Title: "Beloved"
Written by: Shawn
Chapter 3 in the "Heart and Soul" series. (3/5)
This follows "Shadows of Winter"
Part (2/3)


Summary: Padmé's quest to find Anakin begins...

Rated: M

Category: Heavy Angst/Romance/ Drama/Grief
Pairing: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker. Another slight, one-sided
attraction/admirati on/interest. Not slash.

Story Warning: Graphic Violence, Angst

Timeline: Obviously, knowledge of Star Wars: Episode 1 and 2 is
needed. You must also read the other "Heart and Soul" chapters before
this one. "The Light and the Dark" and "Shadows of Winter." This
story takes place six months after SoW.

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm owns everything.

Email: Dayshawn1974@ gmail.com

Authors Notes 1: In this universe the Clone Wars will last three and
a half years. It's commonly known that Anakin and Padmé were
separated for five months before Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anakin
were dealing with the Outer Rim Sieges. This story picks up two years
and four months after Star Wars: Episode 2.

Authors Notes 2: If some of you are concerned about the Pairing notes
above, I ask you to trust me and the story.

Authors Notes 3: Dormé, Padmé's handmaiden/bodyguar d and best friend
in this story knows of her marriage to Anakin. Obi-Wan only suspects
more is going on than he knows but elects not to pry.

Authors Notes 4: The official Star Wars database provided many of the
details for this story, though some things are my original creations.

Extra Special Thanks: Anne, my Jedi Master of good grammar and all
around help. She's the best. Seriously.


~~~~~~

"Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight."
~ Rossiter Worthington Raymond

~~~~~~


The mere sight of Anakin's blaster-scorched Jedi fighter anchored
secretly in the private alcove beneath her apartment's official
docking platform sent Padmé's heart racing. The relieved exhale she
enjoyed was as welcome as a beautiful morning sunrise. She imagined
her husband's growing enthusiasm upon breaking Coruscant's
atmosphere, that daring smile of his beaming as he approached their
home while flying as fast as he could. Did he even stop by the Jedi
Temple or just radio in that he was needed elsewhere? What excuse did
he use on Obi-Wan for his absence? Did the highly perceptive Jedi
Master graze his beard while listening to his former Padawan's story?

Padmé found that she didn't even care. Not in the least. Anakin was
home, and that was all that mattered.

Ever thankful that the bickering Senators from Toola and Sullust
finally reached an agreement, her grand reward for having managed to
not fall asleep during their lengthy fiasco of a negotiations session
was at hand. The glorious expression the Senator wore wasn't
something she could hide even if she tried, her fingers tapping
impatiently in her lap. Her Anakin was home again. That simple fact
renewed her spirit and gave
life to her soul. Once more he'd returned to her from the dreaded
war.

She silently thanked the Force for that blessed gift.

Sparing a knowing grin for Dormé in the back of her personal
starship, Padmé waited until Captain Typho engaged the landing gear
before rising to her feet. Data-pad in hand, she offered, "Dormé, I
bid you goodnight."

Wearing a Sith's smirk, she replied, "Not as good a night as you're
going to have."

Never mind her best friend's naughty teasing, Padmé's luminous smile
said it all. "Behave."

Dormé made a waving motion with her hand, shooing her off the
ship. "I wouldn't dare say that to you tonight."

"Indeed." Wasting not another second, Padmé said a polite goodnight
to Captain Typho and then quickly exited her starship, racing across
the landing platform to the veranda, and then inside her apartment.
Behind her gusts of wind blew as her starship lifted and flew off
into the distant night skyline of Galactic City, taking Dormé home.

While entering her own, Padmé shut the doors to her veranda, and then
made her way to the wall-mounted refrigeration unit in the kitchen
area. She opened it, happily noting the two bottles of Correllian
white wine chilling in an ice bucket. The cooks had prepared, upon
her instruction, a magnificent feast for dinner. A number of warming
containers were spread out over her curving counter top, each
containing some of their favorite foods. One of them had been
recently opened as a piece of frosted Bresk cake was missing. It
didn't even look like the thief, no doubt a Jedi, even used a knife
to cut it. The part missing looked to be torn away by hand. She
couldn't help the amused laugher that bubbled out of her at the
sight. "My Ani and his sweet tooth."

Upon lifting her gaze she found R-2 was settled into his droid
recharging station in his personal alcove. C-3PO was powered down in
the corner of the room, the sight of which made her smile as she was
sure upon Anakin's arrival the droid talked nonstop to his maker
until he had enough and shut him off for the evening. That was one
less interruption in her estimation.

Moving deeper into the apartment past the center water fountain,
Padmé recognized Anakin's dark Jedi robe lying over the back of one
of the couches in the living room. Why oh why did such a simple
domestic sight as that, one she was sure was repeated in many
households at the end of the day, charm her so? Perhaps because she
was often denied such small pleasures as complaining about her
husband's blatant disregard for order and putting things in their
proper place. He just didn't care.

She would teach him, as her mother told her once all good men
required such training. In time...

But not tonight.

Tonight was about taking what was hers.

Padmé calmly walked into her bedroom and found her beloved husband
laying face down on her bed, fast asleep.

He still had his boots on, yet another thing she'd have to have words
with him about. Again, not tonight. He was home from the war, safe
and sound where he belonged. There would be no complaining about
anything on the night of his return. She intended them to sensuously
drown in each other and let the galaxy fade away outside their
apartment.

Nothing else mattered now that they were reunited.

Padmé stared at his peacefully slumbering form, her heart overflowing
with love for him. The war could not take his life. His life did not
belong to him. Nor the Jedi Order. He belonged to her alone; she
thought possessively. And when the war was over she'd decided that
they would leave all of this behind. Not simply run away and
disappear but walk away with their heads held high. There was no sin
in marrying the man you loved and wanting to spend the rest of your
life with him. If the Queen of Naboo and the Jedi Council had an
opinion it would fall on deaf ears, dismissed as easily as a gentle
gust of wind.

They'd earned the life that they wanted. And no one would ever make
them feel guilty for taking it.

Padmé was very independently wealthy, and they could easily start
over on another world, any world, without ever having to hide no
matter what the HoloNet press said.

At least they'd be together.

"Ani?" Padmé softly called out, awaiting his slow roll over where he
would grace her with the most handsome expression, and then raise off
that bed to claim her in his arms. Alas, he didn't move. Not a
muscle. "You must be exhausted, love."

Walking to the bed, she sat down on the edge and placed her hand over
his shoulder, giving him a gentle nudge. "Your Angel has missed you,"
she whispered, allowing that tiny bit of possessiveness he loved so
dearly to fall into her words. Still nothing. She shook her head, not
surprised in the least he would toy with her upon his return. He'd
done it many times in the past. His utter enjoyment of teasing her
was yet another of his bad habits she hoped to break someday. "The
more you prolong these juvenile games of yours the longer it will be
before you see me in and out of this sexy little thing I bought just
for you."

Still no response.

Her expression frowned as worry swelled in her belly. "Ani, stop it
right now. This is not funny." She shook him again... harder. He was
motionless. Her heart began pounding in her chest. "Ani..."

When she managed to turn him over she gasped loudly, her hand coming
to her mouth in horror. Blood darkened all across the front of his
tunic and smeared over his throat. There was no rise and fall to his
chest. He looked far too pale, and when she touched his brow he felt
cold. Deathly cold. She shook him harder, chanting, "No... Ani!
Please wake up!! PLEASE!!"

Reality crushed her heart into nothingness.

He was dead.

Anakin was dead.

Gone.

Torn from her.

"Nooooooo!"


******

******

"The Avenger"
Curcean-class starship
Padmé's private quarters
Fast approaching the Republic Blockade near the Outer Rim Territories
Three and a half standard hours later



Padmé awoke suddenly with a harsh cry ripped from the pit of her
lungs. She was trembling, her clothing damp with sweat. Her hand
brushed over her forehead while her heart beat wildly inside her
chest. "It wasn't real," she quietly repeated over and over to
herself. "It wasn't real."

Her mantra until this nightmare was over.

Blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the small room she
slept in, Padmé tried to compose herself, but failed when she thought
of the agonizing news of Anakin's death. Horrible grief yet again
swept over her in hot waves, causing her to sob in her hands. Her
tears seemed endless as the suffering she'd endure without him by her
side. A dream... it was only a dream she swore to herself. Anakin was
alive, and she was going to save him. She had too. After a moment she
was able to calm down, mindful of the foreboding task ahead.

No matter her dark dreams, Anakin was alive. Somehow through their
Force-connection he reached across the stars to ask for her help, and
by the Force she was going to bring him home alive or die trying.

She sat up on the small bed, looking to the wall-mounted time
readout. Three standard hours had passed since they left Coruscant.
The trip to the Outer Rim world of Er'Kit, even in Hyperspace was
going to take a while so she begrudgingly took some time to rest.
Dormé all but ordered her to. She had meant to gain a modest amount
of sleep, but mental exhaustion had taken over her to a degree she
hadn't expected. The moment her head hit the pillow she was gone.

No matter. What she had to do next, she needed to do alone anyway.
And if Obi-Wan sensed her intent... well, she was long past caring.

Padmé slowly shut her eyes, centering her thoughts, focusing on the
Force the way Anakin had privately taught her. Though she would never
be a Jedi, there was a natural familiarity she shared with the Force
that neither could explain nor define. Whether it was due to her
connection with her husband or not, she called upon it now.

Breathing deeply with a clear mind, she sought Anakin with such
intensity her head began aching. It felt as if her spirit became one
with the universe. Her very soul centered on her husband... seeking
him through the limitless boundaries of the Force... calling out to
him. "Ani, please..."

"... angel..."

The voice was barely audible, but it was there. Her heart soared in
reply.

There were no fast-moving images this time or a barrage of powerful
emotions. But every fiber of Padmé's being knew his voice. Anakin
sounded so very weak, but he was still alive. Somehow, he was still
alive. She set her will upon him. "Live," she focused on that thought
alone. That he had to fight with all his vaunted power because she
was coming for him. And nothing... no one... not the Force itself was
going to stand in her way.

Padmé's eyes opened suddenly; her heart beating a primal drum. The
time was now. Summoning all her courage she got out of bed. The
Senator wouldn't be an asset on this mission, so she left her clothes
behind. Slipping into a black jumpsuit, reminiscent of the white
attire she wore while a prisoner on Geonosis, she holstered twin
blasters, and then a dark cloak to hide her identity. Inside a hidden
pocket in the cloak was the light saber Anakin had given her for
their anniversary. She pulled her thick, curly hair back in a simple
braid. On the floor by her feet sat a transparisteel case containing
one million unmarked credits. In the back of the ship was a brand
new, technologically advanced Bacta tank and a plethora of emergency
medical supplies.

'When' they found Anakin they would be prepared. For now, Padmé
focused on getting to him.

Space pirate clans, slavers, and bounty hunters were known to operate
in the area of Er'Kit. They were violent criminals who held no
respect for the Galactic Republic. Thankfully, they didn't hold any
love for the Separatist movement either. Padmé made sure she came
prepared with plenty of credits and blasters. She'd use either one
without a moment's hesitation to save Anakin's life. And if she had
to kill...

She would kill.

Moving out of her room and down the short, cramped corridor of the
medium-sized starship, Padmé reached the cockpit. Dormé saw her and
quickly vacated the co-pilot's chair next to Obi-Wan, allowing Padmé
to take it. Both Dormé and Obi-Wan had already changed clothes, now
dressed like refuges in unremarkable brown clothing. Their cover for
the mission.

Padmé strapped herself in, and then began familiarizing herself with
the Curcean-class flight controls. She hadn't noticed until just now
that they'd dropped out of hyperspace already. "How close are we to
the Republic Blockade?"

Obi-Wan noted the radar array, specifically the two large blips
closing in fast. "We're coming up on it now, milady. There are two
Republic Cruisers, the 'Valkyrie' and the 'Raven' enforcing the
blockade. No doubt with a squadron of fighters patrolling the area."
Sparing a curious glance her way, the Jedi Master had to ask, "Do I
want to know how you were able to obtain a Class-9 code clearance
when even Master Yoda doesn't possess one?"

Padmé's serious expression didn't falter. "No. You don't."

Brandishing something of a small grin, his respect for the Senator's
resourcefulness was unending. She was every bit a gladiator intent on
defeating any obstacle in her path. Her absolute devotion to Anakin,
while appreciated, carried a greater weight of which he intended to
not dwell on for as long as he could.

Nonetheless, she was remarkable in his eyes.

"There they are," Obi-Wan pointed out as several Republic fighters
appeared in the distance and then set a high-speed course straight at
them. There was no doubt they'd been picked up on the fighter's radar
systems. The massive Republic cruisers entered the fray next, as the
fighters began circling their starship. "Admiral Senova can be a bit
trigger happy for my tastes. Let's hope he's in a good mood today,"
he quipped wearing his trademark grin. "I'm shutting down the
hyperspace engines, powering down our weapons, and switching off our
deflector shields."

Padmé agreed. "Their sensors will pick up on that. We don't want to
appear hostile."

"We're being hailed." Obi-Wan allowed the transmission signal through.

"THIS IS ADMIRAL SENOVA OF THE REPUBLIC CRUISER VALKERIE. BY THE
ORDER OF THE SUPREME CHANCELLOR OF THE REPUBLIC THIS BLOACKADE
RESTRICTS ACCESS TO THE SECTION OF THE OUTER RIM YOU APPEAR ON COURSE
FOR. YOU HAVE ENTERED AN UNAUTHORIZED AREA OF SPACE. TURN AROUND AND
LEAVE OR YOU WILL BE TAKEN BY FORCE."

Padmé swallowed deeply, and then spoke. "Admiral Senova, my name is
Narkana of the starship 'Avenger'. I am traveling with my two
companions on urgent business of the Supreme Chancellor. I am
transmitting my clearance code now." A nod to Obi-Wan made it so.
They all waited breathlessly, with Padmé silently praying Palpatine
hadn't led her on.

"This is beyond nerve wrecking," Dormé whispered in Padmé's ear, her
hands resting on the back of the chair.

"STARSHIP AVENGER, YOUR CODE CLEARANCE CHECKS OUT. I WOULD WARN YOU
OF THE PIRATE CLANS KNOWN TO BE OPERATING IN THE AREA. YOU ARE
ENTERING HOSTILE, UNGOVERNED SPACE. THERE ARE NO REPUBLIC FORCES
THERE WHO WILL COME TO YOUR AID SHOULD YOU RUN INTO TROUBLE. YOU HAVE
BEEN WARNED."

"Duly noted," Padmé replied, exhaling a deeply held breath. Palpatine
hadn't sold her out. She'd worry about the inevitable price she'd
have to pay for his help later. "Admiral Senova, may we proceed?"

"PROCEED WITH CAUTION. YES."

Padmé looked to Obi-Wan, who immediately swung their starship at a
sharp angle, swiftly weaving between the massive Republic Cruisers
and into the lawlessness of the Outer Rim territories.

With the navi-computer' s course to Er'Kit set, the Jedi Master sensed
Padmé's intense worry, dread, and her unwavering
determination. "Milady?"

"Padmé, Ben," she politely corrected him. "We are old friends after
all. You've known me since I was fourteen. I knew you when you were
still a padawan. You've saved my life on more than one occasion, and
I've saved yours. We've been stranded in a Tattoine desert together;
we liberated my home planet together; you jumped out of a one-hundred-
story window to chase an assassin who was after me. Don't you think
twelve years is enough time to move beyond formalities and onto first
names?" she smiled good naturedly at him.

Grazing his beard with his hand, Obi-Wan smiled back and almost felt
guilty to not have acknowledged the history between them. "Padmé, I
have the utmost faith that you would never lie about the vision you
spoke of, but I must attach some sense of plausibility to it. To that
end I think I may, and I stress may, have a theory of what might have
happened to Anakin."

Dying for any shred of hope, Padmé listened intently. "Any theory at
this point would be helpful."

Looking to Dormé and Padmé, Obi-Wan explained, "I must preface this
by saying my theory is at best a wild hunch. Alas, it is all that I
could imagine could have happened."

"We trust your keen mind, Master Kenobi," Dormé interjected. "And we
are desperate."

The Jedi Master nodded and then set the starship on autopilot. "The
Separatists created hyperspace rings that charge with booster energy
before hurtling a vessel that doesn't possess hyper drive
capabilities across the galaxy. During my investigation I discovered
that the hyperspace ring where the battle took place had been used
prior to its destruction. We found multiple hyperspace signatures,
some that were small enough to be from a Jedi fighter. Droid ships
are very similar in size. Since we do not posses all the details of
Anakin's encounter with the attack force, I can only speculate that
he indeed used the ring, or was blasted into it. I had R4 plot every
possible route he could have taken, but so far we've found no trace
of his ship outside of the debris we collected."

This was where Obi-Wan knew he was reaching for answers, but had
little else to go on. "It is my theory that during the fight the
hyperspace ring was damaged and knocked off its original holding
position. Somehow Anakin's fighter entered it at the moment it
overloaded. The immense blast might have hurtled his starship farther
across the galaxy than we projected. There are cases I've looked into
where hyperspace rings malfunctioned by sending starships longer
distances than they were ever intended to go." Sensing Padmé's
growing hope, he felt the need to respectfully temper it. "I must
caution that a great number of factors would have to all fall into
place for that theory to be even remotely plausible. I myself find it
unlikely, but it's the best theory I could come up with."

"Anakin's mere existence is a mystery unto itself," Padmé noted, her
brown eyes facing the vast openness of space before her. "The
impossible becomes plausible where he is concerned. Rest assured he
reached out to me, and whatever the circumstances of how he arrived
wherever he is, I will find him. Failure is not an option."

Padmé Amidala possessed a Jedi's dedication to virtue, justice, and
loyalty. No wonder Anakin was so taken by her. Obi-Wan understood her
appeal. "Okay, let's go over the facts as we have them. Jedi fighters
are equipped with the most advanced emergency beacon systems in the
known Republic. No sign of Anakin's was ever picked up. That, in
addition to the portions of his ship we found are evidence that his
fighter was in grave condition."

"So finding his ship won't be easy at all," Dormé concluded. "What do
we know about the moon itself?"

Padmé brought up a blue holographic layout of Er'Kit and its
moons. "Er'Kit's desert climate is similar to Tattoine. Thankfully,
we don't need to go there. Its twin moons are on opposite sides of
the planet. My vision revealed the red one as being where we would
find Anakin," she pointed out. "That moon is a quarter the size of
Naboo, so we're going to have to sensor sweep it close to the surface
with our long-range scanners, as well as visually look for Anakin's
ship. It's going to take time."

She continued, "There are reports of pirate clans, Hutt-loyal bounty
hunters, and Thalassian intergalactic slavers operating outposts on
the moon. There's no doubt they'd pose a great deal of trouble to us.
And there's a chance any of them could have already found Anakin,
which would only complicate matters."

Padmé's unwavering belief that Anakin was alive wasn't something
Dormé wanted to take away from her. She knew the Senator needed to
hold tight to her hope. Alas, the evidence in her opinion painted the
most grim of pictures. In her heart of hearts she prayed that at
least they would be able to recover his body so that he could have a
hero's burial... and then his wife could grieve and somehow, someday,
move on. "Then let's not waste another moment."

"Best speed to the red moon of Er'Kit," Obi-Wan announced before
resuming manual flight control. He mentally centered and calmed
himself, yet again reaching out with the Force to seek any trace of
his Jedi
brother. Again he found nothing. Not so much as the slightest tremor
in the Force where Anakin was concerned. The Chosen One was far too
powerful to, and they were to close for Ben to feel nothing at all.
He'd sensed the deaths of other Jedi friends of his in the past, but
none shared the bond he did with Anakin. So why couldn't he sense
anything now? Yet another mystery he set out to solve.

"There it is," Padmé declared as the massive burnt-orange desert
world of Er'Kit came into view. It looked more of a dead rock than
Tattoine itself, if that were possible. As expected, a great number
of old bulk cruisers, rusted freighters, rigged starships, and
smuggling vessels bearing pirate insignias came into view. Some
hovered above the world, while others descended down upon it. She
could almost smell the filth of their treachery. She deplored slavers
long before she ever met her husband, and after hearing some of his
dark tales she was even more repulsed by them. "I'm engaging the
cloaking device now. Keep us just below the repulser traffic lanes."

While bursting above the planet, Obi-Wan pointed out the small gray
moon as they fast approached it. "Our sensors can't detect anything
down there. No life forms, settlements, structures, or starship
energy signatures. Of course I'm sure the criminal element employ
cloaking devices as well."

"Hang on, Anakin," Padmé whispered to herself, but was sure Ben and
Dormé heard her. She was long past caring the implications this
mission would have her on career or the secret of her marriage. She
wanted her husband back, and no sacrifice was too great to reach that
end.

The Avenger cleared the upper expanse of Er'Kit in a blazing rush as
it maneuvered below the multi-lanes of heavy starship traffic,
straying as far from sight as possible. Gazing through the cockpit's
clear hub, Padmé considered that her first reaction upon entering
this system was almost hypocritical when she thought of the
widespread corruption in the Galactic Senate these days. Were space
pirates, bounty hunters, smugglers, or even the Hutt clans any worse
than Palpatine? If she were honest, probably not. At least the
lawlessness of the Outer Rim was up front and in your face. No one
pretended to be something they weren't. Shady dealings were done out
in the open. Criminal activities weren't just expected, they were
accepted as business as usual. And in some ways... alot of ways, the
Outer Rim territories were better governed by having no government at
all.

Perhaps Anakin was right all along, Padmé wondered with a heavy
heart. No matter what they did, no matter their personal sacrifices
or the performance of their duties the galaxy wasn't going to change.
She swore right then and there WHEN she found him alive the life they
lived would be an afterthought. She would not waste another day
without him by her side.

Her heart began racing the moment the robust red moon of Er'Kit came
into view. There was definitely activity going on down there. She
recognized Obi-Wan's worry intensify when they began their descent to
the moon past a growing number of pirate starships bearing numerous
insignias denoting their respective clans. Hundreds of lights, ion
space canons, and Correlian radar dishes were settled around a
massive base of operations that could easily be seen from orbit. It
seemed to be hidden underground on the moon's surface, complete with
an advanced docking facility. "Is that the symbol of the Black Claw
Marauders?"

Obi-Wan slowly grazed his chin, nodding. "Unfortunately, yes. It
appears the pirate clans are not as unorganized as Republic
intelligence believes. I've noted several different clans since we
arrived with the Black Claw Marauders being the worst of their kind.
This is not good."

Suddenly a powerful tremor roared over their ship, nearly knocking
Dormé off her feet. She managed to catch her balance on the back of
Padmé's chair before another devastating rumble shook the entire
vessel.

"Are they firing on us? I thought we were cloaked?" Dormé asked.

"No, worse," Padmé offered as her brows knitted together with
worry. "A tractor beam is locked on to us. They must have a way to
pick up on ships that use cloaking devices. We're being drawn down to
their base."

Obi-Wan turned to Padmé. "I don't suppose you have a Plan B?"


******

******

"Welcome to Vostus Spaceport, strangers," a hovering, one-eyed Cycian
protocol droid greeted in a heavily digitized voice. Three
unauthorized visitors to the facility calmly walked down their
starship's short landing ramp toward him. The droid's internal sensor
array detected all three were armed, not that he expected any
different from those who frequented this area of space. Thankfully
for the droid, ten very large and intimidating Morgukai bodyguards
stood at attention behind him with their blasters trained on the
intruders. "I sincerely hope the next few moments will not end in
bloodshed. I detest having my metal plating cleaned all the time."

"Since you have detained my vessel I assume introductions are in
order," Padmé began with her dark hood covering most of her face. Her
cloak felt heavier after the 'additions' she added before exiting the
ship. She just hoped they wouldn't be needed. For now the Senatorial
formalities of the way she normally spoke had to be forgotten. "My
name is Narkana, and these two are my devoted servants. Doth, my
bodyguard," her hand ventured in Obi-Wan's general direction, "And
Solesk, my pilot." Dormé bowed respectfully. "We're passing through
the Outer Rim territories in search of smuggling opportunities. Word
has it this spaceport would be a good place to start."

The droid quickly scanned the outer hull of their starship. "Your
vessel bears no identifying insignias, humanoid. Are you affiliated
with an organization or clan?"

Padmé shook her head, mindful of the numerous hostile alien races
watching this little exchange. "If we were we wouldn't be seeking
work."

The red-eyed droid closed the distance between them, halting only
when the female leader's hand brushed over the blaster on her
hip. "The Outer Rim doesn't see many advanced starships such as
yours. It's clean and smooth... belongs in the Republic territories
with the pretty people. The locals here would strip it bare and
auction the parts off for scrap metal." The droid's voice dipped
quietly. "Then they'd auction off you."

"If anyone goes near my starship you're going to need a whole lot of
body bags, droid."

Lifting its slender arms defensively, the droid slowly backed
away. "Rest assured we keep them well stocked here, humanoid."

Taking in her surroundings, Padmé felt her skin crawling in this
wretched place. Rebuilt, restructured, rusted over, and repugnant.
The massive space port smelled of grime, oil, and filth. The
unmistakable sounds of Correllian blow torches, hydraulic lifting
gears, ion-power drills, and other machinery could be heard in every
corner of this place. No less than thirty heavily-modified starships
were being outfitted in individual alcoves by every manner of
astromech droid she knew existed. Insignia's representing the Black
Claw Marauders, Black Sun, the Hutt Clans, and various other
organized crime factions and bounty hunters detailed just how
dangerous this place was.

Not to mention the various criminal elements present were all armed.
Padmé recognized four high-profile criminals wanted by Galactic
Republic authorities for various crimes. Knowing that she wasn't here
for them, she quickly brushed that discomfort aside. Her goal was her
husband and nothing else. "Who are you, and what do I need to do to
get my ship out of here?"

The droid's red-eye carefully monitored each of the strangers, noting
no bionics inside to their bodies. They were fragile humanoids at
best. "I am Moiq, a humble servant droid to my master, Empress
Sesar." The droid gave something of a gentleman's bow amidst the
smoky, dimly lit surroundings of the colossal hanger bay. "Our
infamous facility is a safe haven of sorts for those who conduct all
manner of business in the Outer Rim. Smugglers, pirates, bounty
hunters, slavers, blaster runners, and exotic drug dealers are all
welcome here... for a price. You'll find that every single ship at
this spaceport has paid a license fee to my Empress to dock here for
repairs... or whatever else they might need." The droid spun
sideways, extending its slim, grey robotic arm ahead towards a broad,
winding corridor. "For the fee of twenty-five thousand credits you
may register here and have access to most of the station. In
addition, you will be guaranteed safe passage at any time you require
it. Even if a bounty were on your head it could not be collected
here."

"And if I refuse?"

"You can die where you stand." The droid's head lifted ever so much
as the Morgukai behind it aimed their weapons at the trio. "Like the
several hundred others who refused to pay over the last three
standard years. Ours is a secret society here. You're either a part
of it, or your life is extinguished. The choice is yours."

Padmé thought things through. If this place not only outfitted and
repaired damaged starships, more than likely there was a medical
station for the wounded somewhere. If Anakin were found he'd be
there, a prize this Empress Sesar would no doubt take great care of.
The Hero Without Fear would be worth a fortune to whomever offered
him alive.

The choice was made. Padmé calmly lifted her right hand. Dormé
produced a red satchel from inside her cloak, handing it over. "We'll
pay and then take our leave."

"Just as soon as you are registered your vessel will be released to
you once more," the droid added before its head swiveled completely
around, the blue-green hue of its small Phalon engines igniting as it
led them away. "Follow me."

Though feeling a bit out of place in a passive role to start, Obi-Wan
had done as Padmé asked, Force-sensing their surroundings while
letting her do all the talking. He wasn't able to find Anakin, but
felt waves of anxiety, paranoia, and stress around them through the
Force. Typical feelings for the criminal element he'd learned over
the years. Nonetheless, his thoughts returned to his Jedi brother.
Anakin was far too powerful in the Force for him to be nearby without
feeling his presence.

Yet again he quietly grieved for Padmé's loss as he suspected this
mission would not have a good outcome. At least as a last tribute to
his fallen best friend he would see Padmé safely back to Coruscant.

No matter what.

Minus his traditional Jedi robe, the worn, dark, hooded outfit he
wore appeared every bit the struggling refugee he sought to portray
as they followed the droid toward its master. The spaceports rugged,
hollowed-out interior seemed built on one basic level, with many
interconnecting tunnels. As if being outnumbered in a very hostile
environment wasn't bad enough, the leathery bronze-skinned Morgukai
soldiers were known to be particulary resistant to the Force.
Thankfully there were very few among them that were female, so he
hoped Empress Sesar wasn't one of them.

Minding his silence, Obi-Wan found himself almost approving of this
facility. The hanger itself was nearly the size of the one at the
Jedi Temple, and though a bit rough around the edges, seemed well
kept and more than capable of handling heavy starship traffic. He was
certain some of the most clever starship design minds in the galaxy
were present here. Smugglers always had the best outfitted ships.
They knew what to add, what was dead weight, and held no love for the
vanity of outside visuals.

He allowed himself a small grin that Anakin would have absolutely
loved this place.

Padmé walked alongside the hovering droid through a wide hallway
towards the inner section of the base. The Morgukai soldiers followed
close behind. "Tell me about the registration process?"

Moiq's head swiveled to face her. "You will meet with Empress Sesar,
explain why you are here and how you found us. Then you will pay the
fee and have your starship and your identities recorded in our
registry. This facility is a neutral ground for all. No one collects
bounties here. No one steals from another here. No one fights. All
angry disputes are be addressed outside this base. Here, we are all
one big intergalactic criminal family. Except if Empress Sesar is
angered. Then we are a not so happy family. And the body bags we
spoke of will be needed."

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy," Obi-
Wan declared his assessment and then was halted by the droid.

"Why thank you, sir. We do our best." Swiveling its head once more,
the droid carried on, leading them towards a long red-carpeted
staircase.

The group ascended the stairs and then all stepped aside when a tall,
angry-looking Utapaun rudely marched past them without uttering a
word. He was followed closely by several weary-looking, canine-
humanoid Nelvaanian's wearing slave-chokers around their necks.
Padmé's fist clenched at the sight of those accursed devices. Used by
illegal slavers all over the galaxy, the chokers dampened ones
ability to speak, coordination, and will power. In addition, each
carried a small explosive device that could be detonated anytime the
master wished.

What was worse, two among the seven were young girls. Padmé knew all
to well the fate of young female slaves in the Outer Rim. They were
often sold into forced prostitution.

Grimacing himself, Obi-Wan held his peace as well, gently touching
Dormé's arm as she had stopped to scowl at the slaver. They had to
keep up appearances no matter how distasteful the people around
them were. This was the Outer Rim territories. Ethics and morals were
an afterthought here. Only profits mattered.

Moiq led the trio down one last droid-crowded hall toward a large
meeting room at the end of the corridor. Twin ceiling-high Durasteel
doors slid apart upon their approach. "Your excellency, Empress
Sesar," the droid acknowledged with a bow as all eyes were drawn to
incredibly beautiful Twi'lek female seated behind a large Draka
marble desk. An absolutely stunning view of Er'Kit was visible in the
curved transparisteel glass that made up the entire back wall. The
black office walls here adorned with beautiful, antique Ryloth
paintings, offering a particularly unique decor. "We have new
visitors to your spaceport who are seeking to register, milady."

Tracing a well-manicured red nail over the smooth top of her
expensive desk, Empress Sesar favored the new comers with an
expression as deadly as a Bothan carving knife to the back. She stood
slowly, her lovely features nearly as humanoid as the strangers,
although her bluish skin pigment and the shapely prehensile tentacles
that grew from the base of a Twi'leks skull easily distinguished her.
Tall and thin as most Twi'lek females were, she wore a form-fitting
white Faras gown that hugged her sensual curves. The long, jeweled
blade holstered on her hip was evidence enough that her attractive
appeal wasn't to be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness. "Welcome
to Vostus Spaceport, my friends. I look forward to doing business
with you. And I promise that a more secured, opportunistic facility
you won't find anywhere else in the Outer Rim territories. "

Padmé wasted no time approaching the Empress's desk, never mind the
Morgukai's weapons trained on her. She tossed the red satchel Dormé
handed her earlier on the desk top. "Twenty-five thousand credits, as
we were told was the price of registering at your spaceport."

"Hello to you, too. And it's not that easy, dear," Empress Sesar
noted with the makings of a cold smile lifting her ruby lips. "You
can't just show up here unannounced in a starship rarely ever seen in
the Outer Rim and expect me to simply look the other way. The
security of this spaceport requires me to be certain of each and
every member's intentions. To that end I require answers from you and
your crew."

Padmé crossed her arms, pushing back her anger at the time they were
wasting. How a Twi'lek of all people, especially when the females of
their kind were often sold into slavery, would allow it to take place
before her very eyes disgusted her, she had to let it go. "You may
begin."

Being spoken to as if an order had been given wasn't something
Empress Sesar found to her liking. Not at all. Her eyes narrowed at
this tiny humanoid. "Give me your names, intentions, and where you're
from? And be mindful that I can have you killed with but a single
word. Trust that I welcome the truth."

Detailing their back story, Padmé laid out a tale of adventure as
they'd stolen this brand new starship from a wealthy resident of
Coruscant and were now seeking fortune and fame in the Outer Rim
territories. She painted a picture of being a bored wife of a
politically- connected man deeded into great wealth. A man she killed
not that long ago when she found out about his infidelity and that he
secretly possessed tastes of the same-sex variety. She needed so much
more out of life than the mundane world he'd shown her... and now she
was having an elicit affair with her very capable bodyguard, Doth.

Blinking suddenly, Obi-Wan swallowed hard when that part of the story
was revealed.

"The Avenger is as good a mid-sized starship as there is in the
galaxy. I'd be happy to share its schematics with you as an added
bonus if we can speed the registration process along, Excellency,"
Padmé concluded, humbling her voice as she recognized the Empress
seemed to need that sort of thing.

Upon locking the spaceport's tractor beam on their ship, Empress
Sesar noted they weren't carrying anything of particular value on
their ship. Typical blaster-firearms and medical Bacta. Nothing out
of the ordinary for a smuggling vessel. Still, she had a certain
feeling about this woman. She was more than she seemed and her story,
while plausible, could just as easily be a lie. Perhaps a little test
would reveal her true
nature. "Care to give me one good reason why I shouldn't simply seize
your pretty ship for myself, confiscate your credits, and kill you?"

Padmé's right arm lifted, brushing aside the interior of her cloak,
revealing the several silver/gold orbs attached to the fabric. "I do
believe these Thermal Detonators convey my stance far better than I
could say with words."

Smiling widely, Empress Sesar nodded respectfully. Her hand lifted,
signaling her Morgukai gaurds to relax. "And to think I didn't like
you at first." She calmly gathered the red satchel on her desk and
began counting the credits, noting there were equal to what was
required. Moments later she produced three new data pads and sat them
on her desk. "Each of you must lay your palms on the data pad's
surface. They will record your prints and DNA markers. I shall have a
member of my staff Piro-graft twin insignia's bearing this spaceports
crest on your starship. Afterwards you will be free to come and go as
you please."

"Thank you, Empress," Padmé bowed, followed by Obi-Wan and Dormé.
Each of them rested their hands over the data pads. "How long should
this process take?"

Empress Sesar raised a brow. "You seem in a rush to leave?"

Padmé addressed her. "I have a lead on a smuggling job I'd like to
look into as soon as possible. Credits to make and all. I'm sure you
understand."

Empress Sesar gave a nod, still watching the trio carefully. "Thirty
standard minutes should suffice. In the meantime feel free to tour
the facility. There's multi-race fried meat bar and restaurant here,
as well as a starship alteration shop area should you require
anything modified."

"My wrist has been giving me issues lately. Would you by any chance
have a med-droid on staff?" Padmé asked.

"Down the stairs and to your right, all the way down the halls,"
Empress Sesar offered. "You'll find a very capable medical station on
this spaceport."

Her desire to question the Empress any further was tempered by not
wanting to push things to far, or alert her that they might be
searching for someone. Padmé played it cool, bowing once more. "We
shall take our leave, your Excellency. Thank you."

Moiq hovered beside his Empress as the trio quietly exited the
room. "They are searching for something, your Excellency. Of that I
am certain. My initial read-outs of their starship show that it has
been outfitted with some of the very best scanning systems and radar
array's this side of the Republic Military."

"Indeed," Empress Sesar thoughtfully considered. "Their ship lacks
the heavy armaments and the weaponry to enter the smugglers world.
Still, most who visit my spaceport are lying about something. Their
reasons for being here matter little to me. I have their credits and
have Viro-tagged their vessel. If they play by the rules I don't care
what lies they hold dear. But if they cross me then death awaits
them."


******

As soon as they reached the bottom of the long staircase out of
earshot from the Morgukai guards, Padmé walked in-line with Dormé.
Her voice carried just loud enough for her former handmaiden to
hear. "Please give me some good news?"

"The listening device is behind a glow lamp on the far left wall of
Empress Sesar's office," Dormé noted in a quiet tone while adjusting
her hidden ear-piece. "The Empress doesn't trust us, but then again,
I can tell she doesn't trust anyone. Our time here needs to be short.
She's already suspicious."

Wired and restless, Padmé gave a knowing nod as the trio calmly made
their way through the interconnected corridors of the spaceport,
heading toward the medical station. "The device is small enough to go
undetected for now. We'll be long gone before her next security
sweep. Just keep monitoring every conversation in there."

"Done."

"Go back to our ship, and as soon as Sesar's staff is done grafting
the insignia get on aboard and prep it for an immediate launch."
Dormé marched off without another word, playing her role of the
faithful servant masterfully. With that bit of business concluded,
Padmé turned her attention Obi-Wan. "Were you able to learn anything?"

The Jedi Master sincerely wished he had better news to report. "I
sensed no dire worries over our unexpected arrival. There was nothing
in particular the Empress was attempting to hide," he
explained. "I've encountered many like her in my travels. Her sole
concern lies with the credit-earning business of this space station.
She maintains a certain note of paranoia that probably keeps her keen
senses alert. Our meeting was business as usual. No more, no less."

"And still nothing from Anakin through the Force?" Padmé hated the
tremble in her voice that accompanied her query.

"I'm sorry... no."

They walked in silence for a moment. Exhaling deeply, Padmé knew that
the dark dread threatening to devour her wouldn't provide the inner
strength she needed to persevere through this. Anakin was depending
on her to keep her wits about her so that she could save his life. He
needed her at her very best. And despite the overwhelming sorrow and
worry clenching tight around her heart, she ignored her pain. She had
to for her husband's sake.

But deep down, Padmé was well aware that Dormé and Obi-Wan felt she
needed to do this for her own personal closure more than they
genuinely believed Anakin was still alive. Their eyes, no matter
their courage in accompanying her to the Outer Rim, betrayed them.
Nonetheless, she wasn't going to fail her husband.

Not now and not ever!

Brushing her emotions aside, Padmé was pleased to find the medical
station not far up ahead at the end of the hall. The thick, ceiling-
high Durasteel doors suddenly whizzed open, revealing a wiry-thin
Sologan who politely excused herself between them. She led a limping
male Wookie down the corridor, speaking to it in a caring tone that
touched Padmé considering her surroundings. You could truly kind a
sliver of kindness anywhere if you looked hard enough.

For a moon-settled smugglers spaceport in the Outer Rim territories,
Obi-Wan and Padmé were astonished by the technical marvel of this
immense med-station. Two dozen wall-mounted scanners were attended to
by several 2-1B med-droids and just as many of FX-7 analysis droids.
Computer terminals were set in an oval-shape near the center of the
room. What drew their most intense attention were the row of tall
Bacta life-support shell tanks aligning the back wall.

Three of which were currently occupied.

"Excuse me, miss?" a three-eyed Malastare began to nervously shout
from behind its desk when the cloaked humanoid female sprinted
towards the Bacta tanks. "I am Administrator Cesk. If you do not
identify yourself immediately I will call securi..."

"You don't need to contact security."

The Malastarian blinked as another cloaked humanoid approached his
desk, peering into his eyes. He felt greatly compelled to repeat, "I
don't need to contact security."

"You will inform your med-droid staff that we are allowed full access
to your station and computer files. We should be ignored and will not
interfere with their work."

The man standing before the administrator seemed so friendly and
reassuring. His mind found favor with the request just made of him.
He quickly did as he was told, announcing the humanoids were free to
do whatever they wished. "My staff is at your disposal."

Obi-Wan nodded respectfully. "Sir, I do feel you work too hard and
are in need of a long break. Unless a dire emergency is brought to
your attention, how about you go and enjoy a very quiet tour of the
entire space station. And please do enjoy yourself. Take your time."

The administrator thought it over and seemed to agree. "You're quiet
right. I could use a walk to stretch my legs." As calmly as if he'd
thought of doing so himself, he rose from his desk and exited the med-
station without so much as saying another word.

With one hurdle out of the way, Obi-Wan began walking to the back of
the room. "Padmé?"

"He's not here." She'd been hopeful despite her Force-vision that
Anakin had been found and attended to. She was already planning their
escape route in her head, but he wasn't here. Fighting off a fresh
wave of grief, she pressed on. "You take the computer terminal over
there, and I'll work on this one. Check for any recent humanoid
patients admitted or released."

"I'm on it." Obi-Wan sat down at the terminal and began using the
system. The mainframe wasn't very technologically advanced, but he
was sure it well served the space station's needs. For the next
twenty-standard minutes they sorted through a great number of patient
examination files. No humanoids had ventured to this med-station in
over forty standard days.

"Dammit!"

Her frustrated swear surprised him, but Obi-Wan didn't require access
to the Force to tell Padmé was dying inside with worry and pain. He
could do nothing to comfort her, nor had he any time to grieve
himself. Still he would see her through this for Anakin's
sake. "Milady, we must be on our way. Anakin is not on this
spaceport."

Standing from the desk, Padmé shut her eyes to mentally center
herself and then pressed on. She had no other choice. Anakin needed
her. Period. End of story. He would not be failed until she drew her
dying breath. And not a second before. "We need to start sweeping
this moon with the Avenger's scanning systems."

Padmé blazed past Obi-Wan, who quickly fell in step with her as they
made their way toward the exit. "Always on the move."

Suddenly stopping dead in her tracks, Padmé caught sight of six well-
armed Morgukai guards marching towards the med-station through a
clear transparisteel opening facing the hall. "They're force
resistant, aren't they?"

"For the most part, yes," Obi-Wan replied, his hand gracing the hilt
of his lightsaber in preparation for battle should the guards attempt
to arrest them. "With the administrator gone and us here alone, I
doubt we will be able to talk our way out of this. Their suspicions
will greatly delay our departure."

The Morgukai were closing in, heading their way with focused intent.
Padmé felt her breath catch as a spontaneous plan formed in her mind.
Simple, but effective. She found herself with no time to think it
over. "Ben, my apologies in advance."

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Galactic Republic general known for
his unshakable poise and inability to be shocked no matter the
situation. That was until now. The most uncharacteristic shriek of
sorts barely escaped his lips the moment Padmé's arms slid round his
neck, her soft mouth closing over his in a deeply passionate kiss
that saw her clinging tightly to him. The entrance the doors whizzed
open, revealing the group of startled Morgukai guards.

And for the briefest, most un-Jedi like moment of his entire life,
Obi-Wan gave into a seconds worth of Padmé's tenderness.. . not since
Siri had he ached for a woman.

Padmé anxiously broke away, smiling widely as she turned to the
Morgukai while still in Obi-Wan's arms. Her bashful expression would
hopefully aid her cause. "My apologies. My bodyguard and I paid a
small gift of sorts to the administrator for a small bit of privacy."

The lead guard tilted his head curiously, and then grunted a
dismissive noise. "There are rooms for rent here for that sort of
thing, humanoid. Vacate the premises immediately, or I will be forced
to arrest you. And if you run into the administrator, be sure to tell
him we will have words later."

"Yes, of course," Padmé noted quickly, moving from Obi-Wan to the
door with him following closely behind. Once they were in the hall
striding away she graced him with a grin of sorts. "It was all that I
could think to do at the time. I apologize if I embarrassed you."

"Oh no. I applaud your resourcefulness, milady." By the Force itself,
Obi-Wan had to shake his head to free his very male thoughts enough
to speak. No wonder Anakin found her irresistible. He swallowed hard
and hoped she didn't notice while they progressed down the
corridor. "Rest assured that experience was far from embarrassing. "

Had her mind been focused anywhere other than Anakin, Padmé might of
noted the modest compliment in what he said. "Once we're off this
spaceport we'll begin searching the..." Her head turned sharply when
she recognized a(n) anguished cry for help. The sound caught her
attention from behind a partially open holding-vault down a small
side tunnel. Turning to Obi-Wan who nodded, they quietly approached
the origin of the person in need.

That's when they heard the unmistakable sound of a fist striking
someone. A small body collided into the floor. The crying appeared to
belong to a child.

Padmé quickly shoved the vault door open. wasting no time when a
child appeared to be in danger. She found that same Utapaoun slaver
standing over one of the young female Nelvaanian slaves. The slaver
had the front of his clothing undone while the child cowered on the
floor, scurrying away from him. "You disgusting filth. Get away from
her this instant!"

"This is none of your business, humanoid." The Utapaun defiantly
snarled at her unexpected presence. "My possessions belong to me. And
this little one will learn to please her master."

Noting the child appeared no older than her beloved when she first
met him years ago, anger burned like a dragon's fire in Padmé's chest
until a blind rage came over her so fast she had no time to control
it. Her emotions flared as hot as Coruscant's sun. The dire dread of
Anakin's death, the fear of not being able to save him, her revulsion
at the mere idea of slavery, and the rage she felt towards all who
sought to take Anakin from her triggered the single most
uncharacteristic moment of her entire life.

She never felt the cool metal of her blaster fit into the palm of her
hand.

Nor did she think to grip it tightly, lifting the weapon.

It fired before she even realized she'd pulled the trigger.

Her lips parted in a half-gasp, half-prayer as the Bothan crumbled to
the floor from a grave wound to his chest. His body trembled and
shook before fading into a peaceful stillness. Her mind could barely
comprehend what just took place.

"I..." Padmé could barely breathe, and then found herself moving on
autopilot when Obi-Wan quickly ushered her inside the vault, Force-
sensed the corridor for anyone who might of have heard or saw
anything, and then hit the wall switch to shut the door. She went to
help the young girl, who minus a bruise coloring the left side of her
face appeared to be unharmed.

The rest of the Nelvaanian slaves huddled against the back wall,
shaken and terrified. Obi-Wan bent down to check on the Bothan. "He's
dead."

"Remove their collars," softly pled Padmé while her brown eyes
remained on the lifeless Bothan slaver she just killed in cold blood.
The mere fact that he was dead by her hand barely registered at the
moment. His bleeding form would be a sight she knew she'd never
forget. Nonetheless, Anakin still needed her.

Using the Force, Obi-Wan's extended right hand, causing the slave-
chokers around the Nelvaanian's necks to rapidly beep several times,
and then unlock. As if awakening from a drowsy daze, they quickly
removed those accursed devices, throwing them to the ground with such
force most of them broke on impact. "Please take a moment to breathe
deeply. Those devices wreck havoc on the nervous system and
equilibrium. "

"I... I am Vexor," the eldest Nelvaanian spoke up while holding onto
his brother. "We were captured by that Utapaun slime on Tattoine
weeks ago."

"You're free now," Padmé was pleased to report, finding sheer relief
upon the faces of the Nelvaanian's. "But I feel if you stay on this
space station any longer that might not be the case. Do any of you
know how to pilot a starship?"

The eldest Nelvaanian nodded, his strength returning now that the
slave-chocker was gone and his family's freedom was at hand. "I can.
And I will."

"Then waste no time finding the Bothan's ship. Get off of this
spaceport and never look back." Padmé removed a small black satchel
from inside her cloak. She looked inside, counting, and then handed
the bag to the former slave. "That's seven thousand credits. I wish I
could give you more." She watched tears glisten the Nelvaanian's
eyes, and then accepted a sincere hug from the freed slave.

"What is your name so that we may never forget our deliverer?"

"My name is Narkana. And all that I ask is you that someday you help
someone in dire need."

"We will. I swear it!" Vexor swore, his spirit renewed. Before
leaving they all thanked Obi-Wan and then sought the spaceports
landing bay for the Bothan's starship. "May the Force be with you."

Wasting no time, Padmé and Obi-Wan carefully drug the Bothan's dead
body behind a row of barrels, and then edged back towards the door.
Padmé snuck a glance outside, noting that the Nelvaanian's were
thankfully no where in sight. "Do you sense anything?"

Reaching out with the Force, Obi-Wan shook his head. "Nothing outside
the usual. That's not good to begin with."

"Then let's go." Padmé drew her cloak over her head once more while
parting a sea of new alien arrivals to the spaceport hanger on her
way back to the Avenger. She desperately called out to Anakin through
their connection with the Force, and found only the distant, faint
beat of a weakening heart. Her thoughts focused for him to hang on.
She was close and coming for him. He had to hang on because she
needed him.

And she loved him endlessly.

Striding with the most serious purpose past a slew of astromech
droids, their starship finally in sight, Padmé and Obi-Wan were soon
forced to a full stop when they were suddenly surrounded by a horde
of Morgukai guards, their weapons trained on them.

Empress Sesar strode from behind the scenes, walking right up to the
duo. "You killed someone on my space station. My security camera's
caught it all. Did you really think you could deceive me?"

"That Bothan trash was about to rape a child," Padmé asserted in the
Empress's face. "Surely of all races, a Twi'lek has a heart when it
comes to such a violent crime."

"I don't judge how anyone makes their credits, humanoid. Do not use
my race to garner sympathy. Slaving is as legal as anything else
here." The Empress ventured closer to Padmé, her eyes
narrowed. "Murder isn't. And for that crime, you'll be executed."

Padmé heard her threat like some distant whisper in the wind, but
only thought of Anakin. Her beloved husband who had given his health,
years of sacrifice, and all that he had for this accursed war. Time
and time again he was called upon to do the impossible, and never
failed the Republic. Never failed the people who so believed in him.
And all that he had ever wanted was to be with her. To live his life
free of lies and deceit. To love her and make her happy. And now he
needed his Angel more than he ever had before.

Senator Amidala wasn't here tonight.

Padmé Nabberie was still on Coruscant.

Mrs. Skywalker understood how to handle this so called Empress.
Understood that she only observed one form of dialogue. Inside her
cloak, her small hand tightly gripped the lightsaber Anakin gave her
for their wedding anniversary. "If you don't get out of my way right
now I swear by the Force there won't be enough of you left to scrape
off this floor."

******

The End
Next: "The Finale"

The fate of Anakin Skywalker