The story contains implied adult situations. Nothing is explicitly shown.
All questions and comments may be e-mailed to me. Please see my profile for details.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the story.
Found by Fate
Ellara Rittani was full of pride as she passed the graded tests back to her students. There was not a single failure among them, proof that the children had learned well the lessons she had taught them. They were truly on their way to fulfilling the destiny Clearl foresaw for them.
Clearl Toron was a true visionary and her ideas would save the galaxy. Ellara believed her to be the single most amazing being she had ever met and felt honored that Clearl considered her a friend as well as a colleague. It saddened her that others did not share her awe of this great woman. But she had no doubt that they one day would. And it would be on the day that the Empire fell and the galaxy realized that it owed its freedom to a historian from Naboo.
Clearl's plan was simple: educate the children. The children were the future. If they were taught to cherish freedom and democracy from an early age, they would do everything in their power to keep it as adults. Today's children were tomorrow's leaders. Palpatine could not maintain control over a galaxy that desired the opposite of what he gave it. He would be forced to step down and the Republic would be reborn.
And best of all, not a single drop of blood would have to be spilled.
As history has proven time and time again, violence solved nothing. In fact, it usually did nothing but make a bad situation worse. It was the worst possible approach to a problem. For those reasons and more, Clearl opposed violence with a passion, a sentiment shared by all who followed her.
Clearl felt that if beings could be patient enough, a peaceful solution could always be reached. The majority of conflicts were caused by very minor issues that could be solved quickly once calmly identified. But sadly, most beings refused to be patient. And the leaders of the Alliance to Restore the Republic were no different.
Clearl had joined the Alliance with the hopes of enlisting their aid in launching her plan to defeat the Empire, but she had been told that her ideas were "naïve" and "ineffective" by no less than Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, two individuals Ellara had once admired. Clearl then had tried to point out why their decision to wage war against the Empire would ultimately fail. But they refused to listen and continued along their doomed path. So she had given up and realized that she alone would have to stop Palpatine's evil.
Clearl had led her followers, which included Ellara and, amazingly, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (amazingly because he had been a general during the Clone Wars and had a reputation for doing what needed to be done despite being called "The Negotiator" by the HoloNet), to an uninhabited world in the Outer Rim from where she could set her three phase plan into motion. The Empire had little to no presence in this region of the galaxy. There were no restrictions on what could and could not be taught in the schools. It was the ideal place to begin the galaxy's slow return to democracy.
Ten random planets were chosen for the first phase. Ten teachers, Ellara included despite having only just received her license on her home world of Sagura, were handpicked by Clearl to be assigned to each of these worlds. Each teacher would have the task of instructing his or her class about the Old Republic, explaining both its virtues and flaws. He or she would also have the responsibility of emphasizing the evils of the Empire. The phase would last one year, during which each teacher would give Clearl weekly reports on the progress of their class.
If at the end of a year Phase One was determined a success (i.e. the students all receiving passing grades in the subjects relating to the Republic), Phase Two would begin. Phase Two involved spreading the program to other schools on the same planet by giving the same lessons to other local teachers. The final phase would bring the program to other worlds and systems. Once the curriculum became widespread throughout the galaxy, the rest of Clearl's plan would fall into place on its own. The children would grow up and demand freedom. And the Empire would fall.
The plan was brilliant in its simplicity. Ellara could not see how it could possibly fail.
Ellara had been assigned to the planet Entellion and was teaching in the main primary school in the city of Valaqua. Her class was made up of nine and ten year old children, all so smart and all so eager to learn. They were absorbing everything she was teaching them, asking questions and giving answers. It was a thrill to see Clearl's dream coming to life before her very eyes. These children would grow up and make a difference.
And one little girl in particular would make the greatest difference of all...
"You've done it again," Ellara told Ammae Peridon, the brightest ten year old she had ever had the privilege of knowing, as she handed the test paper to her. "Excellent work as always."
Ammae blushed. "Thank you, Miss Rittani."
Ellara smiled at the girl before continuing on. Although she knew it was improper for a teacher to have favorites, she could not help how she felt about Ammae. The girl had one of the most incredible minds Ellara had ever encountered and it was rare for her to forget anything. Add to that her sweet personality, it was impossible for anyone to not like her. She was very special.
She had a feeling that that galaxy was in store for great things from this little girl.
And so did Clearl...
Wizard! Ammae silently cheered as she read her score of 100.
Once again her hours of studying had paid off. She had gone into the test determined not to miss a single question and she hadn't. She was very proud of herself.
Learning was Ammae's passion. She knew she was unusual, but she could not help how she felt. She loved to learn new things. It didn't matter what the subject was, she wanted to know everything about it. (Dad often called her his "little probe droid," though she preferred his other nickname for her, "Little Angel," much more.) She had yet to find anything that bored her.
Over the years, she had had to endure a great deal of teasing for her interest, mostly from her older sister, Leia, who had a mean-streak the size of a gas giant. (Leia was even mean to Luke, her own twin! And she hardly listened to Mom and Dad. Ammae wished they weren't related. She wanted to hate her, but Dad made her promise never to feel that way towards anyone.) But as she had gotten older, she had gotten better at ignoring it. She no longer cared if other children found her strange for preferring reading to playing. It was their problem, not hers. And it made the friendships she did have all the more special.
"Considering how well all of you did on this last test," Miss Rittani was saying as she returned to the front of the room, "I see no need to go over it as a class. However, those of you who have questions can see me at the end of the day.
"Now, let's move on to the next section of galactic history," she continued, typing something into the keypad on her desk.
The main wall display lit up with the words "Last Years of Republic."
"What we will be studying now is the final years of the Old Republic," Miss Rittani told the class. "This thirteen year period begins with a minor incident taking place in one system and ends with the rise of the Galactic Empire. The main focus of our studies will be what went wrong within the Republic that allowed one man to get complete control and turn it into a dictatorship.
"And the best way to do that," she went on as she typed again, "is by getting to know the individuals who played large roles during this period."
The display changed again, the words "Oral Presentations" appearing.
All right! Ammae grinned to herself while the entire rest of the class groaned. She loved doing presentations. They gave her a chance to share her knowledge with others, even if not everyone was interested in hearing it. (She also loved them because Mom would always help her put her speech together. Mom was an amazing public speaker.)
"All right, all right, settle down now," Miss Rittani ordered. "This report will be a large percentage of your final grade for this unit."
She typed again and the display now showed a list of the students with names beside them.
"Each of you has been assigned an individual to do a report on. Your goal will be to share with the rest of the class why he or she is so important to the fall of democracy in the galaxy. Your individual may be a senator, a Jedi, or a planetary leader. Your report can cover almost anything about them, but you must include this period of time."
Ammae only half listened as she searched the screen for her name. She quickly found it and glanced to the second column to see the name of her subject. "Padmé Amidala" was the name assigned to her.
"Padmé" was Mom's secret name! (Mom and Dad both had secret names that no one outside of their family knew. Dad's was "Anakin." Why they had them she did not know.) It was a neat coincidence. She wondered who this Padmé Amidala was.
"You will find some basic information in your personal folders under the History section on your terminal," Miss Rittani's voice interrupted her musings. "Take the next few minutes to start reading up on them. After you've all finished, we will move on to math."
Ammae eagerly opened up the History folder and went directly to her subfolder. Within it, she found a new item entitled "Amidala." She opened it and found a list of several files. One was an image and she selected it, curious to see what the woman who shared Mom's secret name looked like.
The image immediately popped up and Ammae felt her body fill with shock as she stared wide-eyed at the picture.
Ellara was startled by Ammae's sudden outburst. She looked up from her terminal to see the girl shaking her head incredulously at something.
"Ammae?" she called out, immediately concerned by her uncharacteristic behavior. "Is everything all right?"
Ammae's gaze rose to meet hers, her expression unreadable. "Y-yes, ma'am," she stammered. "I... I, um, I..."
Ellara knew at once that something was terribly wrong. Ammae never acted this way. She got up from her desk and went over to her.
"Ammae? What is it? What's wrong?"
"N-nothing," the girl managed, her expression now clearly stricken. "I'm..."
Concern transformed into worry at the obvious lie. Ammae was usually completely honest. Why was she lying all of a sudden? And why about something that was so clearly causing her distress?
She searched Ammae's desk to see if she could discern the cause of her odd behavior. Nothing immediately stood out. The surface was covered by the usual pile of datapads and flimsibooks.
Her eyes moved onto the computer terminal. An image of Padmé Amidala, the subject of Ammae's report, was displayed on the screen.
She looked back at Ammae, who was staring at her lap. Was that the cause of her outburst? The picture?
Ellara was puzzled. Why would Ammae react like that to a picture? It couldn't be because of the image itself. It was a simple senatorial portrait, taken shortly before Senator Amidala's mysterious disappearance sixteen years ago, long before Ammae was even born. (Clearl greatly admired Senator Amidala and Ellara had taken it upon herself to learn everything she could about the woman. If she was important to Clearl, then she was important to Ellara as well.) It had to be because of Senator Amidala herself.
Did Ammae...recognize her?
While the senator had never been discussed in class, it was not a complete impossibility for Ammae to have seen her before. Ammae's mother, Councilor Natala Peridon, followed a political path very similar to Amidala's. They shared many of the same views. Councilor Peridon was as popular on Entellion as Amidala had been both in the Republic and on her home world of Naboo. Perhaps Councilor Peridon admired Amidala in much the same way that Clearl did and had told her children about her, which could have very well involved showing them pictures of her.
Yet if that was true, why the lie? Why not just say that she recognized her? The Empire did not exist on Entellion. There were no laws against mentioning the Old Republic or any related subjects. Her behavior made no sense.
Unless Ammae had been told to keep her knowledge of Amidala a secret.
But why would she have been that? Like her behavior, it made no sense. The only reason to keep something like that a secret would be...
Would be if Padmé Amidala was still alive.
And in hiding...
"Ammae? What is it, sweetie? What's upsetting you?" Miss Rittani asked.
Ammae shook her head, too overwhelmed to answer. Besides, what could she say? That she just discovered that her mother had been a famous senator?
As soon as the image of Padmé Amidala had appeared on the screen, Ammae had known that it was Mom. It did not matter that her hair and eye colors were different She would recognize her mother's beautiful face anywhere.
Questions raced through her mind. Why had Mom changed her name? Why had she changed what she looked like? Did that mean she was hiding? From who? Was Dad too? Who had he been? Were they in trouble? Had they done something bad?
Her head began to hurt. It was too much to take in at once. Was everything she had ever believed about her parents a lie? Did the twins know any of this? Or were they as much in the dark as she was?
"Ammae?" Miss Rittani asked again. "What's the-?"
"I don't feel so good," Ammae announced, cutting her off. "I want to go home."
It was true. She felt sick to her stomach. Her entire world had been turned upside down. She was overwhelmed and wanted to be anywhere but where she was.
"All right, sweetie," Miss Rittani said, placing a hand on her arm. "All right. Let me write you a note. Gather your things together and I'll walk you down to the clinic."
Ammae simply nodded and picked her up her carryall from the floor. As Miss Rittani walked away, she began to stuff her belongings into it.
"Hey, what happened?" her best friend Meranda asked as she came over and knelt down so that she was level with her. "What was that all about?"
"Nothing," Ammae waved her off. "I just started feeling really sick, that's all." She forced a smile. "I'm sure I'll be fine in the morning."
"Nothing?" Meranda echoed. "You call saying 'no way' loud enough for the entire class to hear you 'nothing'? Come on, Ammae. You know you can tell me anything. What happened?"
Ammae was at a loss of what to do. She knew she couldn't tell Meranda the truth. (Mom obviously had a reason for what she had done.) But she had to tell her something. But what could she tell her?
She wracked her brain, searching for a plausible explanation for her outburst.
"Please, Ammae," Meranda pressed. "What is it? What's going on?"
Ammae began to hold her head.
"My head really hurts," she said in an attempt to deflect the line of questioning. "I just want to go home."
"Oh, Ammae," Meranda sighed sympathetically. "I'm sorry you don't feel good."
"Thanks," she murmured, grateful the distraction had worked.
For the moment.
"Ready to go?" Miss Rittani's voice questioned.
Ammae looked up to see her approaching with a flimsy in hand.
Nodding, she got to her feet, slinging her carryall over her shoulder.
Meranda rose from her crouching position but remained where she was.
"Call me later," she urged.
"I will," Ammae promised.
"Don't forget," Meranda said before returning to her desk.
"Continue your research," Miss Rittani instructed the class as she reached Ammae's seat. "I'll be back shortly."
Miss Rittani then placed her hand on Ammae's back and gently began to guide her out of the classroom.
As Ellara walked Ammae to the clinic, her mind could only focus on one thing: was Padmé Amidala truly still alive? Could she have only been hiding for these past sixteen years? Was it even possible?
Everything she knew about Senator Amidala said "no." She had been a stubborn and persistent fighter who never backed down from anything unless she had no other choice. A woman like that would never just run and hide for nearly two decades.
Or would she?
Truthfully, very little was known about Padmé Amidala's personal life. She had been a very private person. No one, not even her family or staff, had known how she spent her time while not in her office. (Speculation, of course, had run wild. The most outrageous had been the pregnancy rumor that appeared shortly before she vanished.) And it was for that very reason that no one knew where she had been going on the day she had disappeared.
Senator Amidala's disappearance was one of the all-time great unsolved mysteries of galactic history. Sixteen years ago she had abruptly left Coruscant and had never been heard from again. She had not filed a flight plan and had only told her staff she was attending to a personal matter. By the time her absence was noted, no one had had the slightest idea of where to start looking for her.
The Emperor himself had ordered a search for Amidala. Though she had been one of his most vocal opponents during the Clone Wars, he had apparently remained fond of his fellow Nubian. The search had been highly publicized, dominating the HoloNet for months. Unfortunately, it had ultimately been a wasted effort. Because of the lack of knowledge about her personal life, no one had been sure where to look for her. Every region within the Empire had been searched, but no trace of the senator was ever found. After a year, she had been declared officially dead. (Strangely, a Jedi Knight who had disappeared around the same time, Skywalker or something, was still being searched for. The Emperor seemed to want him found more than anything. The reward being offered increased every year. Why was the Jedi still being looked for? Why hadn't he been declared dead like the senator? When she had questioned Master Kenobi about it, he had been unusually evasive...)
Ellara was sure the key to Amidala's fate was the "personal errand" she had so suddenly left the capitol to perform. If she was in fact still alive, it was probably because of that errand. But what could have forced someone like Senator Amidala to go into hiding? Could she have learned something that would have put her life in danger if it was discovered?
Yet Amidala had rarely put her own life ahead of the people. She always had had to be forced to accept protection. She had placed her own safety secondary to protecting the people's welfare, as had been the case with the assassination attempts right before the start of the Clone Wars. And if it hadn't been for the Jedi Knights watching over her, she would have been killed. But if she had been given the choice, she would have declined their protection. So, if she had in fact gone into hiding, what could have made her suddenly change her mind about such things? What had happened on the day of her disappearance?
They reached the clinic and Ellara put her contemplation on hold. The mystery would have to wait a little longer. Ammae needed to be tended to first.
She ushered Ammae into the room and led her over the where the school nurse was sitting at her desk.
Nurse Fyanin Cildas looked up as she heard their approach.
"What is the ailment?" she questioned, her tone cold and businesslike.
"Ammae started feeling sick," Ellara explained, suppressing her dislike of the woman. "She'd like to go home."
"I'll be the judge of that," Cildas declared, once again demonstrating why no one, be it staff, student, or parent, liked her.
Her lack of compassion was notorious and she had brought more than one child to tears. How she had remained a school nurse for as long as she had was beyond Ellara. A droid would have been a better choice.
Cildas turned her attention to Ammae. "What are your symptoms?"
"M-my head and stomach hurt," Ammae told her. "I just want to go home."
Cildas reached out and placed a hand against her forehead.
"You don't seem to have a fever," Cildas announced, removing her hand. "Go lie down on the cot while I speak with your teacher. I will attend to you shortly."
"Yes, ma'am," Ammae said as she quickly complied.
When Ammae had disappeared into the adjoining room, Ellara spoke. "I wrote a note listing her symptoms in case you needed it."
"I will examine the girl myself," Cildas informed her. "Whether or not she goes home will be my decision. All I need from you is her name."
"The councilor's daughter," Cildas elaborated.
Cildas began typing at her computer terminal. "You may return to your class now."
"Her father is her emergency contact," Ellara said.
"I know," Cildas let her know. "It says it right here." She indicated her screen which had brought up Ammae's file. "Hayd Peridon. You may leave now."
Ellara recognized a dismissal when she heard one.
"May I speak with Ammae first?" she asked.
"If you must."
Knowing better than to address Cildas again, Ellara went into the room where Ammae was laying on the cot, looking extremely pale.
What exactly had happened back in the classroom? What knowledge did this child hold about Senator Amidala? Why had she been told to keep it a secret?
"Ammae?" she spoke quietly.
The girl opened her eyes.
"You rest and feel better, sweetie," she told her. "All right?"
"I'll see you back in class when you're up to it."
Ammae managed a weak smile. "Thank you, Miss Rittani."
Ellara smiled back and then left the clinic.
As she returned to her class, she decided it would be impossible to solve the mystery of Senator Amidala on her own. Tonight she would contact Clearl.
Clearl would know what to do.
Anakin Skywalker put down the tool he had been working with to answer his beeping comlink.
"Excuse me," he apologized to Mrs. Ustmer as he pressed the activation button. "Peridon."
"Mr. Peridon," came an icy female voice, "this is Nurse Cildas from your daughter Ammae's school. I am calling to inform you that your child became ill in class. She needs to be picked up."
Ammae's sick? Poor Little Angel.
He immediately became filled with worry. She had seemed fine when she had left for school that morning. What had happened?
"I'll be right there," he informed Cildas. "Thank you."
"She will be waiting for you in the clinic," she continued without acknowledging that he had spoken. "Nurse Cildas out."
And with that, the connection ended.
Anakin made a sound of disgust. Cildas had been the nurse at that school when the twins had gone there. Neither he nor Padmé had liked her then and they still didn't like her now. (She made some of the Jedi Masters he had known look affectionate!)
"Is everything all right?" Mrs. Ustmer asked.
"Ammae's sick," he told her. The Trianii was a long-time client and knew the family well. In fact, she had watched the children in exchange for Anakin's services many times over the years. (She was a widow with a limited income.) "I have to go pick her up."
"Poor thing," Mrs. Ustmer commented. "I hope it's nothing serious."
"Me too," Anakin agreed. He closed up the back of the heating unit he had been repairing and got to his feet. He left his tool kit where it was. "If I don't have to take her to the doctor, I should be able to come back after I bring her home."
"Don't worry about it," she waved him off. "This piece of junk isn't going anywhere. Come back whenever you can."
"Are you sure?" he questioned. "Because I promised you that I'd fix this today. I feel terrible that I've waited this long to take a look at it as it is."
"It's all right, Hayd," she assured him. "You've been busy. And the weather's not changing so fast. It can wait a little longer. Ammae can't. She needs her father now."
"Thank you," he smiled gratefully, retrieving his kit from the floor. "I really appreciate this."
"You've been very good to me over the years," she told him. "The least I can do is return the favor, especially in an emergency like this. You didn't know Ammae was going to get sick. It happens. Children have a tendency to get sick. Force knows, mine did."
He chuckled at that. Mrs. Ustmer had had eight children and was a great-grandmother.
"Tell Ammae I hope she feels better. And call me later to let me know how she is."
"I will," he promised as he motioned to his patiently waiting droid. "Come on, Artoo."
Artoo beeped in acknowledgement and rolled towards his master.
"I'll be in touch," Anakin said.
With Artoo in tow, he let himself out of the house and headed over to his parked speeder.
Ammae was waiting.
Padmé Amidala Skywalker marked the proposal "approved" and put down the datapad, finally finished with it. It seemed like hours since she had first picked it up and started reading. She'd lost track of how many proposals she'd already gone through this morning.
She turned to take another and groaned.
The pile on her desk had doubled since she had last checked.
At this rate, she'd never get through all of them by the end of the day.
"Great," she sighed. "Just great."
Maybe I should just let Anakin kidnap me again.
For their tenth wedding anniversary, Anakin had secretly arranged a romantic weekend for just the two of them. On the day of the anniversary, he had brazenly walked right into her office, injected her with a sedative, and, while she was unconscious, carried her off to a house on the beach that he had rented. To say that she had been angry upon regaining consciousness would have been an understatement. Of course that had all changed when he informed her of the occasion. (She had, much to her own dismay, forgotten that it was their anniversary. She had recently become councilor and had been consumed with adjusting to her new role. She had felt horrible and begged his forgiveness. Anakin had told her that there was nothing to forgive and that he didn't want to hear any more on the matter. And then he had made sure she forgot all about it...)
The weekend had been beautiful. She had wished that it would never end. (What had she done to deserve such a wonderful husband? Force, how she loved him.)
She smiled as she fingered the pendant he had given her on their first evening at the beach house. It was an exquisite piece of jewelry and she knew he had probably had to save for it for months. (With all the free work he did for his clients, it was a wonder he made any credits at all.) It made her treasure it all the more. She wore it on the same chain as the japor snippet he had given to her when he was nine years old. She wanted to keep both gifts of his love close to her heart.
Suddenly, her personal comlink began beeping, bringing her musings to an end.
There were only four people who knew the frequency and three of them were in school.
"Hi, love," she warmly greeted her husband. "You're done early."
"I wish I was," Anakin corrected her. "I had to leave before I was finished. Ammae's school called. She's sick. I'm on my way to pick her up."
All of the happiness she had been feeling immediately drained out of her.
"Oh, no," she breathed, concern and worry for her youngest flooding through her. Ammae had appeared fine this morning. "Is she all right? Did they say what was wrong?"
"Just that she wasn't feeling well," he informed her. "Nurse Cildas was the one who called me. And you know how she just loves to give out information."
Padmé had to smile despite herself.
"I'll know more when I see her," he continued. "I'll call you once I have her. I'll let you know if I have to take her to the doctor."
"What about Mrs. Ustmer? You said you didn't finish."
"I'll call her tonight and reschedule," he assured her. "She was very understanding."
"She always is," Padmé agreed. "She knows you'll finish what you started."
"I feel bad about doing this to her though," Anakin continued. "She's been asking me to look at that heating unit for months and I never had a chance until now. I promised her that I would fix it today."
"It's not like you planned this," she soothed. "You couldn't have known that Ammae was going to get sick. You're not breaking your promise, A-...my love," she corrected herself.
Even though she had been assured that her office was secure, she did not want to take any chances and refrained from calling Anakin by his real name. Only in the privacy of their own home did they call themselves by their true names. (The children had been told that "Anakin" and "Padmé" were their "secret names." Only the twins knew why they had two names, though the story they had been told had been heavily modified, omitting everything about their father's brief turn to the dark side. Ammae was too young to be told anything yet.) To everyone else, they were "Hayd and Natala Peridon."
"I know," he said. "So, how's your day going?" he changed the subject.
She made a noise.
"That bad, huh?"
"Expect me to be home late tonight," she told him. "The workload is massive."
"Can your staff help you?"
"Not with any of this," she informed him. "These are all items that I need to either approve or deny. No one but the councilor can make the final decision on these. And today is the deadline for most of these proposals."
"Sounds like someone hasn't been keeping up with her work," Anakin teased.
"I try," he shot back and she could just picture his smirk. "But, seriously, I know you'll get it all done on time. You always do. You're the best councilor this city has ever had."
"Now I wouldn't go that far," she objected.
"I only speak the truth," he asserted. "You, my love, are amazing."
"Well, I'm at the school now," he informed her, cutting their "argument" short. "I'll call you back as soon as I have Ammae."
"I'll be waiting," she promised. "I love you."
"I love you too."
And the connection ended.
Padmé put the comlink down and returned her attention to the pile of datapads.
She hoped the reading would be enough to keep her from focusing on her worry for her daughter.
Ammae opened her eyes and found Dad crouching next to the cot she was lying on.
"Dad," she managed with a weak smile. She still felt awful.
"How are you feeling, baby?" he asked as he helped her into a sitting position.
"Really bad," she told him. "My head and stomach both hurt. I just want to go home."
"My poor baby," he murmured and kissed her on the forehead. He pulled her into a hug and began to stroke her back. "Everything's going to be all right now. I'm going to take you home and put you into your own bed. You'll feel better in no time. All right?"
"I love you, Dad," she said as she leaned against him. At that moment, she did not care that he and Mom had been lying to her her entire life. She was just grateful to feel his arms around her.
"I love you too, Little Angel."
She knew that the words he spoke were true. He and Mom may have lied about who they were, but they had never lied about how much they loved her and the twins. She could feel their love, though she could never quite understand how.
He released her from his arms and gently guided her to her feet.
"Let's go home."
She felt wobbly as she stood up and continued to lean heavily on Dad.
"We'll go as slow as you need," he told her.
She simply nodded.
They began to walk, Ammae taking very small steps. Dad, who had very long legs, was barely moving to match her pace.
Again, she felt a rush of love for him. No matter what he had done in his past, he was the most loving father a girl could ask for. He and Mom were wonderful parents. But...
But there was still the fact that they had lied to her and the twins. It made her uneasy knowing that the two people she trusted the most were keeping secrets from her. While she didn't think they were bad people (Mom had been a famous senator), she knew that they had done something, something that had forced them to change their names. But what? And why?
They emerged back into the main clinic, where evil Nurse Cildas was waiting for them. (The twins has warned her about the "dark nurse of the Sith" when she started going to school.)
"As I told you earlier," she spoke to Dad, "I could find nothing obviously wrong with her besides her complaints of pain and nausea. It will most likely pass overnight. I expect she should be up to returning to class in the morning."
"Her mother and I will be the ones to determine that," he countered. "If she's feeling better, fine. But if not..." Dad gestured with the arm that wasn't around her.
"Of course," the dark nurse said with a shrug. "Now if you'll excuse me."
Evil Cildas then turned around and promptly began to ignore them.
"Come on, Little Angel," Dad said and he guided her into the hall.
"Mom's very worried about you," he continued as they walked. "Would you like to call her?"
This was it. The moment she had been dreading had arrived.
She had to ask the question.
They had stopped walking and Dad looked down at her.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Gathering her courage, she asked it:
"Is Mom's real name Padmé Amidala?"
The dark figure approached him, ignited lightsaber in hand. It was unmistakably female despite his inability to see her face.
"I'm going to kill you now, your highness," she spoke, the voice young and unfamiliar. "And although you deserve to suffer for all you've done, it's not the Jedi way."
She came to stand directly in front of him.
Her blade flashed and he knew no more...
Darth Sideous snapped out of his meditative trance, more than a little disturbed by the vision. It was not the first time he had had it.
He had been seeing this woman...this Jedi...kill him for months now.
And nothing he did seemed to change it.
Whoever she was, she was obviously a survivor of Order Sixty-six who had managed to remain hidden for the last sixteen years. (Like two others he'd give anything to find...) According to this vision, she would kill him sometime in the future unless he was able to alter events.
If only Vader were here. He would easily be able to dispatch this threat. No Jedi could hope to survive against his apprentice's blade.
Where in all the hells had he disappeared to?
Why had he disappeared?
Even after all these years, the mystery of Vader's disappearance remained unsolved. Except for a brief reappearance in the Force eleven years ago, there had been no trace of him. Much like his beloved Padmé...
Sideous knew the key to finding Vader was finding Amidala. Once she was in his grasp, Vader would come running. His obsession with her had always been the means of controlling him. If he felt her life was once again in danger, he would obey orders without question, as he had had until his sudden disappearance.
He was sure that the two of them were together. The fact that she had disappeared the same day as Vader was no coincidence. Vader would never go anywhere without his precious wife. (How she had reached him first on Mustafar was another mystery though he was sure that that damnable Yoda was somehow responsible.)
He regretted having made the initial search for Amidala so public, but he had had no choice. Amidala had been wildly popular among the people and appearing concerned about her had helped his public image immensely. Unfortunately, it was for that same reason that he had had to declare her publicly dead. Openly continuing the search for a missing senator for more than a year would have looked suspicious. (Continuing to search for a traitorous Jedi, on the other hand, was more than justifiable.) So he had had to resort to more subtle means...
As part of his Empire-wide security measures, he had all transmissions throughout the galaxy, whether or not they occurred within the Empire's borders, monitored. All transmissions were analyzed by droids who were programmed to search for certain key terms. Terms such as "Amidala," "Padmé," "Naboo"... Once any of those particular terms was identified, the entire transmission would be coded priority one and sent directly to Sideous himself. And then Vader would be as good as his again.
He just had to continue to be patient.
Leia Peridon closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and once again reached out with the Force. She could sense every single one of the remotes that were hovering above her.
She was ready.
Igniting "her" (what Dad didn't know...) lightsaber, she commanded, "Begin."
The remotes burst into action.
Leia gave herself completely to the Force, letting it guide her through yet another drill. The feeling was amazing...
Within moments, she had completed the entire exercise, deflecting every single shot as she had been able to do for months. Her training was almost finished. She could feel it.
Palpatine would finally pay for what he had done to her parents.
Three years ago, her parents had told her and her twin brother Luke their story. During the days of the Old Republic, Mom had been a senator and Dad had been a Jedi Knight, and they had both lived on the capital planet of Coruscant. They had both loved their careers and, at the time, would never have wanted to give them up. However, neither had counted on meeting and falling in love.
As Dad had explained, Jedi were forbidden from having attachments. Yes, they were allowed to love and have friendships, but they couldn't be in love. (This concept had confused Leia at thirteen and, at sixteen, she still wasn't quite sure she understood the reasoning behind it. Dad had confessed to not getting it either.) Any Jedi discovered to be in a romantic relationship would be immediately expelled from the Order. Dad had known this, but he had not been able to stop himself from falling in love with Mom. And Mom had fallen in love with him despite the knowledge of what such a relationship would do to their careers. But they had been unable to deny their feelings and had gotten married in secret.
For a while, their double lives had worked. No one, not even their closest associates, had suspected a thing. Then Mom had gotten pregnant.
With this new development, Mom and Dad had realized that they needed to put their marriage ahead of their careers. Children could not be hidden. So, they had agreed to both resign from their positions and focus on their soon-to-be-expanded family. But, unfortunately, before they could leave, everything around them had fallen apart.
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the leader of the Republic, had suddenly declared all the Jedi to be traitors, claiming that they had tried to assassinate him. He had then sent his army to kill them all in retaliation. Very few had survived the initial attack, Dad being one of the lucky ones because he was with Mom at the time. But he was far from safe. The army had standing orders to hunt down and kill any Jedi they could find. (For the first time, Leia had understood why they had tried so hard to stop her from using the Force as a child.)
And, if that hadn't been bad enough, Palpatine had then proclaimed himself Emperor, assuring the Senate that turning the Republic into an empire was the only way to prevent another "betrayal." And he had made it very clear that any senator that opposed him would be considered a traitor, hinting that they would be dealt with like the Jedi if they tried anything.
Mom had known that she was one of the ones he was addressing. She had belonged to a group called the "Delegation of Two Thousand," who had tried to get Palpatine to end the Clone Wars diplomatically. She had known her life was in as much danger as Dad's.
So her parents had done the only thing they could think of to keep their family safe: they had fled from Coruscant and changed their identities. They knew that if they were found it would mean instant death. They would have to remain in hiding for the rest of their lives. It was the only way to survive.
Unless Leia had anything to say about it...
They had been found once already, when the twins had been five. Leia didn't actually recall the incident, but she had vague memories of once living in another place. Entellion had been her home as long as she could remember, but she knew her parents would leave in a heartbeat if it meant saving the lives of their children. They would do whatever it took to protect their family.
As soon as her parents had finished their story, Leia had known what she had to do. She would become a Jedi Knight and she would make Palpatine suffer for all the evil he had wrought upon the galaxy. He would be stopped once and for all.
By her hand alone.
It was, after all, her right. He had destroyed the lives of her parents as well as countless others. Who better than she to destroy his?
She knew she was powerful enough. She had been using the Force almost her entire life, naïvely calling it "floating" as a small child. And once her lightsaber skills caught up with her Force abilities, she would be unstoppable.
Palpatine would die.
And he would never see it coming. After all, the Emperor was just a man and he would never suspect an unassuming young woman to be a threat. By the time he realized his life was in any danger, it would be too late.
She would catch him off guard, as he had caught the Jedi and the Republic off guard.
Of course, no one, not even Luke (especially not Luke, the goody-goody blabbermouth), knew of her plans. They would only try to stop her, saying that it was too dangerous, that it was impossible.
If only they knew how skilled she'd become in such a short time...
She had been training for almost three years now. Her abilities had grown exponentially. And she had Dad to thank for it.
As she had been only thirteen at the time, she hadn't had the slightest idea of how to begin training to be a Jedi. She had needed to be told what to do. And since Dad was the only Jedi she knew, he had to serve as her source of information. But he could not know why she wanted it, which made her task more than a little tricky.
So she had cheated: she had brought in her "secret weapon."
Ammae, the "living droid" whom Dad refused to deny anything. His "Little Angel." (Leia still gagged whenever she heard him call her that.)
For the most part, her little sister was a bore and an annoyance. All the kid wanted to do was study, study, study and was constantly asking questions. But when it came to extracting information from anyone, Ammae could be very useful.
Ammae had been only seven at the time and it hadn't been difficult to instigate an interest in the Jedi. Leia had casually asked Ammae what she knew about them and the "droid," having never heard the word "Jedi" before, had immediately set out to learn about them. And when she had been unsuccessful in her own search, she had gone straight to Mom and Dad, as she always did.
The plan had been so simple to execute and it had worked perfectly. Neither Dad nor Mom had suspected her part in Ammae's sudden interest. They had only known of her curiosity after Ammae started in.
However, even with the "droid" doing all of the work for her, getting the information out of Dad had been difficult. For some strange reason, he had been reluctant to talk about anything relating to his days as a Jedi, even if the audience (i.e. Ammae) did not know of his past. (Ammae had yet to be told Mom and Dad's story.) Dad didn't even use the Force anymore, something Leia found unthinkable. (How could anyone just stop?) But in the end (after a lot of "encouragement" from Mom), Dad had finally given in and Leia had learned everything she needed to know and a whole lot more.
From Dad she had learned the Jedi Code and that the Jedi had been defenders of the peace above all else. Violence (i.e. using their lightsabers) had been a last resort. Negotiation was their "weapon" of choice. (As if that was going to work with the Emperor. Leia's plan was the last resort.) And the Force was a Jedi's ally in all things.
Being a Jedi required one to be strong in both body and mind. According to Dad, meditation and study were just as important as physical exercise and combat skills. These were the basic component of Jedi training along with learning mastery of the Force. And not everyone who had begun the training reached Knighthood.
With help from Ammae, she had extracted details about some basic Force exercises. (Whatever the "droid" wanted to know, Dad told her.) She had secretly recorded everything he said and used the recordings to create modified versions of the exercises for herself. In a very short time, she had created her very own Jedi training program. A program that she knew she was now very close to completing...
She had started out small, focusing only on honing her Force abilities. In the privacy of her own bedroom, she performed the modified exercises she had learned from Dad. She found using the Force to be easy and quickly excelled.
Meditation, however, was a different story. In the beginning, she had found it impossible to sit still. It had felt like a waste of time. Why "empty" her mind when she could have better spent it using the Force? But since Dad said it was an integral part of the training, she had forced herself to do it. (Dad had admitted to finding it difficult as well.) And, after a while, she had stopped resisting and found that she enjoyed it. It had brought her the inner peace that nothing else seemed to.
Strengthening her body was much easier to accomplish. She took gymnastics and dance. She worked out with weights. She asked and was given permission to study self-defense, skills she found herself calling upon quite often as she got older and her training took her to less savory sections of Valaqua. (The spaceport was full of creeps who tried to take advantage of young girls. Leia made sure that they never bothered her again.)
When she had turned fifteen, she had decided that it was time to learn the most important Jedi skill of all: the lightsaber.
During her "interrogation" of Dad, she had learned where he kept his own lightsaber hidden. On a day that Ammae had not been around, she had casually asked if she could see it. Dad hadn't really wanted to show her, but Leia knew how to be very persuasive and she had gotten her way.
Once it had been taken out of its hiding place in her parents' bedroom closet (Leia still laughed at his lack of originality), she had "encouraged" Dad to demonstrate its use. He had shown her very basic things, such as how to ignite the blade and the proper way to hold it. (Not that he had actually let her do either of those things herself. "Too dangerous," he had said.) He had also demonstrated the most common stances, parries, and attacks. This had all been secretly captured by a holorecorder and kept hidden until Leia was ready to apply the knowledge to herself.
When the time had come to start training herself to use a lightsaber, she had taken it as her own. Dad no longer used it. Why let it go to waste?
So when no one else was home, she had removed it from its hiding place and relocated the weapon into her own room. Dad had yet to notice that it was missing.
Of course, lightsaber training presented her with a new problem: she had to find a place to train. Unlike the other Jedi skills, it could not be practiced in her room or under the guise of some other activity. Using a lightsaber required a great deal of space to move around in as well as special equipment, such as remotes.
After a bit of searching, she had found the perfect location: an abandoned building on the edge of the spaceport. The interior was spacious and, best of all, it possessed no windows. It was the ideal place for her to train. And for the last year and a half, it had been her own personal haven, a home away from home. Within its walls, she had taught herself the skill of lightsaber combat.
It would not be much longer before she could embark on her mission.
Deciding that she had trained enough for one afternoon, she extinguished the blade and directed the remotes to power down. As they floated to the ground where they would automatically shut off, she glanced at her wrist chrono.
It was after 1700. She was late.
Cursing her parents' antiquated notion of always eating dinner as a family, she did a quick cursory cool-down, threw her equipment into her pack, and ran out the door.
If she hurried, maybe Mom would skip the daily lecture on tardiness.
Too tired, Leia groaned to herself five minutes later as she came to a stop and tried to catch her breath. Running and hours of Jedi training just did not mix! (She had often wondered if there was a way to use the Force to boost energy levels, but there was no way she could ask Dad without him becoming suspicious.) There was no way she'd get home before dinner started.
Let the lecture begin.
She could already hear Mom's voice...
"Hey, kid, need a lift?"
Startled, Leia turned to see that a speeder had pulled up to the curb next to where she was standing. In the driver's seat was a guy whose appearance practically screamed "spacer." Next to him was a Wookie.
"You look ready to pass out," the spacer pointed out in a "helpful" tone. "Want a ride?"
Leia just stared at him, dumbfounded by his remarks. Not only was it tacky and rude, but, as a pick-line, it was just pathetic. What was he trying to do? Make her laugh?
As she met his gaze, she sensed a...sincerity behind his words. She did not know how she knew this, she just knew. (The Force? Intuition?) He was obviously not a typical spacer. All the spacers she'd encountered in the past had possessed a slimy air and had wanted nothing more than to put their hands on her. (Her self-defense training had most definitely come in handy.) This guy was different.
In her heart, she instinctively knew he would not harm her.
"Chewie here doesn't bite," the spacer spoke up, misinterpreting her silence. Then he threw her a lopsided grin. "Without good reason, that is."
The Wookie growled something that sounded indignant. (Leia had never learned the Wookie language and could only guess what was being said.)
"It was a joke, furball," the guy defended himself. "What? Did you leave your sense of humor back on the Falcon?"
The Wookie threw back a retort that Leia would have given anything to understand seeing the expression on the spacer's face.
"Fine. Be that way," the guy huffed.
Leia couldn't help but laugh.
The spacer turned his attention back to Leia. "See what I have to put up with? Life debts are great until you end up on the receiving end of one."
Leia's eyes widened at that bit of information. She'd heard of the Wookie life debt. They were rarely given out. If this guy had gotten one...
"Okay," she finally responded, her feeling that this spacer was different only reinforced by this new knowledge. "I could use a ride. Thanks."
"No problem, kid," the spacer said. "Hop in."
Leia got into the back of the speeder.
"Where to, sweetheart?"
"Straight up the street until you come to the corner," she instructed. "Then make a right."
"As the lady commands," the guy acknowledged as he put the speeder back into motion.
"So," he continued conversationally as he drove, "what's a kid like you doing all by yourself in the spaceport?"
"Nothing that would interest you," she coolly replied. Good feeling about him or not, he was a stranger and she didn't know a thing about him. Her Jedi training was a life or death secret for her. She couldn't trust anyone with knowledge of it, especially not someone she had literally just met. "What about you?"
The guy chuckled. "Not much for conversation, are you, kid? As for me? Repairs. My ship got into a little accident, so me and Chewie here are going to be staying on your lovely planet for a few days. You have any recommendations for how we can pass our time?"
"Depends on the kinds of things you like to do," she pointed out.
"Very true," he agreed. "I'm Han by the way," he introduced himself. "And this, as you've undoubtedly already figured out, is Chewie."
Chewie barked his greeting.
"Nice to meet you, Leia," Han said as he made the first right. "What's next?"
"Keep going until you hit the end of the street then make a left," she instructed. "I'll tell you where to turn next when we reach it."
"I take it you don't live very close to the spaceport," Han commented.
"No and that's why I like going there," she informed him. "It gives me a lot of privacy."
"Something you don't get at home?"
"I have a brother and a sister. What do you think?"
"Ah," was all Han said.
"Thanks again for the ride," she told him. "I would never have made it home before dark."
"No problem, kid," he waved her off. "Glad to be of service."
"Make a right here," she directed. "You should start seeing development names in about a minute. Mine will be the second one on the left."
Han whistled. "Nice area you live in. Your privacy is obviously very important to you if you leave all this behind for the spaceport."
"Thanks and yes, it is," she let him know.
"Sweetheart, you have got to be the strangest kid I've ever met and I've met a lot."
"What makes you say that?"
Han laughed. "Well, for starters, there's the fact that you're obviously a rich kid and rich kids don't usually hang out at the spaceports all by themselves. They tend to stick to places where they'll be seen. They like to draw attention to themselves. You, on the other hand, are sneaking around the spaceport. My guess is you're up to something and it's something you don't want Mommy and Daddy finding out about."
"And this makes me strange how?"
"Because in my experience rich kids only act up to get attention from their parents," he explained. "You're doing everything in your power to keep them from finding out about whatever it is. Hence the whole 'privacy' excuse."
Leia smirked. "And just what exactly do you think I'm doing?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't be trying to find out, now would I?"
"I'm not going to tell you, so you might as well give up," she told him.
"I'm not the type to give up without a fight," he let her know. "I tend to be rather stubborn."
Chewie added his own opinion.
"What did he say?" Leia asked.
"Fuzzy here claims I left out 'hardheaded.' Now he finds his sense of humor," Han grumbled, but Leia could tell that this was typical good-natured banter between the two friends. "You're just asking for it, aren't you?"
Chewie made a sound that Leia interpreted as "bring it on."
She definitely liked Chewie.
And Han too...
"How long have you two known each other?" she asked out of curiosity.
"A few years now," Han answered. "We were introduced by a, um, mutual friend and just happened to hit it off real well. Chewie may be a pain, but I couldn't ask for a better copilot. Isn't that right, hairball?"
Chewie heartily agreed and Leia just smiled.
"So, Sweetheart, seeing as we're all good friends here now, care to share your secret plans?"
"Not really," she told him in a sweet tone. "Give it up, flyboy. I'm not going to tell you."
"Ah, well," Han said with a mock sigh. "You can't blame a guy for trying, right?"
Chewie made a sound that Leia guessed was the Wookie equivalent of laughter.
"Yeah, yeah, it's real funny," Han shot back at his companion as he turned into her neighborhood. "So which of these palaces is yours?"
"Keep going. It's at the very..."
She trailed off as her eyes fell on a very strange sight:
Luke walking home after 1700.
Mr. Perfect was actually late? Will wonders never cease?
"You okay, kid?" Han asked, sounding concerned. "You suddenly got mighty quiet back there."
"Oh, I'm more than okay," Leia answered, finding herself feeling most un-Jedi-like at the moment. "You can stop the speeder right here."
At last her twin would have to experience the same annoying lecture she did on a nightly basis. It would serve him right for being so self-righteous. ("Why don't you listen to Mom and Dad?" "Can't you try to be on time just once?" "Ammae and I never get into any trouble.")
"Right here," she verified.
"Which is your house?"
"None of these. You see that guy walking over there?"
"That's my brother," she told him. "He's never late."
"I want to rub it in his face all the way home."
"Now you sound like a rich kid," Han declared.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," she retorted. "Now, pull over so I can get out."
"Kid, you are something else."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"It was meant as one."
"Keep them coming and I'll think about liking you."
"You mean you don't already?"
"Very funny, flyboy."
Han slowed down and pulled the speeder next to the curve.
Leia got out.
"Thanks for the lift. It was very...entertaining."
"I aim to please," he grinned. "Promise you won't be too hard on your brother?"
"I'll try not to be," she smiled sweetly.
"Maybe I'll see you around?"
"You never know. It's a small spaceport."
Then she waved and walked off, her mind already focusing on how she was going to make Luke pay for all the times he had betrayed her to their parents...
As Han watched Leia stalking menacingly up behind her brother, he could only shake his head.
"Chewie, that is one bizarre girl."
I liked her, Chewie barked.
"You would," Han snorted as he restarted the speeder and turned it around. He headed back out of the development. "She sided with you."
As she should have.
"I feel sorry for her family. I bet she's quite a handful to live with."
Admit it. You liked her too.
"Okay, so I liked her. A little."
Only a little?
"All right, so I liked her a lot. So what? She's just a kid. Anyway, we're only here a couple of days. End of story."
It doesn't have to be. She won't be a kid forever.
"What have I told you about watching too many sappy holodramas? You're turning into a romantic," Han informed him.
And what's wrong with being a romantic? Chewie challenged.
"It's bad for business, that's what," Han replied. "We're smugglers. Smugglers don't do romantic."
Is that so?
"Why do I even bother?" he groaned. "Let's get back to real civilization and see if we can find a decent cantina."
"Well, well, well, it looks like I'm not the only one who's late getting home."
Luke Peridon turned around and groaned as his twin sister sauntered up to him.
So much for a quiet walk.
"So do you think they'll lecture us one at a time or will they do us both at once?" Leia continued as she reached him. "Personally, I hope it's both at once. I want to watch you beg for mercy."
"You're such a Hutt," Luke told her.
Leia snorted. "That's a new one."
"Sorry to ruin your gloat, but they already know I'm running late." He held up his comlink. "You see this? It's a handy little device. You should try using one some time."
Leia made a noise. "I turn mine off on purpose. I don't want to be disturbed."
"From what? What do you do every day that keeps you out so late?"
"None of your business," she informed him.
"You can't keep it a secret forever," he pointed out. "One day we're going to find out."
While he had no idea what she did during all those hours she disappeared every day, he knew it couldn't be anything good. His twin had a nasty habit of always getting into trouble. At school, she held the class record for detentions. (How she got into so much trouble and still maintained perfect grades, he'd never know.)
"I know. I'm counting on it."
"So why not just tell us now?"
"I have my reasons," she told him. "Don't worry. It's nothing illegal, if that's what you're thinking. Mom and Dad won't be getting a call from the local jail anytime soon."
"I'm not worried about that," he corrected her. "I'm worried about you. You may be the biggest pain in the galaxy, but you're still my sister and I don't want you to get hurt."
"Me? Hurt? Please!" she scoffed. "You seriously don't know anything about me, do you? For your information, big brother, I'm very good at taking care of myself. Very good."
"A school fight is one thing, but it's totally different in the real world," he pointed out. Fighting was another of his sister's bad habits. (She was a good fighter, he'd give her that, but she had only gone against other kids. Bullies who deserved everything they got, but still kids nonetheless. There was no way his petite sister could take on a full-grown man carrying a weapon.) "You're only sixteen. Do you have any real idea of what it's like out there? What kinds of things happen to innocent people all the time?"
"You've been listening to Ammae spout statistics again, haven't you?" Leia retorted. "Seriously, I'm the last person you should be worrying about. I'm a lot tougher than I look. I can handle myself pretty well. Trust me."
"Try telling that to Mom and Dad."
Leia snorted a second time. "You're a funny one. They're the galactic rulers of worrying. They live to worry. Nothing I tell them will ever change that."
"Can you blame them? Look at what they've been through."
Luke watched with satisfaction as his words had the desired effect. Leia could talk as tough as she wanted, but ever since learning of their parents' past, she had developed a protectiveness towards them. They had become her weakness.
"I think about it all the time," she said soberly. "That...man... What he did to them. One of these days, I swear I'll..."
She trailed off and Luke knew better than to prompt her to continue. The last thing he needed was for her to start getting emotional. When that happened, she did everything she could to hide it and tended to cover it with nastiness more than anything else.
They continued their walk in silence. Luke would never ask his twin what went through her mind during a time like this. He was actually afraid to know.
Leia was an enigma to him. She was his twin, but he didn't understand her at all. There was a dark side to her personality, a part of her he did not like. Most of the time, he knew her "cruelness" was playful and that she didn't mean what she said. However, there were times when he knew the terrible words coming out of her mouth were no longer teasing. And it was during those times that he feared her...
"So why are you getting home so late?" Leia asked after a while, signaling that she had gotten her emotions back under control. "Which club was it this time?"
"Ecology," he told her, relieved that she was speaking again. "We couldn't agree on our next project."
Leia snorted again. (Luke suspected that was her favorite method of commenting.) "I'm sorry I missed it. A group of environmentally-conscious do-gooders arguing over how to save the planet. Now that's entertainment."
"Not if you're the one trying to get them to be civil to one another," Luke countered. "It was brutal."
"I doubt you even know the meaning of the word," she informed him.
"What makes you say that?"
She gave him a look.
"You really think I'm pathetic, don't you?" Luke sighed.
"I don't know if 'pathetic' is the right word for it," she declared. "It's too kind."
"Like I said, you're a Hutt."
"Ho'Din," she shot back.
"Rancor? That's not a race, you idiot. It's a creature!"
"It's still a living thing," he asserted. "Besides, you're as vicious as a rancor. No, I take that back. You're a Reek."
And then the two of them burst into laughter.
Leia could be infuriating, but she also knew how to have fun.
"You're such a jerk," Leia told him as their house finally came into view.
"And you thought my insults were unoriginal?" Luke pointed out.
"Get over yourself," she told him as they began walking up the driveway.
However, as they reached the sidewalk, the front door slid open and Dad came out to meet them.
Luke felt rather than saw Leia's sudden apprehension. It was unusual for either of their parents to come out to meet them, late or not.
Something was wrong.
"Dad? What is it?" Luke asked, giving voice to the distress he knew his twin was experiencing. "What's wrong?"
He knew what Leia feared it was and hoped that she was mistaken. But if they had been found and they had to leave...
"It's Ammae," Dad told them as they came up to where he was waiting. "Something happened to her at school today."
Although Luke was relieved that they were still safe, he immediately filled with concern for his baby sister.
"She learned the truth about Mom."
Ellara finally succeeded in getting her shaking hands to enter the correct code that would grant her access to her house. She could not believe how late it was. If she didn't hurry, she wouldn't be able to speak to Clearl until tomorrow morning. Horizon Base shut down all operations by 1815.
According to her wrist chrono, it was already 1805.
Since Horizon was not a military or government installation, Clearl saw no reason to have someone on duty at all times. Besides, everyone who was there was there by choice. No one was an employee. They were all believers in a great cause. Clearl thought they deserved to have time to themselves.
Normally, Ellara thought this was a wise policy and had enjoyed its benefits while living at Horizon, but now it was an inconvenience. Her news could very possibly be time-sensitive. If Senator Amidala was truly still alive, she had no way of knowing if she stayed in one place very long. (She didn't even know how recently Ammae had met her.) The investigation had to be started immediately.
She stumbled into the house and dropped her things in the hall. They could be put away after she had talked to Clearl.
She raced into her living room where her comm station awaited. She reached the console and quickly entered the frequency for Horizon.
Please still be there.
"Horizon One, this is Seedling Six. Come in please."
Much to her relief, Clearl's smiling face appeared on the monitor.
"Good evening, Seedling Six. You called just in time. We were about to shut off the equipment for the night," Clearl told her. "How can we help you, Ellara?"
"I have the most unbelievable news," Ellara began. "Are you sitting down?"
"What is it?" Clearl asked, sounding extremely curious.
"I think Padmé Amidala may still be alive."
It took every ounce of self-control Obi-Wan Kenobi possessed to keep from reacting to Ellara's words.
He had just been headed out of the communications center when her call had come in. He had only lingered to listen because it was Ellara.
For the last several months, she had been his only link to Anakin and his family.
And now it appeared that she was single-handedly going to destroy the peace they had known for the last eleven years.
What was he going to do?
He had been aware of Anakin and Padmé's presence on Entellion for quite some time now. Clearl's special interest in their youngest daughter Ammae had led him to the discovery. Ellara had singled Ammae out of her class as the student with the most potential to help fulfill Clearl's vision when she grew up and Clearl had agreed with her assessment. (Obi-Wan, after he had realized who her mother was, had not been surprised.) Clearl had then asked Ellara to find out everything she could about Ammae and her family as well as keep her up-to-date on her progress.
Obi-Wan had first become suspicious of her parentage upon seeing her image. The girl's resemblance to Anakin when he had been her age was uncanny. (Padmé could be seen in her as well, but she strongly favored her father.) He had, of course, realized it could have been just a coincidence, but his intuition had told him otherwise. In his heart, he had believed that this was Anakin's daughter and the more he was told about her, the more convinced he had become.
Every fact he had learned about Ammae only reinforced his suspicions. Too many things mirrored what he knew of his former Padawan and his family to be just a coincidence. Ammae was ten, the same age the child Padmé had been carrying when he had last saw her would have been. She had older twin siblings named Luke and Leia, who were the exact same age Anakin and Padmé's twins with the same names would have been. Her father owned a repair service and had a reputation of being able to fix anything. And her mother was a popular political leader.
But it was when he had finally seen an image of the mother that he had known that he had found Anakin.
He had recognized Padmé instantly.
Ammae was their daughter. After eleven years of wondering what had become of them, he had found them again.
His first impulse after making his discovery had been to go to Anakin and to see how he and his family were doing, but he had known that it was impossible. He was on a mission and was not at liberty to abandon it for any reason, especially personal ones. As a Jedi, his duty to the Alliance had to come first. Anakin and his family would have to wait.
Over a year ago, he had been commanded by the Alliance High Council to watch over Clearl and protect her from the Empire. The leaders, which included his old friend Bail Organa, had feared that her seemingly innocuous scheme would ultimately attract the Empire's attention. She and her followers were spreading anti-Imperial information and the Alliance knew that this would not be tolerated once discovered. Punishment for such "treachery" would most likely be imprisonment or execution, possibly both.
But the biggest danger of all was interrogation. That was why Obi-Wan had been assigned this mission. Clearl had spent time with the Alliance before going off on her own. She knew the identities of the entire High Council. If questioned, she would most likely provide the Empire with what they wanted to know. She was a historian and had not received any training to resist interrogation. Under no circumstances could she fall into Imperial hands. His sole purpose in joining her group was to protect her. He could not leave her side in good conscious.
But unless he could convince Ellara that she was mistaken...
"Alive?" Clearl breathed, the excitement audible in her voice. (It was a well-known fact that she idolized Padmé and strived to emulate her in all ways. Obi-Wan had a feeling that Padmé herself would be highly amused by Clearl's efforts.) "Stars, can she really be? What makes you think so?"
"Something happened in class today, something strange," Ellara told her. "And it involved Ammae."
Ammae? Obi-Wan thought incredulously. She was a part of this disaster? What had she done?
"I think... I think she may know the senator," Ellara concluded.
"What happened?" Clearl voiced the question that Obi-Wan himself wanted desperately to ask.
"As I said it was rather strange," Ellara began. "I had just told the students that I had sent information pertaining to their upcoming oral presentations, such as short biographies and pictures, to their personal folders and that they had a few minutes to look over them before we moved on to the next subject. I had already returned to my desk to prepare for the next lesson when Ammae suddenly cried out "no way" very loudly.
"I became immediately concerned because, as you know, Ammae has never done anything like that before. But when I asked her if everything was all right, she lied and told me that it was."
Obi-Wan had a bad feeling he knew what had happened. If he had recognized Padmé's picture...
"I, of course, became even more concerned because not only was everything obviously not all right, but because I have never known Ammae to lie before," Ellara went on. "So I asked her a second time and she lied again. She was visibly upset and frightened. I realized at that point that she wasn't going to tell me what was bothering her, so I went over to her desk to see if I could figure out the cause of her distress on my own. And I did: a picture of her presentation topic.
"Senator Padmé Amidala."
Obi-Wan couldn't begin to imagine what Ammae had felt when she recognized the picture of her mother. (He was not surprised her parents had not shared their past with her. It was a painful subject for them and she was far too young to understand what had happened.) The poor child.
"And this is why you think she knows her?" Clearl asked.
"Yes," Ellara verified. "The Republic is openly spoken about here on Entellion, which is why you chose it. If this had simply been a case of Ammae recognizing the senator, she would have just told me. But she didn't. She was scared and had lied about it. The only conclusion I could draw was that she had been told at some point to deny any knowledge of the senator. And the only reason I could think of for this would be if she knew her and was helping to hide her."
This is very bad, Obi-Wan realized. Ammae, in her innocence, had drawn dangerous attention to her family. Ellara and Clearl would now want to find Padmé. He had to stop this before it went any further.
Five lives depended on it.
"Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if this were true?" Clearl was saying. "Padmé Amidala still alive after all of this time! And possibly only in hiding! Think of all the things we could learn from her! If Ammae does truly know her, could she be on Entellion?"
"I don't know," Ellara confessed. "It's very possible. Given Ammae's age, she would have to have met her fairly recently to remember her very well. But the only way to know for certain would be to ask Ammae."
"And she won't tell you," Clearl concluded. "I wonder if her parents are involved, particularly her mother. Councilor Peridon shares every single one of the senator's principles. If anyone on Entellion would help hide the senator, she would."
Time to put an end to this.
"Pardon the interruption, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation," Obi-Wan spoke up as he moved to join Clearl at the comm.
"Master Kenobi," Clearl greeted him with a nod of her head.
"Master Kenobi," Ellara echoed.
"You truly believe Senator Amidala is still alive? After all of this time?" he asked, putting as much incredulousness into his voice as possible.
He knew the only way to steer them away was to play along for a bit. They both knew that he had personally known the senator. (A fact Clearl often used to her advantage.) He would use his "expertise" to prove that Padmé would never have gone into hiding. They would have no choice but to believe him.
"I do," Ellara told him. "Ammae's behavior doesn't make sense otherwise. Why lie about recognizing a well-known historical figure? Knowing about and discussing the Old Republic is not against the law here. The only logical reason for her to deny having any knowledge of her would be to protect her. So it stands to reason that she is alive and in hiding and that Ammae knows where she is."
"Yes, I agree that it is a logical assumption, but it is not a realistic one," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Senator Amidala disappeared sixteen years ago. No trace of her was ever found and she was declared dead. I don't think it's possible for anyone to hide for so long without anyone hearing something of their whereabouts. If she was alive, someone would have known by now."
He did not like lying to these two women, both of whom he had grown fond during his time with them, but he had no choice. He had to protect Anakin and his family from discovery. Despite his duty, they had now become his first priority. As a Jedi, preservation of life ranked above all else.
"Not if she didn't want to be found," Clearl countered. "There are many cases of beings disappearing without a trace only to resurface years later. Why couldn't the senator do the same?"
"Because she had an aversion to hiding," Obi-Wan informed her. "The Padmé Amidala I knew would have never willingly left everything behind." This was not exactly a lie. To Padmé, her family was everything. Her love for Anakin and their children was incredibly strong. It had even been powerful enough to bring Anakin back from the dark side...
"Is it not possible that Ammae thought the woman in the image was someone else?" he suggested, slightly changing the subject. "The senator was surrounded by similar-looking handmaidens who served as decoys. Perhaps it is one of them that Ammae knows and is protecting."
"That's very possible," Ellara conceded, "but why would she need to be protected? Why would she need for Ammae to lie for her?"
"I could think of a number of reasons, one of them being if she was a member of the Alliance on a covert mission," Obi-Wan told her. "The possibilities are endless."
The statement was true. Several of Padmé's former handmaidens had in fact joined the Alliance. He had encountered them on many occasions.
"A sound argument," Clearl admitted, "but can we really just dismiss the possibility that it could in fact be the senator? I, for one, am not willing to give up the hope that she's alive without a fight. We can't possibly know what happened to her on the day she disappeared. Something might have taken place that forced her to go into hiding. I would rather be proven wrong than to be left wondering 'what if?' I say we should investigate."
"I agree with Clearl," Ellara seconded. "Master Kenobi, until today I would have never believed the senator capable of going into hiding either, but as Clearl said, we don't know what took place that day. What if she's just been waiting all of these years for someone to help her come back? We have to look into this for our own peace of mind, if anything."
Obi-Wan knew he had lost the battle before he had even begun to fight. Clearl and Ellara were too determined to find Padmé. Not even a suggestion laced with the Force would sway them. They were too strong-minded. He would have to find another way to protect Anakin and his family.
"All right," he said in a conciliatory tone. "So we want to investigate. But how can we? Ammae's already proven herself a dead-end. And she's your only link to the woman who may or may not be Senator Amidala."
"We can go through her parents," Clearl told him. "As I was telling Ellara before you joined us, Ammae's mother is a likely candidate for someone who would help the senator hide. Even if it's not Senator Amidala, Councilor Peridon would probably aid her. It is something the senator herself would do and the councilor appears to share all of her admirable traits."
Could it be because they're the same woman? Obi-Wan thought wryly.
"I've only met the councilor once or twice," Ellara confessed. "And it was at her home. She's usually too busy to attend the parent-teacher conferences. But I know Ammae's father fairly well. He is the one who always come to school and he's done repair work in my home. He's invited me over to the house for dinner a few times, which is where I met the councilor. Should I just question him?"
"No, that would never work," Obi-Wan told her truthfully. As soon as Anakin heard her mention Padmé's name, it would be over. They would be gone from the planet by the next day. "It has to be both of them."
And since that seemed to be impossible...
"But how do I arrange something like that?" Ellara wanted to know. "I've had no training in these sorts of things. I'm just a school teacher. I wouldn't even know what to ask."
Perfect, Obi-Wan silently commented, relief beginning to fill him. Ellara was the only one of them who could perform the "investigation." And she had just admitted she had no talent of the task.
"Master Kenobi, perhaps you could go and assist her?" Clearl suddenly suggested. "I know this is your area of expertise. You could help her arrange a meeting with the parents and coach her on what to say."
Obi-Wan opened his mouth to protest and then shut it immediately.
While he knew that he was disobeying his direct orders to remain at Clearl's side, he realized that this was probably his best chance to protect Anakin and his family. If he was there, not only could he warn them before the meeting, but he could control its direction. Ellara was completely relying on him. Wherever he led, she would follow.
He would make sure the investigation uncovered nothing.
"That's a wonderful idea," Ellara added with evident relief. "Please come, Master Kenobi. I'll feel so much better having you here to help me."
"Of course I'll come," he told both of them. "I will leave immediately."
"Thank you, Master Kenobi," Ellara said.
"Do not do anything until I arrive," he warned her. One wrong word on her part and Anakin would bolt. When it came to his family's safety, he took no chances. "I will contact you as soon as I'm on-planet."
"I understand," she acknowledged. "Thank you."
"I thank you as well," Clearl told him. "I have no doubt you will succeed in learning the identity of whomever they are protecting."
"I await your arrival," Ellara said. "Good night, Clearl. Good night, Master Kenobi."
"Good night, Ellara," Clearl warmly replied. "Master Kenobi will be with you soon and we will know the truth once and for all."
"I look forward to it," Ellara said with a small smile. "Seedling Six out."
Obi-Wan turned to Clearl as soon as the connection ended. "I'll go ready my ship immediately. I will leave as soon as I'm cleared."
"I can't thank you enough, Master Kenobi," Clearl told him. "You have been nothing but a gift from the Force ever since you've joined us. We...I...owe you more than I can repay."
"It is the duty of a Jedi to help those in need," he informed her. "I am simply performing my duty." He bowed. "I will be in touch through Ellara. May the Force be with you."
"May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."
Courtesies exchanged, Obi-Wan hurriedly left the communications center and headed directly for the hangar.
He had a great deal of work to do if he were to prevent a disaster from occurring.
Imperial data processor droid JXU-357 waited for the latest transmission to finish buffering before beginning its scan. The visual portion had already been discarded which sped up the loading process. Within microseconds, the signal was ready to be searched for suspicious terminology.
JXU-357 began playing the message and stopped it almost immediately as it registered a term that instantly deemed the transmission a priority one.
Without needing to analyze the rest, the signal was sent directly to Emperor Palpatine per standard procedures...
Anakin quietly peered through the open doorway into Ammae's dimly lit bedroom. Padmé was still seated on the edge of the bed in the exact same position he had left her hours ago. He could hear that she was softly humming, but he was too far away to make out the tune.
It was time for her to take a break...
Whether she liked it or not.
Ridiculously, she blamed herself for what had happened with Ammae and felt that the only way to "make it up" to her was to care for her all by herself. (No one was at fault. It had just been a terrible accident.) She had refused to let him help her with anything, pushing him out of the way every time he had tried. (He had given up almost immediately. There was no arguing with her once she had made up her mind.) She had not had a moment's rest since arriving home. She hadn't even taken the time to eat.
Anakin was determined to bring her to her senses.
Soundlessly, he entered the room and went to Padmé's side.
She did not notice his approach. Her full attention was on Ammae, who was fast asleep. Padmé was gently stroking her hair while humming what Anakin now recognized as Ammae's favorite childhood lullaby. He could tell by her posture that she was exhausted.
He gently placed a hand on her shoulder to announce his presence. She stopped humming and looked up at him.
"How is she?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
"Her stomach finally settled, but her head was still slightly hurting her. I gave her something for it earlier in the evening, but it didn't help her very much," she answered in the same low tone. She returned her attention to their sleeping daughter. "She finally fell asleep about ten minutes ago. Poor thing wore herself out asking questions."
"That's our little probe droid," he said with a slight smile.
He reached out and lightly stroked Ammae's cheek.
"I think a good night's sleep will cure her of that headache," he determined. He then focused his attention on his exhausted wife. "Why don't you go and get some rest now that she's sleeping? You've been in here for hours."
"I'm fine," she told him.
"You need to take a break, Padmé," he insisted. "There's nothing more you can do for her now. You need to get some rest."
"I can't leave her," she protested, her voice still carrying the guilty tone that it had been all day. "What if she wakes up?"
"Then I'll be here to take care of her," he informed her. He placed both of his hands on her back and began to knead the tensed muscles. "You're no good to her if you're too tired to think straight."
"Our poor baby," she went on, ignoring his words and his touch. "To find out the way that she did... I kept telling her how proud of her I was. That she did the right thing by not saying anything to her teacher. How much I love her..."
"I don't think she ever doubted that," he assured her. "Padmé, this isn't your fault. I swear to you, it's not.
"Of course it's my fault," she countered, her eyes still on Ammae. "I knew she was being taught galactic history. I should have realized that this would happen. I should have thought..." Her hand stopped stroking Ammae's hair. "I should have known."
"I didn't protect our baby, Anakin. She's hurting now because of me." She resumed gently caressing Ammae. "I failed her."
"No," he told her, "you didn't. Neither of us could have known that this was going to happen. We thought we'd have more warning before she learned about that time period. We were both caught off guard. You can't blame yourself for what happened. It was an accident. It's not your fault."
He could tell that he was not getting through to her. She was as stubborn as ever. So he decided to borrow one of her own tactics, one she had used against him more than once.
"Truthfully, if it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
That got her attention.
Her face shot up wearing an incredulous expression. "Anakin, no!"
For their entire relationship, she had been protective of him, placing his needs above her own. He knew that her need to keep him safe would temporarily override her feelings of guilt.
Judging by her reaction, his ploy was working.
He continued to massage her back. "Think about it. Protecting this family is my responsibility. If anyone gets hurt, that means I've failed in my duty. And from my point of view, it looks like two of my loved ones have been hurt: you and Ammae."
"So, therefore, it's impossible for it to be your fault," he concluded in as logical a tone as he could manage. "It's mine."
She pulled away from his touch and turned so that she was facing him.
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," she declared.
"Prove it," he challenged, satisfied with the reaction he had gotten.
He then knelt down so that his face was level with hers.
"It's not your fault, Padmé. Do you understand me?" He reached out and took her face in his hands. "It's not your fault."
He held her gaze, daring her to blame herself again.
She quickly averted her eyes, saying nothing.
On the bed, Ammae stirred in her sleep.
He took both of her hands in his.
"Please go and get some rest," he pleaded, lowering his voice to keep from waking her. "Please, my love. For me."
For a moment, Padmé did not respond. Finally, she raised her face and slowly nodded.
Anakin leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss. "Thank you."
He then stood up and held out his hand for her.
She accepted it and slowly rose to her feet, her legs unsteady after sitting for such a long period of time.
He pulled her into his arms and held her close.
"It's not your fault," he reiterated. "I promise."
Her only response was to lean more heavily against him.
He kissed the top of her head. "I love you."
"I love you too," she softly echoed.
Still holding her close, he guided her out of the bedroom and into the hallway.
Once in the hallway, he released her so he could key Ammae's door shut.
But when he turned back to her, thanks to the bright light of the hall, he could finally see the state she was in.
He had not seen her this drained since Ammae had been a newborn.
"Oh, Padmé," he murmured, pulling her back into his arms. "What have you done to yourself?"
"I'm really fine," she insisted. "Just very tired."
"Are you hungry?" he questioned, ignoring her protests. She was anything but fine. "You haven't eaten since you've been home."
"Not really," she told him. "I think I'll just sleep for a while. Maybe after I wake up."
"Then let's get you undressed and into bed," he declared. "You've done such a good job taking care of Ammae. Now it's your turn. Let me take care of you."
He began to lead her down the hall to their own bedroom.
"Did the twins get home all right?" she wanted to know.
"Yes and I had a little talk with them as soon as they walked in," he informed her. "I told them that they are not to discuss what happened with Ammae unless she brings it up first. And I made a special point of telling Leia that there would be consequences if she disobeyed." He gave her a slight smile. "Leia was more than a little insulted."
Padmé returned his smile, which he took as a good sign that she was starting to feel a little better. He had gotten her out of that room just in time. "I'll bet."
"Luke, of course, then swore, rather dramatically I might add, that he would never say anything to Ammae," Anakin continued, encouraged by her response. "You should have seen the look Leia sent his way. It wasn't pretty."
Padmé gave a small laugh, an action that sent waves of relief through her husband.
"Then I dismissed them and came to check on you and Ammae," he finished. "I assume they ate dinner. Where they are now is anyone's guess."
"If I know them as well as I think I do, Luke's probably doing his homework and Leia's probably sulking," Padmé theorized.
"I'm sure you're exactly right," he asserted.
They arrived at their bedroom door and Anakin touched the panel to open it.
"Time for you to get some rest," he pointedly informed her as he guided her into the room, closing the door behind them.
Leia paced her room, furious at Dad's insinuations.
How dare he assume that she would torment Ammae! What kind of a person did he think she was? A Sith?
She was a Jedi, damn it! And a Jedi did not go out of her way to belittle anyone, even if they were annoying little know-it-all sisters! Jedi were protectors, not bullies. She had never, never attacked anyone unless they attacked first. (Though "attack" did not necessarily mean "assault." "Annoy" was a type of attack in her opinion, which was why all those spacers had learned the hard way to leave her alone.) It was insulting how poorly her own father knew her.
True, she had been less than kind to Ammae on occasions... But she had never been cruel. Never! Just...sisterly. (Sisters picked on each other all the time, or so she had heard. Maybe the problem in their situation was that Ammae never bothered to fight back. She kind of just sat there, sometimes crying...)
But it was all besides the point. The point was that Dad had accused her of being a bully. And that made her angry. Very angry, especially considering what she was doing for him...
She stopped pacing as something suddenly occurred to her: she was angry and a Jedi was not supposed to get angry.
Anger was of the dark side.
What kind of Jedi was she if got angry over something as trivial as this? So what if Dad thought of her as some nasty, little-sister-harassing bully? That was his problem, not hers. She had to be the more adult one here.
I better meditate, she decided.
It was the best way to relax away the fury she had built up in herself.
Tomorrow she would prove to everyone just how Jedi-like she could be...
Mara Jade patiently waited to be called before her master. She had been summoned nearly an hour ago and wondered what assignment she was going to be given this time.
She hoped it would finally be something more challenging than the usual spying on some traitorous senator.
She was ready for bigger and better things.
At sixteen, she had been trained in the use of an assortment of weapons, including her master's favored lightsaber. (Though not as much with the lightsaber as she would have liked. Her master claimed that right was only reserved for his apprentice, a role Mara longed to fill. Curse that Vader! If she ever found him...) And that training included various methods of killing. Her instructors had repeatedly told her how highly skilled she was at every weapon she tried. Yet for some reason, she had not been allowed to put those skills into practice except on droids and stationary targets. And her master only sent her on missions of espionage, which rarely, if ever, involved combat.
It was time to let her test her abilities on a living being.
After all, what was the point of having them if not to use them?
Though she would never presume to say such a thing to her master. He expected complete obedience and that is what she gave him. She was his Hand and would do exactly what he asked, no matter what her own feelings were on the subject. Her sole goal was to please him. As the man who had raised her from the time she was an infant, he deserved nothing less.
For all intents and purposes, he was her father and she owed him everything.
The doors to his audience chamber at last slid open and a member of his Red Guard appeared.
At the same time, she felt her master's familiar Force touch in her mind.
Come in was the impression she received.
Without acknowledging the guard, she strode into her master's chamber.
The Emperor sat in his throne at the far end of the room and said nothing as she approached him. Once before him, she kneeled in the customary act of submission.
"You summoned me, my master?"
"Yes, my dear, I did," the Emperor greeted her. "Rise and receive your new mission."
"You more than anyone are aware of my quest to find my disobedient apprentice," he began.
"Of course, Master."
She struggled to keep her mind blank. She did not want him detecting the hatred she had for Vader. To feel that way towards her master's chosen apprentice was disrespectful. She had no right to challenge his decision.
Her master smiled strangely, making her wonder if she had failed in shielding her thoughts after all.
"And you are also aware of my search for his wife, the former senator Padmé Amidala."
"Yes, my master."
"Good," Palpatine nodded. "It has been brought to my attention that Amidala may have been located. It is my wish for you to investigate this rumor."
Inwardly, Mara smiled. At last, a new type of mission! It wasn't an assassination as she had hoped, but it could possibly be something even better. Her master had told her of Vader's obsession with his wife. If Amidala had been found...
"It will be done, Master," she assured him.
"A transmission was intercepted from the Outer Rim planet of Entellion," her master continued. "A school teacher believes that one of her students may personally know Amidala. You are to go to Entellion and find the student, a girl named Ammae. You are to follow her and allow her to lead you to whoever she is hiding. Observe her, but do not make contact. You will not be the only one watching her and you cannot risk detection."
"Who is this other observer?" she wanted to know.
"A Jedi," her master informed her. "Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Mara nodded. She knew of Kenobi. He had been Vader's Jedi master before he had become a Sith. He had also been instrumental in ruining many of her master's plans.
"Avoid him at all costs," he instructed her. "If Amidala is there and Kenobi feels that she is in danger, he will help her escape. Your only priority is to ascertain Amidala's presence. The child will lead you to whoever she is hiding. Once you have identified the subject, you are to report immediately back to me. No other action is to be taken. Is this understood?"
"Of course, Master. And if it is Amidala, do you think Vader will be with her?"
She knew she shouldn't have asked, but she could not resist.
"Given Vader's past actions where the senator was concerned, it is highly likely," he told her, "but I cannot be certain. However, if he is with her, you are not to engage him in any way. Do I make myself clear?"
"I know of your feelings towards him, Mara," he revealed, taking her by complete surprise. "I know of your ambitions. I have been aware of them for a long time. There is nothing you can hide from me, my Hand."
She remained silent, knowing denial was pointless. She had harbored these feelings for many years now. Her master had obviously been aware of them the entire time despite her effort to keep them hidden. And since she had not been disposed of as she had feared would have been if he discovered them, she assumed he considered them to be inconsequential. After all, they had not affected her performance of her duties.
He smiled kindly at her. "Your feelings are quite natural, my dear," he told her. "You do not need to hide them. I have no reason to hold them against you. On the contrary, your continued obedience while having them only proves your loyalty to me."
"My only goal is to please you, my master," she truthfully told him.
"You serve me well, my Hand. You have never done anything to displease me."
"Thank you, Master."
His praise sent warm feelings through her. It was very rare these days to hear words such as these from him. He was always so busy running his Empire.
"The information you will need for your mission has already been sent to your ship," her master went on. "You will depart for Entellion at once."
"As you command."
Ammae put down the datapad and laid back on her pillows, closing her eyes as the ache in her head began to throb again.
"I hate being sick," she announced even though there was no one else in the room to hear her.
"So does every other being in the galaxy," Dad's voice pointed out.
She looked to see him standing in her doorway.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, coming into her room.
"My head's starting to hurt again," she informed him as he reached her bed.
He sat down on the edge and kissed her on the forehead.
"Do you want me to get you something for it?"
She shook her head, regretting it instantly as the motion increased the pain. "Mom gave me some more medicine before she left for work. It hasn't helped."
"Poor Little Angel," Dad soothed, stroking her hair. "I'm so sorry you feel so bad."
"Thanks," she said with a tiny smile.
He kissed her again. "Is there anything I can get you or do for you while I'm here?"
"Uh-uh," she told him. "I think I'm just going to try to sleep again. My head doesn't hurt when I sleep."
"Whatever you want, sweetheart," he said. "I'm just down the hall if you need anything. I'm not going anywhere. Just call me and I'll hear you. All right?"
"I'll be back to check on you soon," he promised.
He gave her another kiss and then started to get up.
"Dad? Can I ask you something?"
"Anything, baby," he told her as he settled back next to her.
"Why does Mom think what happened is her fault?"
It was a question she had been wanting to ask ever since Mom made the strange claim yesterday. How could it be her fault? It's not like she had told Miss Rittani to assign herself to be Ammae's topic. It was just a really bizarre coincidence.
"Because she's convinced that if she had been paying more attention to what you were learning in class that she could have told you our story before something like this happened," Dad answered.
"But I didn't even know we were going to learn about it until yesterday," Ammae pointed out. "How could Mom have known?"
"That's what I spent all night telling her," he informed her. "I think she finally started believing me." He grinned at her. "If only to shut me up!"
"Both Mom and I love you very much," he continued in a serious tone, "and it hurts us to see you so upset. We'd do anything to keep you safe. Mom feels that because she didn't tell you our story before you found out in class that she failed to keep you safe. Does that make sense?"
"Uh-huh, but she's being silly," she told him. "She couldn't have known."
"I know that and you know that, but Mom didn't," he let her know. "But she's starting to realize it. I promise."
"I believe you," she said.
Poor Mom, she thought. When she came home, she'd make sure she finally understood that it wasn't her fault.
"If this hadn't happened, when were you going to tell me?" she asked out of curiosity.
"When you turned thirteen, just as we did with the twins."
"Because we felt that it was an age when you'd be old enough to understand why we made the choices we did and what the consequence of our actions were," Dad explained. "We didn't want to burden you with our fears before we felt that you were ready to handle them." He sighed. "Maybe we were wrong to wait so long. Not that it matters anymore...
"When we ran away, we knew that our enemies would never stop looking for us," he continued. "We knew that we'd have to be ready to leave our new lives behind at a moment's notice if we were ever found. We didn't want to frighten any of you with that knowledge before we were sure you could understand it. Your happiness is incredibly important to us. We didn't want you living in fear because of our actions before any of you were born. We wanted you to have as normal lives as possible."
Ammae was overwhelmed by the incredible amount of knowledge she had gained in such a short period of time. Her parents had been through so much. Just knowing they lived almost every day in fear of being caught...
She felt ashamed for her earlier doubts about them. How could she have questioned the intentions of the two most loving people she knew? They were willing to do anything to keep their children safe.
"For what, Little Angel?"
"For thinking that you and Mom might have done something bad," she confessed.
"Oh, Ammae," Dad said, continuing to gently caress her hair. "You don't need to apologize for that. Of course you'd think something like that after finding out about us the way that you did. You had no way of knowing any differently." He gave her yet another soft kiss. "You have nothing to be sorry for. Believe me."
"I hope you're never found," Ammae asserted. "I want all of us to always be safe."
"Me too, baby," he said, taking one of her hands.
Obi-Wan extended his ship's landing gear as he put down in the docking bay assigned to him by Valaqua's control tower.
It was, he mused, a nice change of pace to actually be visiting a planet through legal means again.
He performed all of the necessary shutdown procedures before opening the hatch and extending the ramp. Then he got up from the pilot's chair and went to exit the ship.
Now, for the first order of business: going to Anakin and informing him of the danger he and his family were in.
And that will be the easy part, he decided as he consulted the datapad that contained all the information he needed for the task.
The challenge would be convincing Ellara that she was mistaken in her assumption about Ammae's knowledge of Padmé.
A challenge because she was right.
Ellara entered the frequency for the Peridon home and waited for someone to answer the comm.
Ammae's absence from class today concerned her, especially after what had happened yesterday. She wanted to make sure that she was all right. Ammae had not looked good when she had left her in the clinic.
In a way, Ammae's condition was her fault. It was because of the image file she had sent to Ammae's folder that the girl had become so upset that she had made herself ill. She felt terribly guilty.
So after instructing her class to read a section of their science text, she had left the room to use the comm in the teacher's lounge.
A connection was made and the image of a protocol droid appeared on the screen.
"Good morning. You have reached the Peridon residence. I am See-Threepio, Human-Cyborg relations. How might I be of service?"
"Good morning, Threepio," she greeted the droid whom she had met on her several visits to the house. "This is Ellara Rittani, Ammae's teacher. I was just calling to see how Ammae was feeling today since she's not in class."
"Oh, yes, Miss Ellara," Threepio exclaimed, recognizing her. "Miss Ammae is not well this morning. She is still-"
"Who is it, Threepio?" Hayd Peridon's voice called from somewhere off-screen, causing Ellara's heart to skip a beat.
Why oh why did she have to continue to feel this way about a married man?
A happily married man with an incredible wife and three children, one of whom happened to be the very student she was calling to check on.
"Miss Ellara, sir," Threepio told him.
"Thanks, Threepio. I'll take it from here," Hayd instructed, moving into view, his handsome features once again threatening to take her breath away.
She had begun feeling this way about him the first time he had come to her house to help her install various computers and appliances right after she had moved in. She had only hired him because he had been highly recommended by both the real estate agent and her neighbors. She hadn't been prepared for the sight of him. Though far older than she was, he was gorgeous.
And married, as she had found out almost immediately. (Hayd loved almost nothing more than talking about his family. He was incredibly proud of his wife and children and was eager to share all of their achievements. And, truthfully, who could blame him? They were all amazing.) That fact alone should have taken care of her initial feelings of attraction. But it hadn't because he happened to be perfect in every way...
And nice. Incredibly, wonderfully nice.
"Very good, sir," the droid acknowledged and disappeared.
"Hello, Ellara," Hayd greeted. "I take it you're calling about Ammae?"
"I am," she told him, quickly composing herself as to not give herself away. (The last thing she wanted was to hurt him and his family because of her silly and persistent crush. It would go away...eventually.) "When she wasn't in class, I was worried. She was so sick when she left yesterday. How is she?"
"She's feeling a little better this morning," he told her, "but she has a very bad headache that won't seem to go away. She's sleeping at the moment."
"Poor thing," Ellara sympathized. "Will you tell her I called?"
"Of course," he smiled at her. "She'll be sorry she missed talking to you."
"I could always come by after school and bring her her homework," she offered. "I know a friendly face always makes me feel better when I'm sick."
She didn't know when Master Kenobi was supposed to arrive, but she didn't think he'd mind if she took a detour after work to quickly visit Ammae. She could always just give him the access code to her home so he could let himself in.
"That's very sweet of you, Ellara, but I don't think she's up to visitors yet," he told her. "She's been spending most of her time sleeping. And as for the homework, Luke's already volunteered to come by your classroom and pick it up himself."
"Then I'll have it ready for him as soon as he comes," she promised. "I hope she gets better soon."
"So do we," Hayd told her. "But I have a good feeling she'll be back on her feet in no time. She can't stand being stuck in bed. She misses being in school."
"Only Ammae," Ellara said. "Well, I probably should get back to my class now. Thank you, Hayd. I'm glad to hear that she's doing better."
"Any time, Ellara," Hayd smiled. "Maybe when Ammae's up to it, you can come over for dinner again some evening. You're always welcome in our home and I know Ammae loves having you over."
"I'd like that," she smiled, silently cursing his niceness. If only he knew what being near him did to her... "Thank you. Maybe next weekend. I'm sure she'll be better by then. I have a...friend coming to visit for the next couple of days."
"We'll plan on having you over then," he said . "Thank you for calling. Ammae will appreciate it."
"She's a sweet girl. Tell her to get better soon."
"I will. Goodbye, Ellara."
She ended the connection, her concerns about Ammae slightly eased. Although she wasn't completely well, she was on her way to recovery.
Feeling better, she headed back to her class.
Obi-Wan walked up the street of the upscale neighborhood, reading each address as he passed it. Finally, he found the one that matched the number listed in the directory for Anakin's assumed name.
The house, which was far larger than the one they had lived in on Postaym, appeared dark from his position on the street and, if it were not for the speeder parked in the driveway, he would have assumed no one was home. (Common sense ruled that the family had to have more than one speeder. Both Anakin and Padmé worked and needed their own personal means of transportation.) Anakin was somewhere inside. (It would have been quite unfortunate if he had had to go searching for Anakin. That would have meant he was out on a job and speaking to him alone would have been impossible.)
Now all he had to do was get Anakin to come out so he could tell him the bad news, a task he was dreading.
Anakin never took bad news well.
Especially when it concerned his loved ones.
Obi-Wan walked up the driveway, and making sure he wasn't being watched, let himself into the backyard. It was fenced in, which ensured that he'd be shielded from the view of anyone passing by. He could not risk being seen with Anakin before contacting Ellara. Although highly unlikely, there was always the possibility of Ellara somehow finding out that he had spoken to one of Ammae's parents before talking to her. And that possibility would destroy his plan to quietly protect his friends. If she became suspicious of him, there would be nothing he could do to stop her investigation.
He found a shady tree conveniently next to where he had entered the yard. It would be a comfortable place to sit while he waited for Anakin to find him.
Settling down onto the ground in front of the tree, he stretched out with the Force, searching for the familiar feel of Anakin's mind...
"I just checked on her. She's still-"
Anakin stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence, a strange expression coming over his face.
"Love?" Padmé questioned, immediately becoming concerned. Although they were speaking by comm, she could clearly see his distress through the screen. "What is it?"
"Obi-Wan," he simply said, his eyes locking with hers. "Obi-Wan is here."
She gasped in shock. It has been eleven years since they had last seen Anakin's former master. For him to suddenly show up now...
"Where is he?" she finally managed.
"Close, " he told her. "Very close. Possibly at the house. His probe was very strong."
"Do you think...?"
She couldn't bring herself to finish. She feared the worst as she knew Anakin did. Obi-Wan had obviously come to this planet already knowing that they were here. He had proven it by informing Anakin of his presence through the Force. If he had just happened to arrive on Entellion, he wouldn't have known to make contact.
There was no question that he was here for them.
And if he knew that they were here...
"I don't know," he admitted. "Force, I hope not."
"Should I come home?" she asked.
If they had to leave...
"There's no reason to yet," he told her. "Not until we know why he's here."
"It could be nothing," he suggested though his tone betrayed his conclusion that it wasn't. He gave her a smile that was obviously forced. "Maybe he's just visiting."
"But you don't believe that," she pointed out.
She had a feeling she already knew the answer, but she had to ask. There was always a chance that they could be wrong...
She nodded again, his words confirming what she already knew in her heart to be true.
It was not a visit.
"Whatever it is," Anakin asserted, "we'll get through it like we always do. The only thing that matters is staying together."
She knew he meant what he said. But what if...
"I'll never let anything happen to you or our children," he swore as if reading her thoughts.
"I know, my love," she assured him. "I know."
They held each other's gaze through the screen.
"I guess... I guess I better go and see what he wants," he finally said.
If she were in the same room with him, she would have gone into his arms.
"Please call me after you've spoken with him," she urged. "Please."
"You know I will," he promised.
"We will get through this," he added. "I swear we will."
He brought his hand to the screen and she placed her own over the image.
"I love you," he told her.
"I love you too."
"I'll talk to you soon," he said.
And then he was gone, the connection terminated from his end.
For a moment, Padmé just stared at the blank screen, her mind whirling.
Why had Obi-Wan come? Was it for the very reason that they feared? Had they, in fact, been discovered after all of these years? (They'd been so careful...) And, if they had, would they have enough time to get to safety?
Fear coursed through her at the thought. She knew Anakin meant every word he said about keeping them safe, but she also knew that he was only one man. A former Jedi, yes, but still only a man.
A man who had not fought anyone in over a decade.
If they had been found and Obi-Wan had come too late...
Please let us be wrong.
Anakin stepped through the front door of the house, his eyes scanning for Obi-Wan. He knew that he was close by, the strength of his Force probe alone indicating his proximity, but Anakin was not surprised to not immediately see him. If Obi-Wan was here for the reason he suspected, he would not want his presence known.
He had not wanted to upset Padmé more than she already was, but he believed that Obi-Wan was only here because they had been discovered and needed to leave as soon as possible. It was the only logical explanation for both Obi-Wan's sudden arrival and the secrecy with which he was moving around.
Their life here was over.
He moved further away from the doorway, looking for clues to Obi-Wan's location. He could be in any one of a number of places around the house.
The Force would definitely come in handy right about now, he mused, remembering how it had often led him straight to Obi-Wan in the past. (He did not regret his decision to withdraw from the Force. He knew without a doubt that his choice was the only reason his family had stayed safe for as long as they had. He would never touch the Force again if it meant protecting his loved ones.)
But the Force was not the only tool available to a Jedi, as Obi-Wan had drilled into him time and time again. A quick mind was an essential one as well. A Jedi had to have the ability to think on his feet. And evading detection was an important skill that often had to be employed at a moment's notice.
"Sometimes the most obvious place is the least obvious," he quietly recited, the long-ago lesson appearing in his mind.
He thought about the house and the surrounding area. True, there were many places to hide, but there was only one on the property that fit the description of "most obvious":
They had a fairly large backyard, ideal for growing children to run and play in. (How many times had he and Padmé looked on as Luke, Leia, and Ammae carelessly played? How many times had they ended up joining them?) The yard was surrounded by a high privacy fence, designed to keep their children safe from prying eyes. No one could see over the fence unless they came right up to it.
It would be a perfect hiding place.
Mentally crossing his fingers, Anakin made his way around the house and let himself through the fence.
And immediately found his old master meditating under a tree.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and smiled.
"Well, I see that you still enjoy making me wait for you," he remarked as he rose to his feet. "Hello, Anakin. It's good to see you again."
"Hello, Master," Anakin greeted him, returning the smile. "It's been a very long time."
"Too long," Obi-Wan agreed, moving towards him and extending his arms.
Anakin accepted the embrace, allowing himself to momentarily forget what Obi-Wan's arrival meant for him and his family.
Words could not describe how good it felt to be in Obi-Wan's presence again. How he had missed him. His teacher, his mentor, his friend...
For thirteen years, thirteen years that now seemed like they were part of another lifetime, Anakin had taken this man for granted. This man who had always been there for him, who had always believed in him. Who had always defended and protected him.
What a fool he had been...
Obi-Wan had loved him as if he were his own son and he had repaid him by destroying his entire world.
All because someone had lied to him...
Even after all of these years, the guilt remained as strong as ever. True, he had buried it beneath the immense happiness that now defined his life, but he was always aware of what he had done.
Who he had murdered...
He would never let himself forget the monster he had briefly become.
An act for which Obi-Wan had forgiven him.
Forgiveness which he did not deserve...
Focus! Anakin berated himself, pushing away all thoughts of his past mistakes. Now was not the time or the place to allow his guilt to overcome him. It was more likely than not that Padmé and their children were in danger. Their safety had to be his main priority. He could feel sorry for himself after the danger had been avoided.
And the only way to find out about the danger was to ask the man who had come with the news.
He extricated himself from the embrace and moved so that he was looking directly into Obi-Wan's gaze.
"We've been found. Haven't we?" he asked without preamble.
"Not exactly," Obi-Wan told him. "At the moment, your presence here is merely suspected. Or, more precisely, only Padmé's is."
Fear gripped his heart as his beloved's name was spoken. Suspicion implied that someone was actively searching for her. But who? And why? Hadn't Obi-Wan told him that Palpatine himself had declared her dead years ago? If that was true, why would anyone be looking for her?
As if reading his mind, Obi-Wan added, "It's not by anyone who means her any harm. The woman only has the best of intentions. Padmé is in no immediate danger, I promise you. In fact, I believe the suspicion can easily be put to rest before anything comes of it."
Anakin did not allow himself to feel any relief at Obi-Wan's assurances. While he trusted Obi-Wan implicitly, he was not willing to take any chances when it came to protecting Padmé. He had almost failed her once...
"What makes you so sure?"
"Because I've spent nearly the last two years with this woman," Obi-Wan declared. "I've gotten to know her quite well. As have you.
"Her name is Ellara Rittani."
"Ellara?" Anakin echoed in disbelief, stunned by the revelation.
Ellara, who he considered a close friend. Who he had allowed into his home on numerous occasions.
Who he trusted every single day with Ammae's well-being...
"By the Force..."
If she even thought of harming her or Padmé...
"I think it would be best if I start from the beginning," Obi-Wan said. "Eleven years ago, I told you of my intentions to find and join the rebellion that had formed to stand against the Empire. After I left you and Padmé on Postaym, I did exactly that. I contacted Bail Organa on Alderaan, whom I had a feeling was connected to the resistance movement and I was right. He brought me to them and I was welcomed immediately.
"I am also not the only Jedi to have joined," he added. "There are many others who survived the Purge. We all share the hope that one day we can revive both the Order and the Council."
Anakin nodded, understanding what Obi-Wan was doing. While he appreciated the effort to try and lessen his guilt, he could not be any less interested at the moment. All that mattered was that someone he thought he could trust was endangering the life of his wife.
"Tell me what this has to do with Ellara."
He saw Obi-Wan take the hint.
"Two years ago, a woman by the name of Clearl Toron, a historian, came before the Alliance High Council with a grand but ultimately futile scheme," Obi-Wan continued. "Clearl believed that if all the children currently in school throughout the galaxy were taught about the Old Republic and democracy in general, they would grow up wanting a return to the old democratic form of government and demand that it be given to them. She felt that Palpatine would be overwhelmed by their demands and therefore be forced to step down as emperor."
Anakin snorted at the ridiculousness of the plan. "Not likely. All he'd be 'forced' to do would be expend the energy to order them either arrested or assassinated. He'll never give up his power." (A fact Anakin knew all too well...)
"The sentiments of the High Council exactly," Obi-Wan agreed. "And they told Clearl as much. But Clearl disagreed with their assessment, convinced that her plan was the one and only way to stop the Empire, and told them that she would go ahead and enact her plan with or without their help."
"Which she did," Anakin surmised, figuring that was the only reason Obi-Wan was telling him about it. But where did Ellara fit into all this? That was all he wanted to know.
"Yes," Obi-Wan confirmed. "She gathered a group of like-minded individuals and left the Alliance to begin putting her plan into motion. An action that the High Council feared could lead to dangerous consequences if Clearl or any of her followers were ever caught by the Empire. Clearl knows the names and faces of everyone sitting on the High Council. If anyone in her group was interrogated, he would lead the Empire to Clearl, who would ultimately lead them to the Alliance. To prevent such an outcome, I was sent to infiltrate the group and protect Clearl at all costs. They easily accepted me and I have remained with them ever since."
"And I take it that Ellara is a part of this group?"
"It is the very reason why she's here," Obi-Wan pointed out. "She is one of ten teachers selected by Clearl to carry out the first phase of her plan. Her role is to teach her students all about democracy and the Old Republic. At the end of every week, she reports her progress back to Clearl. And one of her students has done so well that she's caught the attention of Clearl herself."
"Ammae," Anakin breathed, realization suddenly striking him. Yesterday's incident with Padmé's image...
"Clearl believes your daughter is destined to be one of the leaders of her envisioned movement," Obi-Wan was saying. "No other student on any of the selected planets has done as well in their studies as Ammae. The girl is a genius."
"She is," Anakin agreed, momentarily filling with pride.
But only momentarily...
"It's because of what happened yesterday that Padmé is suspected. Isn't it?"
When Obi-Wan had first mentioned Ellara's name, he had believed she had recognized Padmé and that was why she had become suspicious. Now he was no longer so sure that that was the case.
Obi-Wan nodded. "How much did Ammae tell you?"
"Not very much," Anakin admitted. "All she said was that she saw a picture of Padmé and became so upset that she made herself sick. She also said that she refused to tell anyone why she was upset, which I assumed meant Ellara as well."
"She didn't, which is the problem," Obi-Wan informed him. "It is because Ammae refused to tell Ellara what was bothering her that she became suspicious. After figuring out that the picture of Padmé was the cause of Ammae's distress, she interpreted Ammae's lying about it to be a cover-up for knowledge of Padmé. She became convinced that the only reason Ammae would lie about recognizing the picture was because she knew Padmé personally and was helping to hide her. No other explanation made sense to her."
Relief began to fill Anakin. Ellara hadn't recognized Padmé after all. This whole thing had been caused by his and Padmé's decision to keep their past from Ammae. Her frightened reaction was entirely their fault. Maybe there wasn't any true danger at all...
"Ellara immediately contacted Clearl with her theory and they decided that it needed to be investigated as soon as possible," Obi-Wan went on. "What I haven't told you yet is that Clearl is from Naboo and completely worships Padmé. She talks about her incessantly, trying to emulate her in every way possible. The fact that I knew Padmé personally during the Old Republic is one of the reasons I was able to ingratiate myself with her so quickly. She believes that Padmé would support her plan and help her carry it out...if she were still alive."
"And now, because of Ammae, she thinks she is," Anakin finished, finally understanding why Obi-Wan was not too concerned about the situation. "Does she think she's here on Entellion?"
"Neither Clearl or Ellara are certain where she is," Obi-Wan told him, "or if she really is still alive for that matter. After all, it's only a theory and Senator Amidala was declared dead. A fact which I pointed out to both of them after I reminded them that the senator did not like to hide."
Anakin had to smile at that. If only they knew...
He was already feeling better about the whole thing. Padmé would just be amused when he told her. "So I take it they sent you to investigate?"
"To help, actually," Obi-Wan corrected. "Ellara is to lead the investigation, which is very fortunate for us. She has admitted to having no skills whatsoever in the area. She and Clearl practically begged me to come and assist her."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Anakin said with a smirk as he guessed Obi-Wan's plan. "Too bad it won't be in the way they had in mind."
"What they don't know..." Obi-Wan asserted. "Which brings me to why I've come to talk to you in the first place. Both Ellara and Clearl realize that Ammae is a dead-end and have decided to go through you and Padmé. In fact, they are convinced that if anyone is hiding Senator Amidala, it would be Councilor Peridon. They have very similar political beliefs, you know."
Anakin snorted. "I wonder why."
"My plan is to get Ellara to set up a meeting with you and Padmé," he told him. "Knowing Ellara, she will probably get right down to business and ask you point blank if you know the senator."
"And all we have to do is tell her we don't," Anakin completed the thought. "Repeatedly, most likely." Ellara could be quite stubborn when she wanted to be and Anakin had a feeling this was one issue of which she would not easily let go.
"Eventually she'll give up and that will be the end of it," Obi-Wan said. "As I said earlier, I think we can quickly put this matter to rest."
"I think you're right," Anakin agreed. "It's a good plan."
"Thank you," Obi-Wan smiled and Anakin had a feeling that his approval meant a lot to his former master.
He was not the only one carrying guilt for his past actions...
"Of course," Anakin added with a smile of his own, "there's always the chance that she won't believe us. What would we do then?"
"Improvise," Obi-Wan supplied, picking up on the old joke from their days as a Jedi team. "And hopefully you'll remember to let me do the thinking."
"Yes, Master," Anakin replied in a mock-sulking tone and the two of them shared a laugh.
"I've missed this," Anakin said seriously after the laughter had ended. "The two of us working as a team. We were good together."
"We still are," Obi-Wan pointed out.
"I've missed you, Master," Anakin told him.
"I've missed you too, old friend," Obi-Wan replied. "I just wish I were here under better circumstances. You don't know how many times I considered coming to see you after I realized that you were living here."
"You're here now and that's all that matters," Anakin informed him, meaning it. "You've come to help me protect my family. Thank you." He decided to lighten the moment by adding "Plus, you know, you do kind of owe me for all the times that I saved your life."
Obi-Wan laughed. "That I do." He then became serious again. "By the way, how is Ammae feeling?"
"A little better," Anakin told him. "She's in her room sleeping."
"Perhaps before I leave I will get a chance to meet her and reintroduce myself to the twins."
"I'd like that," Anakin said. "And I know Padmé would too. She'll be glad to know that we won't have to leave. When I told her you were here..."
Obi-Wan nodded in understanding. "Apologize to her for me."
"I suppose I should go and tell Ellara that I've arrived."
"A good idea," Anakin agreed.
"I will see you very soon then," Obi-Wan said. "May the Force be with you."
"May the Force be with you, Master."
Anakin resisted the urge to hug Obi-Wan again. It would only delay his contacting Ellara. And the sooner he met with her, the sooner this entire thing would be over.
Obi-Wan gave him a final nod and then departed from the yard.
Anakin watched him go and waited until he disappeared from sight before closing the fence.
He then reentered the house through the back door.
Then he went to call Padmé.
Obi-Wan knew it had been wrong to mislead Anakin the way that he had, but he also knew it had been the right thing to do. The fear Anakin had radiated at the mention of Padmé's name alone had been overpowering. And Obi-Wan knew all too well what fear, especially fear for Padmé, did to his former apprentice. If he felt that any member of his family was at all threatened... If his plan was to have any chance of succeeding, he needed Anakin to be at his best, which meant he could not be distracted by his fear. So he had told Anakin exactly what he needed to hear: that it was impossible for the plan to fail.
And it had worked. Anakin's fear had immediately dissipated and his mind had cleared. He had been able to focus on the situation at hand and even display some of his trademark humor that Obi-Wan had sorely missed since their...separation. Obi-Wan knew he had made the right decision.
But he felt guilty all the same.
As confident as he was in his plan, there was always the chance, always, that Ellara would not believe the lie. Anakin had made a joke out the possibility, unaware that they may have to do exactly what Obi-Wan had suggested and "improvise." Ellara was highly intelligent as well as incredibly eager to please Clearl. (Ellara worshipped Clearl as much as Clearl worshipped Padmé.) She would not give up easily if she felt that she was being deceived.
Obi-Wan knew he was in a very delicate situation. While he would do everything in his power to protect Anakin and his family, he could not, under any circumstances, undermine his mission for the High Council. If Ellara realized that she was being lied to, she could not be allowed to suspect that Obi-Wan was helping to hinder her investigation. She had to believe that he was doing all that he could to uncover the "truth." It was imperative that he remained in Clearl's good graces.
He sighed, torn between his two loyalties. One to his duty and the other to the man he loved as a son. (The dangers of attachment...) If he had to be forced to choose...
There's no need to think about that quite yet, he decided.
It could wait until after the initial meeting between Ellara and Anakin and Padmé.
Then he would know if and how well his plan had succeeded...
He consulted his wrist chrono and saw that it was almost time for school to let out for the day.
He would intercept Ellara before she left her classroom.
And begin convincing her that her theory could not possibly be true...
Mara closed her eyes and called on the Force to help her recall the information she had committed to memory before landing on Entellion. It was a technique her master had taught her early in her training. It enabled her to perform her missions without carrying any physical evidence of the mission itself. It insured that if she were ever caught that there would be nothing on her person to incriminate her in any way.
At first, she had been worried that she did not have enough information to carry out her mission, but it turned out that the names of her targets were all she had needed. Once she had achieved orbit above the planet, she had been able to upload a great deal of data, such as addresses and maps, from the planetary networks. And then she had taken that data and formed a plan.
The girl was most likely to visit the woman she was hiding, be it Amidala or a lookalike, after she finished with school for the day. It made more sense than going home first and then going out again. A girl that young would probably have an extremely early curfew. (Mara knew she had at that age. And the punishment for staying out past it, no matter how little, had been severe.) So she would wait outside of the girl's school, which she had easily found by searching the city's educational databases, and follow her wherever she went.
Unfortunately, that was easier said than done: she did not know what the girl looked like. The data that she had been able to upload from the planetary network had been text-based with the exception of street maps. She would need to have someone point out the girl to her and it could not be either of her parents. (One mention of the girl to either of the parents would put them on instant alert, which would make their minds impervious to Force suggestion.) That only left one option: the school teacher.
It would actually be very easy. All she needed to do was approach the woman and initiate a conversation with her that would lead to a mention of the girl. The mention would bring thoughts of Ammae into her mind, which Mara would be able to extract with the Force. Another touch of the Force would insure that she forgot the encounter completely. A simple operation that would result in the identity of her quarry, allowing her to begin surveillance.
Not that this was really surveillance. Or even a challenge. All she was doing was following a child around. She wouldn't need any of her skills to avoid detection. It wouldn't even occur to the girl that anyone would be watching her. She'd go about her business as she always did.
And lead Mara directly to whoever it was that she was hiding.
She doubted this mission would take her more than a day.
Releasing the canopy of her stealth craft (a gift from her master after she finished her piloting training), she disembarked from the ship and prepared to start on her quest.
Her master was waiting.
Leia pulled the strap of her pack over her shoulder and closed her locker. She then keyed in the code to secure it shut. Yet another day of school was finally over. Now she could go and spend the rest of her day doing something important: continuing her Jedi training.
Jedi training that once complete would show her family just how wrong they were about her.
Last night's accusations had brought about a starting revelation: her parents didn't trust her. This was realized, thanks to mediation, only after her anger had subsided.
It was something that had never crossed her mind, though she supposed it should have. She was not exactly the model of an obedient daughter. She hardly spent any time with her family and refused to answer questions about where she had been. She kept secrets and came home late every night. She constantly got into trouble at school. It was a wonder they even put up with her at all!
Yet she was still surprised by their lack of trust. She had always assumed that because her parents loved her (that was something she would never doubt) that they trusted her. Didn't love and trust go hand in hand? At least, she thought they did. Obviously, she had assumed wrong.
And it bothered her.
She was not a bad person. Yes, she was difficult to get along with-she freely admitted that-but to her knowledge she had never done anything to earn her family's lack of trust. She had never acted with the sole intention of harming someone who didn't deserve it. (She did not think that picking on Luke and Ammae counted.) She only attacked those who attacked first. She had a low tolerance for stupidity and had no problem giving idiots a piece of her mind, whether it be verbal or physical. (Whichever got her point across better.) How did that make her untrustworthy?
She sighed, realizing that there was nothing she could do to change her parents' opinion of her right now. It was more important that she completed her training so that she could destroy the Emperor. And finishing her training meant continuing with the very behavior that had formed their very wrong opinion of her. There was no other way. They could not learn of her plans. If they knew, they would try to stop her. And she was determined that nothing would stop her.
"Hey, Leia! Wait up!"
For a moment, she considered pretending that she hadn't heard the ruler of Planet Goody-Goody himself calling her, but she knew he'd just continue chasing after her until she acknowledged him. (Luke gave new meaning to the word "dense.") So she came to stop and allowed him to catch up.
"What do you want?" she questioned, letting every bit of her annoyance leak out into her voice. "I'm busy."
"You're always busy," he pointed out. "I'm on my way to pick up Ammae's homework from Ellara. Want to come?"
"Uh, no," she told him. "As if you even had to ask. And why would I even want to?"
"Because it could be fun," Luke informed her.
"'Fun'?" she echoed. "Are you serious? How exactly can picking up a sick kid's homework be fun?"
He shrugged. "You never know. Anyway, it would give us a chance to spend some time together. We never do that anymore."
"Ever stop to think that maybe there was a reason?" she shot back. Why oh why did I get stuck with this for a twin brother? "Besides, as I already told you, I'm busy. I'll see you at home."
"Oh, come on! Please?"
"No and that's final."
"I told you. I'm busy. I have a lot of things to do that can't wait."
"Because they can't," she told him firmly. "Goodbye, Luke."
"You're too old to whine," she informed him. "I said 'no' and I mean 'no.' Get it? I don't want to go with you. It's not as if you actually need me. If you do, then I feel very sorry for you." She turned away from him and started walking. "See you at home."
"I just wanted us to spend some time together," Luke sighed.
She stopped and returned to him.
"Luke, we haven't spent time together in years."
"Ugh!" she groaned, thoroughly exasperated with him. "You just don't get it, do you? We have nothing in common. Nothing! Therefore, spending time together is pointless. It would be a waste of both my time and yours. So, I'll tell you what. I'm going to go now and do that thing that I told you repeatedly can't wait while you go and pick up Ammae's homework like the good boy you are. Okay?"
"Okay," Luke said, obviously finally realizing that he didn't have a snowball's chance on Tatooine in getting her to go with him. "I'll see you at home."
Do I have to?
Suppressing the urge to slug him solely on principle, she gave him her sweetest smile. "See you."
Confident that this encounter had officially ended, she walked off, picking up speed in an effort to make up for lost time.
"Some people!" she grumbled under her breath.
What a family she had the misfortune of belonging to! Parents who didn't trust her. An annoying twin brother. A little sister who could bore a droid.
Sometimes she wondered why she was even bothering to save them. And then she remembered.
It was because she loved them.
Because no matter how much they drove her insane, they were the only family that she had.
And she would do everything in her power to protect them.
Mara made her way down the hallway towards Rittani's classroom. The local school day would be over in a very few minutes. As soon as the last of Rittani's students left, she would make her move.
She'd probably be able to find and follow the Peridon girl before she got very far.
So very easy...
Standing outside of Rittani's door was a boy Mara estimated to be around her own age. He had a school bag on his back and held various items in his arms. In fact, it looked as if he'd fall over if just given one more thing.
What the Force did he need to see Rittani about? He was far too old to be a student at this elementary school.
Probably the older brother of some sick kid, she decided, which meant he was here to pick up homework.
Which would take several minutes. Several minutes in which her quarry would be able to get out of range.
Damn it! she cursed.
It appeared that this mission was going to take longer than she thought.
Luke waited patiently for the last of Ellara's students to exit the classroom. After the final one passed by him, he went in.
Ellara was not sitting at her desk or standing at the front on the room. Instead, she was standing off to the side talking to a man Luke had never seen before. (Yet, strangely, he seemed familiar at the same time. How that was possible, Luke didn't know.)
Luke hated to interrupt, but he knew Ammae really wanted her work. He knew how she hated to fall behind.
"Excuse me, Ellara?" he called out, getting her attention. "I'm here to pick up Ammae's work."
"Hi, Luke," she greeted him with a smile. "I have it all ready for you. It's on my desk." She turned to her companion. "This is Luke, Ammae's older brother. He's kindly volunteered to bring her her homework."
"That's very thoughtful of you," the man commented as Ellara walked towards her desk. "Ammae's very lucky to have such a considerate brother."
Luke blushed in embarrassment. "Thank you, sir, but it's really nothing. I just know how important Ammae's studies are to her."
"As I've often told you, Luke's a very modest boy," Ellara put in as she reached her desk. She picked up an envelope and gestured for Luke to join her. "But no one does as much good as he does. For both his family and the community in general."
"Told you"? Luke wondered as he walked over to her. Ellara had told this man about him before? Why? Who was he?
"Does he, now?" the man said with a smile. "You have a very special gift, young Luke. I hope you will always use it as you do now."
"I'll do my best, sir," Luke assured him as he put his things down on the edge of Ellara's desk to free his hands.
"There's no need to be so formal, young one," the man waved him off. "Please, call me Ben. After all, we're all friends here. Ellara has told me much about your family."
"Ben is an old friend of mine," Ellara explained. "He knows how kind your family has been to me in the short time I've lived here." She handed Luke the envelope she had picked up. "All of the lessons from yesterday and today are on these datachips. I've also taken the liberty of including tomorrow's just in case Ammae still isn't feeling up to coming to class. There is a chip for each subject. If she has any questions, tell her she can call me at any time."
"I will," he promised. "Thank you so much."
"Thank you," Ellara smiled again. "Tell Ammae I hope she feels better soon and give your parents my best."
"I'll tell them," Luke let her know. He slid his backpack around his body and secured the envelope in one of its many pockets. He then readjusted the pack and picked up the rest of his things. "Thank you again. I'll go and bring this to Ammae now. It was good seeing you, Ellara, and it was very nice meeting you, Ben."
"It was a pleasure," Ben said. "I'll be staying with Ellara for a few days. Perhaps we'll meet again."
"Maybe," Luke agreed. "You know, Ellara's always welcome at our house. You could have her bring you by for dinner one night. My parents wouldn't mind and they'd love meeting you."
"Thank you, my friend," Ben accepted the open invitation. "I will make sure we do."
"Great. I'll see you then. Bye!"
"Goodbye, Luke. Have a good rest of the day."
"You too, Ellara." He smiled at the both of them. "See you!"
He then turned and left the classroom, Ammae's work safely tucked away in his pack.
As he reentered the hall, he noticed a girl about his own age leaning casually against the opposite wall. Her arms were loosely crossed and she wore an amused expression on her face (which, in Luke's humble opinion, was quite beautiful.)
"Hello," he politely acknowledged her.
"Hello," the girl coolly responded before standing upright and walking away without another word.
Luke watched her disappear before shrugging at her strange behavior. Then he headed on home.
Ammae was waiting for her work.
Mara waited until the boy, now identified as Luke Peridon and Ammae's older brother, passed by the side passageway she had ducked into. She then reentered the main hall and followed him.
The idiot would lead her straight to her quarry.
She had listened to his conversation with Rittani and Kenobi and come to the conclusion that he was a waste of breathing room. What a loser! Could anyone be more pathetic? Even the Jedi, if her master had not had them all destroyed, would have never accepted him into their ranks.
But, luckily, he did have one use and she intended to make the most of it.
She'd know soon enough just who little Ammae Peridon was hiding.
"My house isn't very far from here," Ellara told Obi-Wan as they left the school building, "so I find it's just easier to walk back and forth instead of trying to find a place to park every day. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," he assured her. "I happen to prefer to travel by foot."
He suppressed the urge to chuckle as memories of Anakin's flying came to mind. How many times had he been convinced that Anakin's recklessness was going to get them both killed? (He sincerely hoped that Anakin had spared his own family from that sort of torture, though he supposed the children might have enjoyed it.) After his first experience as Anakin's passenger, he had developed a fondness for walking fairly quickly. (For which Anakin had teased him mercilessly.)
"Really?" Ellara asked, sounding surprised. "I would have never guessed. You have a reputation of being such a skilled pilot."
Obi-Wan laughed openly. "I'm afraid you have me confused with my former Padawan. He was the extraordinarily skilled pilot, who also happened to take pleasure in giving me heart attacks. He loved to perform dangerous stunts while I merely held my own. All credit for any space battles that I participated in and our side won goes to him."
When Ellara did not immediately respond, Obi-Wan turned to look at her. She had grown very quiet and had an expression on her face that he could not decipher.
His smile faded. Had he accidentally said something to offend her?
"Ellara? Is something the matter?"
She shook her head and gave him a small smile. "I believe that this is the first time I've heard you openly talk about your apprentice. In the past when I've asked you about him, you always asked me to change the subject. I'm glad to see that you can finally think of him without the pain. It's obvious the two of you were very close."
"We were," he told her as he silently berated himself for his slip.
As part of his effort to keep Anakin and his family safe, Obi-Wan had fabricated a story where he had witnessed Anakin's death firsthand. The story went that when he had been sent on his mission to Utapau in order to confront General Grievous, Anakin, convinced that Obi-Wan could not handle the mission on his own, had disobeyed orders to remain in the Temple and followed him. When the clone troopers had turned on the Jedi, Anakin had died saving Obi-Wan's life. The incident was "so painful" that he didn't like to talk about it. Everyone had believed the story and had respected his wishes.
When he had first "joined" Clearl's group, Ellara had not yet heard the story. Instead, she had been curious about the Emperor's search for Anakin and had asked him why Palpatine was so intent on finding him. (Thanks to the HoloNet, everyone knew about the team of Kenobi and Skywalker. The war had made them famous galaxy-wide.) Obi-Wan had used that opportunity to tell her the fictional account of Anakin's death and explained that because the official Temple records showed Anakin having been in the Temple the night of the massacre, it was assumed he had survived when no body was found. He had then insisted it was too painful to say anything more on the subject and made her drop it. And she had...
Until this very moment.
And it was his own fault.
"I can tell you still miss him very much," Ellara said quietly.
"He was like a son to me," he told her. "And as time went on, we became brothers as well. There was nothing we wouldn't have done for each other. Even give our lives."
It was true. Every word of it. He would do anything to protect Anakin and his family. Because Anakin was his family too.
As he had always been.
"But enough talk of the past," he told her, calling for a change in subject. He was here for a reason and it was time to focus on what he had come to do. Discussing Anakin did nothing to insure Ellara's failure. "Have you given any thought to how you'd like to proceed with your investigation?"
"Yes, I have," she answered. "I've been thinking about it quite a bit. In fact, I've been worrying about what will happen once Ammae recovers and is able to visit the senator again. And before you say anything, I know you don't believe the woman Ammae is protecting is Senator Amidala, but both Clearl and I do. So, just for argument's sake, I'm going to refer to her as the senator. All right?"
"I wasn't going to say anything, I assure you," he defended himself. "It is your investigation and I am only here to offer assistance. Please, continue."
"Sorry about that," she apologized. "Anyway, as I was saying, I have a terrible feeling that once Ammae tells her about what happened, she will decide that it's time to move on and find someplace else to hide. She'll fear that her location won't remain a secret much longer. Yes, Ammae was able to protect it this time, but what if the next time she isn't? So it is imperative that we speak with her parents while she's still sick."
"Unfortunately that doesn't give us much time," Obi-Wan told her, relieved that this mission would not take too long. (Yet also saddened by the knowledge that he would not be able to see Anakin and his family again for a very long time.) The sooner he was able to return to his true mission of protecting Clearl, the better. "Tomorrow is the end of the school week and she will most certainly recover over the weekend. Our only choice then is to meet with them tomorrow."
"I agree," Ellara concurred. "Of course that still leaves the problem of setting up the meeting. But that's what you're here to help me figure out, right?"
"Very true," he said with a smile. Ellara's inexperience with investigation was at last presenting itself. "So, tell me, what are the usual reasons a teacher might want to meet with a student's parents?"
"Nothing that would ever apply to Ammae, I'm afraid," she told him. "She's the perfect student: well-behaved, smart, and a joy to teach. The only reason I'd ever have to meet with them would be to praise her and unfortunately, teachers don't call conferences for that. Conferences are for discussing disciplinary and educational issues. The moment I ask her parents for a meeting they'll be suspicious, especially if I insist that they both be there. Councilor Peridon has never attended a single parent-teacher conference. They always conflict with her work schedule."
"So a traditional conference is out of the question," Obi-Wan decided. Not that it truly made a difference. Anakin and Padmé would attend no matter what cover story they were given. The safety of their family was at stake. Only Ellara had to be convinced that her cover was flawless. "It's essential that the Councilor be there. We need to think of something that will be irresistible to her."
"But what?" Ellara wanted to know. "I'm their daughter's teacher. My only reason for meeting with them would be for a conference about Ammae. And, as I've already said, she's too well-behaved to merit a parent-teacher discussion."
"Then perhaps the meeting should not be about Ammae at all," he suggested. "Is that possible?"
"I don't know," she admitted, sighing. "Force, this is going to be harder than I thought."
"You'll think of something," he encouraged. He wanted Ellara to be the one to come up with idea. "From what you've told me, you know Ammae's parents very well. What would interest them, especially her mother?"
"Hmm," Ellara murmured, falling deep into thought.
They continued in silence as Ellara pondered the situation. Obi-Wan patiently waited for her to arrive at an answer.
"The Councilor is well-known for her strong support of public education," Ellara finally spoke. "Maybe the meeting could be something about aid for the schools?"
"A very good idea," Obi-Wan praised her. Ellara was a highly intelligent young woman. He knew that given time she would solve her own dilemma. "Tell me more."
"Let me think," she said, her mind visibly working. "She's already set up a number of funds, so that eliminates that possibility. A program of some kind?"
"A program sounds promising," he told her. "What could this proposed program be about?"
"Any number of things, actually," she answered. "Back during the Old Republic, it was very common for a planetary or even a local government to sponsor educational programs and events. Each had their own reason for doing so, but there were many leaders just like the Councilor who wanted to help the children to learn. These programs were great for promoting both creativity and learning. They were very popular with the parents.
"Of course, you don't see any of them now that the Empire is ruling the galaxy," she bitterly added. "Force forbid that someone should be able to think for themselves! But maybe, just maybe, an Outer Rim world that is outside of the Empire's jurisdiction could start one."
"I believe I see where you're going," Obi-Wan told her, "and I think you are on to something. Councilor Peridon would be very interested in this."
"You really think so?" Ellara asked, sounding surprised. It was obvious she wasn't as confident in her ideas as she made it seem. "You think she'll agree to come and meet with me for something like that?"
"I do," he assured her. "And once she arrives you can reveal your true purpose in speaking with her." He gave her a smile. "You see? You did it. You found your own solution to the problem. You didn't need me at all."
"But I couldn't have done it without you, Master Kenobi," she disagreed. "You're the one who inspired me. Thank you so much."
"There's no need to thank me, my friend," he waved her off. "I truthfully did very little. You came up with the idea all on your own. You should be very proud of yourself."
She looked embarrassed. "You're too kind, Master Kenobi." She then tried to hide her discomfort behind a grin. "Of course, that still leaves the biggest problem of all: asking them questions."
"Now that is something I can truly help you with," he grinned back. "I will teach you what you need to know when questioning her parents."
"I am your willing student," she told him. "Teach me everything."
He felt a twinge of guilt. Ellara was doing nothing wrong, her intentions completely pure. Yet he was going to do everything in his power to insure that she failed. An entire family's survival was at stake. She had to fail.
But he felt guilty all the same.
"I will do my best," he promised.
"That's all I can ask," she told him. "And here we are," she said, pointing to the house they were approaching. "My very tiny home. Allow me to apologize in advance for the state of disarray that awaits you just beyond the door. I confess that housekeeping is not very high on my priority list."
"I can say with absolutely certainty that it will be far superior to many of the places I was forced to sleep in during the war," he informed her. "Anything is better than a muddy hole."
"Very true," Ellara admitted as she led him up the walkway. "But I'm still sorry. I have a houseguest after all."
"I will be fine," he affirmed. "So, tell me, what would you like me to teach you first?"
"I leave the decision up to you, Master Kenobi. Whatever you think would be best."
"Well, in that case..."
"What do you think, Councilor? Councilor?"
Padmé shook her head and tried to clear it. Her thoughts had wandered while listening to her assistant. She had so many things on her mind... "I'm sorry, Dilan. Can you repeat that?"
"You've been doing that all day," Dilan informed her. "Not to mention constantly yawning. Did you get any sleep last night?"
"Some," she answered truthfully. "Hayd finally put his foot down and forced me to go to bed." She struggled not to smile as she thought of what had happened before actually falling asleep. (Anakin had started kissing her and then...) "I was actually planning on staying up with Ammae all night."
"And let me guess. You still would have come in this morning," Dilan speculated.
"Of course," Padmé told her. "Look at how early I left yesterday. I didn't finish any of my work. So today I have to complete those tasks plus all of the new ones that have come in. I already anticipate working late tonight."
How she wished she didn't have to. She was so tired. She really had gotten very little sleep the night before. (One of these days she would have to learn how to resist Anakin's amorous advances...) And on top of that exhaustion, there were Ammae and Ellara's investigation to worry about.
Maybe she should have listened to Anakin and stayed home today...
"I apologize for the way my attention keeps wandering. I just have a lot on my mind. And getting so little sleep isn't helping either. Maybe some caf-"
"Maybe you should just go home," Dilan bluntly suggested. "You're been barely holding it together all day. I don't think you'd make it if you tried to stay late tonight. You need to get some rest, Councilor. "
"I don't know..."
She had so much work to do. Work that should have been finished yesterday...
"It's already after 1400. You've basically been here a full day," Dilan pointed out matter-of-factly. "You're not doing anyone any good by working past the point of exhaustion which, I feel obligated to point out, that you've been since you got here this morning. Go home, get some sleep. You'll feel a hundred percent better in the morning."
"But what about-?"
"Yasmyn, Rean, Kloe, and I can finish up what you started as well as take care of some of the others," she cut her off. She smiled slyly. "You aren't the only one who works in this office, you know."
"I know," Padmé told her. "But I just don't feel right leaving early two days in a row. It makes me feel like I'm, I don't know, shirking my responsibilities."
"Trust me, you're the first councilor who hasn't shirked anything," Dilan informed her. "Why do you think you keep getting reelected?"
"I thought it was because everyone just liked to look at my husband," Padmé playfully shot back, knowing the public opinion of her beloved. (One of the drawbacks of having an extremely handsome husband, his altered appearance doing nothing to disguise his natural good looks, was the inevitable attention of other women. Anakin took it in stride and loved to prove that he was taken by passionately kissing his wife in public, much to the chagrin of their children.)
"There is that," the happily-married-but-not-blind Dilan grinned. (Before her marriage less than a year ago, she too had been infatuated with Anakin. Sometimes Padmé wondered if there was a female alive who hadn't been at one point.) "But in all seriousness, Councilor, you have done more for this city in your two and half terms than all of your predecessors combined. I am proud to be part of your staff."
"Thank you, Dilan," Padmé softly told her assistant. "That means a lot to me."
"Go home, Councilor. Please," Dilan urged. "Rest."
"All right," Padmé finally gave in as a new yawn escaped her lips. "I'll go home."
"Good," Dilan said. "You've made the right decision."
Padmé smiled. "Let me gather my things and then I'll leave."
"Very good, Councilor," Dilan approved. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"No, Dilan, I'll be fine," Padmé told her. "Please tell the others that I'm leaving now."
"Of course, Councilor."
Dilan rose from her seat, gave a small bow, and then left Padmé's office.
Padmé inhaled and exhaled deeply as she leaned back in her chair. She was so tired and so worried about so many things. (Anakin's assurances that they weren't in any danger after all had done little to ease her fear. Obi-Wan could very well be wrong in his assessment of the situation.) She hoped Dilan was right and that she'd feel better after a good night's sleep.
She sat up straight and set to work gathering her belongings.
Luke glanced behind himself one last time before he entered the code to let himself in the house. As before, he didn't see a thing. Shrugging and deciding that the strange feeling of being followed was just the product of his imagination, he went inside.
"Dad, Ammae, I'm home!" he announced his arrival.
"Hi, Luke," Dad said as he came into the front hall. "Did you have a good day at school?"
"It was okay," Luke answered. "How's Ammae?"
"Feeling a little better," Dad informed him. "She slept most of the day. She got up a few times, but decided she was too tired to do anything. I don't think she'll be ready to go back to school tomorrow."
"Ellara didn't think so either," Luke told him. "So she went ahead and included tomorrow's work with today's and the rest of yesterday's."
"That was very thoughtful of her," Dad smiled. "She knows Ammae well."
"Yeah, she hates getting behind in her work," Luke said. "Not that it would take her more than five seconds to get caught up."
"True," Dad agreed. "Neither Mom or I can figure out where she got it from."
"Both of you are very smart, Dad," Luke pointed out. "I mean, look how the two of you were able to start your lives over. Twice!"
"I really mean it," Luke insisted. "I'm not just saying it. Honest."
Dad just shook his head. "Have I mentioned that we can't figure out where you came from either?"
Luke laughed. "Oh, before I forget," he changed the subject, "Ellara has a friend staying with her for the next couple of days. I, uh, kind of said that it would be okay if they wanted to drop by for dinner one night and that you and Mom wouldn't mind. You wouldn't, would you?"
"Of course not," Dad assured him. "Any friend of Ellara's is a friend of ours. I spoke with her earlier today and she mentioned that someone was staying with her, but I didn't think to invite the both of them over. That was a very nice thing to do, Luke."
"I met him too," Luke added. "He was in the classroom talking to Ellara when I came in. His name is Ben and he was very nice."
For a moment, Luke could have sworn Dad had a strange look on his face, but an instant later, it was gone.
What's wrong with me today? Luke asked himself. First the strange feeling that he had seen Ben before, then the sensation of being followed, and now this.
"He said Ellara had told him all about us," he continued after a moment, "and that he felt like he already knew us."
"Oh, did he?" Dad replied with the slightest of smiles on his lips. "And did he say anything else?"
"A couple of things, like that I had a special gift because I help people. Like I said, he was very nice."
"He sounds it," Dad agreed, the smile still there. "I hope he and Ellara will take you up on your invitation. I'd very much like to meet him."
"I think he will," Luke told him. "He told me he hoped that we'd meet again."
"I look forward to meeting him then," Dad said, his smile even wider. "Why don't you go and bring Ammae her work now? I'm sure she's eager to get started."
"Okay, Dad. I'll see you later then. I love you."
"I love you too, Luke."
Luke gave him a quick hug and then headed off towards Ammae's room.
Where are you, you little brat? Mara grumbled to herself, her patience wearing thin after hours of observing the Peridon house. Come on out and go visit your secret friend.
She had followed the brother home (there were a few times where he had inexplicably seemed to know that she was behind him, which was impossible. She had been trained to be the best by the best. No one should have been able to detect her presence.) and had found a concealed observation point across the street from the house. And she had been sitting there ever since, waiting for the girl to emerge.
The fact that the girl was supposedly sick meant nothing. Mara knew from experience that illness did not stop one from doing something they loved. And from the way Rittani had described the girl's behavior in the intercepted transmission, the girl loved having a secret friend. It was only a matter of time before she went to visit her.
Several times she had considered returning to her ship and trying again tomorrow, but she knew that her master wanted the hidden woman identified as soon as possible. She could not risk missing an opportunity of locating her today. (Her master would not be pleased.) So she continued to wait, suppressing the urge to scream aloud her frustration.
Suddenly the sound of an approaching speeder caught her attention. She looked to see a lone speeder slow down at it neared the Peridon house and turn in to the driveway.
One of the parents, she decided.
The girl's mother, of course, was the leader of the local city government while the father was a mechanic. (A strange match, in Mara's opinion. Whatever did a high class politician see in someone as poor as a mechanic?)
She heard the speeder power down and a few moments later, a woman emerged from inside. Curious to see what Councilor Peridon looked like, Mara used the Force to enhance her vision...
And did a double-take.
Ammae Peridon was not simply protecting Senator Padmé Amidala.
Amidala was her mother!
Her master had to be contacted immediately.
This changed everything.
"Stupid alarms," Leia angrily grumbled under her breath as she once again found herself walking home as fast as her exhausted body could carry her. "Even stupider brothers."
Although resigned to the fact that her parents would never trust her as long as she continued her secret Jedi training, she had decided to show them up anyway by drastically altering her general behavior. She would become everything they had admonished her to be. She would stop getting into trouble at school, stop mistreating her brother and sister, stop backtalking to her parents, and, most important of all, stop getting home late. It was the perfect plan. Mom and Dad would go insane trying to figure out what had triggered the sudden change in their problem child. And it was supposed to have started tonight.
Too bad that lousy twin brother of hers had to come along and ruin everything.
She had had it all planned out. To insure her arriving home before dinner started, she was going to set the alarm on her wrist chrono before beginning her training. The chosen time, 1630, would have given her a good half hour to get home before the family sat down to eat. She had spent the entire day imaging the expressions on her parents' faces when she walked through the door. It was to have been a glorious moment of triumph.
Instead, she had run into that idiot who had the audacity to ask her if she wanted to join him to pick up Ammae's homework. Homework! (What in the Force's name had ever given him the idea that picking up homework was a "fun" activity?) And, if that wasn't bad enough, he had refused to give up after she repeatedly had told him "no," pleading with her to spend time with him. By the time she had finally gotten him to leave her alone, all thoughts of setting her alarm had gone right out of her head. She had instead devoted all of her energies to purging the distasteful encounter from her memory. The nerve of that twerp!
All of her careful planning...
"He is so dead!"
So what if revenge wasn't the way of the Jedi? She wasn't exactly a full Jedi yet, now was she?
It's not like she'd do anything fatal to him...
"Aren't we the cheerful one today?" came a voice out of nowhere.
Leia snapped her head towards the sound and found herself looking into the cockpit of a speeder that was keeping pace beside her. And piloting it was none other than the spacer that had given her a ride home last night, Han something or other. (Had he even given her a last name?)
"You look ready to commit murder," he added with a grin. "Did someone beat me to finding out your secret?"
Leia didn't bother responding to the taunt. She knew what he was trying to do. He had obviously enjoyed yesterday's trading of insults as much as she had and had purposely sought her out to continue the game. Unfortunately for him, she was in no mood for games at the moment. She was furious and wanted nothing more than to hurt that worthless lowlife that just happened to be her twin brother.
Ignoring Han, she continued walking. Hopefully, he'd take the hint and go do whatever it was that spacers did while planetside.
"So I take it that the answer is 'no'? Wonderful! That means I still have a chance. This must be my lucky day!"
Leia struggled to keep from saying anything. If she voiced any of the thoughts that were currently in the forefront of her mind, she risked angering the man, which was the last thing she wanted. As different as he was from most spacers, she had little doubt that he reacted to insults in the typical way: with violence. (No spacer could be that different and still be in the profession.) She was late enough as it was. She didn't have time for a fistfight.
"Not very talkative today, I see," he went on, not taking the hint. "No problem. I can talk enough for the both of us. Why don't I start with my theories about your secret hobby?"
Leia gritted her teeth, the words "go away" just waiting to emerge from her mouth. She just wanted him to leave her alone. She had her revenge to plan. Luke had to suffer for what he had done. It was only fair.
Han fell silent for a moment, but Leia knew that he was still keeping up with her. He was as stubborn as he had promised her he was though she had to wonder why he was even bothering with her. Surely he wasn't enjoying being ignored.
"Look, if you're not going to talk to me, can I at least offer you a ride?" Han finally spoke. "I know you're late again. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. How about it, kid?"
The change in topic and tone startled Leia so much that she momentarily forgot her anger. She stopped walking and turned to look at him.
"Why do you even care?"
"Because you're a nice kid," he said in what she knew was a completely sincere tone. "And nice kids shouldn't be walking home alone."
Leia was taken aback. She had no idea how to respond.
"What do you say?" Han prompted. "Can I give you a ride?"
Leia only nodded, still awestruck by the turn of events. He really was different from other spacers in every way that mattered.
"Hop on in," he invited, patting the seat next to him. With a grin, he added "Maybe we'll even make it to your house this time!"
The return of his lighter tone brought her back to reality and she remembered her fury.
"I'm in a very bad mood," she warned him as she got into the speeder.
"I can see that," Han told her. "Just so you know, you'd make a terrible actress. Your emotions are as plain as day on your face."
She decided it would be best not to respond.
Han only chuckled and shook his head as he maneuvered his speeder back onto the street.
"So," he said after a few moments of silence, "who's the lucky being who earned your wrath? And what did he do so I'll know not to do it in the future?"
"My brother," she told him, concluding that answering his questions was the best way to make it through the ride without exploding. (She knew that he wouldn't stop asking until he got answers.) "He annoyed me."
"The same brother you promised to go easy on last night?" Han asked.
"I only have one brother," she informed him. "And I have no intention of going easy on him ever again." (Not that she'd really had a chance to do anything to him last night thanks to the Ammae situation. Then, of course, Dad had come along and told her that he didn't trust her to her face...)
Han whistled. "That must have been some annoyance."
"You have no idea."
She struggled to control her anger. Just thinking about what Luke had done to her...
"Hey, do me a favor? If I ever start to annoy you even just the tiniest bit, will you tell me so I can avoid your brother's fate? Just so you know, I plan on living a very long time. Getting killed by a kid would kind of ruin that."
Han's casual delivery stopped Leia cold. The way he had said "killed"...
"Not again," she breathed as realization suddenly struck her.
She was doing it again. She was letting her anger control her. How could she be so careless? She was a Jedi, damn it! Jedi did not get angry.
Anger was of the dark side.
How could she ever hope to destroy the Emperor if she couldn't even control something as simple as her own emotions?
"You okay, kid?" Han asked, sounding concerned. "I was just joking with you back there. I wasn't trying to insult you or anything."
"I know," Leia assured him. "I just... It just occurred to me how badly I was overreacting to my brother. He didn't mean any harm. I shouldn't be so sensitive, that's all."
"But if he did it on purpose-"
"He didn't," she cut him off. "Luke's too... How should I say this? Luke's too good, if that makes any sense. He only sees the best in every situation and it's his life's mission to help everyone and everything he can. He wouldn't even know how to do anything mean on purpose. It's just not his way."
"Yet he annoyed you anyway."
"He opens his mouth and it annoys me," Leia put in matter-of-factly. "It's not his fault. It's mine. I'm not the nicest person, you know."
"Really? Could have fooled me."
Leia could not help herself and laughed. "I'm sorry."
"For what? Having such a sparkling personality and fascinating wit? Don't be, Sweetheart. It's what makes you you. It's all part of your charm."
"No problem," Han told her. "Trust me. If you were as rotten as you claim, I would have tossed you out of the speeder and left you in the middle of the street a long time ago. I got better things to do than put up with snot-nosed brats."
"I'll have to remember that," she said with a genuine smile, imagining his doomed-to-fail attempt at bodily removing her from the vehicle. (If only he knew that it would be him that ended up on the street...)
"By the way," she continued, having noticed the absence of his Wookie friend, "where's Chewie today?"
"Trying to repair the damage that second-rate repair crew did to our baby," he informed her. "They tried to 'fix' some things that didn't need fixing. When Chewie discovered what they'd done, he threw everyone off the ship and took over the job himself. I know from experience that irate Wookies are not the most pleasant of company, so I made a run for it."
"Only to end up back here again," Leia finished. "Which means you find me more pleasant than an irate Wookie. You're just full of flattery today, aren't you?"
"I aim to please," Han grinned. "You're so much fun to be around."
Leia snorted. "There's a first. Someone actually wanting to be in my company."
"What can I say? I can't resist your charms."
"I'm still not telling you where I go," she told him.
"Maybe not today, but there's always tomorrow," he assured her. "Backing down is not my style, Sweetheart. I suggest you get used to it."
"And what makes you think I'll still be here tomorrow?" she countered. "What if I change my route? What if I actually go home on time?"
Han laughed. "You can't run from me so easily, kiddo. I have my ways of finding you wherever you go."
"I'll believe it when I see it."
"Which you will," Han insisted. "Trust me."
"What makes you so sure of yourself?"
"Uh-huh," Leia said.
"Remind me again, which one of these lovely neighborhoods is yours?"
Realizing she had not been paying any attention to where they were going, she was amazed to see that Han had already brought her most of the way home without a single direction from her.
"Second one on the left," she filled him in. "You have a good memory."
"It's just one of my numerous amazing abilities," he told her. "I'm a very talented guy."
"Now is this according to just you or various outside observers?"
"So this is what I get for being nice to you, huh? I'm hurt."
Leia laughed. Without realizing it, she had allowed the game of insults to resume and it was just as enjoyable as it had been the day before. "I'm surprised that's even possible. I'd think your massive ego would protect you from everything."
"Now that's just low," Han declared. "Are you implying that I'm stuck up?"
"If the boots fit."
"Excuse me while I hit the accelerator so I can hand you off to your parents immediately," he shot back. "Well, I will as soon as you tell me which house is yours."
"Keep going straight down this street. You'll see a side street on the right. Go past it and my house is the second one after it."
"Palaces, every single one of them," Han commented as he followed her directions. "How anyone can afford any of them I can't even begin to imagine."
"It's called hard work," Leia offered. "You should try it some time."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're a dirty fighter?"
"I lost count," she answered with a sweet smile. "So I'll just have to start over with you."
It was amazing how much better she felt now that she had released her anger. Once she had cleared her mind, she had begun to enjoy her time with Han, whom was a lot of fun to be with. (She wondered how much longer he would be on Entellion...) He was becoming the first true friend she'd ever had.
Han slowed the speeder down as he approached her house.
"Nice place you have here," he said. "You're obviously richer than I first thought."
Leia laughed. "We're not that rich. My parents both work and they're very good at saving money. Our house is probably the most expensive thing we own."
"What do they do for a living?"
"Mom's in the government," she said truthfully though leaving out her exact job description. She wasn't sure how Han would react if he learned that her mother was the leader of the entire city. She knew from experience that people treated her differently once they found out who she was related to. (It had saved her neck a couple of times in the past though.) She didn't want that to happen with Han. "And Dad runs his own repair business. In fact, he's the best mechanic in the entire galaxy. He can fix anything. I bet he could even do a better job on your ship than Chewie can."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Han asserted. "No one can fix the Falcon better than me and Chewie."
Leia snorted. "No one fixes things like my dad. Trust me."
"Maybe I'll take you up on that one day," he told her. "I'd like to see him try."
"You'll be bowing before him in no time flat," she predicted. "He's that good."
"Like I said, I'll believe it when I see it," he said as the speeder finally came to a stop. "And here you are. Home as promised."
"Great. Now the lecture can begin," she said. "I do so love to hear my mom drone about how irresponsible I am." She climbed out of the vehicle. "Thanks for the ride."
"It was my pleasure, kid. Until tomorrow?"
"If you say so, flyboy."
"I do. Mark my words. Before the day is over, you will be riding in this rented speeder once again."
"Good luck," she smirked, knowing that she'd be already at home by the time he started searching for her. Tomorrow her plan would be put into action.
"I won't need it," he winked. "See you tomorrow, kid!"
With that, he drove off, leaving a highly amused Leia standing in her front yard.
"Spacers," she shook her head as she began to walk towards the front door, resigned to receiving her daily lecture.
Hopefully the last she'd ever have.
Mara closed her eyes and prepared to communicate with her master using nothing but the Force.
According to her master, "speaking" through the Force was an extremely rare ability. While it was true that all Force users could send feelings and emotions to one another, only a small percentage had the ability to send actual words. Her master was one of those few. And so was she.
Her master told her that it was her greatest gift. It had been discovered when she was very little. (Her master had never told her how old she had actually been, just that she was very young.) She had one day been so upset over something (another piece of information that had never been shared with her) that she had begun projecting her distress through the Force. Her sending had been so strong that her master had detected it from his distant location and he had responded by sending soothing words to her back through the Force. Mara, without knowing what she had been doing, spoke back to him through the Force, taking him by complete surprise. It was then and there, her master often told her, that he had decided to make her his Hand and it had not been long afterwards that her Force training had begun.
Training that she knew was lacking in many, many areas.
Lacking because that damn Vader still lived...
She allowed herself a moment of indulgence in her hatred for her master's chosen apprentice before pushing it aside. There was no point in dwelling on things she could not change. Her master wanted Vader as his apprentice and as long as Vader was still alive, her master was determined to get him back, something that now seemed inevitable because of her discovery of Amidala. (If Amidala was here, Vader probably was too. Most likely he was the "mechanic" that "Councilor Peridon" was married to.) The only way she'd ever be the apprentice would be if Vader died. (Hopefully by her own hand...) So she would just have to be content to continue pleasing her master in the role he had given her.
With that in mind, she immersed herself in the Force and sought out her master's presence. She found him almost immediately.
You have learned the identity of the woman? he questioned without preamble. She had learned long ago that her master saw formal greetings as a waste of valuable time if they were not required.
Yes, my master, she answered. It is Amidala as was suspected, but she is not in hiding as the teacher thought. She is in fact living openly under an alias as a government leader on this planet. The reason the girl lied is because Amidala is her mother.
Her mother, her master echoed, waves of unidentifiable emotions flowing through their Force link. It was suspected that Amidala was pregnant at the time of her disappearance but this girl is far too young to be that child, is she not?
I have not yet seen the girl, my master, but from what I have learned I know she is between nine and ten standard years of age, Mara told him. She has an older brother and sister, a set of fraternal twins. I saw the boy with my own eyes. He appears to be at least my age.
More emotions, recognizable this time as glee, poured from her master.
It is all is as I have long thought, her master declared. For her to have a child that young means that Vader is still with her. He would never let another man touch his precious wife as long as he still lived. At last! My search is finally at an end! It is time for Lord Vader to return to his rightful place at my side.
I commend you, my Hand, for learning the truth so quickly. You have done well.
Thank you, my master, Mara graciously accepted the praise while struggling to suppress her hatred of Vader. (It did not matter that her master had told her that he was aware of it. It would be disrespectful to let it show in front of him.) Her news had put him in a good mood. She would not let her personal issues ruin it. What are my new orders?
She did not have to be told that she had completed her mission. She had identified the woman as commanded and reported the identity back to her master. She had fulfilled her assignment. There was nothing further to be done.
In due time, her master told her. First, I require information. Tell me, what have you learned of Amidala's life here?
Amidala lives under the name of "Natala Peridon" and she serves as the city's "councilor," which is the highest position in the local government, Mara began. She is extremely popular with the people and has been reelected several times. During her time in office, she has instated many reforms that improved the quality of life for everyone living in the city she governs over. Her legislation has been so successful that other cities on the planet have adopted them. It is believed that she will continue to be reelected until she retires from the government.
What of her personal life?
She is married to a mechanic named "Hayd Peridon," who must be Vader, and they live with their three children, Mara continued. However, Amidala is very dedicated to her work and most of the childcare is handled by her husband, who runs a very successful small repair business out of their home.
Her master sent another wave of emotion through their link, this one identifiable as disgust.
All of this time and he is still the same weak fool he always was, her master spoke, though Mara knew it was to himself rather than to her. This will be easier than anticipated.
My Hand, I want you to bring Amidala to me, her master decreed. Alive and unharmed. To harm her would bring Vader's wrath upon you, which would result in your death. You are no match for his powers. Use whatever methods you deem appropriate. The disappearance must be quiet and out of the public eye. I leave it to your discretion.
Yes, my master, she accepted her new assignment, keeping her anger at the veiled insult hidden. (Did her master really think that she would be foolish enough to disobey him by doing something so petty? If she was going to harm Vader, she'd do it directly. There was no satisfaction in hurting someone through a loved one.) To insure that her injured pride went undetected, she slightly changed the subject. She did not want her master knowing the effect his doubts had on her. What about Kenobi? He is already on-planet.
Do not worry about him, her master decided. Vader and Amidala are obviously hiding from him too or he would not be aiding the teacher's investigation. Once Vader is again at my side, he will be dealt with. Proceed with your mission.
As you command, Mara said. I will bring Amidala to you as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
I have every confidence in your judgment, her master assured her. You have yet to fail me.
Thank you, my master.
Contact me again when you have Amidala.
It will be done.
And with that, the connection was severed. Her master put farewells in the same category as greetings. If they were not needed, they were not performed.
Mara slowly pulled herself out of her trance, returning to the physical world.
She took a few moments to review the entire conversation, making notes of her master's alternation between praising and warning her. It seemed that while he trusted her to complete her mission flawlessly, as she always did, he did not trust her to avoid antagonizing the man she had openly hated for as long as she could remember. It made no sense. Her loyalty was only to her master. She placed him above all personal feelings. She thought he knew that. Why the sudden mistrust? It made no sense.
Unless he was testing her, which was something he did often. That made more sense. Over the years he had tested her in a multitude of ways, tests she had always passed effortlessly. No one was more dedicated to her master than she was. How could he even think she'd let her personal desire to be his apprentice change that? She would simply have to prove him wrong.
But proving him wrong would have to wait until after she had Amidala in her custody. Acquiring her was going to be no easy task, especially with Vader so close. This would not be as quick or as easy as identifying Amidala had been. It was going to require a great deal of careful planning.
Deciding that she was not going to waste another moment, she turned her thoughts to designing a scheme that would result in Senator Amidala being her captive.
Ellara took a deep breath as she prepared to enter the comm code for the Peridon home for the second time that day. This was it. Her entire investigation hinged on convincing both Hayd and Natala to meet with her tomorrow. Could she do it?
"You need to calm yourself down more before you call," Master Kenobi instructed her. "You're visibly nervous. If they see you looking this way, it will raise their guard. Relax."
"I'm trying to, I promise," she assured him. "It's just that..."
"If they are the kind of people you have led me to believe they are, they'll agree to come," he told her. "Common courtesy dictates that the councilor agree to hear your 'friend' out. I don't believe you have anything to worry about."
"If only I could have your confidence," she sighed. "About any of this."
Master Kenobi gave her a gentle smile. "This is your first investigation. It is only natural for you to be nervous. Confidence comes from experience." His smile widened. "Unless, of course, you happen to be my former apprentice. Overconfidence was his specialty."
Ellara smiled back at that. As a way of easing her misgivings, Master Kenobi had begun to relate humorous incidents from his years spent with the legendary "Hero with No Fear." ("Hero with No Common Sense," Master Kenobi had corrected. "How he survived as long as he did I will never know.") The tactic had worked beautifully, the stories briefly taking her mind off of the difficult task ahead of her and allowing her to steady herself between lessons.
The stories had also had an unintended side effect: Ellara had begun to feel like she almost knew the late Jedi and, from the way Master Kenobi spoke so fondly of him, that she would have liked him very much. (In some ways, he reminded her a lot of Hayd.) She wished she could have met him.
"Call them," Master Kenobi urged. "You can do this."
She nodded, grateful for his mere presence, and again started to enter the frequency. But hesitated once more as a thought struck her: the moment she saw Hayd, Master Kenobi would sense her feelings for him.
Feelings she should not be having...
During her weekly reports to Clearl, to which Master Kenobi had always listened, she had purposely omitted any mention of her feelings for Hayd. First of all, it was because they had no bearing on her carrying out her mission. But it was mostly because she feared what both Clearl and Master Kenobi would think of her for feeling that way about a married man. (When reporting about Ammae, she could not help but talk about her wonderful family.) While it wasn't technically adultery since she had not acted on her feelings, they were still highly inappropriate. The fact that she had developed them at all spoke poorly of her character. She knew better yet she had not been able to get rid of them. How could she admit to such a terrible thing? In her mind, it had been better to keep it a secret.
Unfortunately, with Master Kenobi here, that was no longer possible.
The Jedi ability to read emotions was well-known to her. It was said that nothing could be hidden from a Jedi Knight. If you felt something, a Jedi was instantly aware of it. The moment she saw Hayd, Master Kenobi would know how she felt about him. Just the sight of him caused her heart to pound. Her secret would be revealed and she didn't even want to think about what would happen next.
All she knew with absolutely certainty was that Master Kenobi would no longer look at her the same way. And he would tell Clearl...
Why hadn't she realized this sooner? She should have known that her secret would come out once Master Kenobi was with her. If only she didn't need his help! But she did and now he was here to give her that help. She could not do this investigation without him. She had no skills, no experience. If she had any chance of finding out the truth about Senator Amidala, it would be because of Master Kenobi. And she had every intention of finding out the truth.
Clearl deserved to know.
She realized she had no choice but to tell him before he found out on his own. More than likely he would start treating her differently, but it was a price she was willing to pay if it meant getting through the investigation. The truth about Senator Amidala was more important than the Jedi Master's opinion of her.
She took a deep breath and braced herself for his reaction.
"Master Kenobi, there's something I need to tell you before we go any further with this investigation," she began, keeping her eyes on the comm station. "I know this is going to change your opinion of me, but please don't let it cause you to doubt my commitment to what we're here to do. My personal feelings will not get in the way of doing my job. I am determined to see this through no matter what. You have my word."
"What is it?" he asked, sounding concerned. (Concern that was about to disappear, she knew.)
Still not looking at him, she said, "I have feelings for Hayd Peridon.
A silence fell over the two of them as she waited for his response to her confession.
"I see," he finally spoke. She did not hear any of the expected disgust in his quiet voice, which surprised her. "And how long have you had these feelings?"
"A long time now," she admitted, her gaze still on the controls. "They started on the day I met him. It didn't matter that he had told me almost immediately that he was married and had children. I just started to...feel. I couldn't control it then and I can't control it now. I keep telling myself that it's just a silly crush, but the feelings are very real and always there no matter how badly I wish they would go away.
"I know I can never tell him," she continued. "It would hurt him too badly and the last thing I'd ever want to do is hurt him or anyone in his family. They've been so good to me during my time here. I... I've come to think of them as my own family. They don't deserve the pain it would cause them."
"But it's obvious it causes you pain," Master Kenobi pointed out, sounding concerned again. "Yet you continue to be around him. It must be difficult."
"It is and it isn't," she told him, surprised by his behavior. Why was he still treating her the same way he always had? "In all honesty, I've gotten very used to ignoring my feelings. I've had to. I'm constantly invited over to spend time with his family. I have to act like his presence doesn't affect me the way that it does. It's hard, but I do it. And I'm apparently very good at it since no one seems to suspect a thing and they still treat me the same way."
"Or they know and realize you have no intention of acting on your feelings," he said. "In which case they would see no need to mention it."
His comment caught her off-guard.
"Why wouldn't they?" she countered, unsure of why he was acting as if her transgression was extremely minor. "What I'm feeling is wrong, immoral. I know he's married and yet I continue to feel attracted to him. Wouldn't they want to distance themselves from someone like me if they knew?"
"Your feelings themselves are not immoral," he explained. "What you feel towards him is perfectly normal and, since you have no intention of acting on it, harmless. They would only be immoral if you tried to start a relationship with him. You're being far too hard on yourself, Ellara. You have not done anything wrong.
"And I don't see how anything you've just told me would cause me to doubt your commitment to this investigation," he finished. "You had these feelings long before you began to suspect that Ammae was hiding Senator Amidala. How does one affect the other?"
Finally, she brought herself to look at him. There was not a trace of disgust, anger, or any other negative emotion on his face. All she saw was his normal compassion.
"I thought... I thought that you would find me to be despicable for being attracted to a married man," she confessed. "A man who happens to be the father of one of my students. What I feel is wrong and unprofessional.
"On my home world, I would be publicly shunned for admitting such a thing," she continued. "Adultery is considered a very serious crime on Sagura. Feelings such as mine are thought of as being very close to adultery even if a person doesn't act on them. I would most likely lose my job if my feelings became public knowledge."
"Thankfully, we are not on Sagura," Master Kenobi gently pointed out. "We are in a place where you are entitled to your personal feelings and no one can hold them against you. As long as you do not act on them, you will be fine."
"Thank you," she breathed. She was deeply moved by Master Kenobi's kindness and understanding. "You have no idea what this means to me."
He smiled at her. "I believe I do. Now, are you ready to make that call?"
"Then I suggest you proceed."
Anakin gazed down at his wife as she moved herself closer against him in her sleep. He smiled and put down the datapad he had been reading before pulling her into his arms. (The datapad was displaying the text of a novel he had been slowly working his way through over the last several weeks. It was a work of fiction that had been published during the Clone Wars and told the story of a Jedi team that was, in a way that was so obvious it was funny, based on Obi-Wan and himself. The story, with its ridiculous exaggerations of their personalities, was hilarious though he doubted that was the author's intention. He was enjoying it immensely.) He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. She had come home from the office early and had all but collapsed onto their bed. She had been sleeping ever since.
Anakin mentally shook his head. He had never met anyone who pushed herself as hard as Padmé did. She always put everyone else ahead of herself. She had told him, despite his vehement insistence that she stay home today, that she had to go into the office because she had "too much to do." It didn't matter to her that she had been exhausted due to a combination of worry about Ammae and too little sleep. (He knew he was partially to blame for the lack of sleep. He should have known better than to start kissing her the way he had. Their kisses always led to something more...) She had to go to the office.
And what had happened to her? She had gotten sent home early by one of her own assistants. (He would have to personally thank Dilan for forcing Padmé to go home.) And, from the way she had practically stumbled into the house, it had been just in time. He was amazed she had been able to drive herself home.
Tomorrow, she was going to stay home whether she liked it or not. She needed her rest. This afternoon and evening were not going to be enough. And if she tried to argue with him, he'd just lock her in their room. Her health was more important than anything else.
If she wouldn't take care of herself on her own, then he was going to do it for her.
Anakin looked up to see Luke standing in the open doorway.
"Ellara's on the comm," Luke told him. "She wants to talk to Mom. I didn't know if I should tell her that she's sleeping. What should I say?"
Anakin smiled at Luke's concern over saying the proper thing. He really was a good boy. "Just say that she's unavailable and that I'll talk to her instead. Tell her I'll be there in a minute."
"Okay," Luke nodded and disappeared from view.
It was the call he had been expecting ever since Obi-Wan had left him earlier in the day though he hadn't exactly been expecting it to come tonight. He was surprised Obi-Wan had been able to design a plan with Ellara so fast. Not that he minded, of course. The sooner they got this over with, the better. He wanted the whole thing to be done so that life could get back to normal.
Placing another kiss atop Padmé's hair, he gently released her from his embrace and settled her back onto her pillows. Waiting a moment to make sure that he hadn't woken her from her much-needed sleep, he soundlessly got out of the bed.
He turned back to Padmé and readjusted the blanket over her form.
"I'll be right back," he whispered.
He then made his way out of the bedroom and crossed the hall to his office. He went to his desk and activated the comm.
The screen instantly lit up with a split image of Luke and Ellara with Obi-Wan next to her.
"...I guess," Luke was in the middle of saying. "I've never really paid too much attention- Hey, Dad."
"I'm on now, Luke," Anakin said. "Thanks."
"No problem," Luke acknowledged. "Ellara, Ben, it was nice talking with you again."
"As it was with you, young Luke," Obi-Wan smiled at him.
"Take care, Luke," Ellara added. "You have a good evening."
"Thanks. You too."
And then Luke cut the connection from his end, leaving the three adults alone.
"Charming boy," Obi-Wan commented with a grin Anakin knew all too well. "His manners are impeccable."
Anakin suppressed the urge to smile at Obi-Wan's veiled jab at how Anakin's manners were at the same age.
"All credit goes to his mother," he replied. "I'm assuming you're the friend Ellara mentioned to me this morning."
"Where are my manners?" Ellara jumped in. "Hayd, this is my friend Ben Kenobi. Ben, this is Hayd Peridon, Ammae and Luke's father. Natala is his wife."
Kenobi? Anakin mentally laughed. You never were the creative one, were you, Master?
"It's nice to meet you," he said aloud. "Ellara mentioned you'd be staying with her for a few days."
"Less than that, actually, but yes, I am," Obi-Wan answered and Anakin recognized the supposedly off-hand remark as a hint that things were moving along very quickly, something Anakin was very grateful for. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well. Ellara speaks very highly of you and your family. And I get the impression that Ammae is her favorite student."
"Now, now, Ben," Ellara interjected good-naturedly. "You know very well that a teacher isn't allowed to have favorites."
"Officially," Obi-Wan corrected.
"Officially," she conceded, smiling.
And Anakin immediately understood why things were moving so fast. Obi-Wan had worked his charm on Ellara (there was a reason he had been called "The Negotiator") and gotten her to completely trust him. And he was using that trust to move the investigation along as quickly as possible.
I owe you one, Master.
"Luke said that you were calling to speak with Natala," he changed the subject. "She's actually sleeping at the moment. She stayed up most of last night with Ammae and ended up coming home from work early. She's exhausted."
"I'm sure she is," Ellara said. "Poor thing. But it only shows what a devoted mother she is. And how about Ammae? How is she feeling? Is she any better from this morning?"
"Somewhat," Anakin answered. "She still spent most of the day sleeping. I don't think she'll be up to school in the morning."
"I didn't think she'd be either," Ellara agreed. "Which is why I included tomorrow's work with what I gave her today."
"Luke mentioned that. Thank you."
"It was the least I could do. Anyway, the reason that I was calling Natala is because Ben would like to talk to her about starting some additional school-related programs here that exist on many other worlds. Ben is also a teacher and we were discussing the local school system. He was surprised that certain common programs weren't implemented here. I told him that Natala is the one to talk to about anything related to education around here."
It was very clever for a cover story. If Obi-Wan hadn't warned him in advance, he would have believed it to be a genuine reason for a meeting.
"She definitely is," he agreed, continuing to play his part in the deception. "I'm sure she'd love to hear your ideas. Education is very important to her."
"Could we meet with her tomorrow then?" Ellara asked. "Ben actually has to leave the next day, so it's his only opportunity."
"Yes, something unexpected came up while I was on my way here and I need to cut my stay very short," Obi-Wan elaborated. "Very poor timing on the part of my associates, I have to say.
"Oh, and you're welcome to join us as well," Obi-Wan added in a tone that Anakin knew was made to sound deliberately like an afterthought. Obi-Wan had already told him that Ellara wanted to question the both of them at once. "It will give me a chance to meet you in person as well. As I've said, Ellara has told me a great deal about you. I'd like to find out if any of it is true."
"Probably every word of it," a voice put in from behind Anakin.
He turned to see a perfectly composed Padmé coming to join him at the comm station. Amazingly, not a trace of exhaustion could be seen in either her face or her posture. How she was achieving this deception, he couldn't even begin to imagine.
But, more importantly, what was she doing out of bed?
"Good evening, Natala," Ellara greeted. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you," Padmé told her. She took Anakin's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "All I needed was a few hours sleep.
"I overheard the part about you and your friend wanting to meet with me tomorrow. What time did you have in mind?"
"We were thinking after school, if that's all right with you," Ellara said. "I know you normally don't like to leave work early, but, as I'm sure you just heard, my friend has to leave the following day."
"After school is fine," Padmé smiled warmly. "I'm actually not planning on going into the office anyway." She turned her gaze to her husband. "Hayd has convinced me that I need my rest."
This was very welcome news to Anakin. He was glad that she was finally using her common sense.
"Wonderful," Ellara declared. "Would my classroom be an agreeable meeting place to you both?"
"It's fine," Padmé assured her. "Ben, is it?" she addressed Obi-Wan.
"I look forward to meeting you tomorrow, Ben, and hearing about these programs."
"The feeling is mutual, milady."
"Until tomorrow then," Padmé concluded, indicating that it was time to end the conversation. "Good night."
"Good night, Natala, and thank you. I really appreciate you agreeing to this on such short notice," Ellara said.
"Anything for the children," Padmé waved her off. "Good night to you both."
"Good night," Obi-Wan told her with a nod.
"Good night," Ellara repeated.
"Good night," Anakin added his own farewell.
With one last smile, Ellara ended the connection.
And Padmé instantly wilted, the illusion of strength vanishing before his eyes.
Anakin quickly caught her in his arms and pulled her into his lap, holding her tightly against him.
"What are you doing out of bed so soon?" he admonished her. "You're in no condition to be on your feet, my love. What were you thinking?"
"That I had had enough sleep," she told him, snuggling against his chest. "I figured five hours was good enough. Obviously, I was wrong."
"Which is why I'm taking you back to bed right now," he affirmed, readjusting his hold on her and standing up. "And you're going to stay there for the rest of the night. Do I make myself clear, Senator?"
"Perfectly, Master Jedi."
"Good," he said, carrying her towards the door. "Therefore, I expect absolute obedience from you, my love. You're not to get up unless I say so."
"And if I disobey you?" she playfully challenged.
"You will be severely punished," he shot back. "In ways you can't even begin to imagine."
"Is that supposed to frighten me?" she questioned as they crossed the hall and reentered their bedroom. "Because it's not working."
"It's not working because you don't know what I have in mind," he told her matter-of-factly. "Trust me, you don't want to find out."
"I still say it won't scare me," she declared as he lowered her onto the bed and sat down beside her. "And nothing you can say will convince me otherwise."
"I see it's still impossible to win an argument with you," he mock-sighed. "Why do I even bother?"
"Because you're a stubborn man," she informed him. She gave him a smile. "Whom I happen to love very much."
"I love you too."
He leaned down and kissed her.
"Thank you," he softly spoke after separating from her.
"For saying that you'll stay home tomorrow. I was worried that I was going to have to force the issue. You need your rest."
"When I heard Ellara say that she wanted to meet with us tomorrow, I knew I had no other choice," she explained. "I'm no good to you like this. How can I expect to help you convince her of anything if I'm half asleep? We can't fail tomorrow. We just can't. Otherwise..."
Anakin knew what was bothering her.
"We're not going to have to leave, Padmé," he assured her. "I promise you. Ellara has nothing, just suspicions. There's no proof, no evidence. It's her word against ours. She has no choice but to believe what we say.
"Everything's going to be fine," he asserted, kissing her again. "We'll get through tomorrow and then things will go back to normal. You'll see."
"You make it sound so easy," she told him. "But we both know she's not going to give up without a fight. Obi-Wan told you how important this is to her. We have to prove that we don't know anything about... Force, it's strange to even say it. About...me. And we can't leave any room for doubt. She has to accept what we tell her. Because if she doesn't..."
"I know," he soothed. "Let's not talk about this anymore, all right, my love? Close your eyes and go back to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."
She nodded and did as she was told.
Anakin watched her a moment before stretching out next to her. He gave her a light kiss on her cheek before turning to look for the datapad he had put down earlier. Finding it, he picked it up and switched it on before leaning back against his pile of pillows.
While he understood Padmé's worries, he had a very good reason why he did not share them. Obi-Wan had given him his word that there was no way that they could possibly fail. And Obi-Wan did not give his word lightly. If Obi-Wan said that everything was going to be all right, it would be.
And after tomorrow, Padmé would see this too.
With that in mind, he began to read.