Disclaimer: I am a miserable being merely borrowing the character's of the great beard in the sky known to its followers as Lucas.
Author's Note: I am currently emptying my memory stick of everything that has no business being kept to myself. Check your old files, people, you never know what you may have forgotten you'd written. Seriously! This thing was written sometime last year and wasn't published due to my dissatisfaction with the ending. But, hey, if I'm not going to bother to change the thing... ^_^
"Ah, now I see! You rascal, so you like 'em young, do you?"
De Esseintes shrugged his shoulders.
"No, you're wide of the mark there," he said; "very wide of the mark. The truth is I'm simply trying to make a murderer of the boy…"
"He could really save people from death?"
"The Dark Side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural."
-Revenge of the Sith
Miss Temple fought away a tentative impulse of pity for the Contessa, for the ghastly pale face spoke to an unthinkable price paid for survival. Yet the disfigurement of so cruel a seductress could be no cause for sorrow – such ironies of justice were more aptly met with outright glee.
-The Dark Volume
Naboo: A planet known for producing idealists of every sort – artists, politicians, architects, philosophers, warriors… and he was all of these things… only his ideals were not those of others. A Sith Master, what did people envision when they thought of the planet such a creature came from: the wastes of Korriban, all desert and decay with absence of life? Indeed, some Sith had chosen to terraform their planets to reflect their own darkness, creating monsters to prey on those unfortunate enough to venture there…
Sidious regarded such alchemy as a waste of time. Lord Plagueis had taught him the techniques, of course, but Sidious' particular gifts did not extend to dark biology. Why pepper worlds with laboriously crafted creatures when there when the galaxy was already filled with monsters – one just had to take one's pick. A few words, a subtle suggestion, Sidious found, could achieve far more than years spent crafting, say, a dark dragon. Or a battle station, for that matter. But people did tend to fixate on such things. Still, as long as he didn't have to waste his time creating them…
Besides, who wanted an arcane temple when they could have a planet like Naboo to lull suspicion with beauty? They loved him here – the first of their number to achieve high galactic office – the first being from the Rim to be elected Supreme Chancellor – and now he had risen even further to become their emperor; a veritably meteoric ascent, indeed, when one considered that he began as a lowly advisor to the detestable King Veruna.
The Sith Master glanced sideways, catching his reflection in the transparisteel. He still didn't see his face in that wrinkled death mask. He would curve his lips in the same gentle smile that had so often graced the face of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and belatedly realise that his new features twisted that same smile into a cruel leer. His true nature had chiselled itself so deeply into his features that kindness was no longer an emotion he could feign. I know myself only as I appear to myself, Palpatine suddenly thought of the words of the famous Mrlssi philosopher. To him it seemed merely one more rôle he was to play, and that his old features would return when he had cause to seem something other than a deformed Sith Master.
Naboo hung in the blackness before him, greens and blues, covered by a membrane of misty clouds. My home… He felt nothing for it now, only memories, drawn to the thought like fluttering insects to a flame, flitting up through the dark recesses of his thoughts.
"Your Majesty?" …Sir, my Lord, Your Excellency, and now Your Majesty… his life, it seemed, was a parade of honorifics. He felt a weak, quivering presence, one among many – the cruiser was full of such beings. Secure in the knowledge that his affable façade was no longer a political necessity, Palpatine found he had less and less patience with underlings, dealing with them was becoming less amusing and more like the annoyance of an insect landing on one's hand. He looked at the newcomer's reflection before him in the glass. A wary soul in a powder grey uniform was waiting, on edge. This officer, nervous and wide-eyed, was but a tiny, insignificant speck in his design... Palpatine had the disconcerting thought that he saw people less and less. He shook his head. It didn't do to always think on a galactic scale.
"Yes, officer?" his voice was soft, gentle. He did not turn round, but he sensed the officer's eyes flicking to his Emperor's reflection in the transparasteel.
"Lord Vader requests an audience before landing, Majesty."
Ah, yes. His apprentice… "Tell him to join me here if he wishes to speak to me."
"Yes, Majesty…" The atom bowed his way out of the room. The emperor sensed one his Red Guards silently sneering at the creature. As if he would do any better; guards, however, were not expected to grovel. A smile drifted across Palpatine's face, invisible in the darkness.
He exhaled slowly, closing his eyes to the panorama of space. Once more his thoughts turned to the apprentice drawing nearer to him, the raw presence of Lord Vader. His echoes in the Force hummed with despair, pain, and… love.
The Emperor had lived a long life of manifold experience and in his younger days, yes, Palpatine had known love, in his way. But this was desire amplified many times over in the furnace that was the power of Lord Vader. Its very depth made the emperor's head throb at the temples.
And his creation, completely and utterly his creation; few Masters could claim as much. But he had done it – the legacy of Plagueis had formed the boy, Palpatine had nursed the darkness within the boy until it encased him as completely as the black armour he now wore. Perhaps I cannot afford to scoff at those who spend years crafting dragons? He chuckled.
His apprentice entered: chaos, both longing for and shrinking from the planet before them – her planet. Not physically, of course, now the twisting of lip and dangerous eyes were hidden behind an impassive exterior. Palpatine ordered the guards to leave and settled to become once more the understanding guide. "Lord Vader?" This time Palpatine did turn, extending a claw-like hand in an inviting gesture, drawing Vader toward the window. The bitter rolls of anguish radiating from the young man were, he supposed, to be expected, but though they ought to be growing tedious, somehow they captivated Sidious as everything about his creation did. He really did feel unexpectedly affectionate toward the young man. He knew what Vader needed him to say. "You asked me to help you, dear friend…"
"But – I… killed her…" The vocabulator did not convey the flayed emotions, but Palpatine could almost hear it in an echo of Anakin Skywalker's voice. The apprentice crumpled, his heavy bulk crashing against the polished metal floor; Vader seemed constantly on the brink of nervous collapse around his Master – but then, he had no one else.
"Her death was an accident of Kenobi's treachery," the emperor soothed, putting a hand on Vader's armoured shoulder, "you are not to blame." Guilt was for the Jedi – guilt was for the weak. The shuttle began its atmospheric descent, moving slowly. "Now come, my young apprentice, is this not what you desire?"
"Padmé…" It might have been a sob, Palpatine couldn't really tell. "More than anything…"
Softly, softly… "I know," the emperor said, his voice almost a sigh, "and this will soon end, dear boy." His withered hand moved to rest on Vader's mask. Palpatine embraced his apprentice with the Force, leading him through the vast waters of his own power, eddying with comfort, moving Vader up through the currents which moved the galaxy with such surety of purpose, simultaneously grounding and elevating the boy, and all of it so very tender. Descending through clouds, the shuttle graced the Royal Spaceport of Naboo. "Now rise; we are almost there."
Lord Vader stood, towering a full head and shoulders above the emperor. "Master, I–" he began, but changed his mind.
Palpatine was halfway across the room, his mind already turning over various galactic agenda; he halted and returned his gaze to his apprentice, face unreadable under his dark cowl. "Yes, Lord Vader?"
"She will not know me."
Black horror and shining metal, blood, so much blood… This will not end well, Palpatine felt it in his bones, even if he were stripped of his Sight, he would still see it. But he had become so used to tenderly shepherding his creation toward tragedy that he hardly felt a twinge of feeling for the young man. She will destroy him more surely than Obi-Wan ever did. And he will come to me, as he always has, my perfect, broken child. "She will, Lord Vader, she will."
Darth Sidious did not turn back again but opened the door with the Force (he took pleasure in this casual use, forbidden for so long), and walked out, his red-robed escort forming up around him, his chief aides – Sly Moore and Sate Pestage – slipping through the crimson barrier to inform him of the crowd gathered and to refer him to his speech and the scheduled meetings and appearances they had laid out. To Palpatine, who had been a politician for almost fifty years, it was all as natural as drawing breath.
They emerged into brilliant sunlight and deafening cheers. The emperor, conscious of his diminished appearance, hidden by his obscuring robes, glided like a lone shadow struck by the afternoon sun, as the crowd watched, remarking on the treachery of the Jedi, staring curiously at the off-white hands and peering closer at the deep hood to perhaps glimpse his face. Finally, Palpatine reached the Queen, with her face whitened and dressed in heavy, black regalia to show her grief for Amidala, she and the Emperor eerily resembled one another.
"Greetings, Imperial Majesty," she gave a deep curtsy: "all Naboo welcomes her most cherished son and congratulates you on your ascension." Her eyes widened at seeing the havoc that had been wrought on his face up close, but she hid it almost as soon as it crossed her face. In a society which idolised youth, Palpatine was a frightful aberration; the queen looked to be all of fifteen.
"My thanks, Queen Apailana," Palpatine smiled and bowed politely in deference to his heritage. He caught the eye of Sio Bibble, an acquaintance of old, treating him to a oblique smile, causing the man to flinch, before turning to the cheering crowd as Pestage angled a projectaphone in front of his emperor. The rehearsed words flowed easily off his tongue, a dignified Coruscanti lilt permeating his elegant High Nabooan. He found his thoughts drifting across the attentive faces into the past. A young Sith apprentice, filled with the fire of ambition, cloaked in political idealism. The emperor thought of Anakin and his obsessive love for Padmé; yes, he too had experienced obsession, only he loved no physical goddess, but sweet, beautiful Power – all those who gain power fear to loose it – oh, indeed, he had told dear Anakin the truth.
He ended the speech, and but even wild applause failed to bring him back to the present. So many audiences, so many speeches, they all blurred in his mind as he acknowledged the tribute they paid him, and the Imperial Guard escorted his entourage to the palace. Out of deference to his station, Apailana had given him the King's suite: a luxurious set of apartments normally unused, reserved for the spouse of the monarch. Comfortably ensconced in a throne-like Rim Renaissance chair, Palpatine sat in communication with Mas Amedda, formulating future procedure in the new Imperial Senate. It was enjoyable work, streamlining many of the rigmarole that had vexed him as a Senator and Supreme Chancellor. Through the blue simulacrum of Amedda, Palpatine watched Lord Vader enter his chambers, moving without purpose, looking to the dying afternoon light. "We will discuss this matter further upon my return," the Sith Master told the projection.
"Of course, Majesty…"
The emperor waved a hand and the image of the Chagrian vanished. "Ah, Lord Vader, it is almost time, I suppose…?"
"It is to begin at sunset, Master."
Palpatine wasn't sure if Vader was wishing the sun would never go down or hastening its descent. "Yes, the transition between life and death… so it has always been on Naboo. She will travel through Theed, across the canal, and her body will eventually lie in state at the centre of the Hall of Remembrance until her internment at sunrise."
"Qui-Gon Jinn was given a pyre."
"A Jedi custom; the Naboo bury their dead." Palpatine moved out to the balcony and Vader followed. The lanterns were being lit on the other side of the city: a growing swarm of fireflies in the sunset light.
"How do they… think she died?" Vader did not look at his master, continuing to stare at the lanterns. The sky was darkening, pale blue shot through with pink and orange, smearing the few clouds on the horizon, reflecting on the canals and the whitened stone of Theed. Against the brilliant sky, Lord Vader seemed little more that a tall silhouette.
"It has been given out that she died as a result of a miscarriage, whist securing the surrender of the separatist leaders gathered on Mustafar." The apprentice gave no reply, but it was impossible for the emperor to miss the streams of anguish emanating from him through the Force. As the sun went down and the moon rose, a dusty red moon, indicating forest fires in the arid south, the two Sith made their way to the Hall of Remembrance, the marbled mausoleum of the kings and queens of Naboo, to join the gathering of those who would not take part in the procession. Torches lined the edges of the hall, their light shivering up the tall, fluted columns, the vaulted ceiling hidden in shadow. Queen Apailana stood waiting, still in her stiff regalia, while a white-clad handmaiden made the journey with the dead in the queen's stead, so that the reigning monarch would not be touched by death; conveniently, the Emperor was exempt from the procession under the same rule, sending Sly Moore as his proxy, whose Umbriani visage he felt to be appropriately funereal. There was never any question of Lord Vader attending, of course. Most assumed the black-armoured figure to be the latest augmentation to Palpatine's bodyguard. Besides, Sidious wanted his eyes on the boy at all times.
It was around three hours past sundown when Amidala's barque arrived, drawn by six white gualaars, to rest in the middle of the floor. Palpatine gazed down at her as Apailana's eulogy echoed against the smooth stone and caught the rising swell of emotion. Amidala looked very peaceful, dressed in the deep blues of a moonlit waterfall, her wavy brown curls, woven with white flowers, formed a halo around her face. Padmé, Padmé, he thought idly, how useful you have always been to me… The rhythm of Apailana's bell-like, young voice reminded him of the earnest queen who'd arrived on Coruscant desperate to relieve the suffering of her people, the passionate senator who had worked tirelessly for her ideals; a very intelligent, beautiful girl, but not very clever, unfortunately. Beside him, Vader's mechanised breathing seemed to mark a steady river of pain.
Palpatine gestured to the solemn queen, "I should like some time alone with my former queen and devoted senator." It was not a request. Apailana was shocked, that a Naboo would violate custom so, but she was not so foolish as to deny the ruler of the galaxy solitude in his apparent grief.
"Of course…" she muttered with only a slight tremor of shock, leading away her white cloaked handmaidens, like pale ghosts they followed the trembling black pillar of plumage out of the hall, followed by all the honoured guests who had attended Amidala on her journey, their whispers echoing, and their passage causing the torches to flutter in their wake. The suffering and anger drifted like pungent incense, filling Palpatine with a strange euphoria.
Vader had knelt beside the barque and Palpatine experienced an odd sense of impatience, detracting from the power of the moment. "You may leave us," he tossed the words at his guards, who retreated to the outer perimeter of the hall. The emperor approached Amidala from the other side so that he faced his apprentice across the girl's body. Mechanical fingers hovered over Padmé's clasped, pale hands. Need burnt inside Lord Vader more consuming than the lava that had rendered him little but a charred shell. But amidst this ruin, there was the faith in Palpatine's dark power, that life could still spring from such incineration, drawn from the mysteries of the Sith.
A wrinkled, ivory hand extended - death's hand - to rest on that clear forehead. "Master, Master – is it–?"
"Shhh…" Palpatine murmured, "I must concentrate…"
He let his awareness expand up through the spheres, to feed back down into her lungs, her heart, her blood, he let the pregnant darkness flow down into her hollows, her secret cavities, and his fingers began to pulse with power, with desire, anger, fear; the crackling gamut of human emotion he drew from the universe and fed into her, the brilliant sparks of energy reflecting in the black armour of Vader's mask and the Sith Master's eyes shone a terrible pale gold, cold like the flames of a white fire as the dark side surrounded the barque, striking the marble columns with unnatural light. The torches flamed high, wavered for a second, and then died, leaving the hall in blackness but for the filtered moonlight.
A rattling breath seized Amidala's body, drawing her chest upward as her eyes opened: terrified yellow. "W-w-wha-where?" She stank of fear and the Emperor, spent, drew on it as a drowning man does a rope, yet withdrawing his hand, reeling backward, his old flesh hitting the marble in a confused heap of black robes.
"Padmé…" the deep voice of Vader's vocabulator boomed. "Can you hear me?" Lying on the floor, Sidious was struck by this echo the very words he himself had spoken into the clinical darkness of his apprentice's own resurrection. The apprentice probably didn't remember. And it seemed so right that the first word that now came from Amidala's lips was the perfect reciprocation of Lord Vader's.
"Ani…?" she breathed, jaundiced eyes searching the darkness. Silence. The words were tangled up somewhere in Lord Vader's breathing apparatus. "I dreamt of Anakin and Shimi in the desert… and the children…"
And for the first time it occurred to Palpatine that no life had sparked in the girl's womb when he had touched her. His perception dipped to her empty abdomen. Her absent progeny – perhaps she miscarried before her death? He got to his feet, unnoticed by either his apprentice or the girl still lying on the barque, and drew nearer.
Padmé was alone but for the rhythmic noise of someone's breath, perhaps her own. But it spoke with a voice, deep and penetrating: "Padmé!" Where is Anakin? Where am I? Is this the next world – so dark, so very dark... "Can you hear me?"
She called for her husband, recalling his weary face in the desert she'd seen, a wide plain of sand, and Shimi had spoken to her, only now she couldn't recall the words, perhaps of her children? They had called to Anakin, wandering far beyond them, his dark figure distorted by the sand in the air.
A face now stood above her, and to Padme it appeared as if Inlé himself awaited her, his dead hands creeping forward to weigh her soul. Where would he send her? She shivered and sat up, staring at those corpse-white fingers. He would take her heart from her chest, split it down the middle and put it to testing, and if it was heavier in his right fist she would pass into the still river under the mountain. "Welcome back, my dear," spoke Palpatine's soft voice, "but where are your children?"
She drew back, nauseated, wide-eyed, and remembered the disfigured creature that had declared itself ruler of the galaxy. Is he dead too? "They aren't here: I can no longer reach them."
"A pity – I shall leave the two of you in peace. Come to my apartments when you are ready." The lich turned and vanished into the darkness. Dead…? And then it dawned on her – she was alive. But the waking world seemed more nightmarish than the one from which she had come, and a nameless ghoul knelt beside her, moonlight glinting of polished armour.
"Who are you?"
The next time Sidious saw Amidala she was ushered into his audience rooms by Sate Pestage, the aide's face splendidly uninterested in the strange sight of the resurrected senator. But Pestage had long been in the service of a Sith Master. Padmé's yellow eyes, identical to Palpatine's own, fixed on him with the same wilful gaze she had always owned. "It's Anakin, isn't it?" she demanded, without preamble.
The emperor, seated on his throne, perfectly at ease in the midst of his peons, did not immediately acknowledge her, but finished dictating a missive to Sly Moore. Leisurely, he moved to view her, giving her the impression that if he suffered her presence it would be on his terms or not at all. "Are you referring to Lord Vader?" he asked, waving away the hovering aides.
"I know it's Anakin in there. And you brought him back, like me, didn't you? Didn't you?"
"You're a monster…" she whispered, "and you've turned him into one too..." Tears slid down her cheeks and he smiled at them.
Palpatine stood and walked slowly over to her. "And you, milady, are you not monstrous also?"
She said nothing for a moment and then, "Kill me." They stared at each other, their lamp-like eyes drinking their opposite in.
"No, I cannot. But I will not raise you a second time. I will not need to." He moved away from her to gaze out at the cityscape. "Goodbye, Senator Amidala." He motioned to a guard, "Escort her back to Lord Vader's chambers."
"Why did you not let us die?!" she cried as she was dragged away by two red figures, "Monster, monster, monster!"
He admonished Lord Vader later, his voice like the whip and rattle of branches in a storm, "I entertained your wife earlier today. I brought her back for you, but I will not tolerate insults, apprentice, not even from Padmé Amidala."
"I understand, master. I am… trying to explain it to her…"
In an instant, Palpatine's mercurial voice went from bitterly sharp to the gentlest of tones, "Ah, of course… poor girl, she doesn't know what great work we have wrought together."
"…She, she was always talking about peace, but now… she refuses to look at me…" As he said it, it seemed that he himself could not look at his master.
"My poor child…" the Sith Master soothed, stroking Vader's armoured shoulder, "you have endured so much…"
They never did find her body, lost amongst the lower levels, destroyed by the impact. Palpatine didn't ask whether she jumped or was propelled over the edge. His apprentice had passed the test. Hate had settled over his heart and even Amidala could not rekindle what had been. Vader knelt before his master, eager once more for Palpatine's reassurance and blessing.
But the lesson remained unlearnt. For Palpatine was now vested with the keeping of his apprentice, whose soul now belonged to no other; once a slave, always a slave, my dear creation. But Vader was incomplete, his attachment to his master too strong, his needs too great. The perfect apprentice...
"I killed her."
"I know, apprentice, it was inevitable. I raised her to show you her perfidy. Otherwise she would have weighed even more terribly on your soul."
"Thank you, my master." A cruel smile played around the emperor's lips as he contemplated how many such lessons his young apprentice had yet to learn.