many of the people he’d wanted to protect and save were still alive.
He reached out to meet Ahsoka in the Force. He could feel her momentary retreat at the sheer weight of his presence, like a collapsed star. But much like Luke, she was fearless and much like Leia, she was determined. The bond between them long atrophied and torn was woven together again by a few tentative strands of energy.
She didn’t quite smile at him, but her eyes were bright. “Anakin,” she whispered.
“That name–” he reflexively snapped only to temper himself. He did not want to hurt her. Right now, their rekindled bond was so new it would be all too easy to hurt her. “It is one I no longer choose to use,” he finally said.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not calling you Emperor.”
“Vader is acceptable.”
Her lips twisted in amused disgust. “How about I don’t, Skyguy.” He opened his mouth to protest the old moniker, but she was already looking past him. “And it looks like we got here just in the nick of time. Look, Rex. Stormtroopers!”
Rex snorted in derision. “If this is all you’ve had to work with these past few years, General, well . . . it’s good to know you’ve been entertained at least. I’ve heard their dancing ability is top notch.”
“Rex,” Vader began warningly, feeling the swell of outrage from the troops behind him and the mischievous glee from his former padawan.
“There are no stormtroopers in the 501st,” Appo growled.
Rex’s eyes narrowed. “It can’t be. My hearing must be going. Ahsoka, I swore I heard Appo’s voice coming from this plastic garbage they call armor. But that can’t be right.”
“You’re hearing’s not the only thing going! At least I’m in uniform!”
“Rex, you should be more happy to see your brothers,” Ahsoka teased, nudging him with her shoulder. “It means that there are at least some troopers in the Imperial Forces who can hit the broad side of a destroyer after all.”
The old clone trooper shook his head and chuckled, raising his right arm. “Good to see you, Commander.”
Appo stepped forward and they knocked vambrances together. “You too, Captain.”
“If we can dispense with the rest of the pleasantries, there is little time and we must secure the planet,” Vader interjected.
“Fine, fine, be a killjoy,” Ahsoka said with a wave of her hand. “Where do you need us?” she asked more seriously now.
“The children are in my quarters. Sergeant Koho will direct you there. Threepio can prepare any necessary meals or snacks and there is a special dessert prepared in honor of Luke’s birthday which should be sufficient for the Princess as well. They are not allowed to get tattoos and I did not promise Luke he could get one for his birthday. No matter what Luke may tell you, he is not permitted to visit the droid maintenance bay, the officers' lounge, the bridge, the gym, the barracks, the flight deck, or anywhere else until the transition of power is resolve or while he and his sister are grounded. A designated med-droid will be made available to both of you and to deal with any mishaps. Do not believe anything Artoo says. No scary holofilms, limit your cursing, stay out of my closet, and keep storytelling to a minimum.”
“And where will you be while we’re . . . babysitting?” she asked incredulously.
“I must prepare for her arrival, Ahsoka. Even with your extremely thorough efforts in the Palace, there are still threats that must be dealt with before she arrives. The Executor will remain hidden on the fringes of the system until after she lands. In the meantime, the children’s safety is paramount.”
“We can help,” she insisted, her old spirit rising as it always did when he would exclude her from a mission. “I’ve taken down enough Inquisitors to handle anything. And old Rex here just put a blaster bolt in Sheev’s skragging skull. Our team lead a successful galactic coup. You’d be a fool not to make use of that.”
“I have men and arms enough and you both need treatment before you suffer more permanent side effects from facing the Emperor.” Vader had no desire to see his former apprentice or second in command be treated with the same disregard that was so common and the norm during the Clone Wars. What was left of his body still suffered the after effects of repeated electrocution, as did Obi-Wan. “I am trusting you with my children. With her children.”
Rex drew himself to attention. “You can rest assured the children will be safe, sir. I will protect them with my life.”
“You can count on both of us, Skyguy. We won’t leave them.”
(They had left him before, a ugly part of him whispered deep inside. They’d left him all alone and–)
The Force flared through the old/new bond with his apprentice. He met her unflinching gaze. She wouldn’t leave them (him again).
There were no adequate words for the relief he felt at knowing he had their support, even after all this time and everything that had happened (that he had done). “Thank you.” he said at last and then moved towards his own shuttle and where the troop transports were being prepared.
“Sir?” Commander Appo asked, dogging his heels.
“Would it be possible for the 501st to. . . wear our old gear for this engagement?”
Vader came to a sudden halt.
“It would improve troop efficiency if we face rogue Imperial elements in stormtrooper armor.” the Commander continued on in a rush. “We want to avoid friendly fire. It would . . . also help with moral.”
“I suppose it would not do to have the 501st confused with stormtroopers who dance. Give the order.”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir! Thank you!”
As he watched his ecstatic commander spread the word to his men, an unexpected smile pulled at his lips. The second one today, he realized. Would wonders never cease.
Chapter 13: Celebration
A regal fanfare echoed across the holonet. The Imperial Galactic Holonet graphics faded away and a spotlight shone on a familiar sound stage.
“Sentients and gentlebeings, please welcome your master of ceremonies . . . Caesar Flickerman!”
To raucous cheers, the colorfull character who hosted every Empire Day since the very first leapt onto the stage and bowed before taking a seat at his desk beside his ever present sidekick Claudius Templesmith.
“Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the twelveth annual Empire Day! And for those of you just tuning in–”
“And who can say that they are just tuning in given our exciting coverage? The whole galaxy has to be on the edge of their seats!” Claudius added. “I think it's safe to say we have never seen anything like this, ever.”
“True, true. I mean, this is history, isn’t it? History in the making. And I must now confess something to all of you viewing at home and everyone here in the studio. Padme Amidala . . . has always been my favorite person.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, I would have though someone else–”
“No, no, no. No one compared to her. Her mystique. Her poise. Like so many, including our illustrious Emperor, I lost my heart to her. And who could blame me? And now, after more than a decade, after believing her dead and gone, she’s returned, coming home in triumph to Imper– to Coruscant. Let’s go live to the Imperial Palace and see what preparations are being made for her arrival.”
The image on the holoscreen split in half and shifted to the Imperial Palace Plaza where crowds had gathered to catch a glimpse of the soon to be arriving former Senator and the new Emperor.
“Four cohorts of guards. I’m surprised the Palace decided on such a welcome,” Caeser remarked, taking in the sights as the holocamera panned and zoomed.
“But no regimental colors! I mean, what’s the point of following Hapes Cluster protocol if you’re not going to show the full pageantry.”
“And no representative from Naboo! A rush job I’m afraid,” he tutted in disapproval.
“But regardless, we are just getting reports that her ship is in orbit and her shuttle is entering the atmosphere. She’s arrived!”
“No problems with security? Most of us were expecting the ISS Executor to arrive first.”
“No problems; she has full clearance thanks to Emperor Vader’s foresight and care. She’s making her descent now and the crowd is already starting to cheer! Just listen!”
The bridge crew of the Executor was only half paying attention to the blow-by-blow narration of the arrival of former Senator Amidala on the planet’s surface. The majority of their attention was on the comm line that General Veers had conveniently left open.
The sounds of battle and barked orders and chatter from the 501st cluttered the comms as Vader finished “cleaning house” on the planet surface below.
“Any issues with the approach vector?” Piett asked as he carefully monitored the arrival of the Emperor’s wife. If anything happened to her, every member of the crew knew their lives would be forfeit. Her safety was paramount to their continued survival and the first Empire Day ever without a body count.
“None, sir. Our own Death Squadron is flanking her ship and has created a perimeter around her descent.”
“Any problems with the Rebel ships?”
“Their fighter squads seem to be accepting of our presence and flying in tandem. Their shields are up but their weapons are cool and targeting systems are off.”
“Keep all other Imperial forces at bay. I don’t want anything getting through.”
“Can we watch something else?” Jyn asked flopping her head back against the couch cushions in despair. “Pleeeeaaase?”
“Sssshhhhh!” Luke waved his hands at her to hush, but his eyes never left the screen. He couldn't wait to see her live on the holonet!
“Are you sure you should be sitting so close to the holoscreen, Sir Luke?” Threepio asked worriedly. “And to sit on the floor. Please sir, there is still room to sit on the couch with all of us.”
“Don’t worry, he’s not going to get square eyes,” Ahsoka said as she tossed chips one by one into the air and unerringly caught them in her mouth every time.
“I wonder what Mom will be wearing?”
“My money’s on that indigo dress with all the beads she would wear to her Senate sessions,” Rex said. “The one with that weird metal head piece thing,” he said gesturing around his head vaguely.
“No way! She’s going to wear a white jumpsuit with matching cloak. She’ll be dressed for action.”
“Wrong SN-1P5. Wedding dress. My Queen in Wedding dress.”
“Shhhhh! She’s landing!”
“We have touchdown!” Claudius crowed.
“The ramp is being lowered, the guards are coming forward to flank her path. She has some of her own guards as well, handmaidens by the look of it. Well, well. That will set tongues wagging from here to Naboo! And . . . she’s descending now, sentients and gentlebeings. It’s happening! It’s finally happening. I see her. I see her!”
“And . . . what is she wearing? Is she still–? No. No. It’s not the same outfit as on her message. She’s changed!”
“Well, of course she’s changed. What did you expect?”
“We can’t quite see from this angle. Security is very tight. But I think it may be . . . white! It’s white. Her gown is cream and white and, is that--?”
“It is! I believe that is the same outfit, can we confirm that?” Caesar pressed one finger against the commlink in his ear, listening intently. “Yes, we have confirmation! It is the very same dress! I’d know those ruffles anywhere! It is the same gown, the very same gown she wore after her iconic victory at the Battle of Naboo!”
“The Jubilation dress! Worn only to celebrate moments of true peace and joy in Nubian culture. To be wearing this dress she must have first received a special dispensation from the Queen of Naboo herself.”
“The Jubilation dress, but see, Claudius, she’s wearing it without the traditional makeup of the royalty of Naboo or the diadem. Instead she has a crown of lyané roses and pirené blossoms across her brow! How romantic and touching! What a stunning image on this day of all days.”
“Yes, very special indeed.”
Admiral Piett continued to listen. At long last the screaming became gurgling and then silence. “Is that the last of them, General?”
“According to his Excellency, yes, for now.”
“What about the explosives?”
“One moment, Admiral.”
“Do you feel that, Claudius? Did the planet just move? Are we going to have a flyby or maybe it’s the fireworks? No, it’s too early. Perhaps the 21 blaster salute?”
“Maybe it is the spirit of the occasion.”
“Yes, yes. I’m feeling very moved on this historic day.”
“Is that a tear, Caesar?”
“Yes, I think it is! And I’m not ashamed, not at all. I think we are all feeling moved today!”
“Detonation suppressed and contained,” Veers reported.
Firmus allowed himself a small relieved smile.
“Admiral, we have word of a hyperspace event. Codes coming in now,” a lieutenant called from the starboard bridge pit. “It’s Doctor Erso.”
“Right on schedule. Direct him to dock immediately and then make preparation to leave the shadow of the planet and signal our approach into orbit above Coruscant.”
“I think we can safely say that her arrival has gone off without a hitch! Now we await the arrival of His Excellency, Darth Vader!”
“Oh, if only I was a fly on the wall when the two of them meet again. It must have been at least twelve years since they’ve last seen each other.”
“I know what you mean. Will it be a tender embrace between them? Or will there be harsh words and tears? We will not know until later, but I have been informed by the Palace that the festivities will continue with the parade as planned. So we take you now live to the Senate Plaza where our coverage of this historic Empire Day continues!”
“Now can we change the channel?” Jyn groaned as former Senator Amidala vanished into the Imperial Palace and out of camera range.
“Now it’s time for dessert!” Luke scrambled to his feet and made a dash for the kitchen. “Who wants some?” he called, giddy that he got to share his birthday treat with so many people and not just Obi-Wan. Which reminded him, he needed to save some trifle for Obi-Wan! Maybe he was done meditating and maybe he would want to see Ahsoka and Captain Rex even if he didn’t want to see him or Leia right now!
“Can I help?” Ahsoka asked coming into the kitchen.
“Of course! You can help make the tea.”
“You drink tea?” she asked in surprise. “What is the galaxy coming to?”
“Obi-Wan likes tea. He may be done meditating and then I can bring him some,” Luke explained pulling out silverware. “Do you think he would mind eating with a spoon? I’m not sure we have enough forks.” Silence greeted his question. Luke turned around. Ahsoka stood frozen. “What?”
“Obi-Wan is here?” she asked in a squeaky voice. “Here now? Like . . . here here?”
“Where else would he be?”
“On some prison planet or the deepest dungeon or encased in carbonite or-or somewhere not here!”
“Father brings Obi-Wan with him everywhere he goes,” he said with an exasperated sigh as he opened the cooler to bring out the birthday dessert. “He says it's because Obi-Wan’s a dangerous prisoner that needs to be watched carefully but I think it’s because Father gets lonely if he doesn’t have his best friend with him.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, Father likes Admiral Piett and General Veers and the men of the 501st. And of course he has Artoo and me, but Obi-Wan’s his oldest and bestest friend in the whole galaxy. Didn’t you know that? I thought you fought with them in the Clone Wars.” Luke handed Ahsoka the tea canister and flicked on the switch for the water to boil in the kettle on the counter.
“I did fight with them,” she insisted as she stared at the tea. She unstopped the lid and the fragrant scent of Corellian Black filled the air. It was Obi-Wan’s favorite. Luke climbed up on the counters and pulled out the extra special cup and saucer he saved for days when Obi-Wan was feeling particularly down. It always cheered him up. It was edged in gold and painted with Mandalorian lilies.
“Do you want some trifle? What about Captain Rex?”
She didn’t answer, she just kept staring at the open tea canister and then at the tea cup and then back at the tea canister.
Luke was starting to get worried that despite what the med droid had said that she wasn’t feeling very well having just fought the Emperor. Perhaps she needed a moment. Father frequently needed a moment after dealing with the Emperor. He stuck his head out of the door to call out to the clone captain.
“Captain Rex? Do you want some trifle?”
“If there’s enough, I’d love some.”
“There’s plenty to share,” Luke was proud to say.
Luke went to get another plate. Ahsoka was still staring at the tea. The kettle started to whistle. Sighing, he gently took the canister out of her hands and prepared the tea to seep. “Do you want to sit down and rest? I can finish the tea on my own,” he offered worriedly.
Ahsoka shook herself. “No, no. I want to see him. Take me to him.”
“He didn’t want to come out or anything when I took Leia to meet him,” he warned. “He doesn’t really like Empire Day. It’s not his favorite day of the year; you know because of . . . . well . . . stuff.”
“Tough. We’re going to see him. Rex!” she yelled out suddenly. “Going to see General Kenobi! Bring the tea.”
The clone captain hurried into the kitchen, shock evident on his features. “He’s here?”
“He’s here. Luke, show us where he is.” Ahsoka demanded.
“But he’s meditating.”
“Meditating! Ha! More like napping. Besides, it's your birthday and we haven’t seen him in years. He’ll be thrilled to see us. I know it. You show us where he is and we’ll take care of it.”
Luke frowned. He did not trust the expression on her face but perhaps she and Captain Rex could do a better job of getting Obi-Wan to come out of the closet than he and Leia had.
The door opened behind him but Obi-Wan did not get up. He did not turn, he did not open his eyes.
Footsteps came closer, there was a rattle of china and then arms enfolded him in a hug from behind.
He bowed his head and raised one hand to grasp hold of her arm.
"Ahsoka," he breathed.
He opened his eyes and saw the unmistakable features of clone Captain Rex. He was grinning as he crouched down in front of him. "General Kenobi, it's so good to see you sir."
"Are you here to rescue an old fool?" he asked.
He shook his head. "No rescue needed for a change. We've come to bring you tea."
"Rex, Ahsoka, he isn't Anakin," he whispered. "He can't be."
Her arms tightened around him. "Obi-Wan, he's never been anyone else."
"But the Temple, the younglings . . ."
"I know. Not all were able to escape, but it's still him."
"Escape?" he echoed in shock, pulling out if her embrace, turning to look at her. She had grown so tall and fierce, a bright beacon in the Force.
"There's quite a number of us left, spread out all over the galaxy. The Order might be dead, but the Light isn't gone."
Obi-Wan sputtered. "But I thought-- he was hunting--"
"The most ineffectual Jedi hunt ever," Rex said with a huff. "I used to think it was stormtroopers being utterly useless and the hype about Vader was just that, hype. But now knowing Vader's the General, well . . ."
"Anakin always had a talent for twisting orders to do what he really wanted to do, damn everyone else."
"He did," Obi-Wan whispered, remembering. "He'd say one thing and then do another. It would drive Mace and Yoda to distraction." It had driven Obi-Wan to distraction too. How many times had he seen it for himself? Anakin being ordered to to one thing, and agreeing (often begrudgingly) to do as commanded, only to find out well after the fact that Anakin had just pursued his own agenda regardless. "You were exactly the same. He taught you well."
"He's still in there, under the armor and mask. Anakin's alive, Obi-Wan."
"How can you be sure?" he asked desperately. "How can you trust to anything when he's Fallen? He's Dark. He's Sith."
(Sith did not love.)
She smiled. "How far could he have Fallen if he's kept his bestest friend in the whole galaxy with him this whole time? Master, don't you see? There's still good in him, there always was. Anakin isn't gone. You're the living proof of that."
Obi-Wan could only stare at her, agog.
"Now get up and come drink your tea. We have birthdays and the death of kriffing Palpatine to celebrate and it wouldn't be complete without you there too."
Where was he?
Padme paced back and forth across the upper mezzanine room of what was once the Jedi Temple and was now the Imperial Palace. Surely he was closer to Corscucant than she was on Yavin IV. Had there been some sort of problem on the Endor moon? The play and the subsequent Ewok attack could mean the children were in danger. Had his troops rebelled against him? She’d been shocked when she heard his reply message read out across galactic comms. Hopeful but shocked. She hadn’t though it would be that easy to gain his cooperation.
Well, he’d better have a good reason for the delay, she thought with a huff. His ship was certainly faster than hers. The fact that he wasn’t here yet–
He was here.
Padme reared back in shock.
Vader (Anakin!) stood in the center of the room, his breathing an audible hiss. How long he’d been there, when or how he’d entered the sealed room or got past the guards and her handmaidens she didn’t know. He was just suddenly there.
She took a moment to breath, to still her racing heart and in the silence stared at her husband in the flesh for the first time in twelve years. She examined every inch of him. The holos did not do his imposing figure justice she realized with a touch of hysteria.
He didn’t move an inch as she regarded him. She had no way to tell, but she was certain his eyes were locked on her face the entire time. Padme stared up into the red tinted lenses of his fearsome mask.
She couldn’t see his eyes. She couldn’t see anything.
“Can you . . . take the mask off?”
For a long moment there was only the noise of his suit and then: “Not without sealing the room and changing the atmosphere.”
“I see,” she found herself saying nonsensically. “You’re taller.” And he was, by several inches. He’d always towered above her once he’d grown from the boy she’d known, but now . . .
He inclined his head. “It was . . . necessary after Mustafar. If it disturbs you–”
“No!” she was quick to halt that line of questioning, horrified that he would think for one moment his appearance was an issue. “What disturbs me, what infuriates me is that I wish Palpatine was still alive so I could have the pleasure of killing him myself!”
“You are not the only one, but he was dangerous and cunning. Better that he is dead and gone and you are here to lead in his stead.”
“I am not going to be leading in his stead!” she countered hotly. This was not at all how she anticipated this meeting or this conversation going. She’d had a plan, talking points, source material, an outline! But as usual, all plans were out the window when Anakin (Vader!) was involved. She tried to get their meeting back on track. “Lord Vader, I asked you here to begin negotiations–”
“You asked me here to discuss how to consolidate power,” he interrupted. “You've always known that your Rebels could never match Imperial power.”
Padme did not appreciate the amused smugness of his tone of voice. She flushed at his words. “You're right,” she was forced to concede. “We could never match you and we could never overthrow the Emperor through conventional warfare.”
“True. Reforming the Empire will take more than warfare. It will require wise leadership. It requires you,” Vader said proudly, “Someone wise.”
(Anakin used to talk that way about her, with such pride in her efforts, though he thought them futile more often than not. And how right he was, she thought bitterly, remembering those final days of the Republic).
“You once told me that someone wise needed to be in charge of the galaxy. You actually meant it, didn't you?” she asked him quietly, remembering that long ago picnic in the meadow, before the war. Before the Empire.
“Yes, I did.”
“And if I hadn't collapsed on Mustafar would you have offered me the galaxy then?”
“Yes.” At her no doubt stunned expression he continued. “I meant what I said. I never lied to you. I never wanted to rule.”
“I believe in democracy, you know that!”
He stepped closer to her, looming over her, but she wasn’t afraid. “Democracy cannot save the galaxy from tearing itself apart. Only a leader strong enough to take command can bring peace and order. It must be you. Knowing now that you are alive, I will support no other.”
“But the Alliance-- our goal was always to restore power to the–”
“I am not interested in handing over the galaxy to a bunch of mealy-mouthed backstabbing bureaucrats and sycophants looking to seize power and profit off of the suffering of others,” he cut her off. “The Imperial Forces will not bow or cede control to anyone else. They are mine to lead and I will lead them in service of a ruler I alone choose and I choose you. Take your place as Empress or Supreme Chancellor or Queen or whatever title you may wish and you will have my unconditional support and the support of the military. Step down and place power in the hands of those unworthy politicians who only want back the power and privilege of a decadent corrupt system and the military will fracture. You will plunge the galaxy into war and suffering without end.”
“That’s not fair. You know it’s not. I did not remove Palpatine to supplant him!” she shouted poking him in the chest. “I will not take his throne when it is built on nothing but lies and the slaughter and enslavement of billions of beings! I may not be seeking revenge but there must be justice.”
His gloved hands came up to gently cradle her hand between his. “I have found that the universe doesn’t care about what is fair or just in the least,” he said to her with surprising gentleness and sadness in his voice. “You may have your justice or you may have peace, but you cannot have both. You have a choice. Denying the consequences is beneath you, Padme.”
“And if I succeed him, if I reform the Senate, get rid of the Moffs and regional governor that haven’t already been killed, abolish slavery once and for all, and restore and expand sentient rights and civil liberties? If I create a new uncorrupted system and then step down? Will the military back me then?” she challenged him.
“If that is what you wish then I will see it done.”
Vader (Anakin!) meant it, she realized with an absolutely certainty. If she took the throne he would do anything she asked, enforce any reform she wanted, make every wish real and champion her every cause no matter how wild or compassionate, how soft or foolhardy. He would wield the otherworldly power that had always been his to command to create whatever she desired. If she didn’t take the throne, if she left the Senate to reform the Republic, he would not back the government at all and total chaos would destroy galactic civilization, perhaps forever.
It was a level of adoration, loyalty, and trust that terrified her (thrilled her) more than the responsibility of leading the galaxy.
Padme swallowed hard. She could not let ridged adherence to principals blind her to reality. She knew all too well the corruption of the bureaucracy that the Emperor had fostered even before the Republic fell (before the Republic became in name what it had long been, an Empire). The galaxy was too fragile to be managed by committee when everyone in power and still alive was part of the corrupt system she hoped to dismantle and reform. She had to undo what Palpatine had done first if they had any hope of peace.
Decision made she pulled her hand from his and stepped back, the mantle of duty weighing heavily on her shoulders. “Very well. I will lead.”
“As you wish, my Empress,” he said as he dropped to one knee before her.
“Please, don’t call me that and please don’t kneel,” she insisted uncomfortably. It reminded her too much of how the Emperor would have him kowtow to him. It reminder her of how he had been enslaved by one being or group for most of his life. She did not want to command him like she owned him! She wanted him to – to– she wanted . . . well, she didn’t want to command him like that! Democracy, not domination, as Sabe said. She squared her shoulders. If she was going to lead, then she was going to do it her way. If anyone didn't like it, they'd just have to deal with it (or more likely, deal with her husband!) “Now we need to talk about the children.”
Vader rose, his voice tinged with worry, almost hesitant. “What about the children?”
“They are on board your ship?”
“They are safe aboard the Executor with my loyal forces. Ahsoka and Rex are watching them along with Artoo and Threepio,” He assured her.
A knot of tension inside her released at hearing those words. Her children were safe. Vader (Anakin!) had left them with people who would protect them with their very lives.
“I want to see my daughter and meet my son,” she demanded. She would brook no delays in reuniting with her children. It had already been too long. “And then we will deal with the rest of the galaxy.”
“As you wish,” he said with a bow.
Leia ran towards Padme with a cry of “Mom!”
Padme fell to her knees and hugged her daughter tight, enveloping her in the ruffles of her dress.
As mother and daughter greeted each other, Luke held back. His hand reached out and grabbed hold of his father’s cloak, an old comforting habit.
She was here. She was real. She was alive.
He hadn’t killed her.
His eyes burned and he gulped down a breath, trying not to cry.
She looked up and caught sight of him. “Luke!” she breathed. She held out her hand to him entreatingly. “Come here.”
He found himself frozen. He felt as if he took one step towards her everything would disappear just like a dream. He clenched his father’s cloak tighter in his fist.
She was here. She was real. She was alive.
“Luke,” his Father said softly, his hand clasping his shoulder. “It’s all right.”
He looked from his father over to his mother. She was waiting, patient, hand still open to him, smiling, Leia cuddled up to her side.
Gently, Vader pressed him forward. Luke only let go of his father’s cloak when he reached her.
Hesitantly he put his hand in hers. She was just as beautiful as her wedding holo.
She stared to cry and Luke nearly yanked his hand away.
“No, no, darling!” she said over her tears. “I’m just so happy. I’m just so so happy.” She pulled him into her arms and she was hugging him and she smelled like flowers and he could only bury his face into her shoulder and try not to sob into her dress. “I’ve wanted to meet you your whole life and now you’re here. You’re here! This must be such a surprise for you,” she murmured to him, pressing a kiss into his hair. “Did you even know about me before? Did you tell him about me?” she asked Father.
Luke pulled back, trying to wipe his eyes before anyone could see. He looked up at his father who stood over them like some silent black guard. Father didn’t answer her question.
If Father was feeling even a bit of what Luke was feeling, Luke couldn’t blame him.
“He didn’t know your name. He only had a holovid of you,” Leia explained leaning against their mother’s shoulder. “Artoo and Threepio told us a bunch of stuff though.”
“I didn’t know you were a politician,” Luke said with a hiccup.
“Oh, is that all?” she said with a laugh. She had a beautiful laugh.
“I though I killed you,” he said miserably.
It slipped out before he could stop himself and her face froze in horror which soon morphed into anger. She sprang to her feet and Luke couldn’t help but shrink back. He was used to Father being angry and even Obi-Wan’s flashes of temper buried beneath a mask of false calm. He didn’t know what to do with a mother who was suddenly furious.
“You told him–!”
But Father ignored her accusation. He focused solely on Luke, kneeling down before both children. “We’ve talked about this, my son. You did not kill her. Even if she'd died as I dreamed she would in childbirth, you and your sister would not have been responsible for her death. She loved and wanted both of you very much. You could never cause her harm. What happened, what I did . . . it was not your fault.”
“I did want you. I’ve always loved you both!” Mother agreed hurriedly, joining Father and reaching to take both him and Leia back into her arms. It was so easy to hug her, Luke thought in amazement. “My wonderful children. I’ve missed so much. I’m sorry I’ve missed so much, but I’m here now, my loves. We’re together.”
“So you do want to be a-a family?” Luke whispered as he looked at his father, hoping against all hope. “You’re . . . not going to leave us?”
His mother ran her hand over his head. It reminded him of the way his father would do that too. There was a long pause and then: “I’m not going to leave you or Leia or your father. We're staying together.”
“And Artoo and Threepio?”
“And Artoo and Threepio. We’re going to be a family.”
Luke felt a weight lifted off his shoulders he didn’t even know he was carrying. It was a moment of pure relief. He felt like crying again but a good kind of crying this time. The Emperor was dead. Father was free and Mother was alive. He had a sister and Obi-Wan and an Auntie Ahsoka and an Uncle Rex. He had Artoo and Threepio. They were all safe. They were going to be a family together.
It was the best birthday ever.
“Are you going to be the new Emperor then? Or is it Empress?” Luke asked some time later as he watched his mother (he had a mother!) receive updates from her handmaidens and her rebels (his mother was the infamous Rogue One!). He leaned against the desk she was working at, unable to take his eyes of her.
(She was here. She was real. She was alive).
“No, laserbrain. I told you. The Senate is going be in charge,” Leia reminded him from where she stood listening in as Father received a comm from Admiral Piett about how the Erso family reunion was going up on the Executor.
A look of absolute horror spread across Luke’s face. “The senate? Full of politicians? Running the galaxy? I thought Leia was joking! Mother, you can't. They're all horrible!"
"Hey! Uncle Bail is not horrible! Neither is Senator Naberrie, she's Mom's niece!"
His mother gave Father a Look. “I see that education reform and mandatory civics lesson are going to be high on my list of priorities as Supreme Chancellor, along with restoring civil liberties, abolishing slavery, restructuring the judiciary and penal code, overhauling the banking codes . . .” She trailed off with a sigh, standing up. “This is going to be a lot of work.”
“I am certain you will wield your authority wisely,” Vader responded with a great deal of smug satisfaction and pride. “Do not forget that you have the unconditional support of the Imperial Forces behind you. That should help speed up the process of convincing the politicians to see things your way.”
Leia hurried over and hugged her. “You have my support too, Mom! I’ll help. I’ll help soooo much.”
“Well, I guess if Father's going to be convincing them, it won't be too bad. I’ll help too,” Luke concluded, grabbing her hand. “Those politicians won’t know what hit them!”
Mother smiled. “Well then. We can’t fail.”
“And we’re finally seeing some movement in the Imperial Palace, Claudius! We’re seeing the balcony doors opening and yes! Yes! The Imperial Family, the entire Imperial Family, is coming out to greet the crowds!”
“What a sight! What a sight!”
“And what a family! Princess Leia of Alderaan, secretly the daughter of his Excellency Lord Vader and former Senator Amidala. No doubt she’s been raised to politics and to bear her title with grace. True royalty cannot be hidden. It shines through, just like her mother!”
“And we can’t forget our very own Prince Luke! We will see him following in the footsteps of his father. I expect he'll soon be attending the prestigious military academy on Carida and rising through the ranks quickly.”
“Such bright futures ahead and we, your faithful hosts, will bring you every new tidbit of information, every breaking news headline, each tantalizing story. Birthdays, weddings, fashion, parties, and who knows what else?”
“The Imperial portrait is going to be so beautiful, Caesar!”
“I know, I just can’t get over how perfect they look together. Stay tuned. We still have the fireworks and the evening festivities but from all of us here at the Imperial Galactic Holonet we wish our Imperial Family and all of the citizens of this galaxy a most Happy Empire Day!”