Gate was probably the ultimate corporate world. True, there might be other planets owned by one corporation, but none of them boasted stores that covered nine hundred acres, at least as far as she knew. If this place with its sector-wide monopoly on Transmission Uni-and-Bi-lateral Anticipators, the largest TUBA store in the world, and the galaxy, with what was swiftly looking like the worst service in both as well, wasn’t the ultimate example of why completely free market capitalism was a bad idea, Padmé didn’t know what was.
There were apparently 5000 droid employees in the store. In fact they were manufactured in an employee factory attached to the store proper. And the advertisement had also claimed to have loan agents on hand. But Padmé had been waiting in this store foyer for ten hours, having been led there by a single droid who had forbidden her to proceed any further unless escorted by an agent, and the agent had never appeared.
If it hadn’t been flooding outside, she would have left long ago, and as it was, she was starting to gauge her chances of sucessfully swimming back to her ship. Thankfully there was a toilet adjoining the room, as if they knew customers might be waiting long enough to need it, but she was tired, hungry, and bored out of her head.
“Please come in this way and sit down.” Padmé turned as the droid came in from the outside again, this time leading three new customers: a big, bulky, human man with a big blaster in one hand and dark shaggy hair, a blue Twi’lek girl who didn't look that much older than Padmé, and a little blonde boy.
Ignoring them, Padmé went straight up to the droid and demanded, “Where is my escort? How much longer are you going to keep me waiting here? Is this some sort of joke? Can I have something to eat?”
The droid was expressionless by design, but somehow managed to look even more blank. “Please return to your seat and wait, madam. An escort will be with you shortly.”
“That’s what you said ten hours ago! Hello, fellow customers. I think I’d better warn you...”
“No need.” The man cut her off. He reached into his cloak. “Care for a ration pack?”
“Yes, thank you very much.” She took the pack, then turned back to the droid, only to find it had gone back outside. How it was avoiding getting washed away was anyone’s guess.
She sat back down next to the blonde boy and devoured the contents of the pack. They didn't taste that good but she was past caring. “Two more hours,” she decided out loud. “Then I’m returning to my ship if I have to swim to it, and they'll have to get their Transmission Anticipators from another sector.”
“Transmission Anticipators? You don’t mean we’re in a TUBA store?” asked the boy, looking excited.
“Well, I don’t think we’re going to get service for buying them,” the Twi’lek pointed out.
“You didn't come to this place to but TUBA-ware?" asked a confused Padmé. "Then why would you come to this lousy place through that rain?”
“We can’t tell you,” said the boy brightly, both of the other two glared at him in warning, and Padmé decided that she didn’t want to know.
They sat in silence for perhaps half an hour, before a droid came out. Wondering if she wouldn’t scream in the combination of relief and outrage, Padmé stood up, intending to get service from the droid before it decided to go straight to the three newcomers.
But then it addressed all three of them. “I am sorry, Madams, Masters, but the water level has officially passed safe operational levels, and TUBAworld is closed until further notice. Please leave immediately.”
Padmé did scream then: “WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE TOLD ME THAT TEN HOURS AGO????”
“Calm down.” A surprisingly gentle hand on her shoulder from the man. “Can you get to your transport?”
Padmé went to the windows and stared out as hard as she could, then shook her head slowly. “I don’t know if it’ll even work. It’s not designed to deal with this kind of weather at all, especially not for this long.”
“I suggest you come to ours instead then. Can you actually swim?”
“I've learned, but I don’t know if I could manage it right now.” She was exhausted, and she hadn’t swum in years.
“Aayla, do you think you could swim with Anakin on your back if you had to?”
The Twi’lek considered for a moment, then said, “I think so.”
“All right, then.” He discarded his cloak and removed his boots, Aayla and Anakin following his example. Padmé cast a glance back at her own cloak on the chair, but resigned herself to leaving it and her own footwear as well. It was as she removed the latter that she noticed the laser sword hanging from Aayla’s belt, which she thought was strange, because despite the cloaks and boots, none of them were dressed like Jedi. The man took a firm hold of her with one hand and one of Anakin with the other, and then headed towards the door.
But before he reached it, the door was suddenly blown apart, water flowing into the foyer, washing in the porter droid with it. “No no no no no no no no no no!” the two droids yelled together, before two more blasts blew them both apart as well.
“Olar.” The man released Anakin and Padmé, and pushed them both aside. Aayla grabbed them both and shoved them further back. As she did so, someone slipped in the water, and all three splashed to the floor.
Shaking water off her arms, Padmé looked up as Aayla leapt to her feet and ignited her laser sword. The man didn’t seem to have one, but instead pointed his blaster at the figure who had entered. Olar was of a species Padmé didn’t recognize, and he carried an identical blaster in one hand and an un-ignited laser sword in the other-the man’s?
“Vos.” Olar might have been smirking. Padmé couldn’t tell for sure. “How did you ever get yourself and that boy out of the desert?”
“Give me my lightsaber,” Vos growled. “You can't use it anyway, that much is clear.”
“Now, now, I gave you that blaster for it. Fair is fair.”
“I assume the trade wasn’t willing on his part,” Aayla commented. She at least had to be a Jedi. Noone else could be that calm in a situation like this.
“No, it was right before I turned them out to wander in the Dune Sea on Tatooine, along with his mother,” he gestured to the boy. “The poor woman didn’t make it, did she?”
“You!” Anakin scrambled to his feet, and Aayla had to restrain him from attacking Olar.
“She was dead days before my padawan here finally picked us up. Do you think you can take on both of us?”
Olar gingerly regarded him, then her. Then he shrugged. “Jedi or no, a Twi’lek is a Twi'lek.” He was unmistakably leering at Aayla now. He might not have even noitced Padmé, but just seeing that oily smirk made her want to get her cloak and wrap it around herself.
At that moment there was the sound of footsteps, and someone yelling, “There he is, officers! That man stole my umbrella, and all of Sesa’s TUBA-ware, and Rew’s ri-gems!”
“You stole an umbrella?” Aayla asked. Padmé had to agree it was an odd thing to steal, though then again, in this rain, maybe he'd just needed one.
“He’s a compulsive thief,” Vos explained as five law enforcers sprung in with blasters all trained on Olar, and one of them proclaimed him under arrest.
Then one of them turned to Aayla and asked, “If this man here a minion, Master Jedi? Are they two thiefs? Do we need to arrest them both? Were they attempting to rob the younglings?”
“No, the other man’s my Master; he stole his lightsaber as well,” Aayla explained, and Anakin laughed.
“Shut up!” Olar screeched hysterically at Anakin, and fired a shot at him, which Aayla used her blade to deflect harmlessly into the ceiling. In response two officers moved forward and attempted to knock him out. As a mad scuffle ensued, the stolen umbrella flew out of the man’s cloak, and a bundle of Anticipators and several gems fell to the ground. Grabbing the umbrella, Olar hurled it in the general direction of Aayla, Padmé, and Anakin, and it hit the boy on the forehead.
He tottered about, Padmé moving to catch him as Aayla joined the fray. He looked dazedly as her, asked, “Are you an angel?” and fainted in her arms, his head knocking against her own forehead. The last thing Padmé was aware of before she herself passed out from the blow were two more droids storming into the foyer, yelling, “No no no no no...”
When she came to, she found herself up to her shoulders in water, and strapped behind Vos as he swam. She looked over, and through the rain saw what looked like Aayla swimming next to her Master, with what looked like Anakin strapped to her back. Beyond them she could see nothing, leaving her with no idea of where on Gate they were.
“You’re awake,” she grunted. “We found your ship. It’s useless. You’ll have to come with us. We’re not far, I hope.”
Padmé felt refreshed, and despite the lightening rain the water was pretty still. So she answered, “Unstrap me. I can swim on my own here, I think, so you can carry Anakin.”
It took more effort then they had thought to make the transfer in the water, but Aayla was clearly relieved to get Anakin off of her, and when he was securely strapped in Padmé’s place behind Vos, he said to her, “Keep close to me. Aayla, get your breather on and see what you can spot underwater.”
“Yes, Master.” She sounded cheerful now, and with her breather secure she dove under the surface, and out of Padmé’s sight, but she was sure that was a grin on her face, and when she looked at Vos, he too was smiling. "My apprentice is in her element here," he commented to her. After all that had happened that day, and Padmé was still wondering how they’d gotten out of the store, and how much they’d had to pay the droids for damages, they were enjoying this.
As she swam on, she decided to follow their example, at least for as long as she could, and simply enjoy the sensation of splashing through the water with the raindrops on her face, her limbs gaining confidence as they remembered what to do, until she was cutting long smooth strokes, the reassuring sound of Vos pushing through the flood near her.
Though she supposed after this little incident, she’d never be able to purchase any Tranmission Uni-or-Bi-lateral Anticipators on this planet.