Title: Decoding Enigma
Disclaimer: I do not own Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Wedge Antilles or any other of the "Star Wars" characters, items or situations. I only lay claim to the original aspects of the fic.
Summary: A daring plan to get hold of a new Imperial encryption machine forces Luke to learn new Force skills. Skills that require him not only to confront his newly discovered relationship with Darth Vader, but to use it as well.
"We'll get Han back, I promise," Luke stated as he reached the table Leia was sitting at, clearly lost in thought.
"What?" Leia said, looking at Luke as he sat down across from her.
"As soon as Lando and Chewie discover where Boba Fett is, we'll go save Han."
"Yes, I know," Leia replied, forcing a smile onto her face. "That's actually not what I was thinking about for once."
"Oh?" Luke inquired as he started eating.
"Our newest allies, the Bothans, have managed to intercept a high-level Imperial communiqué about some top secret new weapon the Empire is constructing."
"That doesn't sound good," Luke declared, food momentarily forgotten.
"No," Leia agreed, toying with her leftover vegetables. "We've heard a few rumors about it already but nothing concrete."
"Until now. So, what is it?"
"We still don't know," Leia stated with a frown. "You see, the communiqué is encrypted in some new code that's unlike anything our cryptologists have seen before."
"Enigma?" Luke asked. "That new super code people have been whispering about?"
"Yes, Enigma," Leia confirmed. "And so far the rumors seem to be true. None of our cryptologists are even optimistic."
"Which is a really bad sign given their usual arrogance," Luke concluded.
"Basically," Leia agreed, dropping her fork. "It's just so frustrating! We have the information, but we simply can't decode it!"
"There's no chance of getting our hands on one of the encryption machines?"
"No. Generals Rieekan and Madine have looked at all the information we have on each and every base that we are sure has one, and they're fortresses. So, short of walking in and demanding one, we're not going to get our hands on one."
"If General Madine doesn't consider it worth the risk, then it really isn't worth it," Luke declared carefully after a few moments of silence.
"I know," Leia stated as she looked at him. "Which brings us back to having vital Intel in our possession and being unable to interpret it."
"I see," Luke replied, picking at his food. "Give it some time, I'm sure that something will come to you. Perhaps you just need to sleep it over."
"I hope so."
"Get some sleep, you look like you haven't really had any in a week."
As soon as Luke entered the recreational lounge, the momentary silence he'd noticed lately fell over the room. He forced himself not to shift uncomfortably under the gazes that he knew were being directed at him, though he could never catch them. Instead he looked around for his squad mates.
"Luke! Over here," Wedge called out from the left end of the room.
"Sorry I'm late," Luke apologized as soon as he reached the table and dropped into the empty seat they'd saved for him. "The meeting ran over as we rearranged the patrol schedules."
"What'd we get?" Hobbie asked.
"Not the dawn shift again I hope," Wes pleaded.
"Nope, Blues got that this time," Luke replied as he picked up the card-chips he'd been dealt. "We've got the afternoon to early evening shift."
"Nice," Wedge declared as he moved a negative Master of sabers card-chip into the interference field.
"Now if we could just teach Skywalker to play sabacc properly, we'd be in the enviable position of being the all-round best squadron," Tycho declared after Luke let an Ace of flasks go.
"Watch it, Lieutenant," Luke retorted, briefly wondering if Commander Narra had been correct after all.
The man had always said that Luke needed to distance himself more from his flight, to be a clear leader with unquestionable authority. Luke had just never quite seen it that way, believing it was better to get to know the members under his command and to gain their trust. Not to mention the fact that he hadn't even felt remotely ready for the authority he'd been given as Narra's second-in-command and leader of the then Rogue Flight.
His early decision, though, had stuck, especially after it became known that the Hero of Yavin didn't think himself superior to other pilots. The fact that there were several veterans on the current squad didn't help either. On the bright side, it had gained him many friends among his men, but that meant their deaths hurt all the more too. Of the original men he and Commander Narra had chosen only Wedge, Hobbie and Wes remained. Rogue Flight's, and later Rogue Squadron's, record, however, was unmatched. A fact that had not gone unnoticed by the other squadrons or Alliance High Command.
Luke was sure that this was a large factor in the latter's decision to reinstate him to his former command and squad after his abrupt absence after the Battle of Hoth. He knew that not all members of the Council agreed with this decision or the fact that he hadn't been punished for his actions and he knew to tread carefully around them. But his squad, or what was left of it, had welcomed him back with great applause. Even Wedge, who'd temporarily been instated as leader and who'd done a terrific job of it, hadn't hesitated to accept him back.
"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir," Tycho replied, though the large smile on his face indicated that he was less than sincere.
Luke sighed and muttered under his breath about respect and insubordinate subordinates, earning a few chuckles.
As happened often lately, it didn't take Luke's mind long to wander back to Bespin and all that he had learned there. Like Leia, he often woke from nightmares at night now and in the cold darkness of his room he could often imagine that it was all just that - a bad dream. In the light of day, however, there was no escaping the horrifying truth.
At first, he'd tried telling himself that it was all a lie, some sick and elaborate plot to lure him to the Dark Side so that he would do Vader's bidding. He hadn't been able to deceive himself for long, no matter how hard he'd tried to. His meditations and the Force all but shouted that the Dark Lord was right. So much so that he wondered how he couldn't have seen it before.
Lost in thought, the fingers of Luke's left hand absently stroked the prosthetic ones even as they automatically played the game for him. It wasn't until Wedge threw down his card-chips with a curse that he realized that the majority of his squad had already folded and only Tycho, Wes, Hobbie and himself were left.
Luke blinked in surprise before he felt the Force swirling around him. He must have called on it while pondering about his father. He had started being able to use the Force more and more easily lately, but this was a whole new level for him. He hadn't even been consciously aware of doing it! This must be what Master Yoda meant about becoming one with the Force and letting it guide his actions.
"I never knew you had such a good sabacc face, Commander," Hobbie stated as he too folded.
Luke merely gave him a tight smile, not about to let the other man know that the reason he'd revealed nothing was because he'd been a thousand parsecs away.
"I take back what I said earlier," Tycho added as he glanced at his two opponents, trying to determine what they held. The five of staves and Commander of coins Wes had in the interference field could mean he was close to positive twenty-three, while Luke's negative eleven of sabers could mean anything.
Luke paused in the middle of pulling a card-chip out of his hand as the faces on his card-chips fluctuated and changed. Pushing the card-chip back, he considered what he now held. He had a total of negative twenty-one, which could mean victory if he forced an end to the game, but it was by no means certain. A quick glance at the faces of his two opponents revealed as much as he'd expected it would - nothing. He was just shifting his eyes back down to his card-chips when he suddenly knew what Wes had. Freezing, he glanced quickly at the man's card-chips and was hit with a brief flash of their faces. A peak at Tycho's card-chips revealed the same information.
What was going on? He knew it involved the Force, but it was not something either Obi-Wan or Yoda had mentioned. Not that they'd teach him how to use the Force to cheat at sabacc. Or was it cheating? Han had often complained to him about how some of the big sabacc tournaments allowed actors and telepathic beings to participate despite their clear advantage. Was his ability to use the Force really that different? Besides, it was late, he was tired and it wasn't like they were playing for anything more than tokens to the water showers instead of the sonic ones.
"End game," Luke declared as he threw down his card-chips and hit the button to turn off the randomizer.
"Sithspawn!" Tycho swore as he took in his commander's card-chips.
Wes added a string of Icady swears of his own as he saw he was only one short of a positive match.
"Hand them over," Luke said to them, tapping the table next to the tokens the others had thrown down as they were eliminated.
"Congratulations, Luke," Wedge stated as he finished his drink. "You're finally starting to win back those tokens you've lost before."
"I don't think I can ever reclaim them all," Luke responded as he pocketed them.
"Probably not," Hobbie agreed with a smile.
"Between Solo, Antilles and myself as instructors, you were bound to win sometime," Tycho commented. "Anyone up for another game?" The chorus of moans and nos caused his face to fall. "Just one more."
"That's what you always say," Levita declared.
"It's late, and we have to meet the techs tomorrow morning for the tune-up of our X-wings," Wedge said. "I'm turning in."
"Me too," Luke agreed as several others got up.
"I'd forgotten about that," Tycho admitted as he stacked the card-chips on the table. "Till tomorrow then."
Luke hid a yawn behind his hand as he fell into step beside Wedge at the entrance to the rec lounge while the others scattered towards their assigned sleeping quarters aboard Home One.
"How's the Princess been holding up?" Wedge inquired softly as they made their way through the corridors. "She didn't look so good the last time I saw her."
"As well as can be expected given the lack of news," Luke whispered, not wanting half the Alliance to know. He'd only told Wedge as he knew the Corellian wouldn't spread what he knew. "So far Lando and Chewie have come up empty."
"And, to make matters worse, the Empire is apparently constructing some new super weapon."
"The rumors are true?" Wedge demanded, wide eyed as he glanced at his friend.
"Great," Wedge moaned.
"The worst part is that since we can't crack Enigma, we can't even decode the information we have on it."
"Ah, so those rumors are true too?"
"So, do you have any good news to tell me?"
"Eh... no?" Luke replied, managing to make it sound questioningly.
"Well, it's not like we haven't faced bad situations before," Wedge stated optimistically.
Luke snorted at the understatement. The Alliance in general, and Rogue Squadron in particular, almost always faced uneven odds.
"And this weapon of theirs can't be all that bad."
"The Death Star took well over two decades to construct and its design took another decade," Wedge explained. "Weapons of that magnitude aren't drawn up and constructed overnight. They take time."
"How do you know all that?"
"One of those mandatory information and strategy sessions while you were away."
"Ah," Luke replied dryly. "I'm so sorry that I missed that."
"I'm sure you are," Wedge snickered. "Maringo fell asleep during the lecture and the Intel office chewed him out for it in front of the entire aerial defense division."
"Ouch!" Luke sympathized as they reached their quarters and Wedge toggled in their access code. "I'll be right back," he stated as he grabbed his Alliance issue toilet kit and headed for the communal fresher.
Fifteen minutes later, Luke was back in the room and started to undress for bed. He had just folded his shirt and was untying his boots when Wedge returned from the fresher.
"Have you noticed how people tend to go quiet when I enter a room lately?" Luke questioned as he threw his socks onto his boots and started to remove his pants.
"Yes," Wedge replied as he started to undress himself before he stopped and looked at his friend. "You don't know why, do you? It's Bespin."
"What?" Luke exclaimed, freezing with his pants half off.
"Word that Vader had personally laid a trap for you spread the moment the Falcon returned to the fleet," Wedge explained. "Followed soon after with the fact that you'd not only dueled the Sith but survived the encounter as well."
"Everyone knows about that?" Luke asked hollowly as he fell onto his bunk, absently pulling his pants off and tossing them aside.
"Yes," Wedge confirmed, puzzled. "It's an amazing accomplishment, Luke. People are stunned."
"I don't need any more fame," Luke replied, causing the Corellian to wince as he'd been witness to more than one of the occasions where Luke had run into an overzealous Alderaanian or fan.
"It also provides hope," Wedge offered. "Up to now Vader was seen as almost all-powerful and a lot of people believed him to be unstoppable. Now they can see that even he can fail and that's a powerful motivator."
"I suppose," Luke finally admitted as he crawled under the sheets.
"There's a saying on Corellia," Wedge said after a few minutes as he finished undressing and climbed into the upper bunk. "Hope is the source of success."
"Yes," Luke said with a sad smile as the room plunged into darkness at Wedge's command. "Han has mentioned that more than once."
"See? If he says it, then it must be true."
"Hokey religions and ancient weapons?" Luke threw out.
"Ah, yes, well..." Wedge began, his fellow Corellian and Luke's discussions about the existence of the Force and its worth were well known to him.
"Goodnight, Wedge," Luke offered after letting him hang for a few seconds.
'Son?' the deep voice echoed through his head even as it caused shudders to race along his spine. 'I know you can hear me.'
Flashes of Bespin flew before Luke's eyes even as he tried to tune out Vader's voice. His entrance, the near freezing in the carbonite pit, the duel, the loss of his hand, the unveiling of the terrible truth, his fall, the approach of the Imperial ship, his inability to let himself go, the hands pulling him from the weather vane and forcing him down inside the ship and into the Dark Lord's presence...
Luke woke from the dream with a silent cry, laying panting in the dark as his heart raced.
'Son,' the word still echoed in his head.
"Only a dream," he whispered softly to himself. "Only a dream."
He'd been getting them ever since he'd slept without the aid of medication after his operation. It was guaranteed that he'd wake up at least once a night, often twice or thrice. At first he'd cried out when doing so, waking Wedge in the process, but he'd learned to keep quiet so as not to disturb him.
'Son,' it was annoying how that one word could mean so much; could evoke such strong, and conflicting, emotions within him.
'Son,' Luke squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head to clear it of any last vestiges of the nightmare.
It took Luke a few seconds to realize that the voice was not coming from his mind, at least not directly.
'Son, I know that you can hear me.'
It was Him.
Vader. Sith. Father.
He was calling once more. Ever since their confrontation in Cloud City, Vader had been calling to him. Although he'd done it at all times of the day before, it had never happened at night so far. At least not that he was aware of... perhaps that had triggered some of his nightmares? Luke briefly considered the thought that the Dark Lord might have done it on purpose before discarding it. The man was in Force knew what part of the galaxy and completely unaware, he fervently hoped, of the location of his son. There was no way for him to know what time it was for him, which was probably why he spaced out his calls.
'Answer me, child.'
Luke flinched at the wording and forced himself not to respond as he had so unthinkingly and instinctively done while fleeing the Executor. It was hard as a part of him yearned to get to know his father. The rest of him knew it would be foolish. Although he was pretty sure he could prevent the Dark Lord from uncovering the location of the Rebel fleet, it wasn't worth the risk, especially since so many lives other than his own were at stake. Lives that weren't his to risk.
Besides, Luke wasn't even sure he wanted to speak to his father as it would probably be too painful. He had always longed for the man, spending countless hours on Tatooine imagining what life would be like if only the man were still alive. Fantasies of wondrous adventures and heroes, unbelievable tales of courage and, above all else, a strong bond between them - unbreakable. To know now that the man was actually alive was painful enough without hearing him ask Luke to join him and stand by his side in a horrendous mockery of his childhood dreams.
'Child, together we can end this destructive conflict.'
Luke forced his thoughts to the fact that, while the man might be his father, he was also the second-in-command of the Empire. He not only supported the tyrannical system of government that slaughtered innocents, but he had helped to create it. The moment Luke had finally come to terms with the truth, he had ransacked the Alliance archives for any bit of information on the Dark Lord.
He hadn't found much.
The records on Vader only went back about twenty-three years. The fact that this was about as long as he'd been alive hadn't escaped his notice. It allowed him to hope, as he'd scarcely dared to, that he really was the son of Anakin Skywalker before he'd turned. The fact that had struck him was that it coincided with the year listed as Anakin Skywalker's death. Not that it was so surprising as it was also the year the Jedi had been wiped out.
When Luke had first learned of the attack on the Jedi Temple and how most of the Jedi had been eliminated in the course of a few days, he'd felt horror course through him. Now, knowing that it was his father, Darth Vader, who had led the attack on the Temple that had resulted in the deaths of so many, including the children, he felt numb. To know that was his family's legacy was unbearable and too much to process. It had helped, however, to allow him to resist the temptation that arose each time his father called.
All of Yoda's warnings about the Dark Side were nothing compared to the real life example he had of what it could do. That his father, Anakin Skywalker, the Hero Without Fear, who had so legendarily defended the Republic against the separatists, could be changed to destroy that same Republic and all that it stood for, slaughtering thousands to do so, was all the warning that he needed.
Luke wondered sometimes why Yoda had never told him the truth, especially when he was preparing to leave for Bespin. Or why Ben had lied to him. Did they think that he would join Vader? When he was brutally honest with himself, he knew that the temptation would have been very great had Obi-Wan revealed the truth to him on Tatooine. By the time he'd gotten to Dagobah, however... he'd seen more than enough about the Empire and learned more than enough about Vader to not let his former dreams guide him so blindly.
Luke had been grateful when he'd seen that there was no footage of the attack on the Jedi Temple. Not only because it would have been gruesome, but also because the information the Alliance had said that Vader only got injured after the attack. How and where they didn't know, nor what he had looked like before, but it was listed as happening after the Temple attack. If there had been footage, Vader's former identity would have been instantly discovered.
The main thing this information had done, though, was to make him wonder just what had happened to his father to put him in the suit. Considering the medical knowledge available, it must have been really bad if that was the only way to sustain him. Though he had to admit that Vader's outfit added to his overall image beautifully. He'd lost track of the number of conversations he'd heard, both before and after Bespin, about the reasons for the suit and mask. They ranged from everything such as the fact that he could be some super droid to the fact that he might be an alien who couldn't breath oxygen and nitrogen air and whose appearance Palpatine wished to conceal.
He now knew it was none of those reasons, but the knowledge of what lay beneath didn't alter his fear of the man any. Knowing his former identity didn't alter what he was or what he could do. But just who was he? That was what Luke really wanted to know and what the Alliance database couldn't tell him. No one seemed to know anything about that and, frankly, no one cared. All the Alliance cared for was the fact that he was powerful enough to stride into any Imperial base or facility and be assured of near total obedience. The Dark Lord was just as feared by Imperials as he was by Rebels.
Not to mention just as much of an enigma.
The wording caused Luke's thoughts to shift as he rolled to lay on his back, glad to note that his father seemed to have given up contacting him for the night.
He could understand Leia's frustration all too well. They were fighting a war against all odds, hopelessly outmanned and outgunned. Information and strategy were their best and practically only hope of success. To have such a vital piece of information in their grasp and be unable to do anything with it...
Luke absently wondered how many Bothans had died to procure the communiqué. If for nothing else than to make their deaths worthwhile, they needed to get their hands on a cipher machine. But how?
In the dark, Luke snorted. Who was he to think that he could come up with a solution when the generals couldn't? The most he could offer was to ask his father if he perhaps wouldn't mind giving his son a decoder. Force knew he could get his hands on one easily enough.
The idea hit Luke so suddenly that he unthinkingly shot into an upright position and cursed loudly in Huttese when he hit his head on the bottom of Wedge's bunk.
"Who? What?" Wedge muttered sleepily as he woke up with a start.
"Sithspawn!" Luke cursed for having woken up his friend yet again.
It wasn't until he'd uttered the word that he realized what he'd said. The swear was a common one among pilots and he'd picked it up shortly after he'd joined the Alliance. It wasn't until now that he actually gave any thought to what it really meant.
"Eh... Luke?" Wedge mumbled, clearly still half-asleep. "You okay?"
"Yes," Luke replied, rubbing his forehead before he got excited again.
He had to tell Leia! It was a crazy idea, but it could work.
"Did you have another nightmare?" Wedge inquired before he heard movement below. "Luke? Lights on, dim."
Slowly the lights in the room came on until a soft glow diffused the small space.
"Thanks," Luke said as he blinked before grabbing his pants and pulling them on.
"What in the Lady's name are you doing?" Wedge demanded as he rose to one elbow and observed the Jedi-in-training.
"I've got to talk to Leia. I may have a plan to get an Enigma cipher machine!"
"You do?" Wedge questioned, coming fully awake and glancing at his chrono. "Luke, it's the middle of the night cycle!"
"So? Leia probably won't be asleep, she gets more nightmares than I do."
"Yes, but think of her reputation."
"Oh for..." Wedge began. "What do you think will happen if someone sees you sneaking into her quarters at this time?"
"I won't be sneaking," Luke replied, though he paused with his shirt halfway to his head.
"That won't make any difference to the rumor mill."
"But... you're right," Luke admitted, putting the shirt back.
"Now, how did you come up with a solution at this time of night?"
"Leia!" Luke called out as she finally walked into sight, speaking with General Rieekan.
He'd tried finding her at breakfast before he'd moved to the corridor off of which the Council chambers were located.
"Good morning, Luke," Leia said as she reached him.
"Good morning Leia, General," Luke replied, nodding at Rieekan. "I think I know how we can get hold of an Enigma encryption machine."
"What?" Rieekan demanded, eyes widening in surprise.
"It came to me last night."
"You should come inside with us," Leia said. "There's a Council meeting right now, though I'm sure we can push that back a little for this."
"Are you sure its viable?" Rieekan asked as he looked at the younger man.
"With a little work, yes, Sir," Luke replied, straightening.
He'd always respected the man, both for his impressive record with the Alliance and for the way he treated his people. On Hoth, he had always done his best to provide for them and had been very open with Luke and included the squad commanders in all the important defense discussions. The man had also been an ally when he'd returned to the Alliance after Bespin.
"In that case, I believe we should do as the Princess recommends."
"Thank you, Sir."
"If you're right about this, then I shall be the one who needs to thank you," Rieekan stated as they crossed the short distance to the Council chambers and entered.
"Give me a minute," Leia said before she walked up to all the other Council members who were already present.
Since he was already receiving less than friendly looks from General Madine, whom he'd never really gotten along with, and the new Admiral Ackbar, who had disapproved of showing him leniency after he'd left the Alliance with no warning to go to Dagobah, Luke stayed put near the door. He could see the startled look cross Mothma's face as she glanced up at him as Leia told her why he was here. A quick discussion followed with Generals Rieekan and Xa'tresh as well as Councilor Kwerl before Mothma nodded and seated herself at the semi-circular Council table.
"Luke," Leia called out, motioning for him to approach as she took her own seat.
"What is going on?" Madine demanded as Luke halted before them.
"Commander Skywalker has a plan on how we may acquire a cipher machine," Rieekan informed them.
"And how did he learn of our need for one?" Kwerl questioned, his fur rippling.
"I informed him of it," Leia admitted as she looked at the Bothan.
"And what makes you think that we haven't already considered this option and discarded it?" Admiral Ackbar demanded.
"It's highly unorthodox," Luke replied calmly, sad that he had gotten off on the wrong foot with the Mon Calamari. He'd have hoped that the time between his return to the Alliance and now would have cooled the alien's opinion of him, especially considering how Rogue Squadron had so recently managed to save three defecting Mon Calamari ships from a pursuing Imperial attack force. "I do not believe anything like this has ever been attempted before."
"Oh?" Rieekan said.
Luke risked a quick glance at Leia and saw that she was attempting to hide a smile. No doubt due to his unorthodox comment. It was well known that he and select other members of Rogue Squadron often utilized unusual tactics. It had helped them throw off TIE fighters on more than one occasion and he saw no reason to stop.
"It actually came to me as I was thinking about Vader," Luke continued. "It occurred to me that he could get his hands on an Enigma machine quite easily."
"And how does this help us?" Madine demanded.
"What is Vader?" Luke replied, answering the question with another question.
"What is Vader?"
"Darth Vader is a Sith Lord and the second-in-command of the Empire," Kwerl stated.
"No, no, not who, what," Luke clarified as he turned to face the Bothan. "What is Vader?"
"Luke, no one is sure what Vader is," Leia said. "He's probably human but we can't be certain."
"He is human," Luke declared, startling the Council with his confidence. "But that's not what I'm getting at. What I mean is-"
"How can you be so sure?" Ackbar interrupted. "You sound like you know for sure."
"I do," Luke replied, a little flustered. How was he to explain this without giving away his secret? "I can sense it with the Force."
"Different species have different minds and slightly different Force auras. Yours is different from any human's as our aura is different from that of Council Kwerl's or General Xa'tresh," Luke explained. "Vader's Force aura is human."
"If his race isn't what you were getting at, then what is?" Rieekan asked, steering the conversation back to the topic at hand, his face furrowed in concentration.
It was an expression Luke instantly recognized from all the meetings he had attended with the other squad commanders on Hoth. The general was trying to figure out where he was going with this and he was intrigued.
"What is Darth Vader? How do we know someone is Vader?" Luke expanded.
"His physical appearance?" Leia guessed.
"Yes and no," Luke responded and hurriedly continued as he sensed exasperation permeate the air. "With anyone else it would be facial features or some other physical characteristic that is unique to an individual. With Vader that's not the case."
"The suit and mask," Rieekan stated, understanding suddenly dawning on his face along with a hint of admiration.
"By the Force," Leia uttered as she too got it, sharing a look with Rieekan who sat to her left. "Can we do it?"
"It would take some work as we don't even know how it's made, but then that wouldn't really matter as it just needs to look and sound like it's real."
"What are you going on about?" Kwerl quickly interjected.
"Darth Vader is his suit and mask," Luke explained. "Both of which can be replicated. We just need to create our own copies of them and we can have someone pretend to be the Dark Lord."
"And he could enter any Imperial base, demand the Enigma encryption machine and walk out with it," Mothma finished slowly, stunned and clearly still processing the idea. "That's just daring enough to work."
"The timing could be a problem," Madine warned, though Luke could sense his rising excitement. "Should Vader appear on the holonetwork while our actor is on the base, he would be captured and killed."
"Vader rarely appears on the network directly," Kwerl stated. "The news normally shows prerecorded clips of him."
"Besides, his location often isn't certain as he likes to command from the frontlines," Rieekan added, hitting on one of the few things Luke could admit he admired about his father.
He didn't rule his troops from afar, generally going out into the war zone himself.
There was a brief silence as the Council members contemplated the idea and Luke remained still, feeling more confident about the plan than he'd been since he'd lain back down in his bunk and seriously thought through the logistics of it in the middle of the night.
"There may be one problem," Xa'tresh hissed, speaking for the first time in Luke's presence.
"What?" Leia asked, hoping it was something they could overcome.
"Darth Vader or not, I doubt the Imperial commander in charge of the facility we choose will be willing to part with the machine. It is an extremely expensive and important piece of equipment."
"Vader overrides his authority," Rieekan pointed out.
"That is not my concern," Xa'tresh replied, waving a clawed hand in a dismissive gesture. "I am rather concerned with Vader's response. He does not take even the slightest disobedience lightly."
"He would kill the man," Ackbar agreed solemnly, his mind wandering back to his own encounters with the Sith. "By choking them from a distance with the Force."
"Can you do this, Commander Skywalker?" Mothma suddenly asked after a moment of silence.
"Ma'am?" Luke replied.
"You are a Jedi Padawan, are you able to manipulate the Force in this manner?"
"I... I don't know," Luke admitted, startled at the suggestion.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Madine demanded. "You claimed to have deserted to learn Jedi tricks."
"Force choking is not something my teachers taught me," Luke explained, forcing his voice to remain even as he tried to calm himself. "I have also never attempted it before. It is, however, possible that I could... uh, figure out how to do it given a little time."
"Time isn't an issue," Rieekan said. "It will take a while to create the costume and train someone to properly imitate Vader."
"We'll need to collect all the footage we have of Vader as well as anyone who has spent time near him," Ackbar stated before he looked to Luke once more. "We shall need your experience with him as well."
"Not that I'm not willing to do so, but I've only really encountered him in combat situations," Luke replied. "And only Force ones at that. I don't think I've got any relevant information to impart for the situation. The substitute's not going to be fighting."
"Regardless, you have seen him move, act and command. You shall be able to say whether or not the actor comes off as convincing."
"That I can happily help with," Luke admitted, watching as Rieekan and Madine spoke softly together, the latter already making notes on a datapad.
"Skywalker will need to be disguised," Xa'tresh suddenly declared, drawing the attention of the other two generals.
"Indeed," Rieekan agreed. "Commander Skywalker is too well known among Imperials now. But I am sure we can adequately alter his appearance."
As he entered the main hanger bay of Home One and made his way towards the assigned landing area for his squadron (near the exit so that they could quickly rush out in case of a surprise attack), Luke slowed. He kept to the shadows of an A-wing as he stopped to regard his squadron. Techs were either perched upon or swarming under most of the X-wings while his squadmates were supervising them or explaining any minor problems they'd noticed.
Wedge was standing slightly off to the side with Hobbie near the latter's X-wing with the chief technician. They were deep in conversation, no doubt discussing the sudden inexplicable power failures Hobbie had experienced in their last dogfight. It was a testament to the Ralltiirian's piloting skills and the quick reactions of his wingman that he'd even survived.
As he watched the Corellian keep a subtle eye on the whole squadron even while dealing with the most critical issue, Luke had to smile. Wedge was quickly turning into an excellent leader and was all but ready to command his own squad full-time. Not that he believed the man would willingly leave Rogue Squadron. They had simply forged bonds that were too great to voluntarily leave behind. Yet the ease with which he stepped in when Luke was needed elsewhere, the lack of briefing he needed at those times and the fact that Luke could give him that control with no hesitation, proved that it was nearly time for Antilles to get his own squad.
A sudden string of familiar beeps and whistles drew Luke's attention from his second-in-command to his own X-wing and the blue astromech droid standing beside it. Artoo was fairly vibrating as he tried to convey something or other to the tech standing next to an open panel on the craft's belly. Without his golden companion, however, Artoo's attempts at communication weren't working as well as he'd like. A smile tugged at Luke's mouth and he decided to go help his little friend as soon as he made sure everything was in order.
The smile instantly vanished from Luke's face as his father reached out to him once more. The man was persistent if nothing else. Briefly he wondered what the Dark Lord would have to say if they managed to pull off his plan. He probably wouldn't be pleased. Perhaps Vader would leave Luke alone after he saw that he'd taken part in the charade? That would definitely be a nice side effect of the plan.
"Are you sure that there's nothing else you can tell me about what happened?" the lead technician asked Hobbie and Wedge.
"No," Hobbie replied.
'I know you can hear me, child.'
"Will you be able to fix it or will you need to gut the X-wing?" Wedge inquired, causing Luke to wince.
Each craft had its own little quirks and completely replacing a ship's innards altered them. Hobbie would need to do some extra flying to get a feel for his craft if such drastic measures were necessary. Under perfect conditions such quirks were minor, but the Alliance wasn't able to provide perfect conditions for its men or ships despite their best efforts. As a result, the possible quirks were greater and, while not major, they could be big enough to cause a nasty surprise in a dogfight.
"I can't say at the moment," the technician stated.
"When will you know?" Luke asked, not wanting Hobbie to fly Blue Seven's X-wing for patrols longer than necessary.
"Commander Skywalker!" the man declared as he turned to face him. "Perfect timing, I was hoping you could give me some additional information on what happened with the X-wing."
"I was quite a ways away when it happened," Luke stated, the dark look crossing Wedge's face as soon as the technician's back was turned told him exactly what kind of man he was. "Besides, Lieutenant Commander Antilles knows all that I do about the situation and Lieutenant Klivian, of course, is the one best able to inform you of all the relevant information."
"Ah, yes, Sir, of course, Sir. It shouldn't take us more than a day to see how bad the damage is," the man replied stiffly before he rushed off to shout at one of the technicians working on the troublesome craft.
"You couldn't have come back any sooner?" Wedge asked, glaring at his commander.
"Sorry," Luke replied with an apologetic smile. "Think of it as training."
"Training? For what?"
'Do you not wish to end all of this bloodshed?'
"The responsibilities of squad commander," Luke replied innocently, turning to look at the man again as he clenched his fist and pointedly ignored his father.
"He would have made it far in the Empire," Hobbie commented as he followed his commander's gaze while trying not to smile at Wedge's startled expression.
"Huh?" Wedge said.
'Answer me, child.'
"All that simpering and flattering of superiors. Those were definitely the people that moved up the ranks the fastest in the bureaucracy at the Imperial Academy and on the Star Destroyer I was on."
"All the better for us," Luke stated as he had a brief flash of Biggs who had served the Empire with Hobbie before defecting to the Alliance. Biggs, whose life had been snuffed out by a shot of his father.
'Son, let me complete your training.'