How to Steal a Star Destroyer
Sequel to ‘The Rescue,’ which is sequel to ’The Reunion’
By Linda Bindner
Disclaimer: We all own them in our minds, and as the mind doesn’t rely on simple things like money, it would be a crime if I’d made any on this story. It’s a good thing I don’t own the characters, and made no money off them, so I can agree with myself.
A/N: With great gratitude to my wonderful beta, yeahsureyoubetcha.
A/N2: When I first started writing this story, I forgot to divide it up into chapters, and instead wrote it in one big file. I’m sure there is a way to make separate files out of one file, but as I’m fairly new at using my word processor, I don’t know how to do it yet. Though I am certainly able to learn how to make a different file for each chapter, I’m a lazy girl, and have better things to do with my time (like writing stories) than spending hours convincing my computer to do what I want. If you prefer to break this story up into ‘chapters,’ stop reading every time you come to a line of the letter ‘X.’ (you could say that ‘X marks the spot’ LOL) Start reading at that spot again the next day, which is when I would have updated. Just FYI.
Captain Wilton’s shuttle sat like a large black bat on the floor of his personal hangar, its wings folded at rest, ready to meet any adversary.
Fortunately, there were no obvious adversaries as of yet. But that was subject to change at any moment, and the small company of rescuers knew it.
Solo appeared back on the ramp after checking on the readiness level of the shuttle’s systems. “Everything checks out in the cockpit,” he reported, his tone congenial, especially for him.
Having also joined the group, Wedge added, “The same goes for the rest of the shuttle. Everything’s good to go.”
And so they all stood grouped together in a single clump on the shuttle ramp. As one, they looked to Captain Wilton for details as to their next moves. Tank still needed to find some clothes, and as captain, Wilton would certainly be able to direct him towards the nearest clothing storage closet. The others simply wanted him to suggest a course of action to escape their current Imperial entanglement.
However, none of that happened.
In what was most likely the fastest turnaround in the history of the Empire, Wilton took on the demeanor of the hard-lined Imperial officer in one breath. He handed back the small weapons he had just accepted from the recent stormtrooper arrivals, indicated the rescuers, and brusquely ordered, “Take their weapons. Cover them.” The three troopers instantly obeyed. The minute they did, he gave a satisfied smile and said, “I can’t believe that I captured the great Luke Skywalker… twice. I’ll get another promotion for this.”
The rescuers should have been completely astounded by this change in Wilton’s character, but only Tank looked surprised. The others did nothing more than glance in Solo’s direction, as if this occurrence simply confirmed his more cynical predictions from some time earlier of how things would turn out. “You’ll get a promotion if we don’t get you first,” he direly promised.
Arrogance restored along with his authority, Wilton ignored him to regard Luke instead. “I’ll take this.” Without hesitation, he yanked the lightsaber from Luke’s grasp. “Where you’re going, you won’t be needing it.”
Rather than grow incensed at losing his one tangible weapon, Luke just looked disappointed. “I had such high hopes for you.”
Wilton’s derisive tone cut the air. “Hopes for what? Becoming a Rebel? A traitor? A professor for your academy? I have higher expectations for my future.” Turning to the troopers, he ordered, “Take them to--”
And that was the moment that Luke chose to strike. Across the hangar, an unseen hand ripped a comm unit from the wall. Sparks spewed maniacally as it raced towards the group still standing on the shuttle ramp. One of the troopers crashed headlong onto the deck in an attempt to stay out of its way. Another wall unit zipped towards them, sparking furiously, causing the two other troopers to hastily join their companion on the deck to keep from being burned. In the next second, every tool not bolted down shot into the air to harass the head of the one Imperial left standing.
Captain Wilton reflexively covered his head with his hands, doing his best to protect himself from the flying tools. But after several moments when nothing overtly attacked him, he slowly lowered his hands to gaze at Luke as if he’d never truly seen him before that moment.
Controlled anger blazed through Luke’s eyes in a more subtle attack as he allowed the tools to fall to the floor. “How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t need a lightsaber?” He yanked his weapon from Wilton’s grasp. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead, with or without the help of this blade.”
The three stormtroopers climbed slowly to their feet as Luke went to clip the lightsaber onto his belt. But all motion ground to a halt when a resounding thud made the huge starship shudder.
The rescuers glanced towards the ceiling, as if that would disclose the identity of this new danger. “What was that?” Solo growled.
Another thud was his only answer.
An astonished Wilton snapped to attention. “We’re under attack!”
“What’s under attack?” Lando demanded with a yelp. “This Star Destroyer?”
“Who would attack a Star Destroyer?” Wedge asked, perplexed.
“Another Star Destroyer,” Tank softly replied.
As if in response to Tank’s remark, a voice boomed out of the one shipwide comm unit that Luke had not pulled from the hangar’s wall yet. “Star Destroyer Perpetrator, this is the Star Destroyer Revenge. We have reason to believe that the murderer Luke Skywalker is being harbored aboard your vessel. Surrender him to us now, or we will be forced to take action.”
Ignoring the fact that Luke was now an armed enemy, Wilton ran down the ramp, simultaneously barking into his comlink, “Bridge, protect the ship!” Without breaking stride, he pointed in the direction of the three stormtroopers. “You, call Merrick! You, remain with him, and both of you, keep them here. You, follow me.” With that, he and the single stormtrooper he’d ordered with him vanished through the hangar door, presumably heading for the Bridge.
“Merrick, you’re needed in hangar bay Delta,” one of the two troopers who’d stayed behind said into his helmet mic.
Tank instantly seized this moment of distraction to outflank the Imperial soldier, but the way the second trooper aimed his blaster straight at his chest dissuaded him just as quickly.
“I wouldn’t try it if I were you.”
Using this tiny distraction to his benefit, Solo pulled a second blaster from his left boot, using it to quickly disarm the first stormtrooper while Lando did the same to the second. The movement appeared spontaneous, but such unity clearly came from years of practise. Solo’s flippant reply rounded out the action, “Assuming I would go into a dangerous situation carrying only one blaster is detrimental to your health.”
The minute the troopers were again disarmed, a sense of relaxation instantly swept over the rescuers. “Tank,” Luke said, his voice lowered so as not to be heard. “Go with Han and Lando to the Bridge to lend a hand.”
Solo was not so agreeable to this suggestion. “Let’s just take the shuttle and get out of here, Luke. Who knows what the captain of this new Star Destroyer will do to you.”
But Luke was adamant. “This ship is being attacked because of me. We can’t just abandon them.”
Wedge winced. “I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, but turning yourself over to them is always an option.”
“That’s true,” Lando added. “That’s one way to avoid trouble for the crew of this ship.”
But Tank was shaking his head. “Didn’t you hear them? Revenge thinks this ship’s crew is harboring Luke. Even if they have Luke in custody, they’ll still hold Perpetrator responsible for hiding him. They’ll most likely cripple or destroy this ship after capturing Luke.”
“That is the Imperial way,” Solo said, nodding towards Tank as further indication of his agreement.
Luke heaved a regretful sigh. “Tank and Han are right: Wilton and his men don’t stand a chance unless we help, and turning myself in won’t solve any problems. Han, your strategic mind coupled with Wilton’s is the best hope we’ve got for all of us coming out of this alive. We have to help them if we can.”
Solo grumbled, “You’re nuts, Luke, do you know that?” But he agreeably jogged for the door with Tank and Lando in tow.
The minute they disappeared, Luke gave his attention to carving the captured stormtrooper weapons into several smoldering pieces with his lightsaber. When he was done, he kicked them under the shuttle, then turned to his fellow pilot. “Wedge, I need you to--”
The sudden appearance of a fourth Imperial in the hangar bay cut him off. This man wore no armor, but walked with an arrogant swagger, as if believing himself to be untouchable.
“He certainly looks sure of himself,” Wedge said in a low voice.
“Reminds me of how I felt when I arrived in Cloud City,” Luke murmured to his friend. “Which gives me an idea of just what we’re dealing with.”
As if in opposition to Luke’s mumbled opinion, one of the disarmed stormtroopers barked a laugh of derision. “Now you’re gonna get it.” The two troopers hastily stepped over to the corner of the hangar to give this man as much room to maneuver as possible.
Cautiously eyeing this new addition, Luke refused to cower before him. This man was obviously the one called Merrick, though Luke didn’t know why he was considered so formidable, besides the fact that he carried a lightsaber. But then, Luke did the same. Was this man some Force sensitive that Luke hadn’t heard about? Luke was under the impression that he and Leia were now the last Force sensitives of any strength left in the galaxy.
The fact that this mystery man carried a lightsaber and walked directly towards Luke told him that this was a situation that only he could handle. “Wedge, figure out this shuttle’s engines and weapons system as quickly as you can. I have the feeling we may need them before this day is over.”
“But Luke,” Wedge objected. “I can help.”
“You’ll be more help to me if I know you’re out of his way,” Luke whispered. “Then you can’t be harmed.”
He frowned. “Okay, but I don’t like this one bit.” Wasting no more time, Wedge disappeared into the shuttle.
Once alone, Luke was free to give this unknown man his full attention, “Who are you?”
The man answered with a sneering smile. “I’m your worst nightmare.” With no other warning, he ignited his saber, the blade glowing yellow rather than the expected angry red. That, accompanied by his less than savory behavior, indicated his status as a possible dark side follower, but not a full apprentice wielding a saber showing him to be a Sith lord. Relieved not to be fighting another fully fledged Palpatine, Luke ignited his own weapon a second before the man attacked.
The attack was almost flawless. An individual untrained in the art of saber combat wouldn’t even notice the slight gathering of arm muscles just prior to the man‘s swing, but Luke noticed. He therefore knew precisely how to block the attack. In what looked like a lazy move, Luke swung his blade up to meet the other man’s swing.
The man attacked three more times. Luke blocked each blow with accuracy that looked easy. Eventually, the blades locked together, and the two men cautiously circled each other, judging strengths, gauging weaknesses.
“So, you’re the Merrick the stormtroopers were talking about?” Luke conversationally asked.
Far from conversational, the man sneered once again. “Everyone knows who you are, Skywalker: Emperor-killer, Vader-killer, and the man who’s gonna die the same way.” He followed his words with another wild swing to the side.
There was more strength behind this maneuver than Luke anticipated, considering how wild it was, but he blocked the swing. The blades once again sparked directly over their heads.
Taking advantage of this lull, Luke noted, “You haven’t answered my question.”
“Yeah, I’m Merrick... your personal nightmare,” the man hissed, clearly expecting Luke to be terrified.
Luke was far from accommodating, however. “You know nothing about my nightmares.”
“I don’t need to know anything about them, or about you, since I’m gonna kill you.”
“It’s always an advantage to know your opponent,” Luke gently remonstrated.
“Don’t quote Jedi sayings at me!”
“It wasn’t a quote, but common sense.”
“There’s nothing common about what you say, only about your death!” Unexpected hatred surged through the man’s eyes, a raw emotion hungry for retribution. The power of that emotional attack forced Luke to backpedal. He had to either enter the shuttle or jump off the ship’s loading ramp to avoid being cut in half.
Luke smoothly somersaulted away from the glowing blade. Merrick didn’t give him time to gather himself, but followed his angry swing with a side-swipe meant to cleave the Jedi into pieces.
Refusing to become Merrick’s kill for the day, Luke blocked his swing, then disengaged. The circling continued.
“I don’t know where you get your information,” Luke said with maddening calm. “I certainly didn’t kill the Emperor or Lord Vader.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
Who could possibly have told anything to this Merrick? Except for Tank, Luke had been the only person alive to leave the second Death Star, and he had yet to tell anybody anything that had transpired there. Not even Tank knew the whole story yet, and Tank had helped him build a funeral pyre for Vader on Endor. “Whatever you heard, it’s wrong.”
“Like I believe you.”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” Luke answered the satiric comment. They traded a few more blows, but neither gained the advantage, and the face-off continued. “I know the truth: my father killed the Emperor.”
“My father,” Merrick parroted. “Since the Emperor didn’t have any children, I can only assume you’re talking about Lord Vader.”
“Assume what you like,” Luke replied, his voice still nonchalant. “The truth is the truth. I didn’t kill the Emperor. The Emperor almost killed me.”
Merrick cackled in a way far too reminiscent of Palpatine. “You’re mighty active for a dead man.” He swung again.
Luke blocked him again. Green and yellow merged as the blades met with sparks of deadly energy. “My father died because he killed his master to save me.”
“So you say.” Anger and hatred gave power to another of Merrick’s unpredictable swings, which Luke blocked once more. “The Emperor told me all about you, about how you were even scared of his name.”
Luke laughed at that statement. “That’s what he wanted you to think.”
“He predicted your imminent death.”
Luke scoffed. “If my death was so imminent, then why am I still alive?”
“Because you’re a cheat!”
Again Luke laughed. “If there’s a way to cheat destiny, I’d love to know it.”
This third casual response further infuriated Merrick, who lashed out in wild swings once more. Luke systematically pushed each blow away. “You’re not completely untrained,” he noted in detached interest. “I sense a strength behind each movement, a purpose, but you’re more manic than disciplined.” He pushed hard against the yellow blade, giving himself enough time to jump back over the loading ramp, putting it between himself and his opponent.
Merrick followed the move much faster than Luke anticipated, vaulting over the ramp in a show of that manic strength they had just discussed, swiping his blade at the Jedi’s feet.
Luke leapt over the lightsaber and tucked into a tight roll, bringing his own saber up at the same time to ward off a vicious downward stroke aimed for his head. A twist later, and he had regained his feet, perfectly balanced.
Merrick’s eyes glittered with frustrated anger, fueling several more violent strikes. Luke parried each one.
Merrick’s frustration was now rampant. “Attack me, so I can kill you!”
“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
“You don’t have the guts to attack!”
“That’s ridiculous,” Luke scoffed. “I attacked my father plenty of times. I lost each time I did it. I’m using a different approach with you.”
Merrick was instantly more wary, and drew back several steps. “What are you getting at, Jedi?”
Luke grew pensive. “I’m trying to figure you out. I thought there were no other Force sensitives in the galaxy.” Besides Leia.
“Master said you would think that.”
Luke perked up. “Master. Do you mean Palpatine?”
“He’s the only master!”
“He’s not anybody’s master anymore,” Luke reminded, blocking yet another blow, this one aimed at his left side. He quickly moved into a backflip to put some distance between himself and his combat partner. The circling began anew.
Merrick conveniently didn’t respond to Luke’s remark, saying instead, “I was only one part of his plan.”
“A plan for what? For whom?”
“For your father!” Merrick sneered as if the mere sight of Luke disgusted him. “He was gonna take you out first, then deal with daddy dearest the first chance he got.”
Luke’s brows rose as if he’d finally heard something worth listening to. “Interesting. So you’re saying that no matter what Vader did in that Throne Room, he would have died anyway.”
“If you turned, it meant that you’d killed him. If you didn’t turn, Master was going to kill you and make him watch, then kill him. Either way, it was the end of the glorious Darth Vader!”
“Leaving a place for you as… his new apprentice,” Luke then guessed, blocking yet another attack.
“A position you didn’t have the stomach for.”
“I should hope not. I wanted to be the Emperor’s apprentice like I wanted a hole in the head.”
The shuttle suddenly opened fire on something or someone directly behind Luke. The stormtrooper and the large wrench he’d raised to swing at Luke’s head fell to the ground with a thud and a clang. Luke took a second to give a sorrowful sigh. “Master Yoda always did tell me I wasn’t mindful of my surroundings.” He saluted to Wedge in the shuttle’s cockpit for watching his back so effectively, then blocked another of Merrick’s swings in the next second.
“Yoda!” Merrick intoned. “That old simpleton?”
“If he was such a simpleton, then how did he get to be so old?”
Merrick didn’t answer Luke’s question, but swung hard and fast at his midsection.
Luke jumped back just in time, then used the Force to pull a sparking wall unit in their direction. Merrick had to take a moment to deflect it, while Luke took that distraction to jump back another step.
Rage gave Merrick more strength, but less accuracy. He followed the Jedi’s movements with two savage swings that met Luke’s blade while three more swings only ruffled his hair. More frustration fueled his rage. “Attack!”
“I only use the Force for knowledge and defense,” Luke calmly reminded. “And I thank you for the knowledge.” He parried another blow, swept Merrick’s blade aside, and promptly cut his opponent’s hand off at the wrist, sending his saber handle flying. “A Skywalker trademark,” Luke explained as Merrick fell to his knees and let out a howl of pain. In the next second, he used the Force to lift the wrench laying beside the fallen stormtrooper and swung it at Merrick’s head instead. Merrick fell to the floor in an unconscious heap. “Sweet dreams… or nightmares.”
Luke took a deep breath of relief as he deactivated his lightsaber. “How many more apprentices did the Emperor have?” he muttered to himself while Wedge ran down the shuttle ramp to meet him.
“Luke!” Wedge yelled. “Are you all right?”
Luke gestured at the crumpled form of Merrick. “Better to ask that of him than me. Let’s get to the Bridge.”
“Right,” Wedge agreed. “We might be missing all the fun.”
Luke glanced at Merrick. “That was fun,” he argued, but headed for the hangar door, using the Force to deactivate Merrick’s lightsaber before pulling it into his hand. He clipped it to his belt as the second stormtrooper slowly backed away, nervously eyeing his downed comrades as well as Merrick’s severed wrist.
Wedge shook his head even as he jogged at Luke’s side. “You’ve been hanging around Solo too long.”
Luke grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Wedge needn’t have worried; those on the Bridge didn’t look like they’d been having fun at all. They merely looked distressed as the Star Destroyer Revenge filled up the forward windows.
“We’ve tried stalling, we’ve tried clever negotiations, we’ve even tried fighting… any other bright ideas?” Han called across the Bridge from within a circle of armed stormtroopers just as Luke and Wedge exited the lift.
At the noise, all eyes turned towards them. Only Wilton’s gaze wasn’t locked in obvious surprise to see them alive. The crew had clearly anticipated that Merrick would capture or kill them both.
Wilton sourly regarded the Jedi. “Since Merrick obviously had no luck with you…” He flicked his hand toward a group of stormtroopers positioned at the back of the Bridge. The troopers instantly circled Wedge and Luke.
Wedge gave a yelp of anger at being treated like an enemy, while Luke grew obviously irritated. “I thought we had already discussed this issue?”
“If I’m going to turn you over to Revenge, I have to capture you first,” Wilton explained in what was clearly a tone he saved for small children. “Thank you for making it so easy.”
In response, Luke Force shoved each of the stormtroopers away, then pulled another’s weapon clear across the Bridge to him. “I’ll stand here being armed and dangerous while Tank explains the reality of this situation.”
In his location in one of the sensor pits scattered across the Bridge, Tank nervously straightened his underwear uniform and cleared his throat. “‘No matter what they promise, we all know what Revenge will do: the captain will take Luke captive, but destroy Perpetrator anyway for harboring a suspected criminal. We have to work together if we want to come out of this alive.”
Wilton glared at Luke in angry assessment. “If that’s the case, Merrick will be needed here as well.”
Luke’s own glare was only marginally less antagonistic. “Merrick can’t help or hurt anyone; I left him unconscious in your hangar bay.”
“Minus his hand,” Wedge helpfully added, making Solo give a smothered bark of laughter.
“And regarding your secret Sith apprentice…” Luke handed his stormtrooper weapon to the nearest Imperial officer, but spoke directly to Wilton. “Please don’t send another Merrick my way. Though informative, he was barely trained. I like more challenging opponents.”
Beside him, Wedge swallowed another laugh, as amused as Solo had been.
His amusement lasted as long as it took for Revenge to launch a wave of TIE fighters to swarm around Perpetrator like so many bugs harassing a much larger foe.
“I don’t have time for you, anyway,” Wilton snapped at Luke. “I have a ship to defend.” Peremptorily dismissing Luke from his attention, he turned to one of his officers. “Secondary crews to their fighters. Launch counter attack.”
“Wait!” Wedge immediately called. “Fighting will just waste lives.”
Wilton was not amused at having his orders countermanded, especially by a potential prisoner. “I suppose you have some great strategy in mind that’s perfect for this situation?” he growled.
Wedge continued to stare out the windows at the nearing TIE fighters. “Does this ship have tractor capability?”
“Then let them come.”
“That’s your great idea?” Wilton asked in derision. “I don’t have time for this, either! Take him to--”
“Let them come,” Wedge repeated, “and when a fair number of fighters are in tractor range, freeze them in space. With the tractor beam on them, they won’t be able to fly forward or retreat to their ship. They’ll be stuck. You don’t have to destroy them because they will no longer be a threat.” He shrugged. “That’ll save their pilots’ lives as well as yours.”
“Sir, that just might work,” mumbled an officer standing to Wilton’s right. Luke assumed this thin man was the second-in-command.
Wilton heaved an irritated sigh, but growled, “Prepare a tractor beam.” Then he waited, gaze glued to the appropriate technical screen. When the first TIE fighters had passed the center of the huge destroyer, with many more following, Wilton commanded, “Engage tractor beam.”
An unseen energy beam reached out from the ship to snag several dozen TIE fighters. The tiny ships stopped dead in space as if they’d hit an invisible wall. The fighters behind them had to veer to the side to avoid colliding with their comrades. The organized attack soon devolved into all-out chaos.
Wilton actually chuckled. “Nice suggestion. What made you think of doing that?” he asked Wedge.
The leader of the infamous Rogue Squadron replied, “I was playing with the idea of utilising Alliance tractor beams in this manner just before the Battle of Endor.”
Tank interjected, “Being a Rebel obviously takes a special way of thinking. And in that same spirit...” He stared intently at a screen in the sensor pit. “Why can’t we reprogram the sensor array to project a number of Star Destroyers backing us? It will look like we’re part of an armada rather than just one ship.”
“I like the way this guy thinks,” Solo murmured.
“Do it,” Wilton crisply ordered.
Tank and several other sensor officers began pushing buttons and pulling levers as an officer in another section of the Bridge reported, “Sir, an Imperial shuttle has blown one of the secondary tractor relay hubs and is landing in hangar bay Alpha.”
Wilton turned sharply towards the officer. “Is anyone debarking?”
The officer’s eyes never left his screen. “One unarmored man. The hangar guard is firing at him. He… Wow.”
“Report!” Wilton barked.
The officer jumped. “He has a lightsaber, Sir, and deflected all fire. Now they have the proton cannon out.” A tense silence infiltrated the Bridge as they waited for more information. At last the officer broke it to say, “He’s deflected that, too. Now he’s entering the lift and heading for the Bridge.”
A second officer reported, “An energy weapon of some kind is active in the lift. Must be the lightsaber.”
The first officer announced, “The lift is now passing level six… level five… four… three… it’s at level one…”
Luke hastily activated his lightsaber just in case, and with a slightly aggravated nod from Wilton, took up position to just behind and to the right of the elevator.
“It’s reached the Bridge,” the officer announced.
On cue, the lift door hissed open and a tall man stepped out, a purple lightsaber glowing at his side. “Skywalker!” Surveying the crowded Bridge, he yelled in invitation, “Come out and play so I can take you prisoner!”
Luke stepped in behind the man as he fully exited the lift. “I hope you’re better than the last guy they sent.”
He’d barely finished the statement before the tall man thrust the purple blade over his shoulder and straight at Luke’s head. Luke had to act fast in order to block the unconventional attack.
The man turned to lazily say, “Oh, I’m better… certainly better than a Jedi.” Now that he faced Luke, he attacked in earnest.
The man’s height gave him a much longer reach than the Jedi, and he used it to his advantage. His swings were precise and methodical, meant to quickly drive Luke back towards the sensor pit where a flurry of activity still took place. Luke parried a particularly vicious blow, swept the blade aside, then leaped across the aisle and up a set of stairs.
The tall man followed with nothing more than a grunt, Luke passively waiting for him. Not so passive, the man attacked again the moment he had climbed the set of stairs. Luke blocked the next three blows from the purple blade, then again swept it aside only to vault back down the stairs.
“Who are you?” Luke asked “Please don’t say ‘your worst nightmare.’”
“I wasn’t going to,” the tall man informed. “I’m Banner.”
“I’ve never heard of you,” Luke answered, and blocked another attack.
“I don’t care,” Banner replied as a data pad suddenly sailed through the air toward Luke, who wheeled away at the last moment so that it hit an unlucky officer instead. Luke used the Force to send a similar device back towards Banner, who cut it in half with his saber on his way to attacking Luke yet again.
Luke blocked, and the energy blades crackled.
“Good,” Luke said, as if engaged in a training exercise. “Your discipline is impressive.”
In answer, Banner made a pulling motion with his left hand, and three more such devices sailed out of a nearby pit to zoom at Luke.
Luke somersaulted over each device, and they all smashed into a wall while Luke landed nimbly on his feet behind Banner. “Very good.”
“Shut up,” Banner ordered. “If I wanted your praise, I would ask for it.”
In answer, Luke made his own pulling motion, and twenty similar devices flew from every direction. Banner managed to deflect them all.
All except for Luke, who took that moment of distraction to jump in and push Banner’s blade aside with a forceful sweep, then lop off his hand. Deactivated saber and hand went flying. Just like Merrick, Banner fell to his knees with a howl of pain, while Luke only muttered, “I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad that Father showed me that trick.” Using the Force, Luke clobbered the wounded man over the head with a convenient stormtrooper helmet, and he slumped to the deck.
Silence descended as everyone on the Bridge openly gaped at Luke. The Jedi ignored the looks and used the Force to pull the handle of the purple saber to him. He clipped his own saber onto his belt next to Merrick’s lightsaber, then walked up the center aisle to offer his opponent’s blade to Wilton. “I suggest you send it back in his shuttle set to autopilot. The message will be pretty clear.”
Wilton managed to look unruffled as he took the saber and handed it to his subordinate. “Do as he says. How is the sensor reprogramming coming?”
“Almost finished,” Tank replied. “Just one more--”
Space rippled as several Star Destroyers suddenly appeared.
“Three more Destroyers emerging from hyperspace!” Tank urgently interrupted himself. “Taking up positions above and to starboard of Revenge.”
Another officer beside him called, “And now there’s two more to port and one below Revenge!”
Perpetrator suddenly found itself facing a Fleet of Star Destroyers shaped roughly like a box that was flanked by a ship on either side. “Now what do we do?” Solo hollered as he frantically studied the new configuration of ships. “There’s nowhere for us to go.”
“Except into the asteroid field at our backs,” Wilton said, then admitted, “They knew what they were doing when they took these positions.”
Revenge didn’t waste this golden opportunity. The same voice from before boomed out of the shipwide comm units, “For murdering the Emperor and Lord Vader, Skywalker will pay. You have one hour to surrender yourselves and turn Skywalker over to me. Failure to do so will result in the capture and destruction of Star Destroyer Perpetrator.”
Chaos erupted. The Imperial officers ran desperately from one station to the next, trying to decide how to handle this new threat.
Luke came to a decision for them. “Prepare the shuttle for me. I’ll deliver Banner’s lightsaber in person. That ought to satisfy them.”
“No!” Han surged against the stormtroopers still circling him to reach his friend.
Wilton irritably flicked his hand in dismissal of Solo and Lando’s trooper guards as Luke simultaneously took back the purple lightsaber from the thin second in command. He quickly strode back down the aisle towards the elevator at the back of the Bridge, but abruptly stopped when Solo yelled, “Luke, you can’t do this!”
Luke rounded on his friend. “What else would you have me do, Han?”
Solo ruffled his hair in agitation. “I don’t know, but there must be something!”
“There isn’t time for another miracle. Tell Leia--”
“No!” Han pointed at Luke with an index finger. “I’m not telling her that you’ve suddenly developed a fetish for surrendering, and I’m not letting you pay for a crime you didn’t commit.”
“You can’t prove that I didn’t do exactly what they say I did; no one can.”
“I have your word that you didn’t kill anyone, and that’s enough for me.”
“My word isn’t enough for anybody else, and you know it. We’re wasting our time arguing like this.” He headed for the lift again.
Wedge chose that moment to break in, stopping him once more. “Your word’s good enough for me, Luke.”
“And me,” Lando said.
“Me, too,” added Tank, “though we’ve only just met again. You were annoyingly honest when we were growing up.”
“Thanks, Tank,” Luke said, tone turning sarcastic as he added, “The captain of Revenge is sure to believe that if it comes from a stormtrooper.”
“Luke,” Solo persuasively called, “you can’t seriously want me to tell Leia that you surrendered again. She’ll kill me for not stopping you. You don’t want my death hanging over your head, do you?”
By this time, Luke’s benign exasperation was morphing into a far more serious irritation. “It doesn’t matter what I want, Han. My mind’s made up. I’m going.” Striding forward, he had almost gained the lift when the only Alliance member in the near vicinity tackled him.
Caught by surprise, Luke was truly bowled over by the momentum behind Wedge’s attack. Before he knew it, his friend had yanked the lightsaber out of his grasp. He left Luke sprawled on the deck to jump up and yell, “Solo, catch!” He tossed the saber in Han’s direction.
Fighting to control a sudden surge of temper, Luke vaulted to his feet a second later to fling out his hand. The saber changed direction in mid-flight and flew straight to Luke. As an added precaution, he clipped the weapon to his belt, then faced his friends. “I appreciate what you’re all trying to do, but stop it. My mind’s made up. I can’t let anyone die, no matter what the truth is.” He turned once more towards the lift.
This time, he was stopped by Wilton. “As noble as your intentions are, you’ll never make it to Revenge in the time you have left.”
Surprised, Luke paused. “What?”
“A shuttle needs to be prepared for you, then you have to get down to the hangar bay, fly over to Revenge, travel to their Bridge, and present yourself to their captain. All that takes time, and now you don’t have enough.” He turned from Luke back towards the windows. “Looks like Solo is going to get his wish… which will be short-lived, because we’re all going to be destroyed.” He’d clasped his hands so tightly behind his back that his fingertips had turned white, a testament to his anxiety. “Anybody know how to move a Star Destroyer?”
“Luke can do it.”
Luke gaped at Solo’s innocent remark. “What?!”
Solo was completely serious. “Come on, Luke. I’ve seen you move all sorts of things before.” He shrugged. “What’s one more?”
Luke’s gape had permanently etched itself onto his face. “You’re talking about moving a Star Destroyer, Han! You know: big ship, full of stormtroopers bent on killing us, lots of weapons, weighs several ton. It’s a bit bigger than your average lightsaber!” But the moment he said the words, he heard Master Yoda in his thoughts, No. No bigger. Bigger in your mind.
It was as if Solo had his own personal pipeline to his Jedi Master. Or maybe Yoda had somehow learned to inhabit Han’s body. Whatever the case, both Yoda and Solo seemed bent on assigning tasks to Luke that the Jedi had never before attempted. That didn’t mean he couldn’t do them, but it also didn’t mean that he could. According to Yoda, he shouldn’t even try to do them unless he meant to do them.
But how could he do what Han was suggesting? Luke looked in despair out the forward
windows. Five Star Destroyers hung right where he could see them, one on each side of Revenge, and one above, one below. Two more ships hung further afield, detected only by the sensors. However, Luke knew they were there, just waiting to fire on Perpetrator.
Now that someone had mentioned moving one of those destroyers, the ships had never looked so massive. How could he possibly move something that large? Despair engulfed him. “Ripping things from walls and snagging lightsabers in mid flight is one thing, but this is totally--”
He stopped himself to gaze once more at the three ships. Again it was as if the tiny Jedi Master had resurrected himself to lend his sage wisdom to the current situation, speaking only to Luke in nothing but a mental soliloquy. Or, possibly, he meant to haunt his final student for the rest of his life.
Always with you it cannot be done.
And just like that, he felt like he was back on Dagobah, a stubborn boy who sometimes seemed to do nothing but waste Master Yoda’s time. He instantly knew that he didn’t want to feel that way again, so he decided right then and there to prove Yoda wrong. He would move that ship if it was the last thing he did.
Yoda’s mournful voice still ringing in his ears, Luke took a steadying breath and prepared to do the impossible. No, not the impossible, he reminded himself. He just had to figure out a way to make it possible.
“All right.” Sounding more confident now, he told Wilton, “Be prepared to take advantage of whatever opening I give you.”
Luke studied the configuration of Star Destroyers as Wilton tensely nodded. Arranged facing Perpetrator, Revenge sat serenely in the middle of a web of ships, flanked on both sides by the Star Destroyers currently comprising its Fleet. All of them looked well positioned and indomitable because of it. A thrill close to fear accosted Luke, but he beat it back, reminding himself that he just needed to convince those on board Revenge that they desperately wanted to be somewhere else. To that end, he decided to focus his energies on the ship laying off the starboard side of Revenge in order to do the convincing for him, for no other reason than it seemed just a fraction smaller than any of the others. Whether that was true or a trick of the eye was immaterial.
“Size matters not,” he mumbled, concentrating only on his breathing. Like Master Yoda had taught him, he cleared his mind of all the aggravating questions and endless doubts about what he planned to do. Before long, a pleasant sensation of weightlessness filled him. Waves of relaxation crept over him, starting at his head to pound through his veins in time with his slowing heartbeat. Even as he became filled with light, he also became heavier. It was as if he’d suddenly grown roots through the floor, instantly becoming an island of serenity inside the often bustling Bridge.
Illustrating the sense of relaxation that bubbled around him, Luke’s forehead smoothed out, as if he wasn’t determined to do anything more than contemplate the food storage units. When he was as relaxed as he could possibly get, he slowly raised his left arm, hand outflung, and squared his shoulders. Ignoring the possibility of imminent destruction, he again mumbled, “Size matters not.” Then he carefully focused his energies solely on the unknown Star Destroyer nearest Revenge.
In spite of Luke’s preparations, nothing happened. The ship still faced Perpetrator more or less head on, and still blotted out the stars directly behind it. The rushing exhalation of dozens of Bridge personnel preceded the beeps from the data computers scattered across the Bridge as they monitored the current crisis. Breathing from the Imperial officers continued to accompany the sounds. Other than that, the silence on the Bridge was as loud as the noise had been all day.
When still nothing changed even after several more moments, everyone went back to what they had been doing before Solo ever spoke. The general conversation of officers suggesting different strategies of dealing with the upcoming threat of absolute destruction competed with the noise from the hundreds of monitoring systems on the Bridge.
But now that the true distractions were gone, Luke’s real work began. He narrowed his focus even more till it became a tight pinprick of light in his mind, blazing white. That light slowly encompassed the ship. When things did change, it was so gradual that no one even noticed. The monstrous Destroyer slowly drifted to a halt in space, coming to a complete stop. It was quite an anomaly for a ship the size of a Star Destroyer to lie unmoving in space. It was this lack of motion that eventually attracted a junior officer’s attention. He mentioned it to his superior officer. As they both watched, the huge ship slowly... slowly... ever so slowly veered in the general direction of Revenge, going to their port and sinking a little. By that time, everyone on the Bridge had stopped their mad rush of activity to once again watch with avid interest.
Luke stood by himself, his breathing deep and even, his shoulders drooping in an attitude of complete relaxation. Only his wrinkled forehead displayed his deep concentration.
It was as if the moving ship was being displayed as an image on the many holographic sites sprinkled throughout the Bridge; each of the Bridge personnel could see every turret, every gun emplacement, every bend in its metal surface. The ship’s massiveness was softened only by its dangerous elegance.
But in spite of that deadly beauty, the unknown destroyer continued to veer left and sink ever lower. At its new heading, the giant Star Destroyer was bound to eventually collide with Revenge, and barring that, the ship just below Revenge. Though a collision would hardly be helpful to Perpetrator, every person seeing this spectacle knew that they were witnessing a first. Wilton breathlessly whispered to his second in command, “Even Emperor Palpatine never moved a Star Destroyer.”
Luke heard him, but ignored the voice, delegating it to the pleasant hum in the background that every noise had become. He had attention only for what he was doing.
By now, the TIE fighters that were still free of a tractor beam had begun to fire at the veering ship, trying in vain to change its destructive course. Tiny explosions puffed up from the destroyer like yellow cotton balls belching smoke. But Luke stayed focused, and the Star Destroyer continued on its forced heading.
Now the ship directly below Revenge as well as Revenge itself were both doing their best to get out of the way of the veering ship, but moving such a behemoth as a Star Destroyer required time, and neither ship had much time before two of the ships inevitably collided. If Revenge tried to jump to lightspeed, they’d collide with Perpetrator directly in front of them; they were certain to lose hundreds of personnel even if they didn’t lose the ship. Effectively boxed in by their own decisions, Revenge and her sister ship took the only actions open to them. Surely amidst wailing sirens and collision alarms, Revenge began to laboriously back away, and the belly ship was sinking lower as fast as it could. But even as the gap between the three Star Destroyers widened, everyone on the Bridge of Perpetrator could see that it was going to be close.
The tension continued to build. Imperial and Rebel alike stared in a sort of sick fascination at the ships slowly moving through space. “They’ll never make it,” Wilton stated at last.
“They’ll make it,” Solo quietly argued. “As long as both captains keep their heads, they’ll make it.”
Revenge was picking up speed as it reversed. Now the Star Destroyers to port of Revenge were moving aside, too. There was no way for them to help either of the ships that were in danger; getting out of the way was the best thing they could do.
And so, the gap widened, but still Luke’s concentration didn’t waver. The unknown ship kept veering left and down, the belly ship tried to escape, and Revenge kept backing away at all speed. Every eye trained on the front windows except for the officers manning the sensor relays; their eyes never strayed from their screens. “Gap increasing,” one sensor officer reported. “150,000 kilometers… 160,000… 165,000.”
“There’s not enough room,” Lando mumbled. “They’re never going to make that.”
Wilton sadly concurred. “One of the captains must have panicked.”
Despite that pronouncement, Solo quietly disagreed. “I’ve seen worse odds; they’ll make it.”
As if in response to that statement, the sensor officer reported the growing size of the gap between the ships. “200,000 kilometers. 220,000... 250,000... 300,000 kilometers...”
His entire face now wrinkled in concentration, Luke sounded strained when he suddenly spoke aloud, “Take the gap while you can.”
They faced destruction if they stayed, so the decision was an easy one for Wilton to make. “Lightspeed!”
An officer’s gaze jumped from the forward windows to the screen before him. “It will take the nav computer a few minutes to--”
“Make a blind jump,” Wilton hastily interjected. “Just get us out of here!”
As if finally waking to their horrific predicament, the officer quickly did as ordered. “Hyperdrive engines engaging.”
“Disengaging tractor beams,” another officer said. “TIE interceptors moving off.”
“Hyperdrive engines now at 50%,” the first officer reported. “75%... 90%... hyperdrive engines fully engaged.”
Wilton didn’t hesitate. “Jump!”
With that, the Star Destroyer Perpetrator leapt away.
As the blue streaks of hyperspace filled the forward windows, relief cloaked the Bridge like a blanket, though no one had any real control of where the ship would exit back into normal space. They might come out too close to a sun, or get lost inside a gaseous anomaly, or become fused to a moon. By making a blind jump, Perpetrator may have just traded one form of destruction for another. Yet everyone breathed a bit easier, knowing they had at least gained some time even if they hadn’t gained much else.
Ignored by everyone now that their escape was complete, Luke Skywalker let out a sigh filled with relief and crumpled to the deck.
Harsh white light greeted him the next time Luke blinked. “What’s exploding?” he mumbled, and shaded his eyes with a hand. But the circle of white didn’t dissipate as an explosion would have.
“I’ve finally died,” he next guessed, and softly smiled, as if the idea of becoming one with the Force was a welcome thing.
But then wrinkles of confusion encased his eyes. “I can still feel my feet.” He experimentally wriggled his toes, making the blanket at the bottom of his bed move. “I must not be dead.”
But wait a minute; his bed? “Where did the Bridge go?” Muddled even more, he looked carefully at his surroundings.
He was lying prone, his head slightly elevated so that he could see his feet, the antiseptic smell of a Medi Center in his nostrils. The white light coalesced into a single light fixture recessed into the ceiling directly above his bed, illuminating him, the bed, and the surrounding area. That was when he realized he wasn’t alone.
“Tank!” His gaze roved up and down his friend. “I see you finally found some clothes.”
Tank Sharpson ignored this comment to say, “I was beginning to think you would never wake up.”
Luke groaned and rubbed his eyes. “I still haven’t woken up.” He heaved a tired sigh, then said in confusion. “Why was I asleep? Was I injured?”
These questions must have amused Tank, for he gave a sardonic laugh. “Remember? You moved that ship.”
Memory suddenly accosted Luke. “That’s right.” He rubbed his hand over his face, hoping the movement would encourage him to wake more. “No wonder I’m still so tired.”
Tank smiled as Luke yawned. “I guess that moving a Star Destroyer can really take it out of you.”
“I did move it, didn’t I?” Luke’s voice softened and a slight smile lit his face. “If Master Yoda was still alive, he would be delighted. I suppose this proves that I finally grasped the concept of size.”
Again Tank laughed. “I’d say so. But I should explain: I woke you. There’s a galaxy-wide holo-message coming through at 1100 Coruscant time, and I felt sure you would want to see it.”
An announcement of some kind? “The last time that happened, it was to tell us about the death of the Emperor.” Then Luke looked alarmed. “Did somebody else die?”
Tank shrugged “I don’t know what it’s about. But with all that’s been happening lately between the Empire and the Rebellion, I thought you would like to know what’s going on right now in case it’s something that… you know… only you can take care of.”
At that statement, Luke gave a grim smile. “Thanks for that. If it’s nothing, I can just go back to sleep.”
“That’s what I thought. Besides, there’s something I want to show you.” Tank offered his hand to help Luke sit up.
Luke had to grasp Tank’s hand, then roll towards him in order to move at all. “Woah! I’ve never felt so heavy.” Luke yawned widely again. “How long have I been asleep?”
Expecting Tank to tell him that he’d slept for only a little while, Luke was astonished when his friend answered, “Twenty-one hours.”
“Solo was worried that the Force had swallowed you up. He said that a Force sleep trance hadn’t lasted nearly this long the two other times you were in one. That is what you were in, right?”
Luke glanced around before answering. “Um… yeah, I guess you could call it that. Master Yoda taught me how to do it.” He sat up straighter on his bed. “Where am I?”
“Medical Center on board Perpetrator.”
“Then we must have made it out of hyperspace by now. Where are we?”
“Turns out the nav computer found a safe destination for us just in time; we came out near where Alderaan used to be. Solo recognized the randomness of the asteroid field.”
Luke grunted. “He would.” He swung his legs over the side of his sleeping table, astonished at how heavy he still felt.
Tank’s eyebrows shot up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Not too sleepy to realize the need for vagueness on this point, he obfuscated. “Only that Han has flown through this part of space many times, nothing more.”
Tank must have found that answer acceptable, for he grunted again. “Well, there’s certainly more ships here than Solo’s, that’s for sure.”
Confused again, Luke frowned. “Why’s that?”
Tank didn’t reply, but said, “I’ll show you. Come to the window.”
“Wait. Where’re my boots? I’d better be ready in case…” His voice trailed off as he slid from his bed to look around.
Tank had to catch him before his legs folded under him, then steady him for a minute.
“I must be really wiped out,” said an astounded Luke. “Not even a full day of Jedi training was this nasty.” He gave an ironic laugh as Tank pulled his boots close from the chair they’d been stowed beside. “I don’t know what good I’ll be if something bad has happened. I’ll probably fall asleep again in the middle of a fight.”
Tank laughed at that. “We can call you ‘The Sleepy Jedi.’ Banner might actually have a chance with you then.”
Luke pulled his right boot on, then his left. “What happened to Banner and Merrick?”
“In holding,” Tank abruptly replied. “Thought we would keep them safe until you decide what to do with them.” He wrinkled his brows. “What do Force sensitives do all day, anyway?”
Luke barked a laugh. “If I were them, I’d manipulate the locking mechanism of the door so I could escape, but I’m not sure they’re that well trained. Merrick definitely isn’t.”
Tank gave a start of surprise. “You can do that?”
Luke shrugged. “Sure. I’ll teach you.”
“But didn’t you say that I’m not a very strong Force sensitive? Maybe I’m not strong enough for that.”
Luke’s snort of derision surprised Tank. “Here’s a secret. Most locks are fairly simple combinations of electronic tumblers. Interrupt the electronic current, and the tumblers just fall into place.”
“How do I do that?”
Luke hesitated. “Let me sleep some more, then I’ll show you. What was it you wanted to show me?”
Tank slowly led Luke to the room’s tiny viewing window and peered out. There were the asteroids that Luke expected to see, zipping randomly through space, some bouncing off Perpetrator’s deflector shields, some being blown to smaller rocks with the occasional laser beam.
There were also many ships in loose orbits around Perpetrator.
Perplexed, Luke regarded Tank. “What’s going on?”
Tank grinned as if he had a great surprise to share with Luke. “They’re here for your academy.”
“Word must have gotten out before you came to rescue me. There’s at least fifty ships out there.”
Alarmed again, Luke asked, “They want to stop me from forming an academy?”
“No,” Tank explained in an overly patient voice. “They want to join it.”
Astonished anew, Luke could only blink his amazement. “But how did…? I didn’t tell…”
“Doesn’t matter how they found out,” Tank sagely decreed. “What’s important is that we’re alive to start that academy, thanks to you.” His grin only widened.
Luke recognized the signs of hero worship oozing off of his friend, and attempted to stop it before it truly got started. “I don’t know about that. I’m pretty dense sometimes. Look how long it took me to understand size.”
But Tank was undeterred. “You’re only being modest. But come on; let’s get to the Bridge and all its holo sites. It’s almost time for that galactic message.”
Walking slowly, they ambled into the shiny corridor outside. Glancing at the pristine walls, shiny ceiling, and spotless floor of the corridor, Luke noted, “You Imperials sure do keep your Star Destroyers clean.”
“This is the Officers’ Medcenter,” Tank said, as if that explained it all. “You should see the state of the barracks, especially after a battle. They’re nothing like this. Scuffed floors, piles of dirty armor, burned clothes, blood stained bandages, smelly men… it’s not a pretty sight.”
“Sounds like Alliance barracks,” Luke noted, and laughed. “Maybe the two sides have more in common than we realize.”
Tank’s laugh joined Luke’s. “Maybe we do.”
They had reached the lifts, and entered the one that led directly to the Bridge. The ride went swiftly, and the door slid aside again onto a bustle of activity. The minute they stepped off the lift, all activity suddenly ceased and everyone turned to watch them. The lift doors sliding shut was the only sound to break the silence.
“Skywalker,” Captain Wilton announced in surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you until--”
The lift doors burst open again and Han Solo appeared. He clapped his hands together, his voice carrying across the Bridge as he said, “Howdy, gents. Have I missed anything?” Only then did he notice his friend standing unsteadily to the side of the lift. “Luke! Thought you were still asleep.”
“Tank woke me up so I can see this message first hand.”
“That was nice of him,” Han noted in a light voice, though the commiserating look he shot Luke showed how he thought that action was anything but nice and that Tank should have let him sleep. “Anyone know what this message is about?”
Tank shook his head. “We know what you know, Solo.”
“Which isn’t much,” Lando teased without missing a beat.
Also without missing a beat, Han softly clubbed his right ear. “I’m asking everyone else, you pirate. Go tell Han Solo stories to someone who cares.”
“That wouldn’t be me,” Wedge added, to the guffaws of his comrades.
Wilton stared at them in increasing amazement. “How did your military ever accomplish so much when your discipline is so..?” He was clearly at a loss as to what to say.
Wedge filled in for him. “So amazing?”
“So impressive?” Lando guessed next.
“So childish,” Wilton finally said, dismissing them when all the holo sites around the
Bridge came to life in bursts of static. The static slowly coalesced into the image of a woman.
“Tania!” both Luke and Tank said in voices filled with astonishment.
“Hello,” the image stated. “My name is Tania Sharpson. I am… was... the supervising holo editor to Emperor Palpatine. As you surely know by now, the Emperor was paranoid, and recorded every meeting he ever had with anyone. I received the images automatically, and created a single holo from them that was often used as extortion. He was in the process of recording his predicted conquest of Luke Skywalker when he unexpectedly died. Upon news of his death, I decided never to show the holo I’d made of that scene to anyone. However, in light of recent events concerning Skywalker and Perpetrator, it became clear that I have an obligation to show it to you now and set the record straight.”
Luke gave a start. How could Tania possibly know about the recent events concerning him and Perpetrator? He idly wondered where Tania got her information, but wasn’t so astounded at seeing her anymore. He was too sick to be astounded. The fact that she planned to present his final confrontation with the Emperor and Vader to the entire galaxy was far more consuming. What had been a private scene of betrayals and seductions was going to become nothing but public gossip. Everyone would witness everything, including… what he’d almost done.
Chills of dread scuttled up Luke’s spine to make his hair stand on end, settling at last into shaking knots in his stomach. Long before he was centered and ready, the image of Tania faded, replaced by a familiar darkened room halved by a polished aisle of rare metals and a set of open stairs that led to a single chair fronting a grand Imperial viewport: the second Death Star’s Throne Room.
This was a nightmare. It had to be. The last thing he wanted to do was relive his confrontation with the Emperor and subsequent duel with his father. As of now, he could remember very little of what had transpired in the Throne Room, and he preferred it that way. It was one of the reasons why he refused to give any details pertaining to it, even in his Alliance reports. But against his wishes, there he was, once more thrust into experiencing every detail, every nuance, every frustrating attempt on his part to control his destiny before it controlled him. Worse yet, he had to do it in front of an audience.
The recording devices had been embedded into the room’s ceiling, covering every angle with surprising clarity. The holo started exactly where the nightmare often did: the moment he and Lord Vader emerged from the tower room’s single elevator.
He felt like this scene was unfolding for the very first time, yet simultaneously knew how it ended. Luke didn’t recall how Palpatine’s evil had initially washed over him, but he certainly experienced it now. It was amazing how such a strong sense of maliciousness had been transmitted through a simple holo. Palpatine had surely used his typical death threats to convince Tank’s sister to become his personal propaganda machine, but she must have warranted his attention if she was good enough at editing to emit emotions through a view showing nothing but the tops of people’s heads. Luke was thankful a sense of confidence sounded in his voice when image-Luke first spoke to the Emperor. it had been the last time he’d felt confident in that room.
However, he did recall the horrible tension he’d felt while watching the destruction of the Rebel Fleet. He’d vacillated between anger and defeat so many times in those few moments that it had thoroughly disoriented him. The view didn’t show how obviously dizzy he’d felt at the time, but the Emperor’s delighted grin was there for all to see as the Luke in the image whirled at last to attack the old man with his lightsaber, only to be stopped by his father. His stomach swooped down to his toes as his image turned to confront his destiny at last.
Within moments, it was clear to him if not to anyone else that he would have lost the lightsaber duel with his father had it gone to completion. In spite of all the practicing at Force manipulation and lightsaber use he’d done in the months since their duel at Cloud City, Darth Vader was still undeniably a better fighter than he was.
Then he corrected himself: Vader had been better at making sure he was the winner in a duel’s final outcome, even if the cost was high. That was how the Dark Side worked. It gave you what you desired the most, and in return it used you until it had used you up. As Master Yoda had insisted, it truly did seduce you.
The most awful thing of all was that moment when Vader first realized that his hidden son was concealing further information, and from him specifically. The towering Dark Lord seemed to take a hideous pleasure in prizing that information out of him, taunting until the Jedi finally gave away his most precious secret. And then…
Luke knew what happened next. It was as if an obscuring veil had been ripped away. He didn’t want to watch anymore, but couldn’t stop himself. So he squeezed his eyes shut tight to block out the reality of what he’d almost done, but now he could hear even the tiniest sound. Each of Vader’s rasping breaths was agony to live through. The Emperor’s pleased renditions of praise at how he’d used his anger to make his father suffer sickened him. He felt again the heady power that had pounded through his blood as each of his manic blows crushed Vader’s defenses. He had even forgotten that the man he was pummeling was his father. He only knew that he had to protect his sister no matter the cost. That he was becoming the very thing he was fighting against never once crossed his mind.
It was the first time that Luke had felt so strong, so sure of himself, so utterly invincible. What was truly horrifying was how good it had felt. He wouldn’t have hesitated to kill his own father.
Just as Luke in the image woke to what was happening, nausea overwhelmed the real Luke, flowing out through his veins to mingle with image-Luke’s screams of pain as Palpatine released his relentless torture on the unsuspecting Jedi. Within seconds, that feeling of oily heat had flooded through his entire body. Image-Luke convulsed on the Throne Room’s floor and simultaneously pleaded with his father for help as real Luke pleaded with himself not to further attract attention by breaking down in front of everyone. Image-Vader finally heaved a crackling Emperor into the air as the knots in the real Luke’s stomach ignored his mental pleading to coil tighter and tighter. The image of Lord Vader threw Palpatine to his death down the Death Star reactor shaft, and the real Luke felt his jaw clench in time with the tightening knots in his stomach. Image-Vader collapsed to wheeze air through a severely damaged life support suit as real Luke threw up on the shiny floor of the Bridge. Image-Luke crawled to support his father’s helmeted head as a numbing sensation fully engulfed the real Luke at last. Even as it did, he swore he could feel the soft puffs of air from Vader’s damaged suit gently caress his face as he fell to the deck with a muffled thud.
He woke much later to Han sitting beside his bed, and a really horrible taste in his mouth. “Water,” he croaked.
He took the small mug that Han handed to him and without thought downed the contents, ending up sputtering and coughing.
Once Luke had calmed, Han said in the gentle voice he usually reserved for Leia, “You’re fine. The Emperor’s still dead, and so is Vader… I think… and you’re safe aboard Star Destroyer Perpetrator. Go back to sleep.”
Safe aboard a Star Destroyer. Well, that was a first.
Luke’s heavy eyelids slid shut again as he followed Han’s advice.
The next time that Luke woke, Wedge was sitting next to him. “Where’s Han?”
“You’ve been asleep for days. Han’s taking his turn sleeping as well. I’ll sit with you for now.”
“Oh, okay.” And Luke fell asleep again.
The third time Luke woke, it was to that same harsh ceiling light shining in his eyes and Tank sitting anxiously beside his bed. He blinked spasmodically, realized he was back in the Officer’s Med Center, and quietly announced, “This has become the rescue that never ends.”
Tank leaned closer to ask, “How are you feeling now, Luke?”
Luke sighed, then tried to sit up, but found he was just too tired. “I threw up all over the Bridge; how do you think I feel?”
“Embarrassed,” Tank guessed. “Humiliated. Furious with me for waking you up in the first place.”
“I’m too tired to feel humiliated and furious, so embarrassed will have to do.”
“There’s no reason to be embarrassed.”
Luke’s laugh barked sarcastically into the silent room. “I beg to differ with you.”
“So you lost a meal on the Bridge; big deal. What you went through--”
“Living through it once was terrifying, twice was more than awful… let’s not do it a third time.”
“As you wish. But now I know what caused those burns all over your body. Suns, Luke, you should have said something!”
Pain flitted across Luke’s face at the mention of his torture. Even this peripheral reference came too close to discussing that Throne Room scene for his comfort. “There was nothing to say.”
“Solo disagrees. He’s been going on about it ever since we saw that holo.”
Luke’s eyes widened. “What more can he do? I almost killed my own father!”
“But you didn’t. Besides, you were defending your sister. Tania irritates me to death on most days, but I would have done exactly what you did in the same situation.”
“Don’t look so surprised. You’re not the only person in the galaxy who--”
Before Tank could say more, the door to the small room swished open to reveal Captain Wilton, who nodded to Tank and Luke. “The medidroids informed me you’re awake, Skywalker. I came to talk to you.” He halted uncomfortably. “Trooper, you’re relieved.”
Amused, Tank turned back to Luke. “That’s a dismissal if I’ve ever heard one.” He rose from the chair placed beside Luke’s bed and cautioned, “Don’t go chasing any Banthas without me.”
The reference to their common background made Luke grin. “Not much chance of that. But I’ll keep it in mind.”
Tank walked to the door. “I’ll tell the others you’re awake. If I know them, they’ll want to take time from the organisation to say hello.”
Tank turned his grin on Captain Wilton. “I’ll let you tell him about that.” He left.
Luke immediately asked, “What did he mean by the organisation?”
Wilton sighed, clearly lost in thought. Reaching a decision, he inquired, “Can you walk?”
Luke gave a dry laugh. “I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“Then I’ll have to just tell you. There are hundreds of ships braving this asteroid field so they can orbit Perpetrator, and it’s all your fault.”
Luke reared back at Wilton’s half amused, half accusatory statement. “My fault? How is this my fault?”
“They’re here because of you.”
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Wilton’s lighter tone quickly turned to one full of aggravation. “You had to know this would happen eventually. It’s why you decided to make this ship your latest galactic spectacle.”
Now he was really being confusing. “My latest what?”
Suspicious at his question, Wilton carefully eyed him. “You really don’t know anything about this, do you?”
Flabbergasted as well as perplexed, Luke could only stare at Wilton in incomprehension. “What are you talking about?”
Wilton’s sigh illustrated his aggravation again. “It’s not my place to explain. You need to talk to Solo.”
Luke also heaved an aggravated sigh. “You’re the second person to tell me that I need to talk to Han. All this advice is making me nervous.”
“It’s usually Chewie who keeps Han out of trouble, but Chewie isn’t here. Guess I should have been paying closer attention. Is it really bad trouble?”
Ironically enough, Wilton’s expression grew conciliatory. “Don’t misunderstand me. Solo played an integral part in defending this ship. We wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as we did without him. He has an interesting way of solving his problems.”
Luke gave an impolite choke. “That’s one way of saying it.” His look turned embarrassed. “But at least he didn’t get sick all over the floor of the Bridge. I’d like to apologize for that.”
“Don’t,” Wilton curtly ordered. “That floor needed cleaning anyway. I’m the one who owes you an apology.”
Luke’s confusion was back. “For what?”
Wilton barked another sarcastic laugh. “Let me think… for not taking your academy idea seriously, for turning on you, for taking Solo and the others prisoner, for setting Merrick on you, for throwing Trooper TK326 into Holding in the first place… take your pick.”
Luke’s expression became conciliatory as well. “Don’t worry about it.”
“What do you plan to do to Merrick and Banner? I’m curious to know how Jedi treat their prisoners. Will you kill them, or just throw them in a holding cell for life?”
“Of course I won’t kill them!” Luke looked green at the thought. “I won’t imprison them, either. They can be my first students, if they’re willing.”
“That’s foolish,” Wilton stated. “They’ll be sure to come after you.”
Luke gave a small grin. “They can come. They might even be a better challenge next time.”
Surprisingly, Wilton huffed in anger. “Either you are the galaxy’s most forgiving individual, or its biggest fool. I can’t decide which.”
Luke’s smile turned understanding. “Han would say I’m the galaxy’s biggest fool, certainly its most naive one, a farm boy with a ridiculously simplistic outlook on life.”
Wilton’s sarcastic bark was full of amusement. “Simplistic is right. I’m beginning to think I should take you up on your teaching offer just so I can keep an eye on you.”
Luke sadly stared out the viewport at the ships. “But the reason the galaxy is free from the Emperor now is because of my ‘simplistic farm boy outlook on life.’ I was the only one who saw the good in my father; everyone else said my outlook was unquestionably wrong. It turned out to be right in the end. So I guess my outlook on life can’t be all bad, no matter how naive you both think I am.”
Wilton clasped his hands behind his back, again looking every inch the Imperial officer that he was. “I should also thank you for saving the lives of my crew back there.”
Luke’s smile added to his sincerity when he said, “No thanks necessary. It’s what Jedi do.”
As answers went, it angered Wilton. “I’m beginning to have a deeper appreciation for Solo’s impatience with your naivete.” When Luke looked baffled, he added, “Saving lives may be what Jedi do, but the lengths you were willing to go is not something that anybody on this ship is likely to forget.” He paused, then lightly accused, “If I didn’t know better, I would think that you did it on purpose. Are you sure you weren’t showing off?”
Luke really did grin at that question. “Maybe, just a little.” Before Wilton could reply to that outrageous confession, he noted, “You still haven’t told me why all those ships are here.”
Wilton’s aggravation only heightened. “I thought Trooper TK326 already told you about the ships.”
Luke’s aggravation wasn’t much less than Wilton’s. “He has a name, you know. He won’t mind if you use it.”
Wilton hesitated, though he didn’t quite look apologetic. “But the Empire might.”
Luke pointed out, “It was the Empire that tried to kill us.”
“And they might again,” Wilton quickly predicted.
To automatically be that distrustful amazed Luke. “They might attack you just for using someone’s name?”
A solemn moment went by, then Wilton suddenly grinned. “Not with you here.”
That uncharacteristically flippant comment wiped away the rest of Luke’s aggravation, and though he felt he should be irritated by that state of affairs, he couldn’t help but give a reluctant smile at the audacity of Wilton’s answer. “That sounds like something Han would say. But don’t worry; I won’t tell him.”
Wilton’s sudden smile faded until he looked as Imperial as ever, though his demeanor lightened considerably. “I appreciate that.”
He appreciates it? Can’t he show more gratitude than that? Another thought stopped Luke cold: then again, he looks like he doesn’t dare.
Abruptly Luke gained a better understanding of what it meant to be part of the Empire, where making one mistake… even calling a stormtrooper by name… could very easily be a death warrant. Emperor Palpatine’s governance had never been particularly forgiving of the smallest of infractions, though the Imperial Navy had certainly been the place for the ambitious individual to garner fame. It really was amazing what they had accomplished with those kinds of working conditions. It’s a wonder all Imperial personnel haven’t had heart attacks due to stress by now.
In light of this new understanding, Luke magnanimously decided to drop the subject of using Tank’s name. “And yes, Tank did tell me about some of those ships… but I don’t recall him saying that there were so many of them.”
Wilton looked glad they were discussing a less uncomfortable topic now, and also grateful to Luke for not pushing him. He would eventually become more relaxed… maybe. “They’re all full of dreamers like you who want to join your academy. So do at least 80 percent of Perpetrator’s crew.”
Luke was so surprised he could only stutter, “But I don’t… I didn’t… I’m overwhelmed.”
Wilton pursed his lips like he was sucking on a lemon… or trying hard to conceal a smile. “I suppose this means that I’ll have to turn my ship over to you for your academy. I would look far too churlish if I didn’t.”
“Of course you don’t have to!” Luke instantly protested. “That’s not why I did it.”
Regarding Luke with supreme irritation, Wilton brusquely said, “Your galactic sized farm boy attitude is showing again. You should just take my offer, and stop with these silly protests. Aren’t Jedi capable of common sense?”
That made Luke grin. “No. Master Yoda would’ve told you that I have the common sense of a rock.”
This brought another smile to Wilton’s face. “I think I would have liked your Master Yoda.”
Luke abruptly frowned. “Do you know what happened to Revenge and the rest of its Fleet?”
“Revenge made it out just in time.” Wilton’s face once again became grave. “The Intrepid below Revenge wasn’t so lucky. It got clipped as it was trying to get out of the way. A hundred soldiers were lost.”
Luke turned his head away from Wilton so the officer couldn’t see his distress. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“You sound unhappy, as if those troops had been Alliance personnel.”
“Lives are lives,” Luke argued. “Male, female, Imperial, Wookie, human, Bothan, blue, orange… or green like Master Yoda. One kind isn’t worth more or less than another.” Luke suddenly gave a soft smile. “Master Yoda was the strongest individual I’ve ever met, but he was also the smallest. He was even smaller than my Artoo unit.”
A look of comprehension curled Wilton’s lips. “Size matters not.”
“Have you ever got that right.”
Silence descended as they gazed through the viewport to watch the ships dodge back and forth, caught in their galactic dance of asteroid avoidance.
“Well, Jedi, do you feel up to meeting your adoring public?” Wilton finally asked. “I need to--”
The small room’s door swished open again to let in Solo, Lando, and Wedge.
As Solo faced Luke, his expression swooped towards irritation. “Why is it that I spend half my life visiting you in the medical center?”
Luke said in an aside to Wilton, “Ah, my adoring public.”
Solo wasn’t appeased by the soft comment. “You doing all right, kid?”
“Yeah, just a little tired.”
“Tired?” Lando chuckled. “You mean to say that moving an entire Star Destroyer isn’t all in a day’s work?”
“Careful, Luke,” Wedge said. “You’re tarnishing your strong Jedi reputation.”
“It’s you who’s going to have a tarnished reputation,” Luke joked, “what with all the tractor beams and TIE fighters. Your X-wing will never forgive you.”
Wilton broke in to say, “If you’re going to waste time discussing the merits of TIE fighters and X-wings, I’m leaving.”
“X-wings are better,“ Wedge retorted. “They have landing gear.”
“TIE fighters are better,” Wilton shot back. “They’re ten times more maneuverable. Now I have the organisation to see to. Skywalker.” Without a word to the others, he left.
“Friendly fellow,” Wedge sarcastically said, indicating what he really thought of Captain Wilton.
“Watch it,” Solo warned. “That fellow can still throw any of us into a detention cell whenever he wants.”
“That might be fun,” Luke said in an offhand manner.
Lando cleared his throat, showing his unease at that suggestion. “Fun for you, yeah, but for me… not so much. Let’s stay away from any more detention cells.”
Wedge piped up, “I know how to fly his shuttle now. We can steal it and--”
“We’re not stealing his shuttle,” Luke said, as if speaking to small children.
“You’re no fun anymore, Luke,” Wedge complained. “Used to be, stealing Imperial equipment was what we did.”
“Used to be,” Luke repeated. “Now they’re our partners. Partners don’t steal from each other.”
Lando nearly gagged. “I know of no such thing.”
“General Calrissian, is that your past coming back to haunt you?” Solo mockingly asked.
Luke rolled his eyes. “All right, all right, tell me what this organisation thing is all about before I fall asleep again.”
“We’re organising everyone into classes according to talent.”
Han wasn’t making much sense to Luke. “Classes?”
“Yeah, for your academy. Now that we’ve got a place big enough for it, we shouldn’t waste it.”
Solo’s glib comment cemented something for Luke. “So Wilton wasn’t kidding when he offered this Star Destroyer for our academy.”
“He’ll have a mutiny on his hands if he doesn’t,” Lando predicted.
Solo added, “If Wilton’s the smart man I think he is, he’ll do whatever he has to do to avoid that.”
“Especially not after we--”
“The less said about that, Wedge, the better,” Han said, nervously glancing towards the corners of the ceiling. “You never know what kind of listening devices are in places like this.”
“You’re paranoid,” Luke announced.
Han’s forehead wrinkled in amazement. “I’m alive, so of course I am.”
“Wilton hasn’t tried to take any of us prisoner again,” Luke argued back. “He can’t be all bad.”
“The galaxy wouldn’t let him,” Wedge predicted and pointed towards the window. “All those ships out there, just full of people wanting to join up with you, Luke… that’s not something you sneeze at.”
“And Wilton’s no sneezer,” Lando added. “He’s one shrewd businessman... reminds me of me.”
“All those people, here for our school,” Luke mumbled, still amazed. “Unbelievable,”
“Yeah,” Lando replied. “Tank’s beside himself. He’s been in a good mood ever since we exited hyperspace.”
“He was here earlier. I saw his good mood first hand,” Luke explained. “Both he and Wilton said something about you wanting to talk to me, Han?”
“Uh, yeah.” Solo regarded Wedge and Lando. “Luke and I need… alone. Why don’t we meet up with you two later?”
Lando and Wedge glanced at each other. “Dismissed,” Lando noted.
“Like we’re not even friends,” Wedge agreed. “It must be something… secret.”
Solo huffed in annoyance “Get out of here before I start encouraging you to leave.”
“We’re better off with Tank anyway,” Lando said. “Let’s find him and start that mutiny.”
“Don’t you dare!” Solo exclaimed.
Lando and Wedge laughed on their way through the door. It swished closed after them, and silence descended.
Solo raised his hand up to halt Luke. “Do you sense anything?”
Luke sighed a warning. “Han.”
Luke would have rolled his eyes, but surprisingly had to point out two listening devices planted in the room. “There.” He indicated a device stuck to the back of a piece of medical monitoring equipment. “And under the bed.”
“Good.” Han pulled the two devices together, then shot them with his blaster. “You can never be too careful.” He abruptly grew serious. “I want to thank you for what you did for Leia.”
“You mean how I almost killed our father?” Luke’s tone was bitter.
Han quickly put a stop to the self-recrimination party the Jedi had started. “Vader goaded you into it. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Luke.”
“You wouldn’t be so quick to forgive me if I’d turned to the Dark Side. I could just as easily have killed him, then killed her, then Chewie, then you.”
Han shuffled his feet as if uncomfortable. “I don’t pretend to understand all this Force stuff, but I do know you, and you would never have done that.”
Luke shook his head in disagreement. “That’s not how the Dark Side works. I could be your worst enemy right now.”
“But you’re not.” Han’s voice was firm. “Stop playing the ‘what if’ game. No matter how the Force works, you didn’t join up with the bad guys in the end, and that’s what matters. Now, tell me how you did that... thing... with the Star Destroyer.”
“Are you trying to distract me?”
“Yes. Let me.”
Luke glanced away like he was trying to decide if he should be distracted or not. At last he quietly said, “I...I kind of... moved the…” He sighed in resignation, then corrected, “I didn’t move the Star Destroyer.”
Han peered at Luke, his eyebrow raised in question. “That’s what it looked like to me.”
But Luke shook his head. “I was worried that a Star Destroyer was still too big for me, too heavy. I have trouble even moving my X-wing!”
“Then how did you do it?”
Luke’s voice was quiet in his reluctant confession. “If we’d been in an atmosphere, I could have moved the atoms in the air surrounding the Star Destroyer. Atoms are small, even if there are a lot of them. But since we weren’t in an atmosphere, I decided to hijack their engines.”
Now Han looked perplexed. “Hijack… what?”
Luke’s face flushed in embarrassment. “I stalled their engines, and that forced the ship into a freefall. Then I concentrated on simply not letting anyone engage the ship’s engines again.”
In an incredulous voice, Han burst out, “You’re telling me you plugged up their fuel line?”
Luke had to smile when Han put it that way. “It was all I could think to do at the time.”
Han burst into loud guffaws.
Apologetic now, Luke tried to excuse himself, “I had to stall the engines over and over again to keep the Star Destroyer moving because they kept restarting the engines. Then they kept trying to shift the ship into some kind of maneuvering glide, and--”
“That’s priceless, Luke! Wait till I tell--”
“Don’t tell anyone!” Luke pleaded. “Not even Leia.”
Han sobered. “Yes, you do have the Big Bad Jedi reputation to maintain.”
“It’s not that, it’s…” Then Luke smiled, abashed. “Okay, yes, it is that. It’s kind of nice being known as the man who moved a Star Destroyer.”
Han gave a wise nod. “The more people who think your powers are incredible, the fewer will bother you.”
“I’ll have more time to spend with my students,” agreed Luke. “Thanks. But now I’m so tired! Go away so I can finally get back to sleep.” He gave a mighty yawn. “Moving a Star Destroyer can really take it out of you.”
Han turned towards the door, but teasingly said over his shoulder, “You fraud.”
Luke straightened his covers. “That’s right. I’m a Force fake, I have no common sense, and I’m an orphaned farm boy with an overly simplistic outlook on life.” He laughed with his friend, looked down for a contemplative minute, then quietly said, “Han, I never told you this, but I’m really glad I rescued you from Jabba the Hutt.”
Han softly answered, “So am I.” In this serious moment as in any other, he couldn’t stop himself from joking, “We’ll let the galaxy be glad you rescued Tank.” The door swished open when he crossed to it.
Luke’s dry laughter stopped him from leaving. “Tank rescued me, and we both know it.”
Han poked his head back into the room to whisper, “I’ll never tell.” Then he vanished into the corridor, the door closing behind him.
Luke had just placed his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, set on reliving how he’d ‘moved’ that Star Destroyer when he heard the door swish aside again to let someone in. “Did you forget something, Han?” he asked with a teasing smile.
“It’s not Han, it’s me.”
Luke’s eyes popped open, his arms fell back to his sides, and he gave a jump of surprise. “Leia!”
“When did you get in? Does Han know you’re here?”
“I got in just now, and no, Han doesn’t know I’m here yet. I had Captain Wilton inform me when Han was in here with you, and that’s when I landed. I’ll see Han in a few minutes. I want to talk to you first.”
Luke frowned. “That sounds serious.”
Leia gave a forgiving smile. “It’s nothing bad. I wanted to say thank you in person.”
Luke sighed. “Look, Leia, I didn’t do what I did to gain your gratitude. Vader was--”
“I’m not talking about what you did with Vader in that Throne Room, though that was incredible as well. I’m talking about something more… personal.”
More personal than that? The Princess so rarely got personal, even with him. “What is it?”
Leia looked down, suddenly embarrassed. Luke had seen many emotions coming from Leia, most typically anger, often aimed at Han, but she didn’t look angry now. She looked… chagrined. He grasped her wrist in a soothing hold. “Hey, what is it?”
Leia took a steadying breath. “The way you were with…” She swallowed. “... with Vader, there at the end, I--”
“I know that you don’t see him the way I do, Leia, and you never did, and that’s okay. I--”
“That’s not what I mean.” She paused. “Well, yes, that is what I mean, but no it isn’t.”
In all the time that he’d known the Princess, he’d never seen her so flustered. “So what do you mean?”
She sighed, shifted her weight, then blurted, “He seemed more… human… than I’ve ever thought of him before.”
Her statement warmed Luke. “That’s because he was human, especially at the end.”
“At the end,” she repeated, then glanced directly at Luke. “Did he die?”
Saddened, Luke looked down. “Yes. Tank helped me build a funeral pyre for him on Endor. I burned him, suit and all, or I’d show him to you.”
Leia hesitated. “I’m not sure I’m ready to see him, just.. I can’t get that picture of you holding him out of my head. You looked so content.”
“I was.” Luke’s smile was soft again. “I felt like I was meeting my father for the first time.”
“You must have been in such pain. What the Emperor did to you--”
“Father killed him for it.” Luke’s voice had turned hard.
Leia looked down again. “As awful as it sounds, I’m glad he did. Are you all right?”
Luke hesitated; he’d always remember the hate blazing at him out of Palpatine’s eyes, but that couldn’t be helped. “He really did hate me, Leia… though I think that was because I had upset his plans more than because of anything about me personally. He was so sure that I would turn to the Dark Side. I almost did, and I’m sorry for that.”
“You don’t owe me any apologies. I should be thanking you.”
Luke smiled. “That’s exactly what Han said. I basically told him to shut up, and that’s what I’m telling you. Please don’t feel--”
“Was his mask… necessary?”
Luke instantly knew she was referring to Darth Vader again. In fact, she had hit upon a sore point for Luke. He’d played with the idea that if he’d just left Vader’s mask alone in the hangar bay, his father might have lived. “Yes. It was part of the suit that Anakin had to wear in order to stay alive.”
“So he didn’t wear it just to make him…”
Luke sighed, and tightened his hold on her wrist. “No. He had me remove it at the very end, and--”
“You got to see him?” she asked in an incredulous voice.
Luke nodded slowly. “Yes, I saw him.”
“Was he…? Was it bad?”
Very gentle now, Luke said, “He had my eyes, and your smile.”
Leia remained quiet for a long time after that, as if she had a lot to think about, and she didn’t want to interrupt herself. “I don’t know if I like that or not. He did so many awful things… and I might not ever be able to forgive him for what he did to Han, to say nothing of what he helped do to Alderaan.”
Several silent moments went by before Luke said, “His last words were about you. He told me to tell you that there was good in him. He wanted you to know.”
The Princess was silent again. Thoughtful. When she finally spoke, it was to change the subject to a safer one that didn’t require as much personal insight on her part. “It’s been amazing since we saw that Throne Room holo.”
Luke suspected that she had so much to think about now that she had to stop speaking about Vader lest her mind get overwhelmed with new ideas. So he let her change the subject without a fuss, knowing they would revisit the topic of their father many times in the future. “Amazing?”
Leia truly smiled now. “The war’s over, and it’s due to you.”
That made no sense. “But I didn’t do anything!”
Princess Leia grinned down at him. “You became a Jedi not by fighting, but by refusing to fight… and by proving that there could be good in a being even as evil as Darth Vader.”
What Leia said made him sound so altruistic. “Stop making it seem noble. It was all a last ditch gamble, an incredible risk, an act of desperation. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda thought I was insane even to think it, and they were right. The only reason any of it worked was due to our father, not me.”
Leia gave a tolerant smile, the same gesture she always made when amused by his naivete. “You single-handedly brought the two sides together by holding… Anakin, you called him?”
“Yes. That was his name. Anakin Skywalker.”
“A Rebel Jedi, holding an Imperial Sith Lord, and with such affection! The Rebel Council is still talking about it.”
“He’d just killed his master to save my life, Leia. Of course I showed affection.”
“But it’s a revolutionary idea: Rebels and Imperials, liking each other.”
Luke shrugged. “I like Tank, too, and I suppose even Wilton is a friend, and they’re Imperials. I didn’t do anything special.”
“You showed the entire galaxy that it can be done,” Leia argued. “You should be proud of yourself.”
But Luke shook his head. “A Jedi doesn’t feel pride, just helps, and helps everyone. Like I told Wilton, all life is precious.”
Leia leaned over his bed to teasingly say, “You sound like a holo commercial for diversity, dear brother.”
Luke reddened with embarrassment. “I suppose there are worse things I can be.”
Leia straightened, suddenly intent. “Did you know that Han and Wedge had tiny recording devices sewn into their shirts, and were recording Tank’s entire rescue?” Now Luke gaped at her. “Tania Sharpson played it on the galaxy wide network. Everybody saw it.”
Luke’s eyes lit up in sudden comprehension. “That’s what Wilton was talking about!”
Leia’s teasing smile was back. “The way you stunned all those Imperials instead of killing them… that was impressive, Luke. You’ve gotten so good at using the Force. But don’t leave me behind like that ever again, or I’ll kick you into next week.”
Luke grinned at the way she was feeling left out from getting shot at. “I won’t.”
“Okay.” She patted him on his leg. “We’ll talk more later. Now, I need to think. And I want to see Han.”
Luke nodded in understanding. “If I monopolize you, he’ll never forgive me.”
“Phooey. He’ll forgive you anything. You’ve got him wrapped around your finger, and you know it.”
“If he’s wrapped around my finger, he’s wrapped around yours, too.”
Leia didn’t argue with him, but said, “Get some sleep, Luke. You look about ready to fall over again.”
“I am tired. See you later, Leia.”
When the door shut behind her, a pensive silence fell on the tiny room. Luke curled up on his bed, shut his eyes, and took a deep breath, thinking about the conversation he’d just shared with Leia. This was by far the most receptive she had ever been about Vader, and though she might never accept him as her father, at least she might come to tolerate the idea of being connected to him. That alone made that Throne Room holo worth it.
Rescuing Tank had been worth it from the very beginning. It was also good to know Captain Wilton, if in a different way. Where it had been easy to reestablish his relationship with Tank, who was friendship personified, Wilton was a more prickly individual, harder to understand, slower to trust, yet equally worth knowing all the same. Both men had their flaws, but it was definitely to his advantage to be friends with each of them.
As to what Tania and Han and Wedge had done to turn his rescue of Tank into galactic entertainment… he had to admit that what they had done was great PR for his academy, and for that alone he was willing to forget about how it was a rather underhanded thing for his friends to do. They had just been trying to promote him and his academy, and had the best of intentions at heart. They’d probably saved him a lot of effort; now he wouldn’t have to constantly deal with arrogant individuals like Merrick who wanted to fight him but who really just wasted his time. He should thank them.
But not right now. Right now he was too busy feeling a great sense of satisfaction at how Tank’s rescue had gone. He’d saved a friend from an unfair incarceration, stopped a war, moved a Star Destroyer, and defeated not one but two Dark Side users. He mumbled to himself, “Not bad, Skywalker. Not bad at all.” A minute later, he was fast asleep.