“They can’t remove me,” she muttered as she stalked into her apartment, “Palpatine won’t let them do that to Naboo, or what’s left of it. We’ve even elected a new Queen! I’d like to see a ‘dead’ society do that! Are we really dead?” She turned on the handmaidens and asked this question. There was a clear edge of desperation in her voice.
Three vehement denials erupted from the lips of the handmaidens, perhaps too hastily. “Right, right. Please, I need to be alone for awhile.”
“That no bein’ safe,” protested Captain Tarpals, the Senator’s Gungun head of security. His ears flapped about, the one left ragged by his daring escape from their home planet flailing . He was one of very few Gunguns who didn't live under Federation occupation.
“Let her be,” Cordé told him firmly. “We’re going.” All three walked quickly out of the apartment before he could protest further. They had Senator Okiltine’s safety in mind too, but were all currently of the opinion that ensuring it required them to talk together in private.
“My apartment,” said Cordé, and the other two followed her. Her place was only one room, but she was the only one of them who lived alone. As soon as they were in and she had locked the door, Cordé turned to Versé and demanded, “What did you see?”
“Did I say anything?” Versé asked nervously.
“Why are you so nervous?” Padmé asked her gently.
“We know you saw something,” Cordé pressed. “You made that clear.”
“What I saw,” Versé shook her head. “It’s not what I saw. It’s what I heard.”
“Okay, then, what did you hear?”
But Versé only shook her head again, and pressed her lips together tightly. Cordé grabbed her and shook her, ignoring Padmé’s protest.
“My father!” Versé blurted out, and Cordé let her go, but still did not relent: “What about him?”
Versé was clearly clamming up again, so Padmé said, “Isn’t he the one who insisted you be taken as a handmaiden? There was some debate about that, wasn’t there?”
“You two coming from common families...you can have no idea...ever since Palpatine’s parents were murdered the Costils and Excenils have each become convinced the other was responsible.”
“Swamp take it!” Cordé protested. “They were killed by the Trade Federation; everyone knows that!”
“Actually,” Padmé reminded her, “nobody knows anything. They could have been, yes, but there’s still no concrete evidence.”
“Is there ever?” laughed Cordé. “Besides, now is not the time for family rivalries. We don’t even have a planet anymore! We need to be united, not divided!”
“Yeah, that’s what my father said,” sighed Versé, “to pressure the Costils into approving my placement, not that he meant it. He was furious when a member of the Costil family took Palpatine's Senate seat; went to the man himself and demanded why, and I don't know what answer he got, but I don't think it satisfied him. He’s effectively the head of the family now; just about everyone else is dead or scattered to the rims.”
“What’s he planning to do?” asked Padmé, feeling terror creep into her.
“I don’t know. All I heard was him say to my uncle, ‘And of course we will get Versé to play her part. Though I fear she has taken too much to Okiltine emotionally.’ As if I could ever be persuaded to betray a Senator I swore an oath to!” She said the last with so much vehemence that there was no doubting her.
“Well then,” Padmé pointed out. “If your father requires your cooperation, stopping him should be easy.”
“No, he’s more cunning then that. I think he’s got some sort of plan that takes advantage merely my merely being near Senator Okiltine. We might not know what he plans to do until it’s too late.”
“All right,” said Cordé. “Then we need to tell the Senator. Now.”
She had turned back to the door when Versé grabbed her arm. “No! We can’t!”
“Why?” asked the other two together.
“Because what do you think Dormé Okiltine will do?”
They considered. “She’ll probably have your father arrested,” said Cordé. “Versé, I know it’s difficult, but your oath to the Senator overrides all other loyalties.”
“It’s not that,” Versé protested. “It’s that if she tries, it'll end in disaster!”
“She’s right,” said Padmé. “Every Excenil will be up in arms, and they’ll have the Catalins and Talstrines right with them; her father’s tied to both.”
“Will they really cross Palpatine?” Cordé argued.
“Don’t be fooled by his having his cousin in the Senate,” Versé told her. “He’s low on allies. Maybe if the Queen and the Sensaris sided with him...but I don’t think they would. Our mistress might not talk about it, but my relatives do. There’s a general feeling that he’s turned his back on Naboo, that he used the invasion to get into power and now he’s letting the noble families destroy each other while the common people live lives of misery.”
“He’s not!” cried Padmé immediately.
“Letting the noble families destroy each other?” Cordé repeated scornfully. “Can’t they take responsibility for their own actions?”
“I’m not saying they’re right! But too many people believe them. I’m afraid the Senator’s in far more dangerous territory than we've seen before.”
“Can’t we just explain all this to her?” Padmé suggested. “Being from her family means she has to have some idea about all this already; surely she’ll understand.”
“We could hope,” replied Versé, “but in all honesty, as a member of the Excenil family, I can’t say that if I was in her position, I would be able to act completely logically.”
“And yet you claim your own loyalty against your family?” asked Cordé, suspicious.
“An oath is an oath is an oath. It’s the saving grace of our class, I think. We need for it to be if we’re to stop ourselves from completely murdering each other.”
She knew it wasn’t meant, but Padmé couldn’t help but feel the jab, and Cordé got openly angry. “Oh, so Padmé and me can’t keep oaths as well as you?”
“I didn’t say that at all!” Versé sounded a little angry too now. “Look, when I swore that oath, it’s like I changed families. I’m effectively a Costil now. Like I said, my dad really can’t expect me to deliberately betray my mistress. That’s why I’m so sure he intends something else.”
“Never mind all of that,” Padmé cut in, “we believe you. Well, I believe her!” She shot the second statement at Cordé, who looked like she wanted to protest. “The way I see it,” she continued, “this choice isn’t ours to make ours anyway. We have the duty to tell our mistress this and to trust her.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Cordé. “Our primary duty is and always has been her safety. You remember how Captain Panaka emphasized that we’re to do this by any means necessary.”
“But is it really necessary to keep this from her? Versé?”
“She made it sound like it is.”
“Well,” Versé started, “I may have panicked a bit; necessary is a strong word. If either way ensured her safety...”
“Is life ever that easy?” Cordé rejoined.
Then something else occurred to Padmé. “Shouldn't we at least talk with Roos about this?”
“Captain Tarpals? The Gungun?” Cordé was clearly dismissive, and Versé looked like she had the same opinion.
“Don’t be like that,” Padmé pleaded with them. “He’s been good and loyal since he got to Coruscant.”
“What choice does he have? He hopes to take advantage of our kindness and free his people on our sweat!”
“Are you really so ungenerous, Cordé?" Now it was Padmé's turn to be angry, at this blatant, impossible prejudice. "We all have the same goal; we should be in this together. Do you trust noone? Do you trust her?” She pointed to Versé.
“Do you?” Versé asked softly. “I want to know, Cordé. Do you?”
Cordé was stopped in her tracks and silent. Strange how something almost whispered could be so much more effective than something yelled. Padmé had observed her soft-spoken mistress benefit by this countless times. Perhaps watching her had taught Versé how to do it all the better. In another universe, she might have entered Senator Okiltine’s service as a possibility for the heir to her seat; they all knew that.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I’m not thinking straight either. I do trust you, Versé. Please believe me, please.”
“We need to be able to get Roos’ opinion,” Padmé said firmly. “He’s responsible for the Senator’s safety, just like us. He has that right, and he’s not an idiot, he really isn’t.”
“Agreed,” said Versé, though she didn’t sound entirely pleased, and Cordé reluctantly nodded.
A quick comm to the captain revealed him to be unavailable, and Cordé said, ‘Hardly surprising. I guess it is a little late. We’ll talk to him in the morning.”
In the same way that Versé lived with her parents, Padmé lived with her sister Sola, and Sola’s family, in an apartment downstairs barely big enough for all of them, for which Senator Okiltine contributed part of the rent. But she didn’t head directly there that night. Instead she wandered down to the end of the corridor, where out the window, the thickest part of the local traffic was visible. There she cried, afraid that no matter what she did, there was nothing for the rest of her life but to remain exiled on Coruscant, where she would never again get away from all the metal.