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Saga - PT Midnight in the Garden: The (Im)possible Redemption of the Emperor

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by LLL, Jan 30, 2024.

  1. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    Title: Midnight in the Garden
    Author(s): LLL
    Timeframe: Saga--PT
    Characters: Palpatine, Anakin, Padme, Valorum, OC, with cameos by Obi, Mace, Yoda, Qui-Gon, Dooku
    Genre: political intrigue, drama, angst, romance
    Keywords: Palpatine, Redemption
    Summary: A fateful sequence of events the night General Grievous is defeated gives Anakin the chance to avoid destroying the Republic, save Padme's life, and possibly even ... redeem Palpatine?

    *Please note: This was written loooooong before the Clone Wars TV show. Loooooong before James Luceno. (Whom I have some philosophical disputes with anyway.)



    “You know it is possible to change fate. There are infinite paths and infinite possibilities … but you must open the door.”

    --Palpatine.

    ***
    PROLOGUE: MIDWAY THROUGH THE CLONE WARS

    "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

    --C.S. Lewis.


    Jedi knighting ceremonies made insular affairs, Chancellor Palpatine -- the Sith Lord Darth Sidious -- reflected. Only Jedi knights were allowed to attend -- knights, and anyone close to the graduating padawans whom the padawans wished to invite. And Jedi padawans were never close to anyone except other Jedi. Palpatine was the first Supreme Chancellor to attend a knighting in many decades -- and the only practicing Sith to attend one, ever.

    Padmé Amidala Skywalker had run into him at the entrance to the Jedi Temple's great Convocation Hall. Together they stood through interminable singing, chanting, lighting of torches, and various processionals down the center aisle. The ceremony did not allow for anyone to sit -- some foolish Jedi custom intended to Honor The Force We All Serve. And to discourage attendance by non-Jedi, no doubt.

    Lady Skywalker had obviously been cautioned to discard her ornate headdresses and pounds of petticoats in favor of something more comfortable. Her green velvet gown, appropriately somber, showed off her tiny waist to perfection. Even so, after about an hour she started shifting from foot to foot, and Palpatine -- Master Sidious -- having been through more trials of physical privation than this tender little creature could even imagine, gazed respectfully ahead and managed to hold back a smile. Just.

    The vast marble hall, dark except for evenly spaced torches on the walls, sloped gently down to a softly lit stage on which the padawans, one by one, now lit candles and recited a name, for each candle, of a person they felt had been instrumental to their success, a form of thanks before the ritual severing of the braid.

    The technology of the ceremony seemed deliberately simple, perhaps in deference to tradition. Anakin had told him that the ritual shears were fifteen hundred years old, kept in mint condition, and used only for this ceremony. Each padawan walked on from stage right, lit his candles among a forest of them preplaced on the stage, knelt for the braid cutting, was dubbed a knight, and then exited stage left.

    Palpatine spied Anakin next in line, and this time could not keep the smile from his lips. Once and for the last time in the history of their wretched order, a Jedi would receive his knighthood after publicly thanking a Sith.

    The padawan ahead of Anakin was dubbed a knight. While he knelt on the stage and his master severed his braid, Anakin looked in Palpatine's direction, caught sight of someone, and smiled. Probably me, Palpatine thought. No one could see little Amidala from that distance. Anakin started across the stage as the previous padawan left, bowed his head with appropriate gravity as his name was announced, then walked to the candle stands and lit a lucifer from the last candle lit.

    He began lighting his own candles, a small grouping of five.

    One. "Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," he said. Two. "Master Yoda." Three. "Master Bant."

    Palpatine was becoming annoyed.

    Four. "Senator Padmé Amidala."

    Ah. Now.

    Five. "Master Qui-Gon Jinn."

    And Anakin Skywalker blew out his lucifer and knelt on the stage. Obi-Wan Kenobi approached him bearing the ritual gold shears.

    A slow heat suffused Palpatine, sweeping from his very toes to the tips of his hair. Blackhearted little -- How did he dare?

    Just for the sheer man-hours he'd spent consoling the padawan's whining, Palpatine deserved more than anyone else to be mentioned on that stage. Where could Anakin be counted upon to show up when he was unhappy? It certainly wasn't Senator Amidala's. Abruptly Palpatine remembered himself, and endeavored to keep his anger from showing on his face.

    Anakin Skywalker was no Jedi, that was certain. Gratitude was so far from that selfish little heart that, when Palpatine willed it, the dark side would come pouring in.

    And then, Sidious thought, glancing at all the Jedi standing packed around him, he will help me murder every one of you.

    ***

    Late that evening, Palpatine sat at his computer console in his private office, scanning the day's headlines. A time-consuming task, but until he was able to place the entire holonet under the control of the Supreme Chancellor's Office, a necessary one. He had staffers whose job it was to cull the most interesting items for him.

    He flipped rapidly through the stories until a familiar face stopped him. One finger absentmindedly covering his top lip, he slowly sank forwards toward his holoprojector.

    As beautiful as ever, he thought coolly, except for that hideous gray in her hair.

    Palpatine certainly would never have tolerated that.

    She had only given one interview in her life, and that one to help advance the career of a journalist friend. Oddly enough, she used this one to say the most laudatory things about Palpatine, his performance as Chancellor, and his conduct of the war. As he watched, the reason became more and more difficult to discern. Was this a shrewd means of pleading with him for her husband's life -- or did she really believe what she was saying?

    If she did, the picture that sprang to the Master's mind of the resulting state of her married life gave Palpatine his first good laugh of the week. He turned off the holovid feed, chuckling to himself.

    The only reason Finis Valorum could ever have married her in the first place was that he, Sidious, had allowed it.

    Lord Sidious pushed a button on his armchair console.

    His door chime rang and Sate Pestage, his trusted aide, stepped in. "Yes, master?"

    "This matter of the Star of Iskin freighter crash. I'm afraid that the one passenger we intended to eliminate survived."

    "I apologize, master."

    "No, no apologies. Just make certain this gets done. He's had entirely too much contact with Mothma and Organa lately to suit us.

    "Former Chancellor Finis Valorum must not leave that hospital alive."

    "Master." Pestage bowed. Then he said, "I was about to message you in any case, my lord. Anakin Skywalker is here to see you. He sends you an apology for the lateness of the hour."

    Palpatine frowned. How much more would this brat put him through before it would all pay off? He checked his chrono, hesitating, then heaved an exasperated sigh. "Show him in."

    He put his forehead briefly in his hand as he waited, and shook his head. Now what?

    Skywalker's voice startled him. "Chancellor?"

    Pestage had left the door open. Palpatine jerked his head up. "Anakin. Welcome."

    "Are -- are you all right, sir? You looked tired."

    Palpatine forced a smile. "I am, a bit, I suppose. Allow me to congratulate you again, my friend. An honor long overdue."

    "Chancellor," said Anakin, biting his lip. "I'm sorry I'm here so late. When I thought about this, I had to -- I had to apologize."

    "Apologize?" said Palpatine, a distinctly uncomfortable feeling stirring in his gut. "Why, whatever have you done to give offense?"

    "I think..." The boy could hardly look at him. "I think I mentioned everyone of importance to me on that stage today, but you. When Padmé pointed it out, I just -- I don't know what I was thinking."

    Palpatine tried to stop the boy by holding up a hand. "Anakin, please. There's no need, especially at the twenty-second hour."

    "Please, sir." The boy's voice sounded strained. "There is a need. You do so much for so many, and you're so tired, and -- I know I have to be a burden to you."

    A spark of satisfaction. A true Sith, indeed. He can't even apologize without asking me for something!

    The lie rose easily to his lips, as lies so often did these days. "Now, Anakin, you've never been a burden to me. You mustn't -- "

    "No, sir, please, just listen."

    Palpatine stopped and waited, peering across his holovid projector while the boy squirmed in front of him. Anakin, Anakin. Couldn't Kenobi at least have taught you some manners?

    And then Anakin dropped his gaze to the floor, quieted himself, wet his lips, and looked up.

    "I may have forgotten you, sir, but only for a moment -- that's all. You, more than anyone else, know how hard my training has been for me. There were times, if you hadn't been here to talk to, I don't know what I'd have done. You're the one who really got me through all this, not Obi-Wan."

    Were those actual tears in Anakin's eyes? Now Palpatine wanted to squirm -- and couldn't.

    "I really love you, sir," Anakin burst out. "You're the closest thing I have to a father. And I -- I want you to have this." His voice quavered. "I'll never forget what you've meant to me these past, almost twelve years, sir. That's a promise."

    Anakin approached, laid something on the desk, and backed away again.

    Palpatine scarcely noticed what it was. Anger and irritation writhed like eels in his gut; heat broke over the nape of his neck and poured sweat down his back. He forced himself to sit stock still, forced back that angry narrowing at the corners of his eyes that his former campaign manager had often chided him about. Only one finger belied his tension, tracing fitful circles on the arm of his chair.

    He bit the words out. "Thank you, Anakin Skywalker. Thank you." Keep it short. He could tell the boy wanted to leave, too.

    "Good night, sir." Anakin bowed from the waist, and left.

    Palpatine's thoughts scattered like so much scrambled eggs, with absolutely no control. Anger was of the dark side, but sometimes, without warning, control left him, even though the dark side was still very much present.

    Thank Darkness it wasn't very often. All Palpatine understood was that it was awful, and that he must regain control of the wild anger that howled in his mind as quickly as possible.

    He was angry at Skywalker. Yes, that was it. The boy was much too attached to him. No, it wasn't strictly forbidden, and yes, Sith had done it, but -- those Sith had never amounted to very much. Those Sith were lowly Scholars who had never amounted to anything. Unless such attachment could result in a stable Force-dyad ... but no Sith of Palpatine's acquaintance had ever managed it using only Dark energy. He and Tyranus had come closest ... but Tyranus wasn't entirely Dark, not completely, and the harmonics fought one another. The bond degraded in about two weeks, every time.

    And yet that was better than he and Plagueis or he and Maul had managed.

    Palpatine got up and paced around his study. That was the problem with apprentices, they always tried to attach to the person training them. Maul had done it. Sidious had tried to prevent it, but he had failed utterly. Approval, approval -- Maul had bent himself over backward for his approval, which was really, Sidious realized now, nothing more than a disguised form of that bastard light. Sidious had been as cruel as he knew how, and still Maul had craved it.

    He had thought he could do better with someone he hadn't raised. Yan Dooku was old enough to be his father, and still the blasted attachment was there. This time it was a shadow of that infernal Jedi training that stubbornly refused to die, no matter what Sidious tried. He foresaw that, somehow, the old man would have a clear chance to kill him and would pass it up, electing to save Sidious's life instead. A student who felt that kind of devotion would never reach his full potential as a Sith. Failure to progress, Lord Bane always called it with a sneer, and he was right.

    That that very failure would preserve his own life posed a conundrum Palpatine had yet to answer.

    Palpatine paused by the window. Perhaps only he and Lord Bane had solved the attachment question entirely. No -- only Sidious had. Lord Bane had founded the Sith Order and thus had had no one to attach to. Sidious used Lord Bane's opinions as a guide, and he did crave his approval, but only as a means to tread the correct path. Bane himself could leave the Burial Temple and be lost to the dark side, for all Sidious cared. Not that he would actually try to bring about such a thing, out of respect for the Fallen Masters who had trained him ... but then Sidious would never suffer entrapment in that accursed place, to begin with.

    And if he ever should, he would reign over them all. That would be akin to grinding the great Bane under his boot heel, and that was enough for Sidious. Some things were sacred, even to a Sith.

    He smiled. His breathing fell quiet, and his limbs had stilled their trembling. He was back in control. He felt better.

    And then his gaze fell upon his desk. There lay a length of braided hair, tied neatly at both ends -- the severed padawan braid of Anakin Skywalker.

    What it must have cost the boy to leave this here with him! A Jedi padawan owned nothing, the ritual braid severed at his knighting his most precious gift. Usually the new knight's former master was its recipient. Kenobi must certainly be wondering where it was right now. And young Lady Skywalker, too.

    Palpatine's fists clenched reflexively as the twin eels began their dance in his gut again. He itched to do something, anything. A couple of MagnaGuards had just arrived in the Works; he had ordered them sent from the Invisible Hand. No master should ever be out of practice with the lightsaber.

    He stalked through his rooms to collect the appropriate garments and one of his lightsabers, took the lift into the subbasement, and let himself out into the night.

    ***

    Two days later Sate Pestage reported to the Chancellor's private office.

    "I bring you ... unfortunate news, master. It seems that upon regaining consciousness, former Chancellor Valorum had his wife move him ... somewhere. I've searched for two days, and I can't find him."

    Palpatine scowled. "Continue your search.

    **This story is already up in completed form on Wattpad. Its prequel, Masters of the Game is on here, on page 2 right now, I think.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2024
    935 and Kahara like this.
  2. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER ONE: SLIDING DOORS


    "Are you going to kill me?" came the Chancellor's voice. Anakin stared at the back of his head.

    His lightsaber quivered inches from the nape of Palpatine's neck. They circled each other warily in the wide corridor between the Chancellor's small private gray office and his grand public one, done in shades of red. No, the Sith lord's offices, Anakin thought, feeling sick to his stomach.

    What am I going to do?

    A thousand thoughts overwhelmed him. If Palpatine were Darth Sidious, and Count Dooku was his apprentice, then -- then -- the war --

    Anakin saw it all, hundreds of Jedi dead, millions of people killed. The destruction on Kashyyk, the suffering on so many Outer Rim worlds, the deaths of so many right here on Coruscant, only days ago. It all poured over him in seconds.

    But -- General Grievous had kidnapped Palpatine! How? It couldn't be true.

    And then Anakin remembered the expression on Palpatine's face. Calm, imperious, self-satisfied.

    "Kill him. Kill him now." The tone rang in his head.

    The stricken look as Dooku turned to Palpatine, then Anakin --

    Had he even turned on his own apprentice? Oh, worse -- had he set that up, to kill his own apprentice?

    And all Anakin and Obi-Wan had gone through to rescue him! How torn Anakin had been at the very thought that one silver hair on that noble head should be harmed --

    Anakin's stomach turned.

    The look on Palpatine's face as he said it-- "The only way to save your wife from certain death." Had Anakin actually seen a smile?

    Thirteen years flashed through Anakin's brain. The drinks, the chess games, the dinners, the talks, the companionship --

    How could Palpatine be doing this to him?

    He felt the tears start. The trembling seized him, backing him away.

    "I -- I can't. I can't --"

    Palpatine turned to face him, held out one hand. His expression was indecipherable. Concern pursed the lips, pleading, even, but something else knitted the brows. Consternation, perhaps?

    Anakin cried out from his very heart. "How could you do this to me?"

    And the next instant his lightsaber was back on his belt, and he was running. Blind, tortured running, he knew not where.

    A million still-lifes of their friendship flew through his head. His breath hurt in his lungs. No, no, no.

    The corridors of the Senate Office Building streamed past, people stopping and staring in strobe flashes. He stopped on a landing platform and bent to catch his breath.

    He had to talk to someone. But Obi-Wan wasn't here, nor Master Yoda.

    He stopped cold. He couldn't go to the Jedi Temple at all.

    If he did, they would kill Palpatine.

    And what about Padme?

    For a wild moment Anakin wanted to run to her, to tell her. Help me, help me decide what to do--

    But he knew he couldn't. If he told her, she'd go straight to the Jedi herself.

    She'd kill herself, if she knew. And their baby.

    With a sickening jolt, Anakin realized he was alone with his knowledge, utterly alone. There was no one he could tell. Any other time, he would have told Palpatine. The empty place where their friendship had been ached like a wound in his heart.

    He stood, desolate, heaving.

    Padme. He would go to Padme's. He couldn't tell her, and she couldn't help, but she would be there.

    At least she would be there.

    ***

    Threepio would not let him in. "Master Anakin. Miss Padme is in a very important meeting and left orders that she should not be disturbed."

    Anakin fought the urge to Force-twist the droid's shiny metallic head right off of his body.

    "Threepio. Announce me."

    Threepio's servos whirred as the droid retreated to Padme's sitting room.

    "Senator Amidala. Please forgive the interruption --" Threepio's voice lowered to an indistinct murmur.

    "Um --" His wife's sense strummed and jangled in the Force. "Tell him half an hour, Threepio. Half an hour."

    Another voice, older, patrician. Anakin knew he recognized it, but from where?

    "Half an hour?" the voice said. "Senator Amidala, I know you're uncomfortable with this, but we do need more than half an hour."

    Who was that? And yes, Padme was uncomfortable, but a part of that was personal, Anakin sensed in the Force, and directed at the speaker. Anakin closed his eyes and probed at his wife's thoughts.

    And got a quick image, as it was sometimes possible for him to do with Padme. Queen Amidala addressing the Senate, Palpatine at her side, and the man at the podium --

    What was former Chancellor Valorum doing in Padme's living room?

    His wife felt flustered to him, in the Force. "Gentlemen -- and ladies -- I'm sorry," she said. "Tell him -- an hour and a half? Threepio, thank you."

    Valorum's voice continued. "As most of you know, my wife worked for the current Chancellor for a number of years. She has expressed some concerns to me, and I thought they were good ones. Your Graces, if she may speak, I think she could more effectively explain these issues herself."

    A murmuring arose from the sitting room, and someone said, "Lady Valorum." Threepio came clicking and whirring back into view.

    "Master Anakin, Miss Padme has requested that --"

    "I know, Threepio, I heard."

    A woman's voice spoke. "Gentlebeings. Most of you know me, because I've worked for you, too. Terr. Bail. You know that I know Palpatine, and I have to say that I don't think your approach here is going to get you the results you want."

    Something in Valorum leaped out at Anakin in the Force, and with a sudden movement he reached behind Threepio for the off switch.

    "Master Anakin, you will have to --"

    Silence. Anakin stepped in and let the door close behind him, listening, trying to trace what he sensed in the former Chancellor to its source.

    Senator Mon Mothma: "I hope you aren't suggesting we do nothing. Chancellor Palpatine has entirely too much power. If the two of you are disagreeing with that, I don't see how anything you might contribute could possibly be useful."

    "I'm not disagreeing with that at all, and neither is my husband. What I'm telling you needs to be modified is your approach. Not what, but how."

    Bail Organa: "How many times have you heard that?" A few murmured chuckles.

    Lady Valorum's voice grew softer and more intense. Anakin crept forward, straining to hear.

    "Follow this through to conclusion. What happens? One of two things. One: You could be wrong about this. Palpatine listens to you, furrows his brow, and says, 'Of course you're concerned. I'm sorry. Here's what we'll do instead --' and then you can negotiate. No hostility, you're on the same side. You part friends."

    Fat chance, Anakin thought, putting his hand over a deep soreness in his stomach.

    "Outcome two: It doesn't go well. For whatever reasons -- and it doesn't matter what they are -- Palpatine says no. 'I'm not ready, I'm not willing, I'm not going to give up any of these powers at this time.' Where are you then? Can you make him give anything up?"

    Silence, and a murmur.

    "No," confirmed Lady Valorum. "Exactly. And you've threatened him, and you've made an enemy. And there will be no further negotiation from that point."

    Padmé's voice, raised in protest: "But we're not threatening! We're just asking -- "

    Lady Valorum's voice again. "I know that's how you feel about it. But I know Palpatine. I've known him twenty-two years. I saw him teach his first class in political science at Carmona. I ran most of his election campaigns. I wrote his most important speeches. I worked for him and saw him all the time for eight years. And I know how he is going to react to this, and it isn't going to be good."

    Padmé again: "But I've known him a long time, too, he's my friend! Surely he's not going to react badly to a simple request."

    "Palpatine isn't humble like my husband or like Bail, here. Palpatine is high-strung, and touchy, and prideful. He just hides it well. If you do it this way, he's going to feel accused. He's going to feel threatened. He's going to feel unsafe. And then both sides will be angry, and there will be a large deterioration." Lady Valorum's tone changed, darker. "I've known him a lot longer and better than you have. With respect, my lady."

    Anakin sensed the former Chancellor again, clearly now.

    An unidentified male voice: "So, tell us what you suggest."

    Lady Valorum's voice went on, low, urgent, intense, and Anakin crept closer still.

    An hour passed. The discussion concluded. The rustles of fabric from the living room and the sudden flutter in the Force signaled everyone's intention to leave. Anakin stirred from his place in Padme's foyer and stealthily backed out.

    He waited behind a pillar in the corridor as the Senators filed past him. At last Chancellor Valorum appeared in Padme's doorway, holding a lovely fortyish woman with long, curly, graying red hair by the arm.

    It hit Anakin suddenly that he hadn't sensed a thing from this woman the entire time she had held the floor. With so many other beings present, and at a short distance and out of sight, that hadn't been unusual, as he didn't know her, but -- standing there in the corridor, the only beings he sensed in the Force were Padme and Valorum. Even the wall had more feeling in the Force than Lady Valorum. She felt like a hologram.

    She wasn't even there.

    Chancellor Valorum's sense in the Force hung in the hallway all around him. A trepidation, a kind of despair.

    Anakin strode out from behind his pillar and up to the three of them. Padme glowered at him.

    A quick bow to Chancellor Valorum. "Chancellor. Senator. Lady Valorum. I am Anakin Skywalker."

    Lady Valorum gave him a respectful bow of her head. "Jedi Skywalker, of course. A pleasure."

    The Chancellor turned dubious eyes on Padme, who cast a glance at her husband that said, Anakin, what are you doing?

    "I'm sorry, Padme." Anakin turned to the older woman. "I was in the foyer and heard everything that you said." He turned back to Lady Valorum. "Before you go to talk with Palpatine, I have to talk to you."

    They all stared at him. "Alone," he said. "Now. Please. Padme, may we use your kitchen?"

    Padme glared at him, her brows rushing together over her nose. "Anakin --" He got it. She didn't want to be left alone with Valorum.

    Anakin said, "I've just come from the Chancellor. It's desperately important."

    Padme's shoulders drooped and she said, "All right. Please come in. Chancellor, may I get you anything?"

    Anakin rounded on Lady Valorum in Padme's darkened kitchen, pinning her down with his gaze. Night had fallen and the shadows from passing ships outside darkened her features.

    Anakin said, "Lights," dispelling the shadows.

    The Chancellor's wife ran a hand up her brow and over her hair. "So, you saw Palpatine. I'm not even going to ask why, or how, you eavesdropped on our conversation. Have you heard something there that might help us? Something about the war, maybe?"

    "I have to ... I have to be careful what I tell you. Help me out," said Anakin. "You were closer to Palpatine than just an aide."

    "Well, if you heard everything I said --? I was a student of his when he taught political science at Carmona. I was his campaign manager, I was his speechwriter, I worked for him for eight years." She shrugged.

    "You were closer than that."

    She crossed her arms over her breast. Backed up a step, closed off.

    "Please. It's important. I need -- I heard the way you talked about him in there. I need help, I need advice, from someone who won't bolt and betray Palpatine. I don't believe you will. What was your exact relationship to him?"

    "You can't possibly know anything about Palpatine and me," she said.

    "Tell me. Tell me I can trust you, whatever I say to you. I felt it -- from your husband."

    She slit her eyes at him, her voice an angry hiss. "Since you asked. Palpatine and I were lovers for close to eight years. I almost married him. Does that satisfy you, Jedi? What. Do you. Want?"

    "To trust you. Do you still care for Chancellor Palpatine?"

    Her brown eyes snapped at him. She said nothing.

    Anakin gestured with his head toward the sitting room, where Padmé and the former Chancellor were no doubt having an interesting and awkward discussion.

    "He thinks you do. You made a lot of sense in there. I'm asking you to advise me, the way you just advised them. If I tell you something terrible, I have to know that I can trust you. Tell me. Do you still love him?"
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2024
  3. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    It’s good to reread this, especially after our conversations about the redheads of the emperor. :p Anakin’s thought processes are my favorite part of this early stage.
     
    LLL likes this.
  4. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    There are some revisions and new scenes coming up.

    I don't know if I will put that one we talked about in here or not. Maybe I should just write it and see.


    CHAPTER TWO: IF SOMEONE HAD KNOWN


    Anakin sat in the middle row of Chancellor Valorum's custom stretch speeder, two blue-robed Senate guards behind him, Chancellor and Lady Valorum in the front. Disapproval and annoyance pulled the former Chancellor's mouth into a taut frown; Lady Valorum rested a calming hand on his thigh.

    Anakin tried to break the tension. "Lady Valorum. I have to ask. Are you aware that you have no presence in the Force? It's -- it's amazing. It's like sitting in this speeder with three other people and not four."

    "From what I've been told, it's a birth defect." Lady Valorum turned to glance back at him. "It wasn't my only one. I was born with some of my abdominal organs outside my body and had to have surgery before I was a day old. My parents were told that many times when there's one birth defect there are actually more than that, but I didn't find out about this other thing for many years. I had a terrible back problem once and sought out the healers at the Jedi temple, and I became pretty well-known in there rather quickly. I think every master and healer in the place came by to meet me and give each other dumbfounded looks. I guess it was before your time.

    "The healer Janna Lyne asked if she could do some research and testing on me. Apparently I have as many midichlorians as any average human, but the part of the brain that you use to sense and manipulate the Force doesn't work in me. Or isn't there." She shrugged. "Never made any difference to me, though."

    "I've studied that," said Anakin. "That there's some seventy percent of the brain we aren't using at any given time, and in a Jedi, some of that brain tissue is 'awake.' So to speak. The strange thing is, Chancellor Palpatine always felt that way, too -- to all of the Jedi."

    Until tonight. Anakin shuddered at the memory of the cold touch of the dark side.

    "We're here," said Chancellor Valorum.

    The speeder set down on a landing deck in a less-fashionable part of the Congressional district. Still upscale, still exclusive, still well patrolled and guarded, 300 Republica may have offered its residents a more modest lifestyle, but it was also an address largely overlooked by the newscasters and the holomedia. Although the Valorums lived offplanet, they maintained a small apartment here for their frequent trips to the Capitol.

    Lady Valorum ushered Anakin into her sitting room, done tastefully in muted shades of green, and caught her husband's arm at the door.

    "Go on to bed, Kinschem." Anakin smiled at the Naboo word; it meant, "treasure." "I want to talk to Jedi Skywalker." Valorum caressed her hair briefly and whispered something, and she answered in a low murmur. As he turned away she caught him around the waist and pulled him into a hug. This time her whisper reached Anakin's ears.

    "I love you."

    Valorum turned away and Lady Valorum turned to her visitor, all business.

    "You said you needed some advice. How can I help you?"

    "Someplace that isn't so open."

    She frowned. "All right."

    They settled in at her kitchen table, and she fixed him with a steady glare. "I'm going to offer you some kaffe, and then I want to know what this is about. It's quite late."

    Anakin put his hand over that growing soreness in his stomach again. "I can't drink anything, thanks."

    She waited.

    Anakin began. "What do you and Chancellor Valorum know about the Sith and the Separatist leadership? Do you know as much as Senator Organa knows?"

    Lady Valorum frowned. She had been a great beauty once, and truly still was, with clear skin, a few crinkles at the corners of her large eyes, and arched russet brows. "I imagine we do. Finis and Bail Organa have always been good friends, but even more so since Finis stepped down. Bail relies on him quite a lot."

    "The Sith. What do you know about the Sith?" Anakin asked, praying she knew the facts of the basic situation. The truth was going to be hard enough for her to believe without Anakin having to introduce the wildly improbable idea of an extremely powerful Sith master controlling everything, for the first time here tonight.

    Lady Valorum ran her hands over her face. "Jedi Skywalker. It's nearly the twenty-second hour. Tell me what you're fishing for?"

    Anakin leaned forward. "Do you know about the master?"

    "Ah, yes. The Sith master. The one who trained Count Dooku."

    "You're aware that the Jedi Council has spared no effort to identify this ... person?"

    "Yes."

    Anakin's throat worked. To say it out loud made it seem more real. An image of Palpatine's face, kindly smiling at him, flashed before him. Anakin blinked it away.

    "We've been concerned for some time that the Sith master has access to the highest levels of the Chancellor's office."

    "Senator Organa said he had been tracked --"

    "He told you? To 500 Republica."

    "He told Finis. He said there was a state of the art communications room under the subbasement there."

    Now it was Anakin's turn to run his own hands over his face.

    "Right. Lady Valorum ... I saw Chancellor Palpatine tonight. And I discovered the identity of the Sith master we've been looking for."

    She waited, her russet eyes bright and expectant.

    Anakin made himself say it. "It's Chancellor Palpatine."

    She gazed at him for a second with a thick, blank expression. Then she said, "What?"

    "It's Chancellor Palpatine. He identified himself to me."

    "To you? I can't possibly believe that. Palpatine, a Sith lord! I never heard anything so ridiculous! And why would a Sith lord choose you to reveal himself to? Jedi Skywalker, why are you doing this? What is it the Jedi want in sending you here to probe me and my personal history with Palpatine?"

    "That's not what this is about, I assure you. I did see Palpatine, and this did happen. You had no idea?" He shook his head. "No, of course not. Of course, you wouldn't."

    Lady Valorum's face set in the hardest expression Anakin had ever seen on a woman. "Obviously you're here on Jedi business. Tell me what it is, without the games, or I'll have you escorted out."

    Frightened now, Anakin held out his hands. If she should contact the Council --

    "I'm not here on Jedi business, I'm here on personal business, my lady, and this is no game. What the Chancellor said to me this evening was real. I know you can't begin to understand that, but understand this. I can't go back to the Temple with this. I can't go to any of the senators. I can't go to anyone. If I do, the Council will send a team of masters to the Chancellor's office, and they will kill Palpatine. They will kill him, do you understand! And I can't do that ... I can't have that, and I can't decide what to do! I have to --" Anakin's throat tightened at the thought of Padme and their baby, and he felt his face redden and the tears start in his eyes.

    Lady Valorum gave him a wary expression, as if he were a poisonous snake coiled in the middle of the table. Clearly she did not believe, but she knew the tears were not an act.

    "This is ridiculous. Even if he were a Sith lord, why would he tell you?"

    "I have a personal relationship with Palpatine. He's ... taken an interest in me, mentored me, ever since I came to the Capitol --" It hit Anakin in the gut, making the pain even worse. Was their entire friendship an act? Was it all only to use him? Had anything about it been real? He put his head in his hands and moaned, "Oh ... oh, no ..."

    "What?" she said.

    "I can't believe this any more than you can. I still can't believe ... I can't believe this could really be what he's done ..." Anakin looked up. She stared at him as if he were going down under a live wire.

    "But I know it. I know it to be true. I felt it ... I felt it. You can't mistake a touch in the Force. He touched me ... he touched me!"

    She sat back. "I'm afraid I don't understand. How can I possibly accept your word as proof? You could be -- you could be having a mental breakdown, for all I know."

    "Lady Valorum. You know Count Dooku is dead. He told me because he wants me in his place. He asked me to become his new apprentice." Lady Valorum turned her face away and shook her head, and Anakin didn't need to sense her to know he was losing. In another minute she'd put in a call to the Jedi Temple, and it would be all over.

    "There's more. Please. Please listen to me." He hadn't intended to do this, but now he was neck deep. He had to make her believe. "Palpatine knows things about me. Things about me no one could know -- things I haven't told anyone. If he wasn't a Sith lord, how else could he possibly know these things?"

    She eyed him dubiously. "What things?"

    Anakin took a deep breath, and then he told her.

    "Jedi Skywalker, I'm sorry you've gotten yourself into all this trouble, but Palpatine is the head of his own wartime intelligence network. I'm sure he's privy to things no one else is."

    "Lady Valorum, think. You're a woman. The way Padme dresses -- could you tell she's pregnant? You hear a lot of Senate scuttlebutt -- has anyone, anywhere, said one word about her expecting a baby? No. And they wouldn't -- because Padme would never tell. She would never tell, because she knows I would be expelled from the Jedi Order, and she doesn't want to do that to me. She's only even seen a medical droid twice since she found out." Lady Valorum frowned at that. "I could see it if there were Senate gossip, but no one knew who the father was -- but there is no gossip. No one knows. But Palpatine knew. He knows, and he's trying to use it -- to force me -- "

    "He's trying to blackmail you. 'Do this for me, or I'll tell your masters you married her.'"

    Anakin only wished that were all of it. To use his fear for Padme's life this way -- the betrayal washed over him again, more forcefully than ever, knocking the breath from his lungs.

    "Palpatine would never- -" Lady Valorum began, and then suddenly stopped herself. And dropped her gaze to the creelwood table, and kept it there. "Oh," she said. The little word fell in front of her with a thud.

    "What?"

    She was silent for a moment. Then she raised her eyes to his, and her whole frame seemed to shrink. "Well, I can't say exactly that Palpatine would never do that. He's been straighter than ninety-five percent of what gets elected to the Senate ... but I can't say he would never do something on that order."

    "Well, he's done it to me. And he's done it for a reason. Do you know anything at all about the Sith? Look at all the powers he's been invested with. Don't you think that a Sith lord might just seek out all of that?"

    Now Anakin could see impending tears on her face. She struggled to push them back. "But ... Palpatine was voted those powers. He didn't ask for them."

    "No, but he accepted them. And Count Dooku -- don't you see, if he is the Sith lord, then Palpatine controlled both sides of the war. So he would be asked to accept them."

    A hideous expression crossed Lady Valorum's face. Anakin knew the feeling only too well. "A whole war? A whole galactic war, for three years ...? He didn't. He couldn't. It's too ... monstrous. Never!"

    "But he has, my lady. He has. And now Count Dooku is dead ... and he needs someone to help him finish the war."

    "But that doesn't make any sense. If what you say is true, he's going to have to go when the war ends. And Count Dooku! Why would he kill his own apprentice, if he needs one so badly? And why would he let himself be kidnapped? All of you almost died during that rescue. It doesn't make any sense. You have to be wrong!"

    That almost stopped Anakin. "Why would he kill his own apprentice?" And then he answered his own question, slowly. "Because I was better. Because I'm supposed to be the Chosen One ..." His eyes met Lady Valorum's, and he could see that she was familiar with the prophecy. It had been explained in practically every news release about his exploits in the Outer Rim sieges.

    The cold dread that chilled her heart reflected in her eyes. "But ... but ..." she protested. "The war. It isn't just machines. What about all the deaths on Sullust, and Kashyyk, and ..." her eyes began to fill with tears. "And millions and millions spent on a clone army. And two thousand Jedi. And all the clones who've died. And ..."

    Anakin watched her go through every emotion he just had, and his heart went out to her. She hid her face in her hands. "He didn't. He couldn't." She uncovered her face and looked up, searching his. "Just because he touched you with the Force -- that doesn't mean it was the dark side. You could have been mistaken."

    "No, my lady. There is no mistaking the dark side. And what he was doing when he did that to me ... what he was telling me ... you can't use the light side of the Force, to do that. To anyone."

    Her face was ghastly pale, and her eyes were red. She kept shaking her head.

    "Lady Valorum, think. Your own husband -- you know Chancellor Valorum did nothing wrong while in office. You know that better than anyone. You know he was proven innocent of any wrongdoing. You were probably there for some of that. And yet, he was forced from office ... by Palpatine."

    Her eyes fastened on something far beyond him. "He used to ... crowds. Something about crowds. Something about crowds, he'd say it was as if they literally pressed on him ... and how being around me was like being by himself. He used to say that to me, that he liked being around me because I was 'quiet.' But I was anything but quiet, especially when I caught him about to do something stupid that would damage his career. I never understood that." She sighed and put her head in her hands. "I guess maybe I understand it now."

    She looked up. "He'd get snappish. Whenever we campaigned in the Chommell Sector, I'd have to watch him. That's a lot of planets. One tour there is grueling. After so many days he'd start to get this look, and I'd have to run in and snatch him out of some engagement, and walk him around someplace the crowds were cordoned off from. I could do that, you know, because I was a staffer -- 'Sorry, Senate business, I have to snatch him away for a minute.' I learned to talk him down. And -- and -- "

    "What?"

    "When Palpatine first became a Senator, and we first started seeing each other, he'd make me go ahead of him to every social event he had to attend. I didn't understand the intent, at first, because we wanted to keep our relationship quiet and I thought it was so we never arrived anywhere as a couple. But he'd ask me to comm him from every event and tell him who was there. And I'd do it, and sometimes he'd show up, and sometimes he wouldn't. And it mystified me, because I knew he was avoiding someone, or maybe more than one someone. And I'd quiz him about it, but he'd always deny it.

    "I got tired of being lied to one day and started keeping guest lists of things, and noting which events he came to and which ones he didn't. If I didn't go, or I didn't call him, he wouldn't go. And eventually I noticed that Palpatine never showed up at a gathering if there were Jedi present. And I started to tease him about it. 'Palpatine, you don't like Jedi -- admit it!' And it got to be a joke -- I'd contact him from a party or a dinner and say, 'You can come, it's safe, there are no Jedi ...'"

    She trailed off and sat, breathing in soft little gasps. "But ..." She coughed. "But you said you'd known him thirteen years and you never sensed anything. And he has meetings with the highest Jedi masters, all the time!"

    Anakin reached across the table and took her hands, so sorry to have to tell her this. "I also said that the only person who ever felt like you do in the Force, to the Jedi ... is Chancellor Palpatine."

    Her whole face seemed to crumple in pain. "But ... but ... the war. All the destruction on the Outer Rim ..." Her eyes filled with tears. "Is this my Palpatine? How can this be my beautiful Palpatine?"

    She put her head in her hands and began to cry.

    Anakin's own eyes blurred and he didn't know what to say. He sat for some moments while she cried harder and harder, her shoulders fairly shaking with sobs. At last he got up and crossed the room to her chair. He leaned over her and tried to comfort her, his hands on her shoulders.

    "I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry."

    The door slid back and former Chancellor Valorum strode in, barefooted, in pale blue pajamas, his short hair messy and dark rings under his eyes, but those blue eyes themselves were alert and they fairly snapped at Anakin.

    "Sereine!" he said. "Darling, what's the matter?"

    He came to her and leaned over her, and Anakin shrank back to make room.

    Lady Valorum was crying so hard she couldn't speak.

    Valorum's look stabbed at Anakin. "What is going on here?"

    "I'm sorry, sir. I can't tell you."

    Chancellor Valorum strode to the kitchen door, pressed the lock, and turned to stand in front of it, arms crossed. "I think you need to tell me what you've said to so upset my wife."

    ***

    "You have to kill him," said Chancellor Valorum an hour later, when they had both explained.

    "No," said Anakin. "I'm not going to do that. I'm not even sure I'm capable of it."

    Sereine Valorum rounded on her husband from where she stood over the sink splashing her reddened eyes with cold water. "I can't act to harm him. I don't care what he's done!"

    "Sereine. This little incident you're telling us about, with Kinman Doriana and his extortions and bribes and you actually deleting Palpatine's accounts from my criminal database? How could you do that? You knew Palpatine was corrupt, and you let him go? If you hadn't, none of this might have happened!"

    "Your database was strictly illegal and you knew it. I know you were desperate to rein in Senators like Orn Free Taa, but there was no guarantee it ever would have worked out that way. You were probing people's personal finances without warrants! It could have backfired on you just as easily as them. What Palpatine did then was one incident. I did have an easy time deleting his information, because it wasn't all over that database like some Senators'. And I obviously badly miscalculated what it meant. I badly misread a lot of things, it seems."

    "You aren't clairvoyant, Sereine. But you won that first Senatorial campaign for him. It never would have happened without you. And I did have evidence against him and you let him go. Without you, he wouldn't even be here! You owe this galaxy, Sereine, you owe all of us! I don't care about your personal feelings for Palpatine." Here a shadow of pain crossed the former Chancellor's lined face. "You know the truth. You must do something about it."

    Lady Valorum began to cry again. "There is good in him ... I know there is!" she said. "I can't accept that he's done this. There must be a reason for this, there has to be. I won't help either of you kill him. Don't you think he has a soul to be saved?"

    Valorum stared at her in shock. "Sereine ... Sereine, this is a bad man, an evil person who started an unnecessary war to -- to -- This is someone who's killed millions of people! How can you even think to protect him? You can't." He glanced over at Anakin. "How can either of you even consider protecting this man?"

    Anakin had dropped back into a chair. "I don't know. It overwhelms me. How can someone be so good to me and yet do this? But I can't let you go to the Council. I won't let you do that."

    "Just how do you intend to stop me? Are you going to kill me, Jedi Skywalker?"

    "No. But I can't let you harm him. And I'm not going to."

    Valorum slid his chair back from the table and stood up.

    Anakin again. "You can't do this. I'm afraid ... I'm afraid I haven't told you both everything."

    Finally, he told them all of it. About his prophetic dreams that accurately foretold both his induction into the Jedi Order and his mother's death. About his horrible dreams of Padmé on the birthing table, screaming ... suffering. Dying. About the promise of the Sith lord's power to save her.

    Finis and Sereine Valorum sat frozen into the early hours of the morning, both white with shock as they listened.

    "I can't do it," Anakin finished. "I can't kill my wife and baby, not if there's a chance they may live. And I can't let you kill them."

    The silence grew in the room. At last Valorum said, "There is no other way to handle this. You are a Jedi knight. Surely you must see that."

    Anakin shook his head. "Arrest him. Arrest him only. I will defend him against anything else."

    Valorum shook his head. "No. If the Jedi move on the Chancellor -- and there is no way they can fail to -- they have to kill him. Both of you, think. Sereine, you aren't stupid. Think. There is no way to take him alive.

    "If you do nothing, what happens? The war continues. Who knows how many additional powers Palpatine will acquire, how many other ways he could subvert the Constitution before it all ends?

    "If the Jedi attempt to arrest him, what happens? Either he will fight ... or he won't. If he's meek, if he submits, there will be an absolute uproar in the Senate. We may find this difficult to believe, but they will find it impossible. When that happens, they will turn on the Jedi -- and the Senate and the Chancellor control a million-man clone army! Think -- the Senate loves Palpatine. The people love him. He's nearly the most popular sitting Chancellor in history. If the Jedi turn on Palpatine, and the Senate brings the clones to his aid, think of the popular support they'll have!

    "And if he fights! If he fights, it will be that much worse. The Jedi will be forced to defend themselves -- and that will look even more damning! The Jedi Council will look like traitors -- and the clones will be turned on the Jedi. We will have another war, one even more bitter and bloody than this one! At the same time as this one! No. You must see that you have to kill him."

    Anakin and Lady Valorum sat in miserable silence.

    "The only way there isn't another war and possibly a complete takeover by Palpatine is if he dies. You have to see that!"

    "That's ... that's uncertain," said Anakin. "Even if I did this. Even if I went to the Council, we only have four masters here we can send to arrest Palpatine. I told you. Palpatine has touched me through the Force ... I know how powerful he is. He may be too strong for all four masters put together. And they'd never put anyone less than a highly trained master in play against Lord Sidious. And they shouldn't. They're right to do that."

    Valorum held Anakin's look. "Then you must stand with them."

    Anakin dropped his gaze, shook his head. "I can't. It's my wife and baby. I can't."

    Sereine slid her chair back abruptly, holding her hands up as if to ward them off. "Whatever you both do, don't involve me," she said. "I won't help you hurt him. I won't." She walked to the square window over her kitchen sink and looked out. "What is that?"

    Anakin joined her. Far below, a crowd of people gathered in the street. Past the window, the airspeeder traffic began to blink their running lights. First one speeder, then three, then all of them.

    Valorum caught sight of the blinking speeder lights from his seat at the table. He got up and left the room, and Anakin heard a holovision newscast blare from the sitting room.

    In a few moments the former Chancellor returned. "General Obi-Wan Kenobi has defeated General Grievous. The Chancellor's office hasn't announced it to the holomedia, but Jedi Master Windu has. The Chancellor's office was originally scheduling a special session of the Senate for noon, but now it's been pushed back to the fourteenth hour." Valorum shook Anakin by the shoulder. "The Jedi Council is trying to force Palpatine's hand. You must see that!"

    Anakin felt it again then -- that cold touch in the Force. And he heard Palpatine, speaking to him as if he were right at Anakin's shoulder. He couldn't stop the shudder that shook him. "Leave me alone!" he shouted back, not caring if the others heard or not.

    Lady Valorum turned. "What is it?" she said.

    "Palpatine. He spoke to me."

    Valorum. "And what did he say to you?"

    Beyond hiding anything, Anakin drew a deep breath. "'You must realize, if the Jedi destroy me, any chance of saving her will be lost.'"

    Valorum, on one side of him. "And you want to save that. Jedi Skywalker ... even if you managed to achieve it, what is his incentive to help you once he's in custody?"

    Sereine, on the other side. Exhaling sharply and shaking her head, speaking as if to the sitting Chancellor himself. "Palpatine, Palpatine. You really have no idea, do you?"

    Anakin could barely find the strength to turn his head. "About what?"

    "Here you and I have been crying and crying all night long, over him. And all he can think to say to you is Padme, Padme, Padme. He really doesn't seem to believe you ever cared anything for him at all, does he?"

    Anakin's brain felt dulled, with stress, with shame, with humiliation, with lack of sleep, with sheer disbelief at all that happened in a few short hours. The significance of that remark, if there were any, was lost on him.

    Lady Valorum spoke again. "Anakin. What do you want to do? Right here. Right now. What do you want to do?"

    Anakin felt his throat tighten with unshed tears. "I want to stop time. Right here, with the sun about to rise on the first morning after the war, and the people celebrating in the streets. Right now, with my pregnant wife and my good friend tucked safely away in their rooms, and I can just close my eyes and go back a few hours in my mind to the time I didn't know this. It feels like it was just a second ago, when Palpatine was just my good and precious friend. I don't even want Padme to have the baby. I just want to stop time. Right here. Right now."

    The three of them stood there, watching the speeders flash. Now horns honked, muted by the thick transparisteel.

    And then Sereine Valorum gasped.

    "Oh! Thank everything that is!"

    The two men turned to look at her.

    "There's a way! I know how to do it!"

    She jumped, grabbing both Anakin's arm and her husband's. Her whole face transformed, her eyes shining with joy.

    "I know how to stop time!"
     
  5. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    So intense and wrenching while still being talky. This is a lot easier to read a chapter at a time.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2024
    LLL likes this.
  6. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    It's real hard to write a nonviolent solution and not be talky.

    Don't worry, Palpatine and Vader get into it with lightsabers eventually.
     
  7. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER THREE: ONLY WHAT YOU TAKE WITH YOU, part 1

    Both men looked at her as if she'd just gone crazy.

    Valorum said, very gently, "Sereine. You know he's lying to him. You and I both know how sick Palpatine really is."

    Anakin said, "Sick?"

    Lady Valorum turned to him. "Palpatine has several autoimmune diseases going on at once. He's had autoimmune arthritis since -- since I knew him. You know how he holds his hands up like this?" She pulled her hands up close to her chest and let them hang limply from the wrists.

    "Yes."

    "He does that because he has terrible arthritis in them. Whenever you see that, you know it's bothering him. He has some autoimmune problem with his eyes, too. The medical term for it is uveitis. I've seen his irises turn yellow. I've actually seen them bleed into the space behind his corneas. He'd have this little bit of settled blood in each eye, right here." She pointed at the very bottom of the colored part of one of her eyes. "He'd have to sit in the dark when they bled, it made him so photophobic. He'd have to take drops every four hours."

    Valorum cleared his throat. "Sereine," he said in a warning tone.

    She glared at him and went on. "That isn't all. Remember how bad he looked about the time the war started? When he disappeared for a couple of weeks and came back sort of looking like he had a suntan?"

    Anakin remembered. "The holomedia had a field day. He went on vacation when a war was about to start."

    "That wasn't a vacation. Finis heard it from a relative who works programming medical droids for intensive care. Palpatine had some sort of autoimmune crisis where your own immune system breaks down all your red blood cells. He almost died. That wasn't a tan, it was jaundice."

    Anakin's heart dropped to his feet. He murmured, remembering something Palpatine had said to him. "'... but he couldn't save himself ...'"

    "What?" said Valorum.

    "Nothing," said Anakin.

    "You have to see, young Skywalker. You're holding back for nothing."

    "Not necessarily," his wife pointed out. "Palpatine's looking awfully well these days."

    "But he hasn't been able to cure himself. That we know of."

    "But he isn't dead, either!"

    Anakin broke in. "He didn't indicate that he had actually done it. That he knew the theory, yes, but ... If what you're telling me is true, he has more reason to pursue the answer than anyone. There are Sith holocrons in the temple. Perhaps ..."

    Former Chancellor Valorum let out an exasperated growl and stalked back to the table.

    "You said ... stopping time. What were you talking about?" Anakin asked Lady Valorum.

    She stared at him. "Not one more being has to die to do this. We can stop it all -- without firing another shot!"

    Valorum growled at her from the table. "Sereine. Are you mad?"

    "No. No, I'm sane!" She turned and ran from the kitchen, knocking herself against the retracting door in her haste.

    Valorum turned an accusing blue stare on Anakin. Anakin could not meet his gaze.

    With a rustle of long skirts Lady Valorum swept back into the room, two datapads in her hands. She stopped in front of her husband.

    "Finis. If you were still Chancellor -- I'm sure you have all kinds of thoughts about what you'd do after the war, to bring relief to the suffering and get the most affected worlds' economies running again."

    "Well, I'll always have ideas, Sereine, but --"

    His wife thrust a datapad into his hands. "Don't tell me, Finis. Write!"

    She turned to Anakin. "Jedi Skywalker. This can work, but it's all going to depend on you. I need your cooperation. In fact, you're really the only one who can do anything."

    Anakin blinked. "Me?"

    "Look. We have to assume Finis is right about at least the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Think about it. Mace Windu has already announced the end of the war. How can the Separatists go on fighting without Dooku and Grievous? They can't! And that means that an awful lot of Jedi are going to come pouring back into the capitol. What can one little Sith lord do against several hundred Jedi masters?"

    "And he's cut off from his communications array in any case," said Anakin.

    "And here's Master Windu, publicly pressuring him to step down."

    "'All who gain power are afraid to lose it,'" quoted Anakin.

    She cocked her head slightly. "What?"

    Anakin shook his own. "Something ... something the Chancellor said. Just the other night, in fact." He ran his hand through his hair. "What are you saying?" he demanded.

    "I'm saying we can't know what Palpatine's trying to do, but he thinks he needs you before he does it. He's trying to delay whatever he's going to tell the Senate. He's here in my kitchen trying to push you to make a decision. General Grievous is dead, and the clock is ticking. Whatever it is he wants, he cannot go without you."

    Anakin was one step behind, and felt as if he couldn't catch up. "I'm the Chosen One. I know his secret ..."

    Lady Valorum turned away from him, flicking graying red curls over one shoulder and down her back, and paced back and forth, clasping and worrying her hands in front of her.

    "I've brought Palpatine to heel before -- several times -- and I know it can be done."

    Valorum glared at her from the table. "That business with Doriana doesn't count."

    "He didn't get out of it completely. There wasn't any evidence, and that was my fault. But it embarrassed him."

    "All you did was teach him how to do it better the next time!"

    Lady Valorum turned, facing down her husband. "He isn't the only one who learned something about how to do it better the next time!"

    She resumed her pacing. "If I didn't know how to get around Palpatine, he wouldn't be here. What I needed him to do to win that first election after he 'inherited' his seat in the Senate did not come at all naturally to him, but he stepped up, and he did it." She turned and gripped Anakin's arm.

    "When Palpatine's in a bad situation, and you're better at getting him out than he is -- and he knows it -- suddenly you get compliance."

    Anakin thought about it. "You could be right. When Obi-Wan and I released him -- on the Invisible Hand -- he argued with us a little at first. I'm told he argued with the Jedi who protected him during the invasion."

    "Of course he did!" Valorum hurrumphed from the table.

    "But once we were in the elevator shaft -- and the ship started to tilt -- he stopped fighting us and did everything we told him. No problem. You could be right." He tilted his head to one side. "What do you have in mind?"

    A dangerous clawfish grin spread itself across Lady Valorum's features.

    "We're going to be the bad situation we're getting him out of." She dropped into a chair. "Strap in. Here's what we're going to do ..."

    ***

    Five hours passed. Five hours during which the former Chancellor and his wife wrote and rewrote, arguing point after point. Five hours during which Lady Valorum lectured Anakin through a strategy session as good in its own way as any of General Kenobi's or Master Yoda's. At one point they were all so exhausted, and Chancellor and Lady Valorum so cross with one another, that the former Chancellor got up and cooked them all eggs and kaffe in his pajamas and bare feet. But by the time the first light of dawn tinged the sky twilight outside the window, they were nearly agreed.

    Valorum turned to Anakin. "Anakin, give me your word, as your former Chancellor. As a Jedi knight, and as an expert swordsman, are you truly in doubt that the four Jedi Masters remaining in the Temple can overpower Palpatine and kill him? Do you truly doubt this? Tell me the truth!"

    Anakin thought hard. "He trained Count Dooku and the apprentice who killed Master Jinn. The only one who could possibly get him would be Master Windu, I'm sure of it. And I wouldn't want him to try it without me."

    "But surely, four against one --"

    Anakin shook his head.

    "Anakin. You have to side with them. This--" he picked up a datapad and dropped it. "This is madness. You must side with them!"

    Anakin met Valorum look for look. "I'm sorry, sir. I won't."

    Sereine spoke up. "Finis, we're not doing anything we can't undo. If it doesn't go well, we go to the Jedi. Or -- " she swallowed. "Or you go to the Jedi. But we give this a chance first. You said it yourself. Once the Council knows about this, then there's more fighting. More killing. Once the Council knows, we can't take that back. This, we can undo if we have to."

    Valorum let out a huge sigh and gave up. "Then I concur," he said, in a voice that strangled on the little words. "It's with the gravest of misgivings, and for completely different reasons than the two of you. But I concur."

    "Thank you, sir." Anakin looked at the former Chancellor.

    And had a horrible thought.

    "We have to hide you, sir," he burst out.

    "What?" said Sereine Valorum.

    "What if he tries to hold your spouse hostage the same way he's holding mine?"

    Sereine frowned. "But he's not holding Senator Amidala ..."

    "In her condition," Anakin pointed out, "he doesn't need to. Not physically, at least." He cast about for somewhere safe, someplace Palpatine would never think to approach. There was his former lair in the Works. The subbasement of 500 Republica. Surely Palpatine would never go near those places again. But how could they house the former Chancellor there? Especially on such short notice, with no security? Or none that could defeat a Sith master, at any rate.

    And then Anakin's mouth flew open, and he shut it with a pop. He had an even better idea.

    They dressed the former Chancellor in Anakin's long brown Jedi cloak and took him back to Padme's with a loaded suitcase. Anakin met his startled wife in the foyer and begged her not to ask questions.

    Then they put Anakin's cloak on Threepio and walked him back outside with Anakin and Sereine.

    They all settled into Anakin's speeder. "Do you really think this will do it?" asked Sereine.

    "It's going to have to. We have to try. I know he's having this apartment watched. But he won't know who he's looking for for another hour, at least, and by then it will be too late."

    "And Finis was uncloaked last night. Anyone would have recognized him. Who'd expect that he'd be back here at the sixth hour?"

    "That's what I'm thinking," said Anakin.

    Sereine turned around. "See Threepio, we're going to take you back to my apartment and let you out. One of my husband's bodyguards will bring you back in his personal vehicle and drop you off in the basement. Wait for an hour before you go upstairs."

    Anakin added, "And if you can pick up some hunk of junk down there and take it up with you as if you've been out on an errand, so much the better."

    Anakin started the speeder.

    Threepio began, "Oh, Master Anakin, this is all so intriguing ..."

    ***

    As they entered the Senate Office Building Anakin trembled uncontrollably. He clasped his mechanical hand over his natural one, but Sereine still saw. She stepped in front of him and took both hands in hers.

    "It's all right," she murmured. "It'll be all right. We're all going to be here tomorrow."

    She let go of his hands. "Wait here for me. Let me go first."

    "What are you going to do?"

    "I'm going to try what I was originally going to do after last night's political meeting with your wife."

    "You know that'll never work," he protested.

    "We don't have to do this if it does. And if it doesn't ... well, I'll be back in no time, and you know what comes next."

    She was back in ten minutes. "Well, so much for that."

    "What did he say?"

    She shook her head. "This is so Palpatine. The things he doesn't get that you or I -- Amazing. I couldn't even get into what I had come to say.

    "I didn't leave Palpatine, Anakin, he left me. He left me over ten years ago, with no explanation, and no reason to hope he'd ever come back to me ... and he's still angry with me for marrying Finis! I guess I was supposed to mourn him for the rest of my life. I know he's had a bad night, but in the name of all that is!"

    She stopped. "If I hadn't married Finis, would this go any better?" She considered, and shook her head. "I doubt it."

    Anakin took a deep breath. "All right, I'm ready."

    "Wait," said Sereine. "Wait. I want to talk to you for a minute. How are we going to know when we're getting our way, up there?"

    "What?"

    "How are we going to know when we're winning?"

    Anakin stared at her, unsure what she meant.

    "If you take candy from a baby, what does it do?"

    Anakin shrugged. "It screams."

    "Exactly. It screams. It can't take the candy back, and it's too little to hit you, so it just sits there and screams. It throws a tantrum. Anakin, what is a tantrum?"

    "Well, it's just a bunch of screaming and noise -- "

    "Right. It's just a lot of screaming and noise. That baby is letting you know it isn't happy, but it isn't hurting you. It isn't hurting you because it can't. All that's available for it to do is express frustration, and expressing frustration is what it does. Loud and clear."

    "And?"

    "Anakin, we have to be ready for a tantrum up there. And I imagine that when a Sith lord throws a tantrum, it's something to behold." She smiled ruefully and shook her head. "What I just beheld up there was bad enough. And that was just our mild-mannered Supreme Chancellor being privately irate. But understand, if he is not hurting anyone, then he is not hurting anyone. He's just venting frustration."

    "Okay, so ...?"

    "When we see that, when we see that he's doing things that sound frightful but no one's getting hurt, we know we're on the right track. The more childish the tantrum, the better we're doing. The closer we are to getting what we want out of him. A childish temper tantrum, no matter how bad it looks, means we're winning, do you get me?"

    "Um ... okay," said Anakin doubtfully.

    "The key is to let him vent. We don't require that he like what we're forcing him to do. We only require that he do it, with at least a public show of good humor. So we don't argue, we don't get superior, we don't get sarcastic, we don't belittle, we don't humiliate. If we push him too hard, he might snap, and we don't want that. So we won't shout in that office. Instead, the louder he gets, the quieter and quieter we get. We don't tip; we're strong, like a tree. Does that make sense to you?"

    "I guess so."

    "Just remember that you're in charge, not him. If you don't move, neither can he. I know you're nervous. Just repeat that to yourself, all the way up in the elevator. 'If I don't move, neither can he.'"

    "'If I don't move, neither can he.'"

    "That's right. Now, let's go."
     
  8. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I remember being only mildly interested in this at the start of my first read and then getting to the bit about the physiological effects and going "OH. I have to read something that studies Palpatine this closely." I love the mental image of Chancellor Valorum in his pajamas, making eggs. And the analysis of likely outcomes and manifestations of impotence that they have to pay attention to.
     
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  9. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    All of these are real diseases and the changing eye color is real. I'm a practicing DVM and have had to treat all this. Yes, yellow eyes are not only real, but they do, in fact, bleed.

    Gross, huh? (And I did have fun with the mental image of jealous Finis Valorum cooking barefooted in his pajamas.)
     
  10. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER FOUR: ONLY WHAT YOU TAKE WITH YOU, part 2


    Anakin approached Sly Moore, leaving Sereine loitering around the back of Palpatine's sumptuous reception room, datapad in hand.

    "He's expecting you," said the administrative aide. She cast a baleful eye on Sereine. "Not her."

    "She's coming with me," said Anakin, waving a hand and touching her mind with the Force. Sly stared blankly and Sereine followed Anakin in.

    Palpatine wasn't in his spacious outer office. Anakin led the way down the short corridor to his smaller one, searching for the Chancellor in the Force. The way ahead felt as blank as the way behind -- and that was more disconcerting than anything.

    Palpatine sat behind a small rolling desk stacked with several folders of printout flimsies, his back toward them, his attention on the computer consoles beneath his breathtaking view of the city. He turned his tall black chair to face them as they crossed the threshold -- and rose to greet his Chosen One with a quick bow of his head.

    "Anakin. I presume you've -- "

    And then he caught sight of Sereine, and his whole face went hard. The dark rings under his eyes stood out against his pale skin.

    Steel sharpened the throaty voice to a fine edge. "What is this?"

    Nausea pitted the bottom of Anakin's stomach. The palm of Sereine's hand pressed the small of his back as she moved to stand beside him.

    "It's a small adjustment in everyone's plans. Anakin's told me everything, Palpatine. I know."

    Palpatine's blue eyes flickered over Anakin's face with a twitch of his wheaten brows. Anakin could see the thought: You're kidding. And then his eyes roamed to Anakin's right, and one corner of his mouth crept up in a just-suppressed smile.

    "Has he?" Palpatine said easily, and sat down. "Well, no doubt you're disappointed, my dear. You do seem to prefer a different kind of man these days -- if he can be called that. Angelic, ineffectual, and ..." His smile played around a third word that hung in the air unspoken. "Now, if you'll excuse us ..." He moved to press the button on his comm.

    "A moment," said Anakin. "Your Excellency." He only hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. Palpatine gave them a bored, impatient sigh and folded his hands on his desk.

    "What you had to tell this young man last night was very interesting," said Sereine, brimming with confidence. "We've been discussing it together." Anakin felt her hand leave his back and watched her approach the desk with a sense of alarm. What part of Stay behind me the entire time did she not understand?

    "There's more than one person involved now, and we've come to a decision as to how we want to respond to this." She stressed the word we slightly, and Anakin's nausea rose along with that rogue corner of Palpatine's mouth.

    "Indeed?" said the Chancellor, highly amused.

    "Indeed!" said Sereine, matching the humor in his tone and lacing it with some steel of her own. She turned to take Anakin into her glance.

    "We've thought this over very carefully, and we have decided that we will not give you up, nor will we move against you."

    Her eyes flickered to Anakin's, and he said the lines they had rehearsed, exactly as they had planned them. "But we will not join you, either." Slight pause. "I will not join you, either."

    Lift the chin, look squarely into the eyes -- "Not at this time." Sixty percent of communication is nonverbal, Anakin.

    Palpatine cut his eyes across at his ex-lover, who took up the baton. "In exchange for our silence, we want three things from you."

    Palpatine did not move. "Do you?" he purred, his expression unreadable.

    "First," said Sereine, "you dismiss Sly Moore and hire me in her place."

    Palpatine looked as if he might laugh in her face. He sat back, elbows on the chair, and said, "Done!" He sounded as if he might laugh in her face, too.

    "Second. You've made this young man a very serious offer, and we want you to give him the time for the sort of serious contemplation it deserves."

    The amusement faded back to unreadable.

    "Third. We require that you begin to govern responsibly." Anakin's eyes followed Sereine as she moved around the desk to stand over Palpatine's shoulder. "You're about to address the Senate in a couple of hours. This is the address you're going to give." She reached over Palpatine's shoulder to deposit her datapad on his desk.

    Anakin did not like the expression on the Chancellor's face, but he couldn't alter his own to flash Sereine the kind of look that said, Get back from there. Please.

    Palpatine sat for a moment, then reached for the datapad. He began to scroll it down.

    At one paragraph near the beginning he actually snorted with laughter.

    "If you think I'm going to say this, you must be a fool," he said, leaning back to point. Sereine leaned forward to look, and they glanced at each other for an instant with an ease and familiarity that told Anakin he was watching an old, old scene between them.

    Sereine shrugged one shoulder. "It's your choice," she said, "but I think you owe the citizens of this Republic some apology for what you've done. No matter how obscurely it's worded."

    Palpatine gave her a contemptuous smirk and continued to scroll down. He passed the first page break --

    -- and the dark side drew over his face. Anakin felt it in the room. Anakin put his hand on his lightsaber and sought Sereine's eyes, but she stubbornly refused to look at him.

    "Surrender the authority to end the state of emergency back to the Senate," he read in a tone so low it didn't even sound like him. Sereine recognized it, however, from the sardonic half-smile that crossed her lips.

    "All but two hundred and fifty of my governors," Palpatine continued. "Half of my emergency powers."

    "It really isn't so bad," Sereine cut in. "We've left you the ones we think you want the most, and we've left them the ones they'll find the most reassuring. You can justify it on the grounds that there are still quite a few Separatist battalions left to mop up. It's an excellent compromise."

    "I will not compromise," Palpatine growled.

    He scrolled past the second page break, skimming quickly through the rest of the document. "That much in aid to the Outer Rim territories." He turned cold blue eyes to Sereine. "You had Finis write this. Didn't you?"

    It was her turn to almost laugh.

    Palpatine sat back, both elbows on the chair arms, his tone deadly. "I will never agree to this."

    "I'd consider it if I were you. Because the Senate isn't as well informed as we are, they think you've done a brilliant job running this war. Considering your recent tragedy, they're prepared to be very reasonable, even the Senators who oppose you right now. All they want from you is some reassurance. You give them this, before they even ask for it, and they will eat from your hand. Palpatine -- " her voice dropped urgently. "You know I'm right!"

    Palpatine sat there like a stone. "And if I refuse?"

    Sereine met Anakin's gaze from her post at Palpatine's shoulder, and gave him an almost imperceptible nod of her head.

    The coldness in the room roughened Anakin's voice. He tried to keep it smooth and even.

    "You break your side of the bargain, and we're allowed to break ours," he said.

    He heard, rather than saw, Palpatine move. Sereine stepped reflexively back, and the next instant a crimson lightsaber hummed at her throat.

    Anakin leaped forward toward the desk, his hand on his own lightsaber.

    Something in Sereine's eyes kept him from taking it off his belt. Every factor they had considered whirled through Anakin's mind. Dooku, Grievous, the weak Nemoidian leadership, the end of the war, the four masters in the Temple, will he fight me? Can I take him? 'Use my knowledge, I beg you --'

    "I will not negotiate with you!" That otherworldly voice shook the very walls.

    Sereine's eyes pleaded with Anakin not to move. But if there was anything they had overlooked, if Palpatine had any asset they didn't know about, she would be dead.

    Anakin didn't move. He couldn't. He thought of Padme, of Valorum. He didn't know what to do--

    After an agonizing moment she spoke, steady and low. "If you were going to do it, you would have done it already. Do you mean business, Palpatine? Or are you just ... venting?" Her eyes held Anakin's, and she raised one russet eyebrow.

    Let him vent. Call his bluff. He was supposed to call his bluff. But how --?

    Anakin thought over everything they had talked about, and took a deep breath. The hesitance he felt made his voice soft and earnest, but as he heard his own words, he knew it was just right.

    "I'm not going to join you," he said. But it wasn't quite enough.

    He tried again. "Palpatine ..." it was the first time he had ever called the Chancellor solely by his name. "It doesn't matter what you do."

    He took his hand off of his lightsaber.

    For a second, time really did stop.

    "You know this is no longer confined to this office," said Sereine. "If anything happens to me, my husband will regret my loss enough to discuss it with the Jedi Council. You don't know where he is. And I assure you we did put some thought into where we hid him before we came here. Perhaps you'll find him in time. And perhaps you won't."

    Anakin had a sudden thought. He added, "But I'm sure he'll have the presence of mind to wait two or three days. So that he can discuss it with the entire Council. When they return."

    And then Palpatine's whole manner changed. The lightsaber disappeared, and he turned almost gaily back to his desk. He had switched on another manner altogether, his shoulders straight, his posture lifted, his arms swinging lightly at his sides as he moved back to his chair. He lowered himself into it with a strange look at Anakin, full of an almost stubborn good humor.

    "You'll change your mind in due time. In about six weeks, I'm quite sure." He folded his hands smugly on the polished desktop and met Anakin look for look.

    Sereine stayed exactly where she was, cool and calm. "The baby's not due for twelve," she said.

    Palpatine's glance flickered from Anakin to Sereine and back again. He really did tell you everything.

    "What information I have to share will take some time to be taught, understood, and properly augmented. It can't be mastered in an evening." His blue eyes met Anakin's in an unspoken challenge.

    And Anakin knew what to do. He planted both feet apart, drew himself up to his full height, and crossed his arms squarely over his chest. "Then I have six weeks to decide what I'll do, don't I?" It was his turn to be smug. "And you will give them to me."

    He watched as a slow red flush crept over Palpatine's cheeks. Watched as the fine blue eyes grew steely and glittered like ice.

    Sereine moved then, scurrying back behind Anakin's shoulder, and it was over.

    Palpatine moved to pick up the datapad. It quivered in his hand.

    His body may have betrayed him, but his voice did not. Anakin was amazed at the nonchalance of his tone. It could have been any meeting, any day.

    "This is what made Finis so impotent as Chancellor. The bleeding-heart tendencies notwithstanding, it makes much more sense to divert at least a third of this aid to Mid-Rim planets such as Nubia. With their industrial plants operating at full capacity, there will be supplies and materials for the Outer Rim territories which need to rebuild."

    Sereine pulled up a chair for herself and sat down, indicating with her eyes for Anakin to do the same. "You may make alterations to the last section as you see fit," she said. "The transfer of authority to end the state of emergency is not negotiable. Neither is halving your emergency powers."

    "I object to this language near the end. I am not offering, implicitly or explicitly, to step down."

    "Fine. I'll trade you thirty governors for it."

    He looked up at her peevishly. "I suppose you have suggestions as to how this should be delivered?"

    "No." She shrugged. "I thought you'd had enough for one night." Palpatine slit his eyes at her and looked back at the datapad.

    "However ... since you asked ..."

    ***

    "I see your carefully worded apology is the first thing to be discarded." Finis Valorum squinted at the holo of Palpatine coming live from the Senate floor, his mouth a taut line. They could speak openly in Senator Amidala's living room, as the Senator herself was also on the floor. The holocams had cut to her just a moment ago, seated with Bail Organa and Jar Jar Binks in the Naboo car.

    "A personal stab at me," Sereine said, and her husband's eyes shot her an unkind cut, as if to say, If you really believe that --

    The rancor between them, especially from the former Chancellor, was almost palpable, making Anakin uncomfortable just being in the room.

    "Let's just wait," Sereine said. "We know he's flying blind now, or he'd never have started this speech at all. He knows we don't want to hurt him. Let's just see how much he'll put himself in our hands, here."

    Sereine followed the speech intently, ticking point after point on her fingers, with a "Yes!" or an occasional "That's it," or a "Perfect!" when she heard a line delivered exactly as she had instructed. The looks Valorum gave her suggested that he had been subjected more than once to the same sort of pre-address lecture that Palpatine had received.

    As the Chancellor neared the end of his speech, slowed by several rounds of applause, his former advisor gloated. "I'm afraid I didn't share this with you gentlemen last night," she said, "but as we worked on this, I was counting on one more thing. Let's see if we get it."

    Palpatine delivered his last line, stepped back from the edge of the podium, and lowered his head in a humble bow. Such dignity touched the gesture that Anakin, tired as he was, could almost believe that the events of last night were nothing more than a dream.

    "Don't look up," Sereine barked at the hologram. "Don't look up!"

    Palpatine didn't look up.

    As one, the entire body of the Senate rose and rewarded him with a standing ovation that went on and on. To Anakin's right, Sereine made a little scream of glee.

    Well, almost the entire Senate rose. Quickly the scene changed to the Naboo car, where Jar Jar Binks, while not applauding, stood up respectfully, glancing with a puzzled expression at his colleagues. Organa and Padme Amidala still sat, looking at each other, stunned frowns flitting across their faces. One by one, the other Senators whose names or voices Anakin had recognized during his eavesdropping session last night filled the screen, also seated, also frowning.

    Then a lone pod car detached itself and floated to the Chancellor's podium. Senator Horoxx Ryder.

    Sereine reached over and grabbed Anakin's hand. "Here we go," she said. "Here we go ..."

    The holocams gave them a closeup of Palpatine, who raised his head finally. Slowly, not proudly, and just enough to see who had approached.

    "Very nice," said Sereine.

    "My friends --" said Palpatine, with a little tremor in his voice that sounded just a bit too forced to Anakin.

    Sereine said, "Ugh. Stop right there."

    Palpatine hesitated for a moment, wet his lips, seemed about to continue, then changed his mind. "We recognize the Senator from the sovereign system of Raioballo."

    "Thank you, Supreme Chancellor," said Ryder. "On behalf of the entire Senate, on behalf of the entire Republic, I wish to offer you our heartfelt thanks for your faithful service these many, many years. When I think of your personal sacrifices on behalf of the citizens of this galaxy, it practically brings tears to my eyes."

    Valorum made a small, strangled sound.

    "Which is why I regret so deeply to have to say what I am about to bring forward."

    "Here it comes," said Sereine. "Anakin, this is going to embarrass the poodoo out of your wife. I thought about warning you last night. But Senator Amidala is a big girl with a stellar reputation. She should be able to take care of herself."

    "I have known for some time -- and I am ashamed to say, I should have brought this forward sooner -- about a certain group of Senators who seem to believe they are above the rule of law. Who are without any faith in this fine leadership. Who have been plotting to remove this Chancellor from office. I speak of a certain petition --" and Ryder went on to name every single person, minus the Valorums and Anakin, who had been present here last night.

    Valorum turned to stare, hollow-eyed, at his wife. "How the hell could you know --?"

    "You know I've been doing some writing and editing for Horoxx. He's completely snowed about Palpatine, poor thing, thinks he's a saint. He's been grousing about doing this for weeks, every time I've gone over there. I thought this might give him the backbone --"

    Valorum interrupted her with an exasperated snort.

    "What in blazes --" began Anakin, adopting one of Obi-Wan's favorite expressions. "Poor Padme!"

    Ryder carried on in excruciating detail. The cams flashed to Padme and Organa, who sat stone-faced in the Naboo pod. Representative Binks stared at them, with his long snout literally falling open, adding poignancy to the little tableau.

    Another closeup of Palpatine, who bowed his head again. "Not quite as hurt as I would like, but good enough," Sereine commented. "And don't you dare smile!"

    Ryder wound up to his big finish. "In light of these terrible developments, the excellent service of our beloved Chancellor, and in recognition of the very good plan he has put forward for the reconstruction of our war-torn Republic, I propose that we extend his term of office, not to exceed one year from this date, so that he may be the one to oversee this plan, and to put it into action."

    Cries of "Hear! Hear!" gave way to cries of, "Vote now! Vote now!"

    Valorum turned to his wife with an expression of equal parts fear and loathing.

    Sereine shrugged. "It's your plan, dear. Give or take a few minor points."

    When it was all over, Palpatine rode down from the Chancellor's podium, secure in the knowledge that it was his for at least another year, and his ex-lover went mad, actually screaming and stomping her feet.

    "We did it!" she cried, and convulsed with sudden laughter. "Oh, my Gods, I can't believe we did that!"

    Anakin stepped away from her, reflecting that, if there were any glasses present, they'd be in pieces on Padme's expensive carpet. "I don't understand," he said.

    "Now we've got something to work with!" Sereine crowed. "We have time to consider our next move." She looked at her husband. "We have an insurance policy and some excellent advice, but more than anything, we're going to start to get Palpatine's confidence.

    "We hijacked him into this, and he's angry, but he knows he has to respect us. He just did!" she pointed out. "We're worthy opponents now. But, beyond that, he knows we don't want to hurt him. We've given him a real gift, here, one he wasn't expecting. And he's going to start to trust us. Now we've got a tiny island of choice, from which to work."

    She grasped Anakin's sleeve. "We're going to go talk to him, we're going to be in the office when he gets back." She pulled him to face her and showed him an index finger. "You didn't know any of this and you're angry at me. That's your job this afternoon."

    "A little political good cop-bad cop?" said Finis.

    "Oh, yes!"

    Anakin showed her a puzzled frown. "But how is this going to help Padme? And the baby?" he said.

    Former Chancellor Valorum gave his wife a savage look. "I'm afraid you're terribly in the wrong, my wife," he sighed. "All you've done -- all you've done -- is manage to capture a vornskyr by the tail.

    "And now that you've got it," he asked, "what are you going to do with it?"
     
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  11. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Oh, man. The machinations of this last part are wonderful. The one year timeframe is intriguing and I love the people and details that had to be at cross purposes and on different planes for a single status quo to be possible.
     
    LLL likes this.
  12. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    It's the only way to deal with Palpatine. Come in from a position of power; giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

    Otherwise, you're going to get yourself dead.
     
  13. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER FIVE: INCOMPLETE


    "We're going to listen," said Sereine.

    Anakin raised his eyebrows at her, his hands clasped in a prayer posture at his lips. Rather than refreshing him, an afternoon nap after the debriefing at Palpatine's office had actually made him dizzy, and he felt more at sea than ever. Palpatine was much more favorably disposed toward her now, and he did not like the way she had blamed this morning's uncertainty on Valorum and himself. Had he been correct to trust her? Or had he just delivered the galaxy straight into the hands of a madwoman?

    At least some of what was happening bore the stamp of the former Chancellor, someone of whom even Yoda and Master Windu spoke fondly from time to time. Palpatine could hardly back down from the plan he'd laid out in that address. And the Lady was right about one thing. Almost a full day had passed, and not one further life had been lost. At least Anakin could hang onto that.

    They had left a very unhappy former Chancellor in Padme's guest room, and reconvened over Sereine's kitchen table to discuss strategy. Anakin had pleaded to leave things for tonight, but Sereine had refused.

    "We've got to hit him again now, Anakin. We can't give him time to regroup. The more time he has to think, the harder it is for us."

    "He's exhausted," he said. "He's slept less than we have. Don't you think that'll make him tougher to grapple with?"

    "He's slept some," she said. "You're not the only one who has nightmares. Palpatine's been an on-again, off-again insomniac for years, and he compensates by catching naps in his ready room." She stiffened and gave an impression of the Supreme Chancellor that was so accurate in inflection but so poor in voice that Anakin had to laugh.

    "'Don't you dare tell anyone how I keep rested. That by itself is a sackable offense, my dear!'"

    Anakin dragged both palms down his face and gave up. "So, we're going to listen. Okay. What the blazes are you talking about?"

    "It's exactly what your wife said last night. 'This war represents a failure to listen.' Well, who isn't being heard? Who hasn't been heard from in something like one thousand years?"

    "You're kidding. The Sith?"

    "We've heard Count Dooku speak for the Separatist systems for five years. The people speak through the Senate. No one has any doubt where the Jedi stand on anything. But who was never listened to?"

    "Sereine. Count Dooku was a Sith."

    "But he never revealed himself openly as one, or spoke in his own voice. My guess is he didn't think it would go too well for him if he did."

    Anakin had a sudden thought. "'I would pour him a brandy and bloody well talk it out,'" he quoted.

    "What?"

    "Something the Chancellor said once. About the 'hypothetical' Sith master suddenly walking in the room." Anakin shook his head. "I didn't realize he was talking about himself."

    "Anakin, when people feel like they have to fight to be heard, they fight to be heard."

    Anakin swallowed. "Or, they just fight."

    "I can't believe this has all been senseless destruction. I know Palpatine. I can't believe he would do that. There has to be a reason. I'm going to give him the floor tonight, and I'm going to listen. Are you coming?"

    Palpatine agreed to wait for them, although it was drawing late in the evening. "See?" said Sereine as they entered the elevator to the Chancellor's office. "What did I say this afternoon? Respect!"

    "About the only respect he's shown anyone in thirteen years," said Anakin. "I can't believe it. I can't understand it. How can he be so good to me for so long, and yet hurt so many innocent people? Does he care about anything at all? I'm just -- reeling."

    "Then you should use those words when you talk to him."

    Anakin raised his eyebrows at her and brought an index finger to his chest. "Me? This is my show tonight?"

    "You can ask these questions just as well as I can. You care about him just as much as I do."

    The elevator doors opened. Sereine started to walk out, but Anakin held her back. "Wait," he said. He let the doors close and pressed the stop button. "You said Palpatine has nightmares. What are they about?"

    "I don't know. All I know is that he dreams repeatedly about something that happened when he was seventeen, and it wasn't good." She thought a moment. "But he was raised by his grandfather, and he did let slip once that his grandfather died when he was seventeen. I always made an assumption about that. But I might have been wrong."

    Sereine chatted on as they went down the hall. "Palpatine's grandfather was half Munn, did you know that? Palpatine is one-eighth Munn. You can sort of see it, a little. That high forehead."

    "The two of you were ..." Anakin whispered it. "Lovers, and he doesn't let you call him by his first name?"

    "I use it sometimes. I had this way of cheering him on. 'One more time with that speech, Palpatine! It never hurts to be the most beautiful speaker on the floor.' Anyway, I never felt like the short form of his name fit him. His full name does." She stopped and took a breath and spoke it with dignity. "Erasmesheev Tiberius Palpatine. Now, that fits him."

    ***

    Anakin didn't know what the Chancellor had been expecting, but it obviously wasn't this. His blue eyes darted warily between them in the dim light from his desk lamp.

    "I knew it was going to be a shock to you, son, but how else was I going to tell you? When? If I had told you at any other time, what would you have done? What would have happened?"

    "But the war was the only reason it would have happened!" Anakin argued. "It's just the way Sereine said this morning. If you had governed responsibly, how could anyone have had anything against you? But look at what you've done! Maybe the Jedi are right. Maybe the Sith are evil. Maybe they can't be any other way."

    "Anakin. After thirteen years, what do you think?"

    Anakin's voice trembled. "I think ... I think that it may all have been an act. I think ... I think that maybe none of it was real." He hated the tears that stood in his eyes, but he couldn't stop them. "I think that all the time I had that wonderful friend, perhaps I really had nothing at all. I don't want to think that, but I do."

    Palpatine stood up, folding one arm across his voluminous velvet robes, and walked to the window to watch the speeder traffic light the night sky. Anakin looked at Sereine, wiping his eyes, and could not decipher the expression on her face.

    "I know you don't want to think that your Jedi mentors could kill a Sith in cold blood, just for being Sith. But perhaps you'd better reconsider that as carefully as you reconsider our friendship." Palpatine didn't turn around.

    "Sheev," Sereine said gently. "How could you do this? Why? Help us understand."

    The Sith master turned suddenly from the window with such ferocity that Anakin thought he might ignite his blade and come at them across the desk.

    "Help me understand!" he shouted. "Help me understand the morality of subjugating and killing an entire sect for a millenium -- based on the actions of its members a thousand years ago! Do you realize that an entire Sith dynasty died out because the Jedi pushed them off of their own home world? The Jedi established a temple on Shadda-Bi-Boran, and they were afraid they'd be exterminated. So they had to leave, and they couldn't live a normal lifespan, and one by one, they died tragically early deaths. It was very nearly the end of us!"

    Anakin wrinkled his forehead. "A Sith dynasty?"

    Palpatine looked distinguished and regal, his silver hair and velvet black robes silhouetted against the jeweled night sky in the surrounding gray of the room.

    "Master-apprentice chains, related by blood. Unlike the Jedi, the Sith do allow themselves to form families. There are eight Sith dynasties among the fifty-seven masters since Lord Bane. Mothers and daughters ... fathers and sons ... grandparents and grandchildren. I am the second master of the eighth Sith dynasty."

    "So your master was a relative," Sereine stated.

    Palpatine ground his teeth. "I believe that is what I said."

    Anakin blanched. "So ... so ... What you're telling me --" He didn't want to say it or even think it. "What you're telling me is that your relative, your father or mother or uncle or grandparent, taught you this incredible secret -- and you killed this person, in their sleep?" He turned to stare at Sereine, thinking, What have we done?

    But she wasn't looking at him. Instead she was watching Palpatine, who sagged back into his chair with eyes that didn't seem to see them.

    "Oh, yes," he said quietly. "I killed Darth Plagueis. I killed him, the same as if I'd shot him. And he was, in fact, asleep."

    Sereine stared at Palpatine as if she could memorize every line and crease in his face. "Sheev..." she began, so gently and compassionately that Anakin could hear tears in her eyes even if he didn't see them.

    "What happened to your grandfather?"
     
  14. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Can’t wait for the next chapter. Palpatine being righteously angry to a degree over Jedi vs. Sith is great.
     
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  15. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    I think he's had that drilled into him. And of course he can feel that way ... it's no cost to him. Plus, here he's just concentrating on killing all the Jedi and cementing his rule. He's starting to get an idea of what zillions of suffering people will do for stirring up the dark side and his power to command it ... but it's not his focus at all. To get there, first you have to be able to STAY there, and he's struggling with all his wits to do that. Once he's there, his true addiction to the dark side will begin.

    Anyone trying to turn Palpatine, strike now or forever hold your peace.
     
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  16. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    And thus, this fic. :p
     
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  17. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER SIX: GENIUS


    Nothing fascinated the apprentice Sidious quite like the endlessness of rushing water. It flowed over the rocks and glistened in the sun, its surface as smooth as molten metal. Yet that surface changed from instant to instant, never the same. At the bottom of the rocks, the molten flow cupped into an eddy, creaming and foaming over itself.

    Sidious watched the smallest drops as they broke free to fly up over the molten river descending the rocks, landed here and there on its surface, rode for an instant -- and disappeared. The cycle repeated over and over, crashing and thundering in his ears.

    Nothing else lost him quite so easily in the endlessness of time ... the endlessness of space ... the endless mystery of the Force.

    Seated there on the bank of the Semaj river on the grounds of his master's villa outside the town of Messiri, Naboo, Sidious had struggled to lose himself many times -- only to find that you couldn't do it by struggling. You could only stare at the water ... and disappear. It was unfortunate that he had to puzzle this out without guidance, especially at the raw age of seventeen, but no one could have helped him do this. To his knowledge, and that of his master, no one before him had ever possessed this level of ability.

    For the apprentice Sidious was a true prodigy.

    They had come to him for as long as he could remember -- sudden flashes of Sight, so vivid as to blot out everything that was actually before him. And when Sidious Saw with clarity, he was never, ever wrong.

    But the visions never came when he wished they would, and sometimes all he would see was a moment of misty haze, or feel just a tingling at the edge of his awareness that told him a vision could have come -- but wouldn't.

    He struggled to develop control over his ability, to make it come when he willed it. For both he and his master knew that should he accomplish this, he would be invincible.

    He needed it to come right now. For days his Sight had tempted him with that vexing tingling -- and only one image, the Kaiburr crystal, in which his master was keenly interested. That warning tingle jangled his nerves again. Sometimes the sensation was comforting, presaging something pleasant, but not this time.

    Instead of letting it frighten him into pushing, reaching, Sidious dwelled on the water, letting the crashing sound remind him of the infinite power of the dark side.

    He should try this in the dark. He tried to imagine how this place looked at night, with the moonlight silvering inky black water --

    -- and then it came. Finally, he saw it. An ancient temple, a ruby red crystal, and his master --

    -- frantically battling two Jedi.

    Ah.

    Sidious considered whether or not to tell him. Plagueis's recent discoveries about the Force had done him no good, and Sidious had to wonder whether his latest crusade was yet another strange episode in a sadly ineffectual life -- or whether he had actually become unhinged.

    For Phineas of Naboo -- known also as Darth Plagueis, or sometimes Darth Procrustus -- was an embarrassment, almost unworthy to be called Sith. As a small child, Palpatine had been unaware of this. To him, tall, thin Phineas, with his flat yellow hair, long face, high cheekbones, beak of a nose, and dancing blue eyes, had been the very embodiment of all things wise and wonderful. But as Sidious grew older and completed his study of the Fifty-six Masters and his first pilgrimage to Korriban for the Tomb Ritual, he began to understand that he had been seriously mistaken.

    First, and worst, Phineas was half Munn ... which meant that Palpatine himself was one eighth Munn. Palpatine had had dreadful times with a group of older Munn children at school when he was small, and Phineas would not let him defend himself. From that point on, Palpatine had hated anything Munn, including the cautious, backward nature of his grandfather.

    Phineas's master, Darth Avarice, had chosen him late in life and in haste. As a younger woman, she chose a more likely apprentice -- but then she had fallen in love with him. Their tempestuous affair spanned nearly twenty years. Then the handsome and brilliant Darth Sage, barely forty, had been struck down by an illness. Avarice did everything she could think of to save him, but to no avail. By the time he died, Avarice, nearing sixty and ailing herself, did not have the time to pursue a lengthy search for a replacement. When the child Phineas came to her attention, Avarice leaped -- and repented.

    Phineas had acceptable skills in the Force, but lacked a warrior's heart. No matter what Avarice did -- and from what Palpatine knew she had tried plenty -- the great fighting spirit of a Darth Bane or a Darth Revan never materialized. To a lesser master this might have been acceptable, as such ones as Plagueis had contributed many important discoveries to the Sith Order over the past millenium. But Darth Avarice was a true conqueror; and an apprentice who gravitated to solitary meditation and quiet study of all aspects of the Force, she found completely unacceptable. As she found herself unable to kill him and start again in her great age and infirmity, mockery became her one relief. She nicknamed him "Darth Procrustus"; it meant, stubborn.

    Phineas carried out his duty to young Sidious, imparting the teachings he was required to transmit, but lived mainly for his arcane studies in Sith and Jedi lore. This year he had actually succeeded in creating a creature solely from midichlorians, literally out of thin air. It took him many months, but the result was a little monk, a small, round, middle-aged man. Phineas called it a "tulpa," and that was what they named it. Tulpa was eventually visible to non-Force sensitive people and began to be sighted in and around Messiri; it amused them no end to hear people ask who the new monk was. Eventually the little fellow grew taller and began to do strange things such as setting fires, and Phineas set about taking him back into the Force to avoid undue attention.

    It was a long process, and difficult, but the night he finally accomplished it had been a watershed for Phineas. Palpatine had found him late that night, weeping after a meditation that he said had shown him a truth so profound that he could never view the Force -- or the Sith -- the same way again.

    The next morning, Phineas declared that the Sith Order and the Jedi Order must be merged again into one, and every day of his life from that day forward centered on how to make that happen. He decided to win the confidence of one -- just one -- Jedi master, and attempt to reveal himself to him. But he lacked confidence that any peaceful overture would be accepted by the Jedi Council, even if he could gain the trust of this one master.

    Hence the need for the Kaiburr crystal, housed in the temple at Pomojema on Mimban. It was said to enhance the Force powers of anyone who held it, and Phineas hoped it would help him and his apprentice to defend themselves, should it be necessary.

    They had planned their trip to Mimban, and now this. Obviously the Jedi order had planned a similar expedition.

    Sidious considered the matter carefully. Like the great majority of the fallen masters on Korriban, he was a follower of Lord Bane; a believer in the creed that the Sith were born to rule. He did not like this idea of rejoining the Jedi, but as a half-trained apprentice, he had little hope of overpowering the master. Once he could, it would be too late, and reestablishing the Sith would be problematic at best. But losing the crystal to the Jedi --

    He decided. Though it pained him to do so, and finishing his training with nothing but old books and holocrons -- and the guidance of the Fallen Masters, should he be able to return to Korriban -- would be difficult, he could accomplish it if he had to. If the Jedi should kill Plagueis, he must escape with the crystal.

    Could it be done?

    Palpatine rose and climbed the grassy hill back to the villa. Darth Plagueis awaited him on the veranda, attuned as always to the currents of the Force around his apprentice.

    "Grandfather," said Palpatine, "I've had a vision..."
     
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  18. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER SEVEN: PALPATINE'S FURY HAS A BEGINNING

    Young Sidious was not happy.

    Their tiny vessel rested in a clearing a short distance from the Pomojema temple. Ready for anything in a close-fitting black training suit and combat boots, lightsaber at his belt, Sidious paced like a trapped sand cat and stared out at the wild tangle of forest greens that made up the Mimban jungle. Alone.

    Phineas had insisted on entering the temple himself. "Apparently, thanks to your Sight, we've beaten the Jedi here. You will stay and monitor for their approach."

    Sidious pushed back the anger along with his mop of blond curls. "But I can help!"

    Phineas fixed him with his disapproving stare. "Did you by any chance notice a clock during your vision, or any way to predict the exact timing of the Jedi's arrival?"

    "No," said Sidious sullenly.

    "Then we need to be forewarned of their approach," concluded Phineas. "I can mask. You cannot, and in any case we can't risk having us both killed. I will go; your job will be to remain here and silence the Jedi if they arrive, and of course, alert me to their presence."

    Phineas strapped on a canteen and prepared to fold his long, gangly frame out of the hatch.

    "And whose fault is it I can't mask!" Sidious burst out.

    Phineas turned to give him an even stare.

    "That's the price of withholding knowledge from me, Master," his grandson glowered. "I'm less useful to you!"

    "But more useful to yourself. Now there's only so much trouble your youthful impetuosity can get you into," Phineas said lightly. He was making fun of Sidious, and Sidious hated it.

    Phineas sobered, giving him that somber look Sidious had seen a million times over.

    Suddenly the older man drew closer and laid his fingers for the briefest instant along Sidious's jaw. "Sheev," he said simply. And then he was gone, leaving Sidious to fume for two hours over the unfairness of being shackled to a being so inferior to himself.

    The proximity alarm interrupted his fever of anger and resentment. A low number YT cruiser appeared on his screen, a common vessel for two or three Jedi at that time.

    Sidious thought carefully. He could approach and try to blow them out of the skies now, but they would sense the presence of a dark side Force user -- and if it took him longer than a minute or two, they might be able to send a holocommunication off planet. Better to let them land and disembark, then destroy their ship -- effectively stranding them on Mimban with no long-range communications.

    As long as they didn't land too close to here. Sidious held his breath as they set the YT down about two klicks away.

    He informed his master. "I don't want to harm them if I can avoid it," said Phineas. "Give them some time to leave the vessel and then destroy it. We can contact the Jedi Temple anonymously and let them know they need to send a transport out after we leave."

    "What!" Sidious exploded. "Are you crazy? These are Jedi!"

    "Exactly," said Phineas. "As will we be, if all goes well."

    Sidious gritted his teeth into the communicator. "I am the next master of our Order, and I am not in accord with this!"

    "We're not discussing this now, Sheev," said Phineas. What he really means is ever, thought Sidious. "But while you are my apprentice, you and the Order are in my hands."

    Sidious simmered.

    "When you overfly them, I want to know how many beings we're dealing with."

    Sidious cut the communication.

    If that crazy old man really believed that he, Sidious, the most gifted of any Sith since Lord Bane, intended to forego his place at the head of the Order to follow one of the weakest masters in centuries meekly back to the Jedi, he was sadly mistaken. Let Darth Procrustus continue on his self-appointed crusade. Sidious would show himself, baiting the Jedi to attack Phineas in the temple.

    He was sure the fallen masters of Korriban -- Darth Avarice among them -- would more than approve.

    Sidious waited twenty minutes and lifted the ship out of the clearing. He flew just above the treetops, two klicks north. In a larger clearing stood two Jedi; he could tell from their robes. One, a human, wore the longer hair and beard of a master; the other, a Sullustan, could have been master or apprentice.

    Sidious drew heavily upon the dark side. Felt both Jedi in the Force, felt the sparks of their confusion as they sensed him, and then felt the presence of a third Jedi on the ship--

    Just before he blew it to pieces.

    He swooped overhead and looked for a suitable place to land, farther away this time. There was no need to be close to the temple.

    He contacted Phineas once again. "Master --" Should he tell him about the third Jedi? No. If Phineas didn't realize these Jedi were already primed to defend themselves, or even to attack, so much the better.

    "I have destroyed their vessel. Two Jedi are on their way to the Pomojema temple. One is a master; I can't tell about the other one."

    Empty air crackled on the other end. Sidious was about to repeat himself when --

    "All right," Phineas's voice came back over the communicator, sounding less than confident. Sidious smirked. Phineas wasn't the best swordsman. He had sent his apprentice to instructors of fencing and various other swordfighting disciplines since he was thirteen.

    "I don't yet have the crystal," Phineas said. "Obviously, I can't leave here without it, so I'm going to attempt to retrieve it before they get here. If I fail, under no circumstances are you to follow them in here."

    "But, Master," said Sidious dutifully, "how are you going to engage them alone?"

    "I intend to avoid that, if possible," said Phineas. How? thought Sidious silently, and wondered if he himself could take two Jedi simultaneously. He rather believed he could.

    "Understand me, Sheev," Phineas repeated. "Under no circumstances are you to approach the temple. Stay hidden, and safe."

    "Yes, Master," said Sidious, and ended the communication. "That's Sidious," he said aloud. "Lord Sidious."

    "Master Sidious."

    He wondered fervently what was happening. Since the Jedi already knew there was at least one powerful dark side Force user here, it didn't matter if he drew upon the dark side -- but at this great distance, he could not sense very much. All he knew for sure was that Phineas was very, very quiet in the Force. Masked.

    After close to an hour he felt his master gently unmask. He sensed Phineas's presence in the Force -- not even dark, really -- for a short while, then, abruptly, it vanished.

    Suddenly the dark side sang out to Sidious. He closed his eyes and listened, stretched, and saw, like lightning before his eyes, Phineas battling the human Jedi master. Sidious strained to see again.

    Tall, fair, and heavily built, the Jedi pushed Phineas slowly back. Phineas was tall, but he was slight, and at least three decades older. Sidious followed the blows, wincing. Not that way, Master -- The Jedi feinted, jumped back, sprang forward. Slashed at the older man. Good block.

    Dim torchlight danced on walls of carved stone blocks. Small statues stood in recessed alcoves. Phineas plucked them up, one by one, and sent them sailing through the Force at the Jedi's head. That's it, Master-- --

    But Phineas was not fighting with the full power of the dark side. And Sidious could feel himself there in the temple -- as a steady presence in the old man's mind and heart. Plagueis's mind whirled -- planning, plotting, trying to stay two steps ahead of this Jedi and the second one.

    "I've got you!" A well-timed cut slashed the barrel of Phineas's lightsaber. The blade sputtered and faltered, and Phineas tossed it away. Here was where a Sith would normally strike out with dark side lightning, but Sidious could feel him hesitating, thinking --

    A burst of plasma lightning would surely bring the other Jedi, but if Phineas waited, the other one might find the crystal and bring it with him, and that would surely be disastrous. "Do it!" shouted Sidious.

    Phineas struck the Jedi with all the power of the dark side -- and this was not one of his weaker skills. The Jedi held his lightsaber aloft, absorbing the energy, but Phineas changed it, playing with it. He sent tongues of it toward the Jedi's chest, then towards his boots, then upwards to singe his hair, making the man dance and parry to compensate.

    Sidious saw where this was going. In an instant a well-timed bolt would knock the saber from the Jedi's hand and then --

    Phineas opened himself in the Force and reached out to Palpatine, who saw suddenly all that had transpired. Phineas had located the crystal, but, sensing the Jedi already in the temple, had decided to give them two targets. Any Force-user could sense the crystal; Phineas had hidden it, run towards the interior, and unmasked, hoping to draw the Jedi away. Once they were close enough, he planned to mask again, retrieve the crystal, and escape -- only the Jedi had split up, and the human had caught up with him.

    A series of scenes inside the temple materialized in front of Palpatine, and he realized what was happening. Phineas was showing him where he had hidden the Kaiburr crystal. But as he did so, a fondness, a light crept into his heart, weakening him -- and the Jedi could sense it. He pressed against the lightning, edging closer and closer to Phineas.

    A third presence entered their bond. And a fourth. Something burned in the Force, neither light nor dark, but resonating with the anger of the being who held it.

    Sidious felt the sensation of it in his gut. Strange that he didn't recall it from his visions. The ruby red Kaiburr crystal gleamed in the Sullustan's hands, and the human Jedi shouted, "It's over!"

    But the Sullustan Jedi lifted the Kaiburr crystal. She threw it --

    -- into the path of the Force lightning erupting from Phineas's fingertips.

    And something happened.

    Talons of ice pierced Palpatine's skull. He felt a sudden jolt of pain -- and a clarity of Sight he had never known before. The light, the dark, the fondness, the fear, everything passing through Phineas's own mind suddenly became Sidious.

    Somehow, their bond in the Force had been frozen open.

    The crystal hung suspended in the air, glowing, pulsing with the lightning that flowed between Phineas and the Jedi sword. Suddenly energy exploded from it in a thunderclap of Force lightning that reflected back on Phineas, burning his hands, and on the Jedi, knocking him to the ground.

    Sidious shrieked with pain, finding his own hands singeing as well.

    Phineas lifted his hands and backed away. "I don't want to hurt you," he said.

    "Don't you?" said the human. "You have an accomplice here -- or should I say an apprentice -- who just killed my padawan!"

    "What?" said Phineas, blinking. And then he probed gently along their wide-open bond and understood what Sidious had done. His sudden despair pierced Palpatine's heart through the dark side.

    "I ... apologize for this." Phineas fumbled. "That was not supposed to happen."

    The Sullustan spoke Basic. "Wasn't it? Sith?" She ignited her own lightsaber.

    "My apprentice ..." said Phineas, searching for words, "is young and impetuous -- and headstrong. This was not my intention." But the truth chilled his heart, and Palpatine's through their bond. It was irretrievably too late.

    Even if Phineas could convince these two of his own intentions, Palpatine had killed a Jedi in cold blood. Palpatine's plans for their Order were not those of Phineas, and for Phineas to accomplish his own objective, Palpatine would have to be sacrificed.

    Were the situation reversed, there was no question what Sidious would do.

    Phineas hesitated, and made his choice.

    The human Jedi got to his feet, retrieving the crystal, which had fallen to the floor. He ignited his lightsaber.

    Fear gripped Palpatine, against all reason. Crazy though the old man was, Palpatine only knew that nothing must happen to him. He drew on the dark side himself and tried to send the strength along this wide-open bond in the Force that the combination of dark side lightning, the crystal, and the open communication between them had somehow created.

    But he couldn't quite grasp the dark side somehow, though it whispered all around him. It slipped through his will like quicksilver.

    Phineas struck out again, trying to divide the dark side lightning between two different aggressors -- one in possession of the crystal -- and found himself overpowered.

    Palpatine saw two blue sabers flash in front of him as though they had struck at his own face, and felt a terrible searing pain across the side of his neck and down his chest. Another burnt deeply into his arm --

    -- and everything went black.

    ***

    He saw dimly, as if he lay at the bottom of a still pond, gazing upward at its surface. Muffled, as if through water, he heard voices raised, male and female, in a heated argument. His chest and arm burned like an inferno. The pain blurred the torchlight, and darkness fell again.

    He was swinging, or being swung, and for a moment he saw himself on one of the swings he had loved as a small child -- but this was wrong, it was sideways, not back and front -- and then a sickening fall and a terrible thump jarred his back and head. His arms felt constrained as if his whole body were caught in a vise. And then real darkness, not the quasi-dark of unconsciousness.

    A stone wall behind and another one inches from his nose --

    Palpatine struggled and cried out, his torso burning with pain, hearing Phineas's cries immediately preceding his own like some perverse echo. Coldness in front, coldness behind, incredibly hard and hurtful to lie on -- but the air grew hot, stifling. Panic. Blackness.

    Then dim, flickering torchlight in the shape of a small triangle that grew steadily larger in front of him. A grinding, a scraping that he could feel as vibrations in his arms and back. The triangle of light became a rectangle, smaller on one side than the other, and then that side grew even with the other. A rush of cool, welcome air filled his lungs. He heard a crack of stone on stone, and the two Jedi's faces peered down in front of him.

    "Are you ready to tell us, Sith? Who is your apprentice? Where is this apprentice?"

    "We'll lift you out. We'll treat your wounds. Don't make us do this. Your apprentice, and that will end it!"

    And he felt Phineas think of him, and the light and the fondness crept in -- and Phineas clamped down, shut off the thought, because Jedi are attuned to the light, and they could follow it straight to Palpatine.

    There was that crack of stone on stone, and the rectangle of light slid closed.

    Hunger. Thirst. Pain. Heat. Numbness. The lack of air like a bantha on his chest. Merciful blurring, in and out. Light. No light. And the two Jedi. Tell us, tell us.

    Finally, lightsabers, and more pain. Phineas struggled, but he did not speak. Would not.

    "We can't hurt him anymore! We're Jedi! We can't do this!"

    "This one's not much to speak of, but you felt the apprentice as well as I did! Do you want that running loose? He could be anywhere in the galaxy by now! If this one dies --"

    ***

    They tortured him for some three days. Phineas tried to explain, tried to reason, begged for mercy, pleaded for his life. But the Jedi, stranded on Mimban with no way to alert anyone else of their order, saw both the existence of the Sith and the chance to end that existence. And they took it.

    After three days of weakness, sickness, and spirit-breaking pain, Phineas's mind cleared enough to perceive Palpatine, trapped at the other end of this warped bond in the Force, and he saw only one way to end it.

    He reached for it, for the power of the knowledge he had gained in creating the tulpa and dissolving it into the Force, and Sidious felt what he was about to do.

    "No!" Sheev cried. "No! Grandfather --!"

    Phineas touched him with a shadow of regret. For an instant he appeared to Palpatine as he had looked to him when Palpatine was small.

    Palpatine tasted the lifelong despair of Phineas's failure as a Sith, saw one last time the wisdom in those blue eyes, and then he knew. He felt the infinite pride Phineas had always had in him, and he felt it wash over him in a tremendous wave of infinite love.

    Phineas looked at the two Jedi. "I'm sorry I have to take you with me," he said. "I know it isn't your time. If there were any other way, I'd take it." And he let everything dark fall away from him, once and for all.

    Palpatine felt an onrushing, like a great sigh in the Force, as if the entire universe breathed a great breath in, held it for an instant; and then the exhalation came, a great breath out. And Phineas simply dissolved into the Force, his mind, his body, his soul, his heart, taking the two Jedi painlessly with him --

    And they were no more.

    Their connection snapped.

    Palpatine awoke in the ship, lying prone on the floor, to a terrible vibration that resonated throughout the Force, and while nothing had moved or changed around him, the power surged within him with a great voiceless voice, and he felt the two words: "I AM."

    And they faded away and all was still.

    ***

    Anakin sat, frozen with shock. Sereine had her hand over her mouth, and her eyes brimmed with tears.

    Palpatine's face looked like chiseled marble, and his eyes glittered like ice.

    "I felt everything they did to him. Everything!" That low growl, like a dangerous animal. "This was a Sith who loved. The man practically was a Jedi! So don't be too sure of your Jedi compatriots, young Skywalker. For there is unspeakable darkness in us all."

    They sat, Sereine and Anakin stunned into silence. After a moment Palpatine got up and turned to study the speeder traffic outside, his back to them.

    "When Sith die," he said finally, his throaty voice strained, "they retain their identity. The soul stays with the body. It is the first responsibility of an apprentice to make a pilgrimage to the Sith world of Korriban and prepare a resting place for his or her master. When the master dies, it is the final responsibility of the apprentice to carry the remains to that resting place, where that soul will dwell with our forebears in perpetuity. And every master, from that day forward, can come to this place and consult all previous masters, in time of need.

    "Lord Plagueis was only thinking to protect me. He was so afraid that if any of them continued to exist, in any form, a way could be found for the Jedi to reveal my existence. And Lord Plagueis would not have that.

    "He loved me," Palpatine said, and Anakin thought he heard just the tiniest catch in his voice. "He loved me. And he had discovered, of course, the power to create, and to uncreate, directly from and into the vast Uncreated Mass of the Force. And he did so -- he Uncreated himself, and the two Jedi -- and all that he was, all that they were, is forever lost to us. I could never take him back to Korriban. All that he knew, and failed to tell me, and failed to write down, is gone."

    "But --" Anakin blinked. "But the crystal --"

    "I was never able to retrieve it. By the time our link had broken, I had thirsted and fasted for some three days." Palpatine turned to face them. "I never realized that lightsaber burns swelled. When I awoke, this arm was twice the size of this arm --" he held out his arms, nodding first to his left, then to his right -- "and the wound on my chest had festered dreadfully. I was weak and sick. It was all I could do to leave the planet. I always intended to return...but other things took precedence."

    Sereine removed her hand from her mouth. "And that's the scar on your arm? On your chest? I don't understand."

    "I don't understand," said Palpatine. "The crystal -- somehow transmitted the energy. It was as if we were fused, in that instant -- and I became him."

    Sereine stared at him, welling up again. "And your dreams," she said. She moved suddenly as if to get up, as if to go to him, and he shot her back into her chair with a withering look.

    "Don't do that!" he snarled. "I don't need your pity!" He spat the little word like a serpent.

    She sat, wiping her eyes.

    She looked up at him again. "What was the truth?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "The great truth. The one you said Phineas had discovered, the truth you said made him weep, changed his entire thinking about the Sith. Made him want to merge the two orders. What was it?"

    Palpatine laughed and slid behind his desk again. "Only a bit of utter nonsense, silly pacifist nonsense people have held hands and quoted for years."

    "What was it?" said Anakin.

    Palpatine sighed. "Phineas believed that we are all one. Literally. That everything is all one solid, continuous outpouching of the one Force. One body, one desire, one voice. Whatever." He shrugged, shook his head, and patted the polished surface of his desk. "Am I this desk? Of course not! Am I you, or you me? Of course not! But Phineas believed it. He said he had proved it."

    "But," said Anakin, "do I believe you?"

    That slow flush crept into Palpatine's cheeks. "Don't you?" he said, his voice hard. He took up his wide sleeve, unbuttoned the cuff of a thin black linen shirt beneath it, and raised it to show them a pitted, scarred upper arm. "Do you believe this?"

    He dropped his sleeve and leaned across the desk. "Go into your Jedi archives. See if two Jedi masters, a human and a Sullustan, were not dispatched to Mimban forty-six years ago this very month in search of the Kaiburr crystal. You will discover that they vanished, and were never heard from again.

    "Ask your own master -- ask Obi-Wan Kenobi if his own master, in his thirty-third year, had not established a correspondence with someone, a mysterious old man who knew much of the Force and wanted to show him a Force proof. Ask your older masters at the temple!

    "Ask them!"

    ***

    "A Force proof?" said Sereine the next day, wrinkling her nose. They sat with former Chancellor Valorum in Padme's living room while the Senator was in chambers. Sereine, unbeknownst to either Anakin or Palpatine, had carried a small recording device with her, and now played the entire interview back for her husband.

    Anakin explained. "If you ever studied geometry or the sciences in grammar school, it's the same principle," he said. "In the early centuries of the Jedi Order, there were Jedi scholars, scientists who studied the Force and proved certain things about how it works. Jedi Master Bodo Bass, for example, performed an experiment that proved that the Force is generated by living things. It was always said to be true before, but Bodo Bass proved it." Anakin paused. "Only there haven't been any new Force proofs in several hundred years, because ... well, because people ran out of things they knew how to prove about it, I guess. There's theory, but no new facts."

    "All the same," said Valorum heavily, "I don't want to see you come back with something like this, Sereine, and be so moved and so distressed by it."

    "But it's true!" Anakin burst out. "Obi-Wan asked around about this. Several Jedi do remember Master Qui-Gon publishing a series of essays about the Living Force, and being contacted by someone named Phineas! And there was a mission to Mimban! Jedi Masters Siren Sorb and Kalen Tassa did disappear! And Tassa's padawan, Reinka, was found dead in the destroyed ship -- just like Palpatine said!"

    "Circumstantial!" snapped Valorum. "And even if it is true, it means what, Jedi Skywalker? What?" he thundered in the voice that used to echo throughout the great Rotunda without benefit of a microphone.

    "You're a Jedi. This is a Sith lord. This Republic is in the hands of a Sith lord!"

    "Who was wounded!" shouted Sereine. "Who felt! Who hurt! Who loved -- whether he wants to admit it or not!"

    "And who's used his power to murder millions of people!" Finis shouted back, high color in his cheeks. "When you yourself have been given cause to know that he should have known better!"

    Anakin's throat felt tight. Sereine lowered her eyes to her lap, and studied her hands silently.



    Trivia: As Plagueis, I think of the actor James Cromwell.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2024
    DarthIshtar likes this.
  19. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    CHAPTER EIGHT: INSIDE THE CRIMINAL MIND
    *This chapter shares its name with the book by Stanton Samenow, which is the same one referenced by Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos. Samenow did groundbreaking work with criminals and my version of Palpatine obeys his work. Amne Selrieen Palpatine appears courtesy of DarthIshtar.

    "It's my show tonight," she said.

    Anakin was growing impatient. A few nights' rest had rejuvenated all of them, though Sereine wrung her hands ceaselessly over what Palpatine might be doing in his spare time. In her new position, she could monitor what he did in the Rotunda and the Senate Office Building, but who knew what he did when he went home? The past few nights, she reported, Palpatine had left early--something he never did in the thirteen years of Sly Moore, giving Sereine an insouciant grin as he swept out the door.

    Of course, he did have his little wife. Senator Palpatine had married an Alderaanian, one Amne Selrieen, about the same time he was first elected Chancellor. Sereine did not know her, had never met her. She made campaign stops and stumps every election cycle, had once been kidnapped, and had lost two pregnancies that Sereine knew of. She seemed to stay out of the Chancellor's office, mostly, and for that, Sereine was grateful. She still felt the sting of Palpatine marrying so soon after breaking their own engagement, and looking her replacement in the eyes was not something she found high on her wish list.

    Lady Palpatine was thirty years Palpatine's junior and fifteen years Sereine's. Sereine had seen some of her speeches and had never seen such a soft-voiced, highfaluting, formal speaking style in all her life. Were she still in charge of Chancellery campaigns, the first thing she would do was break her of that foul habit. It screamed insecurity, and for that reason, Sereine had never thought of Palpatine's little wife as a person of much spirit. She passionately wondered at times how Palpatine had enjoyed their relationship so long and then chosen the likes of Amne Selrieen.

    She would never lower herself to ask, however.

    Anakin felt much better; his sleep had been restful and strangely untroubled by dreams. "Sereine," he said. "We're running out of time. Padme is running out of time. We need to think of a plan."

    "What if Finis is right?" she said. "What if we need more information? What if we're not asking the right questions...because we don't want to hear the answers?"

    ***

    Sereine insisted they take public transport. "And I don't think we should discuss strategy in the building any more, especially the elevator."

    Anakin considered. "You're probably right," he said.

    "Anakin, I'm going to give you a job to do for me tonight--and from now on, actually."

    "What's that?"

    "When I speak to Palpatine during these lovely evenings together, I want you to monitor how I sound. It's okay if I'm sad and I cry, but if I start to get angry or loud or sarcastic, or belittling, or anything other than placidly calm, the rule is that I have to leave, and try it again later. We need a signal," she said.

    "Crying isn't placidly calm," Anakin pointed out.

    "But it isn't mean, either. What I'm trying to say is that when I cross that threshold, I have to be respectful to Palpatine at all times. Especially when we're discussing The Situation. Will you help me out? It's important."

    "I don't get it," said Anakin.

    "I need to get some truth out of him, and I can't if he knows I'm going to bludgeon him for it."

    "Okay," said Anakin.

    "Now, a signal."

    "I'll just touch you. I'll put my hand on your arm, like this." Anakin put a restraining hand on her forearm.

    "And if that doesn't work, say my name. I'll know what you mean."

    "All right."

    They filed into Palpatine's private office after his last appointment in a scene that was becoming depressingly familiar. Palpatine checked his chrono and switched on a sort of annoyed patience, clasping his hands on his polished desktop with a brittle smile.

    "The twentieth hour this time? Not midnight?" he said, sarcastically-pleasant.

    "We thought we'd catch you before you left," said Sereine, clearly referring to whatever the Chancellor might be doing with his evenings.

    Anakin caught the sarcasm. "Sereine," he said.

    She cast him a sidelong glance and laughed, and Palpatine flashed them a curious look.

    Sereine reached into a pocket for a plastic printout flimsy. Anakin, having no idea what she had planned for tonight, craned his head to look, and saw a printout of the day's headlines. At the top was a picture of Gabo Gorn, a convicted killer of at least twenty women and girls, who had spent the past twelve years on Death Row. His case had wound ponderously through the higher court system throughout the war.

    She straighted out the folds in the flimsy and looked down at it, then up at the Chancellor.

    "I see that you've refused a pardon to Gabo Gorn. Why?"

    Understanding dawned instantly in Palpatine's blue eyes, and one corner of his mouth pulled back. He settled back in his chair as though preparing for a long stay.

    "Because he is too dangerous to live, of course." A hint of sarcasm.

    "To whom?"

    Palpatine just stopped an irritated sigh, but couldn't quite hold back the one-shoulder shrug. "To people, of course. To society."

    Sereine's voice went very quiet and almost monotone. "Does it matter? Why not let him live? In fact, why even lock up criminals at all?"

    Palpatine had little patience with this line of questioning, and it showed in the overplayed concern in his voice. "Why, to protect people. So they won't be hurt, of course."

    "Why shouldn't you be locked up or killed? You're a criminal."

    A feral smile. "No, I'm not. You once told me I was magnificient. More than once, as I recall. Much more than once." Anakin tried not to imagine the circumstances that might have occasioned those remarks.

    Sereine leaned slightly forward. Anakin thought she looked exactly like Coruscant's leading female holojournalist conducting an important interview. "Tell me the difference between you and Gabo Gorn."

    Palpatine bridled, clearly playing only because he had to. "Gabo Gorn is an animal."

    Sereine had found the right tone in her holojournalist persona, and she was staying there. "Tell me more. What makes a person an animal? How do you define that?"

    Anger flared behind the hooded eyes; but whether anger at the implied accusation, or anger at being forced to play through this whole charade, Anakin couldn't tell.

    "An animal doesn't care about anything beyond his own ... sensate gratification."

    "Isn't that what you've done?"

    "Sereine. Let's stop this. To cut right to the heart of your question, a monster has no morals. That's what you want, isn't it? And I'm a monster, because I have no morals, or I could never have done what I have done, and now that I've listened to you, I must surely admit my error and allow you to march me off to my shameful fate in the Jedi Temple. Sereine, I'm surprised at you. You're shrewder than this. Can you do no better than this?"

    Anakin cast a quick glance to his left while Palpatine's exasperated eyes locked with Sereine's. She simply stared back calmly and waited, not moving a muscle. Anakin quickly returned his own eyes to Palpatine, and when the Chancellor looked his way, he was ready with his own steady gaze.

    A silence filled the room.

    "I have morals," Palpatine spat finally. "I know right from wrong. I have self-control. I feel guilt and remorse, the same as you. I love, and hate, the same as you. I seek to do good in the universe."

    The journalist spoke again. "In what way have you done good in the universe?"

    A grim upturn of one corner of Palpatine's mouth. "Well. I'm not finished yet. A great measure of what I am doing is to secure the freedom of those Republic citizens unlucky enough to have been born strong in the Force."

    Anakin had to break in. "What?"

    "Our great Galactic Republic ensures freedom well enough, for that fortunate majority born like our friend here," he gave Sereine a curt nod. The small minority like us spend our lives, in one way or another, as slaves to the Jedi Order."

    Anakin blinked. "I don't understand."

    "Of course you don't. You've been trained never to think about this.

    "The Jedi never ask what you want. They simply tell you what you're supposed to want. They never give you a choice at all. That's why they take their students--their victims--at an age so young that choice is meaningless. By the time a padawan is old enough to choose, he has been so indoctrinated--so brainwashed--that he is incapable of even considering the question.

    "But you're different, Anakin. You had a real life, outside the Jedi Temple. You can break through the fog of lies the Jedi have forced into you. What would you have been, if the Jedi hadn't forced you to try to become what they wanted? What would you have wanted to do? If you could have developed the skills there only, without the coercion, how would you have lived your life?

    "When my work is finished, all those born strong in the Force will have the freedom to consider that question...to live that question, for themselves. We are more powerful. Why should we have less freedom than the so-called--" he gave Sereine a quick sneer-- "normal people? Is this correct? Is it right? No!"

    Sereine spoke again, visibly trying to maintain her journalistic composure. "Haven't you caused harm in so doing? Finis told me something interesting. He told me that when Queen Amidala called for his head that day during the Naboo invasion, she did so on your advice. We three know that you said she did that without consulting you. You planned the Naboo invasion, didn't you? You ran it ... didn't you?"

    Palpatine waited a beat, then nodded once. "I did. But no harm was ever intended in that instance. That was all Finis's fault. If he hadn't sent Jedi without informing me, it wouldn't have happened. I grieved for those who died. I respect all that the Force has placed here. I didn't want that.

    "Haven't I tried to rebuild during this war in every way practical? Look at my armies. Droids, clones--really, I've designed this to cause as little damage as possible!"

    "Except to the Jedi," said Sereine.

    "You'll forgive me if I believe the Jedi have a lot to answer for."

    "What about the rest of the citizens? Outside your window, I'm looking at the Zoft Building. It's half gone, and twenty-five thousand people died in it, during an unnecessary kidnapping of you, that you planned!"

    Anger crept into her tone. Anakin looked over and caught her eyes.

    "Well, that wasn't supposed to happen, either!" Palpatine exploded. "I'm very sorry about it. You know that I've attended the candlelight vigils and laid wreaths like everyone else. If I were doing it for my approval rating, as you well know, I needn't have bothered. If I had foreseen it, perhaps I could have planned around it, but I didn't. I do have the gift, but it isn't infalliable!"

    Anakin couldn't hold back a snort. "You have to know, if you're planning a battle like that one over a heavily populated planet, you're going to kill a lot of civilians!"

    "Necessary losses. It doesn't mean I don't regret them. They are, after all, loyal citizens of my--" He stopped himself for a moment, and Anakin could not fathom why. "Of my Republic, and what is the Republic without its citizens?"

    Sereine leaned forward. "Tell me why it was necessary."

    "To protect myself. I don't think either of you know how close the Jedi came to discovering my identity. They forced me to defend myself. What was I to do?"

    Anakin burst out, "But you're making them defend themselves! You started everything! You started the aggression first, when you starved nine thousand of the very people who elected you on Naboo! And you kept right on doing it!" He tried to calm himself. "Look at it this way. If the Jedi didn't defend themselves, and the populace, the Sith would call that foolish, wouldn't they? You would call them idiots!"

    Palpatine shifted and straightened his robes, settling into a patient look. "Anakin," he said. "These are mysteries which can't be fully explained in one evening. These are teachings for my apprentice, which you--" he looked at Sereine-- "can never be, and you, young friend--" he narrowed his eyes at Anakin-- "are not."

    Anakin was about to say more, but the look in Sereine's eyes stopped him. She wanted her question answered. Anakin stopped, and sat back in his chair. And they waited.

    Eventually Palpatine filled the silence. "I realize that society would call me a criminal," he said. Anakin could hear the "but" coming.

    "In most cases, a criminal act is an evil act," Sereine said, as calmly as if she were reading from a dictionary. "I think evil can be defined as harming an innocent." She gestured at the buildings outside the window with a wave of her arm. "Those people didn't hurt you. They don't even know you--or wouldn't, if not for the career you undertook to use them in your war against the Jedi."

    "And some of those people will have Force-sensitive children," Palpatine shot back. "Should they be conscripted into the Jedi Order, like this young man? What would he have been, had he been allowed to choose?"

    Sereine waited.

    "Who is the criminal, Sereine? You forget, I was born to this. Not every Sith was born Sith, but I was. Should I have waited for the Jedi to find me and kill me? Who would have been the idiot then? Should they persecute me for what Lord Bane did? Who is the criminal then?"

    An idea formed in Anakin's mind, one he didn't at all like. "But ..." he said slowly. "But ... you admire Lord Bane. You said it just the other night. That the real Sith, the worthy Sith, believe they're destined to rule. To conquer. By any means necessary. Most of the fallen masters believe that, you said. Admire that. And you decided they were right. You chose to follow them ... not Lord Plagueis."

    "Lord Plagueis's mind was far from resolved on the matter. He didn't believe in the rule of conquer by force, no ... but he didn't believe in the conscription of souls by the Jedi, either. And he certainly didn't believe we should be exterminated simply because we were Sith. And that actually happened to him ... even though he tried to stop the fighting. Even though he was as gentle and reasonable as he could be--and the Jedi could feel that he loved. They knew that!"

    "You're evading the question," said Sereine. "Palpatine, why aren't we supposed to redress issues with one another this way? Why does society have rules about this?"

    She locked simmering stares with him and waited.

    "Because beings aren't evolved enough to do the right thing on their own," said Palpatine. "Because if we didn't have the rules and the punishments for breaking them, no one would ever do the 'right' thing. Beings would only ever do what is 'right' for themselves, and forever be at one another's throats. The mere fact that what benefits one being is at the expense of another and restraint is therefore required proves that we aren't all One," said Palpatine.

    "But it proves something more--that beings have to be taught, forced, to respect one another. If that is how you define evil, then we are all essentially evil. All of us, every one. Especially the Jedi, who choose to remain blind to the evil that they do." The Chancellor paused and looked from Sereine to Anakin and back again.

    "Do the Sith really believe that?" said Anakin. "I don't mean about the Jedi. I mean about everyone. The Sith really believe that everyone is evil?"

    "We hold that truth to be self-evident," said Palpatine. "How can you live here in the Capitol and not see evidence of this every day? Greed and corruption have always reigned, Anakin, and ever shall. But it's more than that, young one. Darkness is the very fabric of the universe. If I turn out this lamp, is it not dark?"

    "But that's so cynical!" Anakin protested. "There's so much light and good in people. Especially the Jedi! Obi-Wan--Master Yoda--" he stopped.

    "We've spent many evenings here in the past discussing Obi-Wan," said Palpatine, his eyes and his voice conveying the content of some of those talks. "And Master Yoda."

    Anakin subsided into silence. Palpatine had him there and there was no use protesting.

    Palpatine spoke only to Anakin now. "Anakin," he said, his expression compelling, his tone beckoning. "To study the dark side is not wrong."

    Sereine snapped, "It's the using it to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people that we have the problem with."

    "If you insist," said Palpatine, barely looking at her. "Anakin, I have used the Force to do the things I've done. In truth, there is no 'dark' or 'light' aspect. Only the Force. What we are describing with that terminology is not the Force, but the perspective from which we approach it. You will recall this from your earliest teachings. Your earliest Jedi teachings."

    Anakin nodded.

    "And that is how we are able to find all manner of wondrous things, within the Force as well as within ourselves. Your own master killed my first apprentice as a mere padawan. Don't you think he may have touched the 'dark side' to achieve that?"

    What wondrous things must I find to save Padmé? Anakin wondered.

    Sereine fumed at his left. He tried to ignore her.

    "Anakin." Palpatine leaned forward. "We are supposed to reach our full potential in the Force, we have to. Because to fail to become all of which we are capable is a denial of the Force. And that, my friends, is another teaching which is common to both your Order--" Palpatine directed this to Anakin with a nod--" and mine. I don't ..."

    The Sith master paused for words. "While I don't want to use such a word as 'superior,' there are those of us who have infinitely greater ability in the Force than others. You are one, Anakin--I have known it since the day I first met you. And--" a graceful bow of his head. "And I am one. There are wrongs to be addressed. One tries to be as gentle as one can with--with those who have not the ability that we have."

    Palpatine's blue eyes softened, shifted to his right, and stopped on Lady Valorum, glowing like twin candles. Anakin didn't turn his head to follow his look. But as he studied the Sith master's face, something unsettling, intimate, and intensely private jumped across the desk to Sereine in Palpatine's look.

    Palpatine added to his last speech in a soft, throaty purr. "Unless, of course, those 'others' ... wish it otherwise."

    Sereine slit her eyes at him. "I remind the master Sith that I blew over two decades of his work completely into his face on less than twelve hours' notice. How 'inferior' can I be?"

    Palpatine rose to his feet, that slow flush creeping into his face.

    "Sereine," said Anakin, and stood up.

    "Perhaps, " said Palpatine severely, "you don't realize your own darkness. Admit it, Sereine. You never really loved me. You, my dear, are more power-hungry than I am, but you don't dare to see that in yourself. Look at you--would anything less than two Supreme Chancellors have done it for you?"

    Sereine stood up, her face a cipher. "For someone who was only using me to groom himself for the Chancellery, you stuck around a lot longer than you needed to. Some five years longer, in my estimation."

    Now Palpatine's eyes narrowed. "I never told you the truth, 'Darling.' I only ever proposed to you to get you away from Finis. Poor ineffectual Valorum ... he wasn't the only one on that podium with horns, was he?"

    Anakin didn't quite understand how the battle lines had so quickly been drawn.

    "He had so much going on at home, and he was so very unhappy, that I was sure he'd simply step down on schedule to go home and deal with it all. Until he put his own morals aside enough to cheat, himself, with you.

    "And I know how you are, my dear. When you have a client whose policies meet with your approval, you can be very controlling. I knew you'd be right there at his elbow, encouraging him to keep his seat, and I needed to get you out of there. I thought he'd graciously take his leave, without you.

    "Little did I suspect he'd be so miserable without you that he'd elect to pursue a third term simply to distract himself! That was one gambit that did backfire on me, I admit. So perhaps the Naboo invasion was my fault, after all."

    The color drained from Lady Valorum's face. Her chest rose and fell as if she'd just come in from a brisk walk. Her eyes met Palpatine's, showing no emotion.

    "I would never have wanted to marry you, Sereine," the Sith continued, in a more conciliatory tone, as if to excuse his earlier outburst. "You always knew that."

    "Of course I did. It's why I never would have said yes."

    "But you did," he said softly. "That very last night ... you did."

    Sereine looked away and said nothing.

    At last she met his gaze again. "Tell me something, Palpatine," she said. "Tell me one more thing. All of this ... it's just an excuse, isn't it?

    "If there were no animosity between the Jedi and the Sith. No Sith war, if Phineas had never been tortured ... you would still do this, wouldn't you?"

    Cold blue eyes locked on hers. Palpatine said nothing.

    "Thank you," she said. "That's all I wanted to know."

    And she turned to leave and waited for Anakin to follow.

    Anakin waited until they had left the building before he rounded on her.

    "How could he say that to you? How could he say that to you, about Naboo, and almost laugh about it like that? I can't believe we've done this! I can't believe it! And we're stuck with him, just like Chancellor Valorum said we'd be! If it weren't for Padmé, I'd go straight to the Jedi Council right now!"

    Sereine spun in front of him and gripped his shoulders and pulled him to a stop. "Anakin, listen to me. He doesn't understand. He doesn't understand it at all!"

    "Understand what!"

    "Any of it. Oh, he understands that he's caused untold destruction. He understands that countless lives have been lost, that he's caused incredible suffering to thousands, millions of people. But there's a big piece of that that's missing, for him. He doesn't understand."

    "I don't understand!" said Anakin. "I don't understand what you're talking about."

    "It's okay," Sereine soothed. She ran her hands up and down his arms once and patted his shoulders the way his mother used to do. "I'll explain it. I'll explain it ... when I can do a good job of it. I want to think about it some more myself."

    She turned to lead the way back to the public transport platform. "Where shall we go? I'm not discussing this in the middle of Republic Plaza at the twenty-first hour."

    "I don't think you want to play that recording for Chancellor Valorum. He'll go to the Council even if it does mean war."

    Sereine smiled, taking his meaning. "He'd want to, at any rate. My place, then. We're going to have to play that for Finis--he'll want to know why I'm hiding it--but I need to think it out some more first."

    On the transport she spoke again. "Now that I look back, I can see it all coming. He knew he was going to invade Naboo. He knew it some five years before he did it."

    "I had spent a long time there after I hurt my back. I was too incapacitated to work, and we weren't together any more, anyway. He was angry at me over the Kinman Doriana thing, and I was angry that he had used me that way and hadn't apologized for it.

    "I went back to Naboo to try to recuperate, and when I came back to go to the Jedi healers, Finis and I ... well, it's as Palpatine said. Finis's first wife was still alive, and there were problems, and Finis and I had an affair. Finis was thinking over another term ... and that's when Palpatine came back to me and asked me to marry him."

    "So did you, or didn't you, say yes?" said Anakin.

    "Not for a while. He gave me an engagement ring. I didn't realize that the green stones in it were priceless railites, and the ring was worth some eight million credits, until I found myself seated next to a jeweler at a political fundraiser one night.

    "I told Palpatine no, and he tried to get me to keep the ring. He'd keep asking me if I planned to go back to live on Naboo any time soon. And when I tried to give the ring back, he'd say such odd things. About how one never knew what might happen in the future, and to have something of great value could be very important to me one day. That I would need it. He can pretend he didn't say those things now, but I remember them. And he remembers them."

    As they entered her empty apartment Sereine became pensive and quiet. She prepared them their customary kaffe without saying a word.

    At last she sat down opposite Anakin, warming her hands on her cup.

    "I've changed my mind about one thing," she said.

    "What's that?"

    "I've changed my mind about sacrificing him. If we have to ... if we have to. If there's no other way ... I am willing to see him die now."

    Anakin's stomach clenched. "Because of what he said to you?"

    "No. Because he doesn't understand what he said to me. Because of this one thing, he really is potentially incorrigibly dangerous. Much more dangerous than I ever realized before in my life."

    She stared moodily ahead of her. Anakin was silent for a moment, then he said, "You know I can never let you do that. Not for eleven more weeks, anyway."

    "Don't worry." She raised her eyes to Anakin's, and that twinkling smile from the afternoon after Palpatine's address lit her face. "Doesn't mean we're going to give up without giving it everything we've got," she said.

    She raised her mug in a complicitous toast.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2024
  20. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Man, I love that scene about the plans for Naboo. The explanation of his nightmares is stellar, but you know how I feel about this very long and complicated game that he played. Well done.
     
  21. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    I do have to fix this bit about Valorum now that we know what the term limits actually were, but I'm not sure what to do with it yet.

    Thank you!!!
     
  22. Vialco

    Vialco Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Mar 6, 2007
    I remember the original iteration of this story, many a moon ago. It was a very honest, thoughtful take on Palpatine. I quite enjoyed reading it at the time. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was the original name. Glad to see it's been resurrected.
     
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  23. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Yay! Another person who came back from the good old days.
     
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  24. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    Oh, my gosh, thank you! Actually, I always meant the title to be Midnight in the Garden, but the artist who designed the cover was thinking of the movie and book and made that the cover.

    Midnight is getting two prequel stories, one of which is on here and called Masters of the Game. The second I've just started. Right now it's only on Wattpad and is called What Lies Beneath.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2024
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  25. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I literally came to the story first for the title, then the premise.
     
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