A Remote Hell
Awareness is attention. In this the acolyte is known. Inattentiveness betrays the immature mind.
— Vanik Bansho, Jedi mystic; quoted in The Jedi Tome of the Dead
The twin suns shone brightly in the distance as they emerged from hyperspace. The jolt of the ship as it abruptly decelerated roused the old man from his slumber.
“Is this it?” he said, shuffling forward to peer out of the cockpit.
Vendira studied the display. She had spent the journey querying the ship and the R5 unit for information on their mysterious destination. The details provided by the droid as they sped towards the only inhabited planet in the system confirmed her findings. Tatooine was a desolate remote hell.
“Yes. It looks like it.”
She brought the ship into a stable orbit and waited for the hail from the planet’s authorities while examining the information, Tatooine’s oceanless surface almost devoid of moisture. Reinforcing her earlier research it was difficult to imagine why anyone would live in such a bleak place. The only saving grace was its distance from the Empire. Reason enough for some.
She looked again at the silent display.
“I don’t think they even have a port authority.”
Salagin moved over to study the readouts.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” he said, standing behind her.
The R5 unit bleeped. Reading the output she turned to the old man.
“The droid says we should aim for somewhere called Mos Eisley. I think it is the only settlement with facilities.”
Salagin moved back to his seat, lost in thought. He still hadn’t given anything away.
“Right,” he said. “Let’s aim for there. See if you can find a landing spot.”
Turning back to the controls she broke orbit as the waterless surface slowly crept towards them.
Zel Acrimonis stood alone in his private chambers, embracing the illicit thrill of an isolation he had grown to enjoy. This was the only place he knew he could sever his link with the protectorate and the more distant calling of the Brotherhood, always present in the recesses of his mind. Although they gave him strength they took their toll too. It was ironic these moments were more like the Jedi meditative disciplines of renewal embraced by the last of the order he was committed to destroying.
Gathering his thoughts he sent the signal to the emperor and awaited the connection. He retreated inside himself, just like the Jedi taught, attempting to calm his mind and dampen the apprehension he always experienced when dealing with the unforgiving Sith master. Palpatine noticed everything, his sensitivity and immense reach ensuring he was always difficult to fool.
Hopefully the update would be brief. They had failed again to find any direct trace of their target, although as ever the echo of his presence was there. The folly of it was maddening. And quite unlike Palpatine whose grip on things was always realistic. But to scour the galaxy for one man, to expend resources like this when the Jedi remnant could still make their presence felt, seemed like madness.
Ironically the Jedi youth had provided some sense of a lead. The cruiser’s logs had confirmed a recent visit to an ice world, Murtha Six. Uninhabitable, it might yield more clues and was perhaps a rebel base. He had ordered the captain to assemble two more star destroyers before they investigated.
The connection established itself. Rising, he walked to the center of the dark room to receive one of the very few individuals permitted to intrude here.
The hologram flickered into existence, Palpatine’s grim image in the form of his hooded face towered above him.
“Acrimonis.” The harsh tones of his ancient voice echoed in the cavernous space as blue spectral light bled into the darkness of the chamber.
“How is our search proceeding?”
“Slowly, my Lord. We caught up with the rebel ship but we found no trace of the renegade Jedi you seek.”
The briefest flicker of disappointment appeared on the emperor’s face, quickly controlled.
“Nothing at all?”
“There were two other Jedi aboard.”
“And what of them?”
“One died. A master by the name of Dargon. And a youth. He knew nothing though.”
“Dargon? I knew him once. He would have revealed nothing. What about the youth?”
“He knew nothing of the affair.”
“I see. Disappointing, but we must not lose hope.”
“He did provide one lead. An uninhabited planet some distance from our current position. It may yield something.”
“Good, Lord Acrimonis. We must continue our search.”
“There was another Jedi. But they managed to escape.”
“Who was it?” asked the emperor.
“I don’t know. We have a name, but little else. Female. Young. An apprentice.”
“What was her part in all this?”
“I don’t know. But we missed her.”
Palpatine paused, considering the information, seemingly less bothered by the failure than he had expected. He felt himself relax slightly. Palpatine knew all but could be governed by mood. It was a positive sign.
“Then we shall have to keep at it, Lord Acrimonis. He must be somewhere, and someone must know where.”
He sensed a shift in tone in the conversation, a rare moment of calm.
“Is one man really worth all this, Imperial Majesty?”
Palpatine refocused, attention fully on himself.
“Yes. Alas so.”
“Forgive me, but one aging Jedi? We have almost eradicated the entire order. What was left of it. I myself destroyed Dargon and the youth is now with us.”
“Indeed. We are making progress. But the Jedi are dangerous, Acrimonis. More so than many realize. A Zel of all people ought to understand this. The Force is everywhere and they are finely attuned to its presence. If we leave even some of them alive they will simply reform.”
“Indeed, my Lord. But the individual we are searching for. He cannot—”
“It is imperative we find him.”
“What if he no longer exists?”
“Oh he exists all right,” said the emperor, his face twisting slightly before he regained control. A rare slip. “I can sense him, out there somewhere.”
It seemed absurd they were bothering with one man, even a Jedi master. He had already lost three of his protectorate in this recent episode. They had ransacked the entire ship and found nothing. All the key personnel had been examined directly by himself and there was absolutely no trace. Whoever the girl was and wherever she was going had been hidden from the rest. Only Dargon would have likely known. The boy had yielded little except the strong impression of the ice world.
Before he could gently protest, Palpatine interceded, as if he could reach out over the distance and read his mind.
“It is important we find him. Not just for the effect on the Rebel Alliance and the remains of the Jedi. My associate, Lord Vader, is distracted by his continued existence. And for that reason I am relying on you, Acrimonis, to bring this matter to a conclusion.”
Vader? He had few dealings with the Sith lord, but knew Palpatine relied on him. He also relied on the Zel but was careful to ensure he kept them at a remove. His own control of the Brotherhood was mainly used to track down the remaining Jedi. Only Vader enjoyed full access to the emperor. But why would Darth Vader care about the presence of one Jedi master, however celebrated he had once been? The man would be almost fifty standard years of age. Was there some connection with Vader?
He would have to reflect on this new information. It may prove useful leverage for when the Jedi were finally extinguished. Others in the Brotherhood had concerns about their swift rise from the dark years and the danger of involving themselves in the ambitions of the Empire. What would become of them when Palpatine had rid himself of the hated Jedi? Would they become a target themselves? The Sith were not known for their tolerance of other Force wielders.
“Of course, Imperial Majesty.”
The hologram collapsed leaving him again in darkness. Almost immediately two other holographic signals sprang into life. Zel Graveolis and Zel Antagonis appeared, both crackling with interference as their ghostly forms turned to him.
“Vader? What has he to do with all this?” said Antagonis, his voice distorted by the distance of the transmission.
“I don’t know.”
“This is troubling,” said Graveolis, the final member of the triumvirate that ostensibly controlled the Brotherhood. Although both of them usually deferred to himself.
“I concur,” said Zel Antagonis. “Vader is dangerous. We should be wary of embroiling ourselves in his schemes.”
He agreed. But what could they do? The emperor had tasked the Brotherhood with locating the renegade Jedi.
“We shall have to be careful.”
Darkness shrouded much of the cantina. The collection of individuals here confirmed her earlier suspicions, Mos Eisley was the closest the planet had to an actual spaceport. Humanoids from every corner of the galaxy milled around, silhouetted against the harsh lights at the bar ordering drinks. Most of the species were new to her. The house band’s mellow music struggled to compete with the babel of dozens of languages.
Vendira sat alone in a corner, left by Salagin who had departed some time ago to try to establish contact with someone who could help. He had refused again to tell her who they were here to meet. It had to be someone important given the preparations and recent events on the ship before their frantic escape. It made her think of Master Dargon and Felix. Hopefully they were safe. The attack had been so sudden and unexpected she hadn’t had time to wonder what had been going on. Why had an Imperial star destroyer attacked them at all? And now she was on an Outer Rim planet in the middle of nowhere, alone, waiting for the old man to explain what was happening.
There had been no port authority after all. They eventually found facilities outside the Mos Eisley settlement by chance, spotting an area with dozens of ships scattered around. They aimed for an empty patch of rocky ground near the others. No one stopped or hailed them.
Once they exited the light freighter, now covered in a fine layer of brown dust, no customs officials appeared. Looking around the place in the harsh sunlight it looked truly desolate. The only break in the relentless orange-brown of the landing area had been the dark blast marks under the ships where they had braked hard when landing. Ships of every type were present, discarded in the baking emptiness of the ravaged landscape. Most were freighters like their own, some fast pickets. There was an absence of larger vessels. Perhaps barges and transport ships didn’t visit such an out of the way place.
It was also devoid of anyone. Even Salagin had stood and looked around as if expecting someone to greet them. He soon made the decision to walk the mile or so to Mos Eisley.
A boy no older than ten or eleven had appeared from among the confusion of ships. Introducing himself he had offered to protect the ship. Salagin had smiled and gave the boy an old republic coin which he promptly pocketed.
It didn’t take long to make it to the outskirts of Mos Eisley. Unexpectedly, given the emptiness of the road they had walked in the unforgiving sunlight, the place was well populated. People were everywhere. As they wandered through the town it had a vitality not apparent from orbit. Most of the buildings seemed to be underground, adding to the sense it was perhaps bigger than it seemed. Salagin remarked it was probably an effective protection against the heat from the twin suns high above. White domes littered the town, most with arched doorways and steps leading down to cooler levels below ground.
Salagin eventually found someone he could communicate with, a human trader who suggested they try the cantina. Walking down the steps led them into the gloomy interior, packed with spacefaring types. This was obviously where business was conducted.
They sat in a corner and Salagin soon left after talking to some Genthas who suggested he seek out the Jawas near the outskirts. These were apparently scrap merchants who wandered to every part of the planet and were this world’s informal gossip merchants. He had left her with strict instructions to stay put. She had protested since her explicit purpose was to protect him, but he had insisted he should go alone to make contact with whoever it was they were supposed to be meeting.
Looking around the cantina again after hours of sitting here, she felt the comforting presence of the lightsaber hilt at her left hip. Concealed beneath her shawl its reassuring weight helped her relax. She had never seen so many alien forms, many of them species she hadn’t encountered before. It reminded her how poorly traveled she really was. Why had they chosen her to accompany the old man on his travels? Before Hanika had died she had stayed mainly on Kelkirima while she had been trained. There had always been the threat they might have to move but the Empire had seemed far away then. Hanika had constantly warned her about the dangers of being an apprentice, her lack of mastery of the Force more detectable by the Zel as they scoured the galaxy hunting the Jedi.
She was a lot older now. She still had to consciously invoke self-control but in a place like this cantina, where pilots and smugglers congregated, it was hard to imagine anyone with the sophistication to catch her out as she absorbed a passive sense of her surroundings.
A blue alien abruptly sat in the seat across the table from her. His bulk almost completely eclipsed everything behind him. He must have been almost seven feet tall, the speed of his movement defying his great mass. She just noted his slightly awkward position before he spoke.
“Put weapon on table. Slow.”
His voice was difficult to understand, the guttural, clipped words implying considerable effort. Although humanoid his mouth was small and clearly not used to the language.
She froze, her training calming her. Should she react?
Before she could decide the alien looked down with his oversized eyes, indicating his right arm under the table. Without looking she could sense the blaster in his hands. Centering herself she induced focus, calculating her chances of leaping over him out of range of the weapon. The ceiling here was low, she would have to move sideways, although that should provide sufficient time to draw her lightsaber and destroy the blaster.
“Look to left.”
The blue alien’s eyes never moved, staring intently at her face. She slowly turned to her left and saw another alien, almost identical to the giant before her. He sat some eight feet away, his blaster drawn and partially hidden by his large frame. It pointed straight at her, the weapon’s wide barrel indicating a strong charge, enough no doubt to kill her. The rest of the cantina seemed oblivious to the unfolding drama, the dense murmur around them uninterrupted as she sat cornered in the darkness.
She turned back to the first alien. Hanika had drummed into her the weakness of relying on any weapon, despite the ubiquitousness of lightsabers with the Jedi. They were a last resort and an occasional tool. But to relinquish it felt wrong.
She slowly reached for the weapon and unhooked it from her belt, placing it carefully on the table before them. The big alien picked it up, the gleaming gold hue of its smooth lines like a toy in its huge hands. It disappeared into the folds of his clothing as he stood.
“Walk now. No talk.”
She stood and worked her way around the table. The second alien closed in behind her as the first turned and walked to the exit, difficult to see among the crowd. She could sense the second alien behind, towering a full two feet above her.
Everyone moved out of their way without any effort on behalf of the first alien, his massive frame enough to ensure passage through the crowd. Although she sensed they were well known.
They walked up the several flights of stairs in silence and turned right as they exited into the painful sunlight. No one paid them any attention as they weaved through narrow streets away from the main thoroughfare where the cantina entrance was located. She reached out and could just sense her lightsaber within the folds of the first alien’s clothing ahead of her. Perhaps if he turned around she might get a chance.
After several minutes they were lost within a narrowing sprawl of backstreets, the noise of the central part of the town reduced to a subdued murmur, the distant sounds of the alien place muted by the chaotic arrangement of the low buildings. The first alien stopped and turned around. She came to a halt and glanced back to see the second blue form behind her.
Turning back she sensed herself now on firmer ground. The buildings here were only one or two stories high and stretched ahead of them, winding into the distance. If she could get up on to one of the roofs she could be off before they could react, doubling back to tackle them and retrieve her weapon.
The first alien said something to the one behind. She heard the soft rustle of his rough garment as he pulled the weapon and fired. Blackness descended before she could react.
Sharp slivers of light pierced the dark room, the shutters not quite covering the frames, leaving a thin gap at the edges. Tatooine. She remembered as she slowly regained consciousness. The dry planet with the twin suns.
She struggled to get her bearings, a dull ache in her back coming to her attention. Slumping forward in a chair she quickly realized she wasn’t restrained. The silence had the same sense of muted hubbub, like before, in the backstreets. The blue aliens.
“Ah, you’re back with us.”
Turning, she saw the old man, Orto Salagin, sitting on another chair against a wall in the spartan room, almost concealed in the darkness.
She struggled to formulate the words as he came to her side.
“Take it easy,” he said, pushing her gently back in the chair. Its hard form pressed against her spine as she winced at the discomfort.
“They shot me.”
“They stunned you.”
She looked up at him. What was going on?
Before she could ask the door behind Salagin opened. She expected it to be one of the blue aliens but instead it was a human.
He strode in towards them. Salagin didn’t react, his demeanor indicating they knew each other.
“Well,” said the stranger, approaching her. “Hello there.”
He was of medium height and younger than Salagin. In his middle years with close cropped hair, almost shaved. A thick beard concealed part of his face, flecks of grey just visible in the gloom. Despite his maturity he looked powerful. Under his plain cream colored tunic and breeches he looked muscled and strong. His movement reminded her briefly of Felix. He moved like a younger man. It took her a few moments to realize a lightsaber hung from his belt, at his left hip. It was only then she realized he wore a dark cassock, its ragged hem betraying its age.
She stared at the weapon and the cassock. Who was he? Was this who they had come to meet? A Jedi Knight?
“My apologies for your rough treatment,” he said. “My two friends meant well. That was their idea of a subtle abduction. Still, you made it in one piece.”
He raised his hand. Her gold lightsaber hilt shone in the muted light of the room, the weapon turned sideways, palm upward in the Jedi fashion.
“I think this belongs to you.”
His voice was strangely melodious. Cultured and soft, but firm and sure. It suddenly struck her as she reached out for the familiar weapon he sounded like Hanika. It was a voice from long ago, from before the Empire.
“Who are you?”
“Vendira Maz Berso,” he said, indicating the other man. “Meet Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
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©2018 Gerard Docherty. All rights reserved.
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