Gary’s life flashed before his eyes approximately a thousand times a day.
Such was life on Exegol.
He’d started his day as he always had, donning heavy robes that never came clean. The planet produced a maddening amount of dust; it got in everything. His robes ended up encrusted in dry filth no matter how many times he washed them. At first, he felt like dust covered his entire body.
He’d stopped itching about a decade ago.
That’s why he found it mildly alarming that he felt the urge to scratch the back of his neck.
Breakfast consisted of hard bread incapable of satisfying his hunger and old wine incapable of quenching his thirst.
He’d gotten used to that, too.
To be a Sith Eternal meant to be in a state of constant discomfort and misery.
It would lead to great rewards, he’d often heard.
His friends—well, with thousands upon thousands of Sith Eternals conjuring unthinkable things on Exegol, “friends” was a relative term—believed wholeheartedly in the Resurrection. They believed, through Sith Magic (totally not The Force but totally The Force), Consciousness Transference (totally not a brain computer but totally a brain computer), and Vessel Reconfiguration (totally not cloning but totally cloning), they could bring back a being of supreme power.
They could have picked any great Sith from history—a Darth Revan, a Darth Plagueis, a Darth Vader, a Darth Tenebrous—but instead they’d decided to bring back Darth Sidious because he had the foresight to implement a “contingency” plan after his death. What great Sith Lord didn’t have a contingency plan? The whole point of the order was to cheat death.
Sidious, the mortal also known as Palpatine, had more vanity than all the other Sith Masters combined. He deluded himself into believing he was all the Sith—and that was before his death at the hands of his own apprentice. It took months for a probe from the Emperor to find its way to Exegol to break the news of his defeat and carry word of his contingency plan.
Gary, one of the Sith Eternals who’d activated the probe’s message, walked away unimpressed. In life, Palpatine stayed in touch with the powers-that-be in the Unknown Regions. In death, he conjured a grand plan of dubious quality that felt very familiar.
Rule by oppression.
Overwhelming military might.
Those were his favorite tools, and they’d all been destroyed. Two Death Stars. Two! And the Starkiller—just a bigger one!
Palpatine somehow felt that creating even more planet killers would lead him to ultimate victory. And so the Sith Eternals bought into his plan, putting their shipyards to work and training legions of Sith Troopers who would obey his every command.
Gary could’ve joined the Sith Trooper Legion, accepted a position as a fleet officer, or worked in the shipyards. He decided instead to don the robes of a Sith Eternal Adept and learn the ways of Sith Magic.
He expected a quiet life of reflection as he and his fellow Adepts dug through vast storehouses of Sith artifacts and textbooks filled with arcane Sith knowledge. He anticipated, perhaps, assembling his own Sith lightsaber.
But lightsabers required kyber crystals and planet-killing cannons required even larger kyber crystals, so Gary and his fellow Adepts could not create lightsabers. One day, one of the elders presented them with battle axes and maces; Adept Caro-Sio lost his arm in the free-for-all. Prayer and meditation followed. Then, more violence. Adept Caro-Sio lost a leg. Prayer and meditation. Another arm. More prayer. More meditation. They threw Adept Caro-Sio’s body into the abyss, for what good was a limbless Sith Eternal?
In the days that followed, Gary still heard Adept Caro-Sio’s screams when Exegol’s static-electric storms peaked. His masters told him this was an impossibility, but Gary knew the difference between the wind and a scream. Perhaps the abyss did not run as deep as he and the others thought; perhaps Adept Caro-Sio lay just feet below as he called for help or revenge. A few days later, the screaming stopped. His masters told him it had never been there in the first place.
Gary knew better.
Sith Eternals tossed aside the Rule of Two, and as a result, they had a Rule of None, aimless in the darkness.
He’d toiled with his brethren for decades now, amassing a fleet of impressive size and power. Children born into the Sith Trooper Legion now wore full armor and carried the weapons of warriors. They mined enough kyber in the Unknown Regions to power each Xyston-class Star Destroyer with an axial superlaser capable of destroying an entire planet—as long as the untested cannons didn’t misfire and incinerate their own ships. They could not test them in Exegol’s unstable atmosphere, for if they did, they risked interfering with the Resurrection.
As Gary studied and his knowledge in Sith Magic grew, he understood a few things. First of all, his chosen name was extraordinarily dull. Many of his contemporaries—again, he hesitated to call anyone a friend—had extravagant names with multiple syllables, apostrophes, hyphens, and diphthongs. He was just…Gary. The simplicity of the name kept him grounded as others aspired to loftier heights.
Secondly, he felt the pull of something else, something unexplainable. Whereas darkness and chaos enveloped Exegol, Gary felt touched by light. This was an impossibility, the Sith teachings said, as darkness consumed light. Darkness dominated. Sith dominated. Sith ruled. The Sith Eternal would envelop the universe in darkness and chaos, swallowing up all light and hope.
This was the way. Their way. His way.
Yet, as Gary sat among his fellow Sith Eternal Adepts and considered the nature of what they’d accomplished through sheer will (and the countless resources left behind on Exegol by the Sith masters who preceded them), he wondered if they were truly unstoppable. Their plan hinged on the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine, and things weren’t going so well. First of all, the skilled Sith Eternal Mages failed to guide his Force presence back to the new clone body. Mage Obra-Skai insisted they could do it. Then again, Obra-Skai had once been Gary’s roommate and "knew with conviction” that the distant Galactic Empire would reign for a thousand generations as the old Jedi had once ruled.
The Galactic Empire lasted about two decades.
As they struggled to guide Palpatine’s spirit back to his new body, the Sith Eternal Mages communed with the dead emperor and forged a contingency plan to rule in his place. Gary didn’t understand the First Order or how it was all that different from the Empire that crumbled under Palpatine’s leadership, but he understood the need for a new figurehead. Debate raged for months on the new entity’s name and genetic makeup; eventually the Sith Eternal Mages dubbed the being “Snoke” and utilized the only genetic material they could actually get to work.
And, well, “work” was a bit of a stretch. The being came out more than seven feet tall and consistently looked like someone beat him with an ugly stick infused with Sith Magic. He lumbered around on legs that barely worked and ate with rotted teeth. Sometimes his fingers fell off. A gash consistently formed on his forehead no matter how carefully the Sith Eternal Mages managed the cloning process. They eventually fitted him with a gold robe embedded with genetic stabilizers to keep him from falling apart.
Still, despite the problems with Snoke, he was an impressive achievement, a being who manipulated Sith Magic and felt a strong connection with the Force. He had a commanding presence but commanded in seclusion because his decaying body threatened to give out at a moment’s notice.
Mage Obra-Skai kept Snokes on reserve and sent them to First Order headquarters under the escort of Praetorian Guards to make sure he stayed in power. Snoke had the ability to transfer his spirit from one body to the next, a skill Obra-Skai insisted Palpatine also possessed.
Snoke felt when his body would give out and would begin the transference incantations.
Unfortunately, he could not resurrect himself once bisected by a lightsaber he never saw coming.
A stunning collapse.
Mage Obra-Skai redoubled his efforts to bring Palpatine back in the flesh. Yes, the Emperor commanded through what remained of his spirit. Yes, the Emperor dictated much from the grave—the First Order, the rise of Kylo Ren and the fall of Ben Solo, the isolation of Skywalker, preparations for the Final Order—but all would be meaningless unless the Emperor’s powerful spirit inhabited a new body.
Obra-Skai made much progress until a key part of his genetic manipulation machine imploded. It took weeks to repair. Obra-Skai turned to Gary, his former roommate, to weld the final, delicate pieces back in place.
They’d come a long way from assembling bunk beds in their college days.
Once the machine came back to life, Gary felt the mood of the entire planet lift. It came as an overwhelming tidal wave of confidence and raised hopes once Obra-Skai produced a suitable clone body for Palpatine. It had many of the same problems as Snoke’s bodies—decay and degradation—but Palpatine’s will was strong. There were problems: the Emperor’s eyes did not work, some of his fingers didn’t fully develop, and he couldn’t walk without support.
Still, for a man who died thirty years ago, he was a hydraulic-support-walking miracle of Sith Magic and ingenuity.
He was also prone to self-delusion, such as the first time he decided to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and ended up on the floor sans clothes.
Exegol had no moons.
It had a very pale one that night.
Despite the setbacks, Palpatine’s mind was as nimble and manipulative as ever. He pitted Sith Eternal Adepts against one another in combat, bringing spectacle to a people used to waiting long periods for anything to happen. He relentlessly drilled Sith Fleet Officers in training simulations and practiced a form of Battle Meditation he claimed would improve the efficacy of Sith Forces in battle (simulations showed a point-five-percent increase in Sith proficiency under Battle Meditation, a trend Gary attributed to the fact that Sith personnel were simply trying to impress the Emperor).
The Emperor frequently cursed the Skywalker line without outwardly recognizing the irony that his plan depended entirely on the loyalty of the last remaining Skywalker. From the grave, Palpatine had carefully cultivated the boy’s dark side energy, tapping into the doubt and fear buried deep within. The Emperor saw it as his way of exacting final revenge on the galaxy, the Skywalkers, and the Jedi.
But Gary, who felt a little tug of light, felt Ben Solo within it. No matter how much the boy tried to bury his true nature in blood and fire, as much as he tried to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, the blood of Anakin and Luke Skywalker surged through his veins, as did the blood of the Princess of Alderaan. He was the son of a Skywalker. No one could be as much of a Skywalker as Ben Solo, who rejected his heritage to take the name Kylo Ren.
It could not last.
Gary never voiced these concerns to anyone, for he could only remember the screams of Adept Caro-Sio and had no desire to learn if the bottomless “abyss” wasn’t nearly as bottomless as everyone thought. After all, dust tended to obscure most everything on Exegol, making it difficult to see the true depths of its various abysses.
On the rare occasions in which Palpatine asked his followers for advice, he tended to receive only affirmation of the brilliance of his plan and its design. No one pointed out that his secret fleet of Star Destroyers was essentially trapped because of the planet’s difficult-to-navigate atmosphere. He planned to make a dramatic show of raising the ships from the depths when Ben Solo arrived.
Would it not be better, Gary wondered, to prepare the fleet for battle and guide it out of the unnavigable atmosphere? Would it not be better, he mused, for the Emperor to send his planet-killing ships out into the galaxy to destroy worlds instead of threatening them and giving other systems the chance to prepare or fight back? Would it not be better, he pondered, to send an overwhelming force of Sith Eternal Adepts to find “the Scavenger” and bring her back to face the Emperor?
Then again, these ideas sprang from a mind more rational than the Emperor’s.
Palpatine loved his grand machinations. He prided himself in being six moves ahead without realizing that the current move was failing, rendering the next five moot if he didn’t call for a course correction. He never imagined Darth Vader would find his own humanity and throw him down a reactor shaft to protect his son. That ended Palpatine’s plan for ultimate conquest; goodbye, new, powerful apprentice. Goodbye, Death Star II. Goodbye, galaxy.
Gary and the other Sith Eternals waited for the return, for Emperor Palpatine to rise from his grave and lead them to greatness.
For now, though, they would have to hook him up to a machine.
The decaying body of a clone infused with Sith Magic is stubborn.
It does not walk like a normal human body.
It does not function like a normal human body.
That is because it is not a normal human body.
The Emperor could not accept his physical limitations. He no longer tried to live life as a normal being, for he knew he was no normal being. He was power incarnate, Sith Eternal, overlord of legions of loyal followers who waited decades for his return.
Curiosity sometimes overwhelmed Palpatine, who was eager to understand the new politics of the post-Galactic Civil War era. He could see the macro and micro view of everything in ways no other being could. His orders turned the old Jedi world of Ilum into the Starkiller and used it to destroy the Republic. The fanatical First Order rose out of the imperfection of the Galactic Empire at Palpatine’s posthumous behest. Snoke, no matter how broken his corporeal being was, became a figurehead of mysticism and chaos.
Palpatine delighted in these machinations.
He did not, however, delight in the use of the machines that brought him renewed life.
Obra-Skai stirred Gary from sleep one night and escorted him to the Resurrection Chamber. Palpatine, confident in the permanence of his being, unhooked many of the life-giving tubes that sustained his existence. On the way, Obra-Skai informed Gary that the Emperor believed his Force powers had progressed to a point at which he could walk freely on Exegol without the need for “accursed machines.”
For a few minutes, Obra-Skai said, it seemed to work. Palpatine walked without encumbrance in the Resurrection Chamber and shot lightning from his fingertips as a test. He drank water without having it go straight through him, which had been a problem since the merging of his Force energy with the clone body.
But as Gary followed Obra-Skai into the Resurrection Chamber, he saw only the Emperor’s crumpled form on the ground. His breathing was sporadic.
He needed his machines.
Why, Gary wondered, hadn’t Obra-Skai and the other Sith Eternal Mages attended to the Emperor?
Soon enough, he discovered the grim answer: cloaks of Sith Eternal Mages lay on the ground, their bodies gone.
A vision—a call through the Force—hit Gary with the crushing force of a vibroblade.
Palpatine fed on Sith Eternals, especially those with exceptional skill in the dark side—and Sith Eternal Mages were among the most powerful in their order.
Gary was among the most talented in the ranks of Sith Eternal Adepts.
He scratched the back of his neck, a nervous habit exorcised long ago through purification rituals and pure apathy.
“I turned to you because of your skill with machinery,” Obra-Skai said, his voice solemn and unreal. “And also because the other Sith Mages are no more.”
His throat was sandpaper. “What do you require of me?” Gary asked, his voice a mere whisper as the foreboding crackle of static electricity filled the air.
“Our master needs his machine to live,” Obra-Skai said. “We must reconnect him.”
“Surely there are other Mages or Adepts who are more qualified for this work,” Gary said.
“Perhaps,” Obra-Skai conceded. “But none I trust so much as you.” Obra-Skai’s pale face—all Sith Eternal faces were pale—betrayed only the slightest hints of emotion—a microscopic amount of desperation. Also, perhaps, a microscopic amount of sincerity.
Gary decided he would help.
He leaned down next to the Emperor’s body. Exegol didn’t have a smell, really, which made the rot of the Emperor’s decaying flesh all that more unique. He would’ve found it offensive under other circumstances. In this moment, it had novelty.
“It’s treason, then?” Palpatine hissed, barely audible. “Lord Vader, can you hear me? So be it, Jedi. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them. We have a new enemy, Luke Skywalker. I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive. We will be watching your career with great interest. Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? Moonglow is a perfect complement to tonight’s dinner.”
Palpatine’s mind, it appeared, was in multiple places at once.
“Leave us. Do it! Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey toward the dark side will be complete! Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side. Execute Order Sixty-Six.”
With Obra-Skai’s help, Gary hefted the Emperor’s body from the ground.
“I…I can’t hold it any longer. I will create a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists. Wipe them out. All of them. I’m sending my apprentice, Darth Maul, to join you. When my new apprentice, Darth Vader, arrives, he will take care of you. Soon the rebellion will be crushed, and young Skywalker will be one of us. Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!”
Still, the Emperor kept babbling. He spoke of plans, plots, Skywalkers, betrayals. He cursed a son Gary never knew existed and decried the progeny he called only the “Scavenger.” The Emperor’s presence intrigued Gary all the more. According to his heightened state of delusion, Palpatine had living offspring. She could be quite powerful, given her bloodlines. Gary closed his eyes and reached out.
A ray of light.
The Emperor grasped his arm. “She must return! She must come here! But first, I need the last Skywalker. I must have him here. Son of darkness. Heir to Lord Vader!” Gary and Obra-Skai pleaded with the Emperor to calm down. His fingers, never fully formed, pulsed with weak Force lightning. “He draws closer from Mustafar! Act quickly!” Palpatine shrieked. His body spasmed.
Obra-Skai’s grim look spoke volumes. If they didn’t hurry, they would lose the Emperor at a critical juncture. Kylo Ren approached, and with him, the hope Sith Eternals clung to for generation upon blighted generation. Everything they’d worked for would be for naught—the new fleet, the Sith Troopers, the Sith Eternal Adepts and Mages. He thought, oddly enough, of Adept Caro-Sio. Gary remembered him fondly.
Had he been a friend?
He had no friends on Exegol, not even Obra-Skai.
Gary and Obra-Skai lifted the Emperor into position on the machine. By this point, the delusions had subsided and Palpatine stayed quiet. He withdrew into himself and tapped into a vast storehouse of Sith Magic to keep his soul bound to his failing clone body. They could try Transference again and guide the Emperor’s spirit to a new clone body—they kept plenty of extras stored next to the spare Snokes—but that would derail the timeline. Ren would arrive soon to take the Emperor’s bait and serve as his puppet.
Doubts again crept into Gary’s mind.
Skywalkers tended to betray Palpatine.
Would this boy be any different?
The Emperor seemed to think so.
Then again, the Emperor also seemed to think world-killing weapons were unstoppable.
Gary willed the thoughts away and set about reconnecting the tubes that would keep the Emperor’s failing body alive. They provided nourishment, blood, and medications. A catheter meant the Emperor never had to worry about getting up in the middle of the night (and ensured that Exegol remained moonless). The tubes regulated blood pressure, aided his breathing, and kept his heart pumping. Connections to his decaying brain stem—smart nanomachines guided the tubes to the delicate location—allowed the Emperor to will the machine to move wherever he chose.
Palpatine’s pale eyes shot open. “Young fool. Only now, at the end, do you understand!”
“Please remain still, my master,” Obra-Skai said.
The Emperor laughed, a cackling, self-satisfied laugh that reached the planet’s core and beyond. “I AM the Senate! Unlimited power!”
Gary finished his connections and double-checked his work. Obra-Skai did the same.
“Prepare to reactivate the device,” Obra-Skai said. “I will stay near our master.” Gary hesitated for a moment. “Go. Now!”
Obra-Skai’s command spurred Gary to action. He found the control panel, ensured power was flowing steadily to the machine, and triple-checked the toggle switches. When he was certain he’d entered the correct settings, he threw the switch. Bright blue lightning surged from the top of the device into the Emperor’s body.
Palpatine’s scream also reached the planet’s core and beyond.
Puffs of smoke surrounded the Emperor’s body. He spasmed momentarily and then looked at his malformed hands. “Good. Good! Mage Obra-Skai, I thank you for your service.” Palpatine reached out; a tidal wave of pale white energy poured forth from Obra-Skai’s body into the Emperor’s. The Sith Mage’s cloak fell to the ground.
Gary never had the chance to say goodbye to his former roommate.
Palpatine willed the machine to turn him toward Gary. “Sith Eternal Adept Gary, I understand I have you to thank for my resurrection.”
Gary’s throat was drier than normal. He scratched the back of his neck. “Doing only as you bid, my master.”
Palpatine closed his eyes. “I feel something from you… something I can’t quite grasp.” He paused for a beat. “The Force is strong in you, Gary, the dark side especially. Are you a true Sith?”
“I have studied the ways of the Sith, my emperor.”
“And what do you think of my plan?”
Gary bowed his head. “Flawless, my liege.” If the Emperor looked for a lie—if he suspected one of his true believers would mislead him—he would’ve latched onto the doubts in Gary’s mind.
But supreme overconfidence was Palpatine’s strength. “Excellent. Put the fleet commanders on standby.”
Gary kneeled. “Yes, my master.”
“And Gary, tell them to take no action to impede Kylo Ren.”
Gary nodded and found the nearest communications panel. The Sith Troopers and fleet commanders had waited years for their chance. Now, Palpatine would put them under the command of a Skywalker. He sent the orders, faded into the background, and waited. Observers relayed word that Kylo Ren had landed—and he appeared angry.
A perfect tourist for Exegol.
“At last. Snoke has trained you well,” Palpatine said.
“I killed Snoke. I’ll kill you,” the petulant Skywalker offspring replied.
“My boy, I made Snoke,” the Emperor taunted.
Altogether, not exactly accurate, Gary opined. While Snoke had been Palpatine’s idea, his actual creation came at the hands of Sith Eternal Mages. But who really wanted to take credit for the creation of a being with so many problems? Who wanted people to think they’d created a being so powerful that he didn’t see that his own apprentice planned to kill him?
That was kind of Palpatine’s thing, Gary thought.
“I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head.” Palpatine’s voice went from his own to Snoke’s to Darth Vader’s.
Gary found that pretty damn impressive.
“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural,” Palpatine said.
Gary had heard the Emperor say that before. Given their current location and predicament, he couldn’t argue. He milled about with the other Sith Eternal Adepts. All were assured that Kylo Ren brought darkness to Exegol.
Gary believed he brought light.
Would the Emperor see it?
Given past history, Gary didn’t think so. It meant he and the other Sith Eternals would suffer in the end.
Then again, such was life on Exegol.