Chapter 1
Indelible Marks

by indie

The door is thrown open and there is an immediate flurry of activity.  She is shoved roughly to the ground, her knees scraping across the expensive hand-hewn stone floors.  Before she knows it, her fingers are laced together behind her bowed head.  There is so much yelling, a deafening cacophony of sound.  Next to her, Nee Alavar says something and is smashed in the face with the butt of a blaster.
Padmé looks up at the clone trooper looming over her and stares directly into the barrel of a blaster.   How did the Imperials know about the clandestine meeting?  They took measures; even if discovered, they have a cover story.  From the chaos, Padmé assumes the Emperor does not care to hear their explanations.  Perhaps this is it.  Perhaps the Emperor has abandoned all pretenses and dissolved the entire Senate.  The trooper pushes the cold barrel against her cheek, his face inscrutable behind the mask.
"Enough!"  Giddean Danu pushes the trooper away and his valor is rewarded with a kick as a second trooper sends him sprawling to the ground.  He turns, faster than Padmé would have thought possible, and kicks up at the trooper.  "Run, Padmé!" he yells, just before another trooper's boot smashes him in the face, breaking his nose.
Padmé turns, springing to her feet and lunging toward the window.  But a gloved hand fists in her hair, brutally yanking her backward and sending her crashing to the floor.  The hand still twined in her hair tightens its grip, dragging her to her feet.  The clone trooper holds her so she is forced to balance on tiptoe as he presses the barrel of his blaster under her chin.
Then, the barrel under her chin and the fist in her hair are gone so abruptly she is sent sprawling.  Before Padmé can register what's happening, a hand clamps tightly around her wrist.  She is hauled to her feet, her cloak pulled over her head.  Stumbling and struggling to remain upright, she is dragged from the apartment.
She eventually finds her footing, but she has to trot to keep pace with the much longer strides.  She tries to pull the cloak out of the way so she can see, but her hands are brushed aside with such force she does not attempt it again.
When she is finally released, her own inertia sends her twirling and sprawling onto a bench.  She sits there for a moment, head spinning.  Cautiously she attempts to remove the hood of her cloak.  When her hands are not batted away, her movements become bolder.
She pushes the hood back and looks around the room.  It's the interior of a shuttle.  Across the enclosed space is Darth Vader.
Padmé takes a deep breath.  She has never been this close to Vader, but she is smart enough to tread carefully with the Emperor's enforcer.  Her first thoughts are not of her own safety, but of the safety of those still inside the apartment.  Nee Alavar, Ivor Drake, Terr Taneel, Giddean Danu.  If they are arrested, it will be a huge blow to the Alliance.
She sits in silence for a very long time watching him.  Vader's heavy black cloak is pulled up over his head as usual so only his chin is visible.
They both have yet to move when three clone troopers walk up the gangplank.
"Is it done?" Vader demands.
"Yes, my Lord," the commanding officer answers, handing Vader a datapad.
"They're dead?"
"All of them," the clone confirms.
Padmé's eyes fall shut as sorrow tears at her.  Dead.  All of them dead.  How will the Alliance recover?  The data should be safe.  The Alliance has some of the best cryptographers in the galaxy.  It will take the Imperials months to break the codes and by then, the information contained will be obsolete.
Vader looks at the datapad and then casually tosses it onto the bench.  “You came here directly from the apartment?  You spoke to no one?”
“We came here directly, my Lord.”
The snap-hiss of the lightsaber startles Padmé but before she can cry out, the three troopers lie dead on the floor.
Vader stands there for a moment, staring down at the lifeless bodies.
Abruptly, he snaps out of his contemplation, extinguishing his lightsaber and using the Force to tumble the bodies down the gangplank.  He pulls out a comlink.  “Commander, there is a mess on the landing platform.  See that it is cleaned up.”
“Yes, sir.”
Padmé stares at the Sith Lord and he meets her gaze.  She can barely make out his features beneath the hood.  Without a word, he turns away.  The gangplank rises, sealing shut with a hiss.  Vader closes himself in the cockpit.
It is many hours later when the shuttle lands.  Padmé has no idea where they are or what Darth Vader intends to do with her – nothing good, of that much she is certain.  She wonders if she will soon wish she died with her fallen comrades.  The thought is chilling.
The shuttle touches down and the door to the cockpit opens.  Vader strides past her looking no worse for the wear and stands in front of the shuttle doors waiting for the gangplank to lower.  The light that streams inside the hold is nearly blinding.  Padmé blinks quickly.
He doesn't try to drag her down the gangplank, which makes her more inclined to cooperate.  She carefully steps down the gangplank, holding her hand in front of her face to shield herself from the light.
“Lord Vader, to what do we owe the honor of your visit?”
Padmé recognizes Bail Organa’s voice before her eyes have adjusted enough to see him.  From the crystal blue of the sky and the crisp, fresh air, Padmé knows they are on Alderaan.
“Senator Amidala,” Bail gasps, unable to hide his shock.  She can hear his footsteps as he quickly hurries to her side.  He takes her arm and she looks into his concerned features.  “Padmé, we feared you were dead, too,” he whispers.
In unison, they turn to look at Vader.  He stands there for a moment, accepting their scrutiny.  Then he turns, cape swirling behind him.  “Keep a closer eye on her, Organa,” he calls.
Bail turns away, yelling to one of his aides.
Padmé stands there, unable to look away from Vader.  She watches as he ascends the gangplank.  When he reaches the top, he stops and looks back over his shoulder.  A gust of wind pushes the hood of his cloak back and the lighting is just right.  A beam of sunlight crosses his face, revealing the startlingly pure blue of his eyes.
He turns away and is gone.
He stops in the doorway and glances over his shoulder.  The light catches him perfectly and she is struck again by the intensity in his blue eyes.  Without a word, he turns away and continues down the hall.
“He doesn’t like me,” she says wryly.
“Padawan Skywalker,” Padmé clarifies, looking out the window of her penthouse at the glittering skyscrapers of Galactic City.  “He doesn’t like me.”
“Anakin?” Obi-Wan asks skeptically.  “He is quite fond of you, Senator Amidala.  He has been since he was a boy.”
She frowns.  “He may have been fond of me as a boy, but I don’t think the young man approves of my vocation.”
Obi-Wan bows his head for a moment.  “He is usually much more light hearted,” he says quietly.  “I’m afraid recent events have been hard on him.”
“Of course,” Padmé hastily replies, feeling incredibly callous.  “I didn’t mean to make light of your losses on Geonosis.  That was quite inconsiderate of me.”
Nodding, Obi-Wan says, “Thank you, Senator.  Geonosis was difficult.  Many of our brethren were lost.”
Padmé looks at her hands, searching for the right thing to say.  "My condolences on the loss of  Master Jinn.”
Obi-Wan nods, but looks away sadly.  “Qui-Gon's death was an incredible loss to the Order.  Especially to Anakin.  He was almost ready for the Trials – for full Jedi Knighthood.  With Master Jinn gone, there is a great deal of uncertainty about Anakin’s future.  The adjustment is quite challenging for him.”
“Of course,” Padmé says again, still plagued by her earlier words.  How could she have said something so insensitive to Obi-Wan?  And why should a Senator be concerned with whether or not her Jedi protectors like her?  They’re performing the duties requested by the Chancellor, that's all that matters.
Yet Padmé can’t shake the sense of unease she feels when she is near Anakin.  He always seems to be watching her.
“I can’t explain it, Bail,” Padmé says wearily.  “Vader dragged me out of the apartment and brought me here.  He didn’t speak a single word to me.”  She shoots a pleading glance at Breha.
The Queen wordlessly places her palm on her husband’s forearm when he opens his mouth to speak again.  At a curt shake of his wife’s head, Bail falls silent.  He turns away with a sigh, pacing to the wide archway that leads out onto the sprawling private balcony.  “It doesn’t make any sense that the rest of the Alliance members would be summarily executed and yet Vader takes it upon himself to deliver you to my doorstep.”
“I agree,” Padmé says.  “It doesn’t make sense, yet it’s what happened.”
Bail looks older, more tired than usual.  It’s understandable.  He is grieving.  Padmé knows her own reactions are still muted, delayed.  She too will feel the loss, frustration and grief currently plaguing Bail.  Right now those emotions are submerged under her own weariness, shock and a shameful joy that she is still alive.
“I wish I knew what the Emperor was up to,” Bail says, more to himself than to Padmé or his wife.
Padmé closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.  Opening her eyes, she looks at Bail.  “I don’t think the Emperor is behind it.”
Bail gives her a sharp look and Padmé swallows harshly.
“Vader destroyed all evidence that I was present at the meeting,” she says.  “He killed his own men to keep it a secret.”
Bail’s eyes narrow.  “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know,” Padmé says.   It’s the truth.  She doesn’t know.
But she has feelings, suspicions.
None of them make sense.
When she enters the small room, his back is to her, his head bowed in meditation.  Gracefully and silently, he rises to his feet, turning to face her in a single, fluid movement.
“Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are the same man,” Padmé says, unable to keep the accusatory tone from her voice.
Obi-Wan winces, but quickly recovers.  “Yes,” he says.  “Though that hardly seems relevant now.  Anakin Skywalker no longer exists.  He was consumed by Darth Vader.  Murdered.  My friend is dead.”
“Your friend spared my life and went to great lengths to keep it a secret from his new Master,” Padmé counters.
Obi-Wan’s expression gives no hint to his thoughts, but he nods slowly.  “I knew Vader shuttled you here,” he says.  “I didn’t know he kept it a secret from Sidious.  This is a most interesting turn of events.”
“Why would he do that?” Padmé presses.  “Why would he spare me and then destroy the evidence that I am an Alliance conspirator?”
Obi-Wan shakes his head.  “That question I cannot answer, Senator.  I do not know.”  He watches her carefully.  “Why do you think he spared you?”
Padmé shrugs off the question irritably.  “How should I know?  Anakin Skywalker despised my very existence.  I have no idea why Vader would go to any trouble to protect me.”
“Master Jinn used to say only two forms of life were never to be trusted, a Sith and a politician.”
She turns to face him, frowning sourly.  “Do you take pleasure in insulting me?” she demands.
“It is not an insult, Senator, merely … a different opinion on your vocation.  Isn’t that what politicians love to talk about, differing points of view?”
She turns away, deciding the best course of action is simply to not engage the young Jedi in conversation.  He seems intent on enumerating her perceived flaws.  It’s hardly a new concept to her.  She has been in enough political contests that she has developed the hide of a bantha when it comes to others' opinions of her.  Yet she feels strangely compelled to defend herself to him.
Emboldened, she quickly spins to face him.  "What about you?  Obi-Wan says the Council is ready to put you through the Trials, yet you keep balking?  Aren't you certain you want to be a Jedi?"
His expression shutters and Padmé feels a creeping sense of dread in the way he seems to withdraw into himself.  Her words hit very close to the mark.
Recovering, Anakin sticks his chin out defiantly.  "It's not fair," he snaps.  "If Master Jinn were still alive, they wouldn't be treating me this way.  Their behavior is outrageous.  I'm ready for the Trials but they want to put me through additional tests.  It's insulting."  He paces several steps across the room, absently using the Force to manipulate a decorative crystal orb.  "They're jealous," he says quietly, darkly.  "I'm stronger than them and they know it.  They've never wanted me.  The only reason they allowed me to be trained was because none of them were brave enough to defy Master Jinn.  Now, with him gone, they think they can disrespect me this way."
Sullenly, he looks up into her eyes.
She holds his gaze, keeping her features inscrutable for several long moments.  Eventually, she sighs, turning away.  "You don't sound like a Jedi," she says haughtily, glancing over at him as she reviews her datapad.  "You sound like a spoiled child.  The Jedi have your best interest at heart."
"The Jedi don't have hearts," he says quietly.  "Love is forbidden for a Jedi."
He watches her with such intensity Padmé is forced to look away.  She feels hot, flushed and deeply discomfited.
Swallowing thickly, she fights for composure.  For reasons she cannot explain, this Padawan has an uncanny ability to provoke her.  Year after year she has schooled herself to be above such reactionary behavior.  In politics, it is absolutely essential to maintain a level head and open mind, even when discussing the most heated topics.  It is intensely uncomfortable – not to mention humbling - to have her emotions played so effortlessly.  She has to regain the upper hand.  "What would you know about love?" she asks coldly.  "You're just a boy.  And a petulant one at that."
The look he shoots her is so dark for a moment she almost fears what he will do.  It's absurd, of course.  Petulant or not, he is still a Jedi.  He would never harm her.  But he is most displeased with her words.
After what seems to be an interminable moment, he turns away, leaving her office without a word.  She should feel relieved.  She wants to feel relieved.  But she fears she may have just made a terrible misstep.
Padmé lifts her head, wiping at her cheeks as Breha enters the lavish guest suite Padmé occupies at Aldera Royal Palace.  "I conveyed my condolences to Giddean's wife," Padmé says quietly.  "I wish I could tell her more."
Breha puts a gentle hand on her shoulder, sitting down on the bed at her side.  "You know you can't do that.  You could potentially compromise yourself and the Alliance.  Giddean didn’t pull Tessa into this and we can’t be certain she can be trusted with the full truth."
Padmé shrugs, looking away.  She stares at the beautiful Alderaanian sky,  turning rich shades of oranges and reds with the coming night.  "She deserves to know her husband died trying to save me.  Giddean's son deserves to know his father was a hero."  She looks at Breha intently.  "You know the Imperials are going to create some horrible lie to explain his execution."
"Of course they will," Breha says sadly.  "We all knew that when we agreed to be part of the Alliance."
Once again looking out into the night, Padmé frowns, consumed with frustration.  “I just wish there was more I could do.”
“There is,” Breha says quietly.  “When we rid the galaxy of the Empire, we will be doing it on behalf of billions of people like Tessa and Brin.  But for now, secrecy is vitally important.


End  Chapter

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