The Hutt Empire Strikes
Jabba the Hutt was like a curse whispered over the whole of Tatooine, a nightmare story and a warning to wayward children. His more extensive crime family, the Hutts, operated throughout the Outer Rim. But Jabba was Tatooine's personal boogeyman.
This particular year he was not in attendance of the races- he personally thought all the tourism made for a rather dull race. Safety precautions, screenings, and the added hurdle of the Jedi attending this year. That had been a last minute surprise. It was concerning that the famed peacemakers were troubling themselves to come to Tatooine. It could spell nothing good for the Hutt, and so he stayed his distance. Distance didn't hurt when it came to the Jedi and their powers of myth. The Outer Rim has become subject to more and more scrutiny, and the Jedi deigning themselves to visit was metaphorically the last straw for Jabba. This touristic leniency was sweeping his influence out from under his feet. The Hutts made their pastime shady dealings and slaving. He was having a very bad day.
The Jedi, oh the Jedi-
They were a truly possible threat to Jabba, and he had no intention to offend their holy sensibilities unless he had the upper hand. He sent only his betting representatives to the races this year.
What he didn't know would happen is that the Jedi, and in particular Anakin Skywalker, were going to do him a big favour. Unintentionally, sure, but Jabba the Hutt was never one for unnecessary details.
The Jedi's one true enemy had struck in Mos Eisley that very day while Jabba bemoaned his fading power, and left the second largest township in shambles. The news spread quickly, as his betting representatives fled at the first sight of Sith.
And then Jabba thought with a vicious smile (if you could call it that), Tatooine was returning to its roots.
Securing a speeder to Mos Espa was beginning to seem impossible. The fire had been the Sith's little trick. It looked to have caused most of those with transport to fly and the rest had been left to burn or cower in cantinas. The cantinas burned down too. Obi-Wan was wanting for a drink however, and he found that a shame. But he was too somber to even crack that joke with Anakin, who looked stricken.
Anakin was thinking of the little human boy with a pang in his chest. Had the impromptu attack on Eisley indirectly saved his life from the races? Or had the child fled into the fire before it spread to the outskirts, and sputtered out with nothing to burn?
Just another life he had failed.
"Anakin, we must go by foot. All who could have, fled."
"It's more than half a standard day's walk," he answered. "And the Hutts will be foaming at the mouth over this new..." he shrivelled his lip, "opportunity. It's still one of their controlled airspaces, why do you think Mos Eisley is so convenient for interplanetary pod races? The Hutts will allow that."
"It will be mayhem," Kenobi conceded. "but we will not agitate anyone. And we will commandeer a ship back to Coruscant. It's looking to be the only way."
"I do not like the idea of traversing to Mos Espa. We will keep our wits about," he sighed. "It is the best we can do."
"It is not right to deal with anything Hutt, but we have no grounds to instigate anything and we need their airspace to get back."
"I know you are right, friend."
The sand, those little coarse pellets, were burrowing their way into Anakin's clothes right now, with each gust of wind. He just knew it. The sooner they got off the planet, the better, he supposed.
Luke knew he couldn't stay in the cart forever. It was getting later and later with each passing moment and he needed to figure out what he was going to do. The lightsaber was slippery in his shaky palms. The slim durasteel hilt held a weapon capable of great destruction and yet little farm boy Luke was grasping at it. it was almost funny.
Slowly, sound began to return to Eisley outside. That baby hadn't stopped crying, or maybe now it was a different baby. Luke couldn't tell.
He knew he needed to get up. He really didn't want to.
It was blistering hot, and worse the winds picked up as they marched on. They were lucky to have hand navicomputers, otherwise the deserts would be indiscernible. Mos Eisley was shrinking behind them.
Obi-Wan had a sudden- feeling-
"Anakin," he warned into his friend's mind.
"Yes. On our left." The telltale sound of a slowing speeder thrummed in the dry air. " Seems we've been spotted, too." The speeder was an old model, with only the barest remains of peeling paint. It may have been a blue or green colour once.
There was no ill intent emanating from the tall man that emerged from it. He was wiry with a straggly bread and looked very unhappy.
"You folks coming from Mos Eisley, I'd wager." He came to a stop in front of them, the speeder humming a few paces behind him. "Just came from there m'self." He glanced back at the speeder, and the young boy sitting inside it. "Lucky- in all the trouble- I found my younguns." And a littler girl popped up from the boy's side in the back seats of the wide speeder. "Now I don't claim to know much, but I remember your kind from the Clone Wars. Jedi aren't often around. We tend to remember. We can squeeze you too in- if you like. Lucky my wife wanted back to the homestead this morning otherwise I couldna fit you."
"A kind gesture, much appreciated." Obi-Wan gave a slow tip of the head. "We need to make it to Mos Espa however, and we wouldn't wish to inconvenience you or your family." The haggard fellow rubbed his chin, making his faint beard look more scrambled than ever.
"We can make it to Mos Espa this way, fairly quick," he finally said. "Now, I won't be lingering in Huttspace, 'specially with my two... but I reckon not many others coming this way for a while. Most left much earlier."
"Yes, we noticed that."
"I don't see why I can't help you two out- when otherwise I be leaving you to the Tuskens. Speeder's old but fast as ever been." He turned around abruptly. "Biggs, we'll have a bit of a ride before we back home. Itobe okay?" The little dark haired boy waved.
"Yeah!" He shouted. Pretty enthusiastic.
"Settled then," the father said. "I'm Huff Darklighter."
"Thank you, very much. This is a very kind gesture," Obi-Wan looked at Anakin quickly out of the corner of his eye.
"Yes," Anakin nodded. "It's most helpful."
"Again, I warn you it's a tight squeeze situation," he joked. Obi-Wan grasped Anakin's shoulder.
"Well, we've had worse."
"Oh, I think we can manage," Anakin said.
"So, Jedi on Tatooine," Darklighter said as he watched the two Jedi smush themselves into the front of the speeder with him. His son was eagerly leaning towards the front of the speeder. "Biggs!" His father barked. "Hands in, I'm putting the shield up."
"Yes dad, Itobe watch it-"
"We have had a most peaceful few years," Obi-Wan said carefully. "It seems that is not always afforded to the Outer Rim."
"Ah, well," Huff laughed as he let the speeder zip forward. "Not most can claim a life of peace. I myself, am lucky, to have been fairly successful with the farms... I have to say..."
"Dad's the best," little Biggs said proudly from the back. "So you're really Jedi?"
"Yes, young one." Anakin had once been as thrilled as the kid to meet the Jedi- infamous heroes.
"Woahh," Biggs breathed. "Luke would love this."
"Luke?" Itobe said. "Dollie!"
"I don't know," he said sadly. "I saw him- running-"
"So you've said," his father interrupted him. "Stop upsetting your sister."
"If we had just stopped we could've caught up to him! If-"
"It's past the point," Huff sighed.
"Luke?" The little girl asked again.
"Yeah," Biggs said. "Yeah, I'd bet he's fine, Itobe. And dad? She's more upset about the stupid doll, anyway."
It was a sobering reminder of the chaos they had left behind, for Anakin and Obi-Wan to hear about the personal involvement these people had. They lost maybe a friend, definitely a doll. Poor Luke.
This was exactly was Jabba needed. A rejuvenation of one of his most lucrative trades, and the convenient fear mongering of Tatooine in the process. Like the days of old. He blinked slowly from his chair, essentially his throne. They needed to seize this opportunity now.
"Round them up," he spit in Huttese. "The high quality sort our, customers, prefer. That I prefer. If anyone resists... make an example of the power of the Hutts!"
The occupants of the throne room jeered, and some wept inside- because they knew what fate awaits the poor souls that Jabba the Hutt wants.
When he finally did crawl out, it was because of that familiar sticky thirst that commonly afflicted the life forms of Tatooine. He needed to drink something and he was so tired even though he hadn't done much of anything today. First he took the lightsaber and tucked it into his tunic, making sure to put it inside the folds and out of sight. He stepped fully out from the smoked timber. He already missed the cart...
He looked through heavy lidded eyes as a Rodian kicked over the Sith with a sneer and then plopped down into a squat.
I've got the only thing of real value, Luke thought to himself, tucked into my waistband. He turned, back towards the landing strip. He really didn't know where else to go. He'd ran much much farther than he'd thought, earlier in the fires.
He thought of Itobe's doll sitting under the shrubs and started walking. It was still there, and he crouched down to grab it because if he saw his friends again, she'd like it back. He had the strangest notion he wouldn't see his friends for a long time. He didn't want to believe something so horrible.
"Boy, get up! Hiding does no one any good, you look suspicious," a woman rasped. Luke jumped in surprise but Itobe's doll remained clenched in his hand.
"Er, sorry miss-"
"Quiet now, get back in with the others." This complete stranger started herding him towards a growing group of life forms. People were been pushed and prodded from every direction. Luke was pretty glad to see so many folk had survived the unnatural fires.
"Miss I have to go and find my friends," he said plaintively.
"I don't care," she snorted. Luke was taken aback.
"What?" He got shoved into an angry man who did nothing more than grunt. She had walked him over to the group, and Luke took a minute to really look at the stressed and dirty looking oddballs. Next to him was a Twi'lek.
"Shush youngling," the Twi'lek said to the sniffling girl in front of them. "No time for that."
There was something happening, and everyone was grouping up around him as well. Some life forms seemed to be encasing others, in a way that Luke had never seen.
The life forms, mostly human although a few Twi'lek, were lining up too. They still looked dazed, and Luke totally understood that. But he wondered what they were waiting in line for.
"What's going on?" He asked the Twi'lek.
"Boy you'll see, won't you. I won't make you sad before your time." Well that was worrying. Luke slowly started backing away before something wrenched at his arm.
A tall, green woman-like humanoid was gripping his shoulder to hold him in play. The hand was clawed with long and yellow, brittle and curved nails. They were individually nearly as thick as Luke's arm. He was suddenly very resentful of his small build, and hyperaware of it.
"Pretty little human boys shouldn't be wandering away," the humanoid crooned. Luke took a shaky step back but the clawed arm didn't release him, only looked at him with something vaguely like hunger on its face. He was careful not to shift about too much, taking precautions not to jostle the deadly weapon tucked into his belt. "Come here, little pretty eyes. Come to your new Master. We do like a little resistance..." Luke braced himself to bolt as he wrenched his arm painfully away, but he hadn't been listening to the feeling nononono in the back of his head.
He cried out in pain as a sharp stab radiated through the back of his head, and then the world went dark.
"Agh," Anakin slapped a hand to the back of his head.
"Are you alright?" Obi Wan grabbed him by the shoulder, and he took a minute to respond while the pain subsided.
"Yeah, yeah, I think. " he said. "Just... my head... must be the starts of a headache."
"We've had a long journey."
"Ha! Lucky that moisture farmer picked us up," Anakin grinned. "Thank you, Darklighter!" Obi-Wan smiled right back.
But as the navigator's ship took off from Mos Espa towards Coruscant, Anakin couldn't shake this awful, awful feeling in his gut. Something was terribly wrong and for the first time he didn't think he should be leaving the one planet he hates the most.
Maybe it was just memories. Maybe it was just the crushing, well deserved guilt. So many mistakes...
He ignored Kenobi's probing Force presence as his face darkened, and sunk into the uncomfortable chair as far as he could. This time, Obi-Wan let him wallow.