If Padmé accepted her as a fellow handmaiden, a decision that seemed too important for just one person to make but there was nothing for that, because Roos had completely refused involvement, she would have to tell her the truth of course. But until she had not only been accepted but had taken her oath, she had to be thought of as sister to the Queen, and right now, harsh as it was, noone affiliated with any noble family other than the Costils could be trusted.
That made interviewing for new handmaidens a dangerous game, especially because the more Padmé thought about it, the more she judged it best that she accept only one new woman instead of two, or at the very least, only one from a noble family. Even though this would only make those jilted angrier.
She was exhausted, and yet there was still one more candidate left to interview. Already she could hear her transport docking outside, a console beeping to alert her that she had a visitor. It had only been five minutes since Motée had left. Padmé pulled herself together as best she could, put her hood up over her head, and marched herself down the hallway to meet the last possible handmaiden. She was dressed entirely in black, both for mourning and for imposition.
But at the complex’s docking platform, she found not the last young woman, but Anakin Skywalker, who smiled at her and said, “Padmé Naberrie, right?”
“You learned who I was,” she observed, pulling her hood down.
“It wasn’t too difficult. You were obviously one of Senator Okiltine’s handmaidens, and there was only one not listed as killed in the firefight. I am aware of the location of the Senator herself.” He cleverly avoided mentioning her not being on Coruscant here on the docking platform.
“Are you angry with me?”
“You were doing your duty to the Senator. I understand that.”
Padmé didn’t know why she felt so extensively relieved. Normally she didn’t care if someone was offended; she had her duty, and that was that. “So,” she asked, “what brings you here?”
“Shall we find some privacy first?”
Privacy was definitely a good idea, so Padmé led Anakin back to the Senator’s quarters. They sat down on her comfy brown chairs by the window, and Padmé fought the urge to pull her hood back up. Anakin reached into his robes, and withdrew a datachip, saying, “I thought you might want to see this. Captain Tarpals will want to as well, I think.”
“We can show it to him later,” replied Padmé, getting up to fetch a projector.
Before she could take a step towards Senator Okiltine’s work desk, the projector on it lifted itself up and flew gracefully through the air towards her. She reached out her hand and it settled onto her open palm.
She turned and looked at Anakin, who grinned and said, “If Master Kenobi knew I was doing this, he’d be very grumpy.” He raised his palm slightly, and the datachip flew out of it and plugged itself into the projector. “Though I do have to admit, it was very clever of my Master, the way he got this recording. After he found Senator Okiltine and Captain Tarpals he took them to the Excenil’s residence, ostensibly so she could deliver to them the news of Versé’s death, and while she kept the family distracted he hacked into their security recordings. It took us a while to decrypt them though.”
The datachip contained an image of Osic Excenil in his study, talking with a certain Aros Yelnina, whose daughter Padmé was to very soon interview.
“It seems Versé realized at least part of our plan, and her loyalty to the Senator proved uncrackable.” Padmé thought she actually heard a note of admiration in Osic’s voice, along with regret. “She’s been watching me like a hawk, and is no longer open to manipulation. I’ve decided we need to move forward with the assassination. This also means the Senator’s likely to pose as one of her own handmaidens in public; I alerted the bounty hunter I’ve hired to this and he’ll have his assassins go after them as well.”
“Including your own daughter?” asked Aros dubiously.
“I told them to avoid shooting her if they can without it looking suspicious, and if she makes no trouble. If she works against me, of course...well, I truly hope she doesn’t.” Again he sounded regretful, but Padmé felt little sympathy for him, especially after he then said, “Of course they also have to kill whoever’s posing as the Senator, which will probably be the merchant’s daughter, but if for any reason the assassination attempt fails, well, that’s when your daughter comes in. You’re certain she won’t behave like mine?”
“Moré desperately wants to get back in our good graces after her marriage. As well she should want to. You might say in these modern times a girl like her can marry another girl, or even a peasant, but both is pushing it, don’t you agree?”
“Believe me, friend, you have my sympathy. We may need her even if the Senator is killed; appointment of the next one is likely to fall to Palpatine, and there is no certainty of our getting a friend into the position immediately. Ideally, either way, there won’t be any surviving handmaidens on hand to do the choosing, but it will have to be done by the Gungun.” This was pure prejudice on Osic Excenil’s part; Captain Tarpals was actually pretty smart.
Padmé felt a deep disgust. Anakin must have been able to sense it the way Jedi could with their powers, because he gently lay his arm across her shoulders and said, “Not a very nice guy, is he? But at least now you’re warned.”
“I hadn’t even seen Moré yet,” Padmé noted. “But even so, after the way Versé spoke, it’s hard to believe...but never mind, it’s a chance I can’t take.”
When Anakin removed his arm, Padmé involuntarily released a small, sad sigh, as she suddenly felt cold. He couldn’t help but notice. “Uh, listen, if there’s anything else you need...”
“No, not really.” She turned her head to look at him, studying this calm, serious face, contrasting it with the brash young man who had taken her on a wild ride through Coruscant’s skies only a little more than a week ago. They were the same man; in him she could sense that same awesome power that for all she knew all Jedi had, but all the same, she could not believe that they did, not when it was this strong a feeling.
She’d betrayed her fascination with this particular young man when relating the sequence of events involving the two of them to Senator Okiltine. “Jedi are always strangers to those outside their Order, and even to most of their fellow Jedi,” her mistress had reminded her. And so Padmé knew that it would likely forever remain unknown to her what strange thoughts and feelings lay behind Anakin Skywalker’s vibrant blue eyes. Even so, she felt a longing within her to go deeper than even that, to know his heart, which she was sure was completely forbidden to her.
“Let me see you out, Master Jedi,” she said, and when they swiftly rose it felt as if some strange spell had been broken.
When they reached the docking platform, they saw another speeder approaching, this one containing Moré Yelnina and another young woman whom Padmé assumed to be her wife. A hasty goodbye, and Anakin hurried to his speeder to move it out of their way while Padmé pulled her hood back up, cutting him out of her line of vision. If he waved, she did not see, and would not look.
Normally she might have lowered her hood to give the potential handmaiden a friendly greeting. But Moré Yelnina had now been rejected in advance, and it was easier if she kept her distance.
The two women had their heads turned; they were probably watching Anakin leave. Padmé knew when he had dislodged because they moved forward to dock themselves. She heard the wife say, “I’ll wait here,” and watched them exchange a quick kiss. Such a simple, trivial gesture, but Padmé felt her heart clench against a feeling of emptiness.
She stole a glance at the far side of the platform. Anakin Skywalker was out of sight.