For disclaimers, warnings and pairing notifications see Chapter 1.
Author Note: Well folks, it's definitely been a while. I could make excuses, real life, writing difficulties etc., but I'm sure none of you guys are particularly interested in any of that. Let me just take this time to reassure you all that this story is not (fairly obviously), nor will ever be, abandoned (unless of course there is overwhelming agreement from you, the audience, that this story has gone to hell, in which case I won't torture you further). I wrote this specifically to revive a dead idea, so it would be silly of me not to see it through. Plus I have the epilogue written up already! Anyway, since it's already been delayed so long, without further ado, on with the show...
"Tell me, Padmé, what do you know about galactic history just after the signing of the Treaty of Coruscant?"
He had moved from his original position with his head in her lap, and was now sat facing her, cross-legged and with a straight back and steady hands. He had not shown a single sign of any residual effects from the torture he had so recently endured and she wondered at his self-control. She knew, intellectually, that the Jedi were capable of such feats of endurance and that therefore logically a Sith would be as well, but it was different to have seen him writhing and screaming and now to watch him sit and speak as if nothing were out of the ordinary. She found it more than a little unnerving.
"Not much," she admitted, "Learning about the Treaty itself was a mandatory part of Republican History at the Theed Academy, but other than that and a few generalities I didn't look into it much. I was more interested in recent history because I felt it was more relevant."
"In essence, then, the treaty established peace between the Republic and the Sith Empire, which had recently re-emerged as a galactic power after several centuries of dormancy. A significant fraction of the galaxy came under the dominion of the Sith, including the territories of the Mid-Rim and Outer Rim along the Hydian Way and the Perlemian Trade Route, the Atrivis, Quelii, Lohara, Auril, Kastolar and Kessel Sectors, the Roche Cluster, the Cronese Mandate and the other systems around the Cron Drift, the Tion Hegemony and even some of the Core Systems in that area such as Borleias, Velusia, Jagga Two and Arkania. The Republic actually lost Coruscant before signing the treaty, but regained control of the system as part of the settlement.
"In any case, the Treaty established a state of official peace between the two galactic governments. The truth is, however, that there was no actual peace between them. The war was simply continued via more covert means with both empires sending covert agents into each other's territory to carry out acts of espionage and sabotage, to create unrest and disrupt each other's governments. The Jedi were heavily involved in the Republic's efforts in this regard, and since the Jedi Temple had been virtually destroyed when the Sith conquered Coruscant, they chose to move the headquarters of the Order back to their most ancient monastery on Tython, in the Deep Core and leave the Temple site officially abandoned, while secretly building this facility within its foundations. Over the course of the next century and a half there is a very long list indeed of mid- and low-level officials of the Sith Empire that simply disappeared without a trace, and I would wager a significant amount that many of them were held here, without being formally charged or afforded trials or any of the other rights that the Republic claims to hold as sacred for all sentient beings."
"You can't know that," Padmé could not resist interrupting, "Just because Sith were disappearing doesn't mean the Republic was responsible, much less the Jedi. After all isn't it a Sith tradition to earn advancement through covert violence, such as betrayal and assassination?"
"That came later," Vader countered, "after the institution of the Rule of Two, and during a period when the Sith Order itself was operating in secret. At the time of which we are speaking, however, circumstances were different. Violence was still a legitimate way to gain advancement, yes, but there was a strict protocol to such challenges, and formal duels were the norm rather than more underhanded tactics."
He paused for a moment.
"Nevertheless, I take your point, it does not necessarily follow that any of these officials were incarcerated here, although I believe it to be likely. The age of these levels is consistent with the beginning of this period, and I find it hard to believe that a facility like this could be built and then not used. Also, the holocron records of several of the Sith who lived through this period refer often and in great detail to a continuing war with the Jedi. If you are looking for something more concrete, however, the end of this period saw the disappearance of a number of the Sith Lords that made up the Empire's ruling Council who were also not heard from again. Of the twelve Lords that made up the Council five vanished, and of those five, the personal holocrons of three were among the many Sith artefacts that my master and I recovered from the Jedi Archives. I think it is reasonable to believe that this is the most likely location for their incarceration. Not long after their disappearance the Sith Empire collapsed as Republic took advantage of the disorganisation produced by the weakening of the ruling council to initiate a new conflict that resulted in the fall of the Sith Empire. The Jedi rebuilt the Temple and made it their headquarters again within five years."
"Fascinating," Padmé breathed sincerely, a storyteller Vader was not, but there was something compelling about his abbreviated narratives, "And what happened to the Sith then?"
"Unfortunately even to Sith history this period is a blank, there are no holocrons that I know of that cover the period from the collapse of the Second Sith Empire to the rise of Darth Ruin, over a thousand years later, and he was a Dark Jedi rather than a true Sith Lord. My guess is that either there were no surviving Sith Lords from the downfall of the Second Sith Empire, that they were all hunted down and destroyed by the Jedi, or else they fled to rebuild their strength but failed to find apprentices to carry on their legacy over the intervening millennium."
"Wait, if they died out then how can you be here?" she asked, then felt embarrassed at the inelegance of the question. So much for her famed debating skills.
"What I mean to say is, surely for you to be here and for there to be a distinction between you and a Dark Jedi, as you say there is, there must be some connection between yourself and these Sith?"
"The connection is indirect," Vader explained, "Darth Ruin founded his new empire on the basis of Sith teachings, and he called it the New Sith Empire, but he had only an imperfect grasp of the traditions and powers that are inherent to our order. It was not until a thousand years after him, with Darth Bane, that the Sith were restored to our true traditions again. Bane was a member of the Brotherhood of Darkness, who inherited the same Empire that Ruin had founded much earlier and who were at war with the Republic, but he was dissatisfied with the ways of the Brotherhood of Darkness, considering them to be weak.
"According to his own holocron he journeyed to Korriban and discovered the secret archives of Sith Holocrons that are stored in the tombs. He also communed with the spirits of some of the Sith Lords that are entombed in the Valley of the Sith Lords, and in the process was educated in the true ways of the Sith. He learned of the Rule of Two, ironically from the holocron of Darth Revan, who was a Dark Jedi rather than a true Sith albeit one whose understanding of Sith teachings was far greater than many other Dark Jedi and who might have destroyed the Jedi but for simple bad luck, and decided that this was the true way in which the Sith should operate, preparing ourselves in secrecy until we could be assured of victory against the Jedi and any others who seek to wipe us out.
"Bane engineered the destruction of the Brotherhood of Darkness by teaching them the technique of the Thought Bomb, an ancient Sith ritual that can destroy any living thing across a massive area, but at the cost of the lives of those who undertake the ritual. The Brotherhood used the Thought Bomb against Lord Hoth's Army of the Light at Ruusan, killing many Jedi and a significant portion of Lord Hoth's army, but of course dying in the process. After that the Jedi believed the Sith to be extinct, and Bane used that cloak of secrecy to begin preparing for the ultimate victory of the Sith, taking an apprentice named Zannah and training her until she became strong enough to supplant him and become the Sith Mistress. After that the line of masters and apprentices is unbroken down to my master and myself."
"I still don't understand what the difference is between a Dark Jedi and a 'real' Sith though. If the Jedi Order held holocrons of 'real' Sith Lords, and the traditions of the Sith could be learned from these holocrons, then surely Jedi who turned to the Dark Side would have had access to the teachings of the Sith and would count as 'real' Sith Lords?"
"No," Vader replied, shaking his head, "The holocrons are important yes, and a great deal of knowledge is held within them, but the true secrets of the Sith, the most ancient of our traditions and the most powerful skills available to us, can be learned only through communing with the spirits of the most ancient Sith Lords who are buried in the Valley of the Dark Lords on Korriban. Dark Jedi wield only shadows and half-truths compared to a Sith Lord because few of them journey to the Valley of the Dark Lords, and even if they did, the spirits of the Valley only commune with those that they judge to be worthy. As far as I know only Exar Kun and Darth Revan, of all the Dark Jedi in the last five thousand years were judged worthy by those spirits."
"Have you been to the Valley of the Dark Lords then? Communed with these spirits?" Padmé asked, thinking that she could not really have asked for a better segue into the subject of her husband's past. Perhaps now she would be able to learn the answers to all the questions she had been asking herself over the past few months.
"Some of them, but not all. There are certain requirements that must be met before one can even consider attempting to commune with a Sith spirit. The spirits test a communicant's worthiness with challenges that can easily be fatal to the unprepared, their tombs alone are mazes filled with death traps that one must navigate, a feat which by itself requires significant physical and mental ability to survive, and beyond that the spirits themselves test the Force-abilities of those who make it through in ways that can leave a weak or unprepared person dead, insane or even soulless."
Padmé supposed that she should not be surprised by now by the fact that Vader could talk about the possibility of ending up dead or worse as matter-of-factly as if he was discussing the weather, but she did find it profoundly disturbing. He probably considered the risk of a fate worse than death as perfectly normal in the course of learning to use the Force, but to her it seemed positively barbaric, especially compared to Jedi training, which, while demanding, at least left those who were not up to the challenge alive and able to pursue other walks of life as they pleased. She was careful not to phrase it exactly like that, however; she did not want to insult Vader just when he was starting to really talk to her about things. She also should not have been surprised, but was, when Vader had a logical response to her concerns.
"As I said when we discussed this before," he told her, "one of the most important qualities for a Sith to have is the strength to maintain control over themselves in the face of the addictive nature of our way of using the Force. We cannot afford weakness, particularly given that our powers far exceed those of the Jedi. Our discipline must therefore also exceed the Jedi, and those who are too weak to achieve such discipline pose a very serious risk to society at large, as you are already aware thanks to the many examples provided by the Jedi Order of what happens to someone who gives in to the temptations of the Force. It is far better for a weak initiate to die in the trials that are part of Sith training, than for millions or perhaps billions of lives to be endangered by a powerful Force-user who has succumbed to their own power."
"I suppose," Padmé replied uncertainly. She could see the logic in the philosophy, even if it did seem like a very cold logic indeed, but then the lessons of history seemed to give absolute truth to Vader's warnings about the potential consequences of leniency.
"What was it like then? Training to be a Sith?"
Instead of answering the question though, Vader fixed her with a penetrating stare and asked her a question of his own.
"Why are you asking me these things?"
She knew that she should have expected him to ask this, and to do so early on, she had never thought her husband to be a fool whatever else she might have thought of him before, but she was still brought up short, and as a result her answer was less than scintillating.
"I want to know more about you," was her fairly obvious reply.
"You were never interested before," Vader observed, "Why now all of a sudden? What changed while you were on Alderaan?"
Padmé remained silent. She could easily guess the answer he was thinking about, and while he was partially right that was not all of it by any means. She just didn't know how to explain that to him and sound believable.
"I'm not him, Padmé," he said quietly, turning his gaze towards the door, "Your friend is gone."
"It isn't that," she said, then re-thought her statement, "It isn't just that," she amended, "I…that is…" the words attempted to stick in her throat, but she took a deep breath and forced them out, "I was wrong. I thought I knew you, and it turned out that I had a lot of things – everything, really – wrong. I suppose – hope – it's better late than never to correct that mistake."
Vader turned his head to look at her once more, and she assumed that he was trying to gauge her honesty, so she met his yellow eyes steadily, trying to non-verbally convince him of the honesty of her intentions. Eventually he returned his stare to the far wall of their cell, but what he might have seen she could not tell. His face might as well have been carved from granite for all the expression it showed.
"May I ask you to be honest with me, Padmé?" he asked at length.
"Of course," she agreed readily.
"What was it that changed your mind?"
Of all the questions she thought that she could have expected at that moment, that was definitely not one of them, so for a moment she had to think carefully about her answer.
"I'd like to say that it was a gradual process, that I was observant enough to notice that a lot of your actions didn't necessarily fit with your reputation," she said slowly, "I suppose I had a few doubts along the way, you did a lot of things that didn't fit with my preconceptions about you. But I think that honestly the thing that made me wake up and really look at what was in front of me the whole time was seeing your real face. I admit I hadn't expected you to look as you do."
"You expected a monster."
"I admit that is true as well, but I think that it was your age that surprised me the most," she disagreed, after all she still remembered the night she had looked on her husband's true face for the first time vividly, "I expected you to be older, and that caused me to wonder about your past. It was while I was looking for your records that I discovered the DNA match between you and Anakin."
For a long period, perhaps several minutes, he was silent, and Padmé was just on the verge of trying to start another line of conversation when he spoke again.
"Sith training is difficult, not as similar to Jedi training as you might think, partly because, as I said, it is intended to instil a far greater strength of will and sense of discipline in the trainee, but also partly because it must be conducted in secret. As such it is far less structured, being tailored to the individual master and apprentice pair and their circumstances. Ironically the first step in my training was to gain a basic education. Growing up on the street taught me a great many useful things, how to pick pockets and slice into credit accounts, how to fight to defeat opponents much larger and stronger than myself, how to hide and use my surroundings to my own advantage in any situation I might find myself, it even caused me to begin developing my talent with the Force to do small and simple things. For example before I met my master I could already move small objects with my mind and fool others into not registering my presence. However it left me severely lacking in fundamental areas such as literacy. I went to school right here on Coruscant, in the Manarai District as a matter of fact, for two years, and spent evenings and weekends learning to develop my basic ability to channel the Force under my master's guidance.
"I suppose those years constituted the closest that I ever came to leading a 'normal' life. School was difficult at first, I had problems adjusting to the regimented nature of lessons and the rules of the classroom, after living without those things on the streets, but once I surpassed those difficulties, I did reasonably well with my studies. I was no child prodigy, but neither was I a slow learner, and it did not take me long to reach the same standard as my peers in those subjects which I had previously been lacking in, and once I was at their level I found learning to be quite enjoyable. Outside of school, my time was devoted to the basics of the Force. I learned to control my emotions and then call on them at will for power as I needed it. I honed those skills that I had already learned through improvisation on the streets, such as telekinesis and simple mind-tricks, and learned new ones, such as how to sense the world around me and discern all changes that went on in it, rather than just those that presented a direct threat to me.
"Once I reached eleven, however, my powers had grown to the point where we risked detection by the Jedi, so my master sent me off-world, to the old Sith Academy on Korriban itself. There I was placed under the scrutiny and tutelage of a number of instructors who began to prepare me in earnest to become a Sith. I studied Force-lore and Sith magic from the holocrons at the Academy and was also instructed in a wide variety of areas from lightsaber combat to wilderness survival to strategy and tactics. My master would travel out periodically to test my progress, direct my research into the holocrons and continue my training in the use of the Force.
"After three years of training in this fashion, I became advanced enough in my skill with the Force to learn an ancient and highly useful piece of Sith magic: a spell that allows the caster to disguise their Force-presence against probes by other Force-sensitives. The spell can be used to simply hide the fact that the caster is a Dark-Sider, or at a more advanced level it can be used to cloak the fact that the caster is Force-sensitive at all, or at the highest level it can be used to cloak all traces of a Force-presence, rendering the caster completely undetectable by other Force-sensitives. My master sent me on a pilgrimage to Dxun, the large moon that orbits the planet of Onderon, which is famous for the native people known as the Beast Riders. There I entered the tomb of Freedon Nadd, one of the ancient Sith Lords. I trekked through the jungles of Dxun until I found the tomb, and there I entered it and communed with the spirit of Nadd himself. Even after that, however, it took me nearly three months to master the spell that Nadd taught me to the point where I could maintain it constantly without any hint of wavering. Once I had, however, I was able to return to my master's side on Coruscant without the fear of detection by the Jedi.
"By that time, my training was mostly over. All that was left to me was independent study into those areas that I had a particular talent for or that were especially necessary for my intended role in the New Order. Instead I began to undertake tasks that were intended to test and hone my capabilities, ensuring that I was ready to take up my planned role. I was sent on numerous covert missions to lay the groundwork for the New Order, and even to steer the progress of the Clone Wars as necessary. I also began to undertake the pilgrimages to the Valley of the Dark Lords that are the true trials of a Sith. I visited the Valley twice, entering the tombs of Marka Ragnos and Ludo Kressh and learning the secrets that their spirits could teach me, but I was not able to undertake the other pilgrimages because of the end of the Clone Wars and the establishment of the Empire, and since then I have been occupied with hunting down those remaining Jedi who seek to restore their Order and move against us and pacifying the rebellions that your former friends in the Senate seem to delight in fomenting."
Padmé tried not to take offence at that last comment as she processed Vader's story. While it had been a lengthy speech, at least for him, and had told her quite a bit about what his life had been like, and hinted at quite a bit more, she did not doubt that even if she extracted every last scrap of information and nuance out of what Vader had just told her, she would still have barely scratched the surface concerning what Sith training was like and what it involved. Still, he had given her many ideas, things that she would never have thought of on her own, about how to proceed in her quest to find out more about him, it was just a matter of which one to pursue. She realised, however, that in spite of the fact that he had given her a lot to think about, she probably should not allow the silence to continue for too long, lest he think that she had taken what he had said badly or lost interest, so she asked the question that seemed most immediately relevant and also least likely to result in more earth-shattering revelations that would require time and concentration to process.
"How many more tombs did you have to visit, then?"
"Two more on Korriban," Vader replied, "The tombs of Ludo Kressh and Dathka Graush. And I had also intended to journey to Yavin to commune with the spirit of Exar Kun as well."
"And after visiting them you would have been considered a Sith Lord?"
"Not quite," Vader explained patiently, "I am already a Dark Lord of the Sith, I earned that title the day that I swore my life to the Sith cause. The pilgrimages to the tombs are trials that I needed to overcome before I could take the title of Sith Master. If I had managed to visit them all and commune with the spirits that reside within each then I would be considered ready to challenge my master for leadership of our order and after that to begin training my own apprentice in the ways of the Sith."
"But surely then Palpatine would have found some way to prevent you from making those journeys? He would know that after you had made them you would be ready to assassinate him and take his position."
"I realise that it does not make much sense from an outside point of view, Padmé," he said, again with an obvious air of patience, "but you must understand that my master expected me to attempt to kill him. All Sith masters know that ultimately they will meet their ends at the hands of their apprentices. To die in some other fashion is an indicator of failure on their part as masters, for they have either failed to find an apprentice at all, or they have trained one who was not up to the task of being a Sith Lord. That is not to say that my master, or any other Sith master would offer themselves willingly to their apprentice's challenge, indeed it is quite the opposite, they fight tooth and nail to defeat their own apprentices because only in that way can they be sure that the apprentice is strong enough to succeed them; but ultimately the Sith must be continued, and if they are to retain their strength then it is to be expected that masters will face, and ultimately fall to assassination attempts by their apprentices."
This time Padmé did allow the silence to continue as she attempted to wrap her head around this strange dichotomy. Vader was right, it didn't seem sensible, not at all, but he seemed to be convinced that it was also true, that Palpatine would allow, and even expect, his apprentice to progress down a road that would ultimately lead to Vader planning his assassination. So much for a line of questioning that would not lead to earth-shattering revelations.
"I guess I'll take your word for it," she muttered eventually.
Vader nodded but said nothing.
"There is one other possibility," stated the Duros who called himself Coom Crys, although it was fairly unlikely that this was really his name, "but it's an incredibly long shot."
"Tell me anyway," Sabé said, leaning forward over the table that took up most of the space in the cantina-booth they were currently occupying.
The Duros made a quick and discreet scan of the cantina crowd, trying to discern any who might be eavesdropping on them, before leaning in closer himself.
"The Imperial Palace," Crys said quietly, "One of the things I did while searching for your friend in the prison system was to check the requisitions for consumable supplies by the Justice Department, you know, just to check that their requisitions tallied with the number of prisoners they claimed to have so that I could be sure that she wasn't being held without being registered in the system. What I noticed is that for some reason small requisitions have been made by the Justice Department, but routed to the Imperial Palace rather than one of the registered prisons. Now either it means that Palpatine has some bizarre taste for prison rations at dinner, or he's maintaining a private dungeon somewhere in the Palace, or he's trying to cover the trail for something else entirely. I think the first option's unlikely, but either of the other two could be true. Even now that he's in charge of things, our beloved Emperor is still very cloak and dagger in his dealings, and this requisition could easily be mislabelled in the records, or re-routed in transit, or practically anything really, but it's the only thing even resembling a lead that I can give you. Everywhere else on Coruscant is completely clean, and since you say you've ruled out the possibility of an off-world transfer…"
The Duros trailed off, splaying his hands in mid-air in the Duros equivalent of a shrug. Sabé nodded, while it was not exactly the news that she had hoped for, at least she now knew where not to look. And there was always the hope that Crys' lead would pan out into something more. At the very least Sabé thought that it was an oddity worth checking up on. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a data-card that contained account information, which she slid across the table. The Duros' services had not come cheap, despite the fact that she had made contact with him through the Rebel cell on Coruscant, but with the money Vader had made available to her as payment for protecting Padmé, she could easily afford it.
"Thank you for trying," she said sincerely.
The Duros nodded, sweeping up the data-card and tucking it into one of his pockets. Then he downed the last of his drink and stood.
"I hope you find your friend," he said with a formal nod before vanishing into the crowd of patrons.
Sabé counted to five hundred slowly, sipping her own drink as she did so, before downing the rest of it and departing from the cantina herself. She walked the half-kilometre or so to the nearest public transport node and caught a transport headed back to the vicinity of the hotel that she and Obi-Wan were staying at. As the transport lifted away from the ferrocrete street and seamlessly joined one of the many streams of air-traffic that wove through Coruscant's atmosphere she pulled out her comm.-link and dialled the Jedi Master's frequency.
"Darvek here," came the somewhat distorted reply as he picked up.
"Orrian, it's Trella," she identified herself, "I think I just got a break on our story."
"A solid lead?" he queried.
"Not exactly," she admitted, "But I think it's worth looking into."
"Alright then. I'm just finishing up something with Senator Mothma's office; I'll be about an hour, but I can meet you when I'm done if you give me a location."
"Better make it our suite, we don't want to get scooped," she told him. They had swept the suite they were sharing at the Ariminian Hotel very thoroughly for surveillance devices, and it was the only place where they could be reasonably sure that they were not being eavesdropped on.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Obi-Wan promised.
"I'll be waiting. Varron out."
"Nihilus serves as a reminder that even the Sith are not immune to the temptations of the Force's power under the right circumstances, although his were certainly extreme, and the extreme danger of a Sith Lord succumbing. No Dark Jedi in all the history of the Jedi Order matches Nihilus in terms of the danger they presented to the galaxy. His hunger would have resulted in the total sterilisation of all life in the entire galaxy if he had not been stopped. That is why I chose his mask to use in concealing my identity, to remind myself of the dangers of the Force and the reasons why I must always remain in control of myself."
Padmé let go of the breath that she had not realised she had been holding until just then as Vader finished his story. She had not expected her relatively innocuous question about his reasons for choosing the design of his mask to lead to such a horrifying story. Apparently his mask was a millennia-old Sith relic that had first belonged to an ancient Sith Lord named Darth Nihilus. According to Vader, Nihilus had succumbed to the power of the Force after somehow surviving the destruction of all life on an entire planet, which Vader assured her would be a traumatic experience of the highest order for a Force-sensitive at a distance, much less at close range. He had become so powerful that he was able to reach out across galactic distances with his powers, and to achieve feats that most Force-users would die trying to match. However his power had come at an awful price, he had become like a walking plague, killing anything and everything in the vicinity with his mere presence, and his body had decayed until he had apparently only been able to go on living by trapping his spirit inside his armour. If she had thought that the mask was a fear-inspiring symbol before then that was nothing compared to what she felt now that she knew the true story behind the object.
She did not miss, however, Vader's stated reason for choosing to wear the mask of a Sith Lord with such a terrible history behind him. While it was only a small titbit, Padmé filed it away with the same level of attention that she had given to every other piece of personal information that she had learned about her husband over what must surely by now have been quite a few hours of listening to his stories and debating various issues with him over the last several days; she had learned very swiftly that nothing was insignificant when it came to this complex and easily misunderstood man.
Granted his views on some, even many, issues were well out of step with the ideals that she had subscribed to all her life, but she had to admit that if he had been a Senator arguing in the Grand Congress in the way that he had with her in this cell, she would certainly have opposed him, there was no question of that in her mind, but she would also have respected the fact that he seemed to have the best interests of the people at the heart of his ideas. So far, everything he had told her, every story he had related, both about himself and about Sith history and philosophy, had only served to reinforce the realisation that she had come to six months ago, that Darth Vader was in fact a good man, the kind of man that, if not for the fact that he was a Sith, she could easily have been proud to know, proud to be married to.
In fact, if she was honest with herself, it was not even the fact that the man was a Sith; although she did still find the philosophy disturbing on personal level, she could not deny that much of what he had told her about Sith beliefs made sense, and even might be considered benevolent if it were not for the fact that their ideas were so far out of step with the prevailing ways of the galaxy. No, what continued to hold her back from admitting to herself that she admired this man who had come through so much and shared her ideals, the core of them if not the execution at any rate, was his seemingly unwavering loyalty to Palpatine. How could Vader be who he was, believe what he believed, or at least stated that he believed, and yet still follow that man?
Since she felt that the cordiality between them was still new enough to be tenuous, it was not a question she could ask outright, so she had been nibbling around the edges of the topic for a while now, asking him about things related to his life as a Sith, especially his training, in order to try and gain a better understanding of his relationship towards his master. Unfortunately, so far, she had not been able to discern much, and she was running out of ideas on how to approach the topic obliquely.
She could tell by the sound of his voice, which, like his expression and his body language, she was gradually learning to read, that this was not the first time he had said her name since finishing his story.
"I'm sorry, I was thinking," she apologised, "You were saying?"
"Tell me about your childhood," he requested, "before you became Princess of Theed."
The question was a surprising one, mostly because he had asked it unprompted. For all the things she had been wrong about when it came to Vader's character, she had been right about some things, little things, like the fact that he really was not much of a talker. Although that was not quite fair, he had answered all of her questions without a word of objection or complaint, and frequently gone into great detail, but he never volunteered anything, and until now he had seemed perfectly content to let silences stretch between them.
But it was also surprising because he had never expressed any interest in her life before, not even her well-publicised life as a Senator. He had not seemed to want to get to know her, and she had taken that as a sign that he was only interested in her as a trophy wife rather than in building a real relationship with her. Perhaps the fact that he was asking now was a sign that that had changed.
"Before I became Princess of Theed I had been an Apprentice Legislator for eighteen months. My family are hold-overs of the Nubian nobility, from when we were a genuine monarchy instead of a symbolic one, and as such were quite wealthy, which essentially guaranteed that I would be able to pursue the career I wanted rather than the one that offered the greatest income. I suppose it was also part of my motivation to pursue a vocation in which I would have the opportunity to work for the good of all people. Naboo had given me so much that I felt obligated to give as much as I could back.
"At first, I chose to work with the humanitarian offices. Naboo has always had a strong tradition of providing aid to those in need, and I was proud of that tradition even when I was a young girl, so it seemed natural to want to do my part in furthering that work. I spent six months working to obtain immigration visas for displaced people who wanted to settle in the Naboo system, lobbying for other neighbouring systems to grant similar visas and procuring supplies and other resources that were needed for our efforts."
"But you didn't enjoy it?" Vader interrupted.
"Oh I enjoyed it," Padmé disagreed, "It was rewarding work, especially when we were successful. Sometimes I would get the opportunity to visit communities of people whose cases I had worked on myself, and watching them establish new lives on a strange world and knowing that I had made it possible for them to do that gave me a sesne of accomplishment like nothing I've done since. But I also discovered just how much legal red-tape there was surrounding the issue, both in Naboo's domestic laws and in Republican law in general. In the end I decided that I could do more good by working towards public office and then doing what I could to lift those restrictions. So I requested a transfer to the palace to work in the Legislative Affairs Secretariat. That was where I met Palpatine for the first time. He was working as one of the policy directors, reconciling the agenda of the Nubian government with the edicts of the Senate.
"I never learned what it was exactly that brought me to his attention, but shortly after I started in Legislative Affairs he had taken me under his wing. He taught me the ins and outs of politics, introduced me to a number of influential businessmen and holo-news producers and then ultimately encouraged me to join the race to be elected Princess of Theed."
"Interesting," Vader said in the tone of voice that she had privately labelled 'thoughtful', "What about your family, what was their opinion on your altered career goal?"
"My parents were supportive," she replied, "In fact I think they were secretly glad that I had moved into a more high-profile branch of politics. It gave them more opportunities to boast about my accomplishments. My sister, on the other hand, has always been of the opinion that I should never have made the move. She claims that I was much happier helping refugees than I ever have been in office-holding…"
She was surprised by Vader's interruption, and the seemingly sharp tone in which it had been delivered, and she had to take a moment to think about the answer.
"I don't know," she said at length, "I suppose it was more immediately rewarding. But I know that the work I've done in the various offices that I've held will ultimately mean more, make more of a difference than anything I could have done as a member of the Refugee Relief Department."
"I see," Vader said.
He did not seem to have anything to add to that acknowledgement, and she presumed that he was digesting what she had just told him. Rather than returning to her own questions, however, she decided to wait for him to restart the conversation; it was a good bet that he had more questions, and she had a feeling that it was about to be her turn to do most of the talking.
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