Bid Time Return by Danielle

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Part 7: More Are Men's Ends Marked Than Their Lives Before.
(Richard II (1595) act 2, sc. 1, l.11)

For some reason as yet unknown to herself, Padmé walked to the reactor room after the departure of the Chancellor's ship. She spent some time wandering the narrow catwalks and the perimeter of the melting pit, remembering when she asked her security chief for the surveillance footage of the lightsaber duel that she had prevented from taking place. Captain Panaka had been surprised and puzzled by her request, but did nothing to deny her the right of watching it. The footage covered every move of the duel from beginning to end, lacking in nothing to convey the full horror what took place.

She had watched it with a view to understanding the quiet and serious Padawan Kenobi, who only said one sentence to her, yet had stolen glances whenever he could. Her heart broke when she watched him lose his Master, and her respect for him rose when she saw how bravely he conquered his emotions to defeat the Sith who had killed Qui-Gon Jinn. She still recalled witnessing his grief as he held his dying Master, after she rushed down to the room when general communications were restored to the Palace.

From that moment she sought him out, feeling the kinship that comes of resuming a responsibility granted perhaps too early and too young. They spent time together while they waited for the new Chancellor and the members of the Jedi Council to arrive from Coruscant, talking away the awkwardness and formality of protector and protectee, into a friendship which stood the distance of ten years parting, and only deepened when circumstances threw them together. He had kept his silence on her relationship with Anakin, though she always suspected he knew, yet feared to prove it aloud.

Then came the day when the truth could be hidden no longer. Padmé remembered that awful conversation, where he asked her for the whereabouts of Anakin, before telling her what had happened. She remembered the sadness in his voice as he told her of his former apprentice's actions within the Temple, the barely concealed mixture of emotions splayed across his face. Guilt, horror, fear, betrayal. She felt she had betrayed him too, as deeply as Anakin had betrayed them.

Yet not once had he offered judgement of her actions. Not even when he asked if Anakin was the father of her children, and she remained silent, ashamed to answer him. She was never angry with him for hiding away on her craft as she took off to find her husband, for she had cause to be glad of his presence, else she might never have made it to Polis Massa, and lived to deliver her children. Her last memories were of his stricken face as he held her firstborn in his arms, pleading with his voice and with his face for her to live. She had caused him so much sadness in his life. She prayed that her actions so far had gone some way to ease his sorrow.

A beeping sound echoed across the silent corridor of laser shields, causing her to raise her head and make her way out of the melting pit room towards her security chief and Artoo. The little droid had taken to accompanying her wherever she went, proving as faithful a companion as he had been in her other life. Captain Panaka had his eyes on her, and part of his focus, for the other part was directed to the com device he now held to his ear. By the time she reached his side, the conversation had ended and he turned his full attention upon her.

"The representatives of the Arkanis system are ready to speak to you, Your Highness," Captain Panaka informed her. "And the members of the Refugee Relief Movement have arrived and are waiting in the Royal Council Room."

"Thank you, Captain," Padmé replied. She had decided that it would be for the best if she approached Tatooine and the other planetary systems concerned through the charity channels, where it was taken for granted that anyone would take an interest, without having to obey the usual protocol of informing her Senator that she wished to form a treaty with another system. In this she was fortunate with her connections, for she and her father had worked with the Refugee Relief movement, and therefore she knew just the people she should talk to.

They rose at her entrance, and she hurried forward to greet them, waving away the formalities imposed by her elected rank, before offering her hand to take each of theirs in a clasping shake as they introduced themselves. A couple she knew from her father's work, and her own, a familiarity which made the initial awkwardness of speaking to her, their sovereign, soon fade away.

When they were all seated once more, the lead official began to speak. "We thank you Highness for requesting to see us and for taking an interest in this matter. Despite the Republic issuing a ban of slavery, little has been done to impose the law amongst the planets within the Outer Rim. There are too many obstacles which bar charities like us."

"I intend to establish relations with all the officials in the Outer Rim and offer what aid our system can provide," Padmé remarked. "The representatives of the Arkanis system are ready and waiting to speak with us."

"You have clearly not forgotten your training in this area," the member of the Refugee Relief remarked. "We shall be glad to speak with them."

Padmé nodded and pressed the button on her throne which activated the communications screen. "Greetings, Excellency."

The representative bowed in reply. "I am honoured to speak with you, Queen Amidala. Your offer sounds most intriguing."

"I have brought the representatives of the organisations here so we may all reach the best possible agreement," Padmé replied. "Perhaps you could begin by telling us where you feel the aid will be the most beneficial."

"As you know, your Highness, the one thing which our system lacks the most is an abundance of water. The heat from the double suns virtually renders supplies inadequate to accommodate a growing population. Added to this is the stubborn determination of the Hutts to control the run and inevitable ruin of the planets. Slavery is rife, for most merchants ignore the Republic's recent legislation in favour of a wider profit margin. Gambling is another predilection run riot amongst the populous, focusing on Sabacc cantinas and pod racing. Anything which cannot be bartered with or traded for, has yet to be discovered upon these sandy, seemingly desolate plains. If a suitable treaty is to be reached, your Highness, it must be closely monitored from both sides, else it will run the risk of further exploitation."

Padmé frowned as she realised that this endeavour might be harder to follow through that she had thought. Nevertheless, for the sake of her future husband and his mother, she would do so, whatever it took. "Will your people seek to exploit the treaty from a natural inclination, or from one born out of distrust in us?"

"A combination of both, I believe, your Highness," the representative replied. "It is a hive of the worst scum and villainy that belong to the galaxy, a lot of them refuse to believe that such elements do not exist on other worlds."

She nodded, though the words were no stranger to her ears, she remembered someone saying that to her once, and the recollection of that caused her to ask another question, one which had not occurred to her before. "What about the Jedi, do they respect them?"

"More than most, your Highness, but only in person. The Hutts and many others are resistant to their suggestion techniques, too used to being regarded by others as easily prone manipulation of credits and inferior intelligence. However I do believe that the vast majority of the slaves and smugglers hold a certain respect for the Order."

"Would it beneficial then if I asked for a Jedi Negotiator to assist us in forming this treaty of aid with the Outer Rim?" Padmé asked.

"Perhaps." The representative's voice was laced with a strong dose of scepticism, as though he did not believe that the young woman he was talking to had access to the Order.

But then he had not been with her, or in a position to learn of the actions of two such members of that Order, who had rescued her and assisted her in liberating her system from the Trade Federation's deadly blockade. Yet, even as Padmé considered the proposal, she doubted and wondered if the Jedi Council would be so willing to send another member of their Order to aid her without seeking permission of the Senate first.

There was no official law requiring permission, it was just an accepted protocol bound in decades of tradition. She remembered discovering that when her former Senator had decided to 'clarify' as he called it, the tradition, turning it into a requirement. The discord between the office of the Chancellor and the Order originated from that moment, she realised, and hope rose within her that the Council would indeed grant her request to keep the Senate uninformed until the deal was all but a treaty made.

"I am uncertain, if you are aware of the recent blockade upon my system by the Trade Federation," she now uttered.

"No, I was not," the representative replied, frowning slightly, as though he half suspected that she was to now back out of her charitable offerings.

"While the Senate continued to debate concerning the legality of the actions taken by the Trade Federation, Chancellor Valorum was kind enough to send two Jedi to my aid," Padmé informed him. "With their help I was able to forge an alliance with the Gungans to free my system from the blockade. This would not have happened without the independent assistance, free of the Senate, which the Order was most willing to lend. After I have spoken to the other systems within the Outer Rim, I intend to speak with the Jedi Council and see if they would be willing to assist once more, free from the Senate's purview. Would you and your fellow colleagues be amenable to my doing so?"

The representative appeared taken aback by her offer, even more so than he had been when she first proposed to supply the charity of her system. For some minutes he sat silent, carefully evaluating all that she had said, before he answered her query. "I believe we would, Your Highness."

It was no surprise, when she sat in her council chamber alone, her court dismissed, having delivered her proposal to all the representatives of the Outer Rim systems, that she received the same answer and request for a member of the Jedi Order to oversee their negotiations. While a disregard for the laws of the Senate was openly practised here, it seemed that a healthy respect for the Jedi still existed. However, it had left her with the possibility that these negotiations could all turn out to be for naught, if the Order refused to send someone.

Nervously she put request through her planet's communications to the Temple on Coruscant, to speak with a member of the Council. To her surprise it was Master Yoda who answered her. The Grand Jedi of the Order listened quietly to her request, and without putting the need to debate the matter with the Council first, promised to send her a Jedi Negotiator to aid her in quest. He would not name who he would send, which was customary until the Chancellor's propaganda campaign during the Clone wars put end to such anonymity, but who they sent did not matter to her. The first part of her plan to free the Skywalkers was in place. Now all that remained was to see the rest of it through until their freedom had been obtained.
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