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Star Wars: Jewel of the Empire

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Coruscant glittered in the faint evening glow, its reflective silver skyline painted with the playful gold and lavender hues of the dwindling daylight.  Chancellor Palpatine found himself working diligently in his office as he usually did this time of day, though something or another had brought his attention to that night's performance of Revan and Bastila at the Galaxies opera house.  Usually these things were planned well in advance, and he would be forced to sit through the event with his usual entourage, all of whom seemed to lack appreciation of good theater and were far more interested in having his ear than anything onstage.  He hadn't even been particularly interested in seeing this particular opera, having seen it before, but something was urging him to go on this particular night to this particular show absolutely alone- no press, no slick politicians, not even a security detail.  Ordinary men would consider it a mere moment of spontaneity.  Those powerful in the Force, however, recognized it as the call of destiny.  As Supreme Chancellor and as a top-contributing patron, it would only take a single holocall to ensure that a premium box would be available for him.  His ticket, a simple code sent to his datapad, arrived immediately.  Noting he had little time until night fell and the performance commenced, he quickly collected himself, smoothing back his reddish curls and brushing off the tiniest particles of dust and hair from his black robes before heading out. 

The world retained its artificial glow as the sun sank below the horizon and he made his way down the elevated walkway towards the opera house, the hum of a million passing speeders and chatter in dozens of languages offering a reprieve from the busy workings of his mind.  Tonight was not a night for deep thought, he knew.  The Force would offer what it would, and it was only a matter of sensing it and seizing it, should it prove advantageous.  Unlike the Jedi, the Sith viewed the Force as a weapon to be dominated and manipulated, not a divine entity whose will decided all.  Existing in harmony with it was nothing more than submission, defeat, weakness, things a Sith could never accept, and Palpatine was no exception.  Whatever it was that he sensed he would find at the theater this night, he knew it would play a vital role in his ultimate plan, should he choose to make use of it like a truly great Sith would.

Revan and Bastila was an older operatic work of approximately three hours and of the style Palpatine would typically enjoy, but something about it had always irked him.  It wasn't precisely its historical accuracy (or lack thereof), as the story matter was loosely based off of a legend so old it would seem many of the actual facts had been lost to the ages.  Rather it was the portrayal of Revan as a tragic hero who sacrificed all he loved (including the beautiful Jedi Bastila) to save the Republic from the still-undiscovered Sith Empire.  It had given no attention to his sheer power from being in tune with both the light and dark sides of the Force, nor his brilliance in manipulating a galactic civil war to strengthen his power base, but had instead reduced him to a sickening romantic archetype far from the real Revan that had long intrigued Palpatine.  Still, he comfortably admired the fine artistic qualities of the performance, the entire time remaining as much in tune with its dramatic orchestrations as he was with the Force energy surrounding him.

It was only when the show ended that he finally sensed what could only be described as a peculiarity in the Force near him, surely caused by whatever it was he had been searching for.  After the applause had ended and the curtains had closed for the last time, the Chancellor made his way to the dressing rooms under the guise of congratulating the actors on a particularly fine performance.

Then he saw her- felt her through the Force.  Her every step was filled with grace, and had he not sensed her powerful presence through the Force he would have never noticed she was coming his way, for she was unusually light-footed.  She was a young, quite rather small human woman dressed in the humble garb of a stagehand with long, thick waves of ebony hair, flawless sun-kissed skin, large, almond-shaped black eyes that shone like a night sky filled with stars, and lips like the fullest, brightest spring blossoms.  This stunningly beautiful creature, he realized, was the very anomaly he had felt through the Force, and it was clear that she had no idea of the power that swirled around her.  Their eyes met, and she greeted him with a coy smile.

"Excuse me, young lady, but you wouldn't happen to be the lovely actress that gave that beautiful performance as Bastila just now, would you?" he said, already anticipating her answer.  A flush came to her cheeks, signaling his success.  Strategical flattery had always been one of his strong points, though with her it came to him unsettlingly easily.

"No, I'm afraid not, Chancellor, though I'm surprised you'd think I could possess such talent" she responded, her voice timid yet sweet and melodic.  "She's busy with the rest of the cast, but I'm sure if I told them you were here-"

"No, that's quite alright," he said.  "I'm here unofficially and certainly don't want to draw too much attention by having myself announced.  Even politicians such as myself need some time away from the prying eyes of the public, after all."

"I'm sure," she said softly.  Far from dismissive or insincere, she sounded so genuinely understanding in a way he wasn't accustomed to.  He could sense something all too recognizable stirring within her despite her efforts to snuff it out, something he realized was growing within himself as well: attraction.  Pure, unbridled attraction.  Many had fallen for the facade he wore of the handsome, gentle statesman, and more still were attracted by the power he now wielded, but for once it was mutual.  And because it was mutual, something within him questioned if he might only be imaging that she was so enchanted by him.  "It's brave of you to come to such a public place with no security," she noted.  "Coruscant is dangerous enough for ordinary people at night.  I can't imagine what could happen to someone as important as you."

"Oh, dear girl, I assure you that in spite of my status, I am still at my core an ordinary person who only desires to serve other ordinary people.  I can't consider myself any more important than you or any other citizen of the Republic."

"I beg to differ, sir!  It's you who saved our world," she said, her voice resounding with much more confidence and strength.  "I'm from Naboo like you, Chancellor.  We can never forget what you and Queen Amidala did for all of us to stop the occupation."

"You're from Naboo?" he said, raising an eyebrow.  "What a small Galaxy this is!  But I should have known- only a Naboo woman could be so charming and beautiful!"

"You do flatter me too much," she responded with a laugh.

"Is it really flattery if it's true?"

"Perhaps not."

"Then I'm not flattering you."

"Nor am I, Chancellor."

"What is your name, child?"

"Miriné.  Miriné Katina."

They conversed for quite some time about life, the Galaxy, the arts, and their homeworld, and it became quite obvious that the girl's wit matched (if not exceeded) her beauty.  Her demeanor might have fooled anyone into thinking she was naive and brainless, for she did not openly advertise her intelligence, but she was certainly more than capable of holding a gripping conversation with a man like him.  With every moment more they spent together, the attraction between them grew stronger and stronger, for Palpatine had never been interested in the small-minded, and neither had she.  But soon the night grew old, the theater empty, and he knew it would be foolish to let her go so soon.

“I wonder if you wouldn’t grace me with the pleasure of your company this evening, my lady,” he said once the moment seemed right.  The young girl’s eyes widened, and a flush came to her cheeks.

“Sir, I don’t think it would be appro-“

“My dear girl, I hope the idea doesn't frighten you.  I merely desire good company and conversation at dinner.  In my line of work I rarely can spend time with people who are so pure of heart and genuinely fascinating to talk to.  It becomes… lonely.”  He sensed a certain discomfort in her, a desire to help him colliding with a fear of being mistaken for someone of an entirely different profession.

“But even if you and I know that all you want is a dinner companion, what will everyone else say when they see us together?  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a scandal.”

“Dear lady, far from causing a scandal, having someone as lovely as you on my arm would be sure to evoke envy from anyone that may see us!  Come now, I know just the place to take you.”

She was ensnared by his charm, and it was obvious by the time they had finished their meal in a private corner of the neighborhood’s most luxurious restaurant.  He was so gentle and kind in a way she hadn’t experienced in years, and despite his age she found him devilishly handsome, from his soft, entrancing blue eyes to his aristocratic nose and chin to his reassuring, paternal smile.  She couldn’t explain it, but there was an energy about him, drawing them closer and closer with each moment they spent together, and it awoke something deep inside her that she had never in her young life felt.  And yet she had clearly been preoccupied with other things- only choosing plates that offered the most food at the lowest price, nervously picking at her meal in fear that she might eat faster or more sloppily than would be considered proper, trying desperately to hide the fact that she didn’t fit in.

”I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to afford this,” she said.  “I think that was more food than I’ve seen all week, and the bill will be far more than I’ll be able to repay in a month.”

”Did you think I brought you here with the intention of making you pay?” he said with a laugh.

”I didn’t think you would.  Not immediately at least.  I’m not entirely comfortable with being indebted to anyone.”

”Then consider this my treat, Lady Katina.  You owe me nothing, and I owe you everything for having given me such a memorable evening.”  The reassurance made her face light up with a smile.

And then he laid his hand gently on top of hers under the table.  She blushed innocently, unsure how she should react but sure that she enjoyed the sensation.  Deep in his eyes she lost herself, absolutely entranced by everything about him.

“Would you… come home with me tonight, dear girl?  I won’t be offended if you refuse,” he said.

“Sir?”

“Oh, perhaps I’m a foolish old man to ask, but…”  His voice trailed off as he waited for her reaction.  He could sense her worry conflicting with her desire to be closer still to him.

“Yes,” she said confidently after a moment of deep thought.  “I would be glad to do so.”

With that, her fate had been sealed.  He led her to a speeder and flew with her into the night towards the tower he called home.  Her eyes glimmered as she looked up at him, and he could sense the energy between them intertwine, becoming so powerful he wondered if it wouldn’t awaken the whole city.

The beauty in his arms eagerly let him lead her to his quarters, where he kissed her for the first time, sending sparks through the Force around them.  He was stunned by how much this innocent, bright-spirited young girl wanted him of all people- an old, worn, politician from her homeworld, beloved and trusted though he may have been by the general public.  He realized he hadn’t even tried to manipulate her into this.  He had told a few little fibs, emphasized the more honorable parts of the role he played as the good Chancellor, but he hadn’t lied, and he certainly hadn’t utilized any tricks of the Force.  She wanted to be here with every fiber of her body.  The way she looked at him might have killed him, for she admired him as though he were the most desirable man in the galaxy.

Her hands, so slender and delicate, seemed to paw hungrily at him, desperate to feel his skin against hers.  But he would not let her have her way so easily.  With kisses and gentle caresses he teased her, tortured her with hints of what he could make her feel and pulling away just before they could get too carried away.  Every action was precisely calculated, every reaction expected, just as in everything else he did.

When her dress slid from her shoulders to the floor, Palpatine stood admiring her in awe.  The humble garment had covered a body that had been ravaged by hunger in recent days yet had remained strong nonetheless.  He could see that in spite of the adversity she had faced, she was well-built.  With proper care, proper training, this body could be an invaluable weapon, he noted.

“Oh my,” he whispered, laying his hands gently on her hips.  “How did I ever manage to ensnare a being as divine as you?”

“I could ask how a humble girl such as myself managed to find herself with the greatest man in the Galaxy, but it would be a fruitless exercise of the mind, wouldn’t it?” she whispered in turn as she wrapped her arms around his neck and drifted closer.  “I’m here now.  Enjoy me, Chancellor."  He pulled her into a deep kiss, eager to do just that.

He loved how she responded so naturally to his touch, seemed to anticipate his needs, gave him more than he could have hoped for in one passionate night.  For a brief moment, he even forgot that she was the disturbance in the Force he had been searching for.  For a brief moment, she was a beautiful woman, and he was a man lucky enough to have her.

Neglecting his body was a part of juggling two lives as he did.  Perhaps he had forgotten how wonderful it could feel to have a woman like her, or perhaps he merely hadn’t experienced anything as powerful as he had with her.  He was pleased when she stayed at his side without his asking and fell soundly asleep curled in his arms, so trusting, so pure.

She awoke in a daze, wide-eyed as if surprised the events of the night before hadn’t been a mere dream.  The morning sun illuminated the opulence of the room she was in, that she soon remembered having entered with the most powerful man in the Galaxy.  Yet she was alone in this luxuriant bed, left with no sign of the man that she had shared it with the night before.

Before she could dwell for too long on the thought, the door whooshed open, revealing the Chancellor, dressed in a fine robe and as cool and collected as he was in the holonet videos.  At the sight of him, she pulled the sheets above her chest out of habit, forcing a small chuckle out of the chancellor.

“Don’t worry, child, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said softly.  “I’ve brought breakfast.”  He motioned behind him to a protocol droid carrying a tray of cold-cut meats, fruit, bread, cheeses, a steaming cup of fragrant herbal tea, and some sort of juice.  All good food that he knew she couldn’t resist.

“Breakfast in bed?  You’re far too kind, Chancellor,” she said meekly.  He drew closer, leaned down, and gently kissed her on the forehead as the droid set down the plate.  She immediately began to quickly devour the food before her, reminding him that her existence was one which did not guarantee her next meal.  She paused, however, when she realized he was merely watching her. “Won’t you join me?”

“Oh, I would, dear lady, but my morning began many hours ago, and I’m afraid I’ve already eaten,” he responded as he sat down on the edge of the bed.  “I’ll gladly keep you company, however.”

“I appreciate that, sir.  I- well, I feel so out of place here,” she confessed between bites of food.  “At least with you here I don’t feel as much like an intruder.”

“Don’t be silly, Lady Katina!  You may still be unpolished, but you are most certainly a fine jewel worthy of only the finest the Galaxy has to offer.”

“I’m flattered you think so,” she said as she picked up the last piece of fruit on her tray.  “Nobody else seems to see me as you do.”

Because no one else understands what you’re capable of like I do, he thought.

“Rarely am I graced with such enjoyable company,” he said as he gazed deeply into her eyes.  “I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made in my career, you know, but sometimes I wonder if I couldn’t have spared just a bit of my time to start a family and have something in my life that wasn’t politics.  Something to save me from this deep, profound loneliness.”  He could feel her begin to hurt on his behalf.  She wanted terribly to relieve him of his suffering in some way, in any way.  So very sympathetic.  Good, he thought to himself.  I can use that.

With her free hand, she reached out and touched his.  Suddenly she saw flashes of moments in time.  A man in a dark hooded cloak, eyes a frightening, gleaming yellow and lightsaber glowing crimson.  The Senate.  Worlds invaded.  Lives destroyed.  Terrifying things she couldn’t understand.  But all of it was somehow connected to him, and she wanted none of it.

The fruit that had been in her hand just a moment ago had fallen and rolled to the edge of the bed.  She didn’t react to it, only staring into the void with her eyes widened in terror as she attempted to comprehend the visions she had just seen.

“Miriné?  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, sir.  I just remembered something rather important,” she said.  If it hadn’t been for his sensitivity to the Force, he might have believed her.  She was a very smooth liar, though not yet good enough to fool him.  Still, he would play along for now.  She quickly finished the rest of her meal (not leaving a single crumb, he realized) and hopped up to dress herself.  “I hate to be rude, but I do have to leave, sir.  I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for me.  Thank you so much.”

“Leaving already?  Have I upset you somehow?” the Chancellor said, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course not, sir,” she said.  This, he could tell, was not a lie.  She took his face in her hands and kissed him quickly, catching him off guard.  “That was the most wonderful night of my life.”

She took off running out the door, onto a turbolift, and down to the plaza.  Not having the funds for a taxi, she quickly hopped onto a tram and escaped to the depths of Coruscant’s dark underbelly to be alone with her mind.

What happened? she thought to herself frantically. What was that?  What did I see?

A vision of things to come, an elder woman’s voice responded.