SCENES FROM TATOOINE
by MJ Mink
It was a hell of a place for a posting.
Nes Stryden frowned again as he shaded his eyes and stared toward the two blazing suns. During this season, the suns were closer, the heat relentless. The night brought some relief, but he longed for the change, when the evenings would again be as cool as those he'd known on his home planet of d'Naren.
Join the Navy and See the Galaxy. He couldn't deny the draw of the slogan used by the recruiter who'd come to the Academy to address his graduating class. That had been three years ago, and yeah, he'd seen the galaxy all right-- in holos and in films. But thus far his only posting had been to this hell-pit, this dry, useless, unwanted rock covered with sand. Why the Navy had stationed a garrison here was beyond his understanding. There were no vast deposits of minerals to protect, no plants that manufactured goods for the benefit of the Imperium. No personages of importance, no rare or valuable animals, artifacts, structures-- nothing.
So why was he here? Why were any of them here?
It was a question he pondered often, mainly because he had a lot of free time. There were drills to conduct when the heat permitted it, minor policing to do among his soldiers and the visitors to Mos Eisley Port-- but he hadn't signed up with the Imperial Navy to become a sheriff! Other than that.... With a sigh, he turned back to his office and closed the door between him and the desolate landscape.
Anchorhead. Minor hell-hole of the hell-pit. At least the garrison could have been established in Mos Eisley. Would have made more sense. They constantly traveled there anyway, patrolled it every day. And there were women in Mos Eisley, women available for a single day's pay. But in Anchorhead... nothing ever happened here. He had two more years left on his term of enlistment. If they thought he was going to sign up again, they had another think coming! Nes Stryden had more important things to do with his life than fester on Tatooine.
And he had two more years to concoct those important things.
He slapped his palms on the desktop and glared at his leather gloves. Too damn hot for this planet, but he had to set an example for his men. He loosened the tight collar, wishing he could strip down and jump into a pool of water-- but that was another thing missing on Tatooine. Water. These people thought bathing-- when they bothered to bathe-- in sonic beams was normal. But to be in water again, to feel it cascade over his body, soak his hair....
Discipline. He must not brood on impossibilities. He was a soldier of the Imperial Navy, he was commander of an entire garrison of the Emperor's finest troops. And he would make the best of it. For two more years.
Straightening his tunic, he strode into the morning to find a purpose.
* * *
"What is his crime?"
The tow-headed youth looked up at him, blue eyes widening-- with admiration, Stryden assumed. He wriggled a little, but the two men who held either arm didn't release him.
"He tried to sneak into the compound, sir," the sentry replied.
"I wanted to see what it was like! I want to go to the Academy!" the youngster blurted. "I want to be a fighter pilot! I want to enlist!"
He studied the boy. Besides being too young to enter the Academy, he was also too short. Perhaps he would have a spurt of growth in a few years, but right now he wouldn't meet the Imperial Navy's minimum height requirement. He gestured for his men to release the lad.
"What's your name, boy?" he asked perfunctorily.
"Luke Lars, sir."
"Check it," he said to the aide who appeared at his side. Corporal Laryn nodded and retreated indoors. Such eagerness could have been rewarded, but Stryden knew that it was less of a desire obey his captain than to escape the heat.
Not a bad idea. "Come with me." He strode back across the parade grounds, his feet transforming the dust into billowing, transparent clouds. He knew it followed him as he entered his office, leaving crunchy footprints on the crudely-formed bricks. Next posting, he'd have an interior office--
Heat stroke. He must be suffering heat stroke. There would be no next posting. After his term was up, he was going home to mind the farm and forget about seeing the galaxy.
"I just want to leave the farm," the boy said hesitantly, "and see the galaxy."
He stared at Lars and heard the words in his own voice as he'd said them ten years earlier. "Fool!" he declared scathingly, as his father had berated him. "The galaxy has nothing to offer a farmer! Stay here where you belong, and be grateful you have a roof over your head."
The full lips set in a stubborn pout. Another reflection of himself at eighteen. But this lad was even younger; it would be years before he could be free of this prison-planet. Stupid runt. For someone like this-- backward son of a backward world-- there was no future in the Navy beyond that of a common soldier. Fighter pilot indeed!
"Sit down." He leaned against the desk and folded his arms, glaring until the youngster appeared reasonably intimidated. "You live here in town?"
The blond head shook. "It's a ways... that way." He gestured vaguely toward the south.
Moisture farmer then. The only farms out that way eked a meager living by drawing moisture from the air and selling it at inflated prices. Absurd to his thinking. Why colonize this planet if it could barely support life and could grow no crops?
They both waited in silence. Corporal Laryn finally reappeared, no data card in his hand.
"No record of a Luke Lars, sir," the young soldier replied. "There are an Owen and a Beru Lars--"
"My parents!" the boy interrupted.
"--but no record of any offspring or any 'Luke Lars'. It must be an alias, sir."
"I'll do the thinking, corporal," he said irritably. "You just follow orders."
"Yessir." Laryn shot him a resentful look which Stryden ignored.
"It's not an alias," the boy muttered defiantly. "It's my name!"
"Take him out of here. Run the usual scans." He studied the youngster, suddenly eager to wound his pride and destroy his dreams. "You were probably an abandoned baby they bought from the orphan traders. There are millions of unwanted children brought into the galaxy by ignorant, irresponsible peasants. Once purchased, it would have been cheaper for the Larses to name you their son than to pay taxes for slave labor."
Luke Lars paled and said nothing; his expression became thoughtful as though answers were forming for some long-held questions.
Stryden watched the pair leave, envying the boy his lack of past. Though if they couldn't determine his identity, he would also have a lack of future. The Emperor's orders were strict; suspect children of a certain age group could be offspring of renegade Jedi and were subject to execution.
He frowned. Executing juveniles was not the sort of duty he'd anticipated when entering into service.
Still, it would relieve the boredom.
* * *
"Sir, according to the scans returned from Imperial Center--"
"Shut up, Laryn." His heart pounded as he read the results of the tests. The retinal scan had revealed nothing about the Lars boy, but the genetic scan-- yes, there were Jedi traits, all right!
It was a rare thing to find a Jedi child, but he, Nes Stryden, had done it! Perhaps this would get him transferred off this hell-hole. Perhaps he'd get a promotion. Major. Colonel. General Stryden. What a fool he had been to consider resigning from the military! He had a great career in front of him! Maybe he could become a personal assistant to the Emperor. Head of the Jedi Annihilation Brigade-- there was no such brigade, but he could start one. Track down the children left by those outlaw sorcerers. Track and destroy.
It was the Emperor's pet project to rid the galaxy of all potential Jedi. Since he had defeated the evil Kenobi in a lightsaber duel, the Emperor had continued his crusade to clean the galaxy of the scourge that had destroyed the Old Republic.
And now, now-- Now I will be famous! he exulted. Stryden the Jedi Killer. A monument would be built in his honor on d'Naren-- No, not a monument. A monument was for the dead. Better to produce a holofilm to recreate his deed.
He looked up. The cadet he'd sent for had finally arrived. He despised this one, this Solo who had been exiled to the Anchorhead garrison to learn discipline. Thus far, Stryden hadn't been very successful; maybe this duty would bring Solo into line.
He smiled, satisfied with this day's work. "Corporal... this boy here--" He waved to the youngster who was shackled against the baked bricks of the brig, blond head plastered on his face as he sweated in the heat from the double suns.
His smile broadened. "He is a witch-child." He watched Solo's eyes flick over the boy in open amazement. "A Jedi."
Solo's gaze returned to him, and comprehension begin to fill the eyes.
"You will follow the Emperor's command regarding the disposal of Jedi children," Stryden said, pleased that he was accomplishing two tasks in one stroke. The Jedi would die, and Solo would either obey his command and become a proper soldier... or he would rebel and be executed himself. Either way, discipline would be maintained in the Anchorhead barracks.
"You mean... kill him?" Solo stumbled over the words.
"I mean, follow the Emperor's command and execute the Jedi."
"Noooo!" the youngster wailed. "I'm no Jedi-- I'm a farmer! My name is Luke Lars! I've done nothing!"
"Your name is not Lars," he said coolly, holding out his hand and accepted the identification papers from Corporal Laryn, not bothering to look at them. "And you are definitely Jedi. Unless you believe that the Imperial Center databanks lie-- an executable offense in itself."
The boy subsided, but kept watching him; for some inexplicable reason, the reproachful gaze made him uncomfortable.
"Solo, do your duty!" He was tired of the game and wished for it to be over. There was less pleasure than he had expected. What fun could be had by murdering a helpless child?-- no, not helpless, the boy had been born a sorcerer. But where was the adventure he'd expected? Where were the rewards, the fulfillment he'd been promised by the recruiter?
"Yes, sir," Solo replied wearily. He unholstered his blaster and aimed it.
From meters away, the blond head lifted. A wordless 'no' formed on the boy's lips, and the blue eyes glowed oddly in the afternoon's brightness.
Solo hesitated. Stryden waited.
The boy's body jumped, but remained in place, held by the manacles that chained him to the wall. Then, before the disbelieving gazes of everyone present, the clothes... shrank. The body vanished. For a moment, white sleeves remained in the binders, a macabre ghost of a human, then they slipped free.
The pile of clothes lay in the dust; they seemed too small to have covered the body of a teenager.
Stryden paled, but remained ramrod straight. "Witch-child! We were right! We have rid the galaxy of another Jedi."
Solo reholstered his blaster; his face was white and unreadable. He looked like a cornered womprat, equally prepared to bare his teeth and fight-- or to run.
Corporal Laryn approached. "The Emperor is on his way."
Stryden's head jerked around, and he stared at his aide in stupefaction. "The Emperor is coming here?" Anakin Skywalker, the Dark Emperor-- coming to Tatooine?
"He's three days distant. He has expressed an... interest in the prisoner." Laryn glanced at the mound of clothing, and a smile creased his face. "Perhaps," he added, his voice rich with malice, "you should finish reading the results of the genetic scan on the Jedi you just executed."
What was Laryn up to? Scowling, Stryden raised that datapad that had remained curled in his left hand, forgotten during the excitement.
Quickly, he read through the information, stopping when he came to the boy's identity.
He reread the name.
Several times. Over and over.
Distantly, he could hear Laryn chuckling. The datapad slipped from his fingers and fell into Tatooine sand, along with his glorious future.
Tatooine. A dry, useless, unwanted rock covered with sand. No vast deposits of minerals to protect, no plants that manufactured goods for the benefit of the Imperium. No personages of importance--
It was a hell of a place to die.