“Versé...” she called. “Versé, come on.” Ahead of her, Versé showed no signs of retreating.
What's she doing? She’ll be shot! Padmé thought frantically. But now it didn't look like Versé was even trying to find an opportunity to return fire. A quick glance around told Padmé that the rest of the entourage had fled, but she couldn’t leave Versé there. She crouched behind a pillar where she was protected from most of the gunfire and yelled desperately, “Versé! Please! You’ll be killed!”
But Versé only laughed, and then screamed, “Father! Show yourself, father! I know you were responsible for this now, that’s why I’m still standing here unharmed, father!”
Then she fell, as if in slow motion, shot through the heart like Cordé had been.
There was no time to think. Padmé swerved around the pillar, fired off one last bolt, then turned towards the door.
But as she did, two men burst out of it, and she found herself pulled back against one of them as the other easily wrenched her blaster pistol from her grasp. Her arms were yanked over her captors shoulders and she cried out in pain as the muzzle of her pistol was pressed against her chin. She shuddered as a rough glove crept menacingly along her hip.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” hissed an oily voice in her ear. “Your Senator’s dead, handmaiden-or is she? Perhaps that was a decoy? Perhaps the Senator was posing as a member of her entourage?” The pistol jabbed her skin. “You, perhaps?”
Let them think I’m her, Padmé thought frantically. It’ll keep her safe for that much longer. The hand crept further down, and she wanted to squirm away, but if he wanted his way and she let him have it, it would buy more time-
“Stop right there!” Another voice yelled from behind them. “Unhand the girl.”
Next thing Padmé knew she was free, and the two men were running down the platform with a pair of Jedi knights in pursuit. They were almost upon them when they reached the edge and jumped.
Padmé ran to join them as they peered over the edge. “I think I can see them,” said the younger, a young and handsome boy who wore an apprentice's braid.
“I think they’re associates of-” Padmé started, but she was interrupted when from below the platform there was the sound of an explosion, and seconds later a speeder burst out of the foundations, the two men fighting over its steering controls.
“Guard the handmaiden, Anakin,” the older Jedi ordered the younger one. “There’s no way those two could have shot the Senator; there has to be a whole gang of them who may still be about.” He leapt off the platform, coasting his way to another one nearby, gliding an impossible distance with casual ease; in spite of the situation it took Padmé's breath away.
But the less impressed Anakin sighed, “He’ll never get to them that way! I suppose you want to stay here,” he added to Padmé, in such a tone that implied she really should not want to stay there, as they looked fully at each other for the first time. She was caught by the intensity she saw deep in the dark chasms in his blue eyes; living her life amid the exiled Naboo, she rarely saw such life in anyone.
“No,” said Padmé, “I want to help capture those two men, if I can."
His face split into a wicked grin which Padmé was certain was unbecoming of a Jedi. “Hold on, then,” he said lightly, then he scooped her up and jumped.
A minute earlier Padmé had been convinced she could never be more scared than she had been just then. That belief gave way in the face of hurtling through thin air with nothing more to hold on to but a teenage Jedi. She was too scared even to scream.
A moment of her feet again touching something solid before they again were up in the air brought little relief. Anakin grabbing onto the hanging windpipe of a large mass vehicle and them dangling from it while speeding who knew how many miles per hour through the air brought less, especially when they crashed into two different traffic droids. But finally they landed in what she recognized as a Senatorial Quarters parkway.
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” Padmé asked timidly. She was too scared of his reaction to being asked if he was about to commandeer a senator's private vehicle. Maybe he didn't know the ruckus some of them might raise over that; he probably didn't know as much about senators as she did.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it all under control. Isn’t that Senator Greyshade’s speeder?” He pointed to a shiny yellow and orange speeder about three spots away from them.
“Why, yes it is!” Padmé remembered Senator Okiltine’s last meeting with Simon Greyshade. It hadn’t been a pleasant experience. Nor was perhaps the experience of any decent sentient being when dealing with the most despicably corrupt Senator in the Republic.
But she knew how he might reaction to this, so when she realized Anakin’s intentions, she felt the need to say, “Master Jedi, if you take that speeder, he will be furious beyond-”
“Good.” Then he practically tossed her into the passenger seat, leapt in next to her, and took off, going so fast Padmé's hood slapped itself down.
He flashed her another grin, and said, "Nice hair." She'd put it up in a pretty intricate bun that morning, with curls hanging around that were swiftly getting tangled in the wild wind they were generating.
She shook her head and said flatly, “You’re crazy.”
“So my Master’s said a couple of times. Hey, don’t get your robes all tied in knots; I’ll leave it in his personal parking spot.” Then he took the speeder up a steep ascent that Padmé thought might be illegal, swerving madly to avoid the skylanes and ignoring the sirens from angry drivers.
“Sorry!” She herself called to them, though they probably couldn’t hear her.
Finally they leveled off, and there was Anakin’s Master, who had taken notice of them and was standing there, glaring at his apprentice with such thunder it made Padmé flinch.
“Hop in, Master,” said Anakin cheerfully. “Have you kept any track of who we’re chasing?”
His Master jumped lightly in as they scooted over; the speeder was only built for two, but the seats were very big; they were only badly squished. “I thought I told you to...” Then he stopped, and stared at Padmé incredulously.
“Stay with the handmaiden? Hey, she wanted to go after them. They had just murdered her mistress, after all.” Padmé briefly considered telling them that Cordé had been posing as the Senator, but that really was need-to-know information, and she could tell them later if something happened that required them to know.
“Well, did you make any effort to warn her of the dangers-woah!” Anakin taken the speeder on a wild dip. Padmé felt a flash of gratitude towards him though; his Master’s attitude angered her. Did he think she didn't already know the dangers? That there was no possibility of her being willing to brave them, even if she wasn't a Jedi?
“Sorry, Master,” said Anakin, who didn’t sound very sorry. “I forgot that you don’t like flying.”
“I don’t mind flying, but what you’re doing is...”
“....a little crazy?” Padmé finished for him.
“Will you please not gang up on me?” Anakin pleaded. But he and his Master continued to argue all through the resulting ride, pausing only when the latter advised Anakin to change direction, advice that Anakin thankfully took without protest. Soon they seemed to forget that Padmé was shoved up in the middle of the speeder between them as they hurled their words over her head.
To Padmé it felt like she had been jolted out of her life and crammed into someone else’s, and was now hoping she’d soon find some way to get back, because she couldn’t see any just then. After careening through the air with nothing below her, doing so in a speeder was easier to get used to than it might have otherwise been, but Anakin drove so fast that she gave up trying to keep track of where they were going in this unnaturally huge city, where all the buildings looked the same, especially when they flew past at this mad pace. She wished she had some idea of where Senator Okiltine might be, especially as Cordé and Versé’s deaths began to sink in. Could they truly trust Roos Tarpals? She wanted to believe they could. And yet it didn't seem to matter just now, as displaced as she was from all sense of space and time.
Then they abruptly came to a halt, and she heard the Master say, “Looks like they’ve made it easy for us.” She looked down and immediately spotted their quarry: there were two small stepping platforms just below, between which the two men had somehow crashed the speeder, and were sitting there having an argument themselves. Several thoughts about people truly being alike after all ran through Padmé’s head.
Even so, when Anakin stopped the speeder and leapt down with lightsaber ignited(“I hate it when he does that,” his Master commented), they abandoned their quarrel and grabbed their blasters. They were little match for him though. Their bolts rebounded against his lightsaber and hit their arms, causing them to drop their weapons in pain. His Master brought the speeder down and joined him. By the time Padmé clambered out after them, her limbs shaking from delayed shock, they had the men very subdued.
“Looky here,” one of them roared, “We have the Senator, I bet, having let her decoys die! Come to gloat, Senator?”
“Wait a minute!” Anakin turned and looked at her, shocked. “You’re Senator Okiltine?”
Don’t reveal until you have to. And for goodness sake, keep your voice steady if it kills you! “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” She saw Anakin’s Master looking at her very thoughtfully. Well, if he guessed, there wasn’t much she could do about that. Meanwhile she forced as much regalness and forcefulness into her voice and her still quivering body as she could manage. “But you’ve just killed two people very dear to me. Tell me who sent you. Was is Osic Excenil?”
“We don’t know,” sighed the other man. “We were hired by an anonymous client. If you really want to know, he’s probably somehow connected to-”
“Don’t just tell them!” his partner yelled at him, but the second man had suddenly stopped, mouth open. A moment later slumped he against the crashed speeder, unmistakably dead. Four pairs of eyes fell on a dart that had embedded itself in the side of his neck.
“FRAK!” was all the second man had time for before a second dart hit him. Then Anakin whirled around and grabbed Padmé, shoving her back towards the speeder. Even as he did, Padmé felt the metal of a third dart graze her cheek. Frantically she pressed her hand to her skin to make sure it hadn’t pierced.
"Get her out of here!" she heard the his Master yell; he was already doing so. A fourth dart missed as Anakin raised the steering wheel and they shot away.
After a minute or so, he looked back and said, “He’s not pursuing, whoever shot those. I think his main objective was to kill the two men before they told us anything. He probably fired at you because he hoped for whatever reward they were getting.”
She touched her cheek once again, even knowing it couldn't have pierced, or she'd certainly be long dead. It was hard to think anything but So close, swamp take it, so close... “Will your Master catch him?” She didn't try to keep her voice from shaking now.
“If he can. Though at least if he can’t, we can use the darts to try to identify him. And the important thing is right now you're safe. You're safe." He steered with one hand as the other took hers, firm but gentle, soothing power pulsing through his skin and suffusing hers. She looked over at him and felt herself relax just a little at the certainty with which he nodded at her, the promise that he would keep her safe, that nothing would hurt her so long as he was with here her. "Come, Senator. Let me take you home.”
She really did want to tell him that she wasn’t Senator Okiltine, since he had apparently decided to believe that she was. But she certainly had no excuse now.
Unlike their earlier wild flight, maybe out of sensitivity to how shaken his companion still was, Anakin flew sensibly, merging into the skylanes and complacently following the flow of the traffic. Padmé watched him as they flew. Part of it was fascination with the Jedi, of course; this was the first time she’d met any. But more then that, there was something about him that drew her. Like Jedi were supposed to, he now radiated calm, but when she looked longer, she somehow thought there was a sense of something dark and ominous beneath it. There certainly was that power, quiet now but intense. It was only after the swing through Coruscant’s platforms and the subsequent speeder ride that Padmé could see how alive he had been during them, more so than anyone she had ever known.
He knew Coruscant very well, too; without directions he took her to the Senate District. There she guided him to her apartment building on the outskirts.
He settled into at one of the building’s convenience entrances, and helped her out of the speeder. Then she stood there awkward, not wanting to leave him so soon, when she'd probably never see him again. “Guess you should return the speeder now,” she ventured, “before Senator Greyshade convinces someone to put the whole planet on red alert or something.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, then sat there for a moment or so. “Senator Okiltine...” Another pause, enough time for the shame to fill Padmé’s heart.
Then his wrist comm beeped. He activated it. “Skywalker.”
“Anakin,” said a small hologram of his Master, “I’ve found Senator Okiltine.”
Padmé didn't think, didn’t even wait to see Anakin’s reaction, but turned and ran.
“Miss! Wait!” He called after her. She ignored him, but bolted into the open lift. The doors closed and she was alone.
All alone, fingers stabbing at her destination two floors down, and wanting to scream. She ought to have only been relieved that her mistress was safe. In fact, she ought to have stayed there to hear more. Instead she'd been unable to, and her shame was overwhelming her.