Thought I would try my hand at something a little different. So let me set the stage. It is nine years after the events of ROTS and the Galatic Empire is in full swing. This is an AU where there are surprises and twists around each corner. So sit back and I hope you enjoy the ride. As always, constructive criticisms and comments are always welcomed.
A/N: Many thanks goes out to Jenn and Kim for their wonderful insights and beta reading gifts. Now, on with the show...
She huddled against the duracrete pillar, trying to avoid detection. The city's stormtroopers were always patrolling through the streets at night and if she were caught with what she possessed, nobody would ever know the truth. The woman was only in her mid-thirties, but looked far older because of the life she had lived. She pulled her tattered purple hood over her head. It had once been an elegant cloak—belonging to the servant of a now dead ruler. But now, like so many things in this galaxy, only the shadow of what was, remained.
She kept looking frantically over her shoulder, as if she expected something – or someone – to be standing behind her. The woman reached into her cloak, making sure that the blaster that had been her companion through so many other struggles was within easy reach. She knew that they were on to her and it was only time before her presence on the Imperial Capital was known. But it was too important, what she knew, to keep it only to herself. And there was only one who could hope to save them all before it was too late. She closed her eyes momentarily, wishing this was all just a terrible nightmare…
As she opened her eyes, she was once again young and running through the colossal hallways of Theed palace. The Queen had ordered her to take care of the flocks of dignitaries and guests that had ventured to Naboo to celebrate in their victory over the Trade Federation. However, the celebration had past earlier in the day and now she was frantically trying to find the other handmaidens to resume her normal duties.
She almost didn't notice the gathering in the Queen's private study until she heard her name being called out.
"Saché! In here."
The young handmaiden smiled at her fellow attendant Eirtaé as she motioned for her to join them. Once she entered the room, she saw the others huddled around the Queen as she sat at her desk.
"What's going on?" Saché asked curiously.
Sabé, who always stood at Amidala's right hand, looked up and grinned. "Her highness is showing us something from her excursion on Tatooine."
A smirk grew across the white painted face of Naboo's monarch as she motioned to her youngest handmaiden to draw closer.
"What is that, your highness?" Saché asked.
"It is called a japor snippet. Young Anakin gave it to me on our way to Coruscant."
The other handmaidens all ogled in delight as the youngest handmaiden caught the Queen's glance. "You know, Your Majesty, I do believe he fancies you."
Amidala chuckled as she answered, "Well, he did say he would marry me one day."
The others laughed softly, except for Saché whose expression remained neutral. "Anything is possible, my Queen."
A low giggle erupted from Amidala as she shook her head. "Perhaps…but I'm afraid little Anakin Skywalker will always be out of reach for me."
Shooting her a curious look, Yané asked, "How is that, Your Majesty?"
"He is to be a Jedi…nay, their Chosen One. He will not have time for such mundane things like love and family."
Saché could have sworn she saw a small tear forming at the edge of the Queen's eye. However, before she could question her further, Sabé spoke up.
"Now that the celebration is done, it is time to get back to work."
Amidala nodded. "Indeed, let's," she said as she place the necklace in one of her top drawers.
Unfortunately, the nightmare was reality as she opened her eyes to it once again. As her senses returned to her, and no longer hearing any movement, the woman left her hiding place to scurry across the plaza. In happier times, it was filled with families, artisans and merchants from around the galaxy. Now all that stood there were immortalized stone works of the Emperor as he watched his people from afar. She had to stop herself from spitting on the likeness. To think that this…monster was from her world was almost unbearable to fathom. But perhaps with what she had come into contact with would make the difference?
Again, for security, she touched the worn pocket that carried the object, hoping that in the right hands it would change everything. With the governmental office that she sought just at the end of the city block, she strode cautiously but quickly to reach her destination. Ten feet. Nine feet. Eight…
The woman withdrew a silver encased blaster from underneath her old robes and pointed it at the source of the voice. Without conscious thought, she fired several shots as she attempted to duck into a nearby alley. However, previous injuries and years of hiding caused her to take an ungracious tumble down a steep flight of stairs. As it extended downward for several meters, she hit each jagged stair; the woman could hear bones breaking and tendons snapping with the force of the impact. However, the worse sound came when she hit the bottom as she felt her neck collide with the unmovable permacrete.
It's over. I've failed.
A young man dressed in the black uniform of an Imperial officer, fresh out of the Academy, ran over to her side with a group of stormtroopers running quickly assembling behind him.
"Try not to move, Milady. I have summoned for the physician."
Blinking tiredly, the woman struggled for breath as she muttered, "Give this… to the decoy, only she... will know what to do."
Not answering his query, the dying woman placed the small, pendent in his hand. "Promise me that… you will find her…"
The man stared, first at the object she handed him, then at the blank-eyed stare as she passed from this world. He then ordered, "Check her for identification."
As the nearest stormtrooper complied, the youthful officer opened his hand to reveal an old leather string that held a carving made of japor. When the trooper approached him, he quickly placed it into one of his pockets as the clone made his report.
"Lieutenant, all I found was her travel papers from some place called Naboo."
The officer nodded as he read the information quickly, then returned his gaze at the body of the haggard woman. Saché Tralivn.
"Sir? What do you want us to do with her?"
He stood silently as the stormtrooper confused, kept looking for his orders. "Sir?"
The young man then muttered, "Take her to the Medicenter. I will report the incident to the Captain."
"Yes, sir," the stormtrooper replied, quickly snapping into action. Meanwhile, the officer pulled out the necklace and looked at it curiously, wondering what this invaluable piece of jewelry meant so much to her. He then placed it back into his pocket and returned to headquarters.
The slender woman stood silently, watching the city through her large bay window. It was a view envied by most, but given only to the chosen few. Nighttime had fallen on the central planet of the Galactic Empire as the glowing lights of the Senate district filled her eyes. The Grand Inquisitor of Imperial City was charged with the awesome responsibility of maintaining control and order on the capital world, but also she was the head of the Emperor's personal security when he was on planet.
Since the collapse of the Old Republic, fewer and fewer women were appointed to seats of power in the Empire. However, the Inquisitor, who had once served a queen, then as ambassador for an entire system, caught the eye of the center of power. Newly crowned as Emperor, Palpatine had been impressed with how the young woman was able to secure, not only the Naboo's embassy, but also several others when the betrayal of the Jedi was revealed. During those last days of the Order, Sabé had managed to hold several renegade Jedi who attempted to use the Naboo's embassy as a safe haven at bay until Lord Vader along with several dozen clone troopers finally seized them.
However, this was not the first time Palpatine became aware of her existence. The Inquisitor came from one of the greatest houses on Naboo, which could trace its roots back to the non-elected monarchs; and, had fate not intervened, she might have served their planet as Queen. She was trained in the arts of diplomacy and warfare, plus her prestigious pedigree made her worthy for a place in the Empire. The former Chancellor was appreciative of her loyalty and chose to reward her by making her an Imperial liaison to the entire Chommell sector of the new Empire.
A few short years later, she was appointed a seat on Palpatine's advisory staff—a highly coveted position that was only given to those the Emperor implicitly trusted. It was rumored that Grand Moff Tarkin had initially objected to her appointment, but relented when both Palpatine and his second in command, the mysterious Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, insisted on her membership. However, it was only a short time later that Palpatine's true intentions came to light. He needed a voice amongst his sometimes murderous cohorts to offer the galaxy a softer face to approach with their incessant problems. Also, she was one of the few remaining living links to his apprentice's past and Darth Sidious did not want any close cohort of Amidala's far out of sight. Even dead, that woman was still a terrible risk.
For a period of time, the softer ways and voice of his minister helped smoothed the difficult transition from the ways of the Old Republic. However, the Emperor knew that it was an impossible task as more dissent grew from all the edges of the galaxy. Plus, once their plans for the ultimate weapon were in place, they could at last drop the pretense. After a few years in this role, Palpatine gave her the new position of the Grand Inquisitor, which granted her the powers to root out any hints of insurrection that were targeted against his Empire, as well as see to the day-to-day security of his capital world. Palpatine also wanted to make use of her vast expertise as a bodyguard since he also granted her powers to train his feared Crimson guard—clones given even more advanced training than even their Kaminoan fathers had programmed into them.
She briefly turned her attention away from the window to pick up a hot cup of caf that of one of her attendants had quietly left for her. As she took a sip, she sighed as she reflected on her role in this burgeoning Empire. Only thirty eight standard years old and she was already being considered to be made a Moff of the Chommell sector. What would Padmé Amidala think of all she accomplished? She scoffed as her cynicism took hold: Padmé thinks nothing; she's been dead nearly a decade. The Grand Inquisitor shook her head as she took another sip of caf.
She had been thinking of the long departed Queen and Senator for the past few days, ever since she received a cryptic message referring to her as the Queen's decoy. Nobody in her current life knew her in that role, which could only mean it was from someone of the past. Her thoughts were confirmed when she read the signature.
However, from her sources back home, it had been rumored that the former handmaiden that she served along side with for eight years, had suffered from some sort of mental breakdown and had left Naboo without telling her family or friends. In fact, nobody had seen nor spoke to her for several months since her disappearance. The Grand Inquisitor hoped that her old friend would shed some light on the subject and if not, she knew many doctors and healers that could help Saché.
Without thinking, the beautifully dressed woman, adorned with ancient jewelry and deep blue robes picked up an old holoemitter from the corner of her desk. She flicked it on to reveal a scene from history. In the middle of the hologram stood the heavily white painted faced of Queen Amidala, who was surrounded on both sides by her handmaidens, donned in deep purple gowns. And she saw her teenaged self, standing by the Queen's right hand—where she should have remained until the end. A single tear fell down the right side of her face as she thought about her friend—her best friend, someone she loved as a sister, buried in the cold ground along with her unborn child. The woman was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't here the com ring.
"Grand Inquisitor Kelaria?"
Shaking away her troubling thoughts while wiping away her tears, Sabé pressed the red button on the com-panel.
"Captain Riyne from the city guard is here to see you."
"Tell him I'm busy," she answered, looking at her chrono, which was already an hour past when Saché was supposed to arrive.
"I did, Your Honor, but he says there's been an incident that needs your attention."
Sighing deeply, she answered indignantly, "I will join him momentarily."
Looking regretfully again at the chrono, she grabbed her velvet black cloak and draped it about her. She then whispered to herself, sorry old friend, but duty calls.
The short walk over to the Medicenter was in complete silence. Sabé and Captain Riyne walked slightly ahead of the four members of the Crimson guard—a gift from Palpatine for her years of service and loyalty and her two handmaidens, Elermaé and Narlia. The guard officer was unnerved at being in the Grand Inquisitor's presence. This very attractive, but unreachable woman, had the power of a god—or at least all that the Emperor allowed her to do. And though she was always known to be a fair and just person, unlike Palpatine or Vader, for that matter, Lady Kelaria was greatly feared.
As they entered the ward, a young physician stumbled towards the group. He bowed clumsily as he said, "Milady, it is an honor to receive you."
Sabé nodded curtly as she answered, "Perhaps you can tell me what has happened? The Captain here seems to know nothing useful."
The doctor nodded as fumbled through a pile of datapads before finding the correct one. "Yes, Milady. Apparently, a night patrol found an unauthorized civilian lurking about in the governmental complex who resisted arrest when they tried to stop her."
"And?" Sabé asked nervously, while a sinking feeling was building in her stomach.
"While trying to evade capture, she fell down some stairs and apparently broke her neck in the process," recited the physician from his notes.
Already knowing the answer, but having to ask anyhow, the Inquisitor asked, "Did she have any identification?"
The guard Captain stepped forward, holding out his datapad. "Yes, her name was Saché…"
"Tralivn," she interrupted.
The two men looked at each other nervously, before Riyne asked, "Did you know her, Milady?"
Feeling like the world was turned onto its axis, Sabé clenched the edge of the counter in order to keep from passing out in front of all these men. She blinked rapidly, trying desperate to keep in control of the moment. Noticing her sudden change, Elermaé asked, "Are you alright, Milady?"
She nodded as she took several deep breaths of air. The physician placed down his datapad, then walked over and gave Sabé a cursory glance. He then suggested, "Milady, why do you come into the examination room and let me take a look at you?"
Sabé shook her head angrily as she pushed him away. "No, take me to Saché. I need to see her."
The doctor looked towards the two handmaidens who shrugged in defeat. "Very well, Your Honor. Follow me."
Regaining her strength, the former handmaiden straightened her gown as she followed closely behind the physician and her two attendants. The walk down the light green painted corridor seemed to last an eternity. As the doors to the morgue approached, Sabé prepared herself as she knew that she would have to stare upon the body of a friend, a fellow handmaiden—another sister, who was now dead. Losing Padmé had torn a gaping hole in her heart and she thought that she had finally put it behind her. But now this…
The morgue's examination room was something out of a horror holovid. It was painted in a dull white, with instruments made of silver, lining the walls. Four durasteel tables were lined next to each other at the center of the room with the farthest one occupied. The physician cautiously grabbed her forearm in effort to prevent her from pressing forward. However, Sabé adroitly twisted away from him and walked over to the examining table. Without thinking, she pulled away the plastic covering which revealed what was left of her friend.
While Saché was heavily bruised from her fall and years of hard living had worn down her once beautiful features; however, she did look at peace, which was probably the most she her fiancé perished in a cargo run during the Clone Wars. His ship had ventured too close to a Separatist convoy, which responded with a blaster shot that hit directly onto the freighter's main engines. The subsequent investigation launched by Queen Jamillia's office found that they never knew what hit them—they didn't suffer. However, Saché was never the same after Daltin's death. Indeed, her mental difficulties began soon after his memorial tribute.
Sabé bent down to kiss her friend's forehead, wishing her well on her journey to the spirits. She then righted herself and turned her attention to the physician. "Has her family been informed?"
"No, Milady. I was waiting for the final results from the autopsy before I made arrangements to send her body home."
The Grand Inquisitor gave him a smile of appreciation as she returned her focus onto her friend's face. "Contact me as soon as the results are complete. I will inform her family and see to her transport back to Naboo."
"Of course, Your Honor."
Realizing she needed to be alone, the Grand Inquistor ordered, "Now leave us." She then turned to Narlia. "Make sure nobody enters until I am through."
"Yes, Milady," she said as the others were leaving the room. Sabe then called out, "Elermaé?"
"Yes, Your Honor?"
"Please stay a moment."
The handmaiden dutifully obeyed as she walked back across the room to rejoin her mistress. Moments later, Sabé moved over to the edge of the table nearest to Saché's head and wept bitterly. Her sorrow escalated as images from her past flashed through her mind. All the times they had spent together in the palace with their other sisters or on missions, serving their Queen, came to her at once. Not caring that the men outside were waiting and probably could hear her, the Inquisitor, followed by Elermaé began signing the traditional chant of sorrow for the recently departed—the same song Sabé sang for all who'd fallen during the Battle of Naboo, as well as for her other departed sister.
Half a galaxy away, the same hymn was being sung as several people dressed in black surrounded the prone, cold figure of Jobal Naberrie. The last nine years had been difficult for the Naberrie family. First, Padmé's mysterious death, then four years later, Ruwee died of complications from a debilitating, chronic illness. Throughout everything Jobal tried to be the strong as she always been, but losing her daughter, and then her husband devoured the living spirit that had once thrived within her. After his death, the matriarch was never the same.
Sola Naberrie stood silently as Darred had his arm draped around her; meanwhile, Ryoo and Pooja were standing close to their mother, morning the loss of their beloved grandmother. The new Naberrie matriarch sighed deeply as she listened to the words of the chant, wishing that she hadn't heard it so often. It almost seemed that a curse had been cast upon their house, forever covering it in darkness. While the doctors and healers had thoroughly explained her father's and now her mother's medical condition, she knew all too well that each had died of a broken heart of sorts. Her baby sister's death was devastating enough, but the knowledge that her niece or nephew—her parent's grandchild was laid to rest with her, was just too much for their souls to bear.
The song was finished; the funeral was over. Sola felt herself being led gently by Darred with her daughters walking directly behind, holding hands. She'd been so lost in her bereavement; the conclusion of the ceremony escaped her notice. Time seemed to pass in rapid motion, yet each second was agonizingly drawn out. Yet, the pain she was experiencing was not loss. Rather, it was the hurt of not knowing, the misery that her blood, her little sister whom she loved dearly, was lost and there was never the chance to say farewell. Sola wanted answers—she needed answers; the middle aged mother owed that to both her parents, Padmé and most importantly to her daughters. Perhaps once she knew what happened, her family and she as well, could finally find peace.
"Yes, Mother?" They answered simultaneously.
"Pack your things. We're going to Coruscant."
Darred knelt down to look his wife in the eyes. "Why are you going there?"
"Honey, I need answers. And there is someone there who can help us," she said stoically.
He nodded silently as he stared at the determined look of his wife of many years. "I will help you pack for your journey."