Note: Please excuse any typos or other errors. I originally abandoned this idea in 2005, back when we were all using those hard 3.5" floppy disks, and I had to re-type it from hardcopy for the boards. It's a bit lengthy, but I've broken it up into sections and edited it a bit. S.K. Rites of Passage Excerpt from the notebook of Doctor Graf Zappalo, Minister of Science during the reign of Queen Amidala, Theed, Naboo: A truly astonishing array of plants and animals are found within the swamplands of Naboo, but until recently they have remained mysteries to the human residents of the planet. This is partially due to the distrust most humans have for wet, swampy areas in which footing is treacherous and the pathways change almost daily; but it is mostly because the swamps are the traditional home of the Gungans, a race that predates the arrival of our own on the planet and who have been, until now, unwilling to allow humans free access to these areas. With the recent cooperation between our two species, it is to be hoped that ventures into these areas will not only be allowed, but encouraged, and that knowledgeable Gungans will e willing to serve as guides and navigators…. “And you say the Gungans invited you on this expedition?” Amidala, Queen of the Naboo, sat during a formal session of her Advisory Council. “Yes, Your Highness.” Captain Panaka, head of the Naboo Security Forces, had been presenting the request. He glanced at the Queen’s Minister of Science, Dr. Graf Zappalo. “I believe Dr. Zappalo has been very persistent in requesting information on some of the formerly unstudied creatures within Gungan territory.” Amidala look to her Minister of Science. Graf Zappalo, in his early forties, was a balking man with a fringe of dark hair and build of someone who spent a lot of time outdoors. He smiled slightly. “The invitation may also have had something to do with Captain Panaka’s requests for joint training sessions with both human and Gungan personnel.” The Queen looked back at her Security Chief. “And you approve of this venture, Captain?” “Yes, Your Highness. Apparently, this is part of a training program that many of their military officers undergo. But I’ve been told it also deals with some of the wildlife of Naboo.” “Your Highness, this is an amazing opportunity to both further our cooperation with the Gungans and to gain more insight into the creatures that inhabit our planet,” Zappalo added. “I see.” There was a hint of amusement in the Queen’s voice. “Governor?” “I agree that this presents an excellent opportunity for the scientific community,” Governor Sio Bibble replied. He paused. “It also represents one of the few times I can remember when scientists and security personnel have been in complete agreement.” That comment earned him raised eyebrows from both Panaka and Zappalo. The Queen smiled. “I believe you may be right, Governor. We certainly should not let this opportunity pass.” She turned the Gungan Ambassador, who had been watching the scene with amusement. “What sort of exercise is it, Lady Nril?” “Iss training for ridin’ aiwhas,” Kimma Nril replied. “Thiss’n common way for off’cers to prove themselves ready for pr’motion. When theysa completed the training, theysa ‘spected to fly over th’ocean to islands where the goff buhd nests. There theys pluck the goff’s fethers while the buhd iss in flight. The fethers, theysa later be placed on kaadu’s saddles for decoration.” “The goff….” Minister of Music Hela Brandes said thoughtfully. “Aren’t those supposed to be the largest birds on Naboo?” Kimma smiled at the Human. Nearly two years ago, they had met during the Trade Federation invasion, when both had been captured by the droid army. Brandes had been give charge of a group of Naboo youngsters belonging to prominent families; Kimma and her family had been captured in a droid raid on a Gungan settlement. Forced into the same Neimoidian transport, both groups had later been rescued by a Gungan patrol. “Yiss. The goff. Issan the largest buhd in the sky.” “Wait a minute,” Bibble broke in. “The Titavian? I though they were just a myth!” “Apparently not,” Zappalo remarked. “After all, we’ve seen the feathers. They’re real enough.” “The goff, theysa rill,” KImma assured Bibble. “Yoursan people iss only going to watch, not to fly with th’off’cers. Iss safe ‘enough.” “Very well.” Amidala turned back to Panaka. “You may make whatever arrangements are necessary and agreeable for everyone involved, Captain.” She glanced over at Zappalo. “Doctor.” Zappalo grinned. “Thank you, Your Highness.” Before either could turn his attention away, Amidala added, “On this venture, Captain, I would appreciate it if you would include Padmé as an official observer. I’m curious to hear what this joint training session entails.” Zappalo and Nril both shot Panaka questioning glances, but the security officer merely nodded. “Yes, Your Highness.” With that, the discussion turned to other topics, and adjourned half an hour later. ~*~*~*~ Ric Olié, Bravo Squadron Leader and pilot of the Queen’s Own Royal Starship, strolled down the hanger bay as he scanned the inspection report for Bravo Squadron. Each of the twelve ships was being systematically inspected and upgraded, and the preliminary report showed nothing out of the ordinary. Bravo ships Two, Three and Five had passed their inspections; Bravo Four needed a simple power cell replacement. Bravo Eight – Out of the corner of his eye, Olié caught a glimpse of something skittering away between a pair of storage cannisters. Halting, he peered into the space between them; nothing moved in the shadows. He decided it had been a trick of the light and continued down the hanger until he reached Bravo Six. A group of mechanics milled around next to the ship; all four seemed to be searching for something. “What’s wrong?” Olié asked, laying the report on the cockpit ladder. One of them replied with a puzzled frown, “I’m missing part of my lunch. I set it down here, turned my back for a couple of minutes, and it just disappeared.” Olié looked at the rest of the group. “You sure somebody here isn’t just playing a joke?” One of the others shook her head. “No. I’m missing a couple of tools. And the power cells I was going to install in Bravo Ten have vanished, too.” Olié paused, turning to eye the place where he thought he’d seen something. “Let’s give this place a good sweep, then.” They spread out and began to work their way down the hanger, looking behind canisters, crates, and ships. Several of the astromech droids joined the search, wheeling around boxes and beeping a negative each time they examined a hidden space. Partway down the bay, Olié stopped to watch one of the droids roll slowly around a container of lubricant. As the droid disappeared behind the canister, something the size of human toddler appeared from behind it. The creature was dressed in a plain cloth jumpsuit. As it rounded the barrel, it put a small four-fingered hand up to steady itself. Intent on following the astromech, the creature turned its back to Olié, who could see the long, floppy ears attached to the back of its head. The small Gungan padded around the barrel and out of sight. “R-7,” Olié called to the droid. “Go around that canister again.” Uttering a puzzled whistle, the droid complied. “What’s –” began Denné Bondaro, the chief mechanic, but Olié waved her to silence. A moment later the little Gungan reappeared, still following the droid; the youngster was (literally) griming from ear to ear. Beside Olié, Bondaro gasped. The Gungan glanced up, say the Humans staring at him, and bolted around the canister, disappearing amongst a pile of spare parts boxes. Two of the mechanics scrambled after it. “No, no, wait!” Olié approached the boxes and crouched down. In the darkness he could see a pair of eyes peering back. “Don’t make any sudden moves, and don’t yell. “You’ll scare him. Or her.” On of the mechanics chuckled. “That explains the missing food.” “It’s all right, kid,” Olié told the Gungan. “No one’s going to hurt you. Come on out.” Over his shoulder, he asked Bondaro, “None of the ambassador’s staff have kids this young, do they? Is there a visiting delegation or something?” She shook her head. “I haven’t heard of any. Usually the whole palace staff knows about something like that.” “Well, he’s got to have come from where,” Olié remarked. He could see the Gungan had moved to the edge of the pile of boxes. “Somebody go find some food for him.” A moment later the Gungan toddled out into the open and stood blinking at the Humans. The top of its head come to just above Olié’s knee. The eyestalks were less pronounced than those of a typical Gungan adult, but the floppy ears and stubby toes were the same. The youngster tilted its head back and forth in an almost bird-like movement, its eyes darting from one Human to another. Then it wandered up to Olié and planted its fists on its hips, peering at his face. The mechanics grinned. “I don’t think he’s afraid of you, Chief,” Bondaro remarked, and everyone laughed. “Better hope it doesn’t bite,” someone else muttered. Olié smiled and held out a hand to the Gungan, which finally took hold of his fingers and began turning his hand over as if searching for something. “So. Where did you come from?” the pilot asked softly as the youngster turned its attention from his hand to his flightsuit, plucking at the material and sniffing at him. “Why, Ric, didn’t your parents every explain that to you?” asked Bondaro. Her comment drew a laugh from the Humans; the Gungan glanced up at the sound, then went back to exploring Olié’s pockets. Olié slid an arm under the Gungan’s bottom and lifted it carefully. The youngster grasped the fabric of his suit and held on, apparently unafraid. “Baby Humans, yes. Baby Gungan, no.” The Gungan weighed about as much as a Human child its size would have. Now that it appeared to have been accepted, it twisted in Olié’s arms, examining each of the other Humans in turn. “If there are any Gungans visiting, Security will know about it,” Olié said finally. “I’ll take him over and see what’s going on.” Two people entered the far end of the hanger. “Looks like Captain Panaka will save you the trip,” Bondaro remarked. Naboo had a small group of security officers, and Olié recognized the woman beside Panaka as Taminé Ebri, who had been assigned to help local law enforcement officials in a remote part of Human-held territory. Ebri’s expression changed to one of relief. “There you are!” she exclaimed. The Gungan twisted in Olié’s arms and leaned toward her, holding out both hands in an obvious “pick me up!” gesture. When Ebri lifted it, it wrapped both arms around her neck and settled its head on her shoulder. Olié’s eyebrows shot up. “Friend of yours?” “You could say that. His parents are missing and presumed dead. A couple of townsfolk where I’m stationed brough him to me.” The side of her mouth quirked. “For some reason, everyone there thinks I’m the local expert on Gungans.” “Well, sure. You’ve had at least one more encounter with the Gungans than most people have.” “I’ve had exactly one encounter with the Gungans,” Ebri corrected him. “My point.” She laughed. “All right. Anyway, I brought him here. I wanted to contact someone in Otoh Gunga who could find the rest of his family, or at least make arrangements for someone to come get him and place him with a foster family, or whatever Gungans do with orphans. And I need to talk to Ambassador Nril about taking care of him while I’m waiting for the Gungans to get back to me.” Kimma Nril had brought both her husbands, her two Gungan children, and her adopted Human daughter on her assignment. “Does he have a name?” “I don’t know. There’s no way to ask the parents, of course, and the few items that seem to have any writing on them are all in the Gungan’s language, so no one could read them until I brought them here.” “How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” Ebri blushed. “I don’t, really. There aren’t any um, obvious physical clues, so I’m just guessing.” The Gungan was peering at Panaka; the youngster leaned as far over it Ebri’s arms as he could and reached for the security chief’s hat. “No,” Ebri told him firmly. “That’s not yours, and you don’t get to play with it.” “Nnff,” the Gungan huffed, and turned back to the hat. With one swift motion of his head and neck, he jerked forward. His tongue, while nowhere near the length of an adult’s, shot out and snagged the hat. Panaka whirled; the younger was standing in an astonished Ebri’s arms, the hat clamped firmly in his teeth, mouth drawn up in an involuntary grin. Panaka glowered. Something suspiciously like a snicker came for Olié’s direction; Panaka shot him a withering glance, and suddenly fits of coughing seemed to overcome most of the adults in the room. Panaka grasped the hat in one hand. “Let go.” The Gungan clamped his teeth down and whined, both hands clutching his prize. “Let go,” Panaka repeated in a firmer tone. Ebri gave the youngster a warning squeeze. Finally his mouth opened and Panaka took the hat away, grimacing at the damp semi-circle on the back of it. He scowled at the youngster, then told Ebri in a carefully controlled tone, “Better take him to the kitchens and get him something to eat.” “Yes, sir,” Ebri managed. Behind Panaka’s back the mechanics and pilots were still grinning; they suddenly scattered as the security chief turned. A moment later Panaka and Ebri were the only ones left in the immediate area. Blushing, Ebri stammered, “Sir, ah, I’m sorry –” Panaka turned back to her with an exasperated sigh. Then he eyed the Gungan and his expression softened slightly. “Lieutenant, he’s a baby. Contrary to the palace gossip, I don’t eat them for breakfast.” He leveled a finger at the Gungan. “Don’t do that again.” Hhnnn-ah!” the youngster responded and grabbed for the hat again. Panaka frowned “If nothing else, we’re going to have to teach him the idea of personal property. Eventually.” “Yes, sir.” A few moments later Olié sidled back to where she was sitting, peering carefully around to make sure Panaka had gone. The pilot was grinning. “Brassy little fellow, isn’t he?” Ebri sighed. “Anything not bolted down is fair game,” she said wearily. “Ah, you know kids – they’re the center of the universe until someone teaches ‘em otherwise. He’ll grow out of it.” He hefted the helmet he was carrying. “Here, he can try this on instead.” He held it out to the Gungan. The toddler sniffed it, then twisted his neck to peer inside it. Finally, when Olié waggled it for him, he grasped it in both hands and pulled. “That’s it,” the pilot encouraged him. Let’s see how this fits.” He turned the helmet and lowered it over the youngster’s head. The Gungan tilted his head up to look into the helmet. “No, no, lower your chin… that’s it.” Olié carefully placed the helmet on the youngster’s head and let go. The helmet promptly dropped down over the Gungan’s eyes, pinning his ears to the back of his neck, and only stopping when it reached his nose. Ebri laughed at the sight of a helmet with a leathery nose sticking out from under the flight goggles Olié grinned. “Well, obviously we’re going to have to rethink helmet design before he’s old enough to fly.” “What makes you think he’s going to grow up to be a pilot?” Bondaro asked. She took the helmet off the youngster’s head and handed it to him; the Gungan promptly turned it upside down like a bowl and began pulling at the straps. “Maybe he’ll decide he wants to be a mechanic instead.” “You two are both going to be surprised when he grows up to be a security officer,” Ebri said archly, and all three of them grinned. The Gungan looked up at them and grinned in response. Then he reached up to tug at Olié’s shirt collar. “This is Ric,” Ebri said. The Gungan gazed from her face to Olié’s and back. “Ric,” Ebri repeated. The Gungan’s mouth puckered. “Nnnn-im.” “No, no.” Olié bent down the give the Gungan a clear look at his mouth as he pronounced his words. “It’s an ‘r’ sound. Like this… rrrrrr.” “Hhhuuuuhhhh.” “Rrrrrr-ic.” The Gungan wrinkled his nose and leaned forward until it almost touched Olié’s “Ick!” he squealed suddenly. Olié’s hanger crew burst out laughing. The Gungan looked from one to the other, mouth gaping open in a smile. “Was that your name, or an editorial comment?” asked Bondaro, folding her arms and grinning at her boss. Olié smile wryly and nodded. “Very funny. Let’s see how he does with your name, shall we?” Ebri rose. “I really need to get him something to eat. He seems to like having several small meals a day, instead of three large ones.” “Look, most of the tables will be crowded right now How about you leave him here, and bring something back for him? We’ll watch him.” “What do you mean, ‘we’?” Bondaro grumbled good-naturedly. “You saw him first.” “Thank you,” Ebri said. “I really don’t wan to put him in a crowded room. I’m not sure how he’ll react to large groups of people.” “C’mon, Squirt, let’s go look at the ships. And while we’re at it, we’ll work on your consonants.” Olié lifted the Gungan out of Ebri’s arms. “We’ll be back,” he remarked, and they set off down the hanger bay, the youngster seated on his shoulders. [snip – The Naboo have set out for the trip into the Gungan swamps] A dozen people disembarked from the transport shuttle on the shore of Lake Paonga. In addition to Panaka, Zappalo, and Padmé, the group included a biologist, five security officers, Ric Olié, and two other officers in the Royal Air Service. Padmé eyed the bundle tucked under the Security Chief’s arm. “I thought you already had everything packed for this trip, Captain,” she remarked, her lips curing with the hint of a smile. Panaka didn’t smile back. “I do.” She waited, letting silence as the question for her. Finally Panaka answered stiffly, “It’s two loaves of bread.” Padmé’s eyebrows lifted; she certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “Captain, I’m certain the Gungans will feed us while were there.” Staring straight ahead, he replied, “I’m sure they will.” A pause. “This isn’t for me.” Another pause. Panaka glanced at her to see if she had dropped the subject. Finding her still looking at him expectantly, he added, I’ve been invited to stay with Otoh Gunga’s Patrol Chief while we’re in the city.” Padmé finally smiled. “That would be Captain Tarpals.” Another pause. “Yes, it would.” Padmé moved away from the rest of the group, indicating Panaka was to follow her. Once out of earshot, she remarked, “Captain, I think that after two joint-personnel camping trips, the half-dozen holo-discussions on law enforcement, and the smuggling incident a couple years ago, you can safely admit that Tarpals is a friend of yours. Most of us have changed out attitudes about the Gungans since the invasion. You’re allowed to as well.” She noted that he’d relaxed marginally. An impish grin spread across her race suddenly. “Two loves of bread? That’s a lot of sandwiches.” “It’s one of the few things Humans make that he’ll eat,” Panaka said. “Apparently Gungans don’t bake or cook.” [snip – short time later, after they’ve met with Tarpals and assorted Gungan officials] As they moved off down the main concourse, Ric Olié leaned over to Padme and remarked, “I’ve got a theory about those two.” Padmé eyed him cautiously. “I’m not sure I want to hear this….” “I think they’re twins who were separated at birth.” She and Zappalo laughed. “Leave it to you!” She threw a glance over her shoulder at the two soldiers trailing behind them. Olié was grinning. “C’mon, Doc, back me up here.” Till chuckling, Zappalo shook his head. “Well, aside from the obvious genetic impossibility….” “You gotta admit, it would explain a lot,” Olié persisted. “Don’t even think about saying anything like that were either of them can hear you,” Padmé warned him. “Captain Panaka might let you get away with it, but the last thing we need is an incident with the Gungans because Captain Tarpals misunderstood you.” [snip – into the swamps] Olié let out a yelp. Something small and lumpy, with four clawed feet and a set of ridges along its back and sides, hissed up at him from the damp ground at his feet. The pilot jumped back. “What the –” The thing began to swell up until it was twice its original size. One of the Gungans eyed the creature with what looked like amusement. “Iss’n gullipud.” She drew back a foot and gave the creature a kick. The gullipud sailed a short distance and bounced off the root of a tree. Olié stared at her. “Is it poisonous?” “No’suh, jus’ noisy.” She strode forward and picked the gullipud up, careful to avoid the short spines along its sides, and brought it back. “Hissen not huht.” Zappalo trotted up to them. This is a common creature?” He drew out a pocket-sized holo-recorder and began filming the gullipud. Olié shook his head and rolled his eyes. The Gungan peered at the lends of the recorder. “What’n dat?” “I’m just taking holographic pictures,” the scientist told her. “Just ignore it, okay? Hold that creature up and tell me about it.” “Oke-day,” she replied doubtfully, complying with his instructions. “Iss’n gullipud. Iss’n not good to ett, mostly just mekking noise.” “And it expands like that when it feels threatened?” “Yiss. Usually theysa etten by granks, blarths, sometimes by nar-gletch or zalaacas iff’n theysan can’t catch anyt’ing else.” The Gungan brought the gullipd to chest level and threw it to Olié, who caught it reflexively. By now the creature was so puffed up with air that it could barely wave its legs or tail. It had stopped hissing and had drawn its head into the folds of its expanded body, eyes closed. “They’sa mostly ha’mless.” Zappalo was nodding as though he understood all that. Olié’s knowledge of swamp animal life pretty much began and ended with kaadu, which served as mounts for the Gungans, and blarths, which were medium-sized animals that many of Gungans kept as pets. The Gungan took the gullipud away from Olié and placed it on the ground, then backed away. “So, do they travel in groups, or alone? What else can you tell me?” Zappalo was still pointing the holo-imager at the creature. The Gungan eyed them both for a moment, then turned to Olié. “Thiss’n normal for himsa?” “Who, the doctor? Oh, yeah. He’s always wandering around filming anything that moves and asking weird questions. That’s how people can tell he’s a scientist.” The Gungan eyed him as though she thought he was as odd as Zappalo, then shook her head. “Ah. Well, gullipuds, theysa travel in small groups of t’ree, four. Theysa ett bugs, small feesh, litt’ler things than themsa. Theysa oke-day to ett iff’n yousa can’t catch ennyt’ing e’ss.” Here she made a wry face and stuck her tongue out partway. “Testin’ like mud, mostly, though.” By the time she had finished speaking, the gullipud had begun to deflate; a few minutes later it had decreased in size to the point where its feet could again touch the ground. With a final hiss at the Humans and their escort, the gullipud picked itself up and waddled off into the vegetation. Zappalo shut off the ‘imager and grinned after it.