It takes all of my self-discipline to keep to my station in the Nubian's cockpit. I know something is wrong. That elusive sense of something urges me to hit the sand, 'saber lit and ready. My place is at my Master's side, not warming a seat on this gaudy gew-gaw masquerading as a starship.
My Master is in trouble. Perhaps not this very moment, but it's coming. Purposeful. Intent. Resolute. I can feel it like cold wind at the back of my neck. And Qui-Gon is off on another fool's errand, going back for a child too old for recruitment.
Astromech droids have very acute audio sensors. Padmé, with a bodyguard's trained paranoia, programmed the R-2 unit to record everything within a certain radius. So I know. I know all about this golden child he thinks he has to rescue.
This is Hutt territory, Master, not Republic space. We are out of our jurisdiction, without support, and on a mission already sliding over the edge of disaster. The Jedi do not interfere in the governance of sovereign planets. Slavery, repulsive as it is, is a lawful trade here. We cannot interfere.
I know this. He knows this--he taught it to me! But there are two Codes for Jedi: the one for Qui-Gon Jinn, and the one for the rest of us.
Spangles of anxiety catch my attention, sharp enough to make me flinch. A quick scan of the cockpit reveals nothing untoward. I get out of my seat, abandoning my post. I can hear a young, shrill voice from somewhere in the passenger section. Not one of the handmaidens. I can also hear Panaka, his voice sharp with suspicion. I stride towards the voices.
I see a young boy in ragged clothes, clutching a pack. He's looking earnestly up at Padmé. I only hear the last part:
"Qui-Gon's in trouble! He says to take off!"
"Get us in the air!" I shout over my shoulder. "Fly low!"
I can hear Padmé and the boy behind me, as I move back to the cockpit. Peering through the viewports, I scan the surrounding landscape. Jedi mission gear blends almost perfectly into a sere landscape like this--but live lightsabers attract attention anywhere.
Especially when one wields a red blade.
The other fighter is alien, black-garbed and fierce. He uses his 'saber with the deftness of a trained Force-User.
I can hear Padmé speaking to the boy in a low voice. The thought that she would make an excellent creche warden flashes through my mind, then vanishes. I can feel the boy as well, he's emoting loud enough to be heard on Hoth. For all his 'noise,' I can't narrow my focus enough to read him. I don't want to focus on him, anyway.
Qui-Gon is tiring, I can see it in the speed of his parries, the hesitation before his attacks. He needs that time to breathe, but every breath gives *him* a chance to set his defense. Sand is a bitch to fight in. It drags at the feet, shifting and sliding, making balance a struggle.
And I don't care what Master Windu says, it's nothing like fighting on water.
Add in the heat, the glare of the two suns, and you have miserable conditions for a 'saber fight. Together, we could take him--but he left me behind.
Ric keeps the ship a mere twenty meters from the sand. The Nabooian pilot is good, but he's never had to do anything like this before. This ship isn't designed for this, she's built for flash and speed, not tight maneuvering. Ric has to adjust and compensate on the fly. He's sweating through his layers of clothing, and it's only a matter of time before he makes a mistake.
Crashing the Nubian ship might take out the dark fighter, but it would kill us in the process. Master Yoda so frowns on mission wraps like that.
I turn my attention away from the fight outside.
Filter out the babble of the frightened boy.
Filter out Panaka and the handmaiden.
Filter out my anger.
Filter out my fear.
The Force rises in a surge of cool blue power, the same color as the blade of my lightsaber. I let it build up inside me, until I can't hold anymore. The silvery Nubian ship shimmers before my mind's eye, overlaid with the ship's schematics I'd memorized. The force of gravity, the thrust of the engines, the heat waves that bounce back up from the sand, these all become strands in the net I'm weaving with Force and willpower. Ever so carefully, I drape the net around the ship, stabilizing it.
Some of Ric's tension fades away as his subconscious registers the Force-assist. I have to be careful not to be too obvious. Right now, Ric and I are working in tandem, even if he doesn't know it. If he loses his 'balance,' he'll drag me down with him, and we'll crash. I let him decide what the ship has to do, then make sure the ship does it.
We draw closer to the battling pair. I can feel the other's Force-signature, a blight on the psychic mindscape. He--no question, this person is male--burns like radioactive fire, a sickening green-yellow that 'tastes' like pus and urine. In comparison, Qui-Gon is a cool blue-green, deep and strong as a tropical ocean.
I want to funnel some of my Force-strength into my Master, but I can't support him and the ship. That's even assuming I could break through that battle mind-lock and reach him.
He doesn't need my help.
Qui-Gon brings his 'saber down in a two-handed slash. His opponent makes the block--but loses his footing. Before the dark figure even hits the sand, Qui-Gon turns, making the leap for the still-extended ramp.
Safe. My Master is safe. I let out a long, shaky breath.
When this mission is over, we are going to have a Talk, Master. I am your partner, Qui-Gon. I won't be left behind again.