This should actually be longer, but I like the line it ended on, so what the hell. Synchrony's like that; all three seem to ahve come together at more or less the same moment.
'Wrong, not necessarily. Crazy, definitely.' Mirannon pointed out. 'If I follow your logic- don't laugh-' he added that bit glaring at Aleph-3, 'you're basically talking about the empire without the dark side, which makes about as much sense as gravity without momentum.'
'Which you can actually do.' Lennart gave his old friend the feed line he was looking for.
'Yes, with a boatload of complicated machinery that requires skill and constant supervision and has many, many unplanned failure modes- diverse ways of going horribly wrong.' Mirannon pointed out. 'I smell a lunatic crusade in the air.'
'Have you ever heard of a sane crusade?' Lennart pointed out.
'This...isn't going to qualify.' Brenn decided. 'Really? We didn't like the official rebellion, so we decide to start our own? All right, I suppose there's precedent, but- '
'Can we worry about the details for a moment?' Aleph-3 said. Partly stalling, and she expected Lennart at least to figure that out. As an ex talent scout for the dark side, she knew Mirannon was right.
Am I supposed to be ashamed of that now, she wondered. I knew more than most- enough to fill in a few of the blanks here, I expect- and went with it anyway, didn't really see it in terms of good and evil at all.
Only in terms of passive and active, the dead past and the living future, of being on the side of the strong against the weak, which was hardly moral at all but much more conducive to survival; of the juggernaut of galactic history rolling over those stupid enough to stand in it's way, against those stupids and their choice to sacrifice themselves in what seemed a futile gesture.
Willing handmaiden of oppression may be an understatement, she thought, looking at her captain; I think I understand what I see in him, but what did he see in me?
And now here we are preparing to sacrifice ourselves more or less willingly in- hang on a moment, that might just be the answer, she realised. Bet he's come up with it as well and is just waiting for someone else to bring it up so it doesn't seem so entirely mad- and if only it wasn't exactly like what the Dark Side would say.
Actually at that precise point, what he was seeing was someone who had lost her train of thought, and the others were all looking at her as well. Ah.
'Look far enough ahead to see what, who we would and wouldn't be up against, and what actually seems within the bounds of possibility?' she suggested.
'Or in other words, "if you have to do this damn' silly thing, don't do it in this damn' silly way"?' Lennart queried her.
'I didn't actually say that.' She pointed out. 'I will quote you, though- recognising that what we have to do is fundamentally insane seems the first step towards a working battle plan.'
'When did I say that?' Lennart said, confused. 'It sounds like me, and it's appropriate, but I don't remember coming out with it. Not recently, anyway. '
She looked worried for a second. 'Actually, I don't remember it either. Possibly you haven't...yet.'
'Is that really supposed to be a mystic portentous prediction, or just an educated guess?' Mirannon snorted. 'You had some sort of family tree up earlier?' he added to Lennart.
'Yes, and I am willing to wander off into this apparent tangent...' Lennart said. 'We actually found a lot of this data in the Imperial archives, where it was so heavily sealed and protected against legitimate access that only a slicer could have got to it.
We have what is effectively a register of Dark Jedi, in fact, through the list of exemptions issued referent to the Dangerous Cults Act. Ultra top secret classification, impossible to get at legitimately- the list of those known subject to the act is barely even Restricted.
The exemptions, the pro forma freedom to practise the dark side of the Force, match some of the known names, and there are others for whom it explains a lot, as they were not previously known to have the force- most of Palpatine's inner circle is there, for a start.
There will be some who aren't, entire other force traditions uncontacted and unregistered, and no doubt the odd secret apprentice- but by definition if they're out of the loop, they're irrelevant. Until they start trying to kill us, and we'll disintegrate that bridge when we come to it.
There are all sorts of groups, organisations, coteries, call them whatever you choose, but I think we can identify four separate grades or breeds of the children of the night.
First and foremost, and a little above our league at the moment although if we could manage to get them on the ground, in the open, on their own, and lay down a barrage- hm. The wolves of the dark side come first, although bear with sore head might be more appropriate for most of them.
These are the independently powerful who have no intention of remaining merely so, who have ambitions and plans beyond their already high station. There are few of them, because the conspirators actually seem to have a point; and if they are not among the leaders of the conspiracy, they have to be among it's targets.
Apart from His Infernal Majesty, of course, the first name on the list has to be Vader. In the rule of two, once you accept Palpatine is the arch-monster, he is the obvious Sith Apprentice.
Also, in all probability, take off the breath mask and you'd find Anakin Skywalker underneath, which could pose an interesting constitutional crisis.'
'Kriffing smeg. I can't believe nobody publicly put two and two together,' Brenn said, 'the Hero of the Republic disappears, the Executor of the Empire appears- and the rebel who landed the fluke, miracle shot that blew up the Death Star, wasn't that Luke Skywalker?'
'So far so good, done the addition bit. Now integrate.' Lennart told him to carry on.
'Ah. Anyone who knew enough to guess there's a family connection- and the Force inherits, there's bound to be- is either smart enough to say nothing or playing politics with it, probably both. Still mindboggling, not least how Vader managed to reproduce; must have been before then.
So Anakin has a child then turns to the dark side-' or the stress of being a father is what turns him, Brenn stopped himself before he could say, but not before Rafaella guessed what he was going to say and glared at him anyway.
'The child's kidnapped by what remains of the Jedi, the escapers and survivors from Order 66,' he hurried on, 'and raised in the light side to- what? Kill his father? Damn' peculiar definition of light if you ask me.'
Rafaella and Aleph- 3 were both glaring at him now, and Lennart dug him out of the hole. 'Or kill Palpatine, which- a dark father and a light son would be a pretty spectacular variation on the rule of two, but- dubious in itself but it wouldn't be anywhere near the worst outcome for the galaxy.'
That distracted Aleph-3 at least; 'Ruling together as father and son? If that's what the prophecy about the chosen one bringing balance to the force meant, then it has almost as mad a sense of humour as you do.'
'I hope so, but it's track record makes me doubt it.' Lennart quipped, before saying more seriously 'It would also leave no balance at all between the force and the merely alive, the ordinary people who would be treated like cattle by the Dark and irrelevancies by the Light.'
'You are remembering that you do have the Force?' she asked him, as if seriously doubting it.
'Only until they find a cure.' Lennart bounced back. 'Or I find the third side of the two- sided coin.'
'You'd just start immediately looking for a fourth.' she shook her head, grinning. 'One wolf so far. Jerec?'
'Yes, although hardly a keen packmate. You know him?'
'By reputation and proxy.' She admitted. 'A great theorist and explainer of the Force, second only to His Majesty. He's apparently not particularly good about knowing or caring about things that aren't the Force, though. Thrawn knows him.'
'So that was what he meant.' Lennart realised, thinking back to one of their earlier clashes. 'I presume you pulled rank on his personal guard and got them to tell you all about it?'
'More or less. I'm not convinced he's a wolf- he fits your definition, but his hunger's more like that of a jackal. He'd rise against His Majesty in a heartbeat if he thought he could win, but he'd base his decision almost entirely on his mastery of the Force.
I'm not sure what state the galaxy would be in if he did though; he has- supposedly- the leadership style, and qualities, of a crusty old professor. Certainly he enjoys human misery and suffering, but in an offhand, academic way.' she said.
'Are you sure about that?' Lennart wondered. 'According to Alliance Cryptanalysis, he has a very broad network of contacts and subinfeuds- he's able to count on the loyalty of many more of the commonalty of the dark side than Vader is. Students, blackmail victims, loyal may be an overstatement but he has them.'
'How many of them would turn out for him, and how many of those are sane and competent enough to be genuinely dangerous?' Aleph- 3 shot back, wondering herself if she was being overconfident.
'It would be nice if you were right, if being batshit insane actually disqualified a being from high politics, but these days it's closer to being a prerequisite. It would be really good if it actually meant they were ineffective, too.' Lennart pointed out.
'How many times have you told me the reason for that- even if you didn't realise that was what you were talking about?' she replied.
'Ah, right, I follow your logic now.' he said, leaving her for a moment wondering if he really did and if he wasn't simply bluffing to string her along, before continuing 'I'm glad that you agree I was right-anyway, on.'
'Monsters, tyrants, monsters of the state.' Brenn changed the subject. 'Who's the third?'
'There are only two more real possibilities, and one of them makes no practical sense.' Lennart said not bothering to add, since when did that matter. 'The only other genuine, as opposed to self- deluding, lord of the Dark Side I can think of who stands a chance of revolting against His Majesty and winning is the Procurator of Justice, Hethrir.'
'Right, that makes sense. Also living proof that His Majesty has a very twisted sense of humour.' Brenn pointed out. 'A lot of the men who chose to separate have written back to us, and the state of the law is their number one bitching point.'
'I'm not convinced that's not mainly our lot.' Rythanor said. 'Most people survive- they shouldn't have to try that hard to survive their own government, and I don't like a lot of the trends, but right now we are collectively at most ankle deep in shit. In fact, we're doing pretty well for having openly psychotic evil in charge.
Hethrir's playing his own system, using it to squash people he doesn't like, support those he does, he's not wasting time and energy alienating people and making unnecessary enemies; fantastically corrupt of course, but intelligently corrupt. He's building his own independent power base with his authority.'
'Authority that Palpatine gave him.' Aleph-3 pointed out. 'Three wolves, all snapping at His Majesty's heels- all of which he knows about, and indulges them by occasionally throwing a bone to.'
'He also may be losing the plot.' Lennart said. 'We've speculated about that, and that is when the spectacular kriffups happen; when you lose your edge and don't or won't realise it, when you think you can still manage the risk, try it- and can't.
Palpatine was unquestionably brilliant, when he was younger- before he became Emperor. Now, Alderaan, the Tarkin Doctrine, the Senate- you can make the case that he no longer has the pressure on him to be that brilliant still, there's hardly anyone left he needs to out-think; so power makes stupid, after all.
The wolves are the ones who are close enough to him to realise that, actually.'
'You could set this up as a graph on two axes, power and ambition.' Mirannon pointed out. 'Your wolves are high positives in both, this is all relative and the origin certainly wouldn't be zero absolute but power without ambition, or at least which is actually getting what it wants from what it has, they would be your dogs- the loyal supports of the system.'
'There should be another wolf, and I can't think of any sufficiently, genuinely titanic name to put there. This wouldn't be a trick question, you wouldn't have put Yoda in there just to make some point about preconceptions?' Aleph- 3 speculated.
'If he had been capable of turning to the dark side, the galaxy would probably be a better place;' Lennart said. 'He would have done it, and the Jedi Order would have been able to get rid of him and grow again- and you're close, it is a name from the old days. Ventress.'
'Never accounted for, was she?' Mirannon remembered. 'Dooku's apprentice, the scalpel to Grievous' chainsaw, her fleet nearly killed me a few times during the Clone Wars. She was good, not nearly as much of a psychopath as he was, and if any of their leadership was actually a sincere separatist, it was her. Maybe she went awol because she knew too much- could see this coming.'
'Exactly the sort of wild card that destiny likes shafting absolutely everyone involved with, in fact.' Lennart pointed out. 'I include her as a possibility because it seems that Palpatine has- there have been feelers out for her from the Ubiqtorate recently, no trace. Which could mean long gone, out past the Rishi and heading for the Far Companions, or just well hidden.
Beneath them, the dogs- those of power but at least apparently fulfilled ambition, and you're right, the pillars of the system and it's, his, main defenders against the conspiracy; who might easily take against us if we get this wrong and interestingly, I don't think Adannan's nominal boss can be counted among them.
I'd put him down among the negative x, negative y, the sheep; without the power to fulfil their ambitions or the ambition to drive their power. Might have had once, that being how Ap-Lewff got to where he was, but he's been too close to the centre of things for too long, whatever he had swallowed up in Palpatine's shadow.
The ones that haven't, who the conspiracy has to either destroy or compromise with- who knew Kinman Doriana had the force?'
'Actually, I didn't.' Aleph-3 said, surprised. 'He's court, Emperor's Chamberlain or some such, household rather than political- been there for a very long time, and you think he's not swallowed up by the dark lord, a dog rather than a sheep?'
'I think he might be the closest thing the dark lord actually has to a friend; it looks as if Palpatine uses him as a field agent, fixer and hatchet man- he's had to depend on his own initiative far too long not to have one. Apart from Vader, and the Rear-Admiral, he's the most likely investigator- and one of the most likely targets.' Lennart said.
'Put up the full list.' Aleph- 3 suggested.
A quick bout of coding later, Lennart did- splitting it into a graph as his chief engineer had suggested, albeit something of an improvised one.
'Who are that group there?' pointing at a cluster of grey names off to one side.
'The fifth category? those who could not stand the pressure of having the force at all- those who sacrificed their sanity to it, and are of little use to anyone, even themselves; there are more than it seems here, between the dead and the not worth bringing up. A frightening proportion of whom seem to have names beginning with "K", in fact...
this group here are the likely conspirators, the people their careers or comms intercepts point to as the dissatisfied and hungry. Yes, there are a few really unpleasant surprises in that list.'
'Cronal?' Rythanor spotted then first ugly surprise.
'I considered counting him among the mad; his name starts with nearly a K after all.' Lennart, one place away in the alphabet, said. 'He's perfectly at home in the darkness, this-' waving at the chart of names- 'would be of no surprise to him at all, but it seems as if the sheer quantity of information flowing to him, and that was his special talent in the force, pushed him into deep paranoia.
Intelligence service, enormous access, belief that everyone was out to get him, demotion from that position- the only reason not to consider him the likely head of the conspiracy is that it's too probable. Not fun to have as an enemy at all.
This is where it gets arguable; of six people nearly in the same position, we're assuming one dog, three sheep, and two cornered rats. Mas Amedda was close to Palpatine, when the senate mattered, but he's done nothing for years, not even enough to comfortably call him a sheep- and the messages intercepted by the Ubiqtorate indicate he's chafing at it.
He has at least once referred to Palpatine in extremely unflattering terms as "the great frog", which would be little to base anything on unless it was part of a pattern. High position but no real rank, not much more than the curator of Palpatine's private museum.
The other potential cornered rat from right there in the inner circle is Janus Greejatus. He is known to be ambitious, to have little going for him outside court- Doriana occasionally gets sent to sort something out, he doesn't; and to have done something recently that was beyond the pale.
Shortly after the death star incident his remit was whittled down and he was basically confined to quarters, and has actually been caught by the Ubiqtorate- by Cronal, actually- trying to smuggle private messages out. He has ideas and ambitions, has drastically lost power, again the only reason he isn't searingly obviously a conspirator is that he may be too obvious.'
'Something else, skipper. Look at these names.' Mirannon pointed out. 'I think you've got an actual majority of the government in there. How you get from this to an Empire without the Dark Side, kriff knows- sending Coruscant Prime supernova might be the only way to go.'
'Well,' Aldrem pointed out, 'we're not that far from Centrepoint Station...'