Chapter One

Galaxies Opera House

Uscru District, Coruscant

Year 19 BBY

The opulent and inspiring Galaxies Opera House in the upper level of the Uscru District, Coruscant, was a breath of fresh air for the man who had the selection of the best the city-planet had to offer. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, of Naboo, was one of the entertainment house's most cherished patrons; indeed, he had brought the opera house into the limelight of high-brow Coruscant, shunning the more classical Coruscant Opera. In fact, it was thanks to the Supreme Chancellor that the owner, Romeo Treblanc, was not now floundering in hopeless gambling debts. In return, Palpatine received a highly private (and audibly secured) viewing box for his personal use at any time.

As he mounted the under-lit and glowing blue steps toward his private box, he scoffed at the quaint Jedi ideal of non-attachment. He loved this place and attended the performances when he could abscond from his more serious pursuits. He was a cultured man, and he scorned the sentient beings who could not appreciate the finer arts. Those who attended clubs like the Outlander, those who bet on the fights and the casinos… mere barbarians out for cheap thrills. He could not expect the base creatures to truly understand. Such awareness was beyond most.

Ah, but the ballet! The symphony! The multi-act plays! Such depth and subtleties, such intrigue and drama, such order within the undercurrents! He loved the order most. The more modern composers and directors who dared show their faces in this opera house soon learned differently. He shuddered with the memories. He had exerted his not inconsiderable influence to drum them out of the worthy art circles, and he felt little pity for their uncertain futures. They had unknowingly infringed upon his order, his sense of purpose and meaning, and a place where he could escape the sometimes chaotic flow of his life.

Not a few modernists had disappeared entirely, but he shook the darker thoughts away, returning to his appreciation. The classics were mesmerizing – the control of each note harmonizing and building with the next, the measured manipulation of each step in the dance, the fathomless layers in each actor's face. They all called to him, to a place deep within that he dared not fully acknowledge, even here. Yet here he could relax his grip in small amounts, allowing himself to take pleasure in watching.

Yes, Palpatine mused as he turned down the crowded upper hall of the opera house, he was content to remain on the sidelines in this place, to watch and observe and occasionally learn. He had always learned best by watching, by listening. It served him well in the Senate, gaining him many friends, much gossip, and a little truth. They thought of him as a quiet friend, always willing to listen but never offering judgment. He was an unassuming politician, unspoiled by the intrigues of the Senate. Well. Such foolish assumptions on their parts suited his purposes well enough. He never forgot the feeling that politics was simply acting offered up to the public as the truth. The more brazen the lie, the more sentient beings fall for it.

Perhaps that was why he so enjoyed watching the actors as they performed, scouring their faces through his opera glasses, searching for any miniscule slip of muscle, any sign of broken character. They were beginners, most of them, to his practiced eye. Only a few could truly become their characters; only a few could suspend his disbelief for a time. Those he applauded with extra fervor, recognizing kindred spirits and delighting in the shifting pretenses. His companions wondered that naïve and cheerful Palpatine had such skill in recognizing the good actors, but he laughed inside and thought, one would have to be stupid to not recognize a reflection.

He loved the theater and the masks of flesh that were expected in this place. If politics had not been his path… if destiny had not determined that he would become so much more, he might have enjoyed an acting career. He would have been good at it too. This was extravagant thinking, he suddenly realized, thinking that had no place in his current plans. Art could be a weakness, rousing useless sentiments. What use was it to wonder over nonexistent futures? "What if" questions were a waste of time when he needed to devote his energy to what would be.

That train of thought disappeared into the black hole of his mind when Sly Moore gently touched his shoulder. He shrugged her hand away, offering a sharp glare, and followed her pale look down the great hall with his own gaze until he spotted Senator Bail Organa moving in their direction. Palpatine gritted his teeth with soft and hidden frustration.

The exasperatingly softhearted man had no concept of personal time. What would it be now? Appeals to lay down his emergency executive powers to the strains of Squid Lake? He sincerely doubted Organa only wanted to borrow a pair of opera glasses or something equally innocuous. The two rarely communicated outside of the Senate Dome anymore, even if they had once shared a professional friendship early in Palpatine's chancellorship.

One other sensed his suppressed displeasure. Beside him, the thin and sallow Sate Pestage shifted, leaning his sharp nose close and hissing, "Do you want me to get rid of him, Your Excellency?" His eagerness to spurn the Alderaan Senator was palatable, and Palpatine smiled slightly. A better bureaucrat and covert operative could not be found, with the exception of Kinman Doriana. Pestage carried out his orders with efficiency, and his offer to remove Organa from the game was tempting. But no, it was too soon after the death of Valorum to risk an investigation. Besides, the last attempt had been unsuccessful at best. The only good thing to come of that was the Senate's eagerness to pass the Enhanced Security and Enforcement Act. He became aware that Pestage was still breathing in his face.

"No," he said, annoyed, jerking his head back and cutting off his advisor's anticipation as the Alderaan senator spotted them and quickened his pace across the hall. With him was the Lorrdian senator Nee Alavar, covered in her usual bulky dress robes. "Organa is no threat to us yet, and may in fact be of some more use in the coming days. He suspects me of warmongering, but he has not accused me personally, and he is a most popular senator. No. I think we will step carefully around this fellow. For the present time." Palpatine watched Pestage shrink under his stern gaze. "Still, lead them away if they should seek to follow me into my box. I want a nonpolitical evening. This night is far too important."

Pestage grimaced, swallowing heavily. He well knew of his master's important business. "Yes, Excellency. On that note, the Jedi Skywalker received your request. He will arrive later this evening."

"Silence," Palpatine breathed, pleased. Organa and Alavar had arrived, bowing briefly as a show of respect to his office. "Welcome, my good senators!" he exclaimed, the warmth rushing into his previously cold voice. The senators murmured their thanks and inclined their heads to the other members of his party, especially the attendant Senator Sweitt Concorkill. Palpatine waited, then prodded himself to spread his hands wide and smile broadly. "You have chosen an excellent evening to attend the opera. Squid Lake is simply divine!" Palpatine hoped to cut off their political agenda before it even started. If inane chatter were required, so be it.

Organa straightened in surprise at the friendly reception. His swarthy face did not yet smile. "I heard the Mon Calamari Ballet outdid itself with this program, Supreme Chancellor, and I am encouraged by your warm endorsement." He hesitated, hands hanging awkwardly at his sides. "I was wondering if we might have your ear for a minute before the show."

Pestage stepped forward, noting Organa's dark look at him and pointedly ignoring it. His lips writhed back in the semblance of a smile. A patronizing sneer more like, Palpatine thought. "The Fish People currently hold His Excellency's attention, Senator. This ballet was meant as a diversion from the overwhelming pressure of his official duties. Surely we may set aside political differences for the evening?"

"Fish People?" Alavar questioned in a soft voice, confused. "What do you mean?"

Palpatine glanced away, down the expansive hall to school his expression of amusement. The petty anger Pestage held for the non-human races sometimes surprised even him. He had never understood from where this derision came. Pestage made few evolutionary arguments, no aesthetic pleas. But the bias was always there, an ugly and sometimes – no, often – useful thing. Not useful tonight, however. He glanced sharply at Pestage, the other man missing the look.

"A derogatory term from deal-slang, Nee. I hate to hear it used for such a noble people." Organa was saying, and his face grew even darker as he stared at Palpatine's aide.

"Noble? Entertaining, yes," Pestage chuckled. "But I have seen little of this nobility, Senator, in a people mostly known for the smells of salt and dead fish." Pestage's dislike for non-humans was well known to Organa. Organa, on the other hand, was a champion of non-human rights. Sweitt Concorkill's large pointed head shifted between the two men, eyes bulging at the barely civil discourse; the Vurk senator acutely felt the animosity and disliked it, sweeping his hands from side to side helplessly.

As much as he enjoyed feeding off the anger of his companions, Palpatine decided to diffuse the situation at last. He stepped forward, clapping his hands to both bristling humans and lowering his voice in a mild rebuke to his servant. "Sate, personal opinions may be voiced at more opportune times, and nobility may come in different forms." Then he raised his voice. "I for one, find the Mon Calamari to be a fascinating culture, rich with the finest arts that may be found." He smiled broadly and sensed Organa loosening, beginning to smile as well with his victory over his foe.

"Supreme Chancellor, you speak graciously," Alavar began to say, "but our questions have some urgency-"

"And I could not do them justice at this hour, my lady," Palpatine broke in, his smooth tone never wavering. He offered a self-deprecating smile, a half smirk that so easily reached his eyes. "For all my love of the opera, I may yet sleep before the show is over. I have not been feeling entirely well." A simple lie, one easily backed up by crinkling his brow and drawing his face down.

Their concern and condolences were both real and laughable, but he refrained, instead thanking them and moving away. Pestage stood guard at the door as he entered his private box and sank into the soft right chair. He languidly waved to the news reporters and nodded respectfully to the senators seated across from him. When Sly Moore joined him, she sensed his desire to brood and left him alone. Wise girl…

And there is the first of several chapters. The night at the Opera has begun, and who knows what lies in store for anyone? Will Anakin arrive in time to go behind the scenes and see the "First Look at Squid Lake"? Seriously though, some changes are coming. All reviews will be lovingly appreciated.