"Senator Amidala is dead."
Shock rang through the hallowed halls of the Senate chambers as the Supreme Chancellor spoke, the reaction to the demise of the young firebrand as mixed as very varied opinions of her through her short career. On the Chancellor's dais, Bail Antilles struggled to keep order in the room.
"I apologize for the abruptness of my delivery. There was an explosion...an assassination. I have just learned of this tragedy myself...the senseless death of one of our own...way too soon." He paused, struggling to find his words. "Many of us were close to the young Senator from Naboo. I extend my condolences to all on behalf of the Senate and the Republic. I...there are many here who found themselves on the other side the debate table from Senator Amidala. I myself am no exception. On such an occasion as this...we must agree to leave politics aside and take care to remember...the universal compassion that drove us to this higher calling in the first place."
"What news is there of Captain Skywalker," a small voice called out from the back. It was Rush Clovis, the senator from Scipio. "I hope he has not perished as well."
The Supreme Chancellor studied his datapad, scrolling through the contents to find the answers. Finally, he gave up and addressed the throng. "I'm afraid there has been no news of young Skywalker, but our records do show he was on the ship before the attack. Emergency crews on the scene have not found any survivors yet..."
As the gathered senators erupted in a chaotic babble again, the pod representing the Trade Federation moved forward, and Chancellor Antilles reluctantly gave the floor to the Neimoidian. "The chair recognizes Senator Nute Gunray from the Trade Federation."
Looking more evasive and nervous than he usually was, the former Viceroy addressed the room, "despite our significant differences in the past, I can assure you that the Trade Federation had nothing to do with this vile deed and knew nothing of it beforehand. We are innocent. We strive to better the Republic...and nothing else. We are indeed purer than even the silk from the angel worms of Bakura."
If one were to look closely at him, one would almost see the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic roll his eyes. "No one is accusing anyone of anything, Senator Gunray. The Senate does well to thank the Trade Federation for the hospitality shown to our members last standard month, and we will continue to consider the Trade Freedoms legislation presented by Senator Gunray. We would do well to honor Senator Amidala by our work."
He thought he saw protest in the eyes of Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, his own fellow Alderaanian. The betrayal from the latter irked him, they being not only of the same planet but family by marriage. But his successor in the senate did not speak, and as the hubbub continued. Bail Antilles hoped that, despite the tragedy, the death of such an unpredictable senator would end up making his own life easier.
Three months ago
The warehouse was abandoned, stripped bare of all its contents, save for one box. On it was a comlink which Senator Lott Dod of the Trade Federation, his hands shivering anxiously, struggled to enter in the code given to him. After he activated it, a lone hooded figure appeared before him. The person was seemingly small, human, and though he could not see the face, he guessed it was a female. Lott Dod coughed nervously, memories of Darth Sidious from the Naboo crisis almost ten years prior coming back to him.
"Who are you," he asked.
"You may address me as Lady Mirayya." The voice that answered him was smooth. Silky. Definitely female. Though it was no less intimidating than the last Sith that he had dealt with, and that had not ended well for them. He was inclined to turn off the comlink now. His better instincts told him to run and tell no one of this encounter, not even Viceroy Gunray. But he didn't. Something compelled him to stay and listen.
"How did you discover my information," he asked, his voice bolder than he felt. "What are you to me?"
"Do you remember Lord Sidious," the mystery woman asked. "I am known to him."
Dod huffed his mouth in indignation. "Lord Sidious betrayed us on Naboo! That name is poison to us!"
"Lord Sidious betrayed many," the Lady Mirayya snarled back. "I am aware of everything that Lord Sidious did, and every instance Lord Sidious harmed those he convinced through his lies."
Lott Dod thought he could see a faint smile in the darkness of the lady's hood. "We can help each other, Senator Dod. You can consider this reparations, Senator Dod, for his wrongs."
"How can I trust you?"
"Because you have not heard from Lord Sidious in over nine years. Why do you think so?"
For once, the neimoidian senator was speechless.
"Because I killed him," the hooded woman hissed. "Because I made him pay for his failures, for his lack of vision! Because I am more powerful than he can ever imagine. Now Senator Dod...the question is...what do you want?"
"I do not understand." There were many things Lott Dod would have wished to say or do had he ever met Lord Sidious or one of his compatriots. All of those were out the viewport now.
"You are a man of talents," Mirayya almost seemed to coo at him. "You have served the Viceroy for over ten years now, watching him stumble from mistake to mistake while you cover up his shit on the senate floor. I believe in you, Senator Dod. You are better than that. You are better than the Viceroy. You are better than your station."
"Viceroy Gunray has many talents." Lott Dod looked around the abandoned warehouse nervously, making sure he wasn't being monitored, that this entire conversation wasn't some sort of elaborate sting from his very paranoid superior. "As do I. I have many capabilities. As you know. I am capable, I assure you."
"Goooood," the words seem to ooze out of the woman. "Do as I say, senator, and we will work well for each other. I foresee it."
He was so scared that Lott Dod found himself barely able to breathe. But there was something to this sith that intrigued him. Something that called to him. He felt a higher calling right now just speaking to her.
"Viceroy Gunray's position is unassailable. No one in the directory would dare vote against him."
"There are many ways to skin a neimoidian, Senator," the hooded figure's voice sending chills down his spine. "What if I told you that I can help you get rid of your Viceroy and pass the Trade Freedoms Act in the Senate?"
"That sounds," Lott hesitated, "too good to be true."
"Only for those whose tiny minds don't have the capabilities of understanding true power," Lady Mirayya snapped back at him. "I know your concerns, Senator, but have you ever considered the possibility that there is more to power than your own precious federation?"
Hearing the silence from the senator, she continued.
"What do you know of the word boondoggle?."
"I understand its technical meaning, Lady Mirayya," Lott Dod answered nervously.
"Yesssss," the hooded woman seemed to almost purr at him, "a boondoggle would work very well, wouldn't it? Invite the Senate to Cato Neimoidia. Show them all the true benefits of allegiance. I promise you the galaxy in return."
She would have liked to given the doddering neimoidian more instructions, but feeling her sister's gaze upon her back, Darth Mirayya moved to end the transmission early. Pulling down her hood, she gave Sola an exasperated look.
"If you're done playing dress up," the elder Naberrie sister said dismissively at her little sister, "I could use some help in the kitchen. I think Anakin's going to burn the steaks if you don't do something about it soon."
The greatest living sith master in the galaxy rolled her eyes. "There's nothing playful about what we're doing, Sola. This is very, very serious business I'm involved in here...the fate of the entire galaxy is at stake."
"Whatever you say, little red riding sith."
"Hey!" Padmé fingered her blood red hood indignantly. "I will have you know these robes are among the most valuable Sith heirlooms out there, passed down from Darth Zannah herself. Even the Jedi Council would pay a small fortune to obtain them."
"Ooo," Sola said as Anakin's fumblings in the kitchen came into view, the lakes of Varykino behind him past the windows. "Now there's a real sith lord worth discussing. Heard miss Zannah was a nice little number in her day. I wonder if my little sister would have had a chance with the chosen one if she was after his ass."
"Calm down ladies," the piece of ass in question yelled out from the kitchen. "There's enough for me to go around for everyone. Even you, Sola."
The older Naberrie made a throw up motion, sticking her fingers in her mouth. "As tempting as your ass may be, Anakin Skywalker, that was the most atrocious wink I have ever witnessed in my life, and trust me, I've seen plenty from Darred. Plus, I prefer my men to be a bit older...ya know...maybe at least past puberty."
Anakin shrugged at Sola's barb. "Padmé always said I was mature for my age."
"You're both lucky she never had to say that in front of a judge."
"Hey," Padmé interrupted defensively, "I was a Queen, you forget. I controlled the courts."
Anakin turned and shot an evil grin at Padmé's older sister as he cooked the shaak steaks with sith lightning. "Now that you mention it Sola, from the holocrons I've seen...Darth Zannah had some nice tits. It'd be nice to have something to hold onto for once while fucking."
Outnumbered, Padmé let out an exasperated moan and shook her head at both Anakin and Sola. "Mock me mock me mock me, that's all you do. You just wait. When the Sith finally have our revenge, you'll all discover the true meaning of suffering." With a huff, she turned to leave the room.
"Aren't I a Sith too," Anakin teased, his grin even wider.
"Go fuck a nerfherder Skywalker" Padmé shot back, almost having left the kitchen.
"Hate to see her go, I do," Anakin squeaked in an awkwardly high voice. "But love to watch her leave, I do."
Padmé turned back and shot out a spurt of lightning at her husband, who quickly caught it with his left hand while continuing to cook the steaks with his right.
"I think it's finally time, Master Yoda, to put you to pasture," Padmé replied in a serious, masculine voice. Sola guessed she was imitating Master Windu.
"Senile, I am not. A Jedi, I may be. But able to appreciate a nice pair of buttocks, I am, even on a sith. Hormones, I have, even after nine hundred years of insufferability."
"Almost ten years of training in the dark arts," Padmé said to her sister, purposefully avoiding Anakin's gaze, "and all I have to show for it all is a gods awful impression of Master Yoda."
"Hey," Anakin protested, "you're the one who keeps sexualizing Darth Plagueis."
"That's because Sidious never shut up about him," Padmé retorted. Then a grimace formed on her face, as she realized her disgust. "He must have had a thing for that Muun. Ewww."
"If you guys are done," Sola remarked as she cut up the vegetables, "I'm getting kriffen hungry. Not to say anything good about the dark side, but there's something about the way you cook these steaks with your finger zapping that really makes them taste so good."
"You want to know my secret?"
"I imagine this is Nute Gunray," Padmé said evilly as she zapped a rare steak that Anakin had not touched yet.
Somewhere, in the middle of a warm bath on the Trade Federation starship, Nute Gunray shuddered.
"Love her or hate her, you know who Padmé Amidala is even if you can't tell the difference between a Senator, a shaak, or a sith lord. The controversial young firebrand from Naboo continues to make waves in the headlines as she speaks out against the Trade Federation's sponsored bill, which which the young senator claims is 'fundamentally anti-trade as the Federation seeks to legally monopolize routes from the Outer into the Mid-Rim. Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, tone deaf as usual, responded that the only reason he and Senator Lott Dod is pushing the highly unpopular Trade Freedoms Act is because of higher operating costs due to the Republic's recent anti-slavery measures, an initiative that was spearheaded, once again, by Senator Amidala of Naboo. Viceroy Gunray's remarks have drawn condemnation from all parties, sparking a fierce retraction by Senator Dod amidst debate in the senate halls today.
Meanwhile, the focal point of today's arguments was noticeably absent, though not entirely hidden from the galaxy. Our own holonet reporters have obtained pictures of Senator Amidala clad in very revealing swimwear outside of her family's compound in Varykino. Be sure to stay tuned to our evening broadcast, where we will finally unveil these holos of the Senator as well her scandalously young husband, Anakin Skywalker, whose impeccably chiseled chest and abs beckon trillions of young women across the stars to be his chosen one..."
"Turn that crap off, will ya," Padmé called from outside, having heard the tabloid broadcast with her sithly senses from the outer hallways.
"I rather like this angle of Ani's abs," Sola said, plainly ignoring her sith sister's orders.
Padmé rolled her eyes as she walked into the living room. As much as she loved her two nieces, she was glad Darred had taken them to his parents for the week. It was nice to visit Varykino and not wake up to their shouts and screams, and Padmé knew that she would not have much of an opportunity to sleep in in the days to come. Plus, it was nice to have her big sister to herself for once, a rare occurrence ever since the birth of her first child.
"Please don't say that to his face. Ani's been getting a bit full of himself lately. I think he's starting to think he's the pretty one in the relationship."
Sola cocked her eyebrow up. "He isn't?"
Padmé huffed her chest impatiently. "Why don't you just go kriff him already and get it over with?"
"And lose the high ground and no longer be able to make fun of you for robbing the cradle?" Sola wrinkled her nose in false contemplation. "Not worth it."
"Your face isn't worth it," Padmé retorted childishly.
"Your mom isn't worth it," Sola shot back.
"What does that even mean..."
"In other news, Viceroy Nute Gunray, in an unprecedented move, has extended an open invitation to the entire Senate to the Trade Federation's estates on Cato Neimoidia. The Viceroy states that he hopes to lessen the historical misunderstandings between the Federation and the Senate, but many are already calling this a corrupt ploy in his attempts to pass the Trade Freedoms bill..."
An image of Mon Mothma appeared on the holobroadcast, and Padmé's face paled. "So it's begun," she whispered quietly.
"Isn't this all part of your machinations," Sola asked, confused at her sister's sudden change of mood. To her surprise, Padmé sat down on the couch and embraced her in a fierce hug.
"I'm sorry," Padmé said finally after they let each other go.
"Things will change soon," Padmé finally said after a long pause. She thought of Ryoo and Pooja, whose lives were going to be forever impacted by her decisions, and the grand plan of the Sith order. "Things will change, and it will affect our family in ways that are permanent. I wish it wasn't the case, but..."
"The destiny of the Sith, or some bullshit like that, right?" Sola put her arm around her sister. "You do what you have to do. I trust you'll keep us safe."
"Know who your true friends are," Padmé said, looking her sister in the eyes. "Keep them close in the upcoming days. And be wary of those who would pretend to care for you."
"Plans for this super weapon, you obtained?"
Quinlan Vos stood before the Jedi Council, fresh off of his deep cover mission on Geonosis, briefly interrupted by Obi-Wan's distress signal on Ryloth. Because the Council suspected Sith involvement, they requested Obi-Wan's presence as well, he being the only living Jedi to have ever encountered (and slain) a Sith.
"I have a copy," Quinlan said, "but it's highly encrypted. I haven't been able to slice through it yet."
"We will get our best masters to try and decipher it," Mace Windu said.
"The power to destroy entire planets is...unimaginable," Ki-Adi-Mundi said from behind Quinlan. "Only the Sith could be responsible for such evil."
"Did you find any evidence of a sith presence on Geonosis," Mace asked.
"I found no direct evidence." Quinlan paused, gathering his thoughts. "However, there were whispers of the original commission of the weapon from one Lord Sidious over ten years ago, but no one I spoke knew any more of him."
"Lord Sidious," Adi Gallia said in deep contemplation, "the name sounds...sithy. Yes...I sense the Dark Side around it."
"The only problem is that no one has heard from this Lord Sidious in almost ten years," Quinlan continued. "Not even Archduke Poggle himself. In fact, the Geonosans are a bit perplexed about what to do with this elaborate design now that their original patron has all but disappeared."
"Is it possible that Lord Sidious was the Sith Knight Kenobi slayed on Naboo," Mace Windu asked, looking around the Council.
"I don't think so," Quinlan replied. "From what I heard, this Sidious figure was likely an older human male. It sounded like he had influence within the Senate as well."
"Troubling, this is," Yoda said from his dais. "Influence within the Senate, the Sith still may have. Sense the Dark Side around it, I do. Sense the Dark Side's influence with this business with Cato Neimoidia, I do as well."
"Do you believe the Sith is behind this invitation," Obi-Wan asked the grandmaster. Very few had the courage to address Master Yoda directly before the Council, but then again, very few had slain a Sith in over a millennia. "That would suggest that the top priority of the Sith right now is to...pass a very dubious trade bill?"
"More to this than the surface, there is. Protection, Senators will seek, from the Jedi on Cato Neimoidia. Use this opportunity, we should, to investigate this allegations of Sith influence in the Senate."
"Knight Vos should be part of the delegation sent to Cato Neimoidia," Mace said. "The Sith would be concerned if they know that we know about the super weapon they commissioned. Were you to suggest your knowledge of it discretely to members of the Senate as you see fit, it may draw the Sith out of hiding."
"Protection for Knight Vos, we would need as well," Yoda said, "if he is attacked by the Sith."
"We should certainly send Knight Kenobi then," Dooku stated from his high chair, "he being the only one in living memory who has defeated a Sith."
"Force knows his great track record protecting politicians," Quinlan cracked next to Obi-Wan, probably one of the who would dare joke in front of the Council. "I think this may well be his expertise."
"A full contingent we will send," Master Yoda ordered, finally moving to conclude the session, "even though overstretched our resources already are, to enforce Senator Amidala's slavery bill. Priority of the Jedi, the safety and security of the Senate and its members must be. Decide, we will, upon the members to transmit to Cato Neimoidia upon further meditation, but assured, I am, that Knights Kenobi and Vos will be on the list."
Obi-Wan looked at his friend reproachingly, casting the blame for his newest predicament upon Quinlan with his eyes.
The two friends ate their meals side by side at Dex's in silence. After the ordeal of the last meeting, Obi-Wan insisted they escape the Temple grounds.
"Looks like we're being laid out as bait for the Sith," Quinlan said finally. "A fine situation we find ourselves in again."
"A fine predicament you find yourself in," Obi-Wan insisted. "i'm just an innocent bystander, as always, caught up in the troubles of others I have no involvement, or blame, in as usual."
"Hey," Quinlan said, poking at his meatsteak, "at least I'll be close by when you send out your distress signal this time begging me for help."
Obi-Wan's face seemed to redden more than usual. "That business on Ryloth was not...no reflection of my own abilities. I can't be blamed for the amazingly reckless actions of my Senate charges." He took a bigger swig of his ale than usual. "With any hope, Senator Amidala and her vastly irresponsible ways will be nowhere near Cato Neimoidia, considering the Gunray and the Trade Federation is her archenemy and all."
"You don't think they hold a grudge against you as well for everything that happened on Naboo?"
Obi-Wan sighed. He tried to keep his head out of politics, but it failed to escape even his notice that the Trade Federation had been allowed to keep on conducting their business unfettered over the last ten years, despite all the highly illegal shenanigans they had pulled on Naboo. While most acknowledged that Supreme Chancellor Bail Antilles was a good man, it spoke to either the ineffectiveness of his position, or his actual person.
"I can hold my own," he rebutted back to his Kiffar friend. "Sounds like we'll have plenty of backup as well. Hells, seems like everyone who matters in the galaxy is going to be on Cato Neimoidia for the next few weeks."
Quinlan Vos shook his head disapprovingly at his friend. "Everyone who matters. Has all these years on Coruscant made you a pampered elitist?"
Obi-Wan shook his head angrily. "Don't twist my words, Quinlan. You know what I mean. Were someone with...ill intentions looking for a target to break the Republic stumble upon Cato Neimoidia...Force forbid what could happen. Such as the sith master, you know."
"Not if we do our jobs right, Kenobi. Do you really believe Master Yoda's convictions that the Sith are behind all of this?"
Obi-Wan furrowed his eyebrows in thought, taking his time to cut off and chew off a choice end of his steak. "I do sense an ebbing of the light...a pervasive darkness that is rising through the galaxy. It is soft...subtle...but unmistakable."
"A lot of the Jedi I talk to seem to believe the Sith are extinct, that you killed them off completely."
"No," Obi-Wan said softly. "They're still out there. I'm sure of it. It's just that their motives escape me at this moment...to emerge after a thousand years and then go back into hiding just...doesn't make sense."
"If they have infected the Senate," Quinlan mused darkly, "I can't imagine the consequences. If they are still influencing the Senate right now..."
"Scary, isn't it?" Obi-Wan shuddered, feeling a coldness in his bones. "If the Sith have indeed infiltrated the senate, I can only imagine that few would be able to resist their temptations. Force help the Republic if that's the case.'
Despite the fact that he had been in regular communications with the Sith over the last few days, Lott Dod couldn't help but shudder yet again when the image of Darth Mirayya came into view. She remained eerily silent, prompting the Senator to break the awkward silence.
"I have followed every instruction you have given me, Lady Mirayya," he finally intoned nervously. "The stage has been set for the Senate's conference on Cato Neimoidia. I have received word that even Supreme Chancellor Antilles will be attending."
"Good," the hooded woman hissed evilly. "All is proceeding according to my plans. I have made the arrangements, and you will find further, detailed instructions in our secure com-link. Do not dare to deviate from them, Lott Dod, or I will punish you for your insolence."
"I am under your command," Lott said obsequiously, wondering how this sith lady had managed to entrap him so completely over the last few days. She already had enough evidence of his disloyalty that, if he were to turn against her, she could easily publish the evidence of his conspiracies to both the Trade Federation and the Senate, cementing his disbarment from both organizations. "There is one issue," he said, shuffling uneasily in his seat. "Senator Amidala has accepted our invitation to Cato Neimoidia. This was not expected."
"Did she now?" The hooded figure brooded in silence as Lott awaited further uneasily her response to the subject he barely dared to broach. If he dared, Lott Dod thought he saw the shadow of a smile under her hooded features. "Send the Senator and all her do gooder friends to one of your more remote accommodations. I will take care of the rest. Assure your Viceroy that this trip to Cato Neimoidia will be her last."
"Yes milady," the Neimoidian Senator barely managed to stutter as the transmission ended. He gulped nervously, knowing in the back of his mind how deep he was in this conspiracy now, trapped with no further option but to continue forward.
Sorry this chapter took awhile. Been busy lately...I will continue posting this story, but probably with less regularity and speed than before.
He thrust into her furiously, directing every fiber of his focus into her essence, and the feeling of her body wrapped entirely around him. She was his universe, but truly now, as he kissed and gnawed on her neck, nothing else in existence mattered more. And while Padmé was one who often appreciated a gentler lovemaking session, sometimes you just want to get fucked. It was times like this, when they were at their most intimate, that Padmé allowed herself to fully immerse herself into Anakin's power, the mighty dragon unleashed from his heart. His power, unlike any power before and likely after in the galaxy, was what had attracted her to him in the first place...not that she didn't care for him as a person since the very beginning, but her lust to possess him, all of him, all of his power and every fiber of his being that accompanied that power, was what had finally compelled her to venture into the taboo in the first place to pluck him prematurely from the vine. She consumed that power greedily now like a parasite, bathing in the supernova as she let herself go on every level.
"How much do you love me," she screamed in the throes of ecstasy.
"More than life itself," he barely managed to utter out.
"Who's the greatest Sith master?"
"You are," he cried, "the greatest in history."
"Who's the evilest of them all," she screeched.
"You are! The master of darkness!"
"How big are my tits?"
There was a slight pause. "They're perfect! So...so...perfect!"
Later, as she watched him sleep, she marveled at the sheer innocence and youth of his features. He was young, she reminded herself, and somehow held within him an natural innocence despite all that she had done to corrupt him in every manner. She caressed his cheek, feeling his smooth husky skin and yet, she couldn't help but think and fret. As a powerful Force sensitive she understood the unbreakable connection and bond they had with each other, willed by the Force itself, light and dark. The logical part of her brain told her that it was love at first sight, at least for Anakin, and from the moment he laid his eyes on her he would never want anyone else. But the woman in her worried...she was indeed so much older than him, and she was the only woman Anakin had ever been with. He would inevitably maintain his attractiveness longer than her. Would she remain enough for him as he grew into a man? Could he fall in love, or even lust, with another woman, especially as she herself aged and grew wrinkles while he was at his most virile?
Anakin stirred awake, either from her touch or because he sensed her turmoil. "Hey angel," he said softly, wrapping his arm across her body as he snuggled closer to her. Comfortable that she was within his grasp, he closed his eyes to go back to sleep.
"You hesitated," Padmé whispered. "About my tits. You don't think they're big enough, do you?"
He opened his eyes in confusion at the randomness of her question. "I meant what I said," Anakin whispered groggily. "They're perfect for me. I don't want anything else."
"You can go fuck Rabé if you want," Padmé said coldly. "Shiraya knows she's got a nice set on her."
"It was a joke," Anakin said, irritated and tired. "A bad one, and I'm sorry, if it really made you feel bad." He turned his eyes towards Padmé and reached towards their connection. Sensing her turmoil and now concerned, his tone changed. "What's wrong, Padmé? What's really bothering you?"
She closed her eyes, unsure of how to phrase her deepest insecurities now that she had the opening. "What if I'm not enough for you, Ani? I've been with other men...not many, but enough to know what I want. But I took you selfishly...before you really even knew who you were. I took you for myself, when you could have, should have been experiencing the world..."
"You're all I want, Padmé, I promise." Anakin said this passionately, confused that Padmé would think like that. Did she not know that she was his world, his universe? That she was all he needed in his life, save his mother? "Whichever world we're on, any woman I see, all I think is that they fall so short of you."
"I know," Padmé said. "I know that's how you feel...now. But things change...people change. Will you feel the same way when I'm forty and my face wrinkles up? When I'm fifty and my ass and my tiny little tits start to sag. And think about the political implications...an Imperial divorce? How would we still reign together? Can the Empire survive an abdication? Who would have to give up their title..."
Anakin rose in bed and moved to pull his wife in for a fervent kiss. "Don't do this to yourself," he said breathlessly afterwards, hurting inside at the longing look on her face, in anguish that he was causing her pain, however unintentionally. "Please. I can't wait for your hair to gray, Padmé. I can't wait for you to grow old, because it means that we will have had the chance to grow old together, without the Jedi or the galaxy tearing us apart. Because of what we would have experienced together, every wrinkle would represent a moment in time we had, a treasured memory. You're beautiful Padmé, inside and out. I love you not just because of your looks, but because of your heart. You freed my mother because you care. You destroyed your master for me because you cared. You rescued me from the Jedi because you cared. You took on the cause of freeing slaves because you care. You single-handedly managed to reshape the Sith order because your heart is the most extraordinary heart in the history of the galaxy." He touched his own heart, then put his hand on hers. "You feel this as much as I do. Listen to your own teachings for once. Feel...don't think. Why would I ever want anyone else? Ever?"
Padmé sighed. She felt through the Force, and the Force told her that their bond was inseparable, that all her stresses about their relationship were completely unnecessary, that the Force created her husband, literally created Anakin, solely for the purpose of loving her.
"Thanks Ani," she said contently. She yawned, finally feeling the first wisps of sleep approach her. "You really have grown up, haven't you?"
Her heart burst in joy when Anakin's cocky grin resurfaced. "Grown more beautiful, you mean."
As their shipped touched down on Cato Neimoidia the next morning, Anakin tried to ignore his nerves. Not that this trip was the culmination of their plans, far from it, but it would initiate the series of events that would lead to the ultimate glory of the sith, if Padmé's foresight was correct. And if he thought Obi-Wan's oversight on Ryloth was overbearing, the Trade Federation homeworld was going to be overrun with Jedi in the coming days, looking out for any sign of mischief from villains known and unknown. He knew that Padmé herself especially enjoyed the subterfuge, playing their game right under the unknowing eyes of the Jedi and taking pride out of their ignorance. But such subtlety was not Anakin's nature. He remembered the rush of freedom in slaughter, the sensations of adrenaline sparked by the hum of their lightsabers as they slaughtered slavers and criminals, even the helpless ruling clans of Ryloth six months ago. Padmé had taught him to control his lust for the ecstasies from the Dark Side, but that did not mean that the lust was not there. It just lay dormant under their masks, and Anakin longed for the day when they could both indulge in it freely. Nothing mattered more to him, save his love for his wife and family.
The door to the ship opened, and adopting his official role as the Senator's protector, he stiffened his back and escorted his wife professionally down onto the landing platform below. Awaiting them already at the center of the ornate white marble platform were Bail Organa from Alderaan, Mon Mothma from Chandrila, Rush Clovis from Scipio, and Kara Wipper'lom, the recently freed slave turned Senator they had met on Ryloth and one of the few in the galaxy who knew of their secret personas.
"Senator Amidala," Bail said approaching them, nodding politely. "It warms my heart as usual to witness your safe arrival."
"It certainly doesn't hurt to take extra precautions on this particular planet," Padmé said, hugging the Alderaanian senator. "Personally I'm surprised at the amount Senators who accepted the invitation. Even Chancellor Antilles!"
"Like it or not," Mon said to her, "you're looked up to as a leader now. Many saw your acceptance and took it as an implicit permission to attend. If Amidala goes, then it must be okay."
"Or they're using Padmé as cover," Anakin said more skeptically.
"Nevertheless," Padmé said, "we can be sure that the Trade Federation is up to something. I'd rather be here in person rather than sit in a bubble worlds away."
"I am truly sorry that you have to go through this Padmé," Bail said. In their small circle of so called incorruptibles, they were free to address each other more informally. "How they can still operate the way they have, much less maintain a seat in the Senate after what they did to your planet...boggles the mind."
"What does the Trade Federation even do anyway," Rush Clovis asked, only half joking. He was caught off guard by an answer behind him.
"The answer is simple, Senator Clovis." From what they could tell of Neimoidian emotions, Viceroy Nute Gunray's expression was smug as usual, and he was accompanied as always by his lieutenant Rune Haako as well as Senator Lott Dod. "We make the Republic a better place and further enrich every single moment in every corner of the galaxy with our infinite benevolence and magnimousity."
"He didn't actually answer the question," Kara mumbled quietly with a frown to Padmé next to her.
"I also don't think 'magnimousity' is an actual word," Padmé whispered back to her.
"My apologies Viceroy," Bail said with a slight embarrassment, hoping that the Neimoidian did not catch his disparaging words from seconds earlier for, as much as he despised the Federation, senatorial etiquette still remained. "We did not see your approach."
"Our gratitude at your presences, senators, is unestimated," Nute said grandly, ignorant to his own ignorance in vocabulary. "Follow me. Our transports will escort you to your lodgings in the ravine district of the planet."
"The ravine district," Kara said puzzled. It sounded a bit foreboding to her.
"Yes, a beautiful resort destination for all in the galaxy," Rune added.
"You will find it most enjoyable...if you make it there alive." Nute mumbled the last words seemingly to himself, though all the Senators heard him and looked at each other in confusion.
"Of course," Lott Dod interjected, "the Plaze of Heroes where we stand now is truly the masterpiece in our wonderful gem of a planet."
"Plaza of Heroes," Bail asked, looking around at all the statues of apparently famous Neimoidians lining the walkway. "Who are all your heroes, if I may ask?"
"Why, me, of course!" Nute Gunray seemed indignant at the very question. "All me!"
"I thought they all looked the same," Rush grumbled quietly to Mon Mothma, who bit her tongue, deciding it was best to remain silent through the whole awkward exchange.
Bail Organa sighed as he sipped a small caf in the lounge area next to his suites. It had been an exhausting day, but to his surprise their accommodations in the ravine district were unexpectedly pleasant. It did unnerve him that his fellow senators, as well as their Jedi chaperone, one master Luminara Unduli, had all been placed in suites scattered in every corner of the compound, built on a cliff with floor to ceiling viewports in every room overlooking thousands of meters of empty air below. Lost in his own thoughts, he didn't notice a young woman slide into the small seat next to him until she started speaking to him.
"You look like you're someone important," she said in a soft, husky voice. Bail's eyes opened in surprise. The woman was young, very young, maybe barely twenty, with endless locks of wavy blond hair and the softest gray-blue eyes. She was beautiful, no doubt, but to Bail, she was a ghost.
"Trust me," he managed to stammer out, "I'm probably the least important person on Cato Neimoidia right now."
She slid a hand out at him, and he shook it out of politeness, hoping that she did not notice his heightened beat of heart.
"I'm Ava," the young lady said seductively.
"Bail. Nice to make your acquaintance."
Her name was Ava, he realized. Not Shiree...that young village girl that had captured his heart so many decades ago, his first love that his parents had cruelly deemed below his family's station. They were not identical, he recognized. Ava was a bit taller...slimmer, with curvier hips, a fuller chest...Force, it was as if she was a specially enhanced version of young Shiree, custom tailored just to his liking.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Bail," Ava hissed seductively at him. "It gets a bit...lonely here at the ravine resort...and I've been just been waiting for such pleasant company as yourself to join me."
Bail put his head into his hands, feigning a headache that wasn't entirely fake. "I'm so sorry, Ava. I'm not feeling well at the moment. I bid you a pleasant night."
Abruptly he turned and left the lounge for his quarters, willing himself not to look back at the disappointed eyes staring back at him from behind at the bar.
"Dee! What a surprise to see you here!"
Mon Mothma's shock was real indeed. Out of all the places in the galaxy, a near empty resort on Cato Neimoidia was the last place she would have expected to encounter her cousin. Dee had been a close friend when they were younger, but they had lost touch after the younger woman fell into spice and had drifted off into parts unknown.
"Mon! It's been too long."
The two cousins embraced warmly.
"A Mothma a Senator! I never thought I'd see the day. I'm so proud of you, cuz!"
They fell into a deep discussion of the old times, accepting without hesitation the flow of cocktails provided by the emcee droids. Eventually, the subject turned inevitably to the matter of the family trust. While the Mothma's were far from wealthy, they had the benefit of knowing that a small fortune made by a distant great uncle several generations back allowed them the benefit of a small, regular stipend. It was these very credits indeed that had allowed Mon to leave her academic position and take the risk of pursuing a senate seat. Unfortunately, the collapse of several industrial sectors in the outer rim the last three years had dwindled what remained of the family fortunes.
"Not all of us have the luxury of a Senate salary," Dee blurted out. "How do you think I'm able to afford a suite here?"
"I have no idea," Mon said. She had been wondering the exact same thing. As well as to why her wayward cousin just happened to find herself vacationing in the same compound as her on Cato Neimoidia.
"Cheap investments...equity. The Techno Union is very generous...for a small sponsorship and investment the rewards are endless..."
"The Techno Union," Mon muttered warily, willing herself to sober up. "I'd be careful around them," she said, picking her words carefully, realization dawning on her that this was no coincidence. "There are whispers of corruption...complicity with the Trade Federation in their more...illicit...ventures."
"Oh," Dee laughed, literally waiving off her cousin's concerns. "Baseless accusations, I assure you Mon. Trust me, there is no better opportunity in the Galaxy! If you need some funds for your next election..."
Mon coughed loudly, then put her hand demurely below her neck. "Excuse me. That last drink...I think it was a bit too strong. I have a long day tomorrow. It was great catching up...," she said without much conviction. She found herself almost running back to her suite, wondering how her own cousin had found herself entangled into the Trade Federation's web of corruption.
"You're from Naboo too," Rush Clovis exclaimed after yet another amber colored beer. "No kidding."
"It's a wonderful planet," said the young, petite brunette next to him. "I couldn't imagine any other world as home."
"There's something about you Naboo women," Rush managed to slur out. Did they all look like Padmé? This one certainly did. Except she was younger...and curvier, her lips fuller.
"I'm just a country girl," the brunette said bashfully. She looked at Rush admiringly with her small brown eyes. "I never expected in all my life to meet a real Senator!"
"I humbly serve the Republic," Rush replied unconvincingly. "We all do."
"As a citizen of the Republic," the young woman said with unabashed seductiveness, "I would humbly love to return the favor."
Force, she looked so much like Amidala. Rush Clovis had been obsessed with the Senator from Naboo from the moment she debuted in the Senate. Curse that boy Skywalker. If it weren't for him, he was sure that Padmé would be amenable to his not insignificant amount of charm. Often times he wished the boy death, but it was merely fantasy. He was a Senator after all, and couldn't risk his entire career over a woman, not even Amidala. Plus, the boy had the reputation of being a fairly formidable warrior.
But he was a single man, and while this woman before him wasn't quite Amidala...for a night she would do. He wrapped his arm around her, his fingers groping gently around her back under her breasts.
"Did I mention that I have the grandest suite in the entire compound?"
As they stumbled back to him rooms, Rush realize that he never even caught the young woman's name. He also didn't care. It would ruin his fantasy.
Breakfast the next morning was very awkward for obvious reasons to Padmé and Anakin, though less so for the rest of their contingent. Bail, Mon and Rush all sat glumly and chewed their Corellian toast in silence, uttering nothing but the most meaningless pleasantries like 'good morning' and 'can you please pass the blue milk', though the latter seemed to bear a smugger expression than usual. Padmé decided that it was her who needed to break the silence.
"So I had a very odd encounter last night," she said as she spread the shaak butter over her bread. "A Muun gentleman...purporting to represent the banking clans...offered a too generous donation to one of my Naboo welfare charities. I refused...but it seemed a bit too convenient that he would show up as the only one present in the small lounge next to our quarters."
This was all true, of course. After arranging for all the hired hands individually tailored for each member of the senate, a chore that took her endless hours outside her normal work hours along with millions of credits, less valuable as she retained full control of the accounts of the late Darth Plagueis ever since the death of Sidious. Every detail had to be perfect, including the own plants she hired to, for appearances' sake, tempt even Senator Amidala, who briskly and politely declined the offer, departing immediately back to her own quarters to fuck the shit out of her husband.
She noticed Bail's face pale. He gulped down his bread and, breathless from his irregular eating, made the decision to speak up. "I had someone approach me as well. A temptress. She resembled...someone dear to me from the past."
"Dear to you," Rush asked. His face remained blank, but Padmé could sense the anxiety within the man. "In what way?"
"She resembled very closely a...love interest from my youth. It was a...must have been an attempt of...seduction," Bail said, the last word emerging out of his mouth with such disgust that Padmé though he was going to throw up the breakfast he had just eaten.
"My cousin," Mon blurted out suddenly, as if the words had been weighing upon her soul all morning. "She's always been trouble. I don't know what type of people she's running with these days, but...she approached me with what I think was a...bribe! From the Techno Union!"
"The Techno Union," Kara said out loud. "That was who the dug that approached me purported to represent. He said something about very sizable donations to the Ryloth slave fund...but only in exchange for votes on certain issues..."
Padmé had arranged for Kara's contact as well, though she had vaguely warned her to be extra aware on Cato Neimoidia ahead of time. Kara had learned quickly in her few short months in the Senate, and Padmé knew that she would be smart enough to resist the barely veiled attempt at outright bribery and extortion.
They all looked at Rush, who had remained mostly silent throughout the exchange.
"What about you Rush," Mon asked. "Did anyone suspicious approach you?"
"I turned in early," Rush said calmly. The man was a good liar, Padmé mused. He betrayed no physical tells of his deception, but the imprint he left in the Force told an unmistakably different story. "After hearing everything, I'm glad I did so. Force knows what would have happened had I stayed out for a nightcap."
"This is...this is just outrageous," Bail thundered, his embarrassment now turned to anger. "This entire trip was just...an attempt at mass blackmail of the entire Senate?"
"Are you surprised," Padmé asked. "I mean, just yesterday Gunray basically threatened all of us out loud in the open. It's like they're not even bothering to hide their villainy here."
"But still," Mon Mothma's eyes widened as the realization, "all the other Senators. They must have done this to everyone. All of us here has the integrity to reject these advances, but there's so many who would not." Her words trailed off as her mind tried to imagine the implications if the Trade Federation had dirt on an untold number of Senators. "I know my colleagues. Unfortunately, I know them too well. For all we know, the Trade Federation already owns more than half the Senate."
"I expected something like this to happen," Padmé said calmly. "Of course the Trade Federation had something up their sleeves. Why do you think I chose to attend? Whatever they are trying to pull, it is good that all of us are here to uncover the truth." She sensed another pang of nervousness from Rush as she said the last word.
"What about the Jedi," Bail asked. "There are many on the planet now and more on the way. Surely they could have prevented some of these...attempts."
"I don't know," Padmé said skeptically. "The Jedi are here to protect the lives of the Senators, not their integrity. For them to actually intervene and prevent one of us from taking a bribe would actually cause the order severe repercussions. It's sad, but such is the state of the galaxy these days."
"Well," Rush exclaimed as he drank the last of his caf, "as pleasant as all of your company is, I must get myself ready for the 1100 meeting. I'll see you all there."
"1100 meeting," Mon asked, confused. "What meeting is that?"
"It came in this morning. None of you received the notification?"
"No, and I just checked my comm," Bail replied, shaking his head.
"We're not scheduled to arrive until 1320," Kara said, checking her datapad.
Rush examined every one of his fellow senators around the table, who all shook their heads. "Well," he said finally, "I guess I'll fill you in on what happens there."
"Where's your husband," Bail asked Padmé. They had wandered off away from the other Senators to a picturesque room with windows overlooking the vast ravines and canyons surrounding them. Even Padmé had to admit that, her feelings for the Trade Federation aside, there were exceedingly beautiful locales even in a place like Cato Neimoidia.
"He's on the comm with his mother," she said fondly. It was his determined and unwavering loyalty to the few that mattered to him that made him so much more endearing to her, that made her love him so much more. "It's just after dinner at the homestead."
"Ah. Anakin's a fine young man."
"He certainly is," Padmé said. She could tell that Bail's mind was distracted, that he was barely present in their conversation. She also knew why.
"I had an odd dream last night," he said after a moment's silence while they both admired the views.
"Really," Padmé asked, feigning curiosity. "It must have left an impression."
"I was back home on Alderaan, at my family's estates. But then I was in space, above Alderaan, and there was a small moon...but it wasn't one of our moons. It was almost as if that moon was actually a moon-shaped...space station. And then I definitely don't think I was on Alderaan anymore, because I saw...up close...this moon shoot out this beam of light and...I swear...I saw Alderaan blow up. The entire planet, in less than two or seconds was gone, destroyed and I felt it. It was like I felt the agony and terror of...billions of lives...crying out in terror and then...nothing."
Padmé saw that he was shaking and sweating by the time he had finished recounting his tale. She hated to do this to Bail. He was a good man, and a friend, but what had to be done, had to be done. She put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"It was just a nightmare."
"But it felt so...real. So vivid."
"Don't take offense to my words Bail but...you're not a Jedi. You're in hostile territory, in a place where we are all worried for our lives, and I'm sure that attempt at entrapment last night only exacerbated the stresses that have been weighing on your mind."
Bail sighed. "I'm sure you're right, Padmé. I'm sorry for burdening you with some trivial nightmare...like I'm a child or something."
"Don't worry about it Bail. Sometimes we all need someone to hear us out. I'm lucky, my husband works for me, so we have each other at all times. You must miss Breha a lot."
"Give her a comm. Talk to her. Maybe a taste of home is what you need right now."
He saw Quinlan Vos amidst the hordes of politicians streaming through the grand banquet hall and breathed a sigh of relief. And hordes they were, Obi-Wan thought, mindless packs no better than non-sentient beasts driven by the basest of instincts. His Jedi friend walked up to Obi-Wan and both turned to watch in silence the procession.
"Lazy, base, vile, corrupt, completely complacent...and I love it." Obi-Wan said this with all sincerity as, all things considering, this was his most relaxing assignment in a long time. "Not a wildcard among them."
"I'll bet you especially appreciate the lack of rogue senators trying to overthrow the legitimate government of an entire planet," Quinlos remarked knowingly.
"And succeeding in doing so," Obi-Wan added. He brought his hand to his chin, playing with the hair of his lightly colored beard. "Master Unduli has the unsavory task of safeguarding Amidala. Though, surprisingly, she reports that our favorite senator has been shockingly well behaved thus far."
"Thus far being the keywords," Quinlan joked. Honestly, he liked the Senator from Naboo and admired her guts and her balls, something far lacking in the rest of her compatriots. But he could also appreciate how difficult of a detail she presented for his friend back on Ryloth. He studied the Senators walking into the meeting hall, noticing Rush Clovis amongst the crowd, the only one present from Amidala's contingent. "Do you find it odd that we are not allowed inside for this meeting?"
Obi-Wan surveyed the hall and saw all the other Jedi standing guard in every corner, having to be satisfied with the notion of protecting their charges from an outside lobby. "Yes. The Trade Federation is up to something, alright. But what's the worst they can do?"
"Funny, that coming from you. You were there on Naboo after all."
"I know," Obi-Wan said defensively. He gestured at all the other Jedi, Knights and Masters alike, around the room. "But this place is teeming with Jedi. Surely you know by now that the Viceroy and his retinue are cowards at heart. But what are they going to do? Invade their own planet? Or hells, bribe these Senators to death?"
Quinlan narrowed his eyes. He leaned closer to Obi-Wan, so that his voice came out in a whisper that only he can hear. "Funny you mention that. I have heard rumors..."
"Yes, well that's to be expected, isn't it? Why else do you think the Trade Federation would extend their coffers to the Senate. Surely not out of charity?" Obi-Wan paused in a deeper reflection. "It's strange though. Any shenanigans by these guys I would be able to sense parsecs away. But I feel nothing but...shadows. The Dark Side seems to cloud everything here on Cato Neimoidia."
"Master Yoda was right then," Quinlan said, shivering. "The Sith are behind all of this."
"Have you any luck in eliciting a reaction," Obi-Wan asked, referencing his friend's recent discovery of the sith's super weapon.
"I've mentioned Geonosis to more than a dozen Senators and gauged their reactions. Nothing registered, and most seemed to never have heard of that backwater dust ball."
"Hmmm," Obi-Wan covered his mouth in thought. He saw Siri Tachi out of the corner of his eye and gave her a cursory nod, a sign of respect from one Jedi to another. "Perhaps you should try a more direct approach."
"That's a new one," Quinlan said laughing, "Kenobi being direct."
"I'm serious though," Obi-Wan insisted. "Mention the weapon directly, its capabilities. If the Sith are unaware that we know of the weapon, then it will be sure to elicit a response."
"It reveals our hand."
"What's the harm in that," Obi-Wan asked. His Sabaac playing friend was too caught up in the game to see the big picture, apparently. "Let them know we know what they're up to. Surprise them, let them think we're ahead of the game for once. Maybe it will actually push them into acting rashly, enough to finally reveal themselves."
Quinlan raised one eyebrow, and Obi-Wan saw a glint of a smile in his friend's features. "An interesting approach, though risky. I'll give it some thought, Kenobi."
"I do see that it is becoming more and more critical that we unmask the sith," Obi-Wan concluded. "The Trade Federation is emboldened because the Sith have emboldened them. Force help the Republic if this keeps going."
"Then maybe we should do something," Quinlan said loudly. Not meaning to have uttered those words beyond the ears of Obi-Wan, he looked around sheepishly, happy that no one seemed to have noticed except Tachi across the hall. Lowering his voice, he continued, "right now there's more Jedi on Cato Neimoidia than any other planet in this kriffing galaxy save Coruscant. Yet we stand helplessly while Nute Gunray plots the corrosion of the Senate."
Obi-Wan shrugged his shoulders and waved his arms more forcefully than he meant to. "You're talking like Senator Amidala now. What more can we do? Our mandate is to protect these Senators from external threats, not to protect them from themselves." He shook his head, knowing how cynical he sounded right now. "I'm sorry Quinlan. I don't like any of this any more than you do, but if you think it's the role of the Jedi to end corruption as a whole in the Republic, then you've been spending too much time with Master Dooku."
The two of them stood in silence as the last of the errant senators made their way into the conference room, and a very smug looking Nute Gunray closed the doors himself. Obi-Wan looked across the hallway again to Siri, who seemed to be purposefully directing her attention at the gathering hall rather than the two Jedi opposite from her. She had clearly sensed the turmoil from their argument, and was keen to stay away from it.
"The Jedi obey the Senate," Quinlan said, breaking the silence. "If the Senate is hopelessly corrupt, then what does that say about the integrity of our Order."
"Well," Obi-Wan started, but to be honest with himself, he did not actually know how to respond to Quinlan. Fortunately, or unfortunately, his friend did not give him the chance to.
"Hear me out," he continued. "If the sith use this corruption as a means to take over the Senate, and the Jedi obey the Senate...then where does that leave the very existence of our Order?"
Obi-Wan could not even pretend to be able to answer his question.
Rush Clovis shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He recognized most of his fellow senators in the room. Few of them, save the small group around Chancellor Antilles, had unsullied reputations. Not that his group were a hundred percent pure either. Amidala had her scandalous marriage and even more scandalous actions on Ryloth, and there were constant whispers about the financial dealings of Mon Mothma's family. As for Bail Organa, he was so much of a stiff that many in the Senate just assumed that he was hiding something nefarious. But nevertheless, they were known as the incorruptibles, and Rush had been quick to see the advantage of associating himself with them. It didn't hurt, of course, that Amidala was part of that caucus, and being with them allowed him to bask in her presence at all times.
Yes, it was indeed true that most of the senators gathered in the room here stood for exactly the opposite of his friends. At the head of the room was an amply shaped human representing the industrial world of Kuat. It was he, Tub'r Fafi, that decided to take upon himself the burden of speaking for all his colleagues.
"What is the meaning of this," his deep sonorous voice echoed indignantly across the room. Rush could see that, like many of the Senators gathered, Fafi's eyes drooped with weariness, the deep circular bags sagging under them physical evidence of his indulgences the night before. As he spoke, the murmurs died down, and many of the Senators covered their heads with their hands to shield their hangovers from the noise.
"This is costing me several hours of sleep," Fafi continued angrily. "I'm hungry, and I don't see any food in the room. I should be in my quarters still sleeping right now. For fuck's sake, I have a delivery of sugared eelheads arriving at my bed right now that I should be eating. They're going to go cold." He mumbled the last bit like a spoiled child denied dinner before bed.
Other senators murmured their agreement, and while Chancellor Antilles eyed the rude senator with coldness, he nevertheless spoke up to the three Neimoidians gathered on the stage with the same disgruntled sentiments.
"Pardon my fellow senator's protocol," Bail said, his smooth politician's voice hiding his dissatisfaction with the situation, "but the last minute announcement of this meeting is highly irregular. I would appreciate it, Viceroy, if you can let us know why we are here."
The leader of the Trade Federation grinned loudly at the senators gathered, if that were possible. He bowed, and Rush swore that he was mocking them. "I'd be happy to, Chancellor Antilles. And Senator Fafi, I apologize for the lack of refreshments. I guess I just assumed that you have consumed enough of them last night. All of you, in fact."
As the politicians gathered in the room grumbled uneasily, Senator Lott Dod of the Trade Federation activated the holo at the head of the stage, and to the horror of all, the image of a butt-naked Bail Antilles plowing away at some young raven haired prostitute appeared on the screen.
"Who's your Chancellor? Who's your Chancellor?" The grunts of the leader of the Republic filled the ears of all gathered, and while Senator Fafi watched the scene with undisguised bemusement, his irritation all but dissipated for the moment, a second later footage appeared of him agreeing to undermine, take over, and sell several of the shipyards on his own planet owned by his rivals to the Techno Union. The montage of horrors continued as all the Senators witnessed the base evidence of their crimes played before their colleagues, with one even agreeing to sell his own children to Hutt slavers.
Dod pressed a button, and the holo stopped. Everyone sat in stunned silence, unable to speak or react in any way.
"This is extortion at the basest level," Bail Antilles finally said, his face somehow even paler than usual.
"We are not responsible for your actions," Gunray asserted triumphantly. "You did this all yourselves."
"This is entrapment," Fafi protested loudly.
"This was a setup," Senator Kharrus yelled loudly. "You set us up, this is all your fault!"
As the room exploded in screams and shouts worse than even the most contentious debates Rush had witnessed in the Senate, he felt the urge to protest himself. "I am a young Senator, single and unattached," he screamed, his voice echoing above the din. "What fault is there in my actions?"
Nute grinned at him. "Do you really want the entire galaxy to know whose name you screamed in the throes of ecstasy?" He put his hands on the side of his face and yelled out in a high pitched voice that no one thought him capable of. "Amidala! Amidala! Oh, Amidala!"
"Enough!" Despite the loss of his dignity, the voice of the Supreme Chancellor was enough to get the room to quiet down. He stood and bravely faced the Viceroy. "This is a mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. All of us here, clearly, have embarrassed both ourselves and the dignity of the Senate." He struggled, trying to get the words out. "What do you want from us, Viceroy? Is it the Trade Freedoms Act? Is that why you went through all this trouble to...destroy our reputations?"
"Thank you for your kind words," Nute said, raising his hands high in the air in a grandiose manner. "First, I would like to baks in this, my greatest moment, and tell all of you, you are so lucky and privileged to witness this moment, my greatest moment. Secondly...yes, the Trade Free..."
To his shock, Lott Dod stepped directly in front of his own Viceroy, interrupting him. "Not so fast," the only smiling senator in the room said.
"What is the meaning of this, Dod," Nute asked angrily. "Have you gone completely mad?"
"My fellow senators," Dod started, ignoring Nute Gunray completely, "I would remind you that I, and I alone, have control over this footage. I, and I alone, know where it is stored and I, and I alone, have the codes to activate it...or destroy it."
"Are you...," Nute started angrily towards his senator, but Lott Dod, with one forceful shove, pushed him to the back of the stage. The Viceroy stumbled, caught himself, but stared at Dod in confusion. Turning away from Gunray purposefully, he moved to continue his speech.
"My fellow senators. What I want...not what Nute Gunray wants, is for you to not pass the Trade Freedoms Act." As if those gathered in the room had not survived enough surprises for the day, this latest revelation left everyone, even Gunray, still and slackjawed. "In fact, I request...no, I demand, that the Senate refuses to even deal with the Trade Federation. To acknowledge our presence. To grant us a voice and a place in the Republic at all...with Nute Gunray as its Viceroy."
As he said his name, Dod looked back at Nute, who was finally beginning to understand what was happening. Dod continued. "It is logical, of course. Viceroy Gunray's crimes against Naboo have yet to be answered for. It is time, it is finally time, the Senate to bring him to account for his actions. With a new Viceroy at the helm, the Trade Federation will commence a new era and move on from some of the regrettable actions of our past. Then, the Senate will know that they can pass the Trade Freedoms Act with full confidence and trust in the great and grand and unlimited benevolence of the Trade Federation."
Chancellor Antilles looked around the room in complete confusion and befuddlement. It was as if what had just occurred in mere minutes had overloaded his mind completely, and indeed, he found himself completely unable to process what had just happened.
"It is a not an entirely unreasonable request," he finally said mindlessly, as if he were a broken protocol droid. "I believe all gathered would concur that Senator Dod's suggestions...are certainly the most reasonable way forward."
"All hail Viceroy Lott Dod," Senator Fafi, much less diplomatic than his Chancellor, yelled across the room.
Rune Haako watched the shoulders of Nute Gunray slump more and more as senator after senator voiced their support of Lott Dod. Gunray was vicious, Haako knew in his years of serving him, and though he was not the brightest, he knew when he was defeated. And this defeat was certain and complete. Haako watched as Lott Dod, who would obviously now be his new boss, if he deigned to keep him around, walk up to the man that he betrayed, and he swore that the now former Senator seemed almost apologetic.
"This betrayal," Nute said in a low, dejected voice, "will not long be forgotten."
"What had to be done must be done," Dod whispered to the former Viceroy, now visibly sapped of all spirit and hope. "If it makes you feel any better, I do not want to lose your talents completely. I will allow you to take your old seat on the Senate floor, so that you continue your great service towards the glory of the Trade Federation."
"I do not like this," Gunray said after a moment's pause, "but I accept."
Rune Haako was surprised to find himself genuinely sad for his old boss. He had never seen Nute Gunray so vulnerable, so helpless. But more than that, he wondered whether his life was about to get better or worse.
"I congratulate you on your promotion, Viceroy Dod."
Despite his moment of triumph, despite hearing the woman responsible for it give voice his new title, Lott Dod cringed, and wondered whether the position of Viceroy was worth likely being indebted to Lady Mirayya for the rest of his life.
"Thank you, milady," he bowed obsequiously. "I hope to lead the Trade Federation with none of the foolishness of my predecessor..."
"Good...," the hooded woman muttered. "Follow my guidance, you will prosper."
"...but I do wonder," Dod asked hesitatingly, "why insist on appointing Gunray as Senator? To leave him in a position of some power, where he could still strike back at us, does not make sense."
The holo of Darth Mirayya snapped at him, and despite their distance Lott Dod flinched backwards. "Do not presume to understand things beyond your purview, Viceroy. Be content to enjoy the fruits of my labors."
Gasping out of fear, Lott Dod bowed again. "Yes, milady."
"And the holocron," she asked menacingly, referring to the blackmail footage the Trade Federation had managed to gather for more than half the Senate.
"The only copy will be transferred to you for safekeeping as we discussed," Lott Dod replied fearfully. He felt tight, invisible fingers grab ahold of his throat. Struggling to breathe, he saw the dark lady's fingers closing and realized that somehow, she was inflicting this upon him from a great distance.
"Do not dare to betray me, Viceroy," she hissed, and then he could breathe again.
Gasping for air, Lott was able to barely say in response, "I would never, you know that milady."
"Gooooood." Then, Lott thought he could almost see a smile behind the sith lady's hood. "Give your show to the Senators tonight. Serve them amply, especially Senator Amidala and her retinue. It will be the last meal they will ever enjoy."
It wasn't that he hated meditation, but out of all of Padmé's exercises, it was his least favorite. But he did it because of her. Because she would meditate with him, and despite the fear he felt staring deep into the innermost vacuums of the Force, fear because he and he alone had the ability to dive deeper than anyone else into those nether regions of existence where realities faded into the looking glass, he did because she helped him along, guided him, held him aloft so he would not drown. He knew that he needed to do it more out of his own initiative on the road to becoming a perfect sith but for now, most of his meditations he did only beside his wife.
They sat on the floor of her ship and held hands as they probed together the Force. Padmé was doing most of the work, creating the dark energies that enveloped the planet that at once shielded the senses of the Jedi far and wide, yet called out across the stars reaching for one particular signature. He opened himself up to her completely, allowing her to channel his power to amplify hers; she was the artist that crafted beautifully and brilliantly her work, and he herbattery.
Anakin tried to pay more heed to his wife's skills and methods, but as it usually happened in such cases, he found himself more distracted by his Padmé's presence in the Force, indulging himself to bathe in her essence. Her aura truly was amazing, he realized, especially how she was able to balance both the light and dark within her. So could he. Padmé claimed it was because he was the chosen one, and Anakin wasn't sure how he thought about that. If he could resist the complete pull of the dark side because he had a special dispensation from the Force, that only made what Padmé accomplished even more astonishing, retaining the goodness within her through sheer willpower and force of personality. But no, Anakin knew that his own balance came from her, because he learned everything from her.
He saw her through the Force, truly saw her, for the first time as they meditated now, and it both awed and scared him. Her signature, her entire existence in the universe, was a strand, the thinnest thread running through the obstacles and tribulations between time and space. Padmé has always been the strongest person he'd known, but it shocked him as he saw her for the first time within the context of what he supposed were concepts best described as fate and destiny, or to the Jedi, the Unifying Force, how fragile and delicate her entire existence was, how easily her thread of life could be snapped. He sensed the great darkness and braved himself to seek it. He saw her existence disappear into that darkness and, despite his powers, he could not see beyond it, and Anakin understood how truly dangerous Sidious had been to Padmé, and how much it was a miracle she had survived him.
His senses moved imperceptibly through the ether and then suddenly he saw that her strand was not alone but rather, entwined around what appeared to be a thick trunk. That was himself of course, his undeniable power and presence in the Force, and it was clear, seeing how absolutely entwined their presences were truly in the Force, how inexorably connected the two of them were and had always been, even before they had met, even before either of them had been conceived. Then, even though he was feeling, not actually seeing, it felt like he was seeing double, then triple, the vision multiplying until there appeared to be infinite iterations of the same threads, except each were subtly different.
Anakin understood immediately the vision, that he was seeing what could have been, what never was. The Force, its existence, was not a linear concept, he realized, understanding firsthand what the Jedi meant when they said the future was always in motion. And the future, all these futures, shook him to the core. In nearly all of them, he saw Padmé's presence not emerge from, but disappear into the darkness. The Force was merciful enough not to show him what he already knew, that the darkness in each case was bound to suffocate his doomed wife out of existence. More terrible, however, was how in some of these iterations, as that was the best way to describe what he was seeing, different repetitions of the same events with the same people, he saw his own presence plunge into the darkness along with Padmé and Sidious, and understood that he was just as culpable in harming...(killing)...his wife.
This must be the vision Sidious showed her, Anakin understood, even as he failed what could possess him to do such a thing. Then the threads disappeared, and all he could feel around him was the most intense heat he'd ever experienced in his life, worse than even the hottest days on Tatooine, and all he could see around him was fire. No, lava, burnt, molten rock flowing around him. He was in the middle of some immense volcano, and to his relief he felt her presence, saw her running towards him. But instead of feeling love, worship, adoration as he always did when he saw her, he felt anger, the anger eclipsing the intensity of the fire, and betrayal, and he watched helplessly as he lifted his hand to choke his beloved, even as the rational part of his mind protested this action with every fiber of his being.
Being part of and separate from the vision at the same time, Anakin understood that the betrayal was false, that his anger was misdirected, that this irrational rage-filled version of himself must have been severely manipulated by outside forces, whether Sidious, or the Jedi, or both. But he had clearly allowed this manipulation to occur, and knew that from this moment on, after not just hearing about it, but seeing and feeling this version of himself firsthand, he would never forgive himself for his potential to commit such a crime, even though it happened in another world and with another self.
The next thing he knew, he was looking at his beloved, who stared at him with concern. Anakin immediately looked away from her in shame, staring at the floor of their suite and the ravines below, the wonderful scenery all so mundane and dry now after his horrendous vision. His entire body was covered with sweat, he realized, and he was hyperventilating furiously.
"I'm so sorry," Anakin managed to utter out. He felt a wave of assurance and understanding come from his wife, and knew that Padmé had a good idea of what he had just experienced.
"It never happened," she said, confirming his hypothesis. "I'm still here. And you're here. With me."
"I...I knew...but to feel it. To feel myself doing it...," he found himself unable to speak further.
Padmé moved closer on the floor towards him, and he tried not to flinch at her touch. "It is good the Force showed you this, I think. You must face your worst fears, confront them, and move past them. This...on today out of all days may not be the ideal timing, but I suppose we Sith have no greater right to arrogance in questioning the will of the Force than the Jedi."
She cupped her hand over her husband's chin, lifting his head so she could see into his eyes. "I know you're probably not ready to talk about it now. But there's more that you did not see. When you are ready, let me know."
Anakin forced himself to look at his wife, and everything about her he now saw in a new light, her resilience, her bravery, her strength, her determination. He leaned forward and pulled her into a fierce embrace, clutching her never wanting to let go, ignoring the fact that he was soaking her clothes with his own sweat. "You're a miracle, Padmé. Everything about you is a miracle."
"And so, while I applaud the efforts of my predecessor in his zeal and love for the Trade Federation, and everything he has done on behalf of the Trade Federation, I promise you a kinder, gentler Trade Federation as we continue to spread our love for the Republic within the Republic."
Bail Organa yawned, and Mon Mothma rolled her eyes.
"I can't believe we're even giving them the dignity of our attendence," Mon whispered to Padmé, "especially with all the rumors of what transpired this morning."
With the Senate being a haven for gossip, most of what had transpired in the meeting that morning, which clearly resulted in the switch in positions between Gunray and Lott Dod, was by now an open secret. Bail looked disapprovingly at Bail Antilles, who sat in discomfort several tables away, and then at the empty chair at their own table. Rush Clovis had conveniently pleaded illness and skipped the dinner, and Mon seemed especially dismayed that her friend would have been caught up with the Trade Federation's blackmail and crooked dealings, while Bail wondered if they could ever trust again whether Rush's votes were based in integrity and conviction, or extortion.
"You've heard the rumors too, master Jedi," Bail said to Luminara, the bodyguard for their contingent. "Is there nothing the Order can do?"
"I am assured that the Council has advised of recent developments," the Miralian woman said. "But we cannot get involved into the politics of the Senate, unless Supreme Chancellor Antilles requests our help."
"Even the Chancellor may be compromised," Mon whispered carefully across the table. "This leaves the Trade Federation with what would basically be free reign across the Republic."
"And Force forbid if they want something more than just the Trade Freedoms bill," Bail said nervously. He looked over at Padmé, who along with her husband, both seemed more quiet and subdued than usual. And though he was technically her bodyguard, Padmé's body language made it seem like she was the one being extra protective of her husband at the moment. "Padmé, know that if the Trade Federation moves against Naboo, Alderaan stands with you."
"Ryloth pledges what forces we have as well, I assure you," Kara said next to her. As aware as she was of her Sith powers, the young twi'lek senator did not know of the full depth of Padmé's manipulations.
"Chandrila too," Mon added. "Let's hope it does not go that far."
"Thanks for your support," Padmé said. She was quiet because she was concerned about her husband, but it was without a doubt convenient that her colleagues interpreted it as concern for the Trade Federation's increasing powers. "They may hold all the cards now, but that makes them more likely to make a mistake. And when they do, we must pounce."
The new Viceroy's voice continued to drone on from the main stage. "...so I will conclude by reiterating the motto of the Trade Federation: 'generosity to all, happiness for all..."
"I thought it was 'trade with us or we'll fucking kill you,'" Padmé said sardonically, and even Bail couldn't help but stifle out a chuckle in shock at the coarse language coming from his friend.
"...as under our benevolent auspices we will continue to bring forth a new era of enlightenment and brilliance to the galaxy."
"At least this Viceroy is capable of forming complete sentences," Mon said as everyone, even Amidala, applauded politely the conclusion of Lott Dod's speech.
"Think the Trade Federation will try to blackmail us against tonight," Bail asked casually as their shuttle reached the landing of their lodgings.
"What reason would they have," Padmé asked. "They've already hold the entire Senate in the palms of their greasy hands." She looked to their Jedi protector. "Master Unduli, perhaps it would be prudent to move your quarters closer to ours just in case."
"I believe that can be done," Luminara said neutrally, "though I must admit that my abilities to channel the Force feel limited recently. It's almost as if something is clouding..."
Before she was able to finish the sentence, the world exploded around them. They all fell to the ground in shock, even Luminara, who quickly recovered and at once began to deflect that blasts that were coming at them. Anakin, coughing through the smoke, immediately pulled out his blaster and began firing at their assailants, though Padmé knew he missed his aim on purpose. With Anakin busy pretending to do his job, Padmé lay kneeling to the ground seemingly in a stupor, but in reality was channeling the undercurrents of the Force to slow most subtly Luminara's reflexes and reactions. She felt something was wrong, that her movements felt more sluggish than she was used to, but before she had a moment to process this, a stray blast hit her in the back and as she stumbled, another blast shot true through her chest. To the horror of all the Senators present, Luminara Unduli fell motionlessly and helplessly to the ground.
"Weapons down," a voice cried from behind the smoke, and Anakin pretended to grunt angrily as he dropped his blaster, raising his hands up in defeat. A pale woman emerged from the smoke, blaster pointed at the senators.
"Aurra Sing," Anakin said. "You're wanted by the Republic and over a hundred systems. You won't get away with this."
"You're in no position to speak," the bounty hunter said, and from their rear, another assailant, this one a smaller changeling Padmé knew as Zam Wessell, emerged with blaster pointed as well.
"What do you want from us," Bail asked, the trauma of the situation doing nothing to dent his dignity.
"Nothing but the credits we get from your deaths," the changeling responded coldly.
"Don't worry," Aurra said. "It's not personal."
As she raised her weapon to fire the deadly shots, Aurra Sing gasped as a green lightsaber pierced her chest. She fell, dropping her weapon to the ground, and the other bounty hunter, alarmed at this new turn of events, started shooting her blaster wildly. One of them was directed right at Bail, and as he sat on the ground helplessly staring at his doom, Padmé swiftly channeled the Force through herself and into the older Senator, making it seem like he Force pushed himself off the ground to jump out of the way of the blast.
A small human Jedi emerged from the smoke, quickly moving in to deflect the remainder of the changeling's shots until he kicked her weapon away and held his lightsaber to her throat.
"Surrender," he ordered. The changeling raised her hands in defeat, knowing that she had no other choice.
The senators all turned to look at their rescuer, who appeared to be a diminutive but unmistakably disheveled looking human male with long, stringy dark hair. He looked with special purpose at Bail Organa, suspicion clouding his dark eyes.
"Master Sifo-Dyas," Padmé exclaimed at their savior for the moment.
Both Bail and Mon still looked to be in shock, having never suffered the terror of an assassination attack. Kara, a former slave who had fought side by side with them on Ryloth months ago, seemed slightly shaken up but mostly nonplussed. Of course, Padmé had told her to expect 'bumps' on their trip, and Kara knew enough of her friends to trust them...especially since she knew their true powers and capabilities.
Their rescuer walked over to Padmé, who sat nursing a small cup of caf next to her husband and colleagues. Even Rush Clovis had decided to face his embarrassment as they discussed the aftermath of the assassination attempt.
"The Trade Federation must not be allowed to get away with this," he muttered with more than just a hint of personal animus, Padmé noted.
"We need proof they were behind this attack," Bail said. His fingers were still shaking, and his voice quivered from the trauma of the near death experience. Padmé did truly feel sorry for subjecting him to this horror, as well as what more she planned for him.
Mon turned towards Sifo-Dyas, their unexpected rescuer. "One assassin is already dead. Do you believe this one will cooperate, Master Jedi?"
"Her shields are strong," Sifo-Dyas said, "but I believe she will see reason, as that this is her only path." His voice was deep, but low, never raised. The Jedi looked at Bail with a look of suspicion, suspicion that did not dim when he turned to regard Padmé. "If you don't mind me asking, Senator Amidala, how did you know who I was?"
"You were once a well-known member of the Jedi Council..."
"Not for years, and never well known," Sifo-Dyas interrupted.
"...and your friend Dooku has spoken fondly of you many times in our correspondence. I took it upon myself to look more into one he holds in such high regard." That was true, and for once Padmé was grateful for all the time Dooku had badgered her on Naboo, time that she ensured would not go to waste.
"Dooku understands the state of the galaxy better than most," Sifo-Dyas said. His tone softened, and he now seemed apologetic about having spoken so harshly to the senator just earlier. "Yet he sits on the council and does nothing to counter the darkness." He blinked, realizing that he did not mean to say the last part out loud.
"The darkness," Bail asked quizzically.
"Forgive me, Senators. I have spent too much time in seclusion with nothing but my own thoughts for company."
"What drew you to Cato Neimoidia," Mon Mothma asked. "You saved our lives, and your timing was a miracle."
"The darkness," he replied, his eyes narrowing. "I felt a vergence of the darkness centered on Cato Neimoidia."
"There are certainly dark actions brewing," Padmé said, taking the lead. "We believe now that this whole boondoggle was an attempt at the mass extortion of the entire senate, and we believe that it has already succeeded." What she didn't say, of course, was that she was the one who had been broadcasting the dark messages to Sifo-Dyas nonstop from afar, luring him to finally emerge from hiding just as she had foreseen.
"But when you say the darkness," Bail asked nervously, "do you mean...the Sith? Like the one killed by Master Kenobi on Naboo?"
Sifo-Dyas stared directly at Bail, brown eyes boring into brown eyes, and spoke harshly as if only to him. "The Sith plot actively to destroy the Republic and the Jedi. The Sith are responsible for the darkness spreading across the galaxy. I have foreseen it, and I will not allow them to do so."
Tension filled the room as Obi-Wan and Quinlan Vos stepped in. Even though they knew of Sifo-Dyas's presence, it still shocked them to actually see the reclusive Jedi Master with their own eyes.
"Senators," Obi-Wan nodded politely, "Master Sifo-Dyas, Captain Skywalker...I understand it has been an eventful night."
"Master Kenobi," Padmé stood to shake his hand formally, "it indeed has. I understand Master Unduli was a good friend of yours. I am sorry for your loss. Apparently trouble seems to always somehow find me."
"No kidding," Obi-Wan acknowledged wryly. "And I appreciate your condolences. Luminara will be mourned by many."
Padmé did feel a tinge of remorse. After all these years as a Sith, she had finally killed her first Jedi, however indirectly, and it would not be the last. She did not intend to slaughter them gratuitously, as Sidious or Maul would have, but she would kill as many as necessary, and Luminara's death was necessary, else Sifo-Dyas would have been content to continue to observe them in secret.
Sifo-Dyas walked up to the two Jedi. "Obi-Wan, Quinlan," he said without preamble, "a word in private?"
Obi-Wan looked questioningly at Padmé, who nodded. "I trust the danger has passed for now, and I trust you will all sense any further threats." She cocked her head, as if the idea just presented itself to her. "While you discuss amongst yourselves the situation, Masters Jedi, would you mind if we have a word with our prisoner?"
"Of course," Sifo-Dyas said, and Obi-Wan swore he heard a hint of warmness in his voice.
"I do not trust Organa," Sifo-Dyas remarked the moment they were out of earshot from the politicians.
"Bail Organa," Obi-Wan asked incredulously. "Honestly, he is quite possibly the most...honest politician in the Senate, if not the whole Galaxy?"
"Convenient for a sith," Sifo-Dyas muttered dismissively. His small form paced the suite back and form anxiously, as he was trying to decide whether or not to extrapolate further his suspicions. Stopping mid-stride, he made his decision. "I have foreseen the return of the sith...the true return of the master sith...comes not directly like the monster that attacked you and Master Jinn on Tatooine and Naboo, but may never even emerge from hiding in plain sight...a master in subterfuge. We will not know until it's too late, and yet the Council sit blindly and dither."
"As a matter of fact," Obi-Wan said, "the Council believes the Sith are behind the machinations here on Cato Neimoidia. That is why they have sent, among others, myself and Knight Vos."
"Knight Vos," Sifo-Dyas said, caught off guard. "You too have experience in dealing with the sith?"
"I have not fought one like Obi-Wan has," Quinlan said, "but I have found fresh evidence of plots by the master Sith himself."
He stopped short, not knowing whether to continue further, which Sifo-Dyas understood. Few trusted him any more, since his expulsion from the council and subsequent exile. He did not feel the need to press the younger Jedi further. Instead, he pivoted the conversation.
"I too felt the influence of the Dark Side on Cato Neimoidia. It is why I came here, and why I tracked Master Unduli's group, because I sensed that influence stronger around them."
Obi-Wan equivocated. The older master was long known for his exceptional gift of foresight, but there were whispers too that his visions may have driven away bits and pieces of his sanity. "It may well be that if the Sith are influencing events here, they are projecting their presences onto Amidala and Organa's retinue as a misdirection for the sake of keeping their own plots in the darkness. That is not unheard of in the archives."
"I felt the Force itself from Organa," Sifo-Dyas snapped. "During the attack, I believe he used it to protect himself from the bounty hunter we captured."
"But you were engaged in combat with her," Quinlan said skeptically. "Can you be sure of what you sensed?"
Sifo-Dyas paused. "No," he finally admitted. "I can't be sure."
"It could be possible that Senator Organa may have latent abilities he is not even aware of," Quinlan said. "Or he could be involved with the Sith, though I really cannot see that happening. But if he by even the smallest chance he and Sidious is the same, I may have a way to draw it out of him."
"The timeline does not make sense," Obi-Wan said. He noted that Sifo-Dyas did not bat an eye in confusion when Quinlan named the secret alias of the Sith master, a name known only to the two of them and the Council itself. Dooku must be talking, he thought to himself. "Quinlan, your investigation indicated that Sidious was connected to the Senate over ten years ago with the...commissioning. Bail Organa was not serving in the Senate at the time."
"No. But he has always been closely connected to then Senator Antilles, whom many believed a candidate to eventually succeed to his current position," Quinlan said quietly. "I still don't quite buy it," he said to Obi-Wan, "but it's worth examining every angle of this puzzle."
"If that's the case, then it's almost too horrifying to consider," Obi-Wan said, thinking out loud. "Senator Organa befriended Amidala early in her career. He even invited her to honeymoon with her young husband on Alderaan before she took the position. If he's been angling this entire time to insert himself closer to the Chosen One..."
"Yes, a convenient reputation to mold indeed," Quinlan concluded. Sifo-Dyas merely watched the two friends discuss his suspicion in silence, not surprised that they were now talking themselves closer to his thinking.
"To level such an accusation without complete evidence beyond a reasonable doubt would not reflect well on the Order," Obi-Wan concluded, "especially in the context of these recent developments between the Trade Federation and the Senate."
"But if we flush out the sith," Sifo-Dyas said, "we solve both problems with one fell swoop."
"I was hired by another bounty hunter, whom I will not name," Zam Wessell said to the group of politicians questioning her. Provided she kept quiet about specific names, she may be able to escape and not be killed by Cad Bane. "At no point was I contacted by any member of the Trade Federation."
"Gunray is an idiot," Padmé said, "but if Lott Dod is pulling the strings, I would not doubt they would use intermediaries to distance themselves from the attack. It would still be obvious who was behind it, and were it to have succeeded, they would be able to project their power without being convicted of any crime."
"As usual," Bail said. "Getting away with murder seems to be their modus operandi."
"Give me two minutes in a room with her and a blunt object and we'll find out for sure."
"Ani," Padmé objected, "we cannot do anything to jeopardize the legal process. However," she added just as the three Jedi walked back into the main parlor, "I value my life, as do all of us here. But Master Sifo-Dyas has thankfully thwarted the assassination attempt. As much as it irks me, I believe we should put it in the past, for now, because the integrity of the Senate is much more important."
She walked up to the bound assassin with the air of a prosecutor, having clearly asserted her unofficial authority amidst her colleagues in the room. "Answer these next questions carefully. I do have some influence in the Senate, Zam, and seeing as I was the target of your attack, a plea from myself and my colleagues for leniency would go a long way in the courts." Padmé knelt down until she was face to face with the bounty hunter. "Was this the only assignment you received on Cato Neimoidia?"
Zam sighed in resignation. "No. There was another."
Padmé looked back at her fellow senators with an expression both of hope and triumph. "What did your other assignment involve?"
"I was to retrieve and deliver an object. The details are scarce. I was given only coordinates."
Padmé's eyes glinted in pride and relief. "I can't imagine this object is anything else but the blackmail footage the Trade Federation has on the Senate."
"If we can obtain this dirt, so to speak," Mon Mothma said, realizing Padmé's line of thinking, "we may well be able to destroy it and with that, any hold the Trade Federation has on the Senate."
"Or we could reveal it, and accomplish the same," Padmé mused, noting the immediate discomfort Clovis showed at her words.
"Such an action would destroy the very foundations of the Republic," Bail said in horror. "With all due respect, Padmé, surely you do not believe that is a viable option?"
"It is indeed a drastic measure," Padmé said, "but does a Republic so easily corrupted at the deepest levels deserve to still stand in its current form? Masters Jedi, what do you think, seeing as this is the same Senate you take your orders from?"
"None of the possibilities are palatable," Sifo-Dyas said, clearly deep in thought. "To destroy something to cleanse and rebuild it..."
"I'm assuming what you are suggesting Senator," Obi-Wan started, hating himself for even entertaining another one of Amidala's plots, however much sense it may make at the moment, "is that we somehow engineer an so-called escape for our prisoner and allow her to carry on with her second mission."
"All this would have to happen with the permission of the Jedi of course," Padmé said innocently.
"We can decide later what to do with the evidence," Quinlan said. "I'm sure the Council would like to meditate on it as well, provide we are actually able to obtain it. And it is clear that we must take possession of it. However, if we can perhaps make a switch, and allow our friend here to complete the conclusion of her mission..."
"You would like to know to whom the Trade Federation intends to deliver the incriminating evidence to," Kara said, following Quinlan's logic.
"Knowing the full scope of who in the Republic seeks to undermine the Senate would go along ways towards helping the Senate heal itself," Obi-Wan contended.
"Friends, Senators, Jedi," Padmé said, taking it upon herself once more to speak on behalf of their group. "I believe we have a course of action. May the Force be with us all in the trials to come."
"Hey! Wanna whole Lotta Dod! Wanna whole Lotta Dod! Wanna whole lotta..."
"Thank you, thank you. Enough. You can go." The new viceroy of the Trade Federation waved dismissively at the band, some ragtag group from Corellia called Durasteel Zeppelin or something of the such, groaning in pain as two women, one the dark haired vixen who had successfully seduced Chancellor Antilles, the other a twi'lek who managed to bed the very specieist senator from Eriadu, massaged him from head to toe.
"Do our rad tunes not please you, your excellency," the lead singer asked, confused. He was being paid a lot of money for this private performance, and was perplexed at why his patron was calling it off after less than two songs.
"It's good it's good," Lott said, really hoping that this annoying human would leave him in peace. "Do not worry, you will be compensated for the the day. I just need to think."
"Just don't forget, when you're jammin' wit us during the performance tomorrow night, your line at the end of the song is 'you wanna whole Lotta me'. Repeat the me four or five times, like an echo. Trust me bro, the crowd will go absolute wizard when you do it!"
"Yes yes yes, it's a good line. I will remember it." He gave another dismissive wave of his hand, and as the band sauntered sadly off the stage of his new suite atop the tallest floor of the tallest building on Cato Neimoidia, a suite formerly belonging to Nute Gunray, he hoped that he was not resembling his predecessor too much in his debauchery. This should have been his moment of celebration, and he was trying, but something about how his coronation went down just did not sit right with him.
First and foremost, Amidala was still alive. The ill-advised assassination attempt had failed, and Lott could not even pretend to be surprised...the accursed woman seemed to have an uncanny knack for survival, and to be honest Lott didn't even care that much about her death. That was more Gunray's vendetta, and Lott guessed that Lady Mirayya only arranged for her assassination because she assumed that it was appease Lott, though he had to admit that Amidala's continued survival would pose a threat to the Trade Freedoms Act.
That was something Gunray planned to handle differently as well. It must pass the Senate, that was true, lest the Federation be embarrassed and lose face before all the Republic. But Amidala did not know that once the law was in place, Lott had no plans to monopolize the Republic's trade routes in the way Gunray envisioned, gouging beyond reason anyone who wished to utilize them. He would charge a fair market rate for access...maybe slightly more than market. A profit had to be made, of course, but Lott knew that the massive short term gains that Gunray had envisioned would cost the Trade Federation in the long run in terms of reputation and pushback.
Of course, there was the question of what Lady Mirayya actually wanted. Lott knew that she likely cared little for his personal career trajectory or the Trade Freedoms Act. The holocron he held in the vault was what she truly wanted, and with that, complete control of the Senate, and that was what scared him. He had no choice but to hand it over, as Mirayya made it clear refusal would cost him his life. But the moment he lost access to the holocron, he would lose any leverage he had in their relationship, and he could only hope that Mirayya would fulfill her end of the bargain, that she had bigger fish to fry than just the Trade Federation.
Betrayal was the way of the Sith, of course, and Gunray was still under the impression that Sidious had betrayed them almost ten years ago on Naboo, but Lott wasn't so sure. True, they had lost contact with Sidious not long after the child queen's escape to Coruscant, but his enforcer, that horrid Maul, still assisted them until that last battle. Either way, was it a true betrayal, or was it the fact that the combined might of the Sith could not withstand the alliance between an unexpectedly persistent Queen, two Jedi, an indigenous species they had all overlooked, and the one in a billion luck of one nine year old boy?
Rune Haako's voice interrupted his reverie. "Viceroy, Senator Clovis is here to see you."
"Clovis? This is unexpected." Lott looked around. Out of all the Senators who wished to cut a side deal with him, Clovis was the last one he would expect, his transgression being relatively minor. Of course, it was undoubtedly life or death if he stepped in the senator's shoes. "Send him in." He motioned the two women towards a side door, and they obediently exited the premises just as the Senator from Scipio walked in.
"Senator Clovis...," he started, but to his astonishment, the human before him transformed into a small changeling.
"...is how I made my escape," Zam Wessell finished.
"Ah. It is good then that one of Amidala's own allies succumbed to temptation and is willing to betray her for it."
"Plans are being made as we speak," Zam said curtly. "The job will be finished, I assure you. Amidala will die."
"Good good," Lott said unconvincingly. He rose and walked to a small vault in the corner of the room. "You are here for the package, I assume."
He entered in the codes and retrieved a small holocron containing the most dangerous footage in the galaxy. "Take care of this."
"I know," the bounty hunter said as she took the holocron from Lott. "I understand how important this is. I have been informed that this takes priority. Afterwards, we will finish the job on the Senator."
Padmé and Sifo-Dyas stood guard in the center of the public courtyard below the Viceroy's tower, hiding behind the trees and fountains marking the footpaths. She had to admit these Neimoidians had good taste with ambiance, their resort grounds being just as lush and well designed as any on Naboo or Alderaan. She felt Obi-Wan's presence in a small corner to their left, standing guard over the operation and opposite him the courtyard, Quinlan Vos and Bail Organa, the latter two's placement being no accident by the Jedi.
"I have to admit, Senator, I do admire your work," Sifo-Dyas whispered to her as they waited for the bounty hunter to emerge. "Your stand against the darkness is valiant, if futile."
"Futile," Padmé asked, feigning puzzlement. "I wish to transform the Republic into something that actually works for its citizens. If you believe in my cause, why do you believe it is doomed to fail?"
"Because the forces aligned against you are stronger than you can possibly imagine. Because you struggle against the weight of a thousand years of exponentially accumulating corrosion and rot, exacerbated by the vile plots of the sith."
"The Sith? He was killed on Naboo by Master Kenobi, was he not?"
"He may not have been the only one," Sifo-Dyas said, looking nervously around, and Padmé swore she sensed fear emanating from the Jedi Master. "More could have survived. More could be plotting here, even as we speak, assisting the Trade Federation in their nefarious schemes. And regardless, even if that creature were the last of that wretched order, the damage has been done. We Jedi overlooked the sith's existence for a thousand years, ignorant of their conspiracies. Who knows what they could have wrought in all that time?"
Padmé remained silent, as if contemplating all the implications of what she had supposedly just learned from the Master Jedi. When she finally spoke again, it was with trepidation in her voice. "What can the Jedi do about this?"
"Plenty," Sifo-Dyas said with more than a hint of anger. "But they choose to do close to nothing."
"Then we are doomed."
"Not necessarily." He looked around, as if sensing the awareness of his fellow Jedi in the courtyard, then leaned close to whisper even more softly than before to Padmé's ear. "Even if the Jedi do not prepare, I have made certain...arrangements. When the war comes between the light and the dark, and it will, I assure you...when the darkness is ascendant, the Jedi will finally be forced to act. When that time arrives the forces of good in this galaxy, people like you, we will not be left helpless."
His cryptic words were interrupted by shouts and loud voices from opposite the courtyard. Immediately alerted, he ran towards Quinlan and Organa. As Padmé followed slowly behind him, she saw Obi-Wan emerge from his shadowy corner as well.
"A Sith Lord?" They heard Bail utter the words in shock as his perpetually horrified face looked even more horrified than usual.
Quinlan saw their approach and as Obi-Wan arrived next to him, hand ready to pull his lightsaber, he told the Jedi, "I casually mentioned a weapon that can destroy an entire planet...a weapon commissioned by a Sith Lord, and Senator Organa went pale with fear."
Immediately, Sifo-Dyas activated his lightsaber and pointed it at the Senator's throat. "We have discovered your trickery, Senator Organa. Or should I say, Lord Sidious?"
Bail looked over at Padmé who, running in a normal human speed, had just caught up to the situation. "Padmé! This is madness. They seem to think I am some kind of Sith Lord?!"
"Why would they think that," Padmé asked, looking around at all three Jedi in confusion, then back at Bail. "Are you?"
"Look," Obi-Wan interjected, the calmest out of the three. "Maybe there is a rational explanation." He turned towards Senator Organa. "If you are indeed not a Sith Lord, then you must understand how highly secretive this information is. Knight Vos discovered a secret weapon, commissioned over ten years ago, by someone we believe to have masterminded the Naboo blockade...a weapon that potentially is capable of destroying an entire planet with one shot of energy though...it's only a design, and we don't know whether it's actually feasible or not."
"And it's spherical," Bail asked, his face even shades paler, "shaped like a small moon?"
Quinlan's eyes narrowed. "You seem to know every facet of this super weapon."
"It was a dream," Bail stuttered out. "Padmé, it was that dream I told you about this morning! Surely you remember!"
"I can confirm this," Padmé said, not faking her genuine concern for her friend. "Senator Organa told me about a nightmare he had the previous night. He dreamed of a moon-like object destroying his home planet."
"...and the helplessness! There was nothing I can do for me people as they were slaughtered...," and as he spoke, the most dignified Bail Organa began to break out in tears. "The horror, the pain, the abject coldness of such a weapon, I felt it, I can't even..."
No one objected as Padmé walked in between the three Jedi and embraced her colleague, comforting him. "It's okay Bail. This is clearly a misunderstanding." She looked at the gathered Jedi, her eyes pleading on behalf of her friend. "Masters Jedi, I had dismissed Senator Organa's nightmare as...well...just a nightmare. It appears that I was wrong to do so. Could this be a vision perhaps? A glimpse of the future?"
"Do not fall for this Sith's lies, Senator Amidala," Sifo-Dyas warned. He had backed away from Bail slightly, but his green saber still pointed directly at the Senator from Alderaan.
"It is possible," Obi-Wan admitted, ignoring the raised eyebrow from Quinlan. "For a non-Force sensitive to experience visions is rare, but not unheard of. It could also be that Senator Organa has latent and undiscovered Force abilities."
"I'll be a sith if that's the case," Sifo-Dyas scoffed.
"Nevertheless, I believe we may have been too rash in accusing Senator Organa." He walked up to the two Senators, now standing side by side. "Bail, I would like to apologize if we acted too harshly. Surely you see the need to, perhaps, an informal screening in the Jedi temple once we all return to Coruscant? A midichlorian test, some questions from some of the masters?"
"Certainly," Bail said emphatically. "I will do whatever it takes to clear my name."
"And Senator Amidala," Obi-Wan continued, "you must understand that what you have witnessed here is...highly irregular, and it would reflect well neither upon the Jedi Order nor the Senate. I trust you may keep discrete what has just transpired."
"Of course, Obi-Wan..."
A loud, rude voice interrupted their conversation.
"What is going on here," the ample frame of Senator Tub'r Fafi demanded to know.
He needed a breath of fresh air, he decided. As a reward for his support, the new Viceroy had granted him a master suite just below his own quarters in addition to what amounted to practically his own harem for the rest of his stay on Cato Neimoidia. It boggled his mind, really, to have gone from the brink of his career ending, to enjoying the richest indulgences that, well, honestly he already enjoyed on a semi-regular basis. And to be honest, vice in excess could be exhausting sometimes, so Tub'r Fafi found himself taking a walk through the main courtyard, enjoying the fresh air...and looking for the holo contact that promised him some deathsticks.
He heard voices from a distant corner and froze. Instantly, his mind wandered to the events of the day before. Was this another setup? Was the new viceroy plotting to further dig his hole? Why would they even care to blackmail him further when they had all the dirt on him they needed. Rational thought took over his brain again, and he crept quietly along the walkway towards the commotion. There were voices shouting, male and female, and several of them sounded familiar. He heard a snap-hiss and saw the glow of a green lightsaber...Jedi!
Tub'r cursed to himself. Where were the Jedi when the Trade Federation was extorting him earlier? Then again, if it weren't for the successful extortion, he wouldn't have been spending the last few hours in a suite with dozens of the best prostitutes the galaxy had to offer. His first thought was to sneak away as, while being blackmailed a second time wasn't great, caught dealing for deathsticks by Jedi was not much better of an alternative anyway. But then his senses came to him, and he realized why the voices he heard were so familiar. It was Amidala and Organa, those infernal do-gooders! What were they doing here, in the heart of Cato Neimoidia, arguing with Jedi, no less? Surely they were up to no good. Tub'r decided to find out. Any dirt he could get on those incorruptibles, he would.
"What is going on here," he yelled, and was surprised to find that he had managed to sneak up on three Jedi no less. Bail Organa jumped in shock, while Amidala's eyes widened in...fear? Delicious, he thought.
"Senator Fafi," the bearded Jedi said calmly to him, "please forgive our commotion. We were escorting Senators Organa and Amidala and got into a bit of a heated discussion about...politics."
"Yes," the kiffar Jedi added quickly, "the tax rates on Mid to Inner Core trade routes can evoke strong feelings apparently."
"Why are you escorting them here," he pressed, sensing he had the advantage having caught the group off guard. "What's with the lightsaber?"
"Oh," the bearded Jedi looked awkwardly at the small dark-haired human whose weapon was still on. "Master Sifo-Dyas thought he heard a scuffling sound. You must understand we are a bit on edge, considering the assassination attempt."
"Assassination attempt?" Tub'r looked at Amidala. "Oh right. Of course they'll try to kill you. I would never have stepped foot on this planet if I were you, Amidala, my two cents."
"I thank you for your sincere concern," the snooty senator from Naboo replied to him. "Thankfully, my colleagues and I survived, but at a great cost. The Jedi in charge of our protection..."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tub'r caught the kiffar Jedi shaking his head and waving someone off. He saw Senator Clovis approaching them...then suddenly it wasn't Clovis, but some small humanoid creature...a changeling? What was going on here? The plot gets thicker.
"You," he shouted out at the changeling. "Who are you? Why were you Rush just now and then not."
"Senator," the bearded Jedi walked up to him, his tone sterner now. "Please be aware that this is official Jedi business here."
"And I am a Senator in the Supreme Chancellor's advisory board and you all report to me," Fafi yelled back angrily, spit flying out of his mouth. He motioned towards the changeling. "Come over here. What's your business?"
"Ummm, nothing," the changeling said nervously. It was a female apparently, and she walked over to the bearded Jedi, handing him some sort of holocron, which he reluctantly took possession of. "Just uhhh, providing the Jedi with..."
"...a briefing," the bearded Jedi said calmly, "on security measures. We have to take steps to ensure there are no further attacks on..."
"Oh, I don't like this. I don't like the smell of this at all. Not one bit."
"Then we will take our leave, Senator," the bearded Jedi said. He motioned not too subtly to the rest of his group, giving the changeling a stern, disapproving look, and they quickly shuffled away into the darkness.
"Not at all," Tub'r repeated to himself. He wondered what would bring the Jedi and those two particular senators this close to the heart of the Trade Federation, and realized immediately what was just exchanged. Amidala! Anyone but Amidala!
"The Viceroy needs to know," he grumbled to himself as he ran as quickly as possible back to the tower. Which was not quickly at all, but still left him vastly short of breath by the time he reached the lift leading to Lott Dod's suite.
The new Viceroy of the Trade Federation knelt in supplication, waiting for the scolding, or more likely, fatal attack that was to come. To his surprise, it was not the hologram of Lady Mirayya that appeared, but a taller hooded figure, apparently human, the black cloak hiding his face.
"Lady Mirayya is attending to other matters at the moment," the figure spoke in a deep, almost robotic voice. "I am Lord Vader. Anything you mean to say to Lady Mirayya you may speak to me."
"Lord Vader, my deepest apologies. There have been some setbacks in our...plans..."
"I know," the sith lord snarled. "Your failure to end Amidala's existence is known to us already."
"My failure," Lott Dod started to protest, knowing that it was a bad idea. It had been Mirayya who had arranged the assassins, hadn't it?
"Your failure," Vader repeated. "To have a Jedi roaming your properties completely unaccounted for is unacceptable."
"Yes, my failure," Lott conceded, knowing it was better to let the sith win the argument. "I'm afraid there has been another setback..."
Before he could finish his sentence, he found himself unable to breathe again, but this time, an invisible force lifted him violently into the air.
"If you tell me you lost the holocron."
"Jedi...," Lott barely managed to croak out. "Amidala..."
The invisible force tossed him onto the ground. He did not want to get up, look up at the image of the sith next to him. But he heard Vader's words.
"We should be done with you and your incompetence."
"Yes, my lord."
There was a long silence, and Lott dared himself to look upon the image of the sith. He stood as he had before, unmoved, and spoke the moment he sensed Lott's gaze upon him again.
"You will retrieve the footage at all costs, and know that your next failure will be your last."
Despite protocol and the presences of all the senators and Jedi gathered, Anakin rushed to hug his wife the moment they returned to their main gathering room, where he, Senators Mothma, Clovis, and Wipper'lom gathered while Padmé and the Jedi went to retrieve the blackmail footage. Pleading sickness, he had retired to his room. First, his alias as a spice and deathstick dealer on the holonet was put to use as he lured Senator Fafi into the fray. Anticipating the timing, he pulled out the vocoder he had designed for his official debut as a sith lord. Padmé could distort her voice with the Force for her communications to sound anywhere from pure evil, evil evil, and insane evil, often at the same time, but Anakin had yet to master that skill, and there was too much at stake now for a slip up.
"Angel," he whispered into his wife's ear. "I trust all went according to plan?"
Padmé nodded. "There was a slight hiccup, but we were able to obtain the Trade Federation's footage. We can only pray it's the only copy out there."
"It has to be," Quinlan said, "or else the Sith would not go through such efforts to obtain it."
Obi-Wan gestured towards the bounty hunter. "I'm happy to report that Zam has been thoroughly cooperative. She is receiving further coordinates as we speak, and we are tracing the location." He held a small datapad in his hands, furiously entering in the data. "It appears she is receiving a transmission to deliver the holocron to...," Obi-Wan's eyes squinted as he narrowed down the location, "the Endor system?"
Sifo-Dyas walked over next to him, studying their results. "It looks like one of its moons." He smiled triumphantly, the first time anyone had seen the Master do so. "Once we get the exact location, we will finally be able to flush the Sith out of hiding."
Suddenly, the changeling gasped. "No."
"What is it," Obi-Wan asked, walking over to her.
"The transmission ended." She stared at her comm helpless. "Everything's been wiped out, completely. There's nothing to trace."
"Oh, fucking Fafi," Padmé snapped in apparently anger.
"Kriff," Quinlan muttered, "he must guessed and told the Viceroy."
As for Sifo-Dyas, he merely slumped silently onto one of the couches next to Mon Mothma. Obi-Wan continued to furiously type on his datapad, hoping to salvage something from the situation. "At least we have a starting point. A moon of Endor..."
"If the Sith are aware that this was a trap," Quinlan pointed out, "they've likely already abandoned the place."
"Yes," Sifo-Dyas said, glaring angrily at Bail, "convenient for the Sith to have found out about this at just the worst moment."
Padmé stepped protectively next to Bail, while Mon and the other senators watched the scene in confusion, not having witnessed the Jedi's accusations at the senator from Alderaan. "It was unfortunate luck that Senator Fafi walked in at such a critical moment." She held out her hand, and Obi-Wan handed her the holocron despite his best instincts. "But we have this, and we have the upper hand."
"You think we can still use the footage to draw out the sith," Quinlan asked. Neither he nor Obi-Wan had explicitly mentioned their suspicions that the sith was behind all of the Trade Federation's plots, but it was an open secret between all of them at this point, especially considering Sifo-Dyas's big mouth.
"Senator Fafi knows I have it. He told the Viceroy. If the Viceroy is working with the sith, then they know as well."
"You mean to use yourself as bait," Obi-Wan realized in horror. The recklessness of this woman!
"You do realize Senator," Sifo-Dyas said, caught off guard by her boldness, "that if Fafi knows you have this footage, any senators implicated in it would realize you have possession of it as well, and that many of them would do...unscrupulous things to obtain it from you."
"Then we might as well go public with it," Padmé said, her colleagues' eyes widening in shock. "Not release the footage, mind you, but inform the galaxy of this grave threat." She looked at her Jedi protectors and especially Obi-Wan, who gave her a knowing, yet resigned gaze. "I place my safety in your hands once again, masters Jedi."
Padmé smirked on the inside as she walked up to the podium, though her exterior was ice as befitting her reputation. She looked at the small ensemble that gathered behind her, forming a protective semi-circle as they all faced towards the excited shouts of the holonet reporters. At the center was her husband, her rock, her soul. Flanking him on his left were the three Jedi that found themselves once more entangled with the affairs of the possibly the most troublesome Senator imaginable. To Anakin's right stood her faithful colleagues, Bail, Mon, Kara and Rush, the latter positioned a bit more distant from his political allies, unconsciously broadcasting his guilt and unease towards Padmé's upcoming announcement. His transgression remained known and unspoken between the group, and they had even been able to make use of it in creating a realistic escape for the bounty hunter. Still, Padmé knew that Bail and Mon were both dying to know what Rush could have done.
Even as she prepared herself to speak, Padmé figured that the Jedi were by now already sending several battalions out to the remote moon of Endor. Of course those coordinates had been meant as a distraction, and the Jedi would find nothing except for some cuddly creatures resembling the Naboo teddy bear and, if they were lucky, they may even avoid being boiled alive by the natives into Jedi stew.
"Citizens of the Republic," she started as the reporters fell silent, "I bring to you grave news this morning. Despite my history with the Trade Federation, and because of that very history, I came to Cato Neimoidia because I did not believe the invitation of the Senate to this summit with the Federation was made in good faith. I hoped to be proven wrong, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Attempts have been made on the life of myself and my fellow Senators, and we have come to discover that this entire event was meant as the backdrop for an attempt at the mass extortion of the Senate. An attempt that is by definition no longer one, for it has succeeded well beyond the Trade Federation's wildest dreams."
Gasps filled the plaza as her shocking accusations broadcasted themselves into existence and into the consciousness of the entire galaxy, from Byss in the Inner Core out to even Tatooine, where Shmi shook Owen and Cliegg awake at the specter of their daughter-in-law once again at the center of galactic events.
"I have come into possession of the evidence of this extortion, footage that the Trade Federation means to hold the Senate hostage with. I condemn the actions of the Trade Federation and ask for a full and unconditional concession of apology to the Republic and the Senate from both Viceroy Lott Dod and Senator and former Viceroy Nute Gunray. The integrity of the Senate must be preserved."
With those cryptic last words, she left abruptly the stage followed by her retinue, declining to give the reporters even the chance to ask for more details or elaborate upon her charges.
Supreme Chancellor Bail Antilles' head hurt badly, both from the wine had had consumed the previous night trying to forget this whole ordeal, as well from this disturbing new development. Unlike Amidala, he delivered his address to the Republic from the interior of the small office in his lodgings.
"My fellow citizens, I have been recently made aware of the severe allegations made by Senator Amidala against the Trade Federation. This is disturbing news, and I have ordered a full investigation into this grave matter. As Senator Amidala's accusations are fully backed by the Jedi Order, I have called this summit to an end and ordered the Senate to disembark immediately from Cato Neimoidia. I agree with Senator Amidala that the integrity of the Senate is paramount, and assure you that I will take every effort to protect our great Republic."
He turned off the transmission and looked disgustedly to his small council. "The integrity of the Senate," Bail muttered angrily. "What does Amidala care if her revelations will destroy the very foundations of this Republic?"
"Do you really believe she would reveal the contents of that holocron," Senator Kharrus asked in trepidation. "She must understand the implications of such an act."
"Who knows," Bail remarked sardonically. "Amidala's a wildcard. Sometimes I fully believe her to be insane, and who knows what's flying through that crazy head at this very moment. I swear, it wouldn't surprise me if that kriffen woman is possessed by legions of crazy demons."
"Senators Organa and Mothma would have the good sense to understand that this footage must be kept from the public," Mas Amedda opined.
"Yes, but they follow Amidala like sheep," Tub'r Fafi countered. "They might not like it, but Amidala will do whatever the hell she wants, and those meek little shaaks will follow her off the cliff."
"We must retrieve this footage," Chancellor Antilles concluded. He turned to Fafi. The obese Senator from Kuat was not his ideal confidante, but he got results, and Bail Antilles had never needed results more than at this moment. "Tub'r, you understand that this has nothing to do with my own political career. My term is at an end soon anyway, and I mean to retire."
"Of course not," Tub'r agreed. "This is about protecting the integrity of the Republic. I will take care of everything."
"You wished to see me, Senator Fafi?" As much as he believed in the inevitability of his own career trajectory, Rush Clovis was not accustomed to being called before someone as senior and as powerful as the Senator from Kuat. Despite the Chancellor's well known dislike for Tub'r Fafi, everyone knew how much he needed him not only to keep his own government together, but to help Antilles take care of the many less savory aspects of his position.
"Ah Clovis," Fafi studied the datapad before him, "from Scipio. First term...," he continued listing his credentials, as if learning them for the first time. They both knew it was a ruse, a power move. As belligerent a figure he cut, Fafi was a brilliant politician who knew the Senate better than his own slush funds and secret accounts. Well almost. But for him to feign unfamiliarity with Rush was purely a tactic to emphasize the latter's insignificance in the mind of the more senior politician.
"...you have caucused in recent months with Amidala, Organa, Mothma...admirable company, really." Fafi lifted his head from the datapad and shook his head in mock disappointment. "Have they condemned you for your indiscretions as of late?"
"I cannot imagine they are pleased, but my colleagues are professional and understand reality," Clovis said carefully. He decided to offer Tub'r a nugget, not knowing he already knew. "And my delicate position has actually proven itself to some advantage..."
"Yeah, you sold yourself to the Jedi on behalf of Amidala." The shocked look on Clovis's face relayed all Tub'r needed to know. "You should consider your true allegiances, Clovis...to the Senate...to the Chancellor...to your own reputation and career."
Indeed, Rush had allowed the changeling bounty hunter to obtain his likeness under the supervision of the Jedi, taking advantage of his compromised state and knowing that Lott Dod was more apt to believe her escape realistic were she betrayed by someone whose career was being held hostage by the Trade Federation.
"The footage," Rush said nervously, "were the Jedi to be in possession of it, well I'm sure the Jedi would not jeopardize the Senate, seeing as they are apolitical and all."
"I do not want Amidala within twelve parsecs of that footage," Fafi screamed angrily, "and neither does the Chancellor. She is dangerous, and your obsession with that woman is foolishly deluded!"
"Get to the point, Tub'r," Clovis yelled back angrily. He would not be intimidated, not by this agent of the Chancellor. Hell, he would not take this tone even from the Chancellor himself, and especially not on his personal...predilections. "Let's not forget you sit in the same exact seat as myself, except you and Antilles and all your friends have much more to lose. You clearly want something from me, so out with it, and stop wasting my time..."
"I want to help you," Tub'r said, slightly chastened by the junior senator's suddenly aggressive tone, "and I want to help the Senate. Not wreck it like Amidala. You have access to her, and by that little stunt you pulled you now have the trust of the Jedi as well."
"You think I can outsmart both the Jedi and my colleagues to get this footage for you?"
"You have a better chance than any one of us, and you'll get the credits you need, trust me. This is a rare chance for us, for the Senate to regain control over its own destiny, so that we can save the Republic, Rush. As we speak, Dod is probably working on his own contacts to retrieve the footage as well. I don't need to tell you that if the Trade Federation regains it, we're back to square one, and the integrity of the Senate is once more in danger."
"The Jedi believe the sith are in league with the Trade Federation," Clovis suggested. Somehow he had a feeling that the Jedi would be able to prevent the footage from returning into Lott Dod's hands, and he wanted to emphasize to Fafi that even he did not truly understand how deep this plot went, but Fafi didn't seem to care.
"Sith schmith," he said contemptuously, spit flying across the room and barely missing Clovis's face. "Look Rush, I understand that despite everything, you still feel some misguided sense of loyalty for your friends. But don't you understand that they're only nice to you now while you have some use to them still? You betrayed the principles those entitled little brats seem to think they stand for, and they will distance themselves from you as soon as it's convenient for them...not that your career was going anywhere far wrapped up with the likes of Mothma and Amidala."
Tub'r stood up and paced the room, using his size to reassert his authority over Rush. "I'm offering you a different path. You know my reputation. Antilles is done. Once his term is over soon enough, there will be a new election and a new Chancellor, who will need a new inner council."
Rush felt the senator place a sweaty palm upon his back. Fafi indeed had a reputation as the kingmaker of the Senate, his decision to switch allegiances from Aks Moe to Bail Antilles having been the ultimate reason for the former's political demise and the latter's elevation to the Chancellorship eight years ago. The man was ambitious enough to be ruthless and shrewd enough to know that someone of his appearance and personality could never become Supreme Chancellor, so the next best thing was to wield the most power from behind the throne.
"Help the Chancellor and I save the Senate, Rush, and you will have done your duty to the Republic itself. And you will may well earn yourself a place on that inner council, at your young age, no less. Imagine the possibilities."
"I can see the advantages of your proposition," Rush said. As much as he loved Amidala, he did not become a politician out of charity. Plus, if he played his cards right, Padmé might never know the truth of his betrayal. But one nagging issue remained. "What of Amidala?"
"She knows too much already," Fafi said in a very serious tone. "The Chancellor insists that there are no loose ends."
It was not the first time Fafi acted beyond his Chancellor's mandate, but someone had to do make up for Bail Antilles's cowardice.
"I just obtained this footage at great risk from the Trade Federation, and now you want me to steal it back?"
The changeling girl seemed unimpressed by his proposition. Luckily for Rush, the Jedi and Amidala were all too busy making preparations for the departure from Cato Neimoidia, giving him a rare chance alone with their prisoner.
"There are those in significant positions of power who believe this footage is best off in the hands of the Senate."
"I'm confused," Zam said. Force, she hated politicians. Her original mission had been to kill them, not become impossibly entangled in their complicated plots. "Amidala is the Senate."
"Well, she's one Senator," Rush said evasively, "but certainly not the most powerful, and not the one with the most credits."
He played for her bits of his recording with Senator Fafi. Rush was no fool, and he knew better than to enter into a meeting with the crafty politician without any preparations of his own. He had counted on Fafi to underestimate him, and not suspect that he would even dare consider recording their entire conversation. Now, even if this attempt to retrieve the footage failed, he had his own leverage on some of the most powerful politicians in the Republic. Including the Supreme Chancellor himself.
"The Chancellor insists there are no loose ends," the recording finished, and Rush paused, panicked. He had not meant to play that part of the footage.
"I see the opportunity in this," Zam concluded. Greed was a powerful motivator, and it amazed her that, despite how awry this mission had gone, her own prospects seemed to inexorably rise.
"The last part," Rush said nervously, "if you can, do make sure that Amidala is unharmed."
"It sounds like the Senator very clearly has stated..."
"I will define the boundaries of your assignment," Rush interrupted, his temper unexpectedly flaring. Instantly, he regretted the outburst. "I apologize." He gulped. He was taking a risk now...truly the largest one of his life. But this was a rare opportunity for him as well, personally as well as professionally, if everything went right. Everything. "Skywalker must be killed. But spare Amidala. I understand that given the unpredictability of such a mission, this may not be possible, but if you do what you can to ensure that she comes out of this unharmed...I will provide you with an additional commission on this assignment."
He looked around the empty room nervously. There were whispers that young Skywalker possessed latent Jedi talents, and he hoped that extraordinary hearing skills weren't among them.
"How much more," Zam's eyes narrowed. She couldn't believe it! Even under Jedi custody, she was getting richer and richer with every passing moment!
"30% of the base fee."
"50%," she said firmly.
Rush sighed. Credits were not a problem for him. He had family money, he had ample campaign funds, and he had more than enough promised from Fafi for being the messenger on this most delicate task.
"Fine. We have a deal."
"Concentrate. Breathe. Feel peace. Feel yourself."
She had to put extra effort in maintaining their shields, meditating as they were on a Jedi transport. Padmé could sense Anakin's considerable efforts on the shielding as well, and though she trusted that he had learned enough from her in principle, delving into one's deepest fears was no time to risk a lapse.
"Peace," Anakin repeated, finding the only pathway to that concept: his wife. Their quarters on the Jedi ship were sparse and had little of the touches that made their own ship feel like home, the one they had kept since Padmé was still Queen. Cordé was piloting that ship now and, out of all of Padmé's current and former handmaidens, she was by far the only one Anakin trusted to take temporary care of his baby, a ship that he had made considerable modifications on.
Of course the deception was an open secret. Telling all their friends, including not just Bail and Mon and Kara but also Rush, of the ruse ensured that word would leak of Amidala being snuck away on a Jedi transport with not one, not two, but three Jedi protectors. What else could that mean but the fact that the holocron was also on board, and that the Jedi were taking every precaution with it?
"Peace," Anakin repeated again as he melded with his wife's presence. Only, as he felt the Force flow through her, rather than embrace it, he tried to envision how she would feel if she was being attacked by him...her life being choked by him. Slowly, and with Padmé's help, opening up her own memories of that terrible vision to her husband, he allowed himself to feel her, as if he was her. Surprisingly, it was not fear that he felt, even as he felt her pain and helplessness at his barbaric attack. It was...
...overwhelming sadness. Helpless yes, but sad. For who? For him, he realized. Sadness at what he was doing, at what he had become, at how he had been manipulated to this point, and at how she had been blind and helpless to prevent it. Even near death, selflessness dominated her entire being. Then he felt the fear...but it was not for her own life...but for her child. Their child! Anakin was horrified. Not only was this...this monstrous version of him attacking his own wife, but their child too? How could he?
Love. She loved him. Even through this all she still loved him. He felt acceptance and resignation, which contrasted with that intense beacon of love in her heart. She accepted that, despite her love of him, this was who he was now, this was what he was capable of.
Anakin forced himself to confront himself, to not just open up his feelings to hers, but to see himself now through her eyes. And in the dark reflection he saw of Darth Vader, a worse, out of control version of Darth Vader, a deranged demon in a field of fire, he felt himself...or what this demonic version of himself was feeling. There was anger, and there was rage yes...but pulsating like a dragon behind those superficial feelings were...
...again, overwhelming sadness. Helplessness, that things couldn't work the way he wanted. His rage was because he could not fix his sadness, his helplessness, his regret, his guilt, his hatred...of himself, and his own failures. Rage at a betrayal...Anakin did not know why he would feel this. The Force told him there was no betrayal, and he sensed none when he was one with Padmé's presence, and yet there it was overwhelming his own mind all the same. It was a lie then, it must have been for him to commit the ultimate atrocity. Someone, whether it was Sidious or the Jedi, he did not know, and he did not care. Anakin forcibly pulled himself away from the vision, and they were back, sitting on the floor of the Jedi ship. He was sweating, and he could tell that Padmé was too, this vision having been just as excruciating for her.
"We loved each other," she finally said after they sat in the floor in silence for some time, legs bent and holding each other's hands trying to process what they just felt. "But it was as if we were strangers."
"It must have been a secret," Anakin said. He wanted to forget everything he had just seen, but he knew that he must confront the depths of his fears, and understand them, so that such a thing could never come to be. "I felt longing, even when I saw you. And resentment that we could not broadcast our true feelings to the galaxy." He paused, thinking deeply, forcing himself to give words to describe his experience. "I felt insecure. So much insecurity, because...I did not trust you. Because for all I felt about you...I didn't even know you. Or else I never would have felt that false...betrayal. Because I know you would never even consider such a thing."
"What was the last thing you felt before you pulled out," Padmé asked after another long silence.
"The betrayal," Anakin said hesitatingly, confused.
"Not from you, but from me. I felt it, ebbing stronger than everything else. You must have too."
Anakin closed his eyes, pushing himself back into that nauseating moment. "Hope," he asked weakly. "I don't understand."
"Hope," Padmé said softly. Her thumb rubbed the back of his hands as her grip tightened. "I did not give up on you. I never would."
"I don't deserve that," Anakin said, lowering his head. After what he had done...what he could have done in another life...after feeling that so vividly Anakin did not think that he deserved to ever look into his wife's beautiful eyes again. "I didn't then. Even now, I don't..."
"Don't you dare finish that sentence, Anakin Skywalker!"
He felt Padmé forcibly lift his chin with the Force and he gave in to her until their eyes met again. Her voice had been desperate but her eyes were soft, sympathetic.
"I feel that...there is more to this. More we haven't seen yet. That day may have been the end of me, but it was not the end to our story."
"What do you mean? Have you seen more to this vision?" Left unsaid at the end of his question were the words without me?
"No. But I've always had a feeling. Sidious lied to me and twisted it, but there were things even he in his pride could not foresee. When you are ready, we will explore this together."
"I'm not sure I can do anymore," Anakin said weakly.
"You must," Padmé insisted. "I trust you completely, but...you felt it...that self-loathing you felt, that's because you did not trust yourself. And you don't now, sitting in front of me."
"My powers," Anakin started.
"...yes, they eclipse mine," Padmé said, finishing his sentence. "And my powers eclipse Sola's. Do I worry that I will kill her, kill someone I love, in a fit of anger? Do I hate myself already for something I've never done, that I'll never do?"
"No, but you don't know for sure with me."
"You don't know for sure," Padmé rebutted, "but I do. And I forgive you, even though it will never happen, if that's what it will take for you to start releasing this...hatred for yourself into the Force, then know that I forgive you. And that...even were it to come to pass, I would forgive you as well. That whoever we are, whatever we do, I'll forgive you. Because I love you. Because I know your heart."
"I don't deserve it."
Rather than reply, she stood, motioning for him to rise as well. As much as they needed to talk further through this, they were already pushing the patience and the suspicions of the Jedi. Again, Padmé swore for such awful timing, but the Force willed what it willed.
"Thanks Padmé," Anakin said for what was probably the billionth time, "for everything. I don't know how the world in that vision came to be, but...I feel like it was hell. Being a Jedi, not able to love, to love you, to love mother, hells, to love even Owen and Cliegg and Beru, would have been hell itself. And you rescued me from that hell. And I will not let you down. Not now. Not ever."
"I trust you won't," Padmé whispered, nodding softly. "You've done an admirable job with everything here on Cato Neimoidia. I couldn't have done this without you."
"Now you're the one deluding yourself," Anakin said, and Padmé was relieved to see his trademark grin return to his face. "You planned out every detail of this operation!"
"Not without your constant help and input," Padmé insisted, "and that doesn't even count how you allow me to use your powers to enhance my own foresight. Plus, it was your idea to make the Jedi believe Bail to be a Sith. That was fun and it worked to our benefit, and that part about luring Fafi out with the deathsticks was a particularly brilliant touch."
"Thanks," Anakin said shyly. It amazed him that even after a decade of training he still found himself feeling like a bashful child any time Padmé praised him.
"Now the endgame begins," Padmé said confidently. "We succeed, and all our dreams will be a reality."
They emerged together from their room and Padmé had to admire the quiet efficiency of the Jedi. Sifo-Dyas entered in the course on the ships navigation, Quinlan continued to dig into his research, and Obi-Wan sat stoically on a bench, meditating yet also preparing his senses for the fight they all awaited. Sensing their presences as they sat down across from him, he opened his eyes and greeted them silently.
"We are approaching our exit to hyperspace," Sifo-Dyas announced from the cockpit. "I would have expected something to happen in Cato Neimoidia airpace, so for sure if there's an attempt it will happen between our exit and the landing on Coruscant."
"Sounds like the Trade Federation is smartening up and literally trying to distance themselves from their shenanigans," Quinlan remarked.
"Remember," Obi-Wan couldn't help but admonish his two troublesome charges sternly, "follow our lead, and don't try anything rash."
"Our lives are in your hands," Padmé said obediently. "The sith are nothing to joke about."
"Does the boy ever talk," Quinlan asked Obi-Wan sarcastically. The presence of the Chosen One genuinely intrigued him, yet despite his power and potential the Skywalker kid seemed as meek as a womp-rat.
"By the Force, once he gets going you can't get him to stop, right Anakin?" Obi-Wan asked the boy good-naturedly, but seemed to barely elicit a response. Odd, he almost seemed depressed for some reason. Was it possible that the boy was scared? It was reasonable of course, to fear for one's life with the sith and the galaxy's best bounty hunters after you, but fear for his own life had not been part of his equation back on Ryloth. Which brought Obi-Wan to a more dreadful hypothesis...did the boy sense something? Could it be that they all were underestimating the threat to come, and without any training in the Force, the boy could not even comprehend the depth and truth of his instincts?
"I'm worried for my wife," Anakin said, and Obi-Wan could tell he was choosing his words carefully. "I do not like the idea of using her as bait."
"We must overcome our fears," Padmé said, placing her hand on Anakin's. Skillfully, she changed the subject. "How is Padawan Offee? I heard she is very young, close to Anakin's age."
"Knight Tachi is escorting Barriss back to the Temple," Obi-Wan said. He was about to ask rudely if Barriss Offee, Anakin's age indeed, was old enough to marry a much older Senator, but thankfully bit his tongue. The fate of Luminara's Padawan weighed heavily on his mind too. The young girl was talented but...sensitive, and Obi-Wan sensed that her future, her potential as a Jedi was very much in motion, as Master Yoda would say.
"This must be very tough on her," Padmé said sympathetically. "Losing a master must be terrible...especially at that age."
"There is no death, there is the Force," Obi-Wan said as passively as possible.
"Sure the Jedi must allow some kind of grieving," Padmé pressed. "I can't imagine they would leaving you hanging in the wind after the Battle of Naboo."
"We all deal with loss in our own way," Obi-Wan said, and Padmé could tell she had touched a nerve despite his lack of outward emotion, "but at the end we all release our emotions into the Force the same."
"I understand," Padmé said, and part of her did understand the need to not obsess over the past. But sheer repression, rather than the counseling she was currently undergoing Anakin through, was not the answer.
"She was funny though," Obi-Wan reminisced with a smile on his face. "Not a lot of people knew that about her, saw her sense of humor. At the end of those particularly tedious briefings...she would always mutter under her breath, 'Unduli noted'. Somehow, the masters managed to never hear."
"Let's hope that she will be the last victim of the sith," Padmé said with a straight face. She turned to Obi-Wan and asked with what appeared to be genuine inquisitiveness. "Do you really believe we'll be able to draw him out?"
"Probably not," Quinlan conceded as they felt the ship move into Coruscanti airspace. "More likely they'll send another assassin. Hopefully someone higher up the chain. It's a long shot at best, seeing how skilled the Sith have become at subterfuge, but maybe we'll get some kind of lead out of this."
An explosion suddenly rocked the ship, and as the outline of a small circle began to weld itself from the ceiling, all three Jedi prepared themselves for the attack.
Zam Wessell observed the conversations of the Jedi and the Senator in silence, knowing that there was little she could do on her own so outnumbered against superior opponents. Instead, she gambled the entire success of her new mission on the premise of knowing who the Trade Federation and this mysterious sith they kept mentioning would send to retrieve the holocron. She closed her eyes when a small object dropped into the ship, a flash detonator that somehow caught even the Jedi off guard. As they stumbled, temporarily blind, Zam opened her eyes and watched as the small blue figure of Cad Bane dropped into the ship. His movements as fast as any Jedi she had seen, he jumped and waved a gadget behind her hands, instantly unclipping her binders. As Zam wondered what black market item was capable of such a feat, she caught a blaster Cad tossed at her.
"Last time I'm rescuing you," he said in his deep, nasally voice, and immediately turned his attention to the Senator, who along with her husband had apparently been stunned enough to fall onto the floor. He grabbed her arm roughly and pointed his blaster at her head, then turning his attention to the Jedi, who were slowly regaining their senses. "Not one move, Jedi, or Amidala dies."
"You won't get away with this," Obi-Wan said as he ignited his lightsaber. "You are by far outnumbered."
"But you don't understand," Cad said mockingly. "I have the hostage. You don't. You care whether she lives or dies...I don't."
He grabbed her and, his blaster point never leaving Padmé's head, dragged her to the opening where his pod had latched onto their ship.
"No," Anakin screamed. He reached for his blaster to point at the bounty hunter, but hesitated to move any further with his wife's life seemingly on the line.
"Who has the holocron," Cad asked threateningly.
"Let the Senator go," Sifo-Dyas threatened after a long silence, "or we will track you down to the ends of the galaxy."
The blue skinned bounty hunter smirked. "Your silence speaks volumes." He gave the Senator's hip a small squeeze. "Seems I already have possession of it." He gestured towards Zam. "Come, let's go."
To his surprise, the changeling bounty hunter pointed her blaster at him. "Hand over the Senator, Cad."
The bounty hunter looked at his colleague in shock, realization dawning. "You've been hired by someone else, I see. I can't believe the Jedi would have converted you in such a short time."
"And the controls for your pod," Zam said as Cad shoved Padmé roughly towards her. As she reached for the Senator, Cad fired at her, the shot barely missing Padmé to strike Zam squarely in the chest. As she fell, Obi-Wan, the closest one to Bane, rushed over with his lightsaber, but before he could do so, the Duros bounty hunter screamed in pain and fell to the ground. Obi-Wan looked back at Anakin, who had taken the opportunity and with one shot hit Cad fatally in the head.
"Oh sith," Anakin said in realization. "You guys needed him alive. Sorry."
"Yes, that would have been convenient," Obi-Wan groaned. "Now this entire sting was a waste."
"Maybe the body will yield some clues," Padmé opined, straightening the wrinkles on her dress.
"None of that will matter," Sifo-Dyas yelled from the cockpit. He emerged with a strained and painful look on his face. "That initial explosion took out our engines. I don't think they intended any of us to survive."
"Maybe I can still land this thing," Anakin said. He rushed to the cockpit, examining the ship's nav systems. "Oh kriff, everything's fried. He must have taken out our circuits and nav coms as well."
Obi-Wan knelt down by the body of the dead Duros, patting it down. From one side pocket, he retrieved a small pad. "The controls for his escape pod. We can get away in that."
Quinlan walked over to examine the pod attached to the top of their ship. "It's small. Designed to fit maybe two. Three at the most."
Obi-Wan looked at Padmé and Anakin, handing the latter the controls. "The two of you must go."
"No," Padmé said, her face reflecting desperate concern. "We must all escape together. I will not allow more Jedi to die on my account."
Obi-Wan continued to study the pod. "I'm afraid that physically isn't possible." He looked sternly, maybe even sadly, at Padmé. "Remember what you said to us on Ryloth. We must do our duty, and today, it's our duty to protect the two of you. We are grateful you agreed to undertake this apparently ill begotten operation on our behalf in the first place. Your efforts for the Jedi will not be forgotten by the Order."
"You have already sacrificed too much, Senator," Sifo-Dyas stepped in, putting his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Now it's our turn. We were born for this.'
"Wait," Anakin interrupted, getting everyone's attention. "Cordé!" He pulled out a comm, and the holo of Padmé's handmaiden appeared. "Cordé, no time! We've been attacked, and our ship has been disabled. If I send you our location, can you dock underneath our ship?"
"I can try, Captain," the handmaiden said nervously. This was a situation she clearly did not expect.
"There is no try," Obi-Wan muttered under his breath as Anakin beamed a look of relief while he read out their coordinates.
"Perfect," he said afterwards. He looked at his wife. "Padmé, you take one of the Jedi and get into the pod. I'll try to keep this thing together until Cordé arrives."
"Are you sure, Ani?"
"Angel, you won't get rid of me that easily."
His words were confident, but Obi-Wan sensed unease coming from the young man. Husband and wife embraced each other fiercely.
"Dinner at Dex's tonight," Padmé asked meekly, radiating fear.
"Only if you're paying," Anakin replied with a smirk. He ran into the cockpit, where he could see they were careening towards the surface of the city-planet at a reckless speed.
"Master Sifo-Dyas, you can accompany me," Padmé said, command returning to her voice. Obi-Wan wondered initially at her choice, then realized quickly her logic. Sifo-Dyas was much older, and he and Quinlan had a better chance with the difficult extraction.
The Senator and the Jedi ran towards the hole, where Sifo-Dyas pulled up a grapple hook to propel them into Cad Bane's pod. Once secure, the elder Jedi looked down at the two Jedi still below.
"May the Force be with you," he said with apprehension.
"You've got this Ani."
The pod sealed itself and took off. Thankfully they had entered the planet's atmosphere, and while the objects in the ship flew out of the now gaping hole in the ceiling, they did not have to worry about the vacuum of space.
The commotion awakened the changeling, and as Zam's body was pulled out into the open, Obi-Wan, one hand gripping tightly the banister of the shipped, reached out to the bounty hunter to prevent her from flying into the air.
"She's still alive," Obi-Wan yelled in shock at Quinlan, who was also holding on to dear life.
"Not sure for how much longer," Quinlan said. He could feel her life force ebbing fast.
"Rush...Clovis," Zam forced herself to say the words.
"What about Senator Clovis?" The changelings choice of conversation puzzled Obi-Wan.
Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and Obi-Wan held on to the woman despite the fact that she had passed into the Force. He looked suspiciously at Quinlan.
"The Senate made their move as well," Quinlan said, realizing the true extent of the corruption. "Of course they would retaliate against the Federation, but I can't believe they would murder one of their own!"
"It must go far beyond Clovis," Obi-Wan surmised. "He must have just been the messenger."
"Cordé's here," Anakin yelled from the cockpit. "Brace yourselves."
With the abrupt warning, Anakin flipped the ship upside down, Obi-Wan and Quinlan gripping whatever they can as their bodies flipped horizonally in the ship. Using the Force to buffer their fall, they reoriented themselves and stared down into the hole in what served now as the floor of the ship, where they could see Amidala's Nubian craft below. Anakin ran to join them, and they watched as Cordé with surprisingly precise skill adjusted the speed of her craft so that its rear was aligned as close as she could make it to their opening. The loading dock on the Nubian opened up, and Obi-Wan motioned towards Quinlan. "You first! We'll need someone to catch us."
Quinlan looked over at Obi-Wan. "You're bringing her?"
"She deserves the dignity of a burial."
"I'll grab the other one," Anakin yelled, moving towards the body of Cad Bane. "You still need the evidence, right?"
"Not at the price of your life, kid." Quinlan moved and, taking a deep breath, jumped and landed neatly into the loading dock of the Nubian.
"I can handle it." Hoisting the body of Bane over his shoulder, Anakin ran towards the opening and jumped. Though he would have managed easily, he allowed his body to flail through the air until he felt Quinlan using the Force, pulling and guiding him into his own ship. He landed roughly on the ground and they all looked at Obi-Wan, who flew through the air clutching the dead changeling, plunging into the Nubian.
"Another happy landing," he said to his two companions still on the floor, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Senator Amidala is dead."
Bail Antilles felt relief as he said the words. He had intentionally left his instructions vague. The prospect of ordering the death of a Senator scared him, but the actions the unpredictable Senator could inflicted armed with that deadly knowledge scared him just as much. His priority was securing the holocron, figuring that in the ensuing chaos, the fate of the woman would be left up to just that. Fate. And now it seemed that fate was on the side of peace and stability. Thank the Gods.
The Senate chambers predictably erupted in a frenzy of screams, arguments, accusations and recriminations. Bail Antilles looked passively at the scene below, but his mind was on his retirement. That could not come soon enough. He supposed what when he first campaigned for the position, he was almost as naive as Amidala. But radical change takes a completely different picture from the position of leadership. Bail had once figured that Amidala may learn that sooner or later, ambitious as she clearly was, but it was probably a good thing that would never happen.
Deep in his musings, he did not notice a lone pod emerging onto the Senate floor until he felt as everyone else did a violent hush sweep through the chambers. It was Amidala, accompanied by her husband as well as what looked to be three Jedi. They certainly looked worse for wear, but all were clearly alive. Stunned, he made no move to give the Senator the floor, but she spoke anyway.
"Senators," Amidala announced, burn marks still evident on her dress along with a small bruise on her forehead. Bail had to admit she cut a compelling image and wondered at how carefully crafted it was, even considering the now failed assassination. "The attempt on my life was made for the information I possessed. Information that is now securely in the hands of the Jedi."
Many members of the Senate, clearly the ones who had transgressed, muttered amongst themselves anxiously.
"Those who wanted me dead include those who instigated the business that transpired on Cato Neimoidia." She paused, purposely awaiting the reaction and milking the anxiety and anticipation of her audience. "And those who are most threatened by it."
Feeling the fear explode within the Chambers, Padmé held back her smile. "The Jedi have informed us that the very Senator who ordered my death was a dear colleague of mine. One whom days ago I would have trusted with my life."
All the Senators watched nervously as Amidala slowly pivoted her body and moved to point out one individual from the crowded chambers. "Rush Clovis."
She saw Mon and Bail's eyes open in shock as the Senator from Scipio seemed to almost reel back in horror. Immediately, he rushed to fumble something out of his pocket. Activating the holo, Clovis spoke.
"Senators of the Republic, I regret to admit I had a role in this atrocity. But believe me when I say that I was a pawn, that I was forced into it, given no choice by the most senior members of this Senate."
Immediately the recording between him and Fafi played. Rush had taken steps to edit the recording selectively, leaving in all of Fafi's threats and omitting the parts where the senior Senator had tempted him with the prospect of higher power.
"The Chancellor insists there are no loose ends."
With those last words, Bail Antilles knew that not only was his career over, so was any chance he had at salvaging his reputation. They would never be able to prove his part in the matter, but once spoken into the open, those suspicions would forever taint his legacy. Bravely, he stood, realizing that the every member of the Senate, that the entire Republic was watching his next words. It was fitting, he thought, reflecting upon his entire life and career, that his last public utterances would be so...pathetic.
"I love the Republic," Bail said. "I have always loved the Republic, and I have dedicated my life and my career to the Republic. Every action I have undertaken, it was to protect the Republic and Senate which I love. I realize now that...in my zeal to protect the Republic, some instructions of mine may have been misinterpreted by those I serve with. The thought that I would order the death of one of our own sickens me to the core, and I will defend my innocence of that until my dying day."
He looked down, and even the far galleries could register the sad resignation in his eyes. "But I know that my name is tainted. Politically, I have lost my capital. Perhaps this began long ago, but it is evident that there is no avenue whereupon I may continue to serve productively this Republic. Therefore, I submit my resignation from the position of Chancellor, effective immediately."
He sat. Fearing the gazes from those whom he led for almost a decade, he stared at the floor in his pod, feeling nothing but dejection. If he were lucky, he could avoid sitting in a jail cell. There would be no evidence. Even if Fafi had recorded their conversation, he had said nothing that would implicate himself. Bail Antilles pondered his future. A retirement in seclusion was neither a best nor worst case scenario. It would just be...reality, banal as it always is.
"The prospect that my fellow Senators would look to assassinate one of our own is sickening beyond belief," Bail Organa exclaimed, his voice and body shaking from the revelations. "The fact that these plots would come from those I've trusted or looked up to is a testament to my lack of judgment, that is true. But it is also a sign of how far this Senate, this great institution, has fallen. These are dark times, my friends. This Senate, this chamber, needs a cleansing. The culture and integrity of our government, of our very Republic, must be restored. And there is no one I trust to do so than the one Senator who has done more to drive this change than any other in her short tenure here, so much so that she would threaten our most esteemed members so much to compel them to look to do her harm. I hereby nominate Senator Amidala of Naboo and the Chommell Sector to the position of Supreme Chancellor..."
His career was over, Tub'r Fafi thought. Damn that Antilles, he somehow still managed to keep above the mud while Senators like Fafi stuck their necks out for him to do his dirty work. Necks that would soon be on the chopping block. Fafi rose to speak, interrupting that stiff Organa before he had a chance to finish his sanctimonious nomination.
"Senators, the allegations against me by Senator Clovis are clearly a falsehood, words and sentences taken out of context and spliced by the most nefarious slicers in an attempt to undermine the Chancellorship of Bail Antilles, a man I faithfully and proudly served for the last eight years."
There would be a probe, Fafi knew. Amidala would make sure of that. Despite her aura of innocence, Fafi did not doubt that the woman possessed an infinite thirst for revenge and appetite for havoc. She would persecute him to the ends of the galaxy. She may go after Antilles too, but there would be little for her to find besides the infidelity. Him, on the other hand, Fafi knew full well that a full probe would not only reveal his role in the assassination attempt, but all of his secret accounts and transactions would soon be laid bare for the Republic and the holonets to savor over, those damned scavengers...
"I will defend my reputation and my good name for the rest of my tenure and my life, and I am confident that once all the facts come out, the innocence of myself and Chancellor Antilles will be laid bare for the Republic to see."
He had no chance of avoiding a jail cell. He could flee, of course, disappear into the Outer Rims like Orn Free Taa, another good man that Amidala had hounded into oblivion. But Tub'r Fafi enjoyed the good life too much, and had no wish to waste away on some backwater planet surrounded by fugitives, scoundrels and other nobodies. He could commit suicide, but Tub'r Fafi enjoyed life too much, period, and such an impulsive act would only give credence to those who would sully his good name.
As he spoke, his mind raced at the possibilities. Maybe he could arrange for an assassination attempt of his own. If he died, then at least he die, in some minds, a martyr. If he lived, he could maybe manipulate the situation out of the subsequent pity. All of this seemed like a longshot, but as he considered all the long shot possibilities, an idea dawned in his head. It was a long shot yes, but was it really? While he was currently first in the firing line, Tub'r Fafi was by far the only Senator threatened by what Amidala knew. That was something he could use, if he could create a situation where it would be useful. Yes...Fafi realized. It was a long shot, but it was also his best chance. And were it to work, he himself would succeed beyond his wildest dreams.
"I give little thought for myself," he started, ad-libbing as he went. "What I care about is the future of the Republic, and how we can secure it ably, with a stable guiding hand. Despite these accusations, I will continue to do everything I can for the good of the Republic and the Senate. I realize that there is little I can do while my reputation is being question..."
Kriff it, he thought. Everyone thought him a base, corrupt mess of a politician anyway. Why bother with the pretense? His reputation was ruined, so why not use it to save his own skin?
"...I believe there is only one person who can pilot our ship of the Republic in the stormy days ahead. One that we can trust to act with boldness, but not rashness. With bravery, but not recklessness. With wisdom, but not arrogance. I nominate for the position of Supreme Chancellor...Nute Gunray!"
The stunning nomination of Nute Gunray by Senate Fafi left the entire Senate once again silent and dumbfounded, as member after member, both those who had been blackmailed and those who had resisted temptation, began to realize the implications of the veteran Senator's move. With the Jedi in possession of the actual footage, Gunray was the only other Senator privy to what had truly gone on in Cato Neimodia, his knowledge equally as dangerous as Amidala's. And notwithstanding his enmity against Amidala, whose career if not life were surely over were he to take the Chancellorship, Gunray would share a common interest with those Senators under the blanket of said blackmail, to keep the information a secret so that he may continue to hold that leverage against them. To vote for Gunray was to surrender their fate solely to the clearly villainous Neimoidian, but it also meant they would keep their reputations and their jobs.
"...I assume most of you are not familiar with the politics of my homeworld," Fafi continued, "but there is a saying in one of our local dialects, to be fufi for something means you love and desire that object obsessively. My own campaign slogan that first election was, if I may humbly state from my fond recollections, 'I'm fufi for Fafi'. Today, I boldly and proudly state the words, I'm fufi for Nute Gunray!"
The applause for his speech was light, and Fafi knew full well that there was little enthusiasm from anyone for the prospect of a Chancellor Gunray. He could only hope that his colleagues, and he hoped there were enough of them, would place their own survival above their convictions and their distaste for the former Viceroy. Sighing from his exertions, he sat back into his seat as a stunned Nute Gunray took the floor.
"Senator Fafi," he started, and it was easy to tell that the equally surprised Neimoidian was having a difficult time not tripping over his words, "thank you for the kind compliments, though I clearly deserve them all. Republic! I am Nute Gunray! You know me as a brilliant and glorious Viceroy of the the brilliant and glorious Trade Federation! If elected, I promise to accelerate the great glory and success of the Trade Feder...I mean the Republic! We will all rise together, but I will rise even higher than together, because I am the great Nute Gunray, and I will bestow my greatness into all of you so you will feel my glory! Glory to the Trade Federation, glory to Gunray...and glory to the Republic!"
Looking even more horrified than before, Bail Organa pressed forward.
"May I remind Senators that Amidala has yet to speak. It is just as well, for now we all have a clear understanding of what your vote will mean in this election. Senators, do you see where we stand now? Never has more been at stake! This election has clearly been whittled down to...I mean, for Force's sake, good against evil. Senator Amidala, I urge you to speak for those who wish to see justice, honor, and integrity maintain its weakening foothold in the galaxy!"
Despite the presence of Jedi and the boy behind her, Amidala never stood out more, standing at the head of her pod, piloting it forward in silence to the center of the chamber. Her expression was grave, even a bit fearful, as if she was finally understanding the gravity of the position that she had just been placed in, and how precarious this election was to her own life, much less her career. She opened her mouth to begin speaking several times, then stopped, as if lost for words, coughing once as she seemingly gathered her thoughts.
"There will be a reckoning," she finally began, "this I promise you. As my colleague Senator Organa said most eloquently, we have fallen far as a Senate, as an institution, as the guiding light for our thousand year old Republic. Despite what many of you believe, I do not claim to be without flaw, without sin. I am not perfect. I have failed before, and surely I will fail again, but what we must understand today is that the Republic is too vital to let fail, for if it fails, so goes the galaxy, with trillions of innocent sentients bearing the brunt of our failure. I stand before you today, and I beg you for your vote...because I cannot do this alone. I will need help, all of your help, every single one of you, if we are to rescue the ship of state."
She turned to look into the eyes of many of the Senators known to have fallen to temptation on Cato Neimoidia, from Senator Kharrus, to even Fafi and Rush Clovis, her soft brown eyes reflecting not anger, but sadness and even...forgiveness?
"That business on Cato Neimoidia was unfortunate, but we must remember the malice with which the Trade Federation wished to inflict upon the Senate. They wish to blemish us and bring us down to their level. They must not succeed. I do not wish to dwell on the past, but for us to move forward, we cannot elevate the very specter which haunts that past and wishes to keep us hostage there."
"Whore!" The shout came from the former Viceroy, who looked befuddled at the indignation being thrown his way for his outburst. "What," he asked, confused. "We all know it's true. I'm just the only one brave enoughs to speak it."
Ignoring the unprecedented interruption and breach of protocol, Padmé continued. "My fellow Senators, know that I do not fear death, that I would gladly give my life for the Republic which I love. I am an imperfect vessel, but circumstance has placed me in a position where I have no choice but to move forward and give everything I have to restore the grandeur of the Republic that we hold sacred. There will be a reckoning, I assure you. Together, and only together, by renewing each and every one of us our vows to our citizens and constituents and, and to swear to hold them above our own lives and careers, to help those who cannot help themselves, can we heal the scars we have inflicted by our own actions and crimes. Only then can we purge ourselves of our past and our sins."
She let out a deep breath. It was the speech of her life, and one she knew would mark her spot in posterity.
"What's the tally look like now?"
The youngest candidate for Supreme Chancellor in recent memory paced her office nervously as her closest allies worked the coms for her and Anakin crunched the numbers.
"Based on my count, we have verbal commitments from close to 48% of Senate members," Bail Organa said, studying his datapad.
"Too close for comfort," Padmé snapped, surprising her colleagues with her impatience. "48% would deliver the galaxy into the hands of Nute Gunray."
"And with the Anonymity Act, we have no guarantees at all on whether our votes will come through in the end," Kara added. Somehow, Fafi had been able to ram through a motion that stated, for the first time in the history of the Republic, that the votes of the Senators will remain a secret.
"The Anonymity Act is unprecedented," Garm Bel Iblis added. He had skipped out on the conference on Cato Neimoidia, and for good reason in hindsight, but now that events were nearing the climax he was as determined as all of them to propel Amidala to victory. "The very fact that it passed does not bode well for us."
"Then we have to up our efforts a hundredfold," Mon said. "Though Fafi is powerful as well. Many Senators leaning towards us may not wish to incur his wrath as a precaution, in case he's able to still find a way to retain his influence."
"Senator Clovis was present at the blackmail meeting," Anakin suggested from a corner. "If he truly repents of his actions, he could provide us with a count of how many Senators were present there. That may give us a reasonable picture of how many Senators Gunray has in his pocket."
"No," Mon objected firmly from her seat, and they were all surprised to hear her raise her voice. "We cannot stoop to that level. Senator Clovis is dead to us. We will win the election without his help."
It appeared to Padmé that Mon was especially affected by Clovis's betrayal. They had been close, not in any romantic way, as the Senator from Scipio had clearly been enamored by herself from the very beginning, but Mon had acted as both a mentor and confidante for Rush, even though the latter was many years older than the Chandrilian. Clearly Mon was seriously questioning now how much of their work relationship had been genuine. Now she looked to Padmé, appealing to her with her eyes to come down on her side.
"Let's avoid Clovis for now," Padmé said, tentatively agreeing. "I hope we can win this election without his help, but if it does comes down to him, he owes us one, big time."
"You wouldn't seriously consider exchanging him a pardon," Mon asked horrified.
"No," Padmé stated clearly. "Justice must be meted out regardless of position or connection. If we ask for his help, it would be on the basis of his guilty conscience alone."
"Surely you're not that concerned," Bail asked. "This is Nute Gunray. As base as some of our colleagues are...do you really think they would place the entire galaxy into the hands of Nute Gunray?"
"I wouldn't doubt it," Mon said glumly. "Cato Neimoidia and everything that's happened since illustrates clearly how low our democracy has plummeted. I have a feeling that we few find ourselves on a sinking ship, doomed to fail."
"Not if I can help it," Padmé said, resolve clear in her eyes. "I'm comming Kharrus again. He was clearly compromised, but I believe he has some semblance of principle. Every vote counts, and we must work ever harder to earn every vote."
"Believe, you do, that Senator Organa may be a Sith Lord?"
"No," Obi-Wan answered, standing before the Council yet again. For the amount of times he was appearing before them lately, he figured that they might as well make him a member. "I sensed only truth in Senator Organa's denials, and his abject horror at his vision. He may have been manipulated by the Sith with his dreams, but the explanation checks out, he has a corroborating witness regarding his dream, and we cannot rely on the word of Master Sifo-Dyas alone."
"Master Sifo-Dyas is still convinced of the theory," Dooku interjected. "We cannot totally dismiss it either."
"He agreed to a midi-chlorian test upon his return to Coruscant and then reneged on it," Ki-Adi-Mundi protested.
"For good reason," Obi-Wan rebutted. He missed the presence of Quinlan Vos, who had been sent to the Outer Rim on another undercover mission, beside him before the council. As for Sifo-Dyas, he had all but disappeared again, taking the Senate blackmail footage with him to what he claimed was a secure hiding spot. It was for the better in many ways, Obi-Wan believed, though the enigmatic master did promise to return in time to observe the election. "Senator Organa initially agreed to our demands under duress. After further consideration, he has realized that it would set a dangerous precedent to submit as a Senator under the authority of the Jedi Order with the barest of circumstantial evidence, and I agree with him. I trust him. There is no malice to the man, or even the vaguest sense of deception. The only Order anywhere close to being associated with Bail Organa is an order of non-alcoholic spritzer tonic."
"He may still well be under the influence of the Sith," Dooku pointed out, "especially considering his visions."
"So we are back at square one," Mace Windu opined. "No hint of who the Sith Lord is."
"We can put more pressure on the Trade Federation," Ki-Adi-Mundi said. "They are clearly in league with him."
"And we will," Mace Windu agreed. The few pieces of evidence they had retrieved from Cad Bane's body all traced back to Cato Neimoidia. It seemed clear that the Sith were satisfied with using the Trade Federation as their pawns. "Of course, this will become increasingly difficult if Nute Gunray actually wins the chancellorship."
"With all due respect Master," Obi-Wan objected, "there's no way that could happen, could it? His entire nomination is a farce, a last minute attempt by the most corrupt factions of the Senate to cover their as...their behinds."
"Hmm," Yoda grumbled. "Clouded the Force is, by the Dark Side. Unable to sense the future, the Council is. Likely the sith are very invested with the outcome of this election, it is."
"You know, if you think about it..." He stopped.
"What were you about to say, Knight Kenobi?" Dooku noticed the young man's hesitation, sensing the import behind his self control.
"Oh it's nothing," Obi-Wan said, trying to brush off the Council, and knowing that it was too late to do so. "Just a fleeting thought," he nevertheless tried to appease them.
"Decide," Yoda ordered from his seat," the Council will, the significance of your thoughts, hmm? Trust our wisdom over yours, you will?"
"Of course," Obi-Wan agreed. For all his familiarity with the Council in recent days, he still felt a bit nervous, especially when voicing such a significant accusation as he was about to do so now. "If you think about it," he started, "if you really think about it...with everything that's happened on Cato Neimoidia recently...who now stands to have the most to gain?"
"Well," Mace realized while deep in thought, "I suppose that would be Senator Amidala, if she indeed wins the Chancellorship."
"And she will win, there's no question of that," Obi-Wan stated confidently. "It's an improbable chain of events, and it seems impossible to believe that...let's say hypothetically...very hypothetically...that Senator Amidala is a Sith Lor...Lady...I still find it hard to comprehend how she could have controlled events to such a minute detail, and fooled so many experienced Jedi knights and masters, as to place herself in the position she is now. But if the hypothesis is true..."
"The Chosen One," Ki-Adi-Mundi gasped. "He would have been in her clutches this entire time."
"And she would have acted to lure him away from the Jedi from the very beginning," Obi-Wan said, almost thinking out loud. What worried him was that what had originated as an unlikely thought experiment now seemed to make more and more sense, to the point where he could almost believe his own theory. "I had always wondered about Anakin's abrupt turnabout after Qui-Gon's death. I figured it was...a rejection of myself. That he would only have wanted to learn from Master Qui-Gon. But...if there was an outside influence from Amidala..."
"She seduces and secures the loyalties of the Chosen One," Ki-Adi-Mundi continued, "and now she sets up the easiest election opponent of all time..."
"...and becomes poised to take control of the Galaxy," Dooku finished his fellow master's sentence, "with the Jedi at her fingertips. But to what end? To free more slaves? To end more corruption?"
"It's just a theory," Obi-Wan said, disturbed at how seriously the masters were now taking this idea. "Her work in the Senate has indeed been admirable, if troublesome for certain members of our Order. I mean, it seems improbable, for her to have manipulated everything from Clovis's betrayal, to Fafi's rather irrational actions, to Chancellor Antilles's directives, her own assassination attempts...for Force's sake, it would mean she plotted the murder of Luminara, and how could she know that Sifo-Dyas just happened to be lurking nearby..." He stopped, realizing that he was ranting, but the more he elucidated the theory, and pointed out all its improbability, the more he found himself unable to shake the feeling that all these coincidences were indeed no coincidence at all...that there was more truth to his stray thought that he would like to believe. And that thought was terrifying.
"No point, there is, to speculate now," Yoda said, sensing the young knight's unease. "The election, we must observe first. But were Amidala to win the Chancellorship, much closer scrutiny of her actions, we must take. Afford to overlook any possibility, we cannot."
"The Kingmaker strikes again! Once again, Senator Tub'r Fafi has crowned another Supreme Chancellor, this time the newly minted Senator from the Trade Federation Nute Gunray, who won his historic election against Senator Padmé Amidala by one...single...vote! This historically contentious election, set against the backdrop of severe allegations of blackmail and wrongdoing involving the highest levels of the Senate, including several assassination attempts on Senator Amidala and her colleagues, one of which even implicating the former Chancellor of the Republic Bail Antilles, will certainly do little to mitigate the tensions rife across the galaxy from the Senate to the Outer Rim. For his part, as we switch to the footage of the new Chancellor's acceptance speech, it appears that there will be no attempts at reconciliation from the former Viceroy.
'Glory to the Trade Federation and death to Amidala...I mean, glory to the...uh...Republic and death to...everything bad, everything I dislike! I am the future, and the future is me! Hail Gunray! Hail Gunray! Hail Gunray! Gunray is infinity! Gunray the Great to eternity!"
They all stared at the holo in disgust as the coarse Neimoidian delivered his address on the Senate veranda, hand held in a fist high above his head in a grandiose and grotesque gesture. Pacing the Senator's office, Obi-Wan shook his head in disgust.
"I can't believe it. They really did it. They really put Nute Gunray in charge of the entire...kriffing Republic. And he's already acting like he's some kind of petty tinpot...emperor, rather than one who is already the least popular Supreme Chancellor in several millennia."
"One vote," Padmé muttered quietly. Of course, with the margin of victory at one vote, every single vote for Gunray would have represented the pivotal vote. But Padmé knew out of all the votes that went for Gunray, it was likely Clovis's that represented the true swing vote. And it was ironic, Padmé mused, that Clovis voted his way not out of any animus for her or love for Gunray, but because of the man's ill conceived notion of love for herself. The poor deluded Senator still held on to the hope that he had a chance with his Amidala, if only she would never see the footage of himself screaming her name in ecstasy with the lookalike prostitute. Of course, the notion that he would never have the chance once Gunray ordered her death seemed not to have crossed his mind, but the logic was not strong with Clovis at this point, as he had been acting on impulse from the moment of that fateful first night on Cato Neimoidia.
"Chancellor Nute Gunray," Obi-Wan repeated in disbelief, but even as he bemoaned the future of the Republic, part of him felt relief. He had come to, maybe not admire, but certainly appreciate the courage and conviction of the young senator, and he was glad that his wild idea that she was some sort of master Sith who would have lied, cheated, manipulated, and murdered her way to the Chancellorship was clearly misguided. But still, he wondered as he observed the woman, who seemed remarkably unaffected by her loss and all its implications to come. Amidala's face was made of stone, and somehow Obi-Wan thought it was more than just a politician's mask.
"They had a choice," the would be Supreme Chancellor said quietly, almost as if in a trance. Again, it seemed odd to Obi-Wan that she did not seem all that upset about this catastrophic loss. "I gave them a choice. They chose avarice, and corruption, but nevertheless the choice has been made."
"You gave them the choice," Obi-Wan asked, puzzled completely by the Senator's words and demeanor. Perhaps she was indeed taking this loss hard, worse than he would have imagined. Maybe her mind was still unable to comprehend the events, and that was why she was just repeating nonsense to herself. He looked to Anakin, sitting beside her, hoping for a clue, but saw only that he betrayed no emotion at all as well. That was odd...Obi-Wan would have expected the emotionally turbulent young man he saw on Ryloth to be more upset than his wife, even, Force forbid, filled with rage. But it wasn't just now, for it seemed that throughout the entire course of events on Cato Neimoidia, Anakin Skywalker had become a stoic.
"I always knew politicians couldn't be trusted," the young man said simply, noticing Obi-Wan's gaze upon him.
Padmé ignored Obi-Wan's words, continuing her soft spoken tirade, but this time, as she looked up deliberately at Obi-Wan, her motions eerily resembling more a droid than a human. "I meant what I said in the Senate chambers, Master Kenobi. There will be a reckoning, a separation of good and evil, of light and dark, in this galaxy. It has been made abundantly clear now where the Senate stands. Soon, Masters Jedi, we will all have to take a stand."
Her words scared him, and despite the attempts at death now sure to come on the young Senator, Obi-Wan had a nervous feeling that Padmé Amidala was more dangerous in loss than in victory. Sifo-Dyas, sitting besides the young couple and who perhaps seemed the most dismayed by the election result.
"The Darkness is winning. But we will not surrender without a fight. The galaxy must be cleansed."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I'm sorry for what's happened, and what's to come," he said, bowing politely. "I regret that I must take my leave and report to the Council."
He needed time to think, and so many things troubled him now, including the psychological soundness every person he currently shared the Senator's office with, as well as the new regime of the Republic. A regime, he thought, remembering Quinlan's words on Cato Neimoidia, that the entire Jedi Order now answered to. He had the express order to observe the election results beside Amidala and note her reaction which, while odd, was moot in light of the new circumstances. So she was likely exonerated as a sith, a crazy notion anyway, but still, there was something her words and her demeanor that unnerved him to the core.
Sifo-Dyas moved to follow him, but stopped. Waiting until the younger Jedi was out of earshot, he walked back to the Senator, still sitting motionless on her couch watching the holo news coverage. He bowed, and leaned down to whisper in her ear, his voice low enough so that only Padmé and her husband could hear.
"Kamino," he said.
Padmé looked up at him, her brown eyes expressing confusion. "What does that mean, Master Jedi?"
"Look into it," he said, looking back at the door to make sure Obi-Wan had not returned. "It means your salvation, and the galaxy's."
Lott Dod shivered nervously as he navigated his speeder down into the Works district of Coruscant, recalling what his mother had warned him regarding bargains with the devil. Little had gone right since his election as Viceroy, from the intercepted holocron, to the failed attempt at recovery, and now most surprisingly, the new political developments on Coruscant. With Bane's failure, Lott knew that the Jedi would put the pressure on him, even though all he had wanted to do in the first place was to try to repair the damage Nute had wreaked under the latter's leadership.
The Chancellorship election was his worst nightmare, a no-win situation. After careful consideration, Lott decided that he wanted Amidala to win. He may be out of a job with her in charge, but that was better than losing his life, which would no doubt occur were Nute Gunray be elevated to a position where he could exact vengeance on all those who had wronged him. He tried lobbying a few Senators he was close with during his own tenure, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Without the actual footage, his leverage over the Senate was no different than Nute's or Amidala's. They had seen the footage, but none had proof, now that it was likely somewhere safe in the Jedi's deepest archives.
He had heard little from Mirayya since everything had gone south, besides a cryptic message that all would work out for the new Viceroy, and instructions to arrive at this abandoned warehouse in the worst district on Coruscant in the middle of the night. His instincts told him that this was a bad idea, but Lott had little other alternatives left. Like it or not, his only and last chance at survival lay at the feet of Lady Mirayya.
He entered the dark room and stumbled, tripping on a small table. Recovering his balance, Lott felt his way towards a wall, where he found a switch. He activated it, and the lights in the warehouse turned on just as he saw two hooded figures making their way towards him. Clearly Lady Mirayya and Lord Vader were on time as well, but he was distracted even from the two siths by a most morbid object hanging on an upper wall: it was the head of Senator Orn Free Taa, mounted above the room like a trophy, one lekku clearly cut off, and the dead senator's facial features forever frozen in a scream of sheer pain and torment.
Lott Dod looked back at the two Siths, who continued to almost float towards him like two ghouls. He understood now.
"Lady Mirayya." He bowed, and gulped. "Or should I say, Senator Amidala?"
Both the siths lowered their hoods, and though Lott Dod recognized the faces of the young Senator and her younger husband, he had never seen anything like those glowing yellow eyes, and he understood that he would see little else in his life.
"You are wise, Viceroy Dod," Mirayya/Amidala intoned slowly in her sithly voice. "Wiser than your predecessor and our new Chancellor. Wiser than most of your former colleagues in the Senate. You could have been of much use to us as a true ally...it is a true shame you were more useful as a means to the end."
"Why," Lott simply asked. The least he could have before he died was an explanation, a rationale for all the craziness and trials he had purposelessly undergone. "Clearly you never meant for the Trade Federation to keep the holocron. Clearly you wanted the assassination attempt on yourself to destroy Antille's regime. But why Gunray? We could have gotten rid of him entirely? Why specifically ask me to put him in a position where he could destroy us all, not just me?"
"Don't you worry about us, Viceroy," Skywalker said calmly to him. "The new Chancellor will not be able to touch us."
His voice was his own, and Dod realized that this Lord Vader must have used some kind of vocoder in their previous communication. It solidified his certainty that he would not survive this encounter, now that he had learned of not just the sith's true identities, but a voice that one of them had taken elaborate means to conceal.
"I gave the galaxy a choice," Padmé said, repeating the words she had spoken to Obi-Wan Kenobi. "A choice between right and wrong, a choice between good and evil."
"Even assuming you are good," Lott said, backing up slowly as the two siths advanced on him, "it was hardly an easy choice. You put the Senators in a difficult position on purpose, almost making it impossible to pick what you would...claim to be the right choice."
"If the choice is easy, then is it really a choice," Padmé asked, bemusement on her face. "It had to be a difficult one, a true dilemma. The only way I would have allowed the Senate, the Republic to survive is if they chose to sacrifice themselves for the greater good."
"And now there is no good anymore. Gunray will destroy us all."
"Yes. No longer will the corruption and decay of the Republic be concealed by protocol and niceties. Nute Gunray will show the galaxy the true depths of how far the Republic has sunken."
The last nugget of realization clicked into Lott Dod's brain, and he knew that he could at least die with the satisfaction of knowing the reason for his own sacrifice, the ultimate purpose his life served. "And then, the galaxy will need a hero, a savior, to save the galaxy from itself."
"You are wise indeed," Mirayya/Amidala said, and Lott could almost feel some sort of pride from the sith's compliment though, he wanted to ask, who were they to play Gods? But Lott Dod knew enough about the Sith Order, after the ordeal with Sidious a decade ago, to know that such the entitlement was inherent in their nature.
Instead, he watched as both the Siths activated their lightsabers, their colors, like Darth Maul's on Naboo almost ten years ago, blood red. She continued. "You would have served the Trade Federation ably, were I to have chosen its survival, or yours. But unfortunately, you are the only link the Jedi now have to the Sith Order."
"You will die now," Anakin/Vader spoke coldly behind his wife, "but we will make this as painless for you as possible."
"Why," Lott asked one last time. "Why show me this small mercy?"
"You are no angel," Anakin/Vader answered him, "but you strove to better yourself. Your ambitions were motivated not by greed, but by a fundamental decency that even years with Nute Gunray could not stamp out of you."
"Many such as the Jedi may believe us to be evil," Amidala/Mirayya continued, "but we are cruel only those who are base themselves."
Lott Dod looked once more at the gruesome trophy the former Senator from Ryloth now made for the two Siths, and as he envisioned the torture that would have been Orn Free Taa's last living moments, however long that lasted, for once Lott felt a small bit of gratitude for the choices he made in his life.
"I understa...I accept," Lott Dod said, and at once both lightsabers struck true through his chest, sealing his fate.
"May Shiraya save his soul," Padmé said instinctively as the Neimoidian's body fell lifelessly to the ground. His death had been quick, as they had promised.
"Now what," Anakin asked. He looked down at the corpse. "I guess we'll have to get rid of the body and any evidence of the transport." The Viceroy's disappearance would, of course, be blamed on the new Chancellor, given his reputation and the two's shared history.
"Yup," Padmé affirmed. With a few blinks, her eyes returned to their warm, brown color. "Then a stop through the Arts district on the way home."
"The Arts district," Anakin asked, an eyebrow raised over his now blue irises, returned to their normal colors as well. "What's in the Arts district?"
"There's this boutique toy shop that's open all night," Padmé answered nonchalantly, her mind already parsecs away from their evil deeds now. "Ryoo's Life-Day celebration is in two days, and we can't show up to Varykino empty-handed."
Anakin smirked. Padmé loved his smirk, and she leaned in to kiss him lightly on his lips.
"You really do think of everything, Lady Mirayya."
"One of the many reasons you love me, Lord Vader."
A few quick updates to end this story. I had the ending already written, and figured no point in waiting. Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, and stuck through this story and this series. There will be one more sequel, Darth Padmé and the Clones of Kamino, though I can't guarantee when that will come out.
To break the fourth wall a bit, I realize that the plot for this one was a bit byzantine, with a lot of double dealing and Padmé seemingly putting herself in danger on purpose. To clarify, everything that transpired, every small detail, was in accordance to her plans and her 'foresight', so to speak, which as you can see, succeeded to the tee. It's clear that she did indeed learn many things from Sidious. Where they appear to be in actual distress, it is all acting.
The only thing I imagine she did not predict was that Clovis would have recorded his conversation with Fafi. Padmé would have used the fact that the Chancellor was part of the extortion to implicate his involvement and call for a vote of no confidence, but Clovis's treachery made her plans go that much smoother.
You saw little actually from Anakin and Padmé's point of view so as to keep their true intentions and endgame hidden. Instead, I found that this story told itself from the point of view of its peripheral characters. I had not expected anything deeper in Lott Dod's or Senator Fafi's characterization (an OC that was surprisingly fun to write) originally besides as devices to move the plot along, but couldn't help but explore more their motivations and thoughts. But the next story will likely return with more focus on our two main characters.
And yes, Obi-Wan got so close, only to have truth ripped away from him.