Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 14

Her garb had changed little since the journey, the black gown now accompanied by a simpler hairstyle, a hanging medallion from a prominent foreknot rather than the feathered headdress, the Queen of Naboo paced in front of the window, her mouth moving soundlessly over the words that she was preparing. Naiia perched perilously on the arm of a sofa, cocking her head to one side as she watched the muttered rehearsal.

"Sitting in the streetlights," said Naiia.

"I beg your pardon?" asked the Queen.

"Just way it seems to me," replied Naiia with a shrug. "Why you suppose there's gotta be so much pain?"

"To motivate us, I suppose," said the Queen, stopping in her tracks to look curiously at the Gungan girl.

"You think you Naboo all gonna die?" asked Naiia.

"I don't know," said Queen Amidala. "That's why I'm going to speak to the Senate. They must side with us."

"And the Gungans, too," persisted Naiia. "You think we're all gonna die?"

"I ... I hope not," said Queen Amidala.

"We'd fight," stated Naiia. "Not sit in the streetlights like this." She gestured to the broad curved window, the incessant traffic of Coruscant visible beyond.

"Madam," said Eirtaé, giving Naiia an appalled look, "we have your garb ready for the Senate appearance. We need to prepare."

"Of course," replied Queen Amidala, and she moved from the window to follow Eirtaé into the private dressing chamber.

"More clothes?" exclaimed Naiia, puzzled as she watched the other two disappear. "What are they hiding?"

"Madam," said the scandalized Eirtaé, once they were in the private room, "how could you let that creature speak to you like that?"

"That creature has a name," reproved Queen Amidala. "We know so little of the Gungans."

"What's to know?" said Rabé. "Naked savages."

"Bunch of barbarians, and not a bit of respect," grumbled Eirtaé.

Dormé began quietly unbuttoning the many buttons on the back of the black gown as the queen resumed her preparations for her speech.

Hours had passed; handmaidens dressed the queen in the plain red undergown, then the ornate overgown. Her hairstyle carefully combed through, decorative golden bands and dangling finials added.

Putting the medallion of the Royal Sovereign of Naboo into place at the last, Sabé said, "You are ready, madam."

"Thank you," replied Queen Amidala.

Queen Amidala glided into the next room, where Captain Panaka waited with Senator Palpatine. As the handmaidens followed, Eirtaé noted with relief that Naiia had apparently chosen to make herself scarce at this moment. I hope she doesn't destroy the place, thought Eirtaé as she and her fellow handmaidens drew on their voluminous red hooded cloaks.

Like a gleaming pearl of immense proportion, the building of the Galactic Senate stood, surrounded by a nimbus of moving vehicles as senators, aides, and droids scurried about on all manner of urgent business. The air taxi brought the Naboo delegation into this stream and to the building itself. A slight buzz of conversation came from various sources, for all knew now that the special session had been called and many recognized the Senator from Naboo.

As they entered the main rotunda, Chancellor Valorum could be seen seated in an elevated area in the center. Surrounded by aides and droids, senators strode through the halls, into their round floating platforms. Whisper piled on whisper, electrifying the air. Here and there, a senator pulled an aide close, whispering before the aides scurried away on an errand.

Senator Palpatine easily guided his group through the throng to the Naboo congressional box, and the handmaidens and Captain Panaka took unobtrusive seats in the rear as Senator Palpatine led the queen to a more prominent seat in the front.

As the buzz of movement before the beginning of the session continued, Senator Palpatine leaned over to the queen, and quietly urged, "If the Federation moves to defer the motion ... Madam, I beg of you to ask for a resolution to end this congressional session."

"I wish I had your confidence in this, Senator," replied Queen Amidala.

"You must force a new election for Supreme Chancellor. I promise you, there are many who will support us," advised Akhil Palpatine. "It is our best chance ... Madam; it may be our only chance."

"You truly believe Chancellor Valorum will not bring our motion to a vote?" asked Queen Amidala.

"He is distracted ... he is afraid," he replied with a regretful head shake. "He will be of no help."

As the session was called to order, the noise in the rotunda dulled to the slightest noise that might be expected when thousands of people were gathered in a single room.

Finis Valorum said, "The Chair recognizes the Senator from the sovereign system of Naboo."

This is it, thought Queen Amidala as the congressional box floated into the center of the rotunda. Streetlights?

"Supreme Chancellor, delegates of the Senate," began Akhil Palpatine. "A tragedy has occurred on our peaceful system of Naboo. We have become caught in a dispute you're all well aware of, which began right here with the taxation of trade routes, and has now engulfed our entire planet in the oppression of the Trade Federation."

Another congressional box came at high speed, halting near the Naboo box, this second one filled with Nemoidians.

Lott Dod, the Trade Federation's senator, quivered with indignation as he declared, "This is outrageous! I object to the honorable Senator's statements!"

Calmly, Finis said, "The Chair does not recognize the Senator from the Trade Federation at this time. Please return to your station."

More slowly than he had arrived in the center, the Trade Federation's box moved back to its place amongst the hundreds.

As though he had not been interrupted, Akhil Palpatine said, "To state our allegations, I present Queen Amidala, the recently elected ruler of Naboo, to speak on our behalf."

He stepped back as Queen Amidala stood.

"Your Honor, Supreme Chancellor Valorum, and honorable representatives of the Republic, I thank you for this opportunity to speak. I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. The Naboo system has been invaded by force. Invaded," emphasized Queen Amidala, "against all the laws of the Republic by the Droid Armies of the Trade ..."

Whizzing back into the center from the word 'invaded' the Trade Federation's box returned to the center as Lott Dod spoke again, "I object! There is no proof. This is incredible! We recommend a commission be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth."

"Overruled," orderedFinis.

"Your Honor, you cannot allow us to be condemned without reasonable observation," said Lott Dod. "It's against all the rules of procedure."

A third box, with the three-eyed Gran, Senator Aks Moe of Malastare, moved into the center, and Aks said, "The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate from the Trade Federation. A commission must be appointed ... that is the law."

Finis turned to Mas Amedda and his other aides in a short conference.

As this short conference proceeded, Senator Palpatine whispered to Queen Amidala, "Enter the bureaucrats—the true rulers of the Republic. On the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will disappear."

Sounding almost wearied, Finis said, "The point is conceded. Section 523A takes precedence here. Queen Amidala of the Naboo, will you defer your motion to allow a commission to explore the validity of your accusations?"

The stiff makeup reminded her not to lose her composure, though there was clear anger in the voice of Queen Amidala as she replied, "I will not defer. I have come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now. I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a ... committee. If this body is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed." She took a breath, and added, "I move for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum's leadership."

"What?" cried Finis, his eyes wide with the shock. "No!"

The murmur of the crowd quickly crescendoed into a roar of approval and jeers for Chancellor Valorum. Speechless, he stepped back as Mas Amedda moved to take over.

"Order!" shouted Mas Amedda, "We shall have order."

As the loud roar settled to a low din, the Federation box settled next to the Naboo box, and then another box moved into the arena.

Bail Antilles announced, "Alderaan seconds the motion for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum."

"The motion has been seconded by Bail Antilles of Alderaan," proclaimed Mas Amedda, and he turned to Valorum, whispering something to the shaken Chancellor.

"There must be no delays," added Bail Antilles firmly. "The motion is on the floor and must be voted upon in this session."

"The Trade Federation moves the motion be sent to the procedures committee for study," countered Lott Dod.

Mas Amedda and Finis Valorum continued their whispered conference as the assembly began chanting "Vote now! Vote now!"

Amidst the din, Akhil Palpatine stood next to his queen, whispering, "You see, Madam, the tide is with us. Valorum will be voted out, I assure you, and they will elect a new Chancellor—a strong Chancellor ... one who will not let our tragedy continue."

"The Supreme Chancellor requests a recess," said Mas Amedda. "Tomorrow we will begin the vote."

The Trade Federation's delegation was clearly furious, as Finis Valorum sagged into a seat.

"We will need to get the Queen to the apartment quickly," said Captain Panaka as the Senate was becoming increasingly chaotic. "Let us go, and quickly."

"I cannot go," said Akhil Palpatine. "There will be work for me, here, with these circumstances. But take of my guard as many as you need."

The Senatorial guards returned by the air taxi after seeing the royal delegation back to the apartment where the queen's own guards were in place. Entering the apartment somberly, the queen and her entourage stopped in the large chamber, where Naiia was talking with Qui-Gon.

"Ianthe Naiia," said Queen Amidala. "Come with me."

"Me?" said Naiia, surprised.

"Go," said Qui-Gon, giving the young Gungan a slight push toward the queen.

Queen Amidala continued into the series of private chambers, and with a bit of wonder, Naiia followed along with two of the handmaidens.

As the door closed behind the group, Eirtaé shook her head, saying, "What can our queen want to talk about with her?"

Rabé giggled. "Clothes and hairstyles?"

"Gungans don't wear clothes," snapped Eirtaé.

"I hadn't noticed," said Qui-Gon mildly.

Eirtaé gave him a shocked look. "How can you not notice ..."

"The Gungans may have been underestimated in the past," said Qui-Gon gently.

Within the room, Queen Amidala took a seat as the two handmaidens moved to take flanking positions beside their queen. "I wish to know more of the Gungan people, Ianthe Naiia. To begin, tell me what you meant by the streetlights?"

"We have lights in the Gungan cities," replied Naiia. "Our streetlights are small bubbles with some laa swimming in them. More laa, more light ... but the laa don't get to do anything, just swim around and watch."

"As we must," said Queen Amidala, half-murmured.

"I don't see why!" said Naiia. "Laa are just dumb fish, good for lights and food. I hate being here, sitting in the streetlights when I could be home, doing something."

"What would the Gungans do?" said Queen Amidala.

"We'd fight!" said Naiia. "We wouldn't just let some army come marching in and take over without a fight. We got our own army, and we'd fight them."

"I hate fighting," said Queen Amidala. "So many would die."

"Yeah, your way is better. No one's dying now, right?" retorted Naiia, as Queen Amidala visibly flinched. "So we just sit here in the streetlights, you in them fancy clothes you keep changing ..."

"I don't keep changing clothes," said Queen Amidala. "There was no time to pack anything—I had one state gown in reserve in the ship."

"And it's no better for fighting than what you were wearing before," said Naiia. "Qui-Gon says he's gonna help me get back home."

"What would you do there?" asked Queen Amidala.

"Get rid of the stinking droids," said Naiia.

"The Nemoidians are worse-smelling," replied Queen Amidala, the white paint on her face cracking. "Wait for us here."

With that, the queen and her handmaidens rose, and walked into the next interior chamber. A mere two hours later, the queen and two handmaidens emerged, both handmaidens wearing the voluminous red hooded cloaks, while the queen once again wore the black gown, the cracks in her make-up repaired, and wearing her hair in the fan style with the foreknot and hanging medallion on her forehead.

"Master Qui-Gon," said the queen. "It is good to see you again."

"Madam," said Qui-Gon, with a slight bow, "I am sorry to hear the news of the Senate's failure to pass a resolution. The Jedi Council wishes to continue your protection in case the assassin we met on Tatooine should return."

"Of course," said the queen. "I wish you to accompany my handmaiden Padmé. I have given her instructions on some clothes to purchase. Perhaps the ... Ianthe Naiia would go also?"

"My instructions are to protect you, Madam," replied Qui-Gon.

"My guard is here," said the queen. "I wish to ensure no harm comes to the handmaiden on this errand."

"As you wish, Madam." Qui-Gon looked from queen to handmaiden, and then gave the queen another bow. "Naiia?"

Naiia shrugged and replied, "It's better'n sticking around here."

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