Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 4

Within the transport for the droids, Obi-Wan felt the craft seized by some force and for a dizzying moment rotated before flying backwards followed by a clang.

I am at peace, thought Obi-Wan, trying very hard to allow his emotions to fade away into the peace of the Force despite the situation.

Obi-Wan felt the transport ship strike the ground of Naboo with a definite thump. Considering the intended inorganic cargo, perhaps the Nemoidians had stinted on niceties such as ensuring the craft made a soft landing. Another clang and thump, and he felt the craft moving again.

The vehicle came to rest once again. The door opened, the bar extending to deposit the rows of inert battle droids upon the swampy ground. Obi-Wan wasted no time, exiting the craft, not taking the time to fully survey the surroundings before dropping to the ground as an activated droid nearly turned to see him.

The swampy ground gave a peculiar squelching sound, and he edged sideways into the stream, submerging himself in the waters after taking one deep breath. Moving away from his entry point, he bobbed up. Peering above the muddy waters, he saw the battle droids unfolding, preparing to march.

"Where's Qui-Gon?" he muttered, head still bobbing above the surface. "Or a city? This is the middle of nowhere!"

He looked into the heavily overcast sky above, and through the clouds emerged three larger ships, whispering death on wings. These larger ships contained several craft like that which he had stowed away upon, now disgorging tanks and craft which in its turn disgorged row upon row of battle droids. Despite the haze, Obi-Wan could see many more dark shadows on the ground, and knew they were yet more of the same.

As the droids began marching, from his vantage point in the waters, he saw a large tank and another battle droid with yellow markings surveying the army. Seeing a hologram of Nemoidians on the tank, Obi-Wan ducked underwater and moved closer.

Re-emerging just enough to see and hear, he heard the voice of Rune Haako

"...and there is no trace of the Jedi," said Rune. "They must've gotten onto one of your landing craft."

"If they are down here, sir, we'll find them," said the droid.

Not wanting to take chances on being found just yet, Obi-Wan took another deep breath before sinking under the depths of the water in order to find a safer place in which to emerge and look for Qui-Gon or the cities which needed to be warned of the coming invasion.

The forgotten god lay aslant on the swampy ground, one eye surveying the grazing hrumph and the frolic of the ollopom and the pursuing otta. The waters of the swamp wended their sluggish way through the grasses, opening into a vast lake. In the distance, a peko-peko gave its cry, but all was otherwise still in the quiet twilight of the swamps of Naboo.

Stillness was interrupted as the waters of the lake rippled before the creature emerged—green-skinned with long blue hair which plastered against her body as she moved from water to air, with the clatter of necklaces striking one another as she leaped high above the waters, then at the apex of the leap, her body curled into a ball as she returned beneath the waters, and then again emerging.

Ianthe Naiia was a mere fourteen years old, her green skin bereft of the ornate blue tattoos which marked the older members of her people, clad only in a handful of necklaces and one anklet, with a spear in one hand, a rolled mat in the other as she made her second break above the water surface.

Leaping again, she landed with one foot upon a pom petal, spear and mat still in hand. Hopping from one to another in mimicry of the pod hoppers, she reached the land beside the forgotten god.

"Hello," she addressed the statue with an exaggerated bow, "and how are you today? Got any advice for me? Yeah, didn't think so."

With that, she turned, skipping across the swampy ground to find a spot she liked. She lightly poked the spear into the ground, then unfurled the mat, letting it rest upon the ground.

Naiia sat down on the mat, folding her legs beneath her as she was supposed to do.

"Oomesa pa Guna mer muda. J'ai bongo do deepu sea," she intoned, and then rolled her eyes.

"How's anyone supposed to actually remember all that?" complained Naiia. "I'm starving! Eat first, dumb old poetry later."

With that, she left the mat behind, picking up her spear as she made her way through the edges of the swamp looking for something suitably tasty.

"Ooh, a nyork!" she exclaimed.

Qui-Gon had been at peace as he reached the planet, shielding himself from droid eyes with the Force.

In the sky were the landing craft, moving in a formation which might have been beautiful if it had been natural, or at least if it had been something other than death being carried on the wings of these craft.

Gray and mist surrounded him. Qui-Gon walked easily through the swampy ground toward the tall, dark form of the trees. Battle droids giving commands could be heard, but nowhere did he hear the voice of his padawan.

I have some time I can spare, though Qui-Gon, realizing now that they had landed quite far away from the cities which needed to be warned.

A sense of blind panic washed over him, and he took a deep breath, steadying himself within the Force as quite suddenly a stampede of creatures looking rather like deer except for the impossibly large, flipper-like feet approached and passed. Behind them, a distant rumble could be heard.

Qui-Gon began running after the odd creatures through the trees into the open grasslands of the swamp. Quickly, so that he almost did not notice the young blue-haired female squatting by the waters, an open clamshell in her hands.

The stampeding pom hoppers had gotten her attention, however. Naiia dropped her clamshell, splashing into the waters below as she took up her spear, the end glistening with a threatening blue.

Just behind Qui-Gon, the tank had gathered speed, knocking down three trees as it continued on its path.

"Oh, no!" cried Naiia, her eyes widening at the sight.

Without thinking, Qui-Gon reached out, his arm about the waist of the green-skinned young woman, He dragged her groundward with him, as the breeze from the passing tank ruffled his robes and her hair.

Releasing his hold on her, Qui-Gon stood, making a gesture which rid his white robes of the mud into which he had just dived. Naiia got up, shaking her head, the necklaces striking each other as she did so, and she embraced Qui-Gon.

"Thank you!" she exclaimed. "I thought I was a goner for sure!"

"You must get out of here," said Qui-Gon.

"You're just going to leave me here?" said Naiia, incredulously.

Just then, Obi-Wan came crashing through the downed foliage toward them, with two battle droids on floating craft close on his heels. The craft at first looked like it had two yellow eyes, but that notion was quickly put to rest as laser bursts came forth from the twin cannons.

"I don't have time for this now," said Qui-Gon.

"Huh?" said Naiia, turning to see what Qui-Gon was talking about. Seeing the two speeding battle droids and the bursts of laser, she cried, "Oh, no! We're gonna ..."

Abruptly, Qui-Gon threw Naiia back into the mud and said, "Stay down!"

"Diiiiiiiee!" cried Naiia as she went into the mud.

Qui-Gon ignited his lightsaber again as more laser bolts were fired, he deflected one into the right-side machine, and the next into the left-side machine, and both machines burst into balls of fire.

As the swamp stillness descended once more, Obi-Wan paused, breathing heavily.

"Sorry, Master," he said, "the water fried mine."

Qui-Gon held out a hand expectantly, and Obi-Wan pulled out a burnt lightsaber handle. Qui-Gon looked it over as Naiia stood up again.

"You forgot to turn your power off," said Qui-Gon, "again, didn't you?"

With a sheepish expression, Obi-Wan nodded.

"It shouldn't take that long to recharge," reprimanded Qui-Gon, "but this is a lesson I hope you remember, my young padawan."

"Yes, Master," said Obi-Wan, chastised.

"You've saved me again!" said Naiia.

Obi-Wan looked at her curiously, and said, "What's this?"

"A local," said Qui-Gon. "Let's go, before more of those droids show up here."

With that, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon started to run again. Naiia began following, not realizing that Qui-Gon's statement had not included her.

"Uh, suggestion here," she said, panting. "I can think of a better place to go. Otoh Gunga is a safe city. There's no ... things like that." She gestured vaguely in the direction of the smoldering remnants of the two battle droids and their vehicles.

"A city?" said Qui-Gon, stopping dead in his tracks to look at Naiia again.

Naiia nodded, her jewelry chattering loudly as she did so.

"Can you take us there?" asked Qui-Gon as a pulsating sound could be heard in the distance.

"Right," replied Naiia, picking up her spear again. She frowned, surveying the two men, and said, "The pom'll never hold you. Uh ... this way!"

With that, she cut across the swampland at a run.

As the pounding sound of approaching tanks followed them, Naiia led the two strangers to the edge of another murky lake.

Breathing somewhat heavily, Qui-Gon asked, "Much further?"

"Here," declared Naiia.

"Here?" said Obi-Wan, incredulously.

"We go underwater here," she said, her expression concerned and doubtful. "OK?"

"Lead on," said Qui-Gon, unfolding a small black device.

"Gotta warn you," she said, "we Gungans aren't real fond of outlanders. You might not get a real warm welcome."

"That's all right," replied Obi-Wan, preparing like Qui-Gon. "Hasn't exactly been the day for warm welcomes for us, wouldn't want to ruin our streak."

"This way!" called Naiia, and she ran, leaped up and folded into a twisting double-somersault before disappearing beneath the water's surface.

"You sure about this?" asked Obi-Wan.

"Let's go," said Qui-Gon, firmly, wading into the lake to look for Naiia.

Beneath the water's surface, Naiia's blue hair floated like a nimbus about her and gills rippling along her sides. She smiled in apparent recognition as she saw the two men following. Using a gesture 'follow me' she turned, spear still in one hand as she made her way down deeper into the depths of the lake.

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