There was reason for caution before hitting the panic button, of course-the voice match percentage was only at 80% and the computer conservatively called the comparison "inconclusive." However, the there was the boy's name, his stated interests, and the fact that the computed percent chance of two different people having such similar voiceprints had a decimal and a couple of zeroes at the beginning. I downloaded my findings onto a data wafer, and did not mention anything about them to Captain Geer. The man was a moron who would find a way to mess the situation up somehow. That, and he was highly likely to connive at taking the credit if my analysis was right, and quickly shunting the blame back to me if it was not.
The rest of Labec's shift felt interminable, and it was all I could do not to fall asleep at my console until I was finally relieved by the deep-night shift. At last I stumbled off to bed and collapsed on top of the covers without even fully taking off my uniform. The last thing that occurred to me before unconsciousness hit was that I was due back at my post in less than eight hours.
The next morning I was as sore as if I'd gone five or six rounds in the ring with a gundark, but at least I had my lead on "Luke" to be excited about. I quietly approached Captain Wyer with my data, and we discussed the delicate question of what to tell to whom. He was of the opinion that an 80% voiceprint match was not close enough to present to the Dark Lord himself, but that it ought to be passed up the chain of command. I had my own reasons for wanting to take my suspicions straight to the top, but I agreed to try and improve my case first.
I spent the whole next day digging through all the information available on Luke Skywalker-which wasn't much. Had he been born some twelve hours earlier, he would have shared his birthday with the Empire, which was mildly interesting in an ironic sort of way. Both his parents were listed as "unknown" and "deceased," which made no sense, since if no one knew who they were, how could anyone be sure they were dead? More than likely, he'd been an embarrassing out-of-wedlock child, and the family wanted to hide the fact. Trying to claim that his parents were both unknown and dead seemed like overkill, however. Apparently, power of intellect was not something that ran in his family. Where the name "Skywalker" came from was anybody's guess; his guardians' last name was listed as "Lars." Perhaps in a fit of misguided patriotism, his not-too-bright (and unknown and dead) parents had named him after one of the Jedi heroes of the Clone Wars-twelve hours after the Jedi were revealed as traitors and assassins. Maybe it took news a while to travel out to not-quite-Anchorhead.
He'd attended a speck of a school in Anchorhead itself for a few months as a young child, but his guardians soon pulled him. Perhaps the journey was too far, or the boy was too slow in the head, or his aunt and uncle were paranoid nutballs who preferred to barricade themselves in their moisture farm. The rest of Skywalker's lackluster education had been administered by AES, and I'd been right-the boy couldn't write worth a damn. Every other sentence had a comma splice. He could do math, which was something, and surprisingly, he could answer logic-puzzle-type questions. Nearly everything else was average-to-dismal, however. He'd come within a few points of flunking the civics section on his school-leaving exam. I found it just plain scary that someone who was technically a graduate of the Imperial public education system thought the Courts had the right to impeach senators (no), that immigration to Coruscant was controlled by tariffs (no), and that the Emperor had started his political career as a senator from Kashyyyk (no!).
Because of his thoroughly unimpressive academic scores, I was surprised to see the results of his year-nine aptitude test. All youths in the Empire took that test at the beginning of their secondary educations, and the results determined much of their futures. Skywalker was off the scale on tasks that did not involve things like verbal expression or background knowledge. He could visualize impossibly complex objects rotated in space-correctly matching shapes that humans generally didn't have the sensory apparatus to even identify. He actually managed to cause a race-condition fault in the program that measured students' eye-hand reflexes. At least according to the record, he'd been hitting the correct response buttons in the milliseconds after the trigger stimuli algorithm had been run, but before the actual images appeared onscreen, and the computer had not been able to handle near-simultaneous input and output. He'd crashed the thing three times before he'd evidently decided to slow down a little and let the program catch up. Skywalker's test had actually been flagged for audit and possible invalidation, but nothing seemed to have been done with it. The boy had never tried to get into any higher-learning institutions or skilled labor positions, so no one had ever had a reason to look for his test results.
What I'd seen up until that point had been intriguing, if tragic in its implications of lost opportunities. Those aptitude test scores were not natural or normal, however, and even if I hadn't made an idiotic bet with Kalac, I would have begun to think that Lord Vader should know about Luke Skywalker. The Dark Lord's theories about Jedi plots were sounding less ridiculous the more I discovered about the boy. Much of the information about the Jedi Order had been classified for security reasons-no one else needed to know the subtle wiles they had used to nearly seize control of the galaxy. It was well-known that they'd had certain uncanny abilities, however, and that these manifested themselves from earliest childhood. That was the reasoning behind the sad but necessary process of infant selection, in which children deemed at risk of developing Jedi powers were quietly and humanely euthanized shortly after birth. That way, future generations need not worry about another race of superbeings rising up to enslave them. However, it did not seem impossible that, twelve hours after His Majesty had proclaimed the start of the Galactic Empire--in a remote corner of the galaxy--one infant had somehow slipped through. I recalled that a man named Anakin Skywalker, listed as a Jedi Council member and tremendously powerful, remained missing and unaccounted for. Yes, I decided, Lord Vader must definitely know about this. Much as I-and any sane person-feared the Dark Lord, I liked the idea of someone like Anakin Skywalker running around loose even less. Dangerous and unpredictable though he was, Vader was at least on our side.
A hasty private conference with Wyer quickly resulted in his coming around to my way of thinking. He agreed that we ought to inform Vader about the situation, and the time to bring the matter up was when he was onboard in person. If Luke Skywalker was anywhere near as dangerous as it appeared he might be, we couldn't risk letting our intelligence about him slip into Rebel hands through intercepted transmissions. But Wyer insisted on first clearing the matter all the way up through Commander Rakler, the Warhammer's chief officer, which I supposed made sense. It was never a good idea to take a commander by surprise when delivering disturbing news to Lord Vader on his ship.
Wyer was skeptical about my offer to deliver the information to Vader myself, as well. "Why would you want to do that, Vorgartin?" he asked, giving me a speculative look. "If you're hoping for some kind of reward or promotion, you may be waiting a long time. Maybe the rest of eternity. Remember, Vader's the enforcer. Rewards come from the Emperor himself-Vader just strangles people." Essentially everyone knew that part of the reason Emperor Palpatine had been able to retain so much loyalty was because he played the beneficent ruler while Vader did the dirty work of wringing necks and slicing off limbs. Still, the two of them were better than the chaos and terrorism that rule by the Rebel Alliance would have brought, and so reasonable citizens put up with a certain amount of unpleasantness. Of course, what constituted an "acceptable amount" depended a lot on whose neck was getting wrung.
"Honestly, the thought of reward hadn't crossed my mind, sir," I said. It was true. It was my pride that was on the line here, and that was far more important to me.
Wyer appeared to be having difficulty believing me. "Nobody runs up to Lord Vader for a nice little Life Day chat without a reason," he said. "You've got some other motive, Vorgartin. Out with it. Vader will have it out of you anyway, so you may as well tell me up front."
I didn't really want to tell him "up front," mostly because the reason was so stupid. Kalac had basically dared me to go ring Vader's doorchime and run away, and I'd drunkenly agreed. Now, I was too proud and stubborn to back out. "The reasons are . . . personal, sir," I said, hoping he'd agree to leave it at that.
Instead, he got testy. "'Personal' how?" he demanded. "What did you do, lose a bet?" He must've seen something in my face, because he immediately looked disgusted and said, "Kalac."
"Sir, I don't know what you're--" I protested feebly.
He ignored me. "You'll be dead before thirty if you don't stop letting him give you ideas," he said. "You could be going somewhere in this navy, Vorgartin-but not with a man like Kalac with his teeth in your hide. Kalac's a bottom-feeder, and he'll always be a bottom-feeder. He's got his uses, and you might want to keep him around at arm's length, but don't get down on his level. That's right where he wants you-where he can suck you dry. That's how men like him operate. All they can reach on their own level is people like themselves, who haven't got much to lose. If they want something worth taking, they've got to lure a better man down to their level. Kalac will do that-and you can tell your friend Scholcash that, too. Gharek's a lost cause," he added, shaking his head.
I wasn't so great a fool that I couldn't hear the truth in Wyer's words, and I answered, "Yes, sir. I'll remember that, sir."
I was truly grateful to Wyer for having explained men like Ferral Kalac to me. I might have been a fount of sophistication next to, say, Luke Skywalker, but I was still young and naïve in some ways myself. My disciplined life had largely sheltered me from dishonor, and I did not truly understand that there were men who valued transitory personal pleasure over their personal integrity. Sometimes I played at being a degenerate for the novelty of it, and probably because of some leftover adolescent need to defy authority. I had mistakenly assumed that Kalac was doing the same-but in reality, he was a true degenerate. He did not revert to some other, better form when he wasn't drunk and thinking up "entertainment" in my presence.
Rather wiser, if still stuck with my little Sith Lord problem, I said, "I will definitely keep Kalac at arm's length in the future."
"Good," Wyer said, seeming satisfied. "I'll leave the matter of who should speak to Lord Vader with Commander Rakler. For now, keep all this very close to your chest-and don't tell Kalac anything."
"Of course not, sir," I said. Even before Wyer's little lecture, I would never have thought to bring Kalac into this sort of thing. His mouth was like the Corellian Engineering freighter slogan: "it never stops running."