Sins of the Father:  Chapter 4
Cocessions and Contention
by indie




Mehht stares at Padmé.  They’re in Padmé’s bedroom.  Padmé’s vision flickers over the trunk that Kore and Sullee moved earlier in the afternoon.  It feels like a lifetime ago.  After Anakin’s predictably abrupt departure, Bail asked Padmé to meet him at his Senatorial offices.  They spent hours sifting through refugee paperwork and barely managed to scratch the surface.

Padmé hoped to return to her apartment, soak in the luxury of her bathtub and then collapse into sleep.  However, she returned to find Mehht pacing the halls, contacting transport companies to secure a return passage to Tatooine.  After Anakin’s deplorable treatment of the young woman and Padmé’s regrettable yet unavoidable desertion, Padmé doesn’t fault Mehht for wanting to go home.

“You don’t need me here,” Mehht says firmly.  “Kore and Sullee are more than capable of serving as your handmaidens.”

“They are, yes,” Padmé agrees, “but I asked you to come here as a friend.”

Mehht sighs and sits down on the corner of the bed.  “Padmé,” she says gently, “I love you like a sister.  I don’t know what I would have done without you these last few years, but you have friends here.  Important friends.  Friends who can help you with your official duties and friends who know which fork to use at a fancy restaurant.”

Tears prick Padmé’s eyes and this time she allows them to wet her cheeks.  She crosses the few steps to Mehht and sits down next to her on the bed.  “I’m sorry,” she says quietly.  “I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you being thrown into the chaos of my life here.”

Guilt instantly softens Mehht’s features.  “Padmé,” she says gently, taking Padmé’s hand.  “I don’t mean to complain.  I just feel so ... useless here.”

Padmé smiles through her tears.  “Mehht, trust me, you could never be useless.”

A wry smile lights Mehht’s face.  “I don’t know,” she says dryly.  “I’m not sure knowing how to cure bantha hide is a particularly useful skill in Galactic City.”

Padmé laughs.  “Maybe not,” she agrees, “but you are very useful to me.”  She takes a deep breath and squeezes Mehht’s hand.  “I do have friends here,” she says, “but you’re the only one who really knows me.”

Mehht’s expression sobers and she studies Padmé for several long heartbeats. 

“Do I?” Mehht asks carefully.

“Of course,” Padmé answers almost defensively.

Mehht stands and turns to face Padmé again. “I thought I knew you very well,” Mehht says.  “But I don’t understand that man.  And I don’t understand why you’re still married to him.  It makes me wonder if I really do know you at all.”

“You know me,” Padmé says firmly.

Padmé rises to her feet and walks to the window, trying to escape Mehht’s perceptive gaze.  “He’s Luke and Leia’s father,” she says.  “It would be impossible to remove him from my life.”

“Perhaps,” Mehht says skeptically, “but this is the first time you two have seen each other in how long?”

Padmé actually has to do the math.  “A little over fourteen years.”

“Exactly,” Mehht says.  “I don’t know why you don’t just file for divorce yourself.”

“File with whom?” Padmé asks.  Her voice is not unkind, just weary.  “He is the Empire.  It would never be granted.  The paperwork would never be processed.  It would be a death sentence for the legal clerk who dared to enter it into the judicial system records.”

Mehht’s lips purse in a frown.  It’s clear that she deeply disapproves of Lord Vader and of Padmé’s judgment where he is concerned.  Padmé figures she’s earned the disapproval and accepts it as her due.

“After fourteen years, why hasn’t he divorced you?” Mehht presses.

Padmé’s bites her lip to curb the bark of hysterical laughter Mehht’s question threatens to trigger.  “He would never do that,” she says, thinking back to Anakin’s proposal after the Battle of Geonosis.  “He’s compulsively traditional in certain respects.”

Mehht huffs in irritation and all Padmé can think is join the club

“He wants an Empress,” Padmé says wearily.  “He has always wanted an Empress.”

“And here you are fourteen years later offering to fill that role,” Mehht says dryly.

“It would appear so,” Padmé agrees with more than a little self-loathing.

Mehht crosses her arms over her chest and stares at Padmé.  “So what does an Empress do?”

“Good, I hope,” Padmé answers. 

Mehht’s frown intensifies and Padmé knows Mehht is looking for concrete goals.  “To start with,” she says, “there’s a refugee crisis in Abhean.  Something has to be done to alleviate the suffering.”

“And you can do that?” Mehht asks skeptically.

“I can try,” Padmé answers.

***

Padmé refuses to look at Korto as he leads her through the cavernous hallways of the Imperial Palace.  The castle's sterile opulence is impressive and intimidating, no doubt by design.  Though not Anakin’s design.  Padmé knows that without asking.  She wonders what he thinks of his home.  She imagines it makes him uncomfortable.  Not that he will ever admit it. 

Palpatine commissioned the monumental rebuilding of the former Presidential Palace as soon as he crowned himself Emperor.  Being murdered by his own apprentice less than two years later, he never saw its completion.  Padmé doubts that Anakin spared more than a few moments thought about the design of the Imperial Palace, allowing whatever architectural design Palpatine ordered to be completed.

“This way,” Korto says, stepping aside as two uniformed guards pull open a gigantic set of heavy wooden doors that must be at least fifteen feet tall. 

Behind the doors is a grand staircase that descends, curving away to the left out of her line of sight.  She can hear voices below and the sounds of a scuffle.  Korto is already forging down the stairs.  She suspects that with his girth it would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop once he started.  She knows he hates ushering her around like this and that makes her smile.

She follows Korto around the stairs’ artful bend and a magnificent ballroom is revealed.  As first a Queen and then a Senator, Padmé is no stranger to grandeur, but this space is truly impressive.  Forty foot high columns of deep blue cortosis ore support a ceiling of intricately hand-carved, highly-polished Fijisi wood.  More richly hued Fijisi wood covers the floor and the entire room is permeated with its subtly alluring scent.  In the far corner of the room is a flowing waterfall.  The room reminds Padmé of the Room of a Thousand Fountains in the now-ruined Jedi Temple.

However impressive the ballroom may be, it is obviously not used to entertain foreign dignitaries.  Knowing Anakin, that is not surprising.  The room appears to have been re-invented as training space. 

Oblivious to her arrival, Anakin is sparring with a young human male.  They aren’t using lightsabers, but rather archaic looking weapons similar to a Geonosian static pike.  Both men are bare to the waist, their torsos damp with perspiration.  They wear dark, loose-fitting pants and no shoes.  It’s apparent that they have been sparring for hours.

The weapons are crude and elegant at the same time, long staffs crafted from a heavy metal alloy with a hilt at one end.  There’s a deep metallic thud each time the weapons meet.  The two men battle back and forth, advancing and retreating in a vicious dance. 

Anakin’s opponent appears to be a couple of years older than Luke and Leia.  His hair is dark black and matted to his head with sweat.  He’s Anakin’s height with a lean, muscled build.  The young man is well trained in hand to hand combat, but judging from the gash across his ribs and the way he favors his left leg, Padmé is certain that Anakin is the superior combatant.

Anakin doesn’t even appear to be breathing hard.  Much to Padmé's consternation, she can’t help but notice that no matter how impressive his young adversary's physique may be, Anakin's is even more so.  Maturity has added a few pounds to his frame, but in a very aesthetically appealing way.  His shoulders and upper chest are more thickly muscled than they were in his youth, and his firm abdominal muscles still taper to a lean waist. 

Korto clears his throat loudly and the two combatants break apart.  Anakin glances over his shoulder as his opponent takes the opportunity to double over, bracing his hands against his knees, fighting to catch his breath.

Anakin stalks over to where Padmé stands with Korto, his bare feet making little noise on the Fijisi wood floor.  He's not impressed and Padmé can almost feel Korto cower despite the fact that the Twi’lek hasn't moved.

"My lord," Korto stammers, still out of breath from lumbering down the stairs, "you instructed me to never keep the Empress waiting."

"Indeed," Anakin bites out.  He sends Korto away with a nod and then waves over two Imperial guards that had been stationed against the wall.

"Get rid of them," he commands.

Padmé watches as the guards walk quickly towards several small cages.  Padmé hadn't noticed either the half dozen cages or the small animals they contained, placed throughout the vast room. 

"What are those?" Padmé asks, looking at the furry, lizard-like animals just under half a meter in length.

"Ysalamiri," Anakin replies.

Padmé's furrowed brow is question enough, so he explains, "They repel the Force."

"Oh," Padmé says, now understanding why Anakin was so annoyed with Korto.  He hadn't sensed their arrival.  And that displeased him.

He's a Jedi – or was at one point.  She can't imagine why he would go to the trouble to create an artificial environment devoid of the Force.  Is he truly that perverse?

A servants' door at the far end of the cavernous room clangs shut as the two guards disappear with the ysalamiri.  Anakin extends his hand and summons a towel, using it to wipe the sweat from his face and torso.

Padmé can't help but appreciate his athletic physique.  Anakin catches her watching him and grins at her wolfishly. 

Padmé blushes and retreats several steps, giving him her sternest expression.  She doesn't fool him for a second.  Padmé shakes her head as if to clear it.  "Why do you want to repel the Force?" she asks, returning to his earlier comments.

"Because if I don't," he says smugly, "it's nearly impossible to find a suitable opponent."

Padmé suppresses the urge to suggest that had he not murdered his Jedi brethren in cold blood, then perhaps he could find someone adept enough to kick his ass from time to time.  That comment certainly wouldn't help the refugee crisis in Abhean.

"Then he's not your apprentice?" she asks, motioning toward the young man standing several meters away who is not trying particularly hard to be unobtrusive.

The young man catches her gaze and the grin he gives her is lurid, carnal.  He stares at her as if she were standing nude in the middle of the ballroom, rather than wearing her quite modest light gray gown.  Unconsciously, she takes a step closer to Anakin.

"Leave, Kogo."  Anakin's tone is a cold promise of violence.

Seeming to realize he's made a grave mistake, the young man quickly retreats.  Anakin's glare follows until Kogo slips through the servants' door.

Turning back to Padmé, Anakin says, "I don't have an apprentice."

“What is he then?” she asks.

“A member of my staff.”

Padmé studies him for a moment.  “An Imperial assassin?”

Anakin holds her gaze for a heartbeat.  Then another.  “Yes,” he says, "a very talented one.  It will be a shame to lose him."

Padmé momentarily closes her eyes in disgust.  She opens them again.  If she pauses to catalog all of Anakin’s sins, she’ll run screaming back to Tatooine.  None of them have time for that.  "Why no learner?” she presses.  “Because of the Sith tradition of Masters being killed by their apprentices?"

Anakin gives her a cold smile.  "Perhaps."

"And you don't intend to take one?" she asks.

"No."

Padmé stares at him for a moment and he meets her gaze unflinchingly.  "Does Leia know this?" she asks.

Anakin looks away.  He stares at one of the cortosis columns for a moment.  "No," he admits quietly. He meets her gaze and for the first time, she sees something there, some echo of the man she married.  It's quickly extinguished as he turns to retrieve his black under tunic from where it's draped over the banister.

He shrugs into the under tunic, but leaves it open.  Her gaze flicks over his sculpted chest for a moment before settling on his face.  He smiles.

“I know you’re enjoying the view,” he says smugly, “but I doubt you came all the way over here this morning to watch me dress.”

“No,” she says firmly, her lips pulling into a frown.  “I came to discuss some changes I want to make to the Office of Displaced Populations.  Their budget has been cut drastically the last five years.  There’s a brewing crisis in the –“

He silences her by holding up his gloved prosthetic hand.  His flesh and bone hand pinches the bridge of his nose as if he’s in acute physical pain.  “Is any of this military?” he asks.

“No.”

“Then I don’t care,” he says shortly, dropping his hands and looking at her pointedly.  “You’re the Empress.  Do whatever you want.”

She eyes him warily.  “I want you to guarantee me that.  I won’t extend promises of relief to these people if you or one of your underlings is going to come in and undercut me a moment later.”

He frowns and turns, walking toward the waterfall in the far corner of the room.  His movement forces Padmé to follow if she wishes to continue the conversation.

“I hate politics,” he says.  “And politicians.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” she replies bitterly, trying not to remember a time when he would automatically extend her an exemption to his assessment of politicians.

They reach the water fall and he stands with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the water.  “I expected you to rule at my side.”  There’s a hint of regret, but no maudlin sentiment.  It’s merely a statement of fact.

Padmé has no idea how to respond.  She understands that her ability to help the peoples in need hinges on his good will.  But though her pride may have taken quite the beating, it is not entirely gone.  “I couldn’t,” she says flatly.

Couldn’t,” he repeats.  “Past tense?”  He raises an eyebrow in question.

She doesn’t answer.

“And now?” he presses.

“I don’t know,” she admits.  “Hiding from reality obviously hasn’t helped anything.  Maybe it’s time for me to become part of the solution rather than the problem.”

He looks at her for several long moments before turning back to the water.  “You are the Empress,” he says.  “Rule your Empire the way you see fit.”  He narrows his gaze at her.  “But stay out of the military.”

And stay out of my way is implied, but Padmé can accept that.  Anakin has no stake or interest in the myriad human rights violations in his Empire.

“And if my authority is questioned?” she asks.

“No one will question your authority,” he replies dryly.

“But if it is-“

No one will question your authority.”

Padmé looks at him for a moment and then inclines her head.  “Thank you,” she says.

His hand flexes and for a moment, Padmé thinks he’s going to reach out to her.  But he doesn’t.  He turns back to the water.

***

“Can you find the logs for,” Padmé pauses, scrolling through the datapad to locate the cruiser’s name, “the Fleetfoot?”

Bail leans over and sorts through the stack of papers, stopping as his comlink chirps.  Mehht does the same with her own stack of paperwork.  It’s largely futile, but Padmé wants to see if she can locate at least a portion of the shipments that should have been bound for the refugee crisis in Abhean.  The staff of the Office of Displaced Persons was released from Imperial service the previous morning.  The Administrator, a Twi'lek named Korsa Dae, was most displeased with the news.

Padmé, Mehht, Bail and two of Bail’s Senatorial aides are attempting to get things back on track.  Padmé turns to the guard who stands at attention by the conference room door.  “You can sit down,” she says again.

He doesn’t respond.  The guard, Lorian Massinau, was sent over by the Emperor yesterday.  As far as Padmé can tell, Lorian must be taking orders directly from Anakin because he most certainly isn’t listening to her.  Padmé has no doubts that Lorian is another of Anakin’s trained assassins.  She would much rather have Typho at her side, but she already knows that Anakin believes her loyal security officer is getting too old to do his job effectively.  Given Anakin’s oddly generous nature as of late, she’s disinclined to argue the point.

"I'm not sure the Fleetfoot ever existed," Mehht says, lips twisting in a wry expression.  For lack of anything else to do, Mehht is spending her time helping the ODP.  Just as Padmé thought, though Mehht has never worked in an environment like this, she is picking it up very quickly.

“That was Ajun,” Bail says, indicating his comlink.  “He spoke with the head of Besati Shipping.  They’re still our best bet for relocating supplies and people quickly.  I’ve arranged a meeting at a tapcaf in Eastport.  I must go.”

“Of course,” Padmé says, watching as Bail grabs his cloak and heads for the door with one of his aides. 

“Don’t worry,” Mehht says dryly, “we’re not going anywhere.”

Bail gives them a final nod and walks through the conference room door.  A moment later they hear the office’s outer door slide shut.  Padmé glances at her chrono.

“What time is Luke supposed to arrive?” Mehht asks.

“In a few hours,” Padmé replies, “if he’s on time.”

The door to the outer office slides open and Padmé looks up expecting to see Bail.  Lorian has already moved, positioning himself between Padmé and the door.  Over his shoulder, Padmé sees Korsa Dae followed closely by Orn Free Taa.

Padmé immediately rises to her feet.  Subtly, but unmistakably, Lorian palms his vibroblade. 

Taa’s hand is situated in the small of Korsa Dae’s back and pushes her into the room.  Taa smiles at Padmé, proudly exhibiting his mouth full of teeth filed to sharp points.  Padmé’s features are bland, but she’s disgusted.  She forgot just how repulsive Orn Free Taa is.

“Senator Amidala,” Taa says, then makes a show of correcting himself.  “Oh, forgive me.  I meant Empress Skywalker.”  His condescending smile confirms all of Padmé’s concerns.  Senator Taa quite obviously does not take her seriously.

“Senator,” she replies evenly.

“You’ve already met my companion,” he says, his voice poison sweet.  “When Korsa came to me in such a state of agitation yesterday, I knew there must be a grave misunderstanding.”

“There was no misunderstanding,” Padmé replies, cutting short whatever longwinded diatribe Taa had planned.  “Administrator Dae was removed from her position for gross incompetence.  She should be grateful she isn’t being charged with embezzlement.”

Orn Free Taa feigns shock, laying one corpulent three-fingered hand on his chest.  “You can’t be serious,” he says. 

“I am quite serious, Senator Taa,” Padmé replies firmly.  “If that is the only reason you are here, then we’re finished and I suggest you leave.”

Taa’s features harden into a sneer.  “We shall see about that Senator Amidala,” he says.  “The Emperor won’t stand for your meddling in Imperial affairs.  This is my domain.”

“Ask him yourself,” Padmé says boldly.  She hopes she’s not bluffing.  Anakin promised her his support, but he has promised her many things.

Taa laughs.  “I will,” he assures her.  He looks her up and down.  “You always were one of those bleeding hearts,” he sneers.  “Luckily none of your political leanings rubbed off on the Emperor.  And don’t try and claim to be the Empress to me.  You may have returned to Coruscant, but everyone knows you’re staying at your old Senatorial apartments and not the Imperial Palace.”

Padmé’s features tighten.  It’s the truth and it probably is common knowledge.  She’s been avoiding HoloNet for exactly that reason.  But she doesn’t appreciate Taa publicly speculating on her relationship with her husband.

“Ask him,” she repeats in a biting tone.

Taa leaves Korsa Dae standing there glaring daggers at them while he retreats into the outer office.

Lorian never moves a muscle.  Mehht openly stares at Padmé.  At least Bail’s other aide, Maxim, extends her the courtesy of pretending to be absorbed in his work.

Finally, Orn Free Taa returns and one glance at him is more than sufficient.  His features are a mixture of outrage and fear.  He grabs Korsa none too gently by the wrist and pulls her to his side.  “Forgive me,” he says, nearly choking on the words, “Empress Skywalker.  It appears I was mistaken.”

From the level of contrition in Taa’s tone, Padmé suspects that Anakin likely made it know just how much he despised being dragged into affairs of this sort.  Padmé doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or not.  Orn Free Taa is a powerful man and she would prefer not to have him as an enemy.

“Good day, Senator,” Padmé says.

He inclines his head deferentially, but pure hatred shines in his eyes.
 
***


Feedback to indie

On to next chapter

Back to previous chapter

Back to Story Index

Back to Ouroboros main page
 
Back to indiefic.com main page