Note (1): There is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Sophocles description of a tragic hero in this part. Credit, as always, to Wookieepedia.
Note (2): There is also a quote taken from the TPM script. Credit to 'The Blue Harvest'.
Note (3): Thanks to YellowDart and NikeJ for the beta. XX
Hmm, I think that's it…mental blank. Yup, that's it. Many, many, many thanks to those that have been leaving such wonderful reviews to let me know you're enjoying the story (Helen hands out virtual flowers). You really do make writing fanfic a joy, especially when you're toiling away between updates! As always responses will have gone off to signed reviews and anons are below:
Mlhkvh5 – Thank you so much. Your reviews always are always so incredibly encouraging. I'm so glad that you like my style of writing and how I'm putting this story together. I've been told by my beta that I'm doing what is known in fanon as the 'slow burn' with A/P, but I plan on making it very much worth while for A/P shippers to hang in there. Oops, I'd better stop there. g
In the aftermath of the explosion, Anakin found out what had happened to the droids that he and Sal had shipped back to Roth. At least some of those containers had held super battle droids, or the second world equivalent. He knew this, because a pair of them accompanied the security team dispatched to investigate the assassination attempt on Padmé. It had been so long since he'd seen one of the metal monoliths, he couldn't tell if it was the standard model he'd fought during the Clone Wars, or if the Geonosians had modified them. Either way, having them present made the interminable interviews even tenser.
They were finally allowed to leave after a medtech pronounced them healthy and uninjured from the blast. A temporary airspeeder was procured for Padmé. She was still dazed enough to not quibble when Anakin insisted on piloting it to the Transvision Tower. During the short journey there was no conversation between them, but he hadn't expected any. After failing to raise Freyrr at the apartment via comlink, she spent the time contacting whoever she thought could help in locating the missing Wookiee. There was a jerky purposefulness to her every move that worried him.
None of those called had a clue where Freyrr might be, but they did find out some other news. In the short time they'd been out of the city, another terrorist incident had rocked the Core. In a lightening-quick response, Lyonides had passed a new 'emergency' law: effective immediately, non-humans were not allowed to enter the Core under any pretext. The few nonhumans that did live or work there had just lost both home and livelihood. Shocked, Padmé shut off the speeder's comlink and stared out of the viewscreen as Anakin set them down.
The stunned silence went on too long. "At least that explains the droid overkill back at the hanger," he said, trying to draw her out. "And the questions they asked about links to terrorists. Two bombs in one day—"
"I can't believe this," she murmured over him, more to herself than him. "I go missing for one day and he passes a law that he must know I would have opposed with all of my might."
Not to mention probably being responsible for the explosion of her shuttle. Anakin parked that conviction to one side for now. He would deal with that in his own time.
"Can he do that?" Anakin finished shutting down the engine and shifted to face her. "Is there no way of appealing it?"
He knew very well how a dictatorship worked. His aim wasn't to gain information, but to keep her mind occupied and panic at bay. He could feel the turmoil going on inside her.
"You heard Oboné," replied Padmé, swivelling to face him too. "An attack was made on the rain barrier power generator. The dissidents have never got near it before, so it has twice the impact. It's the ultimate excuse. Panicked, the people will agree to anything to ensure the protection of the barrier, and, by extension, themselves." Scrubbing her forehead, she shook her head. "An emergency session of council was called and I wasn't present—that's my problem. It's too late now for me to voice an opinion." Her expression turned stark. "Not that I would have been able to stop him anyway. Lyonides is getting bolder and more aggressive. I've warned the others to lay low for a while and not draw his fire."
"I heard you. It's a wise move—the right one."
Once again, she didn't seem to hear him, too absorbed in her own thoughts. "He's paying me back for the botched audience with you. I knew there'd be repercussions; I just wasn't expecting his retaliation to be so devastating."
As a lead-in to his own suspicions, her statement was priceless, so he took it. "You think he was behind the shuttle explosion, don't you?"
"Don't you?" she shot back.
"Yes, I do. What I don't understand is why you and not me?" Anakin frowned, feeling the injustice. "I was there. I was the one who antagonised him."
"Lyonides attacks who he thinks is weaker, haven't you realised that by now?"
"In your case, that would be a big mistake." He quirked a brow. "I well remember how dirty you can fight."
That earned him a ghost of a smile, then he watched her shake off defeat before it could take hold. "Maybe it's me that's forgotten. It doesn't matter now, it's done. I need to concentrate on finding Freyrr. That's my first priority." Pale, but determined, Padmé hit the switch that would release the overhead canopy and unlock the drop-doors. Before getting out, she inclined her head in a courteous goodbye. "I'll send a message about what we discussed when I can. Take care of yourself, Anakin."
Anakin stood too, nimbly leaping out onto the landing platform. "I'm coming with you."
Having only taken a few steps, Padmé swung sharply back, her face set. "No! You have to get far away from me. I know you offered to help, and I'm grateful for that, but I mean it this time." She held up a hand to silence him when he went to interrupt. "Don't you understand, even without the bomb, Lyonides is stepping up the pace?" The hand dropped and tears glazed her eyes until she blinked them away. Frustration edged into her voice. "I just wish I'd anticipated this. I should never have sought you out. Instead of helping, I may have made it impossible for you to get the aid you need. I'm sorry!"
Anakin was shaking his head before she'd even finished. "Don't apologise. There's nothing to apologise for, and I'm not leaving you to face this alone, Padmé." His tone was flat and uncompromising.
"I mean it."
They ended up glaring at one another. Anakin finished the silent debate by walking past her and slapping a hand on the door release leading into the apartment complex. The doors slid apart with a subdued hiss. Deliberately, he said, "We'll check your apartment for messages and then contact all of the local detention centres. Maybe she was taken in for being where she was no longer lawfully allowed to be."
"Fine," she gritted out, stalking past him. "I was going to do that anyway; which just shows you how much I need your help."
Hours later, Padmé followed Anakin's tall form down a set of stairs. Worry was like a mauling beast clawing her insides and hazing her mind. Where was Freyrr? Had she been hurt? Killed! An enraged Wookiee was fearsome beyond imagining, and for her friend to be absent so long … She stopped that thought in its tracks. She refused to give up, even in her head.
It was getting harder to stay positive, though.
They'd personally visited every detention centre. No Wookiees had been brought in, or so they were told. Anakin assured her that he had detected no lies. Next had been the medical centres—nothing. It was a nightmare. She'd become so desperate that she'd agreed to Anakin's long-shot and now they were entering a nightclub in the Outer Rim. Outside, night held full sway. Inside, the club was noisy and densely packed. Food odours fought with body odours. The lighting was comfortably dim and air quality moderately acceptable. On a semi-circular stage, an olive-skinned, reptilian Vodran was singing—if you could call it that—into a microphone. Following Anakin blindly, Padmé's gaze skittered from face to face, barely taking in the features of the varied sentients. However, she did notice that Anakin's presence caused the crowd to part for them without question. Wondering if he was using a Jedi mind trick, she kept close to him.
A sudden break in the press of bodies just ahead allowed a gold-complected Twi'lek waitress to catch her eye. Naturally sensual, the female was draped in layers of diaphanous strips of coloured, sequinned gauze that teased more than they hid. Padmé had the fleeting thought that there must be a body stocking under the filmy nothings—either that or the female was a true exhibitionist. Sliding nimbly between patrons with her tray held high, the Twi'lek passed in front of Anakin. The move looked deliberate, because she took the opportunity of sending him a sultry, come-get-me look. Then she noticed Padmé. As quick as a changeling, the waitress' demeanour changed to one of sharp-eyed, sulky assessment.
The encounter was mercifully brief and they soon passed out of sight again.
Without warning, Anakin's hand came out to snag and hold onto her own, keeping her close. His grip was warm, gentle, but strong. Padmé felt a tremor run up her arm. Her reaction unnerved her even further, driving the Twi'lek out like so much flotsam. Gods! Why did she let him affect her so easily? It wasn't the first time she'd asked herself that question, and she was still no nearer to an answer. Telling herself that, no matter what he looked like, this man wasn't the Anakin she'd loved and married did nothing. The problem was that he didn't just look like him: he acted like him--with a few key differences.
Such as maturity, control and understanding; all three of which her beloved had lacked to some degree.
And she shouldn't even be thinking about this right now, she realised. Fresh worry clutched at her stomach. Weren't things bad enough without adding more layers of confusion? She already felt as if everything was unravelling faster than she could possibly keep up with. Now was not the time for her focus to scatter. Delusions—mostly her own—were being eroded slowly but surely. History was repeating itself and she was powerless to stop it. After today, control was an illusion that she could no longer labour under. The only being who seemed able to withstand the tide of change was the one who'd heralded it: Anakin.
Considering everything, that notion was disquieting at best. Worse, in mere weeks, the line between wanting to trust and able to trust had become frighteningly blurred.
She clenched her free hand into a fist, trying and failing to block out the thoughts she knew would come. It's not about trust. I need him for now, that's all.
The part of Padmé that refused to lie—even to herself—sneered, You want to need him. There's a big difference.
You're wrong. Freyrr needs him or I wouldn't be here. I can't do this alone. If he helps me find her, then it will have been worth it. I can manage this.
Stop lying to yourself. You've never been able to manage Anakin, or what he makes you feel. It makes no difference that he's changed, or even what he's been. You're weakening. You think about him all of the time. You let the memories swamp you. In the dark, when no-one is looking, you even dream of him.
Stop it! You're not helping. Memories are understandable. I loved him once.
You love him still. Nothing's changed.
"Are you alright?" Anakin's voice was a deep rumble, interrupting her internal monologue. He'd stopped and turned to face her without her realising that her feet were no longer moving, and possibly hadn't been for some time. Concern shone out of bright blue eyes as he looked down into her face.
That concern slid over her raw emotions like a warm caress. For a fleeting second, she wanted only to be drawn in by him so that she could burrow into his strength. But you can't!
Padmé blinked, sucking in short breaths to clear the fugue from her mind. "I'm fine. Just a little tired, maybe." She glanced around, looking anywhere but at Anakin. "Where's this seer?"
"Whoa! So not a seer." A green face topped with spiked blonde hair appeared at Anakin's shoulder. "You should hear what happened to the last one I knew and adored. I'm anagogic, princess. You sing and I take a gander into your soul—which, I'm sure is as gorgeous as the rest of you."
Padmé blinked again. The figure before her seemed to run the whole range of the colour spectrum. Other than the bright green skin, the tall, trim figure wore a tailored outfit the colour of succulent red grapes. Something silky and peach-coloured frothed from the V-eed neckline. Above it, red eyes twinkled engagingly at her.
"Thank you," was all she could manage.
Anakin performed the introductions. "Padmé, this is Lorne. Lorne, this is Councillor Padmé Amidala."
"Nice to meet you," said Lorne charmingly. He then swung on Anakin. "You've been here what, twenty seconds? And I'm already getting a vibe that has my spidey-senses tingling." He clicked his fingers, miming thinking. "Wait. Don't tell me, I know this one. It's a matter of life and death and you need my help?"
Anakin nodded. "Something like that, yes. Actually, exactly like that. We need to find a friend who's gone missing. Can you help us?"
Lorne pulled a face. "Sorry, folks, I'd love to help, but I'm booked solid." He went to move away.
Anakin blocked him. "You could squeeze us in. We wouldn't take up much of your time. It's important."
"It's always important with you hero types. Trust me, I have experience."
Anakin didn't budge. "Please!"
A silent witness, Padmé got the distinct impression that Lorne was battling himself, an impression not changed even when resignation ghosted over his expressive face. "Alright. Fine. I give in." He gusted out a sigh. "I can recognise persistence when it's parked in my front yard. Besides, who am I kidding? I'd never survive the guilt-trip if I stuck with 'no'. Who's singing?"
Padmé swung on Anakin. "Why do I have to sing?"
"She's your friend, Padmé. Besides, I don't think it would work with me."
That begged another question and she pinned Lorne with a look. "First, tell to me how looking into my soul will help you see where my friend might be?" She flicked a fulminating glare at Anakin. "For some reason, Anakin didn't explain it properly."
The Pylean shrugged. "I don't just see pretty colours, sweetcheeks. Lots of things are tied up with the soul: past loves, dark desires—the day old chilli you ate for breakfast and then repeats on you all day." When she didn't smile, Lorne rolled his eyes, explaining, "When I look at someone singing it's like an all-spiritual-buffet with a side dish of destiny. I can't promise that I'll see anything that'll help you, but—" he lifted his hands, palms up"—then again, I might."
Resigning herself, Padmé closed her eyes. It was worth a try. "Fine. I'll sing."
Anakin watched from the side, propped up against a nearby wall as Lorne fetched Padmé a stool and set up the mic for her. She hadn't changed clothes since their near-death-scrape and there were singes in her navy cloak. Her hair had also suffered and she'd let it down to tumble around her face and shoulders. He knew for a fact that they both reeked like a pair of Krakana fillet steaks burnt to a cinder. None of it made a difference. As always, she looked beautiful to him.
He kept to the shadows so that he could look at her and not worry about what others might see on his face. He'd only ever heard her sing twice before: once at their brief wedding ceremony and again much later on Coruscant. She'd been heavily pregnant and laughingly told him that she was practicing old Naboo nursery rhymes. Both times, he'd kissed her senseless afterwards.
It was foolish, and didn't say much about his self-control, but Anakin was trembling as he waited for her to sing again. However, it wasn't just her that caused the tremors, but a slow burning anger that he was keeping under ruthless control.
Two assassination attempts in less than that many days, as well as an ally going missing was definite cause for concern, and infuriated him. Threats to those he loved had always been fuel to his rage, and it bubbled just under the surface now. It was as different from the despairing resentment of the last three weeks as hot was from cold.
Under his clothing, he was tense, coiled, ready, wanting to unleash and hit back. He knew better than to let Padmé see it. In days of old, that rage would have been all too apparent. As Skywalker, he would have paced and ranted, simmering. As Vader, he would have hoarded it, stoking it for use at some future, vengeful date. Now, he kept it bridled, aware of the destructive force it would become if he didn't contain it.
Fear leads to anger... anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.
In his youth, Anakin had dismissed Yoda's teachings. He'd been convinced that his rage merely fuelled him, forging a stronger connection to the Force. He'd been arrogant and wrong. He couldn't afford to make the same mistake, especially now when his powers were once again on the rise. Every second of every day, the flow of the Force seemed to swell stronger inside him. Not unlike the sandstorms he'd endured on Tatooine as a child, the shifting eddies bombarded him. The density of life in the surrounding forest no longer hindered his abilities. Anakin was so sensitised, at times he would swear he could sense the twirling progress of a falling leaf in that same forest.
Such sensitivity had certainly come in handy earlier today. Still, he didn't know which was more dangerous: his intoxication with wielding such power again, or his fear of it dragging him back down into darkness.
This time it was Obi-Wan's voice that whispered in his ear, All the more reason to be mindful and control your anger. Don't get complaisant, Anakin.
Anakin knew it was good advice.
Padmé's presence helped. The last few hours proved that just being with her soothed him. Stronger than his wrath was his need to protect. That instinct was also surging powerfully in him. Wisely, he also kept such instincts concealed behind a matter-of-fact tone and neutral expression—Padmé would balk if she knew.
Moments later, Anakin had to compose himself as a disgruntled Lorne joined him.
"We'll be ready to rock in a minute. Just so you know, I had to promise a deluxe reading to the client you two just bumped down to the end of the queue."
Anakin folded his arms, sparing only a brief, "We really appreciate it."
"You'd better. We're talking about a regular here, and a Lepi. I'm about to get the Director's Cut version of raw, bloody mammal á la carte and an amorous Bugs Bunny with performance issues." Lorne shuddered at the thought.
Anakin knew enough about Lepis to sympathise. He winced. "I'll make it up to you."
"To coin a phrase, you're darn tooting …which reminds me, I haven't seen you around for a while. I heard a rumour that you've taken to hibernating between lopping off demon heads?"
"Let's just say I've been keeping a low profile."
Instead of continuing to probe as Anakin half expected, Lorne left it with a knowing look and a philosophical shrug. "Fair enough."
On the stage, Padmé stared haughtily over the heads of the audience—every inch a Queen. The strains of something light and melodic began to float from the far side of the stage where the band was partially hidden. The difference in tempo from the club's usual fare had the crowd quieting, intrigued. When she began to sing, the first soaring note struck right to Anakin's heart, forcing him to briefly slide shut his eyes.
Next to him, Lorne quirked a brow, impressed. "Hmm, an aria—unexpected and it makes a nice change. She has a great set of pipes for it too."
The other patrons seemed to think so too. An electrified silence reigned during the short, bittersweet song. Spellbound, the trembles increased in Anakin. With each breath, he took her voice inside himself, filling himself to overflowing and awaking desire.
While she sang, Lorne forgot the drink in his hand and stared fixedly at Padmé, a frown digging deeper grooves between his brows.
Afterwards, covered by the enthusiastic applause, Lorne glanced over at Anakin, who turned his own head to meet the quizzical red gaze, squarely. "Well, colour me surprised," drawled the Pylean. "I knew you had a story lurking behind those baby blues, but, I didn't have you down as the destroyer of worlds in big, bad black." The green head cocked, expression mildly amused. "Y'know, the Greeks would have adored you—the fateful hero tragically falling to evil through a combination of free will and bitchy fate—never a happy mix."
Anakin didn't ask who the Greeks were. He was getting used to the Pylean's bizarre statements. Besides, he'd just realised something. "It's funny, but I think I may have even wanted you to find out. For some reason it makes a big difference that someone else knows the truth. I knew the risk when I suggested this to Padmé."
He wasn't lying, he felt as if a mammoth weight had been lifted off his chest.
"Glad I could help," said Lorne dryly. "Tell me something, why me?"
"I'm not sure. I've watched you work. You don't judge people, and I get the impression you've come across my … situation before."
"And then some." Lorne slapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Cuteness. Your secret is safe with me. Just do me one favour, if you're thinking of going darkside again, slip me a heads up so I can relocate to minimum safe distance. I'm sure there's another galaxy out there with room for a handsome green lounge singer."
"I'll bear that in mind. What else did you see?"
Lorne shook his head. "Let's wait for your lovely wife, shall we? I can only tell you what she asks me to tell you. The rest is private, and in my line of work you can't kiss and tell."
Due to the remote nature of the site, they had to land the speeder a kilometre south to reconnoitre without running the risk of being detected first. With few buildings to break up the wind, it whipped around them as they stood outside the speeder. "Does this look right to you?" Anakin handed the electrobinoculars to Padmé. "I sense no danger, guards or troopers to indicate a detention centre."
Padmé took them and focused on the sprawl of structures, saying, "Your friend Lorne said to think of huge amounts of water. A hydrostation fits the bill, and it's the only place I can think of that also fits everything else he mentioned." She waved a hand at their dark and desolate surroundings. "'In the city, but out of the way and isolated'. Nobody lives here. This is a self-contained quadrant simply because of the water and the risk of spills."
"Yeah, and it's not exactly scenic, is it? I guess if they are bringing people here covertly, they don't want any witnesses." The distant hydrostation was a mass of interconnecting structures, huge tanks and innumerable mazes of pipes. The site also looked to be several kilometres in size. "Is it run and maintained by droids?" asked Anakin, thinking of one of Lorne's other cryptic descriptors.
"It is," she confirmed. "They use astromech and hydromech droids for maintenance and operational purposes."
The binoculars were lowered again, a frown forming on Padmé's face. "Why do you think they have those slim poles spaced around the station?"
Anakin took another look and saw what he'd missed at first glance. "They look like perimeter sensors. If you cross between any of them an alarm is tripped." He met her tense gaze. "This complicates things for us." He grimaced. "It also explains the lack of guards."
"Any bright ideas on how we can get across without setting them off?"
He thought about it. "I can get over easily, but getting you over might be a problem."
"They look about five meters in height. I can jump it. The only other option is to try to disable one, and that might set the alarm off anyway."
"I'm not staying behind, Anakin," she warned him, face tight.
"I wasn't thinking you would." He shrugged, aiming for nonchalant when he was feeling anything but casual. "I could take you with me when I make the leap, or I could try levitating you. It's up to you?"
He could see the wheels turning in her head—have his arms around her, or let him use the Force on her. He knew without her saying that their shared history meant neither option appealed to her.
In the end, Padmé went for levitation. Standing facing him with her back to one of the tall sensor arrays, she looked distinctly nervous. "Have you ever lifted a person this high before?"
"Many times and much higher," he assured her. He didn't mention in what circumstances. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. Don't you remember how I used to love showing off to you by moving things? It's basically the same principle."
"I'm a bit heavier than a piece of fruit, Anakin."
He grinned. "In this case, size really doesn't matter. Ready?"
She scowled at him for his humour. "No, but do it anyway."
Anakin lifted his right hand with the palm cupped. Padmé gave a smothered shriek when her feet smoothly left the ground. Self-preservation had her jerking her arms up as if to keep her balance. Concentrating, he made her ascent slow and gentle, treating her as if she was as delicate as spun glass. He could feel her pulse thundering as the tendrils of the Force he was manipulating curled around her. "Relax. I won't let you fall."
Her reply was breathless. "Ninety percent of me believes you. It's the other ten percent that's the problem."
When she touched back down on the other side, she let out a huff of relief. Seconds later, Anakin used a Force-leap to land next to her, grinning again. "See! Easy."
Padmé looked unconvinced. "I don't care if we set them off on the way back. We'll just have to sprint for the speeder."
"Trust me, by then I don't think it'll matter."
They jogged to the station, glad of the starless night and their own dark clothing. Other than the perimeter sensors there was little other security and they were able to get inside the complex easily. Unfortunately, that was as far as 'easy' went. Half an hour later, they'd searched only a fraction of the station, slipping into buildings, around tanks and up metal ramps to the higher levels. Any droids they'd seen, they'd avoided. Nothing seemed out of place.
"Are you sensing anything?" Padmé asked, sounding disheartened. The complete lack of a human presence meant there was no environmental control to keep it comfortably warm. She was shivering as they walked down one of the many identical corridors that surrounded the power generation sections of the station. Unlike the purification levels, much of it was sealed off with the hydrodroids working in complete darkness to eliminate the risk of reflection.
"Just water … lots of it. It doesn't mean anything, though. Enough moving water can distort Force perception due to kinetic energy, hiding other energy signatures." Almost as soon as the last word was out, he heard something. He halted, tilting his head. "Did you hear that?"
Padmé stopped too. "No. Hear what?"
Anakin strained to listen. "I'm not sure. Listen … there it is again."
Padmé just looked more confused. "I can't hear anything except pumps and equipment humming."
"It's like a whistle." Anakin moved off again, taking a left turn into an off-shooting corridor. "It's intermittent—not constant."
Boots ringing on the metal grating, he stopped by a sealed hatchway. Padmé followed and traced her fingers over the symbol next to the control. "It's a recycling dump."
The whistles were followed by low, disconsolate toots. Padmé looked at Anakin. "I can hear it now. It sounds sort of mournful."
The sounds were bizarrely doleful. "It's a droid and it doesn't like being in there. It must have been slated for decommissioning and spare parts." Anakin eyed the hatch release, thinking and weighing up risks. "Y'know, a droid might be able to save us a lot of searching if we can question it."
Padmé frowned again, uncertain and wary. "What if it sends out an alarm that we're here?"
"We could be here for a week and still only cover half the site if we don't get some inside intel," Anakin countered.
Now it was Padmé's turn to weigh things up. "Alright. Let's try." She pulled the lever and the hatchway unsealed with a hiss.
Running out from the now open-hatch was a long metal chute. "Hold my ankles," said Anakin. He got down onto his knees and slithered down the sloping metal. The bottom was the expected wash of hip-deep broken equipment and detritus. Nearby, a battered, sorry-looking astromech droid was perched on its back atop the mess. When Anakin's head and shoulders appeared, the droid swivelled its domed head, PSI lights flashing green and blue.
Not wanting to waste time, Anakin got to the point. "What would you say to me getting you out of there?"
The droid answered in the affirmative with the familiar clicks, hoots and whistles of binary. For the second time that day, Anakin raised his hand, this time in a half closed fist to get the droid in a full Force-grip. "Don't panic and start screeching or you'll give us away," he warned it. "There's no way you can roll out of there, so I'm going to lift you up."
The droid gave a wondering hoot when it found itself rising up and floating towards Anakin and the chute.
Turning the droid so that it came out dome first, he shimmied back up the chute, assisted by Padmé tugging and heaving him back up. Moments later, the droid was standing with them in the corridor.
"Let's see your number," Anakin said to it, bending down to inspect the stubby, round body. "Ceetee-Sixteesix," he read out-loud. Looking it squarely in its round radar eye, he told it, "Well, Ceetee. I think you owe us, so don't be sending any messages to whoever controls this place. We don't want anyone to know we're here."
More clicks and toots came from the droid.
Satisfied, Anakin straightened. "He won't tell anyone we're here," he assured Padmé.
She didn't say, 'you hope' but he got the message from her sceptical expression, forcing him to protest, "He won't."
"Just ask him if he knows anything about a detention centre."
Anakin did as instructed. After a few whistles, Ceetee turned and trundled off the way they'd come.
Anakin glanced uncertainly at Padmé. "I think that means we should follow him."
"I hope he's not just making a break for freedom," said Padmé.
"Relax," advised Anakin. Privately, he doubted that the droid was making a bid for freedom, but he couldn't guarantee its sense of direction; this was one dented and dinged droid—Force knew what the wiring was like. "I'm sure he knows where he's going."
They followed behind the little white and green droid as he took them to the nearest elevator. When the lift stopped, they stepped out into the fresh air of outside. The droid rolled out onto the ferracrete walkway, turned right and kept going.
Away from the influence of billions of gallons of churning water, Anakin was finally able to detect the missing life signatures. It was like a shade had been drawn up, revealing what was hidden behind it. "I think we're finally getting somewhere. There are people nearby."
In tandem, they picked up speed.
A few meters ahead, Ceetee stopped at a doorway. The little droid turned to face it with an air of expectation, as if it might simply open up because he wanted it to. The door remained shut. A beat later, not to be deterred, the droid's interface arm shot out and slotted into the dataport placed under the surprisingly robust control panel.
"Whoa! Whoa! Wait." Lunging forward to stop the droid, Anakin arrived too late. The durasteel door slid up. On the other side was yet another corridor. Clearly visible at the end of the short corridor was a well-lit chamber. Twin black consoles complete with two human men in uniform were in the centre. At the very back was another elevator. This was it, he thought, feeling his heartbeat kick up.
Having accomplished his objective, Ceetee tootled, rocking slightly on his legs in excitement. Anakin patted the droid's dome and walked past it to enter the corridor. Padmé stayed close on his heels. Reaching out with the Force, he peeled back the dim shades of terror and misery left behind by the most recent prisoners to walk down this same corridor, searching for the one they were here to find. He dealt with the security cams as they walked along, watching them short out under the intense pressure he put them under. To avoid complications, he preferred to leave no record of their being here.
Seeing them approaching, one of the humans frowned, rose and motioned to someone, or something, just out of sight. Rounding his station, the guard strode imperiously to meet them, aggravation evident in every step. A black-painted super battle droid appeared from one side to take up the rear, gun arm ominously extended. Ceetee gave a screech and nervously slowed down so that he was positioned at the rear, behind both Anakin and Padmé.
Once within hearing, the guard didn't waste time. "What are you three doing here? This is a restricted area. How did you get inside?"
They met in the middle of the corridor. "The door was open," said Anakin, calmly. "We merely stepped inside. It must be malfunctioning."
"It was working fine when we ran a diagnostic an hour ago," returned the guard, bullishly. Pale eyes in a hawkish face narrowed. "Don't I know you?"
"We've never met." Anakin reached out, subtly nudging the man's mind with the Force. "But our identities really don't matter."
The guard's face went slack as if wiped clean for one brief moment. "It doesn't matter who you are," he agreed, adding with a frown, "But, I still need to see your authorisation for entering this facility."
Anakin repeated the mind-touch, keeping it light. A zombie would be useless to them. "You've seen our authorisation. Everything is in order. Stand down your droid. Your orders are to co-operate with us fully."
"Stand down," the guard barked at the super battle droid. Almost sullenly, it retracted its forearm back into the resting, upright position. He then bowed to Anakin, gesturing back at the control room. "If you'll come this way, we'll co-operate with you fully."
"Thank you, Captain ..."
The guard blushed at the deliberate 'mistake'. "That would be Lieutenant Ogmar, sir."
"My mistake, but I'm sure that an astute man such as yourself will achieve a captaincy soon. Lead on, Lieutenant."
The small group made their way to the control room. The second guard rose, visibly confused, from his station. Anakin waved his hand again. "There's nothing to worry you here. Resume your duties."
Obediently, the guard complied. At Anakin's side, Padmé shook her head. "This is too easy. It's making me nervous."
"Stop worrying," said Anakin, low voiced. "I'm just thankful they're not as thick-headed as our friend Greesh."
So saying, he turned to Ogmar. "You brought in a Wookiee sometime yesterday, is that correct?"
Ogmar picked up a datapad and checked, confirming very quickly, "A female Wookiee was brought in last evening, sir. The charges are numerous: illegal presence in the core, refusing to co-operate with enforcing authorities, resisting arrest, actual bodily harm—"
"Where is she?" interrupted Padmé.
Waiting for Anakin's nod, Ogmar checked his pad again. "Detention block seventeen. Cell D-11. Full restraints have been used." Unprompted, he also added, "She's scheduled for termination by poison gas in less than one standard hour."
"For resisting arrest?" Padmé's outrage was obvious.
Having ducked around a corner, Anakin and Padmé watched another pair of super battle droids march down the main corridor. A large ball-shaped droid floated between them, emitting a strange rhythmic sound. "What is that thing between them?" asked Padmé.
"A torture droid." Anakin couldn't bear to even look at it. Guilt clouded the senses, so he shoved away the haunting image of Leia's agony as her own father tortured her using a remarkably similar model. "Come on, let's go. The sooner we're done and out of here, the sooner I'll be happy. This place is crawling with battle droids."
She followed him out of hiding, her blaster held in a tight grip. "And you think I won't be happy to get out of here? How much further is cell D-11?"
Anakin picked up his pace. "Going off the alphanumerical sequencing so far, it should be on the next block."
Still under the influence of the Jedi mind trick, Lieutenant Ogmar had provided a lot of useful information. The secret prison was less than a month old and already held over three hundred prisoners. Like so many things in Roth, it was built in a circular configuration with each block forming a segment of the whole. Soulless, dim corridors linked them all. The only way out was via the same way they came in.
"Are you sure Ceetee can override the door controls?" Padmé had to scurry to keep up with his longer strides. "He's not Artoo, you know."
"That's why I left him up there, and I know he's not Artoo. Let's give him a chance. We're not exactly worse off by letting him try. Here it is." Halting, Anakin raised the comlink he'd confiscated off the now unconscious Lieutenant Ogmar to his lips. "Ceetee, we're at cell D-11. Open her up."
Two seconds passed. Then four. Padmé started to fidget. Finally, the door blocking their way slid up. So did every other door on the block. Padmé shot inside. Anakin went in behind her to the sound of a welcoming roar. The cell was little more than a black box with a recessed cot. The same Wookiee who had guarded Padmé during their first meeting in Roth was pinned to the cell wall by thick, heavy-duty wrist and ankle bracelets. Remedying that with a wave, he watched as Padmé was swept up in the fierce embrace of a relieved, and thankfully unhurt, Freyrr.
That was the only good news, however.
"We have a prob—" Anakin was cut off when he found himself hauled in for a bear hug too. It was like being crushed between two enormously long, hairy pincers. He was sure his ribs screamed a protest. The continuing roars were deafening and needed no translation—Freyrr was grateful for the rescue.
"You're … uh … welcome." He staggered when he was freed.
He hated to burst the celebratory bubble, but he had no choice. A threatening cloud of danger was looming blacker by the second. "Look. We have a problem. Ceetee didn't just open this door, he opened all of them. There's a mass break-out going on even as we speak and I don't think it'll go unnoticed for long. We have to move, now!"
NOTE (4): Yep, another one. I'm sorry for the weird gaps/ends of sentences in earlier chapters. I had no idea that was happening when I was uploading on here, but I'm on the lookout for it now and will edit earlier chapters when I get the chance.