She was standing beside Senator Okiltine, Motée, and Roos in what used to be the royal hanger. It was still perfectly functional; the Trade Federation certainly wouldn't change that. But the elegant marble walls and floors had been laced with metal. The ships were all the burnt-out remains of obsolete Federation equipment that the planet’s occupiers hadn’t thought it worth taking with them when they’d evacuated.
It wasn’t even that ugly. But it looked like something she’d see on Coruscant.
From what she’d seen during the descent through the atmosphere, most of the rest of the planet was the same. Metal and more metal over barren brown soil and meager plant life struggling to survive as the only remnant of a one lush and proud ecological system. The water in the river and waterfall had looked black.
It was the beginning of spring here in the northern hemisphere; at least the Federation hadn't changed the general climate, though Padmé had half expected them too. But there was no crystal ice to melt, nothing new to shoot up out of the ground, no buds to bloom.
The Senator was speaking quietly to Roos. “I received a message as we were coming in, from a Dolassa Hoxi, asking if it was true you were working for me. It wasn’t an active connection; I was able to send back a message that you were, but I don’t know if she got it.”
“Oh. Meesa hoping she did!” Roos couldn’t quite keep his calm. Motée looked at them, and at Padmé questioningly. Padmé shook her head. She actually knew who Dolassa Hoxi was; a year ago when he’d caught her with Anakin, Roos had ended up confiding to her that he’d had a sweetheart of his own who he’d been forced to leave behind on Naboo; not nearly as many Gunguns as humans had escaped the planet. For eleven years he’d despaired for her. But she couldn't tell Motée yet, not when Anakin and Dolassa had been a pair of secrets between her and Roos, and he kept things about her close to his heart otherwise.
As they walked across the hanger, they continually had to look down at their feet to avoid stepping on something, strangers on their own home soil. It was a relief when Queen Apailana came in. Padmé noted she didn’t have her face painted, and was dressed as simply as her handmaidens. But even with her face bare she looked a lot older than her twelve years. Perhaps it was youth itself that aged her; Dashé Apailana had never known an unoccupied Naboo, though she had known the occupied one all too well, more than the Senator, her Gungun security captain, or either of her two handmaidens. She had lived on Coruscant only the past three years. Likewise all five of the handmaidens who were with her had lived at least part of their lives under the occupation, and of the other eight, only one hadn’t.
“Your Majesty.” Senator Okiltine greeted her, and their nearly twenty years difference in age seemed to render no effect on the way the Queen looked at her. “I apologize for not coming earlier.”
“Never mind that. Come.” The two leaders exited the hanger, their handmaidens trailing after them.
Part of the old palace had been demolished, and the rest was covered with metal, though at least the floors had been mostly cleared, so Padmé didn’t have to look down. She in fact kept her gaze focused on the back of the Senator’s head. She was talking to the Queen so softly Padmé was only getting individual words: “Theed,” “Senate,” “Movement,” “Palpatine.”
Toslaé Aikati, the Queen’s head handmaiden, leaned towards Padmé and whispered, “Hope your Senator doesn’t mind manual labor.”
“She’s performed it plenty of times before,” Padmé informed her, feeling mildly annoyed. “As have we all.”
Then behind her, she heard one of the other four handmaidens whisper to another, perhaps meaning for her to overhear, “Is it true she’s pregnant?”
Padmé ignored it as best she could. She had barely told Motée and the Senator; not even Roos knew yet, nor her family. And while this wasn’t outright forbidden, she’d gotten the sharp end of Motée’s tongue, and Senator Okiltine’s disappointment with her still hung between them. Not to mention what the Jedi Council might do to Anakin if they put the pieces together. She hadn’t told Anakin yet. She wanted to have her speech about needing to repopulate her world ready first, in case she needed to try to convince the Council that even if he had gotten her pregnant that didn’t necessarily mean Anakin was attached to her in a way that violated the Jedi Code. Never mind that it would be a big lie; she could call it nothing else now.
The Queen and Senator stopped at the entrance to the throne room, or what had once been the throne room. “We’re still debugging this door,” the Queen explained as Toslaé stepped forward and entered several combinations into the adjacent wall panel.
It was at this point that another handmaiden came running down the corridor. “Your Highness!” she called. “There is a Gungun woman and child in the palace requesting to see a Roos Tarpals.”
Senator Okiltine took one look at Roos and said, “I don’t think we should keep her waiting, Your Majesty.”
“Milady,” said Padmé softly, “I think whenever this meeting is to take place, it ought to do so in private.”
But the Queen had already nodded to her handmaiden, who had already left to fetch the pair. So Padmé turned to Roos and said to him, “She won’t be as you remember her, you know. It’s been twelve years, hasn’t it?” When she thought of that, the sometimes lengthy periods of time from which she was separated from Anakin didn’t seem too long at all.
“Meesa seeing that already,” replied Roos, and when Dolassa Hoxi walked quietly in, Padmé saw something else: she didn’t know everything about Gungun physical development, but the child looked far too young for Roos to be the father.
Like everyone else on Naboo now, Dolassa looked old. Padmé saw also her ear flaps had scars on them, ugly ones. When Roos walked out towards her Padmé glanced impatiently at the door, but Tolsaé was still working on it, and noone else showed any sign of budging.
The little Gungun clung onto his mother’s hand as he looked up at Roos without much curiosity. Roos made his unhappiness at seeing him apparent, but she wondered if the youngling even noticed that.
“Meesa dinkin’ you were dead,” Dolassa said to him. Seeing where his attention was fixed, she added, “Heesa havin’ no father. Long dead, probably.”
“Guds be helpin’ you both,” Roos softly exclaimed, compassion winning over jealousy quickly enough.
“Meesa dinkin’ guds really bein’ dead,” was her bitter reply.
They embraced then, but more as strangers than as former lovers. Her head rested on his shoulder and her ear flaps curled around his arms, but she looked past him at the floor.
“There! Done.” Toslaé hit a final button in the wall panel and the heavy Federation-manufactured door lifted.
“Come in with us,” the Queen called to the Gunguns, “all three of you. I may have a message for your leaders.”
“Meesa bringin’ a message from da new Boss, actually.” Untangling herself from Roos, Dolassa went over to the Queen and tried to assume an official air. “Heesa wantin’ to meet wit Your Majesty. Out in da Small Swamp. Deysa not changin’ dings dere. It make you happy to see some flowers bloomin’, meesa dinks.”
“Are they really?” The Queen asked, and there was no mistaking the hope in her voice. “Then I will certainly visit with him as soon as I can. You too," she added to Senator Okiltine, and at the thought of seeing some part of Naboo preserved, Padmé's heart lifted more than it had in days and days.