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Darkness on Coruscant

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i.

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.

Wait. No.

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].

ii.

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. 

Chapter Text

iii.

“I’m here to arrange a delivery.” Sheev informed the masked smuggler, smiling into the maw of his blaster.

He had stumbled unto a watchperson. But the man wasn’t alone. More soldiers - someone was very, very good at outfitting their crews - stepped out from the shadows. With the corner of his eye, Palpatine caught a glint of the scope from a nearby comm tower. That rose the count of weapons aimed at him to six.

“From whom?” The voice came altered through the mask’s filters, but the heavy Corulagi consonants still stood sharp against the soft flow of Basic.

“Maie.”

The name was a wrong one. He realized before he finished speaking it. There was a pause, and then glances were exchanged behind the masks, and the smugglers moved in, to take him into a tight circle.

“There is no need for that, my friends.” He said, extending both of his empty hands in front of him in an amiable gesture. “I am sure this is something we can talk about.”

One of the masks shook its head, and Sidious could feel the Force curl around one of the triggers, anticipating the shift between the potency and the existence. Hungry for it.

Sidious reacted in the same second.
A wall of rage rose within him, scorching through his mind and commanding his body into action. It was that rage which kept him alive, and which rolled through him like thunder, and burned poisonous as acid.

The smugglers double-crossed him. Most importantly, they had wasted his time.
Obeying Sidious’ will in the Force, the lightsaber jumped into his hand, and the smuggler in front of him fell, his own shot deflected into his chest. This was possibly a poor course of action, but not the one he was willing to contemplate in the moment.

Palpatine could feel the crisp terror that spread across the remaining smugglers, their indecision, and the harrowing realization that stuck to their skin like tar. They stared at the glowing blade, paralyzed with the vision of death so inevitable and unthought of.

And Sidious allowed himself to bask in their fear, and the knowledge that he was its source, for an entire sweet second - before he stroke again.

The lightsaber moved nearly too fast for an eye to catch – a beautiful, burning arch had cut three of his assailants in half. And then the Sith shifted on his feet, bringing the weapon into a reverse grip and running it deep into the gut of a man behind him.

The last one, he lifted into the air and, watching how the man struggled against the grip of the Force, started breaking his bones, with the slow, crunching sound.

The sniper fired, but Sidious simply stepped aside, aware of the plasma beam’s trajectory before it traveled through the rifle’s barrel. He rose the lightsaber to deflect an incoming shot, and crushed his victim’s windpipe, throwing the now useless body off the watchpoint.

There was excess to his gestures, as he turned around to face the new enemy, as the base was rising in high alert. But there was also an excess of power within him, a molten lake brought into disorder and now ready to spill over.

There was no point in stopping, as no one who saw him ignite the lightsaber could live. He stalked men like a beast stalks its prey, allowing it to exhaust itself, and to witness its death before delivering the final blow.

The sirens kicked in, but the orders screamed have drowned in confusion and terror, as the smugglers did not know if should they run towards the danger or away from it. The docks were quickly reduced to chaos before an unfathomable enemy.

Wait, a worried voice on the edge of Sidious, consciousness was saying. This was reckless. This was not the time. But he did not listen.

The song of the Force and the knowledge of his own power silenced all else in his mind.

+


There was a smash of the vacuum locks, when the smuggler ran into the harbormaster’s office, the heart of Crossed Eyes’ operations. And Bojo Am Ser just had the time to read the animal terror splashed across his soldier’s face, before her head was impaled upon a flow of humming plasma, crimson blade piercing her from neck to the mouth twisted in a silent scream.

No.

Ser was no coward. He had seen death in nearly all shapes the galaxy served it – but he had never seen Jedi kill like this. There was no time or place to run, as the lightsaber had cut through his fighter’s skull and was making a precise, burning circumference through a near foot of steel.

Each man meets his death at his time and at his domain, Ser’s mother would tell him, cleaning her sniper-rifle on one of the Oculus’ quiet decks, so when it comes – greet it like its master. So Ser put his blaster on the highest setting and prepared for what is to come.

There was a pause in the blade’s arch, and then the weeping sound of metal being twisted and bent beyond its purpose – and Ser felt a push of air and an enormous pressure upon his chest. And after a deafening spark of pain it was cold and quiet, as he lay decimated under the weight of the security door.

He wanted to make a sound, call for someone; but what left his lips was a wet wisp, and he could feel the air pass through his torn chest. He couldn’t feel his legs, however, and by the awkward angle of his left shoulder he knew there wasn’t much left there, and one of is lekku was torn – but it all didn’t quite matter when he caught a sight of the black robes and the creature clad in them.

What stood above him was a human, but it should not have been. He knew how humans looked, of course, he even loved one – a long time ago. And now – it was a human body, but it didn’t act like one.

It stood under proper angles, and its grasp on the lightsaber was certain, of a warrior mindful of his space – but there was an unnatural quality to that posture, as if the universe rebelled against its matter being folded into this.

Ser’s death was young, with strands of red hair framing a face both twisted and empty, as of those who talked to spirits on his homeworld. The creature’s eyes were too alive, however, with gold and bronze burning around the wide pupils – it cocked its head, as if listening to something, and gave a howling cry.

There was no one else left to kill.

And Ser’s dying mind felt one final surge of defiance, an impulse for life against the suffocating fear. He lost everything today, all that composed his love and his pride, brought bread to his table, and filled his days – in a matter of minutes. All because they stumbled upon a monster, and tapped upon a darkness that no man’s heart should bear. And he would not let it say that he was not enough.

His right arm was still obeying, and reached out for the blaster on mangled floor as easy as for a lover’s hand in the dark.

Maybe it was because one of his eyes didn’t see anymore, or maybe the abomination wasn’t fully corporal in the red glow of the saber, but Ser could barely take the shot – and the trigger felt so, so heavy.

There was a flash of screaming plasma, and the figure’s composure broke, as it nearly fell on one leg. And then the deranged, beastly eyes met Ser’s – and there was nothing.

+


One movement of the wrist, and the twi’lek’s neck cracked. The lightsaber reversed in Sidious’ hand, drawing sparks from the ferrocrete floor, and he turned his head, seeking out new prey.

None.

The last flicker of life had just disappeared into the Force, and the trail was empty.

In the battle stance of Juyo, Palpatine wanted to sob in absolution, or to kill, or to fuck. He could feel the Force that drove him forward, that carried him as great, gentle Mother, and could remember squeezing his own mother’s throat until she breathed no more.

He was a Dark Lord of the Sith, and his was the power overwhelming. He did not have to stop here. He could continue carving his way through the lower levels, hundreds dead and tenths of thousands bowing in fear and worship. But that was still nothing. A drop in the enormity of Coruscant, which will eventually swallow him like the last working hand. He could…

He could not go against the entirety of the Jedi Council.

That was the wisdom of Plagueis’ teaching, and the cowardness of Darth Bane.

He must be a weapon concealed.
Palpatine felt the cool, filtered air of the industrial block in his lungs. And then he felt weak, as – in a breath – the Force had left him.

“…Fuck.” He exhaled, running a hand through his tangled hair, slowly becoming aware of the carnage he had actually caused.

How many did he kill? Thirty, fifty? He did not remember, and did not exactly care, turning to the harbormaster’s tall window to look at the slaughter he left in his wake -- torn bodies, wrought metal, and long, scourging lightsaber marks on the hangar walls and floor.

Sidious smiled. The weapon’s hilt felt warm in his hand, and to extinguish it was to put a living thing back on its chain.

He did so anyway. And a deep pleasure ran through him at the lightsaber’s sob, and at the memory of violence that now resided within it.

The currents of the Force twisted, changing course and pattern, and stirred him to the blaster wound on his thigh. His body was awaking to pain again.
With a hiss, Palpatine leaned against the wreckage of a desk and examined the burn. Allowing a blaster shot to reach him was careless, and a flaw in his mindset rather than technique. You know what else was careless?

Sidious looked at mangled body on the floor, and winced. He just slaughtered his business partners.

This was by far not the first time he murdered so many, and so swiftly. But the first time – on his own. There were mad nights on the Harvest Moon, and the primitive planets, and the specially served executions. But he never did it freely. There was always Plagueis - who was watching, who was stronger, still. Who could control him when he couldn’t control himself. Sidious bit his lip in both resentment and want.

Wait, Plagueis -

Plagueis had plans for this cartel.

Palpatine cursed once more, with all the vocabulary available to the scion of Naboo’s finest families, and wiped his hands on his sleeve.

He fucked up.

People disappeared on Coruscant all the time. The city of trillions lived through innumerable industrial coups, major acquisitions, endless dynastic feuds and doomed love affairs daily. Any life was but a spark in the radiance of the Galactic City that Palpatine could feel the moment he touched the Force - a spark just as easily extinguished.

But he did just slaughter the entire operations cell of a smuggling ring, and there was no way to make that many bodies disappear without raising any questions. No undertaker was that fast or that discrete – even if he had the credits to lay out for this.

And he had to offer Plagueis something to compensate the destruction of his pawns. Sidious was not ready for another round of disfavor.

So he thought, feeling the blood on his robes turn hard and cold. He needed something drastic. Time was prescious.

A sharp movement caused a sting of pain in his leg, as Palpatine pulled out his comm and started scrolling through his contact list: past the familiar Jess Marico’s Cleaning Services, between a Mon Cal takeout and Corellian senator’s mistress – yes.

There was yet a way to turn this to his favor, albeit a slightly messy one.

“Symetra. Hello.” He spoke into a comm in voice that was nearly his usual one, the one of a kind and intelligent man. “I’ll need an explosion.”

Chapter Text

iv.

Palpatine could sense his kidnappers the moment they started trailing his hovercar, and instructed the droid to stop at a promenade a few blocks away from the senatorial apartments, at a pretense of preferring a walk to high town traffic.

He could not have made it any easier.

And yet, the goons were decisively sloppy, even as he generously fell behind on his step, examining a Laconian lily in the empty curve of an alley.

They wasted a few vital seconds before jamming the tranquilizer into his neck, which placed him under an unfortunate obligation of calling for help and then enduring dirty fingers pressed into his mouth to keep him silent.

And then everything was pleasant, milky fog.

“….”

Bantha crap.

He came back to his senses with an expected headache, vision blurry and throat raw, body still heavy under the drug’s influence. His hands were no less expectedly bound behind his back, and he was lumped on a coarse chair in the middle of an empty room. A dull, reddish light shone from somewhere above his head, barely scraping the stripped, concrete walls.

Really?

After the gambit at the docks, Sidious had hoped for at least a spark of originality. But perhaps the most forward-thinking part of the cartel was the one he killed.

He winced, and shadow in the corner moved. The Trandoshian’s anguish and rage cut through his senses, and Palpatine decided that it wasn't the best time to attract attention.

And he shut his eyes once more, feigning unconsciousness. And listened to the Force.

It did not flow smoothly, as it would on upper levels; the great current formed clots, attracted to sentients’ exhaustion and despair. Long hours. Barely seeing the light. Smell of chemicals. The rattling sound of gravtrains. And an emblem of a stylized Wesk framing the rise of Corulag’s orange sun. The Crossed Eyes have nested directly under the aegis of Werrod.

Palptaine would have laughed at the irony, but what escaped his lungs was a coarse, dry cough.

And the fiends of the Underworld always worked faster, and more effective than the civilian justice, or the Jedi. So he had to take care of them first.

Prompting his own kidnapping was, of course, an extreme measure – but the role of a naive Senator was probably his most priced bargaining chip on a planet where the combination of power and ignorance was a rare and sought after commodity.

“Please don’t kill me…” He whispered, shuddering at the cold barrel of a blaster pressed between his eyes.

“Won’t. If you’ll start talking.” A rough, non-human voice sounded above him, and Sheev had the fake courage to look up at the Thrandoshian’s snarling face.

“But I am talking.”

A butt of the weapon hit his jaw with a force that set him flying against the restrains. And, gasping and blinking off tears of pain, Sidious thought that the smugglers were dense to the point of inefficiency. Was Plagueis thinking?

+

Her name was Bojo Am Dah, and two rotations before she had lost two of her brothers, and more friends than she had the heart to think of. Their business was a rough one, but it was played by the rules. Tough rules, admittedly – but those were the unspoken laws, a set of understood agreements that connected the Underworld from Coruscant to the Outer Rim as tight as the hyperspace route network.

What happened on Plessis 4 went beyond those laws. And the only one who could tell her what happened was this provincial senator who, it seemed, ended up at the right place at the wrong time – and was now spitting blood on her floor.

“Palpatine, right?” She asked, and watched the man before her nod, as his eyes went from Duro to her, and back. Smart. Calculating.

“I have a few questions.”

“My pleasure.”

“You know why you’re here.” Dah stood in front of him, unmoving.

Palpatine took in a deep breath, making a noticeable effort to keep himself composed. “I have nothing to do with that.”

“So you do know.”

“I saw nothing.” He promised. And she did not believe him for a second.

“Why did you set up the bombs?”

His eyes rounded.

“Do you think it was me?!”

“What did you see?” She pressed, grip tightening on her pistol.

“It was a Jedi. An Ithorian. Blue lightsaber.”

“The Jedi would do something like that?” Her eyebrows rose.

“I swear I have not lead the bomber your way.” He spat out in one breath, leaning forward desperately and trying to catch her eyes, his own wide with fear.

“Then who had.”

“I-..” he bit his lip nervously. “I don’t know. I don't know if there was a bomber. Listen. I have no business with your organization. Or Tavreska. Maie crossed me.”

“Maie.” Dah repeated, as if to herself.

“Keep talking.”

“I don't know what else…” He was struggling to focus. “There was supposed to be a deal, but there was an explosion. And I am really trying to put the whole thing behind me right now.”

Duro moved behind her back, impatiently. And Palpatine swallowed.
“I just came to negotiate. And then saw a lightsaber. And then… were it the fuel tanks..?”

“To negotiate, huh. Who are you truly, Senator?”

“A friend.” He offered, pathetically, with a bloodied smile.

“With friends like you…” The twi’lek turned the blaster in her hand, contemplating her options – the satisfaction of taking out the witness of her cartel’s fall, or the complications of making sure the body won’t be linked back to them.

“…You will be the supplier to the wealthiest on Coruscant.” Palpatine swallowed, nervously, and his exposed throat moved as he watched the weapon. And Dah watched him. Definitely too young for a Senator.

“If you would hear me out,” he continued.

He was kinda cute, however – for a politician, or for a human. Even the white skin wasn’t entirely repulsive.

“Are you suggesting something, Palpatine?”

“You don’t like Maie, right?”

She snorted.

“Cut out the middle person.” He pleaded.

“I could do that for you. Maie promised me your contacts.”

Dah wasn’t sure if it were hunger for his own life or for power which made him so convincing. Possibly the same thing.

“And you could do that for us?” She was naturally sceptical. The last thing she had to spare was trust. But seeing the senator who was bleeding her homeworld and their business removed was a pleasant perspective.

“I don’t have to do anything.” He cast his eyes down. “What happened to your people is evidence enough, if I will suggest it to the right sources.”

“Yeah?” She would have a hard time selling this to the other ring leaders. But, hell, if they could come out of this on top of the game. “And what’s the guarantee that you won’t run to the Security Force the moment you’re out of here.”

The prisoner chuckled, head still bowed and face obscured by strands of red hair. The sound was dark, and unsettling, and wet. And Dah had to fight herself not to take a step backwards.

“Because.” Palpatine looked her in the eye, and she thought him aware of the effect he was having. And another though, irrational and quick like lightning, told her to shoot him in the head here and now, like a rabid animal. That every second dealing with this man put her and hers into mortal danger.

“Because..” He continued, in a softer voice, and Dah blinked, unclenching the fist her hand fell into next to her blaster. The previous ideation passed like a cloud.

“This is as much outside of my interest as it is out of yours.”

Dah smirked. Palpatine was a cheap, lying vermin. Just like the rest of the Senate. If they believed in anything, it was power and profit. And she could work with that.

She thought of what else she could milk him for.

“Just, please.” Human moved his shoulder in obvious discomfort. “Be more discrete next time. I will have to explain both a public kidnapping and this-“

She gave Duro a questioning look over the prisoner’s head, and the Trandoshian just shrugged. Fair, Dah had to agree. Visible markings were unnecessary.

“Hmm. And how would you explain it?” She asked, carefully running her hand over the already bruising jaw.

“I fell.” Palpatine supplied helpfully, looking into her eyes as a beat up nexu. She chuckled.

“You fell?”

“Yes.” He licked his lips.

“Fair enough.” She patted him on the cheek. “Let's talk details.”

+

The first thing Sheev did when he was shown out of the car on one of the upper level commerce promenades was to dial up his dealer. He had a lot of work to do. He would also need a shower, a cup of warm caff, and at least something to eat. His political and business networks would not adjust themselves. And he had to have a trap arranged certain Corulagi Senator literally overnight.

Palpatine swallowed his stimulants, and began making calls.

And by the morning, the dead were left to be unaccounted for, the documents were sent off-world, the clandestine droid cleanup crews were finishing in the docks, and the invisible power balance of the underworld had shifted. And Sheev Palpatine was hurrying to his office in the cursed metallic mushroom with a steaming cup of caf and a dozen unread briefs on his data pad.

The sun was standing high over the Senate, but there was a darkness on Coruscant.

+

v.

[back in the current cycle.]

“Master Dooku, Master Jinn.” Palpatine rose from his chair with a smile, welcoming the two Jedi who entered his office with open arms. “To what do I owe the pleasure.”

“We are sorry to bother you, Senator.”

Dooku did not sound sorry at all, stepping into his office with an air of unquestionable, elegant authority. A man accustomed to inhabiting places of much greater power. And Sheev allowed that to impress him. “But there is a matter we are investigating, that you perhaps can shed some light on.”

“What happened to your face?” Jinn was much more straightforward than his former Master, and much less confident in the furnishings of his office. And Palpatine enjoyed that, sensing the currents of living Force beating in the young Jedi. For a moment, he met the clear eyes.

“It is rather unfortunate story,” Palpatine admitted, changing in face and taking his eyes from his guests, “But I don’t think it would be something to concern the Jedi Order.”

“With respect, when a Senator is threatened it does concern the Order.”

“A personal story. Unless you know something I don’t, Master Jedi.”

“That Crossed Eyes and you had a conversation. We do.”

Dooku sighed at his former student’s impatience.

And Palpatine had to feign naivety. “You work remarkably fast, for a matter outside of your direct obligations.”

“There were rumors of our own involved.” Jinn confessed, unwilling.

“Ah,” was all what Palpatine could mouth. Of course, the Jedi took the bait.

“Why was a Corulagi syndicate interested in a Nubian Senator.”

“There had to be a… transaction.”

Palpatine fidgeted. It was a fair exchange. The Jedi gave away their weak belly, so he would show them his dirty hands. That was how trust worked.

“You have to understand…” Sheev’s voice trailed off, as his long fingers ran down the polished surface of his desk, “This whole matter… is an unfortunate consequence of a private one, done in a favour to a friend. And would have most unpleasant consequences for our democracy, if made public.”

The contempt that crossed Dooku’s face at the word “democracy” was not lost to him.

“Whom are you covering for?”

“Senator Maie.”

Qui-Gon's expression was strict. Dooku’s was impenetrable.

“Is it a dangerous game you are playing, Senator.”

Sidious appeared saddened. “We all walk towards justice in the ways given to us, Master Jedi. I am one man, and I cannot refashion the ways of the Capital in a single rotation, or a year. I risk my life and my wellbeing for my people, and sometimes I am pressed to make decisions I would find unfathomable as a civilian.”

Blaming politics was nearly always a flawless choice, no matter what game.

“You put us in a difficult situation, Senator.” Jinn interjected, as his former master seemed struck in thought.

“It grieves me to do so, Master Jinn.” Palpatine bowed his head in penance. “But I trust you will make the right decision.”

The two Jedi exchanged looks, and Sidious could feel the tension in the Force between them, as a silent, wordless argument was happening over the half-severed bond between Dooku and his former apprentice. Somehow, he felt he was intruding, and looked aside, where lines of Coruscanti traffic streamed behind the tall window.

"Alright," Jinn spoke, and bowed his head. "You are right, Master."

Dooku gave him a nod of appreciation, and turned to Palpatine. "We are willing to cooperate with you on this one, Senator, if -"

Sheev's eyes lit up.

"If you will be willing to go on record regarding Maie and the Corulagi cartels.”

“But Master Dooku”, Palpatine was hesitant, “But would you know what risk this brings me under?”

“All for the well-being of your people.” Slightest sarcasm laced Dooku’s voice, and Palpatine bowed his head with a smile.

“We guarantee you the Order’s protection, Senator.” Jinn interjected, impatiently.

“What exactly are the guarantees you can leave me with?” Sheev’s voice was silk and polite apprehension.

“I shall be personally responsible for your safety. While Master Jinn will investigate the events concerning the Crossed Eyes.”

“That is amenable.” Palpatine smiled.

“Perhaps, then you should leave me to my testimony. And we can plan the following steps in accordance with the number of death threats I receive.”

Dooku chuckled. “That would be my pleasure.”

+

When the doors behind two Jedi closed, Darth Sidious fell into his chair with an audible sigh, and commed Roo to prepare more caff.

His thigh was still burning, and the lack of sleep started to get in the way of how he perceived distances.

But now he knew what kind of speech he should be writing.