Setting: the Imperial Palace at Coruscant, 14 BBY

The Touch

He regards the quiet, trembling child with measuring eyes.

She is indescribably dirty, despite the major’s half-hearted effort to clean her up, her hair – red, it could appear – is a tousled mess and her face is streaked with tears that ran dry days ago. Looking down her ragged jumpsuit he can see that at some point she even has peed in her pants.

She stands shivering in front of him, eyes to the floor; there is no question that she’s terrified beyond words.

What should he do with her; the surviving brat of a wiped off Jedi family? She has the gift, he can sense that much even from here – yet again – so many have the gift. Is there anything special in this one, anything left in that horror struck mind; isn’t she most likely broken already and rendered completely useless…?

“How old is she?”

“Three years old your majesty. Four maybe. It’s hard to tell.”

The Emperor smiles briefly. For all his intelligence and training, it hasn’t occurred to the major that he could ask the child; she’s old enough to know her own age. Or maybe she can’t remember anymore? Fear can do that to a man, how much more easily then to a child…

With great care, he reaches out with the Force to touch her mind. Her head pops up at the contact, large eyes widen in surprise and she meets his gaze with newly awakened hope, spontaneous faith…

And Palpatine smiles…He doesn’t have to wipe out hostile intent from his mind in order for her not to sense it – it’s all gone already. Gone by this sublime feeling, this precious gift that a small child gives you so freely, this rare savor; trust. How refreshing on a old man’s weary, twisted soul.

So… she is intact despite her fear; she isn’t broken and certainly not wiped out by the brute fate she and her kin have faced… He touches her mind again and she responds immediately; delicate, unspoiled, with all the vividness a child’s mind can present…

He looks into those bright, eager eyes; fingers at the edges of her mind, unexpected possibilities suddenly coming to life before him... This could be something different…she could very well be capable of what he’s always dreamt of but also suspected was a only mirage of his own ambition, a dream never likely to come true…

“What’s your name, child?”

Fear overtakes her again, but now she fights it, struggles to find her voice, in order to answer his question.

Yeess… four years old, horrified, but still acknowledging what is required of her, and willing to deliver... A pride… to obey …what a wonderful, delicious trait…

“Mara…your…majesty…” The last words said with an uncertain look to the major, then again focusing on the Emperor before her.

Wonderful eyes, indeed. Ardent, full of stubborn courage, initiative even…This could be…

And such an unusual color…jade green. She could grow up to be a beauty of great measure…That would also come in conveniently…

“Welcome to my court… Mara Jade.” He smiles at the girl and very tentatively she smiles back.

He reaches out his hand, palm upwards and those jade eyes grow bigger again. She glances around her, almost shamefully; looking for some escape, perhaps.

There is none, however. There is only one way for her to go. In fact, Palpatine knows, she has two - the way to perdition is always open - but that one is behind her, the way of reluctance, and she is a child, still believing blindly in people and goodness, still mistaking a friendly gesture as good intentions. This belief now redeems her life.

Gathering all her courage, she rises and steps to the Emperor, taking his hand. Tiny, wee fingers touch bony, faded ones and her eyes widen again at the softness of that wrinkled skin.

The Emperor smiles indulgently and motions to his side.

“Sit down, child. You will have a place at my right side. In time, you will be the extension of my will.”

She sits on the floor for hours, staying with the Emperor in the shadow of his throne until she finally falls asleep, head resting against its cold marble.

© 2009 Kataja

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