CHAPTER SIX: Genius
Nothing fascinated the apprentice Sidious quite like the endlessness of rushing water. It flowed over the rocks and glistened in the sun, its surface as smooth as molten metal. Yet that surface changed from instant to instant, never the same. At the bottom of the rocks, the molten flow cupped into an eddy, creaming and foaming over itself. Sidious watched the smallest drops as they broke free to fly up over the molten river descending the rocks, landed here and there on its surface, rode for an instant -- and disappeared. The cycle repeated over and over, crashing and thundering in his ears. Nothing else lost him quite so easily in the endlessness of time...the endlessness of space...the endless mystery of the Force.
Seated there on the bank of the Semaj river on the grounds of his master's villa outside the town of Messiri, Naboo, Sidious had struggled to lose himself many times -- only to find that you couldn't do it by struggling. You could only stare at the water...and disappear. It was unfortunate that he had to puzzle this out without guidance, especially at the raw age of seventeen, but no one could have helped him do this. To his knowledge, and that of his master, no one before him had ever possessed this level of ability.
For the apprentice Sidious was a true prodigy.
They had come to him for as long as he could remember -- sudden flashes of Sight, so vivid as to blot out everything that was actually before him. And when Sidious Saw with clarity, he was never, ever wrong.
But the visions never came when he wished they would, and sometimes all he would see was a moment of misty haze, or feel just a tingling at the edge of his awareness that told him a vision could have come -- but wouldn't.
He struggled to develop control over his ability, to make it come when he willed it. For both he and his master knew that should he accomplish this, he would be invincible.
He needed it to come right now. For days his Sight had tempted him with that vexing tingling -- and only one image, the Kaiburr crystal, in which his master was keenly interested. That warning tingle jangled his nerves again. Sometimes the sensation was comforting, presaging something pleasant, but not this time. Instead of letting it frighten him into pushing, reaching, Sidious dwelled on the water, letting the crashing sound remind him of the infinite power of the dark side.
He should try this in the dark. He tried to imagine how this place looked at night, with the moonlight silvering inky black water--
--and then it came. Finally, he saw it. An ancient temple, a ruby red crystal, and his master--
--frantically battling two Jedi.
Sidious considered whether or not to tell him. Plagueis's recent discoveries about the Force had done him no good, and Sidious had to wonder whether his latest crusade was yet another strange episode in a sadly ineffectual life--or whether he had actually become unhinged.
For Phineas of Naboo--known also as Darth Plagueis, or sometimes Darth Procrustus-- was an embarrassment, almost unworthy to be called Sith. As a small child, Palpatine had been unaware of this. To him, tall, thin Phineas, with his flat yellow hair, long face, high cheekbones, beak of a nose, and dancing blue eyes, had been the very embodiment of all things wise and wonderful. But as Sidious grew older and completed his study of the Fifty-six Masters and his first pilgrimage to Korriban for the Tomb Ritual, he began to understand that he had been seriously mistaken.
Phineas's master, Darth Avarice, had chosen him late in life and in haste. As a younger woman, she chose a more likely apprentice--but then she had fallen in love with him. Their tempestuous affair spanned nearly twenty years. Then the handsome and brilliant Darth Sage, barely forty, had been struck down by an illness. Avarice did everything she could think of to save him, but to no avail. By the time he died, Avarice, nearing sixty and ailing herself, did not have the time to pursue a lengthy search for a replacement. When the child Phineas came to her attention, Avarice leaped--and repented.
Phineas had acceptable skills in the Force, but lacked a warrior's heart. No matter what Avarice did--and from what Palpatine knew she had tried plenty--the great fighting spirit of a Darth Bane or a Darth Revan never materialized. To a lesser master this might have been acceptable, as such ones as Plagueis had contributed many important discoveries to the Sith Order over the past millenium. But Darth Avarice was a true conqueror; and an apprentice who gravitated to solitary meditation and quiet study of all aspects of the Force, she found completely unacceptable. Unable to kill him and start again in her great age and infirmity, mockery became her one relief. She nicknamed him "Darth Procrustus"; it meant, stubborn.
Phineas carried out his duty to young Sidious, imparting the teachings he was required to transmit, but lived mainly for his arcane studies in Sith and Jedi lore. This year he had actually succeeded in creating a creature solely from midichlorians, literally out of thin air. It took him many months, but the result was a little monk, a small, round, middle-aged man. Phineas called it a "tulpa," and that was what they named it.
Tulpa was eventually visible to non-Force sensitive people and began to be sighted in and around Messiri; it amused them no end to hear people ask who the new monk was. Eventually the little fellow grew taller and began to do strange things such as setting fires, and Phineas set about taking him back into the Force to avoid undue attention.
It was a long process, and difficult, but the night he finally accomplished it had been a watershed for Phineas. Palpatine had found him late that night, weeping after a meditation that he said had shown him a truth so profound that he could never view the Force--or the Sith--the same way again.
The next morning, Phineas declared that the Sith Order and the Jedi Order must be merged again into one, and every day of his life from that day forward centered on how to make that happen. He decided to win the confidence of one--just one--Jedi master, and attempt to reveal himself to him. But he lacked confidence that any peaceful overture would be accepted by the Jedi Council, even if he could gain the trust of this one master. Hence the need for the Kaiburr crystal, housed in the temple at Pomojema on Mimban. It was said to enhance the Force powers of anyone who held it, and Phineas hoped it would help him and his apprentice to defend themselves, should it be necessary.
They had planned their trip to Mimban, and now this. Obviously the Jedi order had planned a similar expedition.
Sidious considered the matter carefully. Like the great majority of the fallen masters on Korriban, he was a follower of Lord Bane; a believer in the creed that the Sith were born to rule. He did not like this idea of rejoining the Jedi, but as a half-trained apprentice, he had little hope of overpowering the master. Once he could, it would be too late, and reestablishing the Sith would be problematic at best. But losing the crystal to the Jedi--
He decided. Though it pained him to do so, and finishing his training with nothing but old books and holocrons--and the guidance of the Fallen Masters, should he be able to return to Korriban--would be difficult, he could accomplish it if he had to. If the Jedi should kill Plagueis, he must escape with the crystal.
Could it be done?
Palpatine rose and climbed the grassy hill back to the villa. Darth Plagueis awaited him on the veranda, attuned as always to the currents of the Force around his apprentice.
"Grandfather," said Palpatine, "I've had a vision..."