She managed it eventually, though, and got enough sleep that she got off the longbus in Myzine feeling completely refreshed. Had she come here with her Master, they would’ve kept their hoods up, and she would have been restricted to taking furtive glances around at what she could see pasts the edges of hers. But now she threw it back, because surely the risk wasn’t all that great, and let herself take everything in.
Myzine, according to what she’d read, was one of the most architectural innovative cities in the area. The longbus stop was at a low elevation, so she couldn’t see much, but even the stop itself was more creatively arranged than the straight rows of Colorpa, the platforms circling around and even interweaving with each other. They were different colors too, shades that ran into each other. The one she was on was pale blue that paled into white in one direction and darkened in the other. The color design was done so that platforms that intersected each other were the same color.
She pulled her hood back up as she headed uphill, but she still skipped getting a cab in favor of walking, and she still looked around a lot. The buildings around here looked more mundane, but she noticed the setup of the power rods on various sides of the buildings. If Myzine didn’t need actual wires, they were still relying on those, it seemed. She noticed how they were placed on metal window framings and in corners of walkways where they wouldn’t be stepped on. She took that all in to tell Anakin about later. He would really appreciate it.
It was still fairly early in the afternoon when she took lunch at the top of that very tall hill, sitting on one of a set of rotating platforms. She was able then to take off her cloak and shove it against the back of her chair, her lightsaber hidden in its folds. Indistinguishable from the civilians around her at first glance, she spent longer eating than she strictly needed to, stopping often to look down at the city below. It wasn’t just an indulgence; she was also mentally cataloging what she saw, matching areas of the city to the maps she’d looked at, noting even which streets were more crowded than others.
The rest of the afternoon was busier, though. Mace had advised her to go about the city disguised, so that required shopping for local garment, and then also taking a room somewhere to change in, as well as to probably sleep in later. She tried not to take too long, although she did take the time to find something she could carry the lightsaber around in unseen. A couple of hours after lunch was over, she walked out of one of the tower motels in a top that didn’t cover much above her breasts, but as least covered them and everything below them, and an extremely fancy skirt that pouffed out wide around her, and was covered with so many ornaments and tassels that a single cylindrical bump near the top wasn’t even noticeable. Her braid had been undone, and the hair pinned to the top of her head.
“Don’t try to make yourself look older,” Master Windu had advised her. “Anyone you don’t fool could get suspicious, and a number of males you do would solicit you for sex. While I’m not telling you to not have sex under any circumstances, you probably shouldn’t push yourself to that for the sake of the mission, especially not with older males.” So Padmé instead restricted herself to activities more typical of local girls her age, though they were a bit too adolescent for her tastes.
She thus found herself, in the later afternoon, squashed with seven local girls on a large public bench that happened to be halfway up a multistory building, and accessible by bouncing up on the semi-grav pads below. It was crowded enough to keep anyone from noticing she hadn’t had any friends to specifically sit with. From here, they could see Myzine’s busiest streets, and the other girls were scanning for anyone who looked either handsome or unusual. Their silly chatter bounced off Padmé as she mostly agreed with the two girls on either side of her and scanned the roads herself, she didn’t even know for what.
At least she didn’t know what until the Force told her, and she found herself look at a small group of hooded figures on the nearest street. “Hey,” she asked the girl to her right, who seemed to be able to tell more about people by how they were dressed. “Look at those hooded figures over there.”
“Eppies!” exclaimed the girl, confirming what Padmé had already suspected. “What the blong are they doing in Myzine?”
“Don’t use that word, that’s offensive!” snapped the girl on her other side. Padmé was glad one of them had said that.
“Are those really them?” asked another. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before.”
“Don’t you watch the news?” asked the girl on the far end. “They’ve been all over it for months.”
“Yeah,” said the girl who had initially identified them. “Couldn’t stay locked up in their own city where at least they won’t brainwash anyone else besides their poor children. You see them preaching and even harassing people in the cities that'll allow it. It’s said they're even going off-planet now to recruit more people.”
How much of that was true, and how much was just her prejudices talking? As the small group of Epostulates got closer, Padmé could sense the Force around them. Stronger than normal for non Force-sensitives, although not to the point where they necessarily were Force-sensitive themselves. It was more likely someone had done something to them with the Force, or, more likely, more than one someone and/or somethings.
The girls moved on to talk about a knot of Red Nikto that had come into view. Padmé turned them out more as she followed the group of Epostulates. When they were nearly out of sight, she pulled open her pouch and tilted her eyes towards it as if she was looking at a chronometer in it, then jumped lightly down, calling back a goodbye in response to the ones shouted out to her.
It was easy enough to track her quarry through the Force. For a little bit of time she just walked behind them, at the same pace they were going, until they started to slow down. When she could get an eye on them through the crowded street, she could see they were looking around, scanning for something. Finally one of them pointed to a building, up high. Padmé looked there herself. It wasn’t a fancily designed building, at least by the city’s standards. It was just one of the standard multi-story darkly-colored shiny steel ones that roughly half of Myzine’s inhabitants lived in. But she noticed that, very much in the direction the Epostulate had pointed, one of the windows had a piece of black cloth hanging down from it.
When they went into the building, Padmé went behind it. Thankfully the buildings were gathered thick enough here no one on the street would see her climb it from the back. It wasn’t the easiest thing to climb, especially in her current skirt; she had to use the Force to propel herself for half of it. She was pretty much in mid-air in her final bound to the roof when the scantily clad and heavily bejeweled woman sunning herself saw her. “Woah!” she cried, jumping and backing up. “Well, I knew you young ladies these days were foolish, but I never thought you were that reckless! What would your parents had said, had you fallen to your death?”
She considered just walked past her, but no; she couldn’t risk the gossip when she didn’t know how long she’d be staying in Myzine yet. Reluctantly she brought the Force to the woman’s mind and said, “You will mention seeing me to no one.” The woman dully repeated it as she headed down the stairs and into the building.
She beat the Epostulates to the right floor by a few minutes, enough time to cut into the ceiling, pulling herself up, and seal the hole back up. Most of the buildings on Avvarbor Prime had their various utilities and other systems above the rooms, and by continuing to draw on the Force Padmé could navigate the thin passage between the floors, squeezing her small body between pipes and through ducts, trying not to damage anything. When she was over the right room, she situated herself with her arms wrapped around the bottom of a heating vent and her legs hooked over what looked like some kind of monitoring computer.
There were six people in the room, mostly of them seeming to just pace about, although two were talking about their longbus ride from Ruuger’s City. One of them had apparently arrived in Myzine two days ago, the others three.
But when the newcomers came in, an older, authoritative voice said, “Ah, my Brother of the Prickles. And these are your three companions. Come in. Let us all sit. We are friends here.” She sensed no deception from her there, which was odd, because there was some ill intent somewhere in that room, even if she couldn’t quite pinpoint whose.
“We arrived here today,” started one voice, the Brother of the Prickles, “and we still don’t know whether or not we’ve been tracked.”
“I had the feeling someone was following us on the streets just now,” said another one of the newcomers.
That briefly made Padmé nervous, but then the Brother of the Prickles said, “I too had the feeling we had not gone unnoticed, but I sensed none of the what we feared around us. I think it likely it was just the reaction of Myzine’s inhabitants to us.”
“You two have taken to the knowledge of our enemy,” said another voice, female. “Should you even be naturally able to?”
A moment’s pause, and then, “…he said we two were among those who could, yes. He….he came to us himself…”
“You’ve met him?” The female voice, excited. “You must tell us about him! We need to know all about him we can!” Her. The ill intent was coming from her.
The second Force-sensitive started, “His face was red and black…” But the first said, “No. No…you are with him!”
Padmé scrambled for her lightsaber, but before she could reach it two tiny explosions rocked the room, the shock of them traveling through the ceiling. She got it and sliced her way down, but it was almost too late. The room was filled with debris and bodies she knew to be dead; the woman had good aim. The only individuals left alive were her and one man, she had down on the floor, her hands around his throat. Both their hoods had fallen, making clear how young they both were.
It at least took only another moment before she had her blade at the woman’s throat. “Let him go,” she hissed. “And then you are both going to answer my questions.”
The girl let go, but hissed, “I’ll tell you nothing.”
Padmé did a quick look into her mind, but no, Force Persuasion wouldn’t work. Master Windu might have had an idea of what to do, but at the moment she didn’t.
Then again, she thought bitterly, Master Windu probably would’ve made sure his lightsaber was at his hand, and would’ve come down here in time to save everyone. It was a bad mistake she’d made, and she wasn’t looking forward to confessing it to him.
For now, she carefully zeroed in pressure to the woman’s head, just enough to knock her unconscious without doing her any lingering injury. Then she deactivated her lightsaber and reached a hand out. The boy drew back. “It’s all right,” she said. “I’m not going to hurt you. In fact, if there happens to be any reason you fear for your safety, I’ll protect you. I've heard some things about what's going on with the Eposulates, that some of them want to purge those who aren't unworthy, and that some want to leave, and their leader died of a mysterious heart attack."
“It's...” She watched him fight himself for another moment, before saying, “I don’t trust you. But if any more like her come to Myzine, well, I know what *they* would probably do to me.”
“How many are there like you?” Make her questions sound as natural as possible, Master Windu had said to her. Emphasize that she helped people: “If there’s someone committing mass murder on this planet, I would like to help stop them.”
“I don’t even know,” he said. A gentle, urging look from her, and words spilled out of him fast: “He came to the city over a year ago. Told our chief man he knew the people from the other cities were planning to kill us, and he could teach us how to become so powerful they wouldn’t dare. That fool Tenslowe, he was always believing everyone wanted to kill us. He let the man teach whoever he wanted. Apparently very few people were actually able to become powerful in the way he initially described, but he still managed to convince Tenslowe even those who couldn’t could still learn other things from him.
But the people he taught went strange. A lot of them killed each other, or tried to kill each other. It's them who started talking about purging. A lot of them also turned cold to their friends and stopped smiling, or if they did keep smiling, it was clear to most people they didn’t mean it. And one person, someone who it was said he could teach to do more than anyone else naturally could, he disappeared all together. Some people went to Tenslowe and begged him to send this man away. Then some of those people also turned up mysteriously dead. It seemed the only thing to do by those who understood what was going on was to flee. But yeah, once the first people started talking about it openly their leader died the way you heard. We've been more careful since, but...”
“And what about the man?” Padmé pressed, drawing on everything her Master had taught her to keep herself from getting excited. “Do you know if he is in the city right now?”
He shrugged. “I do know he’s not there all the time, that he goes out to travel all around the galaxy. But I don’t think even the best of his students know every time he leaves or returns, and the rest of us…we’ve tried to figure it out. It’s best to go when he’s not on the planet, obviously. As far as I know he wasn’t there when we left six days ago.”
He probably wasn’t, Padmé thought. In fact, he was probably there a lot less than anyone in the city thought. Which meant that if she was smart about it, they could go there and get a lot of information without any trouble at all. That was something someone needed to do, too, if Darth Maul was really training potential recruits, especially Force-sensitive ones. Going to Ruuger’s City did run, among other risks, the chance that he actually could be there at the moment. He would sense her there right away, and she wasn’t sure she had much chance of getting out of that alive. But it was a chance worth taking.
“Listen,” she said, going for her gentlest, but also her most serious voice. “I’m going to ask you to do something, and I know it’s probably the last thing you want to do, but it might ultimately lead to this man being defeated and the saving of many lives. If you can’t do it, say so, and I know when people are telling the truth, so I’ll believe you. But if you can, I am going to ask you to sneak me into Ruuger’s City.”
“I…” He drifted off for a second, then asked, “Why?”
“I know of this man you speak of,” she said. “I even saw him once, when I was only eleven years old, along with the man who later took me as his apprentice.” She considered saying he’d targeted them specifically, but that might scare the boy too much. “We are here to take him down. My Master’s not with me right now, but he can join us in a few days. For that, we need to know where he will be and when he will be there, so we can prepare. Even the Jedi can’t defeat him without that. If I can get into the city, I might be able to find that out, especially now that I know he’s been there.”
“And what about her?” He jerked his head towards the woman. “Are you going to be dragging her around? Unless you’re going to kill her here.”
“I’m not killing her unless I have absolutely no other choice,” Padmé told him. “I’ve rented a room for the night. I’ll give you directions to the building, then I’ll carry her there, sneak her in, and then come downstairs and let you in.” When he didn’t protest, she knew she had him. “I’ll see what we can do with her once she wakes up; that won’t be for at least a couple of hours.”
She would’ve liked to have a better idea of what exactly she would try first when she woke up. She was sure Master Windu would’ve already known not only that, but what he would try if his first plan failed. But at least she had a general agenda.
It was also time enough for Padmé to think up and evaluate ideas, bouncing them off Nyder as they ate. He expressed a regret he’d never even really talked to her, although when he then talked about how he had at one point been betrayed by someone he’d seen as a friend, Padmé couldn’t be.
When Clistara finally started to stir, Nyder went to sit in a corner of the room, out of her sight. Padmé seated herself in front of her, her ponytail undone but her braid still pinned to the top of her head, although she had changed back into her normal Jedi tunic. After all, the woman knew what she was, even if Padmé was avoiding the more obvious reminders of it for now. Her lightsaber was placed by Nyder, although close enough she could summon it in a tenth of a second if need be.
The first moments of Clistara being awake went exactly as Padmé had anticipated. She looked horrified, than furious, then tried to pull free of her bonds, then spat at her captor. Padmé raised her hand, flicking her fingers to keep the spittle from hitting her, and said, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’ll have to,” the girl growled in response. “Otherwise you won’t walk out of this room alive.”
“No,” said Padmé. “If forced to take action to protect myself from you, it’ll simply be to leave you here. I’ll give you a drink of water first and leave the building’s cleaners to find you. By the time they do I’ll be out of the city, and I’m not staying here under my own name.”
“What makes you think I won’t chase after you?” She took a moment too long and spoke her words a little too fast; she didn’t have the means. "How you going to deal with that, huh?"
“I’d keep you from hurting anyone, and keep trying to talk to you as opportunities came up. I don’t think you’re a bad person,” she let her feelings pour into that one, tried to make Clistara realize she meant it.
She didn’t; she shook her head and sneered, “No, I know what Jedi think of me, because of who I work for. I know what they think of everyone with powers besides themselves! Even the ones in our own city. Well, we fooled our leader, and now we're going to make him pay.”
“What you think you know about us is wrong,” said Padmé. “And I don’t know why you chose the side you’ve chosen, but I know there are reasons people will do that, and understandable ones. Most often they’re to do with feeling powerless, and angry, and wanting to hurt the universe.” Watching the girl’s face, she knew she’d guessed exactly right. “I’m sure you’ve had more than one person mistreat you, more than one group of people you’re angry at. Maybe even including the Jedi, unless you just didn’t care about us much before maybe someone came into your life who talked a lot about how horrible we are.”
“They’re always talking about you people,” growled Clistara. “All the big people. They’ve done it all my life. Not just about the Jedi, about those on this planet and those in the galaxy who hold all the power. The best thing we can do is to not let them rule us. But they don’t like it, do they? You don’t like that I don’t acknowledge your right to do as you please with me. That’s why I’m tied up.”
Padmé forced her mind to remain calm, to contemplate whether it was worth debating with her over this or not. Finally she said, “What about the powerful people in your own city? What about the people who *will* become powerful if you get what you want? Do you think they will do right by you?” Her reaction made clear this had been a question Clistara had actively avoided asking herself. She pressed on, “How do you feel about them? Are you maybe afraid of them sometimes? What if one of them wanted you to do something terrible, and you refused? What do you think would happen then?”
“I don’t know,” she growled, “but I do know what the people in authority outside the city think of me.”
“Do you?” asked Padmé. “Have I behaved exactly as you expected? I would think you’d have expected me to have killed you by now.”
“Nice try,” she shrugged. “I know Jedi aren’t that simple. You don’t like to kill weaker people, minions. You like to try to convince them you’re the heroes instead.” She believed what she was saying now, but Padmé could sense enough out of her to know she actually was surprised to still be alive.
But meanwhile, despite his best efforts to keep it steady, Nyder’s breathing had been getting more and more nervous, and had finally increased in volume enough so that even the ordinary ear could hear it. “And who is that with you?” Clistara demanded, turning her head and seeing him there. “Oh, just him,” she commented, almost to herself.
“Can’t we get out of here, Master Jedi?” Nyder asked, pressing himself back into the corner. “I don’t think she’s going to be any help. Are you sure it’s even safe to leave her here?”
“That’s why I don’t want to,” said Padmé. “And I’m still not killing her if I can help it. If you’re not comfortable staying now that she knows you’re here…”
“No, you are not kicking me out to keep her in!” Nyder scrambled to his feet, and she could hear his anger, but he still remained where he was.
“I…” Clistara hesitated, then said, “I don’t want to kill you. Not anymore.” She was only just now admitting this to herself, Padmé could tell, and it shocked her as much as it shocked him.
And it certainly did shock him. His first response was to look at Padmé skeptically. She shook her head. “She genuinely doesn’t. I can sense it.” Thankfully she sensed no doubt from either of them.
Also, she had her angle. “Those you have obeyed would be horrified by that, Clistara. You know that, don’t you? What does that tell you?”
“They’re worried,” she said. “They don’t…”
“They’re all high up and mighty, and they don’t care how any of us feel,” said Nyder, and Padmé knew from her reaction: Nyder could persuade her. Just so long as she didn’t persuade him of anything, but that she’d recently tried to kill him might provide some protection there.
Indeed, she was looking at him as if she never really had before. “Why didn’t you try to do anything about it?” she asked, obviously defensive.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I still don’t. But we shouldn’t exchange one bad group of leaders for another, right?”
“They’re not bad!” Clistara protested.
“Do you believe that?” Padmé asked simply.
“Do you have any sense?” Nyder added.
“No, don’t talk like that,” Padmé said to him; such words never worked. “Just ignore him for a moment, Clistara. Just ignore all our words except this one question you ought to ask yourself anyway.”
She cut off any further words from Nyder with a preemptive glance, and waited. The turbulence she sensed taking Clistara made her long to speak again, but any words now were as likely to harm as to help.
Finally, the girl sagged, and Padmé sensed the fight leaving her completely. “No,” she said, her voice very tiny.
Nyder opened his mouth, but Padmé but up her hand. She had a good idea already of what she’d say next.
Sure enough, Clistara added, “That doesn’t mean I at all feel like helping you.”
She lowered her hand and flicked her head slightly at Nyder. He got the message and started speaking: “So you just want to walk away and let all the leaders in Ruuger’s City get away with everything?”
“You were ready to,” she shot back.
“Only because I didn’t think there was anything I could do about them. Now, look at this: we’ve got a Jedi with us, and she’s willing to work against them. Our choices might be between fleeing our planet all together and being left with no home, no certainty as to whether they'll welcome us at all on Ilborbor, or taking this one opportunity we’re not likely to get again. Now why did you want to follow the people you wanted to follow, Clistara, even though I bet you knew, deep down, what you’ve just admitted from the start? Because you didn’t want to leave the people in charge already be, did you? Do you want to now?”
“I…” she didn’t know. Padmé didn’t even need to be able to sense her uncertainty to be sure of that.
Nyder stood up and came back to the bed, and Padmé moved back. The rest of this was up to him.