The Chancellor's office was a red lined cavern dominated by a panoramic arc of window overlooking the towers of Coruscant. Palpatine sat with his back to the view facing the four Jedi Councilors seated before his desk; Master Yoda, Master Windu, Ki Adi Mundi and Plo Kloon. Three Jedi Masters stood quietly behind their chairs; Luminara Unduli, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yan Dooku. Several paces behind them a pair of silent Padawans, Obi-Wan's and Luminara's listened and watched.

The Chancellor looked pale and tired and his voice was troubled. "I don't know how much longer I can hold off the vote, my friends. More and more star systems are joining the separatists."

"If they do break away -" Mace Windu began and was cut off, uncharacteristically sharply, by the Chancellor.

"I will not let this Republic that has stood for a thousand years be split in two. My negotiations will not fail!" He looked almost appealingly to the tall Jedi behind Yoda's chair. "Master Dooku, didn't you find the Separatists ready to listen to reason?"

"Many of the leaders I spoke to have expressed their willingness to return to Republic if their grievances, just grievances, were addressed," he agreed quietly.

"And there is our problem," said Palpatine with a small gesture of despair. "How can I give in to the Separatists' demands - however justified - without encouraging further rebellion?"

"Chancellor," Mace was still doggedly determined to make his point. "If war should come there are not enough Jedi to defend the Republic - we are keepers of the peace not soldiers."

War. The word visibly rattled Palpatine. This time it was Yoda he turned to for reassurance. "Master Yoda, do you think it will really come to war?"

The dimuniative ancient Master bowed his head, eyes closing as he reached out to the Force, wrinkled face tense with effort. But after a moment he gave up with a sigh and opened his eyes to look sadly at the Chancellor. "The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is."

Whatever Palpatine might have said in reply was cut off by the hologram of an aid materializing on his desk: "The Queen of Naboo, Chancellor."

Palpatine practically leapt to his feet. "Send her in at once!"

The doors were opened by a pair a faceless Red Guards and Queen Amidala swept in, layered robes of crimson, purple and gold billowing, her, masklike painted face framed by a massive golden sunburst of a crown. She was followed by a soberly gowned Senator Jamillia, Naboo's representative, and a bevy of hooded handmaidens.

Palpatine moved quickly to meet her, taking both hands in his, "Your Majesty! Thank heavens you're safe. When I heard of the attack on your ship -"

"I am sorry you were alarmed, Chancellor," her voice was crisp, a little metallic, over-controlled. "Do you have any idea who could be responsible?"

"Our intelligence points to disgruntled Spice miners on the moons of Naboo." Mace said quietly.

Palpatine shook himself. "Forgive me, your Majesty, may I present Master Mace Windu, of the Jedi Council."

The Queen nodded a stiff greeting. "It is my belief the separatists are behind both our troubles with the miners and the attack on my ship."

"May I ask why your Majesty thinks so?" Dooku asked smoothly.

The white mask quivered a little suddenly uncertain. "Call it a - a feeling I have."

Dark eyebrows, startling in contrast with the sleek silver hair, rose slightly. "Your Majesty's opposition to a military solution to the crisis is well known. I understand you are here to speak against the formation of an army of the Republic - far from seeing you as a threat the separatists would logically regard you as an ally of sorts."

The Queen stiffened in outrage. "I am no ally to enemies of the Republic!"

"Of course you're not, Ma'am." Obi-Wan put in quickly. "Master Dooku was simply pointing out that the separatists have no reason to want to harm you."

"I see." She glanced at Dooku; "Forgive me, Master Jedi." he bowed acceptance and she turned back to Obi-Wan with a little smile. "And it is good to see you again, Jedi Kenobi."

Obi-Wan returned the smile but his eye had strayed to the cluster of young women behind the Queen. "If I may ask your Majesty -"

"Captain Panaka was killed in the blast," Amidala answered, smile vanishing. "Sabe and Yane, were badly injured. They were taken directly to the Senatorial Medical Center."

"I assure your Majesty they will have the best of care," Palpatine said quickly, taking her arm he guided her to one of the chairs vacated by the Jedi. "Your safety must be our chief concern."

"Yes." Yoda agreed. "In grave danger the Queen is."

Amidala looked at him and visibly tried not to stare.

"Master Yoda, also of the Jedi Council," the Chancellor explained, bending solicitously over her. Straightening he continued to Yoda, "Master Jedi, may I suggest that her Majesty be placed under the protection of your graces?"

"That's not necessary -" the Queen was beginning when Senator Jamillia, with a fine disregard for protocol, interrupted: "I disagee, your life is in danger, Amidala! The captain of your guard and the entire crew of your ship is dead and we don't know if Sabe and Yane are going to live."

"I don't need more guards!" Amidala argued. "I need to know who is trying to kill me and why!"

"I realize additional security might be disruptive for your Majesty," Palpatine interposed smoothly as the two young women glared at each other. "But perhaps an old friend, like Master Kenobi?" An even better idea struck him; "Or perhaps Master Jinn?" Palpatine looked at Mace who looked at Obi-Wan.

"I expect Master Qui-Gon back today," the young Master said quickly. He smiled at Amidala. "Both he and his Padawan would be glad of a chance to see your Majesty again."

"Please, Ma'am, do it for my sake," The Chancellor pressed, sensing she was weakening. "The thought of losing you is unendurable."

Defeated Amidala could only bow her head in reluctant consent.

…..

Two Jedi Knights, trailed by a third, stepped out onto the windswept plaza high atop the Temple and walked slowly towards the landing platform above the north-east face. Their dark robes fluttered in the stiff breeze and the tallest Knight's silver white hair glittered in the sunlight.

"So the Council has commissioned you to investigate the Queen's near assassination," Dooku mused. "It will be interesting to see where the trail leads."

Obi-Wan looked curiously up at the elder Master. "You yourself said the separatists have no reason to wish Queen Amidala harm."

"So I did," Dooku agreed, "but her Majesty's intuition should not be dismissed lightly." He gave his Padawan's Padawan a quick glance from keen, dark eyes. "The Force is with her."

"I have felt that too," Obi-Wan said quietly. "But I do not know what it means."

Dooku sighed. "It means Amidala of Naboo is, in her own way, as much an instrument of the Force as any Jedi. Though what service it requires of her," he shook his head, "not even she knows - yet."

"You think she's right," Obi-Wan said, a faint note of surprise in his voice.

"I fear she may be." the small party had reached the edge of the landing platform. Dooku tilted his head back, searching the crowded sky, as he continued: "My feelings tell me there is a Dark Force behind the separatist movement, using it, as the Trade Federation was used ten years ago."

"You suspect the Sith?"

"I do. You killed the apprentice, Obi-Wan, but the Master lives and I greatly fear he is, at last, showing his hand." Suddenly the old Jedi Master turned on the youngster standing quietly behind them. "Do I frighten you, young Jacen?"

The Padawan, a stocky, dark haired boy, met his eye steadily. "Yes, Master, you do."

Dooku nodded approval. "Good. Never let fear rule you, Padawan, but do not ignore it either. It is a warning to be heeded." His tone darkened, "We Jedi have been too complacent and we will pay for it before the end."

"Now you are frightening me, Master," Obi-Wan said drily.

Dooku flashed him a smile. "I hope so. You're even more reckless than your Master."

"Like Master like Apprentice," Obi-Wan riposted, a teasing glint in his eye.

And Yan Dooku, Master of Obi-Wan's Master, laughed out loud, acknowledging the hit.

Jacen pointed skyward. "There, Masters." A small flyer had detached itself from the endless stream of Coruscant's air traffic diving steeply, dangerously steeply, towards the Temple's landing platforms.

Obi-Wan shook his head; "Ani! Why Master's hair isn't snow white after ten years of being piloted by Anakin Skywalker I'll never know."

The flyer leveled at the last possible moment then settled gently as a fallen leaf onto the platform. The canopy popped open and two tall, brown robed figures climbed out. The three waiting Jedi moved to meet them.

"Two weeks overdue, Qui-Gon," Dooku observed, cocking an eyebrow expectantly.

Qui-Gon Jinn smiled easily at his mentor. "We decided to make a slight detour."

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes.

"It's my fault," Anakin put in quickly. "I started having dreams about my Mother, bad dreams like she was in trouble, danger." He smiled gratefully at Qui-Gon. "Master decided we should go see if she was all right."

"Our course took us near Tatooine," Qui-Gon said mildly. "And I was concerned as well." He smiled affectionately back at Anakin. "I owe Shmi a great deal."

"I take it she is all right?" Obi-Wan asked.

Anakin's smile became a grin. "She's great. She's free. She's got a home and a new family."

"So you don't need to worry about her anymore." Obi-Wan said, quite gently - he knew how hard it had been for a nine year old boy to leave his mother behind all those years ago.

"No," Anakin agreed. "She's fine, she's happy. I can let her go now."

"I'm afraid another old friend of ours is not doing so well," Obi-Wan told Qui-Gon. "Queen Amidala of the Naboo arrived this morning to address the Senate on the subject of the military appropriations bill. Her ship was attacked shortly after landing and totally destroyed."

Anakin went white.

Qui-Gon put a firm hand on his shoulder. "The Queen?"

"She was unharmed. But our old friend Panaka was killed, and Sabe and Yane are badly hurt."

"Poor Padme!" Anakin said, shaken. "They're like her family - she must feel awful."

"She was very upset," Obi-Wan agreed quietly, "and with good reason. I find I'm somewhat distressed myself."

"Obi-Wan has been given the task of investigating the attack," Dooku continued as the five of them turned to go back inside the Temple. "And the Council intends to assign you, my former Padawan, and your young apprentice, to protect the Queen."

"Great!" all three Masters turned in unison to look at Anakin. He flushed. "I mean, of course I want to do anything I can to help Padme. And I'd like to see her again it's been very long time."

Dooku, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged little headshakes of mingled amusement and disapproval and continued on. Anakin put a hand on Jacen's arm, letting the Masters get well ahead of them, out of earshot.

"You're sure she's all right?"

"Positive," Jacen answered firmly. "I saw her. She was upset, like Master said, but not hurt at all." He gave his friend a sidelong glance. "She didn't look all that pretty to me."

Anakin glared then realized he was being deliberately provoked. "She's not 'pretty'," he said with dignity. "She's beautiful," his voice warmed, "The most beautiful girl in the whole Galaxy!" Then he checked himself, just a little too late. "Although I admit it's hard to tell under that face paint and those robes."

"Ani," Jacen said warningly. "You're a Jedi Knight. She's a Queen, and your assignment, don't go trying to make her more than that."

"She is more, she's an old friend. Even Jedi are allowed to have friends," Anakin answered defensively. "I'll be glad to see her again - what's wrong with that?"

Jacen just shook his head resignedly. His headstrong friend was clearly headed for trouble - again.

….

"Your Highness," Eirtae stood in the doorway, tension just visible through her carefully trained composure, "a call from the Medical Center."

Trembling Amidala rustled across the floor to cue the room's receiver. "Yes?"

Sache appeared on the screen, her arm and shoulder encased in a protective frame and one side of her face bruised from its violent contact with the landing platform. "Sabe and Yane are responding well to the bacta treatments," she reported smiling happily, "the doctors expect them to make a full recovery."

The Queen closed her eyes, keeping command of herself with an effort. "That is good to hear. Stay with them, Sache, let me know the minute they regain consciousness - and get some rest."

"Yes your Highness." The screen went dark and Amidala turned to fall into Eirtae's arms. They clung to each other, no longer Queen and handmaiden but two friends sharing tears of relief and gratitude.

"Ammi?" They broke apart to see Senator Jamillia watching them anxiously.

The Queen smiled quickly, wiping at her wet eyes with her sleeve. "Sabe and Yane are going to be fine, Sache just called with the good news."

Eirtae pushed her arm down and produced a handkerchief, efficiently dabbing the tears away.

Jamillia sighed with relief. "I'm so glad."

"That's one load off my mind," Amidala agreed. Passing Jamillia she walked out onto the balcony, at that moment even Coruscant's endless skyjam looked good.

"Your Highness! I don't think it's wise -"

"Really, Captain Typho!" she started to explode but pulled herself back under control. The burly, handsome officer facing her was Jamillia's chief of security, at Panaka's death he had inherited the duty of guarding his Queen and the extra responsibility was clearly telling on him. "The balcony is shielded," she continued more calmly, "and I don't think any lurking assassin is likely to recognize me." Though she was elaborately dressed, as always, in full skirts of indigo and violet with feathers and jewels coiled into her complicated hair-do she wasn't wearing the royal white-face and could easily be taken for the Senator or one of the handmaidens.

"Forget it, Typho, she's always been stubborn," Jamillia chimed in. "At school we used to say there's a right way and a wrong, way but Lady Amidala always does it her way."

Amidala most un-regally stuck her tongue out at her old school friend. The distinguished Senator returned the gesture.

Typho sighed. "Maybe she'll listen to the Jedi."

"Don't count on it," Eirtae said drily.

….

"You're nervous," Qui-Gon observed with a sidelong look at his Padawan.

"No I'm not," he denied.

The Master glanced at Anakin's fingers worrying the edge of his sleeve and said nothing.

"Okay, maybe a little nervous."

"Padme was very fond of you, Anakin," the Master reminded him.

"Yeah, well I'm not that cute little boy anymore," he answered, almost forlornly. "What if she doesn't like the change?"

Qui-Gon gave his apprentice an amused, assessing look. "I think she'll approve."

"Master Jinn and Jedi Skywalker, your Highness." Rabe announced.

At first all Amidala saw was the Master, a little grayer than she remembered but still radiating the serene authority that had reassured and occasionally infuriated her ten years ago. "Master Jinn, it's been much too long."

"It is my pleasure to be of service to you again - young handmaiden," he replied with a twinkle and she laughed. "You remember my Padawan learner of course."

She looked past him, up into a pair of smolderingly intense blue eyes gazing down at her from a leanly handsome face that bore no resemblance whatever to the cherubic, childish features she remembered. Her breath caught and her heart pounded, surely she wasn't blushing? "Ani?" she managed, struggling to pull herself together. "My goodness, you've grown!" Oh nice going, Amidala, could you possibly have said anything stupider?

"So have you," this tall, handsome stranger answered, still holding her with those incredible eyes, "grown more beautiful I mean."

With a tremendous effort she tore her gaze from his and produced an artificial little laugh. "Oh, Ani, you'll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine!" Sure, meeting childhood friends always made her knees weak and her palms sweat.

She sat down on a couch with Jamillia beside her and Rabe, Eirtae and the Senator's three handmaidens ranged behind. The Jedi, in response to her gesture, seated themselves on the couch opposite but the security chief chose to stand.

"I'm very grateful you're here, Master Jedi," he told them earnestly. "I'm Captain Typho, in charge of security here at the embassy. The situation is far more dangerous than her Majesty will admit."

"I don't need more security, I need answers!" Padme snapped.

"And Obi-Wan will find them for you," Anakin assured her. "The Council has ordered him to make a full investigation of the attack on your ship." He smiled a disturbingly intimate smile. "And you know how persistent Obi-Wan can be!"

She found herself smiling back. "I remember."

"In the meantime Anakin and I will make our presence as unobtrusive as possible," The Master said mildly.

"You are both most welcome - as old friends if not as guards." she stood abruptly, Jamillia and the Jedi rose with her. "Now if you will excuse me, I will retire." She started for the bedroom, trailed by Rabe and Eirtae then turned back abruptly; "Oh, Master Jinn, you may have heard Sabe and Yane were injured in the attack, I'm sure you'll be happy to know they're expected to make a full recovery."

"That is indeed good to hear," the Master smiled gently. "Thank you, your Highness."

She gave him a slightly stiff, queenly smile in return and escaped into her bedroom.

"My goodness, the difference ten years makes!" Eirtae remarked, helping Amidala out of her cumbersome gown.

"Yes, I feel quite elderly," Rabe agreed, slipping the dressing robe over her Queen's shoulders. Amidala sat down at the dressing table and Rabe began to unravel her intricate hairdo, handing feathers and ornaments to Eirtae to be put away. "Little Ani makes a very handsome man doesn't he, your Highness?" she continued.

"I suppose so." Amidala said shortly.

"If you like tall, blond, intense young men who can't take their eyes off you," Eirtae said slyly.

"Don't be ridiculous!" the Queen snapped, "Jedi don't have those kinds of feelings."

"Maybe not, but Ani is a very young Jedi," Rabe pointed out. "And he had a terrible crush on you when he was nine."

Now she was blushing, and the handmaidens saw it. "He's not nine anymore."

"We noticed." said Rabe.'

The wreckage of the Queen's ship had been removed but the landing platform was still scorched and pockmarked by the explosions that had destroyed it. Obi-Wan moved to greet the lanky red robed figure climbing out of the sky car, trailed by his Padawan. "General Binks." he said, bowing. Jacen thought he caught an almost teasing note in his Master's voice.

The general, an amphibious alien of unfamiliar type, showed small sharp teeth in a wide grin. "Obi! Mesa so smilin' at seein' yousa again!"

"It's good to see you too, Jar Jar," Obi-Wan replied as his hand was enthusiastically pumped. He waved towards Jacen with his free arm. "My Padawan Learner, Jacen Darklighter."

Jacen bowed as the alien beamed on him. "Last time Mesa seein' you, Obi, yousa was the learner. Now yousa teachin' a Paddywan of your own."

"And you are now an associate representative to the Senate very impressive, old friend."

"Mesa very important, very *responsible* now." the general answered, not entirely happily, "heavy burden."

"I can imagine." Obi-Wan became serious. "Jar Jar, I understand you witnessed the attack on the Queen's ship."

Suddenly the alien's protruding eyes were filmed with tears. "Bad, muy bombad. Panaka killed!"

"I know," the Master said somberly. "Jar Jar I need you to tell me exactly what you saw - in as much detail as possible."

The general closed his eyes in concentration for a moment then led them briskly across the platform to a spot near one of the mooring docks. "Wesa standing here," he announced. "Mesa, Senator Jamillia, Captain Typho, with Dorme, Verse and Corde behind usen."

Obi-Wan raised a hand, "Who?"

"Dorme, Verse and Corde, Senator's handmaidens," Jar Jar explained.

"I see, go on."

"Ship comen over oursa heads, settin' down there." the general pointed to the blackened and torn section of the platform. "Gangway lowers, Panaka come outen with Queen behind him. All of a sudden *boom*," he mimed an explosion with his long arms, "right in theirsa faces. Bodies lying everywhere! Wesa run to see if Queen is all right." He swallowed, visibly distressed. "Shesa covered with blood but not Queen, Padme kneeling beside heren dressed as pilot -"

"I see." the Master interrupted. "She flew in on one of the escort fighters. That's why she wasn't hurt."

"Yes, yes, Panaka's idea." Jar Jar went on: "Itsa Sabe whosa hurt. Padme crying, Yane bombad hurt too and Sache. Rabe and Eirtae okeyday. Captain Typho say wesa must be getten away from ship, hesa pickin' up Sabe, mesa pickin' up Yane and wesa all runnin' to transport. Then ship goes boomer behinden usen, big fireball, wings fallin' off, crew all dead, guards dead, Panaka dead." The general hung his head; "Bombad, muy muy bombad."

"Indeed," Obi-Wan agreed grimly. "Jar Jar, you said the first explosion was in front of Panaka, are you quite sure of that?"

"Certain sure!" The general nodded emphatically.

"So it was on the platform not on the gangway or from inside the ship?"

Jar Jar thought a moment, then nodded agreement. "Boomer on platform."

"Now that is interesting." Turning the Master walked to the damaged section of the platform, cast about a bit then knelt to examine something. "Look at this," he said to Jacen and the general as they came up beside him, showing blackened fingertips.

Jacen bent to sniff at the residue. "Pyrotite!"

His Master nodded and glanced at the puzzled Jar Jar. "A powerful explosive favored by professional assassins. There must have been two charges, one in front of the gangway the other directly under the ship itself. Whoever it is who wants the Queen dead hired a professional right here on Coruscant to do the job."

The general pulled down his wide mouth in a frown. "Muy muy money, mesa don' think miners could afford thisen."

"An excellent point, General," Obi-Wan agreed. "The separatists on the other hand are backed by the wealthy Trade Federation, whose Viceroy has a personal grudge against her Highness."

….

"So, Master Kenobi, you now agree with me that the separatists are responsible for the attack?" Queen Amidala, in royal white-face, sat between Jar Jar and Jamillia on the sofa with the five handmaidens ranged behind them and Captain Typho to one side. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon faced her on the other couch, their Padawans at their backs.

"It is beginning to look like the more likely possibility," he admitted. "As General Binks pointed out the miners haven't the money or the contacts to obtain the services of a Coreworld assassin."

"And Nute Gunray has personal reasons for wanting you dead, Padme," Anakin put in, trying to ignore Obi-Wan's chiding look.

"It's outrageous he's still Viceroy of the Trade Federation after what he did," Jamillia fumed. "It seems these days money will buy anything, even the Supreme Court of the Republic!"

"When he took office Chancellor Palpatine swore to me he'd put an end to the corruption in the Senate," the Queen said grimly.

"He has tried, Padme," Anakin broke in again. "But every attempt at reform has been blocked or sid-lined by the commercial interests."

"The Chancellor dare not be too aggressive, your Highness, or he'll lose his position," Obi-Wan added drily.

"You are so cynical!" Anakin complained.

Obi-Wan half turned to look at him. "Not without reason, Padawan."

"The Chancellor is a good man doing his best -" Anakin began with some heat.

"Palpatine is a politician," Obi-Wan said flatly. "I've observed that he's very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senators."

"The Chancellor's campaign against corruption is not the issue," Qui-Gon said firmly. "The Queen's safety is."

"Sorry Master," said Obi-Wan, chastened.

"Sorry Master," echoed Anakin.

Qui-Gon turned back to the Queen. "Your Highness, I recommend further precautions."

"I agree!" Typho said fervently.

Amidala looked from one to the other, "Oh, very well." She forced a smile. "I do want to live to make my address tomorrow."

The Master smiled back at her. "We will see that you do," he promised, and stood. "Anakin, set up the surveillance cameras on this floor." Qui-Gon looked back at the Queen, "with your Highness' permission?"

"Yes of course." she said graciously.

"Captain Typho, Obi-Wan, I would appreciate your advice."The three of them left, followed by Jacen.

Jamillia stood up too. "This has been a terrible day. I'm glad it's nearly over."

Amidala embraced her lightly, careful not to get white face paint on her friend. "Get some rest, Milla, and try not to worry. I'm in good hands."

The Senator essayed a wan smile and left trailed by handmaidens.

Jar Jar had stood up when Jamillia did. He looked at Anakin, shaking his head in disbelief. "Issa that really you, Ani? Yousa gotten biggen!"

"Well it has been ten years, Jar Jar," he smiled. "I grew up."

"Up, up!" the Gungan agreed and leaned across the sofa to pull him into a hug. "Mesa bustin with gladness at seein' you again, Ani." He declared, then added in a carrying whisper, "Takin' good care of Padme, please."

"I will." he promised.

"Good night, Jar Jar." said the Queen.

"Gooden night, Padme. Gooden night Ani." he followed the others to the lift.

Rabe and Eirtae exchanged significant glances and silently withdrew to the bedroom. Amidala didn't see them go, she was busy watching Anakin.

He took a number of tiny camera units from a case at his belt and, cupping them in one hand, moved around the room placing them, graceful as a zoorif bird skimming over the water, his dark mantle flowing with his movements.

"That's a very pretty dress," he said suddenly.

She jumped a little. "Thank you." it was a rather clinging diaphanous black decorated with orichalc goldwork. More orichalc work dangled from the combs ornamenting her hair. "Actually it's one of Milla's, most of my wardrobe was incinerated."

"Including that black feather number I hope!" he said with a quick grin over his shoulder.

She giggled - good heavens what was the matter with her? "I have that dress packed away in the palace attics."

"Good. That was the worst but none of those formal gowns really suite you." He stopped planting cameras to look at her. "I like you best in simple things."

Amidala swallowed, trapped again by those eyes. "My - my position requires me to dress in a certain way, just as yours does."

He smiled again. "Only a Jedi is supposed to dress as plainly as possible."

Amidala couldn't think of a thing to say, her brain was melting like wax in the sun. Those eyes... Abruptly he turned away and went into the bedroom. She shook herself and hurried after him. "Anakin," he glanced at her inquiringly, "what are you doing?"

"Placing surveillance cameras as Master told me," he answered, surprised.

"In here!" she gasped.

"Of course in here," he said, even more puzzled. "We have to see you to guard you, Padme."

"Anakin Skywalker I'm not having you watching me sleep!" Her face burned under its paint at the very thought.

"But -"

"No, absolutely not!"

Stymied he stared at her helplessly for a moment then pulled out his comlink. "Artoo, come up to the Queen's suite, I need you."

"Artoo?" she echoed.

"The little astro-droid you gave me, you remember, R2-D2."

"Oh, yes." she sat down on the bed. "Obi-Wan didn't want you to take him."

"That's because Jedi aren't supposed to own anything but their clothes and their lightsabre." Anakin explained, sitting beside her. He grinned. "So I don't own Artoo, the Temple does. I just use him." Then he continued more seriously: "I've made a lot of changes over the years he's not just a standard astro-mech anymore. I'll put him in your room. That'll be all right won't it? I mean he is just a droid."

"I guess so. I mean of course it will." She groped for an excuse for her reaction. "It's just I don't want to look too well guarded, the assassin might not try again."

"I thought you wanted to live to make your speech - Oh!" He stared at her in sudden comprehension.

"We want to catch our assassin not just discourage him." she said.

Anakin frowned. "I don't like using you as bait, Padme."

"But I'll have Artoo in here with me and you and Master Qui-Gon will be just outside."

"That's true." He nodded slowly. "Okay, if that's the way you want it."

"It is."