Note: This story was written as a challenge to rewrite the comic book series "Vader's Quest." (May 2000)
"Come on!" Jal exclaimed in exasperation.
"I am sorry, Te Gniev," the medical droid stated as it shook it's metal head. "But I can not give you permission to fly when you have a broken leg."
"But--" Jal began.
"You need to rest to regain your health," the droid continued before it moved off to see to some other patients.
"General Dodonna," Jal said as the general entered the infirmary, followed closely by Red Leader, Garven Dreis.
"I heard you wanted to see me, Jal," General Dodonna said as he moved up to the pilot's bed.
"Yes, Sir," Jal confirmed. "I want you to overrule the good doctor's orders. I want to go up with the squad."
"Jal, you're in no condition to do so," Dodonna replied.
"Sir, I've got a broken leg," Jal stated. "I don't need my leg to fly."
"No, but the pain medication will slow your reactions," Garven argued. "We can't afford to have someone who isn't in prime condition in a cockpit of an X-wing simply because it will endanger the life of your wingmate as well as your own."
"I haven't taken any medication in the last few hours," Jal declared. "So it won't be affecting me at all."
"If you haven't taken any medication then the pain of your injury will bother you," General Dodonna stated. "Commander Dreis is right."
"Sirs, I risk death either way," Jal commented, desperately looking for a way to convince them of letting him help. What with the Death Star approaching the base, the Alliance needed all the pilots they could get. They couldn't afford to have one less X-wing go up simply because one of the pilots had a broken leg. "Isn't it better to have me up there then waiting down here, doing nothing?"
"At the moment we must send up the best and most capable pilots," General Dodonna explained. "If we had enough ships we'd definitely send you up, but we don't."
"What do you mean we don't have enough ships?" Jal questioned. "We have one X-wing for each pilot, which means that there must be an extra X-wing if I don't go."
"No," Garven informed his squadmember. "Princess Organa, who was lucky enough not to be on Alderaan when it was destroyed, has arrived on the base and she has a new recruit with her. A pilot."
"A new recruit?" Jal repeated. "How much experience has he had?"
"None," Dodonna admitted softly.
"None?!" Jal exclaimed incredulously. "You're going to send up someone who hasn't even had any experience instead of me, a seasoned pilot? Sirs, I've been on thirty-one missions and shot down eighty TIEs. Surely Darklighter must trust me better to cover him than some new recruit."
"Darklighter doesn't know about Skywalker's presence on the base yet," Garven informed Jal as he shifted uncomfortably, clearly understanding how Jal felt, but knowing that he had to do the right thing instead of what he wanted to do. There were, after all, men's lives at stake here. "However I'm sure that he won't mind when he learns. You see, the Skywalker in question is the same Skywalker that Darklighter has often talked about. The one who constantly beat him back on Tatooine."
"And this makes him better than me?" Jal demanded, his eyes narrowing in anger. He was quickly beginning to hate this Skywalker.
"If he has even half the skill of his father then he'll be better than any pilot with a broked leg," Garven said after a moment's silence. "I'm sorry Jal, I really am, but you must understand why we are doing this."
"Yes," Dodonna agreed. "There is simply too much at stake here for us to take chances."
"As if you're not taking any chances with Skywalker," Jal retorted acidly. "The guy could turn about to be a loser, or perhaps even a coward. Who knows? He might turn and run, X-wings do have hyperdrives after all."
"Yours doesn't," Dodonna pointed out. "We haven't managed to replace the one that was destroyed in the crash."
"Is that why you aren't letting me go?" Jal suddenly demanded, realizing that his accident might have caused Dreis to lose confidence in his abilities. Not like he hadn't proven himself a hundred times over, but the fact that they were going to let some green kid take his place proved that despite all he had done, they didn't appreciate his superb abilities.
"No, Jal," Garven sighed. "We know that the crash wasn't your fault. You couldn't have stopped that stupid bird from flying into your engine. Your lucky that you survived that."
"We've already been through this Jal," General Dodonna stated, his patience thinning. "Now Dreis and I need to go. The briefing starts in a few minutes and we need to make sure that everyone knows what they're doing."
"Sure," Jal glared as they moved towards the door, then he continued as they left his room. "Don't forget to show the twerp how to start the engines!"
"Tell the pilots to take them alive," Vader ordered as he watched the TIEs rush out to meet the squad of X-wings.
"As you wish, my Lord," Admiral Plat replied before he moved off to carry out his orders.
Remaining before the viewport on the Star Destroyer Terminator, Vader smiled. All he needed was one Rebel, one Rebel to interrogate and he'd have the name of the pilot who had destroyed the Death Star. Once he had that name he'd be able to set things in motion to capture the pilot and bring him to Coruscant for a public execution. No one got away with something such as destroying the Death Star without punishment. No one.
At that moment, the TIEs met the fleeing X-wings and the battle was on. Due to reports of Rebel activity in the area, Vader had come to the uninhabited planet of Ulysi to check out a suspected Rebel base. He had arrived just as a squadron of X-wings was leaving Ulysi's atmosphere. Instantly ordering the Terminator into a position to bar the X-wings route to hyperspace he had let the Destroyer's TIE fighters free.
Watching as the snubfighters clashed, Vader briefly reached out with the Force and touched the minds of the pilots. Sensing nothing unusual, he sighed. He hadn't really expected the Force sensitive pilot to be with this group. If the Alliance leaders were smart enough to try to keep the pilot's identity a secret, then they would probably keep the pilot somewhere safe until things had cooled down a bit. But Vader knew better than to try to predict what the Rebels would do. The Death Star incident had taught him that much.
Seeing the remaining X-wings break away from the dogfight and leap into hyperspace, Vader turned to the Admiral who had returned to his side.
"Have the tractor beam pull in the ships," Vader said as he indicated the X-wings that floated helplessly in space. "Then set course for Lansa."
"Han," Luke called out as he caught sight of and made his way towards his new friend. "Wait for me."
"Hey, kid," Han said as he turned towards the youthful voice, sidestepping the other Rebels that needed to get by. "What are you up to now?"
"I'm on my way to the Council," Luke replied as he fell in next to Han. "They said that they've got an assignment for me."
"Funny, I'm on my way there myself," Han informed his friend. "Wonder what this is all about."
"I thought you were going to leave," Luke said as he smiled at his friend. "Decided to join the Alliance after all?"
"Nah," Han responded. "I told you before kid, I'm not getting involved in this war."
"Then what are you still doing here?" Luke inquired. "And why are you running errands for the Alliance?"
"Money," Han explained. "Everything in live revolves around money kid. And it's not like I haven't run any errands for the Empire before."
"What?!" Luke demanded in shock as he came to a stop. "You worked for the Empire?"
"Yeah," Han confirmed as he turned to face his young friend, a smile appearing on his face at Luke's naivete. "Not everyone takes sides in this war, kid. I do whatever pays me the best. At the moment that's working for the Alliance as the Imperials wouldn't be too happy to see me right now. As soon as things cool down a little I'll be on my way."
"Oh," Luke said, his face falling as he thought back to how Han had been willing to leave when the Empire was first approaching Yavin IV.
After Han had returned to save him, Luke had thought that the older man might stay with the Alliance after all. When he had not left, despite saying that he would, he had been assured of this fact. Especially when he had helped them move to the new base and all.
"Come on, we're going to be late," Han reasoned, unable to see Luke pull that face. It reminded him of the way the kid had looked at him in the docking bay on Yavin IV just before he had left and that clear disillusionment had been one of the reasons why he had returned. It had effected him deeply that anyone, especially someone he hardly knew, saw so much in him. It was practically hero worship. "I doubt that you want that."
"No," Luke agreed as he began walking once more, not seeing how Han was shaking his head.
Not once since they had arrived at the Rebel base had Han seen the kid late for anything. Luke made sure that he did everything right and that he was on time every single time. Personally, Han had been late to a few things simply because he didn't really care, but Luke did. He also knew that pleasing the Princess had something to do with Luke's perfect record so far. He just hoped that the kid realized that he wasn't going to get the Princess before his puppy crush turned serious. Turning the last corner in the hall before their destination, Han looked up to see the woman in question approaching them from the opposite direction.
"Hello, Your Highness," Han stated.
"Captain Solo," Leia replied as she looked up, then her face softened as she saw Luke. "Hello, Luke."
"Hello, Leia," Luke responded.
Seeing the slight flush on the kid's face, Han rolled his eyes even as he felt a twitch within him at the way Leia greeted Luke. Pushing the feeling aside, Han followed Luke and Leia into the Council Chamber. Sitting at a semi circular table were General Dodonna, General Rieekan, Mon Mothma, General Madine, and there was an empty seat which Leia quickly filled. Behind the table hung a cloth which had the Alliance symbol printed on it.
"Captain Solo, Skywalker," Mon Mothma said as she looked at Luke before turning her attention to Han. "Am I correct in interpreting the fact that you are still with us as meaning that you are still willing to run missions for us, Captain Solo?"
"Depends on the mission, Ma'am," Han replied and caught how Leia shook her head at this.
"I see," Mon Mothma responded before she pressed her lips into a thin line, clearly disapproving of the answer.
"Your mission, should you chose to accept it," General Rieekan began pointedly. "Would be to travel to Ord Mantell with Skywalker and to meet with the contact of one of our suppliers to pick up a shipment of proton torpedoes. Since the Death Star incident," Rieekan smiled at Luke as he said this, causing the younger man to blush, "our suppliers have been less willing to provide us with large shipments."
"Why Ord Mantell?" Han demanded. "Sure, no one will notice one more ship there as it's so busy already, but won't that interfere with the security of the mission?"
"That is why we want you to go along on this assignment," General Dodonna explained. "From what we know of your past you have the most experience of anyone on the base in these kind of dealings."
"True," Han agreed as he turned to look at Leia. "But what about bounty hunters? Ord Mantell is, after all, a nesting place for bounty hunters and other scum and I happen to be a wanted man."
"I doubt that the Empire will be after you so much," General Madine said.
"I'm not talking about the Empire here," Han retorted. "I was a wanted man even before the Death Star incident. Besides, the Empire will be after Luke there, not me."
Feeling all eyes turn on him, Luke straightened and looked at the floor, not knowing what else to do. Everyone had been treating him as a hero since he had made the shot that had destroyed the Death Star and he was more than a little uncomfortable with it. He wasn't used to being respected and looked up to. Indeed, on Tatooine he had always been teased and bullied by Fixer and his followers. Biggs had been his only friend and now Biggs was gone. Trying to shove the thoughts of his best friend's death out of his mind, he kept his attention on the conversation as it continued.
"As far as we know, knowledge of Skywalker's identity as the man who destroyed the Death Star has not yet reached Imperial ears," Mon Mothma stated. "Which does not mean it won't shortly. We know that Darth Vader is personally heading the search for him, but until they know his name and a description he will be safe. Bounty hunters can not, after all, track an unknown person."
"And what if his identity is released while we're on Ord Mantell?" Han questioned. "We're a perfect target then."
"No," General Dodonna replied. "They will not be looking for him to be there. He's a pilot, they will expect him to be with a squad of X-wings. There is no better place to hid him than out in the open."
Hearing this, Luke shifted uncomfortably. He was not used to hearing people argue so with the Alliance leaders. He also didn't like the idea of the Imperials purposefully looking for him, and to hear that Darth Vader was out after him made him shiver. Vader was the man who had killed both his father and Ben. He wanted to have a go at him, to kill him for all that he had done to him personally and to everyone else in the galaxy. However he knew that he stood no chance, untrained as he was. Sure, he had had a little training, but Vader had easily taken out full fledged Jedi Knights. Perhaps with a little more training he could take on the Sith, but definitely not now.
"I don't know--" Han began.
"Will you take the mission or not?" Leia interrupted, her voice ice.
Looking to Leia, Han met her gaze. "All I need to do is fly in, pick up the cargo, and get out?" he inquired as he looked at the other people sitting at the table.
"Yes," Mon Mothma confirmed. "Skywalker will be given the information necessary to obtain the torpedoes themselves. And you will be paid the usual sum for your services."
"Yeah, okay," Han replied after a moment's hesitation, during which he received a pleading look from Luke. "I'll do it."
"Good," Mon Mothma declared as Luke tried to hid his pleasure. "Captain Solo you will be briefed later once we know the full details of the mission, and Skywalker you will be instructed on how to obtain the torpedoes from the representative of our supplier. Dismissed."
Walking down the halls of the Terminator, Admiral Plat gulped. He was all too aware of what happened to officers who failed the Dark Lord and now he feared for his life. Although the situation wasn't a complete failure and although circumstances had been out of his hands, there was the possibility that death awaited him in the room at the end of the hall. Stopping several paces from the door, he straightened his uniform before approaching the door which noiselessly slid open at his approach. Not even wanting to know how the Sith Lord had known of his presence, he entered the room and stopped a few paces away from the pod-like structure in the middle of the room.
"We are on course for Lansa and should arrive in two days," Plat informed his superior as the pod opened and Vader turned to face him.
"Have the Rebels been brought to the detention center, Admiral?" Vader demanded as he looked the waiting man, instantly noting his fear.
"Yes, my Lord," Admiral Plat replied. "However there is only one prisoner. The others committed suicide before the stormtroopers could take them out of their ships. The prisoner we do have was wounded in the attack and was unconscious until after he was taken out of his ship."
"You should have anticipated their suicidal tendencies and acted accordingly," Vader stated as he reached out with his mental fingers and started constricting the admiral's throat. "You have failed me."
"My Lord ..." Plat gasped as he realized what was happening. "There... is m... more."
"Yes?" Vader demanded as he loosened his grip slightly.
"The Rebel we captured," Plat began, knowing that this information could mean the difference between life and death. "The name on his flight suit reads 'Te Gniev' and, according to Intel information it was his X-wing that was used to fire the shot on the Death Star."
"Was he in this ship now?" Vader demanded as his mind raced. His earlier scan of the pilots had turned up nothing, could it be that he had missed him? That was only a possibility if the pilot had been shielding himself and there was no way someone as untrained as the man who had destroyed the Death Star could shield his presence from him. Still, there was something not right here.
"No, my Lord," Plat said and hurriedly continued, fearing that this response could make the Dark Lord finish what he had stopped only several moments ago. "He now has a new X-wing, one that hasn't been identified as having been used in any major battles."
"Strange," Vader commented as he released the admiral from his hold. "Is Te Gniev in the detention center now?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"I shall see to him as soon as we arrive on Lansa," Vader stated as he rose. "You had better hope for your sake that he turns up some useful information," seeing the man tremble at those words, Vader smiled. Fear was one of the best ways to rule. Now that Plat had first hand experience with what he could do, the man would be more careful in the future to do things right. "See which bounty hunters have been the most succesful lately and prepare to contact them, but do not yet do so."
"As you wish, my Lord," Plat replied.
"Also," Leia continued as she looked at Luke. "You are to tell no one this information, not even Captain Solo is to know these codes until you use them."
"Why?" Luke inquired, confused. "Han's coming with me on this mission, why can't he know?"
"Security reasons," Leia explained as she walked over to a chair and sat down. "Until Solo swears allegiance to the Alliance he is to know as little as possible about our codes. Promise me that you won't tell him until you use them."
"I promise," Luke reluctantly agreed, knowing that if it was anyone else they'd not even ask him, he'd simply be expected to follow orders.
That was one of the reasons he liked Leia so much. She took a personal interest in him. He knew this for certain as she had frequently asked him how he was and had even inquired if he needed anything after arriving on the new base. Everyone else just saw him as the man who had destroyed the Death Star and liked him for that and nothing more. Except for Jal Te Gniev. Wedge had introduced him to the pilot after the award ceremony and while the man had been nice enough with people around, he had been more than clear in stating his dislike for him when they were alone. Jal's behavior still bothered Luke as he had never been treated like that before. Sure, he had always been at odds with Fixer and his groups, but he had never been hated the way Jal hated him.
"Good," Leia stated as she looked at her chrono. "You'd better get going or Solo will be waiting for you and that'll put him in a bad mood. Good luck and may the Force be with you."
"Thanks," Luke replied as he shyly smiled as her, glad that there was no one else in the room. "We'll bring those torpedoes back."
"I sure hope so," Leia said as she watched him go.
Remaining where she was, Leia allowed her mind to race. The main reason for sending Luke on this mission was not to keep him away from where the Empire would look for him, but so that he would be busy while the Council decided what to do with him. He had definitely proven his skills during the Battle of Yavin, but did he know enough to led a squad? And if not, they all knew that it would look bad and could possibly destroy one of the few Alliance heroes to simply put in him a squad under someone else's command. Right now Luke was looked up to by most freedom fighters as a symbol of hope and proof that they could defeat the Empire. If they made him nothing more than an ordinary pilot, they might destroy that image and the Alliance needed all the hope and figureheads it could get. The issue was delicate and needed to be seriously dissected as they couldn't put him in a position of command if it would result in disaster.
Shaking her head, Leia got to her feet and left the room. There was so much to be done and so little time to do it in. She could only hope that what they did with Luke was the right thing as her instincts told her that there was more to the young man then met the eye. He was someone important, but she didn't know why and it bothered her. With simply a feeling she couldn't bring it before the Council as they'd want solid proof.
"Just on time," Han stated as he looked up from a last minute adjustment he was making to the Falcon and saw Luke heading his way. "Do you have what you need?"
"Yes," Luke replied as he held up the small bag of clothes he carried. "I'm ready when you are."
"Okay, let's go," Han said as they ascended the ramp. Reaching the top, Han closed it, turned around, and shouted down the hall. "Start her up Chewie, we're set to go."
"The same room as last time?" Luke questioned as he headed down the small corridor in the opposite direction of the cockpit.
"Yeah," Han confirmed. "Settle in, its a five day trip to Ord Mantell."
"Joy," Luke remarked dryly, the move from Yavin to the current base having showed him how boring long hyperdrive trips could be. "I hope you have some games or something on this bucket."
"Hey!" Luke heard Han's voice echo down the corridor as he entered his small room. "Watch what you say about my baby."
Rolling his eyes, Luke dumped his bag on the bed and quickly made his way to the cockpit. Entering it he sat down in the chair behind Chewbacca even as he touched the Wookiee on the shoulder.
"Hey there Chewie," Luke greeted and smiled at the bark he received.
Pacing his cell, Jal tried to ignore the pain radiating from his left leg knowing that it was only a precursor to what was to come. There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to be interrogated sooner or later and the wait was driving him up the walls. Whether this was intentional or not, it was unnerving. Especially with his leg throbbing the way it was. He must have twisted it somehow when he was knocked unconscious in his cockpit. It wasn't the pain that bothered him so much, but the reminder of his stay in the infirmary which in turn reminded him of Skywalker. The man had simply paraded onto the playing field, taking HIS X-wing, gone up with HIS squad, and taken HIS victory from him.
Pounding the wall of his cell with his hand, Jal growled. Although the stupid doctor hadn't cleared him for flying he had cleared him for attending the ceremony in which Princess Organa had given Skywalker HIS medal. That should have been HIS shot and the young twerp had had no right to take it from him. And, as if all of that hadn't been enough, the Alliance had given HIS X-wing to Skywalker! True, it was standard procedure to give new pilots used ships, but they were normally ships of pilots who had been killed in action. Or ships form which the other pilots had been given new ones. But this was not the case with him. They had taken the X-wing he had used for nearly all his missions so far to give to Skywalker and in return he had gotten another used X-wing.
'This X-wing will be important to him,' General Dodonna had explained when he had been informed of the news. 'It's the ship he saved the Alliance in so it is only right that he gets it.'
But what about him? Didn't they care that that particular X-wing was important to him? Didn't they care that he had used that ship to fly on so many missions all in the name of the Alliance and their cause? Obviously they didn't as they had decided to give it to some lucky rookie who would no doubt trash it in a short matter of time. He was sure that Skywalker would quickly squash the high hopes Mon Mothma and the others had for his future with them. He still couldn't believe how quickly everyone took the scrawny farmboy as a hero. The kid had gotten lucky.
Hearing the sound of the door opening, Jal turned to face it as two stormtroopers entered the room before a black clad commander entered.
"Bind him," the commander ordered at which the two troopers stepped forward, one aiming his blaster at Jal, the other pulling out a pair of binders.
"Where are we going?" Jal demanded as he let the trooper bind his wrists together behind his back, seeing that the blaster was set on stun and knowing that right now he needed to be as alert as possible. "Where are you taking me?"
"Silence," the commander ordered before he left the cell, motioning for the troopers to escort him out as well.
Knowing that struggling would only earn him a few bruises, Jal followed voluntarily even as his mind raced. Between the throbbing in his leg and the slight disorientation caused by the blow to his head he had sustained, he had no idea how long he had spent in the detention cell. The fact that he had been left alone long enough to make him wonder how many days had passed could only mean that the Imps weren't planning on interrogating him on the Destroyer as they would have done so already. This meant that they were probably taking him to Lansa, the closest planet which had an Imperial base known for its interrogation equipment. Suppressing a shiver, he tried to walk tall and proud as he was escorted out of the detention center.
Entering the docking bay, Jal earned even more hateful stares than he had gotten on the way there. His orange flight suit stood out like a beacon against the gray colors of the ship, alerting everyone to the fact that he was a Rebel. What caught and kept his attention in the docking bay, however, was the black clad figure standing at the foot of the ramp of one of the shuttles. Vader. Seeing him, Jal froze and didn't move until one of his two stormtrooper escorts nudged him in the back with his blaster. Things were worse then he had originally thought. To be interrogated by Imperials was always bad, to be interrogated by Vader was the worst thing that could possibly happen.
"That was the worst move you could have made," Han stated, two days into their trip, as he pressed a few controls and one of his holo-beasts jumped on one of Luke's.
"Oops," Luke replied as he watched his beast disappear.
"Oops?" Han repeated as he shook his head. "Wasn't that obvious? Sesh, can't you anticipate those moves? How do you want to become a squad leader if you can't even anticipate obvious dangers like that one you just placed you creature in?"
"I don't want to be a squad leader," Luke replied, clearly nervous with the very idea. "I just want to be a pilot."
"Just a pilot?" Han repeated once more in disbelief. "You really haven't been out much, have you? There is no way that the Alliance High Command is going to make you simply a pilot. Not after what happened at Yavin. You are their hero now and they are going to put you in some position of command, probably a squad leader. So, if you don't want it to turn out to be a big flop, you'd better start preparing for it."
"You really think so?" Luke questioned nervously as he started to bite his lower lip.
Him a squad leader? A commander? The very thought worried him. To be in charge of the other men in the squad, to be the one to give orders that could possibly kill them made his shiver. He didn't know how to do that. He was used to taking orders given to him by Uncle Owen and lately the Alliance Command, but he had never given orders himself. Hopefully Han was wrong.
"Yeah," Han stated. "Trust me, people don't like to down size their heroes by putting them in a position of no power and you don't have the experience to get a higher position. Besides, being a commander of a squad would be perfect since you earned your hero status flying."
"I'm not a hero," Luke stated, finally voicing his opinion.
"Whoa! What?" Han exclaimed. "Not a hero? Where did that come from? You saved practically the entire Alliance and you claim not to be a hero? I may not be an Alliance member or for what they stand for, but I can definitely see where they're getting the hero idea from."
"I don't know," Luke said as he fidgeted, looking at the game board instead of up at the man who had quickly become his best friend after Biggs' death.
"What's so hard to grasp about?" Han demanded, noticing Luke's fidgeting.
"Well..." Luke began before he suddenly saw the perfect opportunity on the board. "There," he said as he hit the necessary commands into the game for one on his beast to move forward and grab Han's second best. "Now why didn't you see that?"
"Hey!" Han exclaimed as he realized what had happened. "No fair," he mumbled even as he realized that he would never have placed his beast there if he hadn't been playing against someone who hardly knew the game.
"What's not fair?" Luke questioned innocently.
"Nothing," Han admitted as he moved one of his pieces. "That was a good move."
"Thanks," Luke replied, relieved that the previous line of conversation had either been forgotten or that Han realized that it made him uncomfortable.
Walking onto the balcony of Centares, a former Old Republic museum that was now in the process of being renovated into an museum dedicated to the Empire, Vader smiled behind his mask. The pure fear Te Gniev had radiated upon catching sight of him was a promising sign. At the moment regular Imperial interrogators were busy with the pilot, trying to extract as much general information on the Alliance's current location and condition. Once they had been at it for a while, he would go in and get the information he needed, but not yet. The man who had destroyed the Death Star was most likely an important Alliance hero and thus the man would not give up his name quickly. After a little interrogation however. . .
Looking over Klsa, the capitol city of Lansa, Vader let his thoughts wander. It was rare that he had a moment of silence to himself when he didn't have any things to do or take care off. Especially since the destruction of the Death Star as Palpatine had been most displeased and a displeased Master was the last thing he wanted as his powers were minor compared to those of the older man. So far he had not yet been punished for failing to protect the Death Star, but Vader knew all too well that if he made another mistake the Emperor would unleash his wrath upon him.
Turning around, Vader reentered the museum and wandered its halls for a few hours. Inspecting the new Imperial exhibits that had been put up to replace the Old Republic ones, he liked what he saw. Places like this would show the people exactly what the Empire was all about and disprove many of the false facts the Rebel propaganda had filtered through to them. Although the Empire was getting better and better at cutting off the resources the Rebellion needed to reach the people the way they did, it wasn't happening fast enough for Palpatine so he had ordered half of all Old Republic museums to be converted into Imperial museums to show the people the truth. One section in each museum would also display the Rebellion for what it truly was and all the crimes they had committed. Vader had to admit that it was a good idea and one that seemed to be working judging from the high attendance rates the open museums reported.
Abruptly turning around, Vader left the museum and made his way to the Imperial base that was right beside it.
"My Lord," a Lieutenant said as he snapped to attention the moment Vader entered the detention area.
"Where is the Rebel being interrogated?" Vader demanded.
"Interrogation room number seven, my Lord," the young man replied nervously.
Striding past him without another glance, Vader made his way to interrogation room number seven and entered it. Taking a quick glance around the room, the Dark Lord instantly took in the bloodied form of Te Gniev bound to the scan grid and the frustration on the faces of the three Imperial officers that were running the interrogation.
"Lord Vader," Major Frankjo said as soon as he caught sight of his superior.
"Outside, Major," Vader ordered, not wanting the Rebel pilot to hear the man's report. "Well?" he continued as soon as they were out of the room. "What have you gotten from him so far?"
"Nothing, my Lord," Major Frankjo confessed fearfully. "He had been quite stubborn, and I believe that it may be several days before we get any information out of him."
"Not if we increase his discomfort immediately instead of waiting," Vader stated.
"Yes, my Lord," Frankjo replied. "Although that could kill him."
"I only need one name from him," Vader said as he reentered the room. "Increase the pain level fifty percent."
"At once my Lord," one of the minor officers replied as he moved to carry out the order.
"And inject him with jsena," Vader continued as he moved closer to the Rebel.
"Full dose?" the second minor officer inquired. "Or half, my Lord?"
"You are a sadistic monster," Jal stated as he watched the officer prepare the needle before he received a blow to the head.
"You shall address Lord Vader with respect, Rebel," Major Frankjo ordered as he moved to stand next to Jal.
Knowing that smart retorts would only get him into more trouble, Jal kept his mouth shut. He needed all the strength he could at the moment so there was no use in bringing needless pain onto himself for no reason whatsoever. Remaining still, he watched as one of the two officers injected him with the amber colored liquid. Even before the needle was extracted, Jal could feel the fire spreading in his veins as the drug rapidly made its way to the rest of his body through his circulation. Biting back a cry, he tried to keep his face as still as possibly, knowing that displaying his discomfort would only alert the Imps to just how badly the drug was affecting him.
"Forget all that they asked you earlier," Vader stated as he moved closer to the Rebel and indicated the major and the two minor officers. "All I want from you are two words. The first and last name of the Rebel who fired the shot that destroyed the Death Star."
Finally screaming as the pain became too much, Jal's mind raced. All Vader wanted was Skywalker's name. Surely he wouldn't be doing that much harm by giving him a name, would he? His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as the board he was bound to was lowered closer to the grid once more and the machine sparked, sending electricity racing through his body. The combined sensation of the jsena burning in his veins and the increased shock made him scream louder than he had ever screamed before.
"Who destroyed the Death Star?" Vader demanded as he watched Te Gniev wither.
Trying to move his body as far away from the scan grid as was possible, Jal tried to catch his breath. It wasn't like he was giving away any information that would led to the destruction of an Alliance base, now was it? He would simply be giving them a name that would come out soon anyway. It was only a matter of time before Vader got the name, so why shouldn't he give it?
Screaming once more another thought entered Jal's mind. What had Skywalker ever done for him that would cause him to take this pain simply to keep his identity hidden? Nothing! Thinking back to all that had happened to him as a result of Skywalker's interference, Jal felt his blood begin to boil. Indeed, Skywalker was sure to flip when he learned that he was a wanted man, he probably hadn't considered the consequences of his lucky shot. It wouldn't surprise him if the little brat wanted out of the Alliance. Once the Alliance High Command saw his reaction to that he was sure that they would realize just what he was and dump him.
Feeling the sudden rage come to life within the Rebel, Vader frowned behind his mask. The Force told him that the rage wasn't directed at him or the other officers in the room. Probing a little further into the Te Gniev's mind he found, to his immense surprise, that the rage was, in fact, aimed at the young man who had destroyed the Death Star. It didn't take him long to realize that, considering the fact that it has been Te Gniev's X-wing that had been used during the Battle of Yavin, the man before him had been replaced by he who had destroyed the Death Star.
"Skywalker," Jal finally stated, making up his mind. "Luke Skywalker."
"What?!" Vader exploded as he moved to stand right before the Rebel. "What did you say?!"
"Skywalker," Jal repeated, knowing that the man had heard him the first time, but his reaction starting to make him wonder.
Had he done something wrong? Sure, he had just given the name of one of his fellow Rebels, even if the guy was a loser, but he hadn't expected this reaction from the Dark Lord. Could it be that there was something about Skywalker that he didn't know? Something important? But what could possibly be so important about the twerp? He was a nobody from a farm on a planet that was known as the armpit of the galaxy. What could Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, possibly want with him other than to kill him for his lucky shot that had destroyed the Death Star?
Stunned, Vader stood silently before the Rebel. It couldn't be! This Skywalker, this Rebel pilot, couldn't be related to him, could he? The fact that he had Force abilities made Vader pause. It was hardly likely that there would be another Skywalker out there that had the Force and who was just the right age to be his son. He knew that the age factor fit in about right as the young man he had seen with Kenobi had to be the pilot of the X-wing that had fired that fateful shot. And then there was the blond hair and blue eyes. . .
"Where is he from?" Vader demanded as he turned his attention back to the man before him.
Knowing from the urgency in Vader's voice that something was clearly not as it seemed, Jal refused to answer. What kind of mess was Skywalker involved in that would make the Dark Lord interested in where he was from? This obviously went beyond the destruction of the Imperial space station. But what? He wasn't sure, but he did know that if the Dark Lord was this anxious to get more information on Skywalker, he wouldn't give him anything, even if he hated the kid's guts.
Sensing the Rebel's change in attitude, Vader cursed mentally. His sudden shock at the possibility of having a son had caused him to act without thinking of the consequences. He normally would never have displayed the amount of interest he just had if he had been thinking straight.
"Major," Vader said as he turned around to face the man. "Get Skywalker's planet of origin, his age, and current location from this man. Use any methods necessary, but I want him alive until you have that information."
"As you wish, my Lord," Major Frankjo replied, mystified at his superior's behavior, but knowing better than to ask questions.
Leaving the room, Vader's mind was awhirl. Although he didn't want to believe what he had just heard, it was possible. From what he had seen Skywalker appeared to be in his late teens, early twenties and the fact that the last time he had seen his wife alive had been nearly twenty-one years ago was too big of a coincidence to ignore. Amidala had, after all, seemed more than a little anxious the last time he had seen her. She had probably known that she was pregnant with his child and was afraid that he would discover this fact. That fact that she would even consider hiding his son from him made his blood boil. He didn't need to know that Skywalker had been traveling with Kenobi to know that the old man had been involved in this new mess. It was simply another betrayal by his former teacher.
Entering his chambers on the base, he moved towards his pod and seated himself even as he ordered his computer to retrieve the holo-tapes recorded by the security cameras on board the Death Star. Due to the fact that Palpatine didn't trust Tarkin with such a powerful weapon of mass destruction, all surveillance tapes were sent to Coruscant every day. Luckily for him, the Coruscant day had started right before the Death Start had left the remains of Alderaan to head for Yavin.
Bringing up the footage from the hanger bay in which the Millennium Falcon had been, Vader waited until Skywalker, Organa, Solo, the Wookiee, and the droids returned to the ship before he enhanced the picture and enlarged Skywalker's face so that he saw it more clearly. As soon as the holo obeyed the commands and showed him what he wanted to see, he gasped. Now that he looked closely at the young man's face he clearly saw the resemblance between Luke Skywalker and what he had once looked like. The hair, the eyes, the nose, they were all his. Although his height and built were clearly his mother's. Hopefully the child hadn't inherited too much from her or there would be trouble.
"Admiral," Vader said as he turned on the com in his pod and contacted the Terminator.
"Yes, my Lord?" Admiral Plat instantly replied.
"Contact the bounty hunters," Vader ordered. "Tell them I have a job that will pay very well."
"As you wish my Lord," Plat stated before Vader cut the connection.
Sitting in his pod for a moment, Vader sighed. This news was all so unexpected that he needed time to think about what it meant and how it effected him, but time was a thing he didn't have. He knew that he had to inform his master of this unexpected development as Palpatine was bound to find out sooner or later and it was better for him that he was the one who told him of it. He winced at the mere idea of the wrath the Emperor would unleash upon him if he kept this from him. Especially considering the personal nature of the information. The only good side of this whole mess was that he wasn't reporting to the Galactic Ruler in person. If that had been the case then Palpatine would have instantly been aware of how the situation had thrown him into confusion. By the time he got back to Coruscant after this he would have had enough time to sort through his emotions enough so that he could shield them a bit.
Getting to his feet, Vader made his way towards the adjacent room which had been designed specifically for communication with the Emperor. Every Imperial base and Star Destroyer had personal rooms for him and for the Emperor. That way, no matter where he went, he could instantly settle in without having to go through any unnecessary hassle that would only slow him down. Using the Force he turned on the special com even as he knelt in the projecting circle. Sometimes he had to wait a long time before the Emperor replied, other times he responded immediately. Vader hoped that this time it would be the latter as he really needed some quiet time to think about the fact that he had a son who was with the Rebels.
"Yes?" Palpatine's voice finally cut through his thoughts, his tone indicating that he had been forced to repeat himself.
"Master," Vader replied as he lowered his head a fraction lower than usual, knowing that he had displeased the Emperor. "I have the identity of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. However, it has brought with it more complications."
"How so?" Palpatine demanded.
"The pilot is a young man by the name of Luke Skywalker," Vader stated, knowing the name would explain all.
"Skywalker," Palpatine hissed the name as if it were a loathed object he didn't want to touch anymore than necessary. "Anakin's boy?"
"It would explain the physical resemblance and the strong Force potential," Vader replied, noting how the Emperor didn't acknowledge the boy to be his. "Kenobi's involvement is practically proof."
"It is," Palpatine agreed before he was silent for a moment, lost in thought. "You mentioned earlier that the potential you felt was untrained."
"It is hard to tell," Vader began carefully, wanting to keep all his options open until he knew what it was that he wanted. "It was only potential, I would say stronger than most Jedi, perhaps even enough to come close to his father's power."
"Interesting," Palpatine murmured. "Perhaps we should get the boy and see exactly what his potential is before making any further decisions on the matter. Get him and then bring him to me."
"As you wish," Vader replied upon which the holo connection was cut.
Rising, Vader walked back to his pod and replayed all the holo-tape he had of his son. It didn't take him long to realize that the lightsaber the boy carried on his belt was, in fact, his old lightsaber. Recognizing it, he felt the blood sing in his ears. So, Obi-Wan had saved the weapon while letting its owner burn! Feeling his upper lip curl in anger he wondered just what that despicable Kenobi had told his son about him. Did the boy know he was his father? Or had Obi-Wan neglected to tell him that? Did the boy even care about his parents?
Suddenly, Vader turned his pod around and ordered his computer to start a search through the Imperial records for anyone named Skywalker. It was a long shot, especially considering the fact that the boy used his former last name, but it was worth a try. The best place to hid someone was, after all, in plain sight. More often then not the one looking wouldn't see the obvious. Only, in his case, he hadn't even known that something of this magnitude was being hidden from him.
"Where is Skywalker from?" Major Frankjo demanded as he paced the room the interrogation was being done in.
Receiving no reply, Frankjo turned around and watched the bound man struggling to keep from calling out as the scan grind send bright blue sparks of electricity into his body once more. They had practically been at him nonstop since Vader had entered the room three days earlier and the Rebel still hadn't uttered a useful word since he had informed them that Skywalker was the one who had destroyed the Death Star.
Shaking his head, Frankjo motioned to the officer at the scan grid controls to stop the machine temporarily. He didn't want to risk the prisoner going into arrest or dying on him. Not until he had the information Lord Vader wanted at least. It would be highly unhealthy for him if such a thing were to happen. But what was it about this Skywalker that had gotten the Dark Lord so worked up? He had continuously racked his brains when he was off duty, searching for any earlier mention of the name that would explain the Sith Lord's interest in him for reasons other than the destruction of the space station, but he could come up with nothing. As far as he could tell the man had not been in any earlier Rebel attacks, at least none important enough to warrant the mention of his particular name. So why? He had questioned his friend, Miln, on it and he had been unable to come up with anything either. Indeed, it seemed like no one on the base had heard of him before as everyone was looking to others for information.
"You do realize that we're not going to stop until we have what we want from you," Frankjo said as he walked over to Jal who was gulping down air now that he could rest. "And we'll make sure that you don't die either. Tell me what I want to know and we can stop this now."
"And why should I believe you?" Jal questioned, knowing that the longer the major talked, the longer he had to rebuild his strength for the next round.
"Why not?" Frankjo replied. "Have we done anything so far to say that we won't?"
"Yes," Jal remarked. "Lord Vader said he would stop this if I told him the name of who destroyed the Death Star and here we are, still at it."
Frankjo opened his mouth to reply but then closed it as he turned around. Te Gniev had a point there. "What do you stand to lose by doing as we ask?" he continued as he turned back to face the Rebel now that he had composed himself once more. "As far as I can tell, nothing. You do stand the possibility to end the pain though."
Jal simply snorted, his throat too tender to continue arguing with the Imperial officer. He knew now that giving Vader what he wanted had been a major mistake, but there was no way he could undo the damage he had already done. He only wished that he knew what damage he had done in the first place. He still refused to believe that Skywalker had actually done anything of importance other than his lucky shot so it had to be something else. But what? He had considered asking the Imps, but he knew that they would not tell him.
"Come on, kid," Han called out as Chewie seated himself in his regular chair. "Get up here, we're about to exit hyperspace."
"Coming," Luke called out seconds before he entered the cockpit and dropped himself into the chair behind Han.
"Do you remember your instructions?" Han demanded as he placed his hand on the hyperspace lever as he watched the chrono make its count down.
"Yes," Luke replied as he rolled his eyes. "We're supposed to meet our contact in a cantina."
"A cantina?" Han demanded incredulously as he briefly looked over his shoulder at Luke. "I sure hope you know WHICH cantina as the planet is covered with them."
"Of course I know which cantina," Luke snapped back, insulted.
Han opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a growl from Chewie. "Yes," Han replied as he looked at the clock before pulled back the lever, dropping them from hyperspace. "Of course I was keeping an eye on the clock."
Smiling at the inquiring bark Chewie made, Luke looked past the two friends at the planet that hung against the velvet black backdrop of space before them. The planet was covered with faint lights that Luke knew came from tall buildings that covered the planet's surface. Ord Mantell, like a good portion of planets, was completely covered by buildings. However, unlike Coruscant, Ord Mantell had only recently become so populated. The Alliance file on the planet had defined the term recently as in the last two centuries. It hadn't taken him long to learn that any planet that was covered by buildings, but people could still remember what the composition of the planet had originally been like was considered to have been built upon recently. This left only Coruscant as a planet whose structures had been built a long time ago. Even before the Old Republic had risen it had been covered by buildings as it had always been the center of the galaxy for as long as anyone could remember.
"So, what cantina?" Han questioned, pulling Luke out of his thoughts as he maneuvered the ship towards Ord Mantell's atmosphere.
"Pirate's Paradise," Luke stated as he eyed the planet, an expectant shiver running up his spine as he did so. Since leaving Tatooine he had visited only a handful of planets and the delight at seeing the different spheres from space still hadn't worn off yet. "It's supposed to be close enough to one of the spaceports for a quick escape, but far away enough not to be suspicious."
"Not to mention the fact that its crawling with low life scum," Han mumbled under his breath.
"What?" Luke asked.
"The double P is kinda like the cantina back on Tatooine," Han explained as he directed the ship towards the spaceport located closest to the cantina. "Anything can and will happen there."
"Oh," Luke replied. "Hope there's a good hotel nearby. No offense, but those bunks aren't the best."
"Hotel?!" Han choked out in surprise as he laughed. "Hotel?? You really didn't get out much did you?"
"What?" Luke demanded, his face flushing red at the older man's comment. "What's wrong?"
"On Ord..." Han began but stopped as he laughed once more. "Mantell... or any place like it... you'd have to be..."
"Have to be what?" Luke pushed, his face growing redder at Han's amusement. "Chewie?"
In response the Wookiee shook his head before reaching out giving Han a slight slap on the shoulder as he growled.
"Okay, okay!" Han replied as his laughter died down a little. "I'll be nice to the kid," with this Han turned his seat to face Luke while Chewie took control of the Falcon. "Let's just say that if you're a wanted man or have another place to sleep you NEVER stay in a hotel on a planet or area like this."
"Because chances are that you'll wind up either dead, robbed, or worse," Han explained.
"Why?" Luke pressed when he saw that Han thought that was all the explanation necessary. On the one hand he wanted to drop the topic as it was clear that he was missing something the older man took for granted, but on the other hand he wanted to know. Who knew when that information might come in handy. "You'll be safe if you lock the door."
"Safe?" Han repeated as he rolled his eye's at his friend's naivete. "All one has to do is pay the owner a certain amount of money and he'll gladly hand you any key you want. Then all you do is go up to the room and do whatever you want to do and the owner will simply look the other way."
"Isn't that bad for business?" Luke questioned as he shivered at the thought.
"Not on a planet like this," Han stated. "Everyone does it here so its not like you can go elsewhere and expect better. Perhaps if you pay the owner enough money he won't hand over the key, but he might just take your money and the money of the guy who wants you. Not everyone is lucky enough to have somewhere else to sleep, especially if you've just lost big time gambling."
"Oh," Luke said, his face growing redder as Han turned forward once more.
Thinking about it it was so obvious. But how could he have known? The only time he had ever been in an area that lived by those rules was Mos Eisley and then he had Ben with him to guide him, not that he had stayed very long to begin with. Sitting silently as Han made the necessary arrangements with the port authorities, he resolved to learn everything he could from Han and Chewie on this trip. He did, after all, have a lot to learn about space travel if he wanted to survive and who better to learn it from then a pirate who had spent his live among the most dangerous people? He was, after all, a Rebel and it was only a matter of time before the Empire learned of the fact that it had been him who had destroyed their space station and then he would need all the advice he could get to prevent from being captured.
"Lord Vader," Admiral Plat said as Vader descended the ramp of the shuttle that had brought him up from the base to the Terminator. "The bounty hunters are here."
"I can see that," Vader replied as he scanned the non-Imperial spaceships in the Destroyer's dockingbay. "Which ones are here?"
"Boba Fett, IG-88, Bossk, Dengar, Zuckuss, and Malson," Plat informed the Dark Lord as they crossed the docking bay. "Basically everyone we called except for 4-LOM. We have received no response from him."
"It doesn't matter," Vader stated as he headed for the room he had ordered the admiral to put the bounty hunters in when they arrived. "Has the fleet been alerted and the bounty posted?
"Yes, Lord Vader, everything was done as you ordered," Plat replied. "The bounties have been sent out so Skywalker is now a wanted man and it won't be long before he can't go to any populated planet without being recognized."
"Good," Vader said as he stopped outside the door to the room where the bounty hunters were. "Inform me the moment anyone reports either his capture or his location. Do so even if I have instructed you to be left alone."
"As you wish, my Lord," Plat answered before he headed back to the bridge.
Watching the man go, Vader nodded his head in satisfaction. There was no way that his son would remain with the Alliance for long, not with the bounty he had posted for him. And then, once he had his boy, he could look into perhaps following up the idea that had been slowly forming in the back of his mind for the past few days. The plan would be risky, but the rewards it would bring would be practically limitless.
Smiling behind his mask, Vader entered the room. It was a nice plan, but it would need careful execution or it could seriously backfire and burn him. But now was not the time to dwell on it. All had its time and for this issue the time wasn't now. Indeed, too many variables that all were key elements to the plan's success were still unknown to him and he wouldn't learn them until he learned more his boy's abilities, potential, and state of mind. It all depended on how much his child had been brainwashed. The thought of how long the Jedi had had his son sent a surge of pure rage washing over him. But he didn't have the time nor the energy to waste on contemplation and regrets of the past. He had learned that particular lesson long ago. What was, was and moaning about it was a waste of time and energy, time and energy that could better be used to right the wrong.
Focusing his attention on the beings in the room, Vader quickly scanned the bounty hunters. In reality he despised them and there method of making a living. But, just as he had learned not to waste time and energy on what ifs, he has learned to use any and all means available to him to accomplish his goal. At the moment the bounty hunters were one of the best ways to get his son as they boy was more likely to be in areas that they would be rather than in areas his officers and subordinates would be.
"I'm sure that you are all aware of what happened with the Death Star," Vader began, knowing well that this particular crowd didn't bother with formalities. "Recently the identity of the Rebel pilot who destroyed it has become known to me," he continued as he eyed the beings before him.
There really was no other way to describe them as they were not all living and breathing creatures. And, of the six of them, there were only three humans, namely Boba Fett, Dengar, and Malson. Despite all the speculation on who, what, and where Boba Fett came from, he knew that the man was a human and not a member of some humanoid race. Although all of the bounty hunters had been waiting separately in their own corners of the room, they had all gathered close to him now as they knew he paid well and wanted to hear all he had to say on the target.
"The Rebel was a young human by the name of Luke Skywalker," Vader continued. "Blond, blue eyed, slender, and medium height. I shall have a holo sent to your ships so you can get an exact face. I want the target alive and shall pay two billion credits if you bring him in," as he named the sum he felt pure surprise radiating from them even though they kept it from their faces, at least those who had their faces exposed to begin with. "Currently there is no indication as to where his whereabouts are other than that he is somewhere with the Alliance."
"Why are we doing this now?" Luke questioned as he, Han, and Chewie descended the Falcon's ramp. "We aren't supposed to be meeting with the contact for another two days."
"It's always best to be prepared, kid," Han explained as he shut the ramp and locked the Falcon. "In this case that means knowing our surroundings so that we know where to run in case we get into trouble. I want you to keep an eye out and memorize where the Falcon is so that you can make it back here alone if you must."
"Okay," Luke replied, realizing the wisdom behind what they were doing and discouraged that he hadn't been able to see it himself. How was he supposed to do anything on his own when he couldn't even see the simplest things?
"Don't worry, Luke," Han stated as he saw the look of his young friend's face. "You'll learn. Besides, who can blame you? Everyone is good at what they do as they've got experience in that area."
"Oh joy," Luke replied dryly as they left the docking bay. "I'm sure moisture farming will come in handy pretty often."
"Sure," Han chuckled teasingly. "At least you won't dehydrate when stuck on a desert planet."
"I'm not going back to Tatooine nor any other desert planet if I can help it," Luke stated firmly.
"Whatever you say," Han said before he scanned the area just outside the spaceport. "Nothing much has changed here, that's for sure," he commented as she saw the sleazy cantinas that lined the street heading away from the building from which they had just emerged. Gathered along the streets were people of all races and classes, making their way towards wherever they needed to be, all heavily armed and alert. "So just what other instructions did her Royal Highness give you?"
"Princess Leia," Luke began, stressing the title heavily as they joined the crowd and made their way down one of the streets. "Simply told me what the agreement with the supplier contact is, how much cargo we're getting, and what the codes are."
"Great," Han replied sarcastically even as he noted how the kid used the word 'cargo' instead of 'torpedoes.' He obviously was learning. "So I suppose this should be a quick and easy?"
"Sure," Luke replied as he eyed the older man. "Why not?"
"What ever goes smoothly with the Alliance?" Han countered and then sent an annoyed look at the Wookiee walking next to him when he replied. "That doesn't count. Besides, I'll bet that we never heard the full story behind what really happened there. You know Bre'ta could be chased by TIEs and still he'd say: 'the mission went smoothly and without incidents worth mentioning' simply to make himself look good."
"What?" Luke inquired curiously.
"On Correllia there's a bar called Olp's Place that Chewie and I used to go to a lot whenever we were on planet," Han explained. "Another regular customer there was Bre'ta. We knew each other, being in the same business and all, and so we talked. He used to claim that he could do anything without attracting attention. He flew a some mission for the Rebellion--"
"Alliance," Luke corrected.
"Rebellion, Alliance, whatever," Han remarked. "And he claimed he had no trouble with it. I don't believe that. Whenever the Alliance is involved there's always trouble of some kind."
"So why are you still with us then?" Luke countered.
"Well..." Han began and shot his co-pilot a glare when he echoed Luke's question. "Well... because I need to lay low for a while and the money is constant, even if its not a lot." Seeing Chewie raise an eyebrow, Luke smiled even as the two launched into a discussion of why they really where staying with the Alliance. Although he couldn't understand the Wookiee, he could tell from Han's responses that Chewbacca was implying that they were staying because Han felt a commitment to the cause. Letting the two ramble on, he looked around that street they were walking down and tried to memorize certain cantinas or buildings so that he would be able to find his way back.
Boarding his ship, Malson took off his worn jacket and threw it onto the table. He was a muscular human male of medium height with thick, black eyebrows and piercing eyes red like superheated molten magma. The eye color was an inheritance from his mother who had been three-quarters human and quarter Flina. From her he had also inherited a superb night vision which had come in handy on more than one occasion. His hair was long and black, spilling down to partially cover his face, but it couldn't hide the jagged scar that ran down the left side of his face, a visible reminder of his close call with a vibroblade.
Quickly he made his way to the cockpit of his ship and, sitting down, Malson instantly turned on the holo he had been sent. Looking at it, he smiled. The young man, a boy really, had an aura of innocence around him that was captured even in the image. He had come across only a few targets with this aura, all had been extremely easy to capture. People like this Skywalker were always inexperienced fools who had accidentally gotten themselves in over their heads.
Turning off the holo, Malson nodded his head in satisfaction. If he found the kid first it would be easy credits indeed. The hardest part of this assignment would be to locate Skywalker, the rest would be a stroll in the park. However, the fact that Lord Vader was even offering them so much meant that either the Empire had been unable to find him so far or that they wanted him as fast as possible. This meant that the Alliance was probably keeping him hidden for a while. The best chance was for him to head over to Ord Mantell and check up with come contacts he had there. The reward money was, after all, large enough that he could promise anyone who helped him locate the kid a little of it.
"Well?" Vader demanded as he strode down the corridor on the base and saw Major Frankjo exiting the room in which Te Gniev was still being interrogated in. "Has he said anymore?"
"No, my Lord," Frankjo replied, slightly fearful to give the Dark Lord a negative report. "However we've been increasing the pain level and drugs being used on him and they seem to be wearing him out. We should have all we want in the next few days."
"Do whatever is needed," Vader ordered. "But keep him alive. I want that information one way or another and you will not live long to regret it if he dies before I have what I want."
"Understood, my Lord," Frankjo responded weakly, the image of his wife's face flashing across his mind. "I have already sent for some of the more powerful drugs that we do not currently have on the base. They should be arriving in the next few days and should speed up the process."
"Good," Vader stated before he turned around and left the detention center, his cape sweeping out in his wake.
"I can see why the Alliance chose this place to meet up with the contact," Luke whispered softly as they entered Pirate's Paradise.
As with the cantina in Mos Eisley, Luke had to momentarily stop upon entering to let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light inside. Han had told him that most cantinas did this so that the customers inside would be able to see newcomers before they themselves could be spotted and also so that the owner would have a warning if there was going to be trouble. Seeing the people look towards him, Han, and Chewie he saw their eyes linger briefly on Chewie before they went back to whatever they had been doing before.
"Yeah," Han agreed. "More illegal stuff happens here in a day than you could imagine. Nobody will notice us. Unless, of course, they're looking for us."
As he said this, Han scanned the room, looking for any familiar faces or bounty hunters. Seeing none he relaxed slightly, but kept his hand on the but of his blaster just to be sure. You could never be too prepared in a place like this. Looking to his right he scanned Luke once more and was satisfied that there was nothing to visually indicate that he was a Rebel, rather than a pirate. If anything were to give him away, it would be his innocent, inexperienced manner
"Stick close, kid," Han ordered softly. "And do what I do."
"I heard you the first few times," Luke stated, sending his friend an annoyed look.
"Just making sure," Han explained as he sat down at an empty table in the corner where he had an excellent view of the door. He knew better than to let his guard down in a place like this, especially with that bounty on his head. "After all, you're not used to this kind of environment and the Council would have my head if anything happened to you."
Luke opened his mouth to reply but quickly shut it when an scantly dressed female Twi'lek walked up to their table. "What'll it be handsome?" she demanded as she looked Luke over, clearly liking what she saw.
"We'll take two Corellian ales and a Vlosia," Han stated, hiding a smile at the stunned and uneasy look on Luke's face. It was at times like this that he realized just how green the kid was.
"Coming right up," the Twi'lek replied, the angered look she sent at Han instantly informing him that she hadn't seen Luke's reaction.
"What's wrong kid?" Han demanded as the waitress moved away and he and Chewie started laughing. "Never been hit on before?"
"Yes," Luke stated as his face flushed red once more. "Just not by an alien."
"Oh," Han said, his eyes sparkling with interest. "And who was she?"
"None of your business," Luke mumbled as he slouched back in his chair and scanned his surroundings, trying to take in as much as he could on how people behaved here so that he wouldn't stand out in two days time.
"Come on," Han pressed as Chewie shook his head, growling at him to lay off of the kid. "Don't even try to tell my you're not interested hairball," Han retorted and saw the amusement that danced across Luke's face at this friendly banter. "Out with it Luke, who was she? And was she pretty?"
"You said she was," Luke replied.
"Me?" Han questioned, shocked. "You mean I know her?"
"Yeah," Luke confirmed. "I'm talking about the red head that was in the infirmary when we were evacuating Yavin IV."
"Ah, I see," Han responded. "She is pretty, she's got nice legs. So, what happened?"
"Nothing happened," Luke reiterated. "She hit on me and I. . . I left the room."
"What? You had her attention and you left the room?" Han exclaimed, shaking his head in disbelief. "Come on, why did you do a stupid thing like that? It's not every day you get the attention of a beautiful girl like her. You should have spoken to her at least."
"I... I wouldn't know what to say," Luke admitted silently as his face turned even redder. "I've never... had a girl before."
"You don't know what you're missing," Han stated, still shaking his head. Although he had come to see Luke as his friend, the kid's complete innocence and ignorance of things he took for granted still amazed him all too frequently.
Looking up he saw the waitress heading over to their table and had to smile once more. She must really like Luke's looks as this was the new record of quick service for a place like this. It normally took at least ten minutes on a good day before he got the drink he had ordered. "Yeah," he mumbled under his breath as Chewie voiced his thoughts.
"If there is anything else you want, simply call," the Twi'lek said as she looked at Luke.
"We will," Luke replied as he smiled at her, his face having returned to a somewhat more normal color.
"He wants to know how you're supposed to identify the contact when the time comes," Han translated when Chewie barked a question at Luke.
"I'm not supposed to recognize him," Luke explained, clearly relieved that the topic of conversation had been changed as he sent the Wookiee a grateful smile. "I'm supposed to wear a blue bandanna around my neck."
"A blue bandanna?" Han inquired as he thumped his fist against the table. "Oh, that's just a brilliant plan. And how is this contact supposed to pick out you from the others wearing blue bandannas?" Doing a quick scan of the room he could instantly pick out four other human males wearing colored bandannas around there necks, not to mention the aliens who wore them. It was only a matter of probability that one of those others would be blue in two days time.
"The whole point of the bandanna is so that he can identify me without me standing out," Luke continued. "Besides, how many human males will be wearing blue bandannas and be sitting at the same table with another male and a Wookiee?"
"There could be others," Han replied, displeased with the plan. It was no wonder to him that the Alliance hadn't been making too much headway in the war until the Death Star incident. If all their plans were like this, half of them probably failed because their operatives messed up. "And who said that Chewie and I would be with you when the deal is made?"
"There are also some code phrases so that we both can identify the other," Luke stated. "And I highly doubt that you'd leave me alone in a place like this," he continued as he waved his hand around. "The way you've constantly worrying over me like a mother proves that."
"I haven't been acting like no mother," Han retorted as Chewie roared with laughter.
"What do you call the way you've been telling me what to do that whole time?" Luke countered. "Your 'stay close' and 'do as I say' sound very much like the mother's I've known."
"I'm simply trying to save your hide," Han explained as he ignored his co-pilot who had only started laughing harder at Luke's imitations. "All those guys need," he continued as he indicated the other customers of the cantina. "Is even one hint of who you are and you'll be in Imperial hands so fast it'll make your head spin," reaching forward he took hold of one of the two Corellian ales and took a swing, not missing Luke's raised eyebrow. "Besides, I don't want to draw any more attention to myself then I need to."
Luke shook his head as he turned around in his seat as a familiar tune drifted through the air. Seeing the band playing on a slightly raised stage at the far end of the cantina near the rear entrance he realized that they were playing the same song the band in the cantina in Mos Eisley had been playing when he had first entered it with Ben. Biting his lip as he thought of the now dead Jedi, he turned back in his seat and pulled his drink over to himself. Looking at the contents of the brown glass, he winced. The greenish liquid and brown foam within looked anything but appealing. However, he was thirsty and highly doubted that they'd have anything better here, so he took a swing of it like he'd seen Han do.
The moment the liquid hit his throat it caused a burning sensation and he felt like his mouth and throat were on fire. Coughing he put the glass down as the ale burnt its way to his stomach causing him to cough harder and harder. Briefly he felt like he was going to choke when he suddenly felt a gentle but firm slapping on his back. Finally catching his breath he looked up to see Chewbacca pulling his arm back once the Wookiee saw that he was finished coughing.
"Thanks," Luke squeaked which only caused Han to roar with laughter once more.
Shooting the man a dirty look, Luke looking at the glass holding the offending liquid only to find that he has spit some of what he had in his mouth onto the table. Shaking his head he wiped it off, coughing once more before he looked up at Chewie when he heard a soft inquiry. Despite not being able to understand the sounds the Wookiee made, the concerned filled blue eyes told him all he needed to know.
"I'm fine," Luke reassured Chewbacca as he touched the Wookiee's arm. "Thanks for the help." Even as he said this last, Luke glared at the Corellian across the table who finally seemed to have stopped laughing.
"First time drinking too, I see," Han remarked before he started laughing once more.
Jal screamed as the electricity hit him once more, the jolting movement his body made causing even more aches and pains where he was fastened to the plank. The skin at his wrists was raw from his futile attempts to find anyway to get free. He didn't know how much longer he could take the torture. Every time they restarted after having stopped for several hours he was more and more pressed to remember just why he had to remain silent. The temptation to give the Imperials what they wanted on Skywalker was great as he despised the boy and couldn't care less what happened to him. However, he knew that if the Imperials wanted something badly t was his duty to do all that he could to keep it from them.
But how much longer could he keep silent? Although he had tried to keep track of time after first awakening since he was captured, Jal had to admit to himself that he had long since lost track of the days. For all he knew he knew months could have passed since he had been brought to this particular base and he wouldn't know it. The only thing that told him the time spent with the Imperials was closer to several weeks or days was the fact that no victims ever last more than two weeks in Imperial torture and those were the extreme cases.
"Where is Skywalker now?" Frankjo demanded once more as he moved to stand before the Rebel. "Is he on the main Alliance base? Is he with a squadron somewhere? On a mission? In hiding? Where is he?"
Having long since learned that smart remarks only upped his discomfort, Jal remained as silent as he could, being unable to stop the screams that slipped past his lips. Reaching back into his mind he pulled up images of his homeworld. Having been through Imperial interrogation before he had learned that the best way to get through it without cracking was to concentrate on something he knew and loved. Slowly he thought back to ragged mountains he had lived near as a child, their eternal snow caps standing out magnificently against the glaring of the evening sun. The coolness of the lake near his home washed over him as recalled the swimming challenges he and his brother had often held. The simply joy of flying his ship between the mountain peaks whenever his mother wouldn't notice his absence to question it. She had never liked his risk taking stunts and tried to prevent them, but she couldn't.
"Turn the scan grid up two notches," Frankjo ordered as he saw Te Gniev slip into the inner recess of his mind. If the Rebel wanted to bury himself in the past, then he'd simply have to shock him out of it, literally. "Welcome back," he stated sarcastically as he saw Te Gniev rejoin them. "Tell me what I want to know and you'll be able to think of all you want."
"No," Jal replied firmly. "I've told you once and I'll tell you again. I will never give you anymore information so you might as well kill me now. It will make no difference to you in the end."
"Really?" Frankjo questioned, inwardly smiling as he knew that trying to get the enemy to kill you was a clear sign that the victim was beginning to crack. "We'll just have to see about that. After all, it won't make a difference to me if you die now or later, to you, however, it will."
Jal opened his mouth to reply, but screamed instead as the grid flashed another bolt of electricity at him. Deciding it was better to remain silent he tried to push all thoughts of pain from his mind once more, even as he made sure that his face didn't display what he was doing. This made the task a lot harder, but it was vital that he succeed, there was no way that he'd be able to bear the increasing pain of the interrogation otherwise.
"Major Frankjo," a Lieutenant said as he entered the room.
"Yes?" Frankjo demanded as he turned around to face the other man.
"Lord Vader has ordered your presence in his quarters right away," the Lieutenant stated as he briefly eyed the sweat and blood covered Rebel.
"Very well," Frankjo replied, dismissing the man as he turned to face the minor officer behind the scan grid controls. "That is enough for now. Take Te Gniev back to his cell, we shall continue this at a later time."
"Right away, Sir," the officer replied as he turned off the grid.
Knowing that Lord Vader had very little patience, Frankjo decided to head for his quarters straight away instead of waiting to make sure that the Rebel was securely placed in his cell. After all, in his current condition there was very little Te Gniev could do even if he did somehow managed to get away from his escort, which was highly unlikely. Exiting the detention center he hurriedly made his way to the turbolift.
Reaching the level Vader's quarters were on, Frankjo gulped down the fear that was beginning to stir within him. It wasn't unusual for interrogations to take this long, so it was hardly likely that he was going to be punished or killed for not having extracted the necessary information from Te Gniev yet. Although, with the Dark Lord, you just never knew what would happen next. Vader was simply too unpredictable. Most of the time he would kill officers who had failed him and then sometimes, for apparently no reason at all, he didn't. The only explanation that he could come up with was that the officers in question had either proven themselves in the past or that Vader saw something in them. But even that wasn't always the case.
Reaching the door to Vader's private chambers he raised his hand to press the announcer, when the door slid open soundlessly.
"Enter, Major," Vader's deep voice rumbled from within the room.
Doing as he was told, Frankjo entered the room and moved towards the pod-like structure that seemed to be the only thing of any significance in this particular chamber. Briefly he wondered what the other chambers contained, but he knew that he would never learn as nobody but the Dark Lord ever went beyond the first chamber. Reaching the pod itself he silently stopped and waited for his superior to turn his attention to him. Until then he would remain silent and wait.
Double-checking the wording on the form before him, Vader put down the datapad he held and turned his chair to face the waiting major. For a moment he said nothing, enjoying the increasing sensations of nervousness and fear that rolled off the man in waves before he finally decided to get down to business. After all, sending out bounty hunters wasn't enough, he had to go look for his son as well. In fact, things would be much better if he was the one who found and captured his son as the sooner he got the boy all squared away as to what was reality and what were lies the better it would be.
"I am leaving on the Terminator today," Vader finally stated, his voice breaking the silence that had only been interrupted by his respirator. "Due to the fact that this base has better interrogation equipment than the Destroyer I shall be leaving Te Gniev here. I want you to continue the interrogation when I'm gone."
"As you wish," Frankjo replied, relieved that everything was okay.
"I want to be informed the moment he reveals anything about Skywalker, no matter how insignificant it may seem," Vader continued. "Once you have all you can get from him on Skywalker, besides the necessary information, dispose of him. I don't want it known that he was captured alive nor how much knowledge he gave us."
"I shall do as you command," Frankjo assured the Dark Lord.
"You had better," Vader threatened as he gave the man's neck a momentary squeeze with his mental fingers. "For your own sake."
"Understood, my Lord," Frankjo responded fearfully as he swallowed while images of what it would feel like if his throat hadn't opened up again. To have his lungs burning for more oxygen that he knew he wouldn't get. . . Frantically he tried to push the thought out of his mind, but it wouldn't go, taunting him with the very real possibility instead.
"Dismissed," Vader stated as he turned his pod around.
Strapping his holster to his right leg, Luke picked up the blaster he had been given and put it into its holster. Looking into the small mirror in his room, he found a stranger looking back at him. Dressed in the pirate clothes that he was, he could hardly recognize himself. Walking over to his bag he pulled out the blue bandanna and tied it around his neck in the manner that he had seen several aliens at the cantina wearing them. Pulling out the datapad with the code phrases hidden on it he quickly called them up and scanned them one last time to reassure himself that he knew them. Satisfied, he put the datapad away before heading out to the galley.
"Hey, Chewie," Luke said as he saw the Wookiee at the food processor. "Can you get me something? I don't really care what, just as long as I'm not hungry until we get back. I don't even want to try the food at the cantina."
Turning his attention back to the processor, Chewie chuckled to himself. At least Luke was smarter than Han there. Han had needed to get food poisoning before he had followed his advice and stayed away from food served in cantinas. That was the one thing he disliked about the Corellian at times; his stubbornness. Albeit, it had saved them on more than one occasion, however, more often than not, it had led them into major trouble. Like the Taldor incident where Han had managed to anger the port authorities and caused them to be confined to the Falcon without permission to leave the port for a week and a half while the Taldor had contacted the authorities on Hgra where they had been caught running spice and were wanted. As things had turned out they had only just managed to get out before the Hgrain authorities had arrived to take them back for punishment.
Picking up the two trays, Chewbacca motioned with his head for Luke to follow him. Walking to the main hold, he placed the food trays on either side of the game board and turned it on, indicating Luke to sit opposite himself.
"Okay," Luke said as he sat down. "Just as long as you don't pull my arm out when I beat you."
Snorting, Chewbacca began his dinner as he punched in the necessary commands for the move he wanted his piece to do. Hesitating briefly, Luke countered with a move and it was only a few minutes later that he found himself completely on the defensive.
"Give me a break," Luke pleaded as he watched yet another of his beasts get clobbered by one of Chewie's creature. "Don't even say what I think you're going to say," he hurriedly added as he saw the Wookiee's raised eyebrow.
Laughing once more, Chewie gave Luke a small opening and was surprised when the younger man saw it and took it. Luke had clearly been playing against Han during the past few days whenever they weren't working on the upgrades Han wanted for the Falcon. Even a few days ago Luke wouldn't have seen the opening. The kid, as Han liked to call him, was learning fast.
"There you are, Luke," Han said as he entered the main hold. "How's the game?"
"How do you think?" Luke replied. "Chewie's giving me openings and I'm still losing big time."
"Well he does have a few decades advantage on you," Han said as he chuckled, handing Luke a packet small enough to be easily hidden in his hand. "You'll need this."
"What is it?" Luke inquired as he put it into his jacket pocket.
"Kiloa," Han replied. "Put it into your drink and it will dilute it a good deal so that you'll be able to drink it without coughing it all over the place."
"Euh, thanks I guess," Luke answered a little nervously, not liking the reminder of how he had embarrassed himself two days ago.
"No problem," Han stated with a wink. "Now, if you guys are done eating we can head over to the double P and get a good spot so that we can keep an eye on who is there and not get any unpleasant surprises."
"I'm done," Luke said as he got to his feet and picked up his empty tray. "Let me just put this away."
Coming out of hyperspace above Ord Mantell, Malson expertly maneuvered his craft towards one of the spaceports he hadn't used in a long time. He had long ago learned the error of following patterns whenever visiting certain planets. Therefor he always changed the order in which he looked up his contacts and even waited a few days between seeing some of them. He could not, however, wait too long as that would be like giving the bounty away to one of his rivals.
"This is Ord Mantell traffic control," a voice suddenly announced over his com. "What is your destination?"
"Jlsoin spaceport," Malson replied, knowing that while the authorities were a lot more lacks here than on most planets, which due to secrecy most visitors wanted, it was impossible for a planet that had the amount of traffic of Ord Mantell, not to have some traffic regulation.
"Very well," the voice stated. "Berth 106 is free."
"Berth 106," Malson repeated before he adjusted his course slightly.
Landing, Malson checked his blaster before pulling on a long coat that he didn't wear very often. Pulling up the collar and putting on a headdress of sorts he easily hid his trademark scar from view before he locked down his ship and left the spaceport. He had always liked to move around anonymously when approaching his contacts as it helped keep their existence secret which was vital as it meant that no one suspected that they sold anything and everything they heard.
Entering Pirate's Paradise once more, Han scanned the room the moment his eyes adjusted to the dimmed light. Seeing no obvious threat he started to look for an empty table and dismissed the first one he saw. It was too much in the open for comfort, which was probably why it wasn't occupied. Besides, the Quarren sitting at the next table was smoking an aljo pipe and he doubted that Luke would be able to take the smoke it gave off. And the kid's resulting coughing fit would be sure to grab a lot of unwanted attention like it had the last time. Letting his eyes roam the room further he caught sight of a group of aliens getting up from a table near the back and not too far from the band which would help to drown out their conversation from the ears of any unwanted listeners.
"That one," Han stated as he indicated the table to Luke who had been waiting patiently.
"Okay," Luke replied as they made their way towards the table.
Reaching the table, Luke let Han slid in first as the light didn't quiet reach the end of the table and his bandanna would be hidden from view in the dark if he sat there. Sitting down once Han was seated, he watched Chewie lower his bowcaster onto the bench between himself and the Corellian where it was both well within his reach but out of sight to anyone but himself and Han. Looking around the smoky place, he gladly welcomed the alien weight of the blaster at his thigh.
"Any idea when this man will show up?" Han inquired after a few regarding the band for a few moments.
"Not exactly," Luke declared. "Just that he will do so somewhere in the next two hours."
"Great, so we just sit here and wait," Han complained before he caught sight of the Twi'lek waitress from their previous visit making her way towards the table. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad wait after all, and the best part was that Luke couldn't see his face to see his facial expressions.
"Hello again, handsome," the Twi'lek stated as she reached the table and smiled seductively at Luke.
"Hey," Luke replied, caught off guard, but quickly recovering. "We'll have the same as last time."
Suppressing a laugh, Han opened his mouth to remind the waitress just what they had had last time when she replied. "Right away." Watching her go, Han felt his mouth hang open for a moment before he closed it, surprised. The Twi'lek obviously liked Luke better than he had thought for her to remember what drinks they had had two days ago. She served hundreds of different beverages in a day. That she remembered a face was natural, but their drinks?
"She likes you a lot," Han finally stated and smiled when Chewie agreed with him and Luke flushed a dim shade of red.
"What can I say? It must be--" Luke began and was cut off by a scream of rage from across the room.
"Cheater!" an Aqualish with a high pitched voice accused from the other side of the cantina.
"I do not cheat!" a masked alien replied indignantly as he got to his feet, his posture rigid with rage.
"Then what's this skifter doing here? In your deck of cards?" the Aqualish demanded as he too got to his feet, not noticing how the cantina had gone completely quiet and that they were the center of attention.
"Yeah," a Bith from the same table added. "No wonder you've had such exceptional fortune tonight. There is no way someone can win so many games of sabacc in a row."
"I didn't cheat," the masked alien reiterated as he reached forward and pulled the pile of credits that lay on the table towards himself.
"The where did the skifter come from?" the Aqualish persisted as he placed a hand on the gloved hands of the other. "I'm not letting you walk out of here with my money, you thief."
"Now you go to far!" the masked alien declared and, almost too fast for Luke to follow, he had his blaster out of its holster and had fired and killed the Aqualish.
Pivoting, the alien took aim at the Bith and cried out as he found himself looking down the business end of another blaster. Before he could react the Bith pulled the trigger and the glass part of his mask burst open as the sizzling beam of energy heated it on its way through it. As the alien slumped to the floor, dead, a dark purple gas snaked out of the broken helmet and hung in the air as the people at the surrounding tables hurriedly got up and moved away.
"What?" Luke questioned in amazement as people simply returned to their drinks and conversations when it was clear that the confrontation was over as the Bith took the credits from the table and left the cantina.
"What do you expect?" Han inquired. "Him to get arrested? Don't count on it."
"No, not that," Luke replied. "Well, that's not what I meant. I saw how you can get away with such things in the cantina in Mos Eisley. I was just wondering what kind of creature that was? The one with the breathing mask."
"Most likely a Narck," Han stated and continued when Chewie nodded his head in agreement. "The gas you saw was iodine and Narcks are the only iodine breathing aliens that tend to leave their homeplanet. There are the Jisons, but they like to remain isolated from the rest of the outside galaxy."
"Iodine?" Luke repeated as he looked back to where the bodies were now being dragged outside. "But that's poisonous!"
"For most races it is, but for Narcks oxygen is poisonous," Han said.
"I know that," Luke responded. "But hadn't they better ventilate this place somehow? I mean that was a lot of iodine that suddenly get released into the air of a closed room."
"Cantinas are, more often than not, quite deadly in more ways than one," Han replied as he shrugged. "We could leave, however, if it makes you feel anymore comfortable."
"It would," Luke admitted. "But I can't go, I've got work to do."
"If that's what you want to call it," Han stated.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Luke inquired just as Chewie gave a warning growl.
Turning around, Luke didn't have time to move his hand as a reptilian-like alien grabbed his arm in its claw-like appendage. "Where's Beslo?" the alien demanded as a thin tongue darted in and out of his mouth.
"She couldn't make it," Luke replied as soon as he got over his surprise and realized that those were the code words the contact was to use. "And neither could Liso. They're sick."
"With what?" the reptilian demanded as he nervously eyed Chewie and what he could see of Han.
"Bronsilzo," Luke stated just as the Twi'lek waitress came back.
"Here you go," she said as she placed their drinks on the table before placing her hand on Luke's shoulder. "My work is done in a little bit," she continued as she smiled at him. "I know a nice place we could go."
"Sorry, lady," the reptilian stated as he took her arm and pulled her towards him. "He's got other plans. Now, how about getting me an ale as well."
"Coming right up," she stated angrily before she moved away from the table.
"Luke?" Han questioned as he looked from his friend to the reptilian who had taken a seat at their table.
"He's the one we're here for," Luke said as he reached up and took off the bandanna, seeing Han's right hand was under the table and no doubt on his blaster.
"Yeah, my name is Kalesh," the reptilian introduced himself. "And you guys are?"
"I'm Skywalker, Luke Skywalker," Luke replied as he ripped open the package Han had given him earlier and carefully slipped the contents into his drink while he indicated Han and Chewie with his free hand. "That's Captain Han Solo and Chewbacca."
"Okay," Kalesh said before he turned his attention back to Luke. "Do you have the money?"
"Yes," Luke confirmed as he took a sip of his drink and was relieved to find that the Kiloa had worked. "You get half now and the rest once we have the goods."
"I know," Kalesh replied.
"Where is the cargo?" Han demanded, wanting to get off this planet as soon as was possible.
"Its in the old Mrazi warehouse three blocks from here," Kalesh began. "The supplies are stored in metal crates. Five per crate and there are seventy-five crates all together."
Hearing the numbers, Han was glad that the shadows covered his face to hide his amazement. Seventy-five crates of five meant that they were going to be carrying three hundred and seventy-five proton torpedoes! He'd better take extra care to stay away from any of his enemies on the trip back to the base. With that kind of cargo all they would need was one hit in the right place and Falcon would blow up brighter than the Death Star had. Looking to his co-pilot he saw his own surprise mirrored there, but obviously Kalesh couldn't read Wookiee expressions as the man continued as if nothing had happened. Studying Luke, he saw no surprise there either, but then, Luke would have known the numbers beforehand.
"In the warehouse you will also find a pick-up hovercar to move the crates," Kalesh continued. "You'll be able to transport only five crates at a time though."
"Why not get a bigger pickup hovercar?" Han questioned.
"Because anything bigger would draw unwanted attention," Kalesh explained. "And it is to both our benefits that this little operation doesn't get discovered by the Imperials."
"Okay," Han admitted. "So when do we start?"
"There is no we about this," Kalesh stated. "I shall be at the warehouse tomorrow morning to open it up, and I shall be back at night to close it down, but you do the rest."
"Now just wait a moment," Han began as he leaned forward so that his face was in the light. "What do you mean we do the rest?"
"I mean exactly what I say," Kalesh replied. "I am here to get the goods to your organization and to secure the interests of our company. Those were my orders and that's what I'm doing, nothing more."
"Now--" Han began.
"That's what the agreement said, Han," Luke interrupted as he pulled a bulging pouch from his pocket and slide it across the table to the reptilian who opened it to look at its contents before putting it in his own pocket. "We'll see you tomorrow at the warehouse."
"I'll be there at seven and return at seven in the evening," Kalesh informed them. "And one more thing; whenever you are gone taking a shipment to your ship, you are to lock the warehouse. The codes change ever night which is why I'll be there in the morning to give you the new code."
"Understood," Luke said before he took another swing of his drink. "How long do you think it will take us to get the cargo transferred, Han?"
"Considering the distance to the spaceport, the time needed to load and unload the crates, and any trouble we might run into, about three days," Han estimated as he pushed his empty glass to the center of the table and threw a few credits down next to it as payment. "We'll see you at seven tomorrow then."
Moving out so that the Corellian could do so as well, Luke finished his drink as Chewbacca picked up his bowcastor while he got up. Exiting the cantina, Luke pulled his jacket a little tighter around himself as protection against the evening chill.
"That went well," Luke finally stated, breaking the silence as they made their way back to the spaceport.
"It wasn't bad," Han agreed. "Although you could have told me how you were meant to identify the contact, the code phrases I mean. I was worried there when he suddenly approached the table."
"Sorry," Luke apologized. "But I wasn't allowed to let you know what they were until I used them. Those were my orders."
"Let me guess who gave you them," Han said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Could it possibly be her High and Mighty Royal Highness, Princess Organa?"
"Yes," Luke replied, slightly nervous at the way Han talked of her. "It was Leia who gave me those orders, but I'm sure that it was a Council decision."
"Leia? First name basis are we now?" Han questioned even as he felt a twinge of jealousy. Quickly he brushed the emotion aside. Luke's was a puppy love, nothing more and nothing less. Besides, it wasn't like he wanted the Princess for himself, now was it? No. All she ever did was get on his nerves with her 'the Alliance this' and 'the Alliance that.' The Rebellion was all she ever thought about and it was more than clear that it was her top priority. What kind of man wanted a woman like that? Not him.
"What kind of alien was Kalesh?" Luke suddenly inquired, hoping to change the direction of the conversation.
"A Tiss'shar," Han informed him. "Why?"
Waiting until the Tiss'shar got up and left the table after having finished the drink he had gotten after his companions had left, the Kubaz got to his feet. Putting the necessary credits on the table he too left the cantina, only through the rear entrance. Although he hadn't recognized the youngest human male nor the Tiss'shar, he had recognized the Wookiee and the Corellian. Personally he would never got after the wanted duo, he had heard of Solo's excellence with a blaster, but he did know someone who not only would go after them, but who would also pay him for informing him of their location.
Stepping into the dark alley outside the cantina, he pulled out his com and contacted the Slave I.
"Yes?" a hard voice demanded.
"Boba Fett?" the Kubaz questioned. "It's Hi-Lrng.
"What do you have for me?" Fett inquired.
"The location of Solo and Chewbacca," Hi-Lrng stated triumphantly.
"Where?" Fett demanded and Hi-Lrng wondered if it had been his imagination or if he had heard a little undercurrent of anxiety in the bounty hunter's voice.
"How much do I get?" Hi-Lrng demanded.
"The usual," Fett replied flatly.
"I want more," Hi-Lrng stated. "They're worth a lot those two."
"Then get them yourself," Fett responded.
"Ord Mantell," Hi-Lrng said, knowing that the bounty hunter meant what he said and that he paid more than most of the other bounty hunters did. But then, with his reputation and success, he could afford to. "Pirate's Paradise area."
"You'll have your money as soon as I'm sure he's actually there," Fett declared before he cut the com connection.
Sighing, Hi-Lrng turned off his com and, stepping out of the alley, disappeared into the night.
"It seems like events have transpired faster than we had anticipated," Mon Mothma stated as General Dodonna took his seat at the Council table. "I have just been informed that the Empire now knows Skywalker's name and that they have both alerted the fleet and posted a large bounty for his capture."
"How large?" Leia questioned.
"Two billion," Mon Mothma stated.
Leia gasped as she heard the sum. "Two billion credits?! That's... that's bigger than even the one for you!"
"Indeed," Mon Mothma agreed. "With that amount of money on his head, every bounty hunter or anti-Alliance person out there will be looking for him. Not to mention a few of our allies as well."
"We need to recall him," General Rieekan stated. "As Solo said, Ord Mantell is crawling with low life scum. This reward money would change their entire life."
"We could," Mon Mothma replied. "However contacting them directly might only cause them to be jeopardized further. The only way to safely contact them takes at least two days and by then they'll be out of there."
"How do you know?" Leia inquired. "We never did learn how long this mission would take. There are too many variables involved."
"True," Mon Mothma stated. "However I received a message from Skywalker right before this meeting began. Naturally its two days old, but it said that he had successfully contacted the contact and that they would begin transferring the torpedoes that day. Solo estimated the whole procedure would take three days meaning that they should finish it today."
"Then contacting them would be an unnecessary risk," General Madine agreed. "But then we are hoping that nothing went wrong to delay the process."
"We always take those kinds of risks," General Dodonna replied. "Think of the Death Star incidence for example. Which brings me to my next question. We all knew that the Empire would want Skywalker for what he did, but did any of you expect the bounty to be so high? It's astronomical and that doesn't make sense."
"He did kill over a million of their men," Leia stated softly. "And destroyed a weapon that must have cost Force knows what to make in the first place."
"I see where you're coming from," Dodonna stated. "But in the long run Mon Mothma or any one of us in here could cause more damage by leading the Alliance than Skywalker ever could. So why the immense interest? And where did they get his name so quickly?"
"To answer your latter question," Mon Mothma began. "Rumors have it that they captured one of our pilots. I have no idea if this is true or who it is, but with sufficient pressure he would be made to talk, especially if there isn't any hope of rescue."
"That explains that," General Rieekan said. "As to the interest in Skywalker, I must agree with Dodonna, there is something more to it than we know."
"Could it be his Jedi potential?" Leia offered. "He was, after all, traveling with General-Jedi Kenobi. Vader might think he has more training than he does and thus see him as a threat to be eliminated."
"Possibly," Rieekan agreed.
"We can come up with theories until we're fresh out of them," Mon Mothma said. "The best thing to do is to prevent the Empire from getting Skywalker and see if he has any ideas as to why they'd want him so badly."
"But what do we do with him when he returns?" Madine demanded. "We can't just put him somewhere where he'll be safe, that would be wasting his talents and be pointless."
"I say we make him a Squad Commander," Dodonna suggested. "We've seen his abilities and with some training I'm sure he'd do fine."
"That is a matter that needs more discussion time than we have at the moment," Mon Mothma stated. "But I do want the matter settled before he returns."
"Three more trips and we're done," Luke stated as he watched Chewbacca and Han secure one of the crates in the hold.
"Good," Han stated. "The faster we get that done the faster we can leave this planet."
"What's wrong?" Luke questioned as he handed the older man and the Wookiee the drinks they had asked for. "Don't like it?"
"No," Han stated flatly as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "Something is going to happen and I'd rather not find out what it is."
"Let's get the last fifteen crates then," Luke suggested. "Then we can leave tonight after going to the double P to pay Kalesh."
"Can't happen soon enough for me," Han replied as he finished his drink. "It's a wonder that no one has recognize us so far. Don't want to push our luck."
"There's no such thing as luck," Luke automatically repeated Ben's lines before he realized it.
"Maybe for you there ain't," Han drawled. "But I believe in it. I wouldn't be here if it didn't exist."
Luke opened his mouth to reply but closed it when Chewbacca shook his head in warning from behind Han. Realizing that the Wookiee was correct, he simply finished his water before putting the cup away. "Let's go."
Pain. That was all Jal could feel. Pain. Every nerve in his body screamed it. Every muscle felt it. The pain no longer consisted of separate bursts that were jolted through his body at random intervals whenever the electricity of the scan grid hit him, nor when the drugs were in him. The pain was now a part of him, his entire being felt it. Constantly. It was now hard for him to actually feel just when the electricity hit him or where he was being injected with another dose of some drug, the pain just steadily increased as time went on.
Faintly he heard Major Frankjo's voice in the background, repeating his questions over and over. Jal had thought that, overtime, the nature of the questions would change, that the Empire would want detailed information on the location of the main Alliance base as they were taking so much time to break him. But that hadn't happened, they still only wanted background information on Skywalker. Right now he wished that he had killed the kid. That young punk had no right to have taken his place and his victory.
"Give me what I want and we stop this now," Frankjo promised.
Aching. His whole body was aching more than he had ever thought possible. Somewhere in the past few days Jal had noticed that the Imps had stepped up the type of drugs they used on him as the older ones simply weren't getting the desired effect anymore. But the pain! His throat was beyond raw from the screaming and the major's offers were beginning to sound extremely tempting. Some part of his brain was screaming at him that the words weren't true, that the Imperial's didn't keep their word. That it was all a lie to get him to speak.
"Yes?" Frankjo suddenly inquired and Jal absently noticed that the grid had stopped spouting its electricity.
"What?" Jal questioned before he suddenly realized that he had actually spoken aloud and told them to stop.
With the realization came horror as he remembered the punishment he had gotten when he had told them to stop before as he would talk. That time it had simply been a hoax to get them to turn off the machines so that he would have a moment's breather. However the punishment hadn't been worth it. They had injected him with a drug so painful that he winced even in his current condition. He had heard the major wish that they could use the drug on him more, but that it was lethal if given in doses larger than those reserved for the punishment. The mere thought of having that particular drug in his system again was almost too much to bear.
"Well?" Frankjo demanded impatiently. "Will you tell me what I want to hear or do you need to be punished?"
"No!" Jal gasped, knowing that he couldn't take anymore, even if he had to betray the Alliance in order to stop it. "I. . . I'll speak."
"Good," Frankjo stated as he motioned for one of the two minor officers to bring some water which Te Gniev eagarly accepted. "How old is Skywalker?"
"Twenty," Jal said. "Or twenty-one, I'm not hundred percent sure."
"What is his homeworld?" Frankjo continued, knowing that the recorders would capture the information.
"Tatooine," Jal replied. "That's were he lived before he joined the Alliance. I don't think he had ever been off planet before the Death Star incident."
"Where is he now?" Frankjo demanded even as his mind raced. Never been off-planet before? Then where did he learn to fly and shoot like he had done to destroy the space station?
"I don't know," Jal confessed.
"Don't know or won't say?"
"I don't know," Jal hurriedly stated as he saw one of the minor officers pull out a syringe and move menacingly towards him. "I was placed with a new squad before he got transferred to wherever he is now."
Where was he then, when you were moved to your new squad?" Frankjo probed, knowing that any information was better than none.
"Yavin IV," Jal lied, knowing that the other man wouldn't know that he was doing so. The Imps didn't know that he had been injured and thus they wouldn't know that he hadn't been transferred to the squad he had been with upon capture until after the Alliance had changed bases.
Sitting at one of the tables at the back of the Malo's Tavern, Malson waited. He had seen all but one of his contacts and was still no closer to finding Skywalker than he had been upon arriving on Ord Mantell. If Kalesh didn't have any information for him, then he'd have to try a different strategy. The only problem was the fact that Skywalker being with the Alliance meant that he would be a hard target to find as he was already on the run even before the bounty had been posted on his head.
Scanning the cantina once more, Malson caught sight of the Tiss'shar entering the tavern. Briefly the man looked around before spotting and approaching him.
"Who are you after now?" Kalesh inquired as he took the drink Malson had ordered for him.
"A Rebel by the name of Luke Skywalker," Malson informed him and caught the surprised look that crossed the reptilian's face. "You know him."
"I've heard the name before," Kalesh replied. "Bounty must be pretty big for you to come to me for info. So, how much?"
"Enough," Malson responded, knowing if the other realized just how much the bounty was that he'd drive up the price for the information he possessed. "What do you know?"
"That depends on what you're willing to offer," Kalesh said even as his mind raced.
So, Skywalker was a wanted man. Despite the fact that Kalesh worked for the company supplying the Alliance with weapons, he had always done a little dirty work on the side to bring in a few extra credits. But then, by law helping the Rebels or supplying them was a crime in itself. A crime that was being pursued more and more lately. To be honest, he had been thinking of dropping the job as the risk factor was growing exponentially. Why not do it now when he could make a few credits of it in the process?
"Ten thousand," Malson stated.
"I want twenty," Kalesh replied. This was after all, the only money he would have until he got another job.
"Fifteen," Malson offered.
"Eighteen," Kalesh bargained.
"Seventeen, and not a credit more," Malson declared.
"Very well," Kalesh finally replied as a moments contemplation. "He's here, on Ord Mantell."
"What?!" Malson exclaimed in disbelief and suspicion. This was a little too convenient. "What's he doing here?"
"Picking up torpedoes for the Alliance," Kalesh informed the bounty hunter. "I know as I'm their contact."
"Their?" Malson questioned. "Who else is with him."
"Some human and a Wookiee," Kalesh said with a wave of his hand. "They're not important. I think they're hired muscle. I'll be seeing them tonight at Pirate's Paradise for the final payment."
"Pirate's Paradise," Malson repeated as he thought back to the cantina's whereabouts. "What time?"
"Eight," Kalesh replied as he followed the other's train of thought. "It'll be dark then."
"Yes," Malson agreed. "I think I shall be joining you then."
"How do you want to do this?"
"My Lord," Admiral Plat said as he moved to stand behind the Dark Lord who was looking out the viewport of the Terminator.
"Yes, Admiral?" Vader demanded as he turned around to face the man.
"We have an urgent message from Lansa," Plat said. "Major Frankjo said he had the information you requested."
"Transfer the signal to my quarters," Vader ordered before he left the bridge.
Entering his chambers and Vader moved to his pod. Sitting down he turned his com on so that it was displayed on the screen before him. "Yes?" he demanded as the image of Major Frankjo appeared before him.
"Lord Vader," Frankjo began. "Te Gniev has finally broken. He says that Skywalker is twenty or twenty-one years of age, he had no idea as to his current whereabouts, and he came from Tatooine."
"Tatooine?" Vader repeated, stunned even as his rage began to build within him. So that was Obi-Wan's finally betrayal. The Jedi had raised his son on a planet that they knew all too well life was miserable on. The one planet where he had sworn he would never return to.
"Yes, my Lord," Frankjo confirmed.
"Are you sure he does not know the whereabouts of Skywalker at the moment?"
"Yes, Lord Vader," Frankjo replied. "We used several means to try to force the information out of him, but he kept insisting he didn't know, that he was transferred to the squad he was with when we captured him before Skywalker got his assignment."
"Very well," Vader stated, slightly disappointed even though he had suspected that the pilot didn't know of his son's location. "Get ride of him."
"As you wish," Frankjo responded with a bow at which Vader broke the connection and leaned back in his seat.
Twenty or twenty-one is exactly what he had suspected. Any younger or any older and that child could not have been his. As it was, he knew that the age was closer to the first number. But Tatooine! In retrospect it made logical sense as it was a planet far from Coruscant meaning that it was easier to shield Luke's presence from himself and Palpatine and the fact that he wouldn't go back to that planet. But the very thought of his son spending twenty years on that dustball managed to increase his hatred for the now dead Jedi, a feat he had believed impossible before. He had spent six years on that planet and it had been enough to drive him nuts, but twenty! The news didn't surprise him as much as it could have though, it fit Kenobi's character exactly.
Briefly he wished the Jedi were still alive so that he could kill him again. Only if that were true he would make sure the old man suffered for what he did. He wouldn't give him a swift and clean death like he had done on board the Death Star. Even as he thought of Kenobi's death he could still hear his son's horrified cry of denial ringing in his ears. Only at the time had hadn't know that it was his son. The cry made him wonder once more just how well the two had known each other and just what lies Kenobi had told his boy. Just what--
His train of thought was interrupted by the beeping of his com. Looking at it he saw that the call came from the bridge. "What?" Vader snapped as he turned it on.
"My Lord," Plat began as he swallowed, hearing the displeasure in the Dark Lord's tone. "We have just been contacted by the bounty hunter Malson. He reports that he has located Skywalker."
"Where?" Vader demanded as he straightened.
"Ord Mantell," Plat replied. "Shall I set course for the planet?"
"Immediately," Vader ordered. "How long will it take us to get there?"
"A few hours only," Plat informed his superior. "We are close by."
"Excellent," Vader stated as he closed the com channel.
Things were going better than he had hoped. It wouldn't be long now before he had his son, and then he would know just how much Kenobi had told the boy. Once he knew that he could consider putting into action his plan.
As they neared the cantina, Luke wondered if Han's nervousness was beginning to rub off on him or if the Force was trying to tell him something as he was beginning to get worried as well. Unfortunately, though, he didn't have enough training to be sure. Every time he reached out as Ben told him to do he felt nothing. Simply thinking of how close he had been to learning so much about his father only to have the man who knew all the answers snatched away from him, made him sad.
Unconsciously, he slipped his hand into his jacket and touched his father's lightsaber which he had hidden in the inside pocket. Although neither Han nor Chewie knew it, he had been carrying the heirloom with him the whole time. Its presence there comforted him. It was the only link he had to his father and he wanted to keep it with him at all times if possible. Besides, who knew when he might need it?
"Let's get in and out as fast as we can," Han stated as they rounded a corner and the cantina can into view.
"Okay," Luke agreed as he reached the door ahead of Han and Chewie and entered.
Scanning the room as soon as soon as he could, Luke quickly caught sight of Kalesh sitting at a table near the rear entrance. Lifting his hand in greeting, he moved forward and had just reached the bar when he heard Han mutter a string of curses behind him. Turning around he saw the Corellian standing before a Rodian, his white shirt had a bright blue stain on it that had once been the contents of a glass which was now lying on the floor, shattered. Standing next to him, Chewbacca seemed half amused and half worried. Knowing Han, Luke knew how he felt.
"Why don't you watch where you're going?" Han demanded as he took a step closer to the Rodian.
"You shouldn't have gotten in my way," the Rodian retorted, swaying on his feet and clearly drunk. "You can buy me a new drink now."
"What?" Han exclaimed, his anger building. "No, you can buy me a new shirt. You're the one who wasn't watching where they were going, suddenly getting up the way you did."
Realizing that the argument was not going to go anywhere, Luke turned around and found Kalesh was watching the argument. Making his way towards the Tiss'shar, Luke smiled at him. Reaching the table he sat down even as he caught sight of the Twi'lek waitress across the room. She waved at him and indicated that she was coming over to him right away.
"Kalesh," Luke said as he turned his attention to the reptilian.
"I dropped over at the warehouse earlier," Kalesh stated as he entwined his claw-like appendages to hid his nervousness. "I see that you got it done in the three days."
"Yes," Luke replied even as he wondered at the other's behavior. "I suppose you want the money now," he continued as he reached into his pocket.
"Not here," Kalesh hissed as he scanned the room, his eyes briefly lingering on the argument that Han was still having with the Rodian.
"What?" Luke inquired.
"Not in here," Kalesh repeated as he turned his attention on the young human before him. "When I went to the warehouse I had arrived just as a squad of stormtroopers left."
"Stormtroopers?" Luke questioned as worry filled him. Perhaps his feelings had been a warning of the Force that things were going wrong. "What about the money though?"
"Go outside," Kalesh stated as he indicated the rear door. "Wait in the nearby alley and I will come outside in a little while. Then you can give me the money where there isn't a whole crowd of witnesses to see the transaction take place."
"Very well," Luke replied as he got to his feet. "Goodbye Kalesh," he said just for show and made his way towards the rear door with a quick glance over his shoulder. Seeing Han and Chewie still standing near the Rodian, he shook his head.
Stepping outside, Luke pulled his jacket tighter around him even as he made his way into the darkened alley and waited. Slowly the minutes ticket by and he turned around to scan what he could see of the alley behind him. Turning back to face the mouth of the alley he sighed and was just beginning to wonder if something was wrong when he suddenly felt a ripple of danger surge through the Force. Spinning around his eyes fell on a small metal ball that rolled out of the darkness towards him. Seeing the lights on it he was instantly reminded of the thermal detonator Wedge had showed him back on the base.
Briefly Luke froze, the fear and shock of the situation being too much. Then his instincts kicked in and he started to turn, but it was too late and with a blinding flash the small metal ball exploded.
"Me?" Han demanded as he looked at the Rodian before him and was about to say more when Chewie suddenly placed a hand on his shoulder and barked a question at him. "What do you mean where is Luke?" he replied as he looked up at his co-pilot before gesturing in the direction he had last seen the kid. "He's there."
Looking in the indicated direction, Chewbacca saw nothing but an empty table near the back where he was sure he had seen Kalesh upon entering. Worriedly he scanned the cantina once more before turning his attention back to Han who was still arguing with the Rodian. He had only seen Han so persisted over something so stupid a few times, all of which he had been worried beforehand. He had long since written it off as a way for the Corellian to vent his emotions and he had let it go at that. But now there wasn't the time for that. Luke was not in the cantina and something didn't feel right. Reaching out he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder and effortlessly spun him around to face him before he stated his observations and indicated the empty table.
"What?" Han said as his instincts kicked in and he looked around the cantina himself.
Seeing neither Kalesh nor Luke, he moved away from the Rodian who decided to drop the argument and left. Not knowing where his young friend could have gotten to, Han headed for the Twi'lek waitress. If anyone would know where Luke was it would be her.
"Hey," Han called out as he neared here. "Have you seen Luke?"
"Excuse me?" the Twi'lek questioned coldly, one of her headtails twitching with annoyance.
"Have you seen my friend," Han repeated. "You know, the blond one."
"Maybe," the waitress replied as she moved past him.
"I don't have time for games," Han stated as he grabbed her arm. "I need to know where he is." Seeing that he was getting nowhere, he sighed before claming down a little. "Look, Luke has a lot of enemies and I think he might be in trouble. Have you seen the two of us angry at one another?"
Searching his face, the Twi'lek briefly thought back to all the times she had seen the young man she liked. All of the times he had been accompanied by this older man and the Wookiee. They had seemed well acquainted and friendly with one another. Momentarily she hesitated, not wanting to interfere, but then, seeing the worry on the man's face, she sighed.
"He spoke with the Tiss'shar and then left via the rear entrance," she stated.
"Thank you," Han replied before he headed towards the rear entrance. Stepping outside he caught the brief flash of light that emanated from one of the nearby alleys. "Chewie," he whispered. "Stay here and watch my back."
Seeing the Wookiee nod his head in agreement, Han pulled his blaster free from his holster and quietly made his way towards the alley. If Luke was in trouble he didn't want to alert the enemy to his presence by making any unnecessary noise. Reaching the mouth of the alley, Han briefly looked over his shoulder to make sure that Chewie was okay before he turned the corner and stepped into the alley itself. Doing so he instantly noticed two things. The first was that all off the rubbish laying around had been pushed against the walls as if some giant hand had reached down and pushed them all aside. The second thing he noticed was the medium sized man with bright red eyes and hideous scar running down his face, standing on the other side of a few empty crates only several feet from him. Instantly he recognized the man as one of the bounty hunters he had seen at Jabba's Palace once, Malson he believed his name was.
Briefly they stood there, looking at each other before they both moved simultaneously. Malson moved to bring the blaster he was holding up, but Han was faster and leveled his blaster just as the bounty hunter leveled brought his up. Firing, Han watched the sizzling bolt of energy catch the man full on the chest, throwing him backwards.
"Chewie!" Han called out as he moved towards the fallen bounty hunter. Reaching his side he instantly saw that the man was dead, his chest a mass of fried flesh. Turning around, he saw his co-pilot reach the entrance of alley, his bowcastor up and leveled to fire. "Hey, it's only me," he stated just as his eyes fell on a body that was partially hidden from view by the crates. "Luke!"
Moving forwards, Han quickly pushed one of the crates aside before he stopped, fearful of what he might find if he turned the body over to face him. Suddenly a hairy hand reached past him as Chewie gently reached forward and turned Luke over so that he lay on his back. Unable to spot any immediate damage and seeing the soft rising and falling of the younger man's chest, Han sighed with relief. It was then that he realized how much the young man had come to mean to him, he was almost like the younger brother he had never had. Quickly he pushed those feelings aside knowing that he didn't have time to deal with them at the moment. There was no telling if there were others or if Malson was the only one and he didn't want to find out the hard way.
"What?" Han questioned as Chewbacca shook his shoulder before pointing to something lying next to the crate. Following his gaze Han caught sight of the empty metal shell laying there. "Stun bomb," he stated before his eyes darted about the alley. "Let's get out of here, now. The kid's cover has been blown, the Empire must known it was him and have posted a bounty. It's the only explanation for this."
Rumbling his agreement, Chewie shouldered his bowcastor before he reached forward and carefully lifted the unconscious man in his arms. Stating his readiness, he followed Han out of the alley and then they quickly and silently headed back to the Falcon.
"Lord Vader," Admiral Plat stated as the bridge doors opened and the Dark Lord stepped onto the bridge. "We shall be coming out of hyperspace above Ord Mantell in a few moments."
"Good," Vader stated as he moved past the man to take his customary place at the front of the bridge where he would have a perfect view of the planet when they exited hyperspace.
Just as he had been leaving his quarters he had felt a ripple of panic radiating through the Force from his son's unguarded and open mind. Something had happened to the boy. However, feeling no further emotions he assumed that Malson had successfully capture his child. But something felt wrong. Probing the Force, he found it unwilling to offer him any information. Knowing that until he arrived at the planet himself he couldn't do anything, he let his mind drift to other things.
He had just received a message from the commander in charge of the Kuat shipyards that his own personal ship, the Super Star Destroyer he had already named the Executor, was reaching the final stages of construction and would be completely shortly. Slowly a smile spread across his face beneath the mask as he thought of his command ship. Construction on it had begun a long time ago, but had been delayed when the Death Star had gone into the final stages of its construction as the help of the workers at the Kuat shipyards had been needed. But now his ship was nearly done. It would make things a lot easier for him to have his own ship instead of changing Star Destroyers constantly. For one he wouldn't have a trembling crew every time he boarded his ship as the officers would get used to him overtime. If they weren't incompetent idiots at least.
The first thing Luke became aware of as he awakened was the aching. His whole body ached as if he fallen down the West Slope at the outer edge of Anchorage. But that didn't explain the swinging nor the fur. He could clearly feel himself swinging ever so slightly and his face was propped up against something warm, soft, and furry. Moaning, he tried to turn around only to find that he couldn't. Panicking he began to struggle against whatever was holding him until he heard a reassuring growl.
"Chewie?" Luke questioned as he moved his head towards the direction of the voice and tried to open his eyes. Seeing nothing he repeated the gesture before he reached up with his hands to remove whatever was over his eyes.
"Good to have you back with us," Han's voice stated as the swinging stopped and Luke absently realized that Chewie was carrying him.
But Luke ignored this as he tried to remember what had happened. He remembered speaking with Kalesh and going outside in the alley. Then he remembered the Force warning and the. . . the thermal detonator. Only it couldn't have been a detonator, he wouldn't be alive now if it was one and he was clearly alive. The aching of his body left no room for doubt there. So what had happened? And why couldn't he see? Getting frantic he started rubbing his eyes, trying to rub out whatever was wrong.
"Whoa there," Han said as he saw Luke's panicked movements. "It's okay, we're friends. It's Chewie and me, Han. The bounty hunter is gone."
"My eyes," Luke stated, his voice clearly displaying his fear. "What's wrong with my eyes?"
"What do you mean?" Han questioned as the fear began to build up within him even as he glanced around the deserted street. "What's wrong with your eyes?"
"I... I can't see," Luke explained as he started to hyperventilate.
"You can't see?" Han repeated, stunned as horror began to set in. "You didn't look at the stun bomb when it went off, did you?"
"Stun bomb, is that what it was?" Luke inquired. "I thought it was a thermal detonator."
"Did you look at it when it went off?" Han demanded, the worried expression he saw appear on his co-pilot's face clearly indicating that the Wookiee realized where he was going.
"Yes," Luke replied, worriedly. "I was," he confirmed and started at the curse Han muttered. "What?"
"Nothing," Han replied as he bit back another curse. "Come on Chewie, let's get him back to the Falcon."
"Han?" Luke called out fearfully as he felt Chewie start to move forward again. "Han, what's wrong? Han? Tell me Han. What's wrong with my eyes? I will see again, won't I? This is only temporary, isn't it?"
"I hope so, kid," Han admitted as they turned a corner and saw the lights of the spaceport before them.
"Han?" Luke urged. "Tell me."
"It all depends on how close you were to the thing when it went off," Han finally stated. "If you were far away enough it will only be temporary."
"And if I was too close?" Luke demanded, knowing the answer as he clutched Chewie's fur tighter in his hands, but wanting Han to deny it.
Not knowing what to say, Han remained quiet and ignored the looks he and Chewbacca were receiving as they reached the always present hum of people going about their business at the spaceport.
Checking his blaster again, Boba Fett shifted his weight slightly so that his legs wouldn't go numb while he waited for his prey to arrive. Upon receiving word of Solo's location he had decided to drop his search for Skywalker and come get the Corellian first now that he knew where he was. Besides, despite having alerted all his contacts to get anything and everything on Skywalker, he still had nothing to go on. It hadn't taken him long to find the Millennium Falcon knowing that the Corellian liked an easy escape route and would thus use the spaceport closest to Pirate's Paradise.
Hearing a sound at the other end of the docking bay, Fett waited, watching as Solo approached his ship and lowered the ramp. Cursing silently, he remained in hiding knowing that until the Wookiee came into view he couldn't alert them to his presence.
"You two coming?" Han demanded as he turned from the ramp to look back to the entrance of the docking bay they were using.
Surprised, Fett turned his head so that he could see Chewbacca enter the docking bay, a human cradled in his arms. Instantly his frustrated sigh turned into a smile as he realized that this unexpected man was actually helping him out as he was tying up Chewbacca. Nodding his head in satisfaction he moved from his hiding place, his blaster held level and aimed at the Corellian who was already boarding his ship.
"Hold it right there, Solo," Fett ordered. "And keep those hands high and away from your blaster. And don't try anything Chewbacca or I will shoot him."
Recognizing the voice, Han suppressed as curse as he lifted his hands, knowing that he couldn't pull a fast one on Fett without Chewie's help. Slowly he turned around to face the bounty hunter even as he let his eyes drift to his co-pilot who had frozen in place at the threat.
Hearing the command and feeling Chewie stiffen, Luke was instantly alert. Reaching out with the Force he felt his mouth drop open in astonishment as a vision raced across his mind. Briefly he could see the bottom of the Falcon with Han half way up the ramp and a strangely armored figure standing to the far right of his sight. Confused, Luke blinked his eyes, wondering why he had been plunged into darkness once more after a moment of sight.
"Put the man down," Fett ordered as he moved his head slightly towards the Wookiee without letting Solo out of his sight. "And move next to Solo."
"Do it Chewie," Han stated as he saw his friend's hesitation.
Growling, Chewbacca slowly and gently lowered Luke to the ground, wondering at the confusion on his face. Surely he must understand what was going on. Moving to stand next to Han, he formed giant fists with his hands knowing that by the time he had his bowcastor off of his should that he'd already be dead.
"What's wrong with him," Fett demanded, indicating Luke as Chewie reached Han's side.
"He was injured during a brawl at the cantina," Han lied, knowing that Fett either didn't recognize Luke as he couldn't see his face, or hadn't seen the bounty on him. Which ever it was, mentioning Malson would only result in Luke being taken with them.
Suddenly realizing what had happened, Luke smiled, his hand slowly reaching into his jacket as a plan formed in his mind. Reaching out to touch the Force once more, he was once again able to see without his eyes as Ben had taught him to. Pulling his lightsaber from its pocket, he gripped it firmly with both hands even as he moved his thumb over the activation button. He would have only one shot at this, so it had better work. Summoning all his energy together he leapt to his feet and activated his lightsaber as he let out a loud cry.
Reacting out of instinct, Fett pivoted on his left foot and leveled his blaster at the new threat.
"No!" Han called out as he saw Fett fire his blaster even as his hand moved to retrieve his own blaster.
Feeling a surge of power flood him, Luke let it guide his hand, bringing his blue lightsaber down straight in the path of the bolt of red energy. Hitting the lightsaber, the sizzling energy was reflected by it and returned in the direction it had come from, hitting Boba Fett's armored arm even as the bounty hunter recovered from his shock and tried to move out of the path of the deadly energy. The force of the hit caused him to be flung backwards and out of the path of Han's line of fire even as he fired.
"Luke, get over here!" Han called out as he saw Fett take cover behind the crates.
Snapping out of the trance he was in, Luke turned and ran in the direction of the voice, too drained to use the Force to see where he was going. Realizing that Luke wasn't going to make it, Chewie jumped off the ramp and made his way towards the young man as Han fired at Fett's hiding place, trying to keep him from getting a shot at his friends. Grabbing Luke, Chewie hurried back to the ramp, roaring at Han to start the Falcon as he did so.
The moment Han's blaster stopped firing, Fett raised himself and leveled his blaster to fire. Seeing Chewbacca ascending the ramp he took aim and froze as he recognized the face of the younger man who had somehow managed to deflect his shot. Skywalker! Coming over his surprise, he fired, but only succeeded in hitting the ramp as it closed behind his prey. Cursing under his breath, he hurried back, knowing that he could do nothing against the ship while Solo could kill him.
Exiting the docking bay, Fett hurried down the hallway to another docking bay even as he used his remote control to start the preflight checks of his own ship, Slave I, which was docked in one of the other docking bays.
The moment they arrived out of hyperspace above Ord Mantell, Vader felt it. The wild and untrained signature his son left on the Force as he clumsily used it. Reaching forward he instantly probed Luke's mind. Feeling the potential there he smiled, knowing that he hadn't been mistaken when he had told the Emperor that Luke's Force strength could one day rival his own. It was all there, but it was practically untrained, just waiting for someone to come along and mold it to the ways of the Force. To the Dark Side.
"Lord Vader," Admiral Plat called out as he rushed forward. "My Lord, we have just received a message from Boba Fett."
"What is it?" Vader demanded as he turned to face the man.
"He says Skywalker is on board the Millennium Falcon and shall be coming into our range soon," Plat stated.
"Deploy the TIEs," Vader ordered as he turned to look out the viewport once more. "Tell them to capture but not destroy the Millennium Falcon. Prepare a boarding and tell them to put their weapons on stun. I want Skywalker alive."
"As you wish," Plat replied before he hurried to take care of his orders.
Lying on the floor near the closed ramp where he had told Chewie to leave him, Luke caught his breath. He had done it! He had used the Force to deflect a blaster bolt! Smiling as he fingered the lightsaber in his hand, he pulled himself into a sitting position before his joy faded and reality sunk in. He was blind, perhaps permanently so. Trying to stop the shivering that suddenly coursed through his body as the Falcon lifted off, he fought back the tears that threatened to flow down his face.
What would he do if he was going to be blind for the rest of his life? He couldn't be pilot of a spaceship, that was for sure. Would he even be able to remain with the Alliance? He doubted they would kick him out, but what could he do? He didn't want to be stuck on a base the whole day doing some stupid task that didn't require the use of his eyes. He wanted to be out in space, to fly among the stars has he had always dreamt of doing on Tatooine.
Realizing that he was only going to depress himself, Luke pushed himself to his feet and slowly made his way to the cockpit, his hands held out in front of him to prevent himself from running into anything.
"This is not happening!" Han declared just as he reached the cockpit.
"What?" Luke demanded as he seated himself. "What's wrong now?"
"We've got a Star Destroyer that's unloading TIEs," Han stated before he started flipping switches. "But they're not getting me without a fight. Man the guns Chewie."
Getting to his feet, Chewie briefly placed a reassuring hand on Luke's shoulder before he hurried off to man one of the two quad-laser turrets. Wanting to do something, but knowing that he couldn't, Luke remained silent as he strapped himself in.
Turning to the nav computer, Han quickly ordered it to compute the necessary calculations for a jump to Hinla. Looking out the viewport, he swore as he saw the decreasing distance between him and the TIEs. "Incoming, Chewie," he yelled into the com and got a growl in reply. "Hold on there kid, this is going to be bumpy."
Throwing the Falcon into a dive heading away from the TIEs, Han set his attention on an area of space that was unguarded and from which he could easily jump into hyperspace once the calculations were made and he got out of Ord Mantell's gravity well. Feeling the slight shiver resulting from blaster shots hitting the shields he suppressed a curse as he thought of their cargo and just how vulnerable he was. Looking at the radar he did curse aloud.
"What?" Luke demanded, his feeling of helplessness increasing steadily.
"We've got a ship approaching us from the rear and from the looks of it, it's Fett's ship," Han explained as he pulled the Falcon into a series of maneuvers that temporarily threw off the enemy's aim. "That's funny," he muttered when the TIEs fell back in behind them. "They're shooting to cripple not kill."
"I guess they know I'm on board," Luke whispered softly even as he was mentally kicking himself. It was his fault that they were in this predicament and he couldn't even help his friends by being in one of the two quad-laser turrets. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Han repeated without looking back as angled the Falcon towards freedom. "Fett was after me, not you. It's the Alliance that got us into this mess."
Opening his mouth to reply, Luke quickly shut it again. Now was not the time to get into an argument about the Alliance.
"Chewie," Han called into com just after the nav computer beeped its readiness. "Towards your left you'll see two TIEs, take them out. I'll be able to get out of the gravity well once they're gone."
Waiting until his co-pilot had taken out the indicated TIEs, Han turned the Falcon in the direction of their floating debris and went through it. Keeping his eyes glued to the instrument that would indicate when they had cleared the gravity well, he kept his hand on the hyperspace lever even as he distantly heard the remaining TIEs hitting the Falcon over and over, weakening her shields.
"Come on, come on," Han murmured and then pushed forward the levers the instant he had a green light.
"Did we make it?" Luke inquired as he felt the jolt of hyperspace.
"Yes," Han stated as he flipped a few switches before turning around to face his young friend.
Seeing him, Han winced. Luke's eyes were dully starring into space over his shoulder, unfocused and clearly unseeing. What caught and kept his attention, however, was the lightsaber clutched tightly in Luke's hands. He still couldn't quite believe what he had seen Luke do in the docking bay with Fett. Sure, seeing him do it on the Falcon with a helmet over his head and a probe was one thing, but against a living and breathing opponent was another thing all together. Besides, he had always dismissed that incident as a trick the old man had up his sleeve to get Luke to follow him. Some special programming in the training droid. But this. . . there was no way it could have been taken care of beforehand. And he knew that Boba Fett had a good aim.
Closing his eyes he could still feel the dismay and horror he had felt at seeing Luke leap to his feet and activate his lightsaber. The moment he had done it the intent had been obvious, the kid wanted to draw the bounty hunter's attention away from him and Chewie, but he thought it would end with Luke's death. Instead he had watched that blue lightsaber move impossibly fast to block the path of the deadly energy. And the stance Luke had stood in was that of a trained warrior, which didn't make any sense considering Luke's history.
"How'd you do that?" Han inquired just as Chewie returned. "How did you block that blaster bolt?"
"I used the Force," Luke replied proudly. "Just like I did with Ben. I used the Force to see and then let it guide my hands."
Han opened his mouth to give his opinion on the Force, but stopped. Although he didn't believe in this 'energy field' as the old man had described it to him, he had seen something which couldn't be. No human could move that fast, not to mention reflect a blaster shot when they couldn't even see the danger to begin with. So, if the Force didn't exist, how had Luke done the impossible? Sighing he thought back to all the rumors he had heard of the things Vader did. Could it be that this Force truly did exist? But if so, did that mean Luke was going to end up like Vader? Or did the end result depend on the person?
"Let's just head back to the base," Han finally stated, not wanting to bring up the topic and get some long lecture he wouldn't be able to swallow anyway.
Watching the Falcon disappear into hyperspace, Vader felt his anger build up within him. He had been so close to getting his son. So close and yet so far. By now his son could be on the other side of the galaxy or only a few systems away and he had no way of knowing which. His search could start all over again now. The only thing that had come of this failed attempt to get his child was that he was now sure of his potential.
Turning around, Vader left the bridge and headed back to his quarters. He needed to contact his master and inform him of what he had learned. He knew that it also wouldn't be long before he got another assignment to go with looking for his boy. Palpatine wouldn't continue letting him look for his son when the search could well take several years. He would get other assignments and have to put his search on the back burner until he got new information to go on. But he would get Luke, he would get his boy and turn him into a Sith. Of that much he was certain.
Entering his quarters he instantly headed for the communications room and knelt down in the projection circle. He only had to wait a few minutes before the air before him swirled and the enlarged image of the Emperor's face filled the space before him.
"Master," Vader said as he lowered his head.
"Do you have the boy?" Palpatine demanded.
"No," Vader replied. "He was leaving the planet even as I arrived. I did, however, have the time to do a better scan of his mind and his potential is more than I had at first suspected."
"Indeed," Palpatine stated thoughtfully. "Perhaps he can be more useful then I had at first thought."
Hearing the Emperor speak so casually about using his son as some tool, Vader felt a brief flicker of protest somewhere within him, but when he looked for its source he couldn't find it. The emotion made him wonder as he too had been planning to turn his son. So why did he dislike the idea of letting his master do so? Knowing that the question needed his complete attention, he put it aside for the moment.
"I shall give you some more time to continue your search," the Galactic Ruler was saying. "But then there are other things that need to be attended to."
"As you wish, Master," Vader replied just before the holo of the Emperor faded.
Watching it go, Vader remained in his position for a few moments before he got to his feet and moved to the other room with the pod.
Hurriedly making her way down the hall, Leia hoped that Luke was okay. The Falcon had arrived in the atmosphere above the base only moments before and Han had instantly asked for the control center to tell the infirmary that he was on his way there with Luke. Entering the docking bay, she made her way towards the Falcon as its ramp lowered. Her mind was awhirl with possibilities. Had they run into a bounty hunter? Or had something else happened?
Reaching the bottom of the ramp, Leia sighed with relief as she saw Luke standing next to Chewie, clearly not injured enough to be carried. Her relief quickly vanished however as she saw the way Chewie guided Luke down the ramp towards here.
"What's wrong?" Leia questioned and gasped as Luke looked in her direction, his eyes dull and unfocused.
"Leia?" Luke inquired as he heard her voice. "That you?"
"Yes, it's me," Leia replied as she stepped forward, her heart sinking in her chest as she waved her hand before his eyes and got no reaction. "What happened?"
"Bounty hunters," Han stated as he came down the ramp. "The kid looked into the flash of a stun bomb."
Feeling horror fill her, Leia instantly realized that the condition may well be permanent. "Come on," she said as she took Luke's free arm. "Let's get you to the infirmary."
"They know, don't they?" Luke questioned as he allowed his two friends to lead him, hearing Han was just behind them. "The Imperials."
"Yes," Leia confirmed as she looked at him.
"How much?" Han demanded, ignoring the looks Luke was receiving from the other Rebels in the hall. "How much is the Empire offering? The bounty hunter that was after Luke was one of the better ones and he doesn't go after small bounties."
"Two billion," Leia stated and stopped walking as Luke froze in place.
"Two billion credits!" Han choked out, stunned as he looked to his young friend who stood speechless between Chewie and Leia, his mouth hanging open in shock.
"Yes," Leia confirmed before she started heading for the infirmary once more. "You're lucky you only ran into one bounty hunter on Ord Mantell. With that price everyone will be looking for Luke."
"It wasn't just one bounty hunter, sweetheart," Han stated as they entered the infirmary. "There were two. One for me and Chewie and the one after Luke. Not to mention the Imperials."
"You ran into Imperial trouble?" Leia demanded as she turned to face him even as 2-1B moved over to where they were standing.
"Yes," Han confirmed. "But I'll tell you about that later when I tell the Council. Its a long story and I'd rather not go over it a million times."
"Very well," Leia stated, clearly wanting to know more as she turned to the doctor. "He can't see," she explained. "Stun bomb went off at close range and he was looking at it."
"Not good," 2-1B stated before he motioned to a bed. "If you'll get him there I shall run some tests and see just want the damage is."
Doing as the doctor said, Chewie led Luke over to the bed where the young man instantly got onto it. It was clear from Luke's dazed expression that the shock of hearing just how much money was on his head still hadn't worn off.
"How long until you know?" Leia inquired worriedly as 2-1B approached the bed with some equipment he needed.
"A few hours," 2-1B stated. "I need to run several test to be sure. I must also ask two of you to leave. I can't work with a crowd of worried friends hanging around. You'll only get in the way."
"Very well," Leia replied as she turned to Han. "The Council is in session now. Perhaps you can debrief us on what happened while 2-1B sees to Luke?"
Hesitating, Han looked to his co-pilot who quickly assured him that he'd remain with Luke and make sure that he got informed as soon as there was any word. "Okay," he reluctantly agreed as he followed her out of the infirmary.
"He what?!" General Madine demanded two hours later as Han was debriefing the Council.
"He reflected the blaster bolt with his lightsaber," Han stated, knowing how hard it was to swallow, especially if one hadn't been there to see it.
"That's impossible," Madine declared confidently.
"I know how you feel, General," Han said. "I can hardly believe it and I saw it happen."
"But he was blind!" Madine persisted. "How can he do something like that when he can see, let alone when he can't."
"Luke claims he used the Force," Han replied.
"Just like the Jedi of the Republic," Mon Mothma stated and all eyes turned to her. "Vader must have known he could do this. Most likely this is why he's after Skywalker."
"But he's only had a few days worth of training," Leia said.
"Obviously they did him some good," General Rieekan responded. "Although I must agree with the Princess. Surely that little training doesn't make him so great of a threat to the Empire, especially since there are no more living Jedi to train him."
"True," General Dodonna agreed. "However, Vader might feel the need to eliminate even those who have some training. Perhaps for nothing else than to complete the Purge."
"Whatever the reason, he's not going to get Skywalker," Mon Mothma declared.
"But what do we do with him?" Rieekan inquired.
"If his eyesight heals he will become a Squad Commander like we decided," Mon Mothma began.
"And if not?" Madine questioned.
"We shall--" Mon Mothma began but was interrupted by the beeping of her com. "Mon Mothma," she said as she activated the device.
"Ma'am, 2-1B here," a metallic voice stated, drawing everyone's attention. "I have the results of the tests run on Skywalker."
"And?" Mon Mothma demanded.
"The flash caused some damage to his eyes causing some of the tissues there to--" 2-1B began.
"Will he regain his sight?" Mon Mothma interrupted as she saw Solo roll his eyes and mutter something about droids.
"Yes," 2-1B confirmed causing a sigh of relief to escape both Han and Leia. "However it could take up to three weeks."
"That's fine," Mon Mothma stated. "Do what you need to do," she ordered before turning off the com. "I guess that confirms it. Skywalker shall get his own squad."
"Continue as planned," Vader ordered Admiral Plat three weeks later before he turned off the com and leaned back in his chair.
It hadn't taken the Emperor long to give him another assignment, but Vader's mind was still completely focused on his son. And confirmation of Luke's potential had only caused him to think more and more about his plan. If he could find and train Luke, then together they would be powerful enough to destroy Palpatine. Despite the enormous risks involved with the plan, it wouldn't go away. The fact that the galactic throne was so suddenly thrust well within his reach was a very tempting offer. But he knew that although the Emperor was aged he would still be a formidable foe, even if he had his son at his side.
There were still so many variables though. How much had his son been told about him? Did he hate him or not know of him? How completely had Kenobi converted the child to the Jedi ideals and ways? How long had Luke known Kenobi? Did the boy truly hate the Empire or had he just been told to fight it? What were Luke's dreams and ideal?
Shaking his head, Vader got to his feet. So many unknowns all giving way to multiple ways the plan could go wrong. But the plan was so tempting, not to mention the fact that he didn't want Palpatine to have his son. The child was his and he would have him. Although he knew that it was too early to decide whether to go with the plan or not to, it wouldn't leave his mind. He kept thinking about it. Frustrated he entered one of the other chambers in his quarters and ordered the computer to start filtering the air. He would think about it some more and make his decision when the time came and he knew all that he needed to.
"How are you doing, kid?" Han demanded as he entered the private room Luke had been given in the infirmary.
"Fine," Luke replied as he looked up at his friend. He had regained his eyesight two days ago, but 2-1B still wouldn't let him leave until he was completely sure that everything was fine. "What about you?"
"Me? Well Chewie and I have been finishing the upgrades on the Falcon we started doing on Ord Mantell," Han informed him as his eyes fell on the datapad Luke was reaching. "Getting ready to be a commander?"
"Yeah, you were correct in predicting my promotion," Luke replied nervously as he put the manual aside. "I only hope that I don't screw up. I mean I've never had a position of command before."
"Don't sweat," Han reassured him. "You'll do fine."
"That's what Wedge told me too," Luke stated. "I'm still not sure though."
"Wedge?" Han inquired.
"Yeah," Luke replied. "He's going to be in my squad along with Hobbie and Dack. The Council will give me a list of the others later, but those three came in here yesterday to talk with me."
"And? What did you talk about?" Han questioned.
"We came up with a squad name," Luke informed his friend. "Rogue Squadron."
"Rogue Squadron?" Han repeated with a laugh. "Well, that definitely is a good name for a Rebel squadron."
"I just hope the Council accepts it," Luke replied. "After all, its not the usual type of name."
"True," Han admitted. "But its nice to have some variety."
"Yeah," Luke agreed. "Now if I could just get a little variety in scenery I might be able to relax a little."
"Sorry, but I hear you're stuck here for another day," Han stated and couldn't help but smile at his friend's dismay. "Don't worry, as soon as you're out of here you'll get some scenery."
"Not really," Luke responded. "I'm stuck on this base for the next few months while the others and I get this squad together."
"There are worse things," Han told him.
"Like?" Luke questioned.
"Like not being able to see."
"Don't remind me," Luke responded with a groan.