She was expected to socialize properly with her peers, so she did, and she genuinely enjoyed it. Everyone she talked with was intelligent and very friendly. They had a freshness and a wide-eyed hope about them that you saw some of in Initiates in the Jedi Temple, though once they went out into the galaxy beside their Masters it faded quickly.
One of them, named Neri'top'worza'ita'aya, and known to her friends as Neri, reminded Padmé very strongly of her old friend Sara Tor'nuit. The two of them spent a lot of time together. They reviewed the specifics for Neri's chosen field of study, then some of Padmé's lessons with the young padawan teaching Neri a few meditation techniques. They played games as well, both indoor and outdoor, and Neri even taught Padmé how to catch the planet's clams out of the river near the capital city.
They caught and ate quite a few of them one afternoon, after which they had no appetite for dinner, so, as was the custom, they lay on the riverbank as Riast's sun began to set. Padmé felt very slightly loose; she wondered if the clam meat might have an influence on the hormones; she didn't think it was psycoactive, but she didn't feel quite like she would have without eating it.
"Sun's an amazing thing, you know," Neri said, as they stared up into the purples and deep blues that filled the sky during the Riastion sunset. "None of us would be here without it."
"Nor would the planet," Padmé agreed. "At least according to most scientific theories."
An uncharacteristic pause from Neri. "Yeah," she said, "I guess you're right."
"Did you never think about it that way?" That she might not have was something that ought to have occurred to Padmé, since she knew it was rare for almost-adults to go off planet, but it hadn't.
"No, I guess not. The planet's always been...well, the planet. Though you know, I remember now how you looked at Shrin when he talked about ‘the outside world.’ That would really be more like the ‘outside worlds,’ wouldn’t it?”
“That is one way of putting it, yes.” Though it wasn’t the way Padmé would have put it.
Which maybe Neri sensed, because she next said defensively, “We’re not that unalike, you know. Surely there was a time when you thought of Coruscant’s sun as the sun. I know Jedi Initiates are penned up in the Temple after they’re four or so, and you were an Initiate until you were twelve, right?”
“Yes, but first, you’re assuming we don’t remember our early years. In my experience that’s just not true. Don’t you remember the story I told you about my friend Anakin’s memory, how he remembered me singing to him when he was only a few months old?”
“Of course! It’s too sweet to forget, isn’t it? But do you really remember everything like that?”
“Everyone I’ve talked to remembers almost everything by the time they’re three. Anakin can go into a lot of detail about both Kamparas and Ossus; he was taken to both planets at that age.”
It was a little strange, Padmé thought, that even though she had told the story about Anakin in the crèche, she had gone into so little detail about her own past with Neri that the other girl didn’t know that she hadn’t been in the Temple when she’d been four. But that was a part of her life that she truly was trying to forget completely. It wasn’t as easy to forget about as she'd thought it would be at thirteen.
Neri was a perceptive girl, though. “You talk as if your own experience was different.”
“I came to the Jedi Temple when I was five years old, and quickly going on six. I was nearly too old, and when you consider my biology, I’m still a little surprised they accepted me. To me, Centrax was never the sun; it was a new sun. My sun’s was Naboo’s sun. That’s a lot more like your own than Centrax; Centrax is much weaker. There’s a game amoung Jedi Initiates at trying to look at directly. You shouldn’t do it, though; it still damages your eyes.”
Neri laughed, and said, “There’s a game among the youngest here of doing the same thing! We try to stop it, of course, but…in the end, you just hope they all come out all right. They usually do.”
“Do you remember Naboo well?” she asked as the evening started to grow cooler. Padmé usually didn’t react to minor temperature fluctuations, but now she shivered.
“I think I remember my childhood better than I would if I’d lived my entire life on Naboo, if that makes sense.” It was the first time she had admitted it to anyone, even herself. “Especially because I clung to those memories in the years immediately afterwards. Like when I was three, and my grandmother visited our home in the mountains. She wrapped me up in bright cloth one morning and carried me up the mountain while she sang and spoke to me. Same lullaby my mother used to sing to me and my sister. I can still remember the sunlight on the rocks. And of course I did think of it as the sun then. I didn’t even know at that point that there were other suns, that all those bright points of light in the sky at night had anything in common with the sun. I remembered that two years later when I came to Coruscant, and saw Centrax’s sunlight illuminating metal and glass-both of which I thought looked terrible, because I’d been growing up on so different a planet from Coruscant, and it was a real shock to me to realize the sun I’d thought of as being the only one of its kind, even after I’d been told otherwise, was nothing but one pinprick of light in a vast galaxy, in an infinite universe-and how big that is, I don’t even want to think about.
Though that’s arrogance. We here in the Republic think we’re so great because we’ve colonized almost a whole galaxy, an incomprehensible amount of space for anyone living before the hyperdrive was developed, but what is our galaxy in the end? Just another speck in the cosmos, and most of the cosmos we’ll never know anything about. We chart other galaxies like our ancestors charted other stars-other suns-but there are so many we’ll never develop the technology to so much as detect. An infinite amount of them, in theory.”
She shivered again. Even Jedi had trouble facing things on this scale. Well, maybe Master Yoda could manage it without wanting to flinch, but probably noone else could, not even Master Windu. In theory, they might have access to everything in the universe through the Force, but if that were true, then Padmé truly believed they literally lacked the ability to comprehend all they would be connecting to.
She regretted having gone off on the tangent, though, when she sensed Neri’s distress. Instinctively she reached out to comfort, and though Neri continued the stare at the sky, Padmé saw the dazed fear on her face.
“It’s all right,” she said. “You don’t need to deal with it all at once.” When Neri’s mood didn’t grown any better, Padmé carefully pulled her close and whispered soothingly in her ear, “You shouldn’t think of yourself as small and insignificant. If you do that, you will be. But if you don’t, well, who really has the authority to measure the importance of things in the universe, to dismiss anyone as unimportant?” She was cradling her like a babe now. Not before this had she felt so much older than this girl.
“I’m frightened,” she whispered to Padmé. “They don’t tell us what we’re going to do with ourselves before we come of age-I hope that changes with the reorganization going on right now, it's wrong to do that-but it’s been hinted to me I’m going to become part of the new government. I can’t think the way I have anymore, and I know it. Reorganizations only happen every five hundred years, you know. I’d be part of the group of people who will decide what our world’s going to be like for that long-they’re making a lot of the decisions now, but not all of them. They can’t make all of them now; things just don’t work that way. I don’t know if I can do this.
You’re kinder than your Master, you know,” Neri mumbled on when her trembling had eased. “Did you know I met him? I don’t know if I mentioned it. I can’t see him doing this. Maybe when Jedi reach a certain age, they don't anymore?”
Actually, Padmé thought someone like Master Qui-Gon could manage this much better than her. And he might have told Neri the secret she arguably ought to know, but that Padmé, true to her Master’s orders, would keep to herself. Her friend hadn’t mentioned it, but Padmé had known that her Master had met with her, because he’d told her about it, and why.
Neri'top'worza'ita'aya had no idea of her own importance. She was no doubt picturing herself in some minor governmental post, spending her life handling her superiors’ decisions. But on learning of Padmé’s particular friendship with her, Master Windu had made some inquiries, and learned that her instructors and the other adults around her had in fact singled her out to train into Riast’s highest positions, even as the nature and duties of those positions were still being worked out. The Riaston almost-adult who trembled in Padmé’s embrace might meet her again some day as her planet’s leader-in fact, probably would, because their friendship would result in advantages for Padmé here, and the Jedi Council would thus send her whenever Riast had need of a Jedi.
Padmé herself could see her friend when she was older, meeting with the authorities of the Republic and her neighboring planets, learned and confident, with so much more comprehension of the galaxy the Riaston population lived in than so many of the planet’s inhabitants. Someday the pain her mind was experiencing in having to expand would be shrugged off as just another memory of her childhood.
But she would be grateful to Padmé for the comfort she was providing now, and the affection between them would be of value to them both, for personal as well as for practical reasons. She had long thought that Master Windu, for all he openly distrusted Master Qui-Gon’s lack of detachment from those he met, secretly envied him. Now, feeling this connection with this girl develop, dwelling on the implications of the friendship she had formed without even thinking about it, Padmé Naberrie was starting to understand that Master Qui-Gon had abilities and advantages that Master Windu didn’t have.
But she did.
Neri had stilled, then shifted, and was staring at the sky again, though she made no move to break away from Padmé. But Padmé herself was now struck equally hard, by a notion as frightening as the extensiveness of the universe outside Riast was to Neri. That she was now capable of doing things that her Master would never be able to do...though she might even teach him how to do part of it. The padawan taught the Master as much as the Master taught the padawan, after all, though she’d always ignored that until now. Here she was trying to be just like him. She would need to do some reevaluations when she had time.
“Padmé? Are you okay?” Neri never failed to notice the state of the people around her.
“I’ll be all right," Padmé whispered, making no attempt to conceal how she was feeling; it was relieving that she didn't have to, when so usually she did. "We’ll both be all right.”
“Both of us...it’s nice, you know,” Neri mused, “to know some of you Jedi do have feelings like us after all.” She dissolved into giggles. So did Padmé.