Her name was Sabé. The decoy Queen. The handmaiden who had been taken. He should have known. Qui-Gon had been alarmed, at first, when the Naboo didn’t want to launch a rescue mission, until Captain Panaka explained the ruse. Regardless, his heart hurt for the young woman. But even if they attempted a rescue, the logistics of such an endeavor were further compounded by the practical dilemma of not knowing Sabé’s location as well as being without transports.
Queen Padmé Amidala had departed the planet with Obi-Wan, and would remain safe as long as Sabé maintained the artifice. Qui-Gon wondered if Obi-Wan knew, and then whether the dark Force-user who had taken Sabé could be working with the Separatists? If so, then it changed everything.
He dared not assume much, but the violence in the robed figure, the creeping cold that had resonated from his very being, pointed to the Dark Side, a power Qui-Gon had encountered only once as a Jedi. And since it was the Dark Side, it stood to reason that such a Force-user had to be a Sith.
Which, of course, changed everything, especially why a Sith would leave Qui-Gon alive.
With the Sith having been extinct for a millenium, their resurgence, now, would disrupt the peace in the galaxy; however, the Separatist renting the Republic in two and this attack on the Naboo had already seen that fruition. Dark or Light, the Force was always the Force, and it was in all things.
The Naboo Underground abandoned their cave after much debate. Their concern was not just capture by the Separatists, but also encountering the Gungans, though JarJar volunteered to escort them far away from Gungan territories. No one took him up on that offer, so JarJar stayed close to Qui-Gon, both exiled to their corner of the group.
Pushing through the underbrush, and tugging his robe free, the temperature swelled the deeper they moved into the forest. The Force sang with life, the hissing lizards, the scurrying rodents, the twittering birds, and the odd predator Qui-Gon sent on its way with a gentle go. Without warning, the ground rumbled under his feet. The Naboo stopped, trading glances. Even JarJar tilted his head, ears flicking.
The Gungan pointed west. Qui-Gon announced that they would investigate, and JarJar led the way at a brisk jog. Qui-Gon kept pace easily, his long legs eating up the distance, though nowhere as lengthy as a Gungan’s. Then JarJar slowed to a stop, barely winded, stepped out of the tree line, and dropped into a crawl.
Qui-Gon joined him, up a hillock, the tall grass parting in a wave as a pulsing thud rumbled under his palms. At the top, Qui-Gon peeked over the crest and bit back his surprise. A gray-brown field had replaced the green valley below, the dirt piled into steep mounds where Separatist commandos and a laser turret were on guard, a control room at the heart of their defenses. In three separate locations were plasma miners, repulsorlift vehicles that burrowed into the ground and shook with a repetitive pulse. At the top of the miner’s cab, the siphoned plasma glowed in a collection tube, and Qui-Gon understood why the Separatists wanted this planet. With such raw materials, their war effort could go on for … years.
Having his fill, Qui-Gon tapped JarJar on the shoulder, and they crawled back down the hillock and into the treeline. The ambush came soon after.
He should have known because JarJar paused, readied his spear, and then the trees came to life. Not literally, but the movement of the Gungans as they revealed themselves made the forest take on added dimensions, their gray eyes blinking and chests heaving to show that they lived. The four females wore sleeveless smocks where the three males wore differently patterned loincloths, their spears and battleaxes and shields held at the ready.
Qui-Gon raised his hands, stepping forward. “JarJar, tell them I wish to meet their leader.”
The Gungan language rattled and hissed, clashed and growled as JarJar engaged the sentries. At last, one of the sentries looked Qui-Gon up and down, and then uttered a command. Qui-Gon had to surrender his lightsaber, JarJar his spear, and only then did the sentry wave them onward.
They didn’t have far to go. After crossing a shallow river, the current coming up to mid-calf, they reached series of ruins where dozens of Gungans were on patrol. The forest had reclaimed toppled columns, branches wove around decapitated statues, and ivy crept through smashed walls. Gungans sat on the ruin’s stairs, in groups, chewing on leaves. There were more Gungans on the fractured tops of towers, blending in with the canopy and seen only when they moved.
“Otoh Gunga,” JarJar said. “At least, what’s left of it.”
In the heart of the camp were the Naboo surrounded by several well-armed Gungans. Forced to kneel, hands on their heads, Captain Panaka and Headmaster Dannt glared at Qui-Gon as though blaming him for this.
The sentry led them to the same brown-and-green Gungan from the prison camp, also sitting with five others, none of whom looked up at the newcomers. Qui-Gon bowed, regardless. “JarJar, please translate.” Said Gungan stayed behind him, he noticed, the translation shattering and clashing close to his ear.
“My name is Qui-Gon Jinn, Master of the Jedi Order. I come to you on behalf of the Naboo’s Queen Amidala. This planet is under attack, as you no doubt know, and the Naboo need reinforcements to help fight back against the Separatists.” The translation stumbled, hit a pause, but then resumed, flawlessly. “As the co-species of this planet, it is imperative that you fight together … or fall together.”
Qui-Gon waited, feeling multiple stares bearing down. He called upon patience, waiting for the Gungan leader, Rugor, to respond.
Suddenly, Rugor shot to his feet, reached his full height, and began to pace. Back and forth, accompanied with gestures and words. Words that the Gungans nodded along with, words that were punctuated with a clang of a hoof on the cracked stone, words that rose in pitch and ended with a venomous timbre. All the while, JarJar translated,
“Who are these Naboo to us? Invaders. Destroyers. This temple was not always ruins. Driving us from our land. Building on the ashes of our villages. Now they want our help? No. NO! Let them die. Every Naboo.”
And then Rugor spat on the ground.
Qui-Gon shook his head, drawing upon his patience. Always patience. “There is no excuse. And I cannot say ‘the past is in the past’, but now — here — are two people who need to become one. The Separatists will not stop until this planet is utterly destroyed.”
Rugor whirled, gray eyes hooded with suspicion. “They bomb your cities, not ours.”
“Not far from here is a plasma mine operated by the Separatist Nation. Already, they are stripping the planet of natural resources, felling trees, killing the fauna — all to power their war against the Republic.” He paused, waiting for JarJar’s translating to catch up. “But you can stop them here. Right now. Strike the mine and deliver a crippling blow to their war effort.”
Rugor turned away, stalking like a beast to a toppled column, his shoulders hunched. Other Gungans watched him, seemingly tensed as though waiting for an answer.
Qui-Gon exhaled, releasing his doubt into the Force, and then gambled all their futures on the next statement. With a wave of his hand, he imbued it with a Force-suggestion. “Protect you planet if not your pride.”
Rugor whirled, gray eyes alight with fury. He spoke in a rapid, grating delivery, JarJar translating, “Our pride is our planet.” A pause, and Qui-Gon curbed his pleasure that the gamble had paid off. With such a powerful mind, Rugor could have been difficult to persuade, but some persuasions were more than commands.
Rugor waved him forward. “Come with me.”
Qui-Gon eyed JarJar before they both followed Rugor deeper into the ruins. A few of the roofs had not been lost in the destruction, but trees had grown in the corners, the branches curving along the ceiling to knot together. Shadows crept up, echoing with a faint screech of metal grinding metal, the kiss of sparks, and gruff voices that rose and fell in measures. As they neared, light began to illuminate the darkness. They soon reached an inner chamber populated by Gungans of various skin pigmentations hard at work assembling and refining weapons. Not just any weapons, but energy catapults, anti-air missile launchers, personal energy shields, and blue plasma grenades.
And there were thousands of Gungans, more then Qui-Gon had anticipated. He could barely hold back his shock.
Rugor looked smug if not outright pompous. “We know of the violators of our planet. We will fight them and we will win.”
“Just the mine?” What he planned skirted the very edge of Jedi decorum, and wouldn’t the Council have a field day with that? Rugor made an interrogative noise and Qui-Gon didn’t wait for JarJar to translate it. “What about the violators in the city? Defeat them all at once.”
Rugor tilted his head, features mellowing into an intrigued expression.
“Draw their forces to the field — the Naboo can help with that.” Especially if it meant taking the weapons cache.
Rugor rubbed the thumb of one hand against his first three fingers as if in contemplation. Suddenly, his shoulders straightened. He faced Qui-Gon head on and clapped him on the shoulder, uttered a quick phrase, then turned and left.
Qui-Gon whirled to JarJar, who looked stunned. “Well?”
The Gungan blinked. “He said, ‘We go to war.’”