A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
Turmoil has engulfed the galaxy. Several thousand star systems, calling themselves the Separatist Movement, have cut all ties with the long-standing Galactic Republic.
In an unexpected move, the Separatist leader, COUNT DOOKU, has launched a coordinated attack on the vulnerable Outer Rim planet of Naboo.
As the Republic Senate endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice, to settle the conflict …
Naboo. More green than blue, brilliant with early morning light, and eclipsed by the fleet of battleships deployed in blockade formation. As modified Lucrehulk-class cargo freighters, the battleships had a ponderous quality: a center sphere surrounded by an oblong disc open at both ends. Being modified, quad turbolaser cannons lined the equatorial band in batteries of three. All at once, red laser blasts erupted from the barrels, aimed at the Republic transport attempting to reach the planet’s surface.
Outfitted for diplomatic missions, thus rendering it helpless, the compact transport dodged the lasers arcing across the bow. Several hits breached the shields to scorch the blue and white haul. As though guided by the Force, the transport swooped clear of a barrage of laser fire and swung closer to the flagship at the heart of the blockade. This gave them temporary cover. But in the final run across the gap, from the cover of the flagship to the planet’s surface, the transport took a shot to the port engine. Sparks erupted, and the loss forced the pilot to veer starboard, then angle the nose for entry into Naboo’s atmosphere.
Breaking atmo meant stress on the already weakened shields, the burn up of re-entry blazing the hottest red. At last, the clouds parted to reveal a lush, green landscape glittering like a gem in the morning light. And then the transport broke in half.
Wrenching sounds split the cockpit from the rest of the fuselage, leaving the latter half to plummet to the forest below. The impact shook the birds from the trees and a fireball erupted, igniting the canopy. As for the cockpit, it spiraled down, the attached wings having caught the air, and both passengers strained against the centripetal force to unlatch his harness and grab the para-foil behind his chair.
Only one passenger made it out, flung like a rag doll into midair, and the silvery material of the para-foil slowly descended into the trees.
Trapped between the controls and the pilot’s seat, and unable to rise against the pressure shoving him against the bulkhead, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi folded his knees to his chest and braced himself for impact.
The plunge jerked him hard, his head slamming into the controls. The pressure lessened and in a rush of noise, water parted around the canopy. Obi-Wan forced himself to move. He stepped up onto the seatback, climbed up to the ragged lip of the cockpit, but just as he grabbed a section of fractured haul, the water swelled, spilled over the sides, and drenched his Jedi robes. The water surged, rushed over his head, blinded him, and quickly dragged the cockpit under. Obi-Wan found himself submerged. He kicked, freed himself from the cockpit and surfaced, his gasp loud in his ears.
He had crashed in the middle of a lake — thank the Force — the forest seen on either shore. The air swarmed with gnats, a cloying tropical heat that would have him breaking into a sweat the moment he dried off. Then he looked up. With the mix of clouds and the sun at early morning, the sky was near white, but a black smoke cloud spiraled down to where he had landed. Obi-Wan clenched his jaw, then swam to shore.
The Jedi garment, a tunic, leggings, utility belt, boots, and robe, had been manufactured to be warm in the coldest climates, cooling in the hottest, and fast drying when wet. Obi-Wan slogged onto the beach, then searched the shoreline for Qui-Gon while also waiting to dry out. He checked his comm, but it fizzled and sparked in his hand. Great.
Obi-Wan swallowed a spasm of unease, concerned about the venerable Jedi Master and whether or not he had survived the evac. Well, no, not only that. Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, admired for his courage and admonished for his carelessness, had been an intimidating first meeting. An alderman Obi-Wan knew by reputation, and now he would see if that reputation held water. It made him question their newly formed partnership and whether it would hold up under this mission.
And as a newly invested Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan had a lot to prove.
Their mandate and mission specs detailed the goal of negotiating the blockade away from Naboo space — and as to why the leader of the Separatist Movement made it his personal obligation to harass such a small planet, Obi-Wan questioned even now. Perhaps Count Dooku fancied himself a bully and did this to flex his power? Obi-Wan had no patience for bullies.
Either way, he couldn’t wait for Qui-Gon; he had to head to Theed.
According to the sensors just before they went offline, their transport was angling toward the global south-west, and since Naboo was a world divided between the tropics and the temperate, the capital Theed would be to the south-east. He entered the forest.
The air became oppressive. Each breath dragged, thick with a verdant perfume, and he broke out in a sweat. The brush crackled with every step and had to duck under branches sagging from the weight of overgrown foliage. Sunlight spilled through the canopy in slivers of quick-brilliance, and the rustling of the trees shifted the slivers into slip-sliding patterns. Obi-Wan picked his way through the forest, blinded by overcast, yet, guided in his assurance in the Force.
A tremor in the Force alerted him to danger. Moments later, a sentry, dressed in Separatists red, stepped through the trees. When their gazes met, the shock on her face would have been comical in other circumstances. She looked miserable, her bald head slick with sweat, her white cheeks flushed. Then she came alert and drew her blaster.
“Hands up!” she said in Galactic Basic Standard.
Obi-Wan obeyed. He didn’t need violence to get out of this.
Before he could implant a Force-suggestion to turn around and go back the way you came, she raised her voice and called, “Here! I found an insurgent!”
Insurgent? Master Qui-Gon? Perhaps not, though he should have expected some kind of an insurgency, similar to how he should have assumed there would be an invasion force; however, in the pre-mission briefing, there were no signs of life in this region of the planet. Very interesting.
Now that he could make more than a cursory assessment, the Separatist soldier was more than miserable: her clothes were sweat-stained and ripped, singed in patches, and the back of the hand holding the blaster sported a long scab not yet healed with bacta. That same hand trembled and her violet eyes — an Onurian of Onuria, one of the planets to join the Separatist Movement — held a frazzled and crazed look, as though one wrong move and she would unleash on a hair-trigger.
Twigs snapped and leaves crackled. A harsh hacking sound, and the overhanging foliage collapsed. Two more Separatists in red, looking equally miserable, stepped forward, the one in the lead carrying a machete while the one in the back drew binders from his utility belt. The one in the back was a green-skinned, bug-eyed Landurs, and the one with the machete, calmer than the other two, was a dark-skinned human with short, curly hair. His gaze swept down, dismissive of such robes because who didn’t wear robes in the galaxy? Then that same gaze locked onto Obi-Wan’s hip — onto Obi-Wan’s lightsaber because with his hands up, his robe fell open to reveal his weapon. The human swore.
“He’s a Jedi.”
The Onurian woman gaped, her gaze sweeping Obi-Wan, too, and seeming to reevaluate her captive. The Landurs, approaching with the binders, made a rattling sound deep in its throat, neck ridges flaring.
“Jedi, huh?” it said in Urs-speak, a quick clatter-and-whistle language Obi-Wan hated studying as a Padawan because it made his ears ache. He winced now, too. “The Jedi aren’t wanted in the Separatist Nation.”
Obi-Wan slipped into a meditative state, thinking of a way out of this. He could incapacitate his adversaries, and then be more mindful of his surroundings in the future, but something in the Force told him to wait, like a current of reassurance wrapping around his person.
The Landurs ordered Obi-Wan to bring his hands in front of him just as the human reached forward to take Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. At that moment, a figure flashed through the trees, grabbed the human Separatist, and dragged him into the bush, the latter’s limbs flailing. His screams died in a gurgle. The Onurian and Landurs whirled toward the noise, but by the time they turned, it was too late.
He grabbed the Landurs, the one closest to him, and incapacitated it by hitting the windpipe high on its forehead, then gripped the neck ridges until it lost air and slumped, unconscious.
The Onurian was busy firing into the bush, the pinging sound of her blaster rolling like an incessant wave as red blaster bolts struck plant life and ignited small fires. Suddenly, that same flash grabbed her, too. She screeched, the blaster bolts arcing wildly through the air. Obi-Wan ducked to avoid a shot that would have grazed his shoulder. And then all fell silent. Drawing himself up to his fullest height, Obi-Wan scanned the densely packed foliage for the figure. Too fast to be human, but also not Qui-Gon since the Jedi Master would have revealed himself by now. Obi-Wan opened himself to the guidance of the Force and said,
“Thank you for your help. I believe we are friends? My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi. What is your name?”
The bush next to him unfolded, startling him into a truncated flinch. As he watched, the bush kept unfolding, standing at a good two meters, its striped, tan pelt helping it blend into the forestry. Obi-Wan had to blink until his eyes separated the figure from the trees. The figure wore a loincloth, a woven belt, and carried a spear. The gray eyes, absent of any white and on either side of a long muzzle, blinked while short ears flicked and twitched on top of its head. It stood on bent hind legs like any woodland fauna, but upright with long arms and prehensile hands. Obi-Wan didn’t know what to call it.
The creature’s eyes flickered to him and the wisdom in its gaze would put most of the Jedi Council in their place. “I am JarJar,” it — he — said in Basic, voice gravelly and deep with a thick growl possibly native to his people. Obi-Wan nodded, pleased with himself for discovering a new species where none had been before. “You are welcome, Obi-Wan.” JarJar turned and disappeared into the forest.
“Wait. Wait!” Obi-Wan followed, cursing himself for losing his Jedi serenity and tripping over his own feet and getting tangled in the bush. “JarJar, wait. Can you help me? I need to find my fellow Jedi and we need to get to Theed — find the Queen — ” A branch slapped him in the face, he grimaced. “Try to end this conflict.”
Obi-Wan bounced off an invisible tree — no, it was JarJar, who had stopped so suddenly Obi-Wan couldn’t see him. He righted himself, opened his mouth to reiterate his request, and then noticed JarJar’s attention taken up by the sight before him. Obi-Wan turned and felt the blood rush out of his cheeks. “Oh.”
The silver of Qui-Gon’s para-foil dangled from the trees. The harness trailed like fingers, confirming that Master Qui-Gon had ejected safely. Further on, however, jagged tree stumps peppered the landscape, hewed down into a large rectangle. A bunker sat in the center, high black walls and blue electric fence surrounding the perimeter. At first, a thought about a relay tower flashed through Obi-Wan’s mind, until he assessed the bunker further and realized it was a prison.
JarJar pointed, said, “They took your Jedi in there. And my people, the Gungans.” He turned, dropping his arm, his gray eyes pleading. “Help free my people and your Jedi, Obi-Wan, and I will get you to Theed.”