Part 13: Some Apparent Danger Seen.
(Richard II, act 1, sc. 1, l. 5)
Obi-Wan was quite surprised when summoned for a meeting with the council, to find Mace Windu and Mace Windu only waiting for him within those hallowed chambers. The Korun Master seemed be to studying the view of Coruscant's planet wide cityscape which could be obtained from the transparisteel that almost covered the entirety of the room. Yet Obi-Wan knew that the Head of the Council was alert to his entrance, choosing not to speak until the young knight had joined him by the view.
"You wanted to see me, Master Windu?" Obi-Wan remarked.
"Yes, Obi-Wan," Mace replied, turning from the transparisteel to study his companion. "Since your return from Naboo, Queen Amidala has been in constant communication with us, regarding Palpatine, former Senator and now a member of her council. She has kept a detailed surveillance upon him, for reasons she will not reveal to us, other than what is obviously a deep level of mistrust. She has sent us daily reports of his activities, who he visits, what he says, what he eats, the nature of his business both within the council and privately, at his apartment in Theed and his family's estate in Varykino."
"Have these reports revealed anything?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Yes, in way," Mace answered. "To the untrained eye, the result of Queen Amidala's surveillance shows Palpatine as nothing more than a good citizen of Naboo, faithfully serving his fellow citizens, honouring his family and their legacy. It is what the reports do not say that is most telling, however. Information omitted that the Council is most concerned over. So we turn to you, Obi-Wan, and ask you to go to Naboo, where you will take up this surveillance of Palpatine and report to us on what you find."
"Of course," Obi-Wan consented, with a small bow. "What shall my official reason be for visiting?"
"Queen Amidala is having trouble with the spice miners and their contract negotiations. To intercede as an unbiased party within the talks, will be your official reason for going to Naboo," Master Windu informed him. "On your way you shall read these reports the Queen has sent to us and see what you make of them. Upon your arrival, you should also let the sovereign know the real reason that you have come."
"I will, Mace," Obi-Wan replied, before bowing once more and turning to exit the Council chamber.
"Obi-Wan," Mace called just as the young knight reached the entrance. "May the Force be with you."
"And with you, Mace," Obi-Wan replied before leaving the room.
He studied the reports during his journey from Coruscant to Naboo, the Jedi Council having transferred the data to his ship prior to departure. The minutiae of detail included was fascinating. Padmé had been incredibly thorough in her surveillance, covering almost every aspect of Palpatine's life from the moment he settled on Naboo to become one of her Councillors after retiring from the Senate.
She had not told him about this vigilance, even though the two of them had regularly communicated over the ten years since he had last seen her. He found it strange that she had not chosen to confide this in him, when she had talked to him about so many things. However he reminded himself that she had not revealed to him the source of her veiled sadness which she had held about herself from the moment they met, either. He respected her silence on that, so he felt no resentment or regret concerning this matter, only a sense of curiosity.
Which continued to grow as he studied more and more of the reports. Her mistrust of Palpatine evidently ran deep, and to the untrained eye, when reading these reports, it was hard to see why. However, when one read them carefully, it was clear to see why the Council were concerned. On the surface, Palpatine was a model citizen, that was all that could be gathered from the reports. There was nothing to indicate that something darker could be lurking within his habits, which was precisely why the Council, and now Obi-Wan, were concerned. No one was this outwardly good. It was impossible. There was always some failing or guilty pleasure, or mild transgression to be found. That none could be found in these detailed reports suggested that Palpatine either knew about the surveillance and or was leading a double life, and that life concealed a darkness which could not be revealed to the galaxy at large without some danger to everyone concerned.
Dropping out of hyperspace, he finished reading the reports and returned to the cockpit, adjusting the controls of the ship to prepare for landing. Gazing through the viewscreen upon the planet below, his mind ran over all that had happened since he last visited this world which had become so significant to him. It marked a turning point within his life, the final stage of his growing up. Naboo had played a part in his transition from padawan to knight, being the precursor that pronounced him ready for the trials, which took place on Tatooine, as he protected the Nubian Queen from a sith.
Since then he had been on countless solo missions, or remained in the temple for further research or training as he switched his chosen saber form from Ataru to Soresu, finding the latter form more useful as a defence against the dangers he encountered. Lately he had been contemplating the task of undertaking a padawan, talking with Qui-Gon and Master Yoda concerning such a honour. Ten years as a knight had been enough to cause him to feel confident in making his own decisions, to not feel too apprehensive of his ability or inability to take an initiate under his wing. He had thought that was what the council had wanted to speak to him about, as it was those beings whose approval was required for knights who wished to take on the privilege of teaching.
Turning on the com, he announced his arrival to Naboo's airspace traffic control, waiting for their reply before he began the approach to the hangar bay that was part of the Royal Palace in Theed, Naboo's capital. After a short pause, the response came, acknowledging his arrival and welcoming him back. He thanked them politely before signing off, focusing on piloting the ship as he entered the temperate atmosphere.
A small welcoming committee was waiting for him as he entered the hangar bay of the Royal Palace, though in comparison to the last which had welcomed him and his master, the one that had first blew up their ship, then tried to poison them before raining droidekas and other military might of the Trade Federation, it was infinitely more appropriately named. It consisted of two security officers and a couple of handmaidens, the latter cloaked in their familiar flamed coloured garments.
Obi-Wan set the ship down in a perfectly immaculate landing and secured the craft before gathering his things and exiting the vehicle to greet the four waiting for him below. When he had reached the foot of the landing ramp executed a bow to the officers and handmaidens, stretching out his senses for recognition of any he knew from his past dealings with the Nubian Court.
The security officer that held out a hand to greet him was familiar, as he was the same man who protected the Queen ten years ago. His companion was much younger, a tall youth who was regarding Obi-Wan with evident curiosity. Behind them the handmaidens stood silently, their heads bowed. Obi-Wan scanned them, noticing with regret that the Queen had chosen not to don the role of Padmé, in order to greet him more formally as befitted a member of the Order.
"Welcome back to Naboo, Knight Kenobi," the security captain said.
"Thank you, Captain Panaka," Obi-Wan replied, shaking the man's hand.
"Queen Amidala is waiting for you in her Council Chambers," Panaka informed him, before stepping aside, his hand held out to gesture the way forward. "She offers you the liberty of the planet during your stay, and one of the palace suites."
"I shall thank her highness for her generosity when I see her," Obi-Wan remarked. "It will be good to do so after so long."
"You shall not find Naboo has changed much in ten years," Panaka mused, as his deputy's curiosity increased. "But I must confess that we are surprised that the Order chose to step in over a mining dispute."
"The Council has taken a personal responsibility over Naboo ever since we were asked to assist you in freeing the system from the blockade of the Trade Federation," Obi-Wan replied, hoping such a phrase would cover the motive behind his official visit to Naboo. "And your people are by nature pacifists, so even a protest such as this one, feels significant."
"Your insight serves you well, Jedi Kenobi," Captain Panaka agreed. "And we are grateful that the Council decided to send you."
"They felt a previous visitor to the planet would be most beneficial," Obi-Wan said. "One who was familiar with Nubian customs and law, who would not incur delays by needing to acquire such knowledge."
It was at that moment they reached the council chamber. Obi-Wan entered the room, remembering his last time spent in the grand surroundings, just after they had managed to capture the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, liberating the planet and her system from the Trade Federation's blockade. Little had changed since his last time here, save for the absence of the Neimoidians of course. There was still the marbled floors and walls, partitioned by pillars and panels, the panelled transparisteel windows displaying views of the magnificent gardens which encircled the palace, the half circular table for the council, with low seated chairs gathered around it, the centre one a throne occupied by the elected monarch.
Queen Amidala rose from the chair and stepped forward to greet him, as he bowed before her, before rising to hold out his hand. "It is a great pleasure to see you again, your highness."
"It has been far too long, Knight Kenobi," Amidala replied, taking his hand and using the clasp to pull in closer and kiss his cheek. He returned the gesture in kind, his lips gently brushing against the soft skin, covered in the white makeup of her sovereignty. She was dressed in one of her less formal gowns, an orange colour cloak style weighted down by globe like jewels in the hem-line. Her long dark brown hair was curled into a far more elaborate style, a series of folds ranging in size before ending in a chignon at the back. Despite the trappings of Queen-ship, she still managed to look beautiful, especially when she smiled at him, continuing to hold his hand in hers.
"As glad as we are to see you," she added, leading him over to the arched window that overlooked the fountain gardens, "We are surprised that the Council chose to send a Jedi to mediate over contract mining disputes."
"The Council were also concerned over the other matter, your highness," Obi-Wan revealed, silently hoping that she understood his vague response. "Your daily reports have proved most informative, so much so that they wished for me to observe the situation for myself and report back."
Amidala took a little breath, unnoticeable to anyone else within the room but himself, for he was standing so close. "We are glad that the Council took an interest. We were not sure that they would, considering the conclusions of the reports."
"It was precisely because of those conclusions that the Council is concerned," Obi-Wan informed her. "They are also curious as to why."
"That can wait," she answered, before turning to her security. "Panaka, please show Knight Kenobi his rooms and see to it that he has refreshment."
Obi-Wan sighed, but allowed himself to be escorted away. Offering a bow in farewell, he turned to follow Captain Panaka out of the Council chamber to his suite.
"If it is any consolation, Knight Kenobi, her highness refuses to tell us her reasons for watching Councillor Palpatine too," Panaka revealed.
"It is some," Obi-Wan replied. "I had not realised it was a mystery to everyone but Queen Amidala herself."
"I trust her judgement and obey her request, even though I do not know why," Panaka added. "I only hope that her motives will become clear in time, just as every other decision she has made."
"Are all her decisions so mysterious?" Obi-Wan queried lightly as they continued walking down the long marble pillared hall.
"Not all," Panaka replied. "Some however prove contradictory. For example, when she campaigned for the title of Princess of Theed, the title given to all heirs to the throne, it was to rid the monarchy of corruption and establish term limits. When she took the throne she declared her intention to serve only two terms. Yet only recently she has given into her people's desire to reign for a third."
"I remember her telling me that there was something still left for her to do," Obi-Wan remarked, for they had talked over the com the night she announced her candidacy for a third term as Naboo's elected sovereign.
"She mentioned that to me as well," Panaka revealed. "But she did not tell me what. I can only presume that it is to do with Councillor Palpatine. Once she steps down from the throne, she will no longer have to authority to continue her surveillance on him."
Panaka came to a halt outside the door, which he opened before gesturing for Obi-Wan to step inside. "These are your rooms while you stay on Naboo. I hope they are satisfactory."
"Above and beyond, thank Captain," Obi-Wan replied as he took in the spacious expanse and stylish furnishings. His suite of rooms could house the Council, never mind a Jedi knight.
"Will I see her highness at dinner?" he asked Panaka, who nodded before leaving him alone to settle in.
It was one of Panaka's deputies who came to escort him to dinner, the young tall human that had held a fascination for him ever since he had arrived. Obi-Wan had showered and changed into fresh robes, and unpacked his meagre belongings before meditating until the security officer came to fetch him. He would see the object of his investigations during the meal and he needed to be prepared for the encounter.
After a time spent walking in silence down the hall towards the dining room, Obi-Wan turned to the officer, who was still regarding him with curiosity, though contained by his focus on his task as escort.
"I don't believe we've been properly introduced, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight," he offered, holding out his hand to the young man, who it took it hesitantly.
"Anakin Skywalker, sir," the officer replied.
"If you have a question, you're welcome to ask," Obi-Wan informed him.
The young man hesitated before replying. "Not necessarily a question, more of a confession," he began. "I've always wanted to meet a Jedi, I used to wonder what it would like to be one. I used to dream about becoming a knight, going back to my homeworld and freeing all the slaves."
Obi-Wan eyed the man curiously. Now that he knew the officer was not a native of Naboo, he could see the difference clearly. There was a certain style in the way he walked which suggested that he was more used to a desert world.
And taking in that reference to slavery, he wondered if the man was one of the beings Padmé had freed during her campaign in the Outer Rim.
"A noble dream," he commented. "But the life of a Jedi is a hard one, filled with many sacrifices. It is not for all. Sometimes it is more courageous to live a life outside the Temple, among the rest of the galaxy."
They reached the dining room with in silence, as both of them dwelt upon what they had learned. Obi-Wan found the Queen's gaze resting upon them as they entered, a slight panic in her senses. He wondered what was causing her to worry. Parting from the officer he made his way over to her, offering a bow before he took his seat beside her.
"I apologise if my enquiry as to your motives concerning your surveillance troubled you, your highness," he began in a soft voice so as not to be overheard by anyone else. "I will of course respect your silence and see if I can discover the reasons for myself as I begin to undertake the mission."
"It did not trouble me, Obi-Wan," Padmé assured him, "I just feel that it would be better if you discovered the reason yourself. I would not have you face the councillor with my suspicion in your mind. It might prove dangerous for all concerned."
Obi-Wan inclined his head in silent acknowledgement, and returned to his meal. He turned his focus however, to the councillor in question. Like the Queen's council chamber, the dining table was also circular, the chairs forming another circle around its smooth veneered edge. Aside from him, Captain Panaka sat next to Padmé, the rest of her court aligned in alternating patterns of handmaiden and councillor. Palpatine was not directly opposite him, but nearly enough. Obi-Wan took care not to look at the councillor, lest his interest in him be detected, but continued to observe him throughout the duration of the meal.
Without the trappings required for a galactic senator, Palpatine appeared ordinary, a venerable ageing gentleman, the quiet provincial politician, content to spend the rest of his life serving his country. Yet thanks to Padmé's surveillance, Obi-Wan knew that there was more to the Nubian than just this role. He was the scion of an old family, with wealth and holdings in Theed, as well as a vast estate in the lake country. An intelligent man, whose education was well rounded, who possessed a wide experience of the known galaxy. Even without the Queen's suspicion of him, there was more to the Councillor than what could be initially perceived, however seemingly innocent these aspects of his character may appear to be.
It would remain to be seen however, if the innocence was still there without the existence of something darker lurking beneath the facade when Obi-Wan's surveillance of the man came to an end.