Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 10

"So, how's that thing work?" asked Naiia, looking at Qui-Gon's acquired dejarik device.

"This is not the place," replied Qui-Gon, striding along the street with Padmé and R2-D2 trailing him. "On the ship, perhaps."

"It's so hot here!" said Naiia, lifting up her long blue hair and shaking before releasing her hair and shaking again. "I feel like I'm gonna suffocate."

"At least there's some breeze," said Padmé.

"I'm afraid it's more than a breeze," said Qui-Gon. "We will have to hurry and finish ..."

"Hey, Padmé," said Naiia, pointing a short distance away to a stand where an elderly woman was talking to Deak. "Ain't that yer boyfriend?"

Padmé looked to where Naiia was pointing, and replied, "No."

"That is him, from the shop," insisted Naiia.

"We've barely made acquaintance," said Padmé, sounding almost affronted.

Deak turned, saw Padmé, and waved.

"I'll take four today," said Deak, and then as the group neared, he said, seeming to Padmé alone, "You gotta try these."

He reached into a pocket, pulling out three coins, still looking at Padmé as he dropped one. Qui-Gon stooped easily and picked it up and handed it back to Deak. Deak's eyes widened slightly as he caught a glimpse of Qui-Gon's lightsaber.

"Uh, make that three, Jira," he said. "I'm not that hungry ..."

The wind was starting to stir sand in the streets, and several of the shops were shuttering their windows despite the fact that the suns still stood high in the sky.

"Storm's coming on," said Jira, handing the fruit over. "You'd best be hurrying home, Dee." She began folding over the cart, preparing to push it along to her home.

"Do you have shelter?" asked Deak, handing one to Padmé and another to Naiia, offering the last to Qui-Gon.

"Thank you, you have it," said Qui-Gon. "We'll be getting back to our ship."

"Is it far?" said Deak.

"On the outskirts," chirped Naiia.

"You'll never get there in time!" exclaimed Deak. "Sandstorms are real dangerous, and fast. Come with me—hurry!"

He turned down one street as the wind began to pick up speed. Following Deak through the windy streets, they soon reached a row of hovels as the wind began blowing little whirls of sand through the streets.

"Mom! I'm home," called Deak as he led the others into a small round room.

"Oh my!" said the older woman, emerging from the next room, clearly in the midst of preparing a meal. "Deak! Who are all these ..."

"My friends, Mom," said Deak. "This is Padmé, and ... uh ... um, I ... I don't know anyone else's name."

"Qui-Gon Jinn," he supplied, "and this is Naiia."

R2-D2 let out a beep, and Naiia added, "And a droid."

"Our droid, R2-D2," said Padmé.

"Why are they here, Deak?" asked Shmi, confused.

"A sandstorm, Mom," replied Deak. "Listen."

As the wind began to howl outside, Qui-Gon said, "Your son was kind enough to offer us shelter, as we wouldn't reach ours in time." He reached into his belt and took out five capsules. "I have enough food for a meal."

"Oh, thank you. Thank you so much," said Shmi. "I'm sorry ... I ... I was just so surprised, I ... I forgot my manners."

As the sandstorm continued to engulf the area, the group crowded around a table, eating a meal.

"I ... I was wondering something," said Deak, looking at Qui-Gon.

"What?" said Qui-Gon.

"Well ... ah ..." hesitated Deak. "You're a Jedi Knight, aren't you?"

"What makes you say that?" asked Qui-Gon.

"I seen a lightsaber in the market," said Deak. "Only Jedi have those."

Leaning back, Qui-Gon smiled. "And maybe I killed one and took his."

"Nuh-uh," declared Deak. "No one can kill a Jedi Knight."

"I wish that were so," said Qui-Gon.

"I had a dream I was a Jedi," announced Deak. "And came back here and freed all the slaves ... that's why you're here, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Qui-Gon.

"I can't believe there's still slavery in the galaxy," said Padmé indignantly. "The Republic's anti-slavery laws ..."

"The Republic doesn't exist out here," said Shmi. "We have to manage ourselves."

Even Naiia seemed unable to come up with something to say to break the awkward silence which had descended on the group.

"So, you ever seen a podrace?" Deak sounded excited as he brought up the subject, as though certain the usual arguments with his mother would not follow in the presence of their visitors.

Padmé shook her head.

"They have podracing on Malastare," said Qui-Gon. "It's very dangerous."

"I'm the only human around Mos Espa can do it," bragged Deak.

Shmi looked at Deak, concern written on her face.

"What?" said Deak. "I'm not bragging—it's true. Watto said so."

"No more, Dee," said Shmi, then turning to their guests, adding, "So, how'd you end up here?"

"Our ship was damaged," explained Padmé, "and we've gotten stranded here until we can get it fixed."

"Xa'ej could fix it," declared Deak. "She can fix anything ... you want me go get her?"

"Our first job is to get the parts we need," replied Qui-Gon.

"And not enough money for it, just for his game," grumbled Naiia.

Qui-Gon shot Naiia a warning look, saying, "I believe it will be quite useful."

"These junk dealers have to have a weakness of some kind," said Padmé, "something to get the price down to what we can afford."

"Gambling," declared Shmi. "Everyone bets on those awful races."

"Xa'ej built a racer—it's the fastest ever!" exclaimed Deak. "There's a big race tomorrow, Boonta Eve, you know? You could get Xa'ej let you enter the pod—it's all but finished."

"No, Watto won't allow that," said Shmi.

"Watto don't know," said Deak. "He don't know Xa'ej built it ..." He turned to Qui-Gon, saying, "You could make him think it's yours, and maybe get him let me pilot it for you."

Qui-Gon considered this.

Shmi said, "I don't want you to race, Deak. It's awful."

"But I love it," said Deak. "And I'm good at it ... and the prize money could really help them out, get those parts paid for and ..."

"We're in a lot of kelp," said Naiia.

"Your mother's right," said Qui-Gon. "Is there ... anyone else friendly to the Republic who might be able to help?"

Shmi shook her head negatively.

"We have to help'em, Mom," said Deak. "You said the biggest problem is no one ever helps anyone else out ..."

"Dee, don't ..." said Shmi. "No. I said no podracing, Dee. That's final." She stood up abruptly, gathering dirty dishes, then walked into the other room.

"We'll find another way," vowed Padmé.

Awkward silence punctuated by the howling winds followed as Qui-Gon steepled his fingers together in contemplation while the sound of Shmi cleaning dishes filtered back into the room.

After the storm had passed, the streets were filled with people cleaning away the sands, rebuilding stalls. Naiia was curiously moving the sand and debris away from the hovel of Xa'ej.

Qui-Gon walked out of Xa'ej's hovel after the conversation, heading toward Watto's shop again.

"Are you sure about this?" said Padmé. "The queen will not approve."

"The queen doesn't have to know," whispered Qui-Gon in a near-conspiratorial tone and he continued into the shop.

"I don't approve," said Padmé, just barely resisting the impulse to stamp her foot.

Qui-Gon came into the shop, finding Watto and Deak in the midst of an animated discussion in Huttese.

"Ah, you," said Watto, breaking off and approaching Qui-Gon as Deak trailed behind him. "Boy tells me ya wanta sponsor him in the race—you can't even afford parts. They're not gonna take your credits, you know."

"I'll put my ship up for that," offered Qui-Gon. He tapped R2-D2 next to him, and a small holographic image of the ship floated in the air between the two.

"Not bad," admitted Watto, studying it, flitting about to view other angles. "Nubian ... nice ..."

"It's in good order, except for the parts we need," said Qui-Gon.

"So-what would the boy ride?" asked Watto. "He smashed up mine, and it's not fixed yet."

"I have ... acquired a pod of my own," replied Qui-Gon, "playing dejarik. Fastest ever built."

"Hope you didn't kill anyone I know for it," said Watto, his face darkening a moment at the mention of dejarik. "You supply the pod and entry fee, I supply the boy ... we split, fifty-fifty."

"Fifty-fifty?" said Qui-Gon. "No, if we split like that, you front the entry fee, and keep all the winnings, except for those parts. We lose, you keep the ship."

Watto said nothing, continuing to flit around the holographic image, thinking.

"Either way," added Qui-Gon, "you win ..."

"Deal!" snapped Watto, turning to Deak to add in Huttese. "Fool of a friend you picked up there ..."

Qui-Gon replied, "Deal."

Leaving the shop, he saw Padmé again, and continued to the slave hovels, where Naiia was alternately playing with the sands brightly and gawking at Xa'ej's odd creation.

Looking for a secluded spot, Qui-Gon contacted the ship, "We've come up with a solution to our problem. I've wagered the ship to gain us the money for the parts."

"That's an odd plan. What if it fails, Master?" said Obi-Wan. "We could be stuck here until it's too late."

"We are already stuck here," replied Qui-Gon. "But there's something about this boy ..."

As night fell, and Deak was allowed to return home, he announced, "Mom, guess what! I'm gonna race after all."

"No, I said no," stated Shmi.

"Watto said so," said Deak.

Shmi's mouth moved in soundless words, impossible to tell whether they were invocation or imprecation. "Oh, Dee. I die every time Watto makes you do that," she said, finally, shaking her head, then she sank onto a chair, shoulders shaking with her sobs.

The dawn of the suns of the next day brought milling crews of motley beings to the main hangar of the arena. These crews single-mindedly attended to the various podracers being readied. As the people continued to get ready, unseen, a probe droid floated down the main street, studying the people, slowly moving to the arena as it did not find what it seemed to be seeking, carefully evading contact with the oblivious passers-by.

Watto flitted alongside Qui-Gon, Naiia walking on the other side of Qui-Gon, craning her neck one way and then the other as she took in the sights.

"The moment the race is over, I'll want to see that spaceship of yours," demanded Watto.

"Patience," said Qui-Gon, "you'll have your winnings before the suns set, and we'll be far from here."

"Not if I own your ship," growled Watto. "I warn you, no funny business."

"Don't you think Deak can win?" said Qui-Gon mildly.

"Don't get me wrong," said Watto, "he's got talent. But Sebulba there," and he pointed to a Dug getting a pre-race massage, "is going to win."

"You're sure of that?" said Qui-Gon, still mildly.

"He always wins," said Watto with a snort, "I've bet heavily on him."

"I'll take that bet," said Qui-Gon.

"What?!" said Watto, whirring around to face Qui-Gon, looking serious as he ever did when money was involved. "How do you mean?"

"I'll wager my new pod against ... oh ..." Qui-Gon tapped one side of his nose before continuing. "The boy and his mother."

"I don't think so," snorted Watto. "Pod's not worth two slaves."

"Both, or no bet," said Qui-Gon.

"No, only one," said Watto.

"The boy, then."

"I say the mother. Or ..." he took a cube out of his pocket, "we let the fates decide?"

"Blue for the boy," said Qui-Gon.

"Very well." Watto rolled the cube. "Red for the mother."

The cube rolled, hovering on one corner for a moment, about to land red. Qui-Gon gently raised one hand, and the cube teetered, wavered, then flipped to land blue.

Watto burst out with something most impolite in Huttese, and then grumbled, "You won the toss, but you won't win the race ... it doesn't matter."

Still obviously angered, he flew ahead, passing Deak. "Better stop your friend, or I'll end up owning him, too."

"What's he mean by that?" Deak said, as Qui-Gon came over.

"Nothing to worry about," reassured Qui-Gon.

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