Viceroy Nute Gunray settled himself in one of the plush chairs at the conference table. He was not alone in the undecorated, dimly-lit space; the leaders of the Intergalactic Banking Clan, the Techno Union, and the Commerce Guild were present, as well as heads of state from various important member worlds like Geonosis. He nervously eyed the seat to his right, where a vicious-looking Colicoid perched on the cushion, claws extended and mandibles working as though masticating fresh meat. Gunray carefully tucked his chin closer to his chest to deemphasize the flesh of his throat.
His bionic eye was acting up again. No prosthetic replacement had ever worked perfectly since he had lost his original eye to Darth Sidious as punishment for ordering the assassination of members of the Loyalist Party. He wondered, darkly, if the Sith Lord had purposefully damaged his ocular nerve in precisely the right way to complicate cybernetic replacement.
Since then, Gunray had moved circumspectly, never without the permission of the Sith. He had consolidated the Trade Federation’s gains during the war, minimized their losses, and carefully arranged things so that the Federation had to make minimal military commitments wherever possible, letting the other factions of the Confederacy do the heavy lifting.
But now they had all been called here to discuss a matter of extreme exigency. One that would require the full commitment of the entirety of the CIS’s forces, apparently. The message had not said more. Gunray puffed out his chest at the thought, not caring that the motion drew the beady gaze of the Colicoid. Darth Plagueis would have to make a strong case indeed if he wanted the Trade Federation to cooperate in such a dangerous venture. The first rule of a successful business was to diversify. Putting all of one’s assets into a single investment was a recipe for ruin.
Before he had much more time to ruminate on this essential truth, the door to the conference room slid open. Gunray started and looked up, expecting to see the tall, spindly form of Darth Plagueis, but instead –
Darth Vader looked pale, as though he was ill, and he seemed to be leaner. Weight loss of some sort or other. It was hard to tell precisely what had happened; all humans already looked the same, more or less, to Gunray. He moved to the seat at the head of the table and made himself comfortable.
“Where is Magister Damask?” San Hill, leader of the IBC, spoke up. He used the Muun Sith Lord’s original name, since he had known Plagueis for far longer in a civilian guise.
“Dead,” Vader said flatly. “The Battle of Myrkr was a loss. The Jedi infiltrated his secured bunker and killed him, and Hapan treachery helped the Jedi annihilate our forces.”
Gunray felt his mouth drop open in shock. “What?” he demanded. “How is this possible? This is gross incompetence! You should have stopped them!”
“Oh, I would have if it had been possible,” Vader replied. “But you will simply have to take me at my word that it was not. However, his death came at a high price for the Order. Their own fleet was severely damaged, and Yoda died in combat. The Jedi are vulnerable, my friends. If we mass for one all-out attack on Kamino, we can finish them.”
“You forget the planetary defense shield,” Wat Tambor countered, his mechanized voice buzzing through his body plating. The Techno Union foreman leaned forward, his green, hairless brows contracting over the metal goggles protecting his eyes and face. “We could pour the firepower of our entire surviving fleet into that energy barrier for a standard year and make no progress.”
“I have someone on the inside,” Vader replied archly. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “At a signal from me, they will bring down the shield and allow us to land our forces. We will take the planet intact.”
Gunray made a hissing sound in his throat. “After all the Jedi have taken from me – from us?” he hastily corrected himself. “If the shield will come down, we should level the cities and shoot the oceans until they boil!”
He shrank back in his seat as Vader pitched himself forward, back to his feet, fists thudding against the table as he towered to his full height. “Do you remember the last time you defied the Sith?” he bellowed. “Or perhaps you are not attached to your remaining eye!”
The Geonosian Archduke, Poggle the Lesser, clicked and buzzed in his native tongue. A spindly-looking translator droid standing behind him at attention supplied his words in Basic a moment after he finished speaking. “Do the Sith command the Confederacy?” it asked.
“Of course not,” San Hill said, voice bone-dry. “We are a democracy.”
The tension was broken, at least momentarily, by laughter from the other beings at the table at the notion. Even Vader smiled faintly. The Confederacy did indeed have a democratically elected Senate, mostly to advertise in propaganda broadcasts. What the Confederacy Senate actually did could be inscribed on the head of an infinitesimal pin.
“The Archduke is quite right,” Vader said, allowing himself to slowly return to his chair. “The war effort of the Confederacy is directed by its military high command, all of whom are currently in this room. Previously, Darth Plagueis served as merely a military advisor to that high command – one whose suggestions were taken very seriously indeed, but not taken as orders per se.” He placed his hands flat against the surface of the conference table. “You are all now wondering if I should step into that position, and if my suggestions should be taken as seriously as his were.”
“What military victories we have had during this war were not your doing,” Poggle said through his translator. “You were a commander of droids and ships, but not of fleets and armies. You are not qualified as he was.”
“It’s true. I’m not.” Vader paused, as if considering some idea which had just occurred to him, though Gunray suspected this to be an affectation. “However, Lord Plagueis did leave me the entirety of his substantial financial holdings. Wealth which the Confederacy has been drawing upon quite liberally to keep its droids and ships running. If that support were to disappear, it seems to me that would greatly affect the outcome of the war.”
“You cannot extort us into giving you authority,” San Hill said coldly. “We have sufficient financial resources to survive your potential withdrawal of Magister Damask’s fortune.”
“Yes,” Vader mused. “The withdrawal, certainly. But what if that fortune were to not only be withdrawn from the Confederacy’s coffers, but were to then be given to the treasury of the Jedi Order?”
Dead silence fell. Gunray was the first to find his voice again. “You cannot be serious! The Jedi are your mortal enemies!”
“I have a vision for the galaxy, Viceroy,” Vader said. “Now that Lord Plagueis is dead and Sidious is on the run from both the Order and the Republic, the task of guiding our universe along the Sith’s chosen path falls to me. And I am not particular about what pawns, willing or otherwise, I use to do that.”
Silent until now, the Colicoid spoke in a hissing, buzzing snarl. “Name the terms.”
“I happen to have an electronic document here,” Vader said, withdrawing a datapad from his robe. “It conforms in every detail to the legal systems of the Confederacy. If all of you sign it, I will be named the newest member of the CIS military’s high command, with all the rights and duties implied by such a position. Furthermore, I will be given broad powers which I may use to execute certain unilateral decisions if the Force makes it plain that they are necessary for our victory.”
“The Force is not an acceptable source of quantifiable information,” Wot Tambor sneered.
Vader shrugged. “The document says otherwise. Sign it, and guarantee the Confederacy the continued use of Hego Damask’s vast wealth. Don’t sign it, and I’m afraid I will, to use terminology all of you will understand, take my business elsewhere.”
Glaring at him, Gunray growled, “I say we let him leave. The Sith have been nothing but trouble for the Confederacy.”
Vader grinned at him. “Oh, to be certain. It’s not as though we enabled you to ascend to the Directorate of the Trade Federation, arranged the assassination of the other members to give you supreme executive power, and then orchestrated massive financial gains through duplicitous insider trading to give you the economic power necessary for a military secession.”
He turned to San Hill. “It’s not as though we carefully manipulated the Intergalactic Banking Clan to place you in a position to succeed Chairman Tonith, while bringing various disparate Muun financial factions under your control, to let you form the core of an alternative economy for the blooming separatist movement.”
He looked at Wot Tambor. “It’s not as though we secured a number of extremely lucrative military supply contracts on both sides of the brewing war for your subsidiary, Baktoid Armor, in order to put the Techno Union into a position where you can maintain your supposed ‘neutrality’ by ransoming technical support for your highly proprietary designs and allowing you to enforce your ridiculous planned-obsolescence schemes.”
As Vader turned to the Colicoid, San Hill spoke up. “Your point is made, Lord Vader. I, for one, will sign.”
“I, too,” Wot Tambor sighed.
“And I,” the Colicoid clicked.
Poggle the Lesser hesitated, then nodded his head and whistle-burped an affirmative. The rest of the representatives at the table all agreed, one after another, until Gunray was the only one left. He felt himself begin to sweat as all eyes focused on him.
“This is not a negotiation,” Vader said, his voice deadly quiet. “Let me put it plainly, Viceroy: you cannot succeed without me. Make your choice.”
Gunray hissed. “You will be the ruin of us all.”
Vader smiled, but it was not an expression with even an iota of mirth or humor in it. “Perhaps. But think of the odds. Don’t sign, and you will be proven true. Sign, and there is a chance that you will be wrong. Wouldn’t you like to be wrong in this case, Viceroy?”
The Colicoid to Gunray’s right hissed out an impatient sigh. The vocalization somehow managed to sound hungry.
Forcing himself to swallow in a suddenly-dry throat, Gunray gave the smallest fraction of a nod.
“Then by all means,” Vader said, slapping the datapad down in front of him. “You sign first.”
Wincing, bile bubbling in his throat, Gunray pressed his thumb to the signature panel.
The datapad made the rounds about the table, each being seated there placing some identifying digit or other extrusion to the signature panel. The last to sign was San Hill, who placed his over-long Muun thumb to the datapad before handing it back to Vader with a sense of finality.
“Thank you,” Vader said, accepting it back. He pressed a button on the datapad. “The contents have just been sent to every fleet, relay station, military base, and city currently owned by the Confederacy.”
“Congratulations on your ascension,” San Hill said, his voice still dry. “Now, as the newest member of the military high command, are there any suggestions you would like to bring to the table, while we are all here? Such as the invasion of Kamino, perhaps?”
“Yes,” Gunray said, keeping his tone even and calm with great effort. “I believe there was mention of that. But also a ridiculous notion about taking the planet intact, which I expect the rest of us will not agree with.”
Vader shrugged. “If the rest of the high command disagrees with the concept of taking a valuable military target intact and using its resources for the betterment of our government, who am I to argue?” He got to his feet. “I do have one question, however, as the newest member of the high command. If there is some catastrophe, and all of us die, who takes charge?”
“If, against all logic and chance, there were to be such a catastrophe,” San Hill told him, “then I suspect the Confederacy Senate might actually have to step up and do some governing.” The reply elicited more laughter around the table.
Nodding slowly, Vader asked, “And if all of us but one were to die?”
“Military authority would naturally fall to him,” Wot Tambor said.
There was a moment of silence, and then Gunray felt his guts tie themselves into knots as Vader gave them a huge, toothy grin.
“Oh, no,” Gunray whispered.
“Darth Vader” let himself out of the conference room, returning his lightsaber to his belt. He knew he should feel conflicted about killing a room full of what amounted to enemy civilian targets in cold blood. But all he had to do was close his eyes and remember the fields of Naboo burning, the bodies of clone troops strewn about the fields of Myrkr and a dozen other worlds, the looks of pain and terror and loss on the faces of actual civilians whose homes had been destroyed or conquered.
And all of it because the beings in that room had let the Sith tempt them into enabling unforgivable acts of slaughter for the sake of greed.
The command droid in the situation room outside saluted him. “Congratulations on your promotion,” it buzzed. “Will the rest of the high command require escort back to their ships?”
Vader shook his head. “I’d give them a little more time first,” he said.
“At the moment,” Vader explained, not bothering to hide his grin, “I think they’re a little too scattered.”