Darth Vader let the man drop in a crumpled heap at his feet, reveling in the dull thump of a dead body hitting the floor. The imbecile should have known better than to waste a Sith Lord’s time with insubstantial whispers. There was no Jedi here; there had not been a Jedi on this godforsaken backwater in years. There were no ripples in the Force that might indicate even a strong Force-sensitive; certainly, a Jedi could not hide himself here so tracelessly. Much as it amused him to think of his old master scrabbling in the dirt in this hellhole, begging for water and food, perhaps, this whole excursion had been nothing more than a waste of his time. His Master—his true Master—would not be pleased.
Vader turned to the aide assigned to him. “Contact Moff Tarkin. Tell him I will be there in four days.”
“Yes, sir,” the aide said. “Shall I explain the reason for the delay?” His tone was appropriately deferential. Vader decided the question had not been impertinent.
“No. I do not answer to Tarkin.” It was said coolly, without rancor; boyhood resentments were just that—remnants of childhood, belonging to another man, with no place in the New Order. Wilhuff Tarkin was competent and loyal, and as such was one of the few people Vader could stand to work with for extended periods of time. But Tarkin was only a Moff, and Vader was a Dark Lord of the Sith.
The Emperor was another matter; he would have to be notified of the delay personally. And he did not take well to having his schedules disrupted, even by a Jedi hunt.
“And why am I only now hearing about this false rumor, after it has delayed your attention to my commands?” the Emperor asked, silken politician’s voice dripping with false concern while the tendrils of his influence in Vader’s head promised painful retribution when next they met.
Vader kept his head at a respectful angle, kept his body still, kneeling in front of the enormous hologram. “The delay was minimal. I did not wish to disturb you, my Master,” Vader said, keeping his tone even with long practice. He hated his Master’s oily machinations, his control, his constant humiliation. But that was one hate his Master would not approve, so Vader forced it down until it was small enough the Emperor could choose to overlook it.
“No doubt you were afraid I would order you to keep your rendezvous and send someone else to track Kenobi,” Palpatine said. “You have disobeyed me. I am most displeased.” His voice stayed even, courteous.
Vader did not deceive himself that it meant his punishment would be light.
“You will continue to meet Moff Tarkin. I will deal with your willfulness once you are finished.”
“Yes, my Master,” Vader said.
Palpatine’s hologram disappeared, the connection severed from his end. Vader levered himself up from the floor, silently cursing the clumsy prosthetics, legacies of Kenobi’s attack. Kenobi’s treachery, turning his own wife against him and using her as bait, forcing Vader to punish her. Years of Kenobi’s slights hidden under a smile, over a decade of being held back out of jealousy and fear—and Jedi claimed they felt no fear!
He should tell the captain to get underway immediately. Any delay risked further irritating his judgment. Instead, Vader stalked to the porthole and gazed down on the planet below. It was a hellhole, a barren desert, though not quite as dry as Tatooine. On the largest southern continent was a range of active volcanoes large enough to be seen glowing redly from space.
If Kenobi had been here, Vader would have dangled him over the open pit, sliced off limbs and set him afire. Listened to him beg for mercy, as Vader had once done. And given none, as Kenobi had once done.
Soon, old man. Soon.