Anakin flew his speeder away from the opera house in a daze. The Chancellor's words were repeating in his head, a message of hope bouncing around inside his mind: Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying...he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying...keep the ones he cared about from dying...
If he could just figure out how to gain that same knowledge, he could save Padme. He could save everyone; with that sort of power, surely he'd be able to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. He wouldn't be held back by the restraints the Jedi had placed on him, the rigid bindings of let go of everything you fear to lose and accept the will of the Force, you must and there is no passion, there is peace. If he managed to do this, he really would be the most powerful Jedi ever. What control would the Council have over him then? He'd make them let him be with Padme, forever.
It was, of course, the Jedi themselves who were the problem. As Palpatine had said, he couldn't learn that sort of power from them. They feared him too much to ever give him access to the really useful information - they'd proved that when they had refused to make him a Master, despite his abilities, thus keeping him from the restricted areas of the Temple Archives where the holocrons made by the greatest and most powerful Jedi Masters were stored. It was there that he'd earlier thought he might find information to save Padme, and it was there that he would most likely find information about Plagueis, if the man wasn't just a legend.
Should he ask Obi-Wan for help? He'd dismissed the idea earlier; even assuming Obi-Wan's view on acting to prevent visions had changed from three years ago, it would be impossible to get explain the situation without revealing his relationship with Padme. Not to mention the fact that Obi-Wan would probably hate him for throwing away all of his teachings. Now, though, he found he barely even cared if Obi-Wan found out. Let them kick him out of the Order - what did his status as a Jedi matter, when Padme's life was at stake. He'd rather be excommunicated and be with her than stay a Jedi and let her die...
But though he could maybe ask Obi-Wan to help him get information about visions and healing and even childbirth, there was absolutely no way that Obi-Wan would agree to help research Sith legends and techniques. The man was simply too indoctrinated in the ways of the Jedi. And Anakin was sure now that he wouldn't find anything useful from purely Jedi sources - if the Jedi had ways to prevent death, surely he would have heard about it. Call it intuition, or a message from the Force - he knew that in Palpatine's words lay the only path to saving her.
Which meant that asking for Obi-Wan's help wouldn't do any good. It would just get him expelled from the Order sooner. And there was no other Master he could think of who would give him permission to go into the restricted Archives.
He gritted his teeth. This was so, so unfair. It was completely ridiculous that he couldn't just go into the Archives on his own - he had the power of any ten Masters, he deserved the same rank and respect and privileges.
A thought hit him as he approached the Temple landing platform. He couldn't just go into the Holocron Vaults on his own...or could he? Just how strict were the security measures? Not perfect. He'd heard the story of the initiate Lorian Nod who'd broken in decades ago; Dooku had managed to tamper with the Archive records before leaving the Order; and Cad Bane had stolen a holocron only a few years before. Yes, security had been increased after each of those events, but maybe only against those specific sorts of things. He had no intention of tampering with anything as Dooku had, he wasn't an intruder in the Temple itself, and maybe the internal security was only strong enough for Nod's sort of childish attempt, maybe they assumed no Jedi old enough to be as powerful as Anakin was would be reckless enough to risk their place in the Order just for a chance to see some holocrons.
Well, he thought as he landed the speeder, he was that reckless. More accurately, he was that desperate.
Despite the fact that he hadn't gotten more than three hours of sleep a night since the first night after he'd returned to Coruscant, despite the fact that Padme and Palpatine and the Council were pulling him in so many directions at once that he could practically feel himself splitting apart, Anakin felt more alive than he'd been since he'd had the first nightmare of Padme's death. He had a goal now, a path that might lead him out of this mess, and idea that might actually work. At best, he'd find a way to save Padme with no one the wiser. At worst...well, if he couldn't find a way to save her, then the consequences didn't really matter, did they?
He'd die if she did, after all.
He fought off a yawn as he began to walk away from the platform. There was no time for exhaustion, and anyway, he didn't want to dream. Maybe he should eat something - but his appetite had been practically nonexistent the past few days. No, he just needed to push past his tiredness. Once he'd saved Padme, he'd be able to sleep as much as he wanted to.
First things first. He needed to scope out the Holocron Vaults, which meant that he needed an excuse to go into the Archives. Though going there wasn't a particularly suspicious activity in and of itself, Anakin had rarely been inside since he was a padawan being forced to do research for his classes. Between that and the fact that he was pretty sure Jocasta Nu still didn't like him - he had never been particularly good at following the 'quiet in the library' or 'no eating' rules when he was younger - he was fairly certain that she would be watching him closely if she happened to see him.
But hey, if he was going to break into one of the most secure rooms of probably the most secure building on the planet, he wasn't going to be stopped by a librarian, no matter how draconian and actually kinda intimidating she might be.
Realizing exactly how long it had been since he'd done any research serious enough to need to know the layout of the Archives, Anakin stopped outside the entrance to look at the floor map displayed there. There were two points of access to the Holocron Vaults. One was from the Fourth Hall, which according to the map contained information on galactic zoology. Yeah, he was pretty sure he couldn't come up with any believable-sounding reason for being there. The other was from the Second Hall...which was full of datapads on math and engineering. Perfect.
He slipped into the main rotunda, head down, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. If he could just get down Second Hall without Madame Nu noticing him, this would be a whole lot simpler. He had only taken about three steps when a voice issued from immediately behind him: "Knight Skywalker! May I help you with anything?"
Anakin jumped, biting back a groan. He hadn't even noticed her! "Just looking for some technical specs on the new starfighters," he said innocently, fake smile plastered across his face.
She raised an eyebrow. "At this time of night?"
Anakin didn't actually know what time it was, having been too distracted by the idea of saving Padme during the opera to pay attention to how long it went. He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep."
"Hmm," Madame Nu said. "Well, follow me." She turned sharply and began to walk toward Second Hall.
Anakin considered protesting that he was capable of finding it on his own, but decided it would probably be less suspicious to go along with it and just wait for her to leave. He hurried after her, even his long legs having trouble keeping up with her brisk pace. They stopped about halfway down the hall, a good ways away from the door to the Holocron Vaults, which was at the end.
He thanked Nu as politely as possible for taking him to the correct section, then pulled out a datapad at random - the engine specifications for a Delta-7, as it turned out. He sat down on a nearby chair and pretended to skim through it, covertly watching as the Chief Librarian returned to the main rotunda...and sat at console which left him perfectly in sight of her. Kriff.
He pretended to read the datapad for what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only about fifteen minutes. Patience had never really been one of his strong points, and though under normal circumstances he would actually have found the material interesting, right now he could practically hear the ticking of a clock as Padme's time slipped away. Finally, he could take it no longer. He stood up, and was immediately hit by a wave of dizziness. Woah, he thought. I really gotta eat something once this is over. The dizziness passed after only a few moments, and replacing the datapad back where it belonged, he meandered as casually as possible down the hall, stopping at random as if to browse. Nothing to see here, just a bored, insomniac Knight wandering aimlessly. He stopped at a shelf near the door to the Vaults and picked out another datapad. This one was about the engineering of long-range weapons - plausible enough for him to read, he supposed, considering how often he got shot at by that sort of thing.
Pretending to be engrossed by the datapad. Anakin settled down into a chair facing the door and extended his senses. This late, the Archives were nearly empty. Besides Madame Nu herself, the only other person nearby was a padawan he didn't recognize who was pacing up and down the hall. Probably the kid was on guard duty, protecting the Vault as Ahsoka had once done.
Ahsoka. A flash of anger and sadness rose up in him, but he pushed it away. Ahsoka had left; he needed to keep his mind on the mission for Padme's sake.
As for the Vault itself...the door was big and heavy, but could be opened fairly easily. The complicated Force lock was, as he had suspected, only really meant to keep out overly curious padawans and any non-Force-sensitive intruders. Which meant that the real challenge for Anakin would be getting in without Madame Nu or the padawan on guard noticing him - both would realize immediately that he wasn't a Master, and then this whole thing would be over with.
He would need to create some sort of distraction. It would have to be something plausibly accidental though, because if anyone figured out it was supposed to be a distraction, the Vault was an obvious enough target that it'd be the first place they'd check. Maybe he should use the Force to knock something over down one of the other Halls? That might be too suspicious if there was nobody else nearby, and anyway, they might not be distracted for long enough to miss the door closing behind him.
Anakin rubbed his eyes. He wished there was some way for him to get some rest without dreaming or losing Padme's precious time, because then he might actually be able to think clearly. Now that his initial surge of energy and excitement over having a plan had worn off, a haze of exhaustion was beginning to settle back over his mind. Come on, Skywalker, think. You've solved way harder problems than this before, and Padme's life wasn't even at risk then. But that was exactly the problem - his mind was so filled with fear for Padme that he could barely think about anything else. C'mon, there's gotta be an obvious solution here.
Anakin jerked out of his reverie. The padawan he'd noticed before had come up to him without even realizing it. She was young, probably only about fifteen or sixteen, and was looking at Anakin expectantly.
Anakin swallowed. "Uh, yes?" he said awkwardly. Force, had he done something suspicious without even realizing it? He glanced nervously back at the rotunda, to see if Madame Nu had noticed. And Madame Nu...wasn't there.
The padawan seemed to have noticed his confusion. "She's gone for the night," she said. "One of the apprentice librarians will probably be here in a few minutes to take over."
Anakin glanced at his wrist chrono - it was nearly midnight, later than he'd thought. But it seemed the Force was with him tonight; this meant that Anakin only had one person to distract, as long as he made his move quickly. Although that person seemed pretty focused on him at the moment. "Oh," he said. "Thanks, um..."
"Bene," she said eagerly. "I heard how you defeated Count Dooku."
Oh. So it was hero-worship, not suspicion that had brought her over here. He supposed that was a good thing, but he was impatient to get on with his plan. "Yeah," he said. "It was, uh, a hard battle." And not one that any real Jedi would praise him for, if they knew the truth of how it had ended.
The girl nodded. "I heard Dooku was one of the best fighters in the Order even before he turned to the dark side. You must be really powerful to have defeated him."
Anakin shrugged awkwardly. Part of him was uncomfortable with the praise. And another part of him whispered, in a voice which sounded oddly like the Supreme Chancellor's, isn't it nice to get the recognition you deserve, the recognition the Council is too afraid to give you.
"Of course," she continued, "you would have to be powerful to get on the Council at your age. Aren't you the youngest Master to sit on the Council in like, ever?"
Anakin was nodding, trying to think of ways to get out of his conversation, when he processed the meaning of her words. The youngest Master. The youngest Master? His heart pounded so hard in his chest that he was sure anyone within a five meter radius could hear it. Was the Force truly going to be this kind to him? Was it possible that he was going to just walk into the most secure room on the planet, simply because the Temple gossip mill was missing some information? There was, after all, no reason for this girl to suspect that the Council would be so embroiled in politics and near-treason that they would insult Anakin in the way that they had, by refusing to give him the rank that even this padawan could see he deserved. "Yes, the youngest," he managed. "It was a great honor." He could feel his earlier tiredness disappearing again, replaced with a renewed determination. I can get in there, and I will.
"So, do you need any assistance finding anything?" the girl - Bene, he reminded himself - asked. She looked like she desperately wanted the answer to be yes, though whether that was because she wanted to help one of her heroes or because she was bored out of her mind with just standing around, Anakin couldn't tell. Probably a little bit of both.
"No, thank you," he said, mind racing. If he took advantage of this...he could get into the vault, but she was sure to mention the encounter to someone at some point, and he'd end up being hauled in front of the Council with no way to deny his guilt. But did that even matter if it meant he could save Padme? It was now or never, he had to act before Nu's replacement got here. "Actually, I was thinking of taking a look around the Holocron Vault," he said as casually as humanly possible. "I mean, I've never had the opportunity before, and now that I'm on the Council I figured I might as well." He could practically feel the adrenaline pumping through his veins; if he'd misunderstood what she'd said earlier, she could end this operation right now.
"Oh," said Bene, her eyes widening. "I've always wanted to look around in there," she said wistfully. "I don't think they'll make me a Master any time soon, though."
Anakin grinned, flooded with euphoria. "I wouldn't be so sure about that, Bene," he said. He sprang to his feet. "Sometimes, the Force will give you opportunities you'd never see coming."
Bene smiled back at him. "Thanks, Master Skywalker," she said. "I'll keep that in mind." Anakin felt a momentary surge of guilt for his deception of her; she seemed like a genuinely nice girl. He clamped down on it quickly - Padme was more important than this padawan, however nice she was, and anyway, if the Council had any sense they'd realize that the blame for this little encounter lay entirely with Anakin himself.
Not that the Council had been showing very good judgment when it came to pointing fingers, lately.
He walked confidently over to the vault door, hoping that she wouldn't notice how much he was sweating, and raised his hand to the lock. Concentrating hard, he let the Force flow through him, let himself become one with the mechanism. If this was keyed in some way he hadn't noticed to only let certain people in...Your focus determines your reality, the echo of a thousand lectures from Obi-Wan whispered. He closed his eyes, and waved his hand over the lock. It will open, he thought. And it did, the dilating security door whirring as it opened itself in front of him.
Anakin turned to Bene, hoping that his smile didn't look as manic as it felt, then waved to her as he stepped through the door into the vault.