Chapter Thirty -- Naboo

"The advice of the Jedai is always welcome here. Wesa do our part to keep Naboo safe." -- Boss Nass

It took the Sullustan, who hailed by the name of Nekoth Bictino, some 40 hours to get Obi-Wan from Coruscant to Naboo, not a bad travel time at all considering the moldy condition of his ship.

As they dropped into Nabooís orbital plane, he turned to the human in the co-pilot seat and queried, "You want land at Theed space center?"

Obi-Wan shook his head.

"No, I will have to show you where I wish to be dropped."

With Obi-Wan making slight course corrections, Nekoth manuevered the frigate gently through Nabooís upper atmosphere away from the capitol city of Theed. At Obi-Wanís request, he came to a hovering halt over a large lake.

Obi-Wan nodded.

"Here will be fine, thank you very much for your services, may the Force be with you."

Nekoth looked at the human with a quizzical look now.

"I should set down on shore? Where do you go?"

He locked on the shipís autopilot and scurried back after the human, who moved briskly toward the shipís entry bay and hit the switch to open it.

The lever responding with a honk of warning, to alert its operator that the ship was not securely on a landing platform and that opening the bay could be hazardous to the ship and its passengers.

Obi-Wan frowned and hit the manual override, even as Nekoth grabbed his arm.

"What you do? Crazy? We hundred feet above water! You jump hundred feet?"

Obi-Wan shook firmly free of the Sullustanís grasp and reached inside his inside flap pocket. He brought out a tiny plastic device and inserted it in two parts into his nose and mouth.

Obi-Wan smiled faintly at Nekoth, then took two steps down the ramp and dove. Nekoth hit the close lever on the ramp and ran back to the cockpit, using the shipís viewscreens to monitor the humanís plunge into the water.

He sat at the controls for five long minutes, but the human never resurfaced. He finally blasted back off and tried to forgot the odd ending to the trip. He never told anyone what he had wittnessed that day. Pilots who mentioned odd stories of their passengers found work harder and harder to find over time.

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Propelled by his swan dive from the ship, Obi-Wan swam downward through the tranquil Nubian water to the entry way to Otoh Gunga. He slipped through the biological bubble that separated the water from the Gungansí capitol city, and bowed at the sentry guards, who bowed back. Very few humans were allowed inside these walls, but Obi-Wan Kenobi was always welcome considering his status as a legend to the underwater residents.

Obi-Wan was not more than 200 yards into the main common area of Otoh Gunga when he saw an oddball, and despite his situation, amusing trio making its way toward him -- one rolling, one loping, the other fast asleep.

As they drew near, R2D2 gurgled and twittered at the Jedi and Jar Jar Binksí ears flipped backwards in excitement

"Hellooo, Obi-Wan! Mesa wondering if you ever comin back!"

Again, Obi-Wan smiled, his relationship with Jar Jar had improved dramatically over the last three years. When had escaped Tyrannusí forces with Luke the previous month, he had thought of Otoh Gunga as a haven for the baby while he tried to help Mace Windu salvage what was left of the Jedi way.

Obi-wan closed the distance and clasped the Gungan on the shoulder, then gently lifted the bundle of blanket and baby from Jar Jarís huge hands. Reaching down, he patted R2D2 on his chrome-plated head.

"Itís good to see you again, Jar Jar. Both of you. How has Luke been?"

"Pretty okey-dey by me, Obi-Wan. He sleepin a lot. But the Gungan mothers all want to see him."

"I cannot thank you enough for keeping him, Jar Jar. You have no idea the difference you have made."

The Gungan smiled shyly at the Jedi who had once treated him so callously.

"Mesa always wanta help the Jedi. Qui-Gon, hesa save Jar Jar many times. Gungans no forget a ting like that. And Annie, he always be my friend."

Obi-Wanís brow clouded at the mention of Anakin, but he wouldnít dare burden Jar Jar with that knowledge. He looked down at Lukeís tiny face, eyes shut tight in sleep. The boy was untouched by any feelings of hatred, of fear, of anger ... perhaps there was hope after all.

He smiled again and spoke to Jar Jar.

"I hate to make this such a short stay, Jar Jar, but time is of the essence. Iíll need to prep my fighter for departure soon."

Jar Jar shook his head briskly, ears flopping to and fro with the motion.

"No again, Obi-Wan! The big Boss Nass, he sayin you come to dinner with him and Jar Jar, too!"

Obi-Wan would have argued, but a good meal, Gungan cooking nonwithstanding, sounded too tempting to pass up. He assented to Jar Jarís request and the happy Gungan put an arm around the Jedi as they walked along the way.

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Boss Nass, a little heavier, his colors a little less vibrant than a decade ago, was still thrilled to see Obi-Wan Kenobi

"Da Gungans always have room for the Jedai, no matter what dey say on the big world!" Nassís voice resonated across the table as he chomped down an off-pink leaf of seaweed that servants had brought forth to the dining party.

"Your hospitality goes above and beyond what anyone could expect, Highness," Obi-Wan replied, sampling a plate of de-shelled crustacea cautiously. "The Empire would not be pleased if they knew you were harboring a suspected traitor."

Nass fluffed out his cheeks at that. "Weesa no caren for the Empire say, the Gungans and the Naboo, we friends now, the rest of the galaxy all goes bombad, but weesa stand strong."

Obi-Wan nodded, and turned to Jar-Jar. "Politics were not your suit then, Jar Jar?"

The Gungan sighed and slumped his shoulders a bit.

"Meesa proud to be the first Gungan senator, tis a great honor it was. But too many people not spake the truth to meesa. One day they sayin one thing, the next day something else. Padme meesa only friend the whole time I was in da Senate. Besides, meesa no liken the Chancellor, meesa thinkin something was wrongo with him, hesa sick in da head or something."

Obi-Wan abruptly stopped drinking at that and focused his eyes firmly on the Gungan.

"What do you mean, sick in the head, Jar Jar?"

The Gungan took a deep breath, looking around to see who all was listening. There were about three dozen Gungan bosses, military officers and other dignitaries spread out across the transparent ballroom which provided dazzling views of the underwater landscape. Only Jar Jar, Boss Nass and Obi-Wan occupied the head table, and most of the nearby patrons were involved in their own discussions.

"One day, meesa was in the Chancellorís office with some of da other senators to talk about funding for the clones. Meesa left my pouch behind on accidente, so meesa went back to get it. When the door opened, he was wearing big robes and a hood, and all hunched over his desk like a clawfish ready to strike on a dooba. Heesa talken to somebody not there, but meesa thought his voice sounded funny, not like him at all."

As Jar Jar continued his story, Nass went back to chomping away at his dinner. Obi-Wan, meanwhile was riveted.

"Meesa tried to leave, but he look up and saw. He comin around the desk and he looken crazy in the eyes, like he wanted to pound meesa. Meesa gettin very, very scared and not wanting to be there at all, so meesa grabbed my pouch. Chancellor got right next to meesa and he say meesa Ďjust an idiot, a beast.í and if meesa say what meesa see, he make me very very sorry."

Jar Jarís eyes got very sad as he thought back to the memory. When he spoke again, it was a good deal quieter.

"Meesa asked Padme what Ďbeastí is, meesa never heard that word before. When she say what beast is, meesa decide to come back home."

The Gunganís face was forlorn now and Obi-Wan put a hand on his shoulder.

"You did the right thing, Jar Jar. Palpatine is not what he seems, he is an evil man."

The Jedi turned his attention again to Boss Nass again and his tone was much more firm.

"Majesty, you spoke of not caring about the rest of the Empire. As long as Palpatine rules, try to never do anything to displeasure them or draw any attention to the Gungans. If you ever hear the Emperor is coming to Naboo for some sort of visit, prepare your people for evacuation."

Nassís face went as serious as Obi-Wanís countenance and the great Gungan nodded.

"The advice of the Jedai is always welcome here. Wesa do our part to keep Naboo safe."

The seriousness of the moment passed for Nass, who now grinned broadly and stood up, his deep voice commanding the attention of the entire room.

"NOW, Weesa celebrate fiftieth year of Nass rule with dedication of gift to Otoh Gunga. With hero Jedi and General Jar Jar here to help, weesa dedicate the Battle of Naboo to the Gungans who fought and died in our fight for freedom!"

With a dramatic motion of his hands, Nass directed servants to uncover a previously cordoned-off section of the transparent dome. For a moment Obi-Wan could not tell what he was looking at, but as his eyes adjusted to the motion of the water, he was stunned.

The Gungans had taken variations of Nubian coral and seaweed, not unlike the stuff they had enjoyed for dinner, and made an enormous tapestry of it, encased in the outer wall of this protective bubble.

The tapestry was like a part of Obi-Wanís mind, suddenly brought back to life. There were huge Gungan faces in the artwork, along with that of a younger Padme, her former head of security Panaka, himself and Qui-Gon wielding their lightsabers, and tiny Anakin, as he had been when he had destroyed the control ship, standing at the foot of one of the bright yellow Nubian starfighters.

With the gentle tugs of the lake rippling through the tapestry, it undulated back and forth, making the faces of those depicted wave change subtly as if they were living beings.

Seeing his former Master and his Padawan still young and innocent was too much for Obi-Wan. He excused himself among the excited, appreciative Gungans and departed for the quarters he shared with young Luke.

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The next morning, the silent progression of Gungan, humans and droid made their way to the Gungansí sacred place, where Obi-Wan had been allowed to camoflauge and stash his Jedi starfighter before making his way back to Coruscant.

Jar Jar held Luke while Obi-wan helped R2D2 into his niche in the starfighter. The Gungan had clearly taken a liking to the baby boy, and Obi-Wan had tried to avoid questions of when he would be able to see Luke again.

With the astromech firmly in place, Obi-Wan retrieved Lukeís crib and chuckled as Jar Jar planted a kiss on the boyís tiny forehead.

"Bye bye, Luke, meesa hope to see you soon."

Obi-Wan secured Luke in the back seat, and turned on the two-way display monitor so he could keep a careful eye on the baby during the next part of the flight. Jar Jar fidgeted in place, clearly not wanting to go home, and Obi-Wan walked back down the side of the shift.

"Jar Jar, may I tell you something?"

The Gungan nodded affably.

"When we first met years ago, I was not focused on the meaning of life in the galaxy. I thought you would slow us down, disrupt our mission. I adivsed Qui-Gon not to interfere in your punishment. To be quite honest, my opinion of your worth as a creature was not much different than the vision of Palpatine you shared with me last night."

Jar Jar made as if to speak, to tell Obi-Wan he was nothing like the Emperor, but the Jedi raised his hand and continued.

"In the years that have passed since, I realized you were just growing up, and I had a lot left to do of it myself. When we left Naboo after the great battle, I thought it unlikely I would see you or Otoh Gunga again, now, you have been not only my savior, but perhaps the savior of the way of the Jedi. I can never thank you enough. When my days are at an end, I shall always know that you were my friend."

He reached a hand out ot the Gungan, who clasped it with both of his.

"Meesa still is your friend, Obi-Wan. Meesa canít wait to see you and Luke when you come to visit Otoh Gunga again."

Obi-Wan looked away, then stared back at Jar Jar, trying to avoid speaking the truth that what Jar Jar was hoping for was impossible.

"I shall always know that you were my friend."

He turned and slid into the starshipís cockpit, sealing the hatch and powering up the engines. Jar Jar stepped away from the heat of the craft as it hovered off the ground and blasted off.

The Gungan followed the craft with his keen eyes until it was just a dot on the horizon, then winked out of Nabooís atmosphere into space.

Jar Jar Binks stood in his peopleís sacred place a long time that day, and he came back there many times over his life. He brought his mate there to ask her to marry him, and eventually all four of his children, both as infants when out showing them the world they would soon discover on their own, then again when he felt they were old enough to understand the stories he had to share.

Jar Jar Binks lived the rest of his life as a fairly well-known Gungan, even sitting on the Council of Bosses for a time, before realizing his disinterest in politics had followed him home to Otoh Gunga. In his later years, he was increasingly popular at social gatherings, telling stories of the Trade Federationís invasion, the peace with the Naboo and the great battle between the droids and the massive Gungan army on the plains to the east of Theed.

Gungan teachers often used Jar Jar as a lesson for their pupils, showing how everyone could make a difference, how even the Gungan who seemed most out of place and useless could rise up to lead his people and do great things for his society.

Jar Jar enjoyed the fame, especially talking to gatherings of impressionable adolescent Gungans who reminded him of himself when he had first met the humans who would change his destiny.

But at the end of his speeches, when all the questions had been answered and the excitement of reliving the battle had passed, Jar Jar always closed by emphasizing the real heroes of the war and of the galaxy itself in his mind ... the Jedi.

The Jedi he had known -- Anakin, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The Jedi who had called him their friend.