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
Luke barely had enough time to respond to the first chime at his cabin door when whoever it was on the other side laid into the alert again. And again. "Just a minute," he said, focusing on using the Force to slide open the door. His arm shook with the effort, and he wondered if he'd ever get to the point where moving objects took the simple pass of fingertips that it did for his father and Ben. Finally the door gave way, and he stumbled back as a tall figure rushed by him, almost knocking him over.
"Come on in," he said, extending his hand towards Anakin, who had already flopped himself down full length on Luke's bed. "Are we out of hyperspace?"
"No," Anakin said, his hands clasped behind his head as he stared at the ceiling. "We're still enroute to Alderaan."
"Okay. So what's up?" Luke said, wandering to one of the cabin's side chairs and sitting on its edge.
"Vader's going to make me stay behind," Anakin said. He sat up abruptly. "It's not fair. I am
As usual, Anakin's words were full of passion, but not always clarity. "Back up a minute. Did he say why?"
"He had some vison that I would die in battle," Anakin said, frowning.
"Well, that sounds like a pretty good reason to me," Luke said.
Anakin shook his head. "It's ridiculous. No one's going to kill me. Even Obi-Wan said he was impressed with my lightsaber skills."
"Well, I don't get to go either," Luke said. "Maybe you shouldn't feel so bad about it."
"Oh, that's fine for you," Anakin said, pushing himself off the bed. "You're the beloved son. You'll always have a place."
Luke felt like this conversation was changing direction at lightspeed. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm his apprentice," Anakin said, beginning to pace the small room. "What else is there for me to do except fight next to him?"
"Wow," Luke said, pulling his legs out of Anakin's path. "I think he's just trying to protect you."
Anakin ran a hand through his hair without slowing down. "I don't need protection. I need him to let me use my training."
"At least you get assignments," Luke said. "Don't think it's any fun being the 'beloved son', either."
"Yeah?" Anakin said, stopping abruptly.
"Yeah," Luke said, standing up from the chair. After all the times he'd complained to Uncle Owen about having too many chores, it was a shock to find out it was worse having too few. "He treats me like I'm some delicate flower. All this doing nothing is driving me crazy."
"Well, maybe we should do something about that. Maybe we should go down to the hangar or something."
"This isn't the Palace, it's a Star Destroyer," Luke said, laughing. "The Imperial Navy frowns on unauthorized personnel wandering through their ships. I learned that much in basic training."
Anakin thought a moment. "Do you still have your naval ID? And your uniforms?"
He nodded. "But Ensign Skywalker isn't assigned to this ship."
Anakin smiled and slipped behind Luke's desk. "I can fix that." His fingers tapped over the computer console for a few minutes. "There. I made you a TIE pilot."
"I don't know," Luke said, feeling the back of his head. "My hair's longer than regulation anymore. We'll get caught just on the way down."
"Nah. I'll show you this trick Obi-Wan taught me. Makes all your obstacles go away," Anakin said with a grin. "Would you really
rather sit around here doing nothing?"
"No," Luke said. "But I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Oh, c'mon. What's the worst thing that can happen?" Anakin said. "We get caught, we call Vader. They let us go. End of story."
Luke sighed. He supposed they wouldn't do any harm, just look at the TIEs. And with Devastator
in hyperspace, it wasn't as if any of the fighters could be lauched, anyway. He walked to his closet and grabbed a uniform. "Hey, who was that girl you were with the other day?"
"Why? Did you see her?"
He pulled his tunic over his head and slid on the uniform shirt. "No. I heard the stormtroopers talking."
"Well, don't get any ideas. She's mine."
Darth Vader paused outside the door to Obi-Wan's quarters, wondering if he should bother to chime. After all, Obi-Wan was his prisoner, even if he had elected not to keep him confined to a detention cell. A prisoner could have no expectation of privacy, and furthermore, even Devastator's
crew knew their quarters could be searched at any time. The logical thing to do was walk straight in.
He pushed the chime.
He heard the door's servos reverse and then it slid open. Inside, Obi-Wan was seated at his desk, and he didn't bother to look up from the console, even though Vader approached. Just when Vader thought he was going to have to announce himself, Obi-Wan flicked off the computer and pushed himself up from the desk.
"Not much HoloNet access on Tatooine," Obi-Wan said. "I'm still catching up on the last twenty years."
Though he'd recognized his former master immediately on the Palace steps, Vader realized he hadn't really looked at him in all this time. Not only had Obi-Wan's hair gone white, it had thinned and his beard barely covered the weathered lines in his face. Vader felt an unexpected twinge of sadness that Obi-Wan seemed so worn. He extended the confiscated lightsaber towards him. "Can you still use this, old man?"
Obi-Wan's open hand snapped out from within his cloak, and Vader felt the saber snatched from his grip. "Better than you think I can."
For a moment Vader thought he'd made a grave error, and he almost summoned his own weapon, but then Obi-Wan attached the saber to his belt. While Obi-Wan's face bore the evidence of time, his eyes hadn't aged, and they stared back at Vader with the same cool confidence he remembered. He licked his lips before proceeding. "Good. Because I require your skills on this mission."
"Require my skills?" Obi-Wan said, his head quirked in seeming confusion. "Oh
, you mean you need my help."
"If you must phrase it that way," he said through gritted teeth.
"But what can I do?" Obi-Wan said, with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm only one man, and an old one at that."
He crossed his arms over his chest plate. Why was Obi-Wan making this so difficult? "You are well aware of what a Force user can do against ordinary troops."
"I suppose I am," Obi-Wan said, nodding. He wandered over to the set of grey armchairs in the corner and sat down, extending his arm in invitation towards the empty one. "But what about your apprentice?"
He followed Obi-Wan, but declined to sit. "He is not ready for this type of engagement," he said, the image of Anakin laying immobile on the deck flashing through his mind.
"Oh, I don't know," Obi-Wan said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I've been helping him with his drills, and he's quite competent with a lightsaber."
He shook his head. "But he's never been in war. Palpatine barely allowed him out of the Palace."
"Ah, that's the hard part of having a padawan," Obi-Wan said, sinking back into his chair. "Knowing when to let them go."
"That is not the issue," he said, his frustration increasing. "Anakin will be injured."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, looking straight into the mask. "If you try to keep them safe, they think you're holding them back. And if you let them go, you risk watching them fail."
Vader stared at Obi-Wan. He wasn't sure they were talking about his apprentice anymore. The empty chair suddenly beckoned to him, and he carefully lowered himself into it. Obi-Wan's eyes followed him the whole time. "You don't understand. I had a vision. Anakin dies in combat if I take him."
"Oh," Obi-Wan said, his eyebrows raising momentarily. "Then by all means I'll help you."
Finally. He hadn't thought it would take this much negotiation for such a simple request. "Good. I will let you know when it is time," he said, preparing to rise.
"I should have paid more heed to your visions,"Obi-Wan said, something softening in his expression.
He paused, frozen by Obi-Wan's words, and fixed his gaze on his former master's face.
"You always had the gift," Obi-Wan said quietly. "I should have listened better."
He closed his eyes within the helmet. "You have no idea."
Luke clung to the gantry that secured the TIE fighter in position and peered down the hatch into the cockpit. Inside, Anakin was strapped into the pilot's seat, both hands grasping the fighter's yoke.
"Thrusters are on the left, " Anakin said, "and repulsors are on the right?"
"Yeah," Luke nodded, "and your inertial dampeners are in the center."
Anakin looked around the cockpit. "It seems so long ago that we were fixing that fighter in the Palace hangar. Remember how mad I was that first day?"
"How could I forget?" Luke laughed. "I think my shoulder's still sore."
"Yeah. I wanted to hate you," Anakin said. "But you turned out to be all right."
Luke smiled, feeling a little embarrassed. In the beginning, the idea of speaking to his father's clone had been completely bizarre, and then there had been all that anger Anakin carried. But Anakin had turned out to be all right, too.
"In fact, you're the only real friend I've ever had," Anakin said, all the levity gone from his face, replaced by a solemn seriousness. He extended his hand upward towards the hatch. "I'm glad I met you, Luke Skywalker."
Luke felt a lump in his throat, but he swallowed it down. He wanted to say that he couldn't imagine living at the Palace without Anakin, because otherwise it would have been a very lonely experience. He wanted to say he was grateful for the chance to have some idea of what his father was like as a person, because otherwise he'd still be staring at his own reflection in the black helmet, wondering who dwelt inside. But Uncle Owen's example lived too strongly inside him, and instead he simply reached down for Anakin's hand and shook it. "I'm glad I met you, Anakin Skywalker."
They stared at each other for a moment, hands still clasped, and Luke felt the lump returning. Suddenly a warning klaxon sounded in the hangar, and Anakin withdrew his hand to unbuckle himself from the pilot's seat. Luke lowered himself from the top of the TIE to the hangar floor. Anakin's head appeared through the hatch, and then he pushed himself out of the fighter and vaulted to the deck. The klaxon resonated all around them, so loud that Luke could feel its vibrations in his gut. The deck shuddered underneath his feet and for a moment Luke had to steady his balance.
"We just returned to normal space," Anakin said.
Luke nodded and quickly surveyed the hangar. From every corner, technical crew and pilots were leaving their posts and streaming towards the main hangar exit. Abruptly the klaxon stopped, and Luke heard the clatter of boots nearby. He jogged to the end of the row of fighters, and almost ran into a black-uniformed technician.
"You'd better hurry," the technician said before heading off. "There'll be hell to pay if you miss the briefing."
Luke watched the man disappear, then turned towards Anakin, who was threading his way between the TIEs. "Sounds like there's an important meeting."
Anakin clapped him on the back as he moved on by. "Well, then we'd better go."
Darth Vader stood fixed in front of Devastator's
bridge windows, staring at the swirling lines of hyperspace. He'd ceased pacing the command walkway some time ago, instead focusing all of his energies on the forward viewport, as if by sheer will he could discern Alderaan through the maelstrom of lightspeed. His desire to capture Tarkin was a palpable thing, and his tolerance for waiting had run out. All the aggravations of political life as the Emperor had fallen away, replaced by anticipation for the thrill of real battle.
A repeating tone from the ship's navigation center reinforced his perception that Devastator
was about to drop into real space. Footsteps sounded behind him, then stopped a polite distance away. He didn't need to look to know it was Admiral Zarrn who had approached, but he turned briefly for the admiral's benefit. "The crew is prepared, Admiral?"
"Yes, m'lord," Zarrn said. "All divisions will report for instructions as soon as we exit hyperspace."
He nodded and turned back to the viewscreens. He averted his gaze at the disorienting moment of transition, and braced his legs against the deck in preparation for the upcoming shudder. When Devastator
had settled into normal space, he immediately looked up. Alderaan hung in the foreground, a bright sphere of blue and white. He strained to see into the darkness of the surrounding space, but could detect nothing resembling the Death Star.
"Initating scans," came a voice from the crew pit below the command walkway.
He moved away from the viewports to the edge of the walkway, and looked down into the communications center. "Bring up the reports from the other systems."
The comm technician's fingers flew over the keys in answer, and an image of a Star Destroyer bridge appeared on the viewing monitor. A captain turned to face into the transmitter. "This the Avenger
reporting from Telos. No unauthorized vessels found."
The technician keyed in the next set of coordinates, and a new bridge materialized on screen. "The Conquest
reporting from Ralltir. Nothing unusual, sir."
in system at Gerrard Five. Nothing to report."
outside Polis Massa. Com scan is negative."
orbiting Zephyr Base at Rori. Nothing to report."
He clenched his jaw inside the helmet. He'd known it was possible that his choice to send Devastator
to Alderaan would prove incorrect, but he hadn't expected the entire fleet to come up empty handed. Admiral Zarrn joined him above the comm center.
"Results of our scan are negative, m'lord," Zarrn said. "Have the other ships found anything?"
The admiral shifted uneasily. "I don't know if I should bring this up, sir, but is it possible our information was wrong?"
He whipped his head around, making the admiral's face go pale. Could
Organa have lied to him? Had this all been a wild bantha chase to keep the fleet occupied while the Rebellion made its move? He suddenly felt disgusted at how easily he'd been drawn in by Organa's flattery and resurrection of his Clone Wars past. But on the other hand, he'd sensed no deception when he sat face to face with the senator. Even now, he realized, he could feel in the Force that they were on the correct path. "No, Admiral, that is not possible."
"Of course, m'lord," Zarrn said, dropping his gaze in deference.
wants to know if we sent other Star Destroyers to the Calamari system," the comm technician said.
His eyes dropped to the viewing monitor. "No. What are they seeing?"
"They report two ships in orbit around an asteroid above the ecliptic plane of the Calamari system," the technician said.
An icy wave of recognition washed through him. "That is not an asteroid.That is the space station. Forward images immediately."
"Yes, sir," the technician said, and feed from the Vengeance
began streaming across the monitor.
"Magnify image," he directed, and for a moment he struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. No wonder the Vengeance's
crew thought they were viewing an asteroid. Irregular bright spots contrasted with deep shadows, masking the spherical shape of the space station. It wasn't an artifact of resolution; Tarkin had mobilized the Death Star in an unfinished state, without its protective shielding. The focusing disc of the superlaser only added to the impression of a pock-marked piece of rubble. "Vengeance
, retreat immediately to the Dellalt system and wait for the rest of the fleet."
He turned to Admiral Zarrn. "The Death Star is without its own defenses. I have no doubt that those Star Destroyers will launch a full scale attack if we approach."
Zarrn blinked a few times as if absorbing the information. "They're as well armed as we are. The only way to win will be to outnumber them."
"Yes," he said. "Order all ships to assemble outside Dellalt. From there, we will jump en masse to the Calamari system."
"Of course, m'lord," the admiral said. "I'll prepare the briefing."
If Anakin could have thought of a graceful way to exit the strategy room, he would have done it already. But he and Luke were packed into the farthest corner from the door, and there was no way to get out without causing a scene. The air in the room had become thick and warm from the body heat of so many crew members stuffed inside, all waiting for the briefing to begin. The sense of urgency that had first permeated the room was long gone, replaced by a troubled impatience about the delay. When the ship shuddered as if re-entering hyperspace, the conversations in the room ceased, and all eyes turned to the captain leaning on the podium. But he declined to face the group, and now at least another thirty standard minutes had gone by.
The captain's comlink alerted at his belt and Anakin swung his eyes forward. The officer spoke briefly into the device, then turned his attention to the terminal at his podium, apparently sorting through information. After a few minutes, the captain finally looked out into the sea of faces. "Sorry for the wait, gentlemen, but we now have our orders."
The captain stepped aside and lowered the display screen at the very front of the room. A projection transmitted from the terminal showed a spherical frame with some sort of focusing dish in its upper hemisphere. Impossibly, the sphere dwarfed the two Star Destroyers at its side, making it look like some kind of metal moon. "This space station is the instrument responsible for the recent destruction of Chandrila and Dantooine. It has an enormously powerful superlaser designed to break apart asteroids and dead planets for mining purposes, but which has been commandeered by Grand Moff Tarkin for his own uses."
A murmur ran through the group, and Anakin nudged Luke. "It's huge
"Shhh," Luke said, keeping his eyes focused on the captain.
"The space station is not complete, lacking its external panels and shielding," the captain continued. "The Star Destroyers accompanying it are presumed to be under the command of Grand Moff Tarkin, and no longer loyal to the Empire. It is expected that they will defend against any attacks on the station.
"Our mission is to prevent the destruction of any other worlds by disabling the space station. The Emperor himself will lead an attack to capture Grand Moff Tarkin and regain control of the station."
"I should be with him, " Anakin whispered to Luke, who nodded sympathetically.
"Our assignment is to destroy the transformer feeding the superlaser," the captain resumed, changing the display to a schematic showing the device. "Once at the transformer, the most vulnerable section is a conduit approximately two meters in diameter. A direct hit to the conduit will sever the power flow to the superlaser."
"That's impossible, even with a computer," someone said.
"It's not impossible," Luke muttered. "I used to bullseye womp rats in my Tee-sixteen back home. They're not much bigger than two meters."
Anakin glanced at Luke. It was only occasionally that Luke alluded to his past, but each time Anakin was impressed with how much Luke had really lived
, not spent his time pent up in some stone and glass prison.
"To reach the transformer, you'll have to fly through the framework into the interior of the station," the captain said, pausing. "The difficult part is that some levels have been sealed and finished to support habitation. You could be flying along and suddenly find yourself facing a durasteel wall."
"Excuse me, sir, but are there plans showing the completed levels?" came a voice from the front.
"No," the captain said, shaking his head,"You won't know until you're there. You'll have to watch your sensors constantly."
The murmur in the room rose to a rumble, and Luke leaned over to Anakin. "With the Force, it wouldn't be that hard."
Anakin swallowed. Yes, with the Force guiding him, it would be simple. In fact, the success of this mission seemed to require
a pilot who could use the Force.
"The final challenge," the captain said quietly," is that we will be flying against our own. Best case is that the rogue Star Destroyers will surrender once they see how outnumbered they are. Worst case is that it is a full engagement.
"Certainly the TIE pilots can expect incoming fire as they approach the space station. Once in space it will be very difficult to tell visually which fighters are loyal to the Empire, and which are mutineers. To help, all Imperial ships will be sent a new transponder code. Any ship not able to return the code is presumed to be under Tarkin's command. Any questions?"
No one spoke, and Anakin could feel the aura of quiet determination that now dominated the room. Some of it was his own.
"All right, men. To your posts!"