The Gungan army is getting ready for war. Kaadu are being prepared, weapons gathered. As for us, we leave for Theed in an hour.
I know the route through the waterfalls well. We reached the plaza without being seen. Battle droids and tanks were clustered in the wide square.
"We'll split up here," Captain Panaka said in a low tone. "I'll keep a squad on this side to create a diversion. Your Highness, your group will head for the main hangar. We've got to get those pilots into the air."
I nodded. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, R2, Eirtae, and I headed for the hangar. Sabe, still in royal dress, stayed with Panaka's squad.
It felt so strange to creep around the plaza I had once strolled across so freely. Now I crouched, blaster in hand, ready to do whatever I had to.
We heard the sound of blaster fire behind us. Panaka had begun the diversion.
Qui-Gon urged me to hurry.
When we burst into the hangar, we received immediate fire from the battle droids. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan deflected the laserfire with their lightsabers, providing cover for the rest of us. I threw myself behind a wall and looked around anxiously for Anakin. He crouched behind a fighter. Safe for the moment.
I took aim at a battle droid and fired. I have been trained in weapon handling, but it was the first time I'd aimed at an enemy. The battle droid went down.
My instincts kicked in. With the Jedi beside me, I wasn't afraid.
I called to the pilots to get to the ships. Two pilots were able to take off. But the droids were able to position a tank in time to blast one of the ships.
But one got through.
Captain Panaka burst into the hangar, opening fire. The last of the droids went down. More pilots rushed to the remaining ships.
"We've got to get to the palace!" I called to Qui-Gon. He nodded.
He turned to where Anakin was hiding behind a Naboo fighter. "Stay here, Ani!" he shouted.
We began to run toward the exit. But before we reached it, a dark-cloaked figure filled the opening. He did not reach for a weapon. He just stood there. His evil presence invaded the hangar like a creeping, foul mist. It was the dark warrior who had fought Qui-Gon on Tatooine. The one who almost murdered him.
"We'll handle this," said Qui-Gon quickly.
I felt fear for the first time that day. "No," I whispered.
His eyes met mine for a brief moment. That vivid blue in his eyes sent me his thoughts, as clearly as if he had spoken them.
This is how it must be. You have your own part to play. Go.
I didn't want to leave him. But I obeyed him, one last time. I ran out of the hangar with Captain Panaka, my handmaidens, and the rest of the Naboo soldiers I headed for the palace. And I left Qui-Gon behind.
The palace entrances were heavily guarded by battle droids. It would be suicide to attempt to enter that way. Plus it would be better to invade as near to the throne room as we could.
So we hurried to the side of the palace that overlooked the waterfall. The sounds of rushing water thundered in our ears, and I felt the spray on my face. Captain Panaka and some of his soldiers shot out cables that hooked to a high ledge. A good idea.
We scaled the exterior wall of the palace. Captain Panaka blasted out a window. We swung inside. The throne room was only a few feet away!
"Everyone stay together," Panaka warned. I exchanged a look with Sabe, and she drifted toward the rear of the group. It was the only part of the plan I'd kept secret from the others. I took a position next to Panaka.
Suddenly, droidekas appeared in front of the throne room doorway. Their blasters were pointed directly at us. We looked to the other end of the hall. Another group of droidekas appeared.
"Throw down your weapons," I said. I let my blaster fall from my hand. It clattered to the ground. "They win this round."
Captain Panaka stared at me with unbelief. I ordered him and his officers to throw down their weapons. Reluctantly they did.
The droids surrounded us. They brought us into the throne room, where Nute Gunray was waiting. He stared for a long moment at me, and I met his gaze coolly. I saw the start of recognition in his eyes. And then the contempt.
"Your little insurrection has failed, your Highness," he said to me, using my title like an insult. "It's time for you to sign the treaty and end this pointless debate."
From behind me, I heard Sabe's voice. "I will not sign any treaty, Viceroy. Because you have lost!"
Nute did a double take. The droid guards looked from Sabe to me and back again. Before they could react, Sabe turned and fled.
"After her!" Nute screamed to the guards. "This one's a decoy! Get the Queen!" Six of the droids rushed after Sabe. Our odds were improving.
"Your Queen will not get away with this," Nute hissed to me.
I staggered back, as if defeat had dissolved my muscles. I slumped down onto the throne behind me. While I pretended to be overcome, my fingers frantically searched for a hidden security button.
I found it! A panel in my desk slid open silently. A stash of blasters was concealed there. Although Naboo had discouraged weapons, it was deemed that the Queen would need a last line of defense. In fact, the blasters were occasionally checked to make sure they were in perfect working condition.
I tossed one to Panaka, and one to his first officer. Then I blasted the last battle droid. I activated the security throne room door, which slid shut. Panaka's officer jammed the controls near the door.
I leveled my blaster at Nute while I tossed more pistols to the Naboo officers. "Now, I think it's time we renegotiated, Viceroy. It's time to discuss a new treaty."
Nute laughed. "Don't be absurd. You're still outnumbered. Battle droids will blast through that door in minutes."
I settled myself back on the throne and kept the blaster aimed at his chest. "We shall see."
"This would be amusing if it weren't so pathetic," Nute said. "Come, come, your Highness. You are playing at war like a child. I have an army out there."
"And I have a blaster aimed at your chest," I countered.
He looked a little nervous. "Now, I never said we couldn't negotiate. The treaty--"
He was interrupted by the sound of droids blasting at the door outside. His expression cleared, and he smiled. "There. A word from the wise: The droids will either blast you in half or spare you, your Highness. Your choice."
The door shook under pressure. Panaka gave me a slightly nervous glance. Another laser blast caused the hinge to melt.
"You see...?" Nute stopped. All was silent in the hallway. "What?" He stared at the door as if it could talk. "Are you stupid or what? Keep blasting, you idiots!"
Hope leaped in my chest. I leaned over and punched up the view screen.
The leader of the Naboo pilots appeared. He looked exhausted. Triumphant. "We did it! Mission accomplished, your Highness. Look!"
The cockpit camera was now focused on the burning hulk that used to be the Droid Control Ship. The cheers of the pilots resounded through the throne room. I closed my eyes for a moment. Naboo was free! The battle droids were all shut down. When I opened my eyes again, Panaka was grinning at me.
"It's impossible," Nute whispered. His voice rose to a whine. "Impossible!"
I reached over to the desk and picked up the treaty. I tore it in two and flung the pieces in his face. "There's your treaty, Viceroy! Sorry I can't sign it."