Cercale had been engaged in the Youth Legislature program since her early childhood. She had done fairly well; she'd debated moderate topics, had been raised to one of the top ten teams. She was also one of the older students with less than a year left to remain in the Legislature program. In such a position, she was expected to begin settling down and choosing a true career path. And she had looked in many directions, and applied to many areas of study. She'd looked at internships and considered the university. In the end, though there had been one course that seemed more suited to her passions.
She loved to gossip.
The latest court intrigue, scandal. Who-was-dating-so-and-so.
Such reasons were behind her newfound intent to become a handmaiden. There were plenty of positions within King Veruna's court for her to choose from. Why, if she was lucky, she might even end up serving one of his mistresses—or even his wife.
So Cercale didn't mind that she had been asked to undertake the care and management of the young Junior Chancellor. Nine-year-old Padme Naberrie was the cause of a great deal of gossip, and it was well-known that the child prodigy would be leaving the ranks of the Youth Apprenticeship herself before too long, and the importance of such a connection could scarcely afford to be overlooked.
Padme Naberrie's talent was hardly news. When she'd been tested around four standard years of age, she'd been merely gifted. Within two years of intense political study under Master Danan's tutelage, she'd been a rising star. And at the remarkable age of eight-and-a-half, she'd proven herself by taking advantage of a vote of no-confidence in Junior Chancellor Rellan to usurp him in a landslide election. Since then, her prowess had become legendary. She was the darling of both the Apprentice Legislature and Naboo's political scene. If the child was seen on the Holonet making a resounding speech, she received more coverage than Supreme Chancellor Valorum. If she was seen wandering a festival in her home village or out frequenting the shops of Theed she was followed by such a throng that twice in recent months she'd been assigned a bodyguard to ensure her wellbeing when with her family on holidays.
Padme Naberrie was remarkable. And Cercale couldn't imagine finding herself a better position to serve out her remaining tenure with the Legislature. Of course, the reduction in rank had been a bit painful. And then there had been the message from Master Danan's office informing her that her quartering onboard the Legislature ship had been adjusted as well... still, Cercale felt it would be worthwhile. She anxiously waited in the line at the foot of the ramp, jiggling the handle of her large duffle bag in impatience. As the line slowly moved before her, she moved her hand to her throat and pulled her i.d. tags off in one fluid motion and held them out for inspection.
"Name?" the young sergeant asked gruffly.
"Loriek, Cercale." She said.
"You have your assignment for this trip?" he asked, and Cercale nodded.
Flashing lights caught her attention, and Cercale realized for the first time that some of the more influential young politicians—like Padme Naberrie—had a special entrance onto the ship this time around. It was just as well, there'd been such a mob scene the last time she'd boarded the transport that it made sense to have them escorted on by security. Thinking of her young charge made Cercale nervous all over again, and she wished the guard would hurry along.
"Very well, on you go." He waved her up the ramp, and Cercale didn't need to be told twice. She hurtled up the ramp eagerly and bounded down the first corridor to her right. Despite her lack of familiarity with the starboard side of the ship, she was following the pre-programmed map-pad to the coordinates she'd been given. 3004, 3005, 3006—there it was! The Junior Chancellor's private quarters—in 3006—were actually interconnected to the one assigned to her assistant. Cercale ran one fingertip along the wall before settling on the small keypad near the door. Was Padme aboard yet? She shifted her bags to one hand, keying the door sequence with a hand that trembled ever so slightly. She waited until the door slowly irised open and stumbled inside to find three girls standing before her. Cercale felt her enthusiasm begin to wane, just a little bit. But not for very long. A circumspect look about the room found four bunks molded into the walls, a group 'fresher on one side and directly opposite—
The Junior Chancellor's chambers!
"Hi." She greeted, dumping her bag on the floor just inside the room. "Are you all looking for your quarters?"
"No, these are our quarters." A dark haired little girl stepped forward to take Cercale's hand. "I'm Corde Sebine."
"Cercale Loriek. What do you mean, your quarters? You mean we're all sharing?" Cercale groaned despite herself.
"Yes, we are. This is Iriane, and Grela. We're all assigned to work with Padme." Corde motioned to the other two girls, who nodded graciously.
"How can this be?" Cercale felt like crying, but would not give into the urge to do so while three younger girls were watching her. She settled for sinking down to sit on the floor in despair.
Corde looked to the door adjoining the chambers surrepitously, and then moved so that she was right next to Cercale's ear. "Have you ever met Padme before?" she whispered.
"No." Cercale struggled to figure out why Corde was asking. She didn't seem the type to—
"I've known Padme since she first came into the program. I love her dearly. But, she's, well—"Corde cast about, looking for the right word.
"Spoiled." Iriane finished for her. Corde shot her a look, and then lifted her chin to indicate the door. Iriane shrugged, and Cercale had the impression that she didn't care if Padme Naberrie heard her. In fact, she almost seemed to hope that she did.
"Let's not say spoiled, but—difficult." Corde said.
"What?" Cercale heard herself ask.
"Very spoiled." Iriane went on. "Danan put us all with her in hopes of finding one-possibly two-aides she won't run off. So don't be too disappointed to find us here. I
won't be staying long myself." Iriane finished coolly.
"She's not that bad." Corde tried to defend, only to find Grela apparently shared a similar opinion of their young leader.
"Oh yes she is! Her first year in, Danan put her up in one of the early teams of the day and sent her out to debate. They went all day, and well into the night, and toward the end, she started getting really cranky—"
"She was six!" Corde pointed out.
"I was on one of the opposite teams, and I found I had one more snack that my mother had sent along. One of those Godievez chocolate eggs..and when she saw I was eating it, she stormed over and told me to give her some. Of course, I said no. And she went on to throw one of the worst tantrums—"
"You're still telling that story?" a voice interrupted. Cercale felt her spirit sink as she looked up to find Padme Naberrie standing in the doorway of their adjoining quarters. Cercale turned to look at her carefully; she'd never seen her in person before. She was much shorter than she seemed on the Holonet. And her hair was unruly; a far cry from the tight ringlet curls that everyone envied. She looked more the daughter of a dirt farmer from the northern regions than a polished young politician. Still, Cercale found she liked Padme's pale blue sundress, even if it wasn't quite long enough to mask the glimmer of sand on her legs and feet, and two slightly skinned knees. Padme rolled her eyes dramatically as she entered the room fully. The overhead light set her dark hair afire, she seemed to have been out in the sun recently because her hair was streaked blond in places and on closer inspection, she also had a smattering of freckles across her nose. Cercale found herself envying Padme Naberrie's holiday. Her parents had obviously not been too busy to take her someplace. Padme leaned against the bulkhead and crossed her arms defensively.
"I would like to point out that I was only a child then." she said.
"You're a child now." Grela said heatedly. "I can't imagine you've changed all that much. I certainly haven't seen it."
"I didn't ask you to be here." Padme said coldly. "If you don't want to stay, please, don't! I've more than enough to do without dealing with you."
Grela seemed startled at the realization that she had spoken so openly and with such hostility. It was deeply ingrained in all Naboo to serve, and although she might have believed the things she was saying, it was completely out of turn to speak of them publicly. She opened and closed her mouth for a moment, and then ducked her head and swallowed nervously.
"I'm sorry, my lady." She whispered. "It won't happen again."
Padme must have held some reservations about such an apology, but if she did, she wisely decided not to voice them. She settled for nodding; though she turned a wary eye to Iriane, only to find her looking suitably chastened as well. Sighing deeply, Padme ran a small hand through her thick dark hair. She closed her eyes for a moment, before opening them and leveling her stare on the two who remained.
"I'm glad to see you, Corde." She smiled; a genuine smile that lit up her eyes.
"I'm glad to see you, too." Corde admitted. She held out a hand for Cercale, who took it quickly and scrambled to her feet. She felt a surge of embarrassment that she should have been sitting when Padme entered, but the other girl seemed unaware of it.
"I'm Cercale." She introduced herself.
"I'm Padme." She smiled again at Cercale, and shook her hand warmly. She pulled her hand away, and seemed to straighten imperceptibly and turn just a little bit chillier.
"Well, I did come in to meet you all, and to speak to Corde, if she has a moment?" She moved back toward the adjoining door, and motioned Corde to follow. "I haven't planned any meetings for tonight. Danan thought we should be given a chance to settle for the evening and work out any differences we might have."
"I think we're off to a good start." Cercale bravely voiced, and was relieved when it drew a smile from Padme.
"So far." She admitted with a grin before grabbing Corde's hand and dragging her into her own quarters. She seemed about to close the door when she put her head around the opening again. "I've nothing for you to do tonight, so if you would like to explore the lounges, or whatever, go ahead. I'll need you up and moving a couple hours before we land on Coruscant so I have help preparing for the opening session."
"That's it?" Corde's voice echoed from the other side of the door. "If that's all you needed to tell me, I don't think I needed to come over here for that!"
"No, I have something else to tell you!" Padme winked at them and closed the door, leaving Iriane, Cercale and Grela to look at one another in confusion.
"I guess we should go ahead and unpack. By the way," Cercale slowly reached down and picked up her bag. "which bunk did you all leave for me?"
"The far left one, on top." Iriane sighed as she flopped down onto her own bed below it. "Grela, I am amazed she didn't throw you out on your ear."
"Me too." Grela sighed as she clambered up the ladder rungs to sit on her bunk opposite Cercale.
"Is she really that bad?" Cerecale asked quietly. Slowly, both girls shook their heads.
"No." Iriane said finally. "Well, it's different for you. You're older, and already had your career. But since she came in, you can't imagine what it's like to be in the same age group and only hearing how wonderful she is."
"And she can be a little spoiled." Grela finished softly. "You'll notice she went to the lake again. My parents never do anything when I come home, and almost every time hers take her someplace really fun."
"Is that where she goes? The lake country?"
"Yes, her parents own a house up there. A villa. More like a small palace." Grela shook her head sadly.
"A small palace?" Cercale unpacked her holoportraits of her family and set them carefully on magnetic strips so they clung to the wall beside her bed.
"My sister is friend of her older sister, and she's been up there with the Naberries a few times. She says it's like a palace, and that it's big and filled with some of the same furniture you'd see in a palace."
"Wow. How old is her sister?"
"Yeah." Grela sighed. "I liked her sister, though. I think she's just as tired of her younger sister as we are."
"Think what it'd be like to be related to her though, it must be horrible. Maybe she feels like she never does anything right." Iriane was idly flipping through her musicdisks before she sat up and got up from her bunk to pace the floor.
"I heard she's a really good artist, though. I think she was accepted into the university's art program." Grela admitted.
"You're kidding!" Iriane stopped in her tracks and dropped her head into her hands. "Wait, maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Do you know if they have any brothers?"
"I don't think so. Maybe," Grela looked doubtful.
"Why would that matter?" Cercale looked up in confusion.
"Well, I might not be as talented as Padme Naberrie, or her sister, but I bet if I married into the family I could share in their success."
"That's a terrible idea!" Grela looked stunned. "You'd marry into a family you probably wouldn't even like just have children?"
"Yes! It'd be perfect."
"Eww!" Grela groaned.
"It does make sense." Cercale nodded slowly. "Would your family have that kind of connection? I'm sure if they're as talented as they seem to be that their family is already proving difficult to meet if you're not part of the Royal Court."
"I think so. My father's head of the provincial offices of exportation. He even meets once-a-year with the King's council!" Iriane was beaming, and she threw herself back onto her bunk to pull out a holographic image of her father standing at the far end of a circular table with King Veruna standing at the head of it. There was quite a bit of distance between them, actually, but Cercale tried to ignore it.
"I see." She said diplomatically after a moment.
"You can barely see him!" Grela said.
"I don't see your father standing anywhere near the King!" Iriane huffed.
Cercale paused in her unpacking when the door opened and Corde came skipping back inside and shut the door behind herself.
"What'd she want?" Cercale asked, and even Iriane and Grela had enough sense to pause in their argument to make certain they weren't inadvertently speaking out of turn again.
"Just to tell me about a friend we both knew." Corde slid onto her bunk and began searching her bags for an infopad.
"How well do you know her, Corde?" Iriane asked.
"Fairly well. We're friends, I guess." Corde shrugged indifferently.
"Does she have any brothers?" Iriane sat up and stared straight at Corde.
Grela burst out laughing, and Cercale let herself smile. Corde paused in looking for her infopad to study all three of them dubiously.
"Never mind." Iriane mumbled, and flopped back onto her bunk again to pout. Corde seemed about to ask again why the sudden interest in someone Iriane professed to hate, but didn't get the chance before one of the counselors pressed the door chime and then came in.
"Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Deriane."
"Hi." Iriane sat up again on the bed, and Cercale, Grela and Corde paused in their unpacking to wait patiently.
"Listen, I have your assignments and schedule of meets. Did any of you have any questions for me?" Deriane moved further into the room and took one of the chairs on the far wall.
"I was assigned to a couple debates I'm not sure I want to do, can I decline them?" Corde asked.
"Yes, here," she held out the pad; "go ahead and delete the ones you don't want to do and I'll make the changes when I go back to Master Danan. Anyone else?"
"I think I'm happy." Iriane said, and Grela nodded as well.
"What exactly are our duties?" Cercale asked quietly. "I was told to be an aide. No one mentioned that there was going to be four of us."
"That's what I'm here to talk to you about." Deriane shifted in her seat. "Is she in her quarters? We should have her in on the discussion."
"She's in there." Iriane said quietly.
"She was going to go to sleep, the time difference from the lake country is almost a full day from district one." Corde volunteered.
"Does someone want to go get her?" Deriane asked, and not surprisingly it was Corde who got to her feet and went back into Padme's rooms. No one spoke while they waited, and the silence seemed to stretch onward. Cercale strained to hear anything above the ship's thrusters as they engaged and lifted them into the air. In the time it took for Corde to make her way into Padme's room and return with her, the ship cleared the atmosphere and took up its pre-plotted hyperspace course. Corde quietly pushed the door open and made her way back inside with Padme Naberrie stumbling sleepily behind her. Padme hadn't wasted any time, it seemed. She was in a pale yellow nightshirt and blue pants and wore a pair of pink fuzzy slippers. Cercale wondered for a moment if she had showered to get the sand off before she fell into bed.
"My lady." Deriane greeted, and the young Junior Chancellor grumbled a reply as she sank down to sit on the floor. She slid her feet out of their slippers, and Corde sighed as she caught sight of Padme's perfectly pedicured toenails.
"Master Danan asked me to speak with you all about your duties for this session—"she began, and Padme groaned in agony.
"Do we have to do this now? Danan told me we could discuss it in the morning."
"It is morning, somewhere." Corde pointed out smugly, and giggled when Padme rolled her eyes.
"Master Danan," Deriane began again after a stern look for Padme, "asked me to speak with you about your duties. Obviously, my lady, you are aware of your duties. Corde, Grela, Iriane and Cercale are assigned to be your aides, and it is your responsibility to assign them duties that both best serve your needs and their chosen career paths."
"Are they to only remain my aides? Or am I allowed to assign them as I see fit?" Padme asked, sitting up and stretching before settling back down on the floor resting her weight on her elbows. She looked like the rebellious, sleepy child she was as she struggled to stay awake.
"Master Danan implied that the choice was yours." Deriane said, smiling. Padme was as astute as the legendary master had believed. "As for the rest of you girls, your duties will be your primary focus, unless you have requested to be on debate teams or committees as well."
"We can add ourselves or withdraw as we would like, right?" Iriane asked.
"That is your choice, provided you are nominated to participate at the level you're choosing." Deriane finished. She pressed a key on the flimpad and waited until it beeped at her to pass it around to Iriane.
"What's this?" Iriane asked even as she peered at the screen.
"Your acknowledgement of the information I just told you. Scroll to your name and press your thumbprint to the schedule." Deriane looked down to see Padme had given up on them and flopped back to lie flat on the floor. Her eyes were closed, but she obediently sat up when Corde nudged her and took the pad to dutifully thumbprint it before flopping down again. Deriane watched in amusement as Corde poked at her until she got to her feet, grumbling about wasting time.
"Remember girls, switch to district one time. And you'll want to be ready in your official robes about two hours before we land. The session will start shortly after we arrive, we were among the last to leave because most of the cabinet is from Naboo, and they had a plenary session that lasted until earlier today." Padme nodded as Deriane got to her own feet and started for the door.
"Are you our liaision with the senior staff this time?" Padme asked as she knuckled her eyes sleepily. She brushed her hair away from her eyes wearily as she shuffled her feet back into her slippers and turned for the door to her quarters.
"Yes, my lady." Deriane confirmed. "I'll be your contact with your mentors."
"Very well." Padme tried, and failed to entirely smother a yawn. She smiled in silent apology before she shuffled off toward her quarters. She shut the connecting door without saying anything further and the girls all looked to one another silently before returning their focus to Deriane.
"What time will we need to get up and moving in the morning?" Corde asked. Deriane smiled as she scrolled through the flimpad in her hand. "We are scheduled to land on Coruscant at 0700. Let's see…you'll have a cabinet meeting with those that are on board the ship at 0415. So, I would imagine you'll need to be up and moving by at least 0330 to get Padme to the meeting on time."
"0330?" Grela echoed. "District one time?"
"Yes." Deriane admitted. She couldn't help but feel slightly amused by the girls' dismay.
"What time does the session end? I mean the very last meeting of the day." Cercale chimed into the meeting at last, although she felt her spirits sink as she watched Deriane scroll through the datapad endlessly.
"Let's see..arrival at 0700. Brief meeting to discuss the committees and subsidies that have petitioned to present for the day, and petitions of other groups who wish to ask permission to present for the day. Then the actual commencement of the mock senate, that'll probably conclude around 1700 or so. Midday meal will either be eaten in chambers, or during a brief recess. Then there are meetings with Senator Palpatine, and a couple of the committees that he is involved with that Padme wanted to sit in on. Then she has a meeting with the Chancellor, which you will be excluded from, later in the evening at 2000. Evening meal will be eaten en route to the housing complex around 2200. Depending on how late it is, she might meet with you to go over the schedule for the next day before going to bed." Deriane finished reciting the daily schedule for them and looked up to see all four girls were staring at her in horror.
"0415 to 2200?" Cercale asked in a small voice. "Straight? No breaks?"
Corde sighed softly and shifted imperceptibly. "I guess I know why she was eager to go to bed."
"So do we get to go back to our quarters and rest while she's in her meeting with the Chancellor?" Iriane asked.
"Where she goes, you go." Deriane said simply. "You'll wait outside in the hall while she meets with him. By the way, one of you girls will need to take over as her daily planner."
No one spoke for a moment, until Corde put her hand out and reached for the flimpad in Deriane's hand only to find that she couldn't take it from her.
"No, Corde." She said softly. "You express a willingness to work, but you cannot be the only aide working." She surveyed the other girls quietly. "One of you."
After a moment, Cercale put a hand out. "I'll do it, I guess."
"Thank you, Cercale." Deriane handed her the pad and gave her a grateful smile. "All right, I think all of you should get ready for bed. I know it's only 1900, but I think you'll find by tomorrow night you'll be able to fall asleep anywhere very quickly."
"Why would that be good?" Iriane asked as Deriane made her way to the door.
"That's a secret of most good politicians." Deriane winked back at them. "Good night, ladies."
"Will you be by in the morning?" Corde called.
"Yes, I'll be your liaision. That means I'll be here from the time I get you up and until you go to bed." Deriane smiled as the door began to close. "Good night."
They stared at one another silently for a moment after the door closed, until Corde moved to her bed and began to strip her clothes off and replace it with a nightgown. She slid into bed and pulled the covers up over her head. One by one, the other girls did the same, and then dimmed the lights. No one spoke as they lay in their beds, their thoughts heavy with thoughts of the day to come.