A Life Day Carol

Ah, Life Day, that most widely celebrated of all galactic holidays. On almost every planet in the Republic-turned-Empire, the day was regarded as a time to rejoice over the galaxy's bounteous gifts, spend time with one's friends, family, and food, and of course watch notoriously bad HoloNet specials.

Emperor Palpatine loathed it.

"I hate Life Day," he muttered to himself, throwing Force lightning over his shoulder at the stormtrooper who had dared to wear a festive hat while passing the Emperor in the hall.

No one knew quite why he disliked the galaxy's favorite holiday so much. Perhaps, one might conjecture, it stemmed from the Empire's Humanocentric policies, as the celebration did originate from the culture of the Wookiees.

"I hate Life Day," Palpatine reiterated, using the Force to rip some one-credit-store decorations off of the door to his Coruscant throne room. As soon as he found out who had committed such a heinous deed, there would be executions.

However, the Emperor's feelings toward the holiday seemed much deeper than mere prejudice. It was if there was an underlying, seething rage against all things related to this, his most reviled of calendar dates.

"I. HATE. LIFE DAY!" Palpatine screamed as he burst into the room, Force throwing one of his guardsmen out the nearest window. The guard hadn't explicitly done anything Life Day-related, but it was an excellent way to let off steam. Getting someone to make the necessary repairs would be easy enough. The Emperor knew people in the business who were quite good at that sort of thing, and if the damages were too severe, he could always send in for a replacement. He did, on the other hand, slightly mourn the loss of a perfectly good window.

As he sat mulling over the uselessness of guards other than to throw out windows on occasion, the door slid open again, and Palpatine's Sith apprentice strode up to him. (Palpatine had long given up referring to himself as "Darth Sidious" except when doing things explicitly Sithly; having a pseudonym was just far too unwieldy when one was all-powerful anyway.)

"Can I help you?" Palpatine droned, affecting a tone that clearly conveyed his irritation, from which Darth Vader was rarely exempt.

"Master," Vader breathed, a hint of hesitancy barely detectable in his heavy, artificial voice. He knelt into a bow at the Emperor's feet.

Palpatine always enjoyed that part. It was so easy to kick them when they were in that position. Unfortunately, his apprentice's biomechanical state precluded any reasonable amount of abuse (after all, good apprentices were so very hard to find those days—didn't exactly help that he had purged the galaxy of a large chunk of its Force-sensitives). Ah well, he would make a mental note to ensure that his next apprentice had all of his limbs intact. But he would have to put off his delightful musings for another time; Vader was speaking again.

"Master, I was wondering, err…" The black-clad Sith trailed off, his helmet's facial area facing the floor in front of him instead of his master's face.

Palpatine let out a sigh and tapped the armrest on his throne impatiently. "Yes, Vader, what do you want? What could you possibly want?" The last part wasn't entirely necessary, but it had been a long, rough day, and all Palpatine really wanted to do was heap thinly-veiled sarcasm upon all who crossed his path, and not hear another word about—

"Could I have Life Day off?" Vader looked up at his master expectantly.

Palpatine rankled. If not for the fact that he needed someone to carry out his iron-fisted will and act as the poster child for his reign of terror, he gladly would have struck Vader down on the spot. For the time being, however, tact won out over violence. "Vader," Palpatine began curtly. He was in no mood to mince words, nor address the man as "my young apprentice" like he did when he was feeling particularly condescending. "Why in the galaxy do you want Life Day off?"

"Well, uh," Vader fumbled. "Everybody gets Life Day off!"

Palpatine narrowed his eyes at this display of petty idiocy. "Since when has the Empire enforced that particular employment benefit?" It was a rhetorical question, of course. The Empire had never enforced it. The official attitude towards Life Day was "pretend it doesn't exist, and yes, that means it isn't a holiday, and no, you will not get paid if you choose not to come in to work, and would you please stop passing out those invitations to your Life Day party".

Utter silence on Vader's part let Palpatine know that he had driven his point home. It was a shame the man's face was perpetually stuck behind a helmet—Palpatine longed to be able to see the looks of disappointment and humiliation that must have regularly crossed his apprentice's visage.

"But," Vader unexpectedly began again. (Hadn't Palpatine taught him not to talk back to one's Sith master?) "I wanted to take the day to think about…things."

Palpatine rolled his eyes. Ah, yes. Things. Those little distractions that kept Vader from being a truly efficient Sith. Did Vader really expect anyone to care about such frivolities as a dead wife (which had been Vader's fault, actually) and a betrayal of the Jedi Order (which, again, had been his fault)? Were those really more important than the myriad other commands which Palpatine had been itching to give him? The Emperor sighed again; it was, after all the most efficient way to express one's displeasure with the situation at hand. "No, Vader, you are not getting Life Day off. I'm assigning you to the Death Star, so you can make sure nobody blows it up." Palpatine was still rather bitter about the whole exhaust port thing, which had only been made known to him after he had expended the budget for the project, and thus lacked the funding to rectify the problem. Now they could only hope that no one would manage to steal the plans for the battle station. Like anyone would be that foolhardy.

Vader sighed again, arose, and turned to leave, his cape billowing behind him like an inky cloud as black as his soul. "As you wish, Master…"

As the door closed behind Vader, Palpatine settled back into his throne (which was rather ergonomic, no sense in completely sacrificing comfort for intimidation) and prepared for another marvelously quiet evening of contemplating his own power and authority. It was, of course, the prime reason he had decided to take over the galaxy at the start.

It was later that night, during the changing of the guards, that the first one came.

All was silent in the throne room, dark and silent, just the way Palpatine preferred it when he was napping. Of course, since his sinister eyes were obscured in the shadows of his hood, nobody could really tell when he was napping, but that was the fun of it.

With a start, the Emperor awoke. Something was amiss. The atmosphere of the room had suddenly changed, and his new guards were nowhere in sight. He peered around, curious at what he recognized as a disturbance in the Force. All seemed normal enough, save for a blue, translucent figure leaning against the far window nonchalantly and staring intently at him. Palpatine felt a shudder fall unwillingly down his spine. Force ghosts had a way of intimidating even those who were usually the intimidators.

The Human ghost cocked an eyebrow at the Emperor, his long dark hair falling around his imposing robes and armor. "What's wrong, Sidious?" he taunted. "Don't you recognize me?"

Palpatine could, indeed, identify the personage, someone he had only seen in the most arcane of Sith histories. "…Exar Kun?" he guessed with confidence, quickly brushing aside his shock and resuming indifference.

Kun nodded. "So you have been doing your homework."

The former Sith Lord's attitude was really starting to irk the current Sith Lord. "Aren't you supposed to be sealed away on Yavin 4?" Palpatine queried, hoping desperately that the apparent historical contradiction would somehow send Kun's spirit back where it rightly belonged—out of Palpatine's business.

"Don't you know?" Kun replied with a smirk. "Everybody gets Life Day off."

Palpatine groaned at yet another mention of that blemish upon his existence. "Oh, not you, too." He moved a hand to dismiss Kun with a Force push, but the ghost was unaffected, and instead the window behind him was shattered. Why did the windows have to suffer so needlessly? Palpatine lamented.

"Tsk, tsk," Kun clucked, wagging his finger as he strode toward the irate Emperor. "That's one advantage to being dead, you know—most Force powers don't work on you."

"Why are you here?" Palpatine spat. He dearly wanted to get back to his nap and not bother with such trivial annoyances as ancient Sith Lords come to haunt him. Didn't they have anything better to do with their afterlife?

"I've come to warn you, Sidious." Kun's taunting expression fell into stone-set seriousness.

Palpatine tilted his head back, as if Kun had presented him with moldy food—the announcement was more annoying than frightening. "Warn me? What of?"

"Your dark deeds," came the reply, and Palpatine could see that Kun's ethereal countenance harbored the most dire of piercing glares. "They will destroy you, Sidious. The dark side has nearly consumed you—but it is not yet too late. Tonight, you will be visited by three others, people you have known from your own past but have since left your mortal sphere. They will show you the error of your ways."

Palpatine was unfazed—in fact, he was growing bored of Kun's preaching. "Why are you telling me all of this?" he yawned, not entirely out of fatigue. "Don't tell me that after you were sealed away, you got all soft."

"Nothing of the sort!" Kun huffed, stamping his intangible foot on (and subsequently through) the floor. "I just don't want anyone cramping my style!"

"Style?" Palpatine chortled, looking the ghost up and down in appraisal. "You needn't fear anyone cramping that style, my dear Sith. Honestly, ceremonial robes and armour are so five millennia ago.

With a sidewise glance, Exar Kun turned and walked away from the throne. "If only I could punch you in the face," he could be heard grumbling as he advanced toward the window. "Curse this lack of body!" And with that he was merely gone, as if he were a hologram someone had switched off.

Palpatine once again sat in shadow and quietude, completely apathetic to what had just occurred. He had been woken up for that? What an irritant dead Sith could be. He seriously doubted Kun's "visitations" would come to pass; Palpatine knew a bluff when he heard one.

He had just begun to settle back down to await sunrise, and his eyelids were drooping shut, when an abrupt shift in the Force shook him awake. Mildly startled this time (although he didn't dare admit it to himself), Palpatine opened his eyes to see a translucent blue fist, tattooed in all-too-familiar patterns, clenched around his throat.

"Surprise," Darth Maul hissed.

Of course, being an intangible being, the dead Maul could have no real effect on Palpatine's physiology, but the effect was certainly disconcerting enough. The Emperor, however, had long been a master of feigned indifference. If Maul was hoping to get any sort of reaction besides a momentary adrenaline rush, he would be sorely disappointed.

"Oh, yes, I remember you," Palpatine droned, attempting to dismiss Maul with a flick of his hand like he had done so often when the Zabrak was still alive. "The aggressive one, always so quick to stab people. How did that work out for you?" Although his face was somber, there was a spark of cruel amusement in his eyes. This "visitation" business was turning out to be far better than what Kun had promised.

Maul snarled and stood his ground, although he did stop pretending to throttle Palpatine, his fist instead dropping to his side where it remained clutched in anticipation. Even through the azure wash of his apparitional state, Maul's eyes burned with the same unchecked ferocity Palpatine remembered from decades past. "Follow me…" the Zabrak muttered, stalking toward the pane-less window Palpatine had attempted to throw Exar Kun out of earlier.

"Follow you?" the Emperor queried cynically. "Oh, I get it, it's 'Make Palpatine Jump to His Death Night'. You dead Sith have the strangest hobbies, I swear."

Maul stopped, turned, and gave Palpatine a look that would have made weaker beings wither on the spot. "Just follow me. I know a thousand ways to make your life a nightmare, so be lucky this isn't one of them."

With a snort, Palpatine eased himself off of his throne and approached the window, staying a comfortable distance away from his former apprentice, who kept shooting him the most awful looks for no reason that was apparent to him. "All right. There. I followed you. What—"

The Emperor never got to finish his sentence, as Maul promptly grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the window, plummeting down into the Coruscant traffic and the bustling microcosm of the city-planet that never slept.

"What are you doing?" Palpatine seethed as he narrowly missed becoming an airspeeder's new hood ornament. Never mind the fact that the purportedly incorporeal Maul had somehow managed to take hold of him—there were more pressing concerns at hand.

"Put a sock in it, old man," came the hateful reply.

Palpatine was taken aback. Never in his life had he been so affronted by one of his own apprentices, especially not Maul, that perfectly loyal and unquestioning servant. Death had a way of changing people, he supposed. Not that he would be doing any supposing for much longer, he reminded himself as he stared into the abyss that was the rapidly-approaching lower levels of the city. As he peered into its depths, he noticed a light directly below them; it had started out faint, but was now glowing brighter at a rapid pace. It was a pure white, and quite frankly it hurt his eyes, the very reason he preferred to sleep with the lights off. "I don't suppose you know what that is," he commented to Maul.

"Time-space portal," came the blunt reply.

"You're kidding, right? Maul, time travel has never been technologically feasible—"

"This isn't technology."

For the first time that night, Palpatine found himself with nothing to say. Instead, he merely squinted at the ever-brightening light, knowing it was a reactor core explosion or the unfortunate results of a bad hyperspace jump and hoping it would all be over with quickly and painlessly.

The light faded from around them, and they were now standing on a grassy knoll, overlooking a mountain vista. Shaaks grazed serenely around them in the warm sun of a springtime's afternoon, and a brook splashed merrily by, running down the hill and towards a small villa in the distance. The very sight of so much peace and contentment made Palpatine want to retch. If this was the afterlife, he was glad he'd never believed in it. Unfortunately, he knew the scene all too well for his liking. Maul had been right, after all.

"So why are we here?" Palpatine muttered. His night had been entirely too full of "whys". Usually he was the one asking the questions—now the tables had been turned and the reversal of order was, to say the least, discomforting.

"You'll see," Maul replied, striding off toward the home.

Feeling quite put off by his ill treatment at the hands of exanimates, Palpatine moved to Force kick the nearest shaak…and nothing happened. He threw his arms forward violently, attempting several times to Force throw the shaak, and yet not a blade of grass bent in response. The animal, meanwhile, champed away, seemingly oblivious to the enraged Sith Lord a few metres in front of it. With an indignant pout, the Emperor stomped over to the shaak and reached out to grab it—and his hand went right through the oblivious beast, both parties feeling nothing, just as if he had attempted to touch a hologram.

"Maul!" Palpatine cried out to his apprentice, who was already halfway to his destination. "What's going on?"

The Zabrak turned around to see his former master repeatedly thrusting his arm in and out of the shaak's side, as it paid him no heed; finally, its supply of grass dwindling, it ambled nonchalantly away, leaving behind a rather put-out Sith Lord. "We're intangible, Sidious," Maul sighed. "These shadows of your past cannot see, hear, or feel us. And no, you can't use the Force. We are here to observe what has gone before, not make havoc of it."

Palpatine's face fell. What was the fun in that? he pondered as he approached the residence reluctantly, Maul leading.

Around the corner of the home skipped a small, red-haired Human boy, whistling a merry tune. A kind-faced woman leaned out the nearest window. "Dinner's ready!" she chirped to him.

"Oh boy!" the lad squealed, revealing several missing teeth. "I'll be right there!" He scrambled toward the front door, nearly tripping before bursting inside with unfettered glee.

Palpatine winced. "I was such an idiotic child…"

"Yes, you were," Maul agreed.

"You weren't supposed to concur with that."

The two Sith ventured through the wall of the domicile (a quite peculiar alternative to using the door, Palpatine thought, but at least then one didn't have to deal with locks or security systems) and into the happy scene of the boy eating a large meal with his parents in their cozy kitchen.

"Ma, Pop, how come we gotta celebrate Life Day, anyway?" young Palpatine asked through a mouthful of bread. "The Wookiees made it up, an' they're all hairy and smell bad!"

His father laughed a deep, hearty laugh. ("I always hated that laugh," Palpatine muttered.) "Well, son, Life Day is a special time where we remember all the things we're thankful for and celebrate our family, friends, and highly successful governmental system!"

Young Palpatine looked confusedly up at his progenitor. "Who'd wanna do that?" he queried before tucking in to his vegetables.

"You get free gifts," his mother added.

The child only had to ponder this fact for half a moment. "Hooray for Life Day!" he burst out exuberantly, much to the amusement of his parents.

"Well, I do enjoy free gifts," Palpatine acquiesced. "Can't believe I used to be fond of that horrific holiday, though."

"Maybe this will remind you why you don't," Maul replied, and the scene shifted and faded into another familiar setting.

"Morning, Peroo!"

"Fine day, isn't it, Virja!"

"And a happy Life Day to you!"

Shouts of cheerful greeting rang throughout the Theed Royal Palace, echoing amongst golden beams of morning sunlight and cool, shadowed marble halls. Palpatine was forced to roll his eyes at such a blatant and shameless display of tranquility and elegance. In his younger years, he had enjoyed such scenes as this; they were a major element in the fact that he continued to keep a residence on Naboo even after seizing control of the Republic. As time wore on, however, and his heart sank ever deeper into darkness, he began to find peace and beauty boring, then inconvenient, and finally repugnant. As of late, he had preferred to surround himself with cold functionality in place of natural artistry, and architecture designed to intimidate rather than inspire. It required far less emotional commitment.

His musings were interrupted by two young men rapidly approaching himself and Maul, although they were talking amongst themselves and did not – could not – notice the two Sith standing in their way. It took Palpatine a moment to remember this before realizing that they weren't going to move to avoid him, like people always did when he was tangible, and so he had to let that element of his pride slip for the time being.

However, the boys stopped right in front of them to lean against a window, and so Palpatine and Maul were privy to every bit of their conversation.

"I trust you are having a pleasant Life Day," the stouter, shorter youth said, carefully adjusting his violet robes. He sported a small goatee.

"Indeed, I am," the other replied, brushing off a speck of dust from his own deep blue vesture. His cerulean eyes were keen and intense, offsetting his shock of rust-red hair. "And it shall be made all the sweeter when I am elected Vice Governor of Theed," he added, a smug grin barely hidden under his uninterested visage.

"Oh, no," Palpatine groaned, burying his face in his hand. He remembered this exchange—it haunted his memories almost daily.

The stocky boy chuckled politely. "I mean no offense to your surely impeccable memory, my friend, but perhaps you recall that I, too, am on the ballot for that position?" He cocked his head, waiting for an answer while his emerald eyes gleamed.

"Why, dear Sio, I am sure you do not mean to imply that I am deaf and blind enough not to notice how much support your views have been garnering amongst the Royal Advisory Council," his red-haired companion returned, feigning apathy with all the precise skill of a trained professional. "You are quite the orator." The compliment was given with the utmost insincerity, and both boys knew it, but flowery words and empty flattery are, of course, the vital essence of politics.

"I do thank you, but of course your own skill at debate clearly exceeds mine."

"You are too kind, to be sure. Lovely weather, isn't it?"

"Yes, quite. Were you present yesterday when Minister of Economic Affairs Norie Slibert delivered that positively illuminating address on the state of the Lianorm Region's budgeting concerns?"

"I don't believe I was—would you care to fill me in on the details?"

"With pleasure."

Palpatine would have been bored to tears at that point at the superficial nature of a conversation between two people pretending to be friends—but he was too busy dreading what would shortly come to pass, as he had every detail of the episode firmly cemented in his mind and could do no more than look on in horror. He dearly wished to avert his eyes, but even more he did not want to appear timorous in front of his own apprentice, so he stayed, and watched.

The two youths had just gotten into talking about the usefulness of 3PO units in crowd control during civic events, and that was the point at which, Palpatine remembered, his whole life had come crashing down around him. Sure enough, in that moment the hallway was filled with the sound of pattering footsteps and a younger boy came barreling toward the duo and their invisible spectators, his burgundy-and-gold garments fluttering behind him as he forgot all pretensions of legislative deportment. "The votes have been counted!" he sputtered, bending over breathless before his seniors.

The two political opponents merely gave each other an austere passing glance, although the spark of competition danced in their eyes. "Thank you, Paol," the gaunt redhead replied, not skipping a beat. "I shall be sure to put in a good word for you to Governor Maleka—"

"Sio won!" Paol blurted.

Had Maul not been there, Palpatine would have wept openly. He had been shot down in his prime that day.

Both older boys, in spite of decorum, were visibly stunned by the news, although the expressions they wore could not have been more disparate. "WHAT?" the younger Palpatine seethed. "How—why—?" He gestured angrily in the air, grasping for the verbosity that had so cruelly abandoned him in his agitated state. Finally, his stamina exhausted, all he could do was glare, speechless, at the new Vice Governor of Theed. It was something he would only have been satisfied with had he been standing in front of a mirror.

Sio grinned widely. "Terribly sorry about the loss, really I am. Perhaps you would like to get together sometime over lunch and I can help you brush up on your rhetoric?" He didn't wait for an answer, but merely brushed past his dumbstruck comrade and made his way down the hall until his and Paol's footsteps faded into silence.

"You'll rue the day you defeated me…Bibble," young Palpatine growled darkly, clenching his fist.

"No more of this nonsense, Maul!" the older Palpatine commanded, turning to his phantasmal companion. "If I wanted to relive my dismal past I would have gotten out the holo album!"

"There's a point to all of this, you know," Maul retorted. "It was on that Life Day that you decided you'd beat out Bibble - you'd beat out everybody – using whatever means possible. That's what led you to Darth Plagueis…and the dark side. And it soured your feelings toward the holiday ever since."

"Yes, yes, I know," Palpatine sighed in exasperation, waving his hand in dismissal again—why wasn't it working? "I certainly didn't need you to tell me all of this."

"I can do no more for you, Sidious," Maul simply said in reply. "Perhaps the one whom you will next meet will help you to see things more clearly."

"Oh, probably not." At this point, Palpatine was getting quite tired of consorting with Maul and truly wished the Zabrak would leave him alone. It seemed as if not even death could stop the annoyingly persistent, Palpatine speculated, as all faded into darkness around him and Maul's presence departed.

Palpatine looked around—he was sitting on his throne again, the room as empty and silent as he had left it. Coruscant still buzzed with life around him, drowning the dead of night in neon-colored advertisements and convoluted traffic routes. So, it had all been a dream, a figment of his overstressed imagination, perhaps the bantha steak he had eaten for dinner earlier (he thought it tasted a little off). Except that window was still broken.

Disgruntled, he settled down for a nice snooze and hoped the guards would arrive soon, so that they would have to deal with any ghosts come to call instead of him.

"Good evening, Emperor."

No such luck.

"Is that you, Dooku?" Palpatine yawned, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes (what little of it he had gotten, anyway).

"Your surmising is correct, Your Highness." The Force ghost of Count Dooku bowed, approaching the throne with an air of reverence and a slick, smarmy smile, though his dark eyes were cold and piercing.

"Don't tell me you've come to make me re-live Valorum's Life Day party," Palpatine remarked, trying his hardest to conceal the taint of terror in his tone. There were a few Life Day memories he was quite grateful that Maul hadn't touched upon.

Dooku snickered. "No, Emperor, I'm afraid not. I've got a bit of a different assignment. Come, we must be off." He spun smartly on his heel and began walking toward the throne room door.

"What's with all of the sightseeing tonight?" Palpatine grumbled, not making an effort to move. "All of you forget your holoprojectors at home?"

In response, Dooku snapped his fingers, and Palpatine suddenly found himself planted face-down on the floor. "I thought—Kun said—the Force—" he grunted, pushing himself to his feet.

"Most uses of the Force don't affect spirits; that doesn't preclude them from using the Force." Dooku's transparent grin stretched from ear to ear.

"Listen, if you're sore because of the whole betrayal thing—" Palpatine began, following Dooku out the door. He never got to finish his sentence, though, because the familiar hallway began to shift and distort into another, slightly different corridor, one with stormtroopers and green-clad Imperial officers bustling about importantly, paying no heed to the two Sith Lords that had suddenly emerged in their midst. The Emperor immediately recognized his locale as the interior of a Star Destroyer. He allowed himself half a second to gape (making sure Dooku wasn't looking, of course), before reassuming impassivity and turning to his former pupil. "I must know," he began as apathetically as possible—hopefully the curiosity wasn't showing through too badly. "How in the galaxy are you dead Sith able to do all of this? Force immunity, near-instantaneous transportation through space and time, advanced cloaking abilities…I mean, where did you learn it? Were you hiding holocrons from me? Took a few clandestine trips to Korriban while I was away on business?"

Dooku chuckled darkly. "There are things, Sidious, that cannot be taught to mortals."

That was all the information Palpatine could get out of the man, despite his wheedling as they roamed the halls of the ship. Finally, they walked through a rather large, ominous door and into a dark, secluded room. As Palpatine's eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he noticed the pale blue glow of a hologram in the corner. Approaching the source, a quiet weeping became audible.

"Padme…oh, Padme…where did I go wrong…" Vader sobbed from within the recesses of his meditation chamber. The Sith Lord was huddled over a small holoscreen, watching a hideously corny Life Day special on HoloNet, and cradling a carton of a frozen dessert substance, from which he occasionally took spoonfuls.

Palpatine could only bear so much of the distressing scene before repeatedly ramming his forehead into his palm. "I told him how badly that garbage messes up his circuitry!"

"The ice cream or the HoloNet special?" Dooku wondered.

"Both! Ugh, he is definitely getting a writeup for this one."

The door slid open behind them, and an officer stepped through Palpatine (an odd sensation, to be sure) and as near to Vader as he dared to go. "Lord Vader, sir. Apologies for the delay in getting you to the Death Star. We're preparing to exit hyperspace over Danuta."

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Vader wailed, not bothering to take his eyes off of the holo. "YOU'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND MY PAIN!"

"Sir, we need you on the bridge; officers at the Trid Research Facility are standing by, awaiting your orders concerning the suspicious activity that's been—"

"Yeah, whatever. Jussgo'way!" The last statement was muffled due to the fact that Vader had stuffed more ice cream in his mouth.

The officer sighed. "As you wish, my lord."

Vader was left in shadowed solitude once more. "Stupid Sidious," he blubbered. "'Vader, do this.' 'Vader, blow that up.' Where's the APPRECIATION?"

"I don't think I can take much more of this," Palpatine bemoaned, massaging his temples as Vader burst into tears anew. "Are we done yet?"

"Not quite, Your Worshipfulness."

Again, the scene warped and twisted, and Palpatine noted stars high above his head, and a small spot of light shining defiantly amongst encroaching darkness. As they moved toward the light source, now identifiable as a farm of some sort, the Emperor felt sand under his feet, sand that had the annoying tendency to shift and sink beneath him. For being intangible, walking was proving to be far more trouble than it was worth. "We couldn't have teleported closer," he griped.

"Oh, we could have," Dooku admitted. He let the implications hang over Palpatine's head, which irked the Emperor greatly.

Finally, they found themselves in the sparse dining area of the moisture farm's largely subterranean dwelling, where a middle-aged couple was conversing with a sandy-haired young man. "Well, Luke, it's Life Day," the grizzled, weathered farmer growled to the youth.

"Yep," Luke replied nonchalantly, picking at his food.

"And, uh, Beru and I thought, y'know, you've helped out around the farm a lot lately. Haven't whined as much as usual. Less of that nonsense about exploring the galaxy and all that."

"Uh-huh." Luke raised an eyebrow in anticipation, sight still trained on the plate in front of him.

"So…I'm going to go ahead and let you go down to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters."

Luke rolled his eyes. "Honestly? That's my Life Day present?"

"Don't give me any of that lip!" the older man barked, standing up and slamming his fists on the table. "You know business has been bad this year! Your aunt and I have been working hard just so we can put food on the table, and you're off trying to get yourself killed in that T-16 with those punk friends of yours!"

The boy merely turned away and pretended not to listen, moving his hand in an impression of his uncle's yammering.

"That does it! To your room, this instant!"

"You're not the boss of me!" Luke shot back, although he stomped off to his quarters regardless.

"That was…the most pointless thing I've ever seen," Palpatine remarked cynically.

"You would do well to learn from these visits, Sidious," Dooku replied. "The boy will shortly have more to do with you than you think. Him…and his sister."

The scene shifted again, and Palpatine now found himself in the complete opposite of the tiny desert home—a grand palace, ornately decorated, with large windows overlooking a crystalline lake and a vast mountain range. A few ladies strutted past in white robes, chatting and laughing, their hair done up in distinctive twin buns. Palpatine winced, as he knew exactly where Dooku had brought him. If there was any place in the galaxy that reeked of loveliness more than Naboo, it was Alderaan.

He opened his mouth to complain again, when he saw a familiar figure turn the corner, a tall, stately man with greying hair and elaborate, forest-green attire. Palpatine knew him well from the man's years of service in the Galactic (later Imperial) Senate. Following closely behind him was his recent successor, an intense young woman in scarlet formal wear, her dark hair done up in an intricate weave. Palpatine grimaced. The Senators Organa were far too much trouble than they were worth.

"Father!" Leia pouted, looking up defiantly at the older man. "This is no time for a Life Day party! The Alliance is in dire need of our assistance, and all you can think about is petty socializing and stuffing yourself silly with roast nerf? That sounds like grounds for charges of Imperial sympathizing, if you ask me!"

"Leia, lighten up!" Bail Organa groaned. "Do our entire lives really have to revolve around the Alliance?"

Leia stared at him blankly. "Yes. Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to go contact Mon Mothma and—"

"Why not talk to her at the party?" Bail suggested with a smirk. "She's coming, after all."

The girl's face turned a brighter shade of crimson than a red supergiant. "Have you no SHAME?" she screeched, flailing her arms wildly. "No sense of DUTY?"

"But I already ordered the musicians…"

"Millions of sentients die every day because of the odious evils of the Empire and you're concerned about the musicians?" Leia huffed. "Well, I'm not going to stand for this oppression any longer!" Looking around, she spotted an attendant making his way down the hall. "You there!" she called out. "Ready the Tantive IV! We're leaving right this very moment!" She started down the hall, clutching her extravagant skirts, but only walked a few encumbered steps before halting. "On second thought," she rescinded, tight-lipped. "We're leaving as soon as I can change into something more manageable." Her foster father chortled to himself as Leia made her way past him, grumbling about how she would have to do something about her hair as well.

"If you think I didn't already know that the Organas are in with the Rebels, you're quite mistaken," Palpatine informed his ghostly associate. "Are you attempting to regain my favor? You're failing miserably."

To this, Dooku could merely laugh and shake his head as their surroundings dissolved back into Palpatine's old familiar throne room. "Maul was right about you, Sidious. You're incorrigible. I suppose there is only one who can help you now…"

"Don't get mysterious with me, Dooku. Tell your 'friend' to leave me alone, I'd like a peaceful night's sleep."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Sidious." With a final bow, Dooku was gone, a split second before the doors opened and the new guards assumed their posts with a smart salute to their Emperor.

Palpatine merely "hmph"ed at them, too exhausted to exact any violence upon them for the time being.

Not that he would have to worry about it for long, though—suddenly the dim lighting flickered, and the door was shoved open by a blast of Force energy that rivaled anything Palpatine had felt in years. The wave was so strong that it sent both of his guards flying through two windows at opposite sides of the room, and dented the transparisteel panes that were still intact after the evening's rather tumultuous events. The Emperor would have taken time to bemoan the fate of his oh-so-expensive windows, had he not been gaping at the ghost towering over him, a grim frown stretched over its long face.

"Sidious," it hissed darkly.

"Plagueis," the ghost's former apprentice squeaked. "W-why have you come?" he stammered, rising from his throne and backing away from the spirit of the glowering Muun. "Don't you have anyone else to bother at this time of night? Go speak to Vader, maybe you can knock some sense into the man!" Mentally, he was shouting at his body to compose itself, to remain comfortably stoic, but his inner pleas were ignored. Even in death, Darth Plagueis was an imposing sight.

The tall-headed alien said nothing more, but strode quickly to Palpatine and glared down at him. "You have learned nothing, my young apprentice," he uttered solemnly.

The Emperor winced. It amused him when he bestowed that title upon his own acolytes, but he never thought he'd have to hear it from the source again.

"I suppose only one thing will dissuade you from your insipidity," Plagueis continued. "It is time for you to view your own future, that which will come to pass if you persist in your hollow hubris."

Palpatine stared at him blankly. "Could you maybe…tone down the vocabulary a bit?"

"No."

With that, the floor dropped out from under Palpatine, and he cried out as he fell through darkness, finally stopping abruptly as if he had just ridden a broken lift. He could only watch, aghast, as a terrible scene played out before him: the ungrateful little blond hooligan from earlier, fighting Vader and somehow winning; the boy turning on Palpatine, his power cutting the Emperor down; and finally an explosion of enormous proportions. The nightmarish scenes danced past the Sith Lord's eyes, unrelenting, mocking him with their promises of doom.

Through it all, though, Palpatine kept his cool. He would show Plagueis that he was no coward. "Was that all?" he sighed as they fell back into his throne room. "While that was quite amusing, I assure you, I have everything under control. Your so-called 'visions of the future' are completely implausible."

"You are not frightened?" Plagueis inquired. "No concern for your well-being? All that I have shown you can be averted if—"

"Listen, I'm fine," Palpatine interrupted, re-asserting his rising confidence. "Being dead gives you no right to get pontifical on me. I killed you for a reason, you know."

The Muun gave the Emperor one final, long stare, before slowly turning and striding away, his spectral blue robes dragging on the floor behind him. "Then I am afraid…no more can be done."

"Good riddance," Palpatine shouted cheerily to the retreating phantom. "If you have the time, do pop in and give Vader a scare for me, would you?" As Plagueis faded, leaving him alone in the dark again, he chuckled to himself. "Honestly, the absurdity. To think that I'd let myself be struck down by some farm boy who thinks he's a Jedi Knight like his father was before him, or something like that. The solution's easy enough—I'll just Force lightning him to death. Not like Vader's going to stop me or anything." He finally fell asleep plotting his triumphal victory and congratulating himself on how he had outwitted not one, not even two, but four full-fledged ghosts of former Sith, including his own master. How terribly clever he was.

"Sidious, my lord."

The guard's voice awoke Sidious from his pleasant dreams of conquering worlds and subjugating their inhabitants, and he joined the waking world of a bright Coruscant morning, the planet's sun gleaming on tall spires and glinting off of tireless streams of ships and speeders. And the windows were still broken. Looking down at the crimson-clad guard in front of him, Sidious gave him a half-hearted kick in the chest. It was all he could muster after so little sleep. Why did spirits have to drop by at the most inopportune hours? "Yes, what is it?" he asked sleepily, and with a grumble at the end as he realized it was the morning of Life Day itself.

"Sir…our communications officers have just received word from the Devastator…"

"And…?"

"…The plans for the Death Star have been…stolen."

"WHAT?" Palpatine's yellowed eyes bulged as he gripped the armrests of his throne.

The guard promptly ran to the window and flung himself out of it, so as to save his overlord the trouble.

Throughout the entire sector of the city-planet, morning business ground to a halt as an infuriated bellow echoed down from the highest spire of the Imperial Palace:

"I…HATE…LIFE DAAAAAAAAAY!"