Title: Have a Nice Trip
Disclaimer Not my characters and not my universe.
Summary: The most unlikely hero imaginable inadvertently saves the galaxy from evil dominion and oppression. And Luke thought it had to be hard… ROTJ ends just a bit differently.
From the spidery perch of his throne seat, Palpatine regarded the ongoing duel with supreme satisfaction. Everything was, indeed, proceeding according to plan. Of course, it was not as though he’d ever had any doubt. He’d manipulated tens of thousands of Jedi into extinction in his time. What was one more?
Granted, this one more was putting up a better fight than most of his predecessors combined. Within the privacy of his own mind the Emperor was quite willing to admit that the whelp had a fair bit of talent, as far as Jedi went. Alas, the little brat had inherited his mother’s obstinacy to go with it. Shame, that, but he’d rather expected it. Really prime material like his current apprentice—oceans of ability and barely any backbone—well, it was a lucky Sith lord who came across that combination, and he couldn’t expect to run across two such specimens in one lifetime.
He’d been a bit hopeful, just a bit—the two were directly related, after all—but if he’d really thought that young Skywalker would prove acceptable, he’d never have let Vader hare off after his upstart spawn in the first place. Whatever his apprentice might think, the junior dark lord’s fledgling ambitions to dispose of his master were neither secret nor unanticipated. After all, Sith apprentices had been betraying their masters since time immemorial. He was really rather disappointed that it had taken Vader this long to get serious about the business. Made things boring.
Yes, when one ruled the known galaxy, one always had a horde of subordinates hoping to plant a knife squarely in one’s back—or other convenient vital organ, most of them weren’t particular—but Palpatine’s supremely competent mind had not had a proper challenge since that last game of checkers with his late unlamented master. It had been several tedious decades since he’d forgotten anything, even something as minor as his evening facial cream treatment. Of course facial creams had become a bit pointless after that incident with Windu, but after keeping up the regimen for so many years, he was as fond of his seven-thousand-credits-per-bottle D’Orlay Corellian Cocoa Anti-Wrinkle Cream as anything or anybody else in his life. Which wasn’t saying much, because he paid far too much attention to detail to nurture any sort of meaningful trust or affection.
Besides that, he had been consciously avoiding all use of words like “nurture,” “trust,” and “affection” since graduating from Pull-Ups to boxers.
But despite the fact that this young Jedi had (or at least Palpatine devoutly hoped he had) long since bade his Pull-Ups farewell, it appeared he had yet to excise such childish terms from his vocabulary. The idealistic idiot had just catapulted himself up to a catwalk and was now declaring the presence of “goodness” in his biological ancestor. Sadly the Emperor shook his head. Although for the sake of distracting Vader from his treacherous designs, he had made a show of bringing the boy here and attempting to convert him, it was even clearer than he had thought it would be that the irksome Rebel was a lost cause. Anakin Skywalker had never been so blatantly idealistic, not even as a ten-year-old.
The boy might look like his father, but truly he was Padmé Amidala’s son. Pity it couldn’t have been a girl, Palpatine mused—a girl, yes, with her mother’s impressive looks and her father’s temperament. Now that would be an ideal combination. Functionally practical, yet aesthetically pleasing. He regarded father and son regretfully. Well, no use crying about it. Vader had plenty of skill remaining, if no sex appeal, and it wasn’t as though the brat had a missing fraternal twin somewhere built to his specifications. That was the sort of idea he ought to have had while the parents were still reproductively viable. He might have had the Kaminoans craft exactly the child he wanted.
Alas, dear Padmé was no more. And as for her husband…well, a few limbs weren’t all he’d lost at Mustafar. Poor chap, Palpatine thought with halfhearted sympathy, it was scarcely a wonder his temper had gotten so fearsome since then...
Hmm. The junior Skywalker was a healthy specimen. Perhaps he could be kept for breeding purposes. Palpatine contemplated the gleaming vision of a dozen little blond-haired, blue-eyed, doggishly devoted prodigies for a few shining moments before hastily discarding it. He might have duped a galaxy, but he doubted he was equal to the task of containing a rambunctious Skywalker youngster. Anakin had been flying podracers before he had graced the galaxy with his presence for so much as a decade, and this one had been blowing up moon-sized battle stations in his teens. With normal children, one could at least expect the disasters to be delayed until the crawling stage, but Skywalkers probably started demolishing houses in the cradle.
No, no. Not without a twinge of regret, Palpatine decided he would have to write off Luke Skywalker altogether, out of regard for the peace of his old age. Putting himself through the rigors of converting and training another rambunctious youngster at this age was a recipe for disaster. He’d have to finish playing out the charade for Vader’s sake, naturally—his apprentice was not perfect, but one did not simply fling three decades of personal investment out the viewport.
Pathetic as it might seem, that two-and-a-half-meter, bemasked, prosthetic-riddled, walking melodrama was the future of the Sith Order, after all.
Well. Eventually, that was. He didn’t plan on kicking the bucket just yet. Dark side knew Vader still had plenty to learn before he would be sly enough to catch his master unawares. Nothing, not the most minor threat to his safety, escaped the Emperor’s scrutiny, certainly not the bumbling plots of his belligerent disciple. He would have to resign himself to waiting for Vader to brush up on his cunning.
The prospect almost made him want to let young Skywalker live to fight another day. That boy was the most exciting thing that had happened in the Empire since its inception, frankly. The uppity brat was full of surprises. Palpatine hadn’t expected him to last five minutes against Vader at Bespin, but the shrimpy would-be Jedi had survived to lead the entire Imperial Navy on a merry six-month wild goose chase across the entire known galaxy. In an exhibition of sheer gall that trumped even the destruction of the Death Star, the little guttersnipe had actually snuck onto Coruscant, right into Imperial City, blowing up the planet’s third largest superstructure, a skyhook, and the wily Xizor before blasting his way back out of system. And now, as the almighty screeching crash of a collapsing catwalk informed him, the brat was inciting his paternal unit to hack Palpatine’s throne room to pieces…
On second thought, he was quite looking forward to blasting the brat into smoldering smithereens. He worked his fingers on the armrest of his throne before deciding he’d let this walking Force-sensitive liability draw air long enough.
As Vader prowled into the collapsed durasteel maze, attempting to ferret out his elusive offspring, Palpatine rose deliberately and started towards the stairs. All was planned perfectly. He would allow his apprentice to flush the Rebel out of hiding and pummel the boy into defeat, then—when the stubborn boy inevitably defied him yet again—use the excuse to fry the youngster, rather like a rat in a high-powered anti-pest field.
It was a simple, uncomplicated, undeniably flawless scheme. No detail was unaccounted for. In a few more moments, his Empire would once more be as secure as before. The Rebel fleet would be so much space dust, the last Jedi would be an energy-shriveled corpse, his apprentice would have no more dangerous distractions, and he himself would be free to ponder more pressing issues, such as whether or not he ought to try the new D’Orlay Alderaanian Arralute Toe Moisturizer—
And then, all of a sudden, something unexpected happened. The very fact that it was surprising surprised him all over again, so much so that he yelled for the first time in twenty years, which of course surprised him for the third time. Then he felt a flash of horror, for the last time something surprising had happened, he had lost fourteen trillion credits and one million personnel to a single teenage hotshot in a single outdated starfighter firing a single torpedo. And since he’d just been surprised three times, this disaster was bound to be three times worse.
The second to last thing he thought was, Curse you, Luke Skywalker!
The very last thing he thought was, I should have known this would happen when I ran out of D’Orlay this morning.
Vader had only proceeded about five feet into the shadows of the collapsed catwalk, and was still thinking of what persuasive argument he could try next with his recalcitrant son, when someone screeched overhead.
His first thought was, Luke!
His second thought was, Wait. That didn’t sound anything like Luke.
His third thought was, The only person overhead is my Master.
He never got to a fourth thought, for the screech was followed by a series of thuds and clanks, and he whirled around just in time to see the cloaked form of the Emperor hurtle the last few feet down the stairs and smash into the deck with a crack.
He stood in total disbelief, his lightsaber humming in his hand, for one full second before rushing out to Palpatine’s side. “Master?” he rumbled, kneeling on the floor. When no response came, he inched his hand forward and gingerly tapped the shoulder. “Ah…Master?”
Expecting to be electrocuted for his presumption any instant, Vader tentatively reached out and rolled the Emperor over onto his back.
Empty, unblinking yellow eyes peered out of the shriveled face. Vader stared incredulously at the unnatural angle of the neck.
Surely it could not have been so easy.
He straightened, and turned as he heard footsteps behind him. Luke had crept hesitantly out from the shadows, his lightsaber in hand. “Um…is he…”
“Dead,” Vader said shortly.
Their duel completely forgotten, Luke dashed over to inspect the miracle for himself. “It can’t be that easy,” he echoed, astounded.
Vader’s eyes suddenly alighted on a small object that had skidded to a stop not far from his newly late master. “It appears,” he said, walking over to it, “that he forgot about one elementary rule of self-preservation.”
He held the thing up. “Never leave objects lying at the top of the stairs.”
Luke took one look at the object in his hand and immediately lost any semblance of composure. Desperately he clutched a hand over his mouth, trying to maintain an air of proper Jedi solemnity, but he could not stop snickering.
The surviving Dark Lord glanced back at his predecessor's corpse. Well. It was very ironic...To his own surprise, Vader found himself chuckling. It made a bizarre sort of wheezy noise through the vocabulator. Luke lasted another heartbeat before realizing what the sound was and breaking down completely into hysterical laughter.
“So now what?” Luke finally asked, as his howls of mirth subsided into something manageable. “Obviously you don’t need me to help you get rid of him anymore.”
“An excellent point,” Vader said, regarding his master’s crumpled body. “I propose a temporary truce between us until we have opportunity to discuss this turn of events.” He hooked his lightsaber to his belt and held out his hand.
“On one condition,” his son said.
Luke pointed at the object in his hand—the tiny, insignificant, utterly indifferent object that had happened to fall in the Emperor’s path, the one detail of the situation he had forgotten, the one tool of darkness he had never expected would turn against him. “I get to keep those handcuffs.”