Palo Jemabie sat alone, picking the paint from his fingers. He had not gone back to the apartment since the attack on the senate. He had not slept, changed his clothes, or scrubbed his hands in forty-eight hours.
An attendant opened the door at the other end of the hall. She was tall and dressed head to toe in black in the style of Naboo mourning. With a quick wave of her hand, she invited him into the office.
Palo tried to ignore his thumping heart and followed the attendant's lead.
“Chancellor,” he greeted Palpatine with a shallow bow in the doorway before coming all the way in. The chancellor was a dark shadow, sitting behind his oversized desk. Light streamed in from the window, but it did not reach him. Every corner of the room had a guard.
“Jemabie,” said the chancellor, barely looking up to see who was there. “I am sorry, but only the family of the deceased are permitted at this time and as you and Senator Amidala have no official relationship –”
“Padme is not among the dead,” he interrupted, moving ever closer to the man. Guards who looked much more menacing than Jedi readied themselves to get between them. Palpatine raised a hand to halt them.
“It is true not all the senators have yet to be accounted for,” he sighed, reluctantly. “ But there were no survivors of the attack.”
“Besides you,” Palo reminded him. He was dressed like Palo’s own father might, but there was some hidden edge to it. Like he was a Lothwolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Which is how I know,” Palpatine reminded him, gravely but it rang false.
“Yes, of course,” Palo answered, taking a strategic step back. “My deepest sympathy for what you witnessed.”
“And mine for your loss.”
“Which is why you should know that most of the senators were killed by their own security blasters being fired back at them,” he continued.
“How does an artist from Naboo acquire such knowledge?” Palpatine sneered and gave a pointed look to Palo’s hands.
“Padme wears counsel robes designed to shield her from exactly that kind of attack,” he pressed. “She would have been singed at best.”
Palpatine stood, he walked around the desk and set his hands on Palo’s shoulders. It surprised him, almost enough to make him falter in his performance. The chancellor was clearly the superior actor. Palo looked at the man in the eyes and let him do his work.
“My dear boy, why would the senator take such incredible precautions?” he sighed.
Palo leaned in, mirroring the man’s own strategy back at him. He had always been a fast learner. If Palpatine was aware of his unintentional apprentice, it did not read on his face. Palo did note a strange burnt tint to his eyes. As a painter, Palo was keenly aware that he had never seen eyes that color.
“For weeks,” he lowered his voice so only the man in front of him could hear. “She has ill at ease, unable to eat or sleep. She thought she was being watched. She was in danger.”
“Senator Amidala was often in danger,” Palpatine sighed, finally taking his hands from Palo’s shoulders.
“That is why I believe her,” Palo insisted. “What terrified her should concern us all.”
Palpatine slowly began the lap back around his desk. He dragged a finger along the edge. It took time to get back around to his chair. His lips pushed together into a line. He sat down in his chair once again.
“I understand it can seem unbelievable after she has survived so many things for her to come to such a tragic end,” he said and sat down in his chair once more. “Perhaps you should reach out to the Naberrie family. Their grief is greater than your I am sure. And besides, you will need their permission to identify the body when we find it.”
Palo slammed his hands down on the desk.
“THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”
The guards lunged. Palo had one on either side before he could remove his hands from the desk. They pulled him back from Palpatine, and he thrashed against their hold to no avail. He dug in his heels and glared at the chancellor as the guards dragged him away.
Palpatine had his eyes on work, finally finished with pretending to lend a sympathetic ear.
Bang! The doors of the office slammed open once more, and suddenly he was no longer being held by the guards. They had advanced on the attendant from before. She looked much more rattled than before.
“Senator Amidala has been found!” she announced, and the room filled with a sharp silence. “Alive.”
The chancellor was unable to hide the surprise on his face, but he quickly recovered.
“It seems Mr. Jemabie, you will have your wish,” he said. “There is not enough time to summon the senator’s family. You will accompany me for identification.”
The guards began to push Palo through the door and he caught another glimpse of the attendant. Under her dark hood, a lock of her hair had come loose. She was twisting her hands together nervously, and still panting from her rush back to the room. Despite all this, when he looked at her, she smiled.
Continuing out into the hall again, he wondered if he imagined the hopeful look in her eye.
Palpatine and his Guard boarded a shuttle and Palo was forced to sit between the wall and an armored elbow. He watched the towers of Coruscant fly by outside. The setting sun flashed between the gaps in buildings, but it also painted the lower levels of the city with a red hue. It was eerie like the city was being flooded with blood.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, Palo’s heart was racing, but he made no effort to calm himself.
They were greeted by a medical droid and followed it down into the bowels of the building. It was bright and sterile, different from the elaborate hospitals of Naboo. Clearly, the healing power of art and creativity was not something the people of Coruscant concerned themselves with. Eventually, they were joined by a human doctor. She explained that senator Amidala had been brought to the most secure part of the facility, but there had still be several reporters who learned that a senator had been found alive.
“We told them nothing,” she assured Palpatine. “It is unclear how they knew; she was brought straight here.”
“How is she?” Palo interjected before the doctor and the chancellor could go any further.
The doctor paused and looked away.
“She is stable,” she finally said. “But – I suppose it will be easier to show.”
They stepped off the lift and into a wide room with small medical stations in rows on either side. The doctor led them through the room to a door on the opposite side. It opened, revealing a much smaller room with only one station.
There lay a woman figure in a gown that was a traditional Naboo style, colorful and elaborate. It was singed in places and ripped in others. Her dark hair had been pulled from its elaborate loops and hung in frayed locks around her face. The face was unrecognizable, covered in cut and bruises. The flesh was swelling so badly in places one eye was squeezed shut. Despite all the damage, what was visible was undeniably like Padme.
“Padme,” he whispered, moving closer.
The rest of the party had gone silent. He felt their eyes on him, especially the chancellors. If he believed this was Padme Amidala, it would be.
He looked at her face again and imagined what she must have endured. Who took her? What had happened? The artist allowed himself to feel it all finally and dropped to his knees, clutching her hand. Tears burned his cheeks and he bowed his head, so the drops splashed onto the floor.
“Doctor,” Palpatine broke the silence. “Find someone to speak to a reporter. It appears we have a survivor. Senator Amidala of Naboo.” He was unable to stop the venom from dripping from every word.
Palo squeezed the limp hand in his. It belonged to Sabe. A woman who had kept her handmaid name from the time of Padme’s rule as queen. She had chosen to remain in the service of Padme long after her rule had ended. Now, she severed even in her absence.
Sabe squeezed back.
They succeeded. They were in the game.