Padmé was hardly the only one to spend hours sifting through the thousands of crystals of the cave, searching for the right one for her. In fact, all the Initiates who had landed on this snow-covered world had done so. There were twenty of them, from a dozen ships. Oné had suggested there might be more survivors, as she believed the different fighters were programmed to go to different places. “So if the Sith find one group, another still remains safe.”
Master Yaddle might have been able to confirm it, but she was unconscious in what her apprentice hoped was a healing trance. Oné had been to the temple and cave before, and showed no interest in them now, instead refusing to leave her Master’s side. That she ought to put her personal griefs aside as their de facto leader had not occurred to her.
Instead Padmé, as the oldest after Oné, had seen to their supplies and set rations, directed the continual scanning of the area around the planet to the best of their ability, and even made attempts during the first couple of days to keep them to their exercises, though she’d finally given up on that. Remembering her irked words to the group and her private complaints to him, Anakin observed to her now, “You have to start practicing your katas even harder, now that you have that.”
“So will you,” she rejoined, “once you find your own.”
“You think they’ll let me make a lightsaber when I’m only six?” Also he wasn’t sure how, even after watching Padmé make hers.
“Well, you can find your crystal anyway. I’m sure they’ll let you keep it for as long as need be. Keep searching.”
“Sure you won’t tell me what I’m looking for?”
“You’ll know it when you find it, I promise you that, Ani.” Blade still lit, she lowered her arm, then cleverly leapt over it, launching into a kata far beyond Anakin’s capability. It ended with a graceful vault which took her legs straight over her body and landed her neatly with her feet straight forward and her lightsaber held out to her side. Anakin clapped.
“I’m too restless,” she said, then deactivated her new lightsaber, attached it to her belt where the old one had once been, and walked away towards where five Younglings were shifting through the crystals in an alarming manner, leaving a whole pile of them discarded on what was supposed to be a path kept clear. She had scolded Anakin for the same carelessness, which was why he now left each and every crystal where he found it.
For the next hour, this was exactly what he did, moving down the cave wall, and one of Padmé’s comments running through his head, “I think it was Master Gallia who said the process of making one’s lightsaber is as much a test of patience as of skill.” Then he spent another hour, by the end of which he was wondering how she found hers so quickly.
“Excuse me, Skywalker?”
It was a relief when Oné interrupted him, and even that she looked more frustrated than he felt, which wasn’t easy. Though it did increase his previously small worry that just because she was a Master and a Council Member didn’t mean Master Yaddle might not die. “Where’s Padmé Naberrie? Do you have any idea?”
“I...” Anakin looked back in the direction he had come, but could neither see or hear anything. “I think she went over that way,” he said, pointing, “but that was a couple of hours ago. Why? Is Master Yaddle okay?”
“She’s exactly as she’s been since we landed here. Thank you, though.” She strode off to where Anakin had pointed, then suddenly stopped, turned back, and said, “Try quieting your mind more. It makes finding it a lot easier.” Then she was gone.
Quiet his mind. He supposed Padmé knew how to do that. But he didn’t. “Think calm,” he said out loud. Calm, like Padmé’s face had been when he had watched her search the crystals. He thought of those peaceful hours together on his sleeping couch, trying to recall the feeling he got. Calm. Quiet.
His attention turned back to the crystals. They were very bright. “Calm.” He repeated it over and over as a mantra, as he went through crystal after crystal after crystal...
He wasn’t sure how much time passed before he thought something caught his eye. It was gone the next moment, before he had any idea what it was, and he wished he wasn’t becoming so excited. “Calm. No, I have to be calm.” But unable to figure out even where he had seen it, he resumed his search.
Within the next hour, at least he thought it was another hour, but it could have been a completely different length of time, several more “somethings” drew Anakin’s eyes to them, only to vanish when he looked closely. It was getting harder and harder to stay calm, and he was just starting to wonder if all this teasing just made him feel worse when suddenly, he saw it.
He knew what he had seen immediately this time. It was a green crystal, inlaid near the end of the cluster, and it seemed to his eyes to outshine everything else in the cave. His fingers touched it; he felt them thrum with its energy. With very great care, he closed his fingers around the crystal. It warmed his hands, which they all had done, but it felt like this one warmed them more. He did not pull roughly, but patiently, shifting the crystal back and forth to loosen it, determined not the break any of it off. It seemed to take forever, but then he held the whole crystal in front of his eyes, and thought it amazing it didn’t blind him.
As he continued to hold up the crystal, excitement bubbled up through him, and he was off at a run, slipping and sprawling and pulling himself up after making sure the precious crystal was unharmed. “Padmé!” he yelled. “Padmé! I’ve found it! I’ve found my crystal!” He really had gone very deep into the caves. He passed a Shistavanen a bit older than him, and two more Younglings his own age, but couldn’t find Padmé for some time, before he began looking for the way to the front of the cave.
He finally found her in the artificially constructed anteroom. With her were Oné, holding Master Yaddle as one might cradle a baby, Octus and Xiaan, and two other Initiates Anakin didn’t know. All six were staring over their communications devices intently, and Anakin quickly realized something was going on.
None of them saw him until he went up to Padmé and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, startled, then exclaimed, “Oh! Ani! Someone’s coming!”
“What?” And now he saw the monitor they had out, and it showed a ship approaching.
“It’s almost in communications range,” Padmé explained. “Just twenty seconds more.”
Mentally they counted down the seconds, then Oné murmured, “Here goes,” and turned the radio on. “Jedi Fighter, do you copy? This is Padawan Oné Madierre; I have an injured Master and 18 Initiates with me. We are awaiting instructions.”
There came an answering voice, “Padawan Madierre, this is Master Windu. Can you name who’s with you?”
Oné actually had trouble remembering all the names, but Padmé prompted her, and she looked much happier when they heard Master Windu reply, “Stay there. I’ll come to you and take a look at Master Yaddle.”
“Anakin, Ashlk, can you find the others and bring them here? When you find Voolvif Monn, advise him that he’ll need to go outside and keep a visual lookout.
It took Anakin and Ashlk so long to find everyone that when they returned with the last of the Initiates, tiny Barriss Offee, struggling to keep up with their frantic pace, they found the anteroom deserted, except for Oné, with Master Yaddle, who directed them outside.
Dressed in the snowsuits thoughtfully kept in the anteroom, they trod outside into the snow, to find the other fifteen Initiates were staring up into the sky, where a distant dark ship was attempting to navigate the snowstorm. Padmé looked anxiously at them, and her first question was, “Is Oné still in there? She should be here to greet Master Windu.”
“I don’t think she’s going to take Master Yaddle out here,” said one of the older human boys. “And she’s definitely not going to leave her alone. Insisted I stay with her when she went to you. I don’t know why; it’s not like any of us can do anything.”
Anakin made it to Padmé’s side by the time the fighter had cleared the worse of it and was engaged in the landing cycle, its lone occupant visible. “Doesn’t he have an apprentice?” Someone suddenly asked. “Something Shen-Jon?”
“A lot of people have died,” said Padmé. She didn’t have to say any more. But when Master Windu emerged, though she looked mostly awed, Anakin could sense a bit of the kindness and sympathy that was the best thing about Padmé.
She bowed to him, and spoke, “Greetings, Master. Master Yaddle needs your help.”
“Take me to her.” Padmé led both him and the group inside. As she did, Anakin saw Master Windu glance over everyone, gaze maybe lingering over Anakin himself a little longer.
Inside, Oné looked up, then jumped to her feet and held Yaddle out. “She’s been like this since before we landed. Please, Master, can you help?”
Master Windu took her, examined her as she hung limp in his hands. “I will do what I can, but I think she will need Master Yoda.”
Oné wasn’t going to ask, so Padmé did. “Master, are we to go back to Coruscant now?”
“I believe so. The battle has ended.”
“There are two more ships coming.” It was Barriss who said this, staring wide-eyed at the monitor.
At her words, everyone crowded around the monitor, and stared at the two fighters that had appeared on the screen. When they were in range, Master Windu hailed them, and got a response: “Mace, this is Qui-Gon. Have you got anyone with you there?”
“Master Yaddle with her padawan, and eighteen Initiates. MasterYaddle’s in a healing trance; she needs Master Yoda’s aid as soon as she can get it.”
“I’m afraid that may be a while. The battle’s not over yet after all, and we have reason to fear your fighter’s been tracked.”
Everyone else looked alarmed, but Master Windu’s expression did not change. “If I have been tracked here, then we all need to get off the planet as quickly as possible. Are all the ships still hyperspace capable?” He clearly asked this of Oné. She nodded. “Yet there would still be the issue of piloting...I may need to reprogram some of the autopilots.”
They had repaired the radio enough for it to work at the moment, and Padmé notified Master Windu that they were ready, while through a constant static buzz they heard ten more responses, and then the order to take off. Up they lifted, much more slowly and deliberately than the last time, the ships around them moving at the same speed and in the same direction, like a set of droids. Up further, and Ilum’s cloud cover obscured their companions for nearly half a minute, then again the brief sensation of weightlessness as they cleared the gravity field. As one, twelve ships turned and floated out into deep space, towards two ships that waited for them, suspended in the nothingness of space.
The radio crackled to life again, and they heard Master Jinn’s voice say, “You aren’t being tracked now, but we can’t risk going too far.”
“I am aware of that,” answered Master Windu’s voice. “The autopilots are programmed to travel to the Aseldine system. Prepare for lightspeed.”
Wordlessly Anakin moved to take over the navigation, though this time he only had to hold the ship steady, while Padmé operated the fancier controls, then settled back with her hand on the throttle. “Number three standing by,” she reported over the radio. Similar responses sounded over the static.
“On my mark,” they heard Master Windu say, “three...two...one...mark.” Padmé pulled the throttle, and again the stars dissolved into each other and Anakin felt the sensation of growing weight as they jumped to lightspeed.
It wasn’t too long a journey to the Aseldine system, and soon enough they were dropping out of hyperspace and facing down a large yellowish planet. “Polsing. Technically habitable by most species, but we’ll get ill if we stay there too long. The air is barely breathable by humans.”
“They know what they’re doing,” Anakin reassured her. “They have to, they’re Masters.”
The tiny fleet descended into the atmosphere together, but as they did, Anakin and Padmé’s ship was suddenly knocked over by winds stronger than Anakin had dreamed existed. Padmé struggled with the steering handles before she handed them over to Anakin, who didn’t know how she could possibly keep a hold on them with the ship rocking so violently, with a, “Just try to keep up going down and horizontal, I’m going to see what I can do. If I think we can I’ll try to land.”
Anakin screamed once during the descent, when he did lose hold of the controls and was hurled against the back of the cockpit. But Padmé was back to that unbreakable calm of hers, taking a hold of him and all but shoving him back to the dashboard, and murmuring, “Don’t panic, Ani, just hold on. We’re getting lower.”
“And that’s good?” It seemed to Anakin the lower the ship got, the worse the wind got. For the first time he wondered if his friend might be going crazy.
But after a pause, she said, “You’re right, it’s not. But I don’t know what else we can...” Several moments silence where he was occupied with trying not to get thrown across the cockpit again. “I know what we’re going to do. It’s risky, and we’ll lose the ship, but unless I can get something else to work within half a minute we’ll have no choice.”
But if we lose the ship... But Anakin said nothing, hoping Padmé would be able to do something else. The seconds flew by, and then finally Padmé said, “We have to eject. Anakin, put your arms around me and hold tight.”
He clutched to Padmé with all the strength he had as she pressed a button to open the hatch. Then she jumped.
Anakin was aware only of the rough stink of the air around them, the too swift rush of the air, the power Padmé’s body generated as she performed the aerial, and the sound of the fighter pilot crashing below them. Then they hit the ground hard, jagged rocks cutting into them, and they both yelled in pain.
Then he was being lifted up and turned around, examined, Padmé touching him in places that sure did hurt, but then said, “Nothing serious. Sorry. I need more practice on that one.”
She examined herself, said, "And I'm good,” then stood around and looked up. He thought of asking her what they would do now, but then he realized she didn’t know.
After a minute or so, she turned and trudged back to the wreckage of their ship. As Anakin watched, she floated out all she could above the flames, including her old lightsaber, which she tossed to him. “You just might need it. You’ve got your crystal in your belt pouch, right?” He felt around for it, then nodded. “Good. Most of this is cold-weather gear. Not much use in this place. We’re going to need to find shelter too, or the heat could very well kill us. Still, we’ve got a some rations and a good medical kit. And I think we could get this communicator to work if we struggled with it enough.” She placed a few items in a pack and threw it over her back. “Lets go uphill a little. See if we can spot some of the others, or a cave.”
Already sore and tired, Anakin soon found the hike uphill pure torture. The air was so bad it felt like he was breathing in thick dust, and it burned worse and worse, until he felt he couldn’t stand to breath it anymore. Soon his legs hurt so much he could barely move them. The rest of him hurt too. His chest hurt so bad he wanted to hit it until it broke. He didn’t think Padmé was feeling much better. When she gasped out, “Okay, that’s high enough,” he fell to the ground, not even caring that it was covered with sharp rocks that dug into his body, and could barely look up enough to watch her determinedly gaze around, though she was stumbling about, having trouble with standing.
“Can’t see a thing in this gale,” she muttered, and bent her head downward. But then she looked relieved. “Cave. And it doesn’t look too far from here.” She had to haul him up, and he wondered how she could do it. She was panting afterwards, and he felt ashamed for putting her through that. But he still had to struggle just to keep standing up. His legs were lead.
In later years, Anakin would never be sure how he managed the walk, nearly falling down with every step, wrist held tight in Padmé’s sweaty hand, lungs bursting inside him until he felt like he wasn’t breathing at all. But stepping into the shadow of the cave provided only minimal relief. The beating of the planet’s sun was gone, but the air was still unbreathable, his legs still felt like he couldn't move them, and it was still terribly hot. Anakin thought the heat had killed them early.
A few steps into the cave and he slid out of Padmé’s grip and to the ground. “Go,” he gasped. “Go without me. I can’t keep going.”
“No, Ani, I’m not leaving you,” Padmé grunted. It was taking all her strength to lift him up; he knew it. Yet she was doing so, slinging him over her shoulders. “Just hold on,” she gasped. “The air’s better just a little further in.”
Anakin used the last of his strength to clutch at her tunic. He’d have cried if the planet hadn’t dried him up. He was failing, and now because of his failure she would insist on failing herself. They’d both die here, and it was all his fault.
It was getting cooler now, and darker; Anakin could tell even though he’d screwed his eyes shut. When he lost his grip on her, she took him up in her arms and carried him like a much younger child, a dead weight in her arms.
It wasn’t long after that when she too collapsed. But while Anakin lay nearly passed out on the cave floor, she set to work with the medical kit; he felt her inject him with something. He felt slightly better, and so did the air around him.
“I don’t know how long we can last.” Padmé’s voice was fuzzy, as if she was speaking from far away. I’m going to try to send a distress signal.” He heard the sound of beeping.
Anakin closed his eyes, and knew nothing else.
“She’s not waking,” said another voice from nearby.
That got Anakin to raise his head, but he had no energy to react to the horrible sight of Padmé looking so pale and limp that he was sure she had to be dead.
But the older Padawan-Kenobi?- must have guessed what he was thinking, because he said, “She’s alive, but barely. She seems to have all but expended herself for something.”
“I don’t think this young boy should be alive, let alone awake,” Master Jinn answered. “She must have decided to give her life for his.”
“Oh Padmé...” He mouthed the words; he didn’t have the breath to say them. Somehow, this felt worse than both of them dying.
Master Jinn leaned over to examine Padmé, closing his eyes as he took her hand. When he opened them, he said, “It may be possible to save her, but we have to get them both to the shelter as quickly as possible. I’ll contact Mace, tell him I think we’ve bringing the last two survivors we’re going to rescue.”
It soon became clear Anakin could barely crawl, so Master Jinn scooped him up, the same way Padmé had. He could do nothing but watch her, lying in Kenobi’s arms like a corpse, as the walls of the cave flew past them, the two men hurrying down to somewhere where their ship had to be, barely even hearing Master Jinn’s voice as he spoke into a communicator.
He had just finished talking when they reached another one of the pilot ships which everyone had been traveling in, and Anakin was carefully put down onto the co-pilot’s seat. He tried to tell them they’d lost their own ship, and he was sorry, but he still couldn’t speak. Kenobi took the pilot’s seat, and Master Jinn squatted by the seats with Padmé in his arms, pressed against her chest, his eyes closed. What was he doing to her? Was it what she had done to him?
They weren’t up in the air too long before they all started coughing up gunk. Anakin coughed up the most, until he was sitting in disgusting brownish-yellow ooze. He wondered how much gunk Padmé had in her, but she still wasn’t waking.
He stared at her and Master Jinn for a long time, until the latter looked at him, and said, “How well do you know this girl?”
He somehow managed to say, “She’s the only friend I have.” He felt his throat ease; it was getting easier to speak.
“Then you might be able to help me. Come here.”
Anakin obeyed. Master Jinn took his hand and placed it over Padmé’s heart, and he hated how cold she felt. He was hardly able to believe she was still alive.
He did cry then, his tears falling on her chest, and unable to help it he whispered softly, “Padmé, don’t die. Please don’t. Please don’t leave me. I’ll tell all the Masters how strong you were, how you were willing to die to save me, and then they’ll all want to train you, just please Padmé, please wake up!”
“She cannot hear normal speech,” Master Jinn reminded him. “Talk to her through the Force. Reach out to her.”
“I don’t know how to do that!” Anakin sobbed. He wished more than anything he could.
“Calm down.” The Master's commanding voice cut Anakin’s sobbing off. “Don’t think. Feel.”
Anakin thought the Master might even be using some sort of mind trick, but he didn’t care, as long as it saved Padmé. And he was sure his mind was being prodded, and he did as he was told, reaching out with his feelings, begging Padmé not to go, to hear him, to come back. She was a faint presence just out of his grasp, but he thought she heard him. And then she let the Master grasp her, pour strength into her, bring her back to life.
Then she coughed herself awake, heaving gunk all over Anakin’s face, for more tears, of happiness now, to wash away. “You’re okay! You’re going to be okay!”
“Well,” gasped Master Jinn, who didn’t look much better than Padmé at the moment, barely holding her up as she coughed stuff up all over him, “I’ll rest easier when we’re at the shelter. You both still need treatment. Obi-Wan, how far are we?”
“Six minutes, Master.” Anakin heard Kenobi answer. There was something strange in the way he answered, something which made both Master Jinn and Padmé look up, but Anakin couldn’t tell what, and now he was feeling more tired than ever. Padmé’s gunk was getting all over the floor, but he sat down on it anyway, leaned against the bottom of the seat, closed his eyes, and again fell asleep.