Star Wars-A New Hope eBook #starwars #ebooks

 A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... 3
 Prologue 4
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           A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...


                              Prologue

 ANOTHER galaxy, another time.
 The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than  distance  or

time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only to know that…
it was the Republic.
Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi
Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and
power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those
evil ones who have greed to match.
So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees,
able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within
though the danger was not visible from outside.
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the
government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator
Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He
promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the
remembered glory of the Republic.
Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself
away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and
boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people
for justice did not reach his ears.
Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights,
guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats
prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the
galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly
isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.
But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring
themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore
the Old Republic.
From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in
thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright
flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of
new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…
From the First
Saga Journal of the Whills

 "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they  became

heroes.”
Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator

                               = I =

 IT was a vast, shining globe and it cast a light of lambent topaz  into

space-but it was not a sun. Thus, the planet had fooled men for a long time.
Not until entering close orbit around it did its discoverers realize that
this was a world in a binary system and not a third sun itself.
At first it seemed certain nothing could exist on such a planet, least
of all humans. Yet both massive G1 and G2 stars orbited a common center with
peculiar regularity, and Tatooine circled them far enough out to permit the
development of a rather stable, if exquisitely hot, climate. Mostly this was
a dry desert of a world, whose unusual starlike yellow glow was the result
of double sunlight striking sodium-rich sands and flats. That same sunlight
suddenly shone on the thin skin of a metallic shape falling crazily toward
the atmosphere.

 The erratic course the galactic cruiser was traveling was  intentional,

not the product of injury but of a desperate desire to avoid it. Long
streaks of intense energy slid close past its hull, a multihued storm of
destruction like a school of rainbow remoras fighting to attach themselves
to a larger, unwilling host.
One of those probing, questing beams succeeded in touching the fleeing
ship, striking its principal solar fin. Gemlike fragments of metal and
plastic erupted into space as the end of the fin disintegrated. The vessel
seemed to shudder.
The source of those multiple energy beams suddenly hove into view-a
lumbering Imperial cruiser, its massive outline bristling cactuslike with
dozens of heavy weapons emplacements. Light ceased arching from those spines
now as the cruiser moved in close. Intermittent explosions and flashes of
light could be seen in those portions of the smaller ship which had taken
hits. In the absolute cold of space, the cruiser snuggled up alongside its
wounded prey.
Another distant explosion shook the ship-but it certainly didn’t feel
distant to Artoo Detoo or See Threepio. The concussion bounced them around
the narrow corridor like bearings in an old motor.
To look at these two, one would have supposed that the tall, human-like
machine, Threepio, was the master and the stubby, tripodal robot, Artoo
Detoo, an inferior. But while Threepio might have sniffed disdainfully at
the suggestion, they were in fact equal in everything save loquacity. Here
Threepio was clearly-and necessarily-the superior.
Still another explosion rattled the corridor, throwing Threepio off
balance. His shorter companion had the better of it during such moments with
his squat, cylindrical body’s low center of gravity well balanced on thick,
clawed legs.
Artoo glanced up at Threepio, who was steadying himself against a
corridor wall. Lights blinked enigmatically around a single mechanical eye
as the smaller robot studied the battered casing of his friend. A patina of
metal and fibrous dust coated the usually gleaming bronze finish, and there
were some visible dents-all the result of the pounding the rebel ship they
were on had been taking.
Accompanying the last attack was a persistent deep hum which even the
loudest explosion had not been able to drown out. Then, for no apparent
reason, the basso thrumming abruptly ceased, and the only sounds in the
otherwise deserted corridor came from the eerie dry-twig crackle of shorting
relays or the pops of dying circuitry. Explosions began to echo through the
ship once more, but they were far away from the corridor.
Threepio turned his smooth, humanlike head to one side. Metallic ears
listened intently. The imitation of a human pose was hardly
necessary-Threepio’s auditory sensors were fully omnidirectional-but the
slim robot had been programmed to blend perfectly among human company. This
programming extended even to mimicry of human gestures.
“Did you hear that?” he inquired rhetorically of his patient companion,
referring to the throbbing sound. “They’ve shut down the main reactor and
the drive.” His voice was as full of disbelief and concern as that of any
human. One metallic palm rubbed dolefully at a patch of dull gray on his
side, where a broken hull brace had fallen and scored the bronze finish.
Threepio was a fastidious machine, and such things troubled him.
“Madness, this is madness.” He shook his head slowly. “This time we’ll
be destroyed for sure.”
Artoo did not comment immediately. Barrel torso tilted backward,
powerful legs gripping the deck, the meter-high robot was engrossed in
studying the roof overhead. Though he did not have a head to cock in a
listening posture like his friend, Artoo still somehow managed to convey
that impression. A series of short beeps and chirps issued from his speaker.
To even a sensitive human ear they would have been just so much static, but
to Threepio they formed words as clear and pure as direct current.
“Yes, I suppose they did have to shut the drive down,” Threepio
admitted, “but what are we going to do now? We can’t enter atmosphere with
our main stablizer fin destroyed. I can’t believe we’re simply going to
surrender.”
A small band of armed humans suddenly appeared, rifles held at the
ready. Their expressions were as worry-wrinkled as their uniforms, and they
carried about them the aura of men prepared to die.
Threepio watched silently until they had vanished around a far bend in
the passageway, then looked back at Artoo. The smaller robot hadn’t shifted
from his position of listening. Threepio’s gaze turned upward also though he
knew Artoo’s senses were slightly sharper than his own.
“What is it, Artoo?” A short burst of beeping came in response. Another
moment, and there was no need for highly attuned sensors. For a minute or
two more, the corridor remained deathly silent. Then a faint scrape, scrape
could be heard, like a cat at a door, from somewhere above. That strange
noise was produced by heavy footsteps and the movement of bulky equipment
somewhere on the ship’s hull.
When several muffled explosions sounded, Threepio murmured, “They’ve
broken in somewhere above us. There’s no escape for the Captain this time.”
Turning, he peered down at Artoo. “I think we’d better-“
The shriek of overstressed metal filled the air before he could finish,
and the far end of the passageway was lit by a blinding actinic flash.
Somewhere down there the little cluster of armed crew who had passed by
minutes before had encountered the ship’s attackers.
Threepio turned his face and delicate photoreceptors away-just in time
to avoid the fragments of metal that flew down the corridor. At the far end
a gaping hole appeared in the roof, and reflective forms like big metal
beads began dropping to the corridor floor. Both robots knew that no machine
could match the fluidity with which those shapes moved and instantly assumed
fighting postures. The new arrivals were humans in armor, not mechanicals.
One of them looked straight at Threepio-no, not at him, the panicked
robot thought frantically, but past him. The figure shifted its big rifle
around in armored hands-too late. A beam of intense light struck the head,
sending pieces of armor, bone, and flesh flying in all directions.
Half the invading Imperial troops turned and began returning fire up
the corridor-aiming past the two robots.
“Quick-this way!” Threepio ordered, intending to retreat from the
Imperials. Artoo turned with him. They had taken only a couple of steps when
they saw the rebel crewmen in position ahead, firing down the corridor. In
seconds the passageway was filled with smoke and crisscrossing beams of
energy.
Red, green and blue bolts ricocheted off polished sections of wall and
floor or ripped long gashes in metal surfaces. Screams of injured and dying
humans-a peculiarly unrobotic sound, Threepio thought-echoed piercingly
above the inorganic destruction.
One beam struck near the robot’s feet at the same time as a second one
burst the wall directly behind him, exposing sparking circuitry and rows of
conduits. The force of the twin blast tumbled Threepio into the shredded
cables, where a dozen different currents turned him into a jerking, twisting
display.
Strange sensations coursed through his metal nerve-ends. They caused no
pain, only confusion. Every time he moved and tried to free himself there
was another violent crackling as a fresh cluster of componentry broke. The
noise and man-made lightning remained constant around him as the battle
continued to rage.
Smoke began to fill the corridor. Artoo Detoo bustled about trying to
help free his friend. The little robot evidenced a phlegmatic indifference
to the ravening energies filling the passageway. He was built so low that
most of the beams passed over him anyhow.
“Help!” Threepio yelled, suddenly frightened at a new message from an
internal sensor. “I think something is melting. Free my left leg-the
trouble’s near the pelvic servomotor.” Typically, his tone turned abruptly
from pleading to berating.
“This is all your fault!” he shouted angrily. “I should have known
better than to trust the logic of a half-sized thermocapsulary dehousing
assister. I don’t know why you insisted we leave our assigned stations to
come down this stupid access corridor. Not that it matters now. The whole
ship must be-” Artoo Detoo cut him off in midspeech with some angry beepings
and hoots of his own, though he continued to cut and pull with precision at
the tangled high-voltage cables.
“Is that so?” Threepio sneered in reply. “The same to you, you
little…!”
An exceptionally violent explosion shook the passage, drowning him out.
A lung-searing miasma of carbonized component filled the air, obscuring
everything.

 Two meters tall. Bipedal. Flowing black robes trailing from the  figure

and a face forever masked by a functional if bizarre black metal breath
screen-a Dark Lord of the Sith was an awesome, threatening shape as it
strode through the corridors of the rebel ship.
Fear followed the footsteps of all the Dark Lords. The cloud of evil
which clung tight about this particular one was intense enough to cause
hardened Imperial troops to back away, menacing enough to set them muttering
nervously among themselves. Once-resolute rebel crew members ceased
resisting, broke and ran in panic at the sight of the black armor-armor
which, though black as it was, was not nearly as dark as the thoughts
drifting through the mind within.
One purpose, one thought, one obsession dominated that mind now. It
burned in the brain of Darth Vader as he turned down another passageway in
the broken fighter. There smoke was beginning to clear, though the sounds of
faraway fighting still resounded through the hull. The battle here had ended
and moved on.
Only a robot was left to stir freely in the wake of the Dark Lord’s
passing. See Threepio finally stepped clear of the last restraining cable.
Somewhere behind him human screams could be heard from where relentless
Imperial troops were mopping up the last remnants of rebel resistance.
Threepio glanced down and saw only scarred deck. As he looked around,
his voice was full of concern. “Artoo Detoo-where are you?” The smoke seemed
to part just a bit more. Threepio found himself staring up the passageway.
Artoo Detoo, it seemed, was there. But he wasn’t looking in Threepio’s
direction. Instead, the little robot appeared frozen in an attitude of
attention. Leaning over him was-it was difficult for even Threepio’s
electronic photoreceptors to penetrate the clinging, acidic smoke-a human
figure. It was young, slim, and by abstruse human standards of aesthetics,
Threepio mused, of a calm beauty. One small hand seemed to be moving over
the front of Artoo’s torso.
Threepio started toward them as the haze thickened once more. But when
he reached the end of the corridor, only Artoo stood there, waiting.
Threepio peered past him, uncertain. Robots were occasionally subject to
electronic hallucinations-but why should he hallucinate a human?
He shrugged… Then again, why not, especially when one considered the
confusing circumstances of the past hour and the dose of raw current he had
recently absorbed. He shouldn’t be surprised at anything his concatenated
internal circuits conjured up.
“Where have you been?” Threepio finally asked. “Hiding, I suppose.” He
decided not to mention the maybe-human. If it had been a hallucination, he
wasn’t going to give Artoo the satisfaction of knowing how badly recent
events had unsettled his logic circuits.
“They’ll be coming back this way,” he went on, nodding down the
corridor and not giving the small automaton a chance to reply, “looking for
human survivors. What are we going to do now? They won’t trust the word of
rebel-owned machines that we don’t know anything of value. We’ll be sent to
the spice mines of Kessel or taken apart for spare components for other,
less deserving robots. That’s if they don’t consider us potential program
traps and blow us apart on sight. If we don’t…” But Artoo had already
turned and was ambling quickly back down the passageway.
“Wait, where are you going? Haven’t you been listening to me?” Uttering
curses in several languages, some purely mechanical, Threepio raced fluidly
after his friend. The Artoo unit, he thought to himself, could be downright
close-circuited when it wanted to.

 Outside the galactic cruiser's control center the corridor was  crowded

with sullen prisoners gathered by Imperial troops. Some lay wounded, some
dying. Several officers had been separated from the enlisted ranks and stood
in a small group by themselves, bestowing belligerent looks and threats on
the silent knot of troops holding them at bay.
As if on command, everyone-Imperial troops as well as rebels-became
silent as a massive caped form came into view from behind a turn in the
passage. Two of the heretofore resolute, obstinate rebel officers began to
shake. Stopping before one of the men, the towering figure reached out
wordlessly. A massive hand closed around the man’s neck and lifted him off
the deck. The rebel officer’s eyes bulged, but he kept his silence.
An Imperial officer, his armored helmet shoved back to reveal a recent
scar where an energy beam had penetrated his shielding, scrambled down out
of the fighter’s control room, shaking his head briskly. “Nothing, sir.
Information retrieval system’s been wiped clean.”
Darth Vader acknowledged this news with a barely perceptible nod. The
impenetrable mask turned to regard the officer he was torturing. Metal-clad
fingers contracted. Reaching up, the prisoner desperately tried to pry them
loose, but to no avail.
“Where is the data you intercepted?” Vader rumbled dangerously. “What
have you done with the information tapes?”
“We-intercepted-no information,” the dangling officer gurgled, barely
able to breathe. From somewhere deep within, he dredged up a squeal of
outrage. “This is a… councilor vessel… Did you not see our… exterior
markings? We’re on a… diplomatic… mission.”
“Chaos take your mission!” Vader growled. “Where are those tapes?” He
squeezed harder, the threat in his grip implicit.
When he finally replied, the officer’s voice was a bare, choked
whisper. “Only… the Commander knows.”
“This ship carries the system crest of Alderaan,” Vader growled, the
gargoylelike breath mask leaning close. “Is any of the royal family on
board? Who are you carrying?” Thick fingers tightened further, and the
officer’s struggles became more and more frantic. His last words were
muffled and choked past intelligibility.
Vader was not pleased. Even though the figure went limp with an awful,
unquestionable finality, that hand continued to tighten, producing a
chilling snapping and popping of bone, like a dog padding on plastic. Then
with a disgusted wheeze Vader finally threw the doll-form of the dead man
against a far wall. Several Imperial troops ducked out of the way just in
time to avoid the grisly missile.
The massive form whirled unexpectedly, and Imperial officers shrank
under that baleful sculptured stare. “Start tearing this ship apart piece by
piece, component by component, until you find those tapes. As for the
passengers, if any, I want them alive.” He paused a moment, then added,
“Quickly!”
Officers and men nearly fell over themselves in their haste to
leave-not necessarily to carry out Vader’s orders, but simply to retreat
from that malevolent presence.

 Artoo Detoo finally came to a halt in an empty corridor devoid of smoke

and the signs of battle. A worried, confused Threepio pulled up behind him.
“You’ve led us through half the ship, and to what…?” He broke off,
staring in disbelief as the squat robot reached up with one clawed limb and
snapped the seal on a lifeboat hatch. Immediately a red warning light came
on and a low hooting sounded in the corridor.
Threepio looked wildly in all directions, but the passageway remained
empty. When he looked back, Artoo was already working his way into the
cramped boat pod. It was just large enough to hold several humans, and its
design was not laid out to accommodate mechanicals. Artoo had some trouble
negotiating the awkward little compartment.
“Hey,” a startled Threepio called, admonishing, “you’re not permitted
in there! It’s restricted to humans only. We just might be able to convince
the Imperials that we’re not rebel programmed and are too valuable to break
up, but if someone sees you in there we haven’t got a chance. Come on out.”
Somehow Artoo had succeeded in wedging his body into position in front
of the miniature control board. He cocked his body slightly and threw a
stream of loud beeps and whistles at his reluctant companion.
Threepio listened. He couldn’t frown, but he managed to give a good
impression of doing so. “Mission… what mission? What are you talking
about? You sound like you haven’t got an integrated logic terminal left in
your brain. No… no more adventures. I’ll take my chances with the
Imperials-and I’m not getting in there.”
An angry electronic twang came from the Artoo unit.
“Don’t call me a mindless philosopher,” Threepio snapped back, “you
overweight, unstreamlined glob of grease!”
Threepio was concocting an additional rejoinder when an explosion blew
out the back wall of the corridor. Dust and metal debris whooshed through
the narrow subpassageway, followed instantly by a series of secondary
explosions. Flames began jumping hungrily from the exposed interior wall,
reflecting off Threepio’s isolated patches of polished skin.
Muttering the electronic equivalent of consigning his soul to the
unknown, the lanky robot jumped into the life pod. “I’m going to regret
this,” he muttered more audibly as Artoo activated the safety door behind
him. The smaller robot flipped a series of switches, snapped back a cover,
and pressed three buttons in a certain sequence. With the thunder of
explosive latches the life pod ejected from the crippled fighter.
When word came over the communicators that the last pocket of
resistance on the rebel ship had been cleaned out, the Captain of the
Imperial cruiser relaxed considerably. He was listening with pleasure to the
proceedings on the captured vessel when one of his chief gunnery officers
called to him. Moving to the man’s position, the Captain stared into the
circular viewscreen and saw a tiny dot dropping away toward the fiery world
below.
“There goes another pod, sir. Instructions?” The officer’s hand hovered
over a computerized energy battery.
Casually, confident in the firepower and total control under his
command, the Captain studied the nearby readouts monitoring the pod. All of
them read blank.
“Hold your fire, Lieutenant Hija. Instruments show no life forms
aboard. The pod’s release mechanism must have short-circuited or received a
false instruction. Don’t waste your power.” He turned away, to listen with
satisfaction to the reports of captured men and material coming from the
rebel ship.

 Glare from exploding panels and erupting  circuitry  reflected  crazily

off the armor of the lead storm trooper as he surveyed the passageway ahead.
He was about to turn and call for those behind to follow him forward when he
noticed something moving off to one side. It appeared to be crouching back
in a small, dark alcove. Holding his pistol ready, he moved cautiously
forward and peered into the recess.
A small, shivering figure clad in flowing white hugged the back of the
recess and stared up at the man. Now he could see that he faced a young
woman, and her physical description fit that of the one individual the Dark
Lord was most interested in. The trooper grinned behind his helmet. A lucky
encounter for him. He would be commended.
Within the armor his head turned slightly, directing his voice to the
tiny condenser microphone. “Here she is,” he called to those behind him.
“Set for stun forc-“
He never finished the sentence, just as he would never receive the
hoped-for commendation. Once his attention turned from the girl to his
communicator her shivering vanished with startling speed. The energy pistol
she had held out of sight behind her came up and around as she burst from
her hiding place.
The trooper who had been unlucky enough to find her fell first, his
head a mass of melted bone and metal. The same fate met the second armored
form coming up fast behind him. Then a bright green energy pole touched the
woman’s side and she slumped instantly to the deck, the pistol still locked
in her small palm.
Metal-encased shapes clustered around her. One whose arm bore the
insignia of a lower officer knelt and turned her over. He studied the
paralyzed form with a practiced eye.
“She’ll be all right,” he finally declared, looking up at his
subordinates. “Report to Lord Vader.”

 Threepio stared, mesmerized, out of the small viewport set in the front

of the tiny escape pod as the hot yellow eye of Tatooine began to swallow
them up. Somewhere behind them, he knew, the crippled fighter and the
Imperial cruiser were receding to imperceptibility.
That was fine with him. If they landed near a civilized city, he would
seek elegant employment in a halcyon atmosphere, something more befitting
his status and training. These past months had gifted him with entirely too
much excitement and unpredictability for a mere machine.
Artoo’s seemingly random manipulation of the pod controls promised
anything but a smooth landing, however. Threepio regarded his squat
companion with concern.
“Are you sure you know how to pilot this thing?”
Artoo replied with a noncommittal whistle that did nothing to alter the
taller robot’s jangled state of mind.

                               = II =

 IT was an old settlers' saying that you could burn your eyes out faster

by staring straight and hard at the sun-scorched flatlands of Tatooine than
by looking directly at its two huge suns themselves, so powerful was the
penetrating glare reflected from those endless wastes. Despite the glare,
life could and did exist in the flatlands formed by long-evaporated seabeds.
One thing made it possible: the reintroduction of water.
For human purposes, however, the water of Tatooine was only marginally
accessible. The atmosphere yielded its moisture with reluctance. It had to
be coaxed down out of the hard blue sky-coaxed, forced, yanked down to the
parched surface.
Two figures whose concern was obtaining that moisture were standing on
a slight rise of one of those inhospitable flats. One of the pair was stiff
and metallic-a sand-pitted vaporator sunk securely through sand and into
deeper rock. The figure next to it was a good deal more animated, though no
less sunweathered.
Luke Skywalker was twice the age of the ten-year-old vaporator, but
much less secure. At the moment he was swearing softly at a recalcitrant
valve adjuster on the temperamental device. From time to time he resorted to
some unsubtle pounding in place of using the appropriate tool. Neither
method worked very well. Luke was sure that the lubricants used on the
vaporators went out of their way to attract sand, beckoning seductively to
small abrasive particles with an oily gleam. He wiped sweat from his
forehead and leaned back for a moment. The most prepossessing thing about
the young man was his name. A light breeze tugged at his shaggy hair and
baggy work tunic as he regarded the device. No point in staying angry at it,
he counseled himself. It’s only an unintelligent machine.
As Luke considered his predicament, a third figure appeared, scooting
out from behind the vaporator to fumble awkwardly at the damaged section.
Only three of the Treadwell model robot’s six arms were functioning, and
these had seen more wear than the boots on Luke’s feet. The machine moved
with unsteady, stop-and-start motions.
Luke gazed at it sadly, then inclined his head to study the sky. Still
no sign of a cloud, and he knew there never would be unless he got that
vaporator working. He was about to try once again when a small, intense
gleam of light caught his eye. Quickly he slipped the carefully cleaned set
of macrobinoculars from his utility belt and focused the lenses skyward.
For long moments he stared, wishing all the while that he had a real
telescope instead of the binocs. As he stared, vaporators, the heat, and the
day’s remaining chores were forgotten. Clipping the binoculars back onto his
belt, Luke turned and dashed for the landspeeder. Halfway to the vehicle he
thought to call behind him.
“Hurry up,” he shouted impatiently. “What are you waiting for? Get it
in gear.”
The Treadwell started toward him, hesitated, and then commenced
spinning in a tight circle, smoke belching from every joint. Luke shouted
further instructions, then finally gave up in disgust when he realized that
it would take more than words to motivate the Treadwell again.
For a moment Luke hesitated at leaving the machine behind-but, he
argued to himself, its vital components were obviously shot. So he jumped
into the landspeeder, causing the recently repaired repulsion floater to
list alarmingly to one side until he was able to equalize weight
distribution by sliding behind the controls. Maintaining its altitude
slightly above the sandy ground, the light-duty transport vehicle steadied
itself like a boat in a heavy sea. Luke gunned the engine, which whined in
protest, and sand erupted behind the floater as he aimed the craft toward
the distant town of Anchorhead.
Behind him, a pitiful beacon of black smoke from the burning robot
continued to rise into the clear desert air. It wouldn’t be there when Luke
returned. There were scavengers of metal as well as flesh in the wide wastes
of Tatooine.

 Metal and stone structures bleached white by the glaze of twin Tatoo  I

and II huddled together tightly, for company as much as for protection. They
formed the nexus of the widespread farming community of Anchorhead.
Presently the dusty, unpaved streets were quiet, deserted. Sand-flies
buzzed lazily in the cracked eaves of pourstone buildings. A dog barked in
the distance, the sole sign of habitation until a lone old woman appeared
and started across the street. Her metallic sun shawl was pulled tight
around her.
Something made her look up, tired eyes squinting into the distance. The
sound suddenly leaped in volume as a shining rectangular shape came roaring
around a far corner. Her eyes popped as the vehicle bore down on her,
showing no sign of altering its path. She had to scramble to get out of its
way.
Panting and waving an angry fist after the landspeeder, she raised her
voice over the sound of its passage. “Won’t you kids ever learn to slow
down!”
Luke might have seen her, but he certainly didn’t hear her. In both
cases his attention was focused elsewhere as he pulled up behind a low, long
concrete station. Various coils and rods jutted from its top and sides.
Tatooine’s relentless sand waves broke in frozen yellow spume against the
station’s walls. No one had bothered to clear them away. There was no point.
They would only return again the following day.
Luke slammed the front door aside and shouted, “Hey!”
A rugged young man in mechanic’s dress sat sprawled in a chair behind
the station’s unkempt control desk. Sunscreen oil had kept his skin from
burning. The skin of the girl on his lap had been equally protected, and
there was a great deal more of the protected area in view. Somehow even
dried sweat looked good on her.
“Hey, everybody!” Luke yelled again, having elicited something less
than an overwhelming response with his first cry. He ran toward the
instrument room at the rear of the station while the mechanic, half asleep,
ran a hand across his face and mumbled, “Did I hear a young noise blast
through here?”
The girl on his lap stretched sensuously, her well-worn clothing
tugging in various intriguing directions. Her voice was casually throaty.
“Oh,” she yawned, “that was just Wormie on one of his rampages.”
Deak and Windy looked up from the computer-assisted pool game as Luke
burst into the room. They were dressed much like Luke, although their
clothing was of better fit and somewhat less exercised.
All three youths contrasted strikingly with the burly, handsome player
at the far side of the table. From neatly clipped hair to his precision-cut
uniform he stood out in the room like an Oriental poppy in a sea of oats.
Behind the three humans a soft hum came from where a repair robot was
working patiently on a broken piece of station equipment.
“Shape it up, you guys,” Luke yelled excitedly. Then he noticed the
older man in the uniform. The subject of his suddenly startled gaze
recognized him simultaneously.
“Biggs!”
The man’s face twisted in a half grin. “Hello, Luke.” Then they were
embracing each other warmly.
Luke finally stood away, openly admiring the other’s uniform. “I didn’t
know you were back. When did you get in?”
The confidence in the other’s voice bordered the realm of smugness
without quite entering it. “Just a little while ago. I wanted to surprise
you, hotshot.” He indicated the room. “I thought you’d be here with these
other two nightcrawlers.” Deak and Windy both smiled. “I certainly didn’t
expect you to be out working.” He laughed easily, a laugh few people found
resistible.
“The academy didn’t change you much,” Luke commented. “But you’re back
so soon.” His expression grew concerned. “Hey, what happened-didn’t you get
your commission?”
There was something evasive about Biggs as he replied, looking slightly
away, “Of course I got it. Signed to serve aboard the freighter Rand
Ecliptic just last week. First Mate Biggs Darklighter, at your service.” He
performed a twisting salute, half serious and half humorous, then grinned
that overbearing yet ingratiating grin again.
“I just came back to say good-bye to all you unfortunate landlocked
simpletons.” They all laughed, until Luke suddenly remembered what had
brought him here in such a hurry.
“I almost forgot,” he told them, his initial excitement returning,
“There’s a battle going on right here in our system. Come and look.”
Deak looked disappointed. “Not another one of your epic battles, Luke.
Haven’t you dreamed up enough of them? Forget it.”
“Forget it, hell-I’m serious. It’s a battle, all right.”
With words and shoves he managed to cajole the occupants of the station
out into the strong sunlight. Camie in particular looked disgusted.
“This had better be worth it, Luke,” she warned him, shading her eyes
against the glare.
Luke already had his macrobinoculars out and was searching the heavens.
It took only a moment for him to fix on a particular spot. “I told you,” he
insisted. “There they are.”
Biggs moved alongside him and reached for the binoculars as the others
strained unaided eyes. A slight readjustment provided just enough
magnification for Biggs to make out two silvery specks against the dark
blue.
“That’s no battle, hotshot,” he decided, lowering the binocs and
regarding his friend gently. “They’re just sitting there. Two ships, all
right-probably a barge loading a freighter, since Tatooine hasn’t got an
orbital station.”
“There was a lot of firing-earlier,” Luke added. His initial enthusiasm
was beginning to falter under the withering assurance of his older friend.
Camie grabbed the binoculars away from Biggs, banging them slightly
against a support pillar in the process. Luke took them away from her
quickly, inspecting the casing for damage. “Take it easy with those.”
“Don’t worry so much, Wormie,” she sneered. Luke took a step toward
her, then halted as the huskier mechanic easily interposed himself between
them and favored Luke with a warning smile. Luke considered, shrugged the
incident away.
“I keep telling you, Luke,” the mechanic said, with the air of a man
tired of repeating the same story to no avail, “the rebellion is a long way
from here. I doubt if the Empire would fight to keep this system. Believe
me, Tatooine is a big hunk of nothing.”
His audience began to fade back into the station before Luke could
mutter a reply. Fixer had his arm around Camie, and the two of them were
chuckling over Luke’s ineptitude. Even Deak and Windy were murmuring among
themselves-about him, Luke was certain.
He followed them, but not without a last glance back and up to the
distant specks. One thing he was sure of were the flashes of light he had
seen between the two ships. They hadn’t been caused by the suns of Tatooine
reflecting off metal.

 The binding that locked the girl's hands behind her back was  primitive

and effective. The constant attention the squad of heavily armed troopers
favored her with might have been out of place for one small female, except
for the fact that their lives depended on her being delivered safely.
When she deliberately slowed her pace, however, it became apparent that
her captors did not mind mistreating her a little. One of the armored
figures shoved her brutally in the small of the back, and she nearly fell.
Turning, she gave the offending soldier a vicious look. But she could not
tell if it had any effect, since the man’s face was completely hidden by his
armored helmet.
The hallway they eventually emerged into was still smoking around the
edges of the smoldering cavity blasted through the hull of the fighter. A
portable accessway had been sealed to it and a circlet of light showed at
the far end of the tunnel, bridging space between the rebel craft and the
cruiser. A shadow moved over her as she turned from inspecting the
accessway, startling her despite her usually unshakable self-control.
Above her towered the threatening bulk of Darth Vader, red eyes glaring
behind the hideous breath mask. A muscle twitched in one smooth cheek, but
other than that the girl didn’t react. Nor was there the slightest shake in
her voice.
“Darth Vader… I should have known. Only you would be so bold-and so
stupid. Well, the Imperial Senate will not sit still for this. When they
hear that you have attacked a diplomatic miss-“
“Senator Leia Organa,” Vader rumbled softly, though strongly enough to
override her protests. His pleasure at finding her was evident in the way he
savored every syllable.
“Don’t play games with me, Your Highness,” he continued ominously. “You
aren’t on any mercy mission this time. You passed directly through a
restricted system, ignoring numerous warnings and completely disregarding
orders to turn about-until it no longer mattered.”
The huge metal skull dipped close. “I know that several transmissions
were beamed to this vessel by spies within that system. When we traced those
transmissions back to the individuals with whom they originated, they had
the poor grace to kill themselves before they could be questioned. I want to
know what happened to the data they sent you.”
Neither Vader’s words nor his inimical presence appeared to have any
effect on the girl. “I don’t know what you’re blathering about,” she
snapped, looking away from him. “I’m a member of the Senate on a diplomatic
mission to-“
“To your part of the rebel alliance,” Vader declared, cutting her off
accusingly. “You’re also a traitor.” His gaze went to a nearby officer.
“Take her away.”
She succeeded in reaching him with her spit, which hissed against
still-hot battle armor. He wiped the offensive matter away silently,
watching her with interest as she was marched through the accessway into the
cruiser.
A tall, slim soldier wearing the sign of an Imperial Commander
attracted Vader’s attention as he came up next to him. “Holding her is
dangerous,” he ventured, likewise looking after her as she was escorted
toward the cruiser. “If word of this does get out, there will be much unrest
in the Senate. It will generate sympathy for the rebels.” The Commander
looked up at the unreadable metal face, then added in an off-handed manner,
“She should be destroyed immediately.”
“No. My first duty is to locate that hidden fortress of theirs,” Vader
replied easily. “All the rebel spies have been eliminated-by our hand or by
their own. Therefore she is now my only key to discovering its location. I
intend to make full use of her. If necessary, I will use her up-but I will
learn the location of the rebel base.”
The Commander pursed his lips, shook his head slightly, perhaps a bit
sympathetically, as he considered the woman. “She’ll die before she gives
you any information.”
Vader’s reply was chilling in its indifference. “Leave that to me.” He
considered a moment, then went on. “Send out a wide-band distress signal.
Indicate that the Senator’s ship encountered an unexpected meteorite cluster
it could not avoid. Readings indicate that the shift shields were overridden
and the ship was hulled to the point of vacating ninety-five percent of its
atmosphere. Inform her father and the Senate that all aboard were killed.”
A cluster of tired-looking troops marched purposefully up to their
Commander and the Dark Lord. Vader eyed them expectantly.
“The data tapes in question are not aboard the ship. There is no
valuable information in the ship’s storage banks and no evidence of bank
erasure,” the officer in charge recited mechanically. “Nor were any
transmissions directed outward from the ship from the time we made contact.
A malfunctioning lifeboat pod was ejected during the fighting, but it was
confirmed at the time that no life forms were on board.”
Vader appeared thoughtful. “It could have been a malfunctioning pod,”
he mused, “that might also have contained the tapes. Tapes are not life
forms. In all probability any native finding them would be ignorant of their
importance and would likely clear them for his own use. Still…
“Send down a detachment to retrieve them, or to make certain they are
not in the pod,” he finally ordered the Commander and attentive officer. “Be
as subtle as possible; there is no need to attract attention, even on this
miserable outpost world.”
As the officer and troops departed, Vader turned his gaze back to the
Commander. “Vaporize this fighter-we don’t want to leave anything. As for
the pod, I cannot take the chance it was a simple malfunction. The data it
might contain could prove too damaging. See to this personally, Commander.
If those data tapes exist, they must be retrieved or destroyed at all
costs.” Then he added with satisfaction, “With that accomplished and the
Senator in our hands, we will see the end of this absurd rebellion.”
“It shall be as you direct, Lord Vader,” the Commander acknowledged.
Both men entered the accessway to the cruiser.

 "What a forsaken place this is!"
 Threepio turned cautiously to look back  at  where  the  pod  lay  half

buried in sand. His internal gyros were still unsteady from the rough
landing. Landing! Mere application of the term unduly flattered his dull
associate.
On the other hand, he supposed he ought to be grateful they had come
down in one piece. Although, he mused as he studied the barren landscape, he
still wasn’t sure they were better off here than they would have been had
they remained on the captured cruiser. High sandstone mesas dominated the
skyline to one side. Every other direction showed only endless series of
marching dunes like long yellow teeth stretching for kilometer on kilometer
into the distance. Sand ocean blended into sky-glare until it was impossible
to distinguish where one ended and the other began.
A faint cloud of minute dust particles rose in their wake as the two
robots marched away from the pod. That vehicle, its intended function fully
discharged, was now quite useless. Neither robot had been designed for pedal
locomotion on this kind of terrain, so they had to fight their way across
the unstable surface.
“We seem to have been made to suffer,” Threepio moaned in self-pity.
“It’s a rotten existence.” Something squeaked in his right leg and he
winced. “I’ve got to rest before I fall apart. My internals still haven’t
recovered from that headlong crash you called a landing.”
He paused, but Artoo Detoo did not. The little automaton had performed
a sharp turn and was now ambling slowly but steadily in the direction of the
nearest outjut of mesa.
“Hey,” Threepio yelled. Artoo ignored the call and continued striding.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Now Artoo paused, emitting a stream of electronic explanation as
Threepio exhaustedly walked over to join him.
“Well, I’m not going that way,” Threepio declared when Artoo had
concluded his explanation. “It’s too rocky.” He gestured in the direction
they had been walking, at an angle away from the cliffs. “This way is much
easier.” A metal hand waved disparagingly at the high mesas. “What makes you
think there are any settlements that way, anyhow?”
A long whistle issued from the depths of Artoo.
“Don’t get technical with me,” Threepio warned. “I’ve had just about
enough of your decisions.”
Artoo beeped once.
“All right, go your way,” Threepio announced grandly. “You’ll be
sandlogged within a day, you nearsighted scrap pile.” He gave the Artoo unit
a contemptuous shove, sending the smaller robot tumbling down a slight dune.
As it struggled at the bottom to regain its feet, Threepio started off
toward the blurred, glaring horizon, glancing back over his shoulder. “Don’t
let me catch you following me, begging for help,” he warned, “because you
won’t get it.”
Below the crest of the dune, the Artoo unit righted itself. It paused
briefly to clean its single electronic eye with an auxiliary arm. Then it
produced an electronic squeal which was almost, though not quite, a human
expression of rage. Humming quietly to itself then, it turned and trudged
off toward the sandstone ridges as if nothing had happened.

 Several hours later  a  straining  Threepio,  his  internal  thermostat

overloaded and edging dangerously toward overheat shutdown, struggled up the
top of what he hoped was the last towering dune. Nearby, pillars and
buttresses of bleached calcium, the bones of some enormous beast, formed an
unpromising landmark. Reaching the crest of the dune, Threepio peered
anxiously ahead. Instead of the hoped-for greenery of human civilization he
saw only several dozen more dunes, identical in form and promise to the one
he now stood upon. The farthest rose even higher than the one he presently
surmounted.
Threepio turned and looked back toward the now far-off rocky plateau,
which was beginning to grow indistinct with distance and heat distortion.
“You malfunctioning little twerp,” he muttered, unable even now to admit to
himself that perhaps, just possibly, the Artoo unit might have been right.
“This is all your fault. You tricked me into going this way, but you’ll do
no better.”
Nor would he if he didn’t continue on. So he took a step forward and
heard something grind dully within a leg joint. Sitting down in an
electronic funk, he began picking sand from his encrusted joints.
He could continue on his present course, he told himself. Or he could
confess to an error in judgment and try to catch up again with Artoo Detoo.
Neither prospect held much appeal for him.
But there was a third choice. He could sit here, shining in the
sunlight, until his joints locked, his internals overheated, and the
ultraviolet burned out his photoreceptors. He would become another monument
to the destructive power of the binary, like the colossal organism whose
picked corpse he had just encountered.
Already his receptors were beginning to go, he reflected. It seemed he
saw something moving in the distance. Heat distortion, probably. No-no-it
was definitely light on metal, and it was moving toward him. His hopes
soared. Ignoring the warnings from his damaged leg, he rose and began waving
frantically.
It was, he saw now, definitely a vehicle, though of a type unfamiliar
to him. But a vehicle it was, and that implied intelligence and technology.
He neglected in his excitement to consider the possibility that it
might not be of human origin.

 "So I cut off my power, shut down the afterburners, and dropped in  low

on Deak’s tail,” Luke finished, waving his arms wildly. He and Biggs were
walking in the shade outside the power station. Sounds of metal being worked
came from somewhere within, where Fixer had finally joined his robot
assistant in performing repairs.
“I was so close to him,” Luke continued excitedly, “I thought I was
going to fry my instrumentation. As it was, I busted up the skyhopper pretty
bad.” That recollection inspired a frown.
“Uncle Owen was pretty upset. He grounded me for the rest of the
season.” Luke’s depression was brief. Memory of his feat overrode its
immorality.
“You should have been there, Biggs!”
“You ought to take it a little easier,” his friend cautioned. “You may
be the hottest bush pilot this side of Mos Eisley, Luke, but those little
skyhoppers can be dangerous. They move awfully fast for tropospheric
craft-faster than they need to. Keep playing engine jockey with one and
someday, whammo!” He slammed one fist violently into his open palm. “You’re
going to be nothing more than a dark spot on the damp side of a canyon
wall.”
“Look who’s talking,” Luke retorted. “Now that you’ve been on a few
big, automatic starships you’re beginning to sound like my uncle. You’ve
gotten soft in the cities.” He swung spiritedly at Biggs, who blocked the
movement easily, making a halfhearted gesture of counterattack.
Biggs’s easygoing smugness dissolved into something warmer. “I’ve
missed you, kid.”
Luke looked away, embarrassed. “Things haven’t exactly been the same
since you left, either, Biggs. It’s been so-” Luke hunted for the right word
and finally finished helplessly, “so quiet.” His gaze traveled across the
sandy, deserted streets of Anchorhead. “It’s always been quiet, really.”
Biggs grew silent, thinking. He glanced around. They were alone out
here. Everyone else was back inside the comparative coolness of the power
station. As he leaned close Luke sensed an unaccustomed solemness in his
friend’s tone.
“Luke, I didn’t come back just to say goodbye, or to crow over everyone
because I got through the Academy.” Again he seemed to hesitate, unsure of
himself. Then he blurted out rapidly, not giving himself a chance to back
down, “But I want somebody to know. I can’t tell my parents.”
Gaping at Biggs, Luke could only gulp, “Know what? What are you talking
about?”
“I’m talking about the talking that’s been going on at the Academy-and
other places, Luke. Strong talking. I made some new friends, outsystem
friends. We agreed about the way certain things are developing, and-” his
voice dropped conspiratorially- “when we reach one of the peripheral
systems, we’re going to jump ship and join the Alliance.”
Luke stared back at his friend, tried to picture Biggs-fun-loving,
happy-go-lucky, live-for-today Biggs-as a patriot afire with rebellious
fervor.
“You’re going to join the rebellion?” he started. “You’ve got to be
kidding. How?”
“Damp down, will you?” the bigger man cautioned, glancing furtively
back toward the power station. “You’ve got a mouth like a crater.”
“I’m sorry,” Luke whispered rapidly. “I’m quiet-listen how quiet I am.
You can barely hear me-“
Biggs cut him off and continued. “A friend of mine from the Academy has
a friend on Bestine who might enable us to make contact with an armed rebel
unit.”
“A friend of a-You’re crazy,” Luke announced with conviction, certain
his friend had gone mad. “You could wander around forever trying to find a
real rebel outpost. Most of them are only myths. This twice removed friend
could be an imperial agent. You’d end up on Kessel, or worse. If rebel
outposts were so easy to find, the Empire would have wiped them out years
ago.”
“I know it’s a long shot,” Biggs admitted reluctantly. “If I don’t
contact them, then”-a peculiar light came into Biggs’s eyes, a
conglomeration of newfound maturity and… something else- “I’ll do what I
can, on my own.”
He stared intensely at his friend. “Luke, I’m not going to wait for the
Empire to conscript me into its service. In spite of what you hear over the
official information channels, the rebellion is growing, spreading. And I
want to be on the right side-the side I believe in.” His voice altered
unpleasantly, and Luke wondered what he saw in his mind’s eye.
“You should have heard some of the stories I’ve heard, Luke, learned of
some of the outrages I’ve learned about. The Empire may have been great and
beautiful once, but the people in charge now-” He shook his head sharply.
“It’s rotten, Luke, rotten.”
“And I can’t do a damn thing,” Luke muttered morosely. “I’m stuck
here.” He kicked futilely at the ever-present sand of Anchorhead.
“I thought you were going to enter the Academy soon,” Biggs observed.
“If that’s so, then you’ll have your chance to get off this sandpile.”
Luke snorted derisively. “Not likely. I had to withdraw my
application.” He looked away, unable to meet his friend’s disbelieving
stare. “I had to. There’s been a lot of unrest among the sandpeople since
you left, Biggs. They’ve even raided the outskirts of Anchorhead.”
Biggs shook his head, disregarding the excuse. “Your uncle could hold
off a whole colony of raiders with one blaster.”
“From the house, sure,” Luke agreed, “but Uncle Owen’s finally got
enough vaporators installed and running to make the farm pay off big. But he
can’t guard all that land by himself, and he says he needs me for one more
season. I can’t run out on him now.”
Biggs sighed sadly. “I feel for you, Luke. Someday you’re going to have
to learn to separate what seems to be important from what really is
important.” He gestured around them.
“What good is all your uncle’s work if it’s taken over by the Empire?
I’ve heard that they’re starting to imperialize commerce in all the outlying
systems. It won’t be long before your uncle and everyone else on Tatooine
are just tenants slaving for the greater glory of the Empire.”
“That couldn’t happen here,” Luke objected with a confidence he didn’t
quite feel. “You’ve said it yourself-the Empire won’t bother with this
rock.”
“Things change, Luke. Only the threat of rebellion keeps many in power
from doing certain unmentionable things. If that threat is completely
removed-well, there are two things men have never been able to satisfy:
their curiosity and their greed. There isn’t much the high Imperial
bureaucrats are curious about.”
Both men stood silent. A sandwhirl traversed the street in silent
majesty, collapsing against a wall to send newborn baby zephyrs in all
directions.
“I wish I was going with you,” Luke finally murmured. He glanced up.
“Will you be around long?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I’m leaving in the morning to rendezvous with
the Ecliptic.”
“Then I guess… I won’t be seeing you again.”
“Maybe someday,” Biggs declared. He brightened, grinning that disarming
grin. “I’ll keep a look out for you, hotshot. Try not to run into any canyon
walls in the meantime.”
“I’ll be at the Academy the season after,” Luke insisted, more to
encourage himself than Biggs. “After that, who knows where I’ll end up?” He
sounded determined. “I won’t be drafted into the starfleet, that’s for sure.
Take care of yourself. You’ll… always be the best friend I’ve got.” There
was no need for a handshake. These two had long since passed beyond that.
“So long, then, Luke,” Biggs said simply. He turned and re-entered the
power station.
Luke watched him disappear through the door, his own thoughts as
chaotic and frenetic as one of Tatooine’s spontaneous dust storms.

 There were any number of extraordinary features  unique  to  Tatooine's

surface. Outstanding among them were the mysterious mists which rose
regularly from the ground at the points where desert sands washed up against
unyielding cliffs and mesas.
Fog in a steaming desert seemed as out of place as cactus on a glacier,
but it existed nonetheless. Meteorologists and geologists argued its origin
among themselves, muttering hard-to-believe theories about water suspended
in sandstone veins beneath the sand and incomprehensible chemical reactions
which made water rise when the ground cooled, then fall underground again
with the double sunrise. It was all very backward and very real.
Neither the mist nor the alien moans of nocturnal desert dwellers
troubled Artoo Detoo, however, as he made his careful way up the rocky
arroyo, hunting for the easiest pathway to the mesa top. His squarish, broad
footpads made clicking sounds loud in the evening light as sand underfoot
gave way gradually to gravel.
For a moment, he paused. He seemed to detect a noise-like metal on
rock-ahead of him, instead of rock on rock. The sound wasn’t repeated,
though, and he quickly resumed his ambling ascent.
Up the arroyo, too far up to be seen from below, a pebble trickled
loose from the stone wall. The tiny figure which had accidentally dislodged
the pebble retreated mouselike into shadow. Two glowing points of light
showed under overlapping folds of brown cape a meter from the narrowing
canyon wall.
Only the reaction of the unsuspecting robot indicated the presence of
the whining beam as it struck him. For a moment Artoo Detoo fluoresced
eerily in the dimming light. There was a single short electronic squeak.
Then the tripodal support unbalanced and the tiny automaton toppled over
onto its back, the lights on its front blinking on and off erratically from
the effects of the paralyzing beam.
Three travesties of men scurried out from behind concealing boulders.
Their motions were more indicative of rodent than humankind, and they stood
little taller than the Artoo unit. When they saw that the single burst of
enervating energy had immobilized the robot, they holstered their peculiar
weapons. Nevertheless, they approached the listless machine cautiously, with
the trepidation of hereditary cowards.
Their cloaks were thickly coated with dust and sand. Unhealthy
red-yellow pupils glowed catlike from the depths of their hoods as they
studied their captive. The jawas conversed in low guttural croaks and
scrambled analogs of human speech. If, as anthropologists hypothesized, they
had ever been human, they had long since degenerated past anything
resembling the human race.
Several more jawas appeared. Together they succeeded in alternately
hoisting and dragging the robot back down the arroyo.
At the bottom of the canyon-like some monstrous prehistoric beast-was a
sandcrawler as enormous as its owners and operators were tiny. Several dozen
meters high, the vehicle towered above the ground on multiple treads that
were taller than a tall man. Its metal epidermis was battered and pitted
from withstanding untold sandstorms.
On reaching the crawler, the jawas resumed jabbering among themselves.
Artoo Detoo could hear them but failed to comprehend anything. He need not
have been embarrassed at his failure. If they so wished, only jawas could
understand other jawas, for they employed a randomly variable language that
drove linguists mad.
One of them removed a small disk from a belt pouch and sealed it to the
Artoo unit’s flank. A large tube protruded from one side of the gargantuan
vehicle. They rolled him over to it and then moved clear. There was a brief
moan, the whoosh of a powerful vacuum, and the small robot was sucked into
the bowels of the sandcrawler as neatly as a pea up a straw. This part of
the job completed, the jawas engaged in another bout of jabbering, following
which they scurried into the crawler via tubes and ladders, for all the
world like a nest of mice returning to their holes.
None too gently, the suction tube deposited Artoo in a small cubical.
In addition to varied piles of broken instruments and outright scrap, a
dozen or so robots of differing shapes and sizes populated the prison. A few
were locked in electronic conversation. Others muddled aimlessly about. But
when Artoo tumbled into the chamber, one voice burst out in surprise.
“Artoo Detoo-it’s you, it’s you!” called an excited Threepio from the
near darkness. He made his way over to the still immobilized repair unit and
embraced it most unmechanically. Spotting the small disk sealed onto Artoo’s
side, Threepio turned his gaze thoughtfully down to his own chest, where a
similar device had likewise been attached.
Massive gears, poorly lubricated, started to move. With a groaning and
grinding, the monster sandcrawler turned and lumbered with relentless
patience into the desert night.

                              = III =

 THE burnished conference table was as soulless and  unyielding  as  the

mood of the eight Imperial Senators and officers ranged around it. Imperial
troopers stood guard at the entrance to the chamber, which was sparse and
coldly lit from lights in the table and walls. One of the youngest of the
eight was declaiming. He exhibited the attitude of one who had climbed far
and fast by methods best not examined too closely. General Tagge did possess
a certain twisted genius, but it was only partly that ability which had
lifted him to his present exalted position. Other noisome talents had proven
equally efficacious.
Though his uniform was as neatly molded and his body as clean as that
of anyone else in the room, none of the remaining seven cared to touch him.
A certain sliminess clung cloyingly to him, a sensation inferred rather than
tactile. Despite this, many respected him. Or feared him.
“I tell you, he’s gone too far this time,” the General was insisting
vehemently. “This Sith Lord inflicted on us at the urging of the Emperor
will be our undoing. Until the battle station is fully operational, we
remain vulnerable.
“Some of you still don’t seem to realize how well equipped and
organized the Rebel Alliance is. Their vessels are excellent, their pilots
better. And they are propelled by something more powerful than mere engines:
this perverse, reactionary fanaticism of theirs. They’re more dangerous than
most of you realize.”
An older officer, with facial scars so deeply engraved that even the
best cosmetic surgery could not fully repair them, shifted nervously in his
chair. “Dangerous to your starfleet, General Tagge, but not to this battle
station.” Wizened eyes hopped from man to man, traveling around the table.
“I happen to think Lord Vader knows what he’s doing. The rebellion will
continue only as long as those cowards have a sanctuary, a place where their
pilots can relax and their machines can be repaired.”
Tagge objected. “I beg to differ with you, Romodi. I think the
construction of this station has more to do with Governor Tarkin’s bid for
personal power and recognition than with any justifiable military strategy.
Within the Senate the rebels will continue to increase their support as
long-“
The sound of the single doorway sliding aside and the guards snapping
to attention cut him of. His head turned as did everyone else’s.
Two individuals as different in appearance as they were united in
objectives had entered the chamber. The nearest to Tagge was a thin,
hatchet-faced man with hair and form borrowed from an old broom and the
expression of a quiescent piranha. The Grand Moff Tarkin, Governor of
numerous outlying Imperial territories, was dwarfed by the broad, armored
bulk of Lord Darth Vader.
Tagge, unintimidated but subdued, slowly resumed his seat as Tarkin
assumed his place at the end of the conference table. Vader stood next to
him, a dominating presence behind the Governor’s chair. For a minute Tarkin
stared directly at Tagge, then glanced away as if he had seen nothing. Tagge
fumed but remained silent.
As Tarkin’s gaze roved around the table a razor-thin smile of
satisfaction remained frozen in his features. “The Imperial Senate will no
longer be of any concern to us, gentlemen. I have just received word that
the Emperor has permanently dissolved that misguided body.”
A ripple of astonishment ran through the assembly. “The last remnants,”
Tarkin continued, “of the Old Republic have finally been swept away.”
“This is impossible,” Tagge interjected. “How will the Emperor maintain
control of the Imperial bureaucracy?”
“Senatorial representation has not been formally abolished, you must
understand,” Tarkin explained. “It has merely been superseded for the-” he
smiled a bit more- “duration of the emergency. Regional Governors will now
have direct control and a free hand in administering their territories. This
means that the Imperial presence can at last be brought to bear properly on
the vacillating worlds of the Empire. From now on, fear will keep
potentially traitorous local governments in line. Fear of the Imperial
fleet-and fear of this battle station.”
“And what of the existing rebellion?” Tagge wanted to know.
“If the rebels somehow managed to gain access to a complete technical
schema of this battle station, it is remotely possible that they might be
able to locate a weakness susceptible to minor exploitation.” Tarkin’s smile
shifted to a smirk. “Of course, we all know how well guarded, how carefully
protected, such vital data is. It could not possibly fall into rebel hands.”
“The technical data to which you are obliquely referring,” rumbled
Darth Vader angrily, “will soon be back in our hands. If-“
Tarkin shook the Dark Lord off, something no one else at the table
would have dared to do. “It is immaterial. Any attack made against this
station by the rebels would be a suicidal gesture, suicidal and
useless-regardless of any information they managed to obtain. After many
long years of secretive construction,” he declared with evident pleasure,
“this station has become the decisive force in this part of the universe.
Events in this region of the galaxy will no longer be determined by fate, by
decree, or by any other agency. They will be decided by this station!”
A huge metal-clad hand gestured slightly, and one of the filled cups on
the table drifted responsively into it. With a slightly admonishing tone the
Dark Lord continued. “Don’t become too proud of this technological terror
you’ve spawned, Tarkin. The ability to destroy a city, a world, a whole
system is still insignificant when set against the Force.”
“The Force,” Tagge sneered. “Don’t try to frighten us with your
sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient mythology has
not helped you to conjure up those stolen tapes, or gifted you with
clairvoyance sufficient to locate the rebels’ hidden fortress. Why, it’s
enough to make one laugh fit to-“
Tagge’s eyes abruptly bulged and his hands went to his throat as he
began to turn a disconcerting shade of blue.
“I find,” Vader ventured mildly, “this lack of faith disturbing.”
“Enough of this,” Tarkin snapped, distressed. “Vader, release him. This
bickering among ourselves is pointless.”
Vader shrugged as if it were of no consequence. Tagge slumped in his
seat, rubbing his throat, his wary gaze never leaving the dark giant.
“Lord Vader will provide us with the location of the rebel fortress by
the time this station is certified operational,” Tarkin declared. “That
known, we will proceed to it and destroy it utterly, crushing this pathetic
rebellion in one swift stroke.”
“As the Emperor wills it,” Vader added, not without sarcasm, “so shall
it be.”
If any of the powerful men seated around the table found this
disrespectful tone objectionable, a glance at Tagge was sufficient to
dissuade them from mentioning it.

 The dim prison reeked of rancid oil and stale lubricants,  a  veritable

metallic charnel house. Threepio endured the discomfiting atmosphere as best
he could. It was a constant battle to avoid being thrown by every unexpected
bounce into the walls or into a fellow machine.
To conserve power-and also to avoid the steady stream of complaints
from his taller companion-Artoo Detoo had shut down all exterior functions.
He lay inert among a pile of secondary parts, sublimely unconcerned at the
moment as to their fate.
“Will this never end?” Threepio was moaning as another violent jolt
roughly jostled the inhabitants of the prison. He had already formulated and
discarded half a hundred horrible ends. He was certain only that their
eventual disposition was sure to be worse than anything he could imagine.
Then, quite without warning, something more unsettling than even the
most battering bump took place. The sandcrawler’s whine died, and the
vehicle came to a halt-almost as if in response to Threepio’s query. A
nervous buzz rose from those mechanicals who still retained a semblance of
sentience as they speculated on their present location and probable fate.
At least Threepio was no longer ignorant of his captors or of their
likely motives. Local captives had explained the nature of the quasi-human
mechanic migrants, the jawas. Traveling in their enormous mobile
fortress-homes, they scoured the most inhospitable regions of Tatooine in
search of valuable minerals-and salvageable machinery. They had never been
seen outside of their protective cloaks and sandmasks, so no one knew
exactly what they looked like. But they were reputed to be extraordinarily
ugly. Threepio did not have to be convinced.
Leaning over his still-motionless companion, he began a steady shaking
of the barrel-like torso. Epidermal sensors were activated on the Artoo
unit, and the lights on the front side of the little robot began a
sequential awakening.
“Wake up, wake up,” Threepio urged. “We’ve stopped someplace.” Like
several of the other, more imaginative robots, his eyes were warily scanning
metal walls, expecting a hidden panel to slide aside at any moment and a
giant mechanical arm to come probing and fumbling for him.
“No doubt about it, we’re doomed,” he recited mournfully as Artoo
righted himself, returning to full activation. “Do you think they’ll melt us
down?” He became silent for several minutes, then added, “It’s this waiting
that gets to me.”
Abruptly the far wall of the chamber slid aside and the blinding white
glare of a Tatooine morning rushed in on them. Threepio’s sensitive
photoreceptors were hard pressed to adjust in time to prevent serious
damage.
Several of the repulsive-looking jawas scrambled agilely into the
chamber, still dressed in the same swathings and filth Threepio had observed
on them before. Using hand weapons of an unknown design, they prodded at the
machines. Certain of them. Threepio noted with a mental swallow, did not
stir.
Ignoring the immobile ones, the jawas herded those still capable of
movement outside, Artoo and Threepio among them. Both robots found
themselves part of an uneven mechanical line.
Shielding his eyes against the glare, Threepio saw that five of them
were arranged alongside the huge sandcrawler. Thoughts of escape did not
enter his mind. Such a concept was utterly alien to a mechanical. The more
intelligent a robot was, the more abhorrent and unthinkable the concept.
Besides, had he tried to escape, built-in sensors would have detected the
critical logic malfunction and melted every circuit in his brain.
Instead, he studied the small domes and vaporators that indicated the
presence of a larger underground human homestead. Though he was unfamiliar
with this type of construction, all signs pointed to a modest, if isolated,
habitation. Thoughts of being dismembered for parts or slaving in some
high-temperature mine slowly faded. His spirits rose correspondingly.
“Maybe this won’t be so bad after all,” he murmured hopefully. “If we
can convince these bipedal vermin to unload us here, we may enter into
sensible human service again instead of being melted into slag.”
Artoo’s sole reply was a noncommittal chirp. Both machines became
silent as the jawas commenced scurrying around them, striving to straighten
one poor machine with a badly bent spine, to disguise a dent or scrape with
liquid and dust.
As two of them bustled about, working on his sandcoated skin, Threepio
fought to stifle an expression of disgust. One of his many human-analog
functions was the ability to react naturally to offensive odors. Apparently
hygiene was unknown among the jawas. But he was certain no good would come
of pointing this out to them.
Small insects drifted in clouds about the faces of the jawas, who
ignored them. Apparently the tiny individualized plagues were regarded as
just a different sort of appendage, like an extra arm or leg.
So intent was Threepio on his observation that he failed to notice the
two figures moving toward them from the region of the largest dome. Artoo
had to nudge him slightly before he looked up.
The first man wore an air of grim, semiperpetual exhaustion,
sandblasted into his face by too many years of arguing with a hostile
environment. His graying hair was frozen in tangled twists like gypsum
helicites. Dust frosted his face, clothes, hands, and thoughts. But the
body, if not the spirit, was still powerful.
Proportionately dwarfed by his uncle’s wrestlerlike body, Luke strode
slump-shouldered in his shadow, his present attitude one of dejection rather
than exhaustion. He had a great deal on his mind, and it had very little to
do with farming. Mostly it involved the rest of his life, and the commitment
made by his best friend who had recently departed beyond the blue sky above
to enter a harsher, yet more rewarding career.
The bigger man stopped before the assembly and entered into a peculiar
squeaky dialogue with the jawa in charge. When they wished it, the jawas
could be understood.
Luke stood nearby, listening indifferently. Then he shuffled along
behind his uncle as the latter began inspecting the five machines, pausing
only to mutter an occasional word or two to his nephew. It was hard to pay
attention, even though he knew he ought to be learning.
“Luke-oh, Luke!” a voice called.
Turning away from the conversation, which consisted of the lead jawa
extolling the unmatched virtues of all five machines and his uncle
countering with derision, Luke walked over to the near edge of the
subterranean courtyard and peered down.
A stout woman with the expression of a misplaced sparrow was busy
working among decorative plants. She looked up at him. “Be sure and tell
Owen that if he buys a translator to make sure it speaks Bocce, Luke.”
Turning, Luke looked back over his shoulder and studied the motley
collection of tired machines. “It looks like we don’t have much of a
choice,” he called back down to her, “but I’ll remind him anyway.”
She nodded up at him and he turned to rejoin his uncle.
Apparently Owen Lars had already come to a decision, having settled on
a small semi-agricultural robot. This one was similar in shape to Artoo
Detoo, save that its multiple subsidiary arms were tipped with different
functions. At an order it had stepped out of the line and was wobbling along
behind Owen and the temporarily subdued jawa.
Proceeding to the end of the line, the farmer’s eyes narrowed as he
concentrated on the sand-scoured but still flashy bronze finish of the tall,
humanoid Threepio.
“I presume you function,” he grumbled at the robot. “Do you know
customs and protocol?”
“Do I know protocol?” Threepio echoed as the farmer looked him up and
down. Threepio was determined to embarrass the jawa when it came to selling
his abilities. “Do I know protocol! Why, it’s my primary function. I am also
well-“
“Don’t need a protocol droid,” the farmer snapped dryly.
“I don’t blame you, sir,” Threepio rapidly agreed. “I couldn’t be more
in agreement. What could be more of a wasteful luxury in a climate like
this? For someone of your interests, sir, a protocol droid would be a
useless waste of money. No, sir-versatility is my middle name. See Vee
Threepio-Vee for versatility-at your service. I’ve been programmed for over
thirty secondary functions that require only…”
“I need,” the farmer broke in, demonstrating imperious disregard for
Threepio’s as yet unenumerated secondary functions, “a droid that knows
something about the binary language of independently programmable moisture
vaporators.”
“Vaporators! We are both in luck,” Threepio countered. “My first
post-primary assignment was in programming binary load lifters. Very similar
in construction and memory-function to your vaporators. You could almost
say…”
Luke tapped his uncle on the shoulder and whispered something in his
ear. His uncle nodded, then looked back at the attentive Threepio again.
“Do you speak Bocce?”
“Of course, sir,” Threepio replied, confident for a change with a
wholly honest answer. “It’s like a second language to me. I’m as fluent in
Bocce as-“
The farmer appeared determined never to allow him to conclude a
sentence. “Shut up.” Owen Lars looked down at the jawa. Til take this one,
too.”
“Shutting up, sir,” responded Threepio quickly, hard put to conceal his
glee at being selected.
“Take them down to the garage, Luke,” his uncle instructed him. “I want
you to have both of them cleaned up by suppertime.”
Luke looked askance at his uncle. “But I was going into Tosche station
to pick up some new power converters and…”
“Don’t lie to me, Luke,” his uncle warned him sternly. “I don’t mind
you wasting time with your idle friends, but only after you’ve finished your
chores. Now hop to it-and before supper, mind.”
Downcast, Luke directed his words irritably to Threepio and the small
agricultural robot. He knew better than to argue with his uncle.
“Follow me, you two.” They started for the garage as Owen entered into
price negotiations with the jawa.
Other jawas were leading the three remaining machines back into the
sandcrawler when something let out an almost pathetic beep. Luke turned to
see an Artoo unit breaking formation and starting toward him. It was
immediately restrained by a jawa wielding a control device that activated
the disk sealed on the machine’s front plate.
Luke studied the rebellious droid curiously. Threepio started to say
something, considered the circumstances and thought better of it. Instead,
he remained silent, staring straight ahead.
A minute later, something pinged sharply nearby. Glancing down, Luke
saw that a head plate had popped off the top of the agricultural droid. A
grinding noise was coming from within. A second later the machine was
throwing internal components all over the sandy ground.
Leaning close, Luke peered inside the expectorating mechanical. He
called out, “Uncle Owen! The servomotor-central on this cultivator unit is
shot. Look…” He reached in, tried to adjust the device, and pulled away
hurriedly when it began a wild sparking. The odor of crisped insulation and
corroded circuitry filled the clear desert air with a pungency redolent of
mechanized death.
Owen Lars glared down at the nervous jawa. “What kind of junk are you
trying to push on us?”
The jawa responded loudly, indignantly, while simultaneously taking a
couple of precautionary steps away from the big human. He was distressed
that the man was between him and the soothing safety of the sandcrawler.
Meanwhile, Artoo Detoo had scuttled out of the group of machines being
led back toward the mobile fortress. Doing so turned out to be simple
enough, since all the jawas had their attention focused on the argument
between their leader and Luke’s uncle.
Lacking sufficient armature for wild gesticulation, the Artoo unit
suddenly let out a high whistle, then broke it off when it was apparent he
had gained Threepio’s attention.
Tapping Luke gently on the shoulder, the tall droid whispered
conspiratorially into his ear. “If I might say so, young sir, that Artoo
unit is a real bargain. In top condition. I don’t believe these creatures
have any idea what good shape he’s really in. Don’t let all the sand and
dust deceive you.”
Luke was in the habit of making instant decisions-for good or
bad-anyway. “Uncle Owen!” he called.
Breaking off the argument without taking his attention from the jawa,
his uncle glanced quickly at him. Luke gestured toward Artoo Detoo. “We
don’t want any trouble. What about swapping this-” he indicated the
burned-out agricultural droid- “for that one?”
The older man studied the Artoo unit professionally, then considered
the jawas. Though inherently cowards, the tiny desert scavengers could be
pushed too far. The sandcrawler could flatten the homestead-at the risk of
inciting the human community to lethal vengeance.
Faced with a no-win situation for either side if he pressed too hard,
Owen resumed the argument for show’s sake before gruffly assenting. The head
jawa consented reluctantly to the trade, and both sides breathed a mental
sigh of relief that hostilities had been avoided. While the jawa bowed and
whined with impatient greed, Owen paid him off.
Meanwhile, Luke had led the two robots toward an opening in the dry
ground. A few seconds later they were striding down a ramp kept clear of
drifting sand by electrostatic repellers.
“Don’t you ever forget this,” Threepio muttered to Artoo leaning over
the smaller machine. “Why I stick my neck out for you, when all you ever
bring me is trouble, is beyond my capacity to comprehend.”
The passage widened into the garage proper, which was cluttered with
tools and sections of farming machinery. Many looked heavily used, some to
the point of collapse. But the lights were comforting to both droids, and
there was a homeliness to the chamber which hinted at a tranquillity not
experienced by either machine for a long time. Near the center of the garage
was a large tub, and the aroma drifting from it made Threepio’s principal
olfactory sensors twitch.
Luke grinned, noting the robot’s reaction. “Yes, it’s a lubrication
bath.” He eyed the tall bronze robot appraisingly. “And from the looks of
it, you could use about a week’s submergence. But we can’t afford that so
you’ll have to settle for an afternoon.” Then Luke turned his attention to
Artoo Detoo, walking up to him and flipping open a panel that shielded
numerous gauges.
“As for you,” he continued, with a whistle of surprise, “I don’t know
how you’ve kept running. Not surprising, knowing the jawas’ reluctance to
part with any erg-fraction they don’t have to. It’s recharge time for you.”
He gestured toward a large power unit.
Artoo Detoo followed Luke’s gesture, then beeped once and waddled over
to the boxy construction. Finding the proper cord, he automatically flipped
open a panel and plugged the triple prongs into his face.
Threepio had walked over to the large cistern, which was filled almost
full with aromatic cleansing oil. With a remarkably humanlike sigh he
lowered himself slowly into the tank.
“You two behave yourselves,” Luke cautioned them as he moved to a small
two-man skyhopper. A powerful little suborbital spacecraft, it rested in the
hangar section of the garage- workshop. “I’ve got work of my own to do.”

 Unfortunately, Luke's energies  were  still  focused  on  his  farewell

encounter with Biggs, so that hours later he had finished few of his chores.
Thinking about his friend’s departure, Luke was running a caressing hand
over the damaged port fin of the ‘hopper-the fin he had damaged while
running down an imaginary Tie fighter in the wrenching twists and turns of a
narrow canyon. That was when the projecting ledge had clipped him as
effectively as an energy beam.
Abruptly something came to a boil within him. With atypical violence he
threw a power wrench across a worktable nearby. “It just isn’t fair!” he
declared to no one in particular. His voice dropped disconsolately. “Biggs
is right. I’ll never get out of here. He’s planning rebellion against the
Empire, and I’m trapped on a blight of a farm.”
“I beg your pardon, sir.”
Luke spun, startled, but it was only the tall droid, Threepio. The
contrast in the robot was striking compared with Luke’s initial sight of
him. Bronze-colored alloy gleamed in the overhead lights of the garage,
cleaned of pits and dust by the powerful oils.
“Is there anything I might do to help?” the robot asked solicitously.
Luke studied the machine, and as he did so some of his anger drained
away. There was no point in yelling cryptically at a robot.
“I doubt it,” he replied, “unless you can alter time and speed up the
harvest. Or else teleport me off this sandpile under Uncle Owen’s nose.”
Sarcasm was difficult for even an extremely sophisticated robot to
detect so Threepio considered the question objectively before finally
replying, “I don’t think so, sir. I’m only a third-degree droid and not very
knowledgeable about such things as transatomic physics.” Suddenly, the
events of the past couple of days seemed to catch up with him all at once.
“As a matter of fact, young sir,” Threepio went on while looking around him
with fresh vision, “I’m not even sure which planet I’m on.”
Luke chuckled sardonically and assumed a mocking pose. “If there’s a
bright center to this universe, you’re on the world farthest from it.”
“Yes, Luke sir.”
The youth shook his head irritably. “Never mind the “sir”-it’s just
Luke. And this world is called Tatooine.”
Threepio nodded slightly. “Thank you, Luke s-Luke. I am See Threepio,
human-droid relations specialist.” He jerked a casual metal thumb back
toward the recharge unit. “That is my companion, Artoo Detoo.”
“Pleased to meet you, Threepio,” Luke said easily. “You too, Artoo.”
Walking across the garage, he checked a gauge on the smaller machine’s front
panel, then gave a grunt of satisfaction. As he began unplugging the charge
cord he saw something which made him frown and lean close.
“Something wrong, Luke?” Threepio inquired.
Luke went to a nearby tool wall and selected a small many-armed device.
“I don’t know yet, Threepio.”
Returning to the recharger, Luke bent over Artoo and began scraping at
several bumps in the small droid’s top with a chromed pick. Occasionally he
jerked back sharply as bits of corrosion were flicked into the air by the
tiny tool.
Threepio watched, interested, as Luke worked. “There’s a lot of strange
carbon scoring here of a type I’m not familiar with. Looks like you’ve both
seen a lot of action out of the ordinary.”
“Indeed, sir,” Threepio admitted, forgetting to drop the honorific.
This time Luke was too absorbed elsewhere to correct him. “Sometimes I’m
amazed we’re in as good shape as we are.” He added as an afterthought, while
still shying away from the thrust of Luke’s question. “What with the
rebellion and all.”
Despite his caution, it seemed to Threepio that he must have given
something away, for an almost jawa-like blaze appeared in Luke’s eyes. “You
know about the rebellion against the Empire?” he demanded.
“In a way.” Threepio confessed reluctantly. “The rebellion was
responsible for our coming into your service. We are refugees, you see.” He
did not add from where.
Not that Luke appeared to care. “Refugees! Then I did see a space
battle!” He rambled on rapidly, excited. “Tell me where you’ve been-in how
many encounters. How is the rebellion going? Does the Empire take it
seriously? Have you seen many ships destroyed?”
“A bit slower, please, sir,” Threepio pleaded. “You misinterpret our
status. We were innocent bystanders. Our involvement with the rebellion was
of the most marginal nature.
“As to battles, we were in several, I think. It is difficult to tell
when one is not directly in contact with the actual battle machinery.” He
shrugged neatly. “Beyond that, there is not much to say. Remember, sir, I am
little more than a cosmeticized interpreter and not very good at telling
stories or relating histories, and even less proficient at embellishing
them. I am a very literal machine.”
Luke turned away, disappointed, and returned to his cleaning of Artoo
Detoo. Additional scraping turned up something puzzling enough to demand his
full attention. A small metal fragment was tightly lodged between two bar
conduits that would normally form a linkage. Setting down the delicate pick,
Luke switched to a larger instrument.
“Well, my little friend,” he murmured, “you’ve got something jammed in
here real good.” As he pushed and pried Luke directed half his attention to
Threepio. “Were you on a star freighter or was it-“
Metal gave way with a powerful crack, and the recoil sent Luke tumbling
head over heels. Getting to his feet, he started to curse-then froze,
motionless.
The front of the Artoo unit had begun to glow, exuding a
three-dimensional image less than one-third of a meter square but precisely
defined. The portrait formed within the box was so exquisite that in a
couple of minutes Luke discovered he was out of breath-because he had
forgotten to breathe.
Despite a superficial sharpness, the image flickered and jiggled
unsteadily, as if the recording had been made and installed with haste. Luke
stared at the atmosphere of the garage and started to form a question. But
it was never finished. The lips on the figure moved, and the girl spoke-or
rather, seemed to speak. Luke knew the aural accompaniment was generated
somewhere within Artoo Detoo’s squat torso.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the voice implored huskily, “help me! You’re my only
remaining hope.” A burst of static dissolved the face momentarily. Then it
coalesced again, and once more the voice repeated, “Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re
my only remaining hope.”
With a raspy hum the hologram continued. Luke sat perfectly still for a
long moment, considering what he was seeing, then he blinked and directed
his words to the Artoo unit.
“What’s this all about, Artoo Detoo?”
The stubby droid shifted slightly, the cubish portrait shifting with
him, and beeped what sounded vaguely like a sheepish reply.
Threepio appeared as mystified as Luke. “What is that?” he inquired
sharply, gesturing at the speaking portrait and then at Luke. “You were
asked a question. What and who is that, and how are you originating it-and
why?”
The Artoo unit generated a beep of surprise, for all the world as if
just noticing the hologram. This was followed by a whistling stream of
information.
Threepio digested the data, tried to frown, couldn’t, and strove to
convey his own confusion via the tone of his voice. “He insists it’s
nothing, sir. Merely a malfunction-old data. A tape that should have been
erased but was missed. He insists we pay it no mind.”
That was like telling Luke to ignore a cache of Durindfires he might
stumble over in the desert. “Who is she?” he demanded, staring enraptured at
the hologram. “She’s beautiful.”
“I really don’t know who she is,” Threepio confessed honestly. “I think
she might have been a passenger on our last voyage. From what I recall, she
was a personage of some importance. This might have something to do with the
fact that our Captain was attach© to-“
Luke cut him off, savoring the way sensuous lips formed and reformed
the sentence fragment. “Is there any more to this recording? It sounds like
it’s incomplete.” Getting to his feet, Luke reached out for the Artoo unit.
The robot moved backward and produced whistles of such frantic concern
that Luke hesitated and held off reaching for the internal controls.
Threepio was shocked. “Behave yourself, Artoo,” he finally chastised
his companion. “You’re going to get us into trouble.” He had visions of the
both of them being packed up as uncooperative and shipped back to the jawas,
which was enough to make him imitate a shudder.
“It’s all right-he’s our master now.” Threepio indicated Luke. “You can
trust him. I feel that he has our best interests in mind.”
Detoo appeared to hesitate, uncertain. Then he whistled and beeped a
long complexity at his friend.
“Well?” Luke prompted impatiently.
Threepio paused before replying. “He says that he is the property of
one Obi-Wan Kenobi, a resident of this world. Of this very region, in fact.
The sentence fragment we are hearing is part of a private message intended
for this person.”
Threepio shook his head slowly. “Quite frankly, sir, I don’t know what
he’s talking about. Our last master was Captain Colton. I never heard Artoo
mention a prior master. I’ve certainly never heard of an Obi-Wan Kenobi. But
with all we’ve been through,” he concluded apologetically, “I’m afraid his
logic circuits have gotten a bit scrambled. He’s become decidedly eccentric
at times.” And while Luke considered this turn of events, Threepio took the
opportunity to throw Artoo a furious look of warning.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Luke recited thoughtfully. His expression suddenly
brightened. “Say… I wonder if he could be referring to old Ben Kenobi.”
“Begging your pardon,” Threepio gulped, astonished beyond measure, “but
you actually know of such a person?”
“Not exactly,” he admitted in a more subdued voice. “I don’t know
anyone named Obi-Wan-but old Ben lives somewhere out on the fringe of the
Western Dune Sea. He’s kind of a local character-a hermit. Uncle Owen and a
few of the other farmers say he’s a sorcerer.
“He comes around once in a while to trade things. I hardly ever talk to
him, though. My uncle usually runs him off.” He paused and glanced across at
the small robot again. “But I never heard that old Ben owned a droid of any
kind. At least, none that I ever heard tell of.”
Luke’s gaze was drawn irresistibly back to the hologram. “I wonder who
she is. She must be important-especially if what you told me just now is
true, Threepio. She sounds and looks as if she’s in some kind of trouble.
Maybe the message is important. We ought to hear the rest of it.”
He reached again for the Artoo’s internal controls, and the robot
scurried backward again, squeaking a blue streak.
“He says there’s a restraining separator bolt that’s circuiting out his
self-motivation components.” Threepio translated. “He suggests that if you
move the bolt he might be able to repeat the entire message,” Threepio
finished uncertainly. When Luke continued to stare at the portrait, Threepio
added, more loudly, “Sir!”
Luke shook himself. “What… Oh, yes.” He considered the request. Then
he moved and peered into the open panel. This time Artoo didn’t retreat.
“I see it, I think. Well, I guess you’re too small to run away from me
if I take this off. I wonder what someone would be sending a message to old
Ben for.”
Selecting the proper tool, Luke reached down into the exposed circuitry
and popped the restraining bolt free. The first noticeable result of this
action was that the portrait disappeared.
Luke stood back. “There, now.” There was an uncomfortable pause during
which the hologram showed no sign of returning. “Where did she go?” Luke
finally prompted. “Make her come back. Play the entire message, Artoo
Detoo.”
An innocent-sounding beep came from the robot. Threepio appeared
embarrassed and nervous as he translated. “He said, ‘What message?’ “
Threepio’s attention turned half angrily to his companion. “What
message? You know what message! The one you just played a fragment of for
us. The one you’re hauling around inside your recalcitrant, rust-ridden
innards, you stubborn hunk of junk!”
Artoo sat and hummed softly to himself.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Threepio said slowly, “but he shows signs of having
developed an alarming flutter in his obedience-rational module. Perhaps if
we-“
A voice from down a corridor interrupted him. “Luke… oh, Luke-come to
dinner!”
Luke hesitated, then rose and turned away from the puzzling little
droid. “Okay,” he called, “I’m coming, Aunt Beru!” He lowered his voice as
he spoke to Threepio. “See what you can do with him. I’ll be back soon.”
Tossing the just-removed restraining bolt on the workbench, he hurried from
the chamber.
As soon as the human was gone, Threepio whirled on his shorter
companion. “You’d better consider playing that whole recording for him,” he
growled, with a suggestive nod toward a workbench laden with dismembered
machine parts. “Otherwise he’s liable to take up that cleaning pick again
and go digging for it. He might not be too careful what he cuts through if
he believes you’re deliberately withholding something from him.”
A plaintive beep came from Artoo.
“No,” Threepio responded, “I don’t think he likes you at all.”
A second beep failed to alter the stern tone in the taller robot’s
voice. “No, I don’t like you, either.”

                               = IV =

 LUKE"S Aunt Beru  was  filling  a  pitcher  with  blue  liquid  from  a

refrigerated container. Behind her, in the dining area, a steady buzz of
conversation reached to the kitchen.
She sighed sadly. The mealtime discussions between her husband and Luke
had grown steadily more acrimonious as the boy’s restlessness pulled him in
directions other than farming. Directions for which Owen, a stolid man of
the soil if there ever was one, had absolutely no sympathy.
Returning the bulk container to the refrigerator unit, she placed the
pitcher on a tray and hurried back to the dining room. Beru was not a
brilliant woman, but she possessed an instinctive understanding of her
important position in this household. She functioned like the damping rods
in a nuclear reactor. As long as she was present, Owen and Luke would
continue to generate a lot of heat, but if she was out of their presence for
too long-boom!
Condenser units built into the bottom of each plate kept the food on
the dining-room table hot as she hurried in. Immediately, both men lowered
their voices to something civilized and shifted the subject. Beru pretended
not to notice the change.
“I think that Artoo unit might have been stolen, Uncle Owen,” Luke was
saying, as if that had been the topic of conversation all along.
His uncle helped himself to the milk pitcher, mumbling his reply around
a mouthful of food. “The jawas have a tendency to pick up anything that’s
not tied down, Luke, but remember, they’re basically afraid of their own
shadows. To resort to outright theft, they’d have to have considered the
consequences of being pursued and punished. Theoretically, their minds
shouldn’t be capable of that. What makes you think the droid is stolen?”
“For one thing, it’s in awfully good shape for a discard. It generated
a hologram recording while I was cleaning-” Luke tried to conceal his horror
at the slip. He added hastily, “But that’s not important. The reason I think
it might be stolen is because it claims to be the property of someone it
calls Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
Maybe something in the food, or perhaps the milk, caused Luke’s uncle
to gag. Then again, it might have been an expression of disgust, which was
Owen’s way of indicating his opinion of that peculiar personage. In any
case, he continued eating without looking up at his nephew.
Luke pretended the display of graphic dislike had never happened. “I
thought,” he continued determinedly, “it might have meant old Ben. The first
name is different, but the last is identical.”
When his uncle steadfastly maintained his silence, Luke prompted him
directly. “Do you know who he’s talking about, Uncle Owen?”
Surprisingly, his uncle looked uncomfortable instead of angry. “It’s
nothing,” he mumbled, still not meeting Luke’s gaze. “A name from another
time.” He squirmed nervously in his seat. “A name that can only mean
trouble.”
Luke refused to heed the implied warning and pressed on. “Is it someone
related to old Ben, then? I didn’t know he had any relatives.”
“You stay away from that old wizard, you hear me!” his uncle exploded,
awkwardly substituting threat for reason.
“Owen…” Aunt Beru started to interject gently, but the big farmer cut
her off sternly.
“Now, this is important, Beru.” He turned his attention back to his
nephew. “I’ve told you about Kenobi before. He’s a crazy old man; he’s
dangerous and full of mischief, and he’s best left well alone.”
Beru’s pleading gaze caused him to quiet somewhat. “That droid has
nothing to do with him. Couldn’t have,” he grumbled half to himself.
“Recording-huh! Well, tomorrow I want you to take the unit into Anchorhead
and have its memory flushed.”
Snorting, Owen bent to his half-eaten meal with determination. “That
will be the end of this foolishness. I don’t care where that machine thinks
it came from. I paid hard credit for it, and it belongs to us now.”
“But suppose it does belong to someone else,” Luke wondered. “What if
this Obi-Wan person comes looking for his droid?”
An expression between sorrow and a sneer crossed his uncle’s seamed
face at the remembrance. “He won’t. I don’t think that man exists anymore.
He died about the same time as your father.” A huge mouthful of hot food was
shoveled inward. “Now forget about it.”
“Then it was a real person,” Luke murmured, staring down at his plate.
He added slowly, “Did he know my father?”
“I said forget about it,” Owen snapped. “Your only worry as far as
those two droids are concerned is having them ready for work tomorrow.
Remember, the last of our savings is tied up in those two. Wouldn’t even
have bought them if it wasn’t so near harvest.” He shook a spoon at his
nephew. “In the morning I want you to have them working with the irrigation
units up on the south ridge.
“You know,” Luke replied distantly, “I think these droids are going to
work out fine. In fact, I-” He hesitated, shooting his uncle a surreptitious
glare. “I was thinking about our agreement about me staying on for another
season.”
His uncle failed to react, so Luke rushed on before his nerve failed.
“If these new droids do work out, I want to transmit my application to enter
the Academy for next year.”
Owen scowled, trying to hide his displeasure with food. “You mean, you
want to transmit the application next year-after the harvest.”
“You have more than enough droids now, and they’re in good condition.
They’ll last.”
“Droids, yes,” his uncle agreed, “but droids can’t replace a man, Luke.
You know that. The harvest is when I need you the most. It’s just for one
more season after this one.” He looked away, bluster and anger gone now.
Luke toyed with his food, not eating, saying nothing.
“Listen,” his uncle told him, “for the first time we’ve got a chance
for a real fortune. We’ll make enough to hire some extra hands for next
time. Not droids-people. Then you can go to the Academy.” He fumbled over
words, unaccustomed to pleading. “I need you here, Luke. You understand
that, don’t you?”
“It’s another year,” his nephew objected sullenly. “Another year.”
How many times had he heard that before? How many times had they
repeated this identical charade with the same result?
Convinced once more that Luke had come round to his way of thinking,
Owen shrugged the objection off. “Time will pass before you know it.”
Abruptly Luke rose, shoving his barely touched plate of food aside.
“That’s what you said last year when Biggs left.” He spun and half ran from
the room.
“Where are you going, Luke?” his aunt yelled worriedly after him.
Luke’s reply was bleak, bitter. “Looks like I’m going nowhere.” Then he
added, out of consideration for his aunt’s sensibilities, “I have to finish
cleaning those droids if they’re going to be ready to work tomorrow.”
Silence hung in the air of the dining room after Luke departed. Husband
and wife ate mechanically. Eventually Aunt Beru stopped shoving her food
around her plate, looked up, and pointed out earnestly, “Owen, you can’t
keep him here forever. Most of his friends are gone, the people he grew up
with. The Academy means so much to him.”
Listlessly her husband replied, “I’ll make it up to him next year. I
promise. We’ll have money-or maybe, the year after that.”
“Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen,” she continued firmly. “He never will
be, no matter how hard you try to make him one.” She shook her head slowly.
“He’s got too much of his father in him.”
For the first time all evening Owen Lars looked thoughtful as well as
concerned as he gazed down the passage Luke had taken. “That’s what I’m
afraid of,” he whispered.

 Luke had gone topside. He stood on the sand watching the double  sunset

as first one and then the other of Tatooine’s twin suns sank slowly behind
the distant range of dunes. In the fading light the sands turned gold,
russet, and flaming red-orange before advancing night put the bright colors
to sleep for another day. Soon, for the first time, those sands would
blossom with food plants. This former wasteland would see an eruption of
green.
The thought ought to have sent a thrill of anticipation through Luke.
He should have been as flushed with excitement as his uncle was whenever he
described the coming harvest. Instead, Luke felt nothing but a vast
indifferent emptiness. Not even the prospect of having a lot of money for
the first time in his life excited him. What was there to do with money in
Anchorhead-anywhere on Tatooine, for that matter?
Part of him, an increasingly large part, was growing more and more
restless at remaining unfulfilled. This was not an uncommon feeling in
youths his age, but for reasons Luke did not understand it was much stronger
in him than in any of his friends.
As the night cold came creeping over the sand and up his legs, he
brushed the grit from his trousers and descended into the garage. Maybe
working on the droids would bury some of the remorse a little deeper in his
mind. A quick survey of the chamber showed no movement. Neither of the new
machines was in sight. Frowning slightly, Luke took a small control box from
his belt and activated a couple of switches set into the plastic.
A low hum came from the box. The caller produced the taller of the two
robots, Threepio. In fact, he gave a yell of surprise as he jumped up behind
the skyhopper.
Luke started toward him, openly puzzled. “What are you hiding back
there for?”
The robot came stumbling around the prow of the craft, his attitude one
of desperation. It occurred to Luke then that despite his activating the
caller, the Artoo unit was still nowhere to be seen.
The reason for his absence-or something related to it-came pouring
unbidden from Threepio. “It wasn’t my fault,” the robot begged frantically.
“Please don’t deactivate me! I told him not to go, but he’s faulty. He must
be malfunctioning. Something has totally boiled his logic circuits. He kept
babbling on about some sort of mission, sir. I never heard a robot with
delusions of grandeur before. Such things shouldn’t even be within the
cogitative theory units of one that’s as basic as an Artoo unit, and…”
“You mean…?” Luke started to gape.
“Yes, sir… he’s gone.”
“And I removed his restraining coupling myself,” Luke muttered slowly.
Already he could visualize his uncle’s face. The last of their savings tied
up in these droids, he had said.
Racing out of the garage, Luke hunted for non-existent reasons why the
Artoo unit should go berserk. Threepio followed on his heels.
From a small ridge which formed the highest point close by the
homestead, Luke had a panoramic view of the surrounding desert. Bringing out
the precious macrobinoculars, he scanned the rapidly darkening horizons for
something small, metallic, three-legged, and out of its mechanical mind.
Threepio fought his way up through the sand to stand beside Luke. “That
Artoo unit has always caused nothing but trouble,” he groaned. “Astromech
droids are becoming too iconoclastic even for me to understand, sometimes.”
The binoculars finally came down, and Luke commented matter-of-factly,
“Well, he’s nowhere in sight.” He kicked furiously at the ground. “Damn
it-how could I have been so stupid, letting it trick me into removing that
restrainer! Uncle Owen’s going to kill me.”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” ventured a hopeful Threepio, visions of
jawas dancing in his head, “But can’t we go after him?”
Luke turned. Studiously he examined the wall of black advancing toward
them. “Not at night. It’s too dangerous with all the raiders around. I’m not
too concerned about the jawas, but sandpeople… no, not in the dark. We’ll
have to wait until morning to try to track him.”
A shout rose from the homestead below. “Luke-Luke, are you finished
with those droids yet? I’m turning down the power for the night.”
“All right!” Luke responded, sidestepping the question. I’ll be down in
a few minutes, Uncle Owen!” Turning, he took one last look at the vanished
horizon. “Boy, am I in for it!” he muttered. “That little droid’s going to
get me in a lot of trouble.”
“Oh, he excels at that, sir.” Threepio confirmed with mock
cheerfulness. Luke threw him a sour look, and together they turned and
descended into the garage.

 "Luke... Luke!" Still rubbing the morning sleep  from  his  eyes,  Owen

glanced from side to side, loosening his neck muscles. “Where could that boy
be loafing now?” he wondered aloud at the lack of response. There was no
sign of movement in the homestead, and he had already checked above.
“Luke!” he yelled again. Luke, Luke, Luke… the name echoed teasingly
back at him from the homestead walls. Turning angrily, he stalked back into
the kitchen, where Beru was preparing breakfast.
“Have you seen Luke this morning?” he asked as softly as he could
manage.
She glanced briefly at him, then returned to her cooking. “Yes. He said
he had some things to do before he started out to the south ridge this
morning, so he left early.”
“Before breakfast?” Owen frowned worriedly. “That’s not like him. Did
he take the new droids with him?”
“I think so. I’m sure I saw at least one of them with him.”
“Well,” Owen mused, uncomfortable but with nothing to really hang
imprecations on, “he’d better have those ridge units repaired by midday or
there’ll be hell to pay.”

 An unseen  face  shielded  by  smooth  white  metal  emerged  from  the

half-buried life pod that now formed the backbone of a dune slightly higher
than its neighbors. The voice sounded efficient, but tired.
“Nothing,” the inspecting trooper muttered to his several companions.
“No tapes, and no sign of habitation.”
Powerful handguns lowered at the information that the pod was deserted.
One of the armored men turned, calling out to an officer standing some
distance away. “This is definitely the pod that cleared the rebel ship, sir,
but there’s nothing on board.”
“Yet it set down intact,” the officer was murmuring to himself. “It
could have done so on automatics, but if it was a true malfunction, then
they shouldn’t have been engaged.” Something didn’t make sense.
“Here’s why there’s nothing on board and no hint of life, sir,” a voice
declared.
The officer turned and strode several paces to where another trooper
was kneeling in the sand. He held up an object for the officer’s inspection.
It shone in the sun.
“Droid plating,” the officer observed after a quick glance at the metal
fragment. Superior and underling exchanged a significant glance. Then their
eyes turned simultaneously to the high mesas off to the north.

 Gravel and fine sand formed a gritty fog beneath the landspeeder as  it

slid across the rippling wasteland of Tatooine on humming repulsors.
Occasionally the craft would jog slightly as it encountered a dip or slight
rise, to return to its smooth passage as its pilot compensated for the
change in terrain.
Luke leaned back in the seat, luxuriating in unaccustomed relaxation as
Threepio skillfully directed the powerful landcraft around dunes and rocky
outcrops. “You handle a landspeeder pretty well, for a machine,” he noted
admiringly.
“Thank you, sir,” a gratified Threepio responded, his eyes never moving
from the landscape ahead. “I was not lying to your uncle when I claimed
versatility as my middle name. In fact, on occasion I have been called upon
to perform unexpected functions in circumstances which would have appalled
my designers.”
Something pinged behind them, then pinged again.
Luke frowned and popped the speeder canopy. A few moments of digging in
the motor casing eliminated the metallic bark.
“How’s that?” he yelled forward.
Threepio signaled that the adjustment was satisfactory. Luke turned
back into the cockpit and closed the canopy over them again. Silently he
brushed his wind-whipped hair back out of his eyes as his attention returned
to the dry desert ahead of them.
“Old Ben Kenobi is supposed to live out in this general direction. Even
though nobody knows exactly where, I don’t see how that Artoo unit could
have come this far so quickly.” His expression was downcast. “We must have
missed him back in the dunes some where. He could be anywhere out here. And
Uncle Owen must be wondering why I haven’t called in from the south ridge by
now.”
Threepio considered a moment, then ventured, “Would it help, sir, if
you told him that it was my fault?”
Luke appeared to brighten at the suggestion. “Sure… he needs you
twice as much now. Probably he’ll only deactivate you for a day or so, or
give you a partial memory flush.”
Deactivate? Memory flush? Threepio added hastily, “On second thoughts,
sir, Artoo would still be around if you hadn’t removed his restraining
module.”
But something more important than fixing responsibility for the little
robot’s disappearance was on Luke’s mind at the moment. “Wait a minute,” he
advised Threepio as he stared fixedly at the instrument panel. “There’s
something dead ahead on the metal scanner. Can’t distinguish outlines at
this distance, but judging by size alone, it could be our wandering droid.
Hit it.”
The landspeeder jumped forward as Threepio engaged the accelerator, but
its occupants were totally unaware that other eyes were watching as the
craft increased its speed.

 Those eyes were not organic, but then, they weren't wholly  mechanical,

either. No one could say for certain, because no one had ever made that
intimate a study of the Tusken Raiders-known less formally to the margin
farmers of Tatooine simply as the sandpeople.
The Tuskens didn’t permit close study of themselves, discouraging
potential observers by methods as effective as they were uncivilized. A few
xenologists thought they must be related to the jawas. Even fewer
hypothesized that the jawas were actually the mature form of the sandpeople,
but this theory was discounted by the majority of serious scientists.
Both races affected tight clothing to shield them from Tatooine’s twin
dose of solar radiation, but there most comparisons ended. Instead of heavy
woven cloaks like the jawas wore, the sandpeople wrapped themselves
mummylike in endless swathings and bandages and loose bits of cloth.
Where the jawas feared everything, a Tusken Raider feared little. The
sandpeople were larger, stronger, and far more aggressive. Fortunately for
the human colonists of Tatooine, they were not very numerous and elected to
pursue their nomadic existence in some of Tatooine’s most desolate regions.
Contact between human and Tusken, therefore, was infrequent and uneasy, and
they murdered no more than a handful of humans per year. Since the human
population had claimed its share of Tuskens, not always with reason, a peace
of a sort existed between the two-as long as neither side gained an
advantage.
One of the pair felt that that unstable condition had temporarily
shifted in his favor, and he was about to take full advantage of it as he
raised his rifle toward the landspeeder. But his companion grabbed the
weapon and shoved down on it before it could be fired. This set off a
violent argument between the two. And, as they traded vociferous opinions in
a language consisting mostly of consonants, the landspeeder sped on its way.
Either because the speeder had passed out of range or because the
second Tusken had convinced the other, the two broke off the discussion and
scrambled down the back side of the high ridge. Snuffling and a shifting of
weight took place at the ridge bottom as the two Banthas stirred at the
approach of their masters. Each was as large as a small dinosaur, with
bright eyes and long, thick fur. They hissed anxiously as the two sandpeople
approached, then mounted them from knee to saddle.
With a kick the Banthas rose. Moving slowly but with enormous strides,
the two massive horned creatures swept down the back of the rugged bluff,
urged on by their anxious, equally outrageous mahouts.

 "It's him, all right," Luke declared with mixed anger and  satisfaction

as the tiny tripodal form came into view. The speeder banked and swung down
onto the floor of a huge sandstone canyon. Luke slipped his rifle out from
behind the seat and swung it over his shoulder. “Come round in front of him,
Threepio,” he instructed.
“With pleasure, sir.”
The Artoo unit obviously noted their approach, but made no move to
escape; it could hardly have outrun the landspeeder anyway. Artoo simply
halted as soon as it detected them and waited until the craft swung around
in a smooth arc. Threepio came to a sharp halt, sending up a low cloud of
sand on the smaller robot’s right. Then the whine from the landspeeder’s
engine dropped to a low idling hum as Threepio put it in parking mode. A
last sigh and the craft stopped completely.
After finishing a cautious survey of the canyon, Luke led his companion
out onto the gravelly surface and up to Artoo Detoo. “Just where,” he
inquired sharply, “did you think you were going?”
A feeble whistle issued from the apologetic robot, but it was Threepio
and not the recalcitrant rover who was abruptly doing most of the talking.
“Master Luke here is now your rightful owner, Artoo. How could you just
amble away from him like this? Now that he’s found you, let’s have no more
of this ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ gibberish. I don’t know where you picked that up-or
that melodramatic hologram, either.”
Artoo started to beep in protest, but Threepio’s indignation was too
great to permit excuses. “And don’t talk to me about your mission. What rot!
You’re fortunate Master Luke doesn’t blast you into a million pieces right
here and now.”
“Not much chance of that,” admitted Luke, a bit overwhelmed by
Threepio’s casual vindictiveness. “Come on-it’s getting late.” He eyed the
rapidly rising suns. “I just hope we can get back before Uncle Owen really
lets go.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so,” Threepio suggested, apparently
unwilling that the Artoo unit should get off so easily, “I think you ought
to deactivate the little fugitive until you’ve gotten him safely back in the
garage.”
“No. He’s not going to try anything.” Luke studied the softly beeping
droid sternly. “I hope he’s learned his lesson. There’s no need to-“
Without warning the Artoo unit suddenly leaped off the ground-no mean
feat considering the weakness of the spring mechanisms in his three thick
legs. His cylindrical body was twisting and spinning as he let out a frantic
symphony of whistles, hoots, and electronic exclamations.
Luke was tired, not alarmed. “What is it? What’s wrong with him now?”
He was beginning to see how Threepio’s patience could be worn thin. He had
had about enough of this addled instrument himself.
Undoubtedly the Artoo unit had acquired the holo of the girl by
accident, then used it to entice Luke into removing his restraining module.
Threepio probably had the right attitude. Still, once Luke got its circuits
realigned and its logic couplings cleaned, it would make a perfectly
serviceable farm unit. Only… if that was the case, then why was Threepio
looking around so anxiously?
“Oh my, sir. Artoo claims there are several creatures of unknown type
approaching from the southeast.”
That could be another attempt by Artoo to distract them, but Luke
couldn’t take the chance. Instantly he had his rifle off his shoulder and
had activated the energy cell. He examined the horizon in the indicated
direction and saw nothing. But then, sandpeople were experts at making
themselves unseeable.
Luke suddenly realized exactly how far out they were, how much ground
the landspeeder had covered that morning. “I’ve never been out in this
direction this far from the farm before,” he informed Threepio. “There are
some awfully strange things living out here. Not all of them have been
classified. It’s better to treat anything as dangerous until determined
otherwise. Of course, if it’s something utterly new…” His curiosity
prodded him. In any case, this was probably just another ruse of Artoo
Detoo’s. “Let’s take a look,” he decided.
Moving cautiously forward and keeping his rifle ready, he led Threepio
toward the crest of a nearby high dune. At the same time he took care not to
let Artoo out of his sight.
Once at the top he lay flat and traded his rifle for the
macro-binoculars. Below, another canyon spread out before them, rising to a
wind-weathered wall of rust and ocher. Advancing the binocs slowly across
the canyon floor, he settled unexpectedly on two tethered shapes.
Banthas-and riderless!
“Did you say something, sir?” wheezed Threepio, struggling up behind
Luke. His locomotors were not designed for such outer climbing and
scrambling.
“Banthas, all right,” Luke whispered over his shoulder, not considering
in the excitement of the moment that Threepio might not know a Bantha from a
panda.
He looked back into the eyepieces, refocusing slightly. “Wait… it’s
sandpeople, sure. I see one of them.”
Something dark suddenly blocked his sight. For a moment he thought that
a rock might have moved in front of him. Irritably he dropped the binoculars
and reached out to move the blinding object aside. His hand touched
something like soft metal.
It was a bandaged leg about as big around as both of Luke’s together.
Shocked, he looked up… and up. The towering figure glaring down at him was
no jawa. It had seemingly erupted straight from the sand.
Threepio took a startled step backward and found no footing. As gyros
whined in protest the tall robot tumbled backward down the side of the dune.
Frozen in place, Luke heard steadily fading bangs and rattles as Threepio
bounced down the steep slope behind him.
As the moment of confrontation passed, the Tusken let out a terrifying
grunt of fury and pleasure and brought down his heavy gaderffii. The
double-edged ax would have cleaved Luke’s skull neatly in two, except that
he threw the rifle up in a gesture more instinctive than calculated. His
weapon deflected the blow, but would never do so again. Made from
cannibalized freighter plating the huge ax shattered the barrel and made
metallic confetti of the gun’s delicate insides.
Luke scrambled backward and found himself against a steep drop. The
Raider stalked him slowly, weapon held high over its rag-enclosed head. It
uttered a gruesome, chuckling laugh, the sound made all the more inhuman by
the distortion effect of its gridlike sandfilter.
Luke tried to view his situation objectively, as he had been instructed
to do in survival school. Trouble was, his mouth was dry, his hands were
shaking, and he was paralyzed with fear. With the Raider in front of him and
a probably fatal drop behind, something else in his mind took over and opted
for the least painful response. He fainted.
None of the Raiders noticed Artoo Detoo as the tiny robot forced
himself into a small alcove in the rocks near the landspeeder. One of them
was carrying the inert form of Luke. He dumped the unconscious youth in a
heap next to the speeder, then joined his fellows as they began swarming
over the open craft.
Supplies and spare parts were thrown in all directions. From time to
time the plundering would be interrupted as several of them quibbled or
fought over a particularly choice bit of booty.
Unexpectedly, distribution of the landspeeder’s contents ceased, and
with frightening speed the Raiders became part of the desertscape, looking
in all directions.
A lost breeze idled absently down the canyon. Far off to the west,
something howled. A rolling, booming drone ricocheted off canyon walls and
crawled nervously up and down a gorgon scale.
The sandpeople remained poised a moment longer. Then they were uttering
loud grunts and moans of fright as they rushed to get away from the highly
visible landspeeder.
The shivering howl sounded again, nearer this time. By now the
sandpeople were halfway to their waiting Banthas, that were likewise lowing
tensely and tugging at their tethers.
Although the sound held no meaning for Artoo Detoo, the little droid
tried to squeeze himself even deeper into the almost-cave. The booming howl
came closer. Judging by the way the sandpeople had reacted, something
monstrous beyond imagining had to be behind that rolling cry. Something
monstrous and murder-bent which might not have the sense to distinguish
between edible organics and inedible machines.
Not even the dust of their passing remained to mark where the Tusken
Raiders had only minutes before been dismembering the interior of the
landspeeder. Artoo Detoo shut down all but vital functions, trying to
minimize noise and light as a swishing sound grew gradually audible. Moving
toward the landspeeder, the creature appeared above the top of a nearby
dune…

                               = V =

 IT was tall, but hardly monstrous. Artoo frowned inwardly as he checked

ocular circuitry and reactivated his innards.
The monster looked very much like an old man. He was clad in a shabby
cloak and loose robes hung with a few small straps, packs, and
unrecognizable instruments. Artoo searched the human’s wake but detected no
evidence of a pursuing nightmare. Nor did the man appear threatened.
Actually, Artoo thought, he looked kind of pleased.
It was impossible to tell where the odd arrival’s overlapping attire
ended and his skin began. That aged visage blended into the sand-stroked
cloth, and his beard appeared but an extension of the loose threads covering
his upper chest.
Hints of extreme climates other than desert, of ultimate cold and
humidity, were etched into that seamed face. A questing beak of nose, like a
high rock, protruded outward from a flashflood of wrinkles and scars. The
eyes bordering it were a liquid crystal-azure. The man smiled through sand
and dust and beard, squinting at the sight of the crumpled form lying
quietly alongside the landspeeder.
Convinced that the sandpeople had been the victims of an auditory
delusion of some kind-conveniently ignoring the fact that he had experienced
it also-and likewise assured that this stranger meant Luke no harm, Artoo
shifted his position slightly, trying to obtain a better view. The sound
produced by a tiny pebble he dislodged was barely perceptible to his
electronic sensors, but the man whirled as if shot. He stared straight at
Artoo’s alcove, still smiling gently.
“Hello there,” he called in a deep, surprisingly cheerful voice. “Come
here, my little friend. No need to be afraid.”
Something forthright and reassuring was in that voice. In any case, the
association of an unknown human was preferable to remaining isolated in this
wasteland. Waddling out into the sunlight, Artoo made his way over to where
Luke lay sprawled. The robot’s barrellike body inclined forward as he
examined the limp form. Whistles and beeps of concern came from within.
Walking over, the old man bent beside Luke and reached out to touch his
forehead, then his temple. Shortly, the unconscious youth was stirring and
mumbling like a dreaming sleeper.
“Don’t worry,” the human told Artoo, “he’ll be all right.”
As if to confirm this opinion, Luke blinked, stared upward
uncomprehendingly, and muttered, “What happened?”
“Rest easy, son,” the man instructed him as he sat back on his heels.
“You’ve had a busy day.” Again the boyish grin. “You’re mighty lucky your
head’s still attached to the rest of you.”
Luke looked around, his gaze coming to rest on the elderly face
hovering above him. Recognition did wonders for his condition.
“Ben… it’s got to be!” A sudden remembrance made him look around
fearfully. But there was no sign of sandpeople. Slowly he raised his body to
a sitting position. “Ben Kenobi… am I glad to see you!”
Rising, the old man surveyed the canyon floor and rolling rimwall
above. One foot played with the sand. “The Jundland wastes are not to be
traveled lightly. It’s the misguided traveler who tempts the Tuskens’
hospitality.” His gaze went back to his patient. “Tell me, young man, what
brings you out this far into nowhere?”
Luke indicated Artoo Detoo. “This little droid. For a while I thought
he”d gone crazy, claiming he was searching for a former master. Now I don’t
think so. I’ve never seen such devotion in a droid-misguided or otherwise.
There seems to be no stopping him; he even resorted to tricking me.”
Luke’s gaze shifted upward. “He claims to be the property of someone
called Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Luke watched closely, but the man showed no
reaction. “Is that a relative of yours? My uncle thinks he was a real
person. Or is it just some unimportant bit of scrambled information that got
shifted into his primary performance bank?”
An introspective frown did remarkable things to that sandblasted face.
Kenobi appeared to ponder the question, scratching absently at his scruffy
beard. “Obi-Wan Kenobi!” he recited. “Obi-Wan… now, that’s a name I
haven’t heard in a long time. A long time. Most curious.”
“My uncle said he was dead.” Luke supplied helpfully.
“Oh, he’s not dead,” Kenobi corrected him easily. “Not yet, not yet.”
Luke climbed excitedly to his feet, all thoughts of Tusken Raiders
forgotten now. “You know him, then?”
A smile of perverse youthfulness split that collage of wrinkled skin
and beard. “Of course I know him: he’s me. Just as you probably suspected,
Luke. I haven’t gone by the name Obi-Wan, though, since before you were
born.”
“Then,” Luke essayed, gesturing at Artoo Detoo, “this droid does belong
to you, as he claims.”
“Now, that’s the peculiar part,” an openly puzzled Kenobi confessed,
regarding the silent robot. “I can’t seem to remember owning a droid, least
of all a modern Artoo unit. Most interesting, most interesting.”
Something drew the old man’s gaze suddenly to the brow of nearby
cliffs. “I think it’s best we make use of your landspeeder some. The
sandpeople are easily startled, but they’ll soon return in greater numbers.
A landspeeder’s not a prize readily conceded, and after all, jawas they’re
not.”
Placing both hands over his mouth in a peculiar fashion, Kenobi inhaled
deeply and let out an unearthly howl that made Luke jump. “That ought to
keep any laggards running for a while yet,” the old man concluded with
satisfaction.
“That’s a krayt dragon call!” Luke gaped in astonishment. “How did you
do that?”
“I’ll show you sometime, son. It’s not too hard. Just takes the right
attitude, a set of well-used vocal cords, and a lot of wind. Now, if you
were an imperial bureaucrat, I could teach you right off, but you’re not.”
He scanned the cliff-spine again. “And I don’t think this is the time or
place for it.”
“I won’t argue that.” Luke was rubbing at the back of his head. “Let’s
get started.”
That was when Artoo let out a pathetic beep and whirled. Luke couldn’t
interpret the electronic squeal, but he suddenly comprehended the reason
behind it. “Threepio.” Luke exclaimed, worriedly. Artoo was already moving
as fast as possible away from the landspeeder. “Come on, Ben.”
The little robot led them to the edge of a large sandpit. It stopped
there, pointing downward and squeaking mournfully. Luke saw where Artoo was
pointing, then started cautiously down the smooth, shifting slope while
Kenobi followed effortlessly.
Threepio lay in the sand at the base of the slope down which he had
rolled and tumbled. His casing was dented and badly mangled, One arm lay
broken and bent a short distance away.
“Threepio!” Luke called. There was no response. Shaking the droid
failed to activate anything. Opening a plate on the robot’s back, Luke
flipped a hidden switch on and off several times in succession. A low hum
started, stopped, started again, and then dropped to a normal purr.
Using his remaining arm, Threepio rolled over and sat up. “Where am I?”
he murmured, as his photoreceptors continued to clear. Then he recognized
Luke. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I must have taken a bad step.”
“You’re lucky any of your main circuits are still operational,” Luke
informed him. He looked significantly toward the top of the hill. “Can you
stand? We’ve got to get out of here before the sandpeople return.”
Servomotors whined in protest until Threepio ceased struggling. “I
don’t think I can make it. You go on, Master Luke. It doesn’t make sense to
risk yourself on my account. I’m finished.”
“No, you’re not,” Luke shot back, unaccountably affected by this
recently encountered machine. But then, Threepio was not the usual
uncommunicative, agrifunctional device Luke was accustomed to dealing with.
“What kind of talk is that?”
“Logical,” Threepio informed him.
Luke shook his head angrily. “Defeatist.”
With Luke and Ben Kenobi’s aid, the battered droid somehow managed to
struggle erect. Little Artoo watched from the pit’s rim.
Hesitating part way up the slope, Kenobi sniffed the air suspiciously.
“Quickly, son. They’re on the move again.”
Trying to watch the surrounding rocks and his footsteps simultaneously,
Luke fought to drag Threepio clear of the pit.

 The decor of Ben  Kenobi's  well-concealed  cave  was  Spartan  without

appearing uncomfortable. It would not have suited most people, reflecting as
it did its owner’s peculiarly eclectic tastes. The living area radiated an
aura of lean comfort with more importance attached to mental comforts than
those of the awkward human body.
They had succeeded in vacating the canyon before the Tusken Raiders
could return in force. Under Kenobi’s direction, Luke left a trail behind
them so confusing that not even a hypernasal jawa could have followed it.
Luke spent several hours ignoring the temptations of Kenobi’s cave.
Instead he remained in the corner which was equipped as a compact yet
complete repair shop, working to fix Threepio’s severed arm.
Fortunately, the automatic overload disconnects had given way under the
severe strain, sealing electronic nerves and ganglia without real damage.
Repair was merely a matter of reattaching the limb to the shoulder, then
activating the self-reseals. Had the arm been broken in mid-“bone” instead
of at a joint, such repairs would have been impossible save at a factory
shop.
While Luke was thus occupied, Kenobi’s attention was concentrated on
Artoo Detoo. The squat droid sat passively on the cool cavern floor while
the old man fiddled with its metal insides. Finally the man sat back with a
“Humph!” of satisfaction and closed the open panels in the robot’s rounded
head. “Now let’s see if we can figure out what you are, my little friend,
and where you came from.”
Luke was almost finished anyway, and Kenobi’s words were sufficient to
pull him away from the repair area. “I saw part of the message,” he began,
“and I…”
Once more the striking portrait was being projected into empty space
from the front of the little robot. Luke broke off, enraptured by its
enigmatic beauty once again.
“Yes, I think that’s got it,” Kenobi murmured contemplatively.
The image continued to flicker, indicating a tape hastily prepared. But
it was much sharper, better defined now, Luke noted with admiration. One
thing was apparent: Kenobi was skilled in subjects more specific than desert
scavenging.
“General Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the mellifluous voice was saying, “I present
myself in the name of the world family of Alderaan and of the Alliance to
Restore the Republic. I break your solitude at the bidding of my father,
Bail Organa, Viceroy and First Chairman of the Alderaan system.”
Kenobi absorbed this extraordinary declamation while Luke’s eyes bugged
big enough to fall from his face.
“Years ago, General,” the voice continued, “you served the Old Republic
in the Clone Wars. Now my father begs you to aid us again in our most
desperate hour. He would have you join him on Alderaan. You must go to him.
“I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in
person. My mission to meet personally with you has failed. Hence I have been
forced to resort to this secondary method of communication.
“Information vital to the survival of the Alliance has been secured in
the mind of this Detoo droid. My father will know how to retrieve it. I
plead with you to see this unit safely delivered to Alderaan.”
She paused, and when she continued, her words were hurried and less
laced with formality. “You must help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my last
hope. I will be captured by agents of the Empire. They will learn nothing
from me. Everything to be learned lies locked in the memory cells of this
droid. Do not fail us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Do not fail me.”
A small cloud of tridimensional static replaced the delicate portrait,
then it vanished entirely. Artoo Detoo gazed up expectantly at Kenobi.
Luke’s mind was as muddy as a pond laced with petroleum. Unanchored,
his thoughts and eyes turned for stability to the quiet figure seated
nearby.
The old man. The crazy wizard. The desert bum and all-around character
whom his uncle and everyone else had known of for as long as Luke could
recall.
If the breathless, anxiety-ridden message the unknown woman had just
spoken into the cool air of the cave had affected Kenobi in any way he gave
no hint of it. Instead, he leaned back against the rock wall and tugged
thoughtfully at his beard, puffing slowly on a water pipe of free-form
tarnished chrome.
Luke visualized that simple yet lovely portrait. “She’s so-so-” His
farming background didn’t provide him with the requisite words. Suddenly
something in the message caused him to stare disbelievingly at the oldster.
“General Kenobi, you fought in the Clone Wars? But… that was so long ago.”
“Um, yes,” Kenobi acknowledged, as casually as he might have discussed
the recipe for shang stew. “I guess it was a while back. I was a Jedi Knight
once. Like,” he added, watching the youth appraisingly, “your father.”
“A Jedi Knight,” Luke echoed. Then he looked confused. “But my father
didn’t fight in the Clone Wars. He was no knight-just a navigator on a space
freighter.”
Kenobi’s smile enfolded the pipe’s mouthpiece. “Or so your uncle has
told you.” His attention was suddenly focused elsewhere. “Owen Lars didn’t
agree with your father’s ideas, opinions, or with his philosophy of life. He
believed that your father should have stayed here on Tatooine and not gotten
involved in…” Again the seemingly indifferent shrug. “Well, he thought he
should have remained here and minded his farming.”
Luke said nothing, his body tense as the old man related bits and
pieces of a personal history Luke had viewed only through his uncle’s
distortions.
“Owen was always afraid that your father’s adventurous life might
influence you, might pull you away from Anchorhead.” He shook his head
slowly, regretfully at the remembrance. “I’m afraid there wasn’t much of the
farmer in your father.”
Luke turned away. He returned to cleaning the last particles of sand
from Threepio’s healing armature. “I wish I’d known him,” he finally
whispered.
“He was the best pilot I ever knew,” Kenobi went on, “and a smart
fighter. The Force… the instinct was strong in him.” For a brief second
Kenobi actually appeared old. “He was also a good friend.”
Suddenly the boyish twinkle returned to those piercing eyes along with
the old man’s natural humor. “I understand you’re quite a pilot yourself.
Piloting and navigation aren’t hereditary, but a number of the things that
can combine to make a good small-ship pilot are. Those you may have
inherited. Still, even a duck has to be taught to swim.”
“What’s a duck?” Luke asked curiously.
“Never mind. In many ways, you know, you are much like your father.”
Kenobi’s unabashed look of evaluation made Luke nervous. “You’ve grown up
quite a bit since the last time I saw you.”
Having no reply for that, Luke waited silently as Kenobi sank back into
deep contemplation. After a while the old man stirred, evidently having
reached an important decision.
“All this reminds me,” he declared with deceptive casualness, “I have
something here for you.” He rose and walked over to a bulky, old-fashioned
chest and started rummaging through it. All sorts of intriguing items were
removed and shoved around, only to be placed back in the bin. A few of them
Luke recognized. As Kenobi was obviously intent on something important, he
forbore inquiring about any of the other tantalizing flotsam.
“When you were old enough,” Kenobi was saying, “your father wanted you
to have this… if I can ever find the blasted device. I tried to give it to
you once before, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He believed you might get
some crazy ideas from it and end up following old Obi-Wan on some idealistic
crusade.
“You see, Luke, that’s where your father and your uncle Owen disagreed.
Lars is not a man to let idealism interfere with business, whereas your
father didn’t think the question even worth discussing. His decision on such
matters came like his piloting-instinctively.”
Luke nodded. He finished picking out the last of the grit and looked
around for one remaining component to snap back into Threepio’s open chest
plate. Locating the restraining module, he opened the receiving latches in
the machine and set about locking it back in place. Threepio watched the
process and appeared to wince ever so perceptibly.
Luke stared into those metal and plastic photoreceptors for a long
moment. Then he set the module pointedly on the workbench and closed the
droid up. Threepio said nothing.
A grunt came from behind them, and Luke turned to see a pleased Kenobi
walking over. He handed Luke a small, innocuous-looking device, which the
youth studied with interest.
It consisted primarily of a short, thick handgrip with a couple of
small switches set into the grip. Above this small post was a circular metal
disk barely larger in diameter than his spread palm. A number of unfamiliar,
jewellike components were built into both handle and disk, including what
looked like the smallest power cell Luke had ever seen. The reverse side of
the disk was polished to a mirror brightness. But it was the power cell that
puzzled Luke the most. Whatever the thing was, it required a great deal of
energy, according to the rating form of the cell.
Despite the claim that it had belonged to his father, the gizmo looked
newly manufactured. Kenobi had obviously kept it carefully. Only a number of
minute scratches on the handgrip hinted at previous usage.
“Sir?” came a familiar voice Luke hadn’t heard in a while.
“What?” Luke was startled out of his examination.
“If you’ll not be needing me,” Threepio declared, “I think I’ll shut
down for a bit. It will help the armature nerves to knit, and I’m due for
some internal self-cleansing anyhow.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Luke said absently, returning to his fascinated study
of the whatever-it-was. Behind him, Threepio became silent, the glow fading
temporarily from his eyes. Luke noticed that Kenobi was watching him with
interest. “What is it?” he finally asked, unable despite his best efforts to
identify the device.
“Your father’s lightsaber,” Kenobi told him. “At one time they were
widely used. Still are, in certain galactic quarters.”
Luke examined the controls on the handle, then tentatively touched a
brightly colored button up near the mirrored pommel. Instantly the disk put
forth a blue-white beam as thick around as his thumb. It was dense to the
point of opacity and a little over a meter in length. It did not fade, but
remained as brilliant and intense at its far end as it did next to the disk.
Strangely, Luke felt no heat from it, though he was very careful not to
touch it. He knew what a lightsaber could do, though he had never seen one
before. It could drill a hole right through the rock wall of Kenobi’s
cave-or through a human being.
“This was the formal weapon of a Jedi Knight,” explained Kenobi. “Not
as clumsy or random as a blaster. More skill than simple sight was required
for its use. An elegant weapon. It was a symbol as well. Anyone can use a
blaster or fusioncutter-but to use a lightsaber well was a mark of someone a
cut above the ordinary.” He was pacing the floor of the cave as he spoke.
“For over a thousand generations, Luke, the Jedi Knights were the most
powerful, most respected force in the galaxy. They served as the guardians
and guarantors of peace and justice in the Old Republic.”
When Luke failed to ask what had happened to them since, Kenobi looked
up to see that the youth was staring vacantly into space, having absorbed
little if any of the oldster’s instruction. Some men would have chided Luke
for not paying attention. Not Kenobi. More sensitive than most, he waited
patiently until the silence weighed strong enough on Luke for him to resume
speaking.
“How,” he asked slowly, “did my father die?”
Kenobi hesitated, and Luke sensed that the old man had no wish to talk
about this particular matter. Unlike Owen Lars, however, Kenobi was unable
to take refuge in a comfortable lie.
“He was betrayed and murdered,” Kenobi declared solemnly, “by a very
young Jedi named Darth Vader.” He was not looking at Luke. “A boy I was
training. One of my brightest disciples… one of my greatest failures.”
Kenobi resumed his pacing. “Vader used the training I gave him and the
Force within him for evil, to help the later corrupt Emperors. With the Jedi
knights disbanded, disorganized, or dead, there were few to oppose Vader.
Today they are all but extinct.”
An indecipherable expression crossed Kenobi’s face. “In many ways they
were too good, too trusting for their own health. They put too much trust in
the stability of the Republic, failing to realize that while the body might
be sound, the head was growing diseased and feeble, leaving it open to
manipulation by such as the Emperor.
“I wish I knew what Vader was after. Sometimes I have the feeling he is
marking time in preparation for some incomprehensible abomination. Such is
the destiny of one who masters the force and is consumed by its dark side.”
Luke’s face twisted in confusion. “A force? That’s the second time
you’ve mentioned a ‘force’.”
Kenobi nodded. “I forget sometimes in whose presence I babble. Let us
say simply that the force is something a Jedi must deal with. While it has
never been properly explained, scientists have theorized it is an energy
field generated by living things. Early man suspected its existence, yet
remained in ignorance of its potential for millennia.
“Only certain individuals could recognize the force for what it was.
They were mercilessly labeled: charlatans, fakers, mystics-and worse. Even
fewer could make use of it. As it was usually beyond their primitive
controls, it frequently was too powerful for them. They were misunderstood
by their fellows-and worse.”
Kenobi made a wide, all-encompassing gesture with both arms. “The force
surrounds each and every one of us. Some men believe it directs our actions,
and not the other way around. Knowledge of the force and how to manipulate
it was what gave the Jedi his special power.”
The arms came down and Kenobi stared at Luke until the youth began to
fidget uncomfortably. When he spoke again it was in a tone so crisp and
unaged that Luke jumped in spite of himself. “You must learn the ways of the
force also, Luke-if you are to come with me to Alderaan.”
“Alderaan!” Luke hopped off the repair seat, looking dazed. “I’m not
going to Alderaan. I don’t even know where Alderaan is.” Vaporators, droids,
harvest-abruptly the surroundings seemed to close in on him, the formerly
intriguing furnishings and alien artifacts now just a mite frightening. He
looked around wildly, trying to avoid the piercing gaze of Ben Kenobi… old
Ben… crazy Ben… General Obi-Wan…
“I’ve got to get back home,” he found himself muttering thickly. “It’s
late. I’m in for it as it is.” Remembering something, he gestured toward the
motionless bulk of Artoo Detoo. “You can keep the droid. He seems to want
you to. I’ll think of something to tell my uncle-I hope,” he added
forlornly.
“I need your help, Luke,” Kenobi explained, his manner a combination of
sadness and steel. “I’m getting too old for this kind of thing. Can’t trust
myself to finish it properly on my own. This mission is far too important.”
He nodded toward Artoo Detoo. “You heard and saw the message.”
“But… I can’t get involved with anything like that,” protested Luke.
“I’ve got work to do; we’ve got crops to bring in-even though Uncle Owen
could always break down and hire a little extra help. I mean, one, I guess.
But there’s nothing I can do about it. Not now. Besides, that’s all such a
long way from here. The whole thing is really none of my business.”
“That sounds like your uncle talking,” Kenobi observed without rancor.
“Oh! My uncle Owen… How am I going to explain all this to him?”
The old man suppressed a smile, aware that Luke’s destiny had already
been determined for him. It had been ordained five minutes before he had
learned about the manner of his father’s death. It had been ordered before
that when he had heard the complete message. It had been fixed in the nature
of things when he had first viewed the pleading portrait of the beautiful
Senator Organa awkwardly projected by the little droid. Kenobi shrugged
inwardly. Likely it had been finalized even before the boy was born. Not
that Ben believed in predestination, but he did believe in heredity-and in
the force.
“Remember, Luke, the suffering of one man is the suffering of all.
Distances are irrelevant to injustice. If not stopped soon enough, evil
eventually reaches out to engulf all men, whether they have opposed it or
ignored it.”
“I suppose,” Luke confessed nervously, “I could take you as far as
Anchorhead. You can get transport from there to Mos Eisley, or wherever it
is you want to go.”
“Very well,” agreed Kenobi. “That will do for a beginning. Then you
must do what you feel is right.”
Luke turned away, now thoroughly confused. “Okay. Right now I don’t
feel too good…”

 The holding hole was  deathly  dim,  with  only  the  bare  minimum  of

illumination provided. There was barely enough to see the black metal walls
and the high ceiling overhead. The cell was designed to maximize a
prisoner’s feelings of helplessness, and this it achieved well. So much so
that the single occupant started tensely as a hum came from one end of the
chamber. The metal door which began moving aside was as thick as her body-as
if, she mused bitterly, they were afraid she might break through anything
less massive with her bare hands.
Straining to see outside, the girl saw several imperial guards assume
positions just outside the doorway. Eyeing them defiantly, Leia Organa
backed up against the far wall.
Her determined expression collapsed as soon as a monstrous black form
entered the room, gliding smoothly as if on treads. Vader’s presence crushed
her spirit as thoroughly as an elephant would crush an eggshell. That
villain was followed by an antiqued whip of a man who was only slightly less
terrifying, despite his minuscule appearance alongside the Dark Lord.
Darth Vader made a gesture to someone outside. Something that hummed
like a huge bee moved close and slipped inside the doorway. Leia choked on
her own breath at the sight of the dark metal globe. It hung suspended on
independent repulsors, a farrago of metal arms protruding from its sides.
The arms were tipped with a multitude of delicate instruments.
Leia studied the contraption fearfully. She had heard rumors of such
machines, but had never really believed that Imperial technicians would
construct such a monstrosity. Incorporated into its soulless memory was
every barbarity, every substantiated outrage known to mankind-and to several
alien races as well.
Vader and Tarkin stood there quietly, giving her plenty of time to
study the hovering nightmare. The Governor in particular did not delude
himself into thinking that the mere presence of the device would shock her
into giving up the information he needed. Not, he reflected, that the
ensuing session would be especially unpleasant. There was always
enlightenment and knowledge to be gained from such encounters, and the
Senator promised to be a most interesting subject.
After a suitable interval had passed, he motioned to the machine. “Now,
Senator Organa, Princess Organa, we will discuss the location of the
principal rebel base.”
The machine moved slowly toward her, traveling on a rising hum. Its
indifferent spherical form blocked out Vader, the Governor, the rest of the
cell… the light…

 Muffled sounds penetrated the cell walls and thick door,  drifting  out

into the hallway beyond. They barely intruded on the peace and quiet of the
walkway running past the sealed chamber. Even so, the guards stationed
immediately outside managed to find excuses to edge a sufficient distance
away to where those oddly modulated sounds could no longer be heard at all.

                               = VI =

 "LOOK over there, Luke," Kenobi ordered, pointing to the southwest. The

landspeeder continued to race over the gravelly desert floor beneath them.
“Smoke, I should think.”
Luke spared a glance at the indicated direction. “I don’t see anything,
sir.”
“Let’s angle over that way anyhow. Someone may be in trouble.”
Luke turned the speeder. Before long the rising wisps of smoke that
Kenobi had somehow detected earlier became visible to him also.
Topping a slight rise, the speeder dropped down a gentle slope into a
broad, shallow canyon that was filled with twisted, burned shapes, some of
them inorganic, some not. Dead in the center of this carnage and looking
like a beached metal whale lay the shattered hulk of a jawa sandcrawler.
Luke brought the speeder to a halt. Kenobi followed him onto the sand,
and together they began to examine the detritus of destruction.
Several slight depressions in the sand caught Luke’s attention. Walking
a little faster, he came up next to them and studied them for a moment
before calling back to Kenobi.
“Looks like the sandpeople did it, all right. Here’s Bantha tracks…”
Luke noticed a gleam of metal half buried in the sand.
“And there’s a piece of one of those big double axes of theirs.” He
shook his head in confusion. “But I never heard of the Raiders hitting
something this big.” He leaned back, staring up at the towering, burned-out
bulk of the sandcrawler.
Kenobi had passed him. He was examining the broad, huge footprints in
the sand. “They didn’t,” he declared casually, “but they intended that
we-and anyone else who might happen onto this-should think so.” Luke moved
up alongside him.
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“Look at these tracks carefully,” the older man directed him, pointing
down at the nearest and then up at the others. “Notice anything funny about
them?” Luke shook his head. “Whoever left here was riding Banthas side by
side. Sandpeople always ride one Bantha behind another, single file, to hide
their strength from any distant observers.”
Leaving Luke to gape at the parallel sets of tracks, Kenobi turned his
attention to the sandcrawler. He pointed out where single weapons’ bursts
had blasted away portals, treads, and support beams. “Look at the precision
with which this firepower was applied. Sandpeople aren’t this accurate. In
fact, no one on Tatooine fires and destroys with this kind of efficiency.”
Turning, he examined the horizon. One of those nearby bluffs concealed a
secret-and a threat. “Only Imperial troops would mount an attack on a
sand-crawler with this kind of cold accuracy.”
Luke had walked over to one of the small, crumpled bodies and kicked it
over onto its back. His face screwed up in distaste as he saw what remained
of the pitiful creature.
“These are the same jawas who sold Uncle Owen and me Artoo and
Threepio. I recognize this one’s cloak design. Why would Imperial troops be
slaughtering jawas and sandpeople? They must have killed some Raiders to get
those Banthas.” His mind worked furiously, and he found himself growing
unnaturally tense as he stared back at the landspeeder, past the rapidly
deteriorating corpses of the jawas.
“But… if they tracked the droids to the jawas, then they had to learn
first who they sold them to. That would lead them back to…” Luke was
sprinting insanely for the landspeeder.
“Luke, wait… wait, Luke!” Kenobi called. “It’s too dangerous! You’d
never…!”
Luke heard nothing except the roaring in his ears, felt nothing save
the burning in his heart. He jumped into the speeder and was throwing the
accelerator full over almost simultaneously. In an explosion of sand and
gravel he left Kenobi and the two robots standing alone in the midst of
smoldering bodies, framed by the still smoking wreck of the sandcrawler.

 The smoke that Luke saw  as  he  drew  near  the  homestead  was  of  a

different consistency from that which had boiled out of the jawa machine. He
barely remembered to shut down the landspeeder’s engine as he popped the
cockpit canopy and threw himself out. Dark smoke was drifting steadily from
holes in the ground.
Those holes had been his home, the only one he had ever known. They
might as well have been throats of small volcanoes now. Again and again he
tried to penetrate the surface entrances to the below-ground complex. Again
and again the still-intense heat drove him back, coughing and choking.
Weakly he found himself stumbling clear, his eyes watering not entirely
from the smoke. Half blinded, he staggered over to the exterior entrance to
the garage. It too was burning. But perhaps they managed to escape in the
other landspeeder.
“Aunt Beru… Uncle Owen!” It was difficult to make out much of
anything through the eye-stinging haze. Two smoking shapes showed down the
tunnel barely visible through tears and haze. They almost looked like-He
squinted harder, wiping angrily at his uncooperative eyes.
No.
Then he was spinning away, falling to his stomach and burying his face
in the sand so he wouldn’t have to look anymore.

 The tridimensional solid screen filled one wall  of  the  vast  chamber

from floor to ceiling. It showed a million star systems. A tiny portion of
the galaxy, but an impressive display nonetheless when exhibited in such a
fashion.
Below, far below, the huge shape of Darth Vader stood flanked on one
side by Governor Tarkin and on the other by Admiral Motti and General Tagge,
their private antagonisms forgotten in the awesomeness of this moment.
“The final checkout is complete,” Motti informed them. “All systems are
operational.” He turned to the others. “What shall be the first course we
set?”
Vader appeared not to have heard as he mumbled softly, half to himself,
“She has a surprising amount of control. Her resistance to the interrogator
is considerable.” He glanced down at Tarkin. “It will be some time before we
can extract any useful information from her.”
“I’ve always found the methods you recommend rather quaint, Vader.”
“They are efficient,” the Dark Lord argued softly. “In the interests of
accelerating the procedure, however, I am open to your suggestions.”
Tarkin looked thoughtful. “Such stubbornness can often be detoured by
applying threats to something other than the one involved.”
“What do you mean?”

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