Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 12

As the rest of the ship slept, Padmé made her way into the main room, replaying the message from Sio Bibble. Exhausted, yet unable to sleep, she put a hand to her forehead, rubbing from temple to center, as Sio's voice repeated, "Please tell us what to do! If you can hear us, Your Majesty, you must contact me..."

A prickle on the back of her neck alerted her to the fact that she was not alone. Padmé turned to see Deak standing against the wall, watching her and shivering.

"Are you all right?" asked Padmé.

Deak replied, "It's very cold."

Padmé brought a guard's jacket over, saying, "You're from a very warm planet, Dee. Too warm for my taste. But it is much colder here—it must be hard to get used to."

"You seem sad," said Deak.

"The queen is ... worried. Her people are suffering ... dying. She must convince the Senate to intervene or ..." said Padmé, "or I'm not sure what will happen."

"I'm not real sure what's gonna happen to me. I dunno if I'll ever see you again after we get there," said Deak, pulling out a small pendant from his pocket. "I made this for you. So you'd remember me. I carved it out of a japor snippet. They say those bring good luck."

Padmé looked at the pendant, saying, "It's beautiful." She put it on, and added, "I don't need this to remember you by. Many things will change when we reach the capital, but I won't forget you, Dee."

Naiia walked into the room, asking "You guys couldn't sleep neither?"

"No," said Padmé.

The holographic image of Sio Bibble began to repeat again, "We must bow to their wishes ..."

"How's that thing turn off?" said Naiia, walking over to the console, looking askance at it. "No wonder ya can't sleep, listening to this guy. Might's well feed the see as give them what they're asking for. They'll only want even more when you give'm what they say they want."

Giving Naiia a quizzical look, Padmé hit the button. Sio Bibble's image vanished as Deak stood, looking confused, his eyes going from Padmé to Naiia and back.

"You never been away from home before, have ya?" said Naiia, looking at Deak.

"No," replied Deak. "I ..."

"Me neither," said Naiia, then with a little pride she added, "I don't think any Gungan's ever traveled so far as me now."

"Don't you miss ... well, your mother?" asked Deak. "Or friends?"

"Yeah, a little," admitted Naiia. "But ... well, when I get back, maybe they've forgotten all about that bongo that got wrecked, and I won't get in trouble." She grinned, the sharp teeth of the primarily carnivorous somehow unthreatening in her face ... this time.

"I miss my mom," said Deak. "I hope I do get to see her again."

"I'm sure you will," reassured Padmé.

"How can you be so sure?" asked Deak.

"All right, I'm not sure," said Padmé. "I don't know." She walked out of the room.

"Hey, you know how this thing works?" said Naiia, moving over to Qui-Gon's dejarik table.

"I know how it works," said Deak, "but I don't know how to play." He switched it on, and the multitude of creatures seemed to come to life.

"They're so cute!" said Naiia.

Deak looked at her bewildered, blushed, and then stood up. "Uh, I think I'll try and get some sleep," he stammered.

Naiia poked at the Ng'ok as Deak left her to her explorations of the game.

"We're nearing Coruscant," announced Ric Olié as the planet began to resolve into recognizable features.

"It's kinda ugly," stated Naiia.

"The whole planet is a city," explained Ric. "They say the population passed a trillion."

"Wow, it's huge," breathed Deak.

"Big and ugly." Naiia walked away. "Looks dead."

Deak, however, could not take his eyes off the planet ahead, his eyes growing wide as they passed through the atmosphere of the planet. He could see many skyscrapers, teeming millions passing on various crafts—interplanetary and intraplanetary.

The Naboo spacecraft slid into its position amidst the massive traffic, making an approach to one landing pad. Through the window, the gathered dignitaries could be seen making their way to meet the landing ship.

The ramp lowered, and Qui-Gon said, "Come with us, Deak."

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan led the way off the ship, followed closely by Deak and Naiia. At the base of the ramp were several men flanking the ramp, dressed in the uniform of the Senator's guards. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stopped before two men--Finis Valorum and Akhil Palpatine and bowed. Taking his cue from them, Deak did likewise.

Looking back, Qui-Gon said, "Naiia."

"Oh. Uh," stammered Naiia, making an awkward bow.

The awkwardness of the moment was diffused, however, as Queen Amidala and her retinue made their way down the ramp. Naiia, pulled back to the side by Qui-Gon, slipped further to the edge, looking down.

"Wow," Naiia murmured.

"It's a very long way down," said Qui-Gon. "Stay away from the edge."

Senator Akhil Palpatine made a bow before his sovereign as guards arranged themselves protectively around the Supreme Chancellor, the Senator, and the Queen of Naboo.

"It is a great gift to see you alive, Your Majesty," said Senator Palpatine. "May I present Supreme Chancellor Valorum."

"Welcome, Your Majesty," said Finis. "It is an honor to finally meet you in person. I must relay to you how distressed everyone is over the current situation. I've called for a special session of the Senate to hear your position."

"I am grateful for your concern, Chancellor," replied the queen.

"Apartments have been prepared for your stay," said Senator Palpatine, as he started to lead Queen Amidala and her retinue away from the landing platform. "There is a ... question of procedure, but I feel confident we can overcome it."

Deak and Naiia began to follow the group, when Naiia paused, looking back. She tilted her head in puzzlement as she saw that Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and the Supreme Chancellor were remaining behind.

Queen Amidala turned, gesturing for the two to follow. Deak, terribly confused now, looked back to Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon nodded, and gestured for Deak to continue after the queen.

"You know, she's not so bad for Naboo," said Naiia. "Wonder what their apartments are like."

A line of air taxis was waiting, and the Senator and Queen and two handmaidens got into the first, while the remainder of the guards, the other two handmaidens, and Naiia and Deak divided between the next three vehicles.

Apartment? A whole block back in Mos Espa had less room than this! thought Deak, as he moved through the apartment behind the handmaidens.

Broad expanses of glass allowed a view of the nearby spires of various buildings, and the ever present hum of traffic. Behind them, one of the guardsmen was actively watching a broadcast of an urak'ai game. Naiia stood behind him, for a few moments, squinting at the screen.

"What's that?" asked Naiia.

"Urak'ai," grunted the guardsman.

Naiia looked at the holovid again, his answer being rather less than illuminating. "So, uh, who's winning?"

"The wrong team."

"Why'd he do that?" said Naiia, stepping in front of him to point. One of the players was flying upside down at breakneck pace. He banked sharply and struck a ball with a short baton.

"Get outta the way!"

Bored with the pasttime of trying to understand the game on the holovid, she walked to the window where Deak was staring at the passing vehicles.

Staring out the window, Naiia said, "This is pretty weird, isn't it?"

"Don't look at me," said Deak. "I don't know what's going on."

"Where's the Queen and Padmé and all them?" said Naiia, sitting on one of the over-stuffed leather sofas, finding herself sliding to the floor. "Hey, that's kinda fun."

Eirtaé came in and said, "The queen and two of her handmaidens went with the senator to discuss the situation. I'm sure they'll be here soon. Try not to disgrace us." She gave a hard look at Naiia, who'd just climbed back onto the sofa.

Deak opened another door, and said, "How many rooms are there? This place is huge! I thought it was just an apartment ..."

"I guess queens and all need a whole building or something," said Naiia.

"It's hardly a whole building," said Rabé, sweeping off to the next room. "Gungans and ruffians! Might as well sweep the gutter and move whatever else we find in here as well," she muttered. "Couldn't make it much worse."

In the senator's quarters, Queen Amidala was sitting on a broad sofa, her handmaidens Dormé and Sabé behind her within their flame-colored garb, which was now covered by an even greater traveling cloak.

"The Republic is not what it once was, Your Majesty," said Palpatine, pacing. "The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates only looking out for themselves and their own systems. There is no interest in the common good--no civility ... only politics. It is disgusting. I must be frank, madam, there is little chance the Senate will act on the invasion.

"Chancellor Valorum seems to think there is hope," said the Queen.

"If I may say so, madam, the Chancellor has little real power. He is mired down by baseless accusations of corruption ... a manufactured scandal surrounds him. The bureaucrats are in charge now," replied Akhil.

"What options do we have?" asked the Queen.

"Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger Supreme Chancellor," explained Akhil. "One who will take control of the bureaucrats, enforce the laws ... and give us justice. You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum."

"He has been our strongest supporter," said the Queen. "Is there any other way?"

"Our only other choice would be to submit a plea to the courts," replied Akhil, his voice trailing off.

"There's no time for that," said the Queen. "The courts take even longer to decide things than the Senate. Our people are dying, Senator—more and more each day. We must do something quickly to stop the Federation."

"To be realistic, madam, I'd say we're going to have to accept Federation control," said Akhil, "for the time being."

That is something I cannot ...will not ... do, she thought. "Thank you, Senator. We shall retire to my apartments and refresh from our journey and prepare for our appearance before the Senate," stated the Queen.

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