Darth Vader: Hero of Naboo

Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars.

Rune Haako stared listlessly at the ceiling while lying awake on the comfortable, reclined seat the droids had placed him on. The medical droids had patched him up as best they could. The Gungans had struck him with a spear in the arm. Thankfully, it was the left arm. He hid it well these days, but his left side was basically useless. A disease from his youth saw to that. So it was of little concern- losing the entire arm would have been no great loss really. If anything, he'd be relieved not having to hide and compensate for it constantly.

He kept playing it over and over again in his mind. The negotiations with the Gungans were going well, or as well as they could. The natives were bitter about the idea of abandoning the planet for the moon, and Rune doubted that this Boss Nass could truly convince the entire population to go along with the migration attempt. But they were not hostile, and there were some shared jabs made at the expense of the Naboo humans. And he had made some concessions that would realistically cost the Trade Federation nothing. There were no set plans for what they'd do with Naboo once it was theirs, so the Gungans would have plenty of time to settle their issues, and the Trade Federation would supply the transportation. The droids would avoid the swamps as much as possible, and the Gungans would drive out the resistance that attempted to hide there.

It was all going so easy. Then the blaster went off.

The Gungan emissary had been shot, and the Gungans quickly turned hostile, stabbing him before he could attempt to defuse the situation. Both sides tried to kill each other while dragging the negotiators away. Rune wondered, did that Gungan live? Maybe. He didn't have the slightest idea about Gungan biology. They weren't as hard to kill as Hutts were, allegedly.

But what had set the droid off? Had it just been a defect in the droid or the weapon? It wasn't impossible. Accidental firing was the thing they tried to iron out the most when they gave the droids any updates, but it still happened sometimes. And on occasion, those were very bad times to have a blaster go off by accident. Realistically, it had to happen eventually, a droid shooting someone on accident during this operation. This many weapons and organic involved almost guaranteed it.

So why did it feel too perfect of a time?

The Gungans would likely sever all attempts to talk with them. Maybe he could salvage this eventually, if Gunray hadn't already made the situation worse, but that would be too long to get their aid in dealing with the current situation. By then, they'd either have Naboo secured or their enemies will have forced the Federation off this planet. It was unlikely but possible, their own defeat.

After all, Sidious was dead.

Or as good as. Maybe the Dark Lord lived and plotted, maybe he didn't. Either way, if this operation was still viable or important to his plans, he would have contacted them or sent some enforcer to make sure they knew they still had to finish dealing with this world. Dead or alive, it didn't matter. Something had happened on Coruscant, something terrible. If Rune had to guess, this "Darth Vader" had outsmarted Sidious in some way, and Sidious in turn unleashed some final trap to make any victory against him a bitter one.

That sounded about right for Sidious.

Unlike Gunray, Rune's mind didn't latch onto the worst possible scenario. As it stood, the most likely scenario was that Sidious was indeed dead or in hiding. And Gunray, having dismissed most of the blockade, had them all fluttering in the solar winds with what forces they had left. More to the point, Rune decided he'd fear the Sith Lord he knew was coming rather than the one that was currently missing.

So, Rune began to ponder what was most important now: Not how to secure this planet for the Trade Federation, but secure his own life if the situation turned against them.

Explosions rocked the palace, and the sound of a ship soring by at high speeds could be heard.

Rune was more tired than afraid as he registered this, sitting up with a frown. That wasn't a vulture droid. He wasn't a mechanic by any means, but he had heard their engines often enough that their noise was distinct to his hearing; Which could only mean that not only had the battle begun, but it had been brought to Theed.

He stood, instinctively masking his limp as he made his way to a window, peering out at the courtyard from the side.

There was a small army of B1 Battle droids out there, maybe a hundred, along with four AATs. More than enough to hold off any force the resistance of Naboo could muster.

If only that was what they were facing.

All the droids were firing blast after blast, all the bolts flying down the main street. It was enough blistering fire to pin and wear at almost any foe.

There before them, in all his dark glory, was Darth Vader. He was walking, just walking towards the droids as if they were no threat at all. And for all their firepower, they weren't. Every bolt, every streak of energy was deflected away by his red lightsaber. As steady as Vader's pace was, Rune could barely perceive the movement of the blade, moving with such precision and speed to intercept every shot that would have hit him.

Hit him, or the Queen trailing in his shadow.

Rune could hardly believe it. Was Darth Vader so powerful, and confident in that power, that he thought he could protect the Queen of Naboo from every attack? It would only take one to kill her, one time he would need to miss.

But Rune soon realized that the one shot needed was a remote, almost improbable occurrence. Vader didn't falter, didn't hesitate, and he didn't miss a single attack aimed for the Queen. How, Rune didn't know, didn't understand. He barely could understand the Jedi and their abilities, let alone a Sith's.

Still, there was one hope left. The closer Vader came to the courtyard, the more accurate the droids would become. And once he got close enough, the AATs could open fire. A lightsaber could not block an AAT's cannon.

Yet, faintly, he wondered, what was the point of this risk? Was this just a way of showing them his might, how outclassed they were? Or was Vader playing at something else?

The AATs took aim, and Vader came to a halt at the entrance of the courtyard. The blaster rifles continued to fire, the tanks opened fire, Vader raised his hand, and...

They stopped.

Rune nearly fell backward in shock, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. But he looked again, and reality had not changed from this impossible sight before him: The rounds of the repulsor tanks' heavy lasers were frozen in midair, like long red neon lights, surrounded by the equally frozen rounds of the blaster rifles. If he didn't know any better, he would have looked at it as some strange artistic display, the streaks of red growing thicker and thicker, held in place by nothing.

Nothing, but the will and power of Darth Vader.

With a swipe of his hand, Vader sent the energy attacks flying back in reverse, like a swarm of hellfire on the battle droids. They were slaughtered in an instant. There were two, maybe three dozen droids left. One of the tanks exploded, two of the others were too badly damaged; only one had not been struck down by its own cannon shot.

If those droids were capable of imitating fear, Rune was sure they would have fled from the sheer devastation of their numbers.

"Sir."

He turned, seeing a battle droid, a command unit at that, with two droidekas. He didn't respond, simply waiting for the machine to explain itself.

"The Viceroy has ordered us to move you to a safer location," the OM droid explained.

"How consideration, "Rune said, more numbly than scathingly. "But I can escort myself just fine, OOM-2. You are better use elsewhere."

Battle droids weren't programmed to disobey orders, but in some cases, being dismissed was considered an order fulfilled. "Very well, Sir. I should inform you that the hanger is not secure, and the area should be avoided."

Rune just nodded absently as he walked by the droid, limping as he went.

Meanwhile

Darth Vader deflected a blaster shot right back at a droid with almost casual ease.

They were at the steps of the palace now, and Sabe didn't know how she managed to keep her legs moving forward through that entire ordeal. The blare of blaster rifles, the boom of the tank cannon. She wasn't a coward, but this felt suicidal, facing all of that head-on. And yet, Vader did so, without letting her die. It was increasingly unnerving, standing so close to someone beyond all previous definitions she had of the word "power."

She had managed to shoot her blaster off a few times, if only to give the image that the Queen was fighting alongside Vader. She had no idea if she actually shot anything; it was too hard to focus through all the bright streaks of enemy fire.

Her eyes scanned to the lone AAT still in the courtyard. It was aiming at them, circling to the side almost like it was wary of them. Vader paid it only a glance, as if debating how to finish what was a minor annoyance to him. He was saved the effort, as the final AAT exploded, courtesy of the cannon atop of a modified patrol speeder. She sent a regal nod to the men around the corner before climbing the stairs with Vader.

The Dark Lord paused at the entrance, regarding Sabe for a moment as he unignited his lightsaber. "If you need to vomit, now would be the time," he informed bluntly, as if knowingly.

She hated that on some level, that he could see through all masks and efforts to hide her weakness and see them plain as day. Just saying it was almost enough to make her guts empty on the palace steps. She paused, swallowing it down with a breath, before giving a determined nod. "I'm fine."

If he was impressed or not, Vader simply entered the open archway. "The rest of the droids in the city should be easy to deal with."

"But most of the ones in the palace will be between the others and the hangar," Sabe responded, scanning the halls as Vader marched through purposefully. If she didn't know any better, she'd think he had been here more than once.

"Unless Gunray has recalled more to protect himself," Vader pointed out.

Sabe turned silent as she understood Vader's intent. Either all the droids would be in one place to deal with, or it would be easier to get through to the hanger. It put a moderate amount of risk to Padme, but she knew her queen would have it no other way. Besides, she trusted the others to keep her alive. Especially the Meres, they seemed more than prepared for this kind of conflict.

Vader paused suddenly, drawing her worry. "Gunray left the throne room," Vader explained.

Sabe said nothing, recalling that Vader had some listening device smuggled in before the battle started. "Is he trying to escape?"

"Unlikely. He's a coward, but not unintelligent enough to attempt to leave the planet with a space battle occurring above Theed," Vader answered.

Sabe frowned. "Is it still occurring?" she asked grimly. If either of the battles failed, and this soon, then this entire mission could go up in smoke.

"Yes," Vader answered instantly, beginning to move again.

Sabe followed. They were still heading towards the hanger, so she assumed the plan was unchanged for now. Still, she understood the concern. Gunray on the move meant his protection was on the move. And given all she had heard of the viceroy, she expected to find many of the best droids surrounding him, which could be trouble for anyone besides Darth Vader. If the Sith was wrong, if Gunray did try to flee, he'd be heading to the hangar. And if he did...that could mean Padme's group would be pincered between two groups of battle droids.

Her dark musings came to halt as she noticed how silent it was. Too silent, she realized, regarding Vader oddly as she realized his iconic breathing had been silenced. But he gave no other sign that anything was wrong. That only made her grip the blaster tighter as they continued walking. He was up to something, but what?

She held her breath as they passed a hallway with no less than twenty droids patrolling it, and just happened to be marching away from them. She did everything possible to not make extra noise as she crossed the gap. Vader stopped just past the corner and she, in turn, stopped just behind him.

He glanced back to her, and Sabe just knew that she wouldn't like whatever they were going to do next.

Meanwhile

"Sir! The repair teams report that the shield generator cannot be repaired!"

Dofine felt his terror and anger growing at the report from his fellow Neimoidian. "I want all weapons aimed at those bombers! And that ship with the charges!"

"But sir, seventy percent of our weapon system is already-!" the officer reminded urgently.

"Just do it!" Dofine ordered again, turning to another as he hurried along the command deck. "What is the integrity of the Vuutun?"

"Not good, Sir, but we should last long enough for reinforcements," she answered frantically. "But if an explosion ruptures our reactor, or causes a reaction with the ammunition..."

Dofine grunted uncomfortably as he moved away, trying to ignore the sounds of the battle.

It was a rather peculiar thing to learn, that there should be no sound in space. Most people didn't question the sounds that could be heard in a spaceship, as most people learned about the logic of sound not traveling in a vacuum after they had already sailed in a ship. The truth was far simpler than others realized: Ship sensors were designed to interpret and simulate their surrounding in an atmosphere, and amplify the existing sound if in a thinner atmosphere. It was something developed long, long ago to the point where every ship had this basic technology built into them.

In some ways, Dofine hated that aspect of the sensors. He might actually be able to suppress his fear better if he couldn't hear the explosions, the bursts of lasers, and the whirling of the starfighters zooming by. Then again, he heard absolute silence in space battles made people turn insane from stress. Perhaps it was a no-win scenario.

He barely saved his footing as he felt the lucrehulk lurching under him. That wasn't good. That couldn't be anything but terrible news, hearing the distinct sound of the seismic charges echoing in his ears.

"Report!" he barked.

"Captain!" one of the Neimoidians cried out in alarm. "The sphere has been compromised!"

Dead silence rang in the air, just for a second. If the sphere was compromised, they might be trapped on the command deck, but also... "Status on all systems!?" he demanded quickly.

"Only one has been affected so far! But it's the temperature control!" came the explanation.

A soul ignorant of spaceships, especially something as big as a lucrehulk, might think this to only be a minor inconvenience. But it wasn't, oh it wasn't. Between the massive heat created from generators and engines, and the vast coldness of space, the temperature control systems were all too vital.

"Back-up systems!?" Dofine barked out.

"They'll keep us from freezing, but they were never tested for a situation like this!"

Dofine shivered. Of all the ways to die, burning up was low on his list of acceptable ends.

The only way to stop this, the only way to survive was to stop the enemy from attacking. And wiping them out wasn't working. Even if the reinforcements arrived, the Vuutun Palaa might be destroyed still and them with it!

Luckily, their own starfighters were all droids, so he didn't have to worry about them disobeying orders of a more...self-sacrificing nature.

Meanwhile, Boba Fett flew watched the smaller explosions on the lucrehulk's hull, noticing the lights flickering on several parts of the ship as it tried to compensate and relay power accordingly.

The good news was that the shields were down. Even better, the Vuutun Palaa was basically a floating target now; nearly all turrets destroyed, the hangars were compromised. They could blow it up pretty easily now.

The bad news was that the rest of the vulture droids had just arrived.

The Anti-Federationists had only lost a fifth of their own fighters now, but Boba didn't like the odds at this rate. At least the Clamator was holding up pretty well. No serious attempts had been made on th-

Something exploded on the Clamator.

Boba knew instantly that those weren't bombs. The droids would have sent them out already if they had any. So that just left...

"Clamator, this is Slave II. Are they suicide-bombing you?" Boba asked with a frown.

"As much as a droid can commit suicide, Slave II. They're getting desperate, but I don't know how long the shields can hold against this kind of attack," Cifo answered grimly.

"Not long," Boba said knowingly. It might be for a battleship, but that shield generator wasn't built for the intention of wartime. "You have an escape option?"

"That's not concern I hear, Slave II. What are you thinking?" Cifo inquired sternly.

"Just thinning the numbers where I can," Boba answered cryptically.

He rushed into the fray, shooting down two, three vultures diving for the Clamator before heading towards the thick of the enemy.

"Slave II, what are you doing? They're not going to follow you this time!" Cifo reminded.

"I know," Boba said as he released another charge.

"Spawn of a-!" Cifo cursed out as the edge of the wave crashed over the Clamator. "Are you trying to kill us now?"

"Calm down. The shields actually held," Boba pointed out, observing the enemies. The droids were getting smart though. That had barely taken out two dozen. It should have taken out three or four with how grouped up they were, but the droids had learned to take proper maneuvers the instant the explosions went off. Strategist, they weren't, but the vultures at least knew when to try and dodge. "We need to finish up h-"

Boba was interrupted as the Vuutun Palaa groaned and shuddered before it started to implode, ruptures along the sides forming and spreading along the ring and spreading.

"Everyone, move!" Boba and Cifo both called out.

Everyone, droids included, vacated the space around the lucrehulk as quickly as possible, as the internal explosions spread the core at the center, destroying the entire ship and leaving it a wreckage.

"Slave II, you still with us? We lost two more in that explosion, three are returning for repairs," Cifo reported.

"I'm fine," Boba reported gruffly, observing the wreckage briefly. Something exploded on the inside to start that. Probably some ammunition dump. He faintly wondered in the back of his head, if the cheapness of the Federation in the pre-Clone Wars even had precautions set up to try and prevent accidents like that.

Time travel led to some very strange questions forming in his mind, at the strangest times.

"We can't take on the other two until we got everyone ready. We'll just have to thin them out here, while they...," Boba started, narrowing his eyes as he looked at his radar. "Clamator?"

"I see it too," Cifo answered grimly. "The vultures are retreating."

Boba frowned. Why would they retreat? They were already worn down. Even if he and the others managed to destroy every droid ship, it was still the best time for the Federation to keep striking, to wear them down as much as possible.

"Just what the hell are you clankers up to?" Boba murmured.

"I think I know," Cifo said with a hum. "Neimoidians will do anything to preserve their own lives."

Boba chose to ignore that Cifo himself was a Neimoidian. "What's your point?"

"That most "captains" in the Trade Federation got there by bootlicking and bribing. So, if one lucrehulk fell, what is the most basic strategy for the other two to win short of fleeing?" Cifo reasoned.

"...Sith shit," Boba said with a frown. "They're going to bring both ships together, aren't they?"

Meanwhile

Blaster fire whizzed by as Padme hid behind a pillar.

"I'll be honest," Brannder Keat said as the mere reloaded his rifle. "I expected more of them," he finished, leaning out to fire into the hallway filled with droids.

"Don't complain," Panaka called over, taking his own shots out as well.

"I'll complain when the rest show up at a bad time," Brannder countered as he pulled back behind cover. "I saw two droidekas rolling from their rear! Permission to wreck the palace some?"

"Granted," Padme answered with a determined frown.

Brannder shared a savage look with his fellow mere, switching a button on his rifle before taking aim again. "Take cover!" he yelled before there was a launching sound and he pulled back as well; two seconds later, a large explosion filled their ears.

Padme poked her head around and frowned. "You missed," she informed, seeing that many of the droids were blown into scrap metal, but the droidekas were unfolding. She took one quick shot before their shield went up. She didn't destroy either of them, unfortunately.

"Damn, thought they were closer," Brannder grunted, looking vaguely surprised as he watched the blaster fire hurling by.

"What is it?" the other mere, Rellen Jotta, asked idly.

"She actually knocked out one of the blasters," Brannder answered, looking to Padme with a smirk. "Nice shot."

"Not the time," Panaka remarked stiffly, eyeing the rapid-fire warily.

"Don't worry, we were saving some ion grenades just for something like this," Rellen assured, pulling up a grenade off his belt. Tossing it in the air experimentally, to test the planet's gravity, he pressed a button to activate the explosive before hurling it down the hallway. There was another explosion, quieter and with the sound of static in the air.

"Shields are down!" Brannder declared as they all began firing again. The droidekas fell in short order, the few remaining B1 droids following suit.

"And you didn't use that sooner?!" one of the security officers asked in relief and surprise, getting a scolding look from Panaka.

"Only got so many of those, and I don't know how many rollers the Feds have in this place," Brannder explained absently, scanning the area carefully for any droids that were just pretending to be out of commission. It was rare, but some of them were smarter than the rest. "Clear. Let's move up."

Padme and Panaka were at the head of the group. They had started off with about four dozens, but a quarter had split off to help secure the city before they entered the palace. Not too small to be ineffective, and not too many for the close-quarters combat they'd have to take part in.

Both of them lingered slightly over the scorched walls and broken pieces of art. Padme knew she'd have to fight for her planet one day, but she never imagined it'd be as a soldier. Or that the battles would be in these hallowed halls. It was so symbolic at that moment…their ideals and democracy, tarnished by this war.

Padme couldn't help but feel that this was her failure as Queen. It was her job to protect and lead Naboo; the people had trusted their future to her. And that had led to this. In her mind, she knew it was beyond her, that this was part of something that had been set in motion long before she was even born. That did not quiet the storm in her heart. But she resolved herself. Regardless of who was at fault, it was her duty to end this crisis.

However she had to.

They marched on down the hall, stopping at the next turn as the meres took up forward positions, Brannder glancing around the side.

He was silent for far too long. "What do you see?" Panaka asked quietly.

The mere refused to answer for a second longer. "...I think Darth Vader somehow got here first," he answered vaguely, pushing off the edge and rounding the corner with much less caution than they expected.

While a bit hesitant, the rest of the armed group followed suit, looking down at the battle droids standing down the hall at the entrance to the hanger.

Or lack thereof, as it were.

Padme couldn't fault Brannder's hypothesis. Around the closed doors of the hanger, there was a great collection of broken and shattered B1droids. There were even more droidekas, all destroyed. She could hardly tell how many there might have been with how badly they were obliterated. Such a whirlwind of destruction would typical of Vader, but...

"This wasn't a lightsaber," Panaka observed, voicing the thoughts of many. "Something blasted these droids. Something big."

Padme frowned as she eyed the very large scorch marks and craters where the surfaces of the floor and walls had been destroyed and warped. Judging by their positions, she had a good idea of where they came from.

"Your-What are you doing?" Panaka called after her, barely resisting the reflex to call her by her title. Padme said nothing as she moved to the control panel on the wall, the large doors opening with a hiss.

An unnerving silence rang over the hall as they all moved closer to the wall, to avoid being shot at through the door.

"If you're not droids, speak up now!" a voice called.

Panaka and Padme shared a look of surprise at the voice while Rellen put his hand to his mouth. "We're friendlies! Captain Panaka can vouch for us."

"Panaka?" the voice repeated in surprise. "That really you, Sir?"

"Yes, it is. Is that you Lieutenant Sykes?" Panaka called back. "You retook the hanger?"

"With some help from your friend. Scary guy called Boba Fett?" Gavyn called back. "And he left us some help."

"Took you all long enough to show up."

Padme smiled in relief as several in the group relaxed at the sound of that voice, especially the meres. They made their way into the hanger, seeing it protected by a small group of Naboo resistance forces, who let out a small cheer at their return.

"Nice to have a warm welcome," Brannder murmured, getting a nod from Rellen.

Panaka allowed his stoicism to drop as he caught sight of Gavyn's approaching form. "You bastard, I was beginning to think you got blown up in space," Gavyn greeted as they shook hands.

"It's been a long journey here for all of us, I imagine," Panaka stated sympathetically.

"Long enough to meet a Hutt and get stabbed in the back," Gavyn agreed, getting odd looks from several of the humans.

"So, what, half a day?" Rellen asked with a smirk.

Gavyn didn't look too surprised by the non-humans in the group. "Yeah, that's what your friend over there said," he said, jabbing a thumb to the side.

Everyone turned and Padme blinked as she realized how they had been defending this hanger: Some of the ships had been angled and repositioned to be aiming towards the doors, allowing them to blast any intruders.

And climbing out of the ship was a rather short non-human. "Welcome home, humans of Naboo," Sod Gert greeted kindly, standing with one foot on the edge of the cockpit.

"Thank you for the distraction, Patriarch Gert," Padme said, drawing the attention of Gavyn, whose eyes widened minutely in recognition of who she was, getting a slow nod from Panaka.

"Think nothing of it. Using that Firespray was a treat for this withered soul," he assured with a smile on his long face, cocking his head to the side. "But where is Darth Vader?"

"What's a Darth?" Gavyn murmured.

"Scary friend of the Queen," Brannder summarized with a smirk.

"Who he is currently escorting," Padme answered with a scowl, looking to the doors before looking towards her group. "We'll deal with the rest here. Everyone that can fly, go and help the battle in space."

"I'll just be borrowing this then," Sod called as the Vulptereen sat back down in the ship.

"We've found some interesting allies," Gavyn remarked with a tired smile as the pilots started rushing to the N1s.

"Lieutenant, are you well?" Panaka asked in concern.

"The Neimoidians weren't stupid enough to leave me in the hangar. They've been keeping me from sleeping for days now. I can still hold a blaster, but I don't trust me in a cockpit right now," Gavyn explained in apology.

Padme nodded in understanding. "Our job is to find and capture Gunray."

Gavyn suddenly stood a bit straighter at that news. "Well, I definitely have enough juice left to help with that," Gavyn assured.

"If I had to wager, I'd say Gunray is in the throne room," Padme stated. "If not, he might try to escape through the hangar, which would lead him right to us anyway."

"We should be careful. He might have an ambush waiting for us," Panaka cautioned.

"You're right, I-"

"Attention, all enemies witnin the palace!" a voice boomed over the palace communication system.

"Gunray," Padme muttered knowingly, glaring towards the ceiling as the voice continued.

"This is Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation!"

"Strange," Gavyn murmured to himself. "He's never really used that before."

"All of you stand down this instant! Your battle is lost! I have your Queen captive, and the one known as Darth Vader has fallen to us!"

Absolute silence enveloped the hangar.

End of Chapter

So, yeah. One Lucrehulk down, and Gunray is claiming that Vader is dead...yeah, I'm not even going to pretend any of you'd buy Vader dying to B1s, but it is a mystery as to what the hell is going on at Vader's end.

And we got a peak at Gunray's righthand, Rune. Doesn't get a lot of attention in the fandom, but he was probably one of the main reasons Gunray didn't do too many stupid things. Also, yeah, guy is kind of crippled on one side. Was an interesting fact, so I brought it up.

Early viewing of chapters 33-34 avaliable on my pat-reon:

p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64