Hand Of Fate

Chapter 2 / Cautious Alliance


Three Years Ago
Royal Naboo Security Forces Headquarters
Theed, Naboo

Thwack thwack thwack! Thwack!

The rhythmic hits of sparring staffs echoed in the large gymnasium hall. Floor to ceiling transparisteel windows let in the light of another beautiful spring day into the large space that was furnished with fitness equipment, weights, climbing walls, and padded combat training spaces. A group of new ensigns to the Royal Security Forces was circled up in the middle of the vast training space. They surrounded two figures wearing helmets and tactical jumpsuits and the two of them were engaged in quite the hand-to-hand combat battle with their staffs. Captain Panaka watched with folded arms and a little smile, enjoying his favorite new-recruit activity: letting one of his higher ranking officers fight the most cocky new fledgling.

The new ensign he'd chosen was a tall, well-muscled young man by the name of Gash Ajonzay, and from the first time Panaka saw him smugly swagger into the building, he'd known that Gash was going to be his choice. Opposite Gash, a much smaller, shorter, and more lithe female who up until now, had been deliberately toying with the ensign—but he didn't know that of course. Panaka had seen this exact same situation play out enough times to recognize that she was about to change the narrative. This was where it got truly entertaining.

They squared up again, squatting down slightly with their staffs held by two hands at either end as they each sized the other up. And then without warning, the attack was unleashed by the smaller of the two with blazing speed she hadn't even come close to showing until now. She pressed him back with blow after blow he struggled to keep up with—some he missed completely, sustaining blows to his helmet, shoulder, torso, and thigh. Each time he sounded more and more astonished and angry, and with each second that passed, he got sloppier. The element of surprise gained by tricking her opponent into thinking she was a mediocre opponent was her signature approach. Psychological warfare, Panaka liked to call it.

The watchers excitedly shouted and whooped as Gash tried desperately to keep up and regain his footing. Instead, he got thwacked in the side of the head, and with his dazed condition, his opponent pushed for the finale. With a great cry, she flipped over him completely, using her staff to catapult herself over his height—an impressive if unnecessary show of skills. She landed lightly, even as he tried to turn in time to block her coming strike. He wasn't quick enough and she jammed the brunt of it hard into the chin area, using more force than she had used before—all carefully calculated and executed, as usual. Stunned, he fell back and she took the advantage, whacking his staff out of his hand and jumping onto him, pinning him to the ground with a knee in his throat as she pointed the stunning end—currently disabled—dead center in between his eyes. Through his helmet, his eyes were wide and shocked. He held his hands out as if in defense and they shook just slightly. The onlookers were all thoroughly entertained, making quite the racket.

"Match!" Panaka shouted, and the fighters separated, with the female standing up over Gash and taking off her helmet to reveal a flushed, grinning face and hair that had started off the day neatly pulled back, but was now wild, frizzing, and sticking to her sweaty face in places. It was Sabé Nebira—year three in the forces and quite the opponent as usual. She grabbed her opponent's wrist to help him up and he grasped hers back, standing up a bit woozily as he removed his helmet. He looked absolutely blindsided, not to mention flustered.

Panaka put his hands behind his back and addressed the onlooking ensigns in a loud, clear voice. "As you can see, Corporal Nebira here is quite the challenge in hand-to-hand combat. Within six months of training with the forces… maybe some of you will have a chance at besting her." Sabé's face nonverbally and subtly gave her opinion on the matter: doubtful.

As the other ensigns laughed—some nervously and others in good nature—Sabé turned to Gash and grabbed then shook his hand hard, whether he liked it or not. "See you in a few months for a rematch?"

He mumbled something, embarrassed, then slunk back into the group to lick his metaphorical wounds. Standing a bit further back, watching with an entertained little grin, Gregar Typho shook his head as Sabé spotted him and sent a brief, conspiratorial smile his way.

After a few more of Panaka's orientation statements where Sabé stood at ease beside him with hands clasped uniformly behind her back, he handed everyone off to Lieutenant Jolana, who ran most of the training program, and then dismissed Sabé to go get cleaned up. Gregar waited for her and they fell into step. "Gods alive Nebira, go easy on those kids will you?" he joked.

"Where's the fun in that?" she asked breezily, then cocked an eyebrow at him. "Can't help that I'm so good, Gregs," she said as she pulled off her gloves. He was giving her quite the look as they entered the unisex locker room. "What?!" she asked, the picture of good humor and confidence. "If you're just mad that I outrank you, say it."

Gregar rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling—she had a year on him in terms of service, but he was older than her so it did sometimes dig at his pride. "You're insufferable."

"Oh I've never heard that one," she replied, a rogueish smile pulling at the side of her mouth. She pulled her locker open and deftly caught the towel Gregar tossed her.

"Speaking of being called insufferable, how's Zana been lately?" Gregar asked lightheartedly.

The question earned him a good-natured whack on his arm with her gloves. "Oh stop it you," she said in equal measure of playfulness, but he noticed how her bravado flickered a bit and her guard perceptibly raised a fraction. "We're both doing as good as possible, I think." She rubbed her sweaty face and neck with the towel.

Gregar paused a moment, considering what to say. Sabé was a private person who was more comfortable sparring physically or verbally than talking about the things more close to her heart. He'd known her for two years but many things about her were still a mystery. Gregar respected the clear indication that she didn't want to talk about personal things more. She was only fourteen, but seemed much older and always had since he first met her. After he'd learned that she was raising and providing for her sister, pursing higher education for herself, and serving the Royal Forces, he had come to regard her very highly. And Zana was a delightful child: incredibly smart, witty like her sister, and sweet in nature. "Well bring her by some more, it's always great to have her around." He meant it.

Sabé smiled a little, but the more boisterous energy was gone. She tossed the towel into a nearby bin. "You know she hates fighting and all that." A soft sigh as she ran her hands over her scalp in an attempt to tame the flyaways. "She's a staunch Naboo pacifist through and through."

"Then bring her to our quilt knitting day," Gregar joked, which earned him a grin.

"Nebira. Typho." The sound of Captain Panaka's stern voice zapped the humorous mood instantly and both officers straightened up and became serious-faced as the captain marched up to them with his datapad extended as if to show them something. "These firing range results I just received from last week are unacceptable, both of you."

Sabé grabbed the datapad from him in disbelief, earning a disgruntled look that she didn't notice. "My marks are nearly perfect!" she protested as she scanned the screen.

Panaka took the datapad back just as rudely as she had taken it from him as he gave her a steely look. "'Nearly' isn't good enough, Corporal." His tone was admonishing, an unspoken warning in it to behave more professionally in the future. Sabé stood a little more tall and still, heeding the warning as he fixed them both with a severe, lecturing scowl. "Listen to me, both of you. Someday these skills will be the difference between your life and death and you'll thank me that I insisted." He paused for emphasis, then nodded brusquely. "Report back at fourteen-hundred hours."

They knew better than to ask him what for, only chorused, "yes, Captain," and remained at attention as he turned and left. The second he was out of sight, they slumped to stand casually, their eyes went to rolling, and Sabé made a motion with her hand as if to say "get lost."

"Hardheaded old man," Gregar muttered under his breath.

That earned him a sly little smile as Sabé shut her locker and keyed the combo to secure it. "Must run in the family," she remarked, earning herself quite the wan, annoyed look from Panaka's nephew.


Present Day

That day three years ago, the Captain had made what seemed like a ridiculous statement about their preparedness for some kind of unforeseen disaster. Sabé and Gregar, granted more immature at the time, had dismissed the idea. And today, it was happening.

Sirens screamed and the internal lights flickered like a strobe as the queen's royal starship lurched from impact after impact as they attempted to flee Naboo and get past the Federation blockade. Sabé and the other handmaidens as well as the real queen had rushed into the ship in a daring escape from the hangar bay as the Jedi cut down enemies and cleared the way—in the chaos, Obi-Wan had freed a group of pilots and officers, many who had made the snap decision to run up the boarding ramp. It remained to be seen if the escape attempt was a good idea.

At the moment, it certainly seemed like they were doomed. The women all hung onto any part of the ship they could grab hold of in the ship's throne room as the spacecraft rocked violently. Eirtaé had her eyes squeezed shut as she frantically whispered prayers, Rabé was crying and wiping her face as Padmé clung to her—the queen looked more scared than Sabé had ever seen her. And with a hurting heart both physically and emotionally, Sabé herself came to terms with the strong possibility that she had live her last day. I'm so sorry Zana, I shouldn't have ever agreed to becoming handmaiden. Then at least maybe we'd be together right now. And then suddenly, just when they all assumed it was over… it all stopped. The lights stabilized, the alarm went silent, and the shuddering hits were no more. Too afraid to be relieved, all the women stood a bit from the crouched or crumpled stances they'd been in. Had they made it? A few seconds later, the ship jerked once—they'd jumped to lightspeed, just not very smoothly.

"Goddess be with us," Padmé breathed, gone a shade paler than normal. They all stood shakily, too stunned to know what to say or do for a moment. All of them were shocked that they were alive after that, and it took them a moment to calm down.

Just then down the very short hall to the cockpit, the door that had previously been sealed hissed open. Without a word, the handmaidens and Queen all moved quickly and as gracefully as possible to their stations, ad-libbing a bit of course. Padmé ended up standing directly beside Sabé, who took the throne with a still-pounding heart and a light head. The adrenaline surge had left her feeling weak and faint, so shaken up she didn't know how she was even functioning. She knew instinctively that they all felt that way, but their quick regrouping gave her some strength. They were still a strong and connected team. Eirtaé was at her other side, and Rabé stood on the opposite side of the room beside the entrance even as the Captain rushed in—a bit behind him, Qui-Gon waited at the lift down to the lower level.

"Is everyone all right? Did anyone sustain an injury?" Panaka demanded. He was the picture of how shaken up they all felt, but Sabé fell into character of the Queen and answered in a solemn, measured voice.

"We are shaken up I'm sure, but we are without injury." More important things were on her mind. "Captain Panaka, what's happened?"

From the lift, Obi-Wan emerged with a very dirty looking astromech droid unit on wheeled legs, and he and his master came in, bowing as they took position near the captain. "We made it past the blockade but just barely," Panaka explained, which is the part they all knew already. "The shield generator was hit. If not for the help of one very unexpected ally, we wouldn't be speaking right now." He gestured to the dingy astromech, and the headmount portion swiveled as the droid chirped in what could almost have been a friendly greeting. "An extremely well put together droid, Your Highness. Without a doubt, it saved the ship, as well as our lives."

Of all things, Sabé felt a small smile on her face that wasn't false. So they had made it, and their hero was this little metallic friend. "And for that we are eternally indebted," she said, relaxing just slightly. "What is its number?"

The droid chortled and beeped, an almost birdlike sound. Panaka leaned over and scraped a bit of dust off the side of it to read the number. "Artoo Deetoo, Your Highness."

"Thank you, Artoo Detoo. We owe you our lives… and at the very least a bit of cleanup." Sabé thought quickly and then decided to call on Padmé so that she could see her face for the rest of this interaction and gauge her reaction on whatever other news was shared. "Padmé." The queen came to stand alongside Panaka. Sabé smiled again a bit as the droid rocked back and forth on its wheeled legs in a fashion that could almost be called… cute. "See to this droid as best you can. It deserves our gratitude." With that, Sabé refocused. "Continue, Captain."

Panaka nervously glanced at the Jedi. "Well. Uh—with the damage to the hyperdrive, we've made a jump but we can only go so far. We'll need to stop somewhere for repair. Somewhere not under the Federation's thumb."

That did complicate matters further, and Sabé felt a twinge of suspicion over how the usually-direct captain had been vague. Qui-Gon cut in. "Your Highness, with your permission, 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 find parts, make needed repairs, then travel onward to Coruscant."

The captain was grave. "Milady, Tatooine is a very dangerous place. It's controlled by an alliance of gangs called the Hutts. I do not agree with the Jedi on this." Sabé narrowed her eyes slightly. Was Panaka trying to tell her to refuse to go?

"You must trust my judgement, Your Highness," Qui-Gon said, and even though he appeared to be genuine and trustworthy, Panaka was giving her quite the look, trying to convey something. Sabé couldn't decipher it or what she was meant to take from it. Beside him, Padmé also looked very vexed by this strange plan.

"Must I?" Sabé responded carefully, a challenge. "What is your plan once we're on this Tatooine planet? If they're beyond the reach of the Trade Federation, I would assume they're also not part of the Republic and that our credits will be useless there."

Qui-Gon remained difficult to read. "You are correct about that." Beside him, his apprentice looked positively stone-faced, giving away nothing. "The plan will reveal itself in the moment."

The cavalier attitude bothered her immediately. "Forgive me if I seem rude, Master Jinn, but we don't have time to waste hoping for answers to fall out of the sky. Not with my people held captive upon their own land." Notably, Obi-Wan looked at his master at that moment as if to gauge his reaction to her resistance. Sabé reigned herself in, being a little more diplomatic. "I would feel more comfortable if you could advise us of a specific solution to our dilemma."

Qui-Gon remained gently unmovable. "Unfortunately I can't give that to you. Only my word that we will see you through this."

Sabé remained quiet for a few beats, looking from Panaka to Padmé. The queen gave the slightest nod, but it was clear she didn't like this plan either. "I assume you've exhausted all other possible options?" Sabé asked, just to be clear.

"Yes."

Doubting it, she let a heavy breath out through her nose, then bowed her head just slightly. "Then it seems I have no choice left but to trust." She then lifted her chin and locked eyes with the Jedi master fiercely. "Master Qui-Gon, our fate is in your hands. Please. I beg you. Don't let us down."

"The Force will guide us, Your Highness," he replied kindly. "There is nothing to fear."

Easy for him to say, she thought bitterly. And the talk of the Force automatically made her feel wary. However, outwardly, she just nodded once in a carefully practiced regal way. "Very well. So be it."

"Obi-Wan will stay with the ship to watch over you when we make our landing," Qui-Gon added, and from the look on Obi-Wan's face, he had not been privvy to that knowledge until that exact moment. "Anything you might need in my absence he can help you with."

Sabé watched Obi-Wan openly and he saw that she was watching him too. "Thank you, Master Jinn," she said, watching as his apprentice forcibly wiped his slightly sour expression off his face. She then looked at Panaka again. "Captain, how many do we have aboard with us?"

A grave Panaka shook his head slightly. "I haven't had a chance to count yet, Milady."

"This ship is only designed for short journeys and a passenger count of ten," Sabé said, fully aware that they had definitely acquired more than the limit with the pilots and guards who had run onboard at the last moment. Her guess as at least twenty of them if not more. Lack of physical space for everyone and dwindling supplies would present another huge issue for them if repairs weren't accomplished quickly.

"All the more reason for swiftness, Your Highness," Qui-Gon replied readily, then bowed again. "If you'll excuse us." Obi-Wan bowed too, but if it were possible to bow with an attitude, he did. Clearly, he was unhappy with his master. Interesting. And perhaps a problem, Sabé thought.

After they were gone into the cockpit again, Panaka dropped his etiquette altogether. "I don't like this one bit," he muttered.

Standing up, Sabé gave him a dark look. "I doubt you'll find anyone on this godsforsaken ship that likes this, Captain." In that moment, all she could think of was figuring out exactly the situation they were in. "Go do a headcount. And you'll need to do an inventory of water and supplies immediately too. Also, find out exactly what damage the ship sustained."

Panaka was giving her the look she had seen so many times before: him being irritated at her.

"Do as she says, Captain," Padmé said quietly. "I give her full trust in this."

Panaka didn't look thrilled, and his tone was flat as he address Sabé. "Go to your quarters and let me evaluate the situation. I'll report back later."

Sabé nodded and stood, her nerves shot and body still feeling weak from adrenaline. "I'll clean the droid, Milady," Eirtaé volunteered, stopping Padmé as she went toward the lift with the cheerfully beeping droid following.

Padmé shook her head. She seemed in very deep thought, like her mind was somewhere else completely. "No, I need something to do." She smiled slightly down at the droid and put a hand on it like one might a family pet. "And perhaps I'll be able to learn something useful along the way."


Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé all went to the royal quarters, each of them processing what was now happening in their own way. Rabé looked for a job to do to distract her, pushing Sabé toward the little salon setup beside the grand bed. "Let me fix your makeup. I had to apply it so fast, it's not right in parts."

Sabé said nothing and let her do it, even though she doubted the importance of appearances in this moment. At least sitting down would give her body time to regulate itself. "I can't believe this is happening," Eirtaé languished, wringing her hands and then falling to her knees into traditional prayer in the center of the room.

As she sat for makeup, Sabé's mind turned to worrying about what she could currently do nothing about. If she had been a praying person, she would have joined Eirtaé in beseeching the gods for the planet, its people and most of all, her sister. She must be so afraid right now. Sabé willed herself not to dwell on it because of her powerlessness, and instead, recited the royal Naboo constitution to herself over and over—a habit she'd formed over the years when in times of distress.

About forty five minutes passed. Panaka did not come by or report in, the ship did not seem to drop out of hyperspace, and all there was to do was fret to the point of sickness after she couldn't repeat the constitution anymore to herself. Eirtaé and Rabé decided to take inventory of the onboard wardrobe and Sabé took inventory of everything else in the main quarters. There wasn't much. Flimsies, a few pieces of royal jewelry, lotions and perfumed oils, hair styling accessories, a first aid kit, a few spare blankets, a meditation mat, but nothing else except furniture and a luxuriously designed fresher.

Finally, Padmé returned with the droid in tow, and it looked like an entirely different droid—polished white stood nicely against brilliant deep blue accented with polished silver chrome and now clearly-shining indicator lights. Relieved to have a change in pace, Sabé greeted him—the droid seemed masculine to her somehow—gladly. "Looking much better I must say, little friend." Padmé however seemed on a mission, taking her hood down and pulling her hair out of the long single braid it had been in as if she was in a hurry. Sabé frowned, sensing something was happening. "What is it? What are you doing?"

"I'm going," she said simply, beginning to shift the gathered red belting fabric off of herself.

Rabé and Eirtaé were hovering at the closet entrance in confusion with items of clothing forgotten in their hands. "Going…?" Eirtaé echoed in worry. "Going where?"

"Offship?" Rabé presumed in rising distress.

Sabé rose from where she'd been sitting, equally flabbergasted. "With the Jedi?"

"Milady—!" Eirtaé protested.

Padmé held up a gentle but firm hand, silencing them. "I've already decided. I'll go and ensure that this Jedi doesn't hinder more than help us. I have a feeling about him."

"I do too," Sabé said after a shocked moment's pause. "He seems… impulsive."

"Well if that isn't a wookie calling a nerf hairy," Padmé commented mildly.

Sabé felt slightly embarrassed. "P—Your Highness, you know what I mean."

"Yes I do." Padmé was now pulling the outer layer of the flame-inspired gown off herself, leaving the red undersuit. "While I'm thinking of it, stop calling me any formal address. All of you. Until this is all over or unless I'm in the royal makeup, I am Padmé. A handmaiden to Queen Amidala. And that's it." She fixed them with a smile that was tempered by stress and anxiety. Sabé recognized that she was choosing to be brave—that she was as shaken and scared as the rest of them—and so they all had to be too. "Now, who's going to fix my hair?" Rabé dutifully came to her and indicated she sit down.

"Panaka is going to pitch a fit about this," Eirtaé muttered foully.

"What doesn't he pitch a fit about?" Sabé retorted, helping Rabé gather combs and brushes and clips.

"Eirtaé, can you find something in the wardrobe for me that's plain and more functional?" Padmé asked.

The blonde handmaiden visibly withered. "Your wardrobe and 'plain' do not belong in the same sentence." Padmé gave the ill-tempered handmaiden a bland look—there was some notable tension between them. Eirtaé pressed her mouth into a wan line and heaved a jaded breath. "But I'll see what I can do."


Later

The remaining three handmaidens huddled at the small aft viewport where they could see their queen leaving with the Qui-Gon and the little group he'd assembled: himself, Artoo, and a gangly Gungan that Sabé had forgotten they somehow collected. The three of them were small dark figures against endless bleak sand. In the distance, perhaps a couple of kilometers away, a less than impressive settlement slouched. This place was unspeakably wretched and barren, putting a knot of unease deep inside Sabé's stomach. Tatooine, they'd said it was called. What a hopeless wasteland.

"This is all happening very fast," Rabé whispered. "I have a bad feeling about it all."

Eirtaé and Rabé drifted away from the viewport, but Sabé stayed, watching the retreating group grow smaller and smaller.

"Why would she leave when we need her most?" Eirtaé asked tensely, her whisper giving away how paranoid she was of being overheard. The ship was so much quieter now that it had landed. Only the cooling system remained on. How long would that work, anyway? The generator wouldn't last forever…

"You heard her, Eirtaé—the Jedi master isn't someone we know, and his methods seem questionable," Rabé was replying. "She needs to be part of however he gets us off this gods-forsaken rock. What could she do for us here?"

"But we're just sitting here out in the open, it isn't safe!" Eirtaé hissed. "Probably running out of water, rations…! There might be thieves and pirates here, not to mention those Hutt gangs Panaka mentioned, and furthermore what are we supposed to do if—"

"Eirtaé," Sabé said maybe a little harsher than necessary, "None of this is going to be solved by losing your head." The two of them looked at each other with hard expressions. It wasn't a huge secret that the two of them didn't exactly get along. Eirtaé was very prim and proper, by-the-book and easily bothered by anything and everything. She disliked Sabé's personality and convictions, and disliked that Sabé was more trained than the rest of them. Add to it the fact that she seemed to have personal resentments from losing the election to Padmé and she was difficult to like, for Sabé anyway.

"Naboo needs us!" Eirtaé insisted, her eyes flashing and chest heaving. She was a picture of emotions gone wild, and for whatever reason, it enraged Sabé. Perhaps because she felt similarly.

"Well what do you propose?" Sabé asked sharply. "Shall we repair the ship with your feelings?" It was a thoughtless and unkind thing to say, and the second she said it, she was regretful. Her shoulders slumped a bit. "I'm sorry. That was out of line."

Eirtaé was clearly hurt and she merely turned away where she sat on the bed. Sabé mentally flayed herself for lashing out. She was just as guilty about losing her head as Eirtaé was.

Rabé, ever the peace maker, was gentle. "We all have loved ones at home, none of us want to be stranded like we are," she said, speaking to them both at once. "We're all frustrated and grieving and afraid. Padmé won't let us down. We just have to have faith."

There was a lengthy, heavy pause. Sabé didn't see what good faith would do. What they needed was parts to make a stranded ship fly. "I just hope we won't be here long," Eirtaé said softly. She sounded near tears.

A few moments passed where Rabé went to sit near Eirtaé and touch her shoulder. Sabé paced slowly, turning her thoughts to the bigger picture even though personal frustrations with herself remained. "Something is very wrong with this entire situation," she finally said. "Do either of you think it's a strange move for the Senate to send two Jedi to deal with the blockade?"

"Very," Rabé agreed. "They had to have sent them secretly, which means the Senate isn't voting in our favor or planning to intervene. But why the invasion? It's an act of war. All of this over trade routes?"

Very troubling indeed. Padmé had always had an anti-Federation stance and even gained many votes because of her vocal convictions. She wanted Naboo to be more independent and for the taxes paid to be lessened in order to have more surplus money return to Naboo's own economy and affairs. Sabé looked out the viewport again and saw nothing but sand stretching as far as her eyes could see. "Why are we even part of the Republic if they're going to allow things like this to happen to us?" she asked, an angry question directed at no one in particular.

"Don't talk like that, Sabé, people will think you're an anarchist," Eirtaé said grumpily.

Sabé said it just to get under Eirtaé's skin: "Maybe I am." Suddenly her wrist comm went off with a light beep. She answered, not sure whether to be hopeful or pessimistic. "Yes."

"Panaka here. Still working on a headcount but wanted to fill you three in on the situation. It's the hyperdrive. It wasn't just leaking, it's completely useless after we made the jump from Naboo. We'll need an entirely new one."

Sabé was looking at Eirtaé and Rabé whose disbelief and devastation mirrored her own. It was even worse than they'd thought. "Are you serious?" she asked in a gaunt whisper.

"Unfortunately yes." He replied. "I need to do a few more things then I'll come brief you all. Stand by." Then the communication ended.

Rabé sat slowly, her face a mask of dread. "We could be here a very long time."

Eirtaé clasped her hand into a fist and held it in the center of her chest in prayer, letting her head drop as her eyes closed. Sabé looked out the viewport again, into the endless desolate landscape. Never had she felt so trapped and lost at the same time. What had they gotten into? They shouldn't have fled Naboo at all. For all she knew, they might die here in this strange, forbidding land.


Another hour or so ticked by torturously. Sabé had tried her best not to let herself think in ways that would cause her more pain and unease, but it was impossible. Worries about Zana were at the forefront of her mind. She had to excuse herself to cry privately in the fresher at one point because the feelings became too much. When she reappeared, Rabé silently fixed her makeup without saying anything about it. That, Sabé had appreciated. They became aware of the sandstorm when the solid hull of the starcraft began to creak, and their first instincts were to fear what they had no experience with. Naboo had a rainy season, but they'd never seen anything like this before. The outside world became a blur of beige, and they couldn't see even a meter through the churning, wind lashed sand. They worried about Padmé and if she and Qui-Gon had found shelter or not.

Panaka appeared at the doorway shortly thereafter, telling them to all come to the throne room quickly. A message had come in from home. With racing hearts and jangled nerves, the three of them followed the captain to the throne room where Obi-Wan sat and waited for them. Sabé could feel his gaze on her as she took the throne and glanced his way, still very wary of this complete stranger. A Jedi yes, but someone's creed, title, or job meant little to her. Rabé and Eirtaé took their places beside her, and Panaka sat too, then spoke into his wrist, voice-activating the holo message.

"Play transmission," he commanded, and then in front of them from a sleekly hidden projector embedded in the floor, a low-res blue image sprung to life. It was Sio Bibble, and his expression was alarming.

A dire message unfolded. "Queen Amidala, I've only just managed to get this message to you… the Trade Federation has cut off all food supplies until you return… they're shooting people in the streets… the death toll is catastrophic… we must bow to their wishes, Your Highness... you must contact me..." And without anything else, the transmission blinked out, leaving the throne room in a stunned silence.

Obi-Wan looked between both the Queen and Panaka. "It's a trick," he said firmly, and Sabé realized she didn't think she'd heard him speak before just then. He had a gentle accent she hadn't expected. "Send no reply. Send no transmission of any kind. Don't tell anyone else aboard about it either. The Federation wants to use your emotions against you."

"They want to establish a trace, no doubt," Panaka agreed heavily.

"And if it is true?" Sabé asked, having more difficulty putting on the queen's tone than usual.

Obi-Wan considered, his expression grim.

"Your master better be quick about this, that's all I can say," Panaka said darkly to Obi-Wan, and stood, going to the center of the room. "Your Highness, Jedi Kenobi—while we're here, I'm afraid I have some more bad news. There's twenty-eight of us onboard, well, twenty five without Qui-Gon and the ones that went with him. This vessel isn't intended for that many passengers as you know. The food and water aboard is reflective of that design. As far as water, the reservoir is very low—it wasn't replenished recently for gods knows what reason." He looked vaguely ill. "By my calculations we'll be out of it completely tomorrow afternoon, and out of food by tomorrow night."

Sabé's despair went from ten to a hundred. It was as if the very galaxy was against them. Obi-Wan, however, took the information in stride as if he were being told of the weather forecast. "Hmm. That does present a problem." He thought a couple beats. "I read that Tatooine is a moisture farming planet. Perhaps if we can locate a vaporator unit nearby we can replenish the supply." Sabé looked at him with a sudden, small surge of hope. "Does this ship have a drone?"

"Yes it does," Panaka confirmed.

"All right. I'll use it to see if I can locate a vaporator not too far from us. After this blasted storm of course." He paused. "But I must confess, I don't know how to operate a vaporator at all. Would anyone onboard know how to use one and extract the water from inside?"

Panaka shook his head. "Doubtful." He seemed newly defeated. "Most security personnel are city folk."

Sabé cleared her throat nervously, not sure if this would throw a wrench into her act as queen or not. But as a farmer's daughter who had either been in school, asleep, or working the family farm her entire life until age twelve… "I know how." This confession earned her two surprised looks. She couldn't help but inject a bit of sarcasm into the moment at their astonished expressions. "Surely you two think I have skills other than wearing gowns and sitting still all day."

"Your Highness, if you think I'm letting you leave this ship—" Panaka began.

Sabé stood to her full height, not sure if this was Panaka trying to pretend she couldn't go or actually insisting. But she would use Obi-Wan's belief that she was a queen to her advantage. "Captain, no one lets me do anything. I will do as I wish and I will do what is required. We need water. I know how to extract it." She stared him down defiantly, not for the first time in his life. "It's settled."

Panaka was the picture of reluctant. "First Padmé and now you," he muttered, then let it go sullenly. "Fine. What about the food problem?"

"We'll need something we can trade with," Obi-Wan said, looking to the captain then Sabé for input.

Sabé thought of the jewelry, oils, lotions, and precious metal accents dotting the queen's many gowns onboard. "That won't be a problem," she said.

Obi-Wan nodded and didn't question her further.

Panaka nodded as well. "All right. After the storm ends, we'll use the drone to find a vaporator. Hopefully an unattended one. Then gods willing, tomorrow morning, we can send you two and the reservoir to go get it. I'll check the onboard speeder and make sure it's still attached—you can tow the reservoir with it. Otherwise, this whole plan is shot." He rubbed his chin, thinking. "And while you two accomplish that, I'll send a couple officers to get food from the settlement."

"Make sure they don't wear anything that will cast them into suspicion or identify them as Nubian," Obi-Wan advised.

"Of course not."

Obi-Wan nodded again and bowed out. "If there's nothing else, please excuse me."

Sabé and Panaka watched him go, then Panaka shook his head in exasperation. "What a mess." He glanced darkly around at nothing specific. "These Jedi better get us off this damn rock. Trusting them feels like a mistake."

"Mistake or not, what else can we do?" Sabé asked. It was a cautious alliance made by necessity, nothing else.

Panaka fixed her with a raised brow, then folded his arms, choosing not to answer her question. "You seem quite happy to order me around in front of the Jedi, Milady." He used the formal address of milady sarcastically, which only mildly amused Sabé.

"Captain Panaka," she said serenely and quietly, "The switch was your idea. I'm only doing my part to make things believable." She put a hand on his shoulder then brushed past him, guiltily enjoying . Rabé and Eirtaé followed behind. "Try and get some rest. This storm sounds like it's not ending anytime soon."

"Crack of dawn, be ready to go," he called behind them.


The Next Morning

Obi-Wan stood off a bit from the gleaming ship with folded arms, watching the two suns of Tatooine rising—he hadn't noticed there were two yesterday in his brief time outside. No wonder it's so blasted hot and dry here. He'd located a moisture vaporator not far from them using the ship's drone late last night then woken early and meditated to try to pacify his urge to move, to do, to accomplish. Obi-Wan was admittedly feeling perturbed and foul to be excluded from going to the settlement with Qui-Gon. It seemed like Qui-Gon was always doing this kind of thing to him to test him and to force patience upon him: the menial, the monotonous. Every task is an important one, Obi-Wan. Patience, my young padawan. Words he had heard over and over and over again.

Another thing was bothering him: the matter of Qui-Gon's newest fascination: a young boy named Anakin he'd met in the city settlement yesterday. It had gone so well apparently that they'd escaped the storm at this boy and his mother's home and spent the night there as well. Obi-Wan sighed a bit to himself. His master was very different from himself. But in the differences there laid lessons. Or that's what Master Yoda said anyway.

With a deep measured breath and a call upon the Force for guidance, Obi-Wan refocused himself on the here and now. Before sunrise, Captain Panaka had successfully gotten the ship's speeder out from its hidden compartment under the ship and with the help of a few pilots and officers, they'd emptied the remaining water from the reservoir into whatever containers they could scavenge from the ship. The now-empty reservoir was attached to the speederbike on a towing hover device, and he now waited by it for the Nubian monarch. If nothing else, this quest for water would be a good way to fill some time while Qui-Gon kept hunting for a solution to the defunct hyperdrive.

Obi-Wan began wondering if the queen would appear wearing the same ornate black gown and headdress as yesterday. It wasn't the most suitable outfit for this wretched inferno of a planet or for doing any kind of physical labor. He felt mildly amused at the thought of her working on a vaporator in her royal getup either way. He had met so many different types of sentient beings over his years training, and these Naboo people were no different. While he didn't know too much of them, their monarch and her wardrobe choices were interesting to say the least. That and the fact that apparently she knew how to use a vaporator were intriguing. The mask-like makeup and clearly false voice she used led him to wonder about the reasons for why, but he didn't dwell on it too long.

The sounds of footsteps coming down the ship ramp nearby caused Obi-Wan to turn mildly to see who it was. Down the ramp came a very different sight than he'd anticipated. Panaka and… someone else. A young woman with a bare face and brown hair dressed in a plain combination of sandy toned leggings, boots, and a poncho style tunic that was belted at the waist by a dark sash. Long sleeves of bone-white fabric covered her arms, and he had a moment of wondering who this was, until of course he realized this was Amidala. Her hair was braided on both sides of her head starting at the crown then descending to the nape of her neck where the braids had been tied together and went down to the middle of her back.

She wore no royal makeup and he could now see defining features of her face and the healthy olive tone of her skin. She was strikingly pretty—from a simply objective point of view of course—and she looked like a completely different person. Obi-Wan was so surprised that he wasn't sure what to say for a moment as she and the captain came to meet him. "Good morning," he settled on, not bothering to hide his reaction. "I hardly recognized you." She studied him back, but gave away little reaction to his statement except for a nearly imperceptible upturn of her lips. Beside her, Panaka looked absolutely foul as Obi-Wan was learning might be standard. Obi-Wan cleared his throat and pointed eastward. "There's an outpost vaporator just a few kilometers away, luckily enough."

Amidala arched an eyebrow. "Let's hope our luck continues and there's water inside of it, shall we?" Her natural voice was pleasant and accented, and the subtle cynicism was enjoyable for the likes of Obi-Wan.

"Contact me if anything goes wrong," Panaka said, clearly not at peace with the plan. "I'd rather send someone with you but they'd just slow you down with that two seater." He was talking about the speeder, which could only fit two riders.

"We'll be fine Captain," the queen said, giving him a look that seemed to very pointedly tell him to go away. Reluctant and resigned, Panaka clasped his hands behind himself and made his exit. Businesslike, the queen nodded at the speeder. "Shall we?"

They climbed on with Obi-Wan navigating and Amidala holding onto him just barely with one arm. She was modest, he supposed. Underneath the brightening world and empty blue sky, they made quick time even though Obi-Wan didn't push the bike to go too fast for caution of damaging the reservoir. They crossed several kilometers to get to the vaporator where sandy flats gave away to very rocky, uneven terrain. The weathered vaporator loomed in a small open-ended canyon, it's humidity sensors creaking against the breeze in the otherwise quiet landscape.

After they arrived and Obi-Wan cut the bike engine, they hauled the reservoir over to the water outlet side of the vaporator. Surprisingly, the queen was stronger than she looked and by no means delicate. The easy, commanding way she lifted and handled the reservoir on her end was not what Obi-Wan would have predicted. After they got it into place, Amidala squatted at the lower control panel, then stood to look at the pressure valves and readouts. From what Obi-Wan understood of vaporators, their pressure systems were very sensitive and to extract water from them was a very careful procedure. If an ignorant fool attempted to do it wrong, the vaporator could freeze up internally or even explode.

"So what do you think?" Obi-Wan asked after a moment of watching her scrutinize the device. "Can you operate it?"

"It's not exactly like the moisturizers on Naboo but…" she nodded. "Yes, I think so. If you can unscramble the lock." She tapped a device that was similar to a restraining bolt and locked onto the levels, threaded through to prevent tampering. "I'm not very good at code breaking, unfortunately." Obi-Wan had to smirk at her train of thought as he drew his lightsaber, held it in just the right place, ignited, and the lock fell off like a feather. As he switched his weapon off, the queen stared at where the lock had just been, and her expression was comical to him. "Or that," she said, then smiled in spite of herself and set to work hoisting a level and pulling down on another one. She crouched and twisted a dial, then another one, then looked up at the columns towering over their heads. The vaporator began to make pressurized sounds deep inside the large center column. "Unscrew the valve," she said, and Obi-Wan went over to the other side of the vaporator and did as she said. "Slowly," she added. He complied, then a thick and clear stream of water sprang forth, gushing into the waiting reservoir. The queen gave a triumphant "Ha!" as she grinned widely.

Obi-Wan also grinned a little. This was good news. While the queen monitored the device and watched pressure levels, Obi-Wan came back around and crossed his arms and leaned against one of the thick painted-white metal columns, watching her with interest. "And how exactly is it that a Queen of a planet possesses the knowledge to operate such a device?" he asked.

This earned him a glance that was decidedly guarded, and an answer just as elusive. "I assumed you read my file," she said, her tone hard to gauge.

Obi-Wan scratched his ear. "I must confess… I only skimmed."

"I see," she said, then gave him a smile that could be called playfully challenging. "Well, why is that queen cannot be both ornamental and handy?"

She was being purposefully ambiguous, which only served to make him wonder more. But for now, he relented. "A very fair point, Milady." He indicated the interface panel. "Can you show me how to work it?"

Her eyebrows rose. "In a day?" she asked, as if that was an absurd task. She then decided to acquiesce, but she seemed to be laughing at her own inside joke. "I hope you're a quick study."

For the next few moments she showed him the different functions on the panels and what each lever did and told him about pressure ratios to ensure safe water flow. It was rather complicated. So engrossed in the lesson, Obi-Wan's focus drifted, and he wasn't aware of the approaching danger until the very last moment, when a dark surge in the Force made him snap to attention and shout "get down!" as his lightsaber flew into his waiting hands. Not a moment too soon—several blaster shots screamed through the air, hitting sand, the vaporator, and nearly them. They scrambled around to the other side of the vaporator where enemy fire wasn't coming from. A high pitched animalistic roaring laugh—no, several—echoed all around.

And then, blaster fire… from right beside him. Obi-Wan looked in surprise at the queen, who had produced a blaster from an unknown place and was returning fire expertly from her crouch. Her face was a mask of grit and fierce determination as she ducked the top half of herself out into the open to trade fire—one of the screeching enemies shooting at them peeked out too far and the queen made an impressive headshot—and the attacker fell from quite a height onto the sand across the canyon floor, dead.

"Where were you hiding that?!" Obi-Wan exclaimed as they continued to draw laserfire.

The queen paused briefly behind the safety of column to give him a coy smirk, the blaster held to herself like second nature. Laserfire was like sideways rain all around them. "Jedi Kenobi, a lady must keep her secrets."

Obi-Wan made a face, a mixture of impressed and amused and surprised at her sense of humor given the circumstances. "Apparently." He squinted out across the canyon from in between the columns they'd taken cover behind. From their current position, they wouldn't be able to gain the upper hand. Obi-Wan put together a quick plan in his mind. "Can you cover me?"

Amidala looked at him like he'd grown horns. "Is the sky blue?" she asked as if offended, then gestured readily. "On your cue."

Obi-Wan was given brief pause. If nothing else, he found himself liking this strange queen. With a deep breath, he tensed himself, drawing on the Force for speed and a pinpoint on the exact location of their enemy. "Now," he said, and Amidala leaned back out into view of the enemy and gave a barrage of cover fire for him as he ran out from the opposite side of the vaporator, gaining speed then vaulting up the rock face and slashing the attacker in half. The Force sang, and Obi-Wan turned quickly. Across the way, he saw movement—two others had just made it up the opposite ridge, a perfect vantage point to fire on Amidala. It was too far for him to jump, even with the Force.

"Move, move!" Obi-Wan shouted to her even as he ducked—one of them was firing at him. Even as he ducked, there was a massive explosion and the earth quaked, and he almost lost his footing. Obi-Wan stood up and parried two laserbolts then two more, sending the shots meant for him back to each remaining enemy—killing them both. Quiet returned, but below, the speederbike was demolished, having taken a stray laserbolt in the wrong place. The remains were choking out thick black smoke, the metal skeleton on fire.

Obi-Wan was already scrambling down the rocky crag to where the queen laid. She was not moving.


Author's Note: the end. LOL just kidding. I can't wait for next chapter cuz there's quite a lot of S/O interaction. Let me know your thoughts so far and what you enjoy most about a good Sobiwan fic. I love incorporating reader's favorite elements whenever possible. Also, I feel like everyone writes a different Sabé since she's a mysterious/open-ended character canonically speaking. What do you think of my spin so far on her? XOXO