"He was too young to be trained in the ways of the Sith, in any case, but he was the perfect age to bond with a father figure who would listen to all his troubles and coax him inexorably over to the dark side." – Darth Plagueis
Fathers and Sons
He had to admit: She went to her death with admirable dignity.
The stately transport, filled with Naboo dignitaries and security forces, skimmed lazily across the highest lanes of Coruscanti traffic. These uppermost lanes, reserved for the diplomats and royalty of the Republic, required special permits to even be allowed to traverse them. If one peered out the window, the dazzling husk of the city planet stretched out endlessly below, dotted with myriad streams of traffic.
The sight no longer fazed him, one who had long grown accustomed to such vistas, and he watched with faint amusement as his queen, disguised in the vermillion and gamboge robes of a handmaiden, did her best not to gawk out her window. So young, so naïve, so…impressionable. Add a dash of headstrong stupidity, and he found himself traveling to see her off to Naboo once more.
The air felt alive, brisk, enthralling tonight as he sucked it into his lungs with a calculated, ragged sigh. Beside him, the Queen – technically one of her handmaidens in ridiculous but effective disguise – turned her head toward him in polite concern.
"Are you all right, Senator?"
"I am well, your Grace, as much as one can be considering our tragic circumstances," he dipped his head, playing along with a show of obeisance. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Padme Amidala straighten in her seat. "I must confess, though, I fear for your safety. The more I dwell on this matter, the more I come to sense that you are making a dreadful mistake."
She did not answer for a long moment, casting instead a cautious look at her ladies-in-waiting. He held his tongue patiently, letting the darkness drift over him. If she had heeded his wishes to remain on Coruscant, an obedient little puppet, she might have lived a few more standard years until her usefulness was over. Yet now, her impetuous decision had led him to one of his own. She would die upon her return to their home planet.
Her bumbling interference would no longer be tolerated. She was speaking again, and he brought himself back to the present.
"We must all do as we are led, Senator," she droned on in her majestic and formal Naboo accent, "Again, I trust you will bring some sanity back to this Republic, but my people need me there with them."
Below them, the free-standing landing platform floated into view. He felt the engines shudder and whine as the ship corrected the flight path and lowered to dock.
His eyes glinted with despondent sorrow. "Your people adore you. Certainly, dying as a martyr will endear you to them, but what use will a dead Queen be? I know they would prefer you alive, to lead them out of this morass."
"Your concern brings warmth to our heart," the Queen was unmoved, and she was no longer looking at him but straight ahead at the dull grey finish of the transport's hull. "Take care of yourself, Senator. Your assistance in these trying times has been invaluable to us."
Summarily dismissed. Padme had instructed her protégé well. He swallowed back the malice bubbling in his throat.
The passenger light blinked on in the compartment, and the Queen and her handmaidens rose in swift coordination. He followed them slowly, his mind turning over the complications that her actions were already creating. She would not turn from this path. So be it. He usually enjoyed it when beings thanked him for twisting the knife in their backs, but his irritation with the feisty little queen made it harder to look humble and accept her parting words.
His souring mood shifted when he made it to the landing platform's edge.
There was the boy.
Now that Palpatine truly looked, his presence was like a blinding light in the Force, painful to behold and yet intoxicating in its sheer potential. How had he ever missed it before? All his previous years of endless machinations suddenly seemed dull, empty of promise.
Plagueis had fretted ever since Palpatine informed him of the boy's existence. Sidious felt the unease and discord through the Force nearly every time he had since spoken with the Munn. However, he felt no such foreboding despair. Here was where his true destiny lay, with this tiny lump of a child, born a slave and destined to change the fate of the galaxy.
Anakin Skywalker trailed far behind the retreating backs of the Queen and Jedi. Now was his chance. "Excuse me," he called cheerfully, practically floating over the smooth expanse of the platform. "Young Anakin Skywalker."
The boy turned, surprised to hear his name coming from behind. His mouth fell open when he realized who had called to him. Beside him, the R2 unit whistled and beeped. "Senator Palpatine, sir," he snapped up straighter. "What do you need, sir?"
He soaked in the respect, the admiration. Clearly, the child already understood the nature of power. "I wanted merely to wish you the best of luck in your next adventure. I understand that you are now on your way to become a great Jedi." Of course, he knew the opposite to be true. It paid to have spies and servants on every level of Coruscant, up to and including the edges of the vaunted Jedi Temple.
He watched, outwardly concerned and inwardly pleased, as Anakin's face crumpled. "No, you see, sir, that's not it. Not anymore." His voice was barely a whisper. "They said I couldn't be trained. I'm just going along with Master Qui-Gon because I don't have anywhere else to go."
Palpatine marveled at the tremulous slave embedded in the boy's personality. He let his own face twist into an expression of mingled shock and dismay. "Not a Jedi? Oh dear. I regret their decision, child. Knowing what you have already done to secure my queen's safety on Tatooine, it's hard to imagine that they would turn you aside so callously."
Was Plagueis wrong then? Were the Jedi indeed going to turn away the supposed Chosen One? He would have to explore this possibility as soon as he returned to his apartments and before he met with his concerned partner.
The boy was stammering and blushing at his compliment, "I didn't do much, not that much, sir. They knew what they were doing, I guess. I don't know…"
Palpatine stretched out a friendly hand and laid it on Anakin's shoulder. "Nonsense, in fact, I think you may have a larger part yet to play in all of this, before all is said and done."
Anakin squirmed with pleasure and embarrassment. "I don't know what to say, sir."
Palpatine thought about it, then decided. With a fluid agility that belied his fifty years, he knelt in front of Anakin and gently took hold of both tiny shoulders. "You need say nothing, Anakin. Just protect yourself, and keep protecting my queen."
His directive was met with the enthusiasm of a naïve mind, with Anakin's firm belief that this was a high calling that he might actually fulfill. He felt the determination fill the small shoulders, felt them tense and grow a little straighter.
For the first time, Anakin shared a smile with his Destiny. "Oh, I will, sir. Count on me."
Palpatine jerked his chin up slightly, toward the waiting starship, the curious Qui-Gon Jinn, and the watching, faintly disdainful eyes of young Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Go on then," he said with a smile of his own, infinite darkness swelling behind its kind façade.
The night was seeping like an open wound in the Light Side of the Force. Senator Palpatine, less than a day from becoming Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and now fully Darth Sidious, lurked in his apartment deep in the isolation of his bed chamber. Here in the beatific heights of 500 Republica, he had worked and trained to carve a niche of Darkness for himself, a place to retreat from prying eyes and probing press, a place where even Plagueis might not find him if he were careful.
And he was consummately careful this evening. Plagueis was settling some issues with the Techno Union at their own embassy in the government district. Sate Pestage guarded his apartment zealously. He was alone here, alone and opened completely to the Dark Side.
The endless minute details of countless futures swirled around him in the shadowy realm of the Force, curling up against his ethereal fingers and sliding away again. Through many of the futures he saw the boy, his actions changing the galaxy with shattering significance. That the child was powerful was beyond debate. Whether he was the Chosen One of the Jedi Order, on the other hand, was a matter of opinion and determination in his less-than-humble point of view.
As the Force moved in and through his body, Sidious began to realize that all his training in the Dark Side would do him little good if he applied it to Anakin in the same way Plagueis had to him. Born a slave, lower than the insects that must have buzzed around him at his birth, Anakin craved acceptance more than power. He desired love more than strength. He sought gifts and friendship and laughter. He lived for freedom.
Sidious fell back into himself with a low gasp. Exhausted from his deep excursion into the Force, he dragged himself upright with trembling hands and moved to stand by the transparisteel window. With unseeing, molten eyes, he stared into the depths of the city-planet.
Freedom like that was a lie.
There was only the Dark Side, which provided a freedom of another sort altogether. The boy would succumb to its siren call, Sidious had no doubt anymore. The question became, how?
The use of brute force was out of the question. The boy was too young, too human, to feel the rage of a true Sith apprentice, to understand the realities of the training. No violent Zabrak heart beat in the small chest. Perhaps he should step in and try to influence the Council to accept Anakin once he had become Chancellor. The boy would chafe under their strict rules and be ripe for the harvest by the time he came of age. But that left quite a bit to chance, the possibility of the Jedi isolating him alarmingly great. Besides, the rejection by the Jedi appeared final, given by the great master Yoda himself.
Sidious did nothing to stop the small sound of disgust in the back of his throat at the thought of the little goblin. How much longer would he have to wait before he could rip the ill-fated Jedi Master limb from limb?
But Yoda had done him a favor, perhaps. If the Jedi would not take the child, he could. He would require a rock solid reason to adopt and mentor the boy, some connection that would make sense to the people, that would tug at their fickle heartstrings and yet be considered an act typical of a self-serving politician. The Chancellor of the Republic, taking a scruffy slave boy under his wing...why? What would satisfy the Holonet tabloids?
Sidious found his way to the chair beside his bed and sank into it, closing his eyes and opening his mind once more to the paths of the Dark Side. The visions came to him slowly, as if the Force itself were cautious in this new undertaking. He followed one shifting line that stretched further than all others, noting how it flexed easily in his mental grasp. Pliable, stable, relatively simple.
Simple enough that the Jedi would miss it?
So much depended on the near future, when the queen would lay claim to her kingdom once more. When she died in her pointless mission, Qui-Gon might ignore the orders of the Council anyway and train the boy. Unless… unless Qui-Gon died as well. Would Maul be up to the challenge, as Sidious had encouraged his apprentice? Only time would tell. The Force twisted with uncertainty around the Jedi Master and his arrogant young apprentice.
One point remained clear: Qui-Gon Jinn needed to die. He could not be allowed to train the boy.
But perish the thought, if he succeeded, if Qui-Gon lived, if Maul and Gunray failed…Sidious blew out his breath all at once. Such a future was not an option. He would alert his apprentice to the danger, impress upon him the importance of singling out and destroying the Jedi Master, if nothing else.
Finally, Sidious realized Maul's purpose. Years of training the Zabrak's body into a perfect weapon, years of honing the sharp mind into a bastion of seething hatred: they all converged on this critical junction in the Force.
May the Darkness guide your steps, Lord Maul.
For the moment, the future was out of his hands.
Well, even though I know I should be working on other stories, and I am, this one has been begging for my attention lately. I think it's because of my Babysitting story. Apologies for any typos found within.
Feel free to review and speculate. I do enjoy hearing all of your thoughts. :)