Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 15

The gilt lettering on the wall next to the door proclaimed "Aurelne and Arrosa" in a script with sufficient embellishment to almost interfere with legibility. No further enticement to enter could be seen, yet here, as Padmé instructed, the air taxi deposited them.

The air of the shop was excessively floral. A bell on the door chimed to announce the entry of this rather unusual trio: a Jedi in his white robes, a naked Gungan with long-flowing blue hair, and a maroon-cloaked handmaiden of the Queen of Naboo.

A severely thin woman, clad in black, her hair in a thin knot at the back of her head, moved to intercept them. "How may I be of assistance?" she asked, nostrils flaring at the sight of the Gungan, though she had been trained too well to speak her disapproval.

"The Queen of Naboo wishes to purchase clothing for herself and her handmaidens," said Padmé, removing the hood of her cloak. "We are all of the same size, and thus she has sent but one handmaiden with the specific requirements."

"Ah," said the woman, brightening as she considered the maroon-garbed handmaiden. "And what are these requirements?"

"We will need clothing fit for moving," said Padmé, as Qui-Gon melted away, stationing himself beside the door. "Trousers and tunics." She opened a pouch from within the robes, and continued, "I have these sketches."

"I believe we can provide these," said the saleswoman, taking the sketches in hand. "Quite easily."

Naiia skittered off to the walls, examining the merchandise. "What's this?" she asked, holding up a length of triple chain.

"That's a belt," said Qui-Gon. "Put it back."

"It's all right," said Padmé.

"What's it for?" asked Naiia.

"A belt." Qui-Gon gestured to his own utility belt with a sigh. "Some are useful, some are ... decorative."

"Oh," said Naiia. She paused, and then her face brightened and she declared, "A necklace for the waist! Now I understand."

"I have this." The salesclerk, seeming to ignoring Naiia, brought out a fine crushed velvet in the shade of a deep wine.

"Where may I try it on?" asked Padmé.

"This way," said the salesclerk, casting another dirty look at Naiia. "Don't touch that!"

"Sorry," replied Naiia, clasping her hands behind her back, the belt still in hand.

Padmé walked into the dressing room, the saleswoman close behind.

"You will find this gives considerable range of movement," explained the saleswoman, taking the cloak from Padmé.

Padmé slipped out of the saffron gown she wore, and pulled on the trousers and the shirt beneath, finally fastening up the overcoat.

"These will do," she stated. "We will need four of them. Will you be able to provide the other garment?"

"Oh, that is much simpler," replied the saleswoman. She left, returning with the silken garments of red and black.

Padmé tried this on, as well, deeming it suitable before dressing once more in the saffron gown and drawing on the voluminous hooded cloak.

"Will I be able to help you with anything else?" asked the saleswoman, folding the garments, wrapping them in paper before tying them into a neat bundle.

"No, that will be all," replied Padmé.

"Can I wear this out?" asked Naiia, putting the triple-chain belt on the counter.

The saleswoman replied, "Absolutely not."

"Add it to the slip," said Padmé, and she then gracefully signed for the merchandise, inking the signet ring she wore, thus adding an official stamp of Naboo.

Hours had passed, but at last, Qui-Gon brought Padmé and Naiia back to the queen's apartment, their purchases in bulging bags.

Captain Panaka moved to greet them. "I am glad to see you have returned."

"Our trip was successful," said Padmé. She turned to Qui-Gon, and said, "Thank you for accompanying us. Now if you both will excuse me, I need to bring these things in to the queen."

"Of course," said Qui-Gon, with the very slightest of up-turns to his lips as he gave a small bow of the head to Padmé.

"Has there been further news?" asked Qui-Gon, as Padmé moved on to the interior chambers alone.

"Not yet," replied Captain Panaka. "Rumors flying, but they can't be trusted."

As the rose-tint of sunset took the sky of Coruscant, Akhil Palpatine and his guard arrived.

"Senator Palpatine," said Captain Panaka, "what a pleasure to see you again. Come this way, I'm sure Her Majesty is quite anxious to hear the news from the Senate. I have heard rumors that you were nominated to succeed Valorum."

"It is true," replied Akhil with a self-deprecating gesture.

Captain Panaka led Senator Palpatine into the next room. Two handmaidens flanked Queen Amidala as she sat on a large stuffed chair while the two men approached and bowed.

"Your Majesty," said Captain Panaka, "Senator Palpatine has been nominated for Supreme Chancellor."

"It's a surprise—a welcome surprise," said Akhil. "I promise, Madam, if I am elected, I will bring an end to the corruption that has throttled democracy in our Republic. I will see the bureaucrats lose their hold on power, and our peoplewillbe freed."

"I would wish that I had a vote," said Queen Amidala, gravely. "Who else can be nominated?"

"I've heard rumors about Bail Antilles of Alderaan," replied Captain Panaka, "and Aks Moe of Malastare."

"I feel confident that our ... situation will create a strong sympathy vote," said Akhil. "I will be Chancellor, madam, I promise you."

"Even so," replied Queen Amidala, "I fear that by the time you have control of the bureaucrats, there will be nothing left of our cities ... our people, our way of life ..."

"I do understand your concern, madam," said Akhil. "Unfortunately, the Federation has possession, and I'm afraid the law is in their favor at present."

"With the Senate in transition, there is nothing more I can do here but sit and watch," said Queen Amidala. "Senator, this is your arena, and now I must return to mine. I have decided to return to Naboo. My place is with our people."

"Go back?! But ... madam, I implore you, be realistic!" urged Akhil Palpatine. "You would be in danger. At best, they will force you to sign the treaty."

"We will sign no such treaty," declared Queen Amidala. "Senator, I have decided. My fate will be no different than that of our people. Captain, prepare my ship."

"Please, madam," said Captain Panaka, his expression worried. "Stay here ... where it is safe for you."

"No place is safe, if the Senate fails to condemn the invasion; if unjust aggressors are permitted to pervert the laws of our Republic," replied Queen Amidala, standing. "I hope you win the election, Senator. For if it is so, I know you will do everything possible to stop the Federation. I pray that you bring back sanity and compassion to the Senate. Captain!"

"Yes, Madam," replied Captain Panaka. He bowed and departed the room.

In the next room, Qui-Gon was still standing by the window, seeming to watch the traffic flow past.

"We will be returning to Naboo," said Captain Panaka. "Will you be, also?"

"I must consult with the Council," replied Qui-Gon. "I do not expect it to take long."

"It'll take time enough, getting the ship ready," said Captain Panaka.

"We're going home!" exclaimed Naiia, sounding happier than she had in some time.

"Yes." Captain Panaka, eyed the Gungan uncertainly. "Yes, we are."

Mace Windu turned from his whispered conference, and considered Qui-Gon standing before him. "When the Queen returns to Naboo," he said, "that will put some pressure on the Federation. It may well increase the confrontation and draw out the mysterious attacker you met."

"I understand," replied Qui-Gon.

"Go with the Queen to Naboo, and discover the identity of the dark warrior," said Mace. "That is the clue we need to begin to unravel this mystery, if he be Sith or other."

"And the boy, Deak?" said Qui-Gon. "If he is not to be trained, I must ask that he stay with me."

"He is your ward," agreed Mace. "Take him with you, but train him only in the meditations. You will find him in the gardens."

"The anger stilled must be," said Yoda. "Train him not further. Not ready yet he is."

"I understand," replied Qui-Gon.

"Protect the queen as best you can," said Mace. "But remember, we cannot intercede should it come to war until we have the Senate's approval."

Qui-Gon made a slight bow of acknowledgment.

"And may the Force be with you," said Yoda.

Steepled fingers together, Qui-Gon made a slightly more pronounced bow in reply, and he turned to Obi-Wan. With a nod, he and Obi-Wan left the room.

"That boy is dangerous," said Obi-Wan as they walked down the hallway together. "Why must we ..."

"His fate is uncertain," replied Qui-Gon. "Not dangerous."

Deak was sitting in the garden, watching the sunset when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon found him.

"Dee," said Qui-Gon, "we are going to return to Naboo."

"Am I going with you?" asked Deak. "I thought ..."

"You are to stay with me," explained Qui-Gon. "I cannot yet take you as a padawan, but you are to stay close to me, and you will begin to learn the ways of the Jedi."

"I don't mean to be a bother," said Deak, looking at Obi-Wan.

"You won't be," reassured Qui-Gon. "Now, the queen intends to return to Naboo, and we are to protect her. We need to make haste now to go to her ship which is being made ready now."

The rose-colored sky of Coruscant was filled with as many ships as ever, for it seemed that the heart of the Republic never truly slept nor slowed. As Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, followed by Deak, stood nearby, they watched several taxis approach. Guards, led by Captain Panaka, got out of the taxis, and then the queen and her retinue exited another taxi, walking quickly toward the ship. Naiia trailed them, grinning as she skipped along.

The queen, dressed once more with the ornately feathered headdress and wearing her black dress in which she had traveled to Coruscant, paused by Qui-Gon.

With a bow, Qui-Gon said, "Madam, it will be our pleasure to continue to serve and protect you."

"I welcome your help," she replied, inclining her head to indicate her acceptance.

Walking briskly, she continued toward the ship, trailed by her handmaidens. As they settled into positions within, the ship lifted away from the landing platform. With a look of concern, Captain Panaka brought the Jedi and Deak to the bridge of the ship.

"Her Majesty wished to speak to that Gungan," said Captain Panaka. "Again."

"A surprise, it seems," replied Qui-Gon.

"Yes, a surprise," said Captain Panaka, his lips thinning. "I do not think this will end well for us."

Now alone with her handmaidens and Naiia in her traveling throne room, the queen said, "Ianthe Naiia, I shall need your help."

"What kinda help?" asked Naiia. "I haven't even got my first tattoo."

"I need to know more about your people," explained the queen. "If we are to form an alliance ..."

"They won't go for that," replied Naiia, shaking her head.

"Will they, when they learn that I am Queen Amidala?" asked Padmé.

"Huh?" said Naiia. "Oh, no! No! That'd be worse. You can't play tricks like that! So ... who's she?"

"Her name is Sabé," replied Padmé. "One of my loyal bodyguard. My decoy in times of danger—a loyal protector."

"So is that why you change all the time?" said Naiia. "But Uncle Rugor, he'd get mad if you did that. Playing tricks like that's no way to start friends."

"Then it is good that we have discussed this now," said Padmé. "Your uncle, he is the leader of the Gungans?"

"Yeah," said Naiia. "Well, you'd call him Boss."

"Boss?!" sputtered Sabé.

"Boss Nass," said Naiia. "That's what you'd call him. Because he's not your uncle." She tilted her head looking at the one dressed as queen and the one who had declared herself queen, and said, "Who all knows you switch around like that?"

"Those within this room," replied Padmé. "And Captain Panaka. It must stay that way, Naiia. You understand?"

"I guess," said Naiia, then seeing that this was not quite good enough, added, "yeah, I understand."

"Now, if you would leave us, please," continued Padmé. "We have to ... change."

Naiia wandered out of the room, seeing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon engaged in a game of dejarik.

"So that's how that thing works!" said Naiia.

"Yes," replied Qui-Gon. "It's not a simple game to be taught in a matter of hours. But you may watch if you don't ask too many questions. And whatever you do, don't touch anything."

"I wouldn't," said Naiia. "Whatcha do with Dee?"

"He's meditating," replied Qui-Gon.

As they neared Naboo once more, the Queen called Captain Panaka into the traveling throne room, together with the Jedi and Naiia. She now wore a red and black dress of far simpler design, her hair in a large halo around the headdress that she had worn when addressing the Senate, the handmaidens in the crushed velvet clothing that had been purchased on the shopping trip in Coruscant.

"I have done as you said, madam. And now we are nearly to Naboo," said Captain Panaka. "But the moment we land, the Federation will arrest you, and they surely will force you to sign their treaty."

"What is it that you hope to accomplish?" said Qui-Gon.

"I will take back what is ours," said Queen Amidala, firmly.

"There are only twelve of us," said Captain Panaka. "Madam, we aren't an army. We don't know how many we can hope to find."

"And we cannot fight the war for you, madam," said Qui-Gon. "We can only offer our protection toyou."

"I understand your concerns," said Queen Amidala.

"At the very least," said Captain Panaka, bringing out a tiny, palm-sized laser pistol, "I must insist, madam, that if you carry out this plan, you carry this."

"Of course," said Queen Amidala, taking the small gun.

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