I told myself I wasn't going to post this until I finished editing "Doran's Place," but I need an incentive to work on this story so here goes..... Title: Under a Dark Sky Author: Raissa Baiard Characters: Luke, Leia, Vader, OC's and various canon and EU characters Genre: A Dark Luke AU Timeline: 0 BBY Summary: The young Lord Vader is restless in his life in the Imperial Palace. A mission to intimidate a rebellious Alderaanian princess leads Luke to Tatooine...and questions about his family's past. Coruscant, bright center of the Empire, was a glittering gem of a planet whose presence drowned out the all but the brightest of the stars. Seen from space, the Empire's capital was ablaze with a million pinpoints of light. On the surface, Coruscant was almost as bright at midnight as it had been at noon. Ordinary street lamps, glow panels and lighted signs comprised most of the planet's glow, but they were as pale as the far off stars compared to the lights of the Imperial Palace. As Coruscant was the heart of the Empire, the Imperial Palace was the heart of Coruscant. The Palace was illuminated every night, bathed in sweeping spotlights that picked out its fine architecture while discouraging the city's less desirable residents from loitering in the shadows. Tonight, in addition to its usual brilliance, fluorescent torches crowned every tower and a row of colored lamps topped the outer wall, transforming the palace into a sparkling, multicolored work of art. The arrival of a stream of polished hovercars and well-dressed dignitaries added to the air of live theater. The effect was spectacular; it was calculated to be so, down to the last flickering glow lamp. The scene inside was equally polished and artificially magnificent. Moffs in crisply starched Imperial gray mingled with senators draped in meters of shimmering vine silk. A quartet of Bith musicians, borrowed for the evening from the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, played on a small dais in one corner of the Palace's grand salon, while waiters in spotless livery and serving girls in tastefully scanty dresses served the guests choice morsels from around the Empire. The most prominent names in the Empire threaded their way between stone columns, all smiles as they maneuvered through the Empire's soiree. Luke wasn't impressed by any of it. He stifled a sigh as he grabbed a tall glass of Alderaanian wine from the nearest waiter's tray and ducked out onto a balcony. The first time Luke had been allowed to attend one of Palpatine's soirees, it had seemed like such an honor. Taking his place at his father's side, being introduced to the moffs and senators, sipping at a glass of hitherto forbidden wine had been the epitome of power and glamour to thirteen-year-old Luke. However, he quickly learned that the veneer of elegance covered a dangerous game. In Palpatine's court, tonight's smiling was likely to having sink those dazzlingly white teeth in your throat tomorrow. No matter what they might say about their devotion to the Empire, every guest at the parties was there in the pursuit of power, and power was measured by your proximity to the Emperor. There were two ways to gain such influence: discredit or destroy someone who had already achieved it, or form an alliance with someone in command. Much to his dismay, Luke found that he fit in neatly with the second type of plans. The compliments had started at the very first soiree. The guests praised him as a likely young man who obviously had a great future in store for him. Even at thirteen, Luke had seen enough of the Empire to know that they really didn't care for him one way or another. They only wanted him to put in a good word for them with his father and the Emperor. Things became interesting when Luke learned how to use their insincere admiration to his advantage. His most profitable bit of finagling was getting the prototype of a new starfighter from an overeager shipbuilder, but even those who couldn't afford such extravagant gestures had tokens of their esteem: a dagger of hand-carved whaladon ivory, a matched pair of nek battle dogs, an astromech droid to maintain his ship. When Luke grew older, the plans started to take on a new twist. Suddenly, every aspiring general, wealthy merchant and power-hungry senator had a daughter to introduce to Luke. Several of the female senators took new interest in him, too, though they were easily twice his age. He didn't need to use the Force to understand their schemes to secure their future through a liaison with, or better yet marriage to, the Young Lord Vader. Like the parties, the endless stream of beautiful girls was fun at first, but Luke soon realized that no matter how sweetly they cooed or how ardently they professed their love for him, they were all afraid of him. The girls who chased after him were intrigued by Luke's strength in the Force in the beginning. It made him exciting and more than a little bit dangerous. Some of them thought he could teach them the ways of the Force, others thought their love could tame him. Eventually, they all realized that Luke's abilities were more than just parlor tricks. He had the power to snap their pretty necks without laying a finger on them. His authority was more than a title; he was, as his father before him, Palpatine's servant. He would do whatever his Emperor asked of him, including snapping their pretty necks. From that moment on, the fear was plain in their faces and their hearts. "My Lord Vader?" All except one. Luke suppressed a grimace as he turned to the young woman silhouetted in the doorway. "Ysanne," he replied as graciously as he could. The daughter of Palpatine's internal security director, Ysanne Isard was a glacially cunning woman who was determined to gather as much power as she could. She stemmed not to care that Luke could read her intentions plainly; Ysanne wanted him on her leash, his power at her command. Though Ysanne was strong, intelligent, even attractive, in her own icy way, Luke had no intention of allowing her to carry out her plans; he already had a master and no need or desire to serve another. Ysanne joined him at the balcony's rail, moving with the grace of a stalking cat. "Enjoying the solitude, Lord Vader?" she asked. "I was," Luke answered pointedly. The chill in his voice would have sent most women scampering back into the party. Ysanne just gave him a languid smile, enjoying the challenge. She turned her gaze towards the lights of Coruscant "I can see why you came outside," she remarked. "The view is spectacular." Ysanne leaned forward against the balcony's wrought durasteel rail, as if to get a better look at the cityscape. As she did, she shifted her left shoulder and hip so that they brushed provocatively against Luke. Her hand came to rest on top of his. Ysanne glanced up from the scenery and gave him a smile that did little to disguise the predatory gleam in her eyes. Luke froze. This was a far more direct invitation than the cunning woman had offered before. Having her pressed this close to him was both discomforting and strangely attractive. His mind raced as he tried to discern the best way to handle this quandary. Pulling away from Ysanne would reveal his unease; that would be a sign of weakness. To admit weakness was to give control to your opponent. He could not let Ysanne have the upper hand. So, rebuff her advance and risk offending her father, a favorite of the Emperor's, or accept and risk himself? He was spared from making the wrong choice by the timely interruption of a serving girl. "Lord Vader? Lord Vader, your father…." The red-haired girl stopped in mid-step when she saw that Luke wasn't alone. She radiated anxiety as she dropped a curtsey and hastily apologized. "I beg your pardon, my Lord, but your father wishes to speak with you." Luke straightened with a feigned sigh. "You will excuse me," he told Ysanne. "Of course. One doesn't keep the Lord Vader waiting," she replied, giving the unfortunate servant a smoldering look. The girl blanched, staring at the other woman wretchedly until Luke commanded her, "Take me to him." "That was a nice bit of acting, Mara," Luke murmured as he followed her back into the fray of the party. "Thanks," she replied, eyes still downcast, in her role as a timid servant. If anyone had really been watching her though, they would have seen the girl's green eyes sparkle with mischief. "I know how you feel about Iceheart. It seemed the least I could do for the young Lord Vader." Mara's gaze slid sideways to consider Luke. "I don't think she was convinced, though. Do you think she's realized….?" Mara let the question trail off; no sense in saying more than had to be said. Luke frowned. Ysanne was clever enough to have noticed that a certain redheaded servant could often be found near the Emperor and his inner circle. She might even have deduced that Mara Jade was more than she appeared. But had she learned to what extent? There was no point playing sabacc with a skifter if everyone knew you had it. This was something he needed to consider, something he needed to discuss with his father. Luke picked his way through the crowd in the grand salon. Some of the guests tried to sidetrack him, but Mara kept him from being drawn too deeply into their conversations. After a few moments of superficial chitchat, she would fidget at his side and whisper anxiously, "My Lord, your father awaits…" It was simple then for Luke to make his apologies and go. No one wanted to chance annoying Darth Vader. On the far side of the salon was a narrow, dimly lit hallway, which was partially concealed by a large hanging tapestry. It was easily overlooked amidst the glamour of the Emperor's soiree. If anyone had wandered down the hall out of curiosity, they would have found a single plain durasteel door. It looked like a supply closet, unassuming enough to turn back all but the most curious partygoer. Luke was one of only a few who knew that it concealed not a simple maintenance hatch, but a small, seldom used private study. He had discovered it several years ago, and it had become a sanctuary from the press of the crowd at Palpatine's parties. He checked once to make sure no one had followed him and Mara, then slid the door open. The study was already occupied. A young woman sat in one of the nerf-hide chairs, her sleek, dark head bent over one of the ancient tomes that lined the room's shelves. She was dressed in a simple black gown that seemed to make her one with the shadows. The lady in black looked up at the quiet whir of the opening door. "Oh, there you are, Mara," she commented tartly. "I might have known you'd be with my brother."