Authors: Voronica Whitney-Robinson
The Ruins of Dantooine
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Del Rey
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 2004 by Lucasfilm Ltd. &
All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
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A light rain misted the hillside. Other than that slight patter, the only sound disturbing the evening was the sudden cry of the peko peko. The large, blue-skinned reptavian’s pitiful squawk carried across the still lake before stopping as suddenly as it had begun.
“The tusk-cats must be hunting,” Inquisitor Loam Redge said quietly to himself, smiling at the idea of the sleek, fawn-colored beasts circling the Retreat. Peko pekos weren’t the only thing that the large predators could kill; simply the opening course.
The cloaked human stood alone on the stone balcony overlooking the placid lake and the hills beyond. For the last few moments, he had watched the final glow of the setting sun turn the world a brief, shimmering pink. As soon as the molten ball had disappeared, though, the sky had turned several shades of gray, from dirty white to steel. The colors layered themselves one on top of the other, so it was impossible to discern where one began and another ended. And then the rains had come.
With a parting glance toward the twinkling lights of Moenia off to the east, the Inquisitor returned inside, where he brushed at his cloaks furiously, as though their exposure to the abrupt shower had somehow sullied them. He smoothed back his rich brown hair and stood with his spine at ramrod attention.
No one knew how old the Inquisitor was, and Redge preferred it remain that way. There were precious few secrets in the Empire, and he liked to keep as many as he could.
Inquisitor Loam Redge was one of those rare individuals who derived great pleasure from his work. Finding those sensitive to the Force, torturing them, and destroying them were his topmost priorities, and they also gave him the greatest joy. He was very good at his vocation, and he always looked as though he was enjoying a private joke when he was at his busiest. This twisted happiness had, over time, etched its mark on his face in the form of the faintest crinkles near the outer edges of his dirt-colored eyes. Other than that, his face was mostly unlined. He might have been thirty, he might have been fifty.
When he was satisfied that he looked properly groomed, Inquisitor Redge moved out into the hallway. He padded silently across the plush, goldtrimmed maroon carpeting that lined the walkway. It was so thick, he barely heard the MSE-6 that almost scurried past his feet. The tiny, black, rectangular droids littered the Emperor’s Retreat, as they did
so many of the Imperial starships and ground installations throughout the galaxy. When the struggling company Rebaxan Columni had found itself facing imminent bankruptcy, it had offered the Empire a cut-rate deal on millions of them. Because the navy was extremely short on droids, it accepted. Now the Empire was crawling with the little automatons.
The small droid stopped a few feet beyond the Inquisitor and extended its heavy manipulator arm, clutching a rag. It scrubbed feverishly at some unseen smudge on the tan marble wall. Redge studied the droid for a moment as it buffed the already highly polished surface before slightly raising his cloaks up and moving past it. He found that the mechanism reminded him vaguely of a type of small vermin, and it disturbed him slightly.
There was no one else in the corridor, and he continued to revel in the quiet luxury of Emperor Palpatine’s Retreat on Naboo. The Emperor’s homeworld was calmly green, with areas of dense swamps broken up by rolling plains and verdant hills. Redge found the view soothing and knew that Emperor Palpatine had chosen the location for just that effect, not because of any maudlin sense of homeworld loyalty. While he had traveled to Theed, Moenia, Kaadara, Dee’ja Peak, and most of the smaller cities on the relatively peaceful planet, Inquisitor Redge had not yet ventured into the streams and canals that honeycombed the interior core of the planet. He had heard from a reliable source that it was possible for one to travel throughout the whole of
Naboo and never once stick a head above ground. At some point, he would have to explore the passageways himself, or send a trusted associate in his place. There was no way of knowing just what or who might be hiding down there. Naboo might be a haven not just for artists and architects, but for other, less desirable sorts as well.
Since establishing the Retreat, the Emperor had had little trouble planetside and seen no sign of the Rebellion, as far as Redge was aware. And Redge made it his business to know. Queen Kylantha had pledged and proven her loyalty many times over to Palpatine. But it irked the Inquisitor that she had not bothered to dissolve the Naboo Royal Advisory Council or to impose any real changes on the democratic structure of the government. If she were truly that loyal, then why hadn’t she made the simple and overt gesture of disbanding the mock administration? Was it simply for her vanity, so that she could retain her empty title, or was there more to it? These questions nagged at the Inquisitor during the darkest hours of the night.
Rounding a corner, Redge arrived at the entrance of a cavernous, domed antechamber, large enough to hold several garrisons comfortably. Like the hallway that led up to it, the chamber was composed entirely of mottled pink-and-tan marble. Hanging along the walls and from the curved ceiling were banners of maroon and gold, like the rugs that carpeted the myriad hallways in the Retreat. Cylindrical gold lamps hung down, casting shining puddles
of light on the polished floor. Along the far wall, two of the Emperor’s personal guards, draped entirely in crimson, stood as sentries by the door the Inquisitor knew led to the Emperor’s inner sanctum. Like avenging spirits, the guards remained steadfast in their duty, not moving a muscle. However, the vast chamber was not entirely devoid of movement.
Along the curved wall, near a small computer terminal, two stormtroopers stood. Unlike Redge, these troopers were relaxed in their stance. One leaned casually against the wall—no easy feat, given the fact that he was clad from head to toe in sparkling white armor. His colleague held only a slightly more militaristic pose. Neither man faced Redge, so both were unaware of his presence. Gliding over slightly, the Inquisitor could just hear their clipped conversation.
“I tell you,” the one against the wall squawked to the other, “if they haven’t started building a new one yet, they’re not going to.”
“It’s only been about a year,” the other replied with more static in his response, his transmitter clearly in need of some attention. “Equipment that awesome takes time to repair.”