"Have you gone completely MAD?" To say the Queen's voice was less than pleased was a great understatement. Bail raised his hands in an attempt to open a space where he might speak and placate Sola's fury. He was not successful. "Sola, please..."
Her eyes flashed and she all but shook with open rage. "I am Queen here Bail Organa, and you will not forget it."
He bowed his head in a swift gesture of deference. He was taken aback by the virulence with which Sola had responded. He had not expected it. They were only children - not rebel fighters, and if he could not convince her to harbor them, he did not know where else they could go. "Highness, I-"
"How could you?" she asked, rising from her seat and approaching him. The was something more desperate and pained in her voice. "Did you think nothing of the consequences if you were discovered? My people have suffered enough Bail, I will not allow you to risk what precious little remains of my world for them."
She turned away from him and put a hand over her face, finger tips pressing and kneading her throbbing forehead, her expression grimaced and pained. Now it was his turn to raise his voice in anger. "'Them'? You say that word as if they were war criminals. They are only children!"
"JEDI!" she very nearly shrieked. " They are Jedi children you idealistic... imbecilic... you wretched fool!"
He took her by the arm, a bit more forcefully than he meant to, his voice hurried and insistent. "Sola, please. They have nowhere else to go. I have kept them hidden for as long as I've been able. I do not know anywhere else they might be safe anymore. Padmé would not turn them away."
By now being drawn to the sounds of arguing, the small royal guard rushed into the audience room at the same moment a loud crack boomed through the air. Bail stumbled back more than a step or two, hand to his face where Sola's surprisingly heavy swing had connected with his jaw.
A sudden, uncomfortable silence held over the room and its occupants. Her guards shifted uncomfortably, and no one dared to speak.
Sola looked at Bail for several moments, her jaw locked and her fists tight. After a while, she felt the hot edge to her anger begin to slip away – draining through the bottoms of her feet into a formless puddle on the floor. It felt too toxic a thing to hang on to. Truthfully she didn't want to. It was fear, not anger she was most consumed with. A deep, and endless fear at the consequences for her people should such a thing ever come to the Emperor's ear. She sighed a long, deep sigh and looked mournfully up at the ceiling as if it were the night sky.
"I've told you already Bail. I am not my sister. "
"Why me, Prince? Why Naboo?"
Bail blinked, willing away as best he could the last few stars in his vision. "Practically… with the Empire's troops gone and your independence partially restored, frankly, Naboo is the safest place I – or anyone else for that matter – could think of. The Emperor's own homeworld. No one would think to look for Jedi there."
There were a few angry grumbles and mutters from the now grown crowd of guards and handmaidens at the painful reminder of Palpatine's origins. Sola turned her gaze back to him, her face a placid, unreadable expression. Taking a step, and then another towards and then past him, Sola cut her head to the side just long enough to whisper, "If you ever presume to usurp my authority like that again, I will have your manhood, is that understood?"
Bail blinked a moment, almost shocked before a bright smile spread broad over his face. He turned and bowed in a very gallant and humble fashion. "Very much so, my Lady."
She arched a brow at him and sighed.
"Yes your Majesty?"
"I want you to send Fidelius a message over the encrypted channels. Apparently we have guests on their way to Theed."
The hangar bay on the Executor was large. Too large for her comfort. As she stepped off the ramp of her ship onto the cold, obsidian plated floor, Sola suppressed a shudder. Heads of State did not have the luxury of honest expression.
Her face remained as cold as the pit of her stomach as she approached the Grand Moff and the Emperor's right hand. That sight was somewhat unexpected. She hadn't anticipated encountering the Sith Lord until arriving on Coruscant. Still, it did not change things.
"Ah, Queen Amidala…" Tarkin said in greeting. His voice and the look in his eyes dripped with disdain, despite the otherwise convincing smile on his face. Sola arched a brow very slightly, her eyes cutting for the briefest of moments to Vader's.
"Governor Tarkin." She responded with a subtle, deferential bow of her head. "We are most honored by yours and his Lordship's escort. The Emperor is too kind."
Tarkin chuckled, and had she not known him better, might have thought him amused. "In that, my dear, I agree with you most heartily."
She felt a hand on her shoulder, inwardly thankful that Bail had insisted on coming with her. It momentarily stilled the spreading feeling of sick and cold down her throat and into her stomach. Tarkin's upper lip curled a moment as he regarded the Alderaani leader. "Prince Organa. I was unaware Alderaan had been invited to attend."
A dashing smile and a squeeze of her shoulder, and Bail nodded. "We haven't been. I am not here in an official capacity, Governor. I imagine you were quite pleased with the new title, congratulations."
Sola's face remained impassionate. She still didn't quite understand how Bail, or her sister for that matter, were ever able to put on such a convincing masquerade when she knew there was nothing but bitter vitriol and contempt between the two parties.
Tarkin's thin lips pursed and he arched a single brow. Oh, governorship of the still only half-tamed wilderness had pleased him. It was a veritable playground for his ruthless nature. There, he could rule with near impunity and none would question. Hands clasped behind his back he took one step forward. "Quite. However you overstep your bounds, Prince Organa. Return to your ship immediately or I will have you removed."
"You forget who you speak to, Governor."
"And you forget by whose grace Queens and Princes alike remain seated on their thrones."
Bail's pleasant face darkened and his expression became quite serious. Sola may not have had the sharpest political prowess or cunning in the Galaxy, but she was a talented reader of people. She put her hand on his forearm and squeezed it gently. Not here, and not over this. It wasn't worth it.
The politician's façade returned. "I serve at the Emperor's pleasure, of course – in service to the Empire." He nodded deferentially to Vader's still silent figure and to the Grand Moff beside him, turning to Sola with a softer expression. "Thank you, my Lady, for allowing me to accompany you this far."
Sola allowed the tiniest of smiles as the Prince lifted her hand and brushed the back of it with a light kiss. "Thank you, Prince Organa. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future."
As he took his leave, she turned to face the two men before her. Tarkin looked less than patient as he extended his arm in a wordless invitation to begin walking. Sola's handmaids glanced at one another nervously as the procession made its way out of the hangar and into the hall. The air was thick and uncomfortable.
It disturbed her – how he had yet to speak a single word. She had not actually laid her own eyes on Anakin since before the end of the Clone Wars. She knew she ought not to be so surprised, but she found herself deeply unsettled nonetheless by how different, cold, mechanical he was now. She found her eyes drifting as he and the Grand Moff walked in front of her. She watched him, trying to find the outline of that young, handsome man her sister had brought home in the thing that was half a step before her now.
"An impressive vessel, my Lord Vader." She finally spoke, her voice betraying none of the tight, sickening anxiety she held in the pit of her stomach. Fidelius had not been exaggerating – she might very well be risking death with what she had a mind to attempt. "The Executor is your flagship, is it not?"
The cold black mask turned only a few degrees to the side when she spoke. There was a brief pause as his respirator drew in another rasping breath. The reverberating sound of his voice sent a shiver down her spine. Perhaps it was her imaginations that lead her to hear the tiniest whisper of his old voice – spurred by the knowledge that in what body was left; this was indeed… or had been, Anakin Skywalker. Even that was hard to discern.
"The new fleet has been designed not simply to perform with maximum force, but to present the greatest image of that force. "
Her head cocked slightly, a bitter and cynical voice in the back of her head having to admit the intelligence and logic of such thinking.
"Fear is a powerful weapon, my Lord." She said.
Tarkin chuckled, injecting himself into the exchange. "To rule by fear is to rule completely, your Highness. Little else in this universe makes men so easily helpless."
The knot in Sola's stomach unexpectedly twisted violently, and she felt as though her insides had been doused in cold water. Not understanding why she would, her first thought was to look to Vader. He was entirely unreadable, not at all surprising, though with him that meant little. The feeling passed quickly enough, for that she was thankful. What had that been?
The condescending smirk had left his face, replaced with the usual lofty superiority. "Are you unwell?" he asked, with no real sincerity.
She shook her head and held up a hand. "No, Governor, I am well. I fear I am just not so agreeable to space travel as most others."
"The perhaps it would be best for you to retire."
She and Tarkin both looked at Vader with a mild note of surprise. "It would not be wise…" he continued. "…for you to present yourself to the Emperor in anything other than your best condition."
Sola nodded her assent, and gave her best dignitary's smile. "Of course, my Lord. We all serve at the Emperor's pleasure."
Tarkin huffed under his breath. Her subtle emphasis and the jab it carried was not lost on him. Of course it wasn't likely meant to. As they rounded a corner in the corridor, a selected group of the ship's officers and a small trooper guard came into view, advancing towards them.
"Ah, Lieutenant…" he said, eager to stuff the insufferable puppet away in her quarters for the rest of the trip and return to his duties. He did not know which irritated him more; that her appointment, even for show, as an independent leader spat in the face of his accomplishments, or the infuriatingly self-sacrificing pacifist mask she paraded to the Senate. "Show the Queen and her ladies to her quarters. Lord Vader, I have business on the bridge. I shall meet you there at your convenience."
He turned on his heel and strode off. Sola stood for a moment, nodding to Dormé behind her. Her handmaids filed past her, following the obedient Imperial officer. She didn't have to look at him to feel his silent, dangerous gaze bearing down on her.
"My Lady?" came Dormé's voice. She held up a hand that asked another moment.
"Lord Vader?" asked Sola in a soft, low voice that no other was likely to hear. He had turned in the other direction and was about to begin walking away when her inquiry gave him pause.
"What is it?"
Her throat felt tight, and she swallowed before continuing. "Might I have a word with you later? In private?"
The very air seemed to freeze in that moment. He regarded her intently, in eerie silence. Without an answer, he continued on his way.
Sola did not exhale until he was out of sight. She felt weak. Her face felt flushed, and her jaw tightened. Dormé was by her side, hands clasping at hers tightly.
"Come my Lady. You're tired." She urged gently.