Palpatine downed a triple caf with a shot of rum, and shut his eyes. Everything was decisively on fire.
The backs of his eyeballs burned with three days without sleep, and the cursed blaster wound was nearly as persistent in distracting him as the constant pinging of the comm. There were only a few hours to spare before the Senate session began, and his colleagues wanted to hear the details on his statement, which wasn’t even ready.
With an internal groan, Palpatine forced himself back to the holoscreen. The passages on Republican virtue remained as unedited as they were ten minutes ago. The familiar words of equality and justice felt heavy and dull, and no matter how much he tossed the sentences around, the speech just wouldn’t flow.
This just wasn’t working.
Automatically, Sheev reached for the lower drawer of his senatorial desk, towards a discrete package full of round, translucent pills. There was a way, and he was tired.
His hand froze midair, in silent indecision. And Sidious sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
Last time he mixed caffeine and Mandalorian battle stimulants, Palpatine wrote an unpublishable libretto based on the tax regulations he was supposed to lobby for. He knew better now; it had to be the Force, and maybe profound, cosmic annoyance with the vagueness of Damask’s demands, smugglers so incompetent they had to die, and today’s bracket, that would carry him through this pretense of a liberal institution.
Not that Palpatine ever had difficulties making his case before the Senate. He spoke in a much more dire state and before much less forgiving audiences, pitching for the exact effect and the degree of influence desired. He could stage a humiliation of defeat and a humble joy of triumph – all without letting the mask of a modestly ambitious politician from a modestly prosperous world slip. His was one of the greatest acts ever staged – and it did occasionally give him a headache.
He reached for more caf.
The Force was strong with him. But even a Sith Lord could only handle as much paperwork. So he thought of a time where all of this wouldn’t matter. When a democracy would be no more than a finely tuned instrument of his will, and will collapse upon itself, leaving nothing but an elegant machine of enforcement – under his command.
He pictured the Republic’s flagship losing orbit. Slowly, it would slide through the upper layers of atmosphere and fall on Coruscant’s governmental district in an image of fiery Orcus. All the lies of the old order would go up in flames, and he will finally remodel. But that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?
With a sigh, he pushed the coaxing threads of the Force away - and the image dissolved.
Instead, he could sense his assistant napping at zir desk outside his main office. The Rodian did not have the benefit of the Force, and thus ran through their occasionally apocalyptic workload exclusively on chemical stimulants. Right now, zir mind was trapped in a dark hallucination of overdose and exhaustion, and Palpatine reached out – drinking up the fearful vision and altering it just a bit, so Roo would be capable of proof-reading the speech in a few hours.
The overnervous Rodian was incredibly handy when it came to sorting the briefs, correspondence, and creditlaundering that came through the office. The downside that zie didn’t tend to sort and balance zirself, and Palpatine hoped he would not have to pay medical benefits and search for a replacement in the middle of the legislative season.
His thoughts were interrupted by a stab of dull pain behind his eyes, a harbinger of a future migraine. There were two Force users in the proximity, both attuned for what they would call the Dark Side. As always, a cloak which made Sidious invisible in the Force held, and his internal alarm was confirmed by Roo’s voice over the comm.
“There are Jedi to see you, Senator.”
There it was. One of today’s unpleasant resolutions.
Because the truth was, he fucked up. And now it all hinged on how well he would be able to sell a lie he spent the past few days arranging. Darth Sidious mechanically tested the endurance of his shields, and put up the most unoriginal of his professional smiles.
“Ask them in. Please.”
[a few cycles earlier].
He had to know, in retrospect. The threads of the Force thickened in the air around him, and to dismiss them as mere intuition was to repeat the final mistake many of his predecessors made.
And yet, Sheev wished he could tell the Force that it was not the time.
Last month, one of Damask’s daughter companies – which of course, could not be traced to Damask – completed a huge acquisition within the pharmaceutical field. Werrod Sciences were now a part of Tavreska Industries; handshakes were exchanged and generational Alderaanian wines – opened. The enormous cogs of the galactic economy completed a turn, but there was an abyss of smaller arrangements to be performed before the deal could be made public.
Besides refiling the taxation forms, ironing out the wrinkles in the interplanetary trade, and bribing the heads of workers’ unions, there was also a less documented side to these affairs. It involved the bits of Coruscanti underworld that fed off both Tavreska and Werrod, and handled more clandestine parts of their business.
This is where Hego Damask’s unnamed associate came in.
The whole ordeal reminded Sheev of the colo fish of the Nubian oceans and the retinue of smaller creatures that trailed the beast as it lay in wait for its prey. Now as it was consumed by a larger monstrosity, it was up to Sidious’ careful hand to guide the host of wayward necrophages to their new master.
The work was dirty, but it was what was asked of him. So he spent the last few weeks mending networks, introducing liaisons, and performing general housekeeping within the carefully balanced world of crime cartels and smugglers rings.
With one of them, he was involved as Palpatine.
And the Crossed Eyes were a paranoid bunch, even for his standards. Their business ethics involved biometric scanners, and face-to-face contacts only. Something to do with the Corulagi code of honor, and the particular brands of chemicals then ran off the planet - he really stopped caring half way through the brief.
But with their direct involvement in the planet’s politics - he was now waiting for a call from Senator Maie of Corulag, to see how much she was willing to give for an with her planet’s smugglers’ ring.
But the Senator was also blatantly late.
Palpatine rolled his eyes in annoyance, and tapped the stylus at the edge of the table, trying to conceal the impatience that streamed through his hands and his mind. The whole affair with Maie was both too volatile and too revealing of his actual involvements to let him rest. But he also needed her faction’s votes. And her blatant manipulation of Corulagi planetary interests will be fantastic blackmail, when he will make a move against the Core worlds’ unshaken monopoly in the Senate.
An arch of blue lightning involuntarily crackled between his fingers, and Sidious closed his fist, allowing the electricity to settle inside his palm instead.
There is a disturbance in the Force, he would say if he were a Jedi – because he did rub elbows with them too often, and those careful eyes of Qui-Gon Jinn did not leave his mind. But the Jedi were foolish and weak, and they did not see the Force as they did not see the Dark Lord of the Sith right before them. No, it wanted something – and thought out one of its favoured children, placing a chip on his shoulder, indicating its desire.
His comm pinged. And Sidious accepted the transmission, sinking into his chair.
Maie didn’t bother making excuses for her lateness, and cut down to the chase. And Palpatine quickly stopped listening, realizing that he did in fact foresee every word which would leave the woman’s mouth.
Plagueis and Sidious laid the path for their plan patiently and slowly, arranging the maze Coruscanti mega-corporations, trade conglomerates, legislative lobbies, and criminal syndicates into a prophecy which would one day fulfill itself.
And sometimes, Palpatine could see it unfold before him more clearly than the stains of caf and trails of spice on his desk. Sometimes, he was convinced he knew the future. Because the Force was strong.
When Maie was - mercifully - done, Palpatine cut her off with a charming smile, and ran his eyes over the data. Senator selling out her homeworld for a better slice in Tavreska’s pharma lobby, he and decided it was agreeable. The caveat was still with the smugglers’ ring. They demanded a personal meeting with the facilitator.
Sidious cracked his neck, and the Force around him buzzed in anticipation.
This was indeed something he might have do it himself.
A lightsaber was supposed to be a symbol, a weapon more elegant - unruly, dangerous, which only reached its full potential in the hands of those who are strong in the Force. Instead, it remained concealed, in a secret compartment within a hollow statue. Sheev considered it in his hand, turning the saber around to inspect the elegant and ancient design, and thought that perhaps the years have dulled him, made him fearful rather than cautious.
Sidious only had it on his person when he knew he was headed into something Senator Palpatine might not survive. Through years on Coruscant, he could recite the times he ignited it. A weapon built to articulate and enforce power became a trophy for the eyes of one.
But the memories of the potential it had sat live under his skin, lined with echoes of memory and visions of future he could not and did not want to shake.
Why must the kybercrystal be red, Sidious asked his master, when building his first weapon. In the galaxy where the Sith are supposed to be dead for millennia, there was so surer way to endanger their great plan than allow for the red blade to be seen.
And Plagueis delighted in his apprentice. Because, he spoke, one hand resting on the nape of Sidious’ neck, and the other – over hilt’s components slowly rotating in the air before them, to bend it is to violate your own nature, Darth Sidious.
Palpatine winced, feeling the discord in the Force, but was held in place, as the crystal dimmed, and changed its hue to yellow, and then to white, following Damask’s will. Red is the color it takes when interacting with the Dark Side, Plagueis spoke into his ear, and released his hold.
The crystal flashed with bright red, feeding of Sidious’ resentment and anger, and his master nodded in approval. You carry the same power as Darth Malak or Darth Marr, but require greater wisdom. A weapon only becomes more dangerous when hidden.
Hiding was the exhausting part. But Sheev knew that he was worthy, and that he was the one chosen for a reason. He drove the saber in an arch, as he would if it were ignited, and could practically see the red energy beam, elegant and brutal, hear the crackling of its power, and feel its heat.
Not that Palpatine did not live a life proper for a young Sith Lord – not by a stretch. He had access to Damask Industries’ corporate bank lines - nearly as bottomless as the pits between Coruscant’s skyscrapers, which drilled their duroplast foundations deep into the planet’s core.
But he missed this - a singular conviction of a hunter heading after his prey, a clear line of sight which reduces the future into a line of inevitabilities, which conclude in a saber driven through the victim’s heart.
But the thing is, he missed power which the Jedi had taken from them so, so much more.
And yet, would there be harm in seeing the exchange through by himself? No, it would not, the weapon in his hand suggested, and Palpatine did not even notice how he agreed.
The lightsaber hid itself inside Sidious’ wide sleeve. And the Force had its way, as the Lord of the Sith headed into the city’s dusk.
Sidious loved Coruscant, like one could love a dangerous animal. He would soothe it with treats and quiet kindness, make it perform a few delightful tricks – and then run a hand up its fur, see it snarl, and wrestle it into submission, hand firmly collar.
It was an exercise, he told himself. A perfect performance of one that will never be seen or appreciated in full – nor the vision of a Dark Lord behind the machinations of a Senator, nor dozens of small outings like this laying a way for Emperor’s ascension.
A jeweled heart of the civilized galaxy, Coruscant was the easiest place to be invisible. No surveillance network or traffic control could encompass so many living beings, and one hooded figure effortlessly disappeared in the flow of life trickling from the upper levels to the overflowing apartment modules, some old enough to remember the foundation of the Republic.
Palpatine did not have to raise his head in the stench of the crowds. The Force had lead him. The darkness of the planet’s heartbeat was kin to his own.
The Crossed Eyes were a Corulagi organization, and Sidious definitely saw the appeal they held for both Maie and his Master. A group relatively young and small, they quickly rose to prominence when they expanded their operations from their home world to the galactic Capital. They were known for the security of their cargo, and charged corporations for transfer of illegal materials, with minimal strings attached. Their business was reliable, and not outstandingly dishonest.
The Underworld and the glistening towers of the surface levels existed in a curious symbiosis, and Sidious did not tire to delight in it, as he was making his way to the docks where Crossed Eyes set up their shop. The two sides of Coruscant fed off each other, took out the undesirables, and disposed of trash. And each thought itself better than the other, and more honest. The shining one with the broad walkways and clear lights of the Republic, and the one which prefered neon signs and murky shadows.
Both were lying to themselves, and he would rule both of them, Palpatine thought.
And then a gun was held at his face.