Summary: Luke and Vader meet with Bail Organa and the commanders. Vader reveals part of his plan, which disturbs Luke, who is already on edge and acting out. (This chapter is twice as long as I intended. I have no excuse, it just happened…but we all know it's Luke's fault).

Note: Before this, please read The Truth Interludes, Chapter 19: Pacific, which takes place the night before as Vaderkin considers his life, himself, and his son.

Note: The Lusankya is canon (for right now, anyway). I took a LOT of 'writer's privilege' with the construction details.

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His usual trick of splashing cold water on his face didn't work. And why would it at 0430 in the morning when no one should be awake?! His dad had showered, dressed, woken him, and left thirty minutes earlier, but not before issuing a list of instructions: (1) remember to wear your armor, (2) that means the helmet too, (3) please, leg armor before the chest plate and pauldrons, (4) eat a healthy breakfast (no chance of that, Dad, when my stomach is turning somersaults), (5) don't wake the pilots this early, (6) be in the Command office by 0500, (7) don't forget the bodyglove! and (8) I love you, everything will be fine.

He managed to get on the armor in the correct order and even got the million-mile-long belt wrapped around his waist a zillion times until he looked like an overstuffed plushie. Stashing the helmet under his arm and the gloves in his belt, he left the barracks quietly after giving it a final look around. He would probably never see it again.

It was still dark, and day shift personnel were all sound asleep— as he would be if this were a normal day. Hesitating at Kodra's studio, he knocked softly, hoping there would be an answer. When there wasn't, he stepped inside. The room was empty, cleared of everything, even equipment and mats. He walked soundlessly across the blank expanse to the Zabrak's quarters. Nothing remained except the musky scents of incense and blown-out candles.

Luke swallowed. A big part of his life had vanished overnight.

Kicking rocks (but mostly stirring up dust) he ambled toward the mess hall and saw that even the Carpenter Shop wasn't open yet. He hoped K'riade wouldn't be mad at him for not saying good-bye.

It was too early for breakfast. He could hear banging and clattering in the kitchen but didn't want to bother anyone because he couldn't possibly keep any food down. Besides, he didn't need a meal when he had his handy-dandy belt. His dad said it was a good place to stash a knife, but he found that it also held a half-dozen protein wafers and a handful of sugar sticks. Grabbing a carton of milk from the cooler, he was good to go and headed to Command. He was ten minutes early, so he wandered around the hangar, trying to memorize only those smells he thought he might miss like oil and grease, not everybody else's sweat. A mech waved to him from the top of an X-wing's nose, and Luke lifted his milk carton in a salute. There was no rushing around, no one was readying for an attack. It was just another ordinary day at an Alliance base.

Except for Organa's security, four boring beige livery people who were standing in pairs on either side of the Command office door. "Hi, guys!" he called. "Fresh from the stable?"

They pretended not to hear or see him, but he knew they were doing both. He studied their postures— arms relaxed at their sides, and they each had one pathetic blaster that looked like a child's toy. Luke frowned. This little pony may have a new assignment— protecting the protectors!

He turned away, feeling for his dad in his beautiful silver and gold ship and deciding not to disturb him. He wondered if his father knew how easily Luke could sense him when he focused. Sometimes he thought that even without trying he could feel his dad's presence; other times it whisked through his mind and vanished like a ghost before he could grab it.

Vader was changing. Or Anakin. Luke wondered how his dad thought of himself… although he probably didn't need to name himself in his own mind. Vaderkin, Anakin, Vader, the names were interchangeable to Luke; the person remained the same.

Except his dad wasn't the same. He was changing just as they'd both hoped. But who was he going to be? What would he be like? Luke frowned and drained the rest of the milk, tossing the carton in a recycler. He wanted his dad to keep needing him. But now it seemed like his dad was becoming someone more independent, like his former Anakin self, who might not need or want an annoying son—

No. He shook his head to rid himself of that fear. He liked being taken care of, fussed over, pampered. He didn't want that to stop, and he wanted to keep doing those things for his dad too, but lately his dad seemed distracted—

"Stop!" he hissed at his small, selfish heart. "Of course he's distracted! Everything isn't about you, Luke. He can't pay attention to you every minute!"

"And yet I do."

He jumped. "Don't sneak up on me!" But he grinned because his dad had said exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

"If you were focused, young one, you would have felt my approach." General Skywalker looked formidable wearing highly polished silver armor that was similar to Luke's although it had no stupid wrap belt. "Speaking of the belt…." Vader poked a finger against it. "What do you have in there?"

"Snacks. Healthy snacks," he modified, still smiling.

"Indeed? Then why do I suspect there are teeth-rotting sprite-sticks?"

"Is that what they're called?" Luke shrugged innocently. "Just for a blast of energy when I need it. Why are we meeting so early?"

"I moved the timeline up. We'll see the Alliance Council at 0600."

"Well, that should piss off some of those lazy rich people who want to sleep until noon." Not unlike what I would rather be doing today.

"Indeed." His father leaned closer and whispered: "Palpatine is not a morning person. He won't see the action live."

"I wish he wouldn't see it A-live."

"Good quip." One gloved knuckle went under his chin and lifted it. "Little one. You're sad about leaving here?"

He tilted his face to the side to make Vaderkin cup his cheek. "Kind of. I feel sad when I leave places. Especially if you're in those places."

"This isn't the same, we're leaving together. You may see your friends again. After." His father waited until he nodded, then added: "Now let's go see His Sni—Senator Organa."

Luke smiled. "Hah, you're thinking of him that way too."

"Your fault."

"You're welcome." Luke smirked and butted his head against the padded shoulder. "Hey, what's the name of your glorious, perfect ship? You have named it, haven't you?"

"Several times." Vader pursed his lips, feigning deep thought. "First I tried 'SkyOzoner' but people kept asking me how to spell it. Then I considered Deep Space Sprite since you already have the matching shirt."

Luke rolled his eyes. "Funny you are."

His father sent him a sharp glance but didn't point out that he sounded like Yoda. "I also tried a few other of your imaginary identities, namely 'Starflyer' and 'BrightStar'."

"I like both of those." Really, he was flattered that his dad remembered his suggestions for their racing team name.

"However…."

And apparently rejected those suggestions. "What?"

"I decided to go with 'Nightbird'. Your feather inspired me."

Nightbird. "Huh." Luke let the name roll around in his head like a marble. "Okay, yeah. I like that. Nightbird. It suits you. It's a little…well, Dark, but then it's got the sky because of the 'bird' part so it's lighter— Oh, I wished you'd seen the birds last night! But I kept the feather for you. It's in my belt. With the… um, sprite-sticks. I don't know what we'll use it for— Oooh! Maybe it can be our team insignia! Or for our uniforms— you know, we can have hats and put feathers— I mean, it's blue so everything will match. Or maybe… well…."

Vaderkin's head tilted, studying his face as Luke subsided gradually. "Are you finished?"

He sighed heavily. "For right this second I suppose I am."

"Good, because we are a full minute late to our meeting—"

"Horrors!"

"—and I want you to get inside now. And, Son—"

The tone had lowered and become serious. He met his dad's blue gaze, feeling a tremor of dread run through his body. "What?"

"Don't try the lightsaber joke on them."

Grrrrr! "You are not as funny as you think you are!" he snapped just as his dad opened the door and the officers looked up from their stations around the strategy table.

"Yes I am," General Skywalker responded easily. "Gentlemen. Shall we begin?"

"Um, just one thing…" Luke said, and felt his father struggling against a sigh. "Senator, your security detail is sloppy and poorly armed. They didn't even ask for our identification. They're risking your life."

"They know you were both expected." Organa looked at him in a way that was supposed to be unreadable, but Luke could read it quite clearly and didn't like it. "They have served me well for years. Obviously I'm still alive."

Keep it up, Mr. Snippy. He wanted to snip back, but for his dad's sake, he remained reasonable. "Security for an Alderaani senator is not adequate for the Chancellor of the Galactic Alliance. You're a bigger target now." You gigantic oaf.

Luke. "I concur," his dad said. "You need more security with shields and better weapons."

"Perhaps you're correct." But His Senatorship was agreeing with his father, not Luke. However, he turned to Luke (of course to thank him) and said: "I'm considering calling it the New Republic."

"No!" Luke snapped, affronted. How dare this— this— well, this Man Who Would Be Chancellor If Luke And His Dad Allowed It— refuse the gift of such a perfect name? He took a moment to gather his logic from whence it had scattered when it was so affronted. "Saying 'New Republic' will only remind everyone that there was an Old Republic that fell apart. Plus—" Great, now he needed a second reason. He scrambled for a few seconds and found one. "Some planets may think that being annexed into another unelected government isn't as acceptable as joining an 'Alliance', which makes it sound like they have a choice." Whether they do or not.

Good logic for one so affronted, his father reassured and patted his arm. Rieekan and Narra were staying diplomatically silent. Organa pursed his lips. "I'll consider it further."

If 'Galactic Alliance' had been HIS idea, Luke pointed out, we'd already have emblems on our clothes— "Oh! We need a symbol!"

"Perhaps we should win before we start accessorizing?" Vaderkin suggested lightly.

"I—"

"Caf?" Commander Narra intervened. He stood and began pouring mugs— one, two, three, four…?

Luke pouted. "If you're playing mother, I want one too, please."

"You're already wired, you don't need caf. And put your helmet on," his dad ordered, but instead of waiting for him to do it, he took the helmet and plunked it over Luke's head, then lowered his voice to a whisper. "The occurrence with the Suit will happen during the Council meeting so everyone witnesses it at the same time."

Now he really felt sick to his stomach. Dad, I'm going to barf.

No. Do not throw up. Do not cough. Your face shield—

Luke sneezed.

Well, great, just great. He was looking through a spray of droplets that spotted the dust inside the shield. He took off the helmet and rubbed his fingers around. It smeared. He moaned. "Da-aad! I told you I didn't need a helmet! Not for a meeting! Now it's a mess! I won't be able to see through it!"

"Sucks to be you, Son."

What?! Did Vaderkin just say that aloud? The officers and Organa didn't have weird expressions on their faces, so he supposed not. He shook his head and put the helmet on the table, then pulled on his gloves and held out both hands, disgusted to see they were trembling minutely. Without hesitation Vaderkin buckled one, then the other, and gripped his fingers tightly for a moment.

Luke looked up and saw His Snippiness raising his unibrow at them. "See? There's no shame in needing help to dress, Senator."

Vader cleared his throat. "The base's outgoing communications will be re-engaged when the Council meeting begins. There will no longer be any hope of secrecy with so many ears listening, not all of them friends of the Alliance."

"It is a sad turn of events," Organa intoned senatorally, "when Alliance Council members cannot be trusted to protect the security of their own Alliance."

Whatever.

His dad folded his arms. "As you well know, Senator, people who believe they have power are vulnerable to corruption."

Zing! Luke looked at the floor. A spanking for His Snippiness. But then he thought they might think his dad was talking about himself. Or even Vaderkin Junior.

"After your opening statement, you may introduce me. I will briefly explain my presence and introduce my son."

"Ta-da!" Grinning, Luke wiggled jazz hands.

His father gave him a Look.

He flushed and put his hands down. "Uh…. Anyway… I'm already a member of the Alliance Council," he reminded his dad, although he figured his father hadn't forgotten. "I mean… they should have known me… but I guess I was undercover. Never mind." He wiped the interior of his helmet again, this time with the hem of his tunic, which helped a little.

"I'm confused, General," His Serenity said in classic understatement before pausing to take a sip of caf, probably for dramatic effect. "I am introducing Jedi General Anakin Skywalker who is representing what? The Empire or the Republic?"

Damn, he's snippy, his dad Sent.

Told you so! "Galactic Alliance," Luke corrected even though no question had been directed at him.

"I will explain the details myself." Vaderkin's gaze was unblinking.

"Vaguely," Luke added nervously.

This time his dad looked at him. "If you could refrain from quipping for a few seconds so I may elucidate further…?"

Elucidate! He put that one in the memory bank before baring his teeth in an apologetic grimace. "Sure. Sorry."

"Shortly after the meeting begins, an event will occur that will distract everyone— including Imperials listening in— from the technicalities of our new Galactic Alliance."

"What sort of event?" His Senatorship asked immediately.

"A catastrophic explosion on Coruscant that will shake the foundations of the Empire and the Imperial forces."

Luke squeezed his eyes shut. "I don't suppose it will blow up Palpatine?"

His dad snorted. "If there had been a way to lure him close enough, be assured that I would have included him in the destruction. No, the explosion will see the supposed death of Lord Vader and— let's just say, one of his foes."

"Well, that narrows it down!" Luke declared brightly.

Vader closed his eyes briefly. Or possibly long enough to count to ten. "How many sprite-sticks have you eaten this morning?"

"None! This is just me!"

His dad gave him another Look, and Luke rolled his eyes. "Fine! I'll never speak again!"

General Rieekan cleared his throat and leaned forward. "Will there be civilian casualties?"

"Unfortunately, yes," General-Father Vader-Skywalker said. "However, their fate is predetermined, so we may as well use it for our purposes."

Luke pushed aside a stack of memos and scribbled notes and hopped onto the edge of the table so he could swing his legs and burn off some energy. Quietly. He knew what the three leaders were thinking, that this sounded like a typically ruthless Darth Vader plot. It was odd that none of them was demanding specifics. Maybe they were too humbled to speak. Or more likely they were trying to figure out a way to eliminate Anakin Skywalker once Vader was 'dead'. Obviously it was up to him to give his father a chance to elucidate. "Dad, can you explain what's going to happen?"

So much for shutting up. But it was a reasonable question that someone had to ask.

"Yes." His dad finally pulled out a chair and sat very close to his offspring, forcing Luke to stop swinging his legs. "While the Executor was being built, it was being duplicated. There are two ships: the Executor and one constructed on a smaller scale. The second, the Lusankya, was assembled beneath the ground on Coruscant. It is intended to be the Emperor's means of escape should he need it."

"I've never heard even a whisper of this," Organa observed doubtfully. "How could such a project take place and no word of its existence has leaked? There must have been a tremendous amount of disruption to every level in that area."

"Civilians were quietly removed. If they didn't go, they were murdered. Everyone involved in the construction was murdered— or imprisoned if their skills were considered valuable. Those who maintain and supervise the prisoners are also sealed inside, unable to leave. He did not intend that I should ever know, but I have sources."

"But how would he get the ship out?" Luke frowned.

Vader glanced at him, then at the others. "His plan is to fly it out. Access to several levels above it are restricted. But when it blasts to the surface, it will kill thousands and destroy a large portion of that district."

"What?" Luke wasn't the only one to exclaim that word. "But… wouldn't the top of the ship be really damaged when it lifts up? The bridge and sensors?"

Even sitting down, his dad looked intimidating. "Use your brain for its intended purpose."

He tsk'd. That's not very nice! How am I—? "Oh! I get it! It's sitting on its butt! So it will go up like a missile!"

"Colorful, but accurate," his father acknowledged. "It is, without getting too technical, 'sitting' on its engine thrusters. Of course it will still sustain some damage, but not to critical components. It will remain a viable escape vessel."

"My god," Commander Narra muttered. "Palpatine has plans for every eventuality."

"Yes, which is why we must always remain on alert and ready to… pivot." Vaderkin bumped his arm against Luke's knee. "I have arranged an underground explosion that will destroy the ship. There will be fewer casualties on the surface, but the cost in lives will still be high." His dad shrugged one shoulder. "It will be presumed to be a ship malfunction— with inadvertent engine ignition and a fuel fire being the most obvious answer— or sabotage. Either way, Vader will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught in the explosion. Missing and presumed dead."

Luke's breath choked in a half-sigh that made Narra look at him sympathetically.

"Of course, he has been known to avoid certain death on many occasions, so no one will be surprised when he is resurrected to take command of the Imperial armed forces— if it comes to that."

The others were silent, uncomfortably so. Dad… he warned.

"However, with the help of our new Alliance, I believe I have in place enough senior command officers, troops, and ships to control the Imperial forces so Vader will not need to make a reappearance. I would rather live as one person than as two. And preferably that person is Anakin Skywalker."

"I'd rather that too," Luke said softly.

"I know, Bug." Vaderkin reached up and rubbed the side of his neck. "Judging by your lack of affirmation, gentlemen, I don't feel fully confident that I can rely on the support of Rebel Alliance leadership. I need confirmation that you agree with the plan that I have outlined."

The two officers exchanged glances, then looked to the legislator. Organa leaned forward and clasped his hands on the table. "Your plan is only taking us to a certain point, General. After that—"

"Geez, you might actually have to take some action yourself!" Luke balled his hands into fists.

"Enough," Vaderkin reprimanded sharply. "Think before you shout out."

His face burned, and he didn't dare turn his head to see the others— although he felt Narra flinch.

"But my son is correct," his dad continued. "Your— our— meeting with the Alliance Council must include some specifics. General Rieekan, are you prepared to assume command of Rebel troops galaxy-wide?"

"Yes," came the quiet answer. "I informed the other commanders ahead of our communications breakdown. You have my one hundred percent support."

Luke peeked from under his lashes to see Organa's surprise before it was disguised.

Actually, he was surprised, too— and so was his dad. Surprised and relieved.

"I selected you three for your individual strengths," Vader-Skywalker said, "and my belief that you would work well together. I hope I am correct."

Like anyone would say if you weren't.

His dad poked his leg, and Luke recoiled, affronted again. What, now I'm not even allowed to THINK?

"General, what about the viruses that you mentioned?" Narra slouched forward, wrapping his hand around the mug that must be cold by now. "When do they come into play? And what exactly is my role?"

"You're getting ahead of me, Commander." But General Skywalker smiled to eliminate any sting that might have been in the words.

"It depends—" Luke clapped a hand over his mouth, abashed. Sorry.

"As my son almost said, the timing of the viruses, like much of our plan, will be dependent on the Emperor's reaction to everything that occurs today."

"And he won't know right away because he's not a morning person," Luke volunteered, then stopped. "Sorry."

"Possibly the explosion will wake him," Narra said dryly. "And the rags."

"Rags? What are—"

"He means the reporters," his dad clarified for him. "Gossip, mainstream, political— They are omnipresent around the Palace. Though he will sense the disturbance immediately, it will not be close enough to—" Vaderkin stopped.

Luke alerted too. "What—"

Blaster fire was already erupting outside as Luke leaped off the table and darted out the door. Vader flung Organa and the officers to the floor in one swift movement and followed. They both froze on the steps as they observed the tableau.

One Alderaani Security was on the ground, the other three with their hands up. It looked like time had stopped because no one in the hangar was moving… including the person wearing simple base camouflage and extending both arms outward. In one hand was a blaster, in the other— a thermal detonator, its linchpin dangling loose. Oh-oh.

Don't— his father began, but Luke didn't wait. The solution seemed obvious. With one long jump, he was close enough to slice off the hand and call the detonator to him. His thumb covered the spoon to stop it from exploding immediately.

The man howled and doubled over, clutching his wrist to his chest as soldiers raced to restrain him. Been there, done that, Luke Sent.

Now what? His father sounded displeased.

I'll just put the pin back— Oops. Well. Apparently he'd caught the pin in the lightsaber attack and it Was No More.

Give it to me.

No! I can do this… I think. Should I squish it?

No, you would be killed! It needs to be detonated outdoors. Give it to me. I can throw farther.

I can throw just fine!

Behind him, he felt the officers and the new Maybe-Chancellor push out of the office. Organa immediately knelt by his fallen security officer, which made Luke respect him just a tiny bit.

But then Organa looked over at him. "What is…. Is that a detonator?"

"Uh…yeah. And it's armed." He nodded at his father. "We're discussing what to do with it."

Narra spoke into his wrist com, then announced, "The bomb squad is on the way. They'll disarm it."

Luke's lower lip jutted out. "Um…there might not be time."

His dad reached for him. "Luke, give it to me."

He almost acquiesced, but then he felt a change inside the small object. "Too late!" He sprinted away toward the hangar entrance and hadn't quite reached it before he realized it was time to throw. Focusing with the Force, he hurtled it as hard as he could, away from parked ships and in the direction of the jungle— fly away, birdies!— and then ducked his head like that would protect him from debris.

When the explosion came— Oh.

It was really far away. He didn't even get dusty. Pleased, he turned and—

—was faced with a thundercloud that loomed over him. "If you ever disobey again me and behave so rashly again and are so stubborn-headed again, I'll—"

"I inherited all that from you," he told his fuming father, knowing it wasn't anger that propelled his words. "You shouldn't argue with me during a crisis. If I thought I couldn't do it, I would have given it to you."

"No you wouldn't. Luke." My son… please…. Uncaring about the growing crowd of people, Vaderkin did his Hold-Luke's-Neck thing, pulling him against his chest for a too-short moment before steering him back in the direction of the office.

Luke shivered. He felt himself spiraling suddenly, heading for an adrenaline crash, and fought against it. This was not a time for weakness. "I wanna see if His Snippiness falls on his knees to thank me. Or at least tell me I was right about his Security."

"And I want you to sit down for a few minutes until the Council meeting. You've had a busy morning." Vaderkin's thoughts were more tender than his prosaic statement, and Luke smiled in acknowledgement.

"And it's not even 0600." He yawned, stepping around a new influx of security and soldiers, including half-dressed ones who had been propelled from their bunks by the sound of the explosion.

The bomb squad had surrounded the terrorist (and his hand) with shields as they scanned for further devices. Luke paused at the sight of the Senator still kneeling beside his fallen officer.

Organa looked up at him. "I've heard you can…heal?"

Luke blinked a few times. The young officer was obviously dead with a blaster wound to her chest, and the medical team was waiting to put her body on a gurney. Still, he knelt and laid his hand in the open neck of her torn shirt, feeling for any hint of a pulse. There was nothing. "I'm sorry," he told the senator. "She's gone. I can't raise the dead."

We should be able to, his dad Sent fiercely, hovering at his shoulder, but Luke shook his head as he rose.

"She was one of Leia's attendants," Bail Organa said softly. "Leia wanted to be here, but I wouldn't allow it. Kyris volunteered to be her eyes and ears. Her security training was… minimal."

Lack of forethought, his father commented. Careless. Perhaps he's not the right choice for chancellor after all.

Luke closed his eyes, swaying slightly. He wondered how Leia would react to this woman's death. Would she cry? He didn't know because he didn't know her, not really. She'd been kind to him once… but then told her adopted father that he was unstable and maybe a drug user.

No, he didn't know his twin at all.

Senator Organa had difficulty standing, so Luke grasped his elbow to help. The knees of Organa's lovely robe were dusty and wrinkled. He looked at Luke and his father. "Thank you." His voice was grave. "You were right."

Luke felt numb as the man turned away. At least he admits we're right, Dad.

And you know that I am right. Never disobey me again. You promised not to die.

And I didn't. Exhausted, he leaned back against his dad's armor into arms that caught and encircled him. I promise I'll be more careful if you will.

"You need not worry about my life. I have more experience in avoiding death than you do."

"You're so confident, Dad." He blinked away tears. "I'm afraid that loving each other so much will be our downfall."

Had his sister ever felt despair like this while growing up in the cocooned safety of a guarded palace and two loving parents? Had she ever known the fear of losing her beloved family or the terror of confronting death at the hands of someone far more powerful?

Of course not. She knew nothing. She hadn't faced hardship. She breathed rarefied air and preached in the Senate and spent her days swaddled in fluff. Even Darth Vader had protected her. He wasn't sure if he was glad or angry. Or if his feelings mattered. Or if he mattered now any more than he had when he was a newborn and nobody wanted him.

The only person who had ever loved him and stood by him was his dad. All he had in this life was his father and he could not, would not, lose him.

"Stop fretting, young one," Anakin Vader whispered against his ear. "Love won't be our downfall. I believe it will be our salvation."