“Padmé...” It was just as much a miracle to Sabé, Padmé knew, that she herself was alive, as Sabé being alive was a miracle to Padmé. And when she’d seen her old handmaiden’s name on the passenger list of the refugee shuttle, she’d ended up driving everyone crazy trying to get it confirmed that she’d really been on there.
It was one of only three moments of joy in the darkest days of her life. The other two had been the safe return of her daughter from the Death Star, a rescue in which faithful Coté had lain down her life, and hearing that the monstrosity had been successfully destroyed, though there Losté had lost hers, as had Obi-Wan Kenobi and so many others. Deaths upon deaths was the way of things now, but Padmé could at least sincerely believe that she would never hear news worse than that she had heard when Anakin had come to her, still recovering from the blow the massacre had dealt to him and the other Jedi through the Force, and started with, “All the old gods help me, Padmé, I don’t know how to tell you this...” Never in her life had she believed in the existence of true evil, but she did now.
The two women wept into each others shoulders together, their joy mixed with overwhelming grief. Padmé cried again for those she had left behind on Naboo, for her parents and sister, and her older niece, and for one more dream dashed, for now she could never go home, never bring her two children there, never rely on her planet always being there, her touchstone, a bright light in a darkened galaxy, now snuffed out.
“B-but,” she stammered, “I had heard you had been on Naboo.”
“I was on Rori,” Sabé explained. “Which as you know, was also destroyed, when the flying pieces of rock that had been Naboo impacted it enough to make it literally shatter, but as least we were given an hour or so to get as many people off it as possible. We still lost so many people, but at least the Death Star didn’t bother going after those of us that got off. I guess they thought the job done well enough, or wanted us to spread more fear.”
“I can only imagine what you’ve been through.” As she spoke, Padmé knew she would never ask her to speak of it either. “But at least it’s over now. The Death Star’s been destroyed and Tarkin’s dead.”
“What?” This was news to Sabé, of course, as it would soon be to most of the galaxy.
Padmé gave the account as simply as possible: “My daughter, Leia, snuck into the Death Star and managed to obtain a copy of its layout. Using that we were able to attack its weak spot and destroy it. I’m afraid both Coté and Losté were killed in the process though.” It was good to keep it simple, especially because she didn’t want to admit, at least not yet, that Leia when had been captured, the destruction of Naboo had been done partly in response to her refusal to cooperate, though in the end giving away (false) information hadn't stopped Tarkin anyway. Padmé didn’t blame her daughter in the slightest, but it was all too understandable if others from Naboo might do so.
“So they’re dead too?” said Sabé. “I checked into that. Yané and Briné were both off-planet. I’ve confirmed everyone else’s deaths except Ené’s, including her and Losté’s families.”
“Ené’s here in the Rebellion with me,” Padmé told her. “Pooja’s joined us too recently; did you know about Pooja surviving?”
“I heard.” By now they were moving towards the edge of the rapidly filling docking bay, soon to be pressed up against the wall if they weren't careful, just two more Naboo lost, now forever homeless. Noone noticed even Padmé in a crowd where most people’s primary concern was the still surviving hope to find previously unnoticed family and friends alive after all. “Tarkin’s dead?”
“Killed in the destruction of the Death Star.” One person she wouldn’t mourn for.
Sabé’s response was not what Padmé had been expecting. She frowned and growled, “He got off easy, then.”
“At least he’s dead,” Padmé pointed out.
“Yeah,” replied Sabé angrily, “dead before he had to answer for what he had done! Dead before he could suffer for it at all!”
Padmé had always known Sabé to be more passionate, and more aggressive, than she herself was, and she wasn’t surprised, but she was distressed nonetheless. “No revenge could have restored Naboo,” she said quietly.
Hearing her, Sabé seized her by the shoulders and for a moment Padmé thought the other woman might slap her. “Listen, you might have spent the last twenty years or so surrounded by ever so serene Jedi, but I just watched Naboo be blown to pieces in front of me, and then had to fight my way to one of the transports to get off Rori. You said you can't imagine it; well, I wasn't going to help you there, but now I will. It was a the most brutal stampede you can imagine; I saw people take out blasters and blow people’s heads off in their hysteria. I was with my Aunt Depé, but we got separated in the melee and I haven’t heard from her since, and I don’t hold out much hope; she’s old and weak; people like that quite literally got trampled to death. There was blood scattered everywhere; I saw people slip in it, and they didn't live either when they did. And I can’t even blame the crowd for doing what they did. I wanted Tarkin to at least stand trial, for her, and for the other 630 million people he murdered. I wanted the coward to have to look at least one of us in the face!”
What was the use of telling her that he had looked Leia in the face, and smiled? “Sabé, we all wanted that, but you know we never would have gotten it. At the very least, it would have been years. The destruction of the Death Star may help turn the tide, yes, but we still have a long struggle ahead of us.”
This was a point Sabé could not deny; Padmé watched her sag. “Well,” she said, “at least we have a new army to fight the war. Look at them.” They turned to the crowds of their fellow Naboo. “Many of them were willing enough to support the Empire before this happened. The Death Star did its job badly. Even if the rest of the galaxy lives in fear, we are a people who can no longer submit to what destroyed our home, our families, and our lives.
Look at them, Padmé. They’re your people now.”
“What do you mean now?” asked Padmé. But she already knew what Sabé was going to say.
Sure enough, she said, “Queen Kylantha went down with her planet, betrayer and betrayed both, and her officials with her. Panaka,” here Sabé spat, “had better never meet any of us again if he wants to keep his life. The people would look to Pooja for our leader now, but she’ll look to you, and they know that. You must be our Queen again, Padmé Amidala. We need one.”
“I will serve my people for as long as they need me,” said Padmé, more to herself than to Sabé, but it was her answer nonetheless.
“Mother?” Padmé heard Leia’s voice from somewhere in the docking bay.
She was turning in the general direction from which she heard it when she heard Ené scream, “SABÉ!” She hadn’t even realized the other woman had returned. But returned she had, and several moments later Ené had shoved her way through the crowd and thrown her arms around her sister handmaiden.
In her wake Leia was perhaps the most composed person in the docking bay, though the pain of losing Naboo weighed even on her, and the lines on her face. Sge went straight up to her mother, and said, “The squadron’s returned. We were able to rescue most of the prisoners, including some Gunguns. I’m afraid they didn’t take the latest bit of news well. They’re with Luke and Pooja; you should go to them.” Padmé felt her heart go out to them; they were amoung the last their race now.
“Pooja said you were here,” Ené was sobbing to Sabé, “but I didn’t dare believe it. I got so many accounts of my daughter getting safely off the planet, all them false; I couldn’t! Oh Sabé, are you really here?”
By now most of the refugees had scanned the crowd, and Padmé did see one man cry out and race to hug another man in relief; briefly she wondered who the two of them were. The result was that Ené’s entrance had attracted more attention than Padmé’s own had done. She could see people looking at her, whispering to their neighbors. Word of her presence was spreading around.
“Excuse me,” an old woman got up the courage to approach. “Miss, but are you Padmé Amidala?”
“It is her indeed,” said Sabé before Padmé could answer herself. “She’s alive and well, and ready to lead us in this dark time.”
“I am,” said Padmé, taking over, noticing how more people were paying attention to her, and then more behind them. “I know the pain you all feel, so deep it will never go away entirely, as does my family. For many years we have been struggling to right the wrongs brought upon this galaxy by the Empire, but never has the need to do so seemed so great to me as it is now. Join me, and we will defeat them.”
She had raised her voice as she spoke, and it was amazing how quickly the room quieted, people pausing to see if they'd heard who they thought they'd just heard. A little turn and she was facing them. Between one thing and another, the room might well hold three quarters of the surviving Naboo. The remaining quarter she felt were there in spirit, and she knew her words would be passed to them.
“More importantly,” she said, “join each other. However alone we feel,” she remembered how the feeling had crushed her when Anakin had told her, even when she sought comfort in his arms, “we can see to it that none of us truly are. The Empire may have destroyed Naboo, but as long as we, its people, remain true to ourselves and each other, and to the ideals we held of peace, of democracy, of beauty, of life itself, then they will not have destroyed everything it was, everything it stood for.”
“Don’t look at me,” she felt herself growing dangerously fervent, “you’ve seen me, and you’ll see me again. Look at each other. Go on.” She waved her arms about, saw her listeners obey. “Remember these faces, the faces of your brothers and sisters. They are still alive. They mourn as you do. Together we will mourn, we will fight, and we will remember those lost.
“I admit, I cannot promise you victory. But what I can promise is that I will never give in to the evil that we have come upon. And what I will believe is that none of you will either.”
“We won’t, your highness,” said Sabé loudly, and the crowd followed her with thunderous accolades. Padmé felt the familiar burden of leadership settle itself on her shoulders. Anxiety, elation, and fierce resolve set on her, the last pushing down the first two as she watched her people cheer, pouring out all their emotions in an affirmation of life, tears streaming down many a face. She felt one trickle down her own cheek.