(For those who miss the real Star Wars, and not this new crap...)
Only What You Take With You, Part One
Both men looked at her as if she'd just gone crazy.
Valorum said, very gently, "Sereine. You know he's lying to him. You and I both know how sick Palpatine really is."
Anakin said, "Sick?"
Lady Valorum turned to him. "Palpatine has several autoimmune diseases going on at once. He's had autoimmune arthritis since -- since I knew him. You know how he holds his hands up like this?" She pulled her hands up close to her chest and let them hang limply from the wrists.
"He does that because he has terrible arthritis in them. Whenever you see that, you know it's bothering him. He has some autoimmune problem with his eyes, too. The medical term for it is uveitis. I've seen his irises turn yellow. I've actually seen them bleed into the space behind his corneas. He'd have this little bit of settled blood in each eye, right here." She pointed at the very bottom of the colored part of one of her eyes. "He'd have to sit in the dark when they bled, it made him so photophobic. He'd have to take drops every four hours."
Valorum cleared his throat. "Sereine," he said in a warning tone.
She glared at him and went on.
"That isn't all. Remember how bad he looked about the time the war started?
When he disappeared for a couple of weeks and came back sort of looking like he
had a suntan?"
Anakin remembered. "The holomedia had a field day. He went on vacation when a war was about to start."
"That wasn't a vacation. Finis heard it from a relative who works programming medical droids for intensive care. Palpatine had some sort of autoimmune crisis where your own immune system breaks down all your red blood cells. He almost died. That wasn't a tan, it was jaundice."
Anakin's heart dropped to his feet. He murmured, remembering something Palpatine had said to him. "'...but he couldn't save himself...'"
"What?" said Valorum.
"Nothing," said Anakin.
"You have to see, young Skywalker. You're holding back for nothing."
"Not necessarily," his wife pointed out. "Palpatine's looking awfully well these days."
"But he hasn't been able to cure himself. That we know of."
"But he isn't dead, either!"
Anakin broke in. "He didn't indicate that he had actually done it. That he knew the theory, yes, but...If what you're telling me is true, he has more reason to pursue the answer than anyone. There are Sith holocrons in the temple. Perhaps..."
Former Chancellor Valorum let out an exasperated growl and stalked back to the table.
"You said...stopping time. What were you talking about?" Anakin asked Lady Valorum.
She stared at him. "Not one more being has to die to do this. We can stop it all -- without firing another shot!"
Valorum growled at her from the table. "Sereine. Are you mad?"
"No. No, I'm sane!" And she turned and ran from the kitchen, knocking herself against the retracting door in her haste.
Valorum turned an accusing blue stare on Anakin. Anakin could not meet his gaze.
With a rustle of long skirts Lady Valorum swept back into the room, two datapads in her hands. She stopped in front of her husband.
"Finis. If you were still Chancellor -- I'm sure you have all kinds of thoughts about what you'd do after the war, to bring relief to the suffering and get the most affected worlds' economies running again."
"Well, I'll always have ideas,
Sereine, but --"
His wife thrust a datapad into his hands. "Don't tell me, Finis. Write!"
She turned to Anakin. "Jedi Skywalker. This can work, but it's all going to depend on you. I need your cooperation. In fact, you're really the only one who can do anything."
Anakin blinked. "Me?"
"Look. We have to assume Finis is right about at least the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Think about it. Mace Windu has already announced the end of the war. How can the Separatists go on fighting without Dooku and Grievous? They can't! And that means that an awful lot of Jedi are going to come pouring back into the capitol. What can one little Sith lord do against several hundred Jedi masters?"
"And he's cut off from his communications in any case," said Anakin.
"And here's Master Windu, publicly pressuring him to step down."
"'All who gain power are afraid to lose it,'" quoted Anakin.
She cocked her head slightly. "What?"
Anakin shook his own. "Something...something the Chancellor said. Just the other night, in fact." He ran his hand through his hair. "What are you saying?" he demanded.
"I'm saying we can't know what Palpatine's trying to do, but he thinks he needs you before he does it. He's trying to delay whatever he's going to tell the Senate. He's here in my kitchen trying to push you to make a decision. General Grievous is dead, and the clock is ticking. Whatever it is he wants, he cannot go without you."
Anakin was one step behind, and felt as if he couldn't catch up. "I'm the Chosen One. I know his secret..."
Lady Valorum turned away from him, flicking graying red curls over one shoulder and down her back, and paced back and forth, clasping and worrying her hands in front of her.
"I've brought Palpatine to heel before -- several times -- and I know it can be done."
Valorum glared at her from the table. "That business with Doriana doesn't count."
"He didn't get out of it completely. There wasn't any evidence, and that was my fault. But it embarrassed him."
"All you did was teach him how to do it better the next time!"
Lady Valorum turned, facing down her husband. "He isn't the only one who learned something about how to do it better the next time!"
She resumed her pacing. "If I didn't know how to get around Palpatine, he wouldn't be here. What I needed him to do to win that first election after he 'inherited' his seat in the Senate did not come at all naturally to him, but he stepped up, and he did it." She turned and gripped Anakin's arm.
"When Palpatine's in a bad situation, and you're better at getting him out than he is -- and he knows it -- suddenly you get compliance."
Anakin thought about it. "You could be right. When Obi-Wan and I released him -- on the Invisible Hand -- he argued with us a little at first. I'm told he argued with the Jedi who protected him during the invasion."
"Of course he did!" Valorum hurrumphed from the table.
"But once we were in the elevator shaft -- and the ship started to tilt -- he stopped fighting us and did everything we told him. No problem. You could be right." He tilted his head to one side. "What do you have in mind?"
A dangerous clawfish grin spread
itself across Lady Valorum's features.
"We're going to be the bad situation we're getting him out of." She dropped into a chair. "Sit down. Here's what we're going to do..."
Five hours passed. Five hours during which the former Chancellor and his wife wrote and rewrote, arguing point after point. Five hours during which Lady Valorum lectured Anakin through a strategy session as good in its own way as any of General Kenobi's or Master Yoda's. At one point they were all so exhausted, and Chancellor and Lady Valorum so cross with one another, that the former Chancellor got up and cooked them all eggs and kaffe in his pajamas and bare feet. But by the time the first light of dawn tinged the sky twilight outside the window, they were nearly agreed.
Valorum turned to Anakin. "Anakin, give me your word, as your former Chancellor. As a Jedi knight, and as an expert swordsman, are you truly in doubt that the four Jedi Masters remaining in the Temple can overpower Palpatine and kill him? Do you truly doubt this? Tell me the truth!"
Anakin thought hard. "He trained Count Dooku and the apprentice who killed Master Jinn. The only one who could possibly get him would be Master Windu, I'm sure of it. And I wouldn't want him to try it without me."
"But surely, four against one --"
Anakin shook his head.
"Anakin. You have to side with them. This--" he picked up a datapad and dropped it. "This is madness. You must side with them!"
Anakin met Valorum look for look. "I'm sorry, sir. I won't."
Sereine spoke up. "Finis, we're not doing anything we can't undo. If it doesn't go well, we go to the Jedi. Or -- " she swallowed. "Or you go to the Jedi. But we give this a chance first. You said it yourself. Once the Council knows about this, then there's more fighting. More killing. Once the Council knows, we can't take that back. This, we can undo if we have to."
Valorum let out a huge sigh and gave up. "Then I concur," he said, in a voice that strangled on the little words. "It's with the gravest of misgivings, and for completely different reasons than the two of you. But I concur."
"Thank you, sir." Anakin looked at the former Chancellor.
And had a horrible thought.
"We have to hide you, sir," he burst out.
"What?" said Sereine Valorum.
"What if he tries to hold your spouse hostage the same way he's holding mine?"
Sereine frowned. "But he's not holding Senator Amidala..."
"In her condition," Anakin pointed out, "he doesn't need to. Not physically, at least." He cast about for somewhere safe, someplace Palpatine would never think to approach. There was his former lair in the Works. The subbasement of 500 Republica. Surely Palpatine would never go near those places again. But how could they house the former Chancellor there? Especially on such short notice, with no security? Or none that could defeat a Sith master, at any rate.
And then Anakin's mouth flew open, and he shut it with a pop. He had an even better idea.
They dressed the former Chancellor in Anakin's long brown Jedi cloak and took him back to Padme's with a loaded suitcase. Anakin met his startled wife in the foyer and begged her not to ask questions.
Then they put Anakin's cloak on Threepio and walked him back outside with Anakin and Sereine.
They all settled into Anakin's speeder. "Do you really think this will do it?" asked Sereine.
"It's going to have to. We have to try. I know he's having this apartment watched. But he won't know who he's looking for for another hour, at least, and by then it will be too late."
"And Finis was uncloaked last night. Anyone would have recognized him. Who'd expect that he'd be back here at the sixth hour?"
"That's what I'm thinking," said Anakin.
Sereine turned around. "See Threepio, we're going to take you back to my apartment and let you out. One of my husband's bodyguards will bring you back in his personal vehicle and drop you off in the basement. Wait for an hour before you go upstairs."
Anakin added, "And if you can pick up some hunk of junk down there and take it up with you as if you've been out on an errand, so much the better."
Anakin started the speeder.
Threepio began, "Oh, Master Anakin, this is all so intriguing..."
As they entered the Senate Office Building Anakin began trembling uncontrollably. He clasped his mechanical hand over his natural one, but Sereine still saw. She stepped in front of him and took both hands in hers.
"It's all right," she murmured. "It'll be all right. We're all going to be here tomorrow."
She let go of his hands. "Wait here for me. Let me go first."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to try what I was originally going to do after last night's political meeting with your wife."
"You know that'll never work," he protested.
"We don't have to do this if it does. And if it doesn't...well, I'll be back in no time, and you know what comes next."
She was back in ten minutes. "Well, so much for that."
"What did he say?"
She shook her head. "This is so Palpatine. The things he doesn't get that you or I -- Amazing. I couldn't even get into what I had come to say.
"I didn't leave Palpatine, Anakin, he left me. He left me over ten years ago, with no explanation, and no reason to hope he'd ever come back to me...and he's still angry with me for marrying Finis! I guess I was supposed to mourn him for the rest of my life. I know he's had a bad night, but in the name of all that is!"
She stopped. "If I hadn't married Finis, would this go any better?" She considered, and shook her head. "I doubt it."
Anakin took a deep breath. "All right, I'm ready."
"Wait," said Sereine. "Wait. I want to talk to you for a minute. How are we going to know when we're getting our way, up there?"
"How are we going to know when we're winning?"
Anakin stared at her, unsure what she meant.
"If you take candy from a baby, what does it do?"
Anakin shrugged. "It screams."
"Exactly. It screams. It can't take the candy back, and it's too little to hit you, so it just sits there and screams. It throws a tantrum. Anakin, what is a tantrum?"
"Well, it's just a bunch of screaming and noise -- "
"Right. It's just a lot of screaming and noise. That baby is letting you know it isn't happy, but it isn't hurting you. It isn't hurting you because it can't. All that's available for it to do is express frustration, and expressing frustration is what it does. Loud and clear."
"Anakin, we have to be ready for a tantrum up there. And I imagine that when a Sith lord throws a tantrum, it's something to behold." She smiled ruefully and shook her head. "What I just beheld up there was bad enough. And that was just our mild-mannered Supreme Chancellor being privately irate. But understand, if he is not hurting anyone, then he is not hurting anyone. He's just venting frustration."
"When we see that, when we see that he's doing things that sound frightful but no one's getting hurt, we know we're on the right track. The more childish the tantrum, the better we're doing. The closer we are to getting what we want out of him. A childish temper tantrum, no matter how bad it looks, means we're winning, do you get me?"
"Um...okay," said Anakin doubtfully.
"The key is to let him vent. We don't require that he like what we're forcing him to do. We only require that he do it, with at least a public show of good humor. So we don't argue, we don't get superior, we don't get sarcastic, we don't belittle, we don't humiliate. If we push him too hard, he might snap, and we don't want that. So we won't shout in that office. Instead, the louder he gets, the quieter and quieter we get. We don't tip; we're strong, like a tree. Does that make sense to you?"
"I guess so."
"Just remember that you're in charge, not him. If you don't move, neither can he. I know you're nervous. Just repeat that to yourself, all the way up in the elevator. 'If I don't move, neither can he.'"
"'If I don't move, neither can he.'"
"That's right. Now, let's go."