"Release your fear," the Master commanded. "I'm going to inject you now. You must release your fear into the Force before the drug takes effect." She knew that. They'd explained this very thoroughly to her more than once, what was about to happen. She knew exactly how it worked.
She tried to concentrate on the Force, release her fear as she'd been taught, but there was too much of it. The hypospray pressed against her neck.
"You are free during this hour to go anywhere within this part of the Temple you like," said the Master. "But we will monitor your movements for your safety, and because you may find it enlightening to analyze them later."
She nodded, bowed, and left the room. What should she do? Her clanmates were eating lastmeal, and she didn't feel very hungry.
The answer came to her a moment later: Anakin's dormitory. She had finished tutoring him recently, and they still kept each other company very often. They always felt better when they were in each other's company. He had to still be in the refectory at the moment, but she was sure he would be back by the time the hour was up. He always left early.
She'd taken four steps towards it when everything emptied.
It was worse than she had thought it would be. She'd been prepared for not being able to sense things around her the way she always had. But she hadn't thought about not to be able to sense herself.
Nothing. There was nothing. Her universe had abandoned her. She was cold, she was lost, everything was gone, she wasn't even sure she still existed, or if she was trapped in some horrible state-
"No!" She yelled desperately. Then she heard footsteps, and she nearly fell over from the contradiction. Her ears were telling her someone was coming, but they couldn't be, because her brain was screaming at her that they were gone, all gone...
And now there was an image in front of her of a man, but he had no presence, like a hologram. And she could hear him asking her, so concerned, if she was all right, and she watched him kneel down, looking at the contraption, and felt him touch her hand.
Her skin was registering the contact, and even felt a little warmth in it, but it wasn't warm in the right way; everything was still so cold. It felt so wrong she jerked away, and frantically ran her hands along her body, where there was that same limited warmth, but even that felt wrong-
"Keep moving about," the man advised her. "The body has the ability to sense itself even without the Force. No, don't try touching yourself if it makes you feel worse. Just walk. Walk anywhere."
She walked. She was aware of herself walking, of her legs moving, but her legs still didn't seem there, and it didn't make sense, and she was still so empty. She didn't know if the man stayed to watch; maybe if she'd thought to look back she could have, but it still felt to her brain as if he hadn't really been there, like she'd hallucinated him. Maybe she had. She wasn't sure of anything anymore.
By the time she got to Anakin's dormitory she wasn't sure if she wanted her friend to be there or if she didn't want him to be there when she couldn't feel him. She tried to calculate how much of the hour was left, but even time didn't seem to exist anymore. She was suddenly beset by a terror that it really had stopped, leaving her like this forever.
She walked in, and looked around. The dorm was empty; her eyes told her that. She couldn't tell which bed was Anakin's, because she couldn't sense his having been there from any of them.
Through her growing agony, a shocking thought cut across, Did I rely on the Force even for that?
"Think! Rely on memory." That was how she had gotten to the dorm in the first place. Surely at some point she had paid attention to the location of the bed in the room. Perhaps her body might know which way to go without any senses; she knew that was a thing called muscle memory. But her body was just so out of her control...
Finally she forced herself to recall an image of the room, which bed they had gone to, and sat down on a bed. She couldn't swear that it really was Anakin's. Her mind was still rebelling against the thought it was. It felt too much like he'd never been there. Like he would never be there, that he would never come to her. And then she finally broke down, sobbing into alien blankets, in surroundings she didn't know at all...
"Padmé?? Padmé, what's wrong?"
She hadn't heard Anakin come in. Only the utter certainty of whose voice it was made her believe it was him.
But when he tried to touch her, she couldn't stand it. He was supposed to have so much of the Force in him that nothing in her life had ever felt so wrong. She pulled away violently.
The expression on his face looked so upset as he cried out, "I'm sorry, Padmé, I'm sorry! I'll go get a Master!"
"No!" She didn't want one of the Masters who regularly took care of them seeing her like this, or even anyone she knew besides Anakin. "It's okay, this will be over in...I don't know, but it has to be less than an hour."
She knew her voice lacked any kind of confidence, but Anakin could still sense her emotions-her shields had to be non-existent-and somehow they convinced him. Yet still he protested, "But we gotta do something!"
"No, we don't. Please Ani, just let it be."
"But can't I do anything?" he pleaded.
He was so desperate it forced Padmé's mind back to its usual quickness, so she had an answer: "Yes. Talk to me. Just talk. About anything."
She focused on his voice as he talked, not even hearing what he was saying; it latched her back on to reality and steadied her frightened heart. Her sobbing quietened. Though that nearly emerged again at one point, at the thought that in less than six years, they would do this horrible thing to Anakin, but she didn't want to upset him further so she supressed it.
She heard another voice she didn't recognize at one point, heard Anakin say "Go away!" and footsteps die off. She was surprised by how she was getting used to the idea of the presence of people without sensing them there. She became more aware of the press of cloth against her face, of the chill of the ventilation. She even started to gain back a sense of her own body, an awareness again of where her arms and legs were. She wiggled her toes-yes, her brain did keep track of it on its own.
And then, what seemed an eternity later, suddenly the world flared back up, everything came rushing back, she was back, the universe was back, she knew where in it she was, and Anakin was with her and he was so bright, and she interrupted him in the middle of a sentence to leap down from the bed and throw her arms around him, basking in the Force in him, in her, all around them, in every creature on Coruscant, in that moment aware of each and every one of them in a way she never had consciously been in all her life. Tears of relief streamed down her face.
"Are you okay now?" he asked nervously.
"Yes," she whispered back. "I'm fine now. It's over."
They stayed like that for a minute or so more, before the door opened and Padmé heard someone call, "Initiate Naberrie?"
They looked up to see the old Master standing at the door. Padmé drew herself up and both Initiates bowed. She knew the speech coming up; she had been there when Sara had heard it.
He took her arm and removed the supression device. "I would advise you not to feel ashamed," he said gently, sensing her thoughts, "your reaction was not dissimilar to that of most Initiates when they are first cut off from the Force. The purpose of this exercise is twofold: first, that you learn not to take your ability to feel the Force for granted, and secondly, that should the worst happen on a mission and you be cut off from the Force while in the field, you will, at the very least, avoid reacting as badly as you did tonight."
Padmé blushed at this last bit, but knew that the first objective of the exercise had certainly been achieved. She'd never take the Force and her ability to access it for granted again.
"As you know, all trainees go through the Force-supression exercise at least once, when they turn eleven, for an hour's time, as to put them through it for any longer, any earlier in their lives, or any more often at this age would not be justifiable with any ends. However, I feel I should warn you that once you are 15, your Master may choose to use the exercise as he or she sees fit."
Padmé knew Anakin was paying as close attention as she was, and she could feel his distress. At what she had gone through? At the thought she might have to go through it again? At the realization that he would go through it too? She would have to talk with him later, when they were alone.
"Though you should not feel shame," he was finishing up, "you should give your behavior considerable thought, and, as in all things, attempt to improve. As you do not yet have a specific Master, you are free to seek out any Master in the Temple you know and trust, if you need advice on this matter." Then he smiled at her. "Now I think you should get something to eat, and join your clanmates at their evening studies when you're ready; you need feel no obligation to hurry this particular night. Initiate Skywalker, I believe you are late."