Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 6

Klaxons still wailed throughout the ship, though every detachment of droids had failed to locate the Jedi. Scans of the ship had failed to produce any desired results. With resignation and several flicks of switches, silence finally reigned throughout the ship.

"What are we going to tell Lord Sidious?" asked Rune Haako. "About the Jedi?"

"We will report about that, when we've something to report," replied Nute, his tone full of resignation. "Right now, there is no need to bother him."

"No need," repeated Rune, trying to bring himself to believe the words he was saying. "No need. Yes, of course, there's no need."

The silence was interrupted as a slender Nemoidian, Tey How, responded to the beeping of a notification.

Turning, Tey How announced, "Sir, a transmission from the planet," as she flipped yet another switch, lighting up the viewscreen, revealing an image of Queen Amidala, her face whitened by ceremonial makeup, elaborate red and gold headdress framing her sober face.

"Ah, again you come before me," said Nute. "The Federation is pleased, Your Majesty."

"You will not be pleased when you have heard what I have to say," replied the queen, her words devoid of emotion. "Viceroy, your blockade has come to an end."

Nute could not refrain from smirking, and he said, "I was not aware of such a failure."

"The Senate is finally voting on this," said the queen.

"I wonder why they bother to vote," said Nute, smirk growing, "if you already know the outcome."

"Enough of this pretense, Viceroy," snapped Queen Amidala. "I'm aware the Chancellor's ambassadors are with you now. I know that you have been commanded to reach a settlement."

"I know nothing about any ambassadors," said Nute unctuously, "you must be mistaken."

There was a moment of silence, and then Queen Amidala said, "The Federation has gone too far this time."

Overly polite, Nute replied, "Madam, we would never do anything without the approval of the Senate."

"We shall see," said Queen Amidala, her words clipped, betraying the slightest emotion before the viewscreen went black, abruptly ending the communication.

In the throne room, Queen Amidala turned to her governor, Sio Bibble, in surprise. "I don't understand," she said. "I had assurances that the Chancellor had sent ambassadors to act on our behalf."

"I do not understand it either," replied Sio. "Perhaps Senator Palpatine knows more."

"Contact him," ordered Queen Amidala.

Such contact took little time to arrange. Flanked by two handmaidens, Sio Bibble nearby, Queen Amidala watched the hologram of Senator Palpatine, his image standing in a manner seeming to convey great concern as best posture could do.

"Senator," said Queen Amidala, "the Trade Federation tells me that they know nothing of the Chancellor's ambassadors. What has happened?"

"Your Majesty, how could that be true?" said Akhil Palpatine. "I have assurances from the Chancellor..." His image flickered a moment, and he continued seemingly unaware that Queen Amidala had missed the intervening words, "his ambassadors did arrive. It must be they ..." The image flickered and a burst of static sounded, "...get..." said Akhil as he appeared again before disappearing in the flickering static. Once more, his image emerged from static to say, "...nego—"

With a final sputter, the image faded away entirely.

"Senator Palpatine?!" said Queen Amidala.

Captain Panaka shook his head, and said to a nearby sergeant, "Check the generators."

"A malfunction?" said Sio. "It's deliberate; they're disrupting communication so they can invade."

"Don't jump to conclusions, Governor," said Queen Amidala. "The Trade Federation wouldn't dare. An invasion would bring swift condemnation from the Senate. We will continue to negotiate."

"How can we negotiate without communications?" said Sio. "We must prepare to defend ourselves!"

"We shall not condone a course of action which leads us into a war," replied Queen Amidala.

"You may have no choice, Madam," replied Sio.

On the bridge of the Saak'ak, Nute and Rune were once more in the presence of the hologram of the robed Darth Sidious.

"The invasion is on schedule, my lord," said Nute.

"Good. I have the Senate bogged down in procedures," replied the cloaked man. "By the time this ... incident comes up for a vote, they will have no choice but to accept your control of the system."

"The queen has great faith that the Senate will side with her," said Nute.

"She is young and naïve," said the robed man dismissively. "You will find controlling her won't be difficult. You have done well, Viceroy. So far."

"Thank you, my lord," said Nute, trying hard not to think about the implications of those last two words.

The image of the robed man vanished.

Beneath the waters, the bongo began showing signs that it had not escaped the opee sea killer unscathed—the sound of the engines dropped, and water began leaking into the cabin.

Obi-Wan had opened a panel, working with the wiring. A spark jumped out and he ruefully shook a hand before resuming his work.

"Stay calm," said Qui-Gon, "we're not in trouble yet."

"Are you brainless?!" sputtered Naiia. "We're losing power. The bongo's leaking. We're surrounded by the biggest sea monsters around. If that's not trouble, I don't wanna know what you think is trouble. And when you are, I don't wanna be anywhere close!"

Obi-Wan resumed his work, and the lights flickered back on, and he said, "Power's back." He smirked at Naiia, and said, "See, not at all in trouble."

Looking ahead, Naiia shrieked, "You forget about the monsters?"

Indeed, ahead a colo claw fish startled then reared back as though preparing to attack the squid-shaped bongo.

Calmly, Qui-Gon turned the craft, moving quickly away.

"We're in trouble now?" cried Naiia, nervously looking back at the pursuing creature.

"Relax," said Qui-Gon as the bongo continued to speed away from the predator, turning hard and diving into a coral tunnel too small for the colo claw fish to follow.

They continued through the waters, finally through the worst of the journey. At long last, the bongo reached the surface, bouncing atop the waters as Obi-Wan switched off the bubble canopies and the engines died again. With the lack of engine noise, the roar of a waterfall was unmistakable.

"We did it!" said Naiia, her tone a mixture of relief and amazement.

Qui-Gon stood, and looked around at the cliff-side of Theed and the waterfall toward which they were now drifting, and said, "Get this thing started."

Naiia tried, but the engine sputtered and stalled. Despite continued efforts, it refused to start. "It won't." Her face betrayed panic as her efforts remained unfruitful.

"Keep trying," said Qui-Gon, "and stay calm."

"Are we in trouble now?" said Naiia.

"Keep trying," said Qui-Gon, getting something out of his belt as he looked at Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan re-opened the panel and started fiddling with the wires again. The engine sputtered to life, and Naiia opened the throttle, managing to hold position against the current.

"I can't get away," she said. "It's too strong."

Qui-Gon shot a thin cable from the device he had taken from his belt, wrapping the end around a protrusion on the breakwater wall.

"Come on," said Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan left the panel he was working on and made his way to the wall by way of the cable.

Qui-Gon gestured for Naiia, and said, "Let's go."

"My uncle'll kill me if I don't get this back," said Naiia.

"And the waterfall will if you don't come now," said Qui-Gon, as he started along the cable. "Come on!"

Pulling Qui-Gon out of the water, Obi-Wan said, "That was close."

"Too close!" said Naiia, stepping onto the breakwater and shaking herself.

A mechanical voice said, "Surrender!" Emphasizing the statement, the battle droid aimed its blaster at the trio.

Turning, Qui-Gon saw the battle droid approaching them, and igniting his lightsaber, he leaped toward it. With a sudden flash and a burst of sparks, he cut down the battle droid while the same arcs deflected the burst of laser fire that had followed the droid's recognition that they were not complying with orders. The deflected bolt struck the cable which snapped. Within moments, the bongo went over the edge of the waterfall.

"Now what do I do?!" cried Naiia, dismayed.

"You'll have to come with us," replied Qui-Gon. "We'll keep the Federation from getting you and finding your city."

Within the throne room, some three dozen battle droids held their weapons at the ready as Nute Gunray and Rune Haako stood in the room with Queen Amidala, her governor, a dozen handmaidens, Captain Panaka and four members of the royal guard.

"Just how do you expect to explain this invasion to the Senate?" said Sio. "Bad enough that you would dare to interrupt a transmission between our Queen and Senator. How you can even pretend that your blockade is not illegal! And now this—to land an entire army and invade our planet? How can you justify this? How do you plan to explain yourselves to the Senate?"

"The Naboo and the Federation will forge a treaty which will ... legitimize our occupation here," said Nute, his tone smarmy. "I've been assured it will be ratified by the Senate."

"I will not co-operate with you," stated the now black-garbed queen, stepping down from her throne.

"Now, now, your majesty," said Nute, his demeanor like an overly indulgent uncle despite his words. "You aren't going to like what we have in store for your people. In time, their suffering will persuade you to ... co-operate. Commander ..."

As one of the yellow-painted droids stepped forward, Nute said, "Process them."

"Yes, sir!" replied the droid, then turned to address his fellows. "To Camp Four."

As the droids led the group out of the throne room, Nute crossed to sit on the throne, smiling.

"Victory." Nute sank into the throne as though he were the rightful occupant. "Just as it should be."

Outside, Qui-Gon led Obi-Wan and Naiia down one of the streets and stopped, pushing Naiia back into a doorway while Obi-Wan moved back without need of such prompting.

"The plaza is full of battle droids and tanks," explained Qui-Gon, "we'll have to go another way around."

"The warning's too late?" said Naiia.

"It would seem so," replied Qui-Gon, looking skyward for a moment. "This way."

Amidst the movement of many tanks and battle droids, the retinue of the queen, handmaidens, and others could be seen crossing under the guard of more battle droids.

"Stay back and out of the way," said Qui-Gon to Naiia, as he continued edging along the outside of a balcony before dropping down in front of the guarded group, his lightsaber alight and scrapping yet another battle droid as he did so.

Edging further along, Obi-Wan leaped down to the rear of the guarded group, finding his lightsaber had recovered during the time of their journey through the core. Two more battle droids fell to Obi-Wan's saber. In a flurry of flashes and sparks, the droids were cut down, save one. Only the yellow-painted droid still moved, and in fact seemed intent on retreat down a side street.

"Not so fast," said Qui-Gon, raising a hand to bring the battle droid back, and just as quickly, he dispatched the last battle droid of the group.

Naiia jumped down with a wince, then declared, "That's amazing!"

"Quickly," said Qui-Gon, gesturing for the entire group to move into an alley between two of the buildings. "You are Queen Amidala?" He took a slight head nod as confirmation, and continued, "Your Majesty, we are the Supreme Chancellor's ambassadors."

"Your negotiations failed!" accused Sio.

"The negotiations never took place," explained Qui-Gon with a self-deprecating gesture. "Madam, we must make contact with the chancellor."

Captain Panaka said, "Problem there—the Federation has knocked out our communications."

"Then we'll have to travel," said Qui-Gon. "Transports?"

"Main hangar," said Captain Panaka.

In the distance an alarm blared. The guardsmen quickly picked up the unruined blasters from the scrapped battle droids.

"Seems they're aware they no longer hold the queen," said Qui-Gon. "We'll have to hurry."

With a curt nod, Captain Panaka said, "This way."

Alarms echoed against the fine stone walls surrounding the square behind them. The large group of people hurried down one alley and then another behind Captain Panaka. After many turns, Captain Panaka held up a hand to signal for silence, and cracked open a door.

Qui-Gon peered through the cracked door with the captain. Several spacecraft were in their positions in the hangar, while numerous battle droids moved in a set pattern, guarding the craft.

"There are too many of them," said Captain Panaka.

"We'll handle it," said Qui-Gon, motioning for Obi-Wan to move up within the group from his position as rear guard. He turned, and added, "Madam, under the circumstances, may I suggest that you come to Coruscant with us?"

"Thank you, Ambassador," replied the black-clad woman, "but my place is here with my people."

"They will then kill you," stated Qui-Gon.

"They wouldn't dare!" said Sio, scandalized.

"They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion legal," protested Captain Panaka. "They can't afford to kill her."

Qui-Gon shook his head, and replied, "The situation isn't what it seems here. There's ... something else. There's no logic in the Federation's behavior. Madam, my feelings tell me they will destroy you if you stay."

"Trying to escape is too dangerous," said Captain Panaka. "The blockade is ..."

"These guys can do it," Naiia added, nodding emphatically. "They escaped an opee sea killer and a colo claw fish on our way. They can get past dumb ships easy."

"Madam, I will reveal myself and allow my re-capture. We will do what we can," said Sio, giving the Gungan a long look. "They will have to retain the Council to maintain control. But you must leave—Senator Palpatine will need your help. We must have the Senate on our side."

The queen turned to the handmaidens and said, "We are faced with great risk."

"We are brave, Your Majesty," said one of the handmaidens.

The young woman in the plain hooded gown and the one in the ornate royal garb exchanged a look for a moment.

"It must be now, Madam," urged Qui-Gon, "if you're to leave."

"Then, I will plead our case before the Senate," stated the queen.

"Madam," said Captain Panaka, "we cannot accommodate the entire group on the ship. No more than four of the handmaidens."

The queen nodded soberly, with a rustle of feathers. "Dormé, Eirtaé, Padmé, and Rabé, with me. The rest of you shall assist Governor Bibble as best you can."

Captain Panaka pointed to two of the guards, and said, "Watch over them."

The queen embraced the other handmaidens whom she had not named, apparently whispering encouragement or last instructions.

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