The Protege'Author :
jedinemoRating and disclaimer :
Rated PG-13. The Star Wars Universe belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd, and I have gained nothing but satisfaction from this fanfic.Summary :
Darth Vader has an unsettling encounter within the Imperial Palace that changes the course of Galactic history.Timeline :
A few years before the events of ANH
Anakin glanced back at his speeder before he entered the top floor of the Emperor Palpatine Surgical Reconstruction Center. Even following the nav computer's instructions, it had still been a white-knuckle flight, the farthest he had traveled alone. Strangely, Vader had forgotten to change the name of the facility, maybe because it was usually referred to by its shortened name, EmPal SuRecon. Or maybe because Vader disliked the place as much as he did. Though Palpatine had brought him here many times, the sense of unease that followed him through its hallways had never lessened. Even now an unbidden shiver swept through him as he made his way to the medical lab.
It was undoubtably the most secure place to have the sample processed, though, and that had been his goal. He'd made a similarly nerve-racking trip to bring the swab in, not trusting a courier, just as he had come now to keep the results from being transmitted through the computer network. At the door to the lab he entered his pass code, and let himself in. The waiting area was empty, and he stared up into the security cam to announce himself. To his relief, the same technician who had taken the sample came forward from the back, a folded piece of flimsi in his hand.
The technician gave him a smile of recognition. "That was a good one. I'm not sure how you did it."
He regarded the man suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"Your sample matched a dead man," the technician said, "but those cells looked fresh. No storage deterioration at all."
A dead man? Had Vader lied after all? He resisted the impulse to vault the counter and grab the piece of flimsi. Instead he extended his hand in expectation that the report would be delivered. "It's a new technology. This was just a test."
The technician passed the flimsi over the counter. "I hadn't read anything about a new preservative."
"If you work here," he said softly, in his best Palpatine imitiation, "you know better than to ask questions."
The technican immediately bowed his head. "Of course. My mistake."
He turned without replying and exited the lab. Though it was only a few minutes, it felt like it took an eternity to reach his speeder. Once he was snugged in his seat, he unfolded the flimsi. His eyes flew to the bottom, where the results were printed in red. No... no
...that couldn't be true. He shook his head as he reread the report. That was impossible
It seemed his name really was Anakin Skywalker, had always been Anakin Skywalker. Even when he had been a Jedi.
Even a Star Destroyer becomes ordinary when viewed often enough, and Darth Vader was well past that point. But seeing Luke's wonderment at the size of Devastator's
main hangar reawakened Vader to the magnificence of his own ship. It had been too long since he'd last been out in space, and he was tempted to give his son a taste of Devastator's
capabilities. In front of them, row upon row of TIE fighters gleamed under the lights of the cavernous hangar, and Luke wandered forward from his side, too engaged by the sight to realize he was making a protocol error.
Enjoying the moment as much as the boy, Vader felt no desire to reprimand him for the trespass. "Would you like to see them up close?"
"Yes, sir. Very much," Luke said, breaking free of his reverie.
As they proceeded towards the fleet of fighters, Vader caught sight of the quartermaster heading across the hangar floor to intercept them. He would have preferred not to be interrupted, but he supposed he had only himself to blame for his crew's attentiveness. He ignored the approaching officer, but soon the clack of boots against the floor announced that some sort of interaction was inevitable. When he sensed the man waiting patiently behind him, he sighed, and turned around.
The quartermaster bowed his head. "Lord Vader, we're pleased to have you back on board. Do we have a mission?"
"No," he said. "Unfortunately not."
The quartermaster nodded, and turned his attention to Luke. "Then you've brought me the additional mechanic I requested. Thank you, m'lord."
He glanced at Luke. Of course, the uniform. "No, this one stays with me."
"But sir, I'd be happy to help," Luke said, stepping forward.
The quartermaster's face went white. While Vader didn't want to damage the burgeoning rapport he shared with his son, he knew he couldn't let Luke's public impertinence go unpunished. "You may leave," he said to the quartermaster before focusing on Luke. "And you
will not question my orders again."
In the Force, a flash of resentment came from Luke, but the boy contained his emotions and merely averted his gaze. "Yes, sir."
He hated the discouraged look on his son's face, even more that he'd put it there. Seeing that the quartermaster was now safely out of range, he put a hand to the boy's shoulder, ready to re-extend his invitation to examine the fighters more closely. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, his comlink chimed urgently. Frowning, he grabbed the device from his belt. "What is it?"
"Yes, m'lord," came the voice of Devastator's
admiral, "There seems to be a problem with Grand Moff Tarkin."
"What kind of a problem?"
"M'lord," Admiral Varrel stammered, "I think it might be best if you came to the bridge and saw for yourself."
Obi-Wan awoke with a start to the whine of blaster bolts. He struggled for a moment to orient himself in the darkness. Then he remembered: he was in the studio apartment that Bail had secured for him, in a rather questionable sector of Imperial Center. He waited through several minutes of silence before motioning the lights on. His travel case lay open on the bed, a bed he hadn't been able to bring himself to sleep in. Instead he'd dozed fitfully in the room's sole chair, which he had angled in the corner to face the door. It had been many years since he had been somewhere this unprotected.
Even though the chrono told him that dawn was a few hours away, he pushed himself out of the chair and peered through the dusty blinds in search of the first reflected rays of Coruscant's dim sun. Hardly the glorious light of Tatoo I and II, and he smiled briefly as he realized he missed his adopted home. The air taxi would be returning soon to transport him to the central facilty that processed food for the Imperial government. From there, he'd hitch a ride into the Palace, and begin his search for Luke.
From his travel case, he pulled out the sleek Alderanian tunics and trousers that Bail had given him and tossed them aside. At the very bottom were his old robes. He ran his hands over the coarse fabric, the texture comforting and familiar. He stripped off the silken shirt he'd arrived in, and replaced it with his undertunic. No matter the danger in wearing traditional Jedi garb, it would be impossible for him to face Vader in anything else.
Bail Organa gazed at his daughter from across the dining table. She was still in her sleeping clothes, her long hair flowing over her shoulders. Without her formal attire and coif, she looked like a little girl, his
little girl. But it was an illusion. She'd always been a serious child, especially after Breha died. In fact, in many ways it seemed that Leia had always been grown up. He'd never had to talk to her much about rules and responsibilities, rather he'd tried to prevent her from taking on too much. She always seemed determined to rush through childhood, as though she was racing towards some great destiny.
Maybe he should be glad, then, for this bit of youthful indiscretion. It wasn't so bad, really, and fathers all over the Galaxy must have talked to their daughters about similar behavior. It was just so rare for him to have to assume the disciplinarian role, and it felt terribly awkward.
"Leia," he said, waiting for her to look at him, "Senator Ranu of Kuat saw you yesterday in a Senate pod. With a boy."
She lowered her head, nodding.
He sighed. His small hope that the Kuaiti delegate's report was wrong evaporated. "I can't see you doing this on your own. This boy must have influenced you."
decided to do it, Father," she said, her dark eyes suddenly afire. "I
No denial, nor any trace of penitence. The strength of her reply took him aback and he had to work to regain his resolve. "Don't jeopardize all you've worked for with a silly infraction. Once you're a Senator you'll be able to sit in a pod anytime you wish."
"I know," she said quietly, her storm of defiance vanishing as quickly as it had arisen. "I'm sorry."
He swallowed and watched her for a bit. Maybe he should leave it at that. But someone who could entice his daughter into doing something she knew was wrong, he couldn't remain ignorant of such a co-conspirator. "Are you going to tell me about this boy?"
"What's to tell?" she said, returning to her breakfast.
"How about his name, for starters," he said.
"Anakin," she said, "and he's very knowledgeable about the Senate."
He blinked at the name. That
was a strange coincidence. "Is that all you know about him? Who are his parents?"
Leia shook her head and gave him a knowing smile. "Oh, Father, don't worry, " she laughed. "He's not really my type. He's kind of a scoundrel."
Everyone needs to eat. Obi-Wan knew that small truth had brought down the mightiest of armies and breeched the most secure of fortresses, and the Imperial Palace was no exception. Just as he'd hoped, the transport he'd snuck aboard at the food processing facility glided into a lower level docking bay of the Palace without a hitch. The vibrations in the deck plates softened, and repulsor vapor shot past the cargo hold viewports as the ship set down. Stealthily he threaded his way through the storage containers and made his way to the forward section of the hold.
Peeking from behind a three meter tall column of crated goods, he saw that the hold doors had been opened. Crew members were shouting to each other as they maneuvered the motorized conveyor mechanism into alignment with the hold. Droids began transferring containers onto the conveyor, and behind them Obi-Wan could see stormtroopers lining the wall of the docking bay. In the old days, he might have jumped right in the middle of all that action, but with age, he'd learned to appreciate the value of discretion. What he sorely needed was a distraction.
With a shove of both hands, he used the Force to accelerate the conveyor chain on its tracks, causing containers to topple off the end of the platform. For good measure, he loosened the trio of domed ceiling lights that illuminated the docking bay, and sent them crashing into the duracrete floor. The stormtroopers scattered like rolled dice and then regrouped, their E-11 rifles pointed at the ceiling. The ship's crew screamed words of blame at each other and the droids. Concealed by the chaos, Obi-Wan slipped off the ship and towards the far end of the docking bay.
There he found an access door, which he quickly motioned open. The hallway behind it was featureless and thankfully empty. He paused a moment to catch his breath. He was getting too old for this sort of thing. Leaning against the smooth metal panels that lined the corridor, he weighed his options. From the air, he'd seen how massive the Palace was. He could spend days slinking down its passageways, trying to avoid the kind of scene he'd just left. Or he could reach out with the Force and let it direct him to Luke. But opening himself like that would also make it easier for Vader to sense him. What would
he do if that black monstrosity ambled up to him?
He imagined that scenario for a moment, then pushed it away. The Force would guide him if that encounter ever came to pass. In the meantime, he had no other choice; time was of the essence in finding Luke. He exhaled deeply and released the tension from his body. He'd thought he would detect two presences -Vader and Luke- but there was only one. Though brilliant in the Force, it was definitely not Vader. It had a youthful immaturity, but with more control than he remembered Luke having.
He pulled his hood over his head and locked on to the presence. There was no room for doubts. Who else could it be?
Darth Vader slammed the controls to the shuttle's wing flaps into extension. He was so furious with Tarkin that he'd forgotten to cut his speed when the shuttle entered Imperial Center's troposphere. He never did that. Burdened by added friction, the shuttle bucked wildly, and Luke snuck him a startled glance from the co-pilot's seat.
He gritted his teeth. Great. That was the second time today that he'd been made to look bad in front of his son. And not only his son, but the entire Empire. How dare Tarkin use the Holonet to issue an ultimatum? An ultimatum to him
, the Emperor. The man must have a death wish. And what was that boast about possessing the ultimate power in the universe? What was
Tarkin talking about? That unfinished hulk that had been under construction for nearly twenty years? Had Tarkin somehow managed to make the thing functional?
And the conceit of the man, to declare that he was the rightful successor to the throne. To smugly state that Vader should step down for the good of the Empire. On the Holonet, no less. But for all his bravado, Tarkin apparently did not want to engage him face to face, because the signal for the transmission originated from within the Seswanna Sector. Once he broadcast his response from the Palace, it would be nothing more than interstellar static, anyway. The Empire would see his disdain for the Grand Moff and his absurd ultimatum, and that the true Emperor was securely ensconced on the throne, not hiding in the far reaches of the Outer Rim.
"Why me, sir?"
"What?" he said. Couldn't the boy see he was handling a galactic crisis?
"One day I'm in the middle of basic training, and the next I'm in the Emperor's personal shuttle," Luke said. "Why me?"
He had the fate of the Empire on his mind, and the boy expected him to deal with a petty complaint? "Do you know how hard the rest of my crew would fight for the opportunity you've been given?"
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful, sir," Luke said, "but I don't understand. Shouldn't I be doing my job?"
He looked into Luke's earnest face, and his annoyance began to fade. He should be proud of his son's devotion to duty. "Your destiny is far greater than being a mechanic."
Luke looked perplexed. "What else would I be, sir?"
Maybe he should tell the boy here and now. The truth couldn't be hidden forever, nor did he want it to be. But the situation with Tarkin required his full attention. "You have inherited gifts from your father of which you are unaware."
Luke almost leapt out of his seat. "You knew my father?"
The boy's eagerness almost drove him to confess, but the time wasn't right. "A very long time ago."
After climbing many levels in a turbolift and winding through what seemed like kilometers of marble floored hallways, Obi-Wan could feel that he was almost to Luke. He rounded a corner and there, at the end of the corridor, was the Force strong presence he'd been tracking. But though this youth was blond, he was too tall to be Luke. Caution said to turn back, but there was something familiar about the boy, something he couldn't quite place. He crept forward, lightsaber in hand, finding cover in doorway alcoves until he was within ten meters of the blond stranger. Now that he was close enough, he could see the boy also clutched a lightsaber. The boy stood frozen, his head elevated, and Obi-Wan felt the touch of a mind sweeping across his. He strengthened his shields against the intrusion, but the youth whirled about, and Obi-Wan knew he'd been caught.
He had every intention of making a hasty retreat, but what he saw robbed him of the power to move. It was a face he'd looked at almost every day for thirteen years, and despite the passage of time, it was as familiar as his own. But the last time he'd seen that face, it had been blistered and burned beyond recognition. The last time he'd seen that face, his heart had been screaming at his head to pull the man who was his brother out of the fire. After all, that was what they did best: save each other. But in the end, his head and his Jedi training had won, and he'd shut down his feelings long enough to walk away. Once, he and Yoda had discussed how they'd each be willing to sacrifice the other for the greater good. The theory had sounded noble at the time, but its implementation on the shores of Mustafar had left him feeling like a coward.
So how could it be that Anakin was here now, untouched and perfect? He'd taken those limbs with the very saber that warmed his hand now. He remembered the sickening thump that Anakin's body made when it hit the black sand, its grace stripped from it. Up until that moment he'd clung to some vague hope that he could salvage the situation, that he could salvage them
. But there had been no stopping Anakin with words, only by making it physically impossible for him to fight. Obi-Wan knew he wasn't up to a repeat, if it came to battle here. Fortunately, while the youth might have sensed him, the boy hadn't seen him. The youth's eyes searched the corridor, his brow furrowed in that way Anakin always did. Except, Obi-Wan finally noticed, there was no scar bisecting the right cheek. Not a ghost, then, but a copy. A clone.
He slid back behind the cover of the alcove wall, wondering who it had been who ordered this clone. Somehow, he knew it must have been Palpatine. His stomach rolled at the thought, an endless number of Chosen Ones waiting to be corrupted at Sidious' hand. He suddenly wanted to rescue not only Luke, but this boy as well, to have another chance to bring his Padawan back from the brink. From around the corner came the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber igniting, and he snuck a cautious glance. The youth's blade glowed a Sithly red.You old fool,
Obi-Wan thought. Forget this boy. He's as gone as the original.
If he stayed here any longer, the clone would find him for sure. The only option left was retreat. He peered one more time into the corridor, and then made a run for it, back the way he had come in. His fingers activated the transponder to summon the air taxi. He was about to find out if the pilot was as good as Bail had said.
"Hey! Who are you?" came a voice from behind him, a voice Obi-Wan hadn't heard in nearly twenty years. He turned reflexively, and his eyes met the clone's stare. He couldn't stop the ripple of sadness that swept through him. "You don't need to follow me," he said, arcing two fingers through the air.
The youth seemed startled by his Force suggestion, enough to buy Obi-Wan the time he needed. He fled down the corridor, and headed for daylight. His lightsaber turned a window into a pile of shattered glass, and he climbed through onto the outside ledge. A speeder dove towards him at suicidal speed, and he jumped in. He grinned at the pilot. "What took you so long?"
Darth Vader was exhausted. The adrenalin stimulated by Tarkin's broadcast had run out hours ago, and the process of preparing his reply to the Senate and the citizens of the Empire had consumed the last of his patience. He entered his personal suite looking to find refuge, but instead found his apprentice waiting for him. Anakin was pacing a circle in front of the chairs in the sitting area, and the tracks in the dense carpet said he'd been doing that for awhile. In the Force, the air was thick with the boy's agitation. "How did you get in here?"
"I reprogrammed the lock," Anakin muttered, still pacing. Abruptly, he stopped, swinging to face Vader. "You lied to me!"
He crossed his arms. He was really not in the mood for this. "About what?"
"You're Luke's father," Anakin said. "You were a Jedi."
He should have known Anakin would find out eventually. But he was hardly going to apologize."So."
"So?" Anakin said, throwing his arms in the air. "That means I'm
"There are worse things," he said. His apprentice certainly had a flair for the dramatic. "Besides, it's not as if it's in your blood."
Anakin looked at him as if he were mad. "Maybe not, but I've been thinking. You want to know what is
in our blood?"
He was almost afraid to ask. "What?"
"The Jedi raised you, and then you killed them, right?" Anakin asked with narrowed eyes.
"For a time, and yes," he answered cautiously.
"And Palpatine raised me, and then I killed him," Anakin said, beginning to pace again. "Maybe that's what's in our blood: we kill those close to us."
No. That couldn't be true. He'd never killed out of bloodlust. He'd killed when death was called for, in combat and as a punishment, but never from some uncontrollable urge. His choices had been necessary choices. If his clone had taken a similar path, it was only because they'd faced similar obstacles.
Anakin gave him a feral grin. "And maybe now that Luke's here, he'll kill you."
"No, no that's not right," he said. Applying the theory to Luke made it appear utterly ridiculous. "You and I are not defined by who we have slain."
"Oh, yeah? Prove it. What else are you known for, except killing people?"
That offended him. He was known for many things. If he was tough on his subordinates, he was also fair, and they respected him for that. He was never afraid to join the troops on the front line. He had shown considerable patience in dealing with the ungrateful apprentice who stood before him now. He was a strong leader, not a killing machine. "I have spent my entire life working for the safety and security of the Galaxy. Anything I have done has been towards that end."
"So why did you do it?" Anakin said. "If you were one, why did you turn on the Jedi?"
At the time he'd hidden behind Palpatine's explanation that the Jedi were traitors to the Republic. But the argument didn't hold up well to examination, and he was not about to subject it to his apprentice's quick-witted scrutiny. "I don't have to explain myself to you!" he roared.
"How do I know who I am if I don't know who you are?" Anakin yelled back, his face thrust into the mask.
He stared at his apprentice while he considered Anakin's words. Might not Luke have similar questions? He swallowed hard and walked away. He wanted Luke to be at his side, to have the boy's esteem and loyalty, and he was not going to gain it through lies. He turned back towards Anakin, remembering how much the Council's distrust had hurt him. Maybe his apprentice did need to see that there were other sides to them besides being soldiers. "All right," he said, "I did it for a woman."
Anakin looked dumbfounded. "That senator," he said, nodding. "Did she ask you to?"
"No," he said quietly, letting that piece of the past come forward. "She ...did not approve. I did it to save her life."
"The Jedi were going to kill her?"
"Of course not," he said. "Palpatine promised me the power to save her if I became a Sith."
Anakin was silent for a moment. "But she's not here."
No. No, she wasn't. The scars on his chest seemed to tighten. "He never fulfilled that promise."
"So you weren't lying when we first met. You were
trying to protect me from him."
Anakin sank into one of the black synthleather chairs, and leaned his head into his hands. "Ever since you told me I was your clone, this is the part I can't figure out. Why did he make me?"
He could tell the boy he'd wrestled with that very same question. It would be easy to say, I don't know
, because that wasn't entirely false. But looking into his apprentice's pain filled eyes, his
pain filled eyes, really, he decided Anakin deserved his honesty. "My injuries stole some of my potential. I believe he was disappointed with possessing a Chosen One who was damaged."
Anakin looked at him quizzically.
"It was a Jedi prophecy, one which they said I fit," he said. "When he told you here was no one else more gifted in the Force, it was not a lie."
"We're part of a Jedi legend?" Anakin said.
He hadn't thought of himself that way in a long time. "If the prophecy is to be believed."
Anakin stared blankly at the floor. "There was one here."
He quirked his head. "One what?"
"A Jedi. I'm sure of it," Anakin said. "He had a lightsaber, and the long robes."
A Jedi, in the middle of the Palace? He lowered himself into the chair opposite Anakin. He knew a few survivors still wandered the Galaxy, but in all this time, none had ever come after him. "What did he look like?"
"White hair, short beard. And somehow I got this weird feeling he knew who I was."
That odd current he'd felt in the Force: he'd dismissed it earlier. But now...now it made sense. Obi-Wan had been here. Obi-Wan!
A fountain of anger welled inside of him. At last, he would have his revenge. But what if his old master hadn't come for him at all; what if he was after Luke? A tingle of fear invaded his anger. He couldn't delay telling his son the truth any longer.