Luke pressed hard on the controls as green bolts of plasma sped past him. The T-16 Skyhopper tail-spun out of Lagula cave, nearly colliding with a large rocky pinnacle that emerged close to the cavern?s entrance. He dropped the gears, allowing the Skyhopper to dip into the lower valley canyon, but his three pursuers kept hugging his trail.
On any given day, a T-16 could easily outmaneuver a standardized swoop racer, however Luke had lost one of his repulser lifts while twisting through the cave. The three swoops that were after him had been retrofitted with modified duel engines, which more than compensated for their standard lack of thrust. As it was, all the swoops were pressing on 900 kilometers per hour, it took everything Luke had to stay on top of them. His skyhopper could still exceed their top speed, though the three pursuers had used tactical strategies against him and succeeded in keeping him boxed in throughout most of the caves? tricky turns.
Now, Luke felt his stomach rise into his throat as he dropped the craft hard into the lower valleys. A wave of anxiety and cold sweat broke out over his face.
If I can only stay ahead of them until I reach Tauntoo pass?I should be able to lose them within the cliffs.
The three young swoop racers kicked in their maximum forward thrusters. The lead swoop, piloted by a Nikto named Kararss, angled his way into Luke?s slipstream. Nikto pressed the vehicles weapons systems, causing a bright bolt of green energy to screech forward. The blast shattered one of the Skyhopper?s rear ion engines; the entire casing erupted in a circle of blue crackling flame.
Luke immediately felt his momentum decelerate. ?Blast!?
Kararss laughed haughtily to himself and chided aloud in his native Klatoonian dialect.
?That evened the odds a bit, eh, little bird??
Luke didn?t hear the taunt and it was probably for the best that he didn?t. He was losing power and Kararss? two compatriots were closing in fast on his flank. His Uncle Owen had warned him about the young thugs that frequented the Lagula cave circuit.
?They are nothing but a bunch of hot-headed Turks who have nothing better to do with their time, than hijack people?s land-speeders and cause trouble.? His Uncle once told him. It was seldom that Luke followed the advice of his taciturn Uncle, but this once he wished that he had.
The four vehicles sped across the flats beyond the Lagula caves and edged their way into the neighboring Tauntoo pass. From there, the valley gave way to a series of hard-angled cliffs and towering spires of rock. Despite his reduced speed, Luke?s skyhopper should still have been able to outsmart them. Luke had no doubt that he was the superior pilot, but the arrogance of youth affected his better judgment.
Luke pulled back hard on the yoke, the remaining engines of the skyhopper whining, as he jerked upward into the narrow dry-bed. One of the other swoop-pilots, a Rodian, stayed on his flank, all the while aiming a hand blaster at Luke?s cockpit. Luke let go of the acceleration for just a microsecond, long enough to spoil the Rodian?s aim. As the shot hit the T-16?s forward fin, a shower of sparks arced across the tinted cockpit. The bolt did minimal damage. Nonetheless, it was enough to blind Luke temporarily. If he had full command of his reflexes, he would have known to bank hard on the next turn.
As it was, Luke blinked away the spots and his vision returned too late to affect the maneuver. He slammed the T-16 hard to the right, as the Rodian?s swoop spiraled above him, out of harm?s way. But he wasn?t fast enough, and his left stabilizer wing was shredded upon a rocky crag. Luke?s craft immediately flew into a tailspin and no matter what he did, he could not compensate for the lack of the stabilizer.
The three swoops sped past him and then circled back after Luke crashed. They were deep into the Tauntoo canyon by now, meaning there was very little place to maneuver. The Skyhopper careened off the right side of the turn, ricocheting between the rocky walls before finally cart wheeling along the canyon floor. The vertical fin snapped in two and the engines died as a stalagmite ripped through the engine housings. The shredded vehicle skidded along the narrow path, coming to rest atop a small plateau. Thankfully, Luke?s safety harness kept him from smashing through the cockpit, although, he could still hear his pursuers turning back to finish him off. He quickly grabbed a long-barreled rifle from the passenger seat and released the lock on the cockpit. The tinted glass leisurely hissed open, allowing Luke to see the second Nikto pilot, speed past him. As the other two swoops pressed towards Luke, he readied his rifle. He knew that there was no way he could outfight these three hotheads.
The Rodian leaned forward, pressing towards Luke?s downed craft. Using his side arm again, he pointed directly at Luke?s head. Before he could steady his aim however, a shrill violent battle cry reverberated throughout the canyon walls. Although the Rodian had no knowledge of what was about to happen, Luke could plainly see a strangely garbed man leap wildly from behind a high crag. He was adorned in billowing black and brown robes of various cuts, wielding a huge vibro-blade scimitar. The veiled attacker landed heavily on the Rodian, and Luke could hear the alien?s death-cry as the blade cut across his chest. The swoop nose-dived towards the canyon walls, and the raider deftly leapt to safety. The pilot-less swoop spun past Luke?s downed Skyhopper and exploded against the cliff behind him.
Luke took little time to acknowledge this new -comer. The more immediate threat was the two remaining Nikto, who had boxed him in. Luke spun around, charging the rifle. He took a quick desperate shot towards the pilot that had raced over his head a few minutes earlier. The Nikto wore heavy body-armor and padding, but the rifle blast was enough to slam him off of the swoop. The swoop skidded into a patch of soft dirt, the pilot landing on his back. The Nikto hurriedly got to his feet, his eyes ablaze with hate and fury. However, before the enraged alien could react, another series of wild tribal keening assaulted the air. Three more robed warriors grew from the shadows of the upper canyon and descended on the Nikto with flashing vibroblades. Luke backed up in amazement, stunned by the sheer savagery of it all. In all of his seventeen years of growing up on Tatooine, he had never seen anything like this before.
As he slowly back-pedaled away from the fallen Nikto, Luke heard a rich voice whispering behind him. He didn?t need to turn around to know that the voice had come from the first raider, who had slain the Rodian swoop-racer.
?Three against one. Hardly seems like fair odds,? the voice said.
Luke pivoted on his heel. The warrior?s head was nearly completely covered by a jewel-encrusted black shawl. But his deep-set eyes indicated that he was clearly human. He was a giant of a man, standing at well over two meters. What little Luke could see of his face was enough to tell him that this was an individual, who had harvested his life on desert warfare. Luke broke eye contact as he noticed Kararss? swoop bearing down on the two. He pointed wildly and tugged on the larger man?s robes.
?Look out!? Luke yelled.
Kararss let loose with a volley of plasma bolts. The warrior steadied his scimitar as if he was going to deflect them. He succeeded in blocking the first two bolts, but the third one was enough to blast the scimitar out of his hands.
By this point, the swoop was nearly on top of them, forcing Luke to dive out of the way. The warrior, however, kept his stance.
What is he doing? Luke thought to himself, That crazy guy is going to get himself killed!
Contrary to Luke?s misgivings, the warrior leapt straight into the air as the swoop attempted to run him down. Leaning back, he pulled his legs in tight, and then launched them forward delivering a savage double-legged blow to Kararss? chest. Both men fell to the ground with a heavy thud. The other three robed bandits deftly sidestepped the riderless swoop, as it continued on its way, exploding into a nearby crevice.
Both Kararss and the warrior quickly rose to their feet. They both had had the wind knocked out of them, though that did not stay their ferocity. The huge Nikto grabbed the warrior in a feral wrestling hold, attempting to crush his spine. The warrior barely winced, even though the pain must have been excruciating. He brought his arms up, and drove his elbows sharply into the side of the alien?s head. By reflex, Kararss let go of the raider, wailing in pain. The warrior quickly spun behind the Nikto, wrapping his arms around the creature?s head.
Luke closed his eyes; unable to watch what he knew was sure to happen. He winced, when he heard the loud cracking sound. Kararss? wailing cries quickly ceased and his body went limp, falling to the ground. Luke could only imagine the grisly scene playing out before him and he was suddenly glad that his eyes were closed.
When he opened them again, he was astonished at what he saw. All three swoop racers were now dead. Moreover, a fearsome tribe of canyon raiders now surrounded him. A soft voice wafted over Luke?s shoulder.
?Was that all of them, father??
The large man dusted himself off and retrieved his carbon-scored scimitar. He spun it around like a trained warrior, before sliding it back into its casing.
?I think so?? he began. ?Unless the young man here thinks that there may be more young sky-jackers threatening the Tauntoo pass.?
Luke stumbled for a moment, taking in the entire scene. He may have been young, but he had sense enough to know that he might have just exchanged one threat, for an even larger one. He had heard stories of cannibal night tribes and wandering mystics, that haunted the valley of Tauntoo and nearby Tai Noota.
?N-No,? he stammered. ?No, I think that was it.?
He looked hard into the tall man?s eyes. What it was he was looking for, he had no idea, though all at once, Luke felt an overwhelming sense of trust in the fearsome raider standing before him.
?Who are you?? he said.
The raider unclipped the side of his black veil, letting it fall to the side of his face. He was a swarthy skinned human of about 40. It was obvious that the harsh desert wastelands of Tatooine had nurtured him into a tough and able-bodied survivor. He had a neatly cut black mustache, a beard and a friendly smile. The raider extended his hand towards Luke.
?My name is Kitster Banai, leader of the Twin Sun Tribes of Tai Noota.?
Luke was never good at concealing his emotions and he wore his shock on his face like a glove.
?The Twin Suns! But they?re just a myth. Ghost stories my aunt used to scare me when I was a kid, so I would behave.?
Kitster let out a deep and infectious laugh, ?Little more than myth, my friend, and slightly less than truth.?
Kitster clapped Luke about the shoulders, ?Come. It will be getting dark soon and we have had some problems with Sandpeople in recent weeks.?
The Twin Suns Tribe took Luke with them back to their hidden grotto. It was a huge underground cavern nestled deep within the outlying crevices of the Tauntoo Pass. The grotto itself was a deep well, with intricately carved columns and jewel-encrusted glyphs, upon the walls. Luke had never in his life thought that something so beautiful could exist on all of Tatooine. They descended a wide platform of steps. All about them, spiraling arches loomed overhead depicting epic battles, carved upon the sandstone. Luke gazed in awe at the towering columns that seemed to grow from the very floor itself, melting into upper level balconies and parapets. It was like an ancient miniature city had been sculpted inside the cave.
?Did you guys build this place??
Luke followed Kitster down a flight of steps into one of the main audience chambers. The lower chamber itself was a river of riches. An ornate throne had been centered upon a pillow of golden coins and shining glass crystals. Many black-veiled warriors walked to and fro, but each one stopped and delivered a short bow of courtesy to their leader. Kitster bowed in return and flopped himself upon the throne.
?No. We found it actually. Many years ago. A few of my children were actually born right here inside this chamber. As to who built it?? he shrugged nonchalantly. ?Who can say??
Luke did not even attempt to contain his awe, at this point. In one corner, a lithe brown-skinned man plucked at a small wooden stringed instrument. The chimes of the chords reverberated throughout the chamber, and the vibrations caused many of the wall crystals to glow. Another group of tribesmen approached a huge brazier, dousing heavy oil on it. As the music intensified, the crystals began to hum. Ultimately, as the pulsing continued, the crystals gave off sparks that burst wildly in the air, igniting the brazier. The glory, the splendor of the lavish chamber became all the more intense, as the raging fires of the brazier cast the entire community into golden luminescence.
?Impressed?? Kitster queried.
?Very,? Luke responded.
?You?ll have to forgive me my little eccentricities. My people have grown quite used to these splendors, and it is seldom that we get to entertain outside visitors.?
The woman with the soft voice approached Luke. Despite her azure veil, Luke?s heart hammered at her obvious and yet hidden beauty. Her skin was bronzed like her father?s, but unlike her father, she had eyes as blue as the mid-day sky.
?You will stay and eat with us, won?t you?? she began.
Her voice was a sheet of soft velvet sliding across his skin, ?There is no way that we could return you to your people, this night. Not right now, anyway.?
Kitster rose from his adopted throne, a swashbuckler?s smile growing across his face.
?This is my daughter, Camiellera.?
Her eyes narrowed in embarrassment and she let her veil down.
?Call me Camie,? she said.
Immediately, Luke thought that it was a grave injustice that this young woman should ever be forced to cover her face. She was one of the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen.
?My name is Luke. Luke Skywalker.?
Camie?s lips pulled into a small smile and she curtsied before him, ?Welcome to our home, Luke Skywalker.?
Neither teenager could notice, but Kitster?s eyes betrayed great fascination as he repeated the name silently to the empty air.
?That?s a very odd name, young man,? Kitster said, ?A hero?s name.?
Luke blushed. He didn?t know which made him more nervous -- sitting within this pinnacle of royal splendor, or sharing breaths with this sky-blue garbed wonder before him. Ever respectful, Luke stole his gaze from Camie and addressed the girl?s father.
?Uhh...if you say so, sir. It?s my given name. But I actually live with the Lars family. I?m an orphan.?
Kitster suppressed his earlier wonderment and continued, ?Lars? They own a moisture farm do they not?
?You?ve heard of them??
?Only tangentially. One of my?contacts was once a customer of your Uncle.?
Luke hadn?t said that Owen Lars was his Uncle, but Kitster?s presumptuous remark had not seemed to register to the young man. Kitster continued.
?The Lars farm is quite far away. Do you have a means of contacting them??
?No. My communications were destroyed when my T-16 went down.?
It took a moment before Luke?s cautious nature took root in him. Maybe he shouldn?t have volunteered that little bit of information. He remembered the tactics of the con artists of Anchorhead. They could bestow themselves upon you, as if they were your blood-borne brother, while all the time plotting a means by which to cheat you. But as reserved as Luke had tended to be, there was something elusive that told him that Kitster and his tribesmen was a people to be trusted. Despite his youthful naivet?, Luke had very good instincts. Although, he occasionally let his caution give way to recklessness, he found it nearly impossible not to like the dashing warrior standing before him.
Go with your gut, Luke thought to himself, These are the only people that can help you right now.
Luke addressed Kitster directly, but he found it difficult to avert his gaze from Camie?s sky-blue eyes, ?Will somebody be able to help me get back home??
?Perhaps tomorrow?? Kitster answered. ?I think one of the swoop racers survived fairly intact. We will return to the site, where we fought in the morning and see if it is air-worthy. We have no vehicles here, which can take you back. Would you be opposed to sharing our home with us for an evening??
Luke tried to be polite, but he was never very good with words and the art of diplomacy was completely lost to him.
?I guess I don?t have much of a choice.?
He immediately winced at his own clumsy response. ?I?m sorry. I don?t mean to sound rude?it?s just that my Uncle will be waiting up for me and??
Again, the chamber exploded with Kitster?s hearty laugh. ?Don?t worry young Skywalker. Tomorrow I?ll send Camie back into town with you. She?ll explain the situation to your Aunt and Uncle. I?m sure everything will be fine.?
Luke?s heart immediately warmed to the prospect of spending more time with Camie. It was a notion that did not go un-noticed by the young girl?s father.
As night settled in on the town of Tai Noota and the Tauntoo Pass, the Twin Suns Tribe engaged in a massive feast. Several of Kitster?s younger warriors had succeeded in routing out a nest of Tusken Raiders from a nearby encampment. The prize of the hunt was a massive Bantha, which they promptly began roasting upon a spit.
Each of the warriors sat in a large circle, in a hall outside the main throne-chamber. Smaller braziers and illumination crystals were brought in. Heavy brown Bantha steaks were passed about the circle, with several young ladies bringing in carafes of Juri wine, that they had stolen from a slaver?s caravan a week earlier. Luke had never had such a meal. Even the best steakhouses in Mos Eisley were hard pressed to cultivate a feast, of such grandeur. The old musician, Seekor, continued to strum along somber melodies, on his wooden instrument. As he ate, Luke could feel himself become tired and heavy from the meal, as well as the wine.
Uncle Owen would kill me if he knew I was drinking Juri Wine. I won?t be of age for at least another season, he thought to himself.
He leaned back, listening to the intense dramas that Kitster regaled the party with. The old warrior had an excited fire in his eyes. It was easy to see that he was indeed, a gifted storyteller. As he began to detail the conclusion of the legendary Battle of Abaren, a lean-looking youth strode into the grotto. He was bare-chested, hearty looking and had a bright smile across his face. He handed Kitster a scroll that he claimed he lifted off a spacer from the lower regions.
Kitster wiped a smattering of grease from his lip, unfurling the document. The audience chamber watched intently, as the man?s eyes darted across the page. They then widened with glee and Kitster rose to his feet. He held the scroll high in the air and shouted with great exuberance.
?According to the latest Guild announcements?my head is now worth 12,000 credits!?
A raucous cheer over-whelmed the room. ?That ought to send Gardulla?s tail into a twitch!? he laughed.
Luke looked towards Camie, an expression of confusion upon his face. Camie swallowed a cup of wine and leaned close to him.
?Father has been playing the Hutts off of one another for years now. Jabba and Gardulla are known for their intense rivalry. Each one would pay a king?s ransom to see Father destroyed.?
?Oh,? Luke said, astonished. ?How could one take glory in having a death-mark put upon them?? he wondered.
One of the drunken tribesmen shouted towards his leader, ?Hey! Maybe now we should SHOW Gardulla where she can stick her bounty, eh??
Raucous laughter ensued.
?Not at all my friend?? Kitster fired back. ?I have no intentions of confronting Mistress Gardulla until I am worth at least 20,000!?
Again, his tribesmen cheered at him. ?Maybe at that price, I might even turn myself in!?
The night carried on, and one by one each of the revelers fell asleep.
Luke awoke with a start many hours later. The Juri wine had relaxed him, so that he had passed out before even rising from the meal-circle. He looked to his side and discovered that Camie had fallen asleep in the crook of his arm next to him. He leaned forward, a dull ache throbbing in the back of his head. His mouth tasted like sand and his bones ached. Gently, he shifted Camie out from under his arm and laid her down on some of the blankets, which they had been resting on.
Luke stood, glancing about the room. The braziers had gone out and the chamber smelled of stale grease and smoke. Many of the tribesmen slept in various corners of the chamber. No one seemed to have claim to any one room or cell. Luke brushed himself down and darted up one of the ascending stairwells.
The stairs lead him to a small passage, which brought him to the exterior of the cliffs. As he exited the cave, his eyes squinted at the brightness of the early Tatooine suns. It was early morning, and Tattoo I was already a quarter of the way into the sky. On the horizon, the blood-red tinge of Tatoo II began to rise over the desert landscape. As a young boy, Luke had always marveled to the sight of the Second Dawn. It was just as majestic and awe-inspiring now as it was when he was a child.
Upon stepping into the daylight, Luke noticed that Kitster Banai had already risen and now stood upon the cliff ledge admiring the morning.
?This is what it is all about, young Skywalker,? Kitster said.
Luke was startled by the notion that Kitster was even aware of his presence.
?Sir?? he questioned.
?Have you ever seen anything more beautiful, Luke?? he said, ?The exchange between the rays of light between both suns, intersect each other for only fifteen minutes out of every day. Then, all of life becomes swallowed up in that one glorious imperviable moment. Constant. Never changing. Breathtaking.?
He turned towards Luke with a warm smile, ?That?s what it?s all about, you know. Why we do what we do.?
Luke tilted his head to the side, ?I don?t follow.?
?Our lives are but a series of constantly changing abstracts. We become lost within the myriad puzzles of it, whether we are aware of it or not, we all secretly aspire for that one constant that binds it all together. Do you understand??
?I think so.?
Kitster planted his hands on his hips and chuckled, ?More than you know I suspect.?
He turned again to stare at the twin suns.
?That?s why I come out here every morning. To pay homage to that one imperviable moment, that is guaranteed me, no matter what happens. Tatoo I is rising high now. Second Dawn is almost over. Come. I had one of my men prep the swoop bike. Camie will take you back into town.?
?Sir, why did you help me down there? Yesterday. Why did you get involved? Aren?t you afraid that I might reveal your location to somebody??
Kitster narrowed his eyes, glaring down at the young boy. He knew that the youth he spoke to, was but known to him, for only the course of one night, though the expression that looked back at him now, was one he had seen many years before.
?Luke, I?ve been doing this for a long time. I have been many things in my life. I?ve been a slave, a pirate and an outlaw. Over the years, I?ve learned to trust my instincts and I?ve learned to recognize the greatness in my fellow travelers, as well as their shortcomings.? He placed a warm hand on Luke?s shoulder, ?You my friend are destined for great things.?
Luke was impressed by how effectively Kitster dodged his question, but at the same time he was intimidated by the elder?s ham-handed prophecy.
Great things, Luke thought to himself.
?Yeah?right. I?ll be lucky if Uncle Owen doesn?t string me up by my ankles for wrecking the Skyhopper.?
It was then that Camie walked out of the dark passageway, shielding her eyes from the Sun. She let out a yawn and greeted her father.
?Camiellera, you should take young Skywalker back to his home now. I?m sure his Aunt and Uncle are dizzy with worry. Don?t tarry too long. Jabba will have a parade ceremony in Tai Noota this afternoon, and I want to have the tribe gathered before Mid-day to make preparations for the raid.?
Camie kissed her father on the cheek and went to Luke?s side, ?I won?t be long, father.?
Camie took Luke by the hand and guided him down the tricky incline into the depths of the ravine. As she navigated the recesses of rock, her long ink black hair flowed back, dancing off the tip of Luke?s nose. A slight breeze caressed them, letting Luke breathe in the scent of Camie?s hair and perfumed skin. They reached the floor of the valley where they met two tribesmen who had put the finishing touches on the one salvageable swoop-bike.
Luke wasn?t sure if he would ever see Camie again after this trip. He wasn?t even sure if he would ever be allowed to venture this far from home again. But in the space of one night, Luke learned that there was so much more to Tatooine than orange deserts and drunken spacers. More than he could ever dream.
They both stopped in front of the swoop. Camie turned towards Luke. Like her father, she had a soft and yet brazen smile that played upon her lips. The second sun had just risen above the cliffs and the warm orange light shone across her face. Their eyes met but neither spoke a word. No word was needed. For what seemed like an eternity, they stood there silent each one taking in the gaze of the other. An ocean of life flowed between them. As the sun grew hotter, Camie narrowed her eyes.
?Come on?? she said. ?Let?s get you home.?
The two climbed aboard the swoop-bike and sped their way home, leaving the Tauntoo Pass behind them.
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