But then Senator Okiltine chose to sneak back onto Coruscant, so as to be able to reappear in the Senate building, in her own words, “At whatever time that I have to.” Padmé didn’t know what she was waiting for. Until then, they lived in a tiny apartment on the lower levels, pretending to be three sisters from Elrood. Which meant they couldn’t use any of their own money, but only what they could earn under their new identities.
The Senator had made it clear, however, that they were not to engage in prostitution. Padmé and Motée both believed anyway that before they came to that both handmaidens could earn plenty of money working for the thugs that lived in this part of Coruscant. Though this was a possibility Padmé dreaded.
Right now, however, all three of them had a job together, preparing voices for protocol droids.
Padmé had been mildly surprised that they were constructed down here, but then, she supposed she should have expected it. Here people could be hired for cheap wages; the three of them together worked for many hours just to afford rent and food.
They were all seated around a recorder, which would take all their voices and blend them together. They had to recite a list of required words, then fifty more words of their own choice. The variances in the fifty words apparently kept the droids they programmed from sounding similar enough to each other to make sentients uncomfortable. The last five words on the required list were “hyperspace,” “astromech,” “sector,” “core,” and “Republic.”
“Republic,” said the Senator.
“Republic,” Padmé repeated.
“Republic,” Motée finished. “Collapsing.”
“Collapsing?” the Senator asked incredulously. Padmé repeated it as a question. They could use whatever tone they wanted for the words; it helped differentiate the droid voices as well as make them sound more natural.
“Obvious,” replied Motée. Dully the other two repeated the word. Padmé wanted to ask “How?” but that had been one of the required words.
“Clarify,” Senator Okiltine commanded. Padmé repeated it.
“Clarify...” Motée paused to think of a good word to use to clarify. “War,” she finally said.
“War,” the other two repeated. “Enough?” the Senator asked, and Padmé repeated.
“Enough?” Motée seemed to be asked it herself. She then answered, “Dangerous...”
That was a bit risky, when “danger” had been another of the required words, but now that it had been said, the other two repeated it. Then Padmé added, “Sad,” and the other two agreed. Padmé suspected the Senator would have added “Very,” if that hadn’t been another required word.
“Thinking...” the Senator started. Her handmaidens repeated it, slowly, to give her time; if they waited too long between words they got in trouble. “Senate,” she then declared.
“Senate...” they repeated, and the trepidation in their voices was obvious enough that Padmé openly asked, “Resume?” because “return” had been required, and Motée echoed it eagerly. They didn't even worry about being overheard; there were enough voices echoing around the room to make their being paid any special attention to unlikely.
“Resume? Maybe,” was her answer, and it was repeated with little comment. “Unsure,” she continued.
After that word had been repeated, Padmé found herself asking, “Tired?” Motée repeated it with equal sympathy.
The Senator nodded. “Tired.”
When neither of the other two seemed to have much to say to that, Padmé commented, “Frustrating.”
“Frustrating!” Motée agreed with fully enthusiasm.
“Frustrating,” the Senator concurred. “Patience,” she then advised.
The other two repeated it mechanically. “Extensive,” Motée added, and while the other two repeated it, Padmé wasn’t quite sure what she was referring to there.
But “what” had been another one of those required words, and before Padmé could think of another way to ask, they were interrupted when the door burst open and someone of a species Padmé didn’t recognize ran in crying, “Everyone! Everyone! We are at war!”
Everyone else in the room had been required to work in total silence, but with that silence broken already there was a chorus of hysterical reactions. “Quiet!” Senator Okiltine silenced them with this sharp command that caused everyone else except her handmaidens to stare at her in shock. She looked pointedly at the newcomer and said, "Go on."
“There was a battle with the Separatists in the Outer Rim,” he said, stammering slightly. “Nearly two hundred Jedi were slaughtered by Count Dooku. The Military Creation Act has passed and emergency powers have been given to the Supreme Chancellor. They’ve mobilized an army and it's already on the march!”
Padmé’s heart froze. All she could think was, Anakin...
Motée must have seen, for she asked, “Were there any survivors among the Jedi?”
“A few, I think, but not many. And some of them were very badly wounded; I saw one poor padawan...”
“No time for this,” the Senator cut in again. “We’re going now.”
“You can’t just walk out of here!” One of their co-workers protested. “You’ll be fired! And you’ll lose your wages for today as well!”
“I can do without them. Padmé, Motée, if anyone tries to stop us, you know what to do.”
They hadn't been using their real names, but by now it had already become obvious enough to the others in the room that these were not three sisters from Elrood, and all in all they were so stunned there were no further protests as all three quietly walked out.
“We’ve got enough money left in our current account to pay for a taxi to the upper levels, so we need make no further disclosure until we’re back in the Senate district,” the Senator continued. “Let’s just hope we get back there alive. We’ll stop at the apartment first and get our weapons. Might as well get into our old clothes too.” She was already flagging down a taxi.
Padmé was still having trouble thinking about anything besides Anakin. There might have only been a few survivors, but she was strangely sure Anakin was among them. Somehow she believed that if Anakin was dead, she’d know it down deep inside. But those ominous last remark, that one poor padawan...it could be another padawan, of course, but with so few survivors, it was all too likely that something terrible had happened to him.
But as they stepped into the tiny apartment where they’d lived for the past couple of weeks to clear it out, and Padmé slipped into her handmaiden robes and put her blaster pistol in place, she forced him from her mind, and as they got back into the taxi, the driver’s eyes widening at their new appearance, and even more so when Senator Okiltine directed him to take them to the Senate district, she focused herself on her duties. If they were truly now in a time of war, her own personal concerns were unimportant, always second to the safety of her mistress.