Chapter 1: Impulsion
Most eight year old Naboo knew better than to brave the jungle lands just beyond Theed's borders. Most eight year old Naboo feared the mysterious Gungan warriors that roamed those swamps. Most eight year old Naboo were not Sheev Palpatine.
Yet even then, Sheev Palpatine was not the type of boy to blatantly put himself in harm's way. Unless, of course, it perfectly suited his intentions.
Like defying Father until the red flamed in the aristocratic cheeks.
Or staying alive in the jungles just beyond the boundaries of Theed.
This was where he found himself presently, stumbling over the thick roots of the sprawling trees. Next time he would have to keep a much closer eye on security before trying to steal the headmaster's triple-fin speeder and take it for a joyride…
He glanced back at the once-immaculate machine, now half buried in the spongy swampland, its engines flooded and the passenger compartment almost completely underwater. Sheev sniffed and brushed a clinging, slimy plant from his sleeve.
The better course of action would have been to simply ignore the headmaster, obviously. But the man's hard hand across his face reminded him too much of Father, and he admittedly had not been thinking straight when he hacked into the speeder's locking system. The last school had certainly been helpful in teaching him certain skills, ones that the teachers would have paled to know he learned.
He should have waited. Next time, he would. But he had wanted revenge, and he had not counted on the swift response of the school's security officer, leading to a chase halfway across the capital city and into the thickets of Gungan territory. Even at the tender age of eight, Sheev's ability to pilot speeders proved impressive. There at the edge of civilization, the officer had called off the chase, and Sheev had allowed his concentration to become lax.
In unfamiliar territory.
Hence the sunken speeder.
And his arm hurt.
He glared at the offending machine.
Swamps were not the safest places to be on Naboo. Narglatches and a whole host of unpleasant creatures lurked within, not even considering the wild and uncultured Gungans, and Sheev kept a wary eye on his surroundings as he trudged in a general uphill direction. Small and thin for his age, he was not imposing even among his own kind, so he knew he would make a tasty snack for any enterprising swamp creature.
He clutched his personal snub-nosed blaster close under his right sleeve. Father did not know he possessed one, but he had gotten it very cheaply off the black market in Theed and made a few modifications of his own. The handle fit better now in his small grip, and he always hid it under the fifth bridge on his way home from school.
He held no illusions that he would be going back to that school anytime soon.
A rustling in the brush nearby brought his senses to high alert, but the still, small voice in him did not warn of danger, and he scowled as a small nuna scrambled out and across his path. Nunas were singleminded, flightless creatures, the bottom of the food chain on most planets. He watched it disappear on the opposite side of the trail and tilted his head to listen for any pursuers. None. A spooked nuna only, then.
Father would doubtless be angry when he got home late tonight. He might cuff him once or twice and send him to bed without dinner. Sheev discovered he was having a difficult time caring as the beauty of the swamp spread out before him. He studied the tall root-trees, their gnarled bases nearly as big and tangled as their crowns and filled with calling wildlife and buzzing insects.
Naboo felt alive in here, like it never felt on the plains or even up in the mountains. He listened to all the different sounds and realized with a start that he could not even see the sun, so thick was the vegetation overhead.
Something called to him within the shadows of his mind, huffed on his left, and he leapt forward just in time to avoid a large body slamming into his own. Spinning and half-crouched, Sheev stared at the newcomer. A large creature mirrored his pose only meters away, reminding him of the gualamas at home but different somehow. It lacked the high sweeping horns, but grimaced with a collection of thick, powerful molar-like teeth. Its tail, lashing the weeds behind it, was much longer and wider than a gualama's, as though the creature swam more than ran.
Sheev noticed the faint yellow stripe along its flank, then it hit him. Literally. He cried out as the creature lunged forward and caught him in the shoulder. He rolled desperately, avoiding the splayed hooves and snapping teeth, and mid-roll he realized what grunted and hissed over him.
One of House Palpatine's sigils. He saw it every day on the crest in the main hall of Convergence.
How ironic that it was doing its active best to kill him. Sheev twisted and scowled when one claw bit deep into his shoulder, pinning him to the earth. Ignoring the pain, pain was nothing, he curled in on himself and bit the creature's leg as hard as he could through the fur.
The Zalaaca yelped and leapt away, circling a few scant meters away as the young human clutched his shoulder. Father would be upset about the torn robe.
It did not move to attack immediately, seeming unsure and nervous, and Sheev blinked. It was a youngling, like him. The stripe was not bright enough to be an adult. The size was still much smaller than a gualama. A youngling… thinking it could eat him! He cursed it with a Huttese curse he learned at his last school, one Father was very angry he knew.
The Zalaaca hissed back, its wide red mouth flaring open in a challenging display. Sheev laughed in spite of his serious situation. How ridiculous it looked!
The strangest thing happened then. The colt stopped in its tracks and looked at the human, and for the briefest of moments Sheev got the impression that it had been insulted. He locked eyes with it and did not look away, and something told him that this was very important to do.
The creature dipped his head and snorted loudly. Hissed again.
Use the blaster, Sheev's cold mind told him. Use the blaster, and he could be on his way. He was a good shot, and the Zalaaca's eyes were large and easy targets. Slowly he pulled the snub-nose blaster from its holster in his sleeve and lifted the barrel until the colt's eyes were directly in his sights.
Was it… ashamed? To be caught so easily? He hesitated when it huffed at him.
Kill it. He should just kill it and go on. No reason to spare it, or it would just try to eat him again. But it was powerful and beautiful and strong, like nothing he ever found in the Lake Country, and he was fascinated in spite of himself. He found his arm lowering slowly, and the Zalaaca sniffed the air with large nostrils. It called, a strange snorting tunneled sound that echoed and died in the thick trees around them.
Eyes still locked, his other arm lifted with palm out, and the Zalaaca crept forward on wide, clawed hooves, snorting with warning. But Sheev felt no danger for himself, and it emboldened him to stand his ground.
The nose that greeted his fingers was soft, so soft, and he nearly jerked back in surprise at the sensation. Like the finest silk imported from Alderaan. The skin underneath was firm and warm and dry. He stroked the nose between the nostrils, and the Zalaaca hummed under his hand.
"You have a family?" he broke the silence, feeling both awkward and silly for asking, because a Zalaaca could not talk, but feeling that he might suffocate if he said nothing much longer in these swamps.
The Zalaaca rumbled and squeaked and nudged at his hand, tugging a half smile to his thin lips.
"They ought to keep a closer eye on you. Never know what you might run into out here, hm?"
It bobbed in agreement, more likely searching him out as a possible source of food. He pushed the head away when it bumped his narrow chest. "I'm not your family or your food."
"Hurrruuuppp…" it protested and sniffed his face. His vision filled with its wide, curious expression, unnaturally intelligent and scanning him closely.
He tensed, never liking anything so close to him. It was easy to be hurt when living things got this close.
But the Zalaaca did not hurt him, and the shadows in his mind remained still and blanketed over him, and he knew he had nothing to fear, at least not from this creature. He placed a slender hand between its eyes and stared into the red orbs. "You are magnificent," he whispered. Father had used the word once to describe the view from Convergence.
This was better, so much better. It was alive and real, and it was strong enough to eat him, but it did not. It bowed to the pressure in his hand instead, sliding to its bony knees in the muck and dipping its long head low. He touched the faintly yellow ears in awe. Why was it submitting to him?
He jerked his head up at a strange warbling cry coming from the direction the Zalaaca had taken. It tensed under his hand and stood, towering over him already by half a meter. The cry separated out into half a dozen high-pitched, peculiarly accented voices as it drew closer. Intelligent life! Sheev put a hand on the Zalaaca's nose to calm it, and the bond between them hit him like a physical shock.
Several meters ahead on the animal trail, a party of Gungan warriors and younglings burst onto the scene, reining in their Kaduus with startled wariness at the sight in front of them. One of the foremost younglings whooped in defeated anger. Sheev froze in place. He had seen Gungans before, certainly, but only a rare one or two in the city, and there they were meek and silent. Father said this was because they knew their proper place. Sheev was not sure he believed Father.
Anyway, this was much different. This was a raiding party of some sort, bristling with sharp weapons and energy lassos. He scrambled through his mind for the latest news from school about the tentative Gungan-human peace accords. Surely they would not risk war for one trespassing young boy. He could not help the apprehension closing the back of his throat as two of the Gungans dismounted and strode in his direction, in that floppy way of theirs.
The first Gungan to arrive was taller than the others and seemed somehow thinner too. His eyes perched large on the top of his head, but Sheev only had eyes for the long spear gripped in the mottled pink and grey left hand. "Heyo dalee! Who yousa?"
The spear remained pointed at the sky, and he replied slowly, back ramrod straight. "Sheev Palpatine, of House Palpatine. Naboo."
He carefully tracked his gaze along the length of the spear until he found the Gungan's reptilian face, which split in a wide smile at last.
"Sheevy Palpatines, mesa Tarpas. Yousa lost?"
"Sidetracked," he admitted, keeping his tone and words polite, struggling not to roll his eyes at the mutilation of his name. "I lost control of my speeder back there."
The other Gungan stepped closer and paused when the Zalaaca colt hissed at him. "Tarpas, hesa bonded mui fasto with the cub."
Tarpas glanced at the other Gungan, then back to Sheev. "How yousa be doing disa?"
Sheev blinked as he interpreted the Gungans' strange speech patterns. "Doing what?"
"Yousa forming the bond with him. Hisens not supposed to do that."
Sheev tensed. "I'm… sorry? I was not trying to." The Zalaaca pushed its wide head into his chest again. He clutched its muzzle to avoid falling over backwards. Why was it obsessed with him, indeed? He had not asked for this, not at all. What a miserable day this was turning out to be.
The other Gungan snorted. "Hesa so smallen. Tiny hisen."
The familiar tug of anger threatened to choke unkind words from his mouth, so Sheev turned back to Tarpas. "I apologize if I trespassed. I'll leave immediately." Father would be furious enough about the incident at school; to add this on would leave him bruised for weeks instead of days. He did not actively want to make his punishment worse this time.
Tarpas nudged the other Gungan. "Not the size, wesa worried about, but the skill. Hesa got a cub of hisa own."
"Was Par Nap's cub, stolen now," the other grumbled.
Not liking the look daggering his way, Sheev glanced at the more distant Gungans and swallowed when he noticed the glare of the youngling who had shouted angrily only moment earlier. "I didn't mean it. He can have it back, and gladly."
This was not a fight he could hope to win.
The Zalaaca rumbled against his chest, almost in protest. Tarpas exchanged solemn looks with the other Gungan and then shook his head, ears flopping forward. "Too late for dat. Yousa bonded now, and nothing isa breakin' dat but the Big Sleep."
Sheev tilted his head. "Do you mean death?"
Tarpas nodded. "Hesa yous cub now."
Dismay flooded him along with a faint stirring of excitement. His? The Zalaaca nipped at his hand, startling him back to the moment. "He can't be mine, I can't do anything with him, certainly I can't take him with me." Father would fly into a rage.
"Hesa be pining for yousa," Tarpas cautioned. "Dees cubs survive on the master's will-good. Shu."
"I can't… He can't come with me," Sheev shrugged, feeling both angry and helpless. "Even if I wanted to."
Did he? Maybe.
Tarpas nodded, appearing to understand. "Then hesa has to stay, but yousa musten be coming back to visit and often-days, yousa know. This one, hesa being tied to yousa now. Wiltin' without yous ca, mesa tinking."
Sheev thought of Father, how Cosinga would be horrified to find his son interacting with the Gungan people, and he smiled a little. Then he looked back at the colt. "Maybe I will," he finally said, tilting his head back to regard the humanoid in a new light. They were not quite like Father said…
Tarpas smiled. "Wesa helpin' yousa find the best feetwalken back. Mui big jungle, dissen is, for such a little hisen."
A short little 3-4 part story dealing with a possible (mis?)adventure in young Palpatine's life. That kid gets in more trouble sometimes… Legends compliant, and new-canon compliant too, as far as I can tell.