Midnight in the Garden
Young Sidious was not happy.
Their tiny vessel rested in a clearing a short distance from the Pomojema temple. Ready for anything in a close-fitting black training suit and combat boots, lightsaber at his belt, Sidious paced like a trapped sand cat and stared out at the wild tangle of forest greens that made up the Mimban jungle. Alone.
Phineas had insisted on entering the temple himself. “Apparently, thanks to your Sight, we’ve beaten the Jedi here. You will stay and monitor for their approach.”
Sidious pushed back the anger along with his mop of blond curls. “But I can help!”
Phineas fixed him with his disapproving stare. “Did you by any chance notice a clock during your vision, or any way to predict the exact timing of the Jedi’s arrival?”
“No,” said Sidious sullenly.
“Then we need to be forewarned of their approach,” concluded Phineas. “I can mask. You cannot, and in any case we can’t risk having us both killed. I will go; your job will be to remain here and silence the Jedi if they arrive, and of course, alert me to their presence.”
Phineas strapped on a canteen and prepared to fold his long, gangly frame out of the hatch.
“And whose fault is it I can’t mask!” Sidious burst out.
Phineas turned to give him an even stare.
“That’s the price of withholding knowledge from me, Master,” his grandson glowered. “I’m less useful to you!”
“But more useful to yourself. Now there’s only so much trouble your youthful impetuosity can get you into,” Phineas said lightly. He was making fun of Sidious, and Sidious hated it.
Phineas sobered, giving him that somber look Sidious had seen a million times over.
Suddenly the older man drew closer and laid his fingers for the briefest instant along Sidious’s jaw. “Palpatine,” he said simply. And then he was gone, leaving Sidious to fume for two hours over the unfairness of being shackled to a being so inferior to himself.
The proximity alarm interrupted his fever of anger and resentment. A low number YT cruiser appeared on his screen, a common vessel for two or three Jedi at that time.
Sidious thought carefully. He could approach and try to blow them out of the skies now, but they would sense the presence of a dark side Force user — and if it took him longer than a minute or two, they might be able to send a holocommunication off planet. Better to let them land and disembark, then destroy their ship — effectively stranding them on Mimban with no long-range communications.
As long as they didn’t land too close to here. Sidious held his breath as they set the YT down about two klicks away.
He informed his master. “I don’t want to harm them if I can avoid it,” said Phineas. “Give them some time to leave the vessel and then destroy it. We can contact the Jedi Temple anonymously and let them know they need to send a transport out after we leave.”
“What!” Sidious exploded. “Are you crazy? These are Jedi!”
“Exactly,” said Phineas. “As will we be, if all goes well.”
Sidious gritted his teeth into the communicator. “I am the next master of our Order, and I am not in accord with this!”
“We’re not discussing this now, Palpatine,” said Phineas. What he really means is ever, thought Sidious. “But while you are my apprentice, you and the Order are in my hands.”
“When you overfly them, I want to know how many beings we’re dealing with.”
Sidious cut the communication.
If that crazy old man really believed that he, Sidious, the most gifted of any Sith since Lord Bane, intended to forego his place at the head of the Order to follow one of the weakest masters in centuries meekly back to the Jedi, he was sadly mistaken. Let Darth Procrustus continue on his self-appointed crusade. Sidious would show himself, baiting the Jedi to attack Phineas in the temple.
He was sure the fallen masters of Korriban — Darth Avarice among them — would more than approve.
Sidious waited twenty minutes and lifted the ship out of the clearing. He flew just above the treetops, two klicks north. In a larger clearing stood two Jedi; he could tell from their robes. One, a human, wore the longer hair and beard of a master; the other, a Sullustan, could have been master or apprentice.
Sidious drew heavily upon the dark side. Felt both Jedi in the Force, felt the sparks of their confusion as they sensed him, and then felt the presence of a third Jedi on the ship-
Just before he blew it to pieces.
He swooped overhead and looked for a suitable place to land, farther away this time. There was no need to be close to the temple.
He contacted Phineas once again. “Master -” Should he tell him about the third Jedi? No. If Phineas didn’t realize these Jedi were already primed to defend themselves, or even to attack, so much the better.
“I have destroyed their vessel. Two Jedi are on their way to the Pomojema temple. One is a master; I can’t tell about the other one.”
Empty air crackled on the other end. Sidious was about to repeat himself when -
“All right,” Phineas’s voice came back over the communicator, sounding less than confident. Sidious smirked. Phineas wasn’t the best swordsman. He had sent his apprentice to instructors of fencing and various other swordfighting disciplines since he was thirteen.
“I don’t yet have the crystal,” Phineas said. “Obviously, I can’t leave here without it, so I’m going to attempt to retrieve it before they get here. If I fail, under no circumstances are you to follow them in here.”
“But, Master,” said Sidious dutifully, “how are you going to engage them alone?”
“I intend to avoid that, if possible,” said Phineas. How? thought Sidious silently, and wondered if he himself could take two Jedi simultaneously. He rather believed he could.
“Understand me, Palpatine,” Phineas repeated. “Under no circumstances are you to approach the temple. Stay hidden, and safe.”
“Yes, Master,” said Sidious, and ended the communication. “That’s Sidious,” he said aloud. “Lord Sidious.”
He wondered fervently what was happening. Since the Jedi already knew there was at least one powerful dark side Force user here, it didn’t matter if he drew upon the dark side — but at this great distance, he could not sense very much. All he knew for sure was that Phineas was very, very quiet in the Force. Masked.
After close to an hour he felt his master gently unmask. He sensed Phineas’s presence in the Force — not even dark, really — for a short while, then, abruptly, it vanished.
Suddenly the dark side sang out to Sidious. He closed his eyes and listened, stretched, and saw, like lightning before his eyes, Phineas battling the human Jedi master. Sidious strained to see again.
Tall, fair, and heavily built, the Jedi pushed Phineas slowly back. Phineas was tall, but he was slight, and at least three decades older. Sidious followed the blows, wincing. Not that way, Master — The Jedi feinted, jumped back, sprang forward. Slashed at the older man. Good block.
Dim torchlight danced on walls of carved stone blocks. Small statues stood in recessed alcoves. Phineas plucked them up, one by one, and sent them sailing through the Force at the Jedi’s head. That’s it, Master- -
But Phineas was not fighting with the full power of the dark side. And Sidious could feel himself there in the temple — as a steady presence in the old man’s mind and heart. Plagueis’s mind whirled — planning, plotting, trying to stay two steps ahead of this Jedi and the second one.
“I’ve got you!” A well-timed cut slashed the barrel of Phineas’s lightsaber. The blade sputtered and faltered, and Phineas tossed it away. Here was where a Sith would normally strike out with dark side lightning, but Sidious could feel him hesitating, thinking -
A burst of plasma lightning would surely bring the other Jedi, but if Phineas waited, the other one might find the crystal and bring it with him, and that would surely be disastrous. “Do it!” shouted Sidious.
Phineas struck the Jedi with all the power of the dark side — and this was not one of his weaker skills. The Jedi held his lightsaber aloft, absorbing the energy, but Phineas changed it, playing with it. He sent tongues of it toward the Jedi’s chest, then towards his boots, then upwards to singe his hair, making the man dance and parry to compensate.
Sidious saw where this was going. In an instant a well-timed bolt would knock the saber from the Jedi’s hand and then -
Phineas opened himself in the Force and reached out to Palpatine, who saw suddenly all that had transpired. Phineas had located the crystal, but, sensing the Jedi already in the temple, had decided to give them two targets. Any Force-user could sense the crystal; Phineas had hidden it, run towards the interior, and unmasked, hoping to draw the Jedi away. Once they were close enough, he planned to mask again, retrieve the crystal, and escape — only the Jedi had split up, and the human had caught up with him.
A series of scenes inside the temple materialized in front of Palpatine, and he realized what was happening. Phineas was showing him where he had hidden the Kaiburr crystal. But as he did so, a fondness, a light crept into his heart, weakening him — and the Jedi could sense it. He pressed against the lightning, edging closer and closer to Phineas.
A third presence entered their bond. And a fourth. Something burned in the Force, neither light nor dark, but resonating with the anger of the being who held it.
Sidious felt the sensation of it in his gut. Strange that he didn’t recall it from his visions. The ruby red Kaiburr crystal gleamed in the Sullustan’s hands, and the human Jedi shouted, “It’s over!”
But the Sullustan Jedi lifted the Kaiburr crystal. She threw it -
- into the path of the Force lightning erupting from Phineas’s fingertips.
And something happened.
Talons of ice pierced Palpatine’s skull. He felt a sudden jolt of pain — and a clarity of Sight he had never known before. The light, the dark, the fondness, the fear, everything passing through Phineas’s own mind suddenly became Sidious.
Somehow, their bond in the Force had been frozen open.
The crystal hung suspended in the air, glowing, pulsing with the lightning that flowed between Phineas and the Jedi sword. Suddenly energy exploded from it in a thunderclap of Force lightning that reflected back on Phineas, burning his hands, and on the Jedi, knocking him to the ground.
Sidious shrieked with pain, finding his own hands singeing as well.
Phineas lifted his hands and backed away. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.
“Don’t you?” said the human. “You have an accomplice here — or should I say an apprentice — who just killed my padawan!”
“What?” said Phineas, blinking. And then he probed gently along their wide-open bond and understood what Sidious had done. His sudden despair pierced Palpatine’s heart through the dark side.
“I … apologize for this.” Phineas fumbled. “That was not supposed to happen.”
The Sullustan spoke Basic. “Wasn’t it? Sith?” She ignited her own lightsaber.
“My apprentice …” said Phineas, searching for words, “is young and impetuous — and headstrong. This was not my intention.” But the truth chilled his heart, and Palpatine’s through their bond. It was irretrievably too late.
Even if Phineas could convince these two of his own intentions, Palpatine had killed a Jedi in cold blood. Palpatine’s plans for their Order were not those of Phineas, and for Phineas to accomplish his own objective, Palpatine would have to be sacrificed.
Were the situation reversed, there was no question what Sidious would do.
Phineas hesitated, and made his choice.
The human Jedi got to his feet, retrieving the crystal, which had fallen to the floor. He ignited his lightsaber.
Fear gripped Palpatine, against all reason. Crazy though the old man was, Palpatine only knew that nothing must happen to him. He drew on the dark side himself and tried to send the strength along this wide-open bond in the Force that the combination of dark side lightning, the crystal, and the open communication between them had somehow created.
But he couldn’t quite grasp the dark side somehow, though it whispered all around him. It slipped through his will like quicksilver.
Phineas struck out again, trying to divide the dark side lightning between two different aggressors — one in possession of the crystal — and found himself overpowered.
Palpatine saw two blue sabers flash in front of him as though they had struck at his own face, and felt a terrible searing pain across the side of his neck and down his chest. Another burnt deeply into his arm -
- and everything went black.
He saw dimly, as if he lay at the bottom of a still pond, gazing upward at its surface. Muffled, as if through water, he heard voices raised, male and female, in a heated argument. His chest and arm burned like an inferno. The pain blurred the torchlight, and darkness fell again.
He was swinging, or being swung, and for a moment he saw himself on one of the swings he had loved as a small child — but this was wrong, it was sideways, not back and front — and then a sickening fall and a terrible thump jarred his back and head. His arms felt constrained as if his whole body were caught in a vise. And then real darkness, not the quasi-dark of unconsciousness.
A stone wall behind and another one inches from his nose -
Palpatine struggled and cried out, his torso burning with pain, hearing Phineas’s cries immediately preceding his own like some perverse echo. Coldness in front, coldness behind, incredibly hard and hurtful to lie on — but the air grew hot, stifling. Panic. Blackness.
Then dim, flickering torchlight in the shape of a small triangle that grew steadily larger in front of him. A grinding, a scraping that he could feel as vibrations in his arms and back. The triangle of light became a rectangle, smaller on one side than the other, and then that side grew even with the other. A rush of cool, welcome air filled his lungs. He heard a crack of stone on stone, and the two Jedi’s faces peered down in front of him.
“Are you ready to tell us, Sith? Who is your apprentice? Where is this apprentice?”
“We’ll lift you out. We’ll treat your wounds. Don’t make us do this. Your apprentice, and that will end it!”
And he felt Phineas think of him, and the light and the fondness crept in — and Phineas clamped down, shut off the thought, because Jedi are attuned to the light, and they could follow it straight to Palpatine.
There was that crack of stone on stone, and the rectangle of light slid closed.
Hunger. Thirst. Pain. Heat. Numbness. The lack of air like a bantha on his chest. Merciful blurring, in and out. Light. No light. And the two Jedi. Tell us, tell us.
Finally, lightsabers, and more pain. Phineas struggled, but he did not speak. Would not.
“We can’t hurt him anymore! We’re Jedi! We can’t do this!”
“This one’s not much to speak of, but you felt the apprentice as well as I did! Do you want that running loose? He could be anywhere in the galaxy by now! If this one dies -”
They tortured him for some three days. Phineas tried to explain, tried to reason, begged for mercy, pleaded for his life. But the Jedi, stranded on Mimban with no way to alert anyone else of their order, saw both the existence of the Sith and the chance to end that existence. And they took it.
After three days of weakness, sickness, and spirit-breaking pain, Phineas’s mind cleared enough to perceive Palpatine, trapped at the other end of this warped bond in the Force, and he saw only one way to end it.
He reached for it, for the power of the knowledge he had gained in creating the tulpa and dissolving it into the Force, and Sidious felt what he was about to do.
“No!” Palpatine cried. “No! Grandfather -!”
Phineas touched him with a shadow of regret. For an instant he appeared to Palpatine as he had looked to him when Palpatine was small.
Palpatine tasted the lifelong despair of Phineas’s failure as a Sith, saw one last time the wisdom in those blue eyes, and then he knew. He felt the infinite pride Phineas had always had in him, and he felt it wash over him in a tremendous wave of infinite love.
Phineas looked at the two Jedi. “I’m sorry I have to take you with me,” he said. “I know it isn’t your time. If there were any other way, I’d take it.” And he let everything dark fall away from him, once and for all.
Palpatine felt an onrushing, like a great sigh in the Force, as if the entire universe breathed a great breath in, held it for an instant; and then the exhalation came, a great breath out. And Phineas simply dissolved into the Force, his mind, his body, his soul, his heart, taking the two Jedi painlessly with him -
And they were no more.
Their connection snapped.
Palpatine awoke in the ship, lying prone on the floor, to a terrible vibration that resonated throughout the Force, and while nothing had moved or changed around him, the power surged within him with a great voiceless voice, and he felt the two words: “I AM.”
And they faded away and all was still.
Anakin sat, frozen with shock. Sereine had her hand over her mouth, and her eyes brimmed with tears.
Palpatine’s face looked like chiseled marble, and his eyes glittered like ice.
“I felt everything they did to him. Everything!” That low growl, like a dangerous animal. “This was a Sith who loved. The man practically was a Jedi! So don’t be too sure of your Jedi compatriots, young Skywalker. For there is unspeakable darkness in us all.”
They sat, Sereine and Anakin stunned into silence. After a moment Palpatine got up and turned to study the speeder traffic outside, his back to them.
“When Sith die,” he said finally, his throaty voice strained, “they retain their identity. The soul stays with the body. It is the first responsibility of an apprentice to make a pilgrimage to the Sith world of Korriban and prepare a resting place for his or her master. When the master dies, it is the final responsibility of the apprentice to carry the remains to that resting place, where that soul will dwell with our forebears in perpetuity. And every master, from that day forward, can come to this place and consult all previous masters, in time of need.
“Lord Plagueis was only thinking to protect me. He was so afraid that if any of them continued to exist, in any form, a way could be found for the Jedi to reveal my existence. And Lord Plagueis would not have that.
“He loved me,” Palpatine said, and Anakin thought he heard just the tiniest catch in his voice. “He loved me. And he had discovered, of course, the power to create, and to uncreate, directly from and into the vast Uncreated Mass of the Force. And he did so — he Uncreated himself, and the two Jedi — and all that he was, all that they were, is forever lost to us. I could never take him back to Korriban. All that he knew, and failed to tell me, and failed to write down, is gone.”
“But -” Anakin blinked. “But the crystal -”
“I was never able to retrieve it. By the time our link had broken, I had thirsted and fasted for some three days.” Palpatine turned to face them. “I never realized that lightsaber burns swelled. When I awoke, this arm was twice the size of this arm -” he held out his arms, nodding first to his left, then to his right — “and the wound on my chest had festered dreadfully. I was weak and sick. It was all I could do to leave the planet. I always intended to return…but other things took precedence.”
Sereine removed her hand from her mouth. “And that’s the scar on your arm? On your chest? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand,” said Palpatine. “The crystal — somehow transmitted the energy. It was as if we were fused, in that instant — and I became him.”
Sereine stared at him, welling up again. “And your dreams,” she said. She moved suddenly as if to get up, as if to go to him, and he shot her back into her chair with a withering look.
“Don’t do that!” he snarled. “I don’t need your pity!” He spat the little word like a serpent.
She sat, wiping her eyes.
She looked up at him again. “What was the truth?”
“The great truth. The one you said Phineas had discovered, the truth you said made him weep, changed his entire thinking about the Sith. Made him want to merge the two orders. What was it?”
Palpatine laughed and slid behind his desk again. “Only a bit of utter nonsense, silly pacifist nonsense people have held hands and quoted for years.”
“What was it?” said Anakin.
Palpatine sighed. “Phineas believed that we are all one. Literally. That everything is all one solid, continuous outpouching of the one Force. One body, one desire, one voice. Whatever.” He shrugged, shook his head, and patted the polished surface of his desk. “Am I this desk? Of course not! Am I you, or you me? Of course not! But Phineas believed it. He said he had proved it.”
“But,” said Anakin, “do I believe you?”
That slow flush crept into Palpatine’s cheeks. “Don’t you?” he said, his voice hard. He took up his wide sleeve, unbuttoned the cuff of a thin black linen shirt beneath it, and raised it to show them a pitted, scarred upper arm. “Do you believe this?”
He dropped his sleeve and leaned across the desk. “Go into your Jedi archives. See if two Jedi masters, a human and a Sullustan, were not dispatched to Mimban forty-six years ago this very month in search of the Kaiburr crystal. You will discover that they vanished, and were never heard from again.
“Ask your own master — ask Obi-Wan Kenobi if his own master, in his thirty-third year, had not established a correspondence with someone, a mysterious old man who knew much of the Force and wanted to show him a Force proof. Ask your older masters at the temple!
“A Force proof?” said Sereine the next day, wrinkling her nose. They sat with former Chancellor Valorum in Padme’s living room while the Senator was in chambers. Sereine, unbeknownst to either Anakin or Palpatine, had carried a small recording device with her, and now played the entire interview back for her husband.
Anakin explained. “If you ever studied geometry or the sciences in grammar school, it’s the same principle,” he said. “In the early centuries of the Jedi Order, there were Jedi scholars, scientists who studied the Force and proved certain things about how it works. Jedi Master Bodo Bass, for example, performed an experiment that proved that the Force is generated by living things. It was always said to be true before, but Bodo Bass proved it.” Anakin paused. “Only there haven’t been any new Force proofs in several hundred years, because … well, because people ran out of things they knew how to prove about it, I guess. There’s theory, but no new facts.”
“All the same,” said Valorum heavily, “I don’t want to see you come back with something like this, Sereine, and be so moved and so distressed by it.”
“But it’s true!” Anakin burst out. “Obi-Wan asked around about this. Several Jedi do remember Master Qui-Gon publishing a series of essays about the Living Force, and being contacted by someone named Phineas! And there was a mission to Mimban! Jedi Masters Siren Sorb and Kalen Tassa did disappear! And Tassa’s padawan, Reinka, was found dead in the destroyed ship — just like Palpatine said!”
“Circumstantial!” snapped Valorum. “And even if it is true, it means what, Jedi Skywalker? What?” he thundered in the voice that used to echo throughout the great Rotunda without benefit of a microphone.
“You’re a Jedi. This is a Sith lord. This Republic is in the hands of a Sith lord!”
“Who was wounded!” shouted Sereine. “Who felt! Who hurt! Who loved — whether he wants to admit it or not!”
“And who’s used his power to murder millions of people!” Finis shouted back, high color in his cheeks. “When you yourself have been given cause to know that he should have known better!”
Anakin’s throat felt tight. Sereine lowered her eyes to her lap and studied her hands in silence.
- No, this isn’t behind the paywall.