Armistice


Scene 1

Resplendent in sequined verisilk, crowned in a hand-wrought Chandrilan filigree headdress, mahogany locks curled and set and arranged to perfection by the artifice of her devoted handmaidens, Nubian Senator Padme Amidala did the only thing she could possibly be expected to do in this venue: sit and be beautiful, a rival to any guest and even the genetically enhanced performers upon the stage of Coruscant's fabulous – and increasingly decadent – Royal Firebird Opera House.

She left the spying to her demure companions, quietly ensconced in the second row, discreetly veiled from the eyes of any prurient observers by their own obscuring garb and the shadowed overhang of the box overhead. Sabe, sweet loyal Sabe, had the role of voyeur this evening; her opera glasses were trained upon the Supreme Chancellor's private reserved box across the soaring hall's wide expanse.

"He's there, Milady," came the murmured intelligence report, breathed in soft tones just behind Padme's left ear. She nodded, cautiously, aware of the precise gravitational alignment of her teetering head ornaments. He, of course, meant Bail Organa, present head of the Republic Security Committee and a man blessed with Palpatine's confidence and seeming favor. In a time when intrusive security measures made any conventional form of covert communication impossible, Bail had –with ironic aplomb- designed an elaborate system of code, one immune from the prying attentions of audio-enhancers, holo-interception, and quotidian deciphering programs.

They spoke in clothes.

"What's he wearing?"

Sabe peered assiduously at the Alderaanian royal consort, taking in every detail. "Indigo velveteen jacket, slim cut. No lapels, no epaulettes. White ruff, starched, no jewelry. No, right hand signet ring, that's all. Dark trousers, high cut boots, no buckles.

"Cloak?"

"Over his arm, Milady."

Padme risked another infinitesimal nod. New trouble brewing – something the public , and probably not even the legislature, would be informed of. "Thank you, Sabe. I am sure he cuts a dashing figure." Should this box be under surveillance, as it most assuredly was, her remarks would seem the harmless chatter of females concerned with fashion and the allurements of Society's highly placed males. Padme had found it expedient of late to encourage the gossip mongers' tale that she and the handsome Alderaanian Prince were engaged in a scandalous affair of the heart; it provided excuse for their clandestine meetings at each other's home, and a smokescreen for her real secret marriage.

"Oh my," Sabe tittered.

Padme kept he gaze politely riveted upon the stage, offering up a smattering of applause when protocol demanded it. "Someone else now?" she demanded of her retainer.

"General Kenobi, Milady." Sabe had been an enthusiastic connoisseur of the General's charms since they had first met – ever so fleetingly- aboard the Nubian Royal yacht well over a decade ago. Then, Padme and her bodyguards had been all of them girls – Sabe more experienced than the rest, but still a mere child by comparison to the Jedi sent to rescue them from imprisonment or worse. It was an inevitability that at least one of them should be utterly smitten by the heady cocktail of physical grace, velvety voice, alluring dimples, and impossible masculine self confidence that had swaggered its way into their lives on that fateful day. Sabe had never quite recovered, and the Jedi padawan in question had not helped matters by ripening like a prize vintage – mellowing into something far more potent and subtle than the original, a fermentation of youthful blandishments into absolutely intoxicating maturity.

That's how Sabe saw it, anyway; her former Queen's thoughts were on a different, if related, plane. "Is… General Skywalker with him?"

"No, Milady, I'm sorry."

Padme heaved a forlorn sigh. Obi-Wan's presence had sparked a wild flare of hope – surely Anakin could not be far behind? Where was he? They had agreed not to communicate by any means but courier, due to the same restrictive surveillance techniques that cramped every other venue of private life here in the war-weary Core. He could be parsecs away, or waiting for her at her apartment.. tonight… after the show… She glanced down at the programme in her lap, wondering precisely how long after intermission she might be obliged to delay before calling for her private chauffeur…

"Milady?"

"I'm fine. A little hot in here" She fanned herself, coquettishly, smiling sweetly at the simpering Pelugrian attaché in the balcony adjacent, who was openly ogling her with all four blood-shot eyes.

"Mmm," Sabe appreciatively murmured, opera glasses still trained unfailingly on the Chancellior box opposite. "Master Yoda is there too. I can just see his ears peeking up over the rail. They should bring him a booster-seat."

"Sabe!"

They were all too well-trained to giggle aloud, in public. Padme could hear the rustle of chiffon behind her as her companions suppressed their mirth. She smoothed the front of her own gown, cursing the form-hugging bodice that guaranteed her ramrod posture and displayed her enviable figure to best effect. A little more wriggle room would be welcome when one's mental state vascillated so readily between hysteria and dread. She wrenched her mind back to duty instead. "What are they doing?"

"They appear to be offering formal congratulations… to Master Kenobi. He's scowling." A pregnant pause, followed by a reverent utterance beneath Sabe's breath. "Oh my.."

Not a happy occasion then. Perhaps another campaign victory that had cost lives. Padme knew Obi-Wan well – far better than he suspected. Anakin told her everything, and what he did not tell her she read in her husband's eyes and in the spaces between his words. The Negotiator, at this point in the endless war, was sick to death of honoraria bestowed upon him for what he perceived as slaughter. Whether his own troops died, or civilians, or Separatist mercenaries, the affair was equally repulsive, the accolades heaped upon him like vicious brands of shame.

But, a small voice reasoned with her, he hasn't been off-world since Lanteeb. She shrugged away the difficulty. It was likely enough unrelated to the matter at hand.

"They're sitting down now," Sabe reported.

"What has Bail done with his cloak?"

"Given it to General Kenobi – he's tossed it onto a seat behind them."

Padme's hands clenched together. A classified security crisis to be handed over to the Jedi for investigation… had they not just lived through a similar nightmare? The carousel of fortune seemed to turn upon a very narrow axle, bringing them round to this fatal point of repetition with sickening regularity. "Thank you, Sabe." There was little more she would discover tonight. The opulent mummery upon the stage below was abruptly hollowed of any amusement. She stiffened her spine, composed her features and returned to expressionless fulfillment of her expected role.

She merely sat, and was beautiful.