(Author's Note: I don't own Star Wars.)
Hearing Darth Vader's voice, even only by eavesdropping through a covert comlink connection, was enough to unsettle her. She reminded herself to be calm, lest she give her location away.
"We've located the spies, sir," the security officer responded. "We're cut off their escape and jammed all long-range transmissions, but we've encountered...the men report a Jedi, sir."
She hadn't expected to go unnoticed, but if all long-range transmissions were jammed, then...Vader would have to be there, at the landing pad. Even more imperative she maintain a sense of tranquility.
"And why was this not in your earlier report, commander?" Vader demanded.
"She wasn't involved then, sir! We've been tracking the five human spies across the city. This sixth one just showed up here. Orange-skinned, with three striped tentacles instead of hair."
"...Togruta," Vader mused.
She did not like his eager undertone.
"I...think that's correct, sir; don't see many of them these days."
"Order your men to eliminate the resistance, commander. I will handle the Jedi, personally."
"I will begin," Vader continued, "by tracing this comlink she has carelessly left in the open."
Growling, she tossed the listening device to the floor and ran out the storage room door, lightsaber in hand, into the corridor.
Right into a squad of stormtroopers.
She ignited her lightsaber and cut the one to her left down with the green beam before the others had a chance to react. One of them shot his blaster rifle at her; she quickly swung the beam to deflect the shot into another of the troopers, used the momentum of the swing to eliminate the trooper to her right, and took a step towards the last trooper standing. He tried shooting her again, and she simply hit the shot and his neck with the same swift motion of her blade.
Sighing now that her chance of going undetected was gone, she ran down the corridor, in the direction she hoped led away from the landing pad...and Darth Vader.
Rounding a corner, she suspected she'd picked the wrong direction; the blast doors several feet in front of her were closed, and bore the text "Docking Bay 4". She looked around for some kind of vent or maintenance access, but she didn't detect any way out besides the corridor she came from. Checking to the side of the blast doors revealed there was no panel to open it, leaving her with the question of whether cutting through the door with her lightsaber would be a better option than turning back the way she came.
A sense of motion from behind answered the question for her. Before she'd even finished turning around, she felt the presence of Darth Vader. It was a subtly familiar sensation, but revolting because she recognized what it once was; as if it had rotted into a nauseating heap, but retained small traces of what it used to be. Which she realized might not be far from the truth.
She quickly interposed her lightsaber between the two of them, as the Sith Lord activated his lightsaber in a similar position. She kept her eye on him as she stepped closer, away from the corner.
"It was a mistake to come here," he declared, with his artificial voice.
"Fair enough," she responded. "Leave now, and I won't tell anyone about your mistake." She realized her trepidation had suddenly vanished, though she had no idea why.
"Such bravado," he answered humorlessly. "You cannot hope to defeat me."
It certainly didn't feel like bravado. She wasn't sure she was feeling much of anything, in fact. "Would it matter? The Empire persecutes Force-users as much as it does non-humans; as both I would be a fool to trust your benevolence."
"So be it."
He reached towards her with his free hand, and she could feel his attempt to pull her closer using the Force. She immediately countered, pushing back through the Force. The walls rattled violently, as the two fonts of willpower clashed. The air felt heavy, and she was almost expecting some kind of tornado to form in the hall.
Despite her effort, the friction under her feet grew intense enough to feel; she was losing this particular battle. Clenching her fist and quickly reversing the direction she was willing, the feeling subsided...as the Sith Lord was lurched in her direction, approaching quickly but retaining his balance. She quickly stepped to the side and lashed at him with her lightsaber, but he simply swung his lightsaber into hers, pushing it back slightly. He'd barely regained his footing before thrusting at her with his weapon, clearly intending to strike while she was off balance.
He had underestimated her agility; she'd already adopted a two-handed grip and pushed against his lightsaber at horizontal angle. The two energy blades only moved an inch towards Darth Vader before he adjusted to a horizontal angle himself; electrical sparks echoed as the two lightsabers were locked in place, each pushing towards the other.
"Impressive," he declared over the noise, "you've become stronger since you left the Jedi Order."
She took a deep breath, fighting the memories threatening to distract her. "It's been quite a decade," she replied flatly, before swiftly kicking him in the chest. He was too heavy to be pushed more than two steps, but it broke the saber lock; she quickly took a step back.
Vader swung his lightsaber at her again; sparks flew off the wall where the red beam intersected it. She swung her own saber against his, blocking his attack and countering with a halfhearted attack of her own, while slowly circling around him; putting him between the wall and herself. He responded to her intentionally weak attack with a fierce strike against her blade, strong enough to knock her lightsaber out of its guard position.
Of course, that had only worked because she'd allowed it; she channeled the momentum applied to her lightsaber into a circling motion, and sparks flew off the floor as the blade aimed squarely for the center of the Sith Lord. He was forced to abort his assault to block hers as the green beam cleared the ground, pushing its arc off to his side.
In response, she thrust her weapon forward during its redirected assent. Vader groaned briefly as she scored a glancing blow on his arm, near his shoulder. Before he could attempt a similar move of his own, she had twisted her lightsaber into a blocking position against Vader's own blade, as she had barely a moment ago.
"Most impressive," he commented. "I would have use for one with your talents."
She gently shook her head. "Not interested."
Rather than answer, he shoved her away with the Force, down the hallway. She didn't resist; instead, she deactivated her lightsaber, turned her landing into a somersault, and used the Force to speed her way. If he was going to help her try the other end of the corridor, intentionally or not, who was she to argue?
So. Ahsoka Tano was alive. And had grown strong in the Force, powerful enough to pose a challenge even to him.
Pride was a feeling he had become unused to over the years, but he still recognized the feeling originating in the recesses of his mind. His erstwhile apprentice excelled where his former contemporaries had failed, and where his supposed superiors had faltered. Surely that was in no small part due to his training.
As he walked down the corridor, slowly retracing the path she had taken, he had time to consider the opportunity she represented. The lesson of the Dark Side was the difference between a powerful threat and a powerful ally was a thin line, and she'd already spent formative years on his side of that line. The Empire's stance against non-human species was obviously at the forefront of her mind, surely it would be easy to convince her to take on the Emperor directly. All he needed was the proper proposal.
"Lord Vader—" started a voice over his comlink. It wasn't any of the local troopers, though, it was one of the captains of the 501st legion. But he hadn't ordered any of his own stormtrooper legion to accompany him here.
"Report, captain," Vader commanded with annoyance, cutting the man off.
"Three squads have disembarked at the spaceport."
Then the long-range jamming was still active. "On whose authority?"
"The...uh...the Emperor's, my lord."
He was silent for a second. It was hardly customary for his master to question his decisions indirectly like this. Unless..."Station your men around—"
"Excuse me," came a female voice over the comlink, "but our orders are to eliminate the Jedi reported here."
Ah. One of the Emperor's Hands. His master had two objectives to accomplish here: stopping the spies and killing Ahsoka...even if calling her a Jedi was technically incorrect. He hadn't been told there was a "Jedi" until he landed, though. But if the jamming was already on...the Emperor must've known, and not told him. Clearly this was a test, but who was his master testing?
Regardless, this was a complication that needed to be dealt with, carefully. "The Emperor sent stormtroopers to deal with Jedi?"
He was pretty sure she was trying to suppress a snort. "With all due respect, Lord Vader, I report directly to the Emperor, just as you do," she declared derisively. "I am in no position to question them, any more than you are in a position to countermand them."
So the stormtroopers' orders came from her, using her privilege as Hand to call on the authority of the Emperor. With which she was interfering with his out of...petty spite, he supposed. She was a jealous and arrogant one. And clearly, he owed Ahsoka an apology for thinking her remark was "bravado".
Which gave him an idea. "The Jedi is aiding the intruders. Find them all, and keep them from escaping, and you shall complete your assignment. Unless of course, you are incapable of dealing with a Jedi on your own."
"Excuse me?" she blustered.
"The Jedi will vanish if the intruders depart. Why would you risk it, unless you need—"
"Follow Lord Vader's orders," she commanded the stormtroopers, "I have a job to take care of."
"Station your men around all hangar doors," he said, repeating his earlier, interrupted, order. "Allow no one to pass. Inform me once the intruders are located."
"Yes, Lord Vader," his captain responded.
The Hand was strong, but was she strong enough to duel his old apprentice? If not, she would pay the price for her lack of vision. Denigrating a Dark Lord of the Sith was foolish, and foolishness was only tolerable when it had talent backing it up.