No taste like it has graced his tongue in years. Most of what the mask will accept is acid. The fires, the smoke, the furnace that forged him. Pain, sometimes. There is no copper in blood and yet it tastes like the raw metal. A taste of a backwater junk yard where human magic arises from the sweaty work of a young boy labouring under twin suns that suck heat out of the air like a bantha at a water hole.
The void roars. A void roars. Which one? All the same now. Always. His gaze follows the flight, the fugitive falling away from him into a blue metallic maw. Is that a true escape? Implacable, now. There is no compromise in a face made of steel. But it is not a face.
He turns away. He cannot follow.
Not that way. He must catch the boy. The boy. A young man, perhaps, but he was a child at much the same age. A dragon waiting to hatch.
No taste like it. Sometimes the air becomes thick with damp and rust and mould and all the foreign things. A musty breath of long forgotten lakes and hidden oceans underground, places where all manner of oddity can hide. The deepest water hides the greatest secrets. Watch your water. It will take what scraps of life it can claim from the land and make them huge, make them terrible.
He has never met anything more hideous than the spawn of the deep oceans of Kamino, Mon Cala, places like those. Perhaps with the film of blood stripped from his mind, from the mask that shields him from the world, he might see something more hideous. Perhaps. He is mechanical now. Can a machine be hideous? A tool is not guilty, a weapon a slave to –
This weapon is your life.
Durasteel and imitation tendons kick through the debris of his hunt. Scattered blocks. The same shapes turned to the same uses, time and time again. Nothing to marvel over in the underbelly of a mining community. Not even one designed to gleam as this one did. A beautiful veneer hiding despicable, clumsy methods. Machines without the oil to work. Elegance in manner, in motion, in action perhaps – how droll to expose betrayal over dinner. The bounty hunter did not appreciate the callous irony enough.
No taste like it. Sometimes the air is thick with something grey and terrible that makes his shadows stoop, wheeze, complain, cry out. Crumple. Weak as he once was. It tastes of decay and the cold places out of sight. Dioxis, sometimes. Other times, it is the same thing packaged in a different scent, a different colour of cough. A different shade of blood.
His triumph had been presented over dinner he couldn't eat. No need. A swelling cold in his chest. Under Tatooine's unforgiving sky, droids failed many seasons short of the time snide creatures like Watto insisted they would last. He would not have lasted there. A world of death and collapse. Who knew anyone of note was ever born on Tatooine?
Perhaps it would have entertained the traitor to know where he had come from. Perhaps it would have brought a gleam to his face. So comes the proof of what the dragon in his chest knows to be true: home is an anchor, and it will drown you.
He will know if his son makes it off this planet. It is not impossible. The Force sings for the young Skywalker. Why? It was his power to claim, once, and now he can hold the shadow, a boiling darkness that still does not glow the way he used to, the way Skywalker does now. There is no light behind the dimming red of everyone he has killed. Blood on his hands – perhaps it was a mercy for the old man to take the second one off.
These hands are machines. They are not guilty.
No taste. This world is a ghost. Like Obi-Wan, like Padme, like the wide young eyes whose fading light marked the beginning of a chrysalis cage all words much too stern.
Watch your water. Salt water will kill you; do not drink it straight from the source. Your own water will kill you should you lose it. Do not cry. Do not waste your water.
He has broken all the rules of his home planet. The only rule of his home. And for... the son of the man that he murdered?
No. The man who was too weak for the world. He could not save the Republic, or his angel, or his son, from a world that spat on people like him – a waste of water just to show how much more they had.
He could take everything from them. He should.
Yet among all the things that his masters and his subordinates tell him are treasures, there is but one thing that he will fail to watch his water for. No taste like it has graced his tongue in years.