With the Viceroy in our hands and the droid army
deactivated the battle was over but there remained
much to do. I had to arrange secure quarters for the
captured Neimoidians, organize tranports to ferry my
people back to their homes, find food and medical
supplies not only for the Naboo but our new allies the
Gungans and of course there were a hundred people with
a thousand problems all needing the Queen's decision
*now*. Still it took me an unforgivably long time to
realize the Jedi were missing.

Commander Olie told me it was *Anakin* who'd
destroyed the control ship, it had been his fighter
that fired on the droidekaas before taking off! I
should have realized, not that I could have done
anything to stop him. At least he was safe, I sent
Eirtae to look after him.

Only then did I begin to wonder where the Jedi
were. It was odd they hadn't reported to me, I asked
but nobody seemed to have seen either of them since we
left them in the hanger facing that terrible creature
with the red and black face. I felt the first twinges
of worry, ordered a search of the Palace's lower
levels and tried to get on with the rest of my work.
Finally Panaka returned.

"We found them." he reported, grimfaced.

I felt all the blood in my body drain down into my
toes and congeal there, had time to think 'How am I
going to tell Ani?' before Panaka realized he'd
frightened me and hurriedly explained.

"They're alive, your Highness, apparently unwounded
but unconscious." he gestured helplessly, "I don't
understand their condition. They've been taken to the
Healing Center."

To hell with dignity, I ran all the way, burst in
red faced and panting. Perhaps fortunately the doctor
didn't recognize me, assumed from my dress I was one
of my handmaidens.

She was as mystified as Panaka. "Jedi have strange
powers," she shrugged, "some kind of healing trance
perhaps? In any case it's passed, they're sleeping
naturally now."

"Then they'll be all right?" I asked.

She smiled. "I don't see why not."

I'd just heaved a sigh of relief when the door
opened and Ani hurtled through and I caught him.
"They said Qui-Gon's hurt!" he sobbed breathless.

I gave him a hug. "He's fine, Ani, the doctor just told
me so." added to her, "This is the Jedi Master's ward,
Anakin Skywalker."

She smiled sympathetically at the boy. "Would you
like to see him?"

"Yes! please!"

Anakin and I peeked into the resting room, I've
seen coma the doctor was right they were just
sleeping. Still it was strange to see the two of them
looking so...vulnerable, especially Qui-Gon. I hadn't
realized how much I'd come to depend on the Jedi
Master over the last three - or was it four? - days.
We'd been through so much together in that short time,
Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Ani, Jar Jar, even Artoo Detoo, had
become part of my 'family' my inner circle like my
handmaidens or Captain Panaka. But the Jedi would be
going away now their mission was completed, and taking
Ani with them - I found I didn't want to think about
that.

Then Qui-Gon opened his eyes and smiled at us.
Ani slipped from under my hand and ran to him.
"They told me you were hurt!"

"I'm fine." the Master reassured him with a hug.
Ani shot a quick, worried look at the second bed
where Obi-Wan hadn't so much as stirred. "Is Obi-Wan
okay?"

"Just very tired." Qui-Gon answered, but it seemed
to me there was something odd, not quite worried but
thoughtful, in his eyes as he looked at his
apprentice. Then he smiled at me. "I take it your
Highness's plan succeeded."

I grinned happily back, came further into the room.
No reason to hover in the doorway if Qui-Gon was
awake. "Thanks to the Gungans," I told him, "and to
Ani for blowing the Control Ship just in time."

"Ani?" Qui-Gon frowned at his ward, "what's this?"

"It's not my fault!" he said hastily, "*really* you
*told* me to stay in the cockpit -"

"Unfortunately the ship didn't stay in the hanger."
I finished for him.

They both looked at me; Ani reproachfully, Master
Qui-Gon bemused and begining to be alarmed.

"Perhaps you'd better tell me the whole story." he
ordered.

Ani swallowed and began. "Well, Master-sir, there
were these destroyer droids blocking Padme, I mean the
Queen's, way-"

"Ani," I broke in, "you can go on calling me Padme
if you want to, I've always liked it better than
Amidala." which is true, though I admit 'Queen Amidala'
has a much more impressive ring to it than 'Queen
Padme'.

He flashed me a grateful grin and I knew I'd been
forgiven for telling on him. Continued: "Their hand
weapons couldn't get through the droids' shields but I
figured the fighter's turbo's could and they did but I
hit a few other buttons before I found the trigger
and, well, the ship just took off."

Qui-Gon settled back against his pillow eyes fixed
on Anakin. He seemed to be entering a mild state of
shock and I was begining to enjoy myself, it was worth
invasion and battle to finally see our ever-serene
Jedi Master nonplussed!

"By the time Artoo got us off autopilot we were
right in the middle of the space battle." Ani
explained.

"Why didn't you turn back once you had control?"
Qui-Gon interupted.

"I guess I should have," the boy admitted
sheepishly, "Artoo said so, but I wanted to help.
You'd all said how important it was to blow up the
control ship and the fighters weren't doing so good."

"According to Commander Olie they were getting
nowhere, the deflector field was just to strong." I
put in.

"Yeah," Ani agreed, "anyway, I got hit and spun
into this open bay."

I'd heard the story before but still found it
necessary to sit down, rather abruptly, on the edge of
Obi-Wan's bed. his leg shifted to give me more room
and I saw he'd woken up at some point and was now
propped on an elbow listening intently.

"It was this real deep hanger," Ani was saying,
"luckily I found the brakes before we crashed into the
back wall but everything was overheated and then these
droids came at us -"

I think Qui-Gon was beyond speech by now. His
expression was indescribable, hilarious, I covered my
mouth with my hands fighting back giggles.

"The controls came back *just* in time," Ani
continued with a certain gusto, "and I shot up the
droids, bam! bam! bam! then I fired my torpedoes and
they disappeared throught this big door. At first I
thought I'd missed then I saw the fireball and knew
I'd gotten something *big*! Well we shot out of there
just ahead of the explosion and the whole ship went
*ka-bloey* behind us!" his grin faded, "I *did* stay
in the cockpit like you told me." he finished, almost
pleadingly.

Nobody said anything. Master Jinn closed his eyes,
perhaps applying some Jedi calming technique. I mopped
my face with a corner of my coat and tried to gather
the scraps of my royal dignity around me.

It was Obi-Wan's cool, clipped tones that finally
broke the silence. "You're going to have fun with this
one."

Qui-Gon's eyes opened. "As long as he doesn't come
back with five bales of kretobit fiber." he said
drily.

His apprentice huffed an exagerated sigh. "You're
never going to let me forget that are you?" broke into
a grin, "Be warned, Ani, make one mistake and he'll
hold it over you *forever*."

Anakin smiled back a little uncertainly.
I was startled myself. Obi-Wan'd always seemed so -
intense, I couldn't recall seeing him smile before
much less tease his Master. Then neither of them'd
ever seen me giggling my head off before either. Maybe
we didn't know each other quite as well as I'd
thought.

"What's kretobit fiber?" Ani ventured.

"An insulating material." Obi-Wan explained, added
to his Master, "and it did come in handy didn't it?"

"Eventually." Qui-Gon conceeded, mock-frowned at
Anakin. "I'm going to have to watch what orders I give
you."

"Obedience," Obi-Wan observed slyly, "is a
necessary virtue for a Padawan."

"Initiative is also desirable." his Master
responded as if quoting somebody.

"Seems to me Ani showed both." I pointed out.

"Indeed he did, your Highness!" Qui-Gon said so
ruefully we all laughed.

"What happened to the dark warrior?" Ani wanted to
know after we'd calmed a bit. The atmosphere
immediately became much more serious.

"Dead." Master Jinn replied briefly, with another
of those thoughtful sidelong looks at his apprentice.

"You'll find the body at the bottom of the melting
pit," Obi-Wan told me, "along with my lightsabre. I'd
like it back please."

"Of course." I answered. I suspected a story there
but doubted I'd ever hear it.

"Was it a Sith?" Anakin demanded.

"I'm afraid so." Qui-Gon said quietly.

*He* was afraid! "I thought the Sith were just one
of those old legends?" I ventured uneasily.

"They're all too real, your Highness," the Master
told me gently, "We Jedi had thought them extinct."

"We were wrong." Obi-Wan said grimly.

I was still trying to understand what a Sith would
be doing on Naboo. "He was working for the Trade
Federation?"

"More likely the other way around." Qui-Gon
corrected me, "The Sith do not serve, they dominate."

Now I was really scared. Naboo is a beautiful
world, it's my home, my kingdom and I love it but it's
also very small, out of the way and unimportant. "Why
would the Sith want Naboo?" I almost whispered.

"I don't know." Master Jinn admitted. Somehow the
warm strength in his voice comforted me even as he
admitted he had no answers.

"Whatever their plan was if failed." Obi-Wan
reminded me reassuringly.

I must have been as pale as the sheets, he was
probably afraid I'd faint or become hysterical.
Calm down, Amidala. I told myself. We won,
everything's all right now. I drew a deep breath,
tried to smile. "Thanks to all of you Naboo is safe."
But is any world safe if the Sith have returned?