The Emperor quickly switched off his data pad and tossed it on his desk. “Send him in.” The Umbaran female started to turn away, when Palpatine added, “Also, send in the Jedi prisoner . . . after you have escorted Senator Tagge into my office.”
Sly Moore nodded and left the office. Nearly a minute later, she returned with the senator from Bonadan, Jaren Tagge. A stocky human with pale skin and pale blue eyes, Senator Tagge happened to be a scion from a wealthy family that has represented Bonadan for the past twelve years. “Your Highness!” the visitor greeted Palpatine with a low bow. “As you can see, I have returned from Naboo. Very sad business. Very sad.” He spoke with the sincerity of a smuggler from the Outer Rim.
“Ah yes,” Palpatine responded with equal insincerity. “Senator Amidala’s funeral. I regret not being there. Considering that she had represented my homeworld.”
Senator Tagge heaved a feigned sigh. “And to have died so young . . . and violently.” He paused, as a sly expression crept across his solid face. “By the way, did you know that she was with child at the time of her death?”
“Really?” Palpatine crowed inwardly at the comment. He had seen the news report of Amidala’s funeral and recalled noticing her pregnant body being carried through the streets of Theed. The HoloNet News Service made no mention of the late senator’s pregnant state. Obviously, the news service had decided to respect Nabooan tradition of respecting the citizens’ private lives. It seemed that Senator Tagge could not care less about Nabooan tradition. Palpatine felt greatly relieved. He already has to live with the idea of Anakin Skywalker no longer within his grasp. A possible encounter with both Skywalker and his offspring could have proven to be a greater threat.
“I wonder who was the father.”
Palpatine deliberately hesitated. “I am not in the habit of spreading rumors, mind you, but I have been aware of a . . . friendship between the late senator and a young Jedi Knight.”
Pale blue eyes widened with surprise . . . and pleasure. “A Jedi? No wonder they had her killed. I never believed the story that Senator Amidala had merely been caught up in the Jedi’s attempt to grab control of the Senate.”
Heaving a mournful sigh, Palpatine replied, “I can only say that we will never know the truth. By the way,” he sat down in the chair behind his desk, “I wanted to discuss another matter. Namely, the hyperbarides that your family’s corporation has been supplying the Empire. I . . .” He paused dramatically. “I have just received word from your sister-in-law, the Baroness, that the Tagge Company insists upon charging the Empire 1,000 credits per kilo for the mineral. Is this true?”
Tagge’s demeanor stiffened. The obsequious politician with a taste for gossip had disappeared. In its place appeared a cool and ruthless businessman. “Yes, I’m afraid so, Your Highness. My sister-in-law had been foolish to promise you that the price for the hyperbarides would remain at 600 credits per kilo. Considering the recent political upheavals and the costs of the war, we felt it was best to raise the prices. After all, hyperbarides is very expensive to mine.”
Palpatine gave the politician a long, hard stare. He considered using the Force to manipulate the senator’s thoughts. But instinct told him that corrupt or not, Jaren Tagge was not weak-minded. The Tagge family possessed a reputation for their business acumen, ruthlessness and strong will. So that left . . .
His office door slid open, revealing Sly Moore. The Umbaran aide entered the room. “Pardon me, Your Highness. The Jedi prisoner is here. I believe you wanted to see him before we send him to the detention center for execution.”
“He’s here?” Palpatine asked, feigning surprise.
Sly Moore hesitated. “Why . . . yes. He is . . . in the corridor, outside. I wanted to make sure . . .”
“Send him in,” Palpatine ordered. “I want to speak to him, one last time.”
A frowning Tagge spoke up. “Pardon me Your Highness, but is that wise? He could be a danger to you.”
Playing her role to perfection, Sly Moore added, “The Jedi traitor has been slightly drugged. He is in no condition to be a threat.”
Palpatine nodded. “Send him in,” he repeated.
Sly Moore bowed and disappeared into the corridor. Seconds later, she returned with two red-clad Imperial Guards escorting a slightly dazed Romulus Wort. “Like I said, he is slightly drugged,” the aide added.
From the corner of his eye, Palpatine saw his aide surreptiously inject the Jedi prisoner’s arm with a needle . . . something to purge the drug from the latter’s blood system. It did not take long for Wort to lose his dazed expression. “What hap . . .?” He glanced down at the shackles that bound his wrists. They snapped open. Tagge jumped back in fear. Using the Force, Palpatine refastened the shackles. The Jedi Knight stared at him with sheer hatred. The Sith Lord could barely contain his revelry in the young man’s emotions. This should prove to be interesting.
“So, this is the Jedi,” Tagge pronounced in a sneering voice. “Guardians of the galaxy. Or should I say . . . usurpers?” The Bonadanian senator regarded Wort with contempt. “Tell me Jedi, were you into seducing female senators, as well?”
Wort stared at Senator Tagge with shock and confusion. “What?”
The Bonadanian ignored the younger man’s question, as he snorted with derision. “Jedi scum! You know, clone troopers managed to find two of your kind hiding out on my homeworld. Thankfully, they were cut down like the scum they were. It’s a shame that you’ll receive a military execution.” He turned to Palpatine. “Your Highness, may I ask how you had captured him?”
The Emperor replied smoothly, “Our Imperial troopers found him inside the Jedi Temple.” He found himself enjoying Tagge’s harassment of the young Jedi. The Bonadanian not only enjoyed gossip, but intimidating his lesser opponents. This made Tagge well feared in the Senate.
“Probably hiding, while his comrades were finally being rid of.” Tagge returned his attention to Wort. “You! Jedi! Did you hide, while your comrades were being killed? How did it feel to betray the Senate? To betray the Re . . . the Empire? I bet you enjoyed it.” A sly smile curved his lips. “Just as you must have enjoyed Senator Amidala’s favors. Were you the piece of scum who had conceived a child with her?
In a timely fashion, Palpatine intervened. “Now, Senator. Even though Senator Amidala had a relationship with one of the Jedi Knights, I do not believe that Master Wort here, was the father of her child.”
Wort’s eyes widened in shock. “Senator Amidala was . . .?” He shook his head. “That means Ana . . .”
Nodding, Tagge interrupted. “I believe you may be right, Your Highness. I doubt very much that this . . .” He sneered at the Jedi Knight. “. . . this scum has the energy, let alone the imagination to warm the late senator’s bed. I can only imagine which Jedi filth had been responsible.” He threw back his head in raucous laughter.
The next few minutes happened so fast that it nearly took Palpatine’s breath away. Once more, Wort’s restraints snapped open. He shook them off, grabbed one of the guard’s pike and knocked both guards to the floor. Then the Jedi Knight let out a roar and swung the pike Senator Tagge’s head. Three times. His left temple bleeding profusely, the senator slowly slumped to the floor. Palpatine quickly intervened by using the Force to thwack the back of Wort’s neck, causing the latter to fall to his knees, bleeding.
“Good!” Palpatine cackled. “Very good!”
The second Imperial Guard examined the unconscious senator and announced sonorously, “He is dead.”
“I assumed as much,” the Emperor coolly replied. “Leave us. All of you.” The guard dragged his unconscious colleague out of the office. A slightly shaken Sly Moore followed closely behind. Once the door slid shut, Palpatine turned to the slightly injured Jedi Knight. “Congratulations, Master Wort. I’m afraid that Senator Tagge was becoming quite a problem for me. However, you have managed to solve it, quite well.”
Wort’s eyes regarded Tagge’s body with horror. “What have I done? I didn’t mean to hurt . . . I mean . . . He was saying all those horrible things about the Jedi. I had to shut him up.”
“Of course you did,” Palpatine replied in his most sympathetic voice. “But you must realize that you have just murdered a member of the Senate and a member of a prominent family. The Bonadanians, and especially the Tagge family will not take kindly to learning of his murder.”
“It’s not true,” Wort demanded, “about Senator Amidala being pregnant, is it?”
Palpatine sighed. “She was pregnant. Both she and the unborn child did not survive the recent upheaval, thanks to the child’s father.” He paused. “And I am quite certain that you now know his identity.”
Disbelief and rage formed storm clouds within Wort’s eyes. “Skywalker! This is all his fault! He is responsible! I never trusted him. Even from the day when he first joined the Order! And now, this? He had an illicit affair with Senator Amidala?”
“Yes, that did come as a surprise,” Palpatine murmured. “Along with the unborn child.”
Rage literally poured from Wort’s eyes. “Where is he? Where is Skywalker? Before you execute me, I should at least have the chance to kill him! He deserves nothing less!”
Coolly, Palpatine faced the young Jedi. “I’m afraid that Skywalker is . . . missing. Disappeared. He has failed to return from an assignment on Mustafar.”
“Is he dead?”
“Oh no, my young Jedi. No, I believe that he is still alive.” Palpatine paused before he murmured, “Or else I would have sensed otherwise.”
Wort’s dark eyes bored into Palpatine’s. “So, he has betrayed you, as well. I’m still asking for that chance.”
Palpatine returned Wort’s stare. “I sense a great desire to exact revenge, Master Wort. If that is what you truly desire, there is only one path in which to attain it.” He paused dramatically. “By my side.”
For a long moment, Wort hesitated. His eyes reflected a conflict between his past loyalties and oath and a new desire to inflict pain. The latter finally won out, as he slowly knelt on one knee. His face trembling with emotion, Wort declared, “The Jedi is gone. The Order no longer exists. Everyone that mattered to me in my life is . . . gone. I’ve committed murder . . . in cold blood.” His eyes once again expressed rage. “And that scum, Skywalker roams the galaxy. There is nothing left for me . . . other than to spill that traitorous scum’s blood. If serving you means allowing me the chance to do so, then so bet it.”
“You cannot back away from this,” Palpatine warned. “One apprentice has already betrayed me. I will not take kindly to another . . .”
Wort resolutely declared, “Unlike Skywalker, I am not in the habit of betraying one’s trust.” He lowered his head. “I will do . . . as you ask. Even if learning the Dark Side will achieve both of our goals. I . . . I pledge myself to the Empire, to the ways of the Sith . . . and to you.”
Palpatine allowed himself a triumphant smile. “Arise, my young apprentice. From now on, you shall be known as Darth Rasche.”
“Yes . . . Master.” The new Darth Rasche rose unsteadily to his feet and faced his new master.
“And now, we need to see about your immediate needs.” Palpatine activated the comlink on his desk. Sly Moore entered the room. “Please tend to Lord Rasche’s injuries. And he will also need new clothes and new quarters. Also, have someone tend to . . . Senator Tagge’s body. I will need to contact Baroness Tagge, as soon as possible.”
Sly Moore bowed. “Yes, Your Highness.” She turned to face Darth Rasche. “Please follow me, my Lord.”
After his aide and new apprentice had left the office, Palpatine strode toward the new windows that overlooked Coruscant’s skyline. Amazing, he thought. In one fell swoop, he had managed to rid himself of a troublesome senator and acquire a new apprentice . . . all at the same time. And this new apprentice might prove to be more malleable than his predecessor. Anakin Skywalker will rue the day he had turned his back on the Sith.
END OF CHAPTER FIVE