Leia shifted uncomfortably against the hard plastic chair of her senatorial pod. She wished this session would end. She wished the applause would end, at least. She looked down at her own applauding hands, and almost hated herself for them.
Below, standing alone on an elevated platform in the center of the great rotunda, haloed in light, Emperor Palpatine raised his hands for silence.
The applause stopped immediately.
Leia felt a nudge against her mind, the mental equivalent of someone tapping her on the shoulder, and she fought the urge to grin. It wouldn’t do to have any too-obvious emotional reaction, not when the Emperor had called for complete attention.
Keeping her face carefully blank, she adjusted her mental shields, just the way Ekkreth had taught her, and waited.
Seven spark plugs says he’s going to start off on the horrible decadences of the Old Republic, and the necessity of vigilance to keep our Empire secure and strong, Ekkreth’s voice said dryly in her head.
His mental voice, she’d learned long ago, sounded very different from the mechanically-controlled baritone she was used to. She wondered sometimes if this was his true voice.
Leia maintained her appropriately severe expression, but mentally, she allowed a laugh to transmit across the link. No thanks, she thought. I don’t take bets I know I can’t win.
She didn’t look at Vader. She knew he was standing unobtrusively at the top level of the rotunda, nearly directly across from her. She also knew that he unnerved most senators, and that there was what amounted to an unspoken collective agreement to ignore his presence. She couldn’t behave any differently.
Below, the Emperor was decrying the excesses of the Old Republic and praising the peace and security of the Empire in comparison.
Leia sighed mentally. I think I must have heard this same speech at least twenty times, she thought.
She felt a strange, shuddering kind of mental blink – a feeling that would have been a snort of disgust had it been vocal. Only twenty? Ekkreth thought at her. How dreadful that must be. His mental tone was dry as dust.
Leia fought the urge to laugh again. What? Don’t tell me he’s been using the same speech for over fifteen years?
Longer, Ekkreth said flatly, and then, Our Empire is kept strong through Order and Vigilance. We will prevail over this Rebel threat, because the forces of Order always prevail over those of Chaos, and because we are Strong and –
Leia had to bite her lip to keep from laughing, and even that almost wasn’t enough. It sounded like an echo in her head. Below, Emperor Palpatine was still speaking, and it was nearly word for word the same as the bone dry speech she heard in her mind.
Why Your Majesty! she thought. Your speeches are so memorable! So inspiring!
She felt a pleasant buzzing across the link, like a deep chuckle. Oh yes, Ekkreth said. I recite them to myself every morning, you know. It keeps me motivated.
Leia snickered. I just bet it does, she thought.
The Emperor was still speaking, but Leia had lost the thread of his words a long time ago. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t saying anything new.
She wondered, sometimes, why he bothered. She’d even asked Ekkreth once, but he’d just laughed, a strange huffing sound through the respirator. “It’s pointless,” he’d told her. “That’s the point.”
She hadn’t understood that immediately, but she did now. The Emperor had absolute control of the galaxy. The Imperial Senate was a joke, and that became more and more obvious every day. They were there for appearance’s sake only. The Emperor’s seemingly weekly speeches, each more pointless than the last, only drove that home.
He was rubbing their faces in their own irrelevance, and they applauded him for it.
Suddenly even their snide mental conversation wasn’t quite enough to make Leia laugh.
Two power packs says he’s going to end the session early, before the trade bill can come to a vote, she thought viciously.
Ekkreth, though, felt amused. She wasn’t surprised. He always seemed to have a very bleak, almost despairing, sense of humor.
I’m not fool enough to take that bet, either, Your Highness, he said.
Leia huffed. She could have used those power packs. You’re no fun, she grumbled.
I’ll make it up to you, said Ekkreth, still clearly amused. Meet me at 0300 in the usual place. I have something for your father.
Below, the Emperor raised his arms grandly, bringing an end to his speech and announcing that the Senate session was ended for the day. The applause rolled again.
I’ll be there, Leia thought, and let her hands join the clamor. It was true the Emperor had made the Senate a joke. But in the end, she thought with a fierce twist of humor, the joke would be on him.