Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 7

As though there were the slightest chance they might forget the precariousness of the current situation, the sound of alarms continued to echo through the vicinity. Battle droids continued their patrols about the hangar leaving little more than this shadowed corner unguarded by mechanical eyes. Still, the eight handmaidens not chosen for the voyage seemed reluctant to part from their queen.

"There is no time for prolonged farewells," Qui-Gon declared. "We will need to move quickly, before too many battle droids have caught up with us. We cannot afford to get caught between both those ahead and our pursuers."

"I understand," said Queen Amidala, and she nodded a dismissal to Sio Bibble. "Be safe."

Looking grim, Sio Bibble at last moved away, accompanied by eight handmaidens and trailed by the two royal guards.

"It isn't fair." Yané started to cry. "Taking a Gungan, but leaving us!"

"Yané," said Sio, "it will be all right. Her Majesty will return safe to us all, I am certain of it. The Senate cannot help but side with us when she appears before them. And we will have our duty to do here while she is away."

The handmaidens continued with Sio and the two guards, their movement quickening even as Sio continued to speak to them, trying to soothe them. Unspoken, it seemed that they had realized the need to make as much distance as possible, lest their undoubtedly certain re-capture lead to the re-capture of their queen.

The alarms still blared in the distance. The group, now significantly diminished in numbers, slipped into the shadows of the main hangar. Through the open side of the cliff face, the blue sky of Naboo beckoned. Between shadows and sky, however, several single-occupant spacecraft and one large chrome-plated ship ... along with the marching battle droids making rounds in the hangar.

"Almost there," said Qui-Gon, with an air of calm assurance.

"They must not've got orders what to do with them guys yet," said Naiia, pointing to a group of uniformed people in the opposite corner, sitting on the floor under the guard of a half-dozen battle droids. "They're not taking them anywheres, or nothing."

"Pilots," said Captain Panaka, recognizing the people present, voice tinging with increased urgency, "and ground crew. We'll need to free them. We'll need at least one pilot to get us to Coruscant."

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged a look, then Obi-Wan nodded.

"I'll take care of that," said Obi-Wan, and he slipped along through the shadows toward the battle droids guarding the cornered pilots and mechanics.

"Now," said Qui-Gon, "we will go to that ship. Continue up the ramp and do not stop, no matter what. Don't worry about the droids, I'll take care of them. You just keep moving. No matter what. Let's go."

With that, Qui-Gon began to lead the way toward the chrome-plated ship. Captain Panaka followed behind Qui-Gon, looking wary. Flanked by her handmaidens, Queen Amidala then made her way across the hangar. Bringing up the rear of the group, two royal guards followed. As though completely unaware of the danger of the situation, Naiia followed along, skipping. The jewelry rattled and chattered as she moved across the hangar, more quickly than the queen and retinue, such that she went from trailing the group to just behind Qui-Gon as they neared the battle droids guarding the ramp of the largest spaceship. One of the droids then interposed itself in the path of the group.

"Where are you going?" said the droid.

"I'm the ambassador for the Supreme Chancellor," replied Qui-Gon, "and I am taking these people to Coruscant."

"Coruscant ..." said the droid, as Qui-Gon gestured for the others to hurry along into the ship. Then, the momentary glitch righted itself as Naiia hit the base of the boarding ramp, the droid continued, "Not allowed. You're under arrest."

The battle droid started to move its blaster into firing position, but before it quite reached that point, Qui-Gon's lightsaber had ignited, severing arm and blaster from droid body and then droid body into two distinct parts of scrap.

"It was a dumb conversation anyways, wasn't it?" said Naiia, running up the ramp as Qui-Gon rendered a second battle droid into scrap metal.

Qui-Gon grimaced slightly, the only acknowledgment of those words, as he set to the task of dealing with the battle droids now starting to close in on his position.

Dodging laser blasts, reflected laser blasts, and sparks from freshly-scrapped droids, Captain Panaka led Queen Amidala and her four handmaidens aboard the ship behind Naiia, the remaining royal guards trailing the others, and boarding once the queen had safely boarded.

As Qui-Gon stood at the foot of the spaceship, more battle droids approached him as he deflected their blasts to strike down the attacking battle droids. The laser fire in the hangar touched off the blare of a new klaxon.

The immediate threat to the queen resolved, Qui-Gon glanced across the hangar. There, Obi-Wan moved through the shadows toward the guarded men in the corner. He jumped out as his lightsaber ignited. Two battle droids had fallen into neat piles of scrap before they could so much as turn to the new threat. The remaining four droids, however, turned blasters on Obi-Wan, firing at him. Bringing the lightsaber into a quick arc, he deflected two bolts into one of the remaining droids as he sliced another into a pile of scrap. The imprisoned men covered their heads to guard against the rain of sparks generated by the nearby destruction of the droids.

"We need a pilot for that ship," said Obi-Wan, cutting through another droid and deflecting a laser blast into the hangar wall. "We're going to Coruscant."

"What about the blockade?" questioned one of the men.

"We'll get past it," said Obi-Wan, "don't worry. We just need a pilot who's sure he can do it."

"Sure thing, Chief," said Ric Olié, who had seen Queen Amidala boarding her ship, "soon's you clear the way here."

"That shouldn't be a problem," replied Obi-Wan. As he spoke, he deflected the next laser blasts into one of the two remaining battle droids, while he raised a hand, drawing the other close enough that his next motion sliced the blaster and arm away.

Another arc of motion cut the last battle droid of this detachment into inert scrap.

"We're a little short on time." Obi-Wan gave a head nod to indicate the blaring alarms. "So ... if you're coming, hurry aboard and we'll be off."

Several of the battle droids, however, had taken notice of the situation in the corner. One yellow-painted droid sent more of its fellows in the direction of the corner, away from Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon continued to hold the ramp against the battle droids intent on reclaiming that territory. Seeing the approach of more battle droids, a few of the just-freed men took off at a run toward the door through which the Jedi had entered the hangar. Ric Olié and several crewmen, however, hurried toward the ship.

"Good luck!" called one of the pilots over his shoulder as he ran away.

Obi-Wan, seeing there were still some battle droids left in the hangar despite the heaps of scrap metal now surrounding Qui-Gon, began making his way toward the ship. Ably, he deflected blasts away from the Naboo he now protected. Once, unable to deflect, Obi-Wan opted instead to raise his hand, pushing a battle droid into the line of another battle droid's fire.

A small explosion roared in the hangar, as battle droid fire struck one of the single-man ships. Raining metal burst from the resulting ball of flame. One large piece of this shrapnel embedded itself into the neck of a man whose uniform said that he had been a mechanic. He fell to the hangar floor, but none dared slow pace.

"Got our pilot," said Obi-Wan, as the Naboo, shielding their heads from the dangers of the cross-hangar trip.

"Good," replied Qui-Gon. As the Naboo made their way aboard the ship, Qui-Gon added, "Find somewhere for Naiia, so she can stay out of trouble."

"Yes, Master," said Obi-Wan, as he boarded the ship.

Qui-Gon ascended the ramp as additional klaxons added to the din.

Aboard the ship, Obi-Wan quickly located Naiia, who was studying her surroundings with obvious curiosity.

"This way," said Obi-Wan, leading her down a hallway and opening a door. He looked inside, seeing several inert astromech droids, then said, "Stay in here, and try not to get into any trouble."

"Me?" said Naiia. "I'm not the one who ..."

"Don't say it," warned Obi-Wan. "Just stay in here and stay out of trouble."

As Obi-Wan closed the door, Naiia stuck her tongue out.

"What a day!" she said, looking around her surroundings. "Isn't even a window in here!"

Naiia walked over to the line of inert droids. She bowed in greeting. "Hi!"

Her cheery greeting was met with silence.

"Oh, great, stick me in a storage closet with nobody to talk to!" Giving the nearest, a red-painted one, a kick on the strut to express her frustration, she exclaimed, "Ow!" She winced, rubbing her toes. "Nasty thing you are."

Queen Amidala, the handmaidens, Captain Panaka and the guards moved down a hallway and into a room which had been established as a traveling throne room. Queen Amidala took her seat, the handmaidens taking their positions, and captain and two guards taking positions in preparation for leaving Naboo.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Ric Olié skipped none of the preliminary steps, although he clearly was working more quickly than he would normally wish. As the engines started, the alarms outside the ship could still be heard, and Qui-Gon looked out to see that more battle droids were entering the hangar from other doors.

The ship lifted away from the hangar into the blue sky as the droids just failed to strike the ship, the range of their weapons swiftly becoming inadequate to reach the spacecraft. As the craft passed easily through the atmospheric clouds, ahead could be seen a veritable cloud of the Trade Federation's battleships.

"What's the plan?" asked Ric. "Communications're still jammed."

"We're past talking," said Qui-Gon. "Just stay on course."

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