nrgburst: (padmaiden)
[personal profile] nrgburst
Title: Collateral
Fandom: Star Wars
Characters: Padmé Amidala & her handmaidens, Jobal Naberrie, implied Anidala and F/F relationships
Rating/Warnings: G, none
Word Count: 2915
Summary: “This is my decoy, my protection, my loyal bodyguard.” ("We are brave, your highness.")




It’s a standard of office, and officially, they are simple handmaidens. Just as she is expected to showcase the prosperity of their planet with opulent dress, so must there be those employed to hold her train –and reduce the chances of successful assassination. Those with power draw the eye while servants are usually overlooked, and handmaidens (or footmen, though kings are historically rarer) serve both purposes beautifully.
They’re a peaceful planet now, but it was not always so. Even now there is lingering resentment from the Gungans, and the demand of the Trade Federation for their plasma has escalated.

Naboo is a Mid-Rim planet with an average amount of influence, while the Trade Federation has considerable resources, both economic and political. But surely the annexation of sovereign resources is something no system could witness and allow, lest they be next to be targeted.




Smaller fish must swim together when there are Colo Claw Fish in the deep, she reminds herself.




Still, she’s been studying Galactic Senate history and procedure. Her expertise is on domestic matters, and Senator Palpatine has been most helpful in instructing her on those things unspoken- quiet alliances; key politicians to sway. If they need to plead for Republic intervention, she intends to do so effectively.

Her people elected her to represent their interests. She will do so even if she’s facing the wrath and apathy of other star systems; the most alien audience she’s ever tried to move.

Padmé has been part of the legislative process for years, starting as an Apprentice Legislator, passing on constituent concerns and researching evidence and legal precedents. Then in the Legislative Youth program she contributed to legislative drafts and revisions before she ran and served as a Legislator herself, presenting and defending bills before the Royal Advisory Council and her fellow Legislators.

She campaigned for Queen –and won-- on the basis of that experience.

At first, she’d been appalled when she’d been informed that women who merely resemble her must be trained to act believably in her stead in situations of dire threat.

The ones selected had been studying her policies and how to speak in Legislator’s register since she announced her campaign. They needed to be able to perform believably from the first day of her administration.




She’d fervently hoped they would never have to step in.




But now negotiations have failed and intragalactic communications are jammed. And the fleet of Trade Federation blockade ships is sending down armies of droids.

It’s come to war. A war that can be legitimized if the aggressors can force her to sign a treaty.




Time to swim together.






 


They’ve adopted false names that resemble hers, to symbolize both their devotion and the submersion of their true identities while they serve. Rabé, Sabé, Saché, Yané, Eirtaé.

For the duration of her term, they are supposed to be easily interchangeable at need, a living shield. Her room is nestled amongst theirs in the most carefully guarded section of the Palace. They taste her food, and at least two always hover near, ostensibly to help with wardrobe malfunction or to be dispatched on personal errands, but also as stealth security.

They’ve been trained to spot suspicious behavior, and any one of them will take a blast meant for her without hesitation.

It's humbling that they have dedicated their lives so wholly to hers.

Rabé tilts her head when Padmé remarks upon it. “You represent the whole of Naboo. It is our honor to serve you while you serve all of us. I cannot draft laws and negotiate with diplomats, but I can do this small part.”

“And it’s only for a few years,” Yané adds, winking. “Plus there are perks. We get to eat as you do; go to all corners of the world; wear the regalia sometimes. A gel like me wouldna be dressed so fine otherwise, ceptin’ for her weddin’ day.”

Padmé blinks and grins, astonished at the accent. “You’re from the Swamp Country!?”

Yané winks but doesn’t reply. She can’t, not yet. Their identities will only be revealed upon death or after the end of her term, whichever comes first.




One thing Padmé quickly realizes: her own lack of expertise with weapons makes her stick out like a sore thumb among her handmaidens when they do their first emergency drill.

So she practices with blasters when they do.

Fair is fair. Imitation will have to go both ways.






 


“What think you, Padmé?” Sabé murmurs low. “We did not expect this intervention. This course of action was hastily decided.”

Padmé lowers her head humbly. “That’s true, your highness. But I agree with Governor Bibble, Captain Panaka, and these Jedi ambassadors. Of course, your safety is also paramount and this way, the Trade Federation cannot extract permission for this invasion under duress. I’m sure Senator Palpatine is already doing what he can to make the Senate aware of our plight, and the Chancellor himself sent ambassadors. With our Queen to lend gravity to the seriousness of this transgression, the Republic will surely come to our aid.”

Sabé exhales with relief. “I am glad you concur.”

Eirtaé’s brows knit and she gives a slight shake of her head before Sabé quickly smoothes her features and straightens confidently.

The Jedi have left for the cockpit but not all of the guards are aware of the swap—nor should they be. This ruse must hold until they reach the relative safety of Coruscant. Still, it heartens her that Sabé checked.

Power should never be wielded lightly.






 


“The Jedi may suspect,” Saché reports quietly when they retire to the privacy of the sleeping chamber, a small room with retractable pallets. “They regard Padmé most curiously during briefings despite her deference.”

She doesn’t elaborate, but she doesn’t have to. The make-up is not enough to throw off Captain Panaka either, who has the benefit of long experience with the Queen. He’s been careful to mask his expression and body language, but still occasionally slips.



“Then I will have to deter them,” Sabé says simply.


Still, Padmé can hardly believe how she goes about throwing off the scent.


“Padmé. Clean this droid up the best you can. It deserves our gratitude.”


She startles before she quickly goes to stand behind the droid.

Her first bemused thought is of her Nana telling her about Naboo’s history of dirty politicians. Their political system is designed to prevent this now, but she’ll probably be the first Queen in history to have literally filthy hands while in office.

Better than the other way, she sternly reminds herself.

That suppressed merriment in Sabé’s eyes makes it hard not to laugh, though.






 


Padmé’s relieved when her second term as Queen comes to close.

The inherent risk to her life –and by extension, the lives of her handmaidens-- had become almost abstract in the years after The Invasion, but she still appreciates the sacrifice they have given: the true nature of their years of service must remain secret.

It wasn’t all political observation, debates over optics and symbolism in wardrobe choices and dedicated threat analysis- they had their lighter moments too. How they still howled over Sabé sending her to clean R2, over some truly unmanageable ceremonial outfits (and the resulting diplomatic gaffes), and General Bink’s continued inability to see through stylized makeup. Eirtaé theorizes that Gungans may have better senses underwater, but they will never have the opportunity to test that now.

She’s glad. She’s looking forward to seeing them all free to move on in their real lives, although she’ll miss their company dearly. But they’ll be able to chat via holo, and the friendships they’ve built –-and the legacy of her administration-- will always remain. She’s still debating how to bid them farewell.


Ardra, Teaen, Roonima, Silje, Prish. Thank you for being with me every step of the way on this journey. I had not expected the depths of your service when I was first elected. I know now, I would never have survived without your friendship, steadfast protection, and support.


She’s looking forward to reclaiming her old name as well, to spending time with her family and Sola’s sweet little daughter. And she’ll be able to witness the birth of one niece, at least.




The fresh hope of new beginnings. For all of them.






 


It’s a surprise when her mother knocks while she’s unpacking. “Padmé? There’s a call from the Palace.”

Jobal Naberrie waits in the sitting room while Padmé uses the communication unit, but she looks up from her novel once Padmé emerges, looking pensive. “What was so important? It’s rare for a Queen to consult a former one, isn’t it?”

Padmé hesitates and lowers her eyes. “Senator Vancil has expressed a desire to retire. He says Coruscant is too frenetic for a man his age.”

That statement brings immediate consternation when her mother jumps to the correct conclusion. “The Galactic Senate? Oh, Padmé! You’re twenty-two now, already past the traditional age for politics! And you’ve given years in service already! I thought you wanted a life outside of all that. You’ve had hardly a chance to take a free breath.”

“But who else is as qualified for the position? I have experience with not only Chancellor Palpatine and petitioning the Republic, but also with the other heads of state in the Chommell sector,” she says reflectively.

“Surely one of the other planets can send a delegate for once! If we thought we never saw you before, how much worse will it be when you’re devoting yourself to the whole sector? You should take some time for yourself. ‘One cannot pour from an empty pitcher’,” Jobal quotes sternly.

“And ‘a mind that is stretched by experience cannot go back to its old dimensions’,” Padmé counters before sighing. She had never intended to become a career politician like the Governor; had wished to focus on making personal connections and starting her own family, but… “Just imagine connecting with these worlds as I have with so many places and people all over Naboo. Consider how much my unique experience could contribute to this role. How much more of a difference I can make as Senator Amidala instead of Padmé Naberrie. Queen Jamillia does not ask lightly.”

“You need real people in your life, Padmé. Relationships you can foster and build without fear of corruptive influence. You won’t even have your handmaidens to stave off loneliness. That can’t be healthy for you as a person.”

“I know, Mom. …I’ve asked her to give me a few days to reflect before I decide.”






 


Chancellor Palpatine contacts her next, beseeching her personally to serve as Senator.

She finds it impossible to refuse both of them, especially the Chancellor, who has selflessly dedicated his entire life to service. The people of Naboo had ardently wished for her to continue to serve, and she feels a certain relief that she can in this way: as Senator, she will have more freedom to travel than she had as Queen. It’s a new path, with incredible new challenges and opportunities.

Her personal goals can be deferred.

But she asks the Royal House to discreetly find her new handmaidens.

Senators do not dress as elaborately as Queens, but she can’t imagine going onward without those she can trust implicitly.




Her mother was right, too.






 


Coruscant is an amazing place for three young women from a “backwater Mid-Rim sector” to live.

Not just because of their work for the Galactic Senate, although it’s thrilling to play a crucial part in a system that keeps the Republic a cohesive, functioning whole.

The whole planet is a spectacle –a trillion residents under a sky that never sleeps and always the newest, latest everything, from music to fashion to tech. Padmé had been focused on Naboo’s fate on her first trip here, but now she can see it at leisure.

What really captures them are the markets and restaurants with beguiling smells and dishes, the shops teaming with people of all kinds trading goods and services of mind-boggling variety, like the galaxy in microcosm.

Exploring also provides a fun way to get to know each other: they all recognize the importance of healthy relationships when they have to live and work so closely together. Cordé and Dormé are both well educated and well traveled, far more worldly and experienced than her original handmaidens, but Padmé quickly discovers that they’re great fun, too.

“Is that all the fruit you could buy for a hundred credits? How do normal folk afford to have proper dessert here?” Padmé says, dismayed.

“I’m afraid the vendor was immune to my charms- these were apparently express shipped,” Dormé sighs regretfully. “But they have to be tasty- everybody else was buying them.”

“Well, the Index says this fruit is known for its juicy, intense flavor. It’s native to and currently in season on Scarif, which is in the Abrion Sector, and only occasionally toxic to humans,” Cordé reads off her electronic pad breezily.

That has them jerking their hands back out of the basket immediately, and Cordé studies their appalled faces for a moment before tilting her head back and laughing.

“So gullible! So serious! Sorry, sorry, they’re perfectly safe- you’re supposed to just peel the hairy skin off and eat it,” she giggles, demonstrating.

Padmé shakes her head, smiling. “You're a bit of a tease, aren’t you?”

“They say it takes one to know one,” Dormé remarks conversationally, neatly peeling the fruit, and her eyes brighten with suppressed laughter when Padmé’s eyes widen.

“...Did Ardra have a hand in hiring the two of you?” Padmé demands, cheeks flushing.

Cordé winks. “She said you need reminders to laugh sometimes.” Her eyes flutter shut after she takes a bite. “Oh, this is ambrosia! Eat, you two, eat! Or I’ll glut it all down!”

Padmé grins before she helps herself, feeling a warm rush of affection as if she was still in the cozy company of her steadfast handmaidens.

Officially, Cordé and Dormé hold the position of “Senatorial assistants”. But in a way, she supposes she is.






 

Padmé’s well aware of the political enemies she’s made. Her platform is a progressive one, and corporations have dim views on tax reform that curtails benefits to stockholders and cuts to military spending.

Still, it’s a shock when disagreement once again turns to threats of violence.

And then they strike a deadly blow.

According to Captain Typho, their security measures served their purpose, but Padmé can’t stop the upwelling of regret, the dogged feeling of bitter unfairness.

There are official notifications to make in the aftermath, but Padmé finds it hardest to contact Cordé’s- No, she reminds herself, Aerin’s family.

It’s different for security officers- that risk is intrinsic to the job. When she makes the call, they know. They’d braced and thought ahead and made arrangements.

Aerin’s parents and brother think she’s just an assistant to the Senator, answering emails, juggling her schedule and keeping her makeup fresh at big diplomatic galas.

This bad news will catch them completely unprepared.


She took a blast meant for me. I can’t even express how terribly sorry I am.



She's diligently clearing her inbox when good news catches her equally unprepared: Teaen and Silje have just welcomed their second child: a son, as yet unnamed.

Two of her former handmaidens, flourishing, unbound by duty and optics.




And she buries her face in her hands and weeps.






 


She asks Dormé to reside with the other staff, one floor down, soon after they return to Coruscant.

It takes her aback. “Did I perform poorly while you were away, Senator?”

Padmé smiles. “Of course not. This is not a demotion, but rather belated realization of my own dependence. I have now had weeks of dressing and feeding myself. …And I cannot bear the idea of losing another friend as collateral damage.”

Dormé sits up straight and proud. “My lady, you said yourself the Trade Federation has been exposed and had its assets frozen. They would be foolish to strike at you again. Besides, it is my duty and honor to assist you in any way, even if it risks my life.”

Padmé smiles ruefully. “That risk is one I cannot accept now. We have plenty of external security, and threats have been minimized. And we’ve seen that I am replaceable-”

Dormé scoffs. “If you had been here, the Army of the Republic-”

“-would have existed regardless. With war upon us, and so many Jedi dead, the Military Creation Act would have been revived despite its defeat. Principles are hard to hold to in the face of fear. And even I could see how much help those clone troops were to the Jedi on Geonosis. I just hope they will help end the war quickly so the Chancellor can lay down emergency power.”

Dormé nods, troubled. “Of course, my lady. I’ll see which apartments are available. Remember you can always call me if you need a friend to chat with.”

She smiles warmly and squeezes Dormé’s hands. “I’ll do that.”



She says nothing of her other reason. Much easier to keep a marriage secret without witnesses.

It’s not an ideal situation by any measure, but he can protect her at night, and he’s as immune to corruption as all Jedi.




This is all for the best. It has to be.




Cordé --Aerin-- may have died to prevent something that came to pass anyway, but her memory will keep her strong in this resolution.





Time to swim on my own.



 




 


A/N: There are quotes from McCallum, R. (producer); Lucas, G. (director) (1999) The Phantom Menace, United States: Twentieth Century Fox.




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