Shmi knew she was dying. She was weak and ill, bound inside a tent in a Tusken camp. The Tusken Raiders or Sandpeople had captured her nearly a month ago, although she had long ago lost all sense of time. The Sandpeople bled her daily, using their long, curved knives to slash at her skin. When she began to bleed, they would ululate in triumph before collecting her blood to use in their unspeakable rituals. Once they collected enough blood, Shmi's wounds were smeared with a foul smelling paste to staunch the bleeding; a paste that burned and stung. She was given nothing to ease her pain. Once a day, she was given a little brackish water to drink, and every few days she was given a scrap of rancid bantha meat for sustenance.
When Shmi was first brought inside the tent, there had been another captive, who was bound with his wrists lashed against a crude wooden frame. He had been feverish and delirious. Like Shmi, he was bled daily, but his blood was black, and there was very little of it. Within a few days of Shmi's arrival, he was dead. Shmi never knew his name.
Shmi knew she would never leave the Tusken camp alive, but she willed herself to live a little longer for one reason: her son, Anakin. She had not seen nor heard from her son in over ten years, but there was not a day in which he was out of her thoughts. She did not blame Anakin for this lack of communication. She knew that for her son, a Jedi Padawan, this contact was forbidden. Knowing that her son had escaped from the cruel bonds of slavery and was now given a future with the Jedi was the one thing that allowed Shmi to endure the years of separation from him.
Though separated by light years of distance, Shmi could still sense him; she rejoiced with him over his victories, and agonized over his rare failures. And now, she sensed he was coming. She prayed he would come soon and take her from this nightmare, back out into the Tatooine night where she could see the stars one last time....
Shmi Skywalker's first memories were of space, of its cold, black, endless expanses, and of the trillions of stars that winked in the darkness. For as long as she could remember, she had spent countless hours staring out of portholes into space and wishing with all her heart for a change of scenery.
"You'll long for the stars and this view of space one day," her grandmother Tashmi Silverlight said.
"I won't," eleven year-old Shmi had replied, turning away from the windows in her grandmother's quarters. "I hate it. I'm sick of space. I want to have a home that doesn't change. I want to see sunlight and bright skies. The only times we see them are on the holovids. I want to see them for real."
"You will, when you're older," Tashmi said. "Don't you remember seeing blue skies when you were little?"
"You mean before Mother and Father died?" Shmi asked, continuing sadly when her grandmother nodded. "No, I don't remember. The only sky I remember was the one I saw the night they told me that my parents had died and that I would be going to an orphanage. It was a black sky like this one, with stars."
"Were you never allowed out when you went to the orphanage?" Tashmi asked, astonished. "You were there six months before you came to us!"
Shmi sighed. "I was only three. I don't remember the orphanage well. I usually try to forget. I remember I was very cold there all the time. And I remember a fransac plant that one of the staff members kept. It was a weak, sickly thing like most of the children."
"Well, when you're fourteen, you'll be allowed to land on the planets when we trade," Tashmi replied. She looked at her granddaughter with worried eyes. Shmi was small for her eleven years, with fine, dark hair and green eyes. Her elfin features could not be called beautiful, but Shmi looked just like her mother had at the same age. Tashmi remembered, with some pain, her beautiful older daughter, Pari, dead these last eight years.
"I don't want to just stay someplace to trade for a couple of weeks or a month and then move on," Shmi said forcefully. "I want to stay in one place. I want to have a place to call home! Not some cramped quarters on a space cruiser!"
"Child, this is our way of life," Tashmi said, consolingly. "We're wanderers."
"Yes, the Palomiri - space gypsies -" Shmi said the words with scorn. "They distrust us, and they don't welcome us in the Republic. Why is that?"
"How do you know about that?" Tashmi asked in wonderment. "You weren't even born the last time we were attacked by Republic ships."
"We have a whole fleet of fighter ships. All of the cruisers have ion cannons and laser guns, and those weapons are updated all the time. Why else would we have them, if we didn't need defense?" Shmi asked. "Besides, I -" she paused.
"You sensed it, didn't you?" Tashmi asked, gently.
Shmi hesitated before nodding.
"You sense things before they happen - and you sense things about the people around you, don't you?" her grandmother asked.
Shmi looked up. "Yes. How did you know?"
Tashmi smiled, "I've always known that about you. You've hidden it well all these years, but I knew. Who taught you to keep it a secret?"
"Mother," Shmi answered. "I don't have a lot of memories of her, but I remember her telling me that I must never, ever let anyone know. She said it was too dangerous."
Tashmi sighed. "You lived on Antares, then. A Core world. I guess I had forgotten it would be dangerous there as well."
"I don't understand. What are you talking about?"
"What you have - this power, we call the Gift. Some among us would call it the Curse. Within the Republic, they would say that you are strong in the Force. If your talents had been discovered while you lived on Antares, you would have gone to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to train as a Jedi instead of coming to us."
"Why? What are the Jedi?"
"The Jedi knights are the guardians of peace and justice in the Republic," Tashmi explained, "The Force gives them their power. The laws in the Republic say that any child found to be strong in the Force is taken to the Temple in infancy to train. It's one of the reasons we tend to stay away from the Core worlds in our travels. It goes back to when we first left Moramir."
"But we left Moramir thousands of years ago!" Shmi exclaimed.
"Over eight thousand years ago," Tashmi corrected. "You remember your history holovids from school, don't you? How we escaped our home moon of Moramir when an asteroid destroyed it? "
"Yes, I remember, Grandmother."
"Well, when we first fled Moramir, we started trading between star systems as a way to survive while we searched for a new home world. When we landed on a star system, some of us would trade, and others of us who had the Gift, would entertain the crowds. It was a good way to draw customers. They would tell fortunes and perform telekinesis and many other tricks. In the Core worlds, we started to attract a lot of attention, and those of our children who were known to have the Gift were taken from us to become Jedi. When we protested, we were told that as long as we plied our trade within the borders of the Republic, we were subjected to its laws. At first, we tried to hide our children from the Jedi, so no one was allowed off ship until after their fourteenth birthday. Then, we began to avoid the Core worlds altogether. Over time, the Gift became a taboo, and those who had it were branded as sorcerers."
"Why did it become taboo? What's wrong with having the Gift?"
"Oh, goodness, child," Tashmi sighed. "That's such an old story...let me think, now...it was something to do with the Sith Wars...if I remember correctly, a group of young Palomiri...now this was at least three or four thousand years ago...but there was a group of young Palomiri who had the Gift, and decided to take formal training as Jedi. They began training and then some drifted toward the Dark side, while others stayed on the Light side...somehow, they became embroiled in the Great Sith Wars and the Palomiri...all of us...became involved. I don't remember all the details, but we were almost wiped out during those wars. After that, it was decreed that anyone known to have the Gift would be declared a sorcerer and banished."
"Do you think that there are many of us who have the Gift?"
"Well, if they have it, they're not telling," Tashmi said with a dry chuckle, adding, "I would guess about thirty children per generation have the Gift, but a fair number of them may not even be aware of this."
"Just thirty children!" Shmi exclaimed. "There are a million of us on these ships!"
"It doesn't sound like much," Tashmi conceded. "But I'm told that in some star systems, no one has the Gift; in others, perhaps one in a billion is born with these abilities.
"Tell me, Shmi, what can you do?"
Shmi hesitated. This "Gift" was a secret she had held close for her entire life. She remembered that when she was a small child she was able to move objects with her mind, and she remembered her ability to foresee future events. These abilities had terrified her mother, and Shmi was warned, in no uncertain terms, to hide these abilities from everyone. Perhaps like physical muscles, her command of the Force atrophied with disuse. Shmi could no longer remember how to move objects with her mind, and she could only rarely foresee future events. Occasionally, she would catch snatches of others' thoughts. It was a very vague, hazy ability, and Shmi often told herself she had imagined things. She had even convinced herself that she only imagined foreseeing the speeder crash that killed her parents.
"Sometimes I 'see' things before they happen," Shmi answered, hesitantly, "and sometimes I can hear others' thoughts. And one time - I'm not even sure if this counts, but I was caught playing hooky with Lamaris Kessel, and I think I was able to do some mind trick on my teacher to keep out of trouble. I think when I was smaller, I could do more things, but I can't do them anymore.
"How did you know I have the Gift, Grandmother?"
Tashmi smiled. "Why, I have it as well. It's fairly common in our family. My powers are very weak now. Years of disuse, I suppose. I sense things. Sometimes I can see glimpses into the future, but mind you, the future is always in flux, and I never fully trust those visions. My best skill is in hiding my powers from others who are Force sensitive."
"Did Mother or Aunt Nashmi have this Gift?"
Tashmi shook her head. "Sometimes, it skips a generation. Neither your mother, nor your Aunt Nashmi had it. Keep your talents well hidden, Shmi. Charges of sorcery are very severe. Your uncle would be very displeased if he knew. He doesn't want anything to jeopardize your marriage to Korel Mithromir."
Shmi wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Korel's nice enough, but he's so - old! Why do I have to be married, anyway? I don't want to be married."
Tashmi laughed. "He's twenty-one. That's not so old - you'll think differently when you're twenty-one, yourself - but I can see it wouldn't be interesting for a young girl like yourself. As for marriage, you know that every Palomiri girl has her marriage arranged before she's fourteen. It's a very good match your uncle has arranged for you."
"He didn't do it for me," Shmi said with scorn. "He just wants closer ties to old Dantun Mithromir. It's a great alliance - for him."
"Don't speak so cynically," Tashmi said sharply, "It's unbecoming for a young girl like yourself. You know your uncle treats you well."
"Yes - as long as I obey him. As long as I behave as a model Palomiri. Stars forbid I start taking after the Skywalker side of the family."
"You know, it broke your grandfather's heart when your mother ran away to marry Anakin Skywalker - a Corellian navigator on a spice freighter! Your mother was promised to your uncle, first. It was only after she ran away that your aunt married Borel. I don't think he ever forgave your mother - although I think your Aunt Nashmi makes him a far better wife than your mother would have."
"Why would you say something like that?" Shmi asked, stung by the implied criticism of her mother.
"Pari was always too wild. She needed freedom and adventure. She would never have been a good, obedient Palomiri wife - and unfortunately, your uncle cannot tolerate dissent. Nashmi was always more pliable. Except for the fact that she's never had children, I think they've been content. And when you came along, you made them into a family. I know you think your uncle is too stern, but your uncle really did dote on you when you were younger. You've just become so antagonistic, lately. Why do you provoke him so?"
"I don't do it on purpose," Shmi said. "It's just that he never listens."
Tashmi sighed. "You've got too much of your mother in you, child."
Nine years later...
"This planet is really a useless dustball," Fanlon Peridon grumbled from his stall, as he set out his wares of vaporator parts. "Why in the galaxy would anyone want to settle here? Where are we, anyway?"
Shmi laughed. "Mos Eisley. I know this planet is hot and dusty, but it has beautiful twin sunsets. Besides, Tatooine's a popular conduit from the Outer Rim Territories to Coruscant, and has a lot of space activity. Listen, Fanlon - try to get the condenser units sold off - we have too much of a surplus. If you must, cut the price a little."
"All right," Fanlon nodded, adding, "How long do I have to move this inventory?"
Shmi shook her head. "I'm not sure. We have a fair amount of supplies, which will last quite a while. I heard Uncle Borel say that Viceroy Mithromir is negotiating some trading rights with Jabba the Hutt. From what I've heard, these negotiations could take at least a couple of months."
Shmi was twenty now, a Palomiri merchant. Trade was the mainstay of Palomiri existence and Shmi was a very good trader. She had been apprenticed when she was fourteen to an older merchant and did very well during her apprenticeship. She enjoyed her work and gained a sense of fulfillment in what she did. Promoted several times, she was now supervising several apprentices as well as many seasoned traders. Now, whenever the Palomiri landed on a planet, Shmi coordinated sales and trades between several cities. Her uncle said proudly that Shmi could sell sand on Tatooine. After hearing that phrase repeated so many times, Shmi was very curious to see what Tatooine was like. The desert landscape, so alien to anything she had ever seen before, had an austere charm for her.
This was not the case with her companion who hated everything about Tatooine. "A couple of months!" Fanlon groaned in dismay. "Stuck here on this sandtrap with those gangsters and peasants!"
"And this sunlight is too bright - it really bothers my eyes." Lamaris Kessel complained as she sorted out vaporator components. Lamaris, Fanlon and Shmi had been apprenticed together and still worked as a team, with Shmi as the leader.
"It's beautiful!" Shmi said, smiling. "I could just stand out there, all day."
"You and your sunlight." Fanlon shook his head. "I'm getting dizzy from all this."
"It's not just the sunlight," Shmi said. "It's the fresh air. It's so much better than being trapped on a ship, looking out into the endless, black sky."
"All this open space makes me nervous," Lamaris said. "Even after all this time, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. I'd rather be back on board the Protector, any day. Speaking of the Protector, weren't you on board last week, having dinner with Korel Mithromir?"
"With the whole family." Shmi obliged her friend by blushing. "The Viceroy asked my uncle over for dinner to discuss Council business."
"How was Korel?" Lamaris asked, with a teasing note in her voice.
"He's old," Shmi answered repressively. "And he didn't want to talk about anything but military talk. He was just promoted to Captain. It was all over my head."
"No romantic sweet nothings?" Fanlon asked, joining in the teasing.
"We have an arranged betrothal!" Shmi said, severely. "We usually have chaperoned meetings. Don't talk like a child! Romance!"
"You sound like you don't want to marry Korel," Lamaris exclaimed, shocked. "Shmi! He's the son of the Viceroy! The Mithromirs are rich! You'd live in the lap of luxury. I've heard that they have eight droids just to clean their quarters and run errands for them."
"I'd rather live in a little hut on a planet like this than be trapped on board a star cruiser for the rest of my life," Shmi retorted.
"Stars, why?" Lamaris was amazed.
"Variety," Shmi said, flippantly, not wanting to tell Lamaris the reasons she dreaded her upcoming marriage. She liked her betrothed, Korel Mithromir well enough, but didn't love him and couldn't evince any enthusiasm at the thought of spending the rest of her life with him. "Just look at all the people out there. All those species. I could spend the whole day just watching them walk by."
"Frankly, they give me the creeps," Lamaris said, in an undertone. "Look at that - what is it? It looks humanoid, but it's blue! And it has those things coming out of its head!"
"He is a Twi'lek," Shmi said, somewhat surprised at Lamaris' insularity. After all these years trading in hundreds of systems, Lamaris still couldn't identify most species, "And maybe he thinks the hair on our head and our skin color is just as strange.
"Excuse me - do you have Corellian standard vaporator socket wrenches?" A gruff voice interrupted from behind them in Basic.
Shmi, Lamaris and Fanlon turned around. A young man in his early thirties stood just outside the stall. He was tall with brown hair lightened by the sun and a craggy, weather-beaten complexion. Shmi saw that his dark eyes were very kind and sad.
Shmi smiled, and replied in Basic, "Not at this stall, but we have another site two streets down that sells vaporator tools. We have full sets in both Corellian standard and Tekkorian standard measurements. Would you like me to take you over to our other shop?"
"Thank you," the man said, extending his hand. "I'm Cliegg Lars."
Shmi shook his hand. "Shmi Skywalker. Come with me." She turned to Fanlon. "You'll be all right here?"
Fanlon nodded, before bending down to unpack some more boxes. "What channel is your comlink on, in case Lamaris or I have questions?"
"It's always on twenty-seven," Shmi said, as she led Cliegg away. "Just down this street," she pointed.
"Where are you from?" Cliegg asked, as he followed her. "I've never heard your accent before."
"I'm a Palomiri."
"Ah - you're space gypsies," Cliegg murmured.
"Don't call us that!" Shmi said, suddenly looking very fierce.
"I didn't mean anything by that, Miss," Cliegg apologized, quickly. "I didn't realize that was an insult."
"Forget it," Shmi said, as she turned the corner. "It's not important. What model moisture vaporators do you have?"
"Binary DS-II, and VP-VII for the most part. I'm also looking to update these models."
"We have the new VP-XI and DS-IV models which use the binary system. If you want quadratic models, we also have the Kayorat ZL-3 and Passharel CPC-7 systems - the latest models. The quadratic models are a vast improvement over the binary models - much more moisture with much lower energy requirement - although on this planet, with so much solar power, I'd say that was the least of your problems."
"How long have you been selling moisture vaporators? You know them very well," Cliegg said, clearly impressed. "I didn't think there was such a vast market in the galaxy."
"These are the first I've worked with," Shmi said, in a matter-of-fact voice. It was part of the secret of her success that Shmi exhaustively researched everything she sold, which made her a very knowledgeable saleswoman. On the many planets where she had sold various wares, her customers would have sworn she had been selling those particular products for years, when in fact, she rarely traded the same items on more than one planet. This variety was one of Shmi's favorite aspects of her work.
They reached the stall where the vaporator tools were being sold. "Narandi," Shmi called out, "can you bring out the Corellian standard tools for the binary machines?"
Narandi, a pretty young girl just one year out from her apprenticeship smiled shyly. This was the first stall that she was managing by herself. She quickly brought out the tool kits, and then went to the other side of the stall to wait on other customers.
Cliegg compared the different kits, asking questions about their manufacture, which Shmi answered knowledgeably. Finally, he chose one of the kits. "I'll take this one. Do you deliver?"
"Where do you live?" Shmi asked.
"Our homestead is out by Anchorhead. That's a settlement about four hundred and fifty kilometers southwest of Mos Eisley."
"You need to go so far from home to buy machine parts?"
"I had some business to take care of out here," Cliegg answered. "Besides, I hate dealing with the Jawas. Do you know about them?"
Shmi shook her head, "I've never heard of Jawas."
"Filthy, disgusting creatures," Cliegg said, adding, "They steal everything that isn't welded down, and even a few things that are. They'd think nothing of stealing one of my machines and then trying to sell it back to me the next day."
Shmi laughed. "That's seventy three credits for the kit."
Cliegg smiled. "You have a pretty laugh, Miss Shmi. It reminds me of -" his voice trailed off, and the smile faded from his face. Cliegg looked abruptly away from Shmi, into the horizon.
"It reminds you of your wife?" Shmi asked, before she thought. She immediately regretted the rash slip, but she felt the wave of sadness emanate from Cliegg and she knew where it was from.
"I never said I was married," Cliegg said, looking suspicious.
"You're not married," Shmi said, looking at him sympathetically. "Not anymore."
"How did you know this?"
"I - I just knew," Shmi said, "I can't explain how I knew. When did she die?"
"Aika died over a year ago," Cliegg said, sadly. "We lived on Ator then with our son. Have you ever been to Ator?"
Shmi shook her head. "We almost never go to the Core worlds. You have a son?"
"Owen," Cliegg answered. "He was just three months old when his mother died. I brought him back to Tatooine to my parents' homestead, and took over running the moisture farm...." Cliegg's voice trailed off, as he reminisced for a few moments. He then turned abruptly back to Shmi. "Anyway...your laugh just reminded me of Aika's. It was the happiest sound I ever heard - it just brought back some happy memories."
"She must have been a lovely lady," Shmi said, compassionately, distressed by the grief that clouded his eyes.
"Yes." Cliegg gave a sigh. "I see a lot of her in Owen, which gives me some peace." Cliegg's manner changed abruptly as he shook himself out of the realm of sentimentality. "Anyway, when can I get my kit?"
"We'll send the kit out to you later this afternoon. Just leave us the coordinates of your home."
Cliegg handed over the credits. "Why don't you bring the kit out today and stay for dinner?"
Shmi was startled into a laugh. "You're asking me to dinner?"
"Is that such an unusual thing?"
"For us it is," Shmi answered, the humor now gone from her face. "Thank you for your kind invitation, but I can't come."
"Well, how long will you be trading out here on Tatooine, Miss Shmi?" Cliegg asked, apparently not discouraged.
Shmi blushed. She was flattered by the attention, but sensed danger. For the first time in her life, she felt attraction, and she knew that she could not allow this attraction to blossom. "I'm not sure. A couple of months, maybe. But I'll be traveling all over this sector. I won't just be in Mos Eisley."
"You did mention new moisture vaporator models," Cliegg said. "Perhaps we could make an appointment to meet and discuss the new models."
"We have many salespeople -" Shmi started to say.
"I think discussing vaporator models would only be interesting if you were part of the conversation," Cliegg coaxed, with a smile.
"I really shouldn't," Shmi said, feeling her resolve slip.
"I need at least three new vaporators...and if you were to meet with me, I might even buy four!"
"All right," Shmi conceded, finally, unwilling to lose a valuable sale and unable to find an excuse to fend him off further. "Three days from now, nine o'clock local time, we can meet at this stall."
"I'm sorry, but I have to return to my ship for a din - a meeting tonight, and then for the next two days I'll be in Mos Espa. But don't worry, I'll be back for our meeting."
Cliegg smiled, "So will I."
"I brought this for you to put in your hair," Nashmi Masdin said as she entered her niece's quarters on their home ship Prosperity.
Shmi looked at her aunt's reflection in the mirror. She had returned from Mos Eisley earlier that evening and had just finished pinning up her long, dark brown hair into an intricate style that she had copied from a fashion holovid. It was a style currently popular in the Core worlds. "Thank you, Aunt Nashmi," Shmi said, taking the Reqilim orchid from her aunt's hands. It was a beautiful, exotic flower with a rare shade of purple. She pinned the flower into her hair. "How do I look?"
Nashmi looked at her niece, and for a moment, time had turned back. Shmi looked just like her mother had at the same age. Nashmi could almost believe that Pari was standing there with her. Nashmi made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob and said, "You're beautiful, my darling. I'm sure Korel will be completely besotted."
Shmi stood up, straightening out her dress. "We should get going. The shuttle is waiting to take us to Protector. We're going to be late."
Nashmi stopped her niece. "What's the matter? You should be excited! After all these years, the betrothal is official. It's your engagement dinner tonight and you're going to marry Korel Mithromir. Why are you so - you seem so frozen."
"It's nothing," Shmi said, trying to turn away.
"Don't you like Korel?"
"He's all right. Really, I mean it; he's very nice. I just don't want to marry him."
"Well, who do you want to marry?" Nashmi asked, perplexed. The Palomiri did not choose their own spouses. Men and women alike married whomever their families chose for them. That was why Pari's elopement had caused such a scandal so many years ago.
"I don't want to marry anyone," Shmi said. "I like trading. Uncle Borel says I have a head for business, but once I'm married, I won't be able to work anymore."
Shmi's protests were only an excuse. Despite the fact that she had hated the thought of losing her working status, she had no way of explaining to her aunt her real fear of Korel's father, Dantun Mithromir.
Dantun Mithromir, Viceroy of the Palomiri for the past twenty-two years, was a large, outwardly jovial man in his mid-fifties. He had a shock of dark brown hair above a rubicund face and a belly of ample girth hidden under his tunic. He was very popular among the Palomiri, owing to his charm and a very subtle gift of mind - bending, which he had perfected over the years, using his cunning and intelligence to keep it hidden. As well, he had an uncanny ability to know, in advance, where the Palomiri could make the most advantageous trades, some of which were highly questionable but very profitable. Too many times Dantun had overridden the High Council's objections and had been proven right.
With his successes and his popularity, he was re-elected as Viceroy eight times in a row. Many detractors secretly whispered that Dantun had the Gift and that he was a sorcerer, but no one dared speak too loudly. Dantun's enemies had a way of disappearing or of finding themselves in unfortunate or disastrous situations.
Since the first time Shmi met him, she knew that Dantun had the Gift. Moreover, she was sure he knew that she had the Gift as well and was displeased by it. Over the years, Dantun had never said a word to indicate it, but Shmi sensed a menace behind his good-humored, friendly façade. She was terrified at the thought of marrying Korel and living on the Protector in adjacent quarters with Dantun and his wife.
Nashmi, however, knew nothing of Shmi's Gift, and was therefore, blissfully ignorant of Shmi's fears. She sighed heavily, addressing Shmi's remarks. "This is the way of our people, Shmi. We've lived this way for thousands of years -"
"But why do we have to keep living like this?" Shmi protested, "I'm not ignorant, you know. Out in the Republic, women can marry and have children and work. There are even women who run star systems, women senators. It's bad enough that I have to spend my life wandering around in space without a clear home. Why do I have to be confined to a few rooms on a space cruiser, under the authority of someone I barely know?"
Nashmi remonstrated. "Please, my dear, give this way of life a chance! It's not so bad. If you gave this a try, you might find yourself happy with Korel. He's a nice man. Besides, once you have children, you'll feel differently about things. I - I was very restless when I first married your uncle. Not so rebellious as your mother, maybe, but I also felt my life was aimless and empty - but when you came you gave me a purpose and I've been so happy all these years with you."
Shmi's eyes softened as she looked at her aunt. "Maybe you're right. Come on, we're late for dinner."
"This nerf steak is superb!" Borel Masdin, the Palomiri Trade Minister exclaimed over dinner. "Why can't our droids get this done right? It's so tender!"
"Thank you," Katara Mithromir said, with a demure smile. "It's a programming secret. My grandmother handed down the code to my mother, and she handed it to me. Maybe someday, I'll give the program codes to our little Shmi, here."
Shmi blushed, and stared down at her dinner plate. Korel, sitting on her right, gave her a reassuring pat on the hand. She glanced sidewise at her fiancé, taking in his clean-cut profile. He had light brown hair and grey eyes. His face was slightly rounded but he had a firm jaw. Among the Palomiri, he was considered a very handsome man. Shmi agreed with the general opinion of Korel's looks, but was honestly puzzled by the envy of the other Palomiri girls whose betrothed were not so physically favored.
"Well, I hope everyone's saved room for dessert," Katara said, as she signaled the waiting droid to bring in a mouth-watering, fruity concoction.
"So, Shmi, how has business been on Tatooine?" Dantun asked giving her a benign smile that nevertheless made Shmi shiver.
Shmi fought down the momentary surge of fear and said, "Well, my team is covering the alpha-seven sector that includes the cities of Mos Espa, Mos Eisley, Mos Esro and Mos Elysi. That's actually a fairly well populated region of the planet with a lot of moisture farms. We're concentrating on selling tools and parts for the moisture vaporators that we got six months ago when we traded on Terrazaar. There also seems to be a high demand for spice and we have a lot of stocks from Sevarco and Kessel."
Dantun nodded his approval over his dessert. "Excellent. Borel, I must say, your niece is a credit to Palomiri women. Certainly turned out different from her mother, eh?"
Shmi gasped in indignation, and Borel quickly said, "Shmi here's a good girl. We're very proud of her." Borel hadn't missed the implications of what Dantun had said. Pari Silverlight's elopement with Anakin Skywalker had been a major scandal in its day, and Borel quaked at the consequences if Shmi displeased the Viceroy.
"Just keep up the good work, Shmi," Dantun nodded, pleased, knowing his hint had been understood. "And tell your team to stay well within the city borders, especially after the suns set. This planet has some vicious marauders called Sandpeople or Tuskens who like to make sport of humans."
"But that's why we're in there, too, isn't it, Father?" Korel asked, "To protect our traders?"
Dantun grunted, "Paskrel's troops are going to stay on the planet until we leave. We're going to keep your troops here to defend the fleet."
"But Father, the plan was to have each unit rotate for two weeks on Tatooine!" Korel protested.
"Well, the plan has been changed. General Bondar thinks that Paskrel's troops need more experience."
"What do you mean 'General Bondar thinks'?" Korel half-rose from his chair in indignation. "It's you who thinks -"
"Korel, dear," Katara interrupted her son quickly to prevent him from saying something that would provoke Dantun. "Wouldn't you like to take Shmi for a walk?"
Korel hesitated, and then nodded, reluctantly. He stood up. Shmi stood up as well, glad to get away from the dinner table, and they left the Mithromirs' quarters.
Korel led Shmi to the Protector's main hangar. Hundreds of ships were lined up in orderly rows on the polished metal floor of the cavern-like hangar. Along one side were the small shuttles used for travel between ships. On the other side were row upon row of one and two-man fighter ships used for defense. Each of the major residential cruisers in the Palomiri fleet had a hangar like this. Korel and Shmi took one of the small shuttles and headed for the conservatory ship, weaving their way through the other ships in the Palomiri fleet.
The Palomiri fleet was very impressive. Sixty large Corellian and Kuat space cruisers of varying age and styles, each capable of holding between ten and twenty thousand people made up the bulk of the fleet. Weaving between the massive cruisers were hundreds of small transport ships that ferried passengers and supplies back and forth. A score of oddly shaped ships were specialized for agriculture, and to house livestock. One ship was used for a school, and one served as a medical facility. Several others were bulk containers that held supplies and wares the Palomiri traded.
The conservatory ship that Korel and Shmi boarded was one of the many agricultural ships in the fleet. As with all the other agricultural ships, bright artificial sunlight flooded the structure sixteen hours a day; during the other eight, the opaque light dome retracted to reveal a glass and transparisteel dome that gave a magnificent view of the sky and the stars. The conservatory ship was several acres in size and was filled with fruit trees and flowery fruit shrubs planted many centuries ago by an unknown Palomiri with a keen eye for beauty. The result was a very productive orchard similar in appearance with the highly coveted but difficult to reproduce traditional Naboo flower garden. It was Shmi's favorite place in the entire fleet.
"I just love this place," Shmi said, rapturously, as she walked between two rows of shuurra fruit trees. In the next row an agri-droid was busily cross-pollinating the plants.
"Hmmm," Korel said, absently, walking with her.
"Are you all right?" Shmi asked.
"What?" Korel's eyes focused on Shmi's face as he tried to pull himself together. "Uh - yeah, yes. I'm fine."
"You seem so distracted," Shmi said.
"Just frustrated," Korel answered. "All these years of training and for what? Whenever there's action, I'm sent somewhere else. In the last three skirmishes we had with pirates, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the fighting. I might as well be a helpless baby."
"Well, I'm sure he means well," Shmi said, having no illusions as to who kept Korel from active duty. They had been over this ground before. Most of Korel's conversation revolved around military talk, which was Korel's primary interest.
"He never listens!" Korel burst out in frustration. "Just yesterday, I suggested to him that we should petition to get a representative in the Republic Senate - you know, I thought this would help us improve our trade, and he said I should mind my business and do the soldiering I was trained for. He didn't even consider my ideas for an instant!"
Shmi secretly thought that Dantun wanted to avoid official Republic recognition because being on the fringes of the law and the galaxy allowed him more latitude on some of his more dubious business practices. She kept quiet about this and said instead, "I'm sure he has good reasons for what he does."
"He's an autocratic tyrant who likes to make everyone around him dance to his tune," Korel said savagely.
"Don't!" Shmi urged. It was a public conservatory, and she was worried that they might be overheard. She glanced furtively behind her, but saw only the gray steel bodies of the agri-droids working between the trees.
"I'm probably boring you, aren't I?" Korel said, with a rueful smile. "Perhaps you'd like to discuss wedding plans."
"No," Shmi said, shrugging her shoulders. "I'm sure your mother and my aunt will do a wonderful job between them." Shmi glanced over at Korel, and had a sudden premonition that made her grow cold.
I'll never marry him.
But why? Even with her lack of enthusiasm, Shmi knew she wouldn't actively try to avoid the marriage. She could only sense some disaster ahead, which would prevent their marriage. What was it? Shmi hoped nothing bad would happen to Korel. She had seen him fairly frequently in the past few years and she was very friendly with him. Korel was a pleasant boy, and Shmi felt no disturbing undercurrents of malice or evil in him. Still, her affection for him did not extend to love, and she couldn't make herself want to marry him. She looked down at the Saffronite and gold necklace that Korel had given her earlier in the evening to formally seal their engagement, and smiled ruefully.
Korel gave her a fond look. "That's what I like about you, Shmi - you're so unpredictable. Most women would be gushing on and on about the clothes and the arrangements. You spend more time talking about your work. Listen, Shmi - I know how good you are at your trading. Father says you've made millions of credits in profits for the fleet. I could ask Father for permission to let you keep on working after we're married - maybe until we have our first child."
Shmi blushed at the mention of children. Her heart sank further as the feeling that she would never marry Korel became stronger - for a Palomiri man, he was very progressive, and she knew she wouldn't mind marriage so much if she could still work. She looked away at the view outside the dome, still blushing, and murmured, "I'd like that. You're very considerate."
Korel smiled, and took her hand. "You look tired, Shmi. Why don't I take you back to Prosperity and let you get some rest. You'll be very busy once you get back down to Tatooine and I have troop maneuvers tomorrow - for all the good that'll do."
"These landscapes here are amazing," Shmi said, as she got out of the speeder. Cliegg had stopped near a particularly unusual rock formation the locals called the Giant's Frolic.
"How long can you stay?" Cliegg asked, climbing out after her. He had seen the interest in Shmi's expressive eyes as she looked into the horizon, and barely noticed the scenery himself.
"Two hours," Shmi answered, pulling out a hamper with some food. "I've got to be in Mos Elysi later today. We're starting a trade show tomorrow, and we'll be there for the next three days."
"Well, I have two hours in your company today," Cliegg said gallantly, as he pulled a basket out of his speeder. "I'll enjoy every minute of it. So, just back from Mos Espa and you're off to Mos Elysi, eh? You're quite a businesswoman, Shmi."
"I like what I do," Shmi said, as she knelt down and spread a blanket over the sand under the shadow of an overhanging cliff. As she sat down she smiled at Cliegg with a guilty relish. She had met with Cliegg six times in the three weeks since the morning they spent discussing vaporators. Cliegg had bought five vaporators within ten minutes, and then spent the rest of the time chatting with Shmi. Shmi was so pleased to discuss something besides commerce or military matters she participated a bit more eagerly than she should have, and they found themselves with many mutual interests.
Against her better judgment, Shmi continued to meet with Cliegg, unable to resist the excitement and the fascination she felt when she was him. Their meetings were, of necessity, clandestine. Shmi knew the danger involved if the other Palomiri discovered this relationship. All the Palomiri knew of her engagement to Korel. "Almost like I've been promised to the Crown Prince," Shmi had once said, resentfully. Shmi quaked at the thought of what would happen if Dantun discovered she was secretly meeting Cliegg.
Their meetings were also infrequent. Shmi was not always in Mos Eisley. She divided her time on Tatooine between the cities in the region she supervised; but whenever she returned to Mos Eisley, she always managed to find time to spend with Cliegg. Sometimes they only had time to meet for a drink, or Shmi would take some time to meet Cliegg at the outskirts of town for a speeder ride in the desert. Despite the brevity of the meetings, neither of them complained, each grateful for every moment they could spend together.
Cliegg's courtship was gentle and tender; at first, he seemed happy just to have her company. Eventually, he began to tell her bits about himself; Cliegg's infant son, Owen, was the most important part of his life, and Shmi could tell from the way Cliegg spoke of his son and of Owen's mother that Cliegg had had a happy marriage. Shmi reciprocated by telling him of the planets she'd visited, and of life among the Palomiri. She made no secret of the fact that she was engaged to another, but Cliegg understood Shmi's feelings on this matter. Now, as she leaned back against her arms looking at Cliegg, she suspected she was falling in love.
"Are you hungry?" Cliegg asked as he set the basket down on the blanket.
"Starved," Shmi answered as she leaned forward to take food out of the basket. She pulled out a flask of Andoan wine and a package of Tallishi flatcakes wrapped around nerf meat slices. She started spreading out the foodstuffs and then looked around, startled. "Cliegg? Where are you?"
"Hold on, I'll be right down," Cliegg's voice floated down to her.
Shmi looked up at one of the nearer rock formations. It was easily fifty feet high. Cliegg had climbed to the top and was crouching, peering into a crevice in the rocks. "How did you get up there so fast?"
Cliegg straightened up and grinned at her. "I grew up here, Shmi. I know this land like the back of my hand." He climbed down nimbly and then approached Shmi with his right hand behind his back.
"What is it?" Shmi asked, smiling at the mysterious expression on Cliegg's face.
Cliegg held out his right hand and handed Shmi a small bunch of white and violet star-shaped flowers.
"Oh, they're lovely," Shmi exclaimed, delighted, as she took the flowers from Cliegg.
"They're Tatooine star flowers," Cliegg said. "I haven't seen any in some time, but I remembered finding bunches up here in the Giant's Frolic when I was a kid." Cliegg sat down and picked up a nerfmeat/flatcake sandwich.
Shmi tucked the flowers into her hair.
"You look beautiful," Cliegg remarked. "Let's eat."
They sat side by side and ate their lunches in companionable silence. "Why is this place called the Giant's Frolic?" Shmi asked as she finished her sandwich.
"An old legend," Cliegg said, as he drank some of his wine. "The old timers around here tell a story that thousands of years ago before the first humans or other species came to Tatooine, that this place was a tropical paradise with one sun, and that a race of giants lived here. The giants were plagued by an evil witch and managed to banish her by turning her into the second sun. The witch cursed the giants so that they could only go outside in the night. If any rays of sunlight touched a giant, he would be turned to stone. The story goes that the giants had a party one night and they drank so much wine and were dancing and enjoying themselves so much, they couldn't get back to their caves in time when the first sun rose and they were turned into stone right where they stood."
Shmi looked again at the rock formations. Now, with the story in mind, the formations did, indeed appear to be several giants some of whom appeared to be standing, others crouching. She smiled at Cliegg. "That's a lovely story. An enchantment."
"Not as lovely as you, Shmi," Cliegg said, shifting toward her. "I've been coming here my entire life, and I've never seen anything enchanting...until now." Cliegg bent his head forward and kissed Shmi.
Shmi trembled as Cliegg's lips touched hers. She had never been kissed like this. The few chaste kisses she had received from Korel had been almost brotherly in their innocence. Nothing she had ever experienced before had ever made her feel hot and cold and shaky all at once. Shmi opened her eyes and looked into Cliegg's eyes. She no longer wondered, she was sure she had fallen in love. "Oh, stars," she murmured. "I think this could be trouble."
Trade talks on Tatooine lasted three months. Jabba the Hutt was in no hurry to conclude his discussions with Dantun Mithromir and the Palomiri High Council. He saw many lucrative advantages to having a partnership with the Palomiri, who were renowned traveling merchants. Jabba, himself a wily, duplicitous creature, had heard rumors of Dantun's ruthless reputation and sharp trading practices. Jabba was interested in working with Dantun, but wanted to swing the negotiations to his own advantage. Knowing he would need subtlety and diplomacy, Jabba treated his guests very well. He invited the Palomiri Trade Delegation to many parties within his various palaces, as well as some aboard his Sail Barge. He even welcomed the families of the Trade Delegation members to some of his dinners.
Shmi met Jabba for the first time a month after she arrived on Tatooine. Jabba had issued an invitation for an afternoon party on his Sail Barge for the members of the Palomiri High Council and their families, and had invited a number of his own friends and trading confederates to the party, as well. After seeing the austere, simplistic lifestyle of the average settler on Tatooine, Shmi was shocked at the excess and extravagance she witnessed on the Barge. Jabba had provided an epicurean feast with food fit for dozens of species, and scores of entertainers of all varieties, who soon turned a simple afternoon party into a rousing bacchanal.
Shmi was also shocked by her first sight of Jabba. While she frequently liked to say she loved to meet all different kinds of species, Shmi found little to like about the repulsive appearance of the Hutts. Jabba was a massive slime covered slug with reptilian eyes and disgusting eating habits. His close friend Gardulla the Hutt, who sat next to Jabba, was almost as large as Jabba and equally as repulsive.
For this party, Shmi had dressed in traditional Palomiri robes of deepest aquamarine trimmed with gold thread. She wore her engagement Saffronite necklace and had threaded gold chains in her dark hair. She was escorted by Korel, who was also disgusted by his hosts, although he was too polite to reveal this.
"You look lovely today, Shmi," Dantun remarked, when Shmi arrived on the barge with Korel. Dantun hadn't seen Shmi since her engagement dinner, but he was quick to notice a change in her appearance. It went deeper than the elegant clothes she wore. Dantun's eyes narrowed. There was a luminosity to her, a radiant aura that he'd never seen before. However, he had no time to follow that train of thought. He turned to his host. "Jabba, may I introduce you to my son Korel, and Miss Shmi Skywalker."
"Welcome," Jabba's gravelly-voiced greeting was translated by a slime splattered, beleaguered appearing protocol droid. "May I also introduce my good friend Gardulla."
Shmi and Korel nodded in greeting and quickly moved to mingle with other guests, far away from the Hutts. "Father was right," Korel said, after they moved away from the dais where Jabba sat. "You do look lovely, Shmi."
"Fine feathers," Shmi said, indicating her clothes.
"No, it's more than that," Korel said. "It's been so long since I've seen you, but you look different, somehow. There's something different about you."
Shmi tried unsuccessfully to hide her blush, feeling alarm bells ringing in her mind. Was it that obvious? Having never fallen in love before, Shmi could not hide the happiness she felt when she was with Cliegg. She felt she could barely concentrate on her work, and had almost managed to forget that she was engaged to someone else, until she saw Korel outside the Sail Barge that afternoon. "It must be the excitement of the party," Shmi said, lightly.
Across the room, the server droids were passing out glasses of Merenzane Gold, a very expensive, highly coveted drink. Borel took a glass and tasted the sweet, exotic beverage. He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the liquor, and was startled by a resonant voice speaking Huttese behind him. A protocol droid quickly translated, "Mistress Gardulla says your niece is very exquisite."
"Oh? Um...thank you," Borel said, surprised by the remark.
"Mistress Gardulla says she understands that in your culture, the males have control over the females?"
Borel was nonplussed, "We - we don't think of it that way."
"And, aren't you guardian of your niece?"
"Yes, but -"
"Mistress Gardulla wishes to purchase Miss Shmi."
"What?" Borel almost spilled his drink in his surprise.
"Mistress Gardulla feels that Miss Shmi would be a wonderful addition to her underground pleasure gardens."
"I beg your pardon!" Borel was becoming indignant. "What do you mean a wonderful addition - to what pleasure gardens? Just what are you implying? Shmi is a decent girl, I'll have you know!"
"Mistress Gardulla would be willing to give substantial compensation for Miss Shmi," the protocol droid said.
"Well, it's not Borel's decision to make," Dantun said, joining the discussion. "I'm afraid we don't make a habit of selling our women. Besides, Miss Shmi is going to marry my son, Korel."
A flurry of translation followed this statement. Finally, the protocol droid turned back to Dantun and Borel and said, "Mistress Gardulla apologizes for the misunderstanding, and asks for your understanding."
Both Dantun and Borel nodded, stiffly. Unwilling to anger their hosts with insults, Borel and Dantun dropped the issue, and turned to mingle with other guests at the party. Borel finished his drink and quickly took another glass off the tray of a passing server droid; but Dantun turned and gazed back thoughtfully at Gardulla.
"It's not fair," Shmi sobbed, burying her head into her grandmother's lap. Tashmi gave Shmi some gentle, soothing pats as Shmi cried out her woes.
The Palomiri fleet had left Tatooine a week before and was now several hundred thousand light years away, just inside the Praexis system. This part of the galaxy was very remote, and sparse. Very few systems lay near Praexis, and it was not near any major hyperspace nexi that would encourage traffic. However, Praexila, the main planet in the Praexis system was the only known planet that produced kayob, a bulbous plant that could be used to make kayobi, a drink highly valued by the Colonizers of the Baronos Sector. In one of the first of many deals between Jabba and the Palomiri, the Palomiri needed to secure a large supply of kayob for Jabba in return for entry into some of Jabba's trading organizations.
Tashmi looked out the windows of her quarters to the Praexis sun, and sighed. Shmi had told her the entire story of her stay on Tatooine, pouring out her heart about her love for Cliegg Lars.
The three months that the Palomiri had stayed on Tatooine had been the happiest of Shmi's life. She had fallen in love with Cliegg admiring his gentle nature, and his straightforward manner. He was entirely without pretense, and unmaterialistic. As for Cliegg, he fell in love with her when he saw the tender, compassionate woman chafing under Shmi's frustrated, rebellious exterior.
Shmi relived all the moments of their time together as she sat on the floor of her grandmother's quarters with her head in Tashmi's lap, as she had done as a child.
Shmi and Cliegg's last meeting took place in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Most of the Palomiri avoided this cantina, having heard of its risqué reputation, but Shmi felt the denizens of the cantina were less shocking than those she met on Jabba's Sail Barge.
"The order went out this morning," Shmi said, distressed. "We're leaving in five days. The trade talks with Jabba were concluded yesterday...I can't bear the thought of leaving!"
"Come with me, then," Cliegg suggested, as the bartender came with their drinks. "I want to take you to my homestead. I -" Cliegg hesitated, and then said, "You know how I've felt about you, Shmi - I love you."
Shmi smiled. "I love you, too! And I've never been so happy." She reached for Cliegg's hand. "I'd love to see your homestead and meet Owen and your parents."
"I know they will all love you," Cliegg said, and then shook his head, laughing. "But I'm going about this all the wrong way!"
"What do you mean?" Shmi asked, laughing, too, although she wasn't sure why, just that she was infected by Cliegg's lightheartedness.
"I wanted to...well, what I meant was...I - oh, blast, I'll never get this right!" Cliegg took a deep breath and started again. "I didn't mean to just ask you to visit or just to stay with me...I wanted to ask you to be my wife."
Shmi's breath stilled. She stared at Cliegg, as her thoughts chased themselves around her mind. This was the secret hope she had never dared to form even in her own mind. She pictured, for a moment, evenings with Cliegg in their own home, in front of a fire, with little Owen playing about her feet...and perhaps even with other children they could have together. Her happiness overwhelmed her, momentarily.
"Shmi?" Cliegg asked, a little unnerved by her lack of reply.
Shmi let out her breath, suddenly, and then gave Cliegg a brilliant smile. "Yes! Yes!" She threw her arms around Cliegg's neck and gave him a kiss.
Cliegg kissed her back, feeling a rush of relief. "When can you come?"
"Tommor -" Shmi started to say, and then felt a cold sensation settling itself in her stomach. What was she doing? She wanted to marry Cliegg more than anything else she'd ever wanted in her life, but she realized, suddenly, that marriage to Cliegg meant giving up her family. While she had repeatedly said she wanted a stable home, now that she was given this chance, she was frightened. What about Grandmother? And Aunt Nashmi and Uncle Borel? What about Lamaris and her other friends? Shmi wondered if her mother had had such fears before she married her father. Suddenly, though, remembering Pari and Anakin gave Shmi some courage. She braced herself, and then said, "I could return to Prosperity tonight and collect some of my things. Tomorrow, at noon, let's meet at the South entrance to town."
"I'll be here," Cliegg said, taking a drink of his wine.
A beep sounded on Shmi's comlink. Shmi sighed, and picked up the comlink. "Yes?"
"Shmi?" Fanlon's voice sounded nervous. "Are you there?"
"Yes," Shmi replied. "What is it?"
"There's been a problem at the stall here. I need you here to help straighten things out."
"What's the problem?" Shmi asked.
A hesitation, then - "It's too complicated for me to say over the comlink. You need to come here."
"All right. Give me ten minutes," Shmi answered, sighing. She turned off the comlink and shook her head. "All these years and he still can't buckle his own boots without help." She looked up at Cliegg and smiled. "Tomorrow then." She stood up and leaned forward, giving Cliegg a kiss. "I love you."
"I love you, Shmi."
Shmi collected her wrap and left the dimly lit cantina. Once outside, the bright Tatooine sunshine momentarily blinded her. Before her eyes had adjusted, however, Shmi's arms were grabbed from behind. Shmi gave a shriek of shock and outrage.
"How dare you! Carrying on with a native in there!" Borel Masdin's voice was raised in anger. "You're no better than your mother, running off with any man who catches her fancy! Well, I'm not going to let you disgrace the family like she did." Borel followed this tirade with a resounding smack across Shmi's face.
Shmi's head reeled. She had never been struck before. She shook her head and her vision cleared, to find two of Borel's most trusted aides holding her arms. In front of her was an infuriated Borel, and behind him was Fanlon Peridon, who looked down at the ground, unable to meet Shmi's eyes.
"You're going back to the ship this instant," Borel continued, "and you'll be married by the end of the month." Borel turned to his aides. "Take her to the shuttle."
"Yes, Minister," one of the aides replied.
"No! Let go of me!" Shmi shrieked, "Let go!"
Shmi began kicking her legs trying to pull away from her captors, but Borel's aides had her too tightly in their grasp. They ignored her howls of protest and pulled her down the street toward the docking port. As they tried to push Shmi up the ramp into the shuttle, Shmi heard Cliegg's voice from far away, shouting, "Shmi! Shmi!"
Shmi made one last effort. She took a deep breath and managed to wrench herself away. She started to run to Cliegg who was struggling against two Palomiri guards trying desperately the docking bay. Before Shmi took more than a half dozen steps, though, she was recaptured by Borel's aides and quickly forced back up the ramp. The ramp slid shut, and almost immediately, the shuttle lifted off.
Shmi had her suspicions, but would never know for certain how she had been compromised: that Dantun Mithromir, having followed his suspicions on Jabba's Sail Barge, detailed some of his trusted subordinates to trail Shmi and discovered her secret relationship with Cliegg. Dantun later ordered Borel to do whatever was necessary to curb his niece's waywardness and spare their families from disgrace and scandal.
After Shmi was returned to Prosperity, she found she was treated as a pariah. The actual reason for her disgrace was never made public, but among the Palomiri community, there were few secrets. Everyone knew that Shmi had done something terrible - but just what she had done remained a closely guarded secret. Not even Korel was aware of the reason for Shmi's ostracism.
Shmi remained in the family's quarters for the next several days. She wasn't officially confined to her quarters, but found it easier to stay away from the curious gaze of others.
Borel informed her that she was forbidden from working again and that her shuttle clearance codes had been revoked. That meant that she was unable to leave Prosperity even to visit another ship in the fleet without being accompanied by someone who had active shuttle clearance codes.
"You're not leaving this ship again until you're safely married, young lady!" Borel told her.
"I don't want to marry him, and I won't!" Shmi answered back, defiantly.
"You'll do as you're told!" Borel replied, furious at her insubordination. "You're lucky that Dantun Mithromir hasn't broken off your engagement with Korel! You nearly ruined your life - your future, do you realize that?"
"What future? A suite of rooms on Protector, spending my days ordering around a few droids? I never wanted that!"
"Want it or not, you're going to marry Korel!" Borel's face was nearly purple in his rage.
"Please, Shmi, please be a good girl." Nashmi was in tears. "Your uncle only wants what's best for you."
"He hasn't the faintest idea what's best for me," Shmi retorted, as she turned and fled back to her own room.
By the time the Palomiri fleet came out of hyperspace outside Praexis, Shmi had lost three kilos of weight and her beauty was marred by the dark shadows that had formed under her eyes. She spent most of her days with her grandmother, remembering her time with Cliegg and trying to think of a way to avoid marrying Korel.
When Korel came to visit her, she was curt with him, refusing to explain what had happened on Tatooine, and refusing to discuss wedding plans with him. When Shmi sent her bewildered fiancé away from her quarters, Borel was outraged. Shmi endured his subsequent tirade without a response. Her mind was a trillion miles away on a dusty planet traveling around twin suns on the other side of the Outer Rim.
Now, sitting with her grandmother as they both stared out the windows past the red Praexis sun, Shmi felt only despair.
"I don't know what to say," Tashmi said, helplessly. "There's no answer to this problem - only time."
"I know, I know," Shmi said, dully. "It's just that part of me feels like I'll never get over this. And I have nothing to do all day but sit and think. If I could even work, I could have something else to occupy my mind." She looked out the window, wondering idly what her colleagues were doing that moment. Most of the Palomiri were on Praexila, either working to trade with the natives, out gathering kayob, or just sight seeing. Except for the school ship where the children were being taught their lessons, the other ships in the fleet were mostly empty, manned by a skeleton crew of flight officers and soldiers.
"I know you haven't slept well," Tashmi said, gently. "It may not seem like this will help, but I think if you could get some rest, you'd feel better."
Shmi sighed, "All right, Grandmother." She stood up and gave her grandmother a peck on the cheek. "Good night."
Shmi woke with a start. She sat up in her bed as her eyes tried to adjust to the darkened chamber. The tail end of her dream faded before she could recapture it, leaving her only with a frightening sense of dread.
You must leave now, if you are to leave at all.
The thought entered her mind, and without analyzing it further, Shmi quickly leapt out of bed. Without turning on the lights, she put on a white shirt and a pair of trousers, then slid on a pair of black, shaak leather boots. Moving around her room with the ease of familiarity, Shmi packed a satchel with some food and water, and a few items she felt might be useful before quickly slipping into the sitting room she shared with her family. She darted a quick glance at the door to her aunt and uncle's bedroom, and another at her grandmother's bedroom door. Then, still moving in the darkness, she groped her way carefully toward the safe mounted against the wall. She typed in a ten-digit number and the door slid open. Shmi shoved aside the family docu-discs and the money that Borel kept in the safe and reached for Borel's blaster, which she slipped into her belt. Another tap on the keypad and the safe slid shut again. Shmi pulled her satchel over her shoulder and quickly left her family's quarters.
Down one long corridor, then a left, then up a stairwell, a right turn, down the next passage, then a left...finally, Shmi reached Prosperity's main hangar.
A lone sentry stood guard in the hangar. He was sitting at the guard's desk, trying, very obviously to stay awake. Shmi backed into the shadows in the hallway where he couldn't see her, and then looked into the hangar, trying to find a way to enter without his notice. She soon realized, however, she would be in his line of sight no matter how she tried to enter.
Shmi bit her lip for a second, and then had an idea. She had never tried to do it consciously, but she remembered the mind trick. She raised her hand with her fist closed and then quickly flicked her fingers open, pointing them down the hallway.
Shmi raised her fist and tried again.
A feeling of panic was beginning to rise in her chest. Even though most of the ship was asleep, she knew that if she stayed out in the hallway much longer, she would be seen. Shmi closed her eyes and then took several, slow, deep breaths. When she became calm, she felt a sudden rush of energy into her system, and she opened her eyes. She raised her fist and then flicked her fingers open once more. The sentry stood up, startled. He looked down the hallway.
"What's that? Is someone there?" The sentry got up from his post, rubbing his eyes open and then, clasping his blaster, left the guard station to investigate.
As soon as the guard left Shmi came out of the shadows and quickly darted into the hangar, running swiftly along the wall toward the hangar portway and the closest spacecraft. The ships that stood there in long, silent rows were all one and two-man fighter ships. Shmi had never attempted to pilot a fighter ship before, but then, as she stood for a moment in indecision, she realized that using the fighter ships solved her dilemma. She needed access codes to activate shuttles, but fighters needed no access codes. The reasoning was that in times of battle, the extra seconds used to key in an access code could mean the difference between victory and defeat for the fighter squadron.
A small R2 astromech droid sat outside the cockpit of the nearest ship, a K7 single-man fighter. The R2 was in sleep mode, but quickly turned on when Shmi approached.
"Power up the ship, R2," Shmi ordered, as if she had done this every day of her life.
R2 gave an obliging beep and began the power-up sequence. Shmi quickly climbed up the ladder and got into the ship. She closed the hatch just as the sentry returned to the hangar, with a cup of Caf in his hands.
"Hey!" the sentry yelled, dropping his Caf on the floor of the hangar. He began to run toward the fighter ship, pulling out his blaster as he ran.
Once inside the cockpit, Shmi looked down at the control panel in sheer confusion. Flying was always one of her worst skills. Whenever she had to travel, she usually let others drive the shuttles. She was even less familiar with the cockpit of a K7 fighter. She blinked, trying to clear her mind, and then pulled on the throttle. The ship rose unsteadily. Flushed with success, Shmi pointed the fighter's nose toward the portway and accelerated, sending the ship out into open space.
As the distance between Shmi and Prosperity grew, her triumphant thrill was quickly replaced by a sudden awareness of the fact that she had fled from the cruiser without any clear idea of where she was going. Where was she? She knew that the fleet was in the Praexis system, but she wasn't very familiar with this particular sector of the galaxy. Moreover, she knew that these fighter ships were unable to go far. The K7 was hyperspace capable, but didn't have the fuel to travel far in hyperspace. It could travel far in sublight mode, but she knew that the sentry would have alerted the Palomiri fleet by now. Shmi needed to hide somewhere as quickly as possible.
"R2, show me the systems I can reach with the existing fuel if I travel by hyperspace."
R2 gave an obliging beep and the screen in front of Shmi showed a small list of planets and distances. There weren't many options. The Alerion system had one planet and three moons which were inhabitable; it was the closest. Also nearby was the Yavin system. Yavin's main planet was a huge gas giant with inhabitable three moons. The last system was Lanterell, with two planets and six moons that were suitable.
Shmi read through the list quickly and then made a quick decision to go to Yavin. She could not have explained why she chose that system, other than a sudden feeling that this was the right place to go.
"R2, turn off your homing beacon, and set course to the Yavin system."
R2 beeped in answer, and within moments, the stars in the distance changed as the K7 fighter shot off into hyperspace.
The huge gas giant of Yavin loomed into view as the fighter came out of hyperspace. Shmi guided the fighter toward the nearest inhabitable moon, which was Yavin 4. Yavin 4 had four main continents all covered by tropical jungle. Shmi entered the moon's atmosphere and was immediately aware of a strange sensation. She was not schooled enough in her own powers to realize that Yavin 4, having once been host to one of the most spectacular battles of the Great Sith War, was swarming with remnant echoes of the Force. The very atmosphere was charged with swirling tendrils of Light and Dark Forces. Shmi only felt a sudden unease as her extrasensory perception became aware of an unusual Presence.
Shmi fought down the feelings of unease and circled the moon once, dismayed as she realized there were very little city or technology readouts. She finally guided the ship toward an area where she saw several structures too symmetrical to be natural formations. She didn't know what species had built them, but she felt sure that they were sentients.
"There," Shmi told herself, ignoring the swirls of the Force which grew stronger around her as she pushed forward on the throttle. As she tried to guide the ship down, though, she misjudged her altitude, not having heard R2's warning beep. At the last moment, Shmi realized her mistake and pulled up hastily on the throttle.
The nose of the fighter crashed into the ground, but then the fighter righted itself somewhat, skidding through several dozen meters of dense underbrush, crashing through scores of small trees before finally settling to a rest near an open clearing.
"Idiot!" Shmi told herself as she realized, with some thankfulness, that she was alive. "Lamaris always said that I didn't pay enough attention in flight class. R2, are you all right?"
R2 gave a reassuring beep. Shmi looked around the cockpit toward the crumpled nose of the fighter, and shivered as she realized how close she'd come to death. She pressed on the release button and the cockpit hatch opened. Shmi climbed out of the cockpit, noticing for the first time how sore all of her limbs were. She grabbed her satchel and blaster and climbed down off the ship. R2 detached himself from the ship and then fired up his rockets and guided himself down toward the ground.
"I can't believe I've gotten myself into this," Shmi said as she looked around, uncertainly. It was early afternoon where she had landed, although she didn't know it, then. Bright sunlight shone through odd patches and spaces between the leaves of the towering purple Massassi trees around her. Strange birdlike species cawed and chirped in the trees, and Shmi could hear rustling in the bushes and grass around her, which made her wonder, nervously, about the wildlife on the planet. Making matters worse, was the constant feeling of the Force swarming around her, stronger than she'd ever felt before in her life. The feelings were not all bad, but strange; if she was not in such an unusual situation, Shmi might have enjoyed the Force-sensation, but in her present surroundings, everything made her nervous.
"All right, pull yourself together, Shmi," she told herself. "You'll head toward those buildings you saw earlier. You'll find some people or some intelligent species, and you'll get help - some way to get off this planet, or even better some transport that will take you back to Tatooine, or at least some way to send a communication to Cliegg. And you'll stop being so nervous. There is nothing to be scared of. Point me in the right direction, R2." Despite her bravado, Shmi fingered the handle of her blaster as though she were holding a talisman as she followed R2 toward the tall, dark structures she had noticed before she landed.
The buildings she saw from a distance were larger than Shmi had realized at first. She made her way slowly through the jungle for two hours before she came upon the first sentient-made structure, a dark green, marble oval set into a small hillside. The oval was approximately two meters in length, and a meter in width. The large buildings Shmi was trying to reach were still visible only through the tops of the trees. The structure Shmi encountered was almost completely covered with a thick growth of vines, but Shmi realized that it was a doorway, and it was inscribed with an unrecognizable, ancient writing. Something about the structure felt good. A last lingering trace of the Light Force emanated through the doorway, leaving a gentle, peaceful, sensation that faded before it fully reached through Shmi's subconsciousness.
Shmi approached the doorway, drawn by the Force sensation and simple curiosity. She suddenly leapt back in surprise as four droids, also heavily covered in vines and mossy growth, came to life around her. A low scream of shock escaped her throat.
"Warning...warning...it is forbidden for you to enter. You may not enter...you must leave." The droids spoke in Basic, which sounded heavily accented to Shmi's ears.
"What is this place?" Shmi asked, also in Basic.
"You must leave...warning...you must leave." The droids were nothing more than a bunch of metal rods welded together into a crude exoskeleton, but they each had an unmistakable firing mechanism protruding from their metal arms.
"Who left you here? Are there any people around? Humans or other species?"
"You may not enter...you must leave..."
Shmi turned helplessly to R2. "Can you talk to them?"
R2 gave a series of beeps and whistles. In response, the nearest droid fired its blaster at Shmi. Before she had a chance to react, she was stunned off her feet, and fell into the Yavinite ferns behind her. R2 beeped in alarm, and was given a shock, as well, which didn't stun the astromech droid, but made R2 quickly retreat.
The stun lasted only a few minutes. Shmi sat up dizzily, brushing the fern fronds from her face. The droids advanced as Shmi struggled to her feet, and she realized that dozens of other sentry droids had been activated while she was stunned.
"That was the last warning...the next shot will be to kill...you may not enter...you must leave."
Shmi gave up her struggle. She backed away, warily, and picked up her satchel, which had fallen to the ground when she fell. "Come on, R2, let's go."
R2 beeped in ready acquiescence. Giving the sentry droids a wide berth, Shmi and R2 walked around the small Force-embedded hillock with the curious doorway, and headed toward the tall buildings she'd seen from the air.
After another hour of patient hiking, Shmi finally reached a clearing where seven enormous structures stood in a circle. Six of the buildings were made of white marble and the last was made of obsidian stone. The buildings were all several hundred feet high, and were tapered, pyramidal structures. The walls of the buildings were all covered with intricate carvings, of a different, unknown writing from what she'd encountered earlier. From all the structures, the Force emanated more strongly than elsewhere. Here too, was the curious mingling of Light and Dark Force especially strong around the buildings. Despite the lack of movement in the trees in the jungle behind her, Shmi felt as though a steady wind was swirling around her.
Shmi stared curiously at the structures, not realizing that she was the first person in several thousand years to stand before the Yavin Temples, in which the evil Sith Exar Kun had fought the Jedi Knights with his enslaved Massassi warriors, destroying all the Massassi in the process. Shmi did not know the history, but felt chilled as she stood in the circle of the temples. She was also somewhat unnerved by the silence around her. Not even the sound of birdcalls disturbed the air. And where were the people? Was the moon completely abandoned?
As Shmi stood uncertainly in the circle of the temples, she noticed that the sun was starting to sink below the horizon. She sighed. Any further searching would have to be done in the morning. Remembering the sounds of animals in the jungle around her, Shmi decided to take shelter inside one of the temples. She bit her lip as she looked around, trying to decide where to go. She only knew that she wanted to avoid the obsidian temple, which seemed to hold a trace of sickly-sweet malevolence.
"Which one, R2? None of them looks particularly friendly, huh? What do you think? How about the biggest white one?"
R2 beeped uncertainly.
"Well, we have to go somewhere. I don't like the idea of camping out here for the night and waking up in the jaws of some huge forest creature."
R2 beeped in alarm at that.
"So, we're agreed?" Shmi took a deep breath and walked up the crumbling marble steps of the largest white temple. She entered the enormous receiving room of the temple, staring curiously at the soaring white marble pillars that held up the roof of the structure. The walls of the receiving room and the pillars had all been carved with beautiful intricate designs partially visible even under the thick growth of vines that had spread over the centuries. Some grass and weeds had grown up through the cracks in the marble floor. Curiously, even though the sun was low on the horizon, this receiving room was lit by some unseen light source.
Ten archways led off from the receiving room. As Shmi stood, wondering where she should go, her stomach gave a rumble. She realized she hadn't eaten since the night before and she was now starving.
"Now's as good a time as any to eat, I guess," Shmi mumbled as she pulled open her pack and sat down on the floor to eat her meal of canned food and cold Kopi tea. She finished the meal rapidly, and then stood up, dusting off her pants.
"Now where?" Shmi looked at all the archways and finally decided on the third archway to the left, which had the least vine overgrowth. She headed through the archway into a long, unlit hallway. Shmi reached into her pack for her lightstick and proceeded down the corridor. R2 trailed behind her providing some added illumination from his own headlight.
Shmi and R2 wandered around the twisted hallways and passages for another hour, finding dozens of rooms with old, rusting equipment, and some beautiful, but rotting furniture and fittings. The rooms all bore signs of damage, as though a massive battle had been staged within the temple before it was abandoned. Strangely, although plant life was abundant throughout the structure, Shmi did not see nor hear any animals within the structure. The absolute silence began to worry her again. Finally, after another turn down a twisting passage, Shmi came to a closed doorway. A door lock with a keypad was set in the wall just above Shmi's eye level, and curiously, it had a blinking, red light.
Shmi pressed one of the buttons but nothing happened. She lifted her lightstick and studied the keypad, noting the designs. Apparently, the door lock needed to be opened with a code.
"Figures," Shmi murmured. She turned away from the door lock, and then suddenly froze. The beam of R2's headlight was fixed on the doorway, and Shmi saw a series of numbers on the door, spelling out a ghostly code for the door lock. Shmi tapped in the code on the keypad, and the door lock responded with a beep. Shmi looked back at the doorway as it opened with a hiss but the ghostly numbers were gone.
For a moment, Shmi paused in confusion, but once the doorway opened, she was assaulted by a rush of the Force that must have been caged inside the room for millennia. The Force shot out of the room with the strength of a tornado, both Light and Dark sides warring with each other. They swirled around Shmi in a howling cacophony, which rose into a hellish crescendo, buffeting her with their awesome power. Shmi lost consciousness in the maelstrom and fell to the floor of the hallway.
Shmi returned to consciousness slowly. First, she felt cold, and then stiff, and then terribly thirsty. The discomfort eventually awakened her. She opened her eyes, staring at the darkened ceiling above her in confusion. For several moments, she lay, disoriented, before R2's soft chirping sounds caught her attention. Shmi turned and looked at the R2 unit, who aimed his headlights at her. She struggled to her feet. R2 gave a relieved beep.
"What in the galaxy happened?" Shmi asked. The door remained open, and Shmi looked inside to find a large, circular room. There were no windows, and, like the receiving room, this room was lit by an unseen light source. Unlike all the other rooms in the temple, this one had no overgrowth of plants. The rounded, marble walls inlaid with mosaic tiles that formed delicate, intricate patterns were chaotically pockmarked by some unknown weapons. The room was empty, and the overwhelming sensation of the Force that had assaulted Shmi was gone.
After a few moments, Shmi left the room and headed down the passageway. She found her satchel, which had been flung fifty meters away from her. Picking up her bag, she took a drink of water and retraced her steps out of the temple.
Once out in the bright sunlight, Shmi judged that it was morning. Still unnerved by the emptiness of the plaza between the temples, Shmi turned to R2.
"Let's return to the ship. We can use the ship's computer to try to locate some other areas with technology, or, hopefully, some people. Can you locate the ship?"
R2 beeped in the affirmative and they set off.
Four hot, sweaty, exhausting hours later, Shmi reached the damaged K7 fighter. She climbed back into the cockpit and turned on the ship's computer. She scanned the maps and found another cluster of buildings that were at least thirty kilometers away in the southeast. She sent the coordinates to R2, and then climbed out of the ship.
"All right. Let's go," Shmi said, taking a deep sigh.
R2 beeped and began to roll through the undergrowth, leading the way.
Another hour passed. Shmi felt hungry and dizzy, and decided to stop for another meal. She felt some concern as she wondered what she would do if she couldn't find any other sentient beings on the planet. Would she be stranded here forever? She brushed away the concerns, and sat down to start eating.
"Hands up. Get on your feet!"
The command, in masculine-voiced Palomiri, made Shmi gasp. She dropped her food and quickly scrambled to her feet. As she looked up she saw dozens of Palomiri soldiers surrounding her, with their blasters pointed.
"Shmi Skywalker, you're under arrest."
"What?" Shmi gasped, "Arrest? For what?"
A young soldier Shmi recognized as one of her classmates named Zachor came forward, "You're under arrest by order of the Viceroy of Palomir, Dantun Mithromir. You are to come with us back to Protector, where you will be tried for your crimes."
Shmi looked around the group, wildly, and saw Korel Mithromir standing in front of the group of soldiers. "What crimes? Korel, what am I accused of?"
"Desertion," Korel said with a look of sadness and disbelief on his face. "What happened? Why did you leave, Shmi?"
Shmi's conscience gave a guilty twinge. She had completely forgotten about Korel, and had never given a thought about how this would affect him. "I'm sorry, Korel. I don't know if I could explain it to you...but I never meant to cause you grief, or make you go through the trouble of finding me. How did you find me?"
"Your droid's homing beacon," Korel answered. "We finally received a signal five hours ago."
Shmi turned toward R2. "But I told R2 to shut off the homing beacon!"
"The homing beacon automatically turns on again after it has been shut down for four standard days," Korel said.
"But - I've only been gone for a day and a half!"
"Do you take us for fools?" Zachor came forward to handcuff Shmi. "Your disappearance forced us to halt our kayob harvest on Praexila, and go racing across the sector looking for you on a wild Wookie chase! We've been searching for you for over three weeks!"
"That's not possible!" Shmi protested, vehemently. "I only got here yesterday!"
Zachor grabbed Shmi by the shoulder and pushed her toward R2's translator screen. "What do you call that?"
Shmi looked down at the screen and her face paled. The date and time, displayed on the upper right hand corner showed that, indeed, twenty-three days had passed since she left Prosperity.
The door to the cell slid open and the rough stomp of boots woke Shmi from a fitful sleep.
"Get up, Prisoner."
Shmi quickly sat up, trying to adjust her eyes to the light.
"Where are we going?"
"The High Council Tribunal," the guard said, binding Shmi with handcuffs.
Shmi followed the guard out of the cell into the hallway of the Palomiri brig where she had been held for the past week. Very few prisoners were in the brig. Beyond misdemeanors, which were penalized by prison time, most Palomiri justice was meted out in much harsher punishments.
Shmi was miserable and anxious as she approached the Tribunal. For the past week, she had been confined to a small cell, with no visitors and nothing to do to occupy her time. She received her meals three times a day through a slot in the wall, always the same, unappetizing, colorless, tasteless gruel with a cup of water. The only thing that kept her from going into despair was a small item a sympathetic guard had slipped under her cup on the third day of her confinement. Shmi took a drink of water and saw, on her tray, a dried Reqilim orchid. She was immediately comforted, knowing that his orchid had come from her grandmother and aunt, who knew of her fondness for those flowers. She thought of the orchid, trying to bolster her confidence as she walked.
Shmi entered the High Council's courtroom. The sixty members of the High Council sat in grim rows on either side of the room. On a dais at one end of the room, Dantun Mithromir sat behind a podium, flanked by the Council's ministers of Trade, Justice, Education and Defense. A solitary chair sat in the center of the room.
The guards guided Shmi to the chair. As she sat down, Dantun's voice boomed out into the room. "Shmi Skywalker, you have been brought before the High Council on several grievous charges. You have been charged with desertion, theft of military equipment, disruption of trade, sorcery and adultery. Do you understand these charges as I've read them?"
"What?" Shmi asked, in disbelief. While she disagreed with the severity of the first three charges, she understood them. The charge of sorcery was disquieting, but she had always suspected that Dantun knew that she had the Gift. The last charge, however, was completely incomprehensible. "Adultery? What are you talking about?"
"You have behaved yourself with conduct unbefitting a Palomiri woman."
"I have not!" Shmi contested, hotly. A few speeder rides, hand holding, and some chaste kisses - none of this could be called adultery!
"Silence!" Dantun's voice boomed, "I have here in front of me a medical report from your physical conducted when you returned from Yavin. It says you are pregnant. Since you are an unmarried female, this is adultery! Do you understand?"
"That's not possible!" Shmi said, "I haven't done anything to -"
"Do you dare to dispute the facts that I have before me?" Dantun asked, coldly.
Shmi swallowed dryly in silence. She was bewildered, and disbelieving, and looked around the room at the Councilors who sat silently in front of her. She had known many of the Councilors since she was a child, and had always thought of them as a group of kindly old uncles, but this grim, tight-lipped group of aging men was anything but kind. She looked last at her uncle. Borel sat to the right of Dantun, and he appeared acutely uncomfortable. However, when he met her gaze, Borel's eyes held the same accusation that she saw in everyone else's eyes. Shmi felt her heart sink with sadness. For all the episodes of discord between them, Borel had been the only father she had really known, and she had loved him. If Borel could turn against her, what about Aunt Nashmi? Or Grandmother? Did that orchid she'd received mean anything?
Shmi refused to look at Dantun, but she felt the same malice she had always felt emanate from him. Only now, this malice was tinged with a satisfied sort of triumph. Dantun had always feared Shmi would expose his secret. When Shmi had fled, Dantun had been tempted to let her go, but was forced by propriety to search for his son's fiancé. Now, he had the perfect opportunity to be rid of her, and he was very pleased at this turn of events.
"It's just not possible," Shmi said, finally.
"Don't make us add perjury to your list of crimes," Dantun said. "We have the evidence before us. The sentry guard in Prosperity's hangar saw you willfully steal a K7 fighter with an R2 astromech droid. I might add, that you also managed to destroy this expensive piece of military equipment. Your flight caused us to halt operations on Praexila to find you. Your medical report proves your indecent transgressions - and you were seen with a Tatooine native! And as for sorcery - there are numerous reports that you have engaged in the use of the Force - you were seen using the mind trick; we have evidence that you've engaged in telepathy and prophesying -"
"No more than you have!" Shmi shouted, as the Council gasped in unison.
"How dare you?" Dantun roared. "You have shown no remorse for your crimes and you will be shown no mercy! Your behavior has been appalling! Reprehensible!
"And I must add, that on a personal note, your crimes have brought rank disgrace on both your family and mine. Your grandmother has taken to her bed with this news. Neither my wife nor your aunt are able to hold up their heads for the shame. Your uncle's position on this Council is in jeopardy. And you dare to stand there like a shameless hussy and argue with us!
"The Council has decided unanimously on the punishment for your crimes. We have returned to the planet of Tatooine. Tomorrow, you will be taken off the ship Protector, and you will be sold into slavery for the term of your natural life. If you are later freed by your owner, you will still be banished from Palomiri citizenship. Shmi Skywalker from this day forth, you no longer exist in the Palomiri records."
"No!" Shmi shouted. "This is wrong! You can't just - Uncle Borel, are you just going to let them do this?"
Borel looked away from Shmi.
She looked at the Councilmen in front of her. "Is there no one who will speak up for me? I've known all of you since I was a child! Are all of you so fearful of Dantun that you'll ignore justice?"
"Silence!" Dantun roared again, "Guards!"
"This isn't fair! Don't I even get a chance to defend myself? I demand a fair trial, not this mockery you've just put on!"
Two guards came up behind Shmi. One grasped her arms, while the second guard injected her with something that made the faces of the High Council members before her fade into blackness.
"Mom, Mom, I'm home!"
Shmi came out of the kitchen and saw her son entering their home. Following him were a tall man, a teenaged girl and a strange creature with floppy ears and a gangly frame.
Shmi's heart turned over as it always did whenever she saw her son, Anakin. Her little miracle. The sight of him brought back memories of her utter disbelief when Dantun insisted that she was pregnant. For a long time, even after she had been sold to Gardulla the Hutt she believed that the pregnancy was a trumped up charge against her. Finally, her own body forced her to believe....
The realization that she was truly pregnant was the only thing that sustained her when Shmi was first sold to Gardulla. Shmi remembered waking in Gardulla's palace, on a narrow bed in the slave quarters. A half dozen slaves of various species surrounded her, telling her in a smirking tone of voice that she had been sold to Gardulla, and, that as the newest slave, she was to be assigned the most loathsome chores in the palace and in the underground "pleasure garden".
Shmi's entire spirit rebelled at the prospect of slavery. Her first months in Gardulla's palace were the worst. She made no friends among Gardulla's slaves who were so engrossed in finding ways to curry favor with their repulsive mistress that they spent much of their time back-stabbing each other. Gardulla seemed to find the constant guerilla warfare in her palace very amusing. As the newest slave, and one without allies, Shmi was often the butt of the joke, often the one punished for others' infractions, the first one forced out of bed in the mornings and the last allowed to sleep. There was a certain nobility to her carriage that infuriated the others, making them want to find ways to destroy Shmi's dignity.
Shmi endured the ignominy with outward equanimity. In the midst of her labors, Shmi spent her days thinking of ways to escape, to send a message to Cliegg, to destroy Gardulla's horrible "pleasure garden". Her bravado failed only at night, when she was in bed and allowed herself to think of her family and her life she'd lost. She would follow this by thinking longingly of Cliegg, and the happiness he had promised her.
In the second month of her enslavement, Shmi thought she found the perfect opportunity to escape. She had accompanied Gardulla into Mos Espa and, in an unguarded moment, she slipped away from the retinue of servants who were attending Gardulla, and headed into the crowd.
Within ten minutes, Shmi was stunned into immobility. She awoke back in Gardulla's quarters, aware of a horrible ache in every bone in her body. Gardulla was looming over her, a very unwelcome vision.
"Fool!" Gardulla snarled in Huttese. The words were translated verbatim by the prim protocol droid, and sounded almost comical. "Did you not know that a transmitter was placed in your body when you were sold? With one press on this -" here, Gardulla brought out a small metal disc with two buttons, "- I can deliver pain." Gardulla paused to deliver a shock that made Shmi scream.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" Gardulla asked with a laugh. "Next time you try that, my pretty slave, I'll press this one - and you'll explode! Are you tempted to try it? Are you brave enough to risk yourself and the baby human you carry in there?"
Too devastated by her failure to escape, Shmi could only shake her head.
"Then behave yourself, little slave," Gardulla said. "Now, get up and feed my little pets."
Shmi shivered as she forced herself to rise. Gardulla kept a repulsive collection of pets in her pleasure garden, vile creatures that ate disgusting food emitting horrible sounds and produced nauseating smells. Shmi squared her shoulders and left the room to do as she was bid.
The next months in the palace were the same: monotonous, and filled with loathsome chores and unpleasant companions. Shmi went about her tasks, with only the thought of her baby to sustain her. She wondered at the miracle of her pregnancy. She remembered her extraordinary experience in the Yavin temple, trying to reconcile the bizarre events with everything she had been taught of logic and reality. Eventually, she just persuaded herself to...accept it.
And then, there was Anakin.
When Shmi first saw her beautiful blond baby boy, she was filled with a joy she didn't know was possible. Shmi named her infant after her father, although she remembered little of her father, just disjointed images of a tall man with a Wookiee-like hug and a ringing laugh; someone who had projected a feeling of safety and security.
Anakin was a model child. He rarely cried or fussed. When Shmi went to work, she would strap him on her back where he would lay contentedly, nestling his soft little cheek against her back. As Anakin grew older, Shmi found him to be loving, generous and precociously intelligent. Even as a very young boy, Anakin was very perceptive, realizing that Shmi's life was hard. He did all his chores uncomplainingly, and tried to help her as much as possible, even to the extent of rebuilding a Cybot Galactica C-3PO protocol droid to help her with her work. She found the droid irritating beyond belief, but was enchanted that Anakin would do this for her. Everything Anakin did was magical for Shmi.
Shmi soon found that he could work other magic as well.
Early on, Shmi realized that Anakin was strong in the Force. She watched her six-month old infant raise three crude, wooden blocks in the air, gurgling with delighted laughter. He walked early, and never fell once he was upright. His reflexes were almost prescient. Shmi had suppressed her command of the Force for so long, that this concealment was second nature. She could still sense the Force in others, but had very little ability left, herself. With Anakin, though, Shmi was sometimes frightened at the strength of the Force she felt around him. Shmi remembered the stories she had heard of the Jedi and their Temple on Coruscant. She often thought, bitterly, that had Anakin not been born a slave, he would have had the chance to become a great Jedi. Sometimes, as she thought this, she would shiver, as the sudden sensation would come over her: One day, he will be a great Jedi.
When Anakin was five, Gardulla, who was having a bad run of luck, lost Anakin and Shmi in a Podracing bet. Their new owner was a Toydarian with blue wings, a broken tusk and a lame leg named Watto.
Watto owned a junk shop in Mos Espa. He was a sharp trader and had a gruff manner, and was greedy and unprincipled, but he was far kinder to Shmi and Anakin than Gardulla was - if 'kinder' could be used in the context of slave owner. Watto quickly assessed that Anakin was a genius with mechanical things. The child was amazing in his abilities to take objects apart and put them back together again. With his boundless energy, Anakin was also able to create strange new objects out of broken and spare parts. Watto soon put Anakin to work in his junk shop repairing broken equipment. Watto also found that Shmi was a wonderful salesperson. While Watto was apt to greet his customers by snapping, "Hi chuba da nago!" (Whaddya want?), Shmi charmed the customers, quadrupling his sales in the first month alone.
Happy with the profits he was making off these new slaves, Watto provided them with a small sand hut of their own in the Mos Espa slave quarters, the first home that Shmi ever had.
Sometimes, Shmi would sit outside the little hut after Anakin had gone to bed, and look up at the stars. She would remember how she had chafed against the restrictions of the Palomiri lifestyle, hating the stars and wanting a stable home. When she lived among the Palomiri she hadn't realized how affluent and magnificent their lifestyle was, and she had taken for granted the nurturing love her family had lavished on her. Now, she had her home, but what a price she had to pay! Be careful what you wish for, she would tell herself with a wry smile. As she looked at the stars she would wonder where the Palomiri were among the constellations, and wondered if her grandmother and aunt thought of her, as well. She always finished her musings wondering where Cliegg was.
After her failed escape attempt, Shmi was given no further opportunity to flee and was never allowed near communications equipment. Then, when Anakin was born, Shmi abandoned any further thoughts of leaving. Her fear of losing Anakin was stronger than her desire for freedom.
By the time Shmi had arrived at Watto's junkshop, so many years had passed since she'd last seen Cliegg that she didn't dare try to contact him. After all, just because she had kept her love for Cliegg all these years, there was no reason to suppose Cliegg even remembered her, except as a pleasant interlude in his life. Shmi buried her feelings, although sometimes, at night, when she couldn't sleep, a little ember of her love for Cliegg would spark off memories.
In the years since Anakin was born, Shmi had lost her rebelliousness and restlessness. Slavery had taught Shmi to endure. Motherhood gave Shmi a new perspective on life and she learned to be grateful for each day she had with her son. She learned to be content despite the poverty and drudgery in her life. She devoted herself to Anakin's upbringing, trying to bring out all the good in him. At the same time, she taught Anakin to hide his skills from Watto, fearful that the Toydarian would exploit Anakin's gifts if they were known.
As things stood, Watto already found much to exploit in the young boy. Anakin fixed hundreds of objects, which would otherwise have been useless, giving Watto enormous profits in his junkyard. Moreover, Anakin was the only human on Tatooine who was able to survive the Podraces. Watto enjoyed betting on Podraces, and won a lot of money by sending Anakin to compete.
The Podraces were on Shmi's mind as her son entered the house with his guests. Those dangerous, terrifying Podraces. Tomorrow was the Boonta Eve Classic, and Shmi was terrified that Anakin would find a way to enter.
"Mom, Mom, I'm home!" Anakin announced as he entered, adding, "These are my friends, Mom."
The tall man introduced himself, "I'm Qui-Gon Jinn. That's Padmé and Jar Jar -" he indicated the young girl and the strange floppy-eared creature, "Your son was kind enough to offer us shelter."
Anakin had been bringing home strangers ever since they moved into the slave quarters. Despite their poverty, Anakin was always generous with those less fortunate, and would sometimes come home without his shoes or having given away the credits he was supposed to use in the market to a beggar. Shmi encouraged this behavior. Despite her complaints about life with the Palomiri, she remembered that there was a camaraderie among her people, where the members of the tribe always helped the less fortunate. The Palomiri credo had been that no one was left out and no one was left behind. She often thought the biggest problem she encountered on Tatooine was the indifference that the rich had toward the less fortunate.
Shmi smiled in welcome to her guests. As the big man, Qui-Gon entered the house, though, Shmi knew, suddenly, that her time with Anakin was at an end. She had always known that her happiness with Anakin was finite, but she felt her heart leap to her throat when she saw Qui-Gon and realized that Anakin would be leaving very soon.
Shmi also sensed something with the young girl, Padmé. Shmi had not missed the adoring looks her son gave the beautiful young girl, and she felt her heart twist thinking of Anakin grown, with a wife and children of his own. Would she ever see that?
Over dinner that evening, the talk revolved around those dreadful Podraces. Shmi hated to allow Anakin to race - every time she saw him behind the cockpit of those flimsy looking pods, she always pictured piles of mangled steel, and shivered. Anakin argued that by winning the upcoming Boonta Eve race, he could win enough money for their visitors - who were stranded travelers on their way to Coruscant - to pay for the parts to repair their damaged Nubian ship. Finally, Anakin convinced Shmi that her guiding principle that they should help others was important enough to override her objections. Reluctantly, she gave her permission for Anakin to race.
Afterward, Qui-Gon and Anakin returned to Watto's shop to secure his permission for Anakin to race, as well.
Upon their return from the junk shop, Qui-Gon joined Shmi outside the hut as they watched Anakin and his friends put the finishing touches on the pod for the race the next day.
Qui-Gon was intensely curious about Anakin, and questioned Shmi about Anakin's abilities and his background.
Shmi was torn as she responded to Qui-Gon's questions, knowing that this man was her son's chance out of slavery, but also dreading the thought of losing Anakin.
"Who was his father?" Qui-Gon asked.
Shmi hesitated, thinking back to that temple on Yavin. But that was another lifetime ago. Shmi knew that somehow the Force was responsible for Anakin's creation, but saying the words out loud sounded presumptuously arrogant. Qui-Gon would think she was crazy. Instead of telling him the truth, Shmi evaded, just saying there was no father. She could tell Qui-Gon was somehow simultaneously excited and disappointed by her answer.
"Can you help him?" Shmi asked, finally voicing the question that was foremost in her thoughts.
Qui-Gon was equally evasive in reply, giving her no hope.
Shmi's heart sank. Perhaps her senses had grown weaker, more faulty, and this man wasn't here to free her son after all. She sighed, her heart aching as she watched her son power up the pod. After a few moments, Shmi turned and re-entered the house.
That night, however, after Anakin had gone to bed, Shmi went to check on her guest and accidentally overhead his comlink conversation. Qui-Gon had taken a sample of Anakin's blood and was testing it for midichlorians, whatever they were. In any case, it sounded as though Qui-Gon was testing for Anakin's Jedi potential, and that there was a lot of potential.
Shmi paused in the doorway, a faint hope reaching her heart as she backed into the shadows and returned to her room.
On the morning of the Boonta Eve Classic, Shmi was awake an hour before dawn. As she lay in the pre-dawn darkness, she knew for certain that this was the last day she would see Anakin. Her heart pounded with a mixture of hope and dread as she got up to face the day. She walked quietly through the hut to Anakin's room.
Her son lay asleep with C-3PO standing guard over his bed. She sat down next to him and caressed his cherubic face, trying to imagine what he would look like as an adult. She refused to think how she would face the years of loneliness without him. Sighing, she finally rose, and went to the kitchen to make breakfast for her guests.
In after years, Shmi could never recall clearly the Podrace that won Anakin his freedom. She only remembered vague recollections of her heart pounding in her throat as her son dodged from one near-death experience to the next. She remembered clutching Padmé's hand as the young handmaiden to Queen Amidala sat, pale-faced, watching the race. Shmi had thought, for a few moments, that this girl would figure significantly in her son's future, but forgot it when she saw Sebulba the Dug crash her son, trying to knock him out of the race.
When Anakin finally crossed the finish line, triumphant, Shmi only remembered a sense of unreality and relief, that sustained her all the way home.
"Mom! We sold the pod! Look at all the money we have!" Anakin raced into the hut, where Shmi was sewing up some of his clothes.
Qui-Gon followed Anakin quietly into the house, and announced that Anakin was freed and that he would take Anakin to train as a Jedi.
As Anakin whooped in joy, Shmi felt her heart stop. Here it was. She forced herself to smile for Anakin's sake, and looked up at Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon returned Shmi's gaze, noting her lack of astonishment at the news. You knew all along, didn't you? Qui-Gon thought. I'd fancy there's a trace of the Force in you as well.
For Shmi's sake, Qui-Gon warned Anakin of the hardships of life among the Jedi, but Anakin seized only on the positive, excitedly racing to his room to pack his clothes.
A sudden thought stopped Anakin cold, as he realized that Qui-Gon had not mentioned that Shmi was freed, as well. He turned back to Shmi in distress, as he realized the price for his freedom was giving up his mother.
Shmi loved him more than ever as she saw the grief well up into Anakin's eyes, as he turned to her, unwilling to leave her to this lonely, hopeless fate. She looked into his eyes, trying to imprint his beloved face on her mind, and urged him on. She told herself that she would be brave. She would not be a tragic, pitiable creature. "Don't look back," she told him, as he left.
As Anakin walked away, Shmi hugged her arms around her chest, as if this would keep the pain in her heart from exploding.
Don't look back.
For Shmi, that was all she could seem to do. In the weeks and months following Anakin's departure, she sank into an unshakeable melancholy. She was listless and indifferent. In the shop her profits plummeted and Watto was furious.
Shmi ignored Watto's howls of rage. She was intent only on listening to her inner senses. She was trying to maintain a last fragile link to the only person in the universe with whom she had shared the holy love of motherhood. Soon after Anakin left, she began to sense Anakin in a way that bridged the vast distances between them, so that in her mind's eye, she watched him undergo his trials and tribulations and followed his growth day by day, feeling happy, deep down under her pain, that her son had found his future.
By day, she did her duties in the store. She was polite to the customers but the sparkle and quiet charm, which had made her such an irresistible saleswoman was gone.
In the evenings, she returned to her hut, which seemed enormous in its emptiness without Anakin. She endured the almost monologue conversation of the half-finished, half-comical, often wholly annoying protocol droid, C-3PO, since Threepio was the only tangible link she had with Anakin.
In this way, five years passed. Shmi came to Watto's shop each morning at dawn to set things up for the day. She pulled down the front awning and took the dust cloth off the machine parts and junk. She swept the floor and thought of Anakin.
"Pardon me, do you have any condenser unit replacements?"
Shmi turned around, her pleasant images of Anakin training with the other Padawans fading as she looked into the face of the young man standing before her. He was perhaps a year or two older than Anakin, tall with brown hair; but it was the shape of his facial features that caught at Shmi's heart. She stifled a gasp. "Excuse me," she managed. "What did you say?"
"I was wondering if you had condenser parts. You know, for moisture vaporators."
Shmi felt as though she was seeing a ghost - or a near-ghost. This young man was almost a perfect replica of her memory of Cliegg Lars minus fifteen years of life.
For many years, Shmi had kept her feelings for Cliegg buried. She had not stopped loving him, but tried not to let herself wallow in misery. She only allowed herself to think of Cliegg in the evenings when she had time to look up at the stars. Now, looking at this young man who looked so much like Cliegg, Shmi felt her legs weaken.
"Ummm...yes," Shmi managed. "Well, for some vaporator models, I mean. Which type are you looking for?"
"Binary VP-XI," the young man answered, somewhat unnerved by the way Shmi was looking at him.
"Wait for me. I'll be right back."
Shmi went to the back of the junkshop where she sifted quickly through Watto's unsorted junk piles until she found the right condenser unit. She came back out front.
"This one should do," Shmi said. "One hundred credits."
The young man hesitated, "That's a little high, considering this unit is second-hand."
"Oh, but it's in excellent condition," Shmi said, with more animation than she'd shown in years. "Brand new, this unit would have sold for four hundred credits. Besides, no one makes that particular Binary model any more. You're lucky to find parts at all."
"I am actually kind of surprised," the young man admitted. "We tried a few shops in Mos Eisley, but couldn't find any. Then Dad had some business out here, so I thought I'd try my luck. Hey, Dad?" the young man stepped back and called to someone outside the shop just out of Shmi's range of vision.
"What is it, son?" the young man's father entered the shop and stopped in shock when he saw Shmi.
The fifteen years Shmi had spent on Tatooine had not been kind to her. The twin suns of the desert planet had darkened her skin, and she had long ago lost the freshness of youth. There were careworn lines in her face brought about by loneliness and grief, and there was a weariness to her green eyes. She wore crude clothing cut in a simplistic fashion, and her hands, folded on the countertop were chapped and work roughened. But to Cliegg Lars, seeing the face of the woman who had haunted his dreams for fifteen years, Shmi had never looked lovelier.
"Shmi," Cliegg whispered.
Shmi felt cold all over as she looked at Cliegg. Like Shmi, Cliegg had aged. The years of their separation had carried him from youth to middle age. Cliegg's face was craggier than ever, and his hair was now grizzled, but when Shmi looked into his eyes, she saw the same love in them she'd seen there many years ago. Love for her.
"Cliegg," Shmi answered with a sound that was halfway between a laugh and a sob.
"Have you been here on Tatooine all these years?" Cliegg asked, incredulously.
Shmi nodded, trying to think of something to say.
"Wait a minute," Owen said, looking from his father to Shmi. "You two know each other?"
"Shmi and I met many years ago," Cliegg answered, still looking at Shmi. "And I've never been able to forget about her. What happened to you?"
"Hey, Shmi! You gonna sell parts or you gonna waste time talking?" Watto demanded coming out from the back room.
"You're the owner of this shop?" Cliegg asked, turning to Watto, bristling at the way the Toydarian had spoken to Shmi.
"Yeah, what's it to you, eh?" Watto asked, with his customary charm, not having heard the menacing undertone in Cliegg's voice.
"There's no need to speak to her in such a rude way," Cliegg said.
"It's all right," Shmi said, trying to calm things down.
"You betcha it's all right!" Watto said, fluttering his wings more agitatedly, and bunching up his fists. "What's it to you, eh? Shmi's my slave!"
"I'll buy her from you," Cliegg said, immediately.
"Dad!" Owen exclaimed, shocked. The expressions on Shmi and Watto's faces mirrored Owen's.
"How much?" Cliegg asked, ignoring Owen's outburst.
Watto scratched his head, becoming a little frightened by the look in Cliegg's eye. "She won't be cheap, eh? But I'll sell her to you. She was a-losing me money anyway. Come into my office and we'll talk-a terms."
An hour later, a bewildered Shmi found herself getting into Cliegg's speeder next to him, with her meager belongings in a small satchel, and C-3PO in the back seat next to Owen. She was freed, and she was going with Cliegg to see his moisture farm near Anchorhead. How many times had she pictured this in her mind? It was like a dream.
It was a homecoming.
The evening after they arrived at the Lars homestead, Cliegg proposed. Shmi, her heart full of hope and fear, asked for time.
"Of course, Shmi." Cliegg had been gentle, sensing scars on her soul. For fifteen years he had dreamed of this, not thinking he would ever see her again. He'd been so worried for her after helplessly witnessing her abduction. For years, he had wondered where she was. Was she still alive? Now that he was seeing her again, he wondered, did she still care for him? She had changed so much. The rebellious mask was gone, stripped by years of hardship, exposing the gentle, sympathetic woman underneath. There was an inexplicable sadness in her eyes, and she held herself aloofly.
A few nights later, he found Shmi standing outside the house, staring out at the stars.
"I'm going to power down," Cliegg said. "And you should come inside. The Sandpeople are much more active at night."
Shmi continued to stare at the stars as though she hadn't heard him.
"Shmi?" Cliegg came forward and touched her shoulder, repeating, "Shmi?"
Shmi gave a startled gasp. Her eyes focused on Cliegg and she gave a little laugh.
"Are you all right, Shmi?"
"Yes, yes," Shmi said, quickly, and then added without thinking, "I was just thinking about my son."
There was an awkward silence between them.
Finally, Cliegg said in a flat voice, "Your son."
Shmi sighed. She hadn't wanted to tell Cliegg in just such a manner. "Yes, my son, Anakin."
"Where is your son?" Cliegg asked.
"On Coruscant - I think - yes, he's on Coruscant, now...I'm pretty sure that's where he is," Shmi said, with a dreamy look in her eyes.
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"Five years ago," Shmi answered, in a low voice. "He's a Jedi Padawan. He left me five years ago to train."
"You must miss him very much," Cliegg said, gently.
Shmi nodded, "But I sense him. He's - he's such a part of me that I can sense him. That gives me some comfort, I guess."
"And his father?"
Shmi shivered. "It's getting cold. Let me tell you inside."
They entered the house, and Cliegg powered down for the night. Near a hot fire, and over a steaming cup of Chandrila tea, Shmi began to tell her story, starting from the moment she was abducted from Mos Eisley, and ending with her meeting with Owen.
By the time Shmi was finished, the first of the twin suns was starting to peak over the horizon.
Cliegg had sat quietly the entire time, listening to her story.
"I know this sounds incredible, and I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't believe it," Shmi said, as she finished, "but it's the truth."
Cliegg smiled at her. "Did you think I wouldn't believe you? I traveled a lot when I was younger, and I've seen some strange things in this galaxy. I'll admit, your story is among the more unusual ones, but Shmi, if you say it happened, I believe you. I see it in your eyes, Shmi. I know you're telling the truth."
"I was so worried what you would think, and I wanted to tell you to let you know before you - I mean, you asked me to marry you, but it's been so long. You don't have to propose out of pity or guilt."
"Pity? Guilt?" Cliegg stared at Shmi in astonishment. He was starting to get a little angry. "Is that was you think this was about? That I freed you and proposed out of pity? Shmi, they say I'm a nice guy, but I'm not that nice. Don't you realize that I've spent every day of the last fifteen years thinking about you, wondering about you? Don't you realize what this is all about? Shmi, I proposed to you because I love you! Do you understand? I never stopped loving you!"
Shmi stared at Cliegg almost unable to believe she was hearing those words. She couldn't speak for happiness.
Cliegg, however, took Shmi's silence to mean something else. "Listen, Shmi, I proposed to you because I love you, but you're under no obligation to marry me. If all this was your way of telling me that your feelings have changed, just say so, now. You're welcomed to stay as long as you want, but don't hedge - just tell me what you -"
"Cliegg!" Shmi sobbed out the word in relief as she flung her arms around him. "I love you so much! Yes, I will marry you."
They were married the next day in a simple, civil service. The district magistrate officiated, and most of the neighboring moisture farmers and their families attended. Shmi wore a lovely dress of blue and white lace, traditional bridal attire for the Palomiri. She had been moved to tears when Cliegg brought the dress out for her.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"I did a quick reference check for Palomiri wedding customs, and bought the dress when you were packing your things," Cliegg said, simply.
They became a family. Shmi and Owen got along at once. Owen was a good boy, honest, hard working, earnest, placid and patient. He welcomed Shmi into the family. He had always missed having a mother. Shmi, who still felt the gaping hole in her heart left by Anakin's departure, tried to fill up that space by loving Owen as her son. Over the years, they became as close as true mother and son. Owen would tell her his fears and concerns, and Shmi was always sympathetic, giving wise and loving advice as she would have given Anakin.
Shmi took Owen's part when he decided not to enter the Academy in Mos Eisley, opting instead to stay and work on the farm. Cliegg felt that Owen needed to see more of the galaxy.
"Not everyone is born to be a traveler, Cliegg," Shmi pleaded Owen's case. "Don't force him to go. Let him find his own happiness his own way."
In the end, Cliegg relented, and Owen stayed.
On the moisture farm, Shmi took over running the financial side of the business. While Cliegg and Owen were good moisture farmers who knew their land and machines, they didn't have Shmi's knack for organization. She quickly rearranged their business to make it into a much more profitable concern, happy to be working for herself and her family. She spent her mornings around the Lars home and the afternoons taking care of farm accounts.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, when the work was done, the Lars would visit their neighbors or entertain friends. The local moisture farmers were a close-knit community, and they welcomed Shmi into their ranks. She was never the life of the party, but she was always such a friendly, helpful, gracious presence that she was invited everywhere.
Shmi's marriage with Cliegg was all she ever dreamed of and more. With Cliegg, Shmi found a measure of peace and happiness she hadn't known existed. The only blot on Shmi's happiness was her concern over the loved ones she had lost. Remembering her own family, Shmi treasured the moments with her new family more than ever.
Every night, after dinner, Shmi would step outside the homestead and spend a quiet half-hour looking up into the night sky. She slowly learned the names of the constellations in the Tatooine night sky and the positions of all the stars. She would try to sense Anakin, trying to sense where he was, what he was doing, and wondering if he still thought of her. She followed these thoughts by wondering where her family was. Did they think of her? Did any of the Palomiri still remember that Shmi Skywalker had once lived among them?
Cliegg would sometimes join Shmi in the evenings, not speaking, understanding Shmi's need to commune with her family.
"I miss them so much," Shmi said, once.
"Of course you do," Cliegg answered. "You wouldn't be the Shmi I love if you didn't."
"It's not just Anakin," Shmi said. "I worry about Grandmother and Aunt Nashmi. And sometimes I think about my old friends from school. I don't sense them the way I sense Anakin, although I've tried."
Shmi finally did sense them. One night, two years after she married Cliegg, Shmi woke up in the middle of the night screaming.
Cliegg tried to calm her down for several minutes, but Shmi was hysterical, clawing at the sheets, at Cliegg, her eyes unfocused. Her screams brought Owen into the room as well.
"What's going on?" Owen asked, alarmed.
"I don't know," Cliegg shouted over the din that Shmi was making. "She just woke up screaming! Shmi! Shmi! Calm down! What is it?"
Finally, after several moments, Shmi calmed down. Her screams quieted into sobs and finally into whimpers.
"Shmi, Shmi, are you all right?" Cliegg asked, rubbing her back as he held her. "What is it?"
"I - I was on fire," Shmi gasped. "I mean, I wasn't on fire, but I felt like - I - oh, Cliegg, Grandmother and Aunt Nashmi are gone!"
"What are you talking about?" Cliegg asked, mystified. He looked up at Owen, who looked equally bewildered.
"Something has happened to Grandmother and Aunt Nashmi - I think to all of them. I felt it - like a huge gash in the Force!" Shmi dissolved into sobs again.
"Owen, bring me the holovid screen," Cliegg said, still holding Shmi.
Relieved to be able to do something, Owen quickly ran to retrieve the unit.
Shmi got out of bed and went to sit on a window seat, breathing heavily.
Owen returned with the unit. Cliegg sat next to Shmi and powered up the holovid unit adjusting the channels until he reached a Coruscant news station. The newscasters were discussing the results of a Zareek ball game played out on Alderaan the day before.
"See?" Cliegg said, trying to calm Shmi. "There's nothing. The Galactic Holovid Network would have a special bulletin if anything was going on."
Shmi stared at the screen in disbelief as she tried to calm down her breathing. A few minutes later, though, her worst fears were confirmed, when the flashing message came across the screen.
"We now bring you a special bulletin," the human female newscaster was saying. "...This just in...a massive space massacre has just taken place outside the Inarid system. Several assault cruisers have attacked a convoy of ships believed to belong to the Palomiri. The Palomiri are space gypsies who have wandered the galaxy since the destruction of their home world...what was that? Yes, as I was saying, the Palomiri have been traveling the galaxy since the destruction of their home world of Moramir over eight thousand years ago. No one knows where the original system of Moramir is. No group has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the attack, but all of the ships in the Palomiri convoy appear to have been destroyed. We believe...yes, I'm getting reports that at least a million people were killed in the attack."
The newscaster's speech was accompanied by video, which was taken from nearby ships that witnessed the attack. The terrifying carnage caused Shmi to hold up her hands in horror and cover her eyes.
"We're not sure if this strike was a genocidal act or a revenge attack," the second newscaster, a male Bothan was saying. "The Palomiri have had a bad reputation of late, as their Viceroy, Dantun Mithromir had aligned himself with the organization believed to be headed by the reputed space gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The Inarid system where the attacks occurred, as you may know, is an Outer Rim system currently bidding for entry into the Republic. Due to the severe nature of these attacks and the delicate situation with the Inarid system, the Inarid representative to the Senate has returned to his home world, and we will soon have commentary from Supreme Chancellor Palpatine himself...yes...I believe we have the video feed..."
"At 1400 hours Coruscant Standard Time today, a reprehensible and heinous attack occurred in the Inarid system," Palpatine began, in his calm measured, tones. "I will be meeting later today with -"
Shmi turned off the holovid screen, unable to bear the images she was seeing, and continued to sob for a long time. Finally, she looked up at Cliegg, and said, "All those wonderful people! Aunt Nashmi! Maybe even Grandmother! I can't believe it...If those reports are true, that would mean that Anakin and I are the last. After eight thousand years, we're the last of the Palomiri."
"I'm so sorry, Shmi but I can only thank the stars that you're safe here with me," Cliegg said, holding her close and trying to give her comfort.
"But for my family to come to this! It's all Dantun's fault! He was all pride and ambition, using the Force for his own personal gain! He killed a million people who've survived eight thousand years of wandering!"
"You don't know that, Shmi," Cliegg soothed.
"I do!" Shmi said, vigorously, "Just watching that horrible holovid, I knew! Oh, stars! I don't know what I would do if I didn't have you," Shmi said, clinging to him. She looked up at Owen, standing helplessly by the doorway. "And you, too, of course, Owen. You've been my family - and you've both given me so much joy and strength. I only wish -"
"- You wish Anakin was here," Cliegg finished for her.
"You said he promised to come for you - cling to that hope, Shmi," Cliegg said.
While Shmi continued to cling to the hope that she would see Anakin again, she didn't spend her days brooding. She reminded herself how lucky she was to have her loving husband and son, and a happy home. She recovered from her grief over the deaths of her loved ones in the Palomiri massacre, and refused to be bitter when the culprits were never brought to justice. After all, nothing would bring the Palomiri back. Over the next few months, she slowly regained her capacity for joy, grateful for all she had.
With Shmi's determination, the Lars were a happy family over the next few years, and were made even happier when Owen brought Beru Whitesun to meet them for the first time. Beru was the daughter of a neighboring moisture farmer, and she became a good friend to Shmi. On the surface, she was a shy, gentle girl, but the Lars' quickly saw that Beru had a quick intellect, and a sharp sense of humor. Beru brought Shmi companionship, and gave Cliegg amusement by verbally sparring with him when he teased her.
Beru took to Shmi like a second mother. For Shmi's fortieth birthday, Beru conspired with Cliegg and Owen to throw her a huge surprise birthday bash to which all their neighbors were invited. Beru cooked for three days. Shmi had been so touched; she was wordless with happiness when she saw her friends and neighbors gathered around to wish her well.
Sometimes, watching Owen and Beru together, Shmi would remember her son and the beautiful young girl he had adored, and wished Anakin could know the happiness that Owen and Beru shared.
One day, not long after Shmi and Cliegg's five-year anniversary, Owen announced he was going ask Beru to marry him. Shmi immediately began to plan for a celebration.
"When are you going to ask her?" Shmi asked.
"I thought I'd ask her over for dinner tomorrow night," Owen said, as Cliegg entered the kitchen.
"What was that?" Cliegg asked.
Shmi smiled, "Owen's going to propose to Beru! Isn't that wonderful news?"
Cliegg looked at his son. "Well, son! You know we welcome Beru! That's wonderful!"
Owen smiled, "I thought I'd ask tomorrow night."
"All right," Cliegg said, turning to his wife. "Shmi, if Beru is coming then set up the spare bedroom. She'll need to stay over. The Sandpeople have been getting active again. That's what I came in to tell you. The Darklighters' farm was attacked yesterday. One of the farmhands they hired from Mos Eisley last month was killed. That young kid, Palesand, I think it was."
"Oh, no!" Shmi said. "The poor boy!"
"So, anyway, just be careful out there, and everyone's to be back in the farm well before the suns set, until we get this situation under control. We're going to get together a posse to drive off those Sandpeople...we were just talking about it...but until then, just keep your eyes opened," Cliegg said.
"All right," Shmi answered, turning back toward Owen, "I'm going to have to make something extra special for tomorrow. There was a dish that I had once on Calastare - too bad we can't get Calarstari mushrooms, but there are some that grow on the vaporators that might be good. I think I'll get some tomorrow to make the stew...and then for dessert -"
"Mom! It's only going to be the four of us! Don't go planning a ten course dinner!" Owen protested.
The next morning, Shmi awoke earlier than usual. Then suns had not risen, and it was still dark outside. Shmi started her morning chores around the house, and finished them just when the first sun came over the horizon. Too excited thinking about the dinner, she left the house while Owen and Cliegg were still asleep and went to the northern moisture vaporator field to pick the mushrooms for dinner.
Shmi was especially happy that morning as she trod over the glistening sand, watching the first sun come over the horizon. She loved Beru, and welcomed her into the small circle of their family, happily anticipating the grandchildren they would give her. As she thought about grandchildren, though, she smiled. She hadn't wanted to spoil Owen's time in the limelight, and so she was planning on waiting a few more days before she told Cliegg the happy news: after five years of marriage, Shmi was going to have another child. Their child. Shmi felt her stomach, still flat, sensing the growing child. This one would be a girl. Cliegg would be so happy.
Thoughts of the new baby naturally led her thoughts to Anakin. She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking about Anakin. At times like this, when she was feeling peaceful, she was able to sense Anakin more clearly than usual. As she reached the vaporators, she paused, sensing that Anakin was in danger...where was he now? Ansion? Where was Ansion?
So engrossed was Shmi in thinking about her son, that she failed to sense the three Tusken Raiders who were hiding behind the ridge where the vaporators were placed. She leaned forward to pick some of the mushrooms and then everything went dark as she was clubbed on the back of her neck with a Gaffi stick....
Shmi no longer knew if it was night or day. Every part of her body held its own separate agony. She felt her breath come through her parched lips, hot as fire. More than water or food, Shmi only longed for release. Early on in her captivity, Shmi lost her baby. She tried to sustain herself against the grief and pain by thinking about the best parts of her life: Afternoons with her grandmother after classes. The excitement she felt the first time she was promoted as a trader. She relived every moment of her courtship with Cliegg when she first arrived on Tatooine. She thought back to all the happiness Anakin had given her. She remembered her wedding day. And she thought back to her last few years with Cliegg, Owen and Beru.
I've had a good life, and no regrets, Shmi told herself. If I could only see Anakin again I would have everything.
Between these reminisces she forced out through her pain, Shmi tried to picture her closest loved ones in her mind. Over and over, she thought of them. Cliegg and Owen and Beru and Anakin. Especially Anakin. She worried over Cliegg, Owen and Beru, but knew that they would be able to bring comfort and support to each other. Only Anakin, though, could release Shmi from this torture. When will this end? she thought.
There was a snap-hiss noise outside the tent and then the sound of burning bantha leather as the tent covers were cut, but Shmi was too weary to raise her head. She felt the bindings on her wrists loosened, and as she was freed, someone caught her. Someone treating her too gently and tenderly to be a Tusken. Shmi opened her weary eyes and saw her beloved son.
"Mom," Anakin murmured as he held her.
Shmi opened her eyes and held her breath, afraid to believe that this wasn't a mirage. She had never seen anything as beautiful as the sight of her grown son. His voice was music to Shmi's ears. She gazed at her son, grown now, and so handsome! Even her sense of the Force had not allowed her to see this. She felt her heart fill with happiness to see her son, the Jedi.
Shmi reached up her hand to tenderly caress her son's cheek, and he kissed her hand, his eyes full of grief he should be too young to shoulder. Her beloved Anakin. He had fulfilled his promise. He had finally come for her. Shmi felt the emptiness that had been in her heart all those years disappear.
"Now I am complete," Shmi said, feeling peace steal over her. She made one last effort as she gazed at her son. "I love -"
The green eyes lost their focus, and glazed over. Shmi's body became limp as the life left her.
Anakin, who had traveled across the galaxy in a desperate attempt to rescue his mother felt, quite suddenly, the Life Force leave his mother's body. He stared at her sightless eyes in horror, realizing that he had been too late to save her. He bent his head over her, as the grief coursed through his body.
Outside the Tusken tent, the soul of Shmi Skywalker Lars soared upward and with relief and happiness, she saw, one last time, the stars in the night sky before her spirit vanished to rejoin the Force.
Original cover by Cosmic. HTML formatting copyright 2002 TheForce.Net LLC.