Jedi Temple, Coruscant, 34 BBY For months their exercises had grown fancier, and the Initiates had all heard from the older ones about what came next. When Master Yoda greeted them with one of the padawans, they knew it was the day. They lined themselves up for the class as usual, and took their helmets, though most of them hesitated to put them on.
“Today,” said Yoda, “need those helmets more than usual, you likely will. New things, we may try. This,” he gestured to the Padawan, “is Bultar Swan. Skilled, she is, in what I will teach you.”
Tiny glances made their way through the Initiates, which Yoda probably noticed, but ignored. “Review certain exercises first, we must. Bultar, spin please.”
The girl spread her arms out and lifted herself up, rotated once slowly, then again quickly, then landed. The Younglings might have rolled their eyes, but the grace and surety with which she did it and the subtle precision she contained in every inch of her body and movement awed them. It served as a reminder of how much they had still to learn.
“Go on,” Yoda waved his hand at them. “Spin, spin.”
Hastily the Younglings spread their hands out and lifted themselves up, but the flawlessness of Bultar Swan’s spin was nowhere in sight. It took more than one several seconds to even get up in the air, and many of them shook and fumbled with their hands, and landed with shock and disappointment on their faces, which did not go unnoticed by the amused Yoda. “Thought it would always be easy, did you, because you had supposedly mastered it? Practice it, you must, much more, very much more. Run through more basic exercises, we will.”
Spins, flips, and jumps came and went. They improved as they went on, some more than others. Finally, Yoda said, “Skywalker, Bird, S’lvar, Kon, Amersu. Here, with me. Bultar, continue to run the others through their basics.”
Five Initiates stepped out of the main group: two human boys, a human girl, a Klatooinian, and a Twi’lek. Yoda led them to the far side of the room, and directed them to put their helmets on.
“The First Kata is done when right, the time is. But done, it must be.” He must have seen the shuffling feet from both human boys, which stopped very quickly at his glare. “Heed me, you will! Wait, you now will. Bird.” Letha Bird, the human girl, tall and broad even at six years of age, moved forward at Yoda’s beckoning, until she stood a little over him. “Grown more, you have, I see. Grown with the Force, you have also?”
“I don’t know, Master.” Letha had not allowed her nervousness to show, as it usually did, when Yoda had called her out with the other four, nor when he had singled her out, but her voice was ridiculously strained, and her eyes even traveled to Swan and the other Initiates, as if making sure they weren’t paying attention to her too, because it was bad enough that Yoda and these four were.
Anakin Skywalker looked too, and noted they were not. It really did rankle, though he knew he probably deserved it, that Yoda was going to demonstrate the very first kata with her instead of him, when she had this problem with attention. With all the basic exercises it had been him first, following Yoda’s instructions perfectly while everyone watched him. It was always easier when he was listening to Yoda, but even without him they always came easier to Anakin than to the others.
But there was Letha, arms held out in the starting position, helmet fastened securely to her head-Anakin moved to fasten his.
“Imitate me, you will. Separately, the steps should first be done.” He put his cane aside, walked very slowly around her, and then clearly to within all of their sight.
Any negative feelings Anakin might have been suffering from were gone, blown out of him by how dazzled he always felt when Master Yoda did this. One second he was an old decrepit creature barely their size, the next he was throwing himself forward as if he was weightless, easily somersaulting with an activated lightsaber held out to one side, scrunched up until it turned into a roll, which landed him a surprisingly short distance from where he had started. He had both feet perfectly on the floor and looked at Letha expectantly.
Anakin really did hope she’d get it right; he knew it would terrible for her if she didn’t. But of course she messed it up. Not too badly, but she went too far when she rolled, and she looked like she was knocking herself over her own legs. It was a good thing she did it without the lightsaber.
“Smaller, you should not make yourself, when finishing it. Part of the form, that is not.” Letha, who had to noone’s surprise scrunched herself up in embarrassment, did her best to unscrunch. “So stiff, you cannot be,” Yoda insisted at her. “Try again, you must, but you cannot like that!”
It took several more minutes and a lot more coaxing before Letha was ready to go again, during which Anakin wished that if Yoda refused to have him or Octus Kon do this first , he would still replace Letha with one of the other two.
And then when she mastered the first move, there was still the second. She was still working on the third when Bultar Swan interrupted them by bringing over another one of the Initiates, little Enza Oxi. “I believe she may be ready to join the first five, Master.”
“Ready, is she? Basic spin.”
Of course Anakin knew he shouldn’t be impatient, and he’d been chastised for it already. But really, did Master Yoda have to test Enza in every single basic exercise? Surely if the Padawan said she was ready, that meant she was!
But it turned out not to be a problem that day, because Yoda finally turned to him and said, “Skywalker, demonstrate the first three forms, you will?”
“Yes, Master!” Letha stepped happily out of the way. He focused himself, knowing he had to get this right. Master Yoda was counting on him.
He thought he saw Yoda’s gimer stick coming at him and he leapt, forcing his mind to calm just before he went into the somersault, then kept it easily until he stood, tall as he could. He had completed all of the first three forms perfectly.
He wondered why Master Yoda didn’t seem pleased, and was just starting to worry that he was feeling too proud again when the doors opened, and to Anakin’s delight it was Padmé Naberrie. She was the girl who had tutored him for what little time he had needed tutoring back when he had been five, and his only real friend in the Jedi Temple.
“Initiate Naberrie. Pleased you will be, to hear your young clanmates are doing well.”
The six Initiates near Yoda and the others by Bultar Swan exchanged confused looks. They hadn’t thought any of them besides Anakin were doing well at all.
But Anakin also saw a bit of surprise on Padmé’s face. That couldn’t be to hear they were doing well; she always expected them to. No, he thought it more likely she was simply shocked Master Yoda knew her name. Which was silly of her, because Master Yoda knew everyone’s names.
But she quickly regained herself, and said, “I come from Master Piell; he needs to speak with you.”
“Wait, he will. Much more important things, I am doing.” He beckoned Anakin back in and pushed S’lvar forward. “First three-why still here, are you?” For Padmé was still standing there, looking like a baby hawk-bat caught in a transport’s headlights.
Yoda stared at her for several moments more, before she said, “But...Master Piell insisted I come back with you. I can’t go back alone.” Wow. That wasn't very nice of Master Piell at all. Was he treating Padmé like that because she was too old an Initiate?
“If go back alone, you cannot,” replied Yoda, “then go back with me you will-when I am done. Help me out, you will?”
“Oh, of course! What do you want me to do for you?”
“First Kata.” And so Padmé obediently launched herself into the kata, and Anakin didn’t know for sure but he thought she was doing it perfectly, and Master Yoda looked approvingly.
How long ago was it that Padmé would have paid special attention to how Master Yoda watched her, even if she knew it was unlikely that he would take her, simply because he was without a Padawan, and that meant there had to be a chance, however small, that he might decide to take her on as his? Only a few weeks ago, when there would have been a hint of desperation in her eyes, and in the flick of her arms and legs too? But now she barely looked at him, and she did the kata without giving it any real thought.
Why has she given up? Anakin thought, for the hundredth time. She’s not even twelve yet!
And why did Master Yoda look at her with such compassion and not do anything? How many stupid Masters, even ones better than Master Piell, had looked at Padmé that way, wondering why she didn’t have a Master, without even considering, even for just a second or so, that they might become her Master?
Master Yoda sent her over to help out with the other Initiates, so Anakin didn’t see much of her for the rest of the lesson, but he watched her lead Yoda away afterwards, and barely heard his agemates talking about how cool the lesson had been, ignoring the questions asked of the lucky six who had actually gotten to try the kata. He was going to talk to her after lastmeal, during the only time of day when the Initiates weren’t directly supervised.
They didn’t talk at first, so to eat quicker. Neither of them liked to spend longer in the refectory than they had to, where they were both stared at. Anakin used to being stared at, though it still hurt to hear them whisper about his mother, and dark origins. But it was only recently that people had begun seeing Padmé and wondering what she was doing there with only a much younger Initiate to keep her company.
They finished at the same time, something they were very good at doing. Wordlessly they returned their trays together, then walked out into the corridor, where they simultaneously sagged in relief at feeling everyone’s eyes off them. “One more year of this,” Anakin heard Padmé mutter as made their way towards his dormitory.
“Okay, Padmé,” said Anakin, in his most authoritative voice. “You need to remember a few things. First, you are still not twelve.”
“Less than a month.”
“Second,” he said, louder, “second, there are Initiates who are selected when they are twelve. There are even Masters who don’t like having younger Padawans, so they only select Initiates who are twelve.”
“They don’t select Initiates who came to the Temple too late and who don’t exactly have the highest midi-chlorian count ever.”
“You did not come to the Temple too late!” Anakin insisted at her. “If they thought that, they wouldn’t have taken you to the Temple in the first place. And your count is well above the limit, isn’t it?”
“So I’ve been reminded before, but even so, I think they would have done better to have left me on Naboo.”
Anakin shared his sleeping quarters with the other male agemates of his clan, who were all still in the refectory, which was the reason they went there instead of where she slept. Both of their happiest hours had been spent sitting together on his sleeping couch, working or just talking.
That was where they flopped down now, and Anakin said, “You know, I’m starting to wonder if you really want to be a Jedi.”
“What makes you say that?” she demanded, dismayed.
“Because you’re always wishing they left you behind with your family, I know you like the idea of seeing them again, and you’re still being way too pessimistic.”
Tears came from her at that. “It’s because I want to be a Jedi that I wish that! I wish they hadn’t taken me away because if they hadn’t, I would never have known I could be a Jedi, always thought it a destiny for someone other than me. But they took me here, they raised me to prepare to be a Jedi, and more than that, they raised me to want it, so badly it hurts. I would never have wanted to be a Jedi if I’d been a simple mountain farming girl. And now I’m just going to end up a farmer anyway, but be unable to be content with it!”
Anakin hastily started looking around for something she could wipe her eyes with. “I'm sorry, Padmé, don't cry. Please don't be angry."
“Why shouldn’t I be? It’s not like it matters now.”
“Don’t say that! Never say that!” He abandoned the quest and seized her wrists, tried to yank her over into looking at him. “If you stop trying, of course you won’t succeed.”
Whether he got through to her or not he didn’t know. She turned away, and dried her eyes with her hands. He just watched her, knowing she didn’t mind if he stared the way they both minded if other people did. He thought he heard her murmur, “Release,” before he saw he muscles relax and her anger leave her. “You are right that I wouldn’t mind going back to Naboo,” she said, more to herself than him. “At least, if I can’t stay here. Did you know when I turn thirteen, I’ll be considered of age by my people? I wonder if they would consider me of age, and the wouldn't insist I go to some distant Agricultural Corps world, but just let me leave and decide me own fate?”
“Then you could definitely go home, couldn’t you?”
“If it's home,” she sighed. “I don’t know if home is able to be anywhere other than here in the Temple now. Naboo...well, it’s the most beautiful place in the galaxy, and of course I’ll never forget my family, but I don’t miss them now, the way I once thought I always would.”
This, thought Anakin, was something he couldn’t understand. Because the Jedi Temple always had been home to him, from as far back as he could remember. And as for his family, he apparently had no father at all, unless one counted Darth Plagueis, and he sure didn’t, and his mother was no more than an image and a profile in the databank where he’d read about her history and current location.
Except there was one memory that might have been of her, but he wasn’t sure. It was of a place which he thought was the creche here in the Temple, and a pair of arms holding him, and a soft sweet voice talking to him, and singing a lullaby. It was his earliest memory, and he thought it might be from just before they sent her away. He couldn’t think of anyone else who would have done that to him.
Though as for what it was like to miss someone, if Padmé was right about her future, he would understand what that was like soon. He didn’t like to think about the idea that they would send her away, where she’d be miserable for the rest of her life, and he would never see her again.
“They might not select me either,” he said, voicing the fear for the first time. “They seem scared of me. They others say that Master Yoda said-”
“Never mind what they say Master Yoda said.” Padmé cut him off. “You don’t know that he really said it. And even if he did, you’re the Chosen One! You have to be trained!”
“I don’t know if I’m the Chosen One,” Anakin sighed. “Neither do they.”
“I’m sure that many of them are convinced you are, and enough that one of them will take you. Ani, it only takes one of them to say, ‘I’ll train you.’ Just one.”
“Padmé, that’s what I was trying to tell you!”
She opened her mouth to disagree, but the doors opened, and Octus ran in, yelling, “Anakin! Anakin! The Temple’s being attacked again!”
“What?” Padmé leapt to her feet, her hand going to the lightsaber strapped to her belt. “What are you talking about? I can’t sense anythi-” But then she paused, and looked as if she was sniffing the air. Anakin too could sense something was amiss.
“We saw the ships from the windows," said Octus, "and Master Jinn said they were the Sith ships, and we all have to hide in the towers, and they left Sara Tor’nuit to get us there, and she’s supposed to help, and one of the younger padawans might, or he might have to fight-”
“Come on then!” Seizing Anakin by one hand and Octus by the other, Padmé took off at a run, taking the two boys with her.
They were just outside the refectory and could hear Sara Tor’nuit’s voice yelling, “Everyone over here! Stop panicking!” when suddenly the corridor shook with a bone-sickening crash which made half the Younglings in the refectory scream, followed by the more distant sounds of battle.
The doors opened to a frightening scene. A piece of the wall had fallen into the middle of the crowd, and almost surely it had fallen on someone, but with the crowd they couldn’t tell who at first.
But by the time Padmé forced her way through the crowd, Anakin and Octus still trailing after her, Xiaan Amersu had also reached the fallen wall and the two bodies under it, and were yelling their names: “Initiate Tor’nuit? Letha? LETHA!” But they were dead. They could all feel that.
And the Padawan they just mentioned was nowhere in sight. He must have gone off to fight. Padmé was now the oldest left in the room.
“Silence,” she said sharply, but only loud enough to be heard over all the shouting, Anakin thought. The voices died down, everyone looked at her.
She was still holding Anakin’s hand, though not Octus’, and so Anakin could feel sweat on it, but she otherwise seemed fearless. “Everyone follow me.”
Down the corridors they went, other Initiates joining them, more every time Padmé opened a door and yelled into it, “Everyone come with me. We’re going to the spires.” And they all followed her, even after they were joined by Initiates her age, and older too. Many of them looked at Anakin walking alongside her, still holding her hand, and he wondered if, strange as it sounded, his being with her was a part of why she was accepted as their leader. She kept a tight hold on him, even though she had to know he wasn’t going anywhere.
With each distant explosion they walked faster. When the lights flickered and went out, they quickened their pace even more, and more when pieces of the ceiling started falling down, though the older ones lifted their hands and kept them from hitting; instead they fell harmlessly behind the group.
As they neared the end of the dormitories, the sounds of fighting grew louder. Then the doors opened, and Padmé’s lightsaber amoung several others were drawn and at the ready, but everyone relaxed when they saw who had come in: Master Yaddle, apparently injured, and clutching onto the shoulders of her young padawan.
“Destroyed, the central spire has been,” gasped out Yaddle. “Under attack and falling, the other four are. Escape the Temple, you all must.”
“How?” asked a horrified Padmé.
“Oné, turn around. Directions, I will give you all.”
Now they ran, through steep passages and up several staircases, some of the youngest panting with the effort, far beyond where the Initiates would ever have been allowed to go. All around them were explosions, the glows of which could sometimes be seen, and the sound of sabers and blasters, often very close, and pieces of the walls and ceilings continued to give way, but even injured Master Yaddle was very powerful, and they bounced off an invisible shield.
At last they burst into a wide hanger, filled with fighter ships. “Made, this was, after the last attack,” Yaddle explained. “Two of you, each can carry. How many of you can pilot?”
Padmé finally let go of Anakin and moved over. So did most of the older Initiates, comfortably more than half of the group.
“Take the ships. Each of you who can pilot, fly with the ones who can’t, you should.”
Anakin had barely given his hand and wrist a good rub when Padmé had grabbed them again. She led him to one of the fighters and pushed him into the co-pilot’s chair. He took a curious look at the controls, and noted with a tiny bit of pleasure that he understood what many of them did.
Padmé sat down next to him and placed a helmet on his head. She pressed a button and the hatch closed itself up above them.
Up the fighter lifted, and Padmé steered them in between the other ships, many of which were swinging about wildly, and several times she had to swerve violently aside. “Rudimentary in some ways,” she observed, “They concentrated on fitting a hyperdrive into a ship that would normally be too small. And what are the steering handles doing embedded on the dashboard?”
There was a radio, though, and it crackled to life with Master Yaddle’s voice, “What firepower there is, ready, you must have. Attack when you emerge, they will.”
“Anakin, can you tell me when that lights up?” She indicated a small red light near him and then pressed several buttons.
“We’re clearing the hanger.” Suddenly they were out of the Temple, and the cockpit was flooded with light, red and orange in the most brilliant hues Anakin had ever seen. In spite of everything he felt his breath catch in awe. He had seen sunsets from the windows of the Temple, of course, but they were nothing compared to being surrounded by one. He nearly missed the tiny red flash, dwarfed by the other lights, but he remembered and reported to Padmé that it was lit.
She was flying them in between the large buildings which had never before seemed real, but now were huge, fascinating things, but then blaster fire streaked across the hatch, blotting out the sunset and exploding the world in bright red.
“That was too close,” muttered Padmé. “I’m returning fire.”
More red flew out from the ship’s guns, and explosions thundered around them, some of the ships of their fellow Initiates, and for the first time, Anakin looked at the Temple as they charged it down, firing at the big dark grey ships nearest them. The central spire was lying across the structure; the others swayed dangerously. Before their eyes a second one took a blast from a dark grey ship and tumbled down, hitting the tower already down and breaking it in half. Next to him he heard Padmé make a choking noise.
Then a new voice, one of an older girl, over the radio. “Clear the planet as fast as you can, and then continue into hyperspace.”
“Who’s that?” Anakin wondered.
“It’s Oné! Oné, is Master Yaddle all right?”
“She’s weakening” was all they heard before there was a burst of static and the radio went out. Padmé had pulled them up and they were now flying high over Coruscant, the Jedi Temple falling behind, its two fallen spires looking like little snapped branches and getting harder and harder to spot.
Higher and higher, and blaster fire was still streaking past them. “There’s a small group of them following us,” said Padmé; her calm was kind of amazing. “Do you know how to operate the navicomputer?”
“Then you’ll have to operate the navigational controls for a minute or so. See these handles?” She took his hands and put them on top of the steering handles, locatedly, indeed strangely enough, on the dashboard. “You move them this way to go this way,” the ship swerved back down towards the planet and then around in a loop, “this way to go this way,” the ship flew distinctly away from the planet and Anakin felt a sudden strange sensation, as if he weighed nothing for a split second, “and-”
“-and you move them that way to go that way, and so on?” Anakin interrupted her.
“Yes, you’ve got it,” said a very pleased Padmé. “And we’ve cleared the main gravity field. Get us as far away from everything in orbit as possible and try to hold those grey ships off until we can jump to lightspeed.”
It was harder to steer the ship than Anakin thought. It seemed every time he moved the handles the ship moved further than he wanted it to, he had no idea how the enemy ships could be held off, and to top it off, Padmé was leaning over him, pressing him down into the central panel, as she tried to run the navicomputer. Anxiously he flew the ship down from fire, then hastily back up again to avoid more fire, then higher still to avoid crashing into the large metal thing in front of them, then back down to avoid another bigger metal thing, and he was trying to figure out how many more metal things there were, but he had to concentrate on moving out of the way of where he knew that ship was going to fire and still they weren’t avoiding the fire all together, so while the shields were holding ship was rocking like mad.
“Keep going, Ani, we’re almost out!” Spurred on by her words, he slid between two more round metal things and out into open space.
“Prepare for light speed. Just a little more space.” She pushed Anakin aside, and moved the ship past more blaster fire, then with a “Hope I’m right...” she pulled the throttle back.
Anakin felt another strange sensation, the opposite of the earlier: now he felt like he was increasing in weight until he thought his chair should be crushed beneath him, while outside the cockpit the stars began to move so fast they turned into streaks of light, then merged with each other until there was nothing outside but an endless cloud of white-blue, and he felt like his normal weight again.
The control panel let out a series of beeps, and Padmé said, “Looks like there’s autopilot programmed to lock us onto a course that’s just engaged. This ship is officially out of my hands.” She breathed out hard, her head fell back across the top of her seat, and a single tear fell down her cheek.
“I’m sorry about Sara Tor’nuit,” Anakin offered. “You were friends with her, weren’t you?”
“It not just her. So many of those ships must have been blown apart, and so many others killed besides that. I hope Master Yaddle makes it. Poor Oné. To be chosen as early as she was, and to lose a Master at precisely her age...I’ve heard it’s terrible.”
“Are you friends with her too?”
“Not really, but I do know her a little bit. Her family was from Naboo, or at least her mother was; I think who her father was is a bit more complicated, but she was in the creche when she was a week old. She got curious about her homeworld once, and asked me about it.”
“What did you tell her?”
Padmé’s expression turned far away as she answered. “I told her about my home, and about the mountains, and the fog in the mornings, and how my mother always told me sister Sola and me to look out for the ghosts.”
It was then that Anakin realized something. “Padmé, do you know, you’ve led a bunch of Initiates to safety, including me, the Chosen One?”
“That wasn’t really me,” started Padmé, “that was Master Yaddle, with Oné’s help...”
“Still, you did a lot, didn’t you? You took command without panicking, you led us through most of the dorm rooms, and you got both yourself and me to safety. Unless we die before we get back, you’ll be a Padawan within the month!”