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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations
created and owned by Lucasfilm, Ltd. No money is being made and
no infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Permission has been given to the webmaster of
The 12th Circle for use of this story. If you wish to archive
this story, or make any other use of it, please contact the author.

~Banquet Encounter~
by Sreya

Princess Leia stood at her father's side greeting the other guests
at the banquet she'd accompanied him to. At fourteen, she was
undoubtably the youngest person there. But her father knew of
her strong desire to enter politics, and had offered her a chance
to attend this particular function, since many of the Senators and
planetary rulers of the Empire would be there.

Indeed, the room swarmed with political elites. Senators, aides,
kings, chancellors, and councilors were talking with one another
everywhere Leia looked. Yet, as she stood there, she suddenly
realised something... there were only humans in the room.

Even on Alderaan, a world colonized by humans generations ago
and widely considered a human planet, the cities were crowded
with a myriad of species. And Leia had seen hundreds of species
on Coruscant... yet only one was represented in the banquet hall.

As Leia smiled and held out her hand to a Moff her father was
introducing her to, she made a mental note to ask Bail about that
little inconsistency when they were alone.

"Bail! How good to see you again!" A man three times the normal
size came walking ("waddling" Leia thought with a mental giggle)
over to the two Organas. "You haven't aged a day! And who is this
charming young woman on your arm? This can't be little Leia, can
it?"

Leia knew she must be blushing furiously and clung to her father,
who laughed. "Darvin, it has been 10 years, after all. How have you
been? Still running Corellia in tiptop shape?"

"Trying to!" The large man grinned at Leia, then bowed,
surprisingly graceful, given his size. "Forgive me, Your Highness, if
I embarrassed you. Sometimes my enthusiasm overtakes my
mouth before I have a chance to think."

"It is of no concern." Leia replied, trying to grasp some vestiges
of a Princess image. "I take it you and Father are good friends?"

"The best of friends, once upon a time." Darvin's eyes twinkled as
if he were enjoying some private joke. "Princess, if I were to ask,
could I gain permission to steal away your father for a few
moments?"

"You could," Leia replied, arching a fourteen year old eyebrow, "if
you were to ask."

"By the goddesses, you've trained her well, Bail." Leia's father only
laughed at the exasperated expression on Darvin's face. "Well,
I'm asking. If you'll excuse us, Your Highness."

Bail turned to Leia. "This should only take a few moments. Wait
here for me."

Leia nodded, and watched Bail follow the jolly Corellian over to a
knot of politicians. She looked around her for a familiar face, but
saw none. She sighed, trying to fight down her boredom. 'You'll
never survive in the Senate if you can't even last through a
banquet,' she scolded herself. She tried to imagine the banquets
she'd attended back home on Alderaan... they may have been
stuffy, but at least she'd known the people attending, and had
been able to follow the conversations. But what did she know
about the bacta trade on Thyferra, or the trade agreements
between Bespin and Cordula?

It seemed she had a long way to go before she could enter
intergalactic politics.

Leia had just started mentally reviewing Alderaan's charter when
she heard a strange sound behind her. It almost sounded like
breathing, but it was very regulated and mechanical... and loud.

She turned slowly to see what was making the noise, and when she
saw the origin, it felt as if her heart had leapt up into her throat.
A bipedal being stood to her right, encased in black. Lights flashed
on the being's chest, and glinted off the helmet worn on the head.
Though Leia had never personally encountered this being before, a
name immediately sprang to mind.

Lord Vader.

And he was holding out a cup to her.

"I thought you might like some refreshment, Your Highness."

Leia swallowed, trying to slow her racing heart. "Thank you, Lord
Vader." She timidly grasped the offered cup, her white hand
looking miniaturized next to his enormous black-gloved grip. She
raised the cup to her lips, hardly tasting the pink juice it
contained. Her eyes were riveted to the Dark Lord, her mind filled
with memories of his whispered name.

"Your Highness must be ambitious to brave such an event at such
a young age."

She could feel his deep voice reverberating inside her ribcage. "My
father thought it would be a good learning experience," she
replied, slowly regaining her courage. "I plan to become a Senator."

"And do what?"

The question surprised Leia. 'Isn't it obvious?' she thought to
herself. "Help the galaxy."

Vader waved his hand as if brushing the reply away, while at the
same time indicating the room's occupants. "There are thousands
of fools trying to help the galaxy, each pulling in a different
direction, only making things worse than when they started. What
makes you think you will be any different?"

Leia stared, then realized Vader was serious. She thought for a
few minutes before answering this time. "Then perhaps I can lead
them to all pull in one direction."

Vader turned his helmet toward Leia, truly looking at her for the
first time, and she had the eerie feeling that he was peering into
her soul. She shrank back, realizing that the other humans
previously crowding her had moved away.

Then an odd sound came from Lord Vader. Leia couldn't be sure
because of the mechanical breathing, but it sounded... it sounded
like a chuckle. "I can see you shall go far, Princess Leia Organa of
Alderaan. You shall go far and accomplish many things." Then he
looked away, gazing at something across the room. "We shall
meet again, Young Princess."

Lord Vader turned and strode away, a path opening in the crowd
for him. Leia turned to see what he had been looking at... and
looked straight into the terrified eyes of her father. A moment
later, Bail Organa was fighting his way through the crowd. When
he reached her, he grabbed her right arm, pulling her to a
secluded alcove. Shocked, Leia let him pull her along. When they
reached the alcove, Bail shot a furtive look around before
speaking. "What did he want? What did he say?"

Surprised, Leia could do no more than stare at her father.

"Did he hurt you?"

"No!" Finally, Leia regained her voice. "He offered me a drink, then
spoke with me a little. That's all."

"What did he say?" Bail spoke in a tone of voice Leia had never
heard before - sharp and high with fear.

"He asked me why I was here, that's all. Polite conversation." Leia
couldn't understand why her father was so terrified... he was
almost shaking! "Father, is something wrong?"

"He didn't harm you in any way?"

"No. He merely asked me why someone so young was here, then
was very polite. I don't believe he's spent much time with
adolescents."

Bail sagged against the wall, convulsing.

"Father!" Leia reached out to him, then realized he was laughing.

"No, dearest, he hasn't had much experience with adolescents."
After a few moments, the Viceroy of Alderaan visibly collected
himself. "Come, Leia, I think we've both had enough for one
evening. We won't be missed."

Leia nodded, then followed her father through the banquet hall.
She tried to catch another glimpse of Lord Vader, but he seemed
to have disappeared. She thought back over his strange
pronouncement: "You shall go far and accomplish many things."

Princess Leia certainly hoped he was right.