Saga Star Wars: Episode I - The Chosen One (AU; saga reboot)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Brandon Rhea, Oct 23, 2012.

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  1. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    STAR WARS: EPISODE I
    THE CHOSEN ONE
    [IMG]
    Cover by Solus.

    Title: Star Wars: Episode I - The Chosen One
    Author: Brandon Rhea (Jedimasterbac)
    Editors: Constantine, Solus (both non-TF.N users)
    Timeframe: 22 BBY-ish
    Characters:
    Genre: Alternative universe
    Summary: Michael Lars, Luke Lars, Owen Lars, Deacon Darklighter, Erlik, Sara Jade, Padme, Sarus, Ray'kele, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sabe Arcadia, Logan Amator

    Star Wars: Episode I - The Chosen One is the first part of a reboot of the Star Wars Saga -- not just the prequels, but the entire film saga. It begins a re-imagining of the life of my version of Anakin Skywalker. The story is told primarily through the eyes of my protagonist, Michael Lars, who is the Alternative Saga version of Anakin Skywalker. It focuses on his journey towards his destiny before he takes on the name Anakin Skywalker and assumes the mantle that it carries with it.

    The novel is set entirely on Tatooine in the aftermath of the Rim Wars in the Outer Rim Territories and in the backdrop of a war in the distant Galactic Republic. These events conspire to thrust Michael towards his destiny as he considers whether to assume the mantle of the Chosen One. Major supporting characters include Padmé, Sara Jade, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, among a number of others.

    I want feedback!

    I'm very much interested in your feedback, positive or critical, so please be honest! I don't need you to sugar coat anything so long as your criticism is productive and constructive, so please be specific if there are certain parts you do not like. If you're respectful and civil, I'll return the favor.



    Last edited by jedimasterbac, Mar 30, 2013
  2. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

    It is a desperate time for the galaxy. Poverty
    and suffering have infested the far frontiers
    of the cosmos, and their governments are ill-
    equipped to respond to the endless harrowing
    cries of a hopeless population.

    In the great Republic, home to some of the
    greatest thinkers and visionaries history has
    ever known, political and economic corruption
    runs rampant, with whole worlds falling victim
    to oligarchs and sycophants.

    But just beyond the rim that divides the Republic
    from the tyranny of the Hutt Lords, where forgotten
    wars have left scars that will last for time immemorial,
    one tiny planet will give rise to the one who can
    change it all....

    PART ONE: THE BOY OF THE DESERT

    Chapter One

    “At first glance, this world is little more than a useless
    ball of sand and dirt. Only by looking deeper into the
    desert can the mind’s eye see the treasure it holds.”
    —From the journals of Elias

    The stars hung over the desert like spectators of the madness of twilight, when the savages roamed and the foolish, seeking adventure and excitement in all the wrong places, would remain out when day began its descent into night. The desert was a treacherous and seemingly endless land, infested with all manner of wretched and unfathomable creatures. Even now their roars and screeches could be heard from kilometers away. This was an hour when the sane returned to their settlements and homes.

    Across the still-boiling sands darted a shadow, still visible in the light of the setting suns, suspended in the darkening amber sky like the eyes of a distant god. They revealed the figure of a man, sprinting across the desert dunes in a mad dash towards an unknown destination. The fading light gradually began to reveal his appearance, that of a tall man, lost in the comfort of youth, full of life and promise, yet still somehow tired and worn like a man thrice his age. Further observation would reveal that he was exasperated to the point of exhaustion. He’d been running for nearly an hour, though it seemed a lifetime. His forest green eyes were fixed towards the setting suns, as the stars began to appear, guiding the way towards home.

    The dunes stretched as far as his emerald eyes could see, one leading into the next. The scant signs of life, the wicked heat bearing down even now; they all served to mock anyone who ventured beyond the confines of their settlements. It was for that reason that few ever did. For most of the planet, that meant the only signs of life were the wisps of finer particles dancing and swirling about in the hot winds.

    As he ran, the wind flowing through his auburn hair, he felt panic, weariness, and all the other pangs that came from running for one’s life. Yet at the same time there was a certain exhilaration there, amidst his panting and sweating, a feeling of being more alive than ever before. He imagined this was how adventurers felt, or soldiers facing the threat of death. Not that he would admit it to himself, the thrill of the chase. He was much too concerned with the fear of not surviving.

    He came to a stop as he crested one of the higher dunes, thinking he was in the clear. He looked towards the horizon for refuge, seeing his settlement ahead of him as the light began to fade beyond the horizon. He knew the perfect place to run to, away from death, away from fear and despair where he could hide forever, but this wasn’t it. That place was a dream, a fool’s errand far away from his current heading, beyond the rim that separated this part of the known galaxy from the next. Where he was going now was the best source of asylum he had. Knowing what kind of home this place really was, that he would have to find comfort in the security of tyrants, made him sick to his stomach. It taunted him too, the light of the suns illuminating it from behind, as if to say it was the best he could ever hope for. Maybe it was.

    Looking back again, he saw the shadows he had been fleeing from. He quickly turned and lunged forward in a desperate, last ditch effort to survive. Behind him came the savages who had been hunting him, the sand people who called the desert home. A menace to settlers across the planet. Rapists and pillagers, they were the barely sentient pirates of the endless sands. The primitive, animalistic shrieks of rage they uttered as they chased him were words that only they could understand. To the settlers, their true language was brutality and mayhem. Whatever culture they may have had before had faded long ago.

    The young man they chased was unarmed, yet the hunters were outfitted heavily with their dangerous and primitive tools. He couldn’t get a good look at them—no one who laid their eyes on the sand people returned to speak of what they saw—but he knew of their weapons. Their gaderffii sticks resembled spears, with a mace on one end and a serrated axe on the other. If the degenerates caught him, they would surely skin him alive. Only then, when he had been stripped raw, would they decide if he should die or if they should prolong his suffering for as long as possible. Just to satisfy their lust.

    He knew it too, which was why that so-called city, Anchorhead, would have to do for now.

    ————————————

    Gates of Anchorhead Station

    Anchorhead Station was the capital of this world and one of the last vestiges of civilization on the dying planet; not that the name was still apt in this day and age. What was once a tiny spaceport community, home to small corporate outposts here and there from those naive enough to think there was treasure to be mined beneath the sand, had been transformed into a sprawling desert metropolis. Dozens of ships dotted the air above the city, looking like tiny silver specks even from a nearby distance when compared to the vast size of the settlement.

    The city itself was surrounded by a massive wall, and, as those versed in the histories of the world ought to know, it was built to keep out the sand people. Minor towns and wayward settlers were what they had once attacked, but they had grown bolder throughout the centuries. Soon they gathered in greater numbers and began to hit the larger settlements, even Anchorhead as it was being built up. That became the ultimate cause of the Dune Sea War over a century ago, where thousands of sand people were slaughtered by the Hutt military.

    Foolishly, the Hutts thought that would cause the sand people to stop, yet it did anything but. If anything it strengthened their resolve, even with their dwindling numbers.

    Evening patrols were wandering the walls now, at least some of them. Soldiers equipped with the latest in blaster technology available to such a backwater world sat up against the wall, barely paying attention. The sand people hadn’t been around in months and the soldiers were growing complacent. Many of them were becoming lazy, sitting there with a deck of cards, putting their own entertainment before their work.

    “Fold,” one of the soldiers, a tall, muscular young man named Joshua Banai said. He seemed to be enjoying himself, even in the light of the dimming suns, as the burns across his tan skin were showing. “Wait, hold on.”

    He grabbed his fellow card player by the wrist, shaking it until two cards fell out of the older soldier’s sleeve. He had been cheating, just as Banai had come to suspect.

    “I could kill you right now,” Banai shouted.

    That was life for soldiers on guard duty, little to no action, just mindless threats over cheating in a card game. Suddenly a horde of sand people were incoming, and though they were ignorant of the oncoming threat, they would surely pay the price for their lack of vigilance. If this had been a world in the core of Hutt Space, perhaps they would be concerned about being executed for their ineptitude, but not here. Almost no one cared about anything on this planet.

    Almost.

    Doors to the lift from ground level swished open, and the stoic Colonel Deacon Darklighter stepped out, combing back his sand-infested dark brown hair with his hand as he prepared for a surprise inspection. He was not a particularly tall or imposing man. Whatever strength most people thought he had came through an image of military leadership carefully cultivated by the Hutt Lords throughout the centuries. His mid-sized frame clashed with his battered face, wary and scarred from life in the desert, but his eyes told the true story of the man his friends called Deak. No one really noticed it, but even now, looking upon his men, he was not one of them.

    His men snapped to attention, giving him a moment’s pause. He knew what they were doing, or more precisely what they were not doing. He knew what protocol demanded that he do, given that he was the commander of all Hutt military forces on the planet, but he couldn’t bring himself to blame them, even in spite of the albeit limited discipline he would hand out. He cared, but in a different way than a hardened Hutt stooge would. He cared about people and second chances.

    Before he could say anything, one of his soldiers cried out, “Raiders, incoming!”

    The soldiers bolted into weapons ready positions, aiming their weapons outward towards the incoming horde of sand people while others manned the cannons that lined the walls. Darklighter looked over the wall and out at what was coming, squinting his eyes at the figure in front of the pack. It was a man, a normal human man, not one of the sand people. The colonel grabbed his microbinoculars and looked through it, gasping at the sight.

    “Hold your fire! Wait for a cleaner shot,” Darklighter shouted. “I know him.”

    ————————————

    Outside the gates

    He was running faster now, but the savages were matching his pace, determined to get to him before they were in the line of fire. Questioning their actions, when it came to anything having to do with the sand people, was an exercise that most people on this world didn’t have any desire to grapple with. They probably just wanted to make an example out of him, or they simply wanted to satisfy their bloodlust, no matter the cost.

    Their tribal wails grew louder as they got closer and closer, his breathing quickly becoming heavier. Sweat was beading down his forehead, stinging his eyes mercilessly. He’d been on the verge of death before, feeling like it was the end for him, and it was not a feeling he had ever wanted to repeat, least of all like this. At least last time it was in the cockpit of a small ship high in the sky, not down on the ground, in the dirt and at the whim of murderous savages.

    He heard the muffled sounds of a soldier shouting to open fire and immediately dropped to the ground, throwing his face into the sand and covering his head with his hands. Dozens of laser bolts flew through the air above him, pummeling the sand people. One by one, they screamed and fell, before the last few remaining raiders turned and fled. Not all of them made it out alive, only two or three had survived, but they would not soon forget what had happened. If they were smart, they would never return. Although with the sand people, nothing was certain.

    Moments passed by that seemed like days. The blaster fire had stopped, but, with his face pressed against the sand and his eyes shut, he couldn’t see what was happening. Slowly, carefully, he peered around behind him and began to sit up, watching the remaining sand people flee towards the deep desert. The sounds of gunfire were soon replaced by that of an approaching speeder, its engine quietly roaring towards him from the city gates.

    His heart skipped a beat and a chill went down his spine. If there was one thing he feared more than the creatures of the night, it was the enforcers who tried to keep them at bay. He was in awe of their strength, but worried every day about how they intended to use it. He lamented over the constant threats of slavery he and others were subjected to—particularly his family, bound to the slavery of a never-ending contract as farmers. Not everyone who worked for the Hutts was a bad person. He knew some of them. He knew Darklighter. Yet far too many more were the worst kinds of people one could ever be unfortunate enough to meet, and he had no idea who was coming to confront him now.

    This was a microcosm of his life, one defined by fear.

    He breathed a sigh of relief as the speeder arrived and Darklighter stepped out. He knew he had dodged a bullet with the arrival of a friend. At least he hoped so. This wasn’t the first time he’d been in the line of fire, only to have Darklighter, a man meant to do the bidding of criminals, stick his neck out on his behalf.

    That’s why he couldn’t shake the feeling that the colonel was disappointed in him now. He could see it in Darklighter’s eyes. That weak, crooked smile struggling to form, so forced and so insincere. Darklighter’s head tilted, shaking ever so slightly. It was his tell, yet Darklighter thought he was such a convincing actor.

    “Michael Lars, I expect better from you,” Darklighter said, his tone clear in its annoyance, but not yet to the words that would truly sting. That’s when he said, “Your father expects better from you.”

    Michael dropped his head, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “If I could just explain myself, I—”

    “No,” Darklighter snapped. He didn’t want to. Michael was family, his nephew, though their relation was known to no one outside of the family. He hated having to do this, but he had no choice. He tried to temper his annoyance now, telling him, “I’m glad you’re safe, but I don’t want to hear it. You want to explain, and I want the ammunition we used to save your ass. Neither of us are going to get what we want.”

    “I know, and I’m sorry,” Michael said. “Really, I’m sorry. I know I stayed at my dig site too late.”

    Darklighter folded his arms across his chest. “Was it worth it?”

    “That depends,” Michael said, sensing the worst of this confrontation was over as he pulled a small wooden idol from his pocket, bearing the outline of a man and a woman with their hands clasped together. “How much would you pay for this?”

    He tossed it to the colonel, who took a look at it, only half-sincerely. He knew what Michael’s job was. It wasn’t his primary job, what with the contract and all, but it helped make ends meet, no matter how demoralizing it was for him. Darklighter was tempted to lie, but he valued honesty. He was one of the few on this planet who did, and that’s what made him so important.

    “I wouldn’t,” Darklighter said, tossing it back.

    “Then it was worth absolutely nothing,” Michael said, his voice defeated as he shoved the idol back into his pocket.

    ————————————

    Streets of Anchorhead

    The suns were almost completely set by the time Michael was safely inside the city gates, heading slightly deeper into the settlement once Darklighter returned to his post after dropping him off. Ahead of Michael was Darklighter’s destination, a towering fortress of military supremacy. Not that there was much to rule over in the desert, but the Hutt Lords weren't ones a person could attribute any level of subtlety. Their egos thrived on showing off to others, especially those less fortunate.

    The fortress sat dead center, while the rest of the settlement was broken up into four quarters around it. Small dwellings lined the far corners, although they became progressively bigger the closer one got to the capitol. Its towers and fortified defenses were a sign to anyone, not just in the city but outside of it. Even with the city walls, the structure could be seen from all directions—a castle only a Hutt could’ve designed.

    Those closest to the center, where most of the military protection was, were the more affluent and influential people who lived on the planet or were just visiting. Truth be told, most of that area of the city was abandoned, yet still kept in the most perfect of shape on the off chance that someone the government cared about actually stayed there.

    That, of course, was not where Michael was now. He didn’t even live in the city, rather on its outskirts, but he had no reason to venture into the more privileged area. He had no desire to, really, nor did they desire him or anyone else of his lower class and stature to be there. He stayed in one of the most outlying areas, where the jewel of the desert made way to a shanty town. Expecting more for the underclass was the epitome of naivety. Metal was dried and split. Paint faded in a matter of days. Stones cracked. An untrained eye wouldn’t be able to tell if the apparent neglect was by choice or a testament to the harsh environment, but the inhabitants knew better. They knew it was both.

    Yet despite all their hardships, a handful of people still tried to call it home. Members of countless species darted from one building to the next, seeking shelter from the heat that still bore down upon them in the early evening. The shadows of the buildings cast by the lights of the city afforded them a cool embrace in the heat. Perhaps there was no greater analogy for the decaying state of this world and all the others like it.

    As Michael rounded a corner, he stepped into a larger building. An eyesore on the outside, with scorch marks from a long-dead idealistic rebellion many years ago, but within was a comfort for many of the city’s less privileged. It was called the Yarga Cantina, derived from the Huttese word for “thirsty,” and it was the most popular hangout in this quarter of the city, as well as its main source of entertainment. Naturally, though, the rowdy nighttime crowd had yet to trickle in, letting the last few daytime patrons avoid all manner of shady types that would crawl out of the cracks and corners of the city soon enough.

    Still, even now, different types of people sat in booths on the outer walls, or at the bar that circled around the center of the cantina. There was a fat, nearly naked Kitonak from Kirdo III, and a blue, stickily-thin Er’kit from the world of the same name on one end of the bar. On the other was a tusked Aqualish and a long, gray-necked Ithorian, rocking back and forth as Ithorians always seemed to do. Between them, the cantina was a place brimming with the most unusual of lifeforms, at least by Human standards.

    Michael sat down at the far corner of the bar, out of earshot from the conversations going on throughout the building. He preferred to be as alone as possible, withdrawing from the judgmental eyes of those around him, as he knew what almost everyone, save for a select few, thought about him and his family. Events of the last few years only painted his family in a worse light, so this was his way of hiding in plain sight from the scorn that seemed to follow him everywhere.

    Letting out a sigh, and with it as much frustration and relief as he could, he looked out across the bar and watched as an alien band, each member equipped with strange instruments whose intricacies he wasn’t even going to try to understand, stood just beyond it. The large-headed, black-eyed Bith musicians swaggered back and forth, swaying from side to side with the rhythm of their song.

    He lost himself in the music. The soft beats, mixed with the clashing of steel in a neo-industrial tone, wasn’t the best he had ever heard, but it was relaxing, tranquil. The overbearing bass emanated outward and filled the cantina with its vibrations. The sharp clashing of steel on steel drums hid its lighter, eerier tones, but an attuned ear could still pick them up.

    “If it isn’t my favorite archaeologist!” a voice called out.

    Michael looked up to see a familiar face walking towards him, a coarse, stubbled face he had seen so often while scavenging for relics. He was a tall man, rivaling Michael in height, and his middle-aged frame fared well compared to most people on the planet. He abruptly shook his head near the doorway, sand and dirt falling from his unkempt light brown hair after a long day in the desert. Sweat covered his thin tan shirt and he reeked of the smells that the heat of midday would bring. Michael could tolerate it, though. This man was one of the few who ever left this world and actually came back, someone who actually thought of this place as home. Such a person deserved respect.

    “Hate to break it to you, Ray’kele,” Michael said, “but you’re the only archaeologist here. I’m just a scavenger.”

    Ray’kele chuckled at the thought. “Ah, but a scavenger is someone who just collects a bunch of junk for profit and doesn’t care what else they trample on.”

    “I know,” Michael said. He was dispirited by the notion. He thought very little of what he did beyond what Ray’kele had just described. “That’s not too far from what I am.”

    “Really?” Ray’kele asked. There was a knowing wisdom in his voice, as if he was not asking a serious question but just trying to goad an answer out of Michael. “I heard you were chased by a band of sand people today. Why was that?”

    Michael sighed. He wasn’t in the mood for this now, but he knew Ray’kele was right. “I accidentally wandered too close to them so I wouldn’t have to walk through a historical site.”

    “Told you,” Ray’kele said, grinning like a child. “Archaeologist.”

    “Whatever,” Michael said dejectedly.

    Ray’kele motioned for the bartender to bring them two waters, one of the only drinks available on the planet. Michael looked down at it when it came, his mind still replaying being chased by the sand people, though ignoring his drink wasn’t the best of ideas. Water was a treasure here, so much more expensive than almost any other world, and it was needed to survive here more than anywhere else when so little of it was buried beneath the sands. If the people were lucky, the Hutts would have it shipped in from other worlds. If they were lucky.

    “Find anything good?” Ray’kele asked, breaking Michael’s silence.

    Michael pulled the idol from his pocket again, flinging it over haphazardly now that he knew that not even Darklighter, his own uncle, would want to buy it, yet Ray’kele seemed more interested, staring at it with an air of nostalgia, an appreciation of something that Michael couldn’t understand.

    “Should I know what that means?” Michael asked.

    Ray’kele leaned in closer, keeping the idol in his hand, “Well, should is a strong word, but it never hurts to know things,” he quipped, pointing at the relic as he did. “They were star-crossed lovers. It’s from an ancient legend about a shaman, this guy,” he said, pointing to the man in the depiction, “and he taught that interpretation was the key to understanding ourselves. He believed that our lives were shaped by the way we look at the world around us.”

    “Who was he?” Michael asked, taking the idol back, the awe of something possibly meaningful returning to his eyes.

    “A curse. A messiah. Depends on who you ask,” Ray’kele told him, still look at it wondrously, affectionately. “It doesn’t really matter, though. Sometimes the legend of a man is more important than the man himself.”

    Ray’kele stood up from his stool, pushing it out behind him and stepping away from the bar. He leaned in again, though, but only just for a moment. Michael may have felt slightly better, but Ray’kele could tell that this wasn’t the best time for a conversation. After all the times they had talked, about the lives they lived and the lives they perhaps wished they were living instead, he had come to know Michael well enough to know when to back off.

    “I wish I could stay longer, but I have other matters to attend to,” Ray’kele told him.

    Michael held the idol up towards him, asking, “You want this? Seems to be worth more to you.”

    “No, you hold on to that,” Ray’kele said. “You’re not going to fetch anything for it, not here, but value isn’t always in money. You may find it’s worth a lot more than you think.”

    Michael kept his eyes fixed on it as Ray’kele walked away. Maybe there was something valuable in the desert after all. Not like profit, as Ray’kele said, but something that he could at least attach some value to. He had very few things that he could do that to, and adding one more gave him a good feeling that he didn’t often have.

    He whispered as Ray’kele walked away, “Thank you.”
  3. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Chapter Two

    “Here on this world, the weak run strong and
    the strong stay weak—because they allow it.”
    —From the journals of Elias

    Yarga Cantina
    An hour later

    Michael was still sitting in the cantina, but had finally put the idol away once he realized he was attracting attention by staring so intently at it for too long. Now he sipped his water, hydration coming back to him, at least as well as it could in this city. He squirmed in his seat as he did, feeling something in his pocket that was bothering his leg. It was a tiny book, one he’d had since childhood, and he pulled it out, smiling like he would for an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. He had been cleaning out his room earlier in the day, and he must’ve have put it in his pocket, almost instinctively as he used to do.

    He brushed the grains of sand off its cover as he held it tightly in his hands. It was one of his most valuable possessions, at least in the materialistic sense. It always gave him a sense of vision, a sense that the future would be better, even if so much of that hope had already been lost. The cover was faded, but etched across it, in a boy’s handwriting, were the words Beyond the Rim, emblazoned there by the boy who wrote it, emphasized for the mysteries that lied beyond the Great Rift that divided the Outer Rim from the Republic.

    His father, Luke Lars, his adoptive father at least, had written it there when he was a boy. Luke’s grandfather had given it to him, only for the since-jaded Luke Lars to tuck it away, until Michael found it years ago. Michael was never able to stop thinking about what was out there, beyond the Outer Rim. Adventures waiting to be had, terrors waiting to be slain, challenges to be overcome; even now, Michael had a hard time keeping himself from getting lost in the unknown. The idea of a Republic that stood for people and justice was one of the only things that gave him at least some small measure of hope for tomorrow.

    Suddenly, the book was snatched from his hands. Michael whipped his neck around, seeing who had taken it. It was Joshua Banai, out of his uniform and dressed in posh, privileged clothing, though he certainly didn’t look, or smell, like the upper class, the odor of bad alcohol on his breath and clothes. He and his family were well connected to the Hutts thanks to his friends, the brothers Dirk and Lorn whose father was a high ranking military officer, who flanked him. He had all the amenities he would need, and yet his tan skin was still covered in dirt. Apathy had bred laziness in him even outside of the wall.

    “You pining over the Republic again? Hah!” Joshua slurred. “Good one, Sleemo.” *hic* “The Republic don’t give two damns about us.”

    Michael stood up from his stool, looking down at Joshua. It was a strange sight; Michael dwarfed most other people, yet it was they who somehow looked down on him. This wasn’t Michael’s best day, though, not after the sand people, and he wanted his book back.

    “Give it back,” Michael demanded. “And don’t call me Sleemo.”

    “Look out, Joshy,” Dirk slurred, grinning like an idiot. “Sleemo here’s gonna” *hic* “hit you!”

    “Go on, Sleemo,” Lorn said. “Give him your best shot.” *hic* “I’ll make sure our guys do what those raiders couldn’t.”

    Michael sniffed the air, smelling the alcohol wafting through the breeze coming through the open doorway. He grimaced at the thought of what would happen if anyone found out, but it didn’t take him long to remember that the authorities were probably the ones to give them alcohol in the first place. Just because the Hutts made it illegal didn’t mean the soldiers weren’t going to indulge themselves with it.

    “Are you guys drunk?” Michael asked, even though he clearly didn’t need to.

    “No,” Joshua said, stumbling where he stood as he did. “Okay, yeah. What’s it to you?”

    “How’d you even get it?” Michael wondered aloud.

    “Hah!” Dirk shouted, practically scoffing. “Not everybody’s daddy is some piece of crap rebel farmer like yours.”

    A seething anger shot through Michael’s core, striking a nerve stronger than anyone else had ever done before. The Rim Wars were a sore subject; loyalties and allegiances were split in the desert, but people kept it to themselves. Drunk or not, no one had ever said anything like that to him before, not until Dirk.

    “Shut up,” Michael spat, clenching his fists.

    “Or what?” Lorn mockingly asked.

    “Just give me my book, Joshua,” Michael asked, pleading, not wanting to be around them anymore. “Give me the book and I’ll leave.”

    “Why don’t you go cry to your mommy, Sleemo?” Joshua said. “Oh right, she’s dead.”

    And that was it. Michael kicked his bar stool out from in front of him, slamming it into Joshua, who stumbled backward onto the ground. Dirk ran at Michael, but Michael thrust his arm outward, tripping him backward onto his brother, and they both fell to the ground. It wasn’t their fight anyway. It never was.

    Joshua jumped back up, barely standing straight, but that never stopped him from getting in a fight, and it certainly wouldn’t stop him now. He had waited a long time to take a shot at Michael, but he wasn’t fully prepared for what he was getting into. Like a long dormant volcano ready to erupt, all of the pent up rage and frustration inside of Michael’s veins rose to the surface. Joshua swung and Michael blocked, slamming his free fist into Joshua’s face. Bloodied, he stumbled backward again, with Michael right behind him.

    Michael pulled back his fist, ready to swing, but it was grabbed by Dirk, who had gotten up off the ground where his brother still laid. It took Michael by surprise, enough that he lost his focus, letting Joshua jump forward and slam Michael against the bar, where the other patrons scattered and the bartender hid. That’s when Joshua let loose, slamming his fist into Michael’s face over and over.

    All of Joshua’s pent up anger, all of his rage, over what Michael had done to him years earlier, came pouring out of him. His hands were bloodied, his own blood mixing with Michael’s, soaking his hand. It stung, not only his fingers but the memories of that day as they ran through his mind.

    The beating stopped suddenly, with Dirk being thrown across a table, crashing down against the wall of the bar. Lorn tried to react, but a chair swung across his face, cracking as it hit his cheek bones and he fell to the ground, screaming and writhing in pain.

    Through blurred eyes, Michael watched the one who attacked them stand over them. It was Sara Jade, Joshua’s girlfriend, the one person who had the thug on a leash. Her long, blonde hair flowed over her shoulders, and her form-fitting white shirt caught Michael’s attention from the moist sweat that made it almost see-through. Even the sweat dripping from her forehead looked good on her. Michael would know, given that he dated her for nearly a year, until just a few months earlier.

    “What the hell?” she asked, ignoring Michael and keeping her eyes fixed on Joshua.

    “He was—”

    Sara wasn’t going to give him a chance, though. “He was probably sitting here minding his own business when you came in and had to make an idiot out of yourself.”

    “Just wait,” Dirk said, helping his blithering brother up the ground and hiccuping again. “Just wait until my father hears about this.”

    “I don’t think so,” Sara said. “Not unless you want me to tell Colonel Darklighter about how your father gave us all that alcohol.”

    “Screw you!” Lorn’s trembling voice shouted.

    “Hey!” Joshua barked back. “That’s my girlfriend you’re talking to.”

    “All of you get out of here,” Sara finally demanded. “Now.”

    The three of them stood their ground for a minute, but Joshua could see the killer look in her eye, knowing he’d be in for hell if he didn’t do what she said. He motioned for Dirk and Lorn, who begrudgingly followed him through the door, all while Sara made her way to the bruised and bloodied Michael, whose face was swelling up from Joshua’s attack. She brushed the hair out of a gash on his forehead, lightly brushing across the cut but hard enough for Michael to wince.

    “Oh, Michael,” she said, her voice heavy with disappointment. “What happened to you?”

    ————————————

    An hour later, Michael was still feeling the pain of the fight, even after most of the swelling had gone down. They didn’t have ice, but the water in a glass that the bartender gave him was cold for long enough to help. He sat in a back corner booth now, as did Sara, and she just stared at him from the other side as he tried to hide his shame over what had happened. Still, he couldn’t help but keep glancing over at her. He had a hard time taking his eyes off her at any time, really. He always did.

    She brushed her golden hair off of her face, and her green eyes looked into his as they fully caught one another’s gaze. There was something about her eyes that he could always get lost in, something that captivated his thoughts. It was everything he didn’t know about her. Her mystery, like how she’d been able to sneak up on him just now, among so much more, was part of what attracted him to her...but she was so very beautiful on top of that.

    “I wanted to apologize—”

    “Don’t,” Michael angrily cut her off. “Not for him.”

    “I know, it’s just...,” she trailed off. She didn’t know what to say. It used to be so easy for them to talk to each other, but now things were more complicated. It was awkward. “You didn’t deserve that.”

    Michael dropped his blurred gaze, feeling her hand on top of his, a gentle gesture telling him that everything was going to be fine. He couldn’t help but smile. No matter what she’d said when she left him, she always had a way of making him feel better after a rough day. And now, after everything that had happened, he thought that maybe, just maybe, they could still be friends.

    “I should go,” she said as she pulled her hand away, her touch leaving him like the sting of an open wound.

    He nodded, but then suddenly, almost unconsciously, blurted out, “Why him?”

    Sara stopped herself from leaving the booth and turned her eyes to meet his. One eyebrow rose, going so far up it almost touched the golden hair over her forehead. She rolled her eyes ever so slightly and gently titled her head, showing an indignation that only served to mask her surprise.

    It wasn’t a question she’d have expected him to ask. It was too impulsive for the Michael she knew, a rash leap into a lion’s den that he would never normally take. He was always too quiet, too unwilling to actually speak his mind to the source of his frustrations, much unlike Joshua. It was a refreshing change, actually, just one that came too little, too late.

    And it was because of that she found herself not knowing what to say. She just kept looking at him, staring blankly at the normally gentle face now etched with anger and confusion. There wasn’t a good answer that immediately came to mind, and she was someone almost always quick on her feet.

    Instead she sighed in frustration, her shoulders slumping, “Is this really the time for that?”

    Not really, he thought deep down, but he couldn’t help himself. “He’s arrogant. He’s weak. He’s a slave who willingly gives in to his masters.”

    “You don’t get it,” Sara said as she shook her head. “You never have. Playing their game isn’t giving into them. It’s accepting the life you have and trying to make it just a little bit better for yourself. If anyone gives into them, it’s you.”

    Michael burst out into a mock laughter, but quickly stopped from the physical discomfort strong facial expressions brought. What a ridiculous thing to say!, he thought. Anyone who had ever talked to him about the Hutts knew just how he felt about them. No one who believed the same things he did could ever be accused of giving into the Hutts. Nor should they be.

    “And how’s that?” he asked, leaning back with folded arms, almost joyously awaiting her answer.

    “Because you’re afraid,” she snapped, her pitch growing higher as her words went by, and as Michael dropped his crossed arms and wiped the smile from his face. “You always talk about how someone should do something to stop them, but that’s all you ever do is talk. All the while, your family falls farther into the hole that you’ll just willingly let yourself die in. And that’s just the way you want it, because it’s easier. You’re exactly the type of self-defeating coward they want, because your tough talk can’t keep them from walking all over you.”

    Sara did just as Michael had and crossed her arms as she leaned back up against her side of the booth, smirking as her persistence became more and more pointed. “But hey, at least you’ve got a clear conscience, right?”

    Michael’s jaw hung open, his face aghast. How dare she! How dare she say that to me! She didn’t just take a shot at him. No, he knew she aimed that right at his father too. Michael didn’t control what his family did and she knew it.

    “You think you have me figured out, but—”

    “I do,” she interrupted. “I have for a long time. You used to tell me stories about how your dad fought in the Rim Wars, how he actually took a stand against the Hutts.”

    He paused for a second or two, not knowing what to say to that. “A lot of good that did him,” he finally shot back, taking a slow, almost painful sip of water.

    “Maybe so,” she conceded, “but you used to tell everyone else how you wanted to be like them, only better. How you wanted to do it the right way. What happened to that Michael Lars?”

    I wish I knew, he thought.

    “What am I supposed to do?” he asked. “Steal and kill? Be like they are? No thanks.”

    “Part of you wants to,” she told him, knowing it probably wasn’t something he was even consciously aware of. “Don’t lie to yourself about it. I know you too well.”

    “That’s insane,” he chuckled. “I’d never have that in me.”

    “That’s rich,” she said, leaning towards him as she pointed back out the door. “You think Dirk and Lorn are smarter and better than you are? They’re idiots. If they can do it...”

    Sara slipped out of the booth and over to the other side, slowly sliding onto his seat as he moved against the wall away from her. It was a more intimate conversation than she expected to have, especially in light of his battered face, but it served to get her point across.

    “We could’ve been great together,” she said, leaning closer to his face, her voice alluringly seductive. “Just think what we could’ve been if you weren’t so afraid.”

    He leaned forward towards her now, serving to get his own point across, moving only inches from her, “I’m not afraid.”

    Sara curiously titled her head again. She leaned to her left side, closer towards him, and reached her hand into her pants pocket. She pulled out a small flask of whisky, not even bothering to hide it from anyone else, and handed it out to him.

    “Then prove it,” she challenged. “Drink up.”

    “You know you’re not supposed to have that,” Michael said, his voice hushed and his eyes shifting as the conversation took a turn to the uncomfortable.

    “Who cares?” she asked, her voice awash with disappointment. “Prohibition is a symbol of imperialism. If you’re really not afraid of doing something about that, then drink it. Rebel, just a little.”

    He wanted to. Every fiber of his being told him to grab the flask and drink it all, and then demand more. He had no idea who could’ve been watching them, so he looked around, scanning the room. That almost made it fun to think about, exhilarating even, all while knowing there were enough people in the cantina where any of them could’ve been working for the Hutts, or at least been willing to rat someone out for a small reward.

    The whole idea of prohibition was ridiculous. The Hutts were the lords of sin and vice, nothing more than criminals masquerading as a government, so they only forbid it on this and a small handful of other worlds for no other reason than to make life worse for people. It and more was revenge for the Rim Wars, nothing else.

    But he couldn’t do it, and the disappointment written all over Sara’s face told him that she knew it too. She took the flask away, putting it back into her pocket, and stood up, ready to leave.

    “You’re pathetic,” she said, defeated, and without another word began to walk away.

    Michael wasn’t ready to just let her walk off like that, shouting, “So...so I have the temerity to live, and I’m the pathetic one?”

    “Temerity?” she yelled, whipping herself back around and slamming her hands onto the table, which attracted the attention of those around them. With a quieter voice, she said, “That right there is half your problem. You do this all the time, acting like if you look smart and calm and use words you read in a book then people will be like you and they’ll be better off.”

    “You know what?” Michael said, lifting himself up between the seat and the table to lean in towards her. “They would be.”

    “The Rim isn’t a place for good people, Michael,” she said. “People aren’t looking for leadership. They don’t want inspiration. They want money and pleasure.”

    They stood there for a few long, never-ending seconds, looking at one another, both thinking about all the months they’d spent together in times so much better than this. The music kept playing in the background, growing softer and more sensual as it played on. They both took deep breaths, once again comfortable in front of one another, perhaps too much so.

    That was the thing, though. Michael never wanted her to leave him, but now she wanted to remind him what he’d lost—and all that he never had. So she pushed him back into the booth, hitting his back against the wall as she clung to his shirt and slid into the seat.

    Sara wrapped her legs around him. For a moment, Michael forgot how to breath, surrendering himself to her, ignoring whatever pain, physical and emotional, that this brought to him. He vaguely caught a glimpse of her piercing emerald eyes before he felt his lips meet with her own.

    She knew exactly how to push his button, knew just what drove him crazy. Her fingers curled into his hair as she kissed him, moistening his dry lips, devouring his will as he lost himself in a passion he’d forgotten. It was a measure of sensual control that affected her as much as it did him. Michael, on the other hand, allowed it to happen, letting himself be lost in the taste of her lips and the hint of whiskey that flavored her breath. He pulled her closer, tilting his head to delve deeper in.

    And then, just as suddenly as she had pushed him back, she was back on her feet. Michael exhaled, so deep it was like the first breaths out of the womb, and glanced up at Sara. He was an animal caught in the headlights, frozen in place.

    “When you’re ready to be a man,” she said, with a sigh of pleasure, feeling overwhelmed herself, “there’s so much more where that came from.”

    She left without another word spoken between them, walking out the door and out of his life again. Nothing she said made sense, and yet everything she said made sense. It was a paradox, a struggle within his own mind, a conflict about what he should and shouldn’t do. He may have rejected her words flat out, but he couldn’t help but wonder if she was right.
  4. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Chapter Three

    “I never had a family, people to lift me up when I’ve
    fallen or just pretend to understand my problems.
    Don’t make that same mistake. You’ll always regret it.”
    —From the journals of Elias

    Lars moisture farm
    Outside the Judland Wastes

    Motes of dust and sand swirled about the ground, the wind curling them into dozens of wispy spirals. Michael’s speeder cut through them, racing towards a small structure sticking up from the ground, greeted with the sight of home, a sunken pit in the center of a vast moisture farm. Not that there was much moisture to be found. What little they brought to the surface from the wheezing pumps that littered the grounds was taken by the Hutt military to be distributed throughout the population. ‘Fair’ was how they described their rationing. What was so fair about the powerful having all the water they needed and the poor of Anchorhead desperately waiting for any drop they could get?

    The hovering craft came to soft rest as the engine shut off, and Michael stepped off just above the pit. His muscles ached as he walked towards it. He could barely see straight at this point, between the fatigue from near-death and the swelling of his beaten face, but he still managed to see one of his favorite sights.

    Sinking below the horizon was the final light of the setting suns, slowly giving way to the deep blackness of night. Light was snuffed out by darkness. It was the way of this world. Every day opened with a sunrise, a new beginning, a feeling that this day would be better. Then it turned to the final setting of the daytime suns like this, and there was nothing left but the cold and empty void of sand and mayhem.

    But this farm was something more. It was the closest he had to anything that felt like real protection. Not the security of a tyrant’s gate, but the warm comfort of those who would do anything to protect the ones they loved. It was surrounded by nothing; there were no trees, no grass, nothing outwardly suggesting there was anything else on this world but sand, but for Michael it had always meant something more.

    From home, he could stare out into the distance, into the endless Dune Sea. It was there where the mysteries of this world lived, where barren wastes became all the more dangerous, and imaginations could run wild thinking of the excitement to be found. Even the Michael of today couldn’t stop himself from getting lost in the possibilities of that great unknown. No matter his problems, sometimes a greater notion was all a person needed to feel inspired.

    But this was a boy’s dream. Sara was right. He was afraid, scared to take action; action against oppression, action against his fears, action to even have the slightest feeling of adventure. His imagination was the only place where his dreams lived. He could think about what was out beyond the horizon or see himself fighting against evil because none of it was real. It was safe, its comfort false. Only this farm, and the memories of the dreams he’d conjured as a child, could come close to something real, because this is where he always thought it would be real. It’s why it was the only place things seemed clear to him, no matter how bleak that clarity was.

    He headed for the entrance to the structure, one that looked to be fashioned from the desert itself, crudely sliced and sculpted out of the environment long before he was ever born. Its rounded oval structure was bombarded by the wind, scarred with streaks of sand that curled off its decrepit walls without incident.

    Their home was the only sight from here to the horizon that resembled anything manmade, despite its crude and simple design. Although it had been built to reflect its surroundings, its beige rock had decayed over time, revealing the grey and terra-cotta stone beneath its exterior. At its very center, at what could be called its entrance, a rectangular hole was cut into the ground, connecting it to the rest of the structure, one that Michael began to step into. Slowly striding down the steps, he breathed a sigh of relief. He hoped to leave his troubles behind him in the desert, separating himself from them, shut away by old walls. He was home.

    At least he thought he could leave it behind.

    He rounded the corner towards the living area, resting his hand against the walls of the dark hallway before he hit the light of the pit, the smells of the nearby kitchen hit him like a freighter. The air he breathed in stung. The odors of ammonia and kitchen soap always there after a meal were things he’d always felt allergic too. He lurched forward, sneezing into his hands as he rounded the corner, stepping back into the light.

    Their home was distinctly unremarkable. Garages and other work rooms littered the grounds of the circular enclosure. Bedrooms and other small living areas were on the upper levels, with only a small hole for a window. Room wasn’t the right word to describe the places where they slept. A small, person-sized hole cut into the wall was far more apt. In the center of the pit, work tools were still strewn across the area. The pump in the center, their main source of moisture, was still churning away. There was still work to do, even at night.

    In the dining area was the reason why. There sat his father, sharing a drink of blue milk with Darklighter. The colonel seemed ashamed to even be there. His hands wrapped around the cup of milk and he sipped it, barely looking at Michael. Michael could tell he felt like a child, a tattle tale, but it was only because he knew Michael too well. He knew that above all else, above any other failure in life, disappointing his father, the man who had adopted him all those years ago, was the one thing he did not want to do. Hearing what happened today was a disappointment, but nowhere near the disappointment of Michael lying to Luke and not telling him.

    “Sit down,” Luke demanded.

    He was an unkempt man, a farming man dressed in little more than rags, someone who spent his days toiling away in the merciless heat of the suns. His skin cracked and his light brown hair was already beginning to turn gray, yet he still had his strength. He still carried the demeanor and physicality of even Michael, but his eyes told Michael everything. With just a look, the angry yet sad eyes of the man that glared at him now, Michael could feel like he’d had an entire conversation with him.

    “What do you know?” Michael tepidly asked.

    Luke slammed his hands onto the table. “The sand people. The cantina. All of it.”

    “I tried to tell Deak before,” Michael said, as he sat at the center of the table, between Luke and Darklighter, “I can explain about the sand people.”

    “Then go ahead,” Luke said.

    Michael let out a sigh, of both frustration and relief. “I was at a dig site, and on my way back I took a longer way around another one.”

    Deak’s eyebrow cocked, and now he was curious. “Why? You had a pre-approved path.”

    “A battle was fought there,” Michael told him, his tone carrying the weight of its importance to him, “a long time ago, during the Dune Sea War. I didn’t want to ruin the site.”

    “Poetic,” Deak quipped. “And?”

    This was where Michael knew he would lose them. “And I ran into a group of sand people in the east, so I—”

    “The east?” Luke shouted. He flew out of his seat, pacing across the floor in front of them and rubbing his hands across his eyes. “You went into the Eastern Dune Sea? Are you out of your mind? That’s the most reckless thing you’ve done since...”

    His voice trailed off and he looked away, the shame of what he had just said written across his face, after the line he had just crossed. Michael felt it too, as his eyes closed, trying to avoid what his mind wanted to show him. Spiraling out of control. Smoke. Fire. So much fire.

    Michael’s voice was subdued now. “I was trying to—”

    “Get yourself killed?” Luke asked, his voice also growing softer.

    “I’m sorry,” Michael whispered.

    “I should hope so,” Luke said as he sat back down, offering a weak smile of consolation. “None of tonight’s chores got done because of all this. I suggest you get started.”

    As Michael walked away, Luke’s eyes were heavy with the remorse of a man who had once been the same person his son was. He remembered it all too well, the pain, the sadness that came from losing everything he believed in because of a stupid mistake and the pains he put himself through in the years that followed. Life just didn’t make sense sometimes.

    “You were rough on him,” Darklighter said, critical in his words, studying Luke in an overly obvious way to get a sense of what he was feeling. Luke knew that Deak was never one to understand his past, even if he wanted to.

    “I know,” Luke told him. “I also know he didn’t mean any harm.”

    Luke could see that his friend was visibly frustrated, gripping his glass tightly and furrowing his brow. “Maybe not,” Darklighter said, “but I have to explain all this to my superiors, and they won’t be happy.”

    “Well, it’s not like we’re treated fairly,” the scorned farmer said, “so I’m sure we’ll be hearing from them soon.”

    “Bull,” Darklighter spat. “No, things aren’t fair here. No one knows you used to be my brother in law, no one can, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pull a string or two when I’m able. You know it too, so don’t act like you don’t get special treatment,” his voice was growing louder as he said that, and Luke was wincing, knowing he’d stepped into the lion’s den. “You’re a year behind on moisture quotas. I’ve had to pull Michael’s ass out of the line of fire more than once. Any other family would’ve been rounded up and shot by now, but not yours. Because you’re my family.”

    The colonel leaned back and crossed his arms across his chest, across the medals and the stars and stripes that adorned his black uniform, his entire demeanor clearly defiant. “You’re welcome.”

    Luke didn’t want to admit it, but he knew Darklighter was right. Luke had always wanted to believe he was self-sufficient, that he didn’t need help from anyone, least of all a government based on criminality, yet he did need it. He would’ve been dead or in a prison cell without Deak.

    “But I can’t do that forever,” Darklighter said, his voice becoming hushed to the point where Luke could barely hear it, as if the eyes and ears of the all-seeing Hutts were there with them. “You know why I’m still in the military. You know what I’m doing, what I have to do.”

    “I know what you’re trying to do,” Luke jabbed. “I know what’s going to kill you.”

    He shook his head at the thought while Darklighter stood up. The colonel knew the risks, saying, “Maybe so. Maybe it will kill me, but I won’t jeopardize my chance.”

    Luke had seen firsthand what Deak wanted to do. He had been there before. He once had hope, like Deak did now, but it was crushed under the weight of the Hutt military that the colonel now called himself a leader in. It would devour them all whole and spit them out without a second’s thoughts, and the memories of a time long since passed would not be enough to save them.

    “Fair enough,” Luke said, yet it was anything but.

    ————————————

    Lars moisture farm, garage

    “Do the chores he says,” Michael grumbled, muttering about to himself. “They’re not done because of me he says. It’s not like I almost died...”

    The garage was a dank place, built deep into the side of the desert wall for more room, and so less light entered it than the dining area. Michael sat in the far back corner, laboring away at the shifter of a broken down landspeeder, trying to get it operational again. Most of the garage was one big mess of things that needed fixing. Broken speeder parts and gears for moisture vaporators were left carelessly throughout the garage. Some of it was there when he got there. More of it was of his own doing.

    Every move he made, from looking for a part to fixing one, was exaggerated in his frustration. He couldn’t just search through a pile of junk, he had to toss every part behind him, letting it fall wherever it would. Turning a wrench on a shifter bolt was too simple for him tonight. Instead cranking it as hard as he could, his arms moving about as he did and his exasperation growing.

    Sparks began to fly and he jumped backward, afraid there might be a fire. Did he do that? He didn’t think he’d been that haphazard about how he was working. Just then, a tiny vermin ran out from under the speeder, scurrying away across the floor and back out into the pit. Michael’s frustration grew. Now he was pacing back and forth at what the sniveling sand-rat had done, or what Michael himself had done. He wasn’t quite sure. More uncertainty. That’s what frustrated him more than the broken wires that now hung from the bottom of the shifter’s parts.

    “Damn it!”

    His wrench flew out of his hand, thrown across to the far wall of the garage where it slammed against it, clattering down to the floor behind a table. Michael didn’t even remember throwing it. There was no thought. It just happened, without control, without consideration for what he was doing. He slammed his fists against the workbench, the tools and parts jumping into the air as he did. What’s happening to me? he asked himself.

    “Don’t worry about Deak,” came a voice from behind him, a voice not much older than him, an uplifting one at times and a massive annoyance at others. It was a brother’s voice. “He’s a damn fool on an idealistic crusade. You don’t want any part in that.”

    Michael whirled around to see his adoptive brother standing there, clad in the same ragged clothing that their father was. Owen Lars was older than Michael, four years older, though not nearly as tall. He was a smaller man, his brown hair brushed modestly and not as unkempt as their father, but one built enough to hold his own. Everyone had to be in this environment. Owen placed a hand over his mouth, trying to suppress a brother’s laugh at the bruises on Michael’s face, and he moved his hand across the stubble of his own face to try and play it off.

    As Owen kept laughing beneath his hand, Michael didn’t even care. Michael said, “What if I do? After what happened to Kitster, I ran scared.” He laughed at that, not at what had happened but at the absurdity of what it made him. “I used to dream about finishing what Dad and the other rebels started, but now... You should’ve seen me, Owen. I can barely stand up to Dirk and Lorn, the two biggest idiots in the history of idiots.”

    Owen didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. The two of them both knew that nothing he said could comfort Michael right now. What Michael needed, and what Owen had always given him, was an outlet. Owen always looked out for him. He didn’t need to make anything better. He just needed to be there, and that’s where he was now. He approached Michael, standing in front of him, letting the pause hang over them so Michael could keep breathing and calm himself, and then Owen hugged him. He wrapped his arms around his much larger brother, slapping him on the back both for strength of comfort and for a kick in the backside.

    “You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” Owen said as he stepped away, with Michael nearly taking offense until he saw the grin etched across his face, “but you’re my pain in the ass.”

    Owen turned away, walking back towards the center of the pit, as he said. “Buck up and get some sleep. You look like a bantha stepped on your face.”

    Michael burst out laughing, not expecting that tonight. “Shut up.”

    But the laughter didn’t last, fading away as the frustration with himself and the day returned. Without ever saying it, Owen answered the question about what was happening to Michael. In the few brief words they shared, Owen had told him to get over himself and managed to make him laugh at the same time. Unlike Sara, unlike the hell that she managed to stuff into his head. He could almost feel her there, taunting him as Owen left. It was her, the memory of her from earlier at least, that made the laughter fade away. Sara was all he could think about now, and she just wouldn’t get out of his head.
  5. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Chapter Four

    “I met someone recently whose life was tainted by
    the darkness of desires born of no self-control. Such
    desires are fruits that always become bitter over time.”
    —From the journals of Elias

    Lars moisture farm
    A few hours later

    It was the middle of the night now, when the lights of the farm had been shut off and the desert was nearly silent but for the distant chants of sand people and the wailing of the night beasts. Michael was sleeping in the hole he called his quarters, although he was anything but sound. He thrashed back and forth, shaking at times, overcome by a nightmare. He was sweating profusely, mumbling in his sleep.

    Michael slowly found himself somewhere else, drifting somewhere beyond his quarters, beyond his home, and it was then that he realized he was flying. He soared high above the ground in a craft he had piloted as a younger man, his eyes marveling at the open air of the desert skies. As he looked about him, taking in his surroundings, he turned to find himself accompanied by another craft, flanking him as his altitude increased.

    They were flying higher, further away from Anchorhead than they had ever flown before. Dozens if not hundreds of kilometers were between them and the city as they recklessly abandoned the safety of civilization for the risks of the unknown.

    The ships began to seize. Sparks flew. The roars of their engines stopped. The ships convulsed in the throes of death and smoke poured out of their engines, fire and metal bursting outward in all directions. Michael looked over to the second craft. Fire enveloped it, devouring it whole. His own senses were growing weak, dizziness overcoming him. His ship was spinning out of control. He tried to cry out to the other pilot, but the words couldn’t leave his lips. No engines. No control. No hope. The desert floor was growing closer. Time slowed and fate was clear.

    Michael shot out of bed, his body covered in sweat, shaking and breathing uncontrollably. He just sat there, panting, his mind racing back and forth from that day so long ago, the day his father brought back to the forefront when he chastised him earlier. It was a day he’d always tried to forget, but one he never could.

    He got up, still wearing the sweaty and bloodied clothes from the day before, and stumbled out of the structure and into the open hole in the ground that was his home. The memories of that day, and of the days after, kept replaying in his head. He found a source of comfort after it. He found Sara, but fruit often turned sour when left out in the suns, such as it was with Michael and Sara.

    No matter how hard he tried, though, he just couldn’t get her out of his head. It was maddening. She was maddening. He sought the intoxication that she once provided him. He had an itch that only she could scratch, a longing that burned inside of him. She tempted him. She seduced the dreams of the boy named Michael Lars and turned it into a nightmare for the man he was now. He knew that only by giving in, just this once, could he get her out of his head.

    Michael ran into the garage and grabbed a blaster, a necessary companion for the fool who would enter the desert at night, but he wasn’t just going to use it for defense. He dropped to a knee and rummaged through the bottom drawers of a work bench, pulling out a small safe. He aimed the blaster at it and the bolt of energy surged outward, the blaster smoking hot as it did, and it blew open the lock of the safe.

    It was his father’s hidden cache of alcohol. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Michael knew what he was doing was wrong. Not just wrong, but stupid. And yet, he didn’t care. He grabbed the bottle and made his way up the nearest stairwell and onto the desert floor. He was surrounded by nothing but the pitch blackness of the desert night. The howls of the creatures of the distant dunes beckoned him. They desert called out a name, but it wasn’t his.

    It was hers.

    ————————————

    Douz outpost

    Just outside of Anchorhead, still in view of its lights and the sprawling fortress, sat the Douz outpost, an even more decaying settlement than the far reaches of Anchorhead. Michael sped onto the dusty streets, kicking up sand and dirt behind him, before stopping in front of Sara’s home. It was a small hovel of a home with only two tiny rooms inside. The outside was crumbling, and the bleached domes of the neighboring homes were even beginning to cave in. It was not a place where people lived willingly, though Michael knew Sara made the best of it.

    She didn’t have much money. Her wage as a mechanic in the outskirts of Anchorhead forced her to live on modest means, it always had, but her relationship with Joshua afforded her some newfound advantages. Sara’s home was tended to, even if it was in an impoverished area. Joshua took care of her. Michael didn’t know how well, but he knew he did. That little..., he thought to himself.

    He knocked on the door, more of a pounding really, but loud enough to wake her up. To his surprise, though, she wasn’t asleep. She opened the door almost immediately. When he saw her standing there, he was taken in by her sensuality, as the light robe she wore wrapped around her curves and left little to be desired, but it didn’t take him long to notice that something wasn’t right. Her eyes were wet. Not with the sweat of a desert heat, but with tears. He felt so much sadness from her, so much heartache, and he slipped the small bottle of whiskey in his hand into his back pocket, keeping it to himself for now.

    Sara wiped the tears from her eyes as she said, “Michael...what are y-... Sorry, I didn’t think I’d be seeing anyone tonight. Come in, please.”
    “What is it?” he asked as he stepped through the door, closing it behind him. “What’s wrong?”

    “It’s nothing,” she said, turning away from him. “Really.”

    He rested his hand on her shoulder, comforting her, just as he used to. “Hey, you can’t lie to me. Remember what you told me last night? I also know you too well.”

    Sara was fidgeting, obviously not wanting to tell him what was wrong. He could understand that. Their relationship fell apart not only because his ambition and drive died, but because he became distant. Sometimes cold, even. He treated her like an afterthought, with his mind consumed by his own past mistakes. The only difference now was that he had stopped pulling away.

    “After what happened at the bar,” she finally said, “Joshua told me I’d humiliated him and that he wasn’t going to put up with someone who ‘didn’t know their place.’ He left me.”

    “I’m...,” he started to say, trying to suppress his amusement and the smirk that was etching itself across his face, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

    New tears started to slowly crawl down her face, a reaction to his stupidity, the same kind of cold demeanor he once had. He winced at the thought of what he’d just done. This was worse than when he was distant. That was the lowest thing he had ever done to her, and for once he didn’t mean it to happen. It just happened.

    As she sat down on her bed, bringing her hands up to cover her face and wipe away the tears, Michael knew just how stupid he had been. He knew he had gone to her house for all the wrong reasons. He went there for fun. He went there to comfort himself. He went there for his needs. Never once did he think about her comforts or her needs in his drive to find his own.

    “I’m sorry,” he said, sitting down next to her, this time not for Joshua’s words, but for his own.

    “No,” she said, sniffling, wiping the tears away. “No, you have a right to laugh at me. I was horrible to you last night.”

    “No I don’t,” he told her. “I don’t have a right to this. I don’t have a right to hurt you.”

    His words didn’t seem to mean anything as she threw her arms into the air, scoffing. Not at him. Not at anyone in particular. Just this entire situation. Michael knew what it was like, when everyone he thought cared about him turned away and left him with nothing. He knew the emptiness that lingered inside, an emptiness that boiled beneath the surface until it couldn’t be contained anymore. Until one stole their father’s alcohol in a desperate attempt to show off.

    “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sara told him, trembling. “I can’t afford this place anymore. Joshua’s the one who was helping me keep it. I’m going to lose everything.”

    “It’s not much,” Michael said, pulling his father’s flask of whiskey out of his pocket, “but I’ve got something that might help a little.”

    Sara snatched it from his hand, marveling at it. Not at the flask itself, but just the mere thought of
    it, the thought that it was in Michael’s hand. What she said in the cantina was obviously more effective than she thought. She assumed it would have taken more time for Michael to finally act.

    “Where did you get this?” she asked him.

    Michael dropped his gaze, sheepish; he was embarrassed to even say it. “I stole it from my father. You really got to me last night. Consider this me proving you wrong.”

    “I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong,” Sara said, finally smiling again.

    Yet her happiness was short-lived. No sooner had her face become bright again did her emotions get the better of her once more, with her eyes watering up again, and the thought of Michael’s impulsiveness not enough to help her. Michael thought back to when they were together, before he pulled away, how they would help one another get through rough times. They used to go to their favorite places, few and far between, and just talk. Sometimes about nothing. Sometimes about everything. Whatever it was, they always came out better for it.

    “I’ve got an idea,” Michael said, standing back up again. “Come with me.”

    ————————————

    Smuggler’s Ridge
    Overlooking the Tusken Valley

    The gentle breezes of the cool morning’s wind brushed across their faces as Michael’s speeder, carrying the two of them on its back, sped towards the ridge overlooking the Tusken Valley, a dozen kilometers away from Anchorhead. Michael’s eyes were fixed ahead to their destination, yet his thoughts remained on Sara, who was gently hugging him from behind.

    It felt like old times again, better times, when they were still together, before their relationship became poisoned from the bitterness of life. It felt right having her there. He could feel that she needed him, by how tightly she held onto him and how warm of an embrace hers was, just as he felt that he needed her right now.

    Michael brought the speeder to a stop at the edge of the ridge, overlooking the wide valley. The canyons appeared to stretch on forever, twisting and turning through the sand and dirt. Local legends said it was once a river, some thousands of years ago, before the planet was scorched into a barren wasteland, devoid of everything but sand and hardship. Michael couldn’t even imagine such a wondrous place, let alone believe that this rock used to be one.

    The crisp air of the near-dawn winds breathed new life into him as he stepped off the speeder. He reached out his hand and Sara took it, stepping off as well, and they walked over to the edge. Beyond was the valley that stretched off into the horizon, towards the distant mountains on the edge of the Dune Sea, beyond which no sane person would venture. Yet from afar, it was something incredible. Just for a moment, Michael felt like that wild-eyed child again.
    “I used to come here in the mornings to watch the suns rise above those mountains,” Michael told her as they sat on the edge of the cliff, letting their legs hang over the side. “I would try to remember that every day has new possibilities, that it can all get better by the time the suns set.”
    “What made you stop?” Sara asked him, her voice still faint and subdued.

    He chuckled at the question, a self-aware laugh at the absurdities his mind put him through. “Life.”

    She didn’t need to hear anything more than that, and Michael knew it. After the last few years, and after last night, there was very little left unsaid between them that one simple word couldn’t make clear. She was there at every step, at every turn, and knew too well his fall from that idealistic young boy of the desert to the jaded man he had become.

    “Why did you come to my house?” she asked.

    “Well, I...,” he stumbled in trying to find the words, sheepishly trying to avoid eye contact, “...I had an itch.”

    Sara smirked, raising her eyebrow as she did. “And you thought I’d scratch it, is that right?”

    “I wasn’t in the right mind,” Michael admitted.

    “Yeah, I know,” she told him. “I’m sorry for how I treated you yesterday. You didn’t deserve that.”

    “Yes I did,” he replied with force in his tone, pushing back against her words. “You weren’t wrong, and I needed to hear it.”

    His words hung there for a moment, with neither of them saying anything. Nothing else really needed to be said, not after last night, and not after this. Instead, Sara moved in closer, and she rested her head on his broad shoulders, shifting on the ground to make herself more comfortable.

    Michael wanted to pull away at first. He didn’t know what was happening, or what to make of it, even though he thought it was everything he wanted. Yet there was something peaceful about this moment, and about her. It was a return to a serenity he hadn’t felt in months, coupled with the cool breeze gently dancing across his face.

    “You used to tell me your father’s stories,” she whispered, keeping her head on his shoulder, “the ones from the Rim Wars. I miss those... I miss the old you, the real you.”

    “You want to hear a story right now?” Michael asked with another faint laugh. He wasn’t expecting this from her now.

    She shrugged. “Why not?”

    “Alright,” he said, trying to think of something appropriate.

    That’s when he remembered a story, one that meant more to Michael than perhaps any other story he had ever heard. It meant more to him than the stories of idealism of the rebellion in the early days of the war, and more than nearly everything in Beyond the Rim. This spoke to the very core of who Michael once was and who he had wanted to be. It spoke to why he would come to this ridge in those early mornings so long ago, where he believed that life could be better.

    So he said, “Alright, I’ve got one. He told me about a battle once, on Picon. He was captured and held by this idiot soldier who thought taking one rebel would get him a promotion, but the idiot had a group of followers so he was well armed. My dad had to be rescued by some other rebels, plus a man he’d met earlier in the battle. The man was...,” Michael paused, trying to find the words, “Well, my dad never really knew how to describe him. He said he had this aura around him, this presence that felt so full of life and warmth. No matter how down my dad felt that day, this person had the power of lifting him back up.”

    “Who was he?” Sara wondered.

    “I don’t know,” Michael said. “If my dad knew his name, he’s never told me.”

    She wasn’t satisfied, and she lifted her head off his shoulder. “Well, who do you think he was?”

    Michael reached into his pocket and slid Beyond the Rim out, quickly flipping through the pages. He stopped on a page, well-worn from his constant reading of it as a child. On it was a drawing, one he had seared into his brain. It was a depiction of a man, draped in regal gray robes and wrapped in a thick brown cloak. His appearance and poise suggested both humility and prestige at once, that said this was a man who understood the common person yet lived above them in stature, that he had a demeanor that spoke of wisdom but piercing eyes that showed the experience, both good and bad, that he had amassed in his life.

    The man’s hand held the most important part of the image. A gray cylinder rested in his hands, his fingers wrapped tightly around it, and from that piece of metal shown a sword of shimmering blue light, a controlled laser beam used as a weapon. Never had Michael seen anything like that in person, nor had he heard of anyone who had. There was only one kind of person who would use such a device.

    He said, with all the confidence Sara had dared him to have, “I think he was a Jedi Knight.”

    That confidence instantly evaporated when Sara burst out laughing. She lurched forward, overlooking the valley below, and held her stomach as she did. She couldn’t stop cracking up, crowing so hard she was nearly convulsing, falling up against his arms.

    “Oh come on,” she said, finally catching her breath. “There’s no such thing.”

    “Maybe,” he said dejectedly, “but a guy can dream.”

    “You know,” Sara said, shifting closer to him, and resting her hand onto his thigh as she looked into his eyes, “it took guts stealing from your dad and coming to my house like that. I’m impressed.”

    He shivered, a tingle moving up his leg from her hand, all the way around to his back. This was what he wanted when he went to her house. This was what he longed for, the true intoxication, what the whiskey only represented, yet he didn’t know how to do this anymore. The idea of romance, even giving in to lust, was lost on him, lost on the desert floor with the innocence that was taken from him in that moment from his nightmare.

    “I, uh...,” he said, his voice wandering, trembling, “I just wish I could live up to the person you think I can be.”

    “Forget dreams tonight,” she said, her voice strong, yet soft, as she whispered into his ears. “I can make one of them come true.”

    He was holding his breath, waiting for the words to come, trying to find something to say. But it wasn’t just his breath that he was holding back. Everything that he wanted to say, everything that he wanted to feel—the arousal of feelings he had tried to forget, the touch of her breath against his ear, the familiarity of her body—was held in for each passing second.

    “Close your eyes,” she told him.

    Michael was overwhelmed by what was happening as he closed his eyes, awaiting what would come next, listening to the seductive tone of her voice as it beckoned him towards her. He could feel her approaching, still feel her breathing there against his face, as she moved her lips towards his to meet in a soft, gentle kiss. She was slow to move, but it was the anticipation more than anything else that was most alluring to him. She lingered there, letting the moment Michael had been waiting for last as long as it could.

    But the moment never came. He could no longer feel her sitting near him, could no longer feel the warm touch of her breath. Michael opened his eyes again, and she was gone, or so it seemed. He whipped around, throwing his legs back over the ledge and onto land again, when he saw her. Sara was sitting on his speeder, engaging the engine as she readied herself to leave.

    “Wh.. what are you doing?” his still-trembling voice asked.

    “I’m sorry, Michael, but I can’t,” she said, defeated. “I just can’t.”

    “Why?” he demanded.

    Sara sighed, leaning over the handles of the speeder, her face betraying agony. “You know why.”

    Michael’s hands scrambled across the sand and rock to push himself up off the ground, and he shot to his legs. He was exasperated. He couldn’t understand. He didn’t want to understand. After everything they had just went through, after all the pain she was in, after everything he said and she said, he knew, he thought, that there was nothing left to say between them. He had thought that this was the moment that would maybe, just maybe, make things right. Until now.

    The words spat out of his mouth, “Are you kidding me? After all this, you’re choosing him over me?”

    “Goodbye Michael.”

    And just like that, she was gone, leaving him in standing in a cloud of sand kicked up by the roaring engine of his speeder. “Yeah, you can have my speeder,” he barked. “It’s cool.”

    Michael grumbled and muttered words better left unsaid under his breath as the dust cloud dissipated, and Sara was only a speck in the darkness headed towards the distant lights of the city. He brought his hands to his head, pulling on his hair in frustration. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have let any of this happen?

    It wasn’t just about Sara leaving. He wanted to be angry now, he wanted to be furious, to feel betrayal to his very core, but he couldn’t. No matter how hard he tried or how much he desperately wanted to cling to the idea that this was her fault, he couldn’t do it. She may have made a choice he didn’t want, but maybe the one he wanted just wasn’t supposed to come to pass.

    It’s not as if he could hold his head up high as the arbiter of the moral high ground, and he knew it too. He stole, from his own father for that matter, all in the desperate attempt to win over a woman who was already taken. He hadn’t exactly gone to her house with the noblest intentions. He knew, on some level, that he was taking advantage of the pain he found her in, a pain that suited him, even if it was, as he thought, just a little bit. He let frustration and desperation overcome him. He let himself be consumed with anger, even fear.

    Michael let out a heavy sigh, something he’d been doing a lot lately—it never used to be that way—as he turned back towards the horizon. The suns were beginning to rise again, with the first flickers of light creeping above the distant mountains. Predators howled and sand people chanted in the far corners of the canyons, crying out the melody of the morning, carried by the wind throughout the area.

    He wanted to stay and watch the suns rise above those mountains again, and feel like the new day could offer new possibilities before the suns set again hours from now, but he couldn’t. Instead he looked away, turning his back on the promise of tomorrow, just as he had done for months and months on end. Somehow, he had to find a way to make this right. Even if he couldn’t be with Sara, he couldn’t let things end like this. He knew he had to find her and make amends.

    As he turned away from the ancient valley below, he cursed abruptly to himself, anticipating the long walk ahead of him—without his blaster no less, given that it was still on his speeder—but suddenly a distant echo grabbed hold of his senses, turning his attention from the trek home to something else entirely. Something had changed, a shift in the air. It sent shivers through his spine.

    He found the wind was steadily increasing in its intensity, swirling countless motes of dust and sand into his squinted eyes as he slaved to determine what was happening, frantically looking in all directions for any sign of a sandstorm, or anything to explain the sudden change in the wind.

    The distant echo grew louder and louder, a dull, deep baritone that cast itself throughout the landscape until it seemed like the entire desert was shaking under the weight of the ominous sound. The intense vibrations triggered by the bass of the noise where deafening, growing louder in their resonance as he searched for the sound’s origin, until his efforts were narrowed by the sound of an enormous explosion.

    His line of sight was immediately drawn to the skies, as a brief blinding light shot through the heavens, casting aside the advancing rays of the rising suns. As his eyes met the cascading light, he thought it might be a falling star or perhaps an enormous meteorite plummeting into the desert. But as the light drew closer, he realized how truly wrong he was. His skin grew pale, his stomach churned, and his body was instantly drained of confusion, replaced by all-encompassing fear.

    It was something much worse.
  6. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    Well, since I've been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately, the first four chapters seem to follow a similar formula, with not much happening for a while and then suddenly, Eldritch abominations descend from the sky. Somehow, I doubt that's what will be in the fifth chapter, but Michael's reaction at the end here certainly suggests it.

    I'll be honest; the first chapter seemed a bit dry. It seemed to drag, despite it being a chase scene. The second chapter wasn't quite as dry as the first, but the third chapter was definitely where you hit your stride. Your prose began to have more substance and the pacing was better. The story gained a clearer focus and began to move forward, whereas in the first two chapters, it sort of meandered until it found the right path. Michael's character began to show development, as he was carrying this "why me" attitude for a while.
  7. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Thanks for the feedback! Any similarity to Lovecraft is out of sheer ignorance, as I admit to never having read his works.
  8. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    You should read some Lovecraft sometime. They're short reads. The Dunwich Horror is a good one to start with.
  9. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    It's definitely one of those things I always say I'm going to do, yet never get around to. One day!
  10. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Chapter Five
    “Everyone always thinks that the sky falling means it’s
    the end of the world. Not me, though. The end of one
    chapter is usually the start of an even better one.”
    —From the journals of Elias
    Smuggler’s Ridge

    Two luminous suns slowly rose from the far horizon, above the distant mountains of the Dune Sea, carrying with them the radiant light of a new day. They brought with them a display of many vivid colors; vibrant yellow, intense orange, majestic purple, and a variety of blue hues, all of them melting together as they sought to illuminate the darkness with the promise of a scarlet dawn. They would soon loom above the vast desert landscape, but they had not risen fully yet.

    Night still owned this world, and what a barren and dead world it was. There was a time, however, when it had not been such a dry and decrepit place. There was a time when it was host to all walks of life, life that called the skies, the seas, and the land home, places that defied description. Lush emerald forests and thick humid jungles had rested along the banks of countless rivers, when a cool breeze would have carried with it the scent of a million different flowers, all of them more colorful and unique than the last. Creatures of all kinds would have flown through this cool and gentle air, some roaming the skies above the vast seas that had been home to all kinds of life. Some creatures, some as large as a whale, had made their homes in the snowy mountains of the north, living in harmony with creatures no larger than a man’s eye.

    That was before the darkness. That was before it reached out with cold, dead hands and choked this world, draining it of all its moisture, of all nature and beauty. At the last, it left a world as beautiful and full of life as this a sprawling, shriveled wasteland of sand and harsh, dry rock. The death of a world.

    Another shadow darted across the desert landscape, cutting through the scorching sands and across the dunes, determined to reach its destination no matter the rising heat, no matter the time. As the night slowly faded, a sight was revealed along the highest edges of the Tusken Valley, emanating from deep within it. Enormous clouds of black smoke emerged from the ancient riverbed, where a great pool of water had once carved through the landscape, delving a great, deep gorge of unparalleled beauty. This, what was now a dead canyon, was where the shadow was headed. There was a brisk intensity to its movement, yet, as it got closer, its pace slowed as it stopped to observe what was within the chasm.

    Stepping out of the shadow and into the first rays of the morning light, Michael was torn between the shock that threatened to stop him from breathing and the awe that caused him to squint his eyes in shear disbelief. His heart beat rapidly within his chest, now drenched in sticky perspiration. Wet dirt and sand mixed with the sweat across his body. He looked like a wild man of the desert. His eyes became that of a madman’s, scanning the scene over and over again, stopping only when he needed to wipe off the sweat that constantly dripped from his brow. He was exhausted, drained of almost all energy after his spontaneous run towards the cloud of smoke, whose fums were not at all helping his condition.

    He wanted to run away. This was all too familiar, all too real for him. What he saw, the smoke rising from contorted steel and the moans, screams of agony echoing and bouncing through the canyon walls, were things he had seen and heard before. The distant sight of bodies, the cries for help, the smell of death; Michael saw them every night when he closed his eyes, and every morning when he opened them again. He had to run away from this. He couldn’t handle this again. He didn’t even handle it the first time.

    Yet, in spite of it all, Michael couldn’t look away. He couldn’t run away. Every fear that gripped at him begged him to go home, but there was something that wouldn’t let him walk away. There was something that dragged him towards it, that made him begin his descent deeper into the valley, wheezing as he did so. His footing was unforgiving, just like the screams, the crying for help that seemed to call out only to him. The jagged rocks jabbed at his ankles, cutting them, blood dripping onto his boots, but he didn’t care. There was something cathartic about it. For a fleeting moment, the physical pain overwhelmed the emotional torrent, and he actually felt better.

    He kept descending, shielding his eyes with one hand as the suns moved directly into his line of sight, his other hand helping him keep his footing as it touched the rocky wall. Stones began falling from greater heights as he climbed downward, and sand was relentlessly blowing into his face. Finally, he reached a depth at which he could push away from the wall, landing safely on his feet with only a light thud onto the dirty floor of the dried riverbed. He had to squint to make out the vague shapes he could see through the smoke, made all the more difficult by the fact that the smoke had now managed to block the light of the suns. The valley still belonged to darkness. Michael’s stomach churned, twisting into knots as bile threatened to bubble towards his throat. He was taking in too much of the fumes and he knew it, yet he pressed on as hesitation and awe gave way to determination and, perhaps, foolishness.

    There was a ringing in his ears as his fingers began to clench into fists, his palms sweating, his eyes stinging, and his teeth clenching to the point where it caused him pain. It was only then that the stench finally found its way past all other overwhelmed senses, hitting him like a sandstorm. It brought him to his knees, one hand clutching his chest, the other over his nose and mouth. Coughing and spluttering, his stomach completely gave way, vomit and bile oozing violently from his quivering lips.

    Michael spat the last of it away after a few moments, averting his eyes from it. He wiped his mouth with grime-covered hands as tears gathered in his emerald eyes, now bloodshot and morose. He looked up once more, taking in the image of a wall of black smoke, stretching from one side of the valley to the other.

    What am I doing here? he asked himself. That determination nearly gave way to hesitation and fear again. He told himself he shouldn’t be there, that this wasn’t his problem. He told himself that he was just going to hurt someone again, like he hurt Kitster. He was going to hurt so many more people, somehow, someway, he was going to fail them. He didn’t cause this, but he’d find a way to make it worse. That’s all he ever did.

    No, he said to himself. No, I can do this. He had to do this. He had to make it through this one, he had to not be afraid anymore. Maybe he could show Sara that he wasn’t afraid, that he could take action; that he could help other people, just like he used to say he wanted to. It wasn’t a rebellion, it wasn’t the Rim Wars of his father, but it was a start.

    He tore off a piece of his ragged shirt and covered his mouth with the material. It wasn’t nearly enough, but it would have to do. Now he slowly struggled to rise from the ground, his legs shaking as he pushed himself upward and towards the wall of smoke. Michael took a sharp breath and, in a brief moment, almost seemed to whimper, before finally stepping into the darkness.

    The heat bombarded him, unrelenting and unforgiving as he stepped forward, one hand outstretched and the other clutching the cloth around his face. Sand swirled all around him; as each grain hit his skin, he couldn’t help but notice the heat of each and every one of them. He began feeling it in his legs and feet. The ground was scorched worse than it had ever felt before, as if the suns themselves had descended into the valley. That thought left his mind almost as soon as it had occurred to him, though, because the next sight was worse, almost too much for him to bear.

    The fire enveloped everything, its tendrils licking the very top of the valley walls as it rolled over ancient rocks and contorted metal debris, melting and breaking almost everything in sight. Confusion and desperation gave way to all-encompassing fear as Michael fell instantly to his knees, hopelessness and doubt seeping into his mind as he chastised himself for being foolish enough to come here, stupid enough to think he could do something. Despite all the destruction and heat, the stench still sliced through the raging fire, attacking his senses once more and motivating him to stand yet again. The doubts remained, but the will overcame it, because he knew that stench all too well, more than any man should have to.

    The wreckage of this ship was of another world, beyond any culture he had ever known, but the stench of death was decidedly familiar. It was the same stench he remembered from that day, when he crawled out of the twisted remains of his Skyhopper, dragging himself through a pool of his own blood only to find death waiting for him.

    Before he could do anything else, before he could see the full scope of the graveyard around the ship, the mangled corpses strewn about it from when the vessel was snapped in half on impact, he was blown off his feet. A shockwave, one that seemed to come from every direction in an endless wave of piercing screams and violent intensity, knocked him backwards, deeper into the valley, onto his backside, landing him in the fiery sand. He scrambled to his feet, burning his own hands as they touched the scorched earth, and his gaze made its way towards the farthest visible edges of the valley.

    The desert roared all around him. Dust and dirt were kicked up off the ground even from a distance, flying right at him—into his eyes, all over his face and his hair. Everywhere. The winds were picking up as sand was thrown at him from what seemed like kilometers away, the dull roar becoming deafening. The sound was coming from all directions, like a monster that approached from all sides. Like the beasts that inhabited the desert.

    Yet, Michael knew it wasn’t the wind. It was all too directional, all too pure and simple to be a sand storm or anything that could have been caused by the crash of the ship. Wind from kilometers away would often pick up the desert floor and throw it, but not in a straight line.

    Behind him, he could hear the muffled sounds of voices crying out in panic, of men screaming for him to run, to get out of the way of whatever was coming—of what they knew was coming. In the few brief moments when the smoke and sand wasn’t in his way, he turned to see them, waving him towards them, to see that they were soldiers, the team sent by the Hutts to respond to the crash. These men, wearing the tan and red uniform of the Hutt Cartel, were no older than him, but he never went to them. They didn’t care in the end. They started to run, fleeing, leaving Michael to fend for himself. They weren’t standing in confusion, weren’t fixed on the unknown like he was. They still knew something he didn’t.

    Michael looked back towards the cloud of sand that was approaching, watching as lightning began to blink from inside of it—at least, it seemed like lightning. It couldn’t have been, though. Sandstorms didn’t bring lightning, not in this part of the planet. Then, as what had seemed like the crackling of electricity became the muffled sounds of laser fire, Michael knew what was coming.

    Out of the clouds raced a tiny ship, a small brown, cylindrical craft, so small that it had to have been unmanned. It swooped down towards the valley, like a vulture that had suddenly become the prey, away from the Hutt fighter that emerged from the clouds in pursuit. Michael didn’t recognize the drone; it wasn’t something he’d ever seen at the spaceport. Its design was too sleek, too polished to have been from this part of the Outer Rim. So where is it from, he wondered.

    Not that it mattered. The drone didn’t have much time left. The Hutt fighter was firing relentlessly, bombarding it, and hitting the unthinking machine with every shot. The tiny ship’s engine erupted into flames, fire and metal bursting outward in all directions before landing on the ground and burning it with a heat so intense that the sand seemed to crystalize into glass. The ship spiraled in chaos as the flames enveloped it, devouring the entire vessel as it lurched downward, destined to become a heap of contorted steel on the valley floor.

    It looked like it was headed right for him, like a straight line had been drawn from the unmanned ship right to Michael. It had no control, and he had no hope. Time slowed and fate was clear. Michael watched as it approached, knowing that, in seconds, he would be dead, and those who knew him would remember the fool who went into the valley for nothing. So he closed his eyes, waiting for darkness to overtake him forever. Whether his death ultimately meant anything wasn’t for him to decide, but, in that moment, no matter the horror that he’d seen, he didn’t regret coming to this place. He would die knowing that even in his trance, his delirium that brought him here, the memories of his own crash having drawn him towards it, he tried. He tried to help.

    But the darkness never came.

    It didn’t take him long to realize that he should have been dead, that he should have been crushed under the weight of that falling ship, but there was no impact. Not for him, at least. He slowly opened his eyes, wondering if he’d find a choir of angels waiting for him, but there was nothing. The sky in front of him was clear again, and the sand and dirt that the ships had picked up were dissipating. Only one thing was different now. The heat on his back had grown more intense, and he knew that the soldiers he had seen weren’t so lucky.

    Slowly, he turned his neck to look behind him, but the fire and the smoke where the soldiers had been told him enough. He winced, gagging, the realization of everything that was hitting him becoming all too real. It was one thing to see a body. It was another to have seen that body before it was dead, to know that, in a split-second decision, he could have run towards them and met the same fate.

    “H… he...lp,” a voice groaned from behind him, agonizing in pain.

    Michael jumped, not having expected to hear anyone. He didn’t have to think about this one, to wonder whether he should act. He just acted, running towards the sound, around the smoky debris of the newly crashed drone, its android brain exposed, shooting sparks everywhere, and into another dried stream in the valley floor. Dozens of bodies were mangled, mutilated, charred; he nearly vomited again at the sight of a body burned beyond recognition, but the further he moved away from the ship, the less mutated they were.

    Finally, he reached the edge of the pile of soldiers, and could still hear the groaning of one, the man who must have called out to him. The man was laying on his stomach, his legs twisted and broken as blood flowed from a gash on his arm. Even with all the sweat and dirt on what he could see of the man’s face, Michael could tell that he was becoming pale, the red-stained sand showing how much blood he had lost.

    Michael leaned over, bending down on one knee, as he took the cloth that he had been using for the smell and put it over the gash on the man’s arm. Michael ripped off his belt, twisting it around the arm and cloth. He pulled on it, making it tight around the man’s arm, virtually constricting the flow of blood. The man howled in pain, and the spasm that it caused forced him to roll over, and land on his back. It took Michael a moment to realize what he was looking at, to see through the dirt and sand that covered the man’s face, to see past the bloodstains in his hair.

    When Michael finally realized what was happening, though, what he saw was, for a brief moment, worse than any mangled body.

    “Son of a...,” Michael muttered. “Joshua?”

    There was no response. Whether Joshua could even understand him wasn’t something Michael knew, but that didn’t really matter. Michael just stood there, unsure of himself, of what to do. Joshua was just laying there, defenseless, in need of help—help Michael could give him. He could help the man who, only minutes beforehand, Sara had abandoned him for. He could help the man who hated him, who blamed him for all of the horrible things that had happened to him over the last few years.

    Or…

    No. Did I really just think that? Michael couldn’t help but ask that question, just as he couldn’t help but entertain the thought of leaving Joshua behind. He couldn’t do it. Part of him wanted to, part of him knew that if he left Joshua there to die, maybe with Joshua out of the picture, he could be with Sara again. He could be happy again, with his tormentor gone. But that wasn’t who Michael Lars was, even if the far corners of his mind tempted him to be.

    So, he grabbed hold of Joshua’s uniform, gripping the cloth at the shoulders, and began dragging him up off the ground. Joshua struggled, squirming around and trying to get out of Michael’s grip, but Joshua wasn’t aware. He was delirious and was only acting on instinct to try to get away from the pain of any physical movement. Michael managed to get Joshua’s arm around his shoulder, though, and he slowly began a walk towards a small cave on the far side of this part of the riverbed.

    There was an irony that gnawed at Michael. A half hour earlier, he had thought that he would be holding Sara in his arms that night. He thought that they would go back to her home, and that they would be together again. Instead, he was holding in his arms the man who Sara sped off to be with. Michael had to wonder if this was one of those times that he would look back on in a few years and laugh at.

    As the path ended at the mouth of the cave, the heat from the nearby wreckage grew less intense, and the smoke was clearing out of his lungs. He slowly leaned down, careful not to drop Joshua, and grabbed a rock. Michael tossed it into the cave to ward off any creature that might have been lurking there. When he heard nothing, he stepped into it, and gently laid Joshua back down in the cool, soft, unscorched dirt.

    Snap!

    Michael froze in place, paralyzed in panic. Someone, or something, was behind him, and he didn’t know what it was. As if he was expecting a person, he dropped the rock and put his hands in the air, ready to surrender to whomever might have been behind him. Instead, as he turned to face it, he found nothing, just an empty canyon and the softening sounds of twisting metals.

    Then a shadow rounded the corner, followed by a slow moving sand person. The mask that adorned its head kept its face from being seen, as all sand people did, but its eyes immediately fixed on Michael. They both saw one another in the light that was emerging over the valley wall, and they both stood there, neither one expecting to encounter another soul.

    For a moment, Michael also thought that the raider was afraid, but that didn’t make any sense. The sand people were easily startled, but not when they had an advantage. That’s when another one of the sand people jumped from a ledge above the mouth of the cave, landing in front of Michael. The first scout ran off, and Michael was left only with the warrior. The towering creature lunged its gaderffii stick high into the air, thrusting it above its head over and over in a display of dominance.

    The creature grunted and howled in pleasure and rage, a deadly combination for almost anyone who heard it. Its thick leg kicked outward, knocking Michael to the ground as it brought its double-edged axe down towards Michael’s head. Michael rolled out of the way, trying to keep himself away from the helpless Joshua. He kept moving deeper into the cave, kicking and throwing sand and dirt to try to distract the warrior.

    Michael scrambled backward and thrust his leg outward, knocking the warrior back far enough for Michael to stand up again and move back towards the cave entrance. The warrior was anything but deterred. He slowly stalked back towards Michael, a deep, animalistic and sickening laugh coming out from the rags around its head.

    He lunged at Michael, striking him in the arm with the axe, ripping open flesh and muscle as blood started to gush out of Michael’s arm. Grabbing the wound, Michael cried out in pain, looking away from the blood dripping down onto the ground below. His muscles relaxed and his mind slowed, his vision blurring. As the darkness of the unconscious world began to overtake him he watched as the warrior stood above him, raising his weapon again, ready to kill Michael for no other reason than to watch him die.

    For a moment, though, the desert itself seemed to suddenly cry out, carrying its voice through the winds. It was a piercing howl, a booming screech that bounced off the valley walls and burst like an explosion into the ears of the warrior. The warrior was frozen in place, panic-stricken. He didn’t want to give up the kill, but something told the barely-conscious Michael that the predator knew he would soon be the prey.

    A second howl came, and the warrior visibly shivered as the sound grew nearer. It looked out into the cave and saw a massive shadow approaching, a dragon of the desert, one of the few things that the sand people respected and feared. Leaving Michael to his own fate, the warrior fled, leaving nothing but dust and footprints behind.

    Michael could still see, though his vision was fading in and out, and he watched as the shadow approached—but it wasn’t a beast like the warrior thought it was. Squinting, he wondered, was it a mirage? It had to be, because a woman, around the same age as he was, covered in a hood with her face only somewhat visible, slipped into the cave, immediately noticing Michael on the ground.

    Running to him, she knelt down, and stretched out her hands, placing them on his arm. Michael felt a surge of energy throughout every fiber of his body. It was a feeling of warmth, one that washed over him, taking him into a gentle hold. He felt pain at first, like a pinch, but then the warmth came over him, seeping into the wound, binding with his nerves, and flowing into him. It expanded out like a river, pouring into the rest of his very being.

    Part of him wanted to pull away, but he couldn’t. His arm was tingling with jolts of stimulation, as if it had been asleep for years. The arm felt alien to him for a moment, but the pain began to subside. The warmth that overtook him calmed his mind, and his breathing began to slow and relax. For reasons he couldn’t explain, the woman emitted an aura of confidence, of purity. Even as unconsciousness took over, he felt like he had nothing to fear.

    Everything would be alright.
  11. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    The mysterious craft still remains a mystery. What happened? Where did it come from? Who was piloting it?

    And I would say that it looks like it's curtains for Michael, but... then we wouldn't have a story, would we? He'll be back, but he will most certainly be sore in the morning.
  12. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    I am enjoying this. You are talented in writing AUs like this. :)
  13. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Given that you're one of my readers from way back when, I'm glad you're enjoying it so far! Do you have any specific feedback, positive or negative?
  14. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Chapter Six
    “Better to do the right thing and suffer scorn
    than to do the wrong thing and escape it.”
    —From the journals of Elias

    Michael slowly stirred on the cave floor. He sniffed the air, his eyes fluttering, a light breeze of smoke surrounding him as his eyes lazily opened. He coughed as the smoke hit his nose, smoke that was different, lighter even, than what he had stumbled through in the wreckage of the downed starship. His arm stung like he was still being stabbed, and he winced at the pain, squeezing his palm into a fist to manage it. It came in spurts, but the moments in between were fleeting.

    Slowly pushing himself up off the dusty ground, Michael realized he was lying deeper into the cavern than he had been when he first collapsed, in a larger expanse of carved rock that could fit at least a dozen people inside it. A soft cloth sat rolled up into a ball where his head had been, giving him comfort for however long he had been out. Whoever the woman was who came to his rescue, it seemed like she had done more than save him.

    Joshua was lying beside him, still unconscious and showing no signs of waking up. However, what Michael noticed immediately was his former friend’s legs; when Michael rescued him, Joshua’s legs had been twisted, bloodied, and broken from the force of the drone fighter crashing into the ground only meters from him. Now, his legs were perfectly straight, and the only outward sign that there was ever an injury were his ripped, bloodstained pants.

    Michael brought his own hand to where his own wound had been, looking into the rip on his shirt. All he could see was a faint scar and the dried blood that still remained on his grimy skin. He brought his hands to his face, gently stroking his forehead and all the way down his cheek. After he left the bar the night before, it was swollen, covered in bruises and cuts from his fight with Joshua, but now there was nothing, nothing other than the dirt and sweat that had accumulated over the hours since the crash. Except for the lingering sting in his arm, he seemed completely healed.

    The relief he felt at having been saved allowed the pain to abate, replaced only with a sense of warmth from the breeze that was making its way through the cave entrance, still a few meters from where he was standing. Part of him wanted to look out beyond the cavern walls to see what was happening, but the rustling of footsteps he could hear upon the desert floor convinced him otherwise.

    He didn’t even know if he could make it there without stumbling over himself, still feeling groggy from whatever residual effects there were from the crash and the sand people's attack. As he turned his gaze behind him, his eyes began to water, more smoke coming through the entrance from the valley. Half blinded for a moment, he put his hand on the cave wall for balance and staggered further into the rocky structure, barely able to see anything through the haze.

    As he squinted, he could finally begin to make out a shape through the smoke, as he looked further down the cave tunnel. Through the water welling in his eyes, and through the smoke that was fading away, he could see it was the shape of a person. Perhaps the woman—no, it was bulkier than the woman he saw earlier. This was a man, and not one of the sand people. It was someone new, draped in a cloak from head to toe, his face obscured within the shadows of the cave, the light barely reaching him. Michael slowly leaned down and grabbed a rock from the cave floor, just in case he needed to defend himself, but something told him he wouldn’t need it. Something about this figure made Michael sense that there was no threat.

    For a moment, the man didn’t look up, seemingly oblivious to Michael’s existence. His demeanor was calm, the light of the suns just barely illuminating the lower hemisphere of his face. Michael began to tilt his head to look, but thought better of it. The hooded figure was silent, keeping to himself as if lost in his own thoughts, and taking no notice of the curious young man gawking at him.

    Finally the figure glanced up, his visage still cast in shadow. There was silence, and, for a moment, Michael felt like he could feel the man’s gaze, like the figure could see past his eyes and directly into him. It felt like the man could see into Michael's thoughts, into every corner of his mind. It was unnerving.

    The man finally raised his hands, grasping the edges of his hood. As the cloth slowly slid back, revealing the face of the stranger, Michael was hit with an odd sense of unrecognizable familiarity, a sort of kinship he couldn’t explain, as if he knew the man, and yet did not. Michael had no idea how to explain it. The man’s weary blue eyes betrayed wisdom, yet also fatigue; he was both a gentle presence and a worn one, his persona mysterious yet clearly powerful all at once. It was an odd aura that encompassed the man, one that Michael saw not just in his appearance, but that he could feel as well.

    “Hello there.”

    Michael still didn’t have any words as the man spoke to him. The figure’s voice was reassuring, surprisingly cheerful and forthright for someone on Tatooine. Michael was hesitant, watching as the man ran a hand through his short hair, brown with a hint of gray here and there. Yet, Michael set the rock down, trusting that the man meant no harm. For a moment, however brief, Michael could’ve sworn he saw a smirk pass over the stranger’s lips, as if the prospect of being attacked with a mere stone was amusing.

    “Who are you?” Michael demanded to know, his voice low and suspicious. “What do you want?”

    The man smiled, stepping closer as he said, “Don’t worry, you’re safe.”

    “That doesn’t answer my questions,” Michael shot back.

    The stranger stood up, looking curiously at Michael as he sensed his persistence. The man wore light black tunic and heavy, dark pants, both stained with sweat and blood. A thick, dark robe lied on the ground, obviously taken off due to the heat. Why anyone would wear such bulky garb in the desert wastes was beyond Michael, but what he could tell is that the man’s attire was both humble and regal, despite their simplicity. Michael noticed the contradiction immediately; for someone emanating some sort of power, some sort of otherworldly quality that couldn’t be defined in such simple terms, the man was, by all accounts, as normal as Michael himself.

    “My name is Ben,” the stranger told him, though his voice was hushed, as if saying even a three-letter name was revealing too much. “I found you and your friend here and wasn’t about to leave you on your own, not when you both clearly suffered an ordeal.”

    Michael couldn’t control the words that blurted from his own lips. “He’s not my friend!”

    He sighed, hearing the way he must have sounded. Ben took a step backwards, as if taken aback by Michael’s outburst, and Michael knew he’d taken Ben’s words too personally. Part of him still wondered if he should have left Joshua in the sand to die. It was a nagging feeling, one that gnawed at him from the depths of his psyche, but that didn’t mean Ben deserved to have it taken out on him. This was a man who saved his life, a life that surely would’ve ended had the sand people returned.

    Michael glanced back down at where he’d slept, seeing the crumpled cloth, now knowing that it had come from Ben. Michael’s cheeks grew bright red, his shoulder slumping. This was a man who kept him safe, who spent hours in a cave with someone he didn’t even know, and Michael was all but ready to pummel him with a rock.

    “I’m Michael,” he said, brushing away the outburst. “I guess I owe you my life.”

    “Your gratitude is appreciated, but unnecessary,” Ben said as he offered a cordial nod. ”I only did what anyone else would have.”

    Did you take a hit to the head? Michael wondered to himself. Ben’s words were ones that Michael had never heard spoken before, at least not with any sincerity. Not even from his father, someone who spent years of his youth risking his life to help people he’d never even met. Generosity and goodwill towards others were hard to come by in a harsh desert civilization. The war had snuffed them out.

    “You’re not from around here, are you?” Michael asked, flashing a sheepish grin as he didn’t bother to hide his amusement at Ben’s ignorance.

    Ben chuckled right along with him. “Is it that obvious?”

    “You don’t hide it very well,” Michael told him. “Which settlement are you from?”

    “Oh…,” Ben muttered, drawing out the word, as if he was stalling for time, something Michael noted instantly, “…north of here.”

    “Really?” Michael asked, his suspicions piqued. “Anything I might’ve heard of?”

    Ben grabbed a cloth from his pocket, dabbing it on the sweat upon his forehead as he began to say, “I doubt it. It’s a very small settlement about a hundred kilometers north.”

    Michael jumped back, startled, nearly tripping over the scrambling of his own feet upon the dusty floor as he questioned whether the feeling that Ben wasn’t a threat was misplaced. He quickly knelt back down, grabbing the rock that he’d dropped, and held it out in front of him. It wasn’t like he thought it would help, but it was making an impression.

    “A hundred kilometers north puts you into No Man’s Land,” Michael said, seeing through Ben’s façade. “No one lives there, not even the sand people. Where did you come from?”

    Ben cautiously stepped back, raising his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. There was genuine concern in the man’s eyes now that he was found out, but he wasn’t looking at the rock. Ben’s eyes were fixed on Michael’s, watching him and judging what he was going to do before he would even do it. There was a depth of perception there, a sense of intuition that told Michael that even if he did try to attack Ben, the man would be too quick to let any harm befall him.

    “There’s really no need for concern,” Ben assured him, his voice growing more passive and disarming. “I mean you no harm.”

    Though he seemed sincere, and though his words brought a sense of comfort, Michael still didn’t know whether he could trust him. He knew nothing about Ben, after all, and he had already been lied to. That’s when Michael remembered something his father taught him, a way of judging someone that Luke had learned during the war. Michael’s eyes scanned Ben up and down, looking for any sort of tell and watching his almost shaken demeanor. Ben’s clothes, though familiar, were not anything Michael had seen before. Everything about Ben screamed otherworldly, as did the clearly alien ship that lied as nothing more than twisted hulks of metal just meters away.

    Yet beyond that, Michael was drawn to the blood and sweat on Ben’s robes. Ben’s breathing was growing heavier, and it was starting to become panting. Sweat dripped like buckets of rain down upon the sand. Ben wasn’t used to the heat. The crimson blood that stained the regal robes betrayed no outward sign of injury on the stranger, save for a few scrapes on his face, but no rips in his robes that could have belied a greater wound. What Michael could see was the blood of others.

    “You were in that ship, weren’t you?” Michael asked, his eyes growing wide and glowing. “The big one that crashed.”

    “I’m a very simple man,” Ben said, his voice shaking. “I don’t know of any—“

    Michael dropped the rock on the ground, not letting Ben get another word in. “You are! Where’d you come from? Are you alright? What happened? Was there a battle? Who were you fighting? Did…”

    Before Ben could say anything, Michael’s vision blurred again, like it did after the sand people wounded him. He could feel himself wobbling, his body falling out of balance as it leaned to the left towards the cave wall. He began to stumble, his own feet barely able to keep him up, forcing Ben towards him. The stranger put his hands on Michael’s back, keeping him upright before slowly helping him slide his back down the wall to sit.

    “You’re full of questions for someone who was just injured. Here,” Ben said, stepping back over to his robes and pulling out a canteen. He handed it to Michael and said, “Drink some water. You need it more than I do.”

    “I doubt it, the way you’re sweating,” Michael said as he pushed the canteen away, his vision still fading in and out. “I don’t have any money on me anyway. I can’t pay you.”

    “Pay me?” Ben mused, his sweaty forehead scrunching as he cocked an eyebrow. “It’s just water.”

    Just water? Michael wondered to himself. That’s when he knew for sure that he had Ben pegged. Nothing was different in the north, or anywhere else on this planet. If Ben was from this world, he would have known that no one gave away the world’s most valuable commodity for free. In a drought that lasted for decades, it was liquid gold.

    Then again, maybe Ben did know that. Could this be a trick? He seemed overly insistent that Michael drink it. Perhaps this ignorance was a ruse, and what was in the cantina was more than water. He had no way of knowing what Ben’s intentions were, or who his allegiances were with. Michael may not have wanted to admit it, but there were no truly decent people on this planet. Not even himself, not even his family. They all had their demons and almost none had better angels.

    As if on cue, Ben spun the top of the canteen open and took a sip. “See? It’s nothing but water. Now drink up.”

    The canteen was tossed through the air and landed in an incredulous Michael’s lap. Either he was being overtly obvious about his mistrust, or Ben’s perception was greater than Michael had sensed. It was almost inhuman how quickly Ben picked up on it, but, right now, Michael couldn’t let himself care. He leaned his head back and let the cold metal of the canteen rest on his lips, letting only a few drips of water onto it first, as if to test whether there was actually water or if this was just a cruel joke. A shiver lingered on his spine; he drank water on a daily basis, but not like this. The water given to the common people was dirty, just short of diseased, but what he tasted now… The sensation of his parched throat was indescribable, and it was suddenly quenched by the refreshing elixir of water sliding down his throat, making him awash with an involuntary feeling of relaxation and relief. This must have been what the rich and powerful felt like every time water touched their lips.

    Ben watched all of this with a confused amusement. Michael smiled, knowing how alien it must have seemed to him. It almost made Michael forget that, if he was right about Ben, he wasn’t the only one looking at a foreigner. Ben was too, and anything Michael did could seem out of the ordinary. It was all the more reason not to hog all of the water. Michael took a few more conservative sips, not wanting to waste it, and tossed it back to Ben’s lap, as Michael knew that someone so unaccustomed to the hellish climate would need to drink as much water as they could.

    “I take it you’re not accustomed to the help of strangers,” Ben remarked.

    “I’m not accustomed to the help of anyone,” Michael told him. “You wouldn’t be either if you’d grown up here.”

    Ben’s brow furrowed again and his demeanor tensed up, far from the cheerful vibe he had given off when they first met. Michael could see it all written on his face; Ben wanted to answer, but he hesitated. He struggled with what to say, seemingly wincing at the idea of telling a lie, but with a feeling that he had very little choice. Michael wanted to tell him that there was no reason for distrust, but Michael couldn’t blame Ben if he didn’t want to say anything. The dangers here were not to be taken lightly.

    “What makes you think I didn’t?” Ben finally asked.

    “Because you tense up every time I mention it,” Michael reminded him, “but whatever. I’m just glad your friend found me when the sand people attacked. Where is she anyway? I’d like to thank her.”

    “Who?” Ben wondered.

    “The woman who was here,” Michael said. “The one who healed me?”

    “I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” Ben admitted, his fingers stroking the think beard on his face as he pondered who the woman could have been. “Whoever she was, she wasn’t with me.”

    Ben looked down at the pool of blood Michael was lying in when he’d first found him unconscious, and he had checked the wound itself. The healing was crude, yet magnificently done, a work of art clearly made only with the hands that tended to it. Nothing more, nothing less; a steady hand was all that was needed if one came equipped with the right training. He kept his hand on his chin, unable to help himself from wondering who, and what, this mystery woman was.

    “In any event,” Ben said, “I’m glad to see you’re awake and safe.”

    Michael was grateful for that, and he didn’t want to push the issue of the ship, but something was stirring inside him. A feeling welled up from deep down, resonating both with Sara’s challenge and the feelings that washed over him when he met Ben, a feeling that was rekindling his imagination. He felt like a wide-eyed boy again, and he didn’t want it to stop.

    “What happened?” Michael asked, knowing he had nothing to lose. “In the ship.”

    “Michael, please.”

    But Michael waved him off from saying anything more. “You think kindness is normal. You’re confused about why I’d want to pay for water. Your clothes are covered in blood, and you look like you’re about to have a heat stroke. Whatever you’re afraid I am, I’m not an idiot.”

    “Worry about your own recovery right now, Michael,” Ben snapped, much more aggressive than he had been before. “Where I’m from shouldn’t matter. A simple thank you would suffice.”

    “Fine then,” Michael said, slowly getting back on his feet as he held the wall for support.
    “I’m out of here.”

    “Wait.”

    Ben turned away, bringing the cloth back up to his head. He wiped the sweat off his brow once more, and pools of water were brushed off his skin, flying onto the cave wall beside him and evaporating once they hit the hot the rock. Michael couldn’t see his face, but he knew that this cave wasn’t enough for Ben. If he didn’t get somewhere cooler, he would most likely pass out. Still, as Ben flung his cloth into the sand below him, Michael could tell that he wasn’t concerned about himself. Right now, Ben was mainly concerned with what he had just said.

    “I apologize for my rudeness,” Ben told him, his words sincere.

    “Yeah, I’ve never heard that one before,” Michael said, but Ben seemed aghast at it, as if Michael was being sarcastic when he wasn’t. He could tell he had beaten Ben down, like all Ben wanted was to just give Michael water and not be a nuisance, but Michael had pushed too hard. He was too eager.

    There were so many more questions Michael wanted to ask, so many ideas about what might have happened, but he knew now that Ben’s reluctance to talk wasn’t just a lack of trust. It was a sadness; deep, heavy, unending. Ben’s worn eyes and his broken spirit, after only a few minutes, was enough for Michael to know that. Michael didn’t need any great perception to see that what happened wasn’t an adventure. It wasn’t an epic battle between good and evil, or a fight between smugglers, mercenaries, or pirates. It was a tragedy, and it was deeply affecting Ben, who was now leaning up against the cave wall, lost in his own thoughts.

    Whether by some connection between them or just intuition, Michael could feel it, too.

    Those thoughts were broken, though, when they both turned towards the cave entrance, away from the uncomfortable silence that had beset them, upon hearing a heavy panting. Another man ran through the cave entrance, his blonde hair stained red with blood, and stopped as he reached them, leaning down with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Michael looked at him with a renewed curiosity, wondering why anyone would run through the heat of this terrain no matter what time of day it was, especially in the heavy leather uniform the man was wearing. As Michael stared at him, a look the man returned.

    “Who are you?” the man asked, wheezing as he did so.

    “Who are you?” Michael asked back, his eyes shifting between the man and Ben, not knowing if they were companions or if this was the new random meet up place.
    The man scoffed, his tone indignant. “I asked you first.”

    “Gentleman! Please,” Ben said, moving in between them to stop whatever argument was about to ensue. They’d both been through traumatic ordeals, and this wasn’t the time to get into petty bickering. “Logan, this is Michael, the young man I told you about. Michael, this is Logan, a friend.”

    “I still don’t know if you’re a friend,” Michael reminded him.

    “Yeah, look, I’d shake your hand and everything, but we’ve really got to go,” Logan said as he stood back up straight, his breathing now indicative of concern more than exhaustion.

    “What’s going on?” Ben asked, determination returning to his voice as he stood back upright, as if ready for anything that might be coming.

    “Patrol ships are buzzing overhead,” Logan gulped. “They’ve got us.”

    Michael jumped in before Ben could say anything? “You are from the starship.”

    “This really isn’t the time,” Ben snapped again, but this time he meant it.

    “Damn right,” Michael shot back. “I’m getting out of here. If the Hutts find us—”

    “Hold on a second,” Logan frantically said, not taking his eyes off of Ben. “Hutts? As in the Lords of the Outer Rim? What planet is this?”

    “Tatooine.”

    Logan stared at him blankly, the name not even registering. He let out a deep sigh as he defeated dropped his head into his hands, saying, “Is that even a word? I don’t even know what that means.”

    Michael didn’t need to say anything more. He could tell that what planet they were on meant nothing. Everything Logan and Ben needed to know came from the word Hutt, a word that apparently evoked fear and desperation from people in all corners of the galaxy.

    He turned his gaze towards Ben, but Ben’s was no longer with him and Logan. Michael noticed he was facing the entrance of the cave, and then realized what Ben saw. Joshua, his uniform having adorned the emblem of the Hutt Lords—an emblem that Ben only now recognized in hindsight—was gone, having slipped away as they conversed. All that remained was the dusty outline of his body and boot tracks in the sand headed back out into the valley. As the slow, agonizing moments went by, the marching of footsteps could be heard right outside their door.

    A shadow moved towards the entrance, only to take the shape of a group of men, stepping into the cave, armed to the teeth with blaster pistols on their belts and rifles in their hands. Ben and Logan knew immediately that these men were soldiers for the Hutt Lords, their uniforms emblazoned with the same emblem as Joshua, but all Michael could see was Joshua himself, standing at the head of the pack, not armed but clearly leading them back here. Michael could see hatred in Joshua’s eyes as the soldiers stepped forward, hatred that told Michael that Joshua was here not for Ben and Logan, but for him. All other concerns were secondary. This was Joshua’s moment.

    “There!” Joshua shouted. “Lars. He’s the one who tried to kill me, him and his friends.”

    “What?” Michael shouted. “I saved your life, you son of—“

    Before he could get another word in, Joshua lashed out, hitting him again for the second—or more like tenth—time in less than a day. None of the other soldiers even so much as flinched. They were grunts, enlisted blunt instruments, and Joshua was their superior officer here. They weren’t about to lift a finger to help Michael, and both he and Joshua knew it. Still, Joshua couldn’t go too hard on him, not just yet, and not the least of which because of who Michael’s uncle was.

    “In the name of his High Exalted Excellency, Jabba the Hutt, Great Lord of the Outer Rim,” Joshua said, his words of exaltation shallow and unconvincing yet his hatred for Michael pure and true, “you’re under arrest.”

    “On what charge?” Ben barked out.

    Michael spit out his own blood, muttering, “Man, you really aren’t from around here,” much to Ben’s chagrin.

    “Call ahead to Anchorhead,” Joshua ordered the soldier beside him, ignoring Ben’s question. “Tell base we have three prisoners and we’re on our way back. Then take a team and search the wreckage.”

    To Michael, that last order didn’t mean anything. So far as he knew, Ben and Logan were the only two survivors who crawled their way out of the wreckage, and their lack of surprise at the mention of no other prisoners told him that they knew that. Yet, they seemed to know something else. Their fingers clenched into fists, and Logan’s lower chin was quivering, but neither out of a readiness to attack. No, that would be suicide.

    They were hiding something.
  15. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    It's a little strange but it's really AU so of course it would be.

    I think Micheal would love some answers and Joshua . . . I have no polite words for him.

    I liked the other version you had up before this one but it doesn't matter I guess.

    I would write more but my laptop is in the shop because it's having some issues so I'm using my iPod to write this.
  16. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Good strange, bad strange, or just strange? I'd love to know more of what you mean by that. Same with what you said about how you liked the other version. Do you mean you liked it better? If so, is there a particular reason why that appeals to you more than the old one?
  17. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    It's good strange.

    I think one reason I liked the old one better is that things were recognizable and a little familiar.

    Sorry, I'm writing this on my iPod which is why I'm a little vague.
  18. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    No worries about the iPod. :)

    It’s interesting that you mention that familiarity as a positive aspect. I personally consider it a negative. As you’ll recall, the first several chapters were basically the first half hour of The Phantom Menace with only a few minor tweaks (Dooku instead of Qui-Gon, Jar Binks instead of Jar Jar Binks, etc). I don’t think that’s really worthwhile to tell, given that people have already seen that. A good alternate universe fic, in my opinion, should emphasize alternate as much as possible while retaining the core aspects of Star Wars. That's why I often describe this story as a reboot or re-imagining along the lines of Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and Star Trek. You want the themes and motifs to be there, but you don’t want a carbon copy of the story. That’s why you’ll find that The Chosen One is so completely different (for better or for worse) from the canon films. You’ll recognize the themes, the ideas, and the general feel (especially compared to A New Hope), but it’s a brand new story.

    Granted, some aspects of the previous TCO will remain. You’ll learn more about the planetary invasion, which is still based on The Phantom Menace. There will be a group called the Trade Alliance, which is based on the Trade Federation. There are little similarities like that here and there, but mostly I’ve tried to make this different from my previous version and from canon.

    If you have a chance, can you elaborate on "good strange"?
    Last edited by jedimasterbac, Mar 31, 2013
  19. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    Okay, by good strange I mean that it's different than any fic I read but it isn't so weird that you don't even finish the first chapter.
  20. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Thanks. Can I probe a little deeper on that? I ask that question mainly so you don't think I'm being defensive or even rude. I genuinely enjoy feedback and conversation like this, so I'm eager to hear what you have to say, especially since you said it was good strange. Is there something in most other fics that this is lacking, especially since it seems to be good that it's lacking it? To go further into that question, do you feel that other AUs share a common element that this diverges from?
  21. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    I honestly don't know.

    I guess that in many AUs character names stay the same unless it features a female Luke/Anakin/Obi-Wan where I hope that the name is different. So some of it is the name changes; that is one of the strange if the only strange part. Everything else can be taken into stride.

    Show Spoiler
    i am working on a fic based on original concepts where there was only one Skywalker child.
    Show Spoiler
  22. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    I can understand that. The name Michael Lars is definitely a far cry from Anakin Skywalker.

    One thing I can say, though, is that he will take the name Anakin Skywalker by the end of the story, and there will be a clear and logical reason why. Basically, I felt like this character needed to earn the fact that he was Anakin Skywalker. Taking the prequels out of the equation, since I didn’t like those movies, the original trilogy made Anakin Skywalker seem like this great, heroic guy. I want this character to be that guy, but I don’t want to just start him off that way. Therefore, and because I just personally liked the idea, I decided that Anakin Skywalker would be a name he would take on later.
  23. Lady_Misty Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 21, 2007
    star 4
    So Anakin Skywalker would be a name he takes on.

    If you don't hear from me in awhile its because I went to sleep or decided to wait until I can use my laptop to write.
  24. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 26, 2004
    star 5
    Yeah, he takes it on. It will have symbolic meaning in the story and will tie into things he learns about Jedi customs.
  25. EGKenobi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 3
    Awesome couple of updates. I like where this is going :)

    Would love to stay on the PM list for this :)
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