Spectre: You really think that was an April Fool's Joke, huh? Anyway, onto the next.

Chapter 44: Preparations

"The final truth...", Mace spoke out from the side, remaining firm in his expression all the while trying to hide the anticipation within him. "But as to what they are speaking of?"

Mundi looked down. "The end perhaps? How the Empire and the Sith will continue to grip the galaxy with the iron fist?", he dejectedly spoke, the memory of future fall still fresh within his mind, as did the rest of the audience who have seen it.

Obi-Wan, gathering whatever hope he still had within him, spoke. "As we have said before, Masters. We cannot place our doubts and our fears in a future that is not set in stone".

His words resonated with the rest of the audience. "Moments of doubt, fear, uncertainty, indeed come upon us", the Grand Master then spoke from his chair. "But in these moments, have faith. As is the greatest weapon we carry now, it is"

Faith. That is indeed what they need right now. After all the despair, fear, anger and the feeling of losing hope, they knew better than to give in to any of these emotions. They have to believe from then out. Especially if the opportunity to change the way things were are presented to them.

What more should I expect from here and out?, Anakin looked at the screen with outmost uncertainty. After everything he had seen and realized, he was almost becoming used to the fear, frustrations and anger that he had to let out.

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

Tatooine..., Anakin thought, after everything that happened to him and Luke within the sandy planet. With memories that both wanted to move forward and not look back.

"After all that Han did for them, he is all but a hero", Kit Fisto spoke, his face brightening at the hope of his safety. "Even if he does not know it yet"

"His actions spoke more than his past as a smuggler for the Hutts", Depa pointed out, deciding to see where this goes.

Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star.

Those present were stupified at the information presented to them, momentarily feeling a sense of dread and caution after seeing what it had done for the first time at Alderaan.

"It can't be...another one of those?!", Saesee Tiin expressed his disbelief after witnessing the first one's destruction by Luke.

Luminara remained composed, however. "But given it is said that it is still incomplete, I can't imagine it being operational anytime soon. Which, in theory, would give the Rebellion a greater chance in destroying it should they immediately have the information about it"

"It wouldn't be out of their mindset to rectify the flaw that the original had, however", Plo Koon pointed out. "And at times, even incomplete weapons are capable of being lethal of their own right"

When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of Rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy...

"It didn't have to remind us that", Rex muttered from the side.

The very depth of space. There was the length, andwidth, and height;and then these dimensions curved overon themselves into a bending blackness measurable onlyby the glinting stars that tumbled through the chasm,receding to infinity. To the very depth.

These stars marked the moments of the universe. There were aging orange embers, blue dwarfs, twin yellowgiants. There were collapsing neutron stars, and angrysupernova that hissed into the icy emptiness. Therewere borning stars, breathing stars, pulsing stars, and dying stars. There was the Death Star.

"Even when incomplete, it felt a bit more imposing than it was before", Ahsoka said, feeling as if it had come back from the graves of space to have its revenge.

"Not to mention the stronger Imperial presence of we count the armada surrounding it", Anakin added for her.

An Imperial Star Destroyer approached the space station at cruising speed. It was massiveyet it moved with deliberate grace, like some great seadragon. It was accompanied by dozens of Twin Ion Engine fighters—black insect-like combat flyers thatzipped back and forth around the battleship's perimeter. Itsped toward the half-completed Death Star with quiet purpose.

"Command Station, this is ST321. Code Clearance Blue. We're starting our approach. Deactivate the security shield."

Static filtered over thereceiver; then the voice ofthe port controller: "The security deflector shield will be deactivated when we have confirmation of your code transmission. Stand by..."

Once more silence filled the cockpit. The shuttle captainbit theinside of hischeek, smiled nervously at hiscopilot, and muttered, "Quick as you can, please—this better nottakelong. He's in no mood to wait…"

"Who do you think it is?", Caleb asked.

Anakin only sighed at that. "I don't think we have to guess who it is", he muttered, dejectedly.

"Inform the commander that Lord Vader's shuttle has arrived."

The shuttle sat quietly, dwarfed by the cavernous reachesof the huge docking bay. Hundreds of troops stood assembled in formation, flanking the base of the shuttle ramp—white-armored Imperial stormtroopers, gray-suited officers, and the elite, red-robed Imperial Guard. From the side, Moff Jerjerrod quickly made haste and his staff stood in attention.

Suddenly the exit hatch of the shuttle opened, pulling the troops in formation to even tauter attention. Onlydarkness glowed from the exit at first; then footsteps;then the characteristic electrical respirations, like the breathing of a machine; and finally Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, emerged from the void.

The Jedi watched in mentally frowned silence, having to watch their order and the Republic fall to the Sith in the shadows. From their standpoint, it felt as if he were merely a combination of the foes they had faced. Maul's anger, Dooku's fall to the Dark Side, and the cybernetics of Grievous. All blended to one of their own that was also a product of the choices they made.

Anakin suppressed the urge to frown or scoff at his future's presence. To know that he had become a symbol of fear and tyranny that was a direct contrast to the 'Hero with No Fear' as he is called now, he grew to despise himself from the decisions he made because of it. That ruined or ended the lives of numerous that he would never dare to count.

And he would make sure that Vader will never exist once they had known the truth.

Vader strode down the ramp, looking over the assemblage. He stopped when he came to Jerjerrod. The commander bowed from the neck, and smiled.

"Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure. We are honored by your presence."

"We can dispense with the pleasantries, Commander."

Vader's words echoed as from the bottom of a well."The Emperor is concerned with your progress. I am here to put you back on schedule."

"I could not help but wonder what happened to the architects of the superweapon", Shaak Ti spoke out. "Though it is clear that Sidious would not take its destruction lightly"

"I surmise those who do would have a fate worse than death it seems", Windu agreed with her.

Jerjerrod turned pale. This was news he'd not expected. "I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can."

"Perhaps I can encourage their progress in ways youhave not considered," Vader growled. He had ways, ofcourse.

Even when serving against a regime that destroyed their values, they could not help but feel sorry to those unfortunate enough to serve the likes of Vader and the rest. Especially if their lives depended on it.

Jerjerrod kept his tone even, though deep inside, theghost of hurry began to scrabble at his throat. "That won't be necessary, my Lord. I tell you, without question this station will be operational as planned."

"I'm afraid the Emperor does not share your optimisticappraisal of the situation."

"I fear he asks the impossible," the commander suggested. "I need more men"

"Perhaps you could explain that to him when he arrives."

Their ears perked upon hearing this. Not since Palpatine had a more hands-off approach in the first two holotapes. And now, he would join Anakin-, no. Lord Vader, at his side to make sure all preparations are made to crush the Rebellion once and for all.

"So Sidious decided to make sure his new toy would not be destroyed by the Rebellion", Windu mused, sounding contempt of the Sith Lord.

"But...what about Luke?", Padme then spoke up in concern for her son. "Would he be able to-"

"We don't have the answer to that, Senator" Obi-Wan quickly responded to her, not wanting her to stress herself after seeing what had happened to them. "But I can assure you that Yoda would have taught him what he need to combat both...his father and of Sidious"

"But the odds are stacked against Luke unless Master Yoda is with him", Ahsoka pointed out, but also aware of the last confrontation that the Grand Master had against Sidious.

No one wanted to jump to conclusions immediately, and they continued to watch in silence.

Vader's face remained invisible behind the deathly blackmask that protected him; but the malice was clear in the electronically modified voice.

Jerjerrod's pallor intensified. "The Emperor is coming here?"

"Yes, Commander. And he will be quite displeased ifyou are still behind schedule when he arrives."He spokeloudly, to spread the threat over all who could hear.

"We shall double our efforts", Jerjerrod's voice was evident of fear and anxiety.

Vader lowered his voice again. "I hope so, Commander,for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am"

"Which isn't saying much at all...", Anakin grumbled, anxious of the possibility of Luke confronting both him and Sidious. Unsure if his son is even ready to begin with.

Outside the small adobe hut, the sandstorm wailed like a beast in agony, refusing to die. Inside, the sounds were muted. It was cooler in this shelter, more hushed, and darker.

"So we're back at Tatooine...", Kit Fisto mused, recalling a few memories back. "Where it all began"

"Understatement of the century, Master Fisto", Obi-Wan said with a chuckle.

"Poot-wEEt beDOO gung ooble DEEp!" vocalized Artoo Detoo. "Of course I'm worried," See Threepio fussed. "And you should betoo. Poor Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca never returned from this place. Can you imagine what they've done to them?" Artoo whistled timidly.

"Wait, they were captured?", Caleb spoke out in alarm, a feeling shared by many.

"The Hutts are always on their ground when it comes to assets and of those who they crossed paths with", Sasee said pointed out. "However, this is not to say they have a plan B"

"They most definitely have from what they had gone through since they infiltrated the original Death Star", Shaak Ti said to them.

The golden droid waded stiffly through ashifting sand hill, then stopped short, as Jabba's palace suddenly loomed, suddenly dark, in the near distance. Artoo almost bumped into him, quickly skidding to the side of the road. "Watch where you're going, Artoo." See Threepio resumed walking, but more slowly, his little friend rolling along at his side. And as they went, he chattered on.

"Why couldn't Chewbacca have delivered this message? No, whenever there's an impossible mission, they turn to us. No one worries about droids. Sometimes I wonder whywe put up with itall." On and on he rambled, over the desolate finalstretch of road, until at last they reached the gates to the palace: massive iron doors, taller than Threepio could see—part of a series of stone and iron walls, forming several gigantic cylindrical towers that seemed to rise out of a mountain of packed sand.

"Jabba's palace...it's been a long while since we last stepped foot, didn't we?", Ahsoka spoke to her former Master beside her.

"Yeah, Snips...", he said with a sigh, remembering their first missions together that involved making sure his son was safe. "But still...where is Luke?"

The two droids fearfully looked around the ominous door for signs of life, or welcome, or some sort of signaling device withwhich to make their presence known. Seeing nothing in any of those categories,Threepio mustered his resolve (which function had been programmed into himquite a long time earlier), knocked softly three times on the thick metal grate, then quickly turned around and announced to Artoo, "There doesn't seem to be anyone here. Let's go back and tell Master Luke."

"It could be possible that Luke would negotiate through them, or at least is part of a greater ploy made by him", Depa pointed out.

"If there is one thing we could be certain, Master Kenobi might have taught him on how to negotiate like he had", Master Fisto humourously pointed out to his fellow Master.

Suddenly a small hatch opened in the center of the door. A spindly mechanical armpopped out, affixed to which a large electronic eyeball peered unabashedly at the two droids. The eyeball spoke. "Teechuta hhat yudd!"

Threepio stood erect, proud though his circuits quivered a bit. He faced the eye, pointed to Artoo, and then to himself. "Artoo Detoo wha bo Seethreepiosha ey toota odd mischka Jabba duHutt."

"What did he say?", Caleb asked, bewildered.

"If I could be correct, he said Artoo and C-3PO. Does Jabba the Hutt live here?", Rex answered him.

The eyelooked quickly from one robot to the other, then retracted back through the little window and slammed the hatch shut.

Artoo beeped with concern. Threepio nodded. "I don't think they're going to let us in, Artoo. We'd better go." He turned to leave, as Artoo beeped areluctant four-tone. At that, a horrific, grinding screech erupted, and the massive iron door slowly began to rise.

The two droids looked at each other skeptically, and then into the yawning black cavity that faced them. They waited, afraid to enter,afraid to retreat. From the shadows, the strange voice of the eye screamed at them. Nudchaa!"

"They got in!", Padme spoke with relief.

Obi-Wan cupped his bearded chin in deep thought. "Though still, if what Artoo and 3PO had said, let's hope they don't end up like Lando and Chewbacca"

Artoo beeped and rolled forward into the gloom. Threepio hesitated, then rushed after his stubby companion with a start. "Artoo wait for me!" They stopped together in the gaping passageway, as Threepio scolded. "You'll get lost!"

Spectre: I was about to include Luke building his lightsaber deleted scene, but I figured that it would spoil the entire plan altogether. Also, I'd want to keep his presence to be a surprise.