If Someone Had Known
Anakin sat in the middle row of Chancellor Valorum's custom stretch speeder, two blue-robed Senate guards behind him, Chancellor and Lady Valorum in the front. Disapproval and annoyance pulled the former Chancellor's mouth into a taut frown; Lady Valorum rested a calming hand on his thigh.
Anakin tried to break the tension. "Lady Valorum. I have to ask. Are you aware that you have no presence in the Force? It's -- it's amazing. It's like sitting in this speeder with three other people and not four."
"From what I've been told, it's a birth defect." Lady Valorum turned to glance back at him. "It wasn't my only one. I was born with some of my abdominal organs outside my body and had to have surgery before I was a day old. My parents were told that many times when there's one birth defect there are actually more than that, but I didn't find out about this other thing for many years. I had a terrible back problem once and sought out the healers at the Jedi temple, and I became pretty well-known in there rather quickly. I think every master and healer in the place came by to meet me and give each other dumbfounded looks. I guess it was before your time.
"The healer Janna Lyne asked if she could do some research and testing on me. Apparently I have as many midichlorians as any average human, but the part of the brain that you use to sense and manipulate the Force doesn't work in me. Or isn't there." She shrugged. "Never made any difference to me, though."
"I've studied that," said Anakin. "That there's some seventy percent of the brain that isn't used, and in a Jedi, some of that brain tissue is 'awake.' So to speak. The strange thing is, Chancellor Palpatine always felt that way, too -- to all of the Jedi."
Until tonight. Anakin shuddered at the memory of the cold touch of the dark side.
"We're here," said Chancellor Valorum.
The speeder set down on a landing deck in a less-fashionable part of the Congressional district. Still upscale, still exclusive, still well patrolled and guarded, 300 Republica may have offered its residents a more modest lifestyle, but it was also an address largely overlooked by the newscasters and the holomedia. Although the Valorums lived offplanet, they maintained a small apartment here for their frequent trips to the Capitol.
Lady Valorum ushered Anakin into her sitting room, done tastefully in muted shades of green, and caught her husband's arm at the door.
"Go on to bed, Kinshem." Anakin smiled at the Naboo word; it meant, "treasure." "I want to talk to Jedi Skywalker." Valorum caressed her hair briefly and whispered something, and she answered in a low murmur. As he turned away she caught him around the waist and pulled him into a hug. This time her whisper reached Anakin's ears.
"I love you."
Valorum turned away and Lady Valorum turned to her visitor, all business.
"You said you needed some advice. How can I help you?"
"Someplace that isn't so open."
She frowned. "All right."
They settled in at her kitchen table, and she fixed him with a steady glare. "I'm going to offer you some kaffe, and then I want to know what this is about. It's quite late."
Anakin put his hand over that growing soreness in his stomach again. "I can't drink anything, thanks."
Anakin began. "What do you and Chancellor Valorum know about the Sith and the Separatist leadership? Do you know as much as Senator Organa knows?"
Lady Valorum frowned. She had been a great beauty once, and truly still was, with clear skin, a few crinkles at the corners of her large eyes, and arched russet brows. "I imagine we do. Finis and Bail Organa have always been good friends, but even more so since Finis stepped down. Bail relies on him quite a lot."
"The Sith. What do you know about the Sith?" Anakin asked, praying she knew the facts of the basic situation. The truth was going to be hard enough for her to believe without Anakin having to introduce the wildly improbably idea of an extremely powerful Sith master controlling everything, for the first time here tonight.
Lady Valorum ran her hands over her face. "Jedi Skywalker. It's nearly the twenty-second hour. Tell me what you're fishing for?"
Anakin leaned forward. "Do you know about the master?"
"Ah, yes. The Sith master. The one who trained Count Dooku."
"You're aware that the Jedi Council has spared no effort to identify this...person?"
Anakin's throat worked. To say it out loud made it seem more real. An image of Palpatine's face, kindly smiling at him, flashed before him. Anakin blinked it away.
"We've been concerned for some time that the Sith master has access to the highest levels of the Chancellor's office."
"Senator Organa said he had been tracked --"
"He told you? To 500 Republica."
"He told Finis. He said there was a state of the art communications room under the subbasement there."
Now it was Anakin's turn to run his own hands over his face.
"Right. Lady Valorum...I saw Chancellor Palpatine tonight. And I discovered the identity of the Sith master we've been looking for."
She waited, her blue eyes bright and expectant.
Anakin made himself say it. "It's Chancellor Palpatine."
She gazed at him for a second with a thick, blank expression. Then she said, "What?"
"It's Chancellor Palpatine. He identified himself to me."
"To you? I can't possibly believe that. Palpatine, a Sith lord! I never heard anything so ridiculous! And why would a Sith lord choose you to reveal himself to? Jedi Skywalker, why are you doing this? What is it the Jedi want in sending you here to probe me and my personal history with Palpatine?"
"That's not what this is about, I assure you. I did see Palpatine, and this did happen. You had no idea?" He shook his head. "No, of course not. Of course, you wouldn't."
Lady Valorum's face set in the hardest expression Anakin had ever seen on a woman. "Obviously you're here on Jedi business. Tell me what it is, without the games, or I'll have you escorted out."
Frightened now, Anakin held out his hands. If she should contact the Council --
"I'm not here on Jedi business, I'm here on personal business, my lady, and this is no game. What the Chancellor said to me this evening was real. I know you can't begin to understand that, but understand this. I can't go back to the Temple with this. I can't go to any of the senators. I can't go to anyone. If I do, the Council will send a team of masters to the Chancellor's office, and they will kill Palpatine. They will kill him, do you understand! And I can't do that...I can't have that, and I can't decide what to do! I have to --" Anakin's throat tightened at the thought of Padme and their baby, and he felt his face redden and the tears start in his eyes.
Lady Valorum's gave him a wary expression, as if he were a poisonous snake coiled in the middle of the table. Clearly she did not believe, but she knew the tears were not an act.
"This is ridiculous. Even if he were a Sith lord, why would he tell you?"
"I have a personal relationship with Palpatine. He's...taken an interest in me, mentored me, ever since I came to the Capitol --" It hit Anakin in the gut, making the pain even worse. Was their entire friendship an act? Was it all only to use him? Had anything about it been real? He put his head in his hands and moaned, "Oh...oh, no..."
"What?" she said.
"I can't believe this any more than you can. I still can't believe... I can't believe this could really be what he's done..." Anakin looked up. She stared at him as if he were going down under a live wire.
"But I know it. I know it to be true. I felt it...I felt it. You can't mistake a touch in the Force. He touched me...he touched me!"
She sat back. "I'm afraid I don't understand. How can I possibly accept your word as proof? You could be -- you could be having a mental breakdown, for all I know."
"Lady Valorum. You know Count Dooku is dead. He told me because he wants me in his place. He asked me to become his new apprentice." Lady Valorum turned her face away and shook her head, and Anakin didn't need to sense her to know he was losing. In another minute she'd put in a call to the Jedi Temple, and it would be all over.
"There's more. Please. Please listen to me." He hadn't intended to do this, but now he was neck deep. He had to make her believe. "Palpatine knows things about me. Things about me no one could possibly know -- things I haven't told anyone. If he wasn't a Sith lord, how else could he possibly know these things?"
She eyed him dubiously. "What things?"
Anakin took a deep breath, and then he told her.
"Jedi Skywalker, I'm sorry you've gotten yourself into all this trouble, but Palpatine is the head of his own wartime intelligence network. I'm sure he's privy to things no one else is."
"Lady Valorum, think. You're a woman. The way Padme dresses -- could you tell she's pregnant? You hear a lot of Senate scuttlebutt -- has anyone, anywhere, said one word about her expecting a baby? No. And they wouldn't -- because Padme would never tell. She would never tell, because she knows I would be expelled from the Jedi Order, and she doesn't want to do that to me. She's only even seen a medical droid twice since she found out." Lady Valorum frowned at that. "I could see it if there were Senate gossip, but no one knew who the father was -- but there is no gossip. No one knows. But Palpatine knew. He knows, and he's trying to use it -- to force me -- "
"He's trying to blackmail you. 'Do this for me, or I'll tell your masters you married her.'"
Anakin only wished that were all of it. To use his fear for Padme's life this way -- the betrayal washed over him again, more forcefully than ever, knocking the breath from his lungs.
"Palpatine would never- -" Lady Valorum began, and then suddenly stopped herself. And dropped her gaze to the creelwood table, and kept it there. "Oh," she said. The little word fell in front of her with a thud.
She was silent for a moment. Then she raised her eyes to his, and her whole frame seemed to shrink. "Well, I can't say exactly that Palpatine would never do that. He's been straighter than ninety-five percent of what gets elected to the Senate...but I can't say he would never do something on that order."
"Well, he's done it to me. And he's done it for a reason. Do you know anything at all about the Sith? Look at all the powers he's been invested with. Don't you think that a Sith lord might just seek out all of that?"
Now Anakin could see impending tears on her face. She struggled to push them back. "But...Palpatine was voted those powers. He didn't ask for them."
"No, but he accepted them. And Count Dooku -- don't you see, if he is the Sith lord, then Palpatine controlled both sides of the war. So he would be asked to accept them."
A hideous expression crossed Lady Valorum's face. Anakin knew the feeling only too well. "A whole war? A whole galactic war, for three years...? He didn't. He couldn't. It's too...monstrous. Never!"
"But he has, my lady. He has. And now Count Dooku is dead...and he needs someone to help him finish the war."
"But that doesn't make any sense. If what you say is true, he's going to have to go when the war ends. And Count Dooku! Why would he kill his own apprentice, if he needs one so badly? And why would he let himself be kidnapped? All of you almost died during that rescue. It doesn't make any sense. You have to be wrong!"
That almost stopped Anakin. "Why would he kill his own apprentice?" And then he answered his own question, slowly. "Because I was better. Because I'm supposed to be the Chosen One..." His eyes met Lady Valorum's, and he could see that she was familiar with the prophecy. It had been explained in practically every news release about his exploits in the Outer Rim sieges.
The cold dread that chilled her heart reflected in her eyes. "But...but..." she protested. "The war. It isn't just machines. What about all the deaths on Sullust, and Kashyyk, and..." her eyes began to fill with tears. "And millions and millions spent on a clone army. And two thousand Jedi. And all the clones who've died. And..."
Anakin watched her go through every emotion he just had, and his heart went out to her. She hid her face in her hands. "He didn't. He couldn't." She uncovered her face and looked up, searching his. "Just because he touched you with the Force -- that doesn't mean it was the dark side. You could have been mistaken."
"No, my lady. There is no mistaking the dark side. And what he was doing when he did that to me...what he was telling me...you can't use the light side of the Force, to do that. To anyone."
Her face was ghastly pale, and her eyes were red. She kept shaking her head slowly.
"Lady Valorum, think. Your own husband -- you know Chancellor Valorum had done nothing wrong while in office. You know that better than anyone. You know he was proven innocent of any wrongdoing. You were probably there for some of that. And yet, he was forced from office...by Palpatine."
Her eyes fastened on something far
beyond him. "He used to...crowds. Something about crowds. Something about
crowds, he'd say it was as if they literally pressed on him...and how being
around me was like being by himself. He used to say that to me, that he liked being around me because I was 'quiet.' But I was anything but quiet, especially when I caught him about to do something stupid that would damage his career. I never understood that." She sighed and put her head in her hands. "I guess maybe I understand it now."
She looked up. "He'd get snappish. Whenever we campaigned on Naboo, I'd have to watch him. After so many hours he'd start to get this look, and I'd have to run in and snatch him out, and walk him around someplace the crowds were cordoned off from. I could do that, you know, because I was a staffer -- 'Sorry, Senate business, I have to snatch him away for a minute.' I learned to talk him down. And -- and -- "
"When Palpatine first became a Senator, and we first started seeing each other, he'd make me go ahead of him to every social event he had to attend. I didn't understand the intent, at first, because we wanted to keep our relationship quiet and I thought it was so we never arrived anywhere as a couple. But he'd ask me to call him from every event and tell him who was there. And I'd do it, and sometimes he'd show up, and sometimes he wouldn't. And it mystified me, because I knew he was avoiding someone, or maybe more than one someone. And I'd quiz him about it, but he'd always deny it.
"I got tired of being lied to one day and started keeping guest lists of things, and noting which events he came to and which ones he didn't. If I didn't go, or I didn't call him, he wouldn't go. And eventually I noticed that Palpatine never showed up at a gathering if there were Jedi present. And I started to tease him about it. 'Palpatine, you don't like Jedi -- admit it!' And it got to be a joke -- I'd contact him from a party or a dinner and say, 'You can come, it's safe, there are no Jedi...'"
She trailed off and sat, breathing in soft little gasps. "But..." she coughed. "But you said you'd known him thirteen years and you never sensed anything. And he has meetings with the highest Jedi masters, all the time!"
Anakin reached across the table and took her hands, so sorry to have to tell her this. "I also said that the only person who ever felt like you do in the Force, to the Jedi...is Chancellor Palpatine."
Her whole face seemed to crumple in pain. "But...but...the war. All the destruction on the Outer Rim..." Her eyes filled with tears. "Is this my Palpatine? How can this be my beautiful Palpatine?"
And she put her head in her hands and began to cry.
Anakin's own eyes blurred and he didn't know what to say. He sat for some moments while she cried harder and harder, her shoulders fairly shaking with sobs. At last he got up and crossed the room to her chair. He leaned over her and tried to comfort her, his hands on her shoulders.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry."
The door slid back and former Chancellor Valorum strode in, barefooted, in pale blue pajamas, his short hair messy and dark rings under his eyes, but those blue eyes themselves were alert and they fairly snapped at Anakin.
"Sereine!" he said. "Darling, what's the matter?"
He came to her and leaned over her, and Anakin shrank back to make room.
Lady Valorum was crying so hard she couldn't speak.
Valorum's look stabbed at Anakin. "What is going on here?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I can't tell you."
Chancellor Valorum strode to the kitchen door, pressed the lock, and turned to stand in front of it, arms crossed. "I think you need to tell me what you've said to so upset my wife."
"You have to kill him," said Chancellor Valorum an hour later, when they had both explained.
"No," said Anakin. "I'm not going to do that. I'm not even sure I'm capable of it."
Sereine Valorum rounded on her husband from where she stood over the sink splashing her reddened eyes with cold water. "I can't act to harm him. I don't care what he's done!"
"Sereine. This little incident you're telling us about, with Kinman Doriana and his extortions and bribes and you actually deleting Palpatine's accounts from my criminal database? How could you do that? You knew Palpatine was corrupt, and you let him go? If you hadn't, none of this might have happened!"
"Your database was strictly illegal and you knew it. I know you were desperate to rein in Senators like Orn Free Taa, but there was no guarantee it ever would have worked out that way. You were probing people's personal finances without warrants! It could have backfired on you just as easily as them. What Palpatine did then was one incident. I did have an easy time deleting his information, because it wasn't all over that database like some Senators'. And I obviously badly miscalculated what it meant. I badly misread a lot of things, it seems."
"You aren't clairvoyant, Sereine. But you won that first Senatorial campaign for him. It never would have happened without you. And I did have evidence against him and you let him go. Without you, he wouldn't even be here! You owe this galaxy, Sereine, you owe all of us! I don't care about your personal feelings for Palpatine." Here a shadow of pain crossed the former Chancellor's lined face. "You know the truth. You must do something about it."
Lady Valorum began to cry again. "There is good in him...I know there is!" she said. "I can't accept that he's done this. There must be a reason for this, there has to be. I won't help either of you kill him. Don't you think he has a soul to be saved?"
Valorum stared at her in shock. "Sereine...Sereine, this is a bad man, an evil person who started an unnecessary war to -- to -- This is someone who's killed millions of people! How can you even think to protect him? You can't." He glanced over at Anakin. "How can either of you even consider protecting this man?"
Anakin had dropped back into a chair. "I don't know. It overwhelms me. How can someone be so good to me and yet do this? But I can't let you go to the Council. I won't let you do that."
"Just how do you intend to stop me? Are you going to kill me, Jedi Skywalker?"
"No. But I can't let you harm him. And I'm not going to."
Valorum slowly slid his chair back from the table. Slowly got up.
Anakin again. "You can't do this. I'm afraid...I'm afraid I haven't told you both everything."
Finally, he told them all of it. About his prophetic dreams that accurately foretold both his induction into the Jedi Order and his mother's death. About his horrible dreams of Padmé on the birthing table, screaming...suffering. Dying. About the promise of the Sith lord's power to save her.
Finis and Sereine Valorum sat frozen into the early hours of the morning, both white with shock as they listened.
"I can't do it," Anakin finished. "I can't kill my wife and baby, not if there's a chance they may live. And I can't let you kill them."
The silence grew in the room. At last Valorum said, "There is no other way to handle this. You are a Jedi knight. Surely you must see that."
Anakin shook his head. "Arrest him. Arrest him only. I will defend him against anything else."
Valorum shook his head. "No. If
the Jedi move on the Chancellor -- and there is no way they can fail to -- they
have to kill him. Both of you, think.
Sereine, you aren't stupid. Think. There is no way to take him alive.
"If you do nothing, what happens? The war continues. Who knows how many additional powers Palpatine will acquire, how many other ways he could subvert the Constitution before it all ends?
"If the Jedi attempt to arrest him, what happens? Either he will fight...or he won't. If he's meek, if he submits, there will be an absolute uproar in the Senate. We may find this difficult to believe, but they will find it impossible. When that happens, they will turn on the Jedi -- and the Senate and the Chancellor control a million-man clone army! Think -- the Senate loves Palpatine. The people love him. He's nearly the most popular sitting Chancellor in history. If the Jedi turn on Palpatine, and the Senate brings the clones to his aid, think of the popular support they'll have!
"And if he fights! If he fights, it will be that much worse. The Jedi will be forced to defend themselves -- and that will look even more damning! The Jedi Council will look like traitors -- and the clones will be turned on the Jedi. We will have another war, one even more bitter and bloody than this one! At the same time as this one! No. You must see that you have to kill him."
Anakin and Lady Valorum sat in miserable silence.
"The only way there isn't another war and possibly a complete takeover by Palpatine is if he dies. You have to see that!"
"That's...that's uncertain," said Anakin. "Even if I did this. Even if I went to the Council, we only have four masters here we can send to arrest Palpatine. I told you. Palpatine has touched me through the Force...I know how powerful he is. He may be too strong for all four masters put together. And they'd never put anyone less than a highly trained master in play against Lord Sidious. And they shouldn't. They're right to do that."
Valorum held Anakin's look. "Then you must stand with them."
Anakin dropped his gaze, shook his head. "I can't. It's my wife and baby. I can't."
Sereine slid her chair back abruptly, holding both her hands up as if to ward them both off. "Whatever you both do, don't involve me," she said. "I won't help you hurt him. I won't." She walked to the square window over her kitchen sink and looked out. "What is that?"
Anakin joined her. Far below, a crowd of people gathered in the street. Past the window, the airspeeder traffic began to blink their running lights. First one speeder, then three, then all of them.
Valorum caught sight of the blinking speeder lights from his seat at the table. He got up and left the room, and Anakin heard a holovision newscast blare from the sitting room.
In a few moments the former Chancellor returned. "General Obi-Wan Kenobi has defeated General Grievous. The Chancellor's office hasn't announced it to the holomedia, but Jedi Master Windu has. The Chancellor's office was originally scheduling a special session of the Senate for noon, but now it's been pushed back to the fourteenth hour." Valorum shook Anakin by the shoulder. "The Jedi Council is trying to force Palpatine's hand. You must see that!"
Anakin felt it again then -- that cold touch in the Force. And he heard Palpatine, speaking to him as if he were right at Anakin's shoulder. He couldn't stop the shudder that shook him. "Leave me alone!" he shouted back, not caring if the others heard or not.
Lady Valorum turned. "What is it?" she said.
"Palpatine. He spoke to me."
Valorum. "And what did he say to you?"
Beyond hiding anything, Anakin drew a deep breath. "'You must realize, if the Jedi destroy me, any chance of saving her will be lost.'"
Valorum, on one side of him. "And you want to save that. Jedi Skywalker...even if you managed to achieve it, what is his incentive to help you once he's in custody?"
Sereine, on the other side. Exhaling sharply and shaking her head, speaking as if to the sitting Chancellor himself. "Palpatine, Palpatine. You really have no idea, do you?"
Anakin could barely find the strength to turn his head. "About what?"
"Here you and I have been crying and crying all night long, over him. And all he can think to say to you is Padme, Padme, Padme. He really doesn't seem to believe you ever cared anything for him at all, does he?"
Anakin's brain felt dulled, with stress, with shame, with humiliation, with lack of sleep, with sheer disbelief at all that happened in a few short hours. The significance of that remark, if there were any, was lost on him.
Lady Valorum spoke again. "Anakin. What do you want to do? Right here. Right now. What do you want to do?"
Anakin felt his throat tighten with unshed tears. "I want to stop time. Right here, with the sun about to rise on the first morning after the war, and the people celebrating in the streets. Right now, with my pregnant wife and my good friend tucked safely away in their rooms, and I can just close my eyes and go back a few hours in my mind to the time I didn't know this. It feels like it was just a second ago, when Palpatine was just my good and precious friend. I don't even want Padme to have the baby. I just want to stop time. Right here. Right now."
The three of them stood there, watching the speeders flash. Now horns honked, muted by the thick transparisteel.
And then Sereine Valorum gasped.
"Oh! Thank everything that is!"
The two men turned to look at her.
"There's a way! I know how to do it!"
She jumped excitedly, grabbing both Anakin's arm and her husband's. Her whole face transformed, her eyes shining with joy.
"I know how to stop time!"