Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 5

Naiia moved easily through the water as it grew steadily darker and murkier, pausing every now and then to see that the Jedi were following her still and making impatient gestures for them to hurry and follow, as though the pace were annoyingly slow for her.

Ahead, a soft glow deep in the lake could be seen, and it slowly resolved into a city of some substantial size, formed of organic-appearing bubbles. Within these bubbles, gleaming white stone growing from the ocean floor, and now visible within the bubbles, many more Gungans going about their business.

Naiia paused, seeing the Jedi close enough behind her, she reached out with her hands on the membrane. At first, the membrane held; then Naiia stepped through. Standing on the drier surface within, she shook herself, wet hair sticking close, the corals bound in the neck-chains clattering against each other.

Qui-Gon moved to follow, finding the membrane allowed him to pass through and re-sealed behind him, and a moment later Obi-Wan likewise entered the city.

"Welcome to Otoh Gunga," said Naiia with obvious pride.

The clothing of the Jedi dripped on the white stone as they each put away the small devices that had enabled them to follow Naiia here. At regular intervals, smaller bubbles had been set atop posts where a trio of glowing fish chased after one another. As the green-skinned Gungans continued going about their business, Qui-Gon noted that anyone who was not obviously a child seemed to be thoroughly decorated with blue tattoos.

They had barely taken more than four steps into the city when one of the women caught sight of the Jedi and gave out a wordless scream, grabbed two small Gungan boys, pulling them behind her, pushing them through a doorway. More Gungans, alerted by her scream, looked at the Jedi in evident alarm, seized their children, rushing them indoors.

"At least they're not shooting at us," observed Obi-Wan.

"I told you," said Naiia, "don't expect a warm welcome."

Coming at a run, a quartet of Gungan men moved to intercept the Jedi and Naiia. Like Naiia and the other Gungans spotted in the city thus far, they wore no clothes unless one counted armbands of a broad metal on both upper arms of each man. All were armed with spears like the one Naiia herself carried.

"Hiya, Captain Tarpals," said Naiia. "I'm back!"

"Don't expect me to believe you've had your vision already," replied one of the men, evidently the man Naiia had addressed, who had a tattoo starting around his left eye, continuing down the side of his face and neck, over the shoulder, and then wrapping around his body to finish around his right knee. His face wrinkled, as though he had caught a whiff of some pungent offal, and asked, "What have you brought with you?"

Three more men, tattooed and wearing armbands like the first quartet, came from another direction, also at a run. Two men crossed spears in front of Qui-Gon, another holding his as though ready to skewer the Jedi.

"Uh ... I forgot to ask your names!" said Naiia, turning back to the Jedi. Turning back to the captain, she added, "They saved my life! Twice! And we gotta warn everybody."

"We mean no harm," said Qui-Gon, as the other three Gungan men moved to keep Obi-Wan at bay. "I am Qui-Gon Jinn, and this is my padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"I don't like this," said Captain Tarpals. "We'll take you to the Boss, see what he wants to do with you. Don't try anything now, just follow me."

With that, he turned, apparently confident that the other men would keep the two strangers in line.

Under Gungan guard, the Jedi and Naiia followed along, down several streets and around many bends to a high tower in the center of the city. Captain Tarpals turned, disapproval writ on his face. Resolutely, he stepped inside, leading them up a long circular stairway before bringing them into a council chamber.

Hushed murmurs could be heard surrounding them as several Gungan officials—men and women with ornate tattoos and jewelry—took seats upon the ringed benches. Other Gungans pressed back against the transparent walls, apparently wanting to give these strangers the widest berth possible.

"Ianthe Naiia," said the man in the highest seat of all, "for what reason do you leave your meditations and bring to us these ... strangers?"

Naiia began, "There's really bad stuff up there! I couldn't ... things were trying to kill me, and they needed to be safe, too. They saved my life and I had to show them ..."

"What 'bad stuff'?" said the man, his tone long-suffering.

"These mechanical things that raced and shot bolts, and these guys have... well, at least his works," said Naiia, pointing to Qui-Gon, "these swords that bounced the bolts back, right into the machines. They're even better than the shields!"

"Swords! Captain Tarpals, you allow strangers to come armed here?" said the man.

"Boss Nass," said Captain Tarpals, looking unnerved, "I ... they assure me that they come in peace."

"It is true," said Qui-Gon, "we mean your people no harm. However, there is a grave danger to Naboo, and we must warn you and all the cities."

"We are not Naboo," said Boss Nass, his nostrils flaring and whiskers quivering as his face took on a shade of puce. "We are Gungans!"

"I beg your pardon," said Qui-Gon, spreading his hands in a gesture of conciliation. "I mean the planet, I do not know another name for it. There is an army of droids up there."

"That's no reason for you to be here," said Boss Nass, clearly not mollified. "An army of droids up there is no reason to come here."

"That droid army is about to attack the Naboo," said Qui-Gon. "We," and he gestured to include Obi-Wan, "must warn them."

"So what? We don't like the Naboo," said Boss Nass, "and they don't like us. Why should we help? The Naboo think they are so smart and powerful, they can prove it."

"After those droids take control of the surface," said Obi-Wan earnestly, "they will come down here and take control of you."

"No, I don't think so," said Boss Nass. "We don't talk to the Naboo much, and we don't talk to outlanders." His face showed disgust as he surveyed the two non-Gungans in front of him. "No droids will come here. They don't even know about us."

A low murmur about the room seemed to confirm that the other Gungans agreed with the wisdom of their leader.

"You and the Naboo are part of one circle," declared Obi-Wan. "What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this."

"We know nothing about your circles, outlander," said Boss Nass, "and we don't care about the Naboo."

"Uncle Rugor!" said Naiia, stepping forward again.

"Your mother won't help you in this," said Boss Nass, looking down at his niece. "Naiia, you were to be up there meditating. You can't stay a child any longer. Unthinkable!"

"I got an idea," said Naiia. "See, those droids up there, it's not safe for me to do the meditations and trials. They saved my life, or the droids woulda got me. So ... maybe I could do something else? Like I could help these guys?"

"No," said Boss Nass. "We won't help them."

"Please?" pleaded Naiia.

"We don't want to get involved," said Boss Nass. "That will bring trouble here."

"There will be no trouble," said Qui-Gon, with a slight gesture. "Just send us on our way."

The elder Gungan shook his head, and said, "We'll send these outlanders on their way."

"We'll need a transport," said Qui-Gon in a carefully controlled tone. "We must get to Theed in all haste."

"We'll give you a bongo," said Boss Nass. "The quickest way to the Naboo is through the core. Now go!"

"Through the core, Uncle?" said Naiia, sounding rather alarmed.

"It is the quickest way, you know that," said Boss Nass. "Now go before I lose my temper. Captain Tarpals, get them to a bongo and on their way. Naiia ... if you do this, Swuyswuy you will be."

"Thank you," said Qui-Gon.

"This way," said Captain Tarpals as he gestured for the guard to move back into position.

"What is a bongo?" asked Obi-Wan.

"It's a ship," answered Naiia.

"Ianthe Naiia," scolded Captain Tarpals, "you could have told me that they had weapons before letting me bring them into the Boardroom."

"They weren't gonna hurt nobody," replied Naiia.

"You still tell," hissed Captain Tarpals.

Back through the city, the Jedi and Naiia were led to a dock. The Gungan guards, still warily holding long spears, watched closely for any sign that they would need to use those spears against their less-than-welcome guests.

"This one," said Captain Tarpals, gesturing to a vessel which bore a striking resemblance to a squid. "Good voyage to you." His tone, however, suggested that he wanted to say 'good riddance'.

"Thanks, Captain Tarpals," replied Naiia, moving into the pilot's seat of the craft.

The bongo was a craft shaped like a squid with aft "tentacles" providing propulsion. Obi-Wan sat in the co-pilot's seat, trying to familiarize himself with the controls. I can understand the speech, but I've never seen letters like this, thought Obi-Wan. Beside him, Naiia kept up a running commentary, explaining the purpose of each switch and dial. Qui-Gon settled into a seat behind them.

Moving slowly under Naiia's control, the bongo started away from Otoh Gunga.

"I gotta tell you," said Naiia, "I never been through the planet core before. I know there's lotsa passages, and you pick the right one, you can get from one side of the planet to the other in no time."

Clearly uncertain, Naiia looked ahead, as though hoping for some sign, the craft's movement causing Otoh Gunga to recede at a slow pace.

"Master, why do you keep dragging these…" pathetic life forms, thought Obi-Wan shaking his head, "strays along with us? Here, take over." He moved from his seat.

As Qui-Gon settled into the seat beside her, Naiia said, "I'm fine, thanks."

"Just relax," said Qui-Gon, "the Force will guide us."

"Oh, great," said Naiia. "The 'Force'. What's that?"

"The Force is a power that binds all living things," said Qui-Gon, "it is around and within us all."

"It's all right," reassured Naiia. "That's ok if you don't know." She started steering to the left and flipped a switch, bringing on the external lights of the craft.

With a shake of his head, Obi-Wan exchanged a glance with Qui-Gon as he thought, No wonder they were happy to send her off with us. They don't have to put up with her this way.

Beyond the craft, the corals were immense growths, seeming to have been undisturbed since before the beginning of the Republic. Schools of fish swam about on courses undisturbed by the movement of the Gungan bongo.

"This is truly beautiful," said Qui-Gon. "Do your people travel here much?"

"Not so much," said Naiia, oblivious to the dark shape beginning to follow the small craft. "It's not like we want to go visit the Naboo."

"The Gungans and the Naboo don't like each other?" said Qui-Gon. "Why not?"

"I don't know," said Naiia. "It's all stuff that happened a long time ago. Now, they live up in their cities on the plains, we live in the swamps and lakes. Besides, it's ... kinda dangerous here."

"How dangerous is that?" said Obi-Wan.

As though in answer, there was a loud crash, and the craft lurched to one side, throwing Naiia almost into Qui-Gon's lap with the force of it.

Qui-Gon looked back and saw a huge, luminous crustacean creature, its long tongue encircling the craft.

"Full speed ahead," said Qui-Gon.

"I can't!" said Naiia, in a panic, "I'm already at full power, I hafta shut down! We'll blow the engine!" It seemed the creature was still drawing them into its mouth, the bongo shaking violently. Naiia began a shut-down sequence, panic on her face.

"Relax," said Qui-Gon.

Almost as suddenly as they had been seized by the creature, it let them go, and Naiia hit the controls again, bringing the craft to full forward speed.

Looking behind, Qui-Gon saw an incredibly large sea monster had seized the already-large crustacean, and their release had come from the death of the predator turned prey.

As the scene faded into the murk while the bongo sped through the waters, Qui-Gon settled back in his seat and said, "There's always a bigger fish."

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