The holo image flickered then spluttered to life. The blue image was a meter high with startling clarity. One could almost read the expression on the old man’s face. And as always, when that face gazed on Vader, it was an eerily paternal mixture of affection and severity.
Sweeping his cloak to his side, Vader went on one knee with a flourish.
“Master,” he said reverently.
“Lord Vader,” Emperor Palpatine a.k.a. Lord Sidious replied sternly. “How goes your interrogation of the Jedi?”
“He has provided information on the whereabouts of certain covens in Dantooine, Hoth and Endor.”
“Provided?” asked the Emperor with a small smile.
Vader returned the smile. “The Jedi is quite obstinate. It has been entertaining persuading him. Unfortunately, his persuasion took longer than it might have favoured us. The Hands have investigated these leads with only relative success. The Jedi seemed forewarned of their arrival. The Hands met abandoned settlements in all but Hoth and there, after much resistance, they succeeded in capturing a young Jedi humanoid.”
“And has that one been able to provide information?”
“She’s less obstinate than Kenobi and even less informed. I have placed her in stasis for you to decide what to do with her.”
“What do you suggest, Lord Vader?”
Vader paused. “She is young, not skilled in combat but I suspect her talents are more medicinal. She would make a good addition to the Hands.”
“Look at me, Lord Vader.”
Vader raised his chin. There was a long silence as the two Sith stared into each other’s eyes. Vader could feel his Master cutting a fiery path through his mind and he braced himself, allowing it. It was mild torture compared to some other experiences he had gone through in his long apprenticeship. And it was torture that some of the Hands would have killed to have inflicted on them.
The Emperor broke the stare first, looking away from his apprentice with a dismissive sneer.
“At times like this, I cannot decide whether it is gullibility or sheer idiocy that motivates you, “ the Emperor roared. “Perhaps it is both.”
“Forgive me if I have offended you, my Master.”
“Ferus Olin would not have hesitated to kill that Jedi the moment she proved useless. I’m certain he would have been more persuasive with Jedi Kenobi as well.”
Vader could feel his hackles rise at the mention of his rival’s name. “Olin is a spiteful child,” he said flatly. “He would have killed Kenobi in frustration and we would have got nothing from a valuable lead. Forgive me, Master, for thinking that the idea of preserving a potential resource is superior to venting a malicious and purposeless rage.”
“You forget your place, Lord Vader.”
“I remember my place.” Vader’s voice was respectful but forceful and even though his head was still bowed, every line of his body shouted pride. “I am a Sith Lord. I am the only apprentice of Sith Master Sidious. His only heir. I will not stand to be compared to a lesser Hand, regardless of the circumstances.”
Dark energy hit Vader’s mind with such a fury that it would have broken a lesser being. Instead, he had anticipated it and he let his own fury fly free, catching the other’s in a lock hold that was almost as destructive as an unchecked blast. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity as the two wills battled for dominion in Vader’s mind.
And just when Vader felt that he was going to die in the attempt to withstand his Master’s rage, the Emperor let go.
The Emperor had the laugh of a witch's cackles. “Your powers are great, my apprentice. Your arrogance is not unfounded.”
Vader gasped as he struggled to compose himself. His head felt like if it was on fire.
“Indeed you are a true Sith. But you cripple your own strength. Let go of your compassion. Let go of human affection. Let your hatred and rage dominate and destroy them. Then will you be more powerful than your Master.”
“I… I thought… I already was,” Vader managed between coughs.
The Emperor’s cackles were sinister echoes through the holo-feed. “You still have much to learn, my young Apprentice.”
And with that cryptic note, the transmission ended.
A lesser Hand would have collapsed on all fours then, taking advantage of the sudden privacy to indulge in some respite from the incredible torture.
Vader was no Hand.
He got to his feet, acutely feeling the weight of his body on his aching joints, and he savoured the pain, channelled it to that dark centre from where he fuelled his rage. Then he strolled out of the transmission room, his cloak sweeping behind him.
Very soon, my Master, I will show you that there are no more lessons to learn.