Above all else, the Empire craves bureaucracy. It must. Power, subjugation, order, these are meaningless without an endless stream of reports detailing the minutia of who shot whom when and how much the payroll will be in the next quarter. Entire staffs of Moffs dedicate their lives to the Emperor's budgets and taxes, and another host live merely to file daily reports in a repository where no one will read them.
The destruction of the Emperor's greatest weapon, mere days after its first exhibition, will require more electrons to discuss than exist in three star systems. Tarkin will be blamed for the failure, conveniently already dead for his sins. Someone must explain why. Many someones must explain their own parts to play. The Rebellion will surely be crushed tomorrow. Today the focus is how not to repeat the errors of yesterday. Vader is the highest ranking member of the Empire below the Emperor himself, now that Tarkin is dead and rest of the elite cowed by his defeat. Discovering full blame and doling out punishment will be his task.
A part of him, kept quiet inside the prison of his mind where even the Emperor cannot hear, wishes he'd stayed gone in his TIE Fighter a little longer. Everything is clear when he's in the cockpit of a ship, nothing between him and the deep oblivion of space save a thin metal skin. He has no wish to return to his old self, not in words he will ever think aloud even in his head. But he misses flying.
Instead, he is in his quarters, avoiding reading the first of hundreds of reports as Admirals and petty lowlings all explain why the insanely expensive disaster was not their fault. When he finishes, he will write his own.
Vader stops dodging his fear and pulls up the report from Tatooine. Everything always begins on Tatooine.
He felt the draw of the world even safely above it, floating in space as they caught the Rebel ship. He delighted in capturing Bail Organa's smart-mouthed daughter, at last proving Alderaan's active hand in the Rebellion. For years they'd ducked their responsibility, arrogantly hiding behind position and power, too important to topple or have killed. Vader had caught the girl with the plans, treason confirmed, and he'd relished the feeling. The hated Organa would be brought down, and his brat interrogated before her execution.
But below him was Tatooine, and knowing how close he was sucked the joy he should have felt.
He met the most beautiful woman he's ever known in the wretched storms of that world, and even now, his mother's blood still stains the sand. She echoes inside him, blaming him for not rescuing her in time, for not saving her from that life. Tatooine is a death world. He will not set foot there again.
The droids with the plans went to Tatooine, perhaps drawn to Kenobi with some beacon while he'd hidden there like a crab.
Anger flares within him, snarling with memories of betrayal and flame and agony. He should have died. The brother he'd once had in Obi-Wan would have given him that release. Killing Obi-Wan at last should have brought him peace. Instead all his victories turn to dust in his mouth.
He realizes he's only skimmed the reports from the Stormtroopers assigned to discover the droids. The 'trooper who had found Kenobi and let him pass has been executed for incompetence. It seems a waste. Few can withstand the will of a trained Jedi. Kenobi signed his death warrant and he is dead now. Vader should be pleased.
He opens another report. The Stormtroopers on the other detail found evidence of the droids and interrogated a band of Jawas to find they were purchased by a moisture farmer. The Jawas and the farmer were terminated for resistance.
He almost misses the name. So close, he thinks later. Caught up in his turmoil of emotions regarding his former friend, he nearly doesn't read the farmer's name, the farmer's wife's name.
Another chain of emotion weaves a curious pattern inside him. He can recall the pain with perfect clarity over two decades later. Connection with someone beloved, someone cared for, this creates a terrible line into their agony. The man he'd been loved his mother and had endured every torture with her, could not imagine not finding her and freeing her. He remembers his failure. He remembers the kind yet useless faces of two people who could not help.
Owen Lars. Beru Lars.
He's left them there, on hated Tatooine, not involving himself in any way with their lives. The remnant of Shmi's spirit that remains with him approves. She had a happy life for a little while, and Owen was the last piece of that happiness.
Owen Lars is dead.
There's another line in the report. The family was terminated by order of the commander on site, but someone was missing from the home. The commander has been thorough in his own report, collecting the name of the survivor. Vader expects for an instant to find Owen's offspring, a son or daughter who yet lives and carries on the family name, Shmi's grandchild in spirit. One bright thing from all her misery.
He reads the name twice. The record lists the boy as Owen's nephew, adopted by him and his wife.
Skywalker isn't a unique surname. They had distant family he remembers hating for never offering to pay for their freedom. His stepfather never mentioned another child. His mother could have conceived and bore another son, but not one old enough to leave behind an orphan for Owen to raise. The name could be coincidence, or a tribute to Owen's stepmother, or any possible number of reasons.
Padmé's child died with her.
It must be a coincidence.
He rises, reports forgotten. He touches the communicator on his desk. "Get me the head of the garrison on Naboo."
Exhuming the body of a former sovereign is politically untidy. The garrison commander's report includes the necessary termination of several dozen dissenting opinions. Vader ignores these, and rereads one line of the autopsy report until his eyes burn.
"Subject has recently given birth."
It is a rare moment. They're both on-world and neither has any other duty for tonight. Anakin can feel her skin growing taut over her abdomen. Fascinated, he traces a line of kisses across her stomach, listening for the early patter of a mind not yet formed.
"That tickles." Padmé's smile shines even in their darkened bedroom. He can't help but slide up to her and kiss the smile until she's breathless.
"We should name her after my mother." Another Shmi Skywalker, another chance.
"We can, or we can name her after herself. Himself. There's no way to know yet."
"A girl." He's sure. Something inside him is certain, though his foresight is proving maddening. Distracting. Nightmarish. "She'll be as beautiful as you, and a Jedi like me."
"We'll see. Maybe he'll be as handsome as you and a public servant like his mother." Padmé kisses him, and he lets other things distract him instead of the worries in his mind.
The security footage from the Death Star burned in the same fireball as the Emperor's hopes. Vader must chase crumbs. A youth matching the description of the Skywalker boy left Mos Eisley in the company of Kenobi and the droids. The Corellian YT-1300 light freighter they escaped in matches the call-sign of a ship owned by a small-time smuggler wanted in several systems with a hefty bounty on his head.
The same YT-1300 was briefly taken into custody on the Death Star, with Kenobi still aboard. At the time, Vader thought his arrival providence, until he learned of the escape. Organa's snobbish brat saw the destruction of her treasonous planet but she swanned away free in the same freighter that delivered Vader his revenge. There's no footage left to see the identities of her co-conspirators, but Vader has an image from the Wanted message broadcasting for Solo and his Wookiee companion. Nothing remains as visual evidence of the other human, and there are no survivors who encountered him.
Thanks to the destruction of the Lars homestead, there is only one extant image of the boy, and that some years old from a school record. Vader scans the sun-bleached hair and the young face looking for some faint trace of lines he knows. He cannot see Owen Lars in this boy. He doesn't see Padmé, either.
Skywalker's birth records have been inexpertly altered. The mother's name is listed as Aika Lars, which was Owen's mother's name. The father is listed only by surname. His birth date on the same record is several days after Padmé's death, but very little digging finds his school record and his pilot's registration both listing the day of her death as the day of his birth.
Vader's own report on the destruction of the Death Star has been written and filed. He's added a note about the pilot, the one who glowed with the Force in the moments before Vader himself was attacked by a YT-1300.
He's Force sensitive. He's a remarkable pilot. His birthday is the one day it cannot be. Owen raised a boy and called him nephew and gave him Anakin Skywalker's surname.
Padmé has a son. They have a son. He's almost certain. He must see the boy's face himself.
"Track this Skywalker," he says to his spies. "Find where the Rebels are hiding, and bring me word of him. If he is discovered, take him alive and bring him to me."
He knows they won't find his son. He knows the boy must come to him. The trap must be well-set, and irresistible. He's with the Rebellion, mind being filled with revolutionary propaganda by traitors and terrorists. Persuasion won't work.
Vader pulls up a report, finding the Wanted image of the smuggler. Beside it, he places another image from another report: the official Senatorial photograph of Organa's whelp. She helped steal the plans to Tarkin's ill-fated Death Star. Solo helped Skywalker destroy it. The reports are very clear. What they don't say is far more interesting to him. Both are connected to Skywalker. To Luke.
The Jedi Order eschewed emotion and close connection with others, even love. Emotion clouds judgement. Connection allows another's pain to cross the stars until there is no choice but to fly to their side. Love is prelude to destruction. If Vader cannot capture Skywalker himself, he will seek out the people Skywalker loves, and his son will try to rescue them just as once Anakin returned to Tatooine to rescue his mother. He will have no choice.
He will come, and Vader will see his face, and he will be sure.
He touches the communicator again. "Send for the bounty hunters. I have need of their services." He's already filled out the requisition form.