Coruscant. It was a planet unlike any other in the galaxy. On no part of this world would a traveler see grass, or trees, or free-roaming wildlife. The space around the planet was packed with incoming and outgoing ships. Every comm channel was jammed with scrambled and unreadable messages, each one trying to get to its destination, and all trying to get there at the same time. It was complete chaos.
Fetalony Mcloy simply deactivated the comm, having quickly grown impatient with the endless rambling. Guiding her ship through the traffic lanes, she let her mind focus on the task ahead of her.
Within the Republic, she wasn't a very well-known bounty hunter, for more than one reason. The main reason was that her territory was set deep in the Outer Rim, around star systems very few outsiders dared to enter. There, she was practically a celebrity, famed for her uncanny accuracy and deadly, discreet methods. She wasn't too fond of straying outside her boundaries. Fetalony would never have dreamed of coming anywhere near the Core Worlds had she not been told of the indescribably high bounty set on the head of a certain Senator. Even the most remote bounty hunter would jump at the chance to earn a pay of ten million credits.
She remembered again the message she had received a few days ago that had informed her of this job. She had traced it back to Geonosis, a planet even she wasn't familiar with. The man in the message, a Count of some sort, had promised her the rich reward in return for the death of Senator Amidala of Naboo. It had taken the Count a while to convince Fetalony that he could fork over the money, and once he did, she had reluctantly accepted the task without further question. Despite the money, the decision to accept the job had been difficult to make. Fetalony was beginning to grow weary of the life of a bounty hunter, and recently she had been finding it harder and harder not to feel pity for the people she killed. It was a trend rare among her kind.
Fetalony flexed her fingers. My kind, she thought, examining her hand. She let her eyes go over the paw-like shape of her hands, the calloused pads on her palm, and the mottled purple-green skin. Are there any others like me left in the galaxy?
That was the other reason why she wasn't well-known. Fetalony's particular species was scarce in number but legendary, for it resembled the ancient dragons of mythology-and had the ruthlessness and reputation to match. She saw her species as more humanoid than others did. However, not even she could discount her tapered snout, broad ear-fans, and flashing silver eyes. Nor could she ignore the fact that the two times she had stopped on her way to Coruscant to refuel and gather more information, she had almost been gutted by treasure-seekers who believed her unusual features indicated she had pearls or some other jewel inside her stomach.
Well, I didn't find pearls inside their stomachs, either.
She forced herself to turn on the comm again, sending Coruscant's traffic monitors her ship's identifications and cargo lists. They treated her ship like any other cargo freighter, simply telling her to stay on route, then leaving her alone. Fetalony followed the traffic down through the atmosphere, safely docking her ship in a small port in a heavily populated district of the vast city. Let the monitors examine my ship, she thought caustically. They'd find nothing more than what she had specified.
This mission was going to be different from any other, of that she was sure. Leaning back in her chair, she considered her options. The Count had told her of the two previous attempts made by Zam Wesell, one involving blowing up the Senator's ship, and the other involving Kouhuns. One of Fetalony's old tactics had been to use Kouhuns, which was a useless option now. The Jedi had sensed the Kouhuns, and would be wary of any more. She had picked up a few specimens of a new creature on one of her Outer Rim runs... would a Jedi be able to sense those?
She finally stood, walking through her ship toward her sleeping quarters. Opening a hidden panel in the floor, she lifted out a small tank and examined what was inside. Two beetles paced around, their long mandibles clicking angrily. They were dull-witted creatures, far simpler than Kouhuns, but their bites delivered something much more dangerous than toxic nerve venom.
She held in her hands two Vopmaks, bearers of a fast-working, incurable virus that killed within 24 hours of infection. The symptoms were similar to other, more common afflictions, and usually the difference was never discovered until the last minute. By then, it was too late for the victim. All Fetalony had to do was plant one on the Senator, then simply wait for the news that the Senator had perished...
... but how was she ever going to get that close?
Dorm? sighed, trying not to betray her fatigue as she watched the previously recorded debate session playing in the holo before her. Representative Binks was taking care of Senator Padm?'s duties, under the false claim that she had taken a few days respite in her quarters. By now, Padm? herself would be in hyperspace, and safely on her way to Naboo with her Jedi protector. Dorm? sat back, wondering what Padm? was doing. They had been friends since childhood, and the thought of harm befalling her best friend was enough to keep her edgy and overly stressed.
There was a soft beep, and the door to her right slid open. Typho, Padm?'s Captain of the Guards, had arrived, along with Representative Binks. Dorm? turned off the holo and stood up. Taking a deep, calming breath, she nodded her head courteously at the new arrivals.
"The vote has been delayed again," Captain Typho informed her on the current state of the Senate.
"Chancellor Palpatine won't be able to hold it off much longer," Dorm? said, shaking her head at the news. "With all these attempts on Senator Amidala's life, the others are starting to become quite concerned."
"Dissen bombad times," Jar Jar agreed, as he ambled over and sat down on the couch across from her. "Da Senate's gone all awacky."
Dorm? smiled in spite of herself. Always count on Jar Jar to sum up the galaxy's troubles in one sentence.
It soon became clear that Captain Typho was only staying long enough to deliver the news. After a moment, he nodded.
"I will report if I hear anything new," he said, dismissing himself.
Once Captain Typho was gone, Dorm? leaned forward and rested her forehead in her hands. She had only been playing this role for half a day. How in the world did Senator Padm? handle the stress? Oh, Padm?. I wish I knew your secret.
Dorm? was quick to remind herself that simply acting as Padm?'s decoy wasn't the only thing making her feel so tired. She hadn't been able to sleep since before the first assassination attempt. Four days without sleep was enough to make even the most steel-willed person fall apart.
Jar Jar seemed to notice how troubled she was, for he cleared his throat to get her attention.
"Perhaps wesa can takes a walk," he offered kindly. "Fresh airs mights be good for yousa; makin' yousa feelin' betta, I mean."
Dorm? looked up, noticing the sincere and concerned look on the Gungan's face. She had never before really understood why Senator Padm? was so fond of him, but now, she came to realize why. Jar Jar wasn't the strongest, bravest, or even the smartest member of his race, but he had a gentle soul and a kind nature. She glanced at the time, and finally nodded.
"Come back for me in two hours," she said. "I should be rested by then."
Jar Jar nodded, stood, and walked out. Dorm? watched him go, then stood and headed towards the bedchamber. She paused at the doorway, scanning the room for any sign of movement. It was hard to imagine that last night, two kouhuns had tried to kill Padm?. Making sure that nothing was out of the ordinary, she approached the bed, removing her heavy cloak and setting it aside. Resting back on the pillows, she tried to force herself to relax. She suddenly remembered the conversation she and Padm? had in this very room only a day ago.
They were both standing at the window, looking out over the traffic below. Padm? was still dressed in her Senatorial gown, her face ashen with the sadness and mourning that she was only now allowing herself to reveal. Cord?'s death had come as a terrible shock, both in timing and in the way it had been caused. Somewhere out there was a murderer, an assassin, someone who would go to great lengths to see the young Senator dead. Dorm? placed her hand on Padm?'s shoulder, trying to comfort her. For the first time since she could remember, she saw a tear slide down Padm?'s face.
'M'lady, is there something I can do?' she asked.
'Is this what my life has come to?' Padm? suddenly asked, ignoring Dorm?'s question. 'Has fate made me this way?'
Dorm? glanced away, confused at Padm?'s words.
'Cord? died in my arms,' Padm? continued, after nearly a minute of silence. 'She gave her life for me, and all I did to honor her was to leave her lying in the wreckage.'
'Cord? wouldn't have wanted you to stay, M'lady,' Dorm? replied. 'You were still in great danger.'
'But I didn't even allow myself a chance to mourn her,' Padm? said. 'An hour later, I was back in the Senate. Have I grown so cold that not even the death of a friend can affect me?'
'You haven't grown cold, M'lady,' Dorm? assured. 'You're just smarter than most. You know that grief can get in the way of doing what is right. You've made a strong argument today. I am positive that the other Senators will side with you.'
Padm? glanced at her, and finally smiled. Together, they silently watched as the sun slid down below the vast Coruscant cityscape, igniting the sky in flares of orange, yellow, and red. It was an amazing sight, one that couldn't be seen on any other planet except this one. It was a moment of peace that both needed, and Dorm? was sad to see it go with the setting of the sun.
The memory slowly faded, and Dorm? snapped awake. She hadn't even realized that she had closed her eyes. A dim, annoying buzz-like sound was coming from the other room, and irritably she glanced at the time. Two hours already? It must be Jar Jar. She slid out of bed with a tired sigh, straightening up her hair and slipping on her cloak before going back out into reality.
Fetalony growled, tightening the cowl of her hood for the fifth time in as many minutes. The fabric was irritating against her sensitive ear-fans, but she knew she had no choice but to wear it. As long as the ear-fans were hidden, she looked like any other long-nosed creature that happened to be ambling by. Nobody in the diner where she sat gave her a second glance. To her, the diner's owner looked far stranger than she. He was a massive four-armed Besalisk, wearing a white shirt a bit too small for his wide belly. He was using his arms to wipe the countertop near where she was sitting. He finally noticed her looking at him, and moved closer.
"I hope you don't mind me saying so, but this is the first time I've seen your type around here," he said, catching Fetalony by complete surprise. "I didn't think Draconians liked leaving their home systems."
Fetalony glanced around, making sure nobody heard the Besalisk's remarks, then narrowed her eyes at the very observant diner owner.
"I don't know who you are, or how you managed to figure out what I am, but if you speak a word about it, I will gut you alive." She turned away, but only for a moment. The diner owner didn't seem the least bit perturbed. "Draconians. Is that what the galaxy calls us now?"
"Hey, your kind looks like dragons," the Besalisk replied matter-of-factly. "The name's Dexter, and I wouldn't worry too much about anyone else recognizing you. I'm probably the only being around this part of Coruscant that can."
Fetalony studied Dexter for a moment, trying to decide if he was trustworthy. Finally, she sighed. She was far too curious about meeting someone who was familiar with her race to let the conversation drop now.
"I'm Fetalony," she finally said, then paused again when she saw Dexter smile. What else could he possibly know?
"Fetalony Mcloy. I should have recognized you," Dexter said. "You're pretty popular on the Outer Rim. Rumors say that you've never missed your mark."
"I don't like making mistakes," Fetalony replied flatly. How much longer will it be before I have to silence him?
"Not many bounty hunters do," Dexter agreed. "So, what fabulous treasure brought you out this far?"
Fetalony cast him a threatening glance, one that was meant to warn him that he was treading on dangerous territory. Dexter seemed to get the point rather quickly, for he raised his lower set of arms in a gesture of peace.
"Okay, okay," he said. "It is your business, after all." He went back to wiping the countertop, but not for very long. "Here's a piece of advice for you. If you want to remain unnoticed on this planet, I suggest you play the cripple. Nobody cares about them except thieves and other lowlifes, which is nothing you can't handle, I'm sure."
Fetalony considered this. What Dexter had said was true. Crippled and otherwise handicapped denizens of Coruscant, save for the very rich ones, were largely ignored, even in the high-class districts. After a long while, she glanced up, and flipped him a credit chip.
"Thanks," she said, realizing that Dexter had suddenly made her task seem a lot easier.
With a nod, Dexter pocketed the chip and went back to cleaning. Fetalony stood and headed out, stopping outside the diner entrance and looking around. The Senatorial district was a fair distance from here, but catching a taxi wouldn't be a problem. What she needed now was a fair disguise. She glanced at the hundreds of beings milling around. Sure enough, she spotted a humped creature hobbling along not far from where she was standing.
Good. That one will do nicely.
The creature had a severe limp, and was using an arm crutch to get around. Fetalony smiled wickedly, and moved to follow the unfortunate creature. It soon stopped at a traffic intersection, and Fetalony approached it. It was an old hag-like Human.
"May I help you, Ma'am?" Fetalony asked, mimicking a respectful tone.
"Thank you, Miss," the hag replied, sounding quite grateful.
Five minutes later, Fetalony walked out of a nearby alley, the arm crutch she had stolen from the hag now attached to her own left arm.
She didn't need it anymore, and it's a shame to throw such a useful item away.
She was making a good show of copying the hag's limping movements, and sure enough, nobody bothered her at all as she made her way to the nearest taxi stop. She flagged one down, and climbed in.
"The Senatorial district," she told the droid who was driving the vehicle.
"Are you planning on taking the tour?" the droid asked, its mechanical voice squeaking as it spoke.
"Yes," Fetalony lied, sitting back as the droid pulled the taxi into traffic.
She allowed the droid to babble, not really paying attention to it. Her focus was now on finding the Senator. The vopmaks were secured in a vial hidden on a strap on her right arm, and neither seemed very pleased to be in such a confined space. She only glanced at them, though. Any longer, and she'd risk the droid noticing. With nothing else to do but wait, she was forced to listen to the droid.
By the gods, why don't most droids come with silencers?
"Is someting wrongs?" Jar Jar asked suddenly, snapping Dorm? out of her reverie.
Dorm? glanced at him. They were standing in the elevator that would take them down to the main complex lobby, and for the most part, the trip had been silent. Jar Jar's question had almost caught her off-guard.
"I'm just worried about Senator Padm?," she admitted.
"Shesa'll be safe," Jar Jar assured. "Notings can happens on Naboo. Shesa wit Ani."
Dorm? considered this. She had heard stories about the young Jedi from all different sources. He was very well known back on Naboo. If it hadn't been for him, the Trade Federation would not have been defeated. However, she met him face-to-face for the first time only yesterday, and she had no real impression of his character.
Master Kenobi didn't seem to think he was ready to take on the task of protecting Padm? by himself, she thought. Does Master Kenobi see something in him the Jedi Council, and even Padm?, does not?
The elevator chimed, and the door before them slid open. Shaking away the distracting thoughts, Dorm? followed Jar Jar out into the corridor. Still, she couldn't ignore the tiny voice in the back of her mind that was telling her there was something about the young Jedi that couldn't be seen at first glance.
A half-hour after leaving the taxi, Fetalony was wandering through the massive domed structure that served as the center-point for most of the Senate apartment buildings. There were beings everywhere, ranging from groups of guided tourists to fully armed soldiers. She even spotted a few Senators walking about, giving speeches to the crowd and smiling for the news droids that flew about all over the place. Two were deep in an unscheduled debate over some new army proposal. She blended in with the crowd, her sharp eyes glancing at every being, making sure that if the young woman she had seen in the several holonet recordings collected over the past few days was anywhere nearby, she would not escape Fetalony's wary gaze.
True, the images in the recordings had not been of the best quality, and none of them had been taken at a close enough range to reveal any facial details, but the kind of outfits the Naboo aristocracy wore were brilliant enough to stand out in any type of crowd.
Despite her attentive search, however, Fetalony harbored extreme doubts she'd find the Senator walking around in such open surroundings. Two assassination attempts had revealed the danger in that.
If only I knew which of these buildings is the Senator's. She couldn't guess on it; that was clear, at least. There were seven buildings attached to this center structure. And even if she did manage to guess the right building, there were still countless floors and corridors to choose from. She had a one-in-seven plus chance of guessing correctly.
I do not like these odds.
She continued across the wide open lobby, looking for any clue she could use. Finally, she spotted what she wanted to see: three Naboo guards posted by the doorway to the tallest of the seven buildings. They seemed relaxed, and one was even conversing with someone who looked like a Senatorial aide. Fetalony crept a bit closer, trying to listen in on the conversation.
It's nothing but simple small talk. What use is that to me?
She moved away again, trying to think over this new dilemma. Fetalony had no choice but to admit that she had taken this challenge more than a little hastily. If she was going to get the Vopmaks close enough to the Senator to guarantee contact, she had to wait for the opportunity to come to her. In this case, she had no other option.
Fetalony really had no idea what happened in the next few moments. It was as if the few seconds between settling her weight on her arm crutch and suddenly finding herself on the ground hadn't even occurred. Someone had kicked the crutch out from under her. The fall hadn't hurt, but it had happened so suddenly that, for a moment, she was stunned. However, she quickly sat up and turned to the offender, checking to make sure the cowl of her cloak was still hiding her ear-fans. It was.
The offender was a tall and gangly Gungan, who was blubbering frantically. His companion was a young Human, quite pretty, in a full-length Senatorial cloak. Fetalony had to blink twice to make sure she wasn't dreaming. Senator Amidala herself was standing over her.
"Are you okay?" the Senator asked, kneeling down and offering her hand.
Fetalony accepted it, and the Senator and the Gungan helped her to her feet. The Gungan continued to spatter and babble until the Senator cast him a disapproving glance.
"I'm fine," Fetalony replied, eyeing the nervous Gungan. For once, she was at a loss at what to do.
Good job. Your quarry has her hand on your arm, and you don't know how to take advantage of it?
"Are you sure?" Senator Amidala still seemed concerned. "Perhaps you should sit down."
Fetalony shook her head, trying her absolute best to seem friendly. The situation was beginning to attract curious stares from passers-by and she knew all too well the dangers of attracting unwanted attention.
"I'm fine, M'lady," Fetalony assured. "It was only an accident."
"Buts mesa sooo sorrys!" the Gungan blubbered. "Mesa didn't see yousa dare."
"I'm fine," Fetalony replied firmly, secretly amazed at how the Gungan wouldn't let the situation drop.
"But yousa brokes someting!" the Gungan continued, now pointing at the floor. "Oh! Was it valuables?"
Fetalony glanced down, and had to bite her tongue to keep from cursing. A few shards of glass rested on the ground near her feet.
The vial! It must have shattered when I fell! The Vopmaks... where are the Vopmaks?
She spotted the first one almost immediately. It was about to disappear under the folds of the Senator's cloak.
What the...? The bug must have crawled on her when she helped me up!
Fetalony quickly turned her attention back to her arm, hoping that the look she was displaying on her face could pass for mild concern.
"No, it wasn't valuable," Fetalony said, trying to look as innocent as possible, as she pulled out the remains of the shattered vial. She still couldn't see the second Vopmak. "It's just a piece of cheap glass jewelry."
The Gungan moaned anyway, shaking his head and grasping his hands to his bill, all the while spitting out apology after apology. Fetalony sighed and rolled her eyes, seeing Senator Amidala shake her head in exasperation.
"I'm sure we can replace it," the Senator offered, taking the broken vial pieces from Fetalony and looking at them. "Where did you get it?"
"No, no!" Fetalony replied quickly, taking back the pieces and throwing them away. "It wasn't important. I wanted to get rid of it anyway."
Suddenly, and thankfully, the Senatorial aide Fetalony had seen earlier appeared. He approached, bowing politely.
"Excuse me, M'lady," the aide said. "You have received a message from Master Kenobi."
"Oh... all right," Senator Amidala said, acting slightly surprised. "I'll be there in a minute." She turned back to Fetalony. "We have to attend to this matter."
"Go on," Fetalony said, urging them to leave.
Senator Amidala nodded, and with the Gungan still blubbering to himself, they followed the aide. The Senator glanced back only once, as she was about to disappear through the doors the soldiers were guarding, as if expecting Fetalony to fall again. Fetalony didn't, and soon the Senator and her Gungan companion were gone.
As soon as they were gone, Fetalony headed toward a quiet corner of the lobby, desperately searching her clothes for the missing Vopmak. However, even after thorough inspection, she couldn't find the bug anywhere on her. Had both the bugs fallen onto the ground when the vial broke? If so, where was the second one?
Shaking her head, mystified at the startling turn of events, she decided that the best thing she could do now was head back to the ship. After making sure she had once again faded out of public attention, she headed across the lobby toward the entrance. She suddenly had an unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach. She turned again, searching for eyes that were following her path. Had someone seen her plant the Vopmak on the Senator?
Instead, she spotted a young Rodian pointing at something on the ground, near a statue. His mother was talking enthusiastically, and not paying the least amount of attention to the child. Fetalony didn't have to guess twice about what had caught the child's attention. Making a quick, completely uncharacteristic decision, she walked over to the young Rodian and placed her free hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, annoyed.
"Leave me alone!" the child snapped, trying to pull away. "I want to see the bug!"
"Oh, you don't want to see that bug," Fetalony said, watching as the Vopmak came even closer to the child's outstretched hand. "That bug likes to bite."
"It does?" The child, suddenly fearful, quickly pulled his hand back.
"Go back to your mother," Fetalony instructed, using the end point of the arm crutch to grind the ugly bug into the floor.
The Rodian obeyed. Fetalony turned, and began heading back toward the entrance, but she suddenly stopped. New, completely unfamiliar feelings and thoughts were starting to haunt her.
I just saved that kid's life. I've never saved a life before. I've always ended them. She shook her head, trying to make herself think of something else. I think I need to get a drink.
She continued on toward the entrance, spotting two Naboo guards as she passed. One of them noticed her and tipped his hat respectfully. Fetalony didn't respond. Something inside her didn't like the ridiculous irony present in that gesture.
Dorm? returned to Senator Padm?'s quarters soon after taking the message from Master Kenobi. It wasn't a very long message. He seemed to have found a clue about the assassin, and was leaving the planet to follow up on it. She wasn't worried about her own safety, so she had simply sent him her blessings for a successful trip. For a long while, she paced the front room, thinking over the events of the past hour.
She had sent Jar Jar away soon after returning, still quite sour with him for tripping the unfortunate creature. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but there was something about her that had made Dorm? slightly nervous. She was an unusually imposing-looking species, with an appearance that made her seem somewhat menacing.
It was my imagination, Dorm? assured herself. Leave it at that. She didn't do anything. If she had, I would have noticed.
She sat down on the couch again, turning to look at the spectacular Coruscant sunset. She wished she could contact Padm?, but she knew it would be too dangerous. The message might be intercepted.
She didn't know how long she sat there, letting her mind wander, when she felt a strange tickling sensation on her neck. She rubbed the spot, but found nothing. A few seconds later, the feeling came back, and this time she slapped at it. Her fingers came in contact with something, but before she could pull her hand back, she felt a sharp pain below her ear. She hissed, closing her fist tightly and pulling it away. The pain dulled almost immediately, so she focused on the squirming little bug between her index and middle fingers. It was an ugly little thing, and with a sigh of disgust, she killed it. She couldn't even begin to think where she had picked it up.
She wiped the remains off her fingers, then turned her attention back to the sunset. The colors were unnatural, a sight that could be seen on Coruscant and nowhere else. However, that fact didn't make it any less beautiful. It induced a feeling of peace inside her. She found herself hoping that Padm? was feeling the same kind of peace.
Padm? needs to see this more than I do.
Fetalony stared her drink, this time ignoring the people bustling around her. She was in a slum of a bar called the Outlander, which was pretty appropriate considering the multitude of humans and aliens crowded around the gambling tables and viewscreens. Normally, she would have been participating in the gambling, but her mind was too crowded with thoughts to concentrate on Sabacc.
Over and over, she saw the act of saving the young Rodian in her mind. Time and time again Fetalony found herself wondering why she had bothered. What had she been thinking? She'd killed children before.
Ah, but that was before, a wicked little voice in the back of her mind reminded her. Before you started feeling pity.
Was that what she had done? Had she felt pity for the child, enough to interfere with his fate? Fetalony sat up, one of her ear-fans twitching while her thoughts fell into place. Yes, that was exactly what had happened. She had seen the child and the Vopmak, had realized unconsciously the tragedy that was unfolding, and had prevented the child's certain doom. All because she had felt pity. Pity, and the one emotion that always seemed to follow ... guilt.
Fetalony stood, abandoning her drink and heading out of the bar. Outside, it was muggy and warm, but the air was easier to breathe than the smoke-choked air inside the bar. She stepped away from the main crowd, ducking into a narrow alley. There she leaned back against the wall. All at once, the memories of every single soul she had ever murdered passed through her mind. Each one had made a small dent in the shield that she had long held to keep herself safe from guilt and pity. Over time, the shield had broken, and the unmasked and unwanted emotions had attacked her from every side, leaving her defenseless.
Suddenly, a vision of Senator Amidala in the throes of death passed through her thoughts, and she jumped.
I still have time, she thought. I still have time to warn her. I... It took every ounce of self-control she had, but she managed to banish the thought from her mind. No. I will not interfere. My employer wanted Senator Amidala dead, and she will die, and I will not stop it. Nobody else is to perish but her.
Fetalony left the alley, heading back to her ship as fast as she could. She knew that if she didn't get away from this part of the planet, she would foil everything she had done. As she ran, she couldn't get Senator Amidala out of her head. Fetalony was a bounty hunter. She shouldn't be thinking about this. She was tough, she was ruthless...
... she was beginning to lose her nerve.
The last of the light of the sun faded from the sky, but the city below compensated by turning on every light there was to activate. Dorm? was stunned for a moment, as she always was, at the quickness that night turned to day again. She stepped back inside the apartment, where it was moderately darker, and more comforting. It was quiet in here, peaceful. She sat down on the couch and sighed, feeling herself relax for the first time in days.
Suddenly, though, all thoughts of peace and calm were shattered by a wave of unexplained dizziness. Dorm? grasped the couch for balance, seeing the world spin around her. Everything that was once familiar was now a shadowy blur.
What's happening to me? I feel so dizzy.
She sat back, trying to rest her head, but she suddenly found herself unable to breathe properly.
I need to stand up. I have to stand up.
She tried to stand, but her legs refused to hold her weight, and she collapsed backward onto the couch. She gasped, feeling burning pain erupt in her head. She tried a second time to stand, and this time she managed to take a few small steps before stumbling and falling to the floor.
She raised herself to her elbows, feeling sweat form on her face and arms. She could barely see anything. The dimness that was once comforting was now the enemy to her eyes. Desperately, she started crawling toward the bedchamber. It seemed like hours before she finally managed to get there. It took every bit of strength she possessed to pull herself up onto the bed.
I need to rest, she thought, collapsing onto her side as she felt her whole body go limp. I just need to rest. A full night of rest, and I'll be fine. I just need to lie here, and close my eyes, and I'll be fine. I'll be fine...
Fetalony sat in her chair in the cockpit of her ship, her eyes scanning the readout on the computer screen in front of her. Returning to her ship had made her feel a little better, but not a minute had passed before she was logging into her ship's computer system, desperate to find out if the Vopmak had done its job. She had been trying to hack into the Senatorial Apartment Complex's security net for over a half hour now, and was finally starting to make some progress. Funny thing about electronic security blocks was that the more high-tech they became, the easier it was for one to bypass it the old-fashioned, but time-consuming way. She broke through another block, only to be confronted with another, and then another. It was starting to get on her nerves.
Come on, damn thing. Break through, already!
Finally, when Fetalony was beginning to think she'd be old and wrinkled before she made any noticeable progress, the screen changed to security cam sector selections. She sighed, and began searching for Senator Amidala's sector. Selecting it, she began to browse through several different security cam images. One showed an empty hallway, another showed the area where the Naboo guards were standing, and a third showed a deserted apartment sitting room. She continued flipping through the images, trying to find one that showed the Senator. Finally, she found the cam she was looking for.
The screen showed a very nice bedchamber. Sprawled on the bed in the very middle of the cam was the Senator. She keyed a code, and the cam zoomed in, showing the obvious distress on the Senator's face. Her breathing seemed harsh and irregular, and although no sound could be heard, Fetalony knew the Senator was crying out with each breath. Her arms and legs were starting to twitch, and Fetalony could see it was only a matter of moments before apnea set in.
She knew she should feel satisfied. She had succeeded where two other attempts had failed. Instead, she felt miserable. Something just wasn't right about all this. Something inside her was telling her she was looking at someone who did not deserve this horrible fate.
Guilt. It's guilt. Damn it, I can't lose it all now!
She watched as the Senator rolled onto her back, expelled a final breath, and fell still. Fetalony stared at the screen for a full minute in absolute silence, her ear-fans twitching once as she thought over everything she had just been through.
After a moment, she sat back in her chair. All her life, she had gone from job to job, carrying out the wishes of beings that wanted to see their enemies die. In the early years, she had not cared about how much pain her methods brought to her victims, or how heartbroken their beloved ones were. Back then, she had never taken into account the fact that some of her victims might not deserve the end she brought to them.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she at first didn't notice the second being that walked into the cam's sights. It was the Gungan, and he had a terrified look on his face. He cautiously approached the bed, seemingly calling to the dead Senator. He tapped the body, then shook it, then ran back out of the cam's sights, flailing his arms in complete panic. Under any other circumstances, the sight would have struck Fetalony as funny, but nothing at all about this felt even the least bit entertaining.
She watched in silence as several guards appeared, followed closely by two medics. The medics set the Senator on the floor, and for several minutes they frantically tried to revive the young woman. However, they could not, and after a long while they abandoned the attempts. Fetalony fiddled with the computer's controls, and finally accessed sound. She closed her eyes and listened carefully as one of the guards pulled out a comm.
"Send a message to Chancellor Palpatine," the guard said, sounding both stunned and devastated. "Dorm? is dead."
Fetalony's eyes snapped open. Dorm?? Who the hell is Dorm??
Slowly, realization dawned on her. She tapped the controls and froze the screen, capturing the Senator in the eternal stillness of death. Her hands trembled slightly as the words of the guard sank in.
That's not Amidala. That is not Amidala. I killed a decoy.
She terminated the connection, and the screen went dark, but the death face of the young woman, Dorm?, was permanently burned in her mind. It was an image she knew would haunt her for the rest of her life.
She turned away from the blank screen, looking down at her trembling hands. She felt wetness at the corners of her eyes, and she brushed it away, shocked over what she was doing.
What is this? Am I actually ... crying?
There was no denying it. That was exactly what she was doing. She furiously shook her head, pressing the controls on the panels and firing up her ship's engines. Ignoring the protests from planetary security, she blasted out of the port and into space. She had come to the capital planet confident, boastful, and even cocky. She was leaving it a mere shell of her former self.
As she pulled the levers to launch her ship into hyperspace, she allowed those tears to fall, for the first time in her life cursing herself for the pain she had caused. Dorm?. Never before had death ever had a name. Now it did, and it would be a name that would haunt Fetalony for the rest of her life. A long time ago, she had been a deliverer of nameless death. Now that death had a name, it would be something she could never touch again.
I can't, I won't, she thought, balling her hands into fists. I will never kill again.
Bowing her head, she mourned young Dorm?'s passing ... a tragic loss Fetalony knew, ultimately, had never meant to be.
It was days later before the news of Dorm?'s death reached Padm?. She leaned against the balcony railing overlooking the lake, trying to keep tears from forming. First Cord?, and now Dorm?. Again and again her mind went over the times they had spent together, the touching moments of conversation that had made Padm? feel like the problems of the galaxy were not to be concerned about alone. Dorm? had been unique among the handmaidens. As overprotective as a concerned older sibling, and yet calm and quiet, willing to listen to her troubles and offer condolence when necessary.
Padm? concentrated her gaze on the smooth, placid surface of the water below, trying to picture it as her life. It had once been smooth, unmarred, but then the stones of political service had been thrown in. Some had been smooth, but others had been rough and sharp, and had broken the tranquility of the surface. She knew that if she waited long enough, the ripples would fade, and the surface would go back to being smooth, but the stones would still be there, forever changing her life just as a casual stone would forever change the lake itself.
If I had never allowed the stones to be cast, Padm? thought, Dorm? and Cord? would have never sacrificed themselves for me. She froze, another thought suddenly coming to her. But I never would have known them, either ... which one is worse?
Was either one of them worse than the other? Padm? didn't know. Right now, she was having a hard time convincing herself that any of this was actually happening. She felt a tear slide down her cheek, and for once, she didn't stop it from falling. A whole series of 'what if' thoughts were suddenly crossing her mind, and she soon had herself questioning the future of the Republic itself.
Just as she could picture her life as being the surface of a lake, she could easily see the Republic as one of Coruscant's skyscrapers. From afar, it was a magnificent thing, so strong and perfect, with its massive steel skeleton and polished glass windows, just like the Republic had once seemed. But, like the Republic, the building was standing on a foundation of sand and warping stone, and Padm? instinctively knew that, despite everything, some day...
...some day soon...
...it would all come crashing down.
Original cover by Cosmic. HTML formatting copyright 2002 TheForce.Net LLC.