Anakin bursts through the doors of Felucia Grand Central Station just in time to see the image of Chancellor Palpatine shed his robes and sprout a head of long black hair. Ani unsheaths his lightsaber and throws it at the retreating assassin, its deadly green blade spinning precariously close to innocent bystanders. Much to his surprise, the saber boomerangs around and rushes back towards him as the shifting figure disappears into the crowd.
The lightsaber flies into Obi-Wan's grasp and deactivates. Obi-Wan hands the hilt back to Anakin, along with a scolding.
"NEVER let your lightsaber out of your grasp!"
"Sorry, Master," Anakin responds by rote.
"This weapon is your life!"
"I know, Master," grumbles Anakin, irritated that a lecture is taking precedence over their pursuit of the assassin.
Obi-Wan sighs. "Why do I get the feeling you're going to be the death of me?"
"Please don't say that, Master," Anakin says, his attitude calming into deferential respect. "You're the closest thing I have to a father."
"Then why don't you listen to me?"
"I am trying."
Obi-Wan shakes his head and looks out into the crowd. "He couldn't have gotten far," he says.
"I think he is now a she," says Anakin, "And I think she is a changeling."
Obi-Wan groans. He turns to a security droid standing guard by the doors. "Seal all entrances to the station. Be as discreet as you can about it, we don't want to start a panic, but don't let anyone in or out until I give the all clear."
The beefy droid rolls in front of the doors, his arms extending to block the path, and he begins to repeat in a calm but authoritative voice, "This exit is temporarily closed. We apologize for the inconvenience."
The Jedi look out over the terraced levels inside the station, filled with platforms for air and ground transportation as well as hundreds of stores and booths where merchants sell their wares. Each level cuts a winding circle around a fluorescent ancient mushroom that reaches from the courtyard dozens of levels below to dozens of levels above, where it protects the open-air center from the elements. The native blue-skinned Toydarians fly from level to level, their small wings beating fast, mingling with the throng of alien travelers and shoppers that pack the walkways.
"Well," sighs Anakin, "she could be anyone by now..."
"Patience. Use the Force, Anakin."
The padawan shuts his eyes and makes a face of frustration. "It's no use. I can't pick up anything on this planet. All I'm sensing is mental soup."
"Think," says Obi-Wan, not about to miss an opportunity to instruct. "She came in here to hide, not to run."
Obi-Wan gestures to where the changeling disappeared.
"Go and find her," he says. He walks in the opposite direction.
"Where are you going, Master?"
Obi-Wan grins mischieviously. "Shopping!"
Anakin grumbles to himself about his master never taking things seriously, but years of training keep him from diving too far into such petty emotions. He passionately wants to be the one to catch the assassin, but he has been taught that allowing such deep passion to fuel his actions leaves no room in the pilot seat for wisdom.
Alien faces look back at Anakin with curiosity, suspicion and invitation as he moves among the merchant booths. He doesn't need Force powers to hear the whispers as he passes. Jedi are so rare that most sentient creatures never in their lives see one.
The jungle fumes have been irritating him since he arrived. He has only had his power dampened like this a few times before, and none of them are good memories. Now the fumes also deny him one of the most essential defensive powers of the Jedi: the ability to pass through a common crowd unnoticed, without evoking adoration and worship.
A squat creature with twisting horns and long brown fur walks up to him.
"Please, Master Jedi, give me your blessing! I am a good soul, upright and good! Consecrate me with your power!"
Anakin can't even tell if she's sincere or not.
"I--I'm sorry, lady, it doesn't exactly work like that."
A purple child tugs his robe.
"Can I see your lightsaber?"
"No. Go away, I'm busy."
A Toydarian flitters into his path, pointing a holographic recorder at him and talking to the preview display on the recorder rather than at Anakin.
"Master Jedi! Hey, Master Jedi! Wave!"
"He's not a Master!" shouts a voice from the crowd, "Look at his haircut! That braid means he's still a student!"
Anakin can't take anymore. He leaps over the terrace ledge. His telepathic powers may be dampened here, but his physical superpowers work just fine, and with two or three bounding leaps he has brought himself to perch on a spongey outcropping of the giant central mushroom.
"To hell with this musk," he thinks to himself, "I'm one of the most powerful Jedi ever. Even Master Windu said so. I'm stronger than some fungus."
He sits cross-legged with his eyes shut, steadies his breathing and focuses his power with all the techniques that he knows. He's drawing plenty of stares, but the fluttering Toydarians give him wide berth and he is otherwise undisturbed. Slowly but surely, he begins to sense their individual minds.
He's still not sensing with high resolution, but he catches wafts of emotion here and there. He skims the surface of these, feeling for the fear and excitement that the assassin must be feeling. Instead he senses something much more familiar, someone he has not sensed since childhood.
He opens his eyes and looks down at his Toydarian stepfather, Watto Skywalker, bargaining with a reluctant customer at a booth selling pocket droids. Anakin hasn't seen Watto since the day his mother was murdered by the vile Darth Maul and he left his homeworld to become a Jedi. He never expected to see his stepfather again.
Suddenly Anakin hears the snapping sound of a lightsaber activating and slicing. He turns his head to see Obi-Wan a few levels above him. His master's blue saber is pointed at a woman with platinum blond hair in a red dress. The woman is holding the smoldering half of a blaster pointed in Anakin's direction. Disarmed by the Jedi Knight, she drops the blaster and raises her hands in surrender.
Anakin jumps back to his master's side. Unsheathing his green saber, he speaks to the surrounding crowd.
"Official business, folks. Move along."
Most of them stay to gawk, but they move back quite a bit from the humming sabers.
Anakin turns to Obi-Wan. "You were using me as bait!"
"Well, it worked, didn't it?" Obi-Wan turns his smile to the woman. "Tell me, changeling, why did you attack the Queen of Naboo?"
"It was just a job," she says, glowering.
"Who hired you?" asks Obi-Wan.
"Like I'd tell you that," the changeling snorts. "He'd kill me quicker than you would."
"Tell us!" demands Anakin, "Tell us now!"
She just laughs.
Scowling, Anakin raises his hand toward her. He begins to rifle through her thoughts, trying to find a picture of her employer. It is a clumsy operation, given the limits of the environment. It is a painful operation.
The woman grunts, grabbing her head and falling to her knees.
"Anakin, stop it! You'll break her mind!"
Anakin is not so obstinate as to disobey the direct word of his master, and he stops immediately. Yet his efforts seem to have been worth it.
"No, please, fine, I'll tell you," the woman says, panting. "It was a bounty hunter named--"
ZIP! A tiny dart hits the changeling in the neck, and she collapses. She dies instantly, reverting to her fishy inherent form.
Both Jedi look up to the source of the shot and see the helmeted figure in camouflage armor. Rocket boosters flare from the pack on its back, and it soars out of the station and out of the reach of the Jedi.