Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 8

The sleek silver-hued craft continued beyond the clouds toward the waiting blockade.

"Weaponry?" asked Qui-Gon. "Or cloaking?"

"No," replied Ric Olié as the first laser fire went just wide of the ship. "Not on this ship. We're going to have to go back—our shields aren't going to last."

"Keep going. Their targeting can be easily confused," said Qui-Gon, moving to look out the window. "You'll just need to spin to keep them from locking on. Get close, too, that should help."

As the Naboo craft gathered speed, another burst of laser fire came from the nearest of the federation battleships. A handful of fighters emerged from one of its vast holds, moving to intercept the queen's ship.

"Sit down," said Ric, and then he proceeded to ignore Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon, however, remained at the window. He did not, despite common sense suggesting otherwise, waver as he stood, although the ship lurched suddenly and rolled as it evaded several more blasts from the surrounding battleships and the smaller fighters, hugging close to one of the ships to reduce the likelihood of attack.

Despite doing well for some time, Ric failed to evade the barrage from several smaller gun towers, and the queen's ship went dark. An eye blink later, the dim emergency lights came up.

"We've lost power." Ric Olié's voice sounded urgent as he began flipping a few more switches to relay requirements to the droids. "Our shields are down."

In response to the instructions, astromech droids had already begun smoothly rolling out from the room in which Naiia had been told to stay.

"What the ... " A violent lurch caused Naiia to land in a painful sprawl as the droids left her behind. "How many times they gonna try and kill me?" she muttered, curling up into a ball in the darkness.

For several nervous moments, those aboard the ship waited while the droids adhered to the outer surface of the ship, working to repair the damage. The lights resumed normal brightness, revealing Qui-Gon had still not moved.

"Power's back! Bypassed the main power drive, and our shield's up. At maximum." Astonished that his death was not imminent after all, Ric managed to evade the last of the ring of battleships, then winked into hyperspace, one more laser burst trailing them.

Despite the familiar trailing lights of stars in hyperspace, all was not well. Ric looked at one of the monitors and announced, "We've trouble."

"What is it?" asked Captain Panaka.

"Not enough power to get us to Coruscant," replied Ric. "Hyperdrive's leaking."

"We'll have to land somewhere to repair and refuel," said Qui-Gon, moving to a monitor, checking the star chart and the steadily shrinking circle indicating the maximum travel distance before hyperdrive gave out.

Obi-Wan came in, and stepped behind Qui-Gon, joining in the study of the star chart.

"Here, Master," said Obi-Wan. "Tatooine. It's in range."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Small, out of the way and poor. Trade Federation has no presence there."

"How can you be so sure?" said Captain Panaka.

"It's controlled by the Hutts," replied Qui-Gon.

"The Hutts? Those gangsters?" cried Captain Panaka in disbelief. "You can't mean to take Her Majesty there!"

"It's risky, but there's no alternative." Obi-Wan gestured to the dismissed systems in turn as he continued. "Lok's held by the Federation and Geonosis too, these are friendly to the Federation, those don't have enough population for us to hope to find what we need."

"If the Hutts discover Her Majesty..." said Panaka.

"It could be no worse than if the Federation did," said Qui-Gon. "The difference is that the Federation is looking for her. The Hutts aren't. And so, they shall not discover her."

Captain Panaka gave a disgusted snort and left the cockpit.

"To Tatooine," instructed Qui-Gon.

Ric entered a few co-ordinates. "Course is in."

Qui-Gon nodded. "We will let the Queen know. Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon left the room as well.

Obi-Wan, recognizing the instruction to follow without words, followed Qui-Gon to the aft of the ship where the Queen's traveling throne room was located. Within, the queen, her handmaidens and the two royal guards were listening to Captain Panaka, who stood near a small formerly blue and white droid, now heavily carbon scored.

"It's an extremely well put together little droid," said Captain Panaka, apparently in mid-speech as the Jedi entered. "This is the one that rigged the bypass of the main power drive so that we could get away. Without a doubt, it saved the ship as well as our lives."

"It is to be commended," said the queen. "What is its number?"

While the droid made some incomprehensible sounds typical of its variety of mechanism, Captain Panaka took his hand and rubbed away some of the filth.

"R2-D2, Your Majesty," read Captain Panaka.

"Thank you, R2-D2," said the queen. "You have proven to be very loyal. Padmé!"

One of the saffron-robed handmaidens stepped forward and bowed.

"Clean up this droid ... as best you can. It deserves our gratitude," ordered the queen. "Continue, Captain."

Captain Panaka looked uneasily at the two Jedi.

"Your Majesty, if I may," said Qui-Gon. "We are heading for a remote planet called Tatooine. It's a system out of reach of the Trade Federation. We will be able to make the necessary repairs there, and continue on our journey to Coruscant."

"Madam," said Captain Panaka, "Tatooine is very dangerous. It's controlled by gangsters. I do not agree with the Jedi on this."

"You must trust my judgment, Madam," said Qui-Gon. "There are no preferable options before we'll have lost too much power to use hyperdrive at all."

The queen looked to the handmaiden she had called by name, and the two exchanged another look before the handmaiden bowed again and departed with R2-D2.

Bringing the droid into the storage room, Padmé began cleaning the droid.

"Hi!" said Naiia brightly, pleased that someone else, other than the inert droids, was in here with her.

Padmé yelped in surprise.

"Didn't mean to startle you," said Naiia, leaning over the top of one red-painted droid to watch the work. "I'm Ianthe Naiia."

"That's all right. I'm Padmé," she replied, continuing her work. "You're a Gungan, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Naiia, nodding vigorously. "Betcha never talked to any of us before."

"No, I haven't," admitted Padmé. "How'd you end up with us, Ianthe?"

"Naiia," she corrected. "I'm not real sure. See, I was doing my meditations ... well, I was gonna get around to it, but these really rude droids came and ruined it, and the Jedi showed up, and ... We went down to Otoh Gunga and got a bongo, but the bongo got wrecked, and so ... here I am."

Padmé looked completely confused by Naiia's tale. "Meditations?" She continued cleaning R2-D2.

"Yeah, so I can get my first tattoo," replied Naiia. "Where are we going?"

"Right now?" Padmé was still working, pausing only to glance up at Naiia before turning back to the droid. "Tatooine. I don't know anything about the place, but the Jedi said it's the best option."

The ship continued on its course as the large yellow planet appeared ahead.

"There's a settlement," said Ric, looking through his scope. "They've got a spaceport."

"Land near the outskirts," ordered Qui-Gon. "We don't want to attract more attention than necessary."

"I shall inform her majesty that we have arrived," said Captain Panaka, as he left to do just that.

Moments later, the sleek silvery craft set down amidst a cloud of sand and dust.

Dressed with a drab tan poncho over his clothing, Qui-Gon came into the area where Obi-Wan had just hoisted the hyperdrive from the floor panel, trailed by a no longer filthy R2-D2.

"Hyperdrive generator's burnt," said Obi-Wan. "We'll need a new one."

"As I thought. We'll have to manage here—any communication could draw unwelcome attention." Qui-Gon moved closer to whisper to Obi-Wan as he began inputting the needed items. "Watch that no transmissions are sent. Be wary ... I sense a disturbance in the Force. It's ... unusual, like the Federation's behavior."

"I felt it, too, Master," replied Obi-Wan, with a nod.

Qui-Gon, accompanied by R2-D2, set out from the ship.

"Wait!" called Captain Panaka, running toward them, accompanied by one of the dark-haired women from the ship. By the looks of it, she had appropriated a guard's uniform and modified it ever so slightly with the waist-wrap of a handmaiden gown.

Qui-Gon stopped, looking at the two of them as they caught up.

"Her Majesty commands you to take her handmaiden, Padmé, with you," said Captain Panaka. "She wishes for her to observe the local ..."

"No," said Qui-Gon. "This spaceport is not going to be pleasant."

"The queen wishes it," said Captain Panaka. "She is curious about this planet."

"I have been trained in defense," asserted the young woman. "I can take care of myself."

"Don't make me go back there and tell her you've refused," said Captain Panaka.

"We don't have time to argue over it," said Qui-Gon. "All right. It's not a good idea." He looked at the young woman and said, "Stay close to me."

Naiia came running along, catching up to the stationary group, and said, "Me too! I want to go!"

"It's not a pleasure trip!" said Qui-Gon.

"Please! I'm curious too!" said Naiia. "I wanna see where's all their water."

"They don't have water like on Naboo," said Qui-Gon. "They have moisture farms."

"You mean they grow stuff in their water?" said Naiia. "Can I see that, too?"

"No, we don't have time for that," said Qui-Gon.

"I'll leave you to your errands," said Captain Panaka, "and report to Her Majesty that you've agreed to take Padmé with you."

Qui-Gon gave Captain Panaka an exasperated look, then said, "Stay close to me, then."

The odd grouping continued across the sands toward the city of clay walls.

"The people make their living from moisture farms, for the most part, but there are also a few indigenous tribes and scavengers," explained Qui-Gon, as the first shouts of street vendors could be heard. "The few spaceports like this one—Mos Espa, it's called—are havens for those who do not wish to be found..."

"Like us," said Padmé.

"Righto," said Naiia, eyeing the various people traveling about, seeing that they were of such a variety that perhaps their group wasn't so odd after all.

Walking into a plaza, they saw several junk spaceship dealers.

"We'll try one of the smaller ones first," said Qui-Gon, heading into one on the end. As they neared, they could see the edges of several broken spaceships and the like behind the shop.

Within, they saw an astonishing array of junked goods, a small brown-robed figure steadily working on a housecleaning droid. A pudgy-appearing blue figure with short wings and oddly thin arms and legs flew about the shop. As the group entered behind Qui-Gon, the figure flew to greet them.

'What do you want?' said the blue, winged figure, speaking the locally more common Huttese.

"You are Watto?" asked Qui-Gon, looking for affirmation that he was dealing with the proprietor whose name was on the sign outside before continuing, "I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian."

"Ah, yes, yes ... Nubian. We have lots of that. " said Watto, and then raising his voice, he reverted to the Huttese, "Boy! Get in here! Now!"

"My droid here has a readout of what I need," replied Qui-Gon.

Deak ran in from the back, his face streaked with grime, and his clothes freshly torn. Watto raised a hand as though to strike him, then spat, "What took you so long?"

"I was cleaning the bins like you ..." began Deak.

"Never mind that now! I've got selling to do. Watch the store now," commanded Watto, and then he turned to Qui-Gon, his manner taking on an almost oily tone. "Sooooo... let's go out back. We'll find what you need."

Qui-Gon and R2-D2 started to follow Watto as Naiia picked up an odd looking hollow device and picked it up to look at it.

"Don't touch anything," said Qui-Gon firmly, taking it out of her hands and replacing it on the shelves. He then continued to the yard.

After Qui-Gon had continued, Naiia stuck out her tongue at his retreating back, looking around curiously with her hands now clasped behind her back. In the background, the brown-robed Xa'ej continued to work quietly.

Deak picked up a part, pretending to clean it as he stared at Padmé. Soon, however, his inattention to what he purported to be doing meant that he was polishing the counter while holding the part and staring at Padmé. Padmé blushed, and then mustered up a smile as Naiia continued wandering about the shop.

"Are you an angel?" said Deak.

Padmé looked startled, and said, "What?"

"An angel," said Deak. "I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live far away, on the moons of Iego, I heard. They're the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They're good and kind, and so pretty ... even the most hardened pirates would cry to see them."

Dumbstruck, Padmé looked at him, and finally said, "I've never heard of angels."

"You must be one," said Deak. "Maybe you just don't know it."

"That's very funny," said Padmé. "Have you worked for Watto long?"

"Since I was very little, three I think. My Mom and I were sold to Gardulla the Hutt, but she lost us betting on the podraces to Watto," said Deak, "who's a lot better master than Gardulla, I think."

Stunned, Padmé managed, "You're ... a slave?"

"I'm a person!" said Deak, with a defiant look at Padmé. "My name is Deak!"

"I'm sorry," said Padmé. "I don't fully understand." Slavery is illegal! I didn't think he'd be a slave. How can there be such places in the Republic? she thought, before adding, "This is a strange world to me."

Curiosity, however, had finally gotten the better of Naiia, who had just pushed the button nose of a little musical droid. As the thing seemed to come to life, it began marching around, knocking over the stacked merchandise, and Deak started to run to right things.

"What's that, Deak?"said Xa'ej. "Customers or not, Watto won't be happy you've gotten his shop torn up again."

"Hit it on the nose!" urged Deak.

Naiia managed to hit it on the nose, giggling as the thing collapsed back into its inert state. "It's cute. What's it supposed to do?" She giggled again.

"It's not funny!" protested Deak, as he hurried over to straighten the knocked over merchandise.

Padmé put a hand over her mouth, unable to restrain a small laugh at the situation.

In the rear yard, Watto held a small device in one hand, gesturing with the other. "Here it is ... a T-14 hyperdrive generator. You're in luck, I'm the only one hereabouts who has one... Might as well buy a new ship as buy the generator, would be cheaper, I think—this is seven hundred peggats. Speaking of which—how are you going to pay for all this?"

"Dataries," replied Qui-Gon, as though self-evident.

"Oh, no." Watto gave a negative shake to his head at that. "Costs me too much to exchange those. You'll have to do better."

"Dataries will be fine," said Qui-Gon, raising one hand, speaking in a low, controlled voice.

"No, they won't," insisted Watto.

"Hmm," said Qui-Gon thoughtfully, walking over to another pile of stuff. "Is that a dejarik board? Portable? In working order?"

"Yes," said Watto, seeing the possibility for at least a small sale from the outlander. "something to take your mind off your ship not going nowheres until you get some proper money?"

"Are you sure it is in working order?" said Qui-Gon. "Maybe a game?"

"Of course it works." Watto struck the button, and the figures came to life. "You see? Cheap, too- if you got something else besides those credits."

"How about a quick game," said Qui-Gon. "Just to be sure. Maybe a little bet to make it worth turning on? If you win, I'll pay you double your price, but in dataries; and if I win—you give it to me."

"Maybe ... half price if you win, and I'll take your dataries for it," said Watto.

"That will be fine," said Qui-Gon.

Some time later, Qui-Gon returned to the shop, seemingly in a hurry, followed by R2-D2.

"We'll be leaving now," he said.

"I'm glad I met you ..." said Padmé, looking to Deak.

"Deak," he supplied.

"Padmé," she said, as she turned to follow Qui-Gon.

Naiia, feigning innocence, skipped out after Qui-Gon. "I didn't touch a thing while you were gone," she said brightly.

Watching them go, Deak said, "I'm glad I met you, too."

Outside the junk shop, Qui-Gon found a relatively sheltered alcove, while the street beyond continued to bustle with various people and bizarre appearing creatures as Padmé and Naiia watched, listening to the street vendors calling out to the passers-by.

Speaking into the com-link, Qui-Gon said, "Obi-Wan, you're sure there isn't anything of value left on board?"

"There's a few containers of supplies," came Obi-Wan's reply. "Not enough for you to barter with, not in those amounts."

"All right," replied Qui-Gon, sounding resigned. "Another solution will present itself. I'll check back."

With that, he put away the com-link and started to leave the shelter of the alcove, gesturing for the others to follow.

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