Birth of a Sith Lord
I wrote this fanfic (in three installments, for a now apparently defunct fan site) shortly after The Phantom Menace came out, in order to work out possible answers to questions that puzzled me: how does the Rule of Two work? what motivates the Sith? why wasn’t Palpatine identified as a Force-user in childhood? why do the Gungans distrust the Naboo?
I suspect Revenge of the Sith, due in theatres later this week, will probably falsify some of my speculations; but heck, Lucasfilm have been falsifying their own EU stories, so why not mine? Anyway, at the last minute before it becomes definitively outdated, here’s my version of Palpatine’s backstory. (Sorry, no Darth Plagueis; I like my names better anyway.)
Standard disclaimer: all Star Wars characters, situations, etc. are copyright of Lucasfilm.
In a small, barely noticeable structure on an airlesss, lifeless moon orbiting a nondescript methane planet in the galaxy’s outer rim, two Sith Lords met. The younger one waited patiently for his master to speak. The senior lord, his steely eyes sunken in his prematurely aging face, intoned a single word: “Naboo.”
The apprentice raised his eyebrows. “Naboo, Master? It is a sparsely populated world, hardly the most promising candidate for our search.” Young Darth Mourn mentally reviewed his scant knowledge of Naboo: a damp, lush world where the survivors of the Ykkallian Wars had established an elective monarchy dedicated to peace, trade, and artistry.
His master, Darth Ghast, replied with a skull-like smile: “True enough. But now the situation is different. The Galactic Republic continues to expand its borders. Talks have begun – cautiously, tentatively – on the subject of … incorporation.”
Darth Mourn’s eyes narrowed. Now he understood. Naboo was considering joining the Republic. That made it a Priority Alpha planet.
Mourn recalled how Lord Ghast had first explained it to him long ago. There could never be more than two Sith Lords at a time, but there must also never be fewer. The Sith lineage was too precious to imperil by allowing its continuation ever to rest on one person alone. Thus the training of a third Sith Lord must begin while the first is still alive, so that upon the Master’s death the Sith-in-training will be ready to step immediately into the former apprentice’s shoes. The search for a successor was thus an important part of Ghast’s and Mourn’s acivities. Many of the prospects Mourn had brought to Ghast had already failed or been found wanting, serving useful purposes for a time until they were disposed of.
Above all, the new recruit must come from outside Republic space. Within the Republic, Force-sensitive children were identified early by the Jedi Order. Whether such children were eventually trained as Jedi or not, their identities were recorded and their activities tracked by the exceedingly thorough Jedi intelligence service. A Sith Lord could not afford to come to the attention of the Jedi. Sufficiently advanced practitioners of the Sith arts might learn to shield their abilities from Jedi awareness, as Darth Ghast had done and as his youthful apprentice Darth Mourn was beginning to do, but this would do them little good if they had already been identified as Force-users when young.
The need to recruit from the Outer Rim had never proven much of a handicap for the Sith before, for space is large and there were always plenty of prospects. But that was before Darth Ghast had developed a plan far more ambitious than his own master, Darth Kayos, could ever have conceived. Lord Ghast’s plan was nothing less than a Sith takeover of the Republic.
This had of course been a hope passed down from Sith to Sith for many centuries, but few Sith Lords had been single-minded enough to sacrifice too much of their pursuit of power on a smaller scale – for themselves, in their own lifetimes – to advance the long-term goal of galactic dominion by their successors. But Darth Ghast was an embittered man, twisted by a past his disciple had never dared ask about, and it had left him with a burning hatred of the Republic that took precedence over the personal pursuit of power.
In order for Ghast’s plan to succeed, the next Sith Lord had to become a member of the Galactic Senate. But such a Senator would have to be elected by a world that held Republic membership; and few planets would choose a naturalised citizen over a native as their Senatorial representative; nor would Sith hypnotic techniques be employed effectively on an entire planetary electorate. Hence the next Sith Lord would have to be born outside the Republic, yet native to a Republic world. This would be possible only in the case of a planet that had newly joined the Republic. Now Mourn could see why Naboo was an ideal spot to search for the new Sith candidate.
“I understand, my Master,” Darth Mourn intoned. “I shall leave for Naboo immediately.”
“Very good,” hissed the elder Sith Lord. “Search the planet for potential converts before it becomes a Jedi picnic ground. And remember – pick a hater.”
“I obey, my Lord.”
Darth Ghast watched thoughtfully as his apprentice stalked off in search of his ship. Mourn was a competent disciple, no doubt, but his anger and pride had never fully congealed into hatred. Mourn did not have Ghast’s withering hostility to the Republic and the Jedi. He paid lip service to the Sith dream of revenge, but Ghast feared that once Mourn was the master, he would slight the cause in favour of pursuing short-term power and luxury in some barbaric outpost unknown to the Jedi. Mourn did not have Ghast’s vision; he was a disappointment to his master. When Mourn finds the next Sith, Ghast vowed silently, I will slay Mourn and train the child myself.
Meanwhile, Darth Mourn’s sleek, ominous spacecraft was speeding toward Naboo. Mourn hardly needed to be reminded to “pick a hater” – Ghast had made clear over and over again that the next Sith lord, in order to have sufficient dedication to follow the longterm plan to the end, had to be someone consumed with venomous hatred, a virtual sociopath who would allow nothing to stand in his way. Mourn’s lip curled with scorn. Lord Ghast was a madman whose plans held little appeal for Mourn, who had turned to the Dark Side in the hope of a quick and easy path to success, not an ascetic devotion to a millennia-old blueprint for revenge. When the time came, Mourn would have to strike Ghast down and make his own plans for his future career. But he was not strong enough to do that yet, so in the meantime he would follow his mentor’s instructions faithfully.
Finding someone consumed with hatred on the peaceful planet of Naboo might be difficult, however. By all accounts, the colonists had managed, over the centuries, to transform their settlement into a virtual paradise – not the sort of environment that breeds hate-filled sociopaths. Still, every planet had its possibilities ….
* * *
The pirate scow moved sluggishly through the murky waters of Naboo’s largest swamp. Its captain, Trophe Slurm, had evaded the Theed Police Authority once again. The scientific equipment stolen from the small research station near Fanquool would bring a high price on the offworld black market. Slurm took a final swig from his bottle while scratching absent-mindedly at the parasites that infested his seldom-bathed body. “My bottle’s empty!” he roared. “Bring me another, you vermin!” And with this he aimed a vicious kick at the cabin boy who cringed beside the captain’s chair. The boy went scurrying off with a whimper.
Life had been bitterly hard for young Loka since he had been captured by the pirates, the sole survivor of a fishing village the raiders had torched. On a pirate ship, filled with desperate criminals one step ahead of the law, usually drunken and on edge, the fate of a young boy was inevitably an endless progression of beating, whipping, rape, and other ill usage. His body was a mass of scars, his bones too often broken and then healed in misalignment – all damage easily repairable by medical technicians at Theed, but Loka was trapped in the swamps, far from the possibility of such treatment. Too weak and frail to fight back against his oppressors, chained too heavily to hope of escape, Loka had become spiritually mangled by his experience, as a deep well of rage and resentment had built up in his tortured soul. His eyes now gazed out at the world through a veil of darkest loathing and malice.
As he descended the steps to the hold, Loka sensed the first mate, Gorbakh, before he saw him. Loka often had such “second sight,” this strange ability to see things before they happened, though it rarely did him any good; nor did it this time as the hulking man laid his clawlike hand in an iron grip on Loka’s arm, leering lustfully as he pulled him forward. “Well, well, if it isn’t our young beauty,” he cackled.
Suddenly a lambent beam of crimson light whirled out of nowhere, slashing down across Gorbakh’s arm, severing the hand at a single blow. As Gorbakh screamed in pain and anger, a slim dark shape emerged from the shadows, wielding a weapon even an unschooled orphan like Loka could recognise as a lightsabre. The newcomer had cold, piercing eyes, a stern mouth, and a severe uniform of solid black. Gorbakh lunged at the dark stranger, who stepped lightly to one side and casually flipped his weapon downward to sever the first mate’s legs at the knees. As Gorbakh writhed in agony on the floor, the stranger switched off his lightsabre, then removed a curved, razor-sharp dagger from his belt and handed it to Loka.
“This man has caused you much pain,” the tall warrior said. “Feel free to kill him as slowly as you like. Then we will go up on deck and dispose of the others.”
Loka took the blade eagerly. He had suffered so much and so long …. The prospect of retribution was intoxicating.
Befoire he turned to wreak his long-overdue vengeance on the helpless Gorbakh, Loka asked the stranger, “Who are you, anyway?”
“My name is Darth Mourn,” the grim warrior replied. “And what is yours?”
“Loka,” the boy replied solemnly. “Loka Palpatine.”
Darth Mourn stood on the pirate scow’s deck like a black slash against the green background of foliage, gazing dispassionately at the scattered remains of the raiders and thugs who had once crewed her. Loka Palpatine, the boy he had just freed from slavery, had taken a long and elaborate revenge on his former captors. His thirst for vengeance sated, the boy, crippled physically and psychologically by years of unspeakable abuse, turned a suspicious eye toward the Sith lord and said, “Why did you save me? What do you want? You’re a Jedi Knight, right?”
“Not precisely.” Mourn smiled. “But close enough, for the moment. And it was no accident, finding you. You are strong in the Force – I have sensed it. I have been looking for someone like you.”
Loka was puzzled. “What do you mean – the Force?”
“It is an energy field generated by all living beings. If you learn to focus and control it, you can gain great power.” Mourn gestured with his hand, and one of the corpses rose shakily to its feet. Loka flinched, but Mourn offered no reassurance. “It is through focusing your emotions that you learn to command the Force. The ones you call Jedi Knights recognise this, in principle: they advise those learning the ways of the Force to ‘trust their feelings.’ But in practice they teach not trust but distrust of one’s feelings; they know that through focusing one’s strongest, most aggressive emotions one can build up much greater power much more swiftly. They fear that anyone exercising such power would be able to break free from their iron stranglehold on the galaxy, and so they teach their students to repress, stifle, and deaden their natural instincts, thus stunting the development of their abilities,” For emphasis, Mourn closed his fist, and the corpse collapsed like a puppet whose strings have been cut. “It is not so with us. That is why they fear us. That is why they persecuted our people into near extinction, centuries ago. But the power of the Force is not so easily stamped out.”
“And this ability,” Loka asked nervously, “you say I have it?”
“You have it in exceptional strength. There is power in you like the power of a volcano, waiting to be unleashed. At any time during your captivity here, you could have unleashed a whirlwind of destruction against your tormentors, had you possessed the key to release it. The Sith training is the key. That is what we offer. That, and medical repair and regeneration of your physical injuries. In exchange, you would vow obedience to us until you inherit the position of Sith Master. Do you agree?”
“Of course I agree! I want enough power to make sure nobody ever hurts me again! But who is ‘us’?” Loka demanded. “How many of you are there? Where would you take me?”
“There are only two. Myself, and my master, Darth Ghast.” Two, of necessity: a Master and an Apprentice. The third, the Candidate, would be given preliminary training in the Sith arts, but would receive no advanced training until the Master died. The Sith Order had learned through bitter experience that having more than two trained Sith Lords at a time could lead to conflict and instability, since the healthy impulses of aggression and self-assertion encouraged by Sith training naturally fostered impatience and ambition. Having just two Siths was stable, for the less well-trained Apprentice will be reluctant to challenge his more advanced Master, and in any case can afford to be patient, knowing he will inherit his Master’s mantle in due course. Add a third Sith, however, and the balance of power becomes unstable, since two lesser-trained Sith are a more even match for a Sith Master, and either’s hope of inheriting the senior position is threatened by the existence of the other. Hence by an ancient rule there could never be more than two Sith Lords at a time. But by the same rule, there could never be fewer; no Sith Apprentice could afford to wait until his master is dead before beginning the training of the next Apprentice, because there always needed to be a new person to step into the role of Apprentice Sith Lord as soon as the previous Apprentice took over from a deceased Master; it would be too risky for the survival of the Sith Order if there were lengthy periods with only one Sith in existence at a time. The training of a Sith Candidate could thus be a delicate balancing act; the Candidate needed to receive enough training to be able to quickly take over the position of Apprentice when the time came, but not enough to make the Candidate already as threatening to the balance of power as would be a full-fledged Sith Lord. Not a few previous Sith Lords had misjudged the balance, at the cost of their lives; but the Sith Order continued on. But these were secrets that Loka could learn later. For the present, Mourn simply said, “Our numbers are small because we can more easily act in secret, without attracting the attention of the busybody Jedi.”
“And what about my second question?” Loka insisted. “Where will my training take place?”
“Right here on Naboo,” Darth Mourn replied. “My Master will begin his journey here as soon as I contact him. It is important to my Master’s plan that in your public persona you become established and known early on as a native and resident of Naboo.”
My Master’s plan, Mourn thought silently. Not mine. Infiltration of the Senate …. I have no wish to toil away my days working for an eventual Sith victory that I will never see in my lifetime. And when this boy learns the details of Ghast’s plan, I suspect he will feel the same way. I will secretly accelerate his training, and lure him to my cause. Alone I would not dare to go against my Master. But together, Loka Palpatine and I will defeat and destroy Darth Ghast and send his dusty dry bones and his dusty dry plans into the trashbins where they belong.
* * *
Darth Ghast smiled. He had studied his Apprentice’s report thoroughly. Young Palpatine seemed like exactly what he had longed for: a mind consumed with hate. A mind that would have more longing for the destruction of others than for his own survival. A mind that would carry on the great Sith plan even though he would never see its fruition. A Sith Lord in the Senate would begin the process of Sith domination of the Galactic Republic. Of course, such a project could not realistically be achieved in Palpatine’s lifetime. But the first steps would have been taken.
The only obstacle was Darth Mourn. A Sith Lord who would gladly barter the ancient dream of vengeance for the sake of immediate gratification. Ghast had mischosen that one. Well, there was time to correct that mistake. It would not do to kill Mourn immediately. Reducing the number of Sith Lords to one alone would too greatly jeopardise the existence of the Order, and the progress of the Plan. But Mourn must be destroyed as soon as Palpatine was ready to take his place. He would secretly accelerate the boy’s training ….
His long, lank, pale hair flowing behind him like a shroud, Darth Ghast strode toward his shuttle. Naboo awaited.
“Be sure to be on time tomorrow,” Palpatine’s employer reminded him sternly as the boy was leaving. “I don’t run a charity operation here. I expect a professional attitude from everyone on my staff, as does the Mayor. Today is the second time this week that you’ve been late.”
Inwardly, Palpatine bristled with resentment. He could hardly afford to explain the conflicts between his regular work schedule and his Sith training exercises, since the latter had to be kept secret from outsiders – and not only from outsiders, it was turning out. Nor could he afford to jeopardise his job as scribe to Sio Bibble, the ambitious young man who was adjutant to the Mayor of Kloontah and a favourite for Mayor himself next year. The post with Bibble was a stepping-stone on Palpatine’s own political career, as mapped out for him by his Senior Master, Darth Ghast. But his secret training sessions with his Junior Master, Darth Mourn, took up a great deal of time, and Mourn was less concerned about his student’s political career than Ghast was. Mourn had made clear, to Palpatine anyway, that a planet farther out along the galaxy’s Outer Rim than Naboo – in particular, a planet less likely than Naboo to attain Republic membership in the immediate future – would be a more promising prospect for Palpatine’s future career as a Sith Lord. Mourn’s lessons often ran overtime, cutting into Palpatine’s “civilian” workday; but he was learning so much from them!
Young Palpatine forced a pleasant, humble expression onto his face. “I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again!”
“See that it doesn’t,” Bibble replied gruffly, not really angry. The boy was an odd one, but undeniably brilliant and an invaluable assistant. Sio Bibble foresaw great things for the boy – perhaps even as a courtier at Theed.
Palpatine left for home, in a dark mood. “When I am a Sith Lord,” he vowed, “these pompous petty nobodies who order me around will pay the price.” Visions of fiery vengeance upon all of Kloontah, perhaps all of Naboo, filled his mind as he headed down the trail that would take him into the swamp and to the old cave that he shared with his two Sith instructors. This hidden place had been his home for several years now, since Darth Mourn had first come to liberate him from his slavery aboard the pirate scow, and to invite him to begin the process of training to be a Sith Lord.
No Jedi Knights had yet visited Naboo, as far as the Sith could detect, but with negotiations over Republic membership for Naboo beginning to near their conclusion, it was only a matter of time, and so the Sith had chosen a base near the remote outpost of Kloontah, as distant as possible from the capital city of Theed, and thus least likely to be detected by nosy Jedi. Only one visit to Theed had been allowed, to the clinic where medical technicians had repaired the damage that Palpatine’s captors had inflicted on his young body. The scars left on his mind and soul the Sith left to themselves to tend in their own way. Yet despite his coldness of spirit, Palpatine’s eyes had widened in wonder at the shimmering lofty towers of the capital, and his longing to return left him feeling restless in the provincial backwater of Kloontah. Theed was the bright center of Naboo culture, and Palpatine felt stuck on the part of Naboo it was farthest from.
Yet all that would change as Palpatine grew in power. The boy chuckled. His two masters obviously distrusted one another and expected to come into conflict sooner or later, and each clearly hoped to have Palpatine on his side when it happened. Hence each of the Sith Lords had been privately accelerating Palpatine’s training without the knowledge of the other. Both suspected, of course; if they could not sense it from each other they could sense it in Palpatine himself, who was not yet fully able to shield his mind, though he was growing astonishingly proficient at doing so. But neither wished to bring the potential conflict to a head by mentioning it and thus bringing it out into the open; and neither was entirely sure what Palpatine was learning from the other. Meanwhile, the boy’s keen mind was busy assimilating information and techniques from both Sith Masters, and as he learned to combine his new insights he was growing in power more swiftly than either of his Masters entirely realised. Soon he would be ready to challenge one of them. Or maybe even both of them! His dark thoughts swirled gleefully.
As Palpatine turned a corner in the trail, his musings were suddenly interrupted by the sight of a large rampath standing across his path feeding on gornablossoms, with two cubs clinging to her back with their long tendrils. It was rare for rampaths to wander this close to human habitation, but one obviously had. Rampaths were aggressive when protecting their cubs, and Palpatine had startled this one. With a menacing growl the hulking amphibian began lumbering toward the boy, her long needlelike fangs bared.
I wasn’t practising mindfulness! Palpatine thought. I should have sensed its presence and avoided this! Palpatine reached frantically for his lightsabre, but of course it was not with him; a young scribe with a lightsabre in Kloontah would have raised questions.
Palpatine first tried beaming soothing feelings to the rampath, and then, when that did not work, he tried to instill in her feelings of terror or revulsion. But this too was unsuccessful. Perhaps rampaths were one of those species, like Hutts and Toydarians, that were especially resistant to Sith mental manipulation. Or perhaps Palpatine was simply too frightened and unprepared to generate the channeled focus of purpose needed to influence the beast. In any case, the rampath continued barging toward the boy, roaring with rage.
Palpatine turned and fled headlong back up the trail. His Sith training had taught him how to run with unusual speed, but the rampath with her long loping legs was nevertheless quickly catching up with him. Suddenly Palpatine caught his foot on a vine and went sprawling. As he heard his pursuer’s thunderous approach, he caught a glimpse of a humanoid figure lurking nearby in the shadows. “Help me! Please, help me!” Palpatine cried desperately.
With agile grace the newcomer leapt forward into the path of the oncoming rampath, unslinging a long lance from a sheath on his back. As the rampath charged forward, howling in fury, her mane of tendrils waving with agitation, Palpatine’s intrepid saviour thrust the lance forward. The lance’s tip crackled with energy; and as the rampath hit it, electric fire coursed over the huge creature’s body. With a wail of agony, the rampath reared back, but her eyes were still red with fury and, defying the pain, she hurled herself toward the holder of the lance, who flung himself to one side at the last moment and then swung himself dangerously onto the rampath’s back. As the muscular behemoth bucked furiously, and her cubs snapped at the stranger with their sharp teeth, he brought the lance down with all his force onto the rampath’s neck. The impact snapped the lance in two, but the stratagem had worked; the rampath, stunned, slumped into the mud, temporarily unconscious. Evading a fierce nip from the nearer cub, the lithe figure hopped nimbly off the fallen omnivore. The cubs, whimpering anxiously, continued clinging to their mother’s back, awaiting her return to consciousness.
Rising to his feet, brushing the dirt off his clothes, Palpatine got his first good look at his benefactor. The athletic lance-wielder was not human but a Gungan, a member of that obscure and mysterious alien race with whom the Naboo shared their planet. “Yousa okeyday?” the Gungan inquired solicitously.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Palpatine replied.
“Ah, wondrous goody, den yousa helping my please fixin mesa lance? Berry dangerous walkin back home wid no lance. Long waysa home, berry long. Berry skeery. An desa rampath no sleepin forever, no. Yousa helping my finding fixie stuff, energy chargers?”
Palpatine could hardly take this slimy creature back with him to the secret Sith camp. Besides, now that the danger was averted the Gungan was of no further use to him.
“No, I can’t help you. Now get along.”
At this the Gungan grew angry. “If yousa savin mesa life, mesa owin lifedebbit, mesa bein yousa servaunt. But mesa savin yousa life, pllff! Yousa no doin nuttin for my, no even helpin fixin energy lance mesa needin for goin home through darksy places fulla nasty biters.”
“Well, that’s your problem. It’s your slimy swamp, not mine. I told you to get lost! Are you hard of hearing, or just feeble-minded?” With a sneer Palpatine turned back down the path and headed for home. The irate Gungan was soon out of earshot and out of his thoughts.
I’ve been overconfident, Palpatine thought. That rampath might have skewered me. I have much more to learn. I’m not ready to challenge Ghast or Mourn; I need a lot more training first. Perhaps I’ve gotten a useful lesson today. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.
Back up the trail, the Gungan fumed. “Yousa Naboo, all smugsy snorters, no bein grateful when mesa savin yousa puny lifes. Yousa all bombad. Better mesa letting toothy critter bitin stompin yousa. Mesa no doin nuttin ever again for yousa Naboo.”
With anger in his heart, the slim young Gungan known as Captain Nass began the long, perilous trek back to Otoh Gunga.
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