Ignoring both Luke’s sobs and his cries to his sister, Arla dragged him into his rooms and closed the door again. She slung him towards his bed, then surveyed the sight.
“Ninety gods,” she muttered, as he drew himself into a foetal position, but made no move to go towards him. His sobs continued as she watched him, until they were really only hiccups.
After a few minutes of hiccuping, Luke turned around and muttered, “could I - hic– - have - hic - a glass of water, - hic– - please?” in a very subdued voice.
She raised an eyebrow at him, then turned to get a glass from the bathroom. When she brought it back, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking very wan and ill. Indeed, he looked as if he were about to throw up every time he hiccuped. He took the glass from her with a mumbled “thank you” and drank it down avidly, all without looking her in the eye. He looked terrible, with his face all raw from crying, and his hair slicked and wet from the excesses of the day. Still, he didn’t look as bad as Fett had done when she had gone back in to him, nor, she suspected, did he look as bad as the people he had injured. Even from the hastily delivered explanation Leia had given her, she guessed that no fair few of them would never fully recover.
She felt her anger boiling up again, and did not even try to curb it. Reaching out, she slapped Luke about the face.
“Ow!” he cried, holding his smarting face, and looking up at her with wide, reproachful eyes, “what did you do that for?”
She gave him a feral grin, “just to get your attention, little boy.”
If possible, his eyes widened again, although whether it was with fear, or with anger, she couldn’t tell. Defiance, anyway.
“Why are you so angry, Arla?” he asked, frowning again, and looking down at his hands. He ran the fingers of the artificial hand over the gouges he had made in the real one, and winced. “I mean, I never did anything to you.”
Arla’s eyebrows shot into her hair, “well,” she said, “I’d sure as heck love to know where the pleasant young man who persuaded me to come back to this godforsaken hellhole went. Or maybe he was just a character glitch while you were still drunk on being a hero? Maybe Luke Skywalker is just a petulant selfish little boy, after all.” She saw tears beginning to leak out of the corners of Luke’s eyes again, and chided herself. She was going to have to tread very carefully here, she realised, although that was going to be difficult. “Dammit, Luke - Fett was really quite badly injured in his fight with Thrawn - and you could have set him back as much again with what you did -”
She stopped at Luke’s expression of complete bewilderment, and pursed her lips.
“All the worlds still continue to turn even if you are having a crisis, Luke -”
He shook his head.
“No - I mean, yes, I know, but - um, Arla, how could I have hurt Fett? I mean, I, um, I hurt” his voice cracked, “all those poor people, but - Fett?”
She laughed, a short, harsh, humourless sound.
“Oh,” she said, “I think that quite a few people are going to remember what you did for quite a long time, even if they only remember the fucking horrible headache that followed being hit by all your charming emotions.”
“Oh,” Luke now sounded thoroughly chagrined.
Arla sensed his conflicting emotions, as fear, anger, shame, and, somewhat inexplicably, loss warred within him. It was a heady combination, and Arla found herself taking a step backwards away from him. As she did so, her foot encountered something unexpected, and she tripped, falling back onto the something that had been left in the middle of the room. Falling, she caught a glimpse of Luke’s expression, and briefly registered the rage and horror before she was lifted bodily from her feet with a sharp jag of Luke’s now all too familiar energy bolts, and was slammed against the far wall. She sat there, panting more in surprise that hurt.
Luke leapt up and was shouting, “don’t touch them, don’t touch them,” at the top of his voice.
She stared at the small pile of boxes she had inadvertently walked into. They contained a motley array of stuff, including, to her slight confusion, a bright pink feather boa. However, with that one startling exception, it was not a collection that she would have expected anyone to get so very excited about. Luke suddenly seemed to come to this conclusion as well, as he stopped in mid rant, went deathly white, and sat back down very heavily on his bed again. She heard him murmuring to himself, but couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.
Pulling herself to her feet, she said, in a small and shaky voice, “er, I hardly dare ask, but, what is this stuff?”
But instead of answering her question, Luke raised wild eyes to meet hers and cried, almost incoherently, “I’m evil!”
He clutched his hands to his face, sobbing, “she’s right, she’s right - I am evil - I am my father, they said, ‘beware the dark side’, and I didn’t, oh god, oh god -”
Stepping swiftly around the boxes, Arla caught Luke’s hands away from his face, then slapped him again.
“Stop it! You’re acting like a two year old. Answer my question, before I completely lose my patience with you. What is that stuff?”
He flinched at every harsh word, but answered nonetheless, “They’re Wedge’s - Arla, I’m sorry - I - I - oh god, the dark side -”
Arla blinked, ignoring Luke’s continued burbling.
“Wedge’s stuff? Eh? But - why have you got it?”
That stopped him. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, then said, “I - I don’t know. It was just brought here and - I don’t know.”
Arla stared at Luke, and caught the barest hint of a blush on his pale, washed out skin. She looked at the boa, and thought, if I put two and two together here, I think I may make five, but it would explain a lot. She swallowed, then looked at the dejected figure on the bed, and wondered. All of a sudden, she wanted to be anywhere but in this room with him, and she longed to be back with Fett.
“Look,” she said, “I’m going to go now, and leave you to think about today. I’m not going to call any guards, or anything, just leave you here. But, Luke, you’re not evil, I don’t think, just -” and she smiled, so he knew it was a joke, “stupid. From what you’ve told me, being a Jedi isn’t easy, it requires more than ordinary resilience and dedication; now, I’m not saying you haven’t got those, but, that perhaps it is untenable - all that shit about Jedi not feeling any passion or anything, well, no one can do that. It’s not possible. We all feel these ‘dark side’ emotions sometimes, and it’s not a big deal. You’ve had a lot of crap recently, and what went on before - must have been hard. I think you’ve got two choices; either go with the flow, relax and realise that feeling something isn’t so bad, or shut yourself away from the world like Fett did. There’s no prizes for guessing which I think is the better option. Now you just think about it, okay?” she finished rather awkwardly, feeling like a schoolteacher, but Luke was staring at her as if he had had a revelation. She smiled a him rather sadly, and let herself out of the room.
And Luke lay back on his bed, stared at the wall, the ceiling, anywhere but the boxes by the bed. He let the tears flow freely, so that they caught in his hair and tickled into his ears. He closed his eyes, gathered as much of himself together, and with some trepidation, flung himself as best he could into the first meditative trance he had had for weeks.
Hurrying along the corridors, Arla was aware that she should have done this hours before.
After leaving Luke alone, she had gone to Fett, and somehow the time had just sped away. It was all very well telling Fett all about it, but really, others had to know. She had grabbed a droid and found out that Leia was in her own chambers, so she was headed there. It seemed miles away from the hospital area, and it was with not inconsiderable relief that she came into view of Leia and Han’s door.
She took a deep breath, and, without even knocking, she went in. It wasn’t exactly a meeting, Arla realised as she entered the room. Considering what these people had been through together, it was virtually a family group. They all looked in alarm as she came in, and she grimaced.
“It’s alright, it’s not him - it’s only me,” she said, rubbing her eyes wearily, and thinking, stupid Luke - doesn’t he realise they’ll never trust him again, poor stupid kid. Not that it was surprising, she realised, as she took in how Leia looked. Without meaning to, she gasped, and quickly took the couple of steps to crouch down in front of her, and gently, without touching the raw palms, take Leia’s hands in her own.
Leia looked almost blankly back at her. Here, unaffected by Luke’s fireworks, Arla was able to see her old friend close up. Even though some hours had passed since it had all happened, there were still tear streaks livid on her cheeks, her eyes were blood shot, and skin around her lips was white with tension.
“Oh, Leia,” she breathed, and rubbed her thumbs absently over Leia’s wrists, “oh dear, oh dear.”
Slowly, she grew aware of the tension around her. She looked from face to face, taking in everyone’s expression. Han, seated close to, but not quite touching, his partner, looked completely shattered. He was trying to hide it, but Arla knew her man. He had on his sabacc face, more or less, the one that had no doubt won him that rust bucket, the Falcon, and the other junk that he had collected over the years. But, behind those bland features, she could see the tension, and conflict in him, even just from the way he was holding himself.
She wondered briefly what the last few hours has been like for him, but swiftly decided she just didn’t want to think about it. She smiled at him, and then at Chewie. The Wookie stood behind Han, and growled a low moan when she met his eyes. Which were murderous. She wondered again what the last few hours had been like for the man, as Chewie’s eyes rolled, and he howled softly. His eyes told her that he would happily go and rip Luke’s head off. What fun, she thought, one severely shocked - and pregnant - woman and a homicidal Wookie. Fab.
It was Mon Mothma’s crisp voice that broke her reverie.
“Well?” she said, sounding more tired than, in fact, she looked, “presumably, Miss Gen, you have come here for a reason. What is he doing now?”
Arla closed her eyes, feeling suddenly extremely weary despite the couple of hours of sleep she had snatched curled up next to Fett. She decided to answer the question literally, and reached out to gently touch at Luke’s presence.
“Right now,” she said, trying to sound casual, “he’s asleep.”
Mothma leaned forward, sounding hopeful, “you calmed him down?”
“I suppose so. I’m afraid that was ages ago; I left him at about midnight or so, and he dropped into some sort of a trance -”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone - we’ve been so worried! Han wanted to go and see what was happening, but I wouldn’t let him. You should have kept us informed.”
Arla sighed, and bowed her head as she listened to Mothma’s angry words. “I’m sorry, I know I should have done, but I went to Fett. I - I forgot for a little while - I’m afraid I fell asleep. I’m sorry.”
There was a small silence, then Leia snapped her head up, and cried, “how could he?” in so mournful a tone that Arla could hardly bear it.
Han gathered Leia up into his arms, and, rather awkwardly, rocked her gently. In the absolute silence, his soft croons to her seemed very loud.
Arla stood up.
“I think he is very unhappy.” she stated, “I think it has something to do with Wedge - although the gods know what exactly - but it’s not just that. He seems terrified he’s going to become his father.” She watched Leia wince. “Too many years of trying too hard, I guess.” she sighed, “I don’t really know what is wrong with him, but I think you need to get him away from here - from you all - as fast as possible. He needs help.”
There was another silence as everyone absorbed this, then Mothma voiced what everyone was feeling.
“What happened to him - how can we not have seen this coming? What went wrong?” Then, in a harder tone, “but I just don’t see what we can do about him.”
“Look,” said Arla, tiredness bleeding through into her voice, “we’re all tired -”
She got no further as Leia burst out with, “I wish we could just take the Force away from him. He cannot ruin everything we’ve made. There must be some way.”
To Arla’s shock, both Han and Mothma looked keen.
Leia continued, “it’s no use though - I can’t do it, I’ve never trained, so stupid. There’s no one else alive - I bet the Emperor could have though, and Va - my father -”
“You’re not serious,” gasped Arla, “you can’t be.” She looked from face to face, disbelieving. “No, you can’t be. Leia, this is your brother - this is Luke we are talking about -”
Leia gave her a level stare.
“I do not believe I have a brother, Arla,” she said, in a flat, still voice.
Arla swallowed, and floundered a bit.
“Ah,” she said, “well, even so. Um. Leia - you know that is not so, but anyway. Anyway. Look, take the Force away from Luke - even if you could - and I can tell you you’ll get no help from Fett or me - he’ll just - well, I don’t know, but I suspect he’d die.”
She had the satisfaction of seeing Leia pale just a little.
Again it was Mon Mothma who broke the resulting silence.
“Then,” she said, “It will have to be exile.”
The trance Luke had dropped into had soon turned to an exhausted, nightmare fuelled sleep, and when he opened his eyes in a panic some hours later, it was in a sweat soaked bed, with twisted up bedclothes. His head throbbed, and he felt as if he had not slept at all. Licking his dry lips, he spent a good few minutes staring at the ceiling wondering where he was, and when that was settled, what he was doing there, while his heart slowed from the violent thumping from the dream from which he had awoken.
Just thinking about the dream sent his pulse off again, and he bolted upright in bed, crying, “no!”
But still the vision of the Emperor's hands reaching out to him stayed in front of his eyes, and he heard his mad cackle all around. Luke curled convulsively back onto the bed again and moaned.
“Evil,” he muttered, “I'm evil,” but he could not remember what the Emperor had said to him. Why had he dreamt of Palpatine? He thought uncomfortably of the vision he had had of Han and Leia on Bespin, but dismissed it - after all, Palpatine was as dead as his father - as dead as Wedge. He curled tighter into a ball, and began to cry a little, then winced as his tears encountered rough, raw skin on his cheeks. As if he had been crying before. He rubbed his still sleep filled, sore eyes, and wondered why he had been crying.
His hand hurt as well, he realised, and, looking at the scraped and scabbed palm, he, with another sudden increase in heartbeat, remembered. No wonder he had dreamt of the Emperor - had he started this way, harming just a very few out of anger - how easy would it be?
He leapt from the bed, tripping a little over the boxes by his bed. He wheeled around to stare at Wedge's abandoned belongings, and felt anger well up inside him so fast he almost choked on it.
Despite the pain, his hands balled into tight fists, and he growled at the boxes, “your fault - it's all your fault.”
The boxes tipped up, and scattered their contents all over the floor, clothes snarled with holo's, books and old toys skittered under the bed, away from him. Seeing the remains of Wedge's life spread out about him, Luke's anger dissipated.
He sagged back down onto the bed again, head in his hands, and murmured, “no, no - my fault, all my fault - not yours, Wedge.”
The events of the previous day shuttled rapidly through his mind, making him feel sicker and sicker each time he relived them. He remembered Arla's harsh words with a certain amount of relief, and thanked the gods that she had been there. Yoda had been acerbic with him all the time he had been on Dagobah, and now he was admonished by a pupil of his own. The thought almost made him smile until he remembered the reason that he had been outstripped. Yoda's warnings rang in his mind - fear, anger, aggression - he had used all of the above the day before.
He touched at his face, half expecting to feel the cool plastic of his father's mask as if to complete his transformation. But Vader had never been sorry, never felt remorse, and Luke's heart ached for the pain he had caused those innocent people - and Leia.
Thinking of what he had done to Leia almost set him off again, and he slumped further onto the bed.
“Leia,” he whispered, reaching out to her, caressing her mind with a loving touch. He instantly felt recognition, then reeled back at the rush of emotions that poured straight into his mind. Fear was at the head of it all, and it pulsed within everything else that she was sending out at him, fear and hate. Leia hated him. And there was nothing he could do to stop it. The feelings grew and grew, so that he had a chance to feel all he had sent at her come back at him, feel the panic that had taken over her unborn children, feel her contempt for him.
Then it stopped; Leia took all of it away and left him. Alone. It was as if he had never contacted her at all. There was only a blank, empty spot where her comforting, easy presence had always been there to support and succour him. He tried again to reach her, but met only the blankness in his mind. Panic took over, and he tried again and again to reach her, battering as best he could against her shields, trying to find some way of getting in. Finally, inevitably, he succeeded - there was no way that she could hold hhim out forever, with his training - but it was not in any way he had expected.
All he heard was Leia's voice, crisp and cold in his head, “do not touch me. You are not my brother,” then her presence winked out again, and left him as alone as before.
His stomach heaved, and he raced to the bathroom and gagged miserably over the sink. He had not eaten since - well, he couldn't even remember, and all that came up was a bitter, acidic bile, burning at his throat as it came, and making him gag even further. He looked up at himself in the mirror, and saw a haunted, ill looking face, with red rimmed, red veined eyes, raw red cheeks and nose and pale, almost white lips, thin with pain and unhappiness. His slack mouth was damp with spittle, and his hair, mussed and damp with sweat, stuck out in all directions.
He found he could hardly bear the misery in his own eyes and had to look away for a moment.
Get a grip, Luke, he thought at himself, with some impatience as the shock of his sister's desertion began to fade a little. He tried for a moment to steady himself with the techniques he had learnt from Yoda - baby lessons, some of the first things that he had taught his students - but found he could not concentrate. Any use of his powers drew his mind straight back to the empty space that had been Leia.
He looked around the bathroom in dismay, until his eyes lighted on the shower. He smiled, knowing that Yoda would have approved of this simple way of reasserting reality. He was pretty dirty too, he realised, and he concentrated on simply getting himself clean again, and blocked any thoughts from his mind.
He stepped naked back into the room again, feeling more human. Flicking open the wardrobe door, he reached automatically for his black Jedi suit, then snatched his hand back as if it were burnt. He stared at the clothes with something like horror, tasting bile again in his mouth, burning his throat. He carefully closed the door again, frightened a little by his reaction to the clothes he had once been so proud to wear, and rested his head on it. Eventually, he turned away and went to a cupboard from which he pulled some pale garments, and flung them on the bed. By the time he had dressed, and wrapped the leg bindings, he knew what he had to do. Belting up the loose white jacket, he strode through the door and marched down the corridor without a second glance.
The building seemed deserted. Despite his better judgement, he went to Leia's quarters, convincing himself that it was just on the way to his destination. But she was not there, and nor was anyone one else - not even 3-PO. He wondered, briefly, where they could be, as it was still pretty early in the morning. He shrugged to himself, and thought about tracking Han, but decided that it was best not to use the Force at all. His empty stomach roiled unpleasantly at the thought, as if to confirm it.
It occurred to him that it might be a good thing to get something to eat, but he decided that it was more important to follow his instinct at this point, and cope with his body later.
It was only a few minutes later he arrived in the medical area. It too seemed deserted, although he was aware of the presence of people behind the doors he passed, no one was out in the corridors. He decided to not let this bother him. He risked a quick flash of the Force to ascertain where his prey was, and was pleased to discover that he had been correct. This person was still in their room. Gathering himself together, and planting a smile on his face, Luke knocked on the door.
“Come in,” rasped the familiar voice. He sounded bored.
Luke went in.
“Hello, I’m glad to see that you are not another one of those aides. I do not wish to give another statement,” said Boba Fett, smiling rather wanly at him. He looked very tired, and there were livid bruises all down one side of his face, and onto his neck. Luke didn't want to know just how far down Fett's body the bruises went. He smiled tentatively back, relieved that the man hadn't instantly thrown him out.
“How are you?” he asked.
Fett raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well,” he said, “the headache is beginning to go away, thank you.”
Luke blushed, but Fett’s sardonic voice continued, “And to what do I owe the honour of this visit, Luke?”
“You’ve really changed,” said Luke, the words seeming to come from nowhere. As he sat down on the attendant’s chair he wondered why exactly he had felt compelled to come and see Fett. He knew what he had to do, but, when he thought about it, there was no reason to see the bounty hunter first. What could he know about the Jedi, really?
“I wonder,” said Fett, in an unaccountably harsh tone, then in a more conversational manner. “I shot him, you know. He laughed at the Force, and I couldn’t stop him with anything you’d taught us. He did not have the Force. He believed in nothing -”
“And you found this disturbing? Then you really have changed. When you arrived, you didn’t believe it either, and now -”
“Shut up. Things have changed now, Luke. It’s not as clear cut as you probably once thought it was. Your father was a brilliant man; do you realise that? He didn’t care -”
Luke jumped up.
“No! He did care - I know that; in the end he -”
“Sit down.” Luke sat. “I hadn’t finished. What he didn’t care about was how things got done. Look, what other Imperial officer would openly hire bounty hunters to run around after smugglers and the like? Most thought themselves far, far above that sort of thing - your Admiral Piett’s exact words were ‘bounty hunters - we don’t need that scum’. He is a small minded man, but Vader had more foresight. It’s not the Force that did that either, before you tell me that it is. Thrawn was very like Vader in many ways, although they - which is probably why - they didn’t get on. I think you could be too, if you put your mind to it - after all, you saw potential in Arla and me -”
Luke rubbed his head, which was beginning to ache.
“Fett, why are you telling me all this? I mean, it’s all very interesting, and everything, but - why? After all,” he muttered, “it’s not as if I’m going to have any sort of high command after everything I’ve done in the last few days. And I resigned. Leia won’t talk to me -” a thought occurred to him. “You do know what I did, don’t you -” suspicious now, “you’re being very friendly.”
Fett just laughed, then winced as his bruises throbbed back at him. His mind still felt slightly muzzy around the edges from the drugs Arla had insisted he take when she had left a couple of hours before dawn, but he forced himself to concentrate.
“Of course I know what you did - anyone with even the smallest amount of Force ability would have known,”
Luke smiled. “Maybe I should try it again; then we’d have a sure fire way of testing who had the Force.”
More laughter, again cut short.
“God, that hurts.” murmured Fett, when he caught his breath. “But yes, I suppose it would. To your earlier question, though - Arla told me everything she knew. It took quite a while to get her calmed down again - she was very, um, upset? Angry? I don’t know. But, what you did was nothing, really. They are all jumping at shadows at the moment. Right now, if I wanted, I could be their hero - after all, I killed Thrawn - and you are the villain. Ignore it, it’ll pass. It doesn’t matter what they think. Your father followed his own path -”
“No! The Emperor enslaved him, he -”
“That’s quite insulting to Vader, Luke; but, very well, I believe he followed his own path, and that just happened to fall in step with the Emperor’s for a time. In the end, had there been no rebellion - or at least, no successful rebellion - he would have disposed of Palpatine, I think -”
Luke felt a sudden sick rush of memory, and slumped with his head in his hands, hearing his father’s voice echo in his head - you could destroy the Emperor, he has foreseen this -
“Oh gods,” he muttered at his hands, “he asked me - he said we could rule the galaxy - together.” He paused, then choked out, “just after he’d told me he was my father.”
“And you refused?” Fett seemed faintly surprised, “Well, I suppose you would - ah well.”
Luke’s head snapped up, “You think I should have - accepted? Ruled the galaxy with him?” Was this why he had come here, he wondered. Was it really his ‘destiny’ to rule? Really?
Luke doubted it, and it must have shown on his face, as Fett said, “and now you’re thinking you couldn’t have - well, perhaps you -”
Luke was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer pointlessness of the conversation. He felt that something important was just floating out of his reach, but he couldn’t quite see it. He reached out to Fett with his mind, although everything in his instincts told him not to, trying to push the older man into saying what he had come to his room to hear. Something significant - vital, even. Something that Fett was - perhaps purposefully - not saying. If he could just look and see, then perhaps he could just push Fett just a little, only a very little and it would be said, and he’d know, and it would be alright, and he could go and do what had to be done, he’d be sure it was right. He didn’t really care about Thrawn - and besides, the man was dead, now, so Fett said. And the stuff about his father was interesting, but, but - not quite what he wanted to hear.
Fett gave him what Luke took to be an amused glance, and said, “it would have been interesting if your father and the Emperor had created their Dark Jedi - I wonder, Luke, would you have been one too?”
Their eyes met for a moment; Fett’s gleamed golden even under the flat hospital lighting, but spoke nothing. Luke did not want to know what his expression looked like to Fett, but he felt as if his mind had been wiped clean.
“What?” he said, heartstoppingly aware that the small coaxing had appeared to work. Somehow. Dark Jedi? Dark Jedi? His mind whizzed, trying to get round the idea, wondering what that could mean. Dark Jedi? Why had no one heard of this before? Why hadn’t there been - ?
Then it struck him. Wait a minute, he thought, wait one damn minute; he licked his lips, then said, “Boba Fett?”
The bounty hunter turned back to give him a level stare, he did not respond. Luke swallowed.
“Uh,” he tried, suddenly confused, “I don’t know of any plans for any Dark Jedi. I’ve never heard anyone mention it, in fact.” He cleared his throat, but Fett still just stared at him, only now there was a slight smile touching at the corners of his mouth. Only very slight, though. “Um, well, how is it that you know of this?”
Fett smiled openly now, but his tone, when he spoke, was not friendly, “why not try and read my mind to find out, Luke?”
They stared at each other again, Luke feeling a little like a hoopara bird with its wing caught in a landspeeder, unable to get away. But Fett relented.
“Oh,” he said, airily, “he told me.”
Luke’s mind went blank again.
“What?” he cried, then, “when?”
Now it was Fett’s turn to look uncomfortable.
“About - oh god, it seems ages ago - about a week ago. On Tatooine.” His tone turned dry. “Must have been going back to his roots.”
“But, but, he’s dead -” Luke heard the whine creeping into his voice and winced. “He’s dead.”
“Yes.” said Fett, daring Luke to disprove him, “Nevertheless, we had a nice little chat. On Tatooine. Just at the Sarlacc pit. I’m sure you remember when you saw me there last. Apparently Vader also knew. I did not appreciate his sense of humour.”
He leaned forward, suddenly urgent.
“I should have said earlier, but Arla and I, we,” he ran a hand through his hair in a gesture that was very reminiscent of Arla, “we, well, we had these dreams. Personal dreams. About the past.” He closed his eyes. “I won’t go into to it, as it is - not your business, I’m afraid. We were disturbed by this, as you can imagine. We guessed that it was not random, and at first we thought it was you - you know that. It wasn’t. It was Vader. He appeared to me on Tatooine - you do believe me don’t you? - and told me - things.”
Luke sat shaking his head.
“I don’t believe this,” he said. Fett started to try to get up, but Luke waved him down again. “No, no - I believe you saw him. I have, too - once.” He gave Fett a shy glance, “I’ve never told anyone this before - not even Leia - but when the Battle of Endor was over, and - and I’d burnt - burnt - never mind. Anyhow, I saw them all. Ben, Yoda and my father - Anakin Skywalker. Together. They looked happy.” He too brushed a lock of hair away from his face. “I don’t know what it is, or how it is done. I suppose I’ll be able to do it when I - when this body dies, but I don’t know how. Ben spoke to me a number of times after he died, to help me, guide me -” he faltered, remembering Ben’s words about Vader, remembering the terrible half truths. “I think so, anyway, although - anyway.” He tried to stop his mind spinning, tried to concentrate - Fett had seen his father?
“What did he want - my father?” he asked in a small voice..
“To be my master,” said Fett, shortly. “I told him I wanted no master.”
Luke felt himself begin to shake, and all that he had left from what he had learnt as a Jedi bleed away. He sunk his head back into his hands again, and fought with the desire to throw up again. He felt light-headed, but it all was beginning to come very, very clear to him. Some small, rational part of his brain argued that he should really calm down, get some food, think. He ignored it, and didn’t even look up as Fett began to speak again.
“Luke, it has to be stopped - the dead should leave the living alone. No one can command anyone else’s destiny,” It was plain to Luke that Fett was thinking, especially not mine. “Vader was manipulating my mind - and Arla’s, too.” He stopped, and Luke looked up at him from his slouched position; Fett looked as if he had just been hit, and when he continued it was in a much more subdued tone. “God - he could be making you do things - like yesterday - Arla said that Leia thinks there is some dreadful plot - I said that was so much sh - rubbish, but -” he paused again, and again the hand went through the hair. “It must be stopped -”
Everything fell into place.
With great sureness in his mind, Luke leapt up, and whirled around to face Fett again.
“You have no idea,” he breathed, shaking his head, “no idea at all how right you are.”
He took a deep breath, then another, then said, “where is everyone? Everywhere was very quiet.”
Fett gave him a hard stare, then picked up the clock.
“It’s half past nine,” he said, slowly, “there was going to be a press conference at nine, so I guess everyone is there. I guess it has just started.” Then, almost nervously, “Luke, what are you going to do?”
But Luke shook his head again, and walked tensely to the door, trying not to let the pent up emotions leak through - not yet, not yet, he told himself.
“You’ll see,” he said, in a tight voice, “you’ll see.”
And he ran to the door, and shot out into the corridor. The door snapped shut behind him. Fett stared at it for a moment, then his mouth twitched into something that was almost a smile, but didn’t quite get there. Turning the news comm on, he closed his eyes, then settled back to enjoy the conference.
The large council chamber, which had been usually reserved for Senatorial press conferences before Palpatine had disbanded the Senate and abandoned regular press updates, was now stuffed full to bursting with people. There were Senators in the building, certainly, and not just seated with Mothma on the podium, but down among the others as well.
Most had already sat down and were waiting, some with less patience than others - she noted with some amusement a group of fidgeting pilots clumped near the back of the room - but most sat with at least a semblance of calm.
She watched as Admiral Piett edged himself along the front row into a position almost opposite her. He looked haunted and rather upset, but he smiled up at her before sitting down and being immediately engaged in conversation with his rather elderly next door neighbour.
Mothma felt a certain amount of impatience herself, as people fussed with their seats, and their neighbours. It was the reporters who seemed to settle themselves last, taking an inordinately long time to simply sit down in their boxes and get their viscorders set up. She suppressed a sigh, but heard her neighbour, General Madine, sigh gustily, and caught a glimpse of him rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. He had never learnt to school his expressions, but no one, she supposed, really expected that of a military man.
The governor of Coruscant, seated on her other side, was sweating under the hot lighting - and possibly because he had been briefed on the Luke situation only just before this conference was to begin. That was, Mothma thought, enough to make anyone nervous. But he still smelt. She suppressed another sigh, and edged ever so slightly away from him. As she did so, the flat screen on the table in front of her flashed once, and beeped, and the cheerful face of R'cha, one of her aides, grinned up at her.
The earplug sputtered into life, and R'cha said, “ready to go,” and the image gave a thumbs up sign.
Mothma rose, and, as she did, the quiet babble of the delegates abruptly fell away, and silence hung expectantly in the room.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she began, “thank you for attending this meeting at such short notice. As you are no doubt aware, hostilities have ended. Thanks to the heroism of our pilots under the command of Commander Syok, two of Thrawn's Super-Star Destroyers have been annihilated. We have received reliable information that, although the Grand Admiral's ship did go to lightspeed, Thrawn himself is dead, killed by an agent of the Republic on his own Star Destroyer.” Fett had apparently specified that he did not want his deeds to be common knowledge, and Mothma wondered about his motivation in this but quickly dismissed the thought from her mind as she spoke.
“The man in question prefers to remain anonymous, and the Republic will honour his wishes. The death of Thrawn can be expected to mean that the Imperial threat has lessened considerably. Naturally, we will be investigating the matter further, and will be, in this vulnerable period, keeping especially close tabs on known Imperial sympathisers. We can now officially reveal that the former Imperial Admiral of the Fleet, Grigori Piett, defected to the New Republic during yesterday's battle.”
A picture of Piett, worried looking, flashed up on the screen behind her, which had previously shown the Republican insignia.
“The admiral will be working with us from now on to uncover further Imperial threats to the Republic.” She paused, aware of Piett looking impassively up at her. Or possibly at his own image. She closed her eyes for a moment, to collect her thoughts, then continued.
“The space battle, and its repercussions, is, as all inhabitants of Coruscant are very much aware, only the smallest of our concerns. In thousands of years of Republican rule, Coruscant was never breached. The events of the last quarter century have changed the galaxy beyond anyone's imagining, and it has come to pass that Coruscant has suffered its first invasion since records began. I would like to stress that there have been minimal civilian casualties; thanks to the swift action taken by the rescue forces of the planet, over ninety eight percent of the city's population has been evacuated - and the rest of us are here, in the palace complex.” No need to tell them that Thrawn had had plans for this place, she thought. Let them just think it a lucky fluke, if they can’t see that themselves.
“The rest of Coruscant has not fared so well.” The wall behind her changed to another series of static images: collapsed buildings, fallen AT ATs, medics and soldiers struggling manfully to free survivors from the wreckage - nothing too graphic, although she knew that the news channels would be full of it in even the furthest reaches of the galaxy, by now.
“The city was not well prepared for a ground attack -” mainly, she thought traitorously, because no one actually knew where the ground actually was, anymore “and has suffered accordingly. We do not yet know the exact figures for military casualties on either side, but the physical damage has been great.” She paused again, this time letting her face fill with concern, and conviction.
“The New Republic takes full responsibility for the events of the past three days. We cannot do otherwise. The Grand Admiral did not attack Coruscant - he attacked all that Coruscant has come to stand for over the centuries. Coruscant has been the centre of the political universe for long enough. For that reason, we are shifting the centre of power. It will take many years for Coruscant to recover from this attack. We do not wish to subject it to any more. The government headquarters” and the military ones, too, “will be moving to Halsar, a relatively unpopulated planet. We have already dispatched builders and engineers to start work on the new governmental complex.”
There was a murmur she could hear in the hall now, as people shifted the idea of government and Coruscant not being in the same place uncomfortably around their heads. She let them think about it before continuing. This was not an occasion to ride roughshod over their emotions by just barraging them with knowledge, no, this time she had to get them to understand it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she began, after ascertaining that they had had time to register her words, “I understand your -”
Then the lights went out.
The computer link in front of her flipped out, as well. Mothma suppressed her frustration, and waited for the emergency lighting to come on, supposing that the temporary power systems had collapsed. And when they had assured her it could hold. The moments passed, and she, and the rest of the room, realised that far too much time had passed, and the lights had not come on. The noise level began to rise, as people began to get to the edges of panic.
Mothma began to get an uneasy feeling at the pit of her stomach, and she wished that she could see Leia, to see if she was thinking the same way. It was morning now, and even if Arla had said he was asleep, that had been around dawn. If only the conference room was high enough up to have windows -
That was as far as her thoughts were allowed to go.
Something snapped, and the next thing she knew was that she was seated in front of the podium, as were the rest of the high command. An idle part of her mind noted she had been placed next to the Admiral. She glanced at the officers, and saw them suppressing the panic they must be feeling. That, if she wasn’t very, very careful, she too would be experiencing.
The podium was not empty.
There was one man standing where she had stood. And his features were ranged huge on the screens behind him, echoing every move he made. Looking into the vast eyes of the head in the screen, even though the definition wasn’t too good, and gave the impression of hundreds of little flickering squares, Mon Mothma did begin to feel very afraid.
Luke stood impassively, looking back and forth across his audience. He was reminded of the hoopara bird again, but this time the mindless compulsion belonged to the people in front of him. He listened and heard the barely audible click, click, click as holo recorders took in the new development. He looked again at the people staring up at him, and felt a rush of power.
He had cleaned himself up on the way to the hall, and he carefully held his damaged hand away from the recorders. If his cheeks looked a little on the red side, then, well, it could perhaps be written down as excitement, or just natural colour. If his eyes seemed tired, and red as well, then, well, it had been a long night for everyone.
“People,” he said, so quietly that everyone had to strain to hear him, “you all know who I am.” There was a slight pause, as if Luke was listening to some silent rhythm, then, “what I am.” His gaze swept past them all, not settling on one person, “A Jedi Knight. The first of that kind since Palpatine and my father had the remnants of the Order killed. Some have called me a Master, but that is not so. My Master taught Jedi for 800 years, whereas I . . . ” he gave his audience a winning smile, “well, there’s no comparison, is there?”
Mon Mothma watched with horrified fascination as Luke spoke to the carefully gathered delegates she had only a short time ago been addressing. There was no question of stopping him, or even getting up and simply walking out. He’s done something with our minds, she realised, and people, she thought, people are actually listening to him!
She scrutinised him, trying to find signs of the crazed young man that had been described last night; she reminded herself that she had not seen him. She risked a glance at Leia, wondering if the compulsion he held them under would allow that. It did. Leia’s face was stricken, and she stared at her brother as if she didn’t know who he was. As well she might, thought Mothma grimly.
“We have begun a new age,” Luke continued, his voice now warm with pride. “When the Emperor was destroyed by my father on the second Death Star, a whole way of life was destroyed with him. Or so it should have been. Instead, we have clung to the old, familiar ways - and I have been as guilty of this as any other, I am not ashamed to admit - like small children desperately clutching at our mother’s skirts.”
Again, his gaze swept across them all, but this time it was as if he met every person’s eyes, and reminded them that what he said was true. Mothma even felt a twinge of guilt when those bright, guileless blue eyes rested for a moment on her. And then she began to feel very, very angry. But the relentless words continued, and all she could do was impotently sit there.
“What we are doing is recreating a Republic that even the very old can only remember as a disintegrating, corrupt set up. If there was one thing that could be said for Palpatine, despite the - ah - obvious instability of his character -”
If she could have, Mothma would have laughed out loud at that one. But, although she kept on listening to the poisonous words, part of her mind was wondering - where were the bounty hunters, or Gen at the very least? Shouldn’t they be here, trying to stop the little idiot, before he did any real harm?
“Despite that, he was fighting against something that had gone rotten, and had to be disposed of. We all know that his methods were abominable, and I would not suggest a reign of terror as a constructive alternative to the mouldering wreak it replaced. And,” now dark concern shadowed the suddenly tired face, “have we truly been any better? I dropped the bomb that destroyed the first Death Star. I became,” and now his tone became slightly mocking, “a hero. And what comment would Admiral Piett have on the one million Imperial lives lost on that day? Should we continue with a regime that believes only in death as a solution?”
Now, noted Mothma, there was a low murmuring throughout the hall, mutterings in agreement with his words. And, on a certain level, she knew, you couldn’t fault what he said. How had he got so very clever with words? Still, there was a feeling that all this he said now was merely a build up, something to lull them into a false sense of security. Piett looked at his feet.
“In the Old Republic,” purred Luke’s soft voice, “the Jedi were the cornerstone of all that was Right and Good, but as a foundation, they could only support so much before they crumbled under the strain. The Force is there, it is part of all our lives - but we mere mortals cannot presume to touch it without it taking over our lives. And when that happens, you can be assured that only bad can follow. In many ways, both my father and the Emperor were ideal Jedi, but something in them was turned, twisted away from the right way. Since the beginning of the New Republic I have been teaching those who are strong in the Force. I am a Jedi, and I am also the son of Anakin Skywalker - Darth Vader.”
Luke took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. All the holo-corders took in how his hands clenched into fists, then relaxed. His eyes opened again, and his face flashed large on the screen behind him. It looked worn, and very sad. But resolute.
“Today, you have seen one thing that I can do,” he said, and everyone who knew him heard the tension in his voice. “Only a few minutes ago you were listening to Mon Mothma describing the new governmental headquarters, then the lights went out and the dignitaries on this podium - including my own sister - found themselves seated in the audience they had themselves assembled. Listening to me. And you have all been listening, haven’t you? Why hasn’t someone come up here and gently ushered me off the stage, and then continued the press conference? Why did no one stop me?”
The hall was silent, except for the small human sounds of people shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Luke stared at them, but there was no contempt in his expression, not even pity. He seemed simply - resigned.
“I will tell you why,” he said, voice sad and again so quiet that everyone strained to hear. “I have done this. With my mind. With the Force. I have made you all sit there and listen to me spouting rubbish about the New Republic, which, really, does very well. I even turned off the bloody lights.”
He let this all sink in.
“Is this what you what? People who can manipulate your minds as easily as you can walk into a room?”
Now he looked almost stricken, and you could see tears welling at the corners of his eyes. Nobody in the room wanted to look at him, but no one could tear their eyes away.
Leia was in an agony of panicked fear. Her fingers dug into the soft arms of her seat as she watched, unable, still, to act, what her brother was going to do. He wouldn’t, she thought, her minding racing around in little circles, he wouldn’t, have we pushed him that far -
“I thought not,” Luke continued, and although he was no longer looking at his audience, but at the floor, his voice, heavy, world weary and full of pain caught them. All eyes were on him.
“That is why I have come to this conclusion.” He looked up, and a half smile flitted across his face. “Now, I suspect you think I am going to kill myself. One last glorious gesture. Be rest assured, I am not. No, what I am going to do is kill something else far more important that this puny life.”
No one moved, and Luke felt the fear flood through the hall. Almost, he savoured it, then let it go.
“From this moment,” he said, “there is no Jedi. I renounce it all. I said earlier that I am the first of the Jedi - and now I will be the last. None of my pupils have completed their training fully, there will be none to follow me.”
He smiled at the shocked silence.
“Through this gesture, I let the Force free again. Now it can go back to where it belongs - among the stars, the earth, even in us people. But never again will it be manipulated by men for their own ultimately selfish ends.”
Still no one moved, and he said in a more conversational tone, “it’s alright - you can move again now. And I would suggest that some guards come and take me away for disturbing the peace. Thank you very much for your time.”
He stepped down from the podium and walked out of the room.
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