Summary: A year after "Dragonslayer," a mysterious rebel makes his way to the Lars farm.
Disclaimer: All things Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm.
* * * * *
There are moments when the world breaks, and he and his otherself are alone. They draw close to each other at these times. The air has a high and dangerous feel to it, and he is/they are frightened.
Far, far above them, clipped voices argue meaningless words. One voice he knows every soft edge of. The others sometimes change. The one he knows wants to stay with him. He feels the love coming from her. The others want to take him away. He also feels love from them, but he is afraid anyway. He does not like it when they come.
(what if you are wrong, obi-wan? sometimes i don't know which one of you scares me more…)
(i am not wrong…)
He touches his otherself's fingers and she grabs and it hurts. He cries. Then the world is mended, and the voices go away.
For a little while.
Thirteen years later.
The Rebel arrived on the Lars' farm just before harvest.
Not that he said he was a Rebel. He was just a wandering worker that Uncle Owen had a little extra money to hire that year, led to the job by old Ben Kenobi, as a few others had been over the years. He worked the fields, same as Luke did, bringing up the vats of water harvested underground, and helping get them transported to the market in Mos Eisley. He barely said anything about where he'd been, except for a hint that he'd lost his foot in a "work-related accident." Luke had seen plenty of farm-related accidents that could take a foot, but none of them would make the even stump that Jaet Bishapi had. That would have to be done with a laser.
"So, some doctor cut off the mangled stuff with a laser scalpel," Camie had suggested when Luke brought this interesting fact up at Toshi Station. "Honestly, Wormie, you better turn your brain off before it fries out."
Luke had not dared to ask Bishapi himself about it. He'd met a few crazy people in his life - sometimes they wandered out of the desert, their eyes burning and their minds gone - and he could see that this man wasn't quite right in the head. It was in the eyes, but it was also in a smell… some smell that he didn't pick up with his nose, exactly.
(i don't know which one of you scares me more…)
Bishapi was friendly and exuberant much of the time, and his energy was contagious, but Luke sensed something intense and frightening underneath it. He'd dreamed once that Bishapi had opened his mouth to laugh and a fountain of molten lava had erupted out of it. In the dream, Bishapi had not stopped laughing throughout the ordeal. Luke walked carefully around him.
Of course, even if he had dared to ask about the injury, he wouldn't have gotten much of a chance. Uncle Owen was always there, and if he caught Luke so much as starting to ask Bishapi a question more complex than "Did you finish on the north range?" he'd send one or the other of them off on chores.
Usually, it was Luke who ended up being sent. Today, it was back to the maintenance shed, to get the two busted droids the jawas had pushed on them into some kind of working order. It wasn't that Luke didn't enjoy the work - he was good at pasting the old junk piles together - but Bishapi had been starting to talk about places he'd seen, and people he knew. He mentioned Alderaan, and a girl he knew who was just about Luke's age, but Uncle Owen was over in a flash, his eyes cold and hard as rocks, and he'd sent Luke back to the sheds. Luke was willing to bet half the harvest that by the time he got back, the subject would have been changed.
"Luke? Are you in there?"
He looked up from the droid he was working on. "Back here, Aunt Beru!"
His aunt came down the steps, carrying two steaming bowls. "I brought you some cabbage stew," she said. "Uncle told me you'd be here."
"He'd know; he sent me."
Luke stood, and joined Aunt Beru, clearing a space on the workbench for them to sit. He took the stew gratefully, and was happy to see that she'd brought her own lunch out as well. They ate together, the hot bowls balanced on their knees.
"I just don't understand why he won't even let the guy talk."
Aunt Beru blew a bit of steam off a spoonful of stew. "Your uncle came here to get away from the rest of the galaxy. He doesn't like it much when the rest of the galaxy follows him."
"What about you?"
"Oh, I like hearing a tale now and then. But I'm just as glad it's far away from here."
"He wasn't talking about the rest of the galaxy. Just some girl he knows on Alderaan."
Aunt Beru looked up sharply - Luke sometimes thought he saw someone in those eyes who wasn't just a Tatooine farmwife, someone who really could cut through anything and win any battle - then let it fade into her more typical pleasant smile. "I think you ought to be looking for some girl you know, here on Tatooine."
"Well, you're nearly fourteen. It would do you good. What about that girl who you spend so much time with?"
"Camie? You don't even like Camie…"
It wasn't until years later that he realized how easily and deftly his aunt had changed the subject. At the time, he simply let her steer the afternoon into early evening, talking about school and friends and dreams, until he'd all but forgotten why he'd been sent to the sheds in the first place.
When they finally emerged, he saw Uncle Owen and Bishapi silhouetted on the horizon of the north ridge. Bishapi was bent studiously over a perpetually malfunctioning vaporator. Uncle Owen was adjusting a vat to receive the day's harvest, but even at a distance, Luke could tell by the tilt of his uncle's head that he was glaring at the hired hand. "What is that about?"
Aunt Beru just sighed. "Uncle doesn't like him very well."
"So why hire him?"
"We're short on hands. And Ben Kenobi sent him to us."
Uncle Owen never said anything nice about Ben Kenobi - nobody did; "crazy old hermit" was the nicest thing Luke had ever heard him called - but he did remember that the few times Kenobi had come to them, usually asking for food or a ride somewhere, Uncle Owen had grudgingly given it. "Don't want him starving to death on my head," he'd muttered when Luke asked, cutting off any further avenue of communication on the subject. But hiring a farmhand he didn't like, just because Kenobi asked? That was…
Luke's eyes widened. There had been other farmhands over the years - not a lot, but a few here and there - who had come quietly from Ben's place, done their work, and left, never to be seen again. Had they all been Rebels?
No. No, of course not. Uncle Owen didn't like politics, and wanted the galaxy stay off his farm. Sheltering public enemies wasn't a good way to do that. And besides, he wasn't even sure that Bishapi was a Rebel. Probably Camie was right, and his imagination was running away with him. Why would the Rebellion bother with Tatooine?
Luke felt his aunt's stare without seeing it. It was the bright, penetrating one that made him think that he could chip away the farmwife mask and find some blazing sun underneath it. But when he turned, she was simply smiling at him. "Tell Uncle that dinner will be ready at sundown. There'll be enough for Jaet, as well."
"I'll tell him," Luke said, shaking his head. He thought the chances of Jaet being invited to dinner with the family were pretty low.
He was right; Uncle Owen just grunted an assent when he got the message, then said something about having an errand to run. He gave Bishapi a warning look, then left Luke in charge of the harvest vat and left the farm.
Bishapi did not attempt to make conversation as they worked.
Obi-Wan looked with some distaste on the womp rat carcass, but he'd become accustomed to carrying them out to the baby krayt dragons over the past year. He still couldn't watch them eat, though.
"Come now!" he called, and they did, three shuffling around the hut, the other two flying down from the bluffs (their wings had begun to grow, and Obi-Wan took pleasure in watching them learn to fly). He'd learned to mimic the cry of the adults at first, but now they seemed not to require it. They were perfectly comfortable with a human parent. He was still puzzling out how he was going to teach them to hunt; he hoped instinct would kick in. And he hoped that they would not consider him easy prey.
"You lost your mind, Ben?"
He didn't turn. "Hello, Owen."
"They're going to turn on you."
It was calculated to sting, and it did. But Obi-Wan kept his face and his voice passive. "Oh, I'm sure they will, eventually. But I promised Luke."
A grunt. "Figures. Boy hasn't got the sense of a bantha."
The dragons began to eat, and Obi-Wan turned away from it. He gestured toward his hut. "Come inside, Owen. I doubt you came out here to lecture me on my choice of companions."
"The hell I didn't," Owen said, but followed him inside.
Obi-Wan sat on a low stone chair. Owen chose a seat that was built into the wall. "This Bishapi you sent me," he said. "Do you know where he came from?"
"He is a friend of Organa's."
Owen shook his head blankly. "Am I missing something here, Ben? A friend of Organa's? Bail Organa's? And you knew this?"
Obi-Wan sighed. "Bail knows that he is to contact me if times become desperate. He has apparently shared that knowledge with a few people he trusts."
"I have to say, I got a few questions about Organa's judgment. You been watching the news? He's letting the girl get cozy with Vader. I don't know if someone being a friend of Bail's is the best recommendation he can get just now."
Obi-Wan Kenobi had traveled hundreds of worlds and met people of species that couldn't even breathe the same air he needed, but the only person in the galaxy who was completely alien to him was Owen Lars. Owen could always take him by surprise. Just when he became convinced that the land-bound farmer was the sum of the man, he found out that the old interests were still there; just when he was sure that Owen genuinely disliked Luke, he discovered that the man was keeping up with any matter that might concern the boy, even obscure news of Alderaanian politics.
Obi-Wan himself had been watching since before the vague reports of Leia's campaign had started coming in over the galactic airwaves. He had subscribed to Alderaan's main news pipes early on, and kept an especially close eye on the gossip columns that whispered endlessly about the royal family. Leia had been spotted in Vader's company - apparently in quite chummy conversations -several times before whatever had brought them together on the plague-ridden world of Ampinua (where she had actually struck an official deal with him), much to the confusion and consternation of the largely rebel-sympathetic press. The deal was an intelligent one, dealing with medical supplies and plague relief, but what was troubling Obi-Wan was what had troubled him from the start: Leia and Vader seemed to be getting along rather too well for her safety.
Somehow, he had checked the urge to catch a transport there and steal the girl away, to hide her someplace more secure. That would raise too many questions which he couldn't afford to answer - as would turning Jaet Bishapi away now.
"Yes," he said. "I have been watching. And I also question. But it is not safe for me to contact him and question him directly. It is at any rate unsafe to shut Bishapi out of what he considers a fairly routine temporary relocation. He would ask too many questions, and he is not known for discretion within the Rebellion."
"You know how he lost his foot?"
"I recognize a lightsaber amputation when I see one. That leaves few options at the present time."
Owen caught his wrist, stared at him. The green eyes were haunted - Obi-Wan knew the look from his own mirror. Perhaps Owen wasn't a complete mystery. Perhaps, aside from an interest in Luke's welfare, they also shared a ghost, a fire-lined ghost with burning blue eyes. "Luke's going to ask about it, Ben. He's going to ask, and sooner or later, Bishapi's going to tell him. I gave pretty strong orders not to talk about anything in the Rebellion or the Empire, but I don't believe the man's going to follow them."
"Vader has taken great pains to disassociate himself from the Skywalker name. Luke would have no reason to make a connection… "
Owen stood up and began to pace. "I talk about him like he's got no sense. I know that, and I know I shouldn't. But he's a smart kid, Obi-Wan. And he… he's got this thing in his head. Like Amidala. If he has all the pieces to a puzzle, he'll figure out how it goes together. I don't want him to have the pieces to this one. Not yet."
"I know, Owen. I know." Obi-Wan waited until Owen stopped pacing and took a seat before he spoke again. "I can think of no alternative right now. There was no opportunity to turn Bishapi away - "
"And you couldn't have palmed him off on someone else? One of your friends in Mos Espa?"
"Wald died when the sand fever went through last year. The others scattered on a rumor of Imperial action."
"You couldn't have sent him to Kit Jarai at Sanctuary?"
"I tried Kit first. But you must realize that the children at Sanctuary are as frequently Imperial orphans as Rebel orphans. Kit felt that Bishapi's tendency toward rhetoric would upset them. I am not certain he is wrong."
"So you risked Luke?"
"I do not believe the risk to be significant, Owen. Luke has not questioned Anakin's death. Vader has made no inroads toward him. The names are separate, and you have done well at seeing to it that… certain things do not reach Luke's ears."
"But if he puts it together, if he ever suspects…"
"If he suspects, then perhaps it will be time for him to do so." Obi-Wan got up, went to his trunk, and opened it. Inside was Anakin's lightsaber, retrieved in the spare second before it tumbled into the fire with him. "When Anakin made this, he said that he wanted to give it to his son, should he have one - "
"You think I'm taking that thing to Luke, you're crazier than I figured."
"Perhaps if you told him that his father was a Jedi, he would believe that he had the whole puzzle, and not question further. He suspects, I think, that you're hiding something…"
"Yeah, well, I'm not letting him get that close to what it is. And even if he didn't guess, I know that boy. He'd be following you off to Maker knows where in the space of a week, trying to be this great Jedi that he'd decide his father was."
"His father was a great Jedi."
"Well, seeing how well that worked out for him in the end, I'd just as soon Luke stayed put."
There was some half-hearted talk after that, but it was obvious that they were at an impasse, and Obi-Wan did not question Owen's authority. He had promised to wait until Luke came to him of his own accord. But the boy was getting older, and Ben was growing nervous about how much time there would be to train him.
Owen left when the sky began to go red, taking one last opportunity to berate Obi-Wan's choice of companions then heading back toward home.
Obi-Wan went back to the corral, where the baby dragons had devoured the womp rat so completely that Obi-Wan was left with no clean-up. They were mewling for more.
He gestured to the two who were beginning to fly, and decided it was
about time for him to figure out how to teach them to hunt.
The days went on, and Bishapi began talking more easily again, especially when Uncle Owen wasn't around, but sometimes even when he was. Nothing that Luke could say for sure was about the Rebellion, of course - Bishapi didn't make any secret about hating the Empire, but neither did anyone else Luke knew, and he was pretty sure the entire world of Tatooine wasn't in the Rebellion - but things that began to edge up, just a little, in that direction. Luke didn't press, hoping that if he was quiet enough, Bishapi would forget Uncle Owen's instructions on his own.
On a day about a month after the argument about Alderaan, Luke was with the two older men on the south range, helping them load a fairly large vat onto a landspeeder.
The harvest was good this year. There had been an inordinate amount of moisture - it had even rained once in Anchorhead, for almost ten minutes, and Luke had gone outside and stood in it in wonderment - and the vaporators, under Bishapi's hands, were functioning very well. Uncle Owen, uncharacteristically generous, had told Luke that the extra money would go toward buying him the Skyhopper he'd had his eye on. Luke was very careful not to spill any of it.
Uncle Owen dipped his canteen into the vat, turned the cooler on, and a moment later offered it to Bishapi. "You kept this one running. You can have the first of it."
Bishapi took the canteen gratefully, and swallowed the cooling water with slow appreciation. "I don't think I've ever liked water quite so much," he said. He handed the canteen to Luke. "You learn good lessons out here, boy. You work for something, you earn it, it's better."
Luke sighed. It was one of Uncle Owen's platitudes. Bishapi was becoming quite the chameleon. "Yes, sir." He drank. The water wasn't half bad.
Bishapi went on. "Yes, I think you do need to go without to appreciate what you used to take for granted. I had a farm, back on Anoat. And a brother. We hated each other, but I'd do anything in the world to earn him back."
Luke's interest was piqued, but he said nothing, for fear that Uncle Owen would realize he was interested and send either him or Bishapi away.
But Uncle Owen's face was just kind of distant and sad. It wasn't a look Luke thought of as being Uncle Owen's at all. "Yeah," he said. "I know."
Bishapi looked as surprised as Luke felt. "You got a brother?" he asked.
"Now and then." Uncle Owen shook off the attitude. "Long time ago. Come on. We better get this stuff sealed for transport to Mos Eisley."
Luke started to say, "I didn't know you had a brother," but before he could get through the beginning of it, Uncle Owen was handing him the control keys for the beat up droids they'd brought in to help with the lifting. The droids were mechanics' droids, once used by podracers, and they weren't very bright. Luke found himself essentially babysitting them and keeping them out of conflict with each other as they got the heavy covers onto the tanks and turned on the seals. Uncle Owen and Bishapi were getting the vaporator reset to begin another season.
A series of chirps and whistles from the landspeeder got his attention, and he turned to find two of the droids struggling with a valve on the lock, and arguing with each other over how to get it unstuck. Luke climbed the ladder to look at it. The lock was sandworn and corroded. "Uncle Owen?"
Uncle Owen came over, leaving Bishapi with the vaporator. "What?"
"We got a rotten lock on this cap."
"Great. Let me see what I can do with it."
Luke stepped back and let Uncle Owen climb up. Luke knew from experience that his uncle was strong as a dewback, and prided himself on not really needing the droids to do the heavy work ("They make it faster," he'd say, "but I did myself for a long time, and I can still do it"). He was figuring on manhandling it open.
Luke just watched. He guessed that if anyone were to ask him what he liked best about working with his uncle, he'd say it was watching him do stuff like this. He didn't know why it made him happy to see his uncle haul heavy equipment around, but it did. It was purely Uncle Owen. In later times, long after both his guardians were gone, he would think back on the years of his childhood, and see Uncle Owen in the bright noon light, his face grim but satisfied as he earned the very water that kept him alive by the labor of his body. Like Aunt Beru's gentle voice and bright eyes, it was the mysterious something that simply took root in his heart and stayed there.
"Need a hand with that?" Bishapi called.
"I got it."
There was a grinding of sand on metal and the cap began to move slowly into position. Whether it was Uncle Owen's motion or a vagary in the shifting of the sand, the ladder chose that moment to tip suddenly shift to one side.
Luke ran forward, seeing the whole accident a fraction of a second before it happened but not quickly enough to do anything about it. Uncle Owen's hands had been tangled tightly into the heavy cap, and it dragged to the point of overbalance as the ladder threw Uncle Owen backward into the sand. Uncle Owen managed to pull one hand free, but the other was twisted, and Luke could hear the bones in the wrist snapping even from four yards away. It happened so fast that Uncle Owen didn't even yell until it was over. In another flash, Luke saw another worse possibility, but this time he had time to act. He ran to Uncle Owen's other side, and steadied the cap that held his hand before it shifted and rolled, possibly pulling the arm along with it.
Bishapi was already on his way over. He put a hand on Uncle Owen's free shoulder. "Okay, Lars," he said. "I have to get this untangled."
Luke shook his head. "We should lift it with him, and let the surgeon droids take care of it. We might make it worse."
"Surgeon droids are more likely to make it worse than I am. I'm a doctor, in the rest of my life."
"You're telling the truth?"
"I'm telling the truth."
"He is," Uncle Owen said, breathing shallowly.
Luke agreed dubiously, and held the cap tightly while Bishapi, with surprising delicacy, began to extract Uncle Owen's fingers from the holes they were caught in. Uncle Owen yelled twice during the process, as his wrist was jostled, but the operation was finished more quickly than Luke would have imagined. He let the cap roll away, and sat down on his uncle's uninjured side.
Bishapi was examining the break. "It's bad, Owen."
"Am I going to lose it?"
"Oh, I wouldn't call the mechanics to replace it just yet." Bishapi wiggled his mechanical foot and smiled, an odd but somewhat effective bedside manner. Luke wondered if this was what he'd been like when he was sane. "I can get it set, and when we get back, I'll get some bone-stim in there. But it's going to be uncomfortable as hell for a few weeks, and there's no way you're helping get the vats into town. As a matter of fact, you're staying right home and getting some rest to let the bones set."
"Like hell. I can see my own harvest to market."
"Your call. But I'm telling you, if the bone-stim doesn't work, you're going to be in a galaxy of hurt, and you might end up losing the hand."
Uncle Owen loathed cybernetics, and he'd never agree to live without a hand, and that was how it happened that Luke went alone with Jaet Bishapi to deliver a large harvest to the general market in Mos Eisley.
They'd rented a fairly large transport to make the delivery - they would need to take a public transport home - and Luke missed the agile little speeder. The money was good, and Uncle Owen had given Luke five percent for himself, along with authority to pay Bishapi's wages from the main share. Between them, Luke felt positively rich.
Bishapi was in high spirits as well. "So, where do you want to spend our ill-gotten gains?"
"There are races at the canyon," Luke suggested hopefully. He hoped for the races for a couple of reasons, the first being that he loved them. The second, though, was that he didn't want to admit to Bishapi that he'd only been in Mos Eisley a couple of times, both with Uncle Owen, and he didn't really know what there was to do around here.
"Yeah? Racing what?"
"Skyhoppers mostly. Sometimes swoops. Other stuff sometimes. It's nothing exactly official."
"Ah… covert operations." Bishapi wiggled his eyebrows. "We'll have to go quiet."
They headed for the outskirts, toward Beggars Canyon. Luke put on his poncho against a breeze. "I raced once, out by Anchorhead. Just a speeder. But I won."
"I'm betting that wasn't quite official either."
"You're betting right."
"So, you like to go fast?"
"Yeah. I love flying."
Bishapi laughed, walking easily in the desert, as if he'd always been there. "That girl I was telling you about, on Alderaan, she flies a speeder bike like a demon. She's - " He stopped talking abruptly and stuck his arm out to one side, blocking Luke.
"Shhh. Back in the shadows."
Luke wasn't given much of a choice; Bishapi just pulled him back into the shadow of a red rock, then peeked around. "I'll be damned," he whispered.
"What is it?"
"Imperial security. Wonder what they're after."
He seemed to be muttering mainly to himself, and Luke didn't offer an opinion. He hoped that Bishapi himself wasn't what they were after.
A moment later, a stormtrooper passed the rock they were hiding behind, leading a Rodian who didn't look like he had much of a political agenda.
Bishapi snorted. "Guess it's the one day a year that Palpatine's pretending to be catching the criminal element on Tatooine. What say we spoil the image?"
"What if he really is a bad guy?"
"Probably he is. But the stormtroopers are worse. Come on, kid. Live a little."
"But - "
"Look, I owe them something after the last time." He pointed at his foot. "And don't look at me like you didn't know, ‘cause you're not a dumb kid. They're going to get a little payback for Ampinua."
Bishapi slipped along the edge of the rock before Luke answered - or
even asked what Ampinua was, or what had happened there - following the
line of the shadow like a man who'd had an awful lot of practice. It was
either follow or be left behind, so Luke followed.
Obi-Wan had awakened with a vaguely uneasy feeling that morning, as if something were buzzing just beyond earshot. He didn't hesitate to question his perceptions or doubt his intuition. He simply set out for Owen's place.
He'd had a speeder at the beginning of his exile here, but it had long since died, and the jawas had stripped it for parts. Obi-Wan rarely regretted not having it, but the unease grew as he made the long walk across the Wastes. He at last found a Sandcrawler, and got the jawas to take him the rest of the way, but by the time he arrived, he was decidedly on edge.
Beru climbed up out of the house and hailed him when she saw him. "Obi-Wan!" - that in itself made him uneasy; it meant Luke was not here, as she always took care to call him Ben when the boy could hear - "What brings you here?"
He took her arms, and went down into the cool shadows with her without slowing down. "Hello, Beru. Where is Luke?"
"He and Bishapi went into Mos Eisley with the harvest this morning."
"Owen had an accident this week. He injured his arm, and Bishapi told him to stay in bed until it healed. Bishapi is really a doctor, isn't he?"
"To the best of my knowledge, yes. Owen has allowed Luke to go with him, alone?"
"Bishapi has been true to his word. He's spoken of his travels, but not about the Rebellion. Luke suspects, I think, but Bishapi hasn't confirmed anything. I doubt that a day in town is going to change it."
She said this with the same vapid smile she gave to the traders who came through; Beru played her part thoroughly.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"Are you telling me now that you don't trust him?" Owen asked, coming out of his bedroom, looking bedraggled. "This is just great. I was just about to - "
"Not now, Owen. Turn on the news from Mos Eisley. Perhaps it is nothing. Perhaps… "
Beru turned on the holoproj to the local news. The headlines began scrolling up, waiting for a choice. A shooting in a tavern, the escape of a smuggler who was now listed as a public enemy, fuel prices up, a touring visit from the regional governor…
Obi-Wan stopped the scroll, and directed the holoproj to that story. A fresh-faced young reporter - the sort who got fluff pieces - stood in front of two Imperial governors, smiling brightly. The one had recently been appointed to this region, the other belonged to the next region, but the reporter explained in a chirpy voice that the Empire, in its wisdom, planned to create a more centralized control…
And so on. Nothing new.
But they were both in Mos Eisley. With Bishapi. As was Luke.
The unease crystallized. "Bishapi is going to hit the governors," Obi-Wan said.
"Are they somehow involved with - "
"No. He will hit them because he can. And he will enlist Luke's help."
Owen slammed his good hand against the wall. "Great. You happy, Ben?"
"I am not. I wish the boy to train as a Jedi, not waste his potential as a petty saboteur. Or get himself arrested at thirteen."
"He knows not to get himself into trouble."
Obi-Wan's heart sank. "He can't even be associated, Owen. He can't be
seen. He can't be questioned. Because while there are questions Luke does
not know to ask, I assure you that Anakin will think to ask them if he
ever sees that name, and I suspect in a corner of his mind, he knows to
look for it. I told Amidala it was foolish… " He brushed it off. He had
no time to argue with Amidala's ghost. Again. "I will retrieve him," he
said. "I'll need your extra speeder."
They crept in the shadow for what felt like two hours, but really was only ten minutes by the chrono on Luke's wristband, finally coming to a stop when the rock formation curved out in its terminal hook. Bishapi was grinning wildly, and, though he guessed he might have been wrong, Luke was pretty sure the man actually licked his lips. "They got a transport there. I know some tricks. I'll get our buddy there out and send him back here. You pick the locks. Then I got something to do. Wait here. Unless you want to help out."
"Dr. Bishapi, I think maybe…"
But Bishapi wasn't listening. He'd pulled a blaster from his boot, and in two quick shots, the stormtroopers were down. Luke felt queasy; he'd never seen someone die before. Bishapi ran out into the open and grabbed the Rodian. "Your lucky day, my friend. Just go to my associate over there, and he'll take care of those binders."
The Rodian followed the instruction gladly, and Luke saw Bishapi headed for the transport. He didn't have time to see what the man was doing, because the binders were thrust under his nose insistently, and he had to figure out how to pick a lock pretty quick. How hard could it be, really? It was just an old mechanical lock; this wasn't a very important prisoner, apparently.
He focused on it, pried at it with a pin from his wristband, and finally was gratified to feel something inside roll over.
The Rodian laughed. "Good, good. What's your name, Associate?"
Luke almost answered.
Just as he was about to answer, a hot wave of fear went through his heart, and his mind registered it as a cool, rational thought: I don't know him, and helping him doesn't mean he won't turn me in. No names.
He gave as open a smile as he could fake, and said, "They call me Wormie."
"Wormie, eh? Good as anything else, I guess."
Luke nodded. He was starting to get an overwhelming urge to leave this place. "Go now," he said. "Before they catch you again."
"Ah, I'm nothing. They just figured I might have a hit on one of their governors. I didn't. Neither of them is worth paying my fees for." The Rodian winked, then ran off into the desert.
In the distance, Luke heard the buzzing of a speeder.
Luke leaned out of the shadow, looking for Bishapi. He didn't need to know the specifics of Bishapi's involvement with the Rebellion to guess that the Imperial governors were his target. Luke didn't want to be part of it, didn't want it done. He hated the Empire, but…
The speeder was getting closer. Luke had to act quickly.
Bishapi was going to murder them, and whoever else was on that transport. There would be pilots, guards… Luke's friend Tank was going into the Imperial Navy, as a stormtrooper. This wasn't a battle. It was a holiday. Bishapi was just going to blow up a ship and everyone in it.
Luke had to stop him. He caught sight of a flash of non-descript material around the edge of the ship, then Bishapi leaned out and smiled, waving for him to come out and join him.
The speeder stopped somewhere nearby. It was now or never.
He bit his lip, then left the shadow of the rocks and ran out toward Bishapi.
Or tried to.
A blur of brown swam up in front of him, and then someone was pushing him back into the shadow. "Stay back, young Luke."
"Stay here. Bishapi's business is not yours. You'll just get yourself killed."
"He's going to… "
"I will stop him if I can. But my first responsibility is to your uncle. I'm taking you home."
"But he's… "
"He will do what he will do, Luke."
"I can't just leave him here. I… I still have his wages!"
"Leave them here, where he was to meet you. No one will steal it."
A strange sensation swept across Luke's mind as old Ben spoke to him in a low and confident voice. Suddenly, everything he said seemed to be right and proper, and the only way to do it. He put a pile of credits down on the rock.
"Now come to the speeder with me and don't look back."
Luke's feet carried him toward the speeder. He started to get in, then stopped. "No, I have to… "
"Get in the speeder, Luke."
"But - "
"Your intentions speak well of you, Luke. But there is nothing you can do here."
Luke got into the speeder. Obi-Wan accelerated into the desert, headed for the rock ridge that bordered the Jundland Wastes. Luke saw Bishapi look up, then he was gone from sight.
The ride took an hour, and Luke had given up any hope that Ben would get back in time. He sat without speaking, and didn't speak when Ben went off again. Aunt Beru led him inside, and sat him down to dinner, which he ate because she told him to. Uncle Owen grunted a few words about lousy recommendations. Luke definitely caught, "Last time I take one of Ben's pass-offs."
Luke wasn't angry, not even as he watched the holoproj news. The destruction of the Governors' transport was the top story, with the Empire's solemn promise to respond to the affront with maximum force, and comments from the people of Mos Eisley suggesting that they would be more than happy to assist. He went out to the shed, and wrapped himself in a blanket, sitting on the stairs that led down into the work area. It was one of his comfort spots, a place where he could sometimes feel something beyond him. He didn't know why this should be. But he felt safe here, felt a presence beyond himself, and he gave in to his heartsickness. He cried silently, his head pressed down against his knees.
He wasn't at all surprised when a hand fell on the back of his neck, but he was surprised that it was a large, rough hand. He'd expected Aunt Beru. Uncle Owen wasn't the sort to be a nursemaid.
"I'm sorry," Luke said, sitting up and trying not to cry.
Uncle Owen sat down beside him, moving his big hand so it rested on Luke's shoulder. "You got nothing to be sorry for here, Luke. Bunch of grown-up people dropped the ball on you. You did your best with it."
"Bishapi was crazy."
"Are all the Rebels crazy?"
Uncle Owen moved his hand, then pressed both hands together (it must have hurt the injured one, but he didn't show it) and touched his forehead in a strange, ritualistic gesture. Then he just put his hands on his knees. "I don't know, Luke. I don't think so. Maybe just crazy enough to do what they're doing, but I don't think they're all like Bishapi."
"I always figured I wanted to be in the Rebellion. Maybe the Empire is better."
"Don't start thinking that way, Luke. None of it's your business, but if your mind's wandering that way, try to think straight. Bishapi was crazy. I'll give you that one flat out. But the Empire… The Empire's beyond crazy. The Empire's… " He shook his head. "You don't want to be anywhere near the Empire. The Empire's poison, Luke, and it kills everything it touches."
"Like it killed my father, on the spice freighter?"
Uncle Owen put his arm across Luke's shoulders and pulled him close. "Yeah," he said. "Just like that." He stood up and turned back toward the house, patting Luke's head roughly. "You don't need to worry about any of it. You're here, and you're safe here. And as long as I got breath in my body, you're going to stay safe."
Normally, Luke would have protested it - he didn't want to stay here forever - but tonight, it just felt good to know. He nodded. "Thanks, Uncle Owen."
He muttered something unintelligible, then said, "Get inside before it's dark. Your aunt'll have chores for you."
Luke watched him go back into the house, then sat in this warm spot,
this safe place. Maybe tomorrow it would feel like a prison again. But
tonight, it was just home.