Vader retreated to his personal chambers unsettled by the appearance of the light freighter from Tatooine and what he felt near it. The suit needed time to recharge and he had to sit in his hyperbaric meditation chamber or a bacta tank while that happened. He opted for the chamber so he could read the reports gathered from Mos Eisley on Tatooine and meditate on the phenomena. It had felt like Obi-Wan. Or was he only feeling it that way because of Luke’s existence?
He passed through the office that the main door opened to and with the Force depressed the sequence of buttons that would relay the information to his chamber. It barely slowed his stride into what would be the main bedroom for any other General or Admiral on board. For him, the bed was replaced with a dodecahedron pod three meters in diameter nestled on hexagonal dais. The longitudinal seams were pulled apart, revealing the bright white inside the dark gray outer hull.
He crossed his prosthetic legs upon the floor inside as the halves closed around him. The pod’s mechanical arms emerged from their hidden compartments and lifted his helmet and mask away. The power cords snaked towards the control panel on his chest and he guided them in with the Force. The equipment chimed that it was charging. He closed his eyes and reached out through the Force.
Luke blazed like a star, too many levels away. Vader frowned. He should have found a location closer to his personal chambers to keep the boy in. He was in danger that far away as Mara Jade had proved. Her Force presence was safely contained levels away from his son, good. Now to find strong Force signatures beyond those two.
He expanded his reach again, losing focus of the Death Star’s structure in the process. There was a signature, achingly familiar, but muted somehow. As if the user had discovered how to bank the Force around his fire and hide. When Obi-Wan hid, another Force presence lit up briefly before dying down again. Had his old Master found a new padawan? The pair of them were separated by many kilometers.
He opened his eyes with a weary sigh. He couldn’t take a feeling to Tarkin, no matter how many times the Grand Moff had seen the Force in action.
After all this time, you would condemn Obi-Wan to Tarkin? If Padmé was still corporeal, she would be tapping her foot as she glared at him. Give Tarkin the accolades of destroying the last of the Jedi?
You would prefer it less if I kill him myself.
We can use him against Palpatine.
You are far too optimistic about that. Do you really think that Obi-Wan will unbend enough to work with us? He opened the report from the Tatooine garrison. While searching for the Alderaanian senator, they investigated a report of a disturbance in a Mos Eisley cantina. An old human male with white hair and beard intervened in an altercation between two parties: the Aqualish Ponda Baba and Cornelius Evazan in the first party and the second one made up of an unidentified young human male with black hair and mustache and an unidentified human female with brown hair. When blasters emerged, the bearded human male drew a lightsaber and cut off the arm of Ponda Baba. By the time stormtroopers reached the cantina, all parties had fled the area. Ponda Baba and Cornelius Evazan were apprehended stealing medical supplies and Ponda Baba’s injuries matched dismemberment by lightsaber.
It was Obi-Wan, all right, Vader thought sourly. He never could set foot in a cantina without his lightsaber hitting someone. The report continued with details from an informant who followed the old human male with a lightsaber, two younger humans who matched the descriptions of the ones in the cantina altercation, and two droids to Docking Bay Ninety-four. The transponder code of the freighter that took off from it roughly five hours ago matched the one the tractor beam plucked from Alderaan’s previous orbit less than an hour ago. Princess Leia slipped from his grasp and found the old man on Tatooine and somehow they managed to hide on that hunk of junk in the docking bay.
You promised to keep the Princess safe, Ani.
She’d be safer with different traveling companions. No report from the scanning crew yet. He’d probably have to scare it from them in person if they were still capable of giving a report. Like he didn’t have enough to do already.
The report from Tatooine was proof that a Jedi had managed to stay hidden on Tatooine and came here. Luke was proof that the Jedi was truly Obi-Wan Kenobi, since Obi-Wan was the only one left who could have delivered Vader’s child to Owen Lars. But he wasn’t about to share the reason for his certainty with Wilhuff Tarkin, one of Palpatine’s toady officiants through and through. Memories that were never far away rose unbidden to his mind’s eyes. The heated and sulfur-tinged wind had brushed over his skin and through his clothes. His wife, his angel, the one who he could not lose, the one he had acquiesced to the atrocities for, had stared at him like he was Nute Gunray and Count Dooku combined. Defiant anger filled her and curled her hands into fists at her sides, but her brown eyes welled with tears that didn’t fall. “I will not let you set me up as a tyrant in his place, Anakin!”
Before Anakin could find the argument that made her understand that her ideas could reshape the galaxy into the best it could ever be and he was her tool to make it happen, Obi-Wan swaggered out of Padmé’s ship ready to crush Anakin’s hopes and dreams like always. But not this time. This time Anakin would not listen to Obi-Wan and lose his family that only he could save. He faced the older Jedi but only lashed out with his words. “You turned her against me!”
“Your lust for power has already done that.”
In between the Jedi and the fallen goading each other, Padmé’s anger vanished in a flash of pain. She sat on the entry ramp to her ship. Her hands grasped her pregnancy swollen torso. “Ani, Anakin, Obi-Wan, something is wrong.” Her face grew paler. “Something is wrong. Please, Anakin!”
They had ignored her in their duel. Then the explosion of the mining facility had interrupted and all was lost to pain.
Vader felt Padmé’s hands on his cheeks, cupping his scarred face. Don’t dwell there, Anakin. I forgave you long ago. Palpatine manipulated us all. Our son lives.
He opened his eyes with a sigh and missed her face in front of his. The physical sensations never had the expected visuals with them. Since Palpatine had not apprehended Padmé and Obi-Wan when he arrived on Mustafar, Obi-Wan had gotten her and the child out of his reach. Unfortunately, the move only saved Vader’s son from Palpatine. And since Obi-Wan had taken his son—who deserved the same beauty and ease Padmé had spent a childhood in—to that slave pit, it was only fitting that he had remained there to keep the boy alive these past eighteen years.
The only oddity was why Obi-Wan involved the Lars. The Jedi preferred babies to raise and train after all. Vader sneered in memory of the ‘he’s too old to train’ verdicts. They had died and he survived; which was the better policy after all? Luke had no training in the Force. Nor did he react to the presence of Darth Vader as the antagonist of his night terrors. It could be a blessing when Vader got a spare moment to explain who he was to the boy, but it could also be a hindrance to the boy understanding the treachery Palpatine was capable of. He couldn’t hide the boy from Palpatine’s attention not like he had protected Padmé all these years.
Something stirred deep in his chest that he had not felt in so long, hope. Hope to break the stalemate Palpatine has contained him with. Hope to finally mete out justice for Padmé. He opened a security feed and directed it to Luke’s quarters. The color holovid filled the viewscreen. The slight young man slumped over the console unit in the corner. The hair covering the back of his head was blond with bleached highlights from the suns glare. It was also growing past the collar of his loose white tunic. The Lars were dead, Luke had said they had died last year, didn’t anyone try to groom him before he attempted to enlist? Vader scowled and sent an intercept command to get the reports of Luke’s escape from Coruscant.
Luke leaned back in the seat, draping his neck over the shoulder-high back. He stared up at the ceiling before pushing away from the console unit and standing up. He got his height from Padmé. The suit and the prosthetics repairing his body added fifteen centimeters to Vader’s height, but he still would have loomed over Luke before them. A smile tugged at Vader’s lips as he watched the boy flop back on the bunk and stare up at the ceiling. The boy had no personal items beyond the clothes and the datapad in his duffel and no duties. Small wonder he was bored. But at least from his position on the bunk, Vader now saw his face. Luke’s pale skin had a healthy golden tan and his eyes were blue, the same blue he remembered on a different face.
Oh Ani, Padmé’s voice went soft and wistful. He’s beautiful. We missed so much.
Vader needed to find something to occupy the boy. He needed to tell him the truth. The optimism began to shatter. He didn’t want to think about Luke’s reaction to the truth: his father wasn’t dead. He was a monster, fused together by the life force Palpatine had stolen from Padmé. Both their essences tethered here thanks to Anakin’s ill-considered choices. No one would approve of that. He had to make the boy focus on the danger Palpatine posed. Palpatine knew about Luke, but the boy slipped out of his grasp twice. The Force was with him. Vader had never before been able to bring a Force user to his faction before; Sidious always found them first and drew them to his side. He would not get Luke.
Luke wasn’t safe aboard the Death Star. Every officer Tarkin had in command was loyal only to Tarkin and by extension Palpatine. If any of them discovered who Luke truly was, or what the true task the Emperor’s Hand was sent to do, Luke was dead. Or imprisoned on the next shuttle to Coruscant for Palpatine’s pleasure. Or another Hand might arrive to finish Jade’s job. Tarkin refused to let Vader bring any of the 501st stormtroopers much less any of his Noghri honor guards to the battle station, and both groups took the command to remain on the Devastator sullenly. Vader couldn’t trust any of the stormtroopers stationed here to disobey a command from another Hand. Luke would be much safer back aboard the Devastator, surrounded by troopers and crew loyal to Vader, and Noghri as the last line of defense.
The Devastator remaining docked with the Death Star did not insure Luke’s safety. Vader had to remain here until the damn plans were found or Palpatine gave him another assignment, but no one had said anything about Vader’s flagship. He would send them away with Luke aboard, rebel hunting. Tarkin may scowl if Vader told him the Force gave him a location, but he wouldn’t countermand the order. Not when it could find Tarkin a new planet to blow to atoms. Vader put aside the security feed to Luke’s quarters and called up an atlas of the galaxy.