A stunned silence hung over the Senate chambers at the Emperor's last declaration. The non-human members remained quiet, uncertain how to respond as they looked around at the large number of Stormtroopers standing at the room's exits, all under the direction of the red-cloaked and helmeted Imperial Guards that appeared beside each detachment.
"I appreciate your cooperation in this. Indeed, I have appointed an Imperial Governor, a Grand Moff, to preside over each sector of the galaxy. Those systems with human inhabitants will have direct access to the Grand Moff for their area. Non-humans will ally with a human government, who will act as representative for them." He paused, then threw the next bomb at them "Additionally, the Empire requires a larger Army since the war to ensure order. All member systems are to provide current lists of young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five for conscription. Current Navy and Army personnel will be utilized to train them. The Mandalorian threat has ended, but the Empire must never be at the mercy of such ruthlessness again.
Unless it's mine and mine alone.
Palpatine leaned forward, a chilly smile on his lips as he searched the huge room with his Force senses. Good... He had them terrified. All he had to do now was wait for one of the non-human fools to object or do something imprudent so he could make an example of how unwise crossing the Emperor could prove. He sensed the indignation of some of the humans, which amused him to no end. Just like the Jedi, they believed all creatures created equal. Hah! Like those disgusting Gungans on his own home world of Naboo. Trying to make themselves out as more than they were, they constantly got in the way and provided nothing in the larger scheme of things.
He nodded to the Captain of his guard, then rose. "This session is closed. You may all return to your homes to make arrangements for the new Governors' visits to each of the systems in their jurisdiction within the month. Decide among yourselves who will represent the non-human worlds and give the names to those I have chosen when they arrive."
Without another glance back, he swept from the chamber in a swirl of black robes, his scarlet garbed guard surrounding him as he returned to his quarters. Behind him, he could feel the explosion of fear and anger. It fed him, sustained him and he barely repressed a laugh of satisfaction. How he loved being Emperor! Not one of the Sith in the past had dared be so bold or had gotten so far. All that remained to do was finish the Jedi... And for that, he needed young Skywalker.
Best that he make a visit to Alderaan and look in on the convalescing Queen, expressing his appropriate sorrow at the couple's loss and extending any aide he might provide. Once she recovered enough, he must be certain to allow Skywalker time to get her with child again. Palpatine made a disgusted moue at the thought of those two mating like a couple of wild cats. Once Skywalker turned, Palpatine fully intended to show him other ways of pleasure. Women just did nothing for him, though perhaps he might take a concubine or two just to see if he could get one with child himself. After all, he always needed an extra hand to play... just in case.
With the arrangements for his trip finalized, Palpatine boarded his Imperial shuttle and settled back for the journey to Alderaan. His mind never rested as he contemplated the steps he needed to take to ensure the future he planned. Others might think he slept, but beneath the closed eyelids, his mind raced with possibilities.
Amidala stretched, enjoying the feel of Ani's warmth next to her in chill predawn air. Three weeks had passed since she'd lost the child and through his considerate care, she'd regained most of her strength. The only thing that chafed her remained the restriction that Esme' and the Alderaanian doctors agreed upon. At least six weeks must pass before she and Ani resumed relations. Neither one of them enjoyed the stricture, but she understood the healers only had her best interests at heart.
"Awake already, love?" Ani murmured sleepily.
"Go back to sleep, Ani. It's early yet. I just need to use the fresher." She rose to do just that, feeling his gaze follow her into the other room. Three more weeks. Gods, she wasn't certain if either of them could stand it much longer. The pull to join physically seemed almost painful, yet she wouldn't deny either of them the comfort of lying close at night. Too much had happened and it almost seemed Ani feared she'd be gone in the morning if they didn't sleep together. Still... With a sigh, she ran a brush through her hair and stared at her reflection, wondering if he could see her own desire.
He rose and joined her, putting his arms around her waist and pulling her tight against his body. She settled into his embrace, reluctantly admitting how much she wanted him as well... right now. His chin rested on top of her head and she met his gaze in the mirror with a rueful smile.
"You know we're not supposed to, Ani. The doctors said it's too soon. I have to heal more."
"I know. But I'm certain there's other ways to... You know." He blushed and she giggled in wonder. Married nearly two years and still he got embarrassed about the physical side of their marriage. Not that he didn't give her all she could wish for in passion... In fact, she enjoyed that touch of innocence in him.
"Of course, love." She reached behind her and placed her hands on his thighs. He groaned and she could feel him trembling.
"Come back to bed, Ani. Surely they won't object if I help out my husband just a little," she told him, moving against him as he ran his hands over her. Oh, if she could just remember to behave herself, she might be able to keep things under control.
She turned in his arms to kiss him and soon any thought of self-control fled beneath his passion. He scooped her up into his arms and in three long strides, crossed the room to lay her on the bed. With infinite tenderness, he knelt beside the bed and began to minister to her needs. Under his gentle hands, she wept, moaned, and cried out in completion.
"Oh, Ani... That was beautiful," she whispered, her eyes closed in repletion. With a concerted effort, she pulled herself from the lassitude that threatened to overwhelm her. He still needed her, but he'd taken care of her yet again without thought for himself. A fact she fully intended to remedy. She scooted over and patted the spot she'd just vacated. He took a deep breath and she sensed he struggled with himself.
He lost the battle and flung himself onto the bed beside her. His hands and lips seemed everywhere and soon she forgot all that he'd done before as he built the need again. Yet he did not complete the act, merely continued to excite them both until he pulled her atop him to lay with her head on his chest, her legs straddling his. Beneath her ear, his heart pounded and his breathing rasped with effort.
"You know what to do, Am. Put me out of my misery," he begged her.
She pressed her lips to his chest, then nodded and moved down his body. As determined to give him the same relief he had given her, she proceeded to work her magic until he shuddered and stiffened beneath her. Her ministrations hadn't given her relief from what he'd begun, but she derived a great deal of pleasure from providing him ease. Though she refused to say a thing to him about her own condition, he must have sensed her frustrated state. He pulled her up to lie beside him, then once again brought her fulfillment.
In the pale early morning light, they entwined their arms and legs and snuggled as close as humanly possible. Neither felt completely satisfied, yet they had at least dulled the edge of their desire a bit. As the birds awoke and began to sing, the two lovers drifted back to sleep, unaware they would soon have a visitor.
Obi-Wan strode through the nearly deserted Temple halls, his footsteps echoing eerily. A deep sadness weighted his heart as he remembered how alive the place used to be. Memories of his childhood, his apprenticeship under Qui-Gon, his training of Anakin flashed through his mind. Gone, all gone. No longer would he see the wisdom of Ki-Adi-Mundi or the strength of spirit of Eeth Koth, the kindness of Adi Gallia or the perceptiveness of Depa Billapa. Almost unreal that they had fallen in the Clone Wars. A grim expression settled on his face as he thought of the many losses the Jedi and the Republic had seen.
He had stayed away from discussing Palpatine with Anakin, fearing to drive the young man even further away. After Amidala's miscarriage, Obi-Wan hadn't had the heart to order him to join him on the trip back to Coruscant. Still, he couldn't delay any longer. He must work with Yoda and Mace Windu to preserve what they could of the Jedi.
No guards stood at the Council chamber. In fact, a desolate air pervaded the entire Temple, somewhat stronger here where the Masters had gathered in better times. Obi-Wan took a deep breath and pushed through the doors.
"Ah, Obi-Wan! Glad it is we are to see you," Yoda greeted him.
"Where's Anakin?" Mace asked.
"I let him stay on Alderaan, Masters. His wife needs him and I... I didn't want to push him. He's still..." Obi-Wan hesitated, uncertain how to word it so it wouldn't sound so... bad.
"Told you, I did, Obi-Wan. Anakin has much anger... much fear. All those years ago a clouded future did I see for him. Now I fear this has come to pass." Yoda sighed, looking all of his nine hundred years.
"What did you tell him? Does he accept the fact that Emperor Palpatine is Sith?" Mace rose and paced, a thing Obi-Wan had never seen him do in all the years he'd known him.
"I tried, Masters, but he refuses to listen. The Emperor has made every effort to appear as a kind friend to him, not as the threat we know him to be." Obi-Wan massaged the bridge of his nose. "I ran across some disturbing information as I went through some of the captured Mandalorian files."
"Indeed, tell us what you discovered," Mace prompted.
"There are indications that Palpatine had ties to the Mandalorians... That, in fact, he might have been the one to encourage them to use clones to attack the Republic." He frowned and continued in a lowered voice.
"It seems he intends to destroy the Jedi. I found a reference to an order that specified when and where to find certain Jedi who were assigned to the Republic forces. I feel certain he told the Mandalorians to ambush and kill as many Jedi as they could."
"Disturbing this is indeed, Obi-Wan," Yoda agreed. "Time it is then." The tiny Master turned to Mace Windu. "Take what you can of our records to the place agreed upon. Our losses we can only mourn. Now hide, we must. Those who still live... Tell them to keep secret that they are Jedi. Once you have contacted them and safeguarded what knowledge you can, to a safe place yourself you must go, Mace. Of the Council, only you and I remain."
Mace nodded, then hurried from the chamber. Yoda remained silent and Obi-Wan wondered if he had been dismissed as well. He began to run places to hide through his mind, worrying if he should include Anakin in his plans.
"Tell him not where you decide to go, Obi-Wan. Save him you cannot at this point. Too powerful is the Emperor." With a sigh, Yoda closed his eyes. "Unless the future changes once again, you must find a place for Skywalker's children. Somewhere he will not think to look for them."
"But, Master, his wife just lost the child!" Obi-Wan protested.
"Hmph! Think you this I do not know? Soon she will carry not one, but two and from the Emperor and his apprentice you must hide them. Strong in the Force they will be... Stronger than their father in time. A mighty weapon would they prove in Palpatine's hands."
"Anakin hasn't gone to him yet, Master. Perhaps--"
"No! No time is there for this. The first steps down the path to the Dark Side has he taken. Soon he will follow the Emperor of his own will. Misguided he may be, but beyond our ability to turn he is at this time." Yoda rose and hobbled over to Obi-Wan. "Know you of someone to care for the children? Best it will be to separate them and keep as far away from each other as possible."
"I... I have a brother. He and I rarely speak since my parents died. I'll call him."
"Hmmm... Help you perhaps I could. His name you must give me and where to reach him. From a stranger, perhaps he will listen to such a request. Sense much sorrow in you that he rejects your Jedi training."
Obi-Wan bowed his head, ashamed he hadn't been able to shield his feelings from Yoda. "Yes, Master. His name's Owen Lars. Since the Wars he's settled on Tattooine, near Anchorhead. I suppose Anakin wouldn't think to look there for his own child."
Yoda gave a snort of laughter. "Devious you are, Obi-Wan. Go now, return to Alderaan. Your brother I will contact. Amidala you must speak to." He gave Obi-Wan a piercing look, one the young Knight recalled all too well from his previous experiences. "Come to Coruscant, Anakin will. Demand Knighthood again, he will. This I refuse to give him. Too impatient, too ready for the Dark Side is he. His destiny no longer lies with the Jedi. Go now, but of this, tell him not."
Obi-Wan bowed and turned to leave.
"Call you I will after young Skywalker has come and gone. Your help I will need to leave." Terrible misery shone from the ancient Master's eyes. "Abandoned, soon the Temple will be and the Jedi hunted as criminals. If hope there is to be in the future, survive you and I must. To Dagobah I will go once this is in motion. Now go. Prepare myself I must."
With a last nod of his head, Obi-Wan hurried back to his shuttle, pain and fear struggling to overcome his calm. He called on all his Jedi training to center himself before he met with Anakin once more. Knowing what he did, he wondered if he could even speak to his former Padawan without blurting out what Yoda had told him.
"My condolences, Queen Amidala," Palpatine told her with a slight bow to her. "I was most distressed to hear of your recent loss on top of our other troubles."
"Thank you, Senator. These have been most troubling times indeed." Amidala refused to call him Chancellor, let alone Emperor.
He kept his face neutral at his old title, remanding himself to patience. It wouldn't be long before she outlived her usefulness. Only a little while longer would he need to put up with her insubordinate attitude. If he could just speed her recovery and spur Skywalker to do his duty then it would be a matter of a year or so before he could make certain she met with an 'accident.'
"Rest assured, my dear. Any time you or your husband require assistance, you may feel free to call upon me." He extended his hand. She seemed reluctant to place hers within his grasp, but at last she laid her fingers in his palm. Quickly, he assessed her condition and sent along certain subliminal messages to her body with the quick touch.
Heal and become fertile.
With a reassuring squeeze, he released her, then gave her a warm smile.
"Don't fret, my dear. You're young. I'm certain given time you'll be able to have other children. Though I have none of my own, I empathize with your grief. Enjoy your husband's presence and concentrate on getting well," he told her in a solicitous tone. "Now, I fear I must return to Coruscant. As you know, much remains to be done to rebuild after the ravages of the war."
Amidala dipped her head in acknowledgment, studying him intently until he couldn't help wondering if she picked up on his intervention. Hmmm... He tightened his shields and took his leave. This would bear watching. He regretted not seeing Anakin, for he wished to see how his apprentice-to-be had fared recently. Though he could sense the young man's presence, he didn't wish to probe deeply for fear he would reveal too much, too soon.
No matter. If the Sith could wait two thousand years for this, he could afford to wait awhile longer himself.