Vader took a moment to reply. “The governor’s presence is unnecessary, Master.”
Sidious swung to his apprentice, his eyes narrowed in interest. “You surprise me, Lord Vader. You have carried out previous missions with Moff Tarkin. Has he done something to prompt your disfavor?”
The Emperor exhaled with purpose. “A reply that conveys nothing. Provide me with a satisfactory reason.”
Vader looked down at him, the sound of his regulated breathing diminished by the howl of the high-altitude wind. “Moff Tarkin should be ordered to return to Sentinel Base and resume his duties there.”
“Ah, so you’re arguing on Tarkin’s behalf, are you?”
“For the Empire, Master.”
“The Empire?” Sidious repeated, miming surprise. “Since when do you put the needs of the Empire before our needs?”
Vader crossed his gauntleted hands in front of him. “Our needs supersede all, Master.”
“Then why do you contradict me?”
“I apologize, Master. I will do as you have commanded.”
“No—not good enough,” Sidious snapped. “Of course you will do as I command, and of course Moff Tarkin needs to resume his duties on the Sentinel moon. The sooner the battle station is completed, the sooner you and I can devote ourselves to more pressing matters—matters only you and I can investigate and that have little to do with the Empire.”
Vader allowed his hands to hang at his sides. “Then why is Murkhana important, Master?”
Darth Sidious moved from the railing to a chair snugged up against the spire’s curved wall and sat down. “Do you not find it intriguing that both you and Moff Tarkin have ties to the very planet where this newly discovered cache of jamming devices has been found? Tarkin, to quash Dooku’s Shadowfeeds, and you—in one of your first missions, I seem to recall—to effect an execution. Or perhaps you feel that no connections exist, that this is mere coincidence.” Vader knew the reply. “There are no coincidences, Master.”
“And that, my apprentice, is why Murkhana matters to us. Because the dark side of the Force has for whatever reason brought that world to our attention once more—as you should well understand.”
Vader turned his back to the railing, and the wind wrapped his cape around him. “Which of us would be in command of the mission, Master?”
A sudden glint in his eye, Sidious shrugged. “I thought I would allow you and Moff Tarkin to work that out.”
“Work that out.”
“Yes,” Sidious continued. “Reach a compromise, of sorts.”
“I understand, Master.”
Sidious’s tortured face was a mask. “I wonder if you do . . . But let us return to Moff Tarkin for a moment. Has it never struck you that all three of us—you and Tarkin and I, the Empire’s architects, if you will—hail from worlds that occupy but a narrow slice of galactic space? Naboo, Tatooine, Eriadu . . . all within an arc of less than thirty degrees.”
Vader said nothing.
“Come, Darth Vader, you of all people should accept that some are born for greatness. That some are larger than life.”
Vader remained silent.
“Yes, Lord Vader—Tarkin.” Sidious softened his tone. “You are a true Sith, Lord Vader. Your dedication is unerring and your powers unparalleled. Perhaps, however, you are under the misimpression that only Sith and Jedi have trials to pass.”
“What trials has Governor Tarkin passed?”
“Have you never been to Eriadu?”
“Then you know what that world is like. Venture outside the safe haven of Eriadu City and the land is every bit as bleak and hostile as Tatooine. That land forged Tarkin in much the same way Tatooine forged you.”
Vader shook his head. “Tatooine did not forge me.”
Sidious stared at him, then grinned faintly. “Ah, I see. Slavery and the desert forged Skywalker. Is that what you mean?”
Vader left the question unanswered. “What trials did Tarkin endure?”
Sidious took a long moment to respond. “Trials that helped transform him into the military mastermind he has become.”
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