Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 19

As the thundering laser blasts continued, battle droids marched into the shield surrounding the Gungan army. The shield, however, remained impervious to these inorganic creatures. Small explosions ensued as magnetic couplings failed and slender limbs sprang away from the central torso. At times, the severed mechanical arm flew through the air away from the shields, finger still depressing the trigger.

One standard bearer on the right flank of the army, however, could no longer bear the terrible flashes and concussion of the battle. He wheeled his kaadu into a headlong flight away from the leading edge of the shields despite their growing wall of broken battle droids at the edge. The fambaa of that section started following. With a mighty zap-boom, a segment of the Gungan shield collapsed.

There was no roar of cheers arising from the battle droids in response, as there might have been from the Gungans had they so decisively breached the defenses of their foes. Rather, information was relayed from OOM-9 to Daultay, to Nute, back to Daultay, and then returned to OOM-9. Veering sharply, the ranks of battle droids marched for the slivered opening in the Gungan shields. Hundreds upon thousands of battle droids strode over the broken bodies of their fellow machines and into the bubble of safety, from which the Gungans had bombarded Federation tanks.

Now within the bounds of the vast Gungan shield, tens upon tens of battle droids poured, laser blasters no longer ineffective. The retreating Gungans were amongst the first to fall. A rally from the farthest right moved to repulse the battle droids. Like water-toting brooms, the battle droids continued to stream through the hole in the Gungan shields. A fambaa fell to blaster fire as General Ceel ordered Gungans to redouble the defense of the slow beasts. Battle droids fell, but where one fell, it seemed three more had taken the place of it.

Finally, the sheer weight of their numbers had strained the Gungan shield to the breaking point. A massive concussion obliterated ten rows of battle droids. However, when the smoke had cleared, it seemed that the shields had, save for a few small intermittent fizzling arcs, been overwhelmed and had fallen.

Remaining Federation tanks began to rumble forward. For some time, it appeared to be an even match, and that the Gungans might yet be victorious.

Then, however, command arced through the relay of the Federation, and wheeled droidekas rolled out of the transports and into the battle field, taking their attack form. Gungan and kaadu fell on one side, battle droids on another.

Again Gungan catapults fired, too slow to catch the wheeled droidekas as they passed over the carnage of the battlefield.

"Retreat!" called General Ceel, signaling with his staff. The call echoed on battle horns throughout the field.

"Iiiii-iiii-eee!" cried Naiia, as the searing heat of a laser bolt passed through her leg and through her kaadu, dumping her unceremoniously on the ground. "Get offa me!" Naiia screamed, as she tried to free her leg from beneath the dead beast. Levering the body a few inches with the base of her staff, Naiia managed to escape just before she was about to be run over.

In between the light and noise, Naiia stood amidst the chaos trying to get her bearings once more. "Get back!" she roared, throwing small blue orbs at the approaching battle droids.

"Back!" She pushed at the battle droid with the point of the staff. With a metallic shriek the head came loose. Naiia pulled her standard back upright, the droid head nodding jauntily from the tip of the staff.


"Sergeant Merr?" Naiia couldn't believe the luck of finding someone she knew in the middle of this insanity.

"Shut up, wet-ink. Just get on." He pulled her onto the kaadu with him, moving rapidly to join the other retreating Gungans.

How quickly the situation had changed. At first, it seemed that this man was nothing more than a distraction, a side battle to be quickly resolved, and the Jedi could quickly resume their task of protecting the Queen. All too soon, the fierce determination with which Qui-Gon had entered the contest gave way to a realization that there would be no early resolution to this fight.

The tattooed man had been primed for a moment such as this. He exuded quiet confidence of his victory, using strength and dexterity he kept both Jedi at bay, attacking and warding off counter-strikes. Their defenses gave no opening, as the trio continued their deadly dance across the hangar and into a power station.

Steam rose in clouds, obscuring vision and leaving only the sense of each other's presence in the Force. The shimmering glow of blades told where they stood, as the floor gave way to an interlacing of catwalks and metallic walkways high above the hum of machinery and the clash of lightsabers in the gloom.

The Sith leapt upward to another catwalk. Qui-Gon joined him on one side, with Obi-Wan on the other. The two Jedi pinned the Sith between them, flashing and clashing, sparks telling of the ferocity of their combat.

A moment of deficiency in attention, and the horned man struck out at Obi-Wan with a boot. Obi-Wan paid for his lapse by plummeting downwards, gaining control just in the nick of time to land on his feet far below the conflict. One tiny lapse by gloating, and Qui-Gon found the advantage, forcing the tattooed foe over the rail to land with a hard tumbling roll onto yet another catwalk. Gracefully, Qui-Gon followed with a leap of his own, but before he could press the advantage, the Sith was in flight, running down the catwalk away from the two Jedi. Qui-Gon quickly set off in pursuit while Obi-Wan tried to recover ground.

Not wanting to give up this sliver of advantage, Qui-Gon pressed on. Paying no heed to his surroundings, the two combatants fought through a corridor. For a moment, it seemed that Qui-Gon had the advantage and might put an end to the combat. But before he could, a crackling curtain of red fell from the ceiling above, separating Qui-Gon from his Sith opponent. Darth Iacchusswung at Qui-Gon, only to find that the wall was an immovable object, even when faced with a lightsaber. Behind Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan had reached the corridor, only to be cut off from joining his master by another such curtain.

As the Sith danced with impatience at this unwelcome interlude to combat, Qui-Gon dropped to his knees, meditating, and re-grounding himself within the Force as he waited for the lifting of the curtain.

They lifted. Before eye could blink, Qui-Gon was on his feet and beyond the curtain's position. Obi-Wan moved to follow, only to find himself drawing up short again, a helpless spectator through the haze of red.

Qui-Gon's meditation had served him far better than the posturing of the Sith. For it was Qui-Gon who maintained the advantage, pressing close around a deep pit, so that one red blade couldn't be brought to bear, weakening the attack of his foe. With a feral grin, Darth Iacchus flipped away, gaining space for the moves he favored. Then back once again into combat.

Behind the curtain, Obi-Wan watched tensely, hoping that it would lift before Qui-Gon became wearied.

It was not to be.

Parry. A reverse lunge and one red blade caught Qui-Gon in the gut, as heat burned through clothing, flesh, bone, and even boiling the blood itself.

Qui-Gon dropped to his knees, lightsaber falling from his hand. As the Zabrak gave another feral grin at Obi-Wan, he knelt to his own meditations. I must not fail.

As the remaining droideka and battle droids began to converge on the ship in which he had been hiding, Deak attempted to fire again, trying to steer within the hangar. Pushing another button, he suddenly found himself without control of the craft as the cockpit hood locked. The ship oriented to the opening, and he was thrown against the back of his seat as the craft lifted away from the hangar and into the blue skies of Naboo. Beyond it, Deak flew into glittering black space.

"Auto-pilot! No!" said Deak. "Oh kriff! Qui-Gon's gonna be mad at me now."

The power of the fighter was beyond that of anything that Deak had been in control of, and he felt as though he had been glued to his seat. They roared from the hangar and into space. Desperately, he fumbled at buttons, looking for one that would bring him control, rather than the automated process which was currently operating.

Fighters swarmed out of the remaining battleship to engage the paltry number of Naboo craft now attacking. It was into such a maelstrom that Deak emerged.

As the Jedi had moved off to do battle with their fearsome-appearing opponent, the Naboo continued onwards. They split into their pre-arranged groups and moved through the passageways and alleys, leaving the hangar behind and continuing on a determined path for the palace. Battle droids clogged the pathways, suggesting that they may well need to fight the entire distance between hangar and palace.

Padmé shook her head, looking down the alley to the squads of battle droids. "The viceroy will escape if we have to fight our way there."

"This way," replied Captain Panaka.

Underground passages dripped with moisture. Edging along the skywalks, Captain Panaka led a steady progress across Theed and into the palace itself. Still, there was no time for rejoicing, as they were a considerable distance away from the throne room and were quite certain that the Viceroy had remained there.

That their progress should be going so well was not to last, however. The group led by Captain Panaka raced down a hallway, only to find a squadron of battle droids marching in the next hall. As they exchanged blasts, alarms began to announce the arrival of the Naboo. Even over the sound of the fight, they could hear more metallic feet approaching.

"He'll get away!" yelled Padmé.

Not needing further explanation of Padmé's concerns, Captain Panaka turned to the window and opened fire, shattering the window outward.

"This way," called Captain Panaka.

Leaving several guards behind to continue the fight with the battle droids, Captain Panaka led two of his soldiers, together with Padmé and Eirtaé, onto the ledge.

"Ascension guns!" shouted Captain Panaka over the din of battle and the roar of the waterfall. "More than one way to skin this cat, madam."

Reaching for the grapple device, the five on the ledge quickly affixed them to their pistols. Up above, metal prongs bit deeply into stone, and with both hands holding tightly, they rose above the din of the battle.

The next ledge was narrower yet, but they cast the used cables aside as Captain Panaka blasted the new window inward.

The alarms still sounded on this floor as well. The five had scarcely made their way into the hallway, before two wheeled droids came rolling into the hall end ahead of them, unfolding into their attack position.

"Drop your weapons!" Mechanical voice, no negotiating.

Padmé turned her head into the comlink at her collar. "Captured. Get to the throne room."

"They win this round." Padmé let her blaster fall to the floor amidst the debris.

Captain Panaka said, "But ..."

Two more wheeled droids clattered into attack position at the other end of the hallway.

"More than one way to skin the cat, Captain," said Padmé.

The droids advanced from behind, urging the five Naboo forward.

More battle droids came into the hallway as the alarms still blared, and the five disarmed Naboo were marched under guard to the throne room.

Nute Gunray and Rune Haako stood there in her throne room. Padmé barely contained her smile, recognizing that this part of the objective had been achieved.

Nute stared at the Naboo prisoners for a moment, looking greatly puzzled.

"Your Majesty?" Nute inquired.

"Viceroy," said Padmé.

"I am delighted," said Nute. "Your insurrection is at an end. Those primitives have been routed, the Jedi are being dealt with-and now I have you as my prisoner."

"So you believe," returned Padmé with an unnerving air.

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