Chancellor Palpatine stands aboard the bridge of the Alderaan diplomatic flagship, the Tantive, watching hyperspace blur the stars. But it is not hyperspace that maddens his mind.
"I do hope we're not too late," he mutters for the umpteenth time.
"Have no fear, Chancellor!" consoles Bail Organa, "The Federation will yield immediately when they see the combined might of the Republic pointed in their direction!"
"Thank you, Senator," replies Palpatine, "I will say again, as terrible as it was to discover a Federation spy planted in the Chancellor's Guard, I am grateful the betrayal turned the Senate's opinion against the Federation and lead to the Authorization of Martial Intervention."
"The people of Alderaan know there are times when we are justified in taking up arms," says Bail, "And it will be a refreshing change of pace when we return to the Senate, knowing that you have vetted the bureaucracy and replaced all traitors with citizens loyal to our democracy."
"Yes, indeed," says Palpatine, "You will forgive me for seeming distracted. I know we fight for a noble cause, but at the moment, all I can think of is my Queen. I worry she'll have gotten herself killed before we get there."
"You show great courage, Chancellor, riding with our forces into what may be a fight. It is clear you care a great deal for Amidala."
"She is no less than the soul of my people," says Palpatine, "I would be remiss if I did not see to this personally."
The Tantive jumps out of hyperspace in orbit around Naboo. Behind it, a fleet of hundreds of Republic battleships likewise snap to a halt.
"Battle stations!" commands Organa, "Ensign, broadcast the Senate resolution to the Trade Federation flagship!"
"Uh...sir..." says the ensign, staring down at his monitor, "Sensors do not detect any Federation vessels in the system. The blockade is gone!"
A warm smile spreads across Chancellor Palpatine's face. He addresses the surface of his homeworld, responding to a voice only he can hear.
"Yes, Your Majesty! I will be down right away!" He turns to Senator Organa. "It would seem Queen Amidala has, as the kids say, beaten us to the punch. Prepare my landing shuttle!"
Queen Amidala sits on her steel throne, garbed in a glorious silver dress. A new scene projects around her. Small puffs of clouds drift lazily through clear blue sky, and the endless green grasses of Meadowbrook stretch far beneath her. Chancellor Palpatine and Senator Bail Organa kneel at the edge of the observation platform, along with many other diplomatic representatives that have joined the Republic fleet. She motions for them all to rise.
"Chancellor, Senators and Ambassadors," proclaims the Queen, "We are grateful for the support you have shown our world. Today we are living proof that tyranny can never overcome freedom, that when we stand together as equals in defense of democracy, we will prevail!"
The assembly applauds enthusiastically but professionally, without cheers but with sincere agreement.
The Queen takes on a more grave tone. "In this vein, today we must rectify our own past negligence. Our world of Naboo is populated not only with humans and other citizens of the Republic, but also with a race known as the Gungans. They are not a spacefaring people, and yet they are sentient, no less worthy of self-determination than any of us here gathered, and they sacrificed much for our victory. And so on this day, and every day forward for as long as Naboo bears life, I proclaim the Gungans emancipated lifeforms!"
The crowd murmurs with surprise, but not displeasure.
"Each and every Gungan is now a full citizen of Naboo and the Republic, eligible to vote in all elections at a planetary and galactic level, and we shall work with them to establish a Gungan national government rooted in constitutional democracy. If we are to continue to sit on this throne, we will do so only with their consent. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of all that we have fought for, and make us no better than our Federation invaders. Do we have your support in this endeavor?"
The representatives of the Republic look around to see what their peers are thinking, and none find cause to hide their true feelings. When the applause begins, it comes with cheers.
Chairman San Hill of the Intergalactic Banking Clan, a Muun with his species' characteristic elongated face, makes his way forward and addresses the Queen as the applause fades.
"Your Majesty, what of the cloning technology that has given you your eternal life? The legends of my people speak of the possibility of such technology, and we would pay richly for access to your knowledge. Will you be sharing with those of us you have called your equals?"
Chancellor Palpatine intervenes to reply, "Chairman Hill, cloning is a dangerous technology, but we recognize its potential to benefit all people. We shall work with representatives from each of your worlds to ensure that, if Naboo's secrets of cloning are ever revealed, it is done in a way that is ethical, equitable and uplifting for all life."
Those gathered murmur and nod in agreement with his words.
"Honorable Delegates," says the Queen, "We are thankful for all that you have done, and we wish further audience with each of you at a later time, but we have been through many trials and must rest. We hope that you are amenable to the quarters we have provided, and we welcome you to stay with us as long as you are able. The people of Naboo offer you their gratitude."
The crowd applauds one final time. They begin to exit the throne room, where they are greeted by personalized protocol droids ready to shower them with hospitality. Some try to approach the Queen for further private conversation, but find their way blocked by Captain Panaka, who does an admirable job of hiding his healing injuries beneath his soldier's stance. The patch over his eye only makes him more intimidating. The Queen ignores the respectful pleas for acknowledgment, instead gazing wearily down on the projected landscape beneath her, thumbing the small pendant around her neck.
"Where have you gotten to, Anakin?" she thinks. "Come back to me..."
The Jedi Council chambers lie empty, the shades drawn closed between sessions, and so Master Yoda meditates in the dark, enjoying the solitude. He notices when Master Mace Windu enters but says nothing, allowing Windu to attain a measure of inner peace simply from his presence. Finally, the Head Master speaks.
"What troubles you, Master Windu?"
"Anakin Skywalker. You truly desire for Master Kenobi to take this boy on as his padawan?"
"Let go of my desire, I must," sighs Yoda, "If so chooses the boy, Obi-Wan's padawan he will be."
"But if this boy is the fulfillment of the Sith prophecy..."
Yoda opens his eyes.
"Young one, for this we fear to accept Skywalker? Whispers of Sith prophecy?"
Mace Windu bows his head in shame.
"It is said he will destroy the one who trains him!"
"Of all Sith it is thus said," Yoda smiles, "Lucky we are, then, that Obi-Wan believes not in Sith prophecy."
"You are ever wise, Master Yoda."
"That were true, I wish..."
Yoda shuts his eyes.
"The Sith slain by Master Kenobi, Darth Maul...know you who trained him?"
"No, Master Yoda. It could not be one of our own. We stand regularly in communion with all Jedi, Council and Protestor alike--all who wield lightsabers. We would know if any of them were trying to hide something like this!"
"I know not, either," sighs Yoda, "Always hidden, the Dark Side. Difficult to see, until too late, all is made clear."
Opening his eyes, the ancient little Master pokes his apprentice with his walking stick. "One thing know we for sure! Trained by somebody, Darth Maul was. And see Skywalker trained by the Sith, I would not."
"Always two there are, Padawan and Master, never one without the other. Many years may pass before revealed the truth is. Vigilant and alert we must be!"
"Yes, Master Yoda. Thank you."
"May the Force be with you, Master Windu."
"And also with you, Master Yoda."