Oasis Begins In Dawn's Azure Light Aisle.
Episode I: Azure and Gold
so blue, 't was a dream,
An impossible, unconceived hue,
The high sky of summer dropped down
Some rapturous ocean to woo.
Azure & Gold by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
From A Dome of Many Colored Glass.
Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, was dying, a sad truth known only to members of the Council and Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Padawan learner. The wasting disease which wreaked havoc on his body appeared to have no source, despite vigorous examination by the most revered and learned Jedi Healers, and therefore it rendered a cure impossible. While the Master had become reconciled to his fate, the Padawan was having difficulty even accepting the idea of it.
For Obi-Wan, his master had been the only father he had ever known, those in the temple, his only family. He had been raised there since his potential in the Force was discovered, learning first with every youngling in his generation under Master Yoda, then with Qui-Gon. The two masters were his anchors in a galaxy which rarely flowed smoothly.
Now as he learned that he was to lose one, it was as if he were being cast adrift in space. He had been raised to trust in the Force, to believe that things happened for a reason, yet he could see no reason in a great Jedi slowly dying. Unlike his master, he paid a strict adherence to the Code, but now those tenets of Jedi philosophy provided him with no answers, let alone comfort. Not for the first time he was greeted with his master's perspective and he was unable to find answers or comfort there either.
Focus on the moment, Qui-Gon told him. He was standing before the guard rail on one of the many hanger ports which were attached to the Temple. His gaze was fixed on the constant airborne trafficways of Coruscant City, the capital of the Core, the Republic. Usually, such a scene served to calm him, assisted in focusing his thoughts, like the sunrise and sunsets of the worlds which they visited during their many missions out in the field, but now only the realisation of his whereabouts was as far as he got before his mind told him once more that Qui-Gon was dying.
Until the possible becomes actual it is only a distraction. Another of his master's credos. But Obi-Wan could not ignore the distraction, because his master's death could happen at any moment. The cruel irony of Qui-Gon's disease was while it could not be cured, his body could still rely on the Force to sustain him, via healing trances, which he, or thanks to training provided by the Temple healers, his Padawan, could induce upon the ageing and diseased body. Such trances allowed Qui-Gon and his Padawan to go on missions for the Republic, like the one which they had been given now.
A set of systems allied under the Trade Federation had placed all trade routes to the mid rim system of Naboo under a blockade, in protest of the current taxation on trade routes, which the government had seen fit to impose in order to break a crippling deficit in the Republic's economy. While the Senate was locked in motions of legality, Chancellor Valorum approached the Jedi to send a team to investigate. Qui-Gon volunteered their services. Obi-Wan had not been to the planetary system before, so he spent time in the Temple Archives researching before their departure, whilst Qui-Gon consulted the healers. At the mere thought of the word the Padawan flinched before deliberately turning his thoughts in another direction.
Perhaps his future knighting, although that was a subject fraught with turmoil now too. A Padawan's readiness for the trials which could make him a knight was at the discretion of their Master. If Qui-Gon died before he declared to the Council that Obi-Wan was ready, his training would be incomplete. If he was lucky, he would either be given a new master to train under, or the Council would knight him. But Obi-Wan did not believe in luck. After his group training under Master Yoda, he waited for a master to choose him as their Padawan, in vain as it turned out, leaving him with other less powerful Force users to join the Service Corps. If Qui-Gon had not discovered his potential during the journey to Bandomeer, Obi-Wan would have spent the rest of his life in the Corps. Outsiders would call that luck, but Obi-Wan knew it was all Qui-Gon. His Master had a penchant for acquiring strays. Idly he wondered if they would acquire any during this mission.
-Obi-Wan, are you ready for departure?- a voice lanced through his mind.
-Yes, Master,- he replied in the same manner. Filing his ruminations into his mind and bringing his research concerning the mission into the forefront, Obi-Wan turned from his traffic-gazing to the craft which he would fly to the Chommell Sector, moving to prep the vehicle for departure.
Padmé Amidala stood before a window, dressed as Queen for the last time. Her people had elected her in good faith, believing her to be the best candidate for the throne. And now, as she watched the invading army below progress ever closer towards the Palace, she knew that she had failed them. By continuing to act passively, to believe that negotiation would work, all the while hoping that the Senate would support her, that Chancellor Valorum's Ambassadors would arrive, in short, that some one else would solve what was her crisis. She was not the youngest monarch elected, and she had promised her people that her youth and inexperience would not be an issue. Yet she had relied on both of these factors as an excuse to appeal to the Senate.
Her people were peaceful, like herself, the last thing they wanted was war. But she should have known that a fight was inevitable from the moment the blockade began. She should have done what she could to prepare them for this possibility, for the invading force marching below her now. The guilt weighed upon her, as heavily as the crimson robe which adorned her small form, hiding her youth from the outside world. Elaborate designs to convey her majesty, aswell as protection from those who might wish her harm felt nothing more than costumes now, a symbolism rendered insignificant when the planet was more concerned with invasion. She wanted to shred these robes of office, to show the galaxy that she was mortal like her people, and hurt by the injury which the blockade caused. But the Naboo clung to this symbolism, to the mythology of majesty, while offworlders often found the rich austere clothes and intricate hairstyles imposing in their own right, even before she spoke so much as a word. For her people's comfort, she was obliged to uphold at least the appearance of authority, even though such power was now rendered useless by the invading army marching below.
"Milady?" A voice called out, causing her to turn her head a little, at the arrival of one of her handmaidens; Sabé. Unlike the others, she was dressed in another of the elaborate costumes which belonged to Queen Amidala; a black layered gown with an oval head dress, which was adorned with two gold craved clasp covered orbs, unlit jewels of the same gems that were attached to her crimson dress before the hemline and black feathers. Sabé had painted her face in the same pale white tone which Padmé used to hide her youth. The whole effect was designed to display a monarch in mourning; for the turmoil visited by others on her country. Her handmaiden's arrival was the signal for her to change; into one of the flame coloured dresses worn by her attendants and assume her decoy's role, another layer of protection from the Trade Federation. Ironically, her wish to shred her robes of office was about to be granted.
"I'm ready, Sabé," she replied, stepping back from the window and walking to join the handmaiden who would now act as Queen Amidala at the threshold of the room. Decoys were a part of the security measures which Captain Panaka employed when she became Queen, along with self-defence and basic weapons training. Nearly all her attendants had been selected with their resemblance to her in mind, for precisely this eventuality. At the time such defence seemed unnecessary, but now Padmé realised the value behind it, for such skills she would doubtless need to employ in the near future.
By the time the Viceroy had arrived, Padmé was merely another of the handmaidens who attended the Queen. Initially she was worried that they had seen through her deception, but the Viceroy was too full of the fruits of his victory to look beyond the face paint which hid her faithful double. Silently she followed Sabé and the others out of the Palace through to the outdoor Plaza, under the close escort of the droid soldiers. They reached the wall of the gatehouse, when suddenly there was a humming sound and two men jumped down from a balcony above them. Within seconds four of the droids were down, the rest likewise succumbing until there were none left.
After leading them to a quiet empty alleyway out of sight of the other soldiers, their two rescuers swiftly bowed before them in silent greeting, while the third who had accompanied them picked himself up from his less than graceful jump to the Plaza floor, muttering in a disfigured tongue his judgement about the encounter.
"Your Highness, we are the Ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor," the older one said, addressing her decoy.
"Your negotiations seem to have failed, Ambassador," Governor Bibble remarked.
"The negotiations never took place," the older one explained. "Your Highness, we must make contact with the Republic."
"They've knocked out all our communications," Panaka informed them.
"Do you have transports?" The elder one inquired.
Panaka nodded. "In the main hanger. This way."
Hurriedly they ran into the Palace, using one of the many secret access ways to the hanger, coming to a breathless halt at the threshold of the chamber. From her position just behind her decoy, Padmé saw the battle droids, the sheer volume causing her to blanch in fear that they could not escape them.
"There are too many of them," Panaka concluded.
"That won't be a problem," the older Ambassador remarked. He turned to the Queen. "Your Highness, under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us."
"Thank you, Ambassador, but my place is here with my people," Sabé replied, as ordered to do so by her Queen only moments ago in the Council chamber, after all global communications were blocked, before the invasion party landed, should such a rescue arise. Padmé now mused over the wisdom of this reply, doubting what good she could do her people if she was arrested by the Viceroy.
"They will kill you if you stay," the Ambassador declared.
Governor Bibble shook his head incredulously. "They wouldn't dare."
Panaka agreed. "They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal. They can't afford to kill her."
"The situation here is not what it seems," the Ambassador replied. "There is something else behind all this, Your Highness. There is no logic in the Federation's move here. My feelings tell me they will destroy you."
The Governor turned to the Queen. "Please, Your Highness, reconsider. Our only hope is for the Senate to side with us. Senator Palpatine will need your help."
Panaka shook his head. "Getting past their blockade is impossible, Your Highness. Any attempt to escape will be dangerous."
"Your Highness, I will stay here and do what I can," Governor Bibble promised. "They will have to retain the Council of Governors in order to maintain control. But you must leave."
Sabé turned as she replied, catching sight of her handmaidens. "Either choice presents a great risk to all of us."
"We are brave, Your Highness," Padmé said, a carefully worded response designed to convey to her decoy that she agreed with the Ambassador's suggestion.
"If you are to leave, Your Highness, it must be now," the Ambassador added.
"Then, I will plead our case before the Senate," the Queen answered. "Be careful, Governor," she added, before following them into the hanger.
"We need to free those pilots," Panaka informed their rescuers. His hand moved to his rifle as he advanced forward, but immediately the younger ambassador smoothly forestalled him with his hand.
"I'll deal with them," he declared, before heading towards the area where a group of droids held the pilots hostage.
Padmé felt her gaze drawn to his actions, watching him from her place within the group of handmaidens travelling with the Queen. She saw him ignite his lightsaber, jump to aim simultaneous kicks at two droids, and realised only then that the Supreme Chancellor had sent the Jedi to help her. He must have more faith in her world than she had previously believed.
The younger Jedi made quick work of the droids, calling to the pilots to head for safety, whilst the elder disabled those guarding her spaceship. She watched him as he fought with his lightsaber, recalling how hard her self-defence training had come to her, pacifist that she was by nature. He made it look so easy, using the weapon as if it was nothing more than an extension of himself, yet at the same time, when he was listening to her decoy's conversation with his companion, he held himself at peace, a calmness she found elusive lately. She envied him, but without resentment. She also felt drawn to him, in a way she could not explain. Time seemed to slow, to still, as she watched him, as though the Force was telling her to remember this moment, this man, for their would change her life forever. While she had never been to able to use the power, she trusted in her intuition, her instincts, which never led her wrong.
She followed her decoy and the other handmaidens up the boarding ramp into the ship, a couple of the freed pilots and the younger Jedi following. The elder finished off the droids then leapt onboard. Padmé watched the ramp close, then joined her maids in the Queen's quarters, where she watched the vulnerable craft's passage through the blockade, via the onboard communications system. She frowned as she heard the argument put forth concerning Tatooine as a safe port for repairs, the world notorious throughout the galaxy for being under the rule of the Hutts, but she saw the point in the Jedi's reasoning, besides they had little choice if she wanted to reach the capital. The fact that the planet was suggested by the younger Jedi only made her more curious about him. Padmé kept her gaze on him as Captain Panaka briefed her decoy and attendants about the escape through the blockade in the Queen's chambers following the jump to lightspeed.
"An extremely well put together little droid," Panaka concluded in praise of the machine which had proved instrumental in restoring power under fire. "Without a doubt, it saved the ship, as well as our lives."
"It is to be commended," Sabé said, catching Padmé's slight nod of consent just before she spoke. "What is its number?"
Panaka stepped forward and examined the marking on the droid's head. "R2-D2, Your Highness."
"Thank you, Artoo Detoo," Sabé said with a smile as the droid beeped in return. "Padmé!" she called, causing her to move her gaze from the younger Jedi and walk from her place beside the other attendants to bow before her decoy.
"Clean this droid up the best you can," Sabé requested. "It deserves our gratitude. Continue, Captain."
Panaka looked towards the Jedi, and the elder one carried on with the briefing. "Your Highness, we are heading for a remote planet called Tatooine. It is a system far beyond the reach of the Trade Federation. There we will be able to make needed repairs, then travel on to Coruscant."
"Your Highness, I do not agree with the Jedi on this," Panaka declared.
"You must trust my judgement, Your Highness," the elder Jedi said, without elaborating as to why.
"I have heard your reasoning, Master Jedi," Sabé revealed. "Via the internal comm and while I accept that it is not controlled by the Trade Federation, it is still dangerous. I know however that we have little choice if we are to reach Coruscant in time. Therefore I agree with this course of action."
Panaka bowed, followed by the Jedi and then all departed her quarters, leaving her alone with her handmaidens.
Sabé turned to her Queen with a small, knowing smile. "And what will you do when we arrive at Tatooine, Your Highness?"
"I imagine I will wait on board the ship until we depart for the Core," Padmé replied.
"And talk with the younger Jedi?" Eirtaé teasingly inquired.
"Why would I want to do that?" Padmé asked innocently.
"We've all seen your interest in him," Rabé revealed.
"And his in you," Sabé added.
Padmé stilled. "Really?"
He looks when you realise you're staring and you look away," Eirtaé answered.
"Oh." Padmé felt her face blush. Then she frowned. "He's a Jedi. He's some years older than me. And I'm Queen of a planet under blockade. This cannot happen."
And yet it is, Padmé realised silently as she left the quarters to find somewhere to clean up R2D2. She had not spoken a word to him or he to her. They did not know the other's name. But she wanted to know everything about him. If being a Jedi was all he wanted. If his voice was always that rich when he spoke. What made him laugh, cry, smile, if he sang. If when he looked at her he saw someone he could learn to love, not a young girl who was terrified for her world's survival.
She wondered what was happening to her, why all her thoughts drifted so easily into thinking about him rather than the planet and the people she was elected to reign over and care for. Soberly she schooled her focus upon them, trying to imagine the fear they felt at being forced out of their homes into camps by armies of droids. It was not difficult, all too easy in fact, causing her to wonder if her mind had unconsciously chosen to think about the Jedi as a defence to maintain her rationale, her courage to leave her world and her people to appeal their case before the Senate. Not for the first time she started to doubt if she was worthy of the authority her people chose to honour her with.
R2D2 beeped and came to a halt, causing Padmé to leave her thoughts and focus on her surroundings. They had reached the maintenance bay, the perfect place to find everything to clean her companion. Pressing the release for the door she followed R2 inside, found a cloth on the workbench nearby and began to clean.
Kneeling before the droid, who tootled happily at her efforts to wipe the combat scorch marks from his covering, it was easy for her thoughts return to her world, her people. She worried for the handmaidens she had to leave behind, her advisors, her security, her pilots. She tried not to think about her family but inevitably images of them would appear in her mind, their faces contorted with terror at the sight of the droids. Her parents who had sacrificed so much to help her career, her sister Sola newly married, she had attended the wedding just after her election, in the guise of a handmaiden to keep the attention on the bride. It caused her to heart to ache remembering that event now and contrasting it with their reaction to the invading droid army.
The loud high pitched voice startled Padmé, causing her to jump as she looked up at the visitor, a Gungan who appeared deeply apologetic for causing such distress.
"Sorry, nomeanen to scare yousa."
"That's all right," Padmé assured him.
"I scovered oily back dare. Needen it?" he asked her.
"Thank you, this little guy is quite a mess."
"Mesa Ja Ja Binksss," he introduced himself as he handed her the oil can.
"I'm Padmé," she returned. "I attend Her Highness. You're a Gungan, aren't you? How did you end up here with us?"
It was with great difficulty that she managed to translate Jar Jar's reply; his presence seemed to be due to running into the Jedi, who saved his life. Padmé wondered if the Gungans would be discovered by the droids, or if the Trade Federation believed them to be a myth like every other offworlder.
The door opened, revealing the Jedi, the elder of whom stepped forward and addressed the Gungan.
"Jar Jar, you will accompany me on Tatooine," he requested. "The droid as well, handmaiden."
Padmé nodded, R2 beeped curiously and Jar Jar prostrated himself before the younger Jedi in despair, preventing him from following his master.
"Noooo, Obi-Wan, sire, pleeese, no mesa go!"
"I'm sorry, Jar Jar, but Qui-Gon is right. Tatooine is a multinational spaceport, a trading centre. You'll make him appear less obvious by going along," the young Jedi replied.
Padmé turned back to R2, rubbing the cloth against his dome, her mind unable to wipe away the expression of fear which Jar Jar wore, and the combination of the invasion upon her planet. She imagined the Gungan's reaction to the invasion, and her heart quivered at the thought that her actions were damaging not just her people but another race as well, whose existence most were ignorant of. Her vision blurred as she finally let loose the full extent of her grief, but not entirely to distinguish desert browns closing in, followed by flesh tones which parted to press against either side of her forehead in stroking circles.
Under so gentle a massage Padmé felt a calmness settle over her, as gradual as the turn of the tide. When her vision cleared, she found a pair of blue grey eyes staring back at her.
"I apologise if I startled you," he uttered gently. "I hope you are feeling a little better."
A little better? Padmé echoed silently, marvelling at the understatement. "I am, thank you," she replied, realising that she felt eerily calm and composed. How had he done that?
"Partly the Force, partly massage," Obi-Wan explained to her unaired inquiry. "I know it was a little inappropriate, but I felt your pain and I wanted to give you some comfort."
"It wasn't inappropriate at all, thank you." Padmé found herself savouring the syllables in his name now she knew it at last, along with the clipped Coruscanti accent with which he spoke.
"My pleasure," he uttered, his eyes meeting hers, the myriad of colours reminding her of a warm and welcoming pool of water. He smiled at her, and she found herself wanting him never to do anything else.
Feeling her face flush, she turned to cleaning R2 again, who beeped happily under her administrations.
"I'm afraid you cannot be too clean, R2," the Jedi said as he picked up a cloth and, kneeling beside her on the floor, began to assist in the restoration. "He must appear to be a native, not a remarkable droid who bypassed several systems to bring the shields back online under heavy fire."
"Truly exceptional," Padmé murmured. "Not a droid destined to spend his life on a moisture farm."
"Sometimes others decide that fate for you," Obi-Wan said with feeling.
"What do you mean?" Padmé asked.
"Jedi younglings who aren't selected by a Master serve in the AgriCorps," he explained. "If it hadn't been for Qui-Gon, I would have spent my life on a farm. What about you? Did you always want to be a handmaiden?"
"I'm not a handmaiden," she blurted in reply, without concern for her cover. Padmé froze as she heard the words echo through her head, out before she had given thought to her reply. Why did she say that? Since when had she found herself unable to lie to him? "I mean, none of us are, really. From time to time we protect the Queen as her decoys."
"So have you always wanted to be a decoy?" Obi-Wan asked with a grin.
Padmé was about to answer, when suddenly she saw him still, his expression transforming into one of eerie distant calmness before he muttered a hurried excuse, rose from his knees and took off out of the room at a run. She followed him in time to see him come to a stop and fall gracefully to the ground to cradle his Master's head in his lap. As she neared him, Padmé watched Obi-Wan place a hand on Qui-Gon's forehead, closing his eyes, his face a trouble expression of concentration. After a moment he rose up and levitated his master's body with the Force.
"It's just a seizure," Obi-Wan explained before Padmé could ask. "He'll be well in a few days. I'll go to Mos Espa in his place." He was walking away to the quarters assigned to the knights before Padmé could even reply with her excuse of informing the Queen, when in reality she was about to persuade her Chief of Security that she could do with a trip to a desert world trading port.
As she made her way through the ship to locate and speak to Panaka, the image of Obi-Wan cradling his master remained in her mind. His moves, his utter seeming calm facade throughout was too practised to render the incident out of the ordinary. Evidently something was wrong with the Jedi Master, something grave and personal else they would have been warned that this might occur. Padmé hoped it was not mortal, for she feared the image in her head was not just in the past, but in the future too and she feared for the young man whom she only just met.