~~ The Will of the Empire ~~
— The Will of the Empire —
Author's Notes: This is a predominantly Legends (Expanded Universe) AU and with 99% of the characters/dates/events/stuff taken from Legends canon; there might be a few new canon elements involved but their only purpose will be to help tie some things together. I'm not willing to go into any real depth with the new canon just yet, mostly because there just hasn't been enough material that I feel I could it effectively. Legends, on the other hand, has been so well fleshed out that it's incredibly easy to slip in an AU.
Aside from my own personal contributions to the story, I'm intending on drawing a lot of material from The Truce at Bakura, the Rogue Squadron series, and even the Thrawn trilogy. A lot of the material is likely to be close enough to Legends canon to be easily recognizable, but there will obviously be some changes to the sequence of events, timing, and certain characters' political affiliations.
If you've ever read any of my other stories, you'll know that I do not enjoy writing OCs and I do not intend for that to change in WotE. If there are people or events you don't recognize, chances are you'll be able to find it on Wookieepedia. I'm hoping for this story to be a good blend of serious storytelling along with regular interjections of humor (Janson and Hobbie, anyone?), but let me know if I start to dip too deeply into serious/comedy.
Because I'm working on this story while also attempting to finish up one of my other stories, Thor's Slayers, my first few chapters of this story might be a little slow in coming. I plan on alternating chapter releases between the stories.
Acknowledgments: The Last Will of Darth Vader by Supermoi was NOT the inspiration or foundation for my story. That being said, our two stories share similar elements and I would be remiss were I to fail in giving kudos to Supermoi. I'm sure there are other stories out there that also share the same basic premise, but his is the only story I've read that does so.
Disclaimer: It is my sincere regret that I am neither George Lucas nor Kathleen Kennedy and am therefore not the owner of Star Wars. Thank you to all of the wonderful actors, writers, producers, directors, and talented individuals out there that helped make the wonderful universe that continues to inspire me to this day.
Formatting note: Bold, italicized text within brackets indicate [communication through the Force.]
"I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new empire!"
— Anakin Skywalker (as Darth Vader)
4 ABY (Four years after the Battle of Yavin)
Aboard the Death Star
Endor system, Moddell sector
Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet, walked at his master's side through the assembled mass of the Empire's finest. His respirator was unnaturally loud in the otherwise silent hanger and though he'd learned to make use of the hated contraption, even use it to inspire terror in others, the sound still grated against his nerves. Beside him, his master walked slowly, a tap of his cane accompanying each measured step. Vader was aware that Palpatine's slow gait was a genuine product of his age, but he also knew that much of his master's seemingly frailty was an affectation meant to lure his opponents into the open. The Emperor might be an old man now but he was still a Sith Lord whose knowledge of the dark side far exceeded his own. Darth Vader knew that he would fail if he challenged his master openly, that he simply didn't possess the power necessary to destroy him. Not by himself, at least.
In his peripheral version, he observed Moff Jerjerrod, the officer of dubious competence who'd been charged with overseeing the construction of the Death Star, looking straight ahead as if determined that he would see and hear nothing. Darth Vader could feel the man's pride at following at the heels of the Emperor himself but also a desperate desire to be elsewhere. His uneasiness could've been a result of his proximity to Palpatine's foul presence but it was just as likely to be the cowardly, greedy, and callous coterie that made up the circle of Palpatine's most favored councilors.
As far as he was concerned, each of those favored councilors could go space themselves out of an airlock and suck on vacuum for all the good they did. Vader despised each and every one of the sycophantic bottom feeders that catered to his master's whims while jockeying for position within the Imperial Court. It was a lamentable fact that they were necessary for managing the minutia of the Empire or he would have happily killed them all long ago. It was even more lamentable that their efficiency in performing their duties was greatly set back by their own greed and lust for power and that any potential replacements were even worse. He withheld a growl of distaste and put the insipid courtiers out of his mind and focused upon his master.
Darth Vader found it as difficult as ever to tamp down on the rage he felt whenever he lay eyes upon the man. He had long ago lost count of the reasons he hated his master but Sidious would nevertheless remain his master until Darth Vader discovered the means to kill him, such was the way of the Sith. Glancing aside, he took the initiative and spoke first. "The Death Star will be completed on schedule."
The Emperor didn't turn his way, but Vader could feel the ugly smile that accompanied his air of dark anticipation. "You have done well, Lord Vader. And now I sense you wish to continue your search for young Skywalker."
Used to Palpatine's perceptiveness, Vader didn't so much as miss a step, though his answer wasn't immediately forthcoming. "Yes, my Master," he answered, deciding that a simple answer would likely serve him better.
"Patience, my friend. In time he will seek you out. And when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force," the Emperor assured him, tone eager and hungry.
"As you wish." Darth Vader's words were few and revealed little that might betray his thought while making a conscious effort to shield his thoughts as he contemplated the significance of his son approaching him. That, and the consequences of bringing his son before the Emperor, who would no doubt attempt to sway Luke and pit father against son.
"Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen," the Emperor cackled as he turned his disfigured, gleeful face toward him.
Vader remained silent while his master cackled, the laugh seeming to echo in the large, silent hanger. He didn't doubt Palpatine's vision; if he'd learned anything over the years, it was that foresight was an aptitude his master held in abundance. However, possessing the ability to foresee the future did not make one omniscient, for only possibilities were glimpsed, not certainties. His master, glutted with the satisfaction and arrogance earned by his purge of the Jedi and dominion of the galaxy often forgot that fact.
Vader gave no reply and continued to walk at his master's side, thoughts churning.
Twelve days later
Eve of the Battle of Endor
Darth Vader entered the turbolift that would take him to his master's throne room, still pondering the presence of his son aboard the Imperial shuttle that he'd allowed to land upon the sanctuary moon. It didn't require a tactical genius to know that his son's presence indicated an imminent attempt to destroy the shield generator on Endor as a prelude to a larger attack on the Death Star itself. But neither the Death Star nor the shield generator concerned him at this moment, only the presence of his son. His master had been right, Luke had grown strong in the Force, so much stronger than he'd been the last time they'd faced one another in Cloud City.
The bait the Emperor had dangled in front of the Rebellion had been taken and Vader would've been perfectly content to remain on the Executor to observe the final defeat of the Rebellion but for one thing.
His son was with them...
After what felt like hours, the doors of the turbolift slid open to reveal the dark chamber that served as the Emperor's throne room on the Death Star. Vader walked past the two red-robed Royal Guardsmen toward his master. The room was silent, a silence once again broken by the sound of his respirator and the quiet hum of the Death Star's main reactor. His master sat upon his throne, turned away to allow the Sith Lord a view of the stars. Darth Vader continued toward his master until he reached the steps of the Emperor's dais where he came to a halt and waited to be acknowledged.
"I told you to remain on the command ship," the Emperor grated out, his irritation at having been disobeyed lacing every syllable.
Darth Vader ignored his master's words, normally a dangerous proposition, and instead focused on the one thing, the one person he'd been focusing on for the last four years. "A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor."
"Yes, I know," the Emperor, still sounding irritated but with an added dose of amusement.
Vader waited a moment before adding, "my son is with them."
Palpatine had always been an exceptionally self-disciplined individual; if he hadn't been, he would never have been able to become Chancellor of the Republic, let alone destroy the Jedi. The Sith Lord's surprise was betrayed only by the brief pause after Vader's revelation and the spike of displeasure that had preceded the Emperor's cool words."Are you sure?"
"I have felt him, my Master," he answered, betraying none of the pleasure he felt at having surprised his normally cognizant master.
"Strange that I have not. I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader."
"They are clear, my Master," Vader maintained and gritted his teeth when his consciousness was casually probed by his master.
"Then you must go to the sentry moon and wait for him," the Emperor decreed with finality.
Vader blinked. "He will come to me?"
"I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you and then you will bring him before me."
"As you wish," he intoned.
Vader didn't allow himself to think of Luke or the Emperor's words until he was back inside the turbolift. To do so would have invited death or punishment for the betrayal he planned, a betrayal that couldn't be accomplished without Luke.
"His compassion for you will be his undoing."
Simple words, spoken in a way that should have filled him with anticipation for the end of Luke Skywalker and the beginning of something far greater and far darker. And it was anticipation, but one born of mixed feelings. He wanted his son, needed his son's power to defeat Palpatine, but for his son to come to him for the sake of something so foolish as sentimentality... He scoffed at the idea, at the foolish dreams of a boy looking for good where there was none to be found.
"His compassion for you will be his undoing."
He could remember the boy's screams of denial when he'd revealed the lies that had cast a veil over his son's eyes to turn him against his father; truth was a double-edged blade and Luke had learned that lesson well that day on Cloud City. Yet despite learning of the lies Obi-Wan had filled his mind with, the boy had allowed himself to fall from a gantry rather than accept him as his father. Except...that wasn't entirely true, was it? Just minutes later, he had touched his son's mind through the Force and had heard his son's whispered 'Father?' in return. Though the reply had been filled with the pain born from his wounds and the revelation of his heritage, there had been a startling degree of acceptance as well.
Vader's thoughts clashed with one another, trying to grasp how the Emperor's words about Luke's empathy for him would play into Palpatine's trap. The Emperor obviously intended to replace him, he'd been trying to do so for years and would pit father against son until one emerged victoriously. As for his son... Would Luke fall as easily as he himself had? Could he use Luke's compassion for him as a weapon against his master? Or will I allow myself to simply play the puppet for Palpatine?
One thing was certain; if Vader were to bring Luke before the Emperor then the struggle would be as much about turning Luke to the dark side as it would be a competition between him and his master to win Luke's obedience. For him, Luke represented the only chance he had to destroy the Emperor; for the Emperor, Luke would be a true replacement for his aging, damaged sire. Vader couldn't help but find it ironic that Luke, who represented so much hope for the Alliance and the Jedi, did the same for the Dark Lords of the Sith. But who would be disappointed when the dust finally settled? Whose hopes would be crushed and whose ambitions would be realized? When all was finally done, would the Emperor reign with Luke at his side? Or would Luke's death come at his own father's hands?
Without warning, Vader felt the Force enfold him, wash over his mind like an ocean wave as premonition held him within its grasp. Unlike his visions in the past, this one lacked the normal torrent of agonizing scenes or accompanying sensations of pain or despair. Instead, Darth Vader suddenly knew something he hadn't known before, a truth granted to him by the Force. Not even a complete piece of knowledge, just a small hint accompanied by an overwhelming surge of certainty that it was true: If he presented Luke to the Emperor, by the end of the day either two Sith would remain or no Sith would.
The first possibility was something of a given; if all three were placed in a room, there would be a fight between either the master and his apprentice or the father and his son. It was the Sith way for the master to seek more powerful apprentices to buoy his own strength while the apprentice would seek ways to defeat his master and take the master's power for his own. Vader had not lied to Luke when he'd spoken of his importance; unlike Kenobi, he'd never lied to the boy. Luke stood in the middle of a decades-old conflict between the Emperor and himself and the Emperor intended on forcing a choice on Luke and would use any tool and knowledge at his disposal to lure Luke to his side.
But the second possible future perplexed him, for it seemed far too implausible. The premonition hadn't arrived in the form of words, but the knowledge...the sudden knowing he'd felt hadn't shed any light on why no Sith would live. The possibility that the Death Star was destroyed while they were all on board or that they all somehow managed to kill one another like some ridiculous holodrama were both possibilities, however remote, but they didn't feel right.
"His compassion for you will be his undoing."
Had Palpatine truly foreseen that Luke would come to him voluntarily, driven by his compassion? The disdain in the Emperor's voice suggested that the boy believed he might somehow save him by turning him back to the light, was that true? Darth Vader scoffed at his son's naivete. After Bespin, he'd believed his sadly misinformed son would've understood the true power of the dark side of the Force, but evidently, his son remained foolishly idealistic and firmly grounded in the light.
How could Luke even feel compassionate toward the Sith Lord who'd cut off his hand and destroyed his self-identity? To a man who'd tortured and killed his friends? How could Luke be so weak? And yet he wasn't, not if the presence he'd felt on that shuttle was anything to judge by. It hadn't been long since he'd last encountered his son, not even a year, but Luke's strength seemed to have grown exponentially. Since their separation, Luke had been honing his abilities to great effect for he now possessed the sort of calm strength and control the Jedi cherished.
Darth Vader wanted to spit just thinking about the traitors, those weak vermin who'd believed they understood the power of the Force. Were it possible, he'd bring Obi-Wan back to life just for the pleasure of killing him again; Obi-Wan Kenobi had stolen his son, filled his head with lies, had enamored the boy to the Jedi, and had led him down a path to become a Jedi. His own son, willfully ignorant of the power the dark side held, and slowly, inevitably being spun into the web of Palpatine's machinations.
His son, the Jedi.
Two Sith or no Sith.
And therein lies the third possibility, an eventuality that offended him, that repulsed him, but one that would be tolerable compared to the outcome the Emperor most desired. But it was also one that was...complicated in its execution.
Luke's life might very well depend on whether he could be turned to the dark side; for if neither he nor the Emperor was able to do so, then Luke's liability as a Jedi would be a threat to the Emperor. Unfortunately, he was no longer confident in his ability to turn Luke, not when the boy hadn't broken on Bespin after having his dreams of a heroic Jedi for a father and his faith in Kenobi crushed. Palpatine was cunning, as manipulative as he was powerful, and his master would surely use the information to provoke his son against him.
Vader growled in frustration; he needed Luke's power to destroy his master and if his son were to die, then he himself would either face his master's wrath or they'd return to their decades-old stalemate. Even worse was the abominable possibility of being killed and leaving Luke to be Palpatine's new pet. Vader hadn't feared death in a long time but the idea of leaving his son under Palpatine's leash seemed a sort of perverse cruelty that even he shied away from.
Two Sith or no Sith.
He wanted his son by his side and even more than that, he wanted his master dead, but he couldn't find a way to make both happen. That third possibility, the one he found so repulsive, for only Jedi to remain... If Luke walked away as a Jedi leaving both he and the Emperor dead, would it be worth it? Would he sacrifice himself to kill the Emperor, saving his son in the process? Or would it be he and his master left alive, treading upon the corpse of his offspring as they sought out other ways to kill the other? If Vader no longer feared death, that didn't mean he was ready to embrace it yet.
A soft cough interrupted his thoughts and he realized that the turbolift had stopped some time ago and the door was open to allow personnel to entrance and exit. The source of the cough, a technician of some sort who looked, in equal parts, annoyed and terrified, waited impatiently to move past him to make use of the transport.
Vader observed the man, wondering exactly how much of an idiot he was. When the man put a hand to his mouth and made another polite cough, Vader has his answer. The Sith Lord reached out with the Force and lifted the man in the air. Maneuvering the man like a maestro might conduct an orchestra, the man's back bowed backward, more and more until choked protests became screams. Those screams didn't last long, however, as the man's spine broke with a sharp 'crack' when his body was folded in half.
Vader shook his head in disappointment; trying to hurry a Sith Lord might as well have been a plea for execution and far be it for him to disappoint. He stalked forward, ignoring the stormtroopers that edged along the walls to remove the body, and continued to ponder dark thoughts. The menacing aura that enshrouded him prevented any other idiotic officers from getting in his way.
"His compassion for you will be his undoing."
Two Sith or no Sith.
He would bring his son before the Emperor and he would show Luke the power of the dark side. His son would struggle, no doubt, but Vader had learned long ago not to underestimate Palpatine and his skills of manipulation. This thought, unfortunately, merely led him to his original problem. There were few favorable paths that the future might lead him down and the premonition he'd gained through the Force set aside a possibility he'd not yet considered. He supposed that if it came down to it...perhaps a few contingency plans might be in order. Darth Vader had never been much of a planner, neither as a Jedi nor as a Sith, but he felt certain that his new realization had been something the Emperor had overlooked.
Vader triggered the comlink in his helmet.
"Yes, my Lord?"
"Admiral Piett, I must speak with you in private on an urgent matter. Contact Admiral Strage and inform him that he is needed on the Executor and that you're to be transferred to the Chimaera to take his place. Be sure to impress upon the admiral that despite the change of ship, you will continue to retain overall command of the Fleet. Inform me if he requires...convincing."
"Of course, sir," Piett snapped out, collected as ever but unable to hide the confusion and worry about the reason for the transfer. Piett needn't have worried, if he was displeased, his punishment would not be so subtle.
Vader had gone to great lengths to cultivate the man as both a loyal and competent officer; that effort appeared to have paid off in dividends with Firmus Piett of Axxila. No other officer but Piett would even consider fulfilling the orders Vader was preparing to issue. "When you're on board, you are to inform his executive officer, Captain Gilad Pellaeon that several message drones are to be prepared for departure. He is to join us for a private meeting via holoprojector and ensure that he understands the importance of our conversation being undetected and unrecorded. I will send several documents that will contain the information that will require a level of follow-up on your parts."
"...of course, my Lord." Despite the initial hesitation wrought by the confusion about his superior officer's orders, Admiral Firmus Piett's voice was cool and confident as ever.
A reliable man, that Piett, and Pellaeon was intelligent and competent in a way few other Imperial officers were, even if the latter didn't share Piett's loyalty. If the Death Star was destroyed, if he perished and Luke somehow lived, then at least his son would know that compassion could be the undoing of more than one man.
Aboard the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer Chimaera
Orbiting the Forest Moon of Endor
Endor system, Moddell sector
Admiral Firmus Piett watched, white-faced and tight-lipped as the Executor plunged into the Death Star like a dagger into the beating heart of the Empire. No doubt the Rebels thought it rather poetic, a metaphor Piett reluctantly conceded to be accurate. Watching the flagship of Death Squadron, the pride of the Imperial fleet, burn like that felt like a blow to the gut. Despite the anger and pain he felt, he forced himself to watch as the 300,000 plus Imperial Navy and Army personnel under his command perished in the fireball.
At his side, the gruff, silver-haired captain of the Chimaera remained silent but glanced at him with a look of genuine sympathy. Firmus had never had any personal interactions with Gilad Pellaeon prior to the battle, but he'd found the man to be unfailingly polite and respectful without coming across as a bootlicker; Lord Vader had been entirely correct in his estimation of the man's reliability and intelligence as well. Piett had allowed Pellaeon to call the orders for the ship, but he himself continued to coordinate fleet actions against the Rebels. How was it that the Rebels could achieve such success when it had been they who'd flown into a trap?
Looking at the holodisplay that showed the battle's progress, Piett shuddered as he glanced at the burning wreckage of the Executor, knowing it'd only been Lord Vader's order that had saved him. Because of that order, not only had his life been saved, but the overall command structure of the fleet was able to remain, more or less, consistent. With both the Pride of Tarlandia and the Executor destroyed, command of the fleet had fallen to the Chimaera where Piett's presence had sustained the fleet's cohesiveness.
The admiral's lips twisted; the Rebellion was once again proving itself to be a threat that few Imperial officers ever took seriously. That dismissive attitude wouldn't linger for any Imperial officer that was in this system, of that, Piett felt sure. There were now, however, greater problems on his mind than the Executor, his opinion of Pellaeon, or of the Imperial Navy's laxidasical attitude toward the Rebellion.
With the shield generator's destruction on the forest moon, the Death Star had been rendered vulnerable, or at least as vulnerable as any armored battle station more than a hundred kilometers in diameter could be. But the Empire had learned four years ago that sometimes it only took a two-meter wide exhaust port to kill the unkillable. Now that victory for the Empire, which had seemed so certain just one day ago, wasn't so certain. Imperial forces had been routed on the moon of Endor by a barely-sentient indigenous species and a handful of Rebel infiltrators. In orbit, the Rebel fleet, while less numerous and less powerful than their Imperial Navy counterparts, was holding its own by making up for their weaker capital ships with the firepower and sustainability of their admittedly impressive starfighters; the Executor was a testament to the effectiveness of the strategy.
The certain victory they'd all been expecting was turning more desperate and being fought for even higher stakes. For though a victory over the Rebellion in this system would likely be the end of the Rebellion itself, a Rebel victory might be enough to sway entire systems to openly support their cause. And if the Death Star was destroyed...
It seemed impossible that the Rebellion should manage to destroy yet another Death Star along with a sizable portion of the Imperial forces within the sector, but the Rebellion had managed to accomplish the impossible for quite some time now. He prayed to every deity he'd ever heard of for the Death Star to survive or if it should be destroyed that either Lord Vader or the Emperor would be able to escape; the orders Vader had given him...
They were not orders he wanted to obey. He wasn't sure if he could even trust himself to do so, but... Lord Vader had been a good commanding officer, one whom he'd come to respect. Never warm or kind, Lord Vader had been efficient and would reward subordinates based on merit as opposed to the officer's connections, wealth, or station. Piett refused to dismiss any order given by Lord Vader out of hand; the man wasn't stupid, surely he had to realize...he knew they were genuine but what he'd revealed and requested was...
Piett put the spinning thoughts out of his mind and watched through the viewport as one of the Rebel Dreadnought cruisers exploded rather spectacularly and couldn't help his grim smile of satisfaction. Glancing back at the hologrid, he observed a TIE-Interceptor, marked by its distinctive stripes as part of the 181st Fighter Wing, engage and destroy one of the B-Wings harassing a nearby cruiser. Unfortunately, the Carrack-class cruiser, one of the Chimaera's own escorts, had been sufficiently damaged by the B-Wings' payload that it was venting atmosphere.
And wasn't that just typical of the Rebellion, their accursed ability to destroy that which was so much mightier than they. Piett paused and grimaced, and I suppose that just about sums up their entire military and political strategy for the last decade and change.
He sighed; he possessed no ability to see the future as Lord Vader did, but he would trust that the man knew what he was doing. One way or another, the Empire would endure, and if he was forced to carry out his orders, then so be it. But that didn't mean he had to be happy about it.
"There are Rebel snubfighters flying into the Death Star's superstructure, Admiral," Captain Pellaeon said quietly, "we've tasked Scythe squadron with their pursuit but Admiral, should they fail to destroy their quarry, the Death Star will be at considerable risk." The old man paused, look uncomfortable and anxious.
"Captain?" Piett asked quietly.
Captain Pellaeon straightened and looked his superior in the eye, "I've been unable to reach either the Emperor or Lord Vader to alert them of the danger."
"Jamming?" Piett asked with a raised eyebrow, hoping the answer was so simple.
The gray-haired man shook his head. "The signal is going through, sir, they simply aren't responding."
Piett closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. A flicker at the corner of his eye brought his attention to a short figure by the bridge's entrance. The brown-robed figure lacked any visible features other than gray-skinned hands featuring sharp claws; the creature nodded at him and disappeared in a swirl of robes.
"Vader's butchers?" Pellaeon asked disdainfully, having seen the figure as well. "They're here to enforce his orders?"
Piett elected to ignore the captain's questions and instead asked, "Captain, are the messenger drones are prepared? The other ships in the task force are aware of their orders?"
Straightening at the unvoiced reprimand, Gilad Pellaeon nodded curtly. "Yes, sir."
"Then, for now, we wait. Continue your attempts to establish contact with the Emperor and Lord Vader," Piett decreed with a false calm.
Admiral Piett folded his hands behind his back and continued to watch the battle's progress, praying that he wouldn't have to carry out Vader's orders. What was even worse was the knowledge of what might befall the Empire if he didn't.
Aboard the Death Star
Anakin Skywalker gritted his teeth at the pain that licked up and down his body, managing to force air into his damaged lungs by sheer dint of will. At his side, Luke continued to help support his weight as they made their way to the hanger, but Anakin knew his time was quickly running out. Around them, stormtroopers, maintenance workers, and technicians of all types ran about, now aware of the danger the Death Star had found itself in. In fact, so consuming was their fear that he and his son were ignored as they limped their way to a Lambda-class shuttle. Oh, how quickly the lauded discipline of the Empire has shattered, he mused.
He stumbled slightly when a connection to one of his artificial legs shorted out, an effect of Palpatine's barrage of Force lightning. Anakin wanted to ask Luke about his life, about his sister, wanted to know about his children, wanted to have his family. But he didn't have time for that, leaving only one thing left for him to do: the right thing. What little time he had left would be spent trying to help pay what little restitution he could for the horrors and atrocities he'd visited upon the galaxy. It's what Padmè would have wanted and it's what his daughter would have demanded.
23 years since he'd made the worse decision of his life, first of a series of terrible decisions. The plan he'd developed in the event that Luke survived when neither he nor the Emperor had, that would have to serve as his apology. Doing so would place Luke in great danger, perhaps destroy his reputation among many of his comrades, and it would weigh the boy down with a responsibility no man should have to face alone. But Luke wasn't alone and his son had proven himself to be so much stronger than he'd ever been.
Stop thinking and do, he counseled himself; before speaking to his son for the last time, he had to make sure Luke's future was secure. Lost in his thoughts, Anakin almost collapsed when he took a wobbly step but managed to right himself before continuing forward. He grimaced, Luke was going to be kriffing mad at him for the things ordered on his behalf. But Anakin was willing to risk his son's ire; his son was far too good of a person to take the necessary actions to cleanse the Empire of the filth that was so pervasive among its rich and powerful. It was almost funny that even having turned back to the light, he had no problem with planning the deaths of individuals that he, as a Sith, had compiled.
Scarcely moving his lips, he subvocalized a series of modifications to his original orders, transmitting them to the Chimaera as he finished. Then there was the message he'd intended on sending to Honoghr... They should know the truth, but the knowing would place his children's lives in danger. He wanted them to serve his son, to protect him, and to kill for him if needed, but Anakin wouldn't have them do it on a foundation built on Vader's lies, not anymore. He rewrote the message the messenger drone contained, adding in a single detail that he'd shared with no one else, not even Admiral Piett.
Anakin had a daughter, one who fought against Empire, a daughter who had been forced to watch as her world burned, forced. He ignored the flare of guilt the memory ignited and continued his adjustment to the original message. The Noghri were a matriarchal society and having sired a daughter who opposed him, having known the pain of a destroyed world, would spark their interest even more than the existence of a son. Perhaps it might provoke enough interest that they'd seek out his children, hoping to find the help that their father had falsely delivered. Whether or not Anakin had betrayed them, they still needed to save their world and he hoped that his children would do better by the gray, reptilian race than he had.
He hissed as one of his lungs constricted suddenly and he would've toppled if not for his son. Luke held him, waited until the spasm ended and then continued their measured pace. There were more shouts and groups of people running about and Anakin had the sneaking suspicion that Moff Jerjerrod had ordered an evacuation of non-essential personnel; the man appeared to have some initiative after all. Anakin glanced up to see that he and Luke had finally made it into the hanger and were making a beeline to the nearest shuttle. He sent all of the information he'd assembled to the Chimaera and nearly let out a sigh of relief, knowing that he'd made his last act one that he could be proud of.
He focused on putting one foot in front of the next, trying to ease the weight from his son but his strength was fading fast. Anakin made it all the way to the shuttle before he lost the strength to remain upright and allowed himself to fall back onto the shuttle's the ramp. He closed his eyes in relief when he received the Admiral Piett's acknowledgment and activated the comlink in his mask and opened his eyes to stare at the image of his concerned son, tinted red by his mask.
He put the comlink out of his mind to focus on what was important: his son. It was intolerable, that red washed image of his child; he needed to see his son. "Luke, help me take this mask off," he gasped.
"But you'll die," his son argued, his face etched with worry.
"His compassion for you will be his undoing."
There were very few times where his master's foresight had so completely failed him, but Luke had taken his master's visions and blasted them into space dust. His master's arrogance had blinded him to the other paths the future might take, to how compassion could be a strength instead of a weakness. Luke's compassion for him or his sister could have been the young Jedi's doom, but it had instead destroyed Darth Vader and freed Anakin Skywalker to do what he should've done 23 years ago. Though the cost had been his life, it was a price he'd gladly pay again if it meant that Darth Sidious finally met his end.
Anakin smiled faintly, imagining that he could hear the faraway voice of Obi-Wan grumbling, "well, it's better late than never!"
With Darth Sidious destroyed, his earlier premonition that either two Sith or no Sith would emerge victoriously had been fulfilled. No Sith remained, only the two Jedi, soon to be only one.
Anakin looked through his accursed helmet at the face of his son. He didn't deserve Luke Skywalker, didn't deserve his compassion, but Luke offered it nonetheless. There is so much of Padmè's spirit inside of him...
"Nothing can stop that now. Just for once...let me look on you with my own eyes." Anakin struggled to say the words, but he felt a desperate need to know the face of his son, to see the face that had saved him. He needed to see the face of at least one of his children and he very much doubted that his daughter would care for a reunion.
Slowly, carefully, his son finally obeyed his wishes and it wasn't long before fresh air kissed his pale. scarred skin. It wouldn't be long now till he met his end, mere minutes before he'd join the Force. He supposed it was fitting that only at the end of his life could he understand and accept Yoda's words to 'let go of everything' and accept his fate.
Looking down upon him, Luke's blue eyes, so much like his own, were fastened upon his and he couldn't help the weary smile that curled his lips. That face, his son's face, so much like his own but tempered by softer features that could only have come from his wife. He was perfect.
Darkness began to creep at the corners of Anakin's vision and each breath became harder and more painful. The shouts in the background made him refocus upon his son. "Now...go, my son. Leave me."
"No. You're coming with me. I can't leave you here. I've got to save you," his son stated earnestly, holding him in a desperate grip as if afraid to let go.
This, after everything I've done...
"You already have, Luke. You were right about me," he took a breath and used what little strength he still possessed to turn off the comlink and whisper, "tell your sister...you were right." The blackness began to enshroud him and Anakin allowed his muscles to finally relax. His son would live and his daughter would stay safe and unknown to all but the Noghri; that was more than enough for him to die in peace.
Falling back to the ramp, he heard Luke's distant, "Father...I won't leave you!"
Anakin Skywalker let go and surrendered himself to the Force.
Aboard the Chimaera
There are moments in every person's life that fundamentally alter who they are and what they believe, moments where they discover something that forces them to confront their self-identity. When those moments happen, the paradigm by which that person views the world will change to account for that new input, a process that can often be a messy, painful thing. Fear, bitterness, confusion, and dismay were all emotions felt quite keenly by Admiral Firmus Piett on the day the Emperor and Lord Vader died, less than a day after learning exactly who Luke Skywalker was.
Learning that Luke Skywalker was not only the offspring of Lord Vader, but that he'd been declared as Lord Vader's heir despite the fact that Skywalker was actively rebelling against the current Emperor, who may or may not have wanted Skywalker dead—it was enough to give anyone a headache, and Firmus Piett was no exception. Ever since he and Pellaeon had received their initial instructions the night before, the headache he'd often come to associate with Luke Skywalker had once again become a steady, unwanted companion. His overall distress had just begun to wane when he'd received Vader's message informing him of the Emperor's passing, news that had fueled his dread of the battle's outcome by an order of magnitude. He kept a calm facade, of course; he was an admiral in the Imperial Navy and the day he allowed his feelings to overrule his ability to command was the day he'd resign his commission and try his hand at farming on Vjun or, if he was feeling particularly adventurous, Hoth.
In the midst of the largest space battle the galaxy had seen since the Clone Wars, the two senior officers of the Chimaera had received a second message revealing that he, Lord Vader, would be assuming the throne. On the heels of that revelation, 'Emperor' Vader had informed them that he himself would soon be dead. In that seemingly endless moment, not even the crimson and emerald turbolaser blasts exchanged in the blackness of space, the exploding starfighters flashing in the viewport like fireflies, or even the cruisers fragmenting into so much space debris were able to steal their attention from Vader's words. Those words and the consequences they held for the Empire, for the entire galaxy, held him transfixed. The look of utter dread he'd shared with Pellaeon only gained a bitter edge when Lord Vader reaffirmed his desire for them to fulfill their adjusted mandate.
To Firmus Piett, one of the worst aspects of those orders was that Vader's reasoning for placing his son on the throne wasn't entirely unsound. The concept of putting any Rebel in a place of power within the Empire seemed tantamount to treason—no, it was treason. But for the son of Lord Vader...well that was the sort of gray area no one would want to explore. Because few understood the subtleties of the Force, Skywalker would fall into the same category as his father; the boy's power and skills were unknown and mysterious and were, therefore, to be feared. As the declared heir of Lord Vader, Skywalker claimed a legitimacy to the throne no other subject of the Empire possessed.
One then had to consider all the charming, wealthy, influential, and utterly repulsive potential competitors that would be vying for power the moment word of Emperor Palpatine and Lord Vader's deaths hit the HoloNet. Having met a number of the Imperial councilors, Grand Admirals, and Moffs that made up that pool, on the basis of personal appeal alone, Skywalker was by far the most preferable.
And doesn't that just say something about the movers and shakers of the Empire, Piett thought bitterly.
After he and Pellaeon had made their hesitant objections the night before, Vader had pointed out that Skywalker's...status might present an opportunity for genuine peace negotiations. Piett had been tempted to scoff at the notion, but given how poorly the Empire's current strategy of galactic peacekeeping was faring, he supposed he might've been somewhat hasty in his judgment. Peace imposed by force, a tactic that hadn't worked for the Empire since ever, appeared to have lost its charm for Lord Vader. To be fair to the man's terrifying reputation, Lord Vader had sounded like he'd wanted to murder somebody for the admission, but Vader had nonetheless remained adamant in his instructions.
One thing at a time, he reminded himself gloomily, it's not over yet. The Death Star still remains and who knows, maybe the Emperor had a secret child no one ever knew about. Piett paused and cringed at the mental picture of Emperor Palpatine playing a doting father.
The soft beep of his comlink captured his attention and he immediately activated his earpiece and tapped the device to answer. Across the bridge, he saw Pellaeon do the same.
"My Lord?" Piett asked quietly.
"Open...the channel...for the bridge," Vader ordered, panting in obvious pain as he did so. "This is for your...s-safety...and verbal affirmation...of your or-orders..."
Piett took a look at the hologrid and grimaced. They were in the middle of a kriffing battle; this was not the time for distractions. But orders were orders...
As if he'd heard his thoughts, Captain Pellaeon directed the Chimaera's navigation crew to take the ship to a relatively safer location within the battle group. Piett nodded approvingly and ordered a nearby Victory Star Destroyer to take their place. He then pinged Vader an acknowledgment while Pellaeon accessed the nearby comm terminal as Vader had ordered.
Moments later, heavy breathing echoed throughout the bridge, but not the distinctive, artificial breathing of a man they'd all feared, but shallow, pain-filled breathing. It took a full minute for most of the bridge's occupants to comprehend that the weak, frail voice they heard was Vader's true voice, but that revelation was dwarfed by the information he divulged next. Vader didn't tell them everything, but he said enough to support the admiral's future orders, orders that many would consider treason, information that provided enough context to give the men an idea of who they might be soon calling their Emperor.
Those last words, the proof Lord Vader offered of his son's existence, were somehow more profound, more important for reasons they themselves didn't understand. And so they listened in silence, privy to the last conversation between a father and his son.
Piett stared at the communications terminal that had broadcast the private channel to the bridge as if it had turned into one of those abhorrent Coruscanti duracrete slugs. Then again, Firmus supposed it was even worse than that; those pests didn't possess the ability to shatter an empire by their mere existence. Despite their being in the middle of a battle, the Chimaera's bridge was silent; every person had heard Vader speak to a man he'd called 'my son' just as they'd heard the other man call Lor—Emperor Vader 'Father'. The faces of the bridge crew were pale, confused, even frightened. Piett didn't blame them one bit.
"Captain Pellaeon," he said in a calm, collected voice. "Dispatch messenger drones to the predesignated points at Nirauan, Honoghr, Tatooine, and Imperial Center. Contact the captains of the Avenger, Tyrant, Protector, and—"
There was a brilliant flash in the viewport that forced Piett to raise a hand to shield his eyes. Moments later and he discovered a spacescape that was minus one Death Star. The Rebels did it, Piett thought incredulously, they destroyed another Death Star. The Emperor, Lord Vader, the Executor, all lost. The Emperor is dead and so...
The explosion of the Death Star had only served to punctuate how thoroughly their universe had just changed. Despite having been bombarded with the information Vader had revealed, the Chimaera's navigation officers performed admirably, maneuvering the ship out of the path of debris flung throughout the system by the Death Star's destruction. Even as they did so, Piett hastily examined the holographic display of the system, issuing orders to keep the fleet in a relatively cohesive formation but his efforts were hampered by whatever brilliant bastard was in charge of the Rebel fleet. The leader of that ramshackle fleet had taken the destruction of the Death Star as a clear signal to re-engage with a disturbing amount of enthusiasm. The Rebels had been quick to begin a ruthless pursuit of the Imperial vessels, destroying or more often disabling the already damaged ships that lagged behind.
"Sir?" Captain Pellaeon prompted, looking just as pale and shaky as he himself felt.
Admiral Piett glanced at him and nodded and looked at the holodisplay display of the battle. He inwardly cringed when he observed one of the smaller Victory-class Star Destroyers nearby began to collapse under a withering barrage of turbolaser fire emanating from one of the larger Rebel Mon Calamari cruisers and two of those thrice-damned Corellian DP20 gunships.
"Is there any evidence that Skywalker made it off the Death Star?" Piett asked in a quiet but commanding voice. He didn't dare search his feelings for what he hoped the answer might be. Whatever he discovered, the orders he'd been entrusted with would be fulfilled.
The communications officer placed a hand over his earpiece while he typed out various commands on his console. Piett watched the man's eyebrows furrow before stiffening and closing his eyes.
The man looked him in the eye. "Admiral, an Imperial shuttle leaving the Death Star sent a message to an A-Wing flight that was in pursuit. Com-scan only caught "Skywalker" before the Death Star...before the Death Star was destroyed. The interference from the reactor's explosion prevented us from intercepting any more of the communication. Major Rashon, of Obsidian Squadron, was able to get close enough to visually confirm the shuttle's survival as well as its being unmolested by Rebel snubfighters."
Firmus Piett took a deep breath and prepared to issue orders that might very likely result in a death sentence. "Order the ships designated by Lord Vader as Task Force Veré to recall all fighters and reassemble around Megiddo, point theta. Direct our escort ships to keep Rebel starfighters from harassing the cruisers while they disengage. Send a general order for the rest of the fleet to make best speed to Annaj to conduct repairs; command of the battle group is to fall under Admiral Blitzer Harrsk and Ilthmar's Fist. They are to remain there until they receive further instructions. Have those messenger drones been sent?"
A young blonde-haired ensign nearby glanced up from his station. "Yes Admiral, all four messenger drones have launched and jumped into hyperspace."
"Captain—I apologize, Admiral!" a male voice called out. "Captain Pryl of the Thunderflare appears to be refusing your orders and is no longer responding to our communication attempts. He's withdrawing from the battle but the Thunderflare's current heading would remove it from this sector and on course for the Elrood sector instead."
"What of the escorts?" Pellaeon asked quietly.
"All but two frigates and three strike cruisers are obeying your orders," the man, a lieutenant, replied. "Those five ships haven't made any attempt to disengage from the battle."
Piett shook his head. Five minutes after the death of the Emperor and already the Imperial Navy was beginning to break.
The blonde ensign stood abruptly, catching the Admiral's attention. "Update, Admiral. The Pulsar has been disabled and Rebel boarding operations are in progress. The Accuser is unable to withdraw from combat and has reported a severe hull breach that is forcing them to evacuate the ship."
"I...see. Very well," Piett acknowledged, feeling very old all of a sudden. He studied the plot for a moment, feeling a pang of sadness at the Accuser's situation. He would have to leave without his old ship and trust that his crew would somehow be able to retreat from the system. He glanced at the comlink he still held in his hand and shuddered at the new weight of responsibility that had descended upon him. "Continue to organize and assemble the task force at point theta, Captain, and make the jump to Imperial Center once all ships have been accounted for. I'll be making use of your office, please join me when we've made the jump into hyperspace."
"Yes sir," Captain Gilad Pellaeon acknowledged and walked away quietly to speak with one of his bridge officers.
Firmus Piett left the bridge, lost in his thoughts of what had been lost and what the future might hold for him, for the Empire, and for the galaxy itself. He walked for a long time before arriving at a viewport in a more isolated section of the ship. There he found himself looking at the assembling group of ships, few of which had emerged unscathed from the battle. Indeed, even as he watched, a Lancer frigate shed about a third of its tonnage as the aft section was ripped from the rest of the hull. Piett lowered his eyes to study the comlink still held within his hand, the comlink which had changed everything.
Now that he had the chance to just think, he found that he couldn't stop replaying the conversation between Lord Vader and Luke Skywalker. Even though Lord Vader had given them his orders, hearing that youthful voice call Lord Vader 'Father' and then express the desire to save him was... What was it? Why would he feel such desperation to save a man that the majority of the galaxy loathed and fear? He wasn't sure. He wasn't even sure he wanted to know how someone with Skywalker's reputation had managed to cope upon learning of his father's true identity.
"The Emperor is dead...long live the Emperor," the admiral murmured.
Imperial City, Imperial Center
Coruscant system, Corusca sector
["YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!"]
The flame-haired woman gasped, hands grasping her head at the overwhelming strength of her master's harsh, enraged voice. She closed her green eyes and gritted her teeth, ignoring the curious glances from passersby on the causeway.
["YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!"]
The woman cried out and fell to her knees, feeling the bond that connected her to her master shatter upon his death. She wanted to break down and rail against the galaxy, to scream her anger at the two figures she'd seen in her master's memory who were responsible for his death, she wanted to—
["YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!"]
The order reverberated within her mind, building up in intensity and pressure until all other senses had dulled. So utterly lost to the dark voice screaming its fury within her mind, that she was rendered oblivious to both the faint cheers and fireworks in the distance as well as the far nearer shouts of 'Imperial Intelligence, clear the area!'.
["YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!"]
The waves of pain finally drove the woman into unconsciousness, leaving her sprawled in a heap at the center of the causeway. Despite the growing circle of concerned citizens, anyone that might've helped her was quickly discouraged by a pair of new arrivals brandishing blasters. Those new arrivals picked the flame-haired woman up and dragged her onto a nearby platform. Ungentle, black, gloved hands lifted her into the cab of a nondescript airspeeder. Seconds later, the speeder lifted off and quickly melded into the stream of ships and speeders that were a constant presence on Imperial Center.
The Forest Moon of Endor
Sensing the slight disturbance in the Force, Luke managed to extract himself from the jubilant crowd surrounding the raging bonfire. He quietly edged around the perimeter of the Ewok village, searching for...
Luke smiled wryly and leaned against a tree as he saw the two shimmering forms. The two apparitions, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, gave him affectionate, proud smiles. Luke's eyebrows shot up as a third apparition began to materialize, drawing the attention of the other two. Like Obi-Wan, he wore the traditional brown robes and white tunic of a Jedi. But definitely unlike Obi-Wan, the man looked young, younger than Luke even, with shoulder length hair and a scar over his right eye that gave him a distinctly roguish appearance. But no matter how young or strange the man looked, Luke knew exactly who he was.
Father. Luke hadn't actually spoken the word but it wasn't something that really needed to be said aloud, for it was heard just the same.
Anakin Skywalker nodded and smiled at him, a warm, gentle smile filled with both regret and love.
Luke felt slim hands wrap around his bicep and shoulder and he looked down to see Leia looking up at him with concern. Smiling at her, he laughed away her worried comment and wrapped an arm around her waist, allowing himself to be dragged back toward the laughing, dancing crowd.
A faint whisper in the Force made him glance behind him. There, Anakin was laughing at something while both Yoda and Obi-Wan appeared to be glowering at him. Not wanting to have a conversation with the Force ghosts in front of Leia, he caught his father's eye and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Trust Piett, my son, he is competent and loyal. But be sure to tell him that I'll be watching; he makes the funniest face when he thinks he's about to be choked. And Luke, remember what they say about great power."
Luke furrowed his brows in confusion but nodded and smiled a half-smile as he rejoined his friends.
Anakin glanced aside to see Yoda and Obi-Wan both glaring daggers at him. "What?"
"I cannot believe you," Obi-Wan muttered.
"What!?" Anakin asked, folding his arms defensively as he looked at the other two Jedi.
"Unwanted by Luke, your 'gift' will be," Yoda warned. "A burden and threat to his life, it will be."
Anakin's smile dimmed and his tone gained a somber note. "Yes, which is all the more reason for him to receive it, uh—the first reason that is. If the Empire shatters completely, all of the warlords and powermongers that are sure to crop up might just leave the galaxy in an even worse state than it's in now. Besides, between Palpatine's acolytes and all of the Dark Jedi roaming around, a Jedi is just the kind of person the Empire needs to not only keep it together but also to prevent the galaxy from falling under the rule of another darksider."
"But the Republic..." Obi-Wan started.
"Perfect, it was not," declared Yoda gruffly, tapping his gimer stick in emphasis. "Disturbing it is, to see a Jedi on a throne. Not since the days of the Jedi-Sith War has such a thing been seen. Caught between great power and being a Jedi, young Skywalker will be. A fine line between the light and dark he will have to tread."
Obi-Wan just grimaced. "That poor boy is going to be most unhappy with you."
Anakin raised an eyebrow and said in a somewhat sour tone, "my son has been unhappy with me ever since you told him that I betrayed myself and killed myself. I imagine that was one of your 'certain point of view' moments?"
"I wouldn't have done this without forethought, Masters, and Luke has one thing no other darksider has," Anakin murmured with a smirk.
Obi-Wan tilted his head.
"He has love, a love that belongs to his very Force-sensitive, politically-minded, stubborn sister. You think Leia would miss an opportunity like this?" Anakin asked skeptically. "I'm willing to bet that Leia will be the driving force behind many of his decisions. Assuming she does so, that grants Luke the means to train her in the ways of the Force."
Obi-Wan frowned at him. "I find your argument persuasive and that annoys me."
Yoda harumphed. "Entertaining their faces will be, when young Skywalker's fate is revealed."
All three Force ghosts started chuckling, content to watch the last of the old Jedi, the first of the new surround himself with his friends and family in celebration of their victory.
Author's Notes: As always, I appreciate feedback, either by PM or reviews. Feedback helps me write better stories, so if you have suggestions, complaints, or if you've found continuity or date/event/character mistakes, please let me know!
Quick FYI: I imagine most people know this, but if not: When the Empire came into being, Galactic City became Imperial City and Coruscant became Imperial Center. The Coruscant system became the Imperial Center system and Corusca sector because the Imperial sector. I'll be using both Imperial City/Galactic City and Imperial Center/Coruscant throughout the story, depending on any given character's viewpoint but I'm going to stick with Coruscant system and Corusca sector because, honestly, it's better for storytelling when I'm giving out the when/where details during story subsections.
I'm not sure how much time separated RotJ's opening scene and the rest of the movie, but I'm sticking with twelve days. I go into this more in the next couple of chapters, but there's a website I'm using to calculate travel times. Using this tool, I calculated that Luke's journey from Tatooine to Dagobah to Sullust would take about six days. The travel time from Sullust to Endor is another four days. I give Luke a couple days off to relax and take a damn shower and use the fresher that his X-Wing unfortunately lacks. Movie hyperspace is like jump in, jump out, but the literature draws it out a lot more, which is what I intend to do as well.
Vader's change of heart: I was really trying to have my story match Legends canon for as long as possible during the Death Star scenes; that is to say, I didn't want Vader to have planned early on to turn to the light side in order to have some quality father-son time. I wanted him to be a Sith, I wanted his desire for Luke's presence to be more about the raw power his son could provide with a genuine loyalty that no other apprentice would offer. The whole premise of the story is about the premonition Vader had, that two or no Sith would remain. I'm basically forcing Vader's dilemma in the throne room from RotJ on him early, early enough to give Vader the ability to plan on what if. I'm really trying to avoid making the bad guys turn suddenly good!
I've been a Piett fan for quite some time and have always enjoyed seeing him appear in fanfiction as Vader's willing accomplice. In the books/legends universe, he's a lot more conniving that he appears in the movies, but I prefer the quiet, competent on-screen version. He didn't exactly have a lot of screentime, but I interpreted his character as a genuine believer of the Empire but with a non-malevolent demeanor; proof that not every high-ranking Imperial officer out there was either pure evil, patronizing (Ozzel), or incompetent. He, Veers, Madine, Rieekan have always seemed like the best OT secondary characters and I hope to make use out of all of them but Veers (dude got his legs blown off on Hoth by Hobbie). (Shoutout to Captain Needa, Vader shouldn't have killed you/accepted your apology, that dickhead.)
Misc: The A-Wing pilot who allowed Luke to pass her from the Death Star comes from the new canon: Shara Bey, the mother of Poe Dameron. If there's any confusion, Darth Vader revealed Leia's existence only to the Noghri, no one else. My blurb about Mara Jade, and if revealing her identity was a spoiler, shame on you, was aligned with Legends canon. Ysanne Isard (Director of Imperial Intelligence) had her captured when she was driven comatose by Palpatine's last command/death and had hoped to brainwash Jade into serving her. Just thought I'd clear that up if you didn't understand what had happened.