All of the previous day, Saché had waited and wondered. Sabé and Eirtaé and Rabé seemed so convinced the Trade Federation would not go so far as to invade. Yané did not dare make a prediction. Saché had spent most of her hours with the last, perfecting her aim with her laser pistol, and had not had time to talk to the other eight. But she could very well be the only one who expected the invasion the following dawn. What the Queen had expected, she dared not guess.
With reports of the droid attacks making their way through the palace, Saché and Yané came together in their chambers and continued working with their pistols, and waited for the Queen to summon them. They didn’t talk, except when Yané corrected Saché in the exact positioning of her fingers. Saché didn’t ask Yané what she was thinking. She knew only what she was thinking. Each time she blasted the target, she imagined she was blasting a battle droid. Any that dared threaten the Queen would be fried into a mess of metal as ugly as its owners, she would be sure of that.
A knock at the door, and Saché and Yané holstered their pistols. Saché went to answer.
It was Rabé. “Have we been called for?” Saché asked her.
“No,” answered Rabé, “Sabé has been called alone. Earlier this morning, Briné and Lané prepared one of the Queen’s outfits. A heavy black cloak, one of the outfits which obscures the most parts of the person wearing it. The Queen has been convinced to allow Sabé to take her place.”
This could come as no surprise, but one thing did surprise Saché. “We have not been called to help?”
“The change needs to be done with as little commotion as possible. And I have separate instructions for the two of you, and not much time to give them. I was hoping to find you together, but otherwise I would have given them to you alone, Saché. As it is, you must still pass them on to any of the eight others you can.”
“What do you mean?” Saché asked.
Rabé glanced around the corridor outside. “May I come in?”
“Of course!” Saché stepped aside. Rabé walked in; the door slid shut behind her.
“First of all,” she started, “I know this will upset the two of you, but when the palace is taken over, we are not to fight. It would be useless.”
“Not fight!” Saché was shocked. “What if they try to kill her?! Or if they try to kill all of us, that would include the Queen then!”
“If you are dead certain that they will without a doubt kill either Sabé or the Queen without your intervention, of course you must act-failure to protect Sabé in such a situation would make them suspicious. Not a second before. Do you understand?”
Saché could give no response. To assume that was what they wouldn’t do seemed to her dangerous. But Yané said for her, “We understand.”
“The Queen is convinced,” Rabé continued, her eyes hard on Saché, “we will instead end up in prison camps with the rest of population. She believes they may attempt to separate her from her guards. Of course, that would only leave Sabé on her own. But the handmaidens themselves, they would be more likely to let stay together if there were less of them.”
Saché couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She didn’t have to look at Yané to know she was equally upset. “Surely she does not mean to separate the two of us from her, as well as Sabé! We’re her three fighters!”
In her haste, it only occurred to her after the words were out that Rabé might take them as an insult. But she only said, “Captain Panaka was there when she explained this, and he said the same thing. But I think the Queen refuses the keep her strongest fighters to herself. She insists her disguise should be enough to protect her, along with myself and Eirtaé. Surely you do not deny we are able to fight.”
“Of course I don’t, but even so-”
“When they lead us out of Theed, just after we’re outside the walls, Captain Panaka will create a distraction-I don’t know exactly what he’ll do-and you are at that point to make your escape. Then you are to gather as many of the other eight as you can-Losté, Ené, and Ardré have already been sent to the outskirts of the city with instructions to meet up with you, and you are to fight against the Federation in any way you can.”
“Form a resistence movement?” Dimly she heard a thud as Yané collapsed into a nearby chair. “But we’re not-we’re just-”
But before Saché could find the words to explain that she and Yané were just not the people for such a task, they heard Eirtaé’s voice call, “Rabé, Saché, Yané. The palace is falling. We are to go to the Queen.”
Saché and Yané pulled their hoods over their heads, slid their pistols into the undersides of their gowns and followed Rabé out into the corridor. Saché was suddenly aware of the sound of the battle droids just outside the walls. She felt the pistol fall against her leg as she walked, and found its weight comforting.
They were joined in their walk by Captain Panaka. “I do not approve of this use of the two of you,” he said to Saché.
“Neither do any of us,” Rabé assured him. “But she insists. You heard the way she spoke.”
In the Queen’s chambers stood two young women waiting for them. Even if she hadn’t already been told, Saché would have known pretty quickly which of them was truly which. Neither the heavy black cloth which covered what there would have been to see on Sabé’s head or the white powder which covered the rest of her face could conceal all the differences of her features from any of the handmaiden’s eyes, though they might from the rest of the world. And while the rest of the world might never look closely at the face even more covered by the handmaiden hood, there was no mistaking it by anyone who had spent the last month powdering it white and painting red onto it.
It was this second face that Saché turned to and spoke, “Milady, far be it from me to deny your commands, but I must protest. You ask of me and Yané a thing we are not capable of. Please, allow us to stay with you where we belong! We can defend you. We cannot lead other people. We are not leaders. Send Eirtaé and Rabé. They could do this so much better than us.”
She did not look unaffected by the plea. Rabé and Eirtaé said nothing, leaving the decision of their fate to her. It was easier for them. Either way, they would know what to do.
She was still silent when there was a hard rap at the door. “I’ll get it,” said Panaka, and strode forward, gun in hand.
Before he reached it she finally spoke. "I am sorry," she said. "But you must do what I now can not. You must protect our people."
He had barely opened the door when his gun was snatched away with a metallic “I’ll take that.” There was a host of battle droids outside, more than the six of them could hope to fight past. Rabé was right. It would be useless to fight.
At least, it would be useless to fight at this moment. But soon...if someone discovered the pistol under her skirt and took it away before that moment came, she’d use her fists until she could get her hands on another weapon. She hoped it would come before they got out of Theed.
She wished she still had her pistol. They droids had stripped them all of their weapons, of course, and the handmaidens had been searched with the others. They had treated the actual Queen exactly like the other four, but Saché had been more nervous about the Neimoidians identifying her. But Sabé had fooled them, and in fact they had barely glanced at the handmaidens before sending the whole group away with the battle droids.
They didn’t see them as a threat. Good.
When they went off the plaza, Saché started trying to figure out which way they would go out of Theed. If the Queen wanted her and Yané to escape, in all likelihood they ought to be able to do it, as Saché knew the walls fairly well, and how to hide in them, and how to get away from those hiding places. But she would be most certain of success if they went out through a certain part of the city.
She was contemplating the significance of their going under the archway they were headed for, when from the top of it three figures suddenly leapt down, two humans and what looked like a Gungun, the humans with lightsabers ignited. Before anyone could react, the first two had sliced apart the droids escorting them, before the older-looking spoke. “We should leave the street, Your Highness.” None of them needed a second prompting.
Saché’s mind was in a flurry: Are they Jedi Knights? There’s something familiar about them...I’m being crazy. And then suddenly the crushing, relieving thought, They’ve rescued us. While we’re with them, we stay with the Queen. Indeed, as they slipped into the ally, Saché even saw Yané smile for a moment.
“We’re ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor,” the older Jedi informed Governor Bibble.
“Your negotiations seemed to have failed, Ambassador,” Bibble pointed out.
“The negotiations never took place. It’s urgent that we make contact with the Republic.”
Meanwhile Captain Panaka had directed the taking of the weapons. Saché kept her eyes on him until it became clear there were only enough weapons for the guards. “They’ve knocked out all our communications,” he said to the Jedi.
“Do you have transports?”
Down the back alleys they ran towards the main hanger; they did not approach the edge of the city. It suddenly occurred to Saché that the Queen was unlikely to flee the planet, so if the Jedi, or maybe the Gungun, who was running alonside them and not feeling the need to say much at the moment, intended to leave, there was nothing for the rest of them to do but wait to be recaptured. And then...Saché felt a sudden urge to cry. Furiously she beat it down.
They ran into no battle droids. There were not even any at the entrance of the hanger, though Sache was certain they would be inside there. The time for fighting had started, and she could feel her moment coming.
But when Captain Panaka and the Jedi peered inside, the former’s first words were, “There’s too many of them!”
“It won’t be a problem,” the other assured him, looking first at the younger Jedi, then at Sabé. “Your Highness,” he said, “under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us.”
They all knew what the Queen’s response would have been to this. “Thank you, Ambassador,” Sabé replied, without hesitation, “but my place is here with my people.”
But the Jedi said, “They will kill you if you stay.” At his words Saché tensed. That they hadn’t tried to kill her immediately had eased her initial fears, but hearing this man say this now, Saché readily believed him.
“They wouldn’t dare!” Governor Bibble exclaimed. Panaka elaborated, “They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal. They can’t afford to kill her.”
Saché had to admit the point there to herself, but the Jedi did not seem willing to. “There is something else behind all of this, Your Highness. There’s no logic in the Federation’s move here. My feelings tell me they will destroy you.”
“Our only hope if for the Senate to side with us,” said Governor Bibble. “Senator Palpatine will need your help.”
He didn’t believe it, Saché could tell. She thought Sabé did. But this was not Sabé’s decision to make, and so she said, “Either choice presents great danger," and then slowly turned to the Queen, who was at the forefront, and added, “to us all.” The Queen and Sabé were very good at communicating, better than any of them, and if Sabé did indeed believe that to stay would mean her death, she would let the Queen know of it, but also let her know that if the Queen wished to stay, Sabé would be willing to put herself into that fatal position for her.
Whatever exact codes the two of them had worked out Saché did not know, but she too knew a good deal about communicating with the Queen, being third in line to replace her due to Eirtaé’s looks. When she heard the Queen’s, “We are brave, your highness,” she knew what her decision was, even before Sabé turned back to the Jedi and said, “Then I will plead our case to the Senate.”
As she spoke some final words to Governor Bibble, the Queen was still signaling Sabé with her eyes, and now Saché saw her beckon to her mistress, then to Rabé and Eirtaé. The message was clear: Saché and Yané were to separate from the others now.
Saché felt her feet freeze to the floor. The tears she had held back earlier sprang forth. She tried to make some sort of protest, some sort of plea, but her vocal chords wouldn’t work. She forced herself to look at Yané, to see if she’d say anything, but she was as frozen, if not more, and the tears were soaking into her collar.
And now the others were in the hanger; she could heart the Jedi’s voice say something about Coruscant, a battle droid’s voice respond, and then she heard it say, “You’re under arrest,” and without thinking she bolted for the hanger.
Sio Bibble stepped in front of her; both she and Yané crashed into him. “Don’t. The Jedi will take care of it. You two need to get out of here.”
“What about you?” demanded Yané.
“I’d be missed. You two won’t. At most they’ll assume you’re with the Queen.” He glanced into the hanger, from where they could hear the hum of lightsabers and the blasts of guns. “I was right; they can take care of it. Wait until the starship has taken off, then go into the hanger and get weapons. You can get down from the hanger front, can’t you?”
Saché tried to remember the front of the hanger. “Be a bit bruised, but I think so.”
“Good. Calm down. Stop crying. You’ve got a job to do. If you can’t protect the Queen, you should protect-”
But he stopped short. Over the sound of running feet and the roar of the engines igniting in the hanger, they could hear the sound of running metallic feet, of approaching battle droids.
“If you stay here, you’ll be captured,” Saché entreated him.
“I have no choice. Just rescue my daughter if you can. I have no idea where she is, but...go!”
Spurred on with fresh tears running down their faces, Saché and Yané ran into the hanger. A heap of dissembled battle droids lay near where the starship had been parked. Yané knelt down and took a look at their weapons. “Not what we’re used to,” she said, “but we did training for them at one point. Do you remember how to engage the safety?”
She was right. Saché just hoped her aim was as good with them as they were with their usual pistols. At that moment, she could not bring herself to rely on her own.
Each of them nonetheless took a gun, engaged the safeties, and stuffed them into the holsters under their skirts. Then they ran to the edge of the hanger and slid down the marble, which slanted into the hard ground at the edge of the cliff.
From the cliffs on which Theed was built, typically one could see nothing but the green and blue of the country beyond. Just below the cliffs, Saché assumed, there were battle droids and prisoners, but they did not extend into her current line of sight. As they clambered to their feet and got their bearings, for a moment there was the illusion that there was no invading army, but that they were instead all alone on Naboo.
“I think we’re responsible for the others now,” said Yané. Her voice was very, very small. “What do we do?”
Yané might speak of both of them, but Saché suddenly felt a weight settle on her shoulders which she didn’t think would be any heavier if Yané hadn’t existed. She was still a child by her age, and 12 was an especially difficult age, one Saché herself was barely over, but she was over it, and she alone was responsible for her, and for the other eight. She wiped her face clean, and thought, I will not cry again.
She thought for a moment, then replied, “I think if any of the others are still in the city, they must have been taken by now, and the two of us couldn’t rescue any of them alone. We have to hope they got out. At any rate, I’m fairly certain Ené, Losté, and Ardré all did. We make for the waterfall. It’s pretty close to here. Keep your gun out.”
They crept along, two orange dots on the deep green cliff. As they approached the waterfall, the foliage thinned, and they crawled through the bushes on their hands and knees, their fingers never far from the triggers of their blasters, their eyes and ears open, alert for the first sign of a battle droid. Saché wished they weren’t wearing their orange gowns. She thought longingly of the yellow-green gowns. They might come with yellow wraps, but those could easily be discarded.
Finally the waterfall loomed before them, the noise filled their ears and the ground was wet from the spray that fell on their faces and gowns. “Now we’re going to have to go back amoung the buildings, to get into the secret passage,” Saché whispered directly into Yané’s ear. Even so, she had to whisper loudly, relying on the waterfall to prevent anyone else from hearing.
“Battle droids,” Yané mouthed. Saché had already seen them. There were two of them guarding the entrance to the museum, several meters right in front of the two girls.
“I don’t see any others. Let’s blast them.” So this was it. Her moment come at last, when her Queen was far away.
She took a quick look at Yané aiming. Fright showed on her face, but her grip on the blaster was steady.
“Fire!” she yelled, and they both pulled their triggers. Two bolts of light flew from their weapons, striking each of the droids full on the torso. They both fell back onto the ground.
“Run!” They tore across the marble, hurrying towards the museum doors, only to see them open.
It was only then that Saché realized it didn’t make sense to have droids guarding the museum unless there was something in there.
Battle droids poured out. Without thinking they fired at them, diving desperately to avoid return fire, only to find themselves up against the wall surrounded on all side by droids with blasters pointed at them. “Loose inhabitants,” one of them said. “Take them to the-”
But suddenly there was a burst of gunfire from the museum doors. Droids fell to join those already shot down, and Coté raced out, still firing, and followed by Lané, Vatié, and Moré, each shooting down droids as fast as their laser pistols would fire. The droids surrounding Saché and Yané turned to deal with this new threat, and Yané took advantage of the distraction to release a thick volley of shots which took out their circle of captors.
“Come on!” Coté yelled, frying the last of the droids outside. “We can get to the passage if we run for it!”
They had taken out most of the droids which had been in the museum entrance hall, and another round of blaster fire fried the rest. “We can’t wait anymore,” shouted Coté, “not now that they know we’re here.”
“I think Ené, Losté, and Ardré are already outside the city anyway,” Saché yelled back. “As for Briné....well, I hope she is! The Queen’s escaped to Coruscant with Sabé, Eirtaé, and Rabé; she’s going to try to get the Senate to intervene. Do you have any idea how many droids are in here?”
“They’re storing a bunch of them in here. We located the storage units, but I don’t think we can destroy them; they’re too well guarded.”
“Then we’ll have to come back in here with the some charges, if we can get our hands on them,” Saché determined, “unless you think we can do it with only Ené, Losté, and Ardré to help us.”
“But once they find the passage,” Lané pointed out, “won’t they seal it off?”
“Then we’re just going to have to fry every single droid who has an inkling we’re in this building!” To emphasize her point, Saché swiftly blasted three droids in the corridor they had just turned down. “It’s a well-concealed secret passage, and we have to leave them with no reason to believe of its existence, so they won’t look for it!” More droids, more blasts. “Get them before they can fire!”
No one needed any more instruction. Through more corridors and down the stairs they ran, towards the storage basement. “What about the droid parts?” Vatié suddenly asked. “Won’t they think someone’s been through this building if they see them lying around?”
This worry brought them all to a halt. “Then we just have to get out of here, there’s nothing for it,” Saché sighed.
“No, wait a second,” said Yané. She raced back up the stairs. The others followed, and saw her blast two droids at the top of it. “Someone hand me a gun.”
Saché gave Yané hers, and they watched as she carefully extracted the unused guns from the droids still-intact limbs and replaced them with her own and Saché’s blasters, then carefully position the droids to make it look as if they shot each other. “I’ve heard my father talk about these battle droids,” she explained. “It’s very common for them to malfunction. These two can be assumed to have gone off on a shooting spree and then turned on each other.”
“Good,” said Saché. “And any droids we find in the basement we throw into the passage.”
“Do you know where Ené, Losté, and Ardré are?” Coté asked as they started back down the stairs.
“All I know is they’re somewhere outside the city, and the original plan was for Yané and me to meet them.”
“The original plan?” repeated Coté, confused.
“She kept it too much under wraps, I see,” said Saché. “She wants the ten of us to form some sort of resistence to the Federation. That’s why she left the two of us behind, I think. Does anybody have any sort of communication device?”
“I do,” said Vatié, “but it’s only programmed to get in contact with my father." Then she came to a full stop on the stairs. "Wait a minute, where is my father? Did he escape too?”
Saché decided to answer that question later. “Yané, do you think you can hotwire it?”
“I don’t know, I’m not good on communication devices, I’d have to look at it first. Can I see it, Vatié?”
But Vatié would not be dissuaded that easily. “Where’s my father?” she demanded. “Tell me!”
“Vatié, quiet!” Lané begged softly. “There might still be droids up there!”
Saché, not sure of what else to do, grabbed Vatié by the shoulders and steered her down the stairs, speaking quickly. “Your father let himself get captured so they wouldn’t come after the two of us, since once they’ve deduced the Queen’s left the planet they’ll assume we’re with her. I don’t know what they’ll assume about the rest of you, but he begged me to get you out of here, so you will keep on walking.”
“Don’t, Vatié,” said Coté, coming alongside of them and gently placing her hand on Vatié’s shoulder. To Saché’s relief Vatié relaxed, and kept on walking.
They reached the basement without further incident. The secret passage was accessed by removing a panel on the far wall, where the light from the stairway faded into darkness in which they felt for the cracks in the wall.
When Moré found the passage, she released what was perhaps too loud a cry of triumph, but it drew the others to her as they heard the rough sliding sound of the panel being moved aside.
“Wait a minute,” said Saché slowly. “None of us have a light with us, do we?”
“The communicator releases a little light,” Vatié suggested.
“Better than nothing. Well, we’ve all been up and down this passage at least once; we all know the way. Let’s see how much we remember. Let me have the communicator. Then go to the back with Coté and Lané and make sure the panel clicks shut after us.”
The light from Vatié’s communicator initially didn’t seem like much better than nothing. Saché held it in front of her, but with the panel back in place, it showed neither the walls nor the steps.
Still Saché advanced, hoping at least the others would be able to see her outline. She heard their footsteps as they followed her.
Slowly, their eyes became accustomed to the dark space. When she lowered the light a bit, Saché could see the first steps downward and the direction they led in. She could even, as she walked, keep a vague idea in her head of just where behind the waterfall they were.
The concept of where they were grew stronger when the sound of the crashing water penetrated through the rock, got louder before dying down a little. Finally the light of the communicator revealed the door that ended the passage.
“Weapons ready,” Saché ordered. Her own blaster cocked, she stepped forward and slid the door open just enough to look outside. “I don’t see anything, but carefully...” She slid the door open the rest of the way. There were no battle droids in the area.
One by one they filtered out into the open air. The glare of Naboo’s sun nearly blinded them.
When their eyes had again adjusted, they gathered around Yané, who examined the communicator. “So,” she started, “it’s a....well, it's a....”
“You can’t do it, can you?” Coté cut in.
Yané looked relieved as she said, “No.”
“Okay, then,” said Coté, and all eyes promptly flew to her. Seeing this, she smiled and said, “You’ve heard, I assume, of the rumors that I have...unusual abilities.”
“I want to know what they are,” said Saché. “We’re in a situation where we have to know all our assets.”
But Coté replied, “I can’t tell you what they are; I don’t know what they are. I only know when I can use them. But I know where Ené, Losté, and Ardré all are. I’m afraid I don’t know about Briné. I think she must have been captured.”
“Fine,” said Saché. “Lead on.”