On a night like tonight.
A shift in the Force filled a wise man with fright.
And so the Emperor,
And all his knights,
With lightsabers red, green and white,
Climbed atop an old peak
There their destinies they would meet.
It was difficult to hear the man under the constant thrum of starships that roared in and out of the space port, all tumbling over one another and bickering for the limited air space that was so cluttered with durasteel frames that they looked like a moving trail of ants across the sky. The deafening sounds hardly mattered, however, as the old man asked for the same thing each time, merrily smiling his toothy grin and paying only in credit chips for a ticket. The ritual had become so frequent and expected that Mira had begun to use his arrival as a kind of marker for how long remained in her shift.
She read his lips as he asked for another ticket to tour the old Imperial palace. He held out one of his hands, smooth and tanned, though creased underneath layers of careful maintenance. They were the scars of some old labor, buried under so many balms and creams.
Mira tore off a ticket stub and handed it to him, at first impatient by the predictability of the routine, but there was something about his knowing face and that awkward, pointed beard that made her shrug and smile, the same way she did every day.
She realized she had never actually learned the man’s name as he took his ticket, exchanged credit chips for tickets, and pushed past the turnstile. His arrival and subsequent departure caused her to lean back on tired heels, feeling the dreadful day of another long day’s work begin to creep into her back. Another passenger liner hoisted itself lazily into the air from the space port, drawing her attention.
Built on an old Corellian chassis, it floundered in the air like a fat man trying to rise from a sofa, its cheap repulsor lifts struggling against gravity to keep the spherical craft afloat. Then the ion engines flashed blue and began to streak a trail of white through the air, giving the repulsors their much needed boost to give the liner its much needed support so that it could climb beyond Despayre’s atmosphere.
The queue for the tour was nearly empty today, with perhaps a dozen other guests behind the soft handed man with the funny beard. An Imperial holiday was coming to a close and most of the vacationers were eager to escape the planet’s oppressive, jungle humidity. Only the stragglers and the chasers of discounts and deals remained.
And the old man.
Mira took a few steps backward, then nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt herself bump into someone. Spinning on her heels, she realized that the old man had not continued on as he usually did and was instead standing straight and tall, watching her.
The sounds of the passing ships was beginning to thin, though the ringing in her ears remained.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gathering her breath. “Can I help you?”
The man’s smile belied the anguished sloop to his eyes. He normally seemed so eager for his ritual of touring the old Imperial palace, perhaps even playful like a child brought to their favorite amusement park. That glimmer was gone, his red irises, perhaps his most striking feature, instead seemed glazed.
“I’m afraid I’ve never had the pleasure of your name,” he told her, twirling the stub of his ticket between his fingers.
Mira frowned. Something was unsettling, filling her with the same kind of discomfort as returning to her apartment to find it almost exactly the way she left it. Nothing about the man seemed particularly threatening, though she could not shake that strange feeling as she sized him up.
He was tall and she suspected that in his younger years he was well built and chiseled. His jaw line was well defined, but his square chin was not designed to host hair. It was the only part of him that looked haggard. His hair was streaked with silver, though she suspected that the color was merely a losing battle against time and a few weeks’ neglect would bring a lighter shade to the rest of his hair.
Not wanting to be rude she answered, “I’m Mira.” Her tone was sterner than she intended, so she cleared her throat and relaxed her shoulders, offering a hand. “Mira Roro.”
The man’s grip was like iron and Mira could not hide the pained expression from her face as she felt as though every bone in her hand would suddenly snap.
“They call me Wolfgang,” he answered, releasing her hand in a feeling that felt something like mercy. There was something about the man’s speech that caused her to look up from the rubbing of her palm, an eyebrow raised. He was articulate and deliberate with his words. It was a strange command of language that made him sound accented, even if his tone was not truly different from anyone else’s.
“Alright…” Mira said, suspiciously. “How can I help you, Wolfgang?”
Perhaps as an excuse to escape the disconcerting old man, Mira felt a strange heat from the glares of queued tourists at her back. She resisted glancing over her shoulder at them.
“I usually attend this tour alone but…” his eyes flickered. “Today holds special significance to me. I would appreciate it if you would attend the tour with me.”
Mira frowned. Before she could speak she noticed another man approaching from behind Wolfgang. He was dressed like any tourist, with shorts and a loose shirt to spite the heat, but his build and pose were too striking and bulky, his mannerisms too deliberate to be some sight seer wanting to gawk at the old palace. The square chested man’s eyes rested firmly on Wolfgang. If he was aware Mira was there at all, he did not show it.
She felt herself torn. It was not unusual for guests to ask one of the turnstile attendants to follow them on the tour and most of the time it was seen as a reprieve from the agonizing heat and the monotony of a day’s work, but the unsettling display of the haunting man with the red irises and the peculiar behemoth of an observer behind him sent her blood running cold.
“I have to...tend to the turnstiles…” she muttered, though she knew all at once her words were meek, meager excuses.
“I understand,” Wolfgang said with a slow nod. “If you change your mind, I can handle the arrangements for your replacement.”
Now Mira narrowed her eyes. For the first time the casually dressed watcher behind Wolfgang shifted his eyes to her. She wondered for a moment, under the scrutiny of his stare, where he had come from. It had seemed to her as though he had simply materialized from the cobblestone path that led to the palace.
“I uh, don’t, I don’t see how you could…” she started, though the man behind Wolfgang folded his hands in front of him and cleared his throat.
“He is a gardener,” he explained in a sharp tone that sounded almost like a bark. “At the palace.” Mira was not sure how that was supposed to explain much, but she did not argue the point.
“Don’t mind him,” Wolfgang said, not bothering to look at the man. “I never do.” He winced, suddenly as the roar of ion engines split the air, announcing the arrival of another set of ships. “Like I never quite get used to how busy that star port is.”
Wolfgang nodded his head then spun on his heels. For a gardener he had a precision to that turn that seemed uniquely military, though that was not unusual, she reasoned. The disarmament of years ago had left many soldiers flooding the job markets, seeking vocations that did not necessarily fit their skills. Her brother would tell her of admirals whose pensions had been picked clean and sent to the Imperial treasury lining the streets of former Jutraalian worlds with hats collecting credits and government officials waiting at sleezy restaurants.
The economy eventually recovered, life found its way as it always did, but those that had made the old empire their life blood were still found like unfinished pieces of art, ghosts that shared the streets with the living, never quite able to let go of old habits.
That thought suddenly haunted Mira. He was old and imposing with a scruffy beard that was strangely placed at best, but thoughts of a life half lived, resigning him to snipping ferns and hedges tugged at her heart. Perhaps, she thought to herself, continuing to fill in the blanks of the man’s past, he had been some starship captain or perhaps a general whose career had been sunk low and these daily visits to the palace were a way to relive old times as he contemplated how he had so many more yesterdays than tomorrows.
Carried by that empathy and guilt, Mira waved over one of the other bored turnstile workers, then sprinted to clear the distance between herself and Wolfgang.
She tucked her arm under his, hooking it as she had seen more formal girls do on HoloVids. Without looking, he placed a hand on top of hers and gave her a paternal squeeze.
Behind them, Mira was aware of the clacking footfalls of the hulking man that had been watching Wolfgang. She tried to forget about him, to push the sounds of his steps away along with all the questions he brought with him.
She remained silent until they entered the main thoroughfare of the palace gardens. They smelled of sweet lilacs the same as they reeked of wet fertilizer. Birds, both native to Despayre and imported, competed for their songs to be heard from every corner, though the gardens themselves stretched for miles, with small buildings and shops interspersed along with lakes, ponds, and a number of speeders to spare tourists’ feet.
A pleasant, artificial breeze snuffed out the sweltering humidity of the jungles and a part of Mira felt at once as though she had wandered onto an entirely different world every time she stepped through the gates. On loud speakers voices would intermitently announce the arrival of new tours, the beginning of shows in one of the lakes, or occasionally simply spout pertinent information about the Rogue Empire.
When they found themselves on the main path to the palace, an imposing figure that looked like a dome topped keep sandwiched between two towers so high that they split the clouds, Mira at last looked over her shoulder. There was no sign of the troubling man that had been following them, which only made him all that much more troubling.
“You said today held some kind of...significance?” Mira asked, forcing herself to look forward along their path.
Wolfgang nodded at her side. “This is the anniversary of my wife’s passing.”
Mira felt her heart sank. “Oh,” she said, her voice low. “I’m sorry. Did she...come on this tour often with you?” Something felt inappropriate about that question and she winced until she felt another one of those assuring squeezes.
“You could say that,” he answered, a surprising mirth to his tone. He gestured toward the palace. “Have you ever been inside?”
“To the rotunda,” she admitted. “I hear it’s huge inside.”
“There are no words to describe the interior, I’m afraid. “Gorgeous will have to suffice.”
Enormous turquoise gates that seemed to be shaped from naturally growing marble rather than chiseled and built loomed over them as they approached. The steps leading up to those double doors had a well trodden black carpet, with hundreds of would be guests waiting their chance to enter. They were from every world, speaking over a dozen different tongues, curiously flipping through datapads, talking among themselves and listening as costumed professionals lectured on the history of the Rogue Empire.
Mira realized that she had been gawking at the behemoth gates when Wolfgang started to speak again.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen those gates actually open,” he said, seeming amused by that fact. “Hm, once,” he then added.
He led her past the crowds, up the steps. They tossed him curious glances like one would a leper, though some grumbled when he gracefully led Mira between and beyond them to service doors that were far less opulent than the imposing gates that cast their shadow over them all.
Wolfgang offered his ticket to one of the black clad guards, dressed to resemble the PeFauna of the old Imperial Order. She had seen documentaries depicting the mysterious order and knew that they more accustomed to fully faced helms that obscured their identities. In their passing had come so many legends that Mira could not begin to guess which were true and which were myths created to aggrandize a dead society whose documents had been burned long ago.
These black dressed ushers wore cheerful smiles that seemed at odds with the order’s sinister legacy.
Mira had never seen the rotunda with so many people inside of it. Her few glances had been when given a glow light and told to check for stowaways that meant to hide under a bench and find mischief further inside the palace. More PeFauna look alikes were stationed at the edges of an enormous stairway of blue steps that led to the second floor of the main palace. It looked like a waterfall and Mira quietly wondered if that had been the intent of the architects.
With practiced precision bordering predetermination, Wolfgang led Mira right, to the East Wing, while the next funnel of tourists shuffled with their guide to the West Wing.
What had once been a hallway that led to hundreds of floor level rooms had been converted into a long exhibit, featuring guest life in the Imperial Palace, along with brief narrations about social life in the Rogue Empire.
“Black was frequently a favorite court color during the reign of Emperor Fearsons,” a pleasant, feminine voice called over the PA system as they walked, crisp holo displays of men and women, human and aliens garbed in black as they danced in balls or beckoned for the Emperor’s ear. The portraits of Fearsons were of a tall, imposing man with ashen skin, as though he had been scorched by the sun. “Favored trims were gold and white, though for duties relating to the state Scarlet was the former Emperor’s professed favorite.”
Even as a lowly turnstile operator Mira knew that each line had been carefully agonized over and sliced by COMPNOR agents, It was no secret, even today, that the display of the former Emperor was something that had divided the agency into competing camps, between those who wished to make him a useful puppet deity, the hard line, Palpatineists who loathed to give the man an ounce of credit, and those that wanted a more nuanced, censored approach to disseminating the truth, in careful, cherry picked handfuls at a time.
The result was a safe, but visibly hybrid approach of both glorifying the fallen Emperor’s strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, so he seemed to be a hyperbole of a man. Many of Fearsons’s oldest sympathizers still lurked in Despayre and though they would say their pledges to the New Order and publically spit on their old liege’s name if called on it, in secret they did their part to insure that his legacy had something akin to honor in what peculiar ways they could offer.
When they reached the end of the hall, Mira spied the bulky man again. He had somehow gotten ahead of them. She chewed her lower lip and looked at Wolfgang, no longer able to stomach the uncertainty.
“Who is he?” she asked in a harsh whisper.
“Don’t mind him. Gedolf is just a COMPNOR agent insuring I don’t scribble on the walls,” Wolfgang’s tone was so playfully dismissive that it almost set Mira at ease.
“COMPNOR?” she asked, suddenly more cautious about her tone. “Why?”
Wolfgang waved a dismissive hand and shook his head, then stopped and stared at a particularly vulgar painting depicting the emperor sneaking from one room to the next, leaving behind a naked Twi’lek and entering a chamber with a blonde woman with wide, lustful eyes. He smirked a little as he sized it up.
“I have old connections to the palace,” Wolfgang continued. “He just wants to insure I am up to no trouble.”
Sensing the two, the PA system kicked in again.
“Though many of the Emperor’s proclivities are little more than rumor, little doubt remains that his former majesty was a frequent consort, especially in the wake of Empress Tabris’s death.”
“He was a lecher,” Wolfgang snickered.
“Did you know him?”
“The Emperor?” Wolfgang balked. “Who can truly know an emperor?”
“Despite his many liaisons,” the female voice continued, “Emperor Fearsons is not known to have fathered any children, leading to his adoption of Arai Heishi. Many experts speculate that the Emperor suffered from sterility.”
“Does he seem like he’s suffering in this portrait?”
Mira flushed. “I heard he held orgies in one of the towers.”
Wolfgang laughed. “I would have liked to see that.” He flicked a glance over at Gerolf. “I think we’re done here, meet you in the guest hall?”
Across the way the COMPNOR agent sneered, shook his head and disappeared. Wolfgang smirked and squeezed Mira’s hand again, offering one last look at the lewd portrait before leading her upstairs to the decorated guest halls.
No less opulent than the other rooms, the guest halls were row upon row of black and red velvet, protected by grids of lasers that Mira knew from experience would give a painful zap to any skin that came in contact with it. Once a Wookie had wandered too close and the grid had taken a healthy chunk of fur along with seared skin, leaving a smell so acrid it forced the Tourism Department to close half the wing.
More murals and holovids demonstrated life in the palace at the height of Imperial glory. Mira learned that the halls were capable of housing over two hundred individual guests, but this was merely the first of many potential chambers, meant for itinerate dignitaries. The more lavish apartments in the two spires, which were later named Sarek and Arai, were for more permanent guests of the Emperor.
They continued on for over an hour, witnessing displays of Imperial culture, how it was close enough to at best be kin to Coruscant high society, but always with its own flare. When the tourists arrived from the West Wing, Wolfgang led Mira to the East and Gerolf followed.
“I always prefer to start in the East,” Wolfgang explained as they walked. “It deals with beauty and culture, which are eternal. The West is so mired in history.”
Mira knew very little about the early formation of the Rogue Empire. Her father had been the chief at a communications relay towards the end and said that many of the transmissions he had received were ugly, muddy. There was barking panic like a frantic dog crying out to its lost owner, only to hear silence in return. He heard communications buoys go off line so that transmissions would come in, but never reach their destination so orders and even flight plans could not be sent or received in real time, sending Star Destroyers careening into stars or becoming snagged in atmospheres.
She had heard much about the Empire’s end but ever so little about its beginning.
The first exhibits talked about an obsession with obscure, old Imperial tech. It professed a certain degree of astonishment that with only a handful of rogue Star Destroyers left over from the tatters of Endor and Grand Admiral Thrawn’s failed attempt to topple the New Republic Fearsons had managed to seize both relics and impressive mock ups of coveted tech, though noted that no Admiral Fearsons was recorded to have served in the Imperial Navy as he had claimed.
“This fact remains hotly disputed among historians, who have yet to reach a consensus as to how the former Emperor maintained such detailed knowledge of such projects as the Vorknx cloaking device and other such pieces of military hardware.”
Other scenes were more harsh and brutal. It explained a blitzkrieg across the galaxy, seizing planet after planet, often times with the Emperor at the command of an ever growing fleet.
“I suspect he felt as though he had something to prove,” Wolfgang explained as he examined a freeze frame of walkers as they assaulted a lush, green planet, an Imperial Star Destroyer looming over head. A small line pointed to it, identifying it as the Disruptor.
“Until the construction of the Death’s Hand, the Disruptor served as the flagship of the Rogue Imperial Navy.”
“Jutraalian,” Wolfgang quietly corrected every time the word “Rogue” was mentioned. After the umpteenth time, Mira looked at him quizzically. Wolfgang shrugged. “COMPNOR’s little victory lap, I suppose.”
The exhibits continued on with war with the Mon Cal, the brutal Treaty of Chandrila that gutted their military strength, and the ultimate seizure of Bespin.
“The seizure of Bespin was a common point of contention across the galaxy, though former Emperor Fearsons reasoned that his control of both Bespin and Taloraan brought stability to the galaxy through by limiting the supply of tibanna gas to potentially belligerent governments,” the PA explained. “Others have argued that the Emperor was capricious at best, manipulative at worst in attempting to leverage galactic politics through control of the highly sought after resource. Imperial monopolies imposed on the gas helped fuel the future corporate ire that created a contentious friction between the galactic business world and the Rogue Empire.”
The displays went on to discuss the brutal war with the Chimera Fleet and their later criminal organization after their collapse, rebranding themselves the Chimera Syndicate.
“A long and grinding war was spent chasing the criminal elements throughout the galaxy. At times when the Rogue Empire began to release the pressure on the Syndicate, they would rise again, rousing the Empire to action with the hijacking of the starliner Nimbus. With the deployment of the Death’s Hand, the Chimera Syndicate was at last defeated, bringing peace to the Rogue Empire until their inevitable friction with the New Alliance.”
At the end of the hall they came to a fork. Mira’s eyes flicked left where she saw in blue lights “THE ANGEL MEMORIAL”. She had heard of the Angel Catastrophe, though she could not begin to memorize all of the names it had been given. The most macabre had been the Massacre at Wayland.
“I’d like to see that exhibit,” Mira said, tugging at Wolfgang’s arm. The man shuddered. His skin ran cold to the touch and he tugged away.
“No,” he answered, drawing a quizzical stare.
“I’m so curious…” The man’s sudden change alarmed and frustrated her. Even at moments that seemed to pain him or caused the man to correct with a hostile sneer, he seemed content to swallow all of the history the museums had to offer. His reluctance was as baffling as it was sudden.
“No,” Wolfgang insisted, this time more forcefully, pulling away from her. Mira glanced over at the hall of the Angel Exhibit one more time, letting out a soft huff. She was filled with a sudden curiosity that burned like an itch needing to be scratched.
But as she watched Wolfgang walk, sullen in the opposite direction to the Hall of the Jedi, she lowered her head and watched her feet as she followed. Perhaps another time.
The Hall of the Jedi was more dimly lit, with exaggerated, theatrical green and blue lights dancing across cold mist that followed the floor. This time there was no sign of Gerolf, though Mira attributed that more to the difficult visual conditions. It was so cold in the room that it made the hairs on her arms stand on end and she could feel a thousand little pin pricks as goose bumps were erected all across her skin.
“The Emperor was a noted Force sensitive, though his temperament left him difficult to teach,” the PA explained as they approached a life size statue of the Emperor, dramatically turning his back to a host of masters whose names she did not recognize. “Considered by some to be a belligerent and aberrant wayward Jedi.
“He was later taught and deeply influenced by the teachings of Gash Jiren, who experts believe left a profound impact on the Emperor. Known as the Grand Master of the Rogue Jedi Order, it is perhaps no surprise that the sometimes called ‘Vagabond Jedi’ had such a philosophical influence on the founder of the Rogue Empire.”
Wolfgang stopped before a depiction of the Emperor in a posture of submission, bent down onto a knee and lowering his head before the figure that Mira was beginning to recognize as Gash Jiren, always depicted with what looked like a woolen cloak always caught in some sort of breeze.
“Historians now know that the Emperor’s greatest rebuke came at the hands of his former master in the wake of the Wayland Angel Disaster. Jiren’s heroics were quietly praised, even as the Rogue Empire mustered its considerable strength to censor the catastrophe from all public record. The true Empire continues to pay reparations to the victims of the Emperor’s moment of inexplicable madness.”
Wolfgang frowned and lowered his head. “That’s not true…” he said, his voice almost pleading. His eyes hardened, narrowing into small, glowing slits. Then he shook his head and continued on. The blue and green glow gave way to orange and yellow as the words “Shadow Jedi” hung from the ceiling.
“Stubborn and independent,” the PA chirped, “the Emperor later went on to form the Shadow Jedi Order. Influenced heavily by the teachings of Master Gash Jiren, Emperor Fearsons proposed a Jedi that balanced his mastery of both the dark and the light. Solemn warrior monks, historians have described them, they hoped to find the careful balance in the Force that has largely been deemed a failed project. The Executor-class Star Destroyer Celestial, which served as the Order’s mobile base, remains missing in the wake of the Empire’s collapse.”
Mira stopped before a pedestal topped with plexiglass, which was resting a long staff with claws on either end, resting atop a red and black pillow.
A plaque read:
Though not the actual lightsaber used by Emperor Fearsons, this replica demonstrates the weapon of choice of the former Shadow Jedi Master. When activated, it produced an orange beam.
Wolfgang cleared his throat. “The Shadow Jedi are an interesting part of our galactic history,” he said in a solemn tone before continuing on. “It grows late. I would like to see the Tabris Wing.”
Mira lingered a moment longer to examine the weapon before trailing after him.
“Did he ever fight anyone with it? Or was it just for display?” she asked, skipping at times to close the distance between the two.
“I heard a story that he once battled the Dark Lord of the Sith,” Wolfgang answered, never slowing his pace as he left the Hall of the Jedi and led her into another hall, then up what felt like an endless flight of stairs. “I’ve heard others say he once fought an entire coup with nothing but that blade. I do not place much stock in stories, however.”
They continued room to room, hall to hall, passing by stragglers and tourists that were gawking at art, passing by the occasional teen lovers that were no doubt claiming to be overcome by the power and romance of the place and seeking out quiet nooks and crevices to begin devouring one another’s mouths. Wolfgang ignored them even as Mira watched each one and snickered.
They arrived at last at the Tabris wing. Soft, mournful music played and the room, big enough to park any of the starships from outside, was as cold as the Jedi Hall There were dimly lit barriers of lights that accosted tourists toward the center of the room, with a high rising platform and a small urn. Behind it was a portrait so tall that it would have taken up two entire floors at Mira’s apartment, depicting a young, beautiful woman identified as Tabris, First Empress of the Rogue Empire.
A handful of tourists were talking in quiet, respectful tones as they examined the urn. Wolfgang’s pace was slow, careful, each step heavy with respect. The tourists glanced over their shoulder at him and made room.
Mira glanced around the enormous hall and found Gerolf standing at one of the exits, arms crossed, but his expression softened as he watched Wolfgang.
The old man climbed the steps, braving the small lights that acted as barriers. There was something pressing and almost divine about his solemn ascent, so overpowering that Mira found herself looking away, as that seemed to somehow be the right thing to do. She entertained herself by finding a datapad that outlined a brief biography of Lady Tabris.
She had been a debutant from Averam, who historians agreed had been smitten by the Emperor in his early days as a warlord. Following an outbreak of violence on her homeworld, Fearsons had swept forward with his fleet in what he considered to be a deeply romantic gesture, though the language used was peculiar, crisp, reeking of censorship.
“After striking a fever,” the datapad read towards the end, “Empress Tabris expired in her sleep on 11.2.5. A private autopsy was ordered, however the cause of death was never released to the public and historians have found no records on file. Empress Tabris was cremated on 11.9.5 and interred in the Rogue Imperial Palace where her ashes remain to this day.”
The date of her death made her frown. Mira stared at the numbers for several, long moments, confused as to why they made her feel so confused, so frustrated. Then she glanced at the display in the upper right of the datapad, reading the date.
It was 11.2.
Mira’s eyes widened and she looked up as Wolfgang kissed the tips of his fingers and traced them across the urn. Gerolf cleared the distance between the two at lightning speed and snatched the gardener by the arm and pulled him away, cursing as he yelled something about touching the exhibits and the senility of the man’s age.
He shot her a death glare that promised future scolding, dragging Wolfgang past her and muttering, “This tour is over.”
She felt a chill run up her spine as she saw a sad, tearful smile flash across Wolfgang’s face as he mouthed, “Thank you,” and was dragged behind one of the many curtains that lined the walls of the room, leaving Mira alone with a host of other, confused guests.