Obi-Wan smiled in relief as he stepped off the speeder bus. Garbed in a baggy dark green flight suit, his lightsaber hidden in a wrist holster beneath his sleeve, no one would be able to recognize him as a Jedi. Not that anyone would be searching for him on Alderaan, but it never hurt to take precautions.
Leia was safe. He'd convinced Bail Organa, a prominent leader of the Rebel Alliance, to adopt the baby and raise her as his own. She would be well protected from Anakin Skywalker -- he had to correct himself -- Darth Vader's evil. He hated hiding his former student's children from him, but it was necessary. If either Vader or his new dark master found the twins, he was sure the children would die or be used to further the Emperor's villainous ends.
He entered the security code into the terminal at the apartment building's doorway. Now for Luke. He would be trickier to conceal. Leia had the Force with her, but Luke practically glowed with it. He would have to find someplace obscure to hide the boy. If there was a bright center to the universe, he would have to hide him on the planet farthest from it.
As he entered the lift and punched in "Floor 26" he silently debated with himself where to hide the baby. Dantooine? Bespin? Kessel? None seemed fitting. How about Naboo? Anakin had been a good friend to the Gungans, and he was sure Boss Nass would be more than happy to care for Skywalker's son. Yes, Naboo would be the best choice.
The lift halted at his floor and opened to admit a scream.
Three men in glistening white armor burst from Amidala's apartment and charged for the lift. Imperial stormtroopers! Had they hurt Amidala? Had they killed her?
Instinctively he pulled back his sleeve and tore his lightsaber from its holster. The troopers paused when they saw the light sword, then sprinted toward him, intent on their escape. He danced nimbly to one side and struck out with his saber, cutting down the lead trooper. The second Imperial drew his blaster and fired at Obi-Wan. He whirled the saber left and right, deflecting the scarlet bolts.
The last trooper made it to the lift, but Obi-Wan rammed his foot between the doors, preventing the lift from descending. He winced in pain as the heavy durasteel doors crushed his ankle. The trooper in the lift kicked at the Jedi's foot in an attempt to escape.
"Get 'im, Ray!" he shouted. "M'arms're full!"
Ray squeezed volley after volley after Obi-Wan, but he blocked the assault with ease. He called on the Force, and the blaster flew from Ray's hands and was cut in two by Obi-Wan's lightsaber. Ray turned and fled, Obi-Wan in hot pursuit.
His ankle sent waves of red agony up his leg, but he didn't slow down. Ray had drawn a spare weapon and was shooting back at Obi-Wan, most of the time missing completely. The Jedi spotted a window at the end of the hallway -- the trooper was headed right for it. With a brutal shove of the Force he pushed him through the thin transparisteel and to the street twenty-six stories below.
One trooper had gotten away. He couldn't worry about that now. He had to make sure Amidala was all right. Grimacing at his smarting ankle, he limped toward the apartment.
The former queen of Naboo lay weeping on her sleep-couch.
She glanced up fearfully, the skin below her left eye darkening to a blackish-purple, a crimson slash marring her right cheek.
"They came while you were gone," she sobbed. "I tried to stop them. I shouted and shouted, but nobody came."
"What did they want?"
"Luke..." she choked. "They took Luke..."
Baby Luke's crib stood in the corner of the room, and Obi-Wan hobbled painfully toward it, refusing to believe her.
It was empty.
Luke had been stolen.
Vader stared, lost in thought, into the black velvet space that enveloped the Stardestroyer Executor, the first of many such ships that would serve as war machines for the Empire. His obsidian mask was frozen in a permanent scowl, but his body posture was contemplative, almost philosophical. He had one hand clasped in a fist against the small of his back, while the other cupped his chin thoughtfully. It was impossible to see his eyes, but it wasn't hard to imagine his features had a distant look.
He had a lot to think about. For one thing, his scouts had yet to report back. He'd sent stormtroopers -- a term coined to name Imperial soldiers -- in groups of three to various planets in search of his wife. They were to report back if they found her and bring back anything they deemed valuable enough to show him -- records, journals, Rebel documents, and the like. No doubt his wife was dabbling in the Alliance.
Obi-Wan also haunted his thoughts. His former master had eluded him. Emperor Palpatine constantly praised his efforts in destroying the Jedi, but Vader was still dissatisfied at his inability to find and kill Obi-Wan. The traitorous scum was probably influencing his wife. He would pay for that.
The dark lord turned slightly. "What is it?"
"The Alderaan scouts have returned. They wish to speak to you."
"Show them in."
A short gangly trooper sprinted onto the bridge, clutching a loosely wrapped bundle in his arms. He slid to a halt, saluted belatedly, and quickly closed the gap between him and Vader.
"Lord V, Lord V, Lord V," he panted. "We found her!"
"Don't call me V," he snarled in reply. The new nickname this trooper, Zevul, had tagged him with irritated him to no end. "Where are the others?"
"Axel and Ray? Oh, the Jedi Obi-what's-his-face got 'em."
"Obi-Wan." He clenched his fists angrily at his sides. "I should have known he'd be involved in this."
"Well anyway, we found her on Alderaan livin' in this real fancy pad with Obi-whatever who's pretendin' to be a retired star pilot and is goin' by Ben now and she's with the Rebels but we didn't kill her 'cause you said not to and..."
"Slow down, Zevul. I don't need their life stories. Is she alive and well?"
"Good. And were you able to find any information regarding the Rebellion in her quarters?"
Zevul shook his head. "Searched high 'n' low. Nothin'."
"Then what's that in your arms?"
"Oh this! Thought you might be interested in this."
Vader began to ask what it was, but suddenly a wild bawl echoed through the bridge.
"Congratulations," gushed Zevul, depositing a squirming bundle in Vader's arms. "You have a son."
Dumbfounded, Vader stared at the child. A son? Amidala had been pregnant when he left her? Or was this the offspring of another man? Or even worse, Obi-Wan? But he could sense the Force was extremely strong with this infant, and he knew it could only be his.
"A son..." he breathed, still incredulous.
"Neat, huh?" Zevul grinned.
The screaming baby had attracted the interest of the officers, who were craning their necks to get a glimpse of the boy. Vader hated being the center of attention like this. He had to go somewhere private.
"Take him, Zevul," he ordered quietly, handing him back to the trooper. "Meet me in my chamber." It occurred to him that the child probably hadn't eaten for quite a while. "I have the feeling I'm asking a stupid question, but would there be any infant formula in the galley?"
"That's not a stupid question -- we got plenty," the soldier replied. "The admiral's wife's aboard for a visit and she brought her three brats. She always brings kiloliters and wouldn't miss any."
"Get some, then. And keep quiet!" He stalked off.
"Tell the kid that," Zevul hissed as the baby began a fresh round of wailing.
They reached Vader's meditation chamber within seconds of each other. Zevul was more than willing to turn the baby over to Vader. What with the child's constant wailing it was a wonder the entire crew of the Executor didn't know about the new arrival.
"Shut 'im up 'fore someone hears him," whispered Zevul, handing Vader a bottle. "And hurry. I gotta return this 'fore the admiral's wife discovers it's missin'."
Vader felt a little foolish feeding the infant, but the feeling soon subsided as the baby quieted down. He cradled his son gently in one arm and settled into his meditation chair.
"Look at 'im," smiled Zevul. "Calmed right down."
Now that he'd had some time to adjust to the shock of finding out he was a father, Vader took a moment to admire the child -- his child. He couldn't be more than three months old -- Amidala hadn't been far enough along to notice when he'd left her. The infant had his mother's elegant features, but those inquisitive blue eyes were definitely his father's. He finished the bottle and cooed softly, snuggling against Vader's chest.
"Aw, ain't he cute, Lord V?"
"Don't call me V," Vader shot back, but there was no annoyance in his tone to back up the order.
The child burped, and Vader grimaced at the mess it caused. He handed the baby to Zevul while he cleaned off his chest. How can so much stuff come from something so small? he mused.
"Thank you," he told the stormtrooper, taking back the infant. "Now leave us."
"Yessir." He saluted and left.
The child whimpered softly, and Vader cradled him clumsily, trying to soothe him.
"Quiet, my son. Your father's here. Shhh."
He found himself humming quietly, a tender tune that he'd all but forgotten. It was his mother's lullaby. Memories flowed back of her gently singing him to sleep in their wretched slave hovel on Tatooine, bringing hope and peace to him on even the worst days. Now he savored the melody like a fine wine, relishing it and the moment.
"Luke," he breathed, suddenly experiencing a gentle nudge in the Force. "Is that your name? Ah, Amidala. I felt that. Thank you."
This baby -- so innocent and pure, the symbol of all that is good -- how can this come from me, the Dark Lord of the Sith, the embodiment of darkness? This child is good, and it is part of me. So that must mean there is good in me. Or was. Perhaps this is that good part, now forever separate from me.
But now that I have Luke in my care, my mission is clear. It has been prophesied that the "offspring of Skywalker" will be the downfall of the Empire. The Emperor commands me to remain celibate to eliminate that possibility, but it would appear no one took my wife into account. If anyone discovers Luke, he will be killed.
I know what I have to do. I must destroy Zevul quietly -- he can't be trusted to keep his mouth shut, especially around fellow troopers. I'll hide my son, care for him as best I can, raise him within a stone's throw of the Emperor, but keep him hidden at all costs, even if it means sacrificing my very life.
But every fiber of his being knew he couldn't do it. The Emperor held him on a leash and controlled him like a puppet. Sooner or later the Emperor would find out about his son and command the child be murdered. No matter how much Vader despised and grieved over the order, he would have no choice but to obey the bloody command.
Besides, even if he never finds out, who's to say I won't harm young Luke myself? I'm too evil, too entangled in the dark side. My dark training teaches me that anything good must be dragged down, destroyed or transformed into black wickedness as I have been crushed and turned to darkness.
I can't keep you, Luke. I'll corrupt you.
That left one option, one he hated to consider, but one that was necessary to keep Luke from premature harm.
"Zevul," he barked into his helmet comlink. "Prepare my shuttle. Set your course for Tatooine."
"Yes, Lord V."
"Don't call me V."
"And pack your bags. I have a special job for you."
A sharp rap on the doorway interrupted the Lars' dinner.
"Whoever it is, go away," snapped Owen through a mouthful of bread.
"Owen, answer it," urged Beru. "It's probably that order of vaporator parts you've been waiting for."
"More likely the creditor with another overdue bill," grumbled Owen. All the same, he stuck his head out the door.
"What is --," he began, but cut short when he saw the black-armored man standing before him.
"Owen Lars," the man rumbled.
"Darth Vader," Owen sneered. He had little tolerance for the Empire sticking its nose into his business.
"May I come in?"
"I don't want you in my house, but I guess I can't stop you."
"Owen, who is it?" Beru entered the courtyard where her husband and their unexpected guest stood. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Hello there. To whom do we owe the privilege of your presence?"
"I'm here to ask something of you." The Sith Lord kept his voice low. "You must keep this absolutely confidential. No one can know of this but you two."
"We ain't paying you," snapped Owen.
"I do not ask for money."
"Pardon me for prying," Beru said, "but what is that you're holding?"
Owen hadn't noticed the black-wrapped bundle in Vader's arms until now. The dark lord tenderly folded back a corner of the wrapping to reveal the face of a sleeping baby.
"Oh my..." Beru breathed.
Owen choked on his next sarcastic comment. This was the favor? Vader wanted him to raise this child? He wasn't sure if this was a blessing or a curse. Still, it would help to have an extra hand on the farm.
"Whose is it?" he inquired, feigning disinterest.
"Mine," Vader replied, then swiftly changed the subject. "Do not, under any circumstances, reveal to this child his true lineage. Raise him as your nephew. If he asks about his father, tell him he's dead."
"What's his name?" asked Beru.
"Luke Skywalker." He placed the infant in Beru's arms. "May the Force be with him and with you."
"And with you too," Owen replied.
Vader watched sadly as the couple and their new charge disappeared into their abode.
"I'm sure the kid's in good hands," Zevul assured Vader, placing a hand on the Dark Lord's shoulder.
"All the same," Vader replied, "I want to make sure. I want you to remain here, Zevul. Go under an alias and reside in this general area. Watch over my son for me."
"Can do, Lord V."
"Don't call me V."
"I'll just hang around this ol' farm community and be the mechanic. Call myself Fixer, 'cause that's what I'll do -- fix things. Hey, where ya goin'?"
A dust storm was picking up, obscuring Vader's shuttle in a brown-gold mist. His cloak billowed about him like a living thing. As he plowed through the thick earthen fog, he picked up a faint telepathic message.
You did the right thing, Vader.
It was the only way, Obi-Wan. I would have destroyed him as I destroyed myself.
Perhaps. Or he would have pulled you away from the dark side.
It is too late for me. If I had any glimmer of light left in me, I gave it to my son. He is the last of that goodness, and now he's gone.
Proof of your good lies in that child, Vader -- and your willingness to give him up.
I sense you intend to watch over Luke as well, Obi-Wan. I can't stop you, but I warn you to keep your distance. I won't have you meddling in my affairs.
I'll do as I see fit, Vader.
Why am I not surprised?
Vader entered the shuttle, grateful his helmet was hiding the flow of tears that fell from his eyes.
HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.