The Emperor Palpatine's Haldis Guard, Tahirah, stood alert as the com-speaker buzzed loudly into the throne room on the ESD ECLIPSE. "Yes?" "Your Majesty, General Cairnfell wishes to make a confidential report via holocomm." "Put it through at once." The holographic figure of the woman who he had just recently appointed to command his Elite Red Guards appeared in her dark crimson robes. The Emperor could feel no trace of light in her... "You have something on your mind, Darana?" Darana bowed. "My master, I turned NikVie over to Lt. Colonel Melora Lexor." "Why?" "Knowing that Lt. Colonel Lexor is NikVie's Grandaughter I turned him over to her so that she could present him to you....alive, as you wished." "But she did not do what you ordered her to....He is not here." Darana's eyes now displayed the darkness he so admired in her. "She has killed NikVie, my Master," she hissed angerly. "KILLED the Jedi? Was this necessary?" "I do not know her reasons, Your Majesty." "Still, *you* are reporting it. You need to know her reasons! This is unusual of you both...where is Colonel Lexor now?" "She sent a short report, Your Majesty, to both you and I....I believe she is in her lab currently." "Where is the body of Nik-Vie Windu? Did it evaporate into the Force, or is it lying somewhere on Coruscant? I want *specifics*!" "The body was cremated by two of Melora's lab techs." "WHAT!!!" "That is what she had done with it." The Emperor's yellow eyes glowered with unconcealed anger at Darana. "Leave me before I do something unfortunate, Darana," he warned through gritted teeth. "And I wouldn't go very far...I will send for you soon." Darana bowed respectfully, as the holo dissipated over the throne room floor. ----------------------------------- The next day, General Cairnfell and Colonel Lexor were ordered to board an official shuttle to the ECLIPSE to meet with the Emperor in person. When they arrived they were escorted directly to the throne room by a dozen Red Guards. The irony did not escape Darana, who had anticipated the Emperor's command. When they reached the entrance of the room, they were met by Princess Raven who nodded at Darana with sympathetic eyes - she had been privately briefed beforehand. Melora Lexor stood before the throne at attention. Raven moved quietly to the side of her father's throne. Darana immediately knelt. "My Master." Melora hurriedly bowed, then knelt with her head down. The Emperor sat up in his chair and gripped the armrests with his pale, crooked fingers with an agitated slap. "I have looked at this issue of the death of Nik-Vie Windu long and hard. I'll get to the point...you both FAILED me, each in your own way. You, Darana, by your lack of vision - if you had any foresight, you would have brought the Jedi to me in chains yourself..." Palpatine glared hard at his finest, watching to see if she would flinch from his admonishment. Instead, she nodded her head and met it courageously, acknowledging her failure. Then the Emperor turned to the other woman clad in her dark Imperial uniform. "And YOU, my *dear* Colonel Lexor...you failed me in another manner *entirely*...by ignoring my command to have the Jedi Windu brought before me ALIVE!" Melora looked up at him, then quickly bowed her head. She couldn't look at his face. "I'm sorry, Majesty. I went too far in my interrogation - it was beyond my abilities to keep him alive..." "Wasn't it *you* who told me you wanted to be a Sith?? SITH do *not* apologize!" He shook his head slowly. "Now -- you still have not given me a reason why killing Windu was such a necessity. Would you care to elaborate?" Melora felt her knees go weak. "Majesty.. I didn't like what I learned. I-I deserve your wrath..." "Oh - you think you deserve my *wrath* do you?" The Emperor's words dripped with sarcasm. "I *entirely* agree! So then...where is the body of the Jedi? Did it evaporate, as usual - or is it lying somewhere on Coruscant?" "The body was cremated by my assistants. They scattered the ashes into space..." "You should have informed me of his death IMMEDIATELY!" Palpatine hissed between his teeth. "Instead, you have ordered his molecules scattered all over my galaxy, and without the foresight to know I might want to look at the body beforehand!" Raven flinched as she watched her father's eyes glower down at the Colonel with outstretched hands. She and Darana exchanged knowing glances. "No, Melora Lexor - you have failed me for the FIRST *and* the LAST time!" The Emperor's yellow eyes seem to leap out at Melora, as she cringed for the inevitable. Suddenly she found herself showered with blinding blue and white bolts of Force lightning. Darana watched carefully, recalling the sensation she'd had from the Emperor when she got hit with his lightning as she was holding down Prince Trinian at Port Lansing recently. As the bolts withdrew, she could see Melora through the cloudy haze. She was still on the floor, groaning in pain. Raven stepped forward, ready to assist but the Emperor held his hand up. "Do I hear any more apologies, Colonel?" There was a faint reply from the floor. "No, Majesty." It was barely a whisper. "Good. But we aren't done yet," he whispered back, and laughed. "If you want to keep your Imperial rank and continue working in the Intelligence division...if you want to keep your standing as my daughter's force student..if you want to *save your life*, you must never again consort with ANY Jedi. If you happen to see one, you will report it to me *personally*!" Palpatine stared hard at her, as if daring her to defy him. "Do you FINALLY understand?" Melora cringed, and nodded as she tried to stand, but the Emperor's power willed her to return to a kneeling position. "Yes, M-Majesty, I pledge my life to you. I will tell all I see." "No...I want you to repeat the vow, word for word!" he said, waiting. "I p-pledge never again to consort with any...Jedi" She paused, trying to block the pain with little success. "If I see one, I will report to you, Majesty." "Did this Nik-Vie say anything to you during your interrogation of him?" When she did not reply right away, Palpatine cast her a mocking smile, as he unexpectedly used the Force to suddenly put Melora into a state of blindness. Her mind raced as she covered her eyes with her hands, trying to reach out mentally, to see. "Majesty, I know not what you want. I hide nothing from you --" "What is your relationship to this Jedi? Tell me." Melora could feel the Emperor walking all around her physically, as well as internally. "He--he is my third generation grandfather." Melora finally gasped out from the pain. "All he told me was that he wanted no harm to come to me." "Why would you be harmed? Did you tell him you were undergoing training to be a Sith?" "I--believe it was you he feared. I did not tell him, Majesty..." "Then it is himself , not *you* that he should have feared for. I was prepared to kill him MYSELF -- but now, thanks to you, that pleasure has been taken from me!" "If it will balance the wrong I've done, then take my life in place of his." "No" he hissed angerly. "I will have none of this Jedi-like self-sacrificing hypocrisy displayed to me!!" The Emperor gritted his teeth and held out his pale hands into the air once again... Another terrifying bolt surrounded Melora and wrapped itself around her arms, holding her to the floor. She closed her eyes in terror and mentally screamed in pain. "You are just *beginning* to learn what the DARK SIDE is capable of...I want you to know that you cannot resist it, or *hide* your pain from it." he told her coldly. "I...live...to...serve you!!" she screamed. Suddenly her sight was returned and she found Raven at her side, as the Emperor instructed her to assist her. "Yes, you will stand up and live through this, Melora Lexor...and you will, indeed, *most certainly* serve me! One day, you shall salute the darkness that enveloped you." He smiled at Darana, still attentive to him, then turned back to the Colonel, who was now standing up with some difficulty. "Now...tell me. In what manner did you manage to kill the Jedi Windu?" Melora moved wearily. "My...sample taking procedure..." "Yes?" "I took internal samples, Majesty. I let him...bleed to death." The Emperor's lips curled with contempt. "But you never informed General Cairnfell of this?" Melora's mind went over the details of the sampling procedure. "I did not inform her of *how* he died - only that he did." Darana stirred restlessly beside her and looked up. "I did not realize she would not be bringing the Jedi to you directly, my Master." "Why didn't you, Lexor?" "I don't know why, Majesty..." The Emperor saw a true sense of confusion within Melora's mindset and it disturbed him. "When were you informed of your lineage with the Jedi?" "Darana told me after I was ordered to give a sample of my DNA to a member of her household." Now suddenly, Palpatine turned to Darana with suspicion in his eyes, which she saw but it didn't didn't appear to concern her. "Why was a DNA test made on Lexor and Windu?" "I became aware of the potential relationship through medical records when the virus struck at Port Lansing,"she explained calmly, "I wanted to find facts. When I interrogated Nik-Vie Windu during the battle there, I saw the necklace that Colonel Lexor wears in his memories." The Emperor nodded slowly, and Darana could feel his anger subside toward her. "So...Melora Lexor. Tell me what this Jedi told you about your family ties..." "Only that I am his third generation granddaughter; the necklace was given to his lady love once." The Emperor stepped closer and peered at her. "Then...he means nothing more to you than a name in your ancestoral background?" "Yes, Majesty. Nothing but a name." Palpatine grinned with hidden malevolence. "Good..good. Then do hand over the necklace. Now." Melora hesitated for a second, but then complied. It was delicate looking - a gold chain - tri-circles interlocked together with a blood red stone in the center. Slowly she removed it from around her neck hidden inside her uniform and then placed it in the Emperor's outstretched palm. The Emperor studied the strange etchings carefully and turned to Raven, who looked over at him with interest. "Take this and research the item, my daughter. Once you are done, report your findings and return it to me. I will then keep it in my personal safe." He looked over at the stunned Melora with glee. "You no longer need such sentimental trinkets, now *do* you, Lt. Colonel?" She seemed preoccupied, in a half-trance, her mind running over the interrogation of Nik-Vie....she wondered why she let him die, why her anger, let alone her medical oath let him bleed to death. Not realizing the Emperor had encroached on her recollection, she turned to focus on Darana standing next to her, and the necklace... Palpatine turned to Raven and Darana and established a Force mind-link with them. **Yes, Father?** Raven asked. **I am concerned that this Jedi Windu may have played with Lexor's mind...Jedis have been known to do this to protect something...** Then Darana put in **This Jedi, in particular, is nothing like the ones we know today. He was willing to break his own word. He may go to further lengths than we might expect from one such as him.** **Yes..yes...there was something unusual about him. I wish you both to probe her mind. But not now. Wait until after the Colonel has been properly attended to in the ship's infirmary ** He felt them both nod and turned to the waiting Melora. "Lexor, we are finished here. I have said all there is to say. Do you have anything else to tell me before I send you to the infirmary?" Melora looked up at him with a sense of relief. The Emperor had somehow decided not only to spare her life, but also did not take away her military rank. "I serve you, my life is yours to do as you wish. I will inform you of any Jedi contacts." The Emperor called out to his guards and they escorted the Colonel in the direction of the ship's infirmary, where His Majesty's own excellent medical staff awaited to tend to her bruises and burns. Raven left with Darana soon after. The Dark Monarch then settled back in his throne, absorbed in his own thoughts and musings.
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