For a long still moment I wondered if I had somehow stepped into the wrong room. I was certain that this was the same place Palpatine had taken me to when he had wanted to show me the small statue by Tarka-Null but the room I now faced was empty. I just stared around me not knowing what to do next. I had been certain that the answers I sought were here but it seemed that was not the case and I felt a flash of annoyance at the unseen guide who was determined to lead me on some annoying wild bantha chase to find answers I was pretty certain I already knew but just couldn’t figure out.
Once the shock and the last vestiges of fear had worn off I walked around to see if there was anything at all which would suggest what had happened to all the art that had once been here. It was entirely possible, I thought that it wasn’t the same room at all, but when I shone my torch on the floor I could see where heavy objects had once stood, scratch marks and a slight difference in the colour of the wood, marking the places of the display pedestals and heavy sculptures. It was the right place but everything had been removed and while I should not have been surprised, I was.
Palpatine had coveted the treasures he had hidden here so that only he could view them when ever he wished to. His delight at owning the priceless and rare works of art had been as blatantly obvious as his desire to unravel The Waiting Dancer’s secrets. So where had all the pieces of art gone. More to the point, when had they been removed and why?
I switched off the small hand torch and stood in the darkness, suddenly realising that this room had no windows. I had not noticed this when I had been here the last time as it had been dark and I had been far too wrapped up in the moment to notice much else. Now it seemed to stand out, no windows meant that either the room was not on any outside wall or it had been deliberately built this way so as to be hidden from outside view. I suspected the former was more likely. Palpatine had loved his treasures and had horded them jealously, owning these priceless works of art so that only he could sit and view them had been a source of glee for the man. He had been selfish that way, sharing was not in his vocabulary unless it meant he gained from it.
I sat down on the floor and pulled out the data care reader, switching it on to view the technical readouts again. The eerie green glow seemed to make the empty room more forlorn and all the more deserted. I scanned through the plans searching for this exact room, because I had managed to find the service corridors that led to the hall outside but the room itself did not exist on these plans, according to what I was looking at on the screen I was sitting in a dead end. I sighed and leaned back against the wall. Think, think, think…I chanted softly, I had been drawn here for a reason I was certain of that but the cryptic methods by which I was being led often meant I had to unravel a huge puzzle. Nothing, it seemed, that had to do with the force, ever came easy. So I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift, trying to sort out the answers in the darkness.
When I had been going through training in what Thrawn had called The Center, one of the exercises I had been put through was how to find one’s way in the dark. This training facility which was deep down in the lower levels of the Imperial palace had been set up to train the Emperor’s elite agents among others so a lot of the exercises had been created with force users in mind. As I sat on the floor in the dark I remembered some of my experiences in this place, one of which was to find secrets embedded in the walls, floors and just about any other place a person could think of by using the force. They had been frustrating exercises which had more often than not had me stamping my feet in annoyance and anger.
“Merlyn,” Master Kjestyll would say, “you cannot unravel these mysteries by pounding on the walls with your fists, these are subtle drills designed to train your mind and your unique gifts. Stop fighting against them and allow the answers to flow to you.”
His voice was so clear in my mind that for a second I thought he was with me now and I knew a pang of sorrow that I would probably never see him again. I owed him so much more than I cared to even think about.
With a sigh, I drew a deep breath and began the job of concentrating, just as I had been taught. This ability to find things through the force was not one of my strongest talents and I had neither excelled at it nor particularly enjoyed it. During the time I had been training under the Bunduki master, more often than not it had both frustrated and eluded me but I understood the principle behind it and hoped that now some of this training would finally pay off because I needed it more now than ever.
I could feel the lingering essence Emperor’s power as I opened myself up to the force. It was a taint that I didn’t anyone would ever be able to rid this part of the palace of and it tasted like sour milk. It made me shudder but I found the thread I was looking for and followed it, surprised that I had not noticed it on my own.
The best place to hide things is often in plain sight. My uncle’s words echoed in my mind now as I got up from the floor and made my way over to the spot on the wall that appeared to radiate a soft light. I placed the flat of my hand against it and the large panel in the wall slid smoothly and without sound to reveal a passage way. I didn’t even consider the consequences; I simply walked into the blackness and hoped that it wouldn’t kill me. I just about jumped out of my skin when a light flickered on and for a few seconds I stood there half blind and very confused. This was not another tunnel at all but a turbo lift.
I glanced around the lift and frowned in puzzlement, wondering why there would be a lift only to a room in a part of the palace that no one else could get into except the Emperor, then decided I would learn the answer to this question probably sooner rather than later. There were only two options on the small panel, up or down. When I tried up it asked for a code. I was about to punch in the access code I had been using but a ripple of uncertainty made me change my mind. I lightly touched the down button and felt a small jolt, shivering as the brief flash of an image zapped into my head.
The Emperor had been the last person to use this turbo lift and when he had left it the code was still active. He had not returned to the lift so I figured he had left the room via the doors and the outside hallway. I took a chance and pressed the button, holding my breath as I did so. The turbo list hummed and then in a motion that was both smooth and silent it began to descend. As it zipped downward I felt my ears pop and realised I was headed deep into the under belly of the palace. When the door opened I was not at all prepared for what I saw there and shook my head in disbelief as I stepped out of the lift.
The Imperial palace was an enormous complex and often to get from one side to the other people used small private tunnel shuttles. I had known of and used a few but many were considered off limits and solely for the private use of the Emperor or very high ranking officials, Moffs and courtiers. People of my station, despite the privileges afforded me by Lord Vader usually walked, took the main turbo lifts or hopped a lift on the small service vehicles that were used to ferry larger items from one place to another.
The small shuttle that stood opened before me was so opulent that I knew it had once been owned by the Emperor. He had spared no expense for his desires and I wondered, a little grimly, that had majority of the galaxy’s populace known just how much wealth the Emperor had squandered on luxuries such as this if they would not have tried to over throw him earlier. I hesitated a moment.
“Go.” A subtle voice whispered urgently in my ear.
I glanced around to see if there was someone else there but the space around me was empty. Feeling both ill at ease and curious I stepped into the shuttle-car.
It had been designed as private and worked without a driver or operator and it was, by comparison to some of the ones I had heard about minimal in its space and features. Some shuttles, so I had been told, came complete with fresher stations and sleeping compartments. Those, I had assumed were for tunnels that traversed the
I glanced about. This place had Palpatine’s touch and I felt his presence strongly, like the residue of fine dust left in the wake of a desert storm he was everywhere. I sat on a seat and felt the ghostly memory of his caresses across my face, his beguiling, avuncular kindnesses that had bee laced with a subtle malice and his satisfied laughter when he finally had what he wanted from me. His voice, his life force and this vile laughter now seemed to echo around me, and for a moment I wondered if he were somehow right there in this car along side of me.
“He’s dead!” I told myself firmly but the presence that lingered here was malevolent and very real. Suppressing a shudder I studied the control panel and tried not to dwell on the fear which threatened to make me turn tail and go back home.
Like most of the tunnel shuttles this one only went two ways, to a destination point and back again with stops along the way, much like some of the monorails on a few planets I had been to. I glanced around and thought that I would gain nothing by sitting here all alone so I hit the red start button and hoped I would not attract any unwanted attention. On the display there were five stops listed, two were actually in the palace, one was Prince Xizor’s now destroyed palace and two were not given specific names, just destination numbers. I blew the air that I had been holding in my lungs noisily and decided to let the shuttle go to the final destination point, it seemed logical to start at the very end and work my way back.
It was an odd thing to be sitting in a place that once only the Emperor had used. I was quite certain that not even Lord Vader had known about this shuttle and at first it seemed a little unlikely that the Emperor would go anywhere without his Royal guardsmen but then I realised he had not always been the Emperor, at one time he had been playing a dual role and the need for secrecy had been great. I marvelled at how he could have done that’s o well, portrayed the kindly, caring benevolent senator as well as the deadly Sith Lord Sidious. No one had figured it out and it was only because Palpatine revealed himself to Anakin at the boy’s weakest moment did the Jedi council finally learn that Palpatine had played them for dupes all along. Not even the great and powerful Master Yoda had seen it coming and to my mind it had served them right for the arrogance and narrow minded viewpoints.
Thinking about this history made me curious and I began to touch the surfaces of everything I could see. I was astounded to realise that no one except Palpatine had ever used this vehicle and that he had done so long before the Empire had even existed. This shuttle dated back to a time when most people had believed him to be a benevolent elderly senator with only the best intentions at heart.
I saw images of him in stately robes as well as a large, hooded cloak. He seemed to meld from one personality to the other with the ease of a shape shifter. I shivered. His powers had been so great and he had been so patient. No one had even suspected him at all and how he had laughed at the Jedi, scattering themselves to the four corners of the galaxy in search for of the Evil Sith Lord when all along he was there right under their noses. I sat, lost in thought and so completely engulfed in the memories and images I was seeing, half dozing in the process, that I lost completely track of time and very nearly yelled with fright when the shuttle suddenly stopped and the door slid open. Well, I thought, whatever it was I was looking for had better be here because I had almost fallen asleep on that stupid shuttle and that would have been a bad thing.
The first thing that hit me once I made my way into the building the shuttle had stopped at was the smell. The Works District, I thought. Puzzled, I wondered what the heck the Emperor would have wanted in this area of the city because then as now, it was primarily industrial and not a very desirable place to live. Of course I reasoned he probably had not actually lived here and then I wondered if coming here was such a good thing to do after all. I set the shuttle to hold so that it would wait for me and not automatically return to the Palace leaving me stuck in the worst parts of town alone, without the means to get home then I turned to explore.
In contrast to the Imperial palace, this building was both ugly and dirty. The stench that permeated the air was rife with toxic chemicals and the remnants of decay both bodily and metallic. Long after many of the factories had been abandoned they continued to work, producing fumes and waste. If one listened carefully enough one could hear the strange sounds of machines at work. With the never ending supply of repair droids it was more than likely parts of this area of Coruscant would continue to function long after the end of the galaxy itself. I made a face and walked along the corridor towards a turbo lift door.
I suspected that this building was uninhabited now, except for maybe droids and creatures I didn’t even want to think about. My chances of meeting another sentient being here were slim but I was very glad I had brought my lightsaber anyway and getting it out of my satchel then gripping it in my hand was both reassuring and strange at the same time.
I stepped into the turbo lift and without me doing anything the door closed softly then it began to go upwards. The lift door opened after what seemed an eternity and I stepped out into a corridor that was dark and made from polished stone similar to the later additions of the
The first room I came to was an office of sorts, long abandoned and mostly empty aside from a desk, a chair and an old Holo transmitter that looked as though it had seen better days. I stepped inside and touched the desk lightly; it was covered in a thick layer of dust. It did not give up any specific memories except for some vague images of a tall, stately man named Dooku who mean nothing to me. There was nothing else in the room to suggest I would find anything of use here so I stopped touching things, wiped the dust from my fingertips and took a moment to look out of the window. I was a little surprised at how far away the
I quickened my pace, walking down the dark corridor to the next door. It was locked but my lightsaber made short work of the lock which sparked and fizzled when I sliced through it. The door opened partially. I slipped through the space into what reminded me of a torture chamber from some of the terrible horror holos that Shiv occasionally liked to watch on closer inspection I realised it had once been some sort of med lab but the equipment in it had long been smashed and mangled. I brushed my hand along some of the counter tops and broken droids but there was nothing of note until I touched what looked like a rather nasty operating table.
Assaulted by a barrage of images so violent and so painful I physically tried to ward them off, I staggered back and fell on the floor landing on my rear with a painful thump. Winded and shocked I tried to sort through what I had just seen, crying without even realizing it. “Anakin….” I whispered out loud. “Oh Anakin what did he do to you? What did you do to yourself?”
I had seen this scene in a dream once. The Emperor’s secret medical facility where he had put Anakin Skywalker back together again after his disastrous fight with Obi Wan but I had not really understood it to be true. I had thought my dream metaphorical not real. The medical droids had attached the prosthetic limbs to Anakin’s burnt stubs without any anaesthetic or pain killers. He had writhed and screamed throughout the entire procedure and Palpatine had watched with a sickening glee. When the procedure was finally over and the table tilted to raise him to his feet, covered in the new and uncomfortable body armour, his face completely hidden by his mask, and his burned body still wracked with pain, his first question had been about Padmé.
Feigning sympathy, the Emperor had told him she was dead that in his haste and anger, Anakin had killed her. The surge of force fury which Anakin or rather Lord Vader had unleashed had been so violent that it had crushed most of the medical machinery in this room and with that his slide into the dark side was complete. With Padmé dead there was nothing to hold him in the light any more, no one left to believe in the good. I fought to catch my breath and fought down the gorge that rose in my throat.
‘You vile old bastard.’ I thought bitterly. ‘No wonder Lord Vader hated you so very much.’ The thing that I had not understood until that very moment was that Palpatine had fed off this hatred. I sat huddled on the floor a fresh wave of loss washed over me. The deep wounds of mourning reopened. I covered my face with my hands and wept silently for the shattered soul of man who was now long dead. I did not feel the presence of another until a soft voice broke the silence around me.
“This place holds much evil.”
I glanced up to see the ghostly image of a woman in old fashioned jedi robes shimmering before me. “Akali L’uanna.” My voice sounded small in this bleak place.
She gave me a single, slight nod. I could not think of this young woman who had not been much older than I was now when she had died as my mother.
“Daughter, you will not find what you are looking for sitting on this floor weeping for the soul of the dead.”
I sighed with impatience and frustration at her serene manner. “Well then why not just tell me what I need to know and stop all this game playing?”
“Because, daughter, you must see for yourself in order to fully understand.”
“To fully understand what?”
“The perils of giving in to your anger and to your hatred. The dangers of the dark side of the force.” She replied.
“Don’t you dare lecture me on the ways of the force!” I spat. “I did not ask for this nasty little gift you’ve given me and I do the best I can with it under the circumstances!”
“Do not give in to your base emotions, they will blind you and it is not the Way of the Jedi.”
“Well, it’s good that I am not a jedi then isn’t it?” I shot back, my ire getting the better of my tongue.
Her expression turned sorrowful and she shook her head. “Sitting here mourning for Anakin’s past will not help you find what you seek.”
I stared at her for a moment. “If you are not going to be helpful then go away and leave me alone.” I told the bluish ghost. “I don’t have time for these games any more.”
“Be mindful of your passions, daughter, they blind you to the truth.” She said and the chiding tone of her disapproval did not go unnoticed. I looked away from her and wiped the remnants of the tears from my eyes. When I didn’t answer her ghost image shimmered and she vanished slowly, her last words lingering in the air. “Use the force, it will guide you always.”
I glared at the space where she had been. “Yeah well so far the force has done a bang up job of guiding me into all sorts of trouble.” I muttered.
I shook my head and looked around. She was right despite my reluctance to agree. This was not what I had come here for and there was nothing in this place except for terrifying old memories of anguish and pain. I took on last glance around and left quickly.
There were a couple more rooms on this floor, a rehabilitation or training room and another office like place, neither of which had anything I wanted to see or touch. At the end of the hallway was another turbo lift and I stepped into it quickly because now I was anxious and eager to be done with this endless, wild bantha chase. The door closed and the lift slid downward without me having to push anything. This entire facility had been automated to Palpatine’s will it seemed. When the lift reached its destination I stepped out and found myself in another small, dimly lit corridor. There was only one door so I went to it and was not very surprised that it did not open automatically open. I looked for the control panel and found it cleverly hidden. It was code activated and my clearance didn’t work so I used my lightsaber again, the universal door opener. The room I stepped into was both a nightmare and a mess.
“What the…?” I whispered quietly as I stepped gingerly around pieces of shattered equipment and transparasteel. The room resembled a war zone. The floor was strewn with the smashed bits of what looked like bacta tanks along with other unfamiliar medical equipment and all the data banks that lined the walls had been seared and burned with an energy weapon I assumed had been a lightsaber or perhaps something even more powerful. What ever had destroyed them had done a thorough job; no one would ever recover any data from these machines again. I stared around me and wondered why someone would go to so much trouble to destroy such valuable and expensive equipment. It made no sense. I knew what I had to do but I didn’t want to do it. Touching the operating table in the med-lab had been bad enough. I was certain that whatever these fragments of the past had to offer would be much, much worse but I also knew this was what I had come to find. I took two very deep breaths and reached out grasp one of the largest shards of what had looked like a bacta tank.
The images that came were terrible beyond belief and of something I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined. I was so utterly unprepared for what I saw that once the flood of memories the fragment of shattered transparasteel had slashed their way through me, I dropped to my knees and retched violently, grateful I had not eaten in many, many hours. Once the nausea and the cold sweats passed, I sat on the ground next to but not touching any more of the broken equipment for a long time trying to catch my breath and sort out what I had just seen. It was too astounding to comprehend yet it made sense and confirmed something I had often wondered about after my terrible dream on Hjal after Thrawn had returned for me.
I had my answer and the simplicity of it had stunned me. I should have known all along and it angered me that I had not seen it on my own. All of a sudden I was weary beyond belief. All I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed and forget everything I had ever seen or learned about Palpatine. I got up, my legs shaking, and backed out of the terrible room that had once been the Emperor’s private cloning facility to make my way back. I didn’t stop to explore anything else; I just wanted to get out. I felt that now I was pushing my luck and I didn’t need to run into a spice or deathstix dealer or worse here.It would be just my luck to end up on the wrong side of a fight and find myself in a med-lab again.