The evening dragged on, and Palpatine was hard pressed to keep up his charade. Several of the male senators appeared willing to discuss the Trade Federation's upcoming trials, but he sensed no connection between them and Amidala. And every time he thought he might be safe, Amidala would find him again, another woman in tow.

One elderly senator spoke of her love for dancing under the moons of Castell and asked him if he enjoyed singing. He smiled and wondered how well she might dance with two broken legs.

The next one talked at length of her precious gems and mining operations. He refrained from telling her that he could buy out her companies with less than one percent of his own wealth.

Another forced a sentimental rendition of Vogon poetry upon him, which he had never before heard and never wished to hear again. He silently added the Vogon species to his blacklist.

By the time Amidala had introduced and stranded him to the fifth woman in a row, Palpatine was convinced: She has gone mad. From what he could remember of their files, none of these women had any significant influence in the Trade Federation dispute or the current Separatist movement, most of them coming from lesser systems and committees. I thought you more intelligent than this, my dear. One could not even convince Orn Free Taa to take a bribe with this sort of backup.

He managed to politely shake the last one off, a shrill diplomat from the Vective Sector, and slipped away from the main crowd which was no easy feat for one as famous as him. He found a small alcove in one of the embassy's side halls and sat down on the long bench seat. His guards appeared to sense his foul mood and left him in peace, remaining just outside the small haven.

Palpatine pushed down a surprising amount of anger. Hours had passed since the beginning of this insane affair, and he was still no closer to uncovering Amidala's hidden agenda. All thanks to these rather forward women who insisted on assaulting his person. When did you become acquainted with these…hideous creatures? He silently ranted at Amidala.

And why did she suppose he wanted to be left alone with them? Did she think to seduce him to her way of thinking by throwing madwomen at him? Or had she cracked under the pressure of a senator's hectic life? He would not be entirely surprised. For all her bravado and courage, her future reeked of weakness and pain.

He froze as he sensed another's presence drawing near to the entrance of the alcove. "Senator Amidala sent me out here to find you, Your Excellency. Are you well?"

Was even the venerable Mon Mothma involved in this farce? Palpatine could not completely suppress the weary sigh as he replied, "And I suppose you will want me to serenade you with a host of stringed instruments."

The normally elegant senator was barely outlined in the light from the main room, and her form froze as she stared at him, aghast. "What? Chancellor, are you quite certain you are well? Have you had many drinks?"

"You are asking if I am drunk?" Palpatine stood up slowly. Drunkenness was never an option for him, thanks to his significant skills with Sith alchemy. Plagueis had belittled the knowledge contained in those holocrons, but looking back on the Munn's misfortunes with alcohol only made his old master's contempt all the more sweet. He noticed Mon Mothma had moved closer, looking concerned. "No, not drunk," he added hastily.

But being drunk might have made tonight more bearable. Usually only the Neimoidians make me want to electrocute something so badly.

Mon Mothma watched him carefully. "Well, I am glad to hear that. Actually, if you have the time, I'd like to discuss your upcoming extended term limit, and the potential impact such an act could have on our treasured democracy." Her lowered brow and stiff shoulders told him that she fully expected to be politely turned away like the countless times before.

Instead, his ears practically perked up. He never thought he would be glad to hear such words from her, but he counted his losses and rolled with it. "An excellent question, Senator. In fact, I would be honored to discuss such a serious matter with you and gain your insight."

Mon Mothma's jaw dropped open, much as Pestage's had when Amidala extended her invitation to the party. Palpatine smoothly took her arm and walked her down the hall, away from the insanity of Amidala's gathering. For his part, he was almost grateful. Perhaps she will live to see my Empire after all.


The conversation with Mon Mothma had been less than enlightening. For all her polite words and genial smiles (she was a fair actor as well), she still considered him a power-hungry warmonger. Not that it bothered him in the slightest. Guilty as charged and all that… Still, he was spared further attacks from amorous and infatuated females.

Palpatine found himself back in the main room after his talk, standing in a darkened corner and reduced to using small waves of the Dark Side to keep the progressively tipsy partiers from approaching him. Thank the Force the Jedi had not been invited.

He looked for Amidala, for a way to speak with her and end the night with some dignity left over. She was unfortunately in the middle of the dance floor, swirling in the arms of a hopeful young senator. Palpatine smirked as he imagined the indignant jealously on Anakin Skywalker's face, had the boy been there to see it.

Nothing could be done to approach Amidala unnoticed and unescorted in that crowd. However, he caught sight of the senator from Thesme, Silya Shessaun. She stood off to the side as well in a small corner cubby, watching her friend circle the floor with ill-disguised amusement. Palpatine's suspicion grew. Was she also in on this political disaster? Perhaps the truth could be wrangled from her. If no one wished to declare their true intentions tonight, he could fix that.

He worked his way around the room's edge until he reached her side. "Senator Shessaun, how are you?"

"Oh!" Startled by his silent approach from alongside, she stepped back and clutched her arms. "Supreme Chancellor! I am well, very well. How are you?"

He wondered at her jumpy response. "Well enough, though I have mixed feelings about this gathering. I feel that I was invited for a purpose, but what I cannot say, and the night is late." He kept his tone light and slightly perplexed. It worked like a charm.

Silya Shessaun stared at the floor, and Palpatine was genuinely surprised. Shessaun had never appeared ill-at-ease among her fellow politicians. In fact, he had kept a close file on her, expecting that her soft-hearted agenda and grim determination could become a liability in the future. She was both intelligent and a bold voice in the Senate, characteristics that were less than desirable in his future lackeys.

"Senator Shessaun?" he asked slowly, casting a glance around the room through the Force and sending out a slithering tendril of Dark Side persuasion. "I am hopelessly confused at the strange behavior tonight of you and Senator Amidala."

The woman was helpless in the grasp of darkness. Shessaun blushed and buried her face in her hands. "I can't keep this up, Your Excellency. Padme's not here to politically ensnare you. She wanted you here to find…ah… a social life."

Palpatine stared. Is she mocking me? I keep myself busy enough just as Chancellor of the Republic. So they think I daydream and twiddle my thumbs in my off-hours? "I fear I do not understand," he said finally, stretching out again with his power, twisting her will to his own. "I am blessed to have friends such as you. What urgent reason do you have that I need more?"

The Thesmian groaned softly between her hands. "Not friends. Romantic interests."

Palpatine stood perfectly still and stared out across the glittering pack of self-important elites. Amidala had ceased dancing and was wishing someone farewell near the exit. Padme Amidala trying to set up a blind date for a Sith Lord…Why am I not surprised? Was this it then? The entire party had no political agenda whatsoever? He was here merely to be wooed by power-hungry female senators and diplomats?

I might have guessed. He almost hissed with laughter, but he caught the miserable twist of Shessaun's face and sobered, forcing the mild-mannered politician to the front of his psyche. "I see… Well, that is flattering indeed. I should have seen this coming, Senator. After all, Padme did the same thing to one of her uncles before she was queen."

Shessaun lifted her head and took in his quietly jovial expression. Her mortification faded away as he released his dark grip on her mind. "Really?"

"Oh yes, she was always quite a matchmaker."

The senator shook her head slowly. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Your Excellency. I know how busy you are. I should have dissuaded her."

Palpatine did chuckle then as he reached out and patted her shoulder. "No harm done, and if you suppose you might have been able to dissuade Padme Amidala, then you know her less than you think."

The woman's eyes were shining up at him and uncomfortable with her closeness, Palpatine stepped back. "Unfortunately, the life of a Chancellor leaves little room for the frivolity of romance. I was scheduled to be leaving shortly. I must find your fellow conspirator and wish her goodnight." And many other things besides, if I only could.

"Good evening, Chancellor," Shessaun whispered as he bowed and glided into the main room.

Perhaps Anakin could be turned without the assistance of Amidala…Palpatine thought as he sought out his host. Meddling little fool. What an inconceivable waste of time, he seethed as he smiled his way through the small crowd. Now that he was fully aware, the simpering looks cast his way grated down his spine with every forceful step.

His guards closed in around him, forming an impenetrable wall separating him from dozens of fawning admirers. When he found Amidala close to the embassy's exit, he inclined his head. "I must be away, Senator. Sate Pestage has alerted me to an issue concerning Toydarian exports."

Pestage, who had come up silently behind him, showed no surprise and quickly nodded. "An unusually serious matter, Senator. It requires his immediate attention."

The little sprite of a woman cocked her head, her mouth thinning with disappointment. "Well, I hoped to speak with you more this evening, but I am glad you were able to take some time away from your endless duties, Supreme Chancellor. I hope you enjoyed a little taste of home."

He gritted his teeth behind a close-lipped smile. "This was a welcome respite from the daily grind, my lady. I am not certain how I can thank you."

Amidala bowed as he exited the embassy and stepped into his personal speeder. As the small, well-armed, and nondescript transport melded into the flow of traffic and took off toward the Senate office complex, Palpatine leaned back in his chair and sighed, rubbing his temples with both hands.

Rest assured, I will think of something.

Poor Palpatine gets so tired of playing "Mr. Nice Guy." No romantic interests for him this time. Fixing a date for a Sith Lord will never turn out well, and I honestly can't see him like that.

I finally had time this weekend to get in here and final-draft this chapter. Did anyone spot the reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Strange but fun movie/radio series.

Read and review, and I hope you enjoyed it. :)