It was, Palpatine noted contentedly, all exactly as he had foreseen.
He slowly turned his throne toward the giant windows dominating the far wall and gazed with dark contentment at the buzzing cityscape that stretched for kilometers - vertically, that is. Horizontally - well, come on. It was Coruscant, after all. The only non-developed part was that ridiculous artificial Western Sea. He'd take care of that eventually.
Not now, though. He had more important things to consider. Like the new Palace wing being added adjacent to the throne room - how long had they been working on that, for Sith's sake? Maybe it was time to have another little . . . chat with the construction workers. Palpatine smiled with malicious glee at the thought.
Other than that, though, life as the Galaxy's reigning Sith Lord was good. The latest reports from the Grand Admirals were quite satisfactory; Thrawn was still out supposedly mapping the Unknown Regions, and the rest were being as sycophantic as they always were, but hey, they had their good points. Takel had used his personal Star Destroyer to scorch the surface of a planet which had displeased the Admiral, which didn't bother Palpatine any, since he hadn't been particularly fond of the planet himself. Besides, he had Takel slated for execution - ahem, a 'natural death' - next week anyway, which would take care of any thoughts of similar autonomous action by the others. Grunger was doing a reasonably good job protecting the spice mines of Gargon (Palpatine paused to tuck his personal tin of spice a little deeper into the voluminous sleeve of his robe; no one else needed to know why he wanted those mines protected, and rank did have its privileges, after all), Teshik was being less robotic than usual, and that Moff Tarkin was still muttering about a maw and a secret weapon (Palpatine rather hoped he wasn't just spouting smoke this time; it would be so convenient for Tarkin to develop something useful so Palpatine could claim that it had been his idea all along). In addition, no Jedi had been seen for several years, and basically, all was well with Palpatine's lovely New Or . . . de . . . r . . . . .
Palpatine came awake with a jerk, and quickly scanned the room to make sure that no one had witnessed his little, um, Togorian-nap. No, his throne room was still empty. But wait - Palpatine scanned the Force carefully, and was fairly relieved by the lack of immediate awareness that he found there. That Vader had a habit of laughing behind his mask. Oh, he thought that Palpatine didn't know, but that was where he was wrong. Regretfully, Sith Lords were too scarce to simply dispose of Vader for his quiet, traitorous amusement. Maybe in ten or fifteen years, when one of his Hands reached maturity.
Ah, yes, his Hands. Vader had argued against their existence, but then, Palpatine had expected that. Vader couldn't exactly be expected to welcome the little troop of potential replacements with open arms. Palpatine hadn't minded that at all. The practice in throwing Force lightning had been most enjoyable, and while still resentful, Vader had conceded Palpatine's brilliance before long. He hardly ever even laughed over the idea of the Hands any more, not that Palpatine cared. Of course not. Why should he care if some uppity, Ani-come-lately, Jedi washout, lucky-to-be-a-Sith-at-all cyborg laughed at him? Answer: He didn't. Not at all. Not one iota. Stupid Vader.
Still, some of those Hands did show great potential - especially that little redheaded girl - what was her name? Maia? Melee? Mia? M-something, he was sure. Oh, that was right. Mara. Mara Jamillia - no, Janson. No, wait, that wasn't right . . . Palpatine concentrated. Jade. That was it. Jade. At least, that was probably it. Palpatine shrugged. No matter. She had red hair, anyway. She was the only Hand who did, so what did other identification methods matter? He could always find her when he wanted her.
Anyway, she was doing quite well in her training, yes, quite well. She wasn't all that good at moving objects with the Force, but that was more of a parlor trick than anything else, really. Her telepathy was very useful indeed, and her proficiency with a blaster was something to see. It wasn't often you saw a five-year-old shoot the cap off an Imperial Admiral as calm as you please. Zaarin hadn't been happy about it, but Palpatine had been, so Zaarin had shut up. Little Mari had been almost cute in her self-satisfaction - not that Palpatine planned to admit that to anyone.
Speaking of Marna - Palpatine rose slowly, ignoring the creaking from his chair (it wasn't his bones, no matter what Vader thought) and hobbled toward the door. Maybe he'd go see how little Malia was doing. Sure, he could have called her, but it was such fun to drop in unannounced and watch the Hands' tutors quake.
So lost in satisfaction at the prospect was he that Palpatine never even noticed the small, child-size blaster sitting on the top step.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii - " Palpatine screeched as he bounced down the steps. Someone - thud! - was going to pay - thunk! - for th - crash! - iiiiiiiis - bang!
And then suddenly, a gaping darkness was beneath him. Palpatine had just enough time to glance downward, horrified, before dropping like a stone.
A black helmet joined the small red head in peering over the edge of the chasm. "Mara," came the disapproving rumble, "haven't you been told not to leave your weapons on the stairs?"
"Yes," Mara replied, still staring fascinatedly over the edge. "Mr. Vader, why don't they ever put rails around the service shafts? I would if I was them."
Vader shrugged. "Well, Palpatine was always bothering the construction workers, complaining about how behind schedule they were. I suppose they had to cut corners somewhere."
Mara glanced up - and up, and up. She was small for her age, and Vader was tall. "I don't see any corners."
Vader laughed quietly behind his mask. She was almost cute sometimes - not that he'd ever admit it. "That's because they've been cut, Little One."
Mara screwed up her face in thoughtful confusion. "Oh." She looked back down the service shaft. "Is the Emperor going to come back soon?"
Vader gazed down the shaft himself, noting the sudden emptiness in the Force with dark contentment. "No, I don't think he will. Perhaps I should go inform the Grand Admirals of the change of command." And now that Afsheen Makati will be sorry for that comment about how my cape was melodramatic.
He shifted his gaze to the young Mara Jade, who looked back at him.
"Can I shoot his hat off, too?" Mara asked eagerly. Vader blinked. Oh, yes, that abominable telepathy of hers. Hmmmm, that could have its uses . . .
"Yes, Little One, you may. And then I will teach you all that you need to know to grow up to be a nice, strong Sith Lord" - Or was it Lady? Vader wondered momentarily. Oh, who cares. - "and we will rule the Galaxy together, as Master and Apprentice."
Mara glanced carelessly down the service shaft one more time, then skipped to the top of the stairs and retrieved her blaster. "Okay," she declared cheerfully.
Vader took her hand, and together they walked away from the service shaft - First thing I do will be to put rails around the damned things, Vader thought - and toward the command center.
And the galaxy would tremble at their rule.
Original cover by Gabri_Jade. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.