One in Debt One in debt is so far a slave. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson What a miserable planet. Watto -- formerly a soldier in the Ossiki Confederacy Army, invalided out of the service, fugitive from military justice (yes, the injury was a lie, but he wasn’t about to be slaughtered for a government that didn’t care) -- stared out over the shifting sands of Tatooine. The Toydarian hovered just outside the Mos Eisley Spaceport, then settled to the ground. Flying burned a lot of energy, and who knew when his next meal would be? Watto had neither contacts nor job prospects on this desert world. Which made Tatooine the perfect place to disappear, of course, but also meant lean pickings until he could establish himself. Over the course of the morning, he flew slowly from shop to shop, from sellers’ stalls to local bars. There seemed to be few jobs available – most people worked for themselves or for “companies” that seemed to be fronts for mysterious individuals whose dealings ran outside the law. Watto was familiar with the type – they could be found on Toydaria, which had been conquered long ago by the Hutts. He could likely find work with one of them, but word might get back to the OCA, and the military frowned on deserters who lied about being injured. Then at the edge of Mos Eisley, Watto caught sight of an enormous… vehicle, apparently, although it seemed to also serve as a moving dwelling and marketplace, all staffed by a race of short beings wearing a universal “uniform” of hooded robes. The Toydarian could see only the glowing yellow eyes beneath the hoods. The Mos Eisley residents called them “Jawas” and seemed to buy mostly scavenged goods and pieces of machinery from them. Well, he’d served in the army, he knew about making do with whatever one could find. While he had nothing material to trade, perhaps there were still deals to be made. The Jawa clan? family? consortium? eventually agreed to give him shelter, food, and training in return for his work on their behalf. Not ideal, but it would do for now. He never knew their genders, their ages, barely learned what passed for their names, but they fed him and taught him to recognize useful things to be scavenged – droids that would work again with a couple replacement parts, crashed vehicles that could be disassembled and sold piecemeal, the remains of abandoned settlements that could be packed inside a crawler for their own use or for sale to the next moisture farm they encountered. Watto learned; it turned out he had an eye for salvage and a head for bargaining, and the Jawas kept him busy, taking things apart, memorizing the inventory, negotiating with customers. They youngest Jawas in the crawler called the Toydarian a “funny-looking bird” and kept jumping up to just miss his dangling feet as he hovered out of reach. As time passed, Watto had to fly a little bit higher at each attempt. Within a few weeks, Watto knew he had learned enough to strike out on his own. He stashed some of the choicest replacement parts in a carrying bag and flew off into an evening sunset, without even giving the youngest a last chance to catch his feet. Reaching the city of Mos Espa, he began his business in an open-air market stall, then bargained his way to an actual store front. His inventory grew, as did his clientele, and when the Hutts finally found out who he was, he was successful enough to buy their silence; no word of him returned to Toydaria. He involved himself in the local podracing circuit, sometimes winning bets of money and, in one case, a pair of slaves. ~*~*~*~ A few years later, a Jawa entered Watto’s shop. Through squeaks and squeals and hand motions, it introduced itself as “Smallest” and told Watto, “I need an engine housing panel to repair a vaporator.” “Ah, you’re in luck,” Watto replied. “We gotta one right here!” He flew to a shelf and pulled a box full of panels down to place on the counter. “I also need two chilling bars for the vaporator, and a Treadwell droid arm.” “Sure, sure. I know my inventory, I’ve got both-a those. The total will be fifty peggats.” The total drew a gasp from Watto’s remaining slave, Shmi who sat at the counter, cleaning servos. The Jawa sagged. “I don’t have that much,” it admitted. “Then whatta you got to trade? Food? Water? Spare droid or speeder parts?” “I don’t have anything right now,” the Jawa replied. “I don’t have my family anymore – they were all killed by a group of Jabba the Hutt’s criminals. I don’t have a home – the criminals burned it out. I’m starting with nothing but two droids to sell, but I need to fix them first.” Watto scowled. “Whatta you think this is, a charity? How would it look if I just gave you things? How long do you think I would stay in business, eh? Buy or trade, that’s the only way to get the parts you want.” “Perhaps you could loan Smallest the parts until he sells the droids,” Shmi suggested. “Or let him work here in exchange.” Agitated, the Toydarian darted from Smallest to Shmi and back. “I don’t need anyone else working here! And why should I loan him anything, eh? How do I know he’ll pay-a me back?” The Jawa’s yellow eyes glowed brighter. “I remember when you had nothing, and we took you in,” Smallest said to Watto. “My parents taught you to fix things, to know the value of what you were selling, to remember what you had so you could meet any buyer’s needs. I remember you. You were the ‘funny-looking bird’ that flew just out of reach. You had nothing then, and I have nothing now. ” Shmi Skywalker watched Watto’s eyes widen and his wingbeats slow until he hovered just over the floor. He peered at the Jawa; then he snorted. “I gave good work in trade for all that. I don’t owe anyone anything! I don’t want to see you touch any of my inventory!” Watto shouted. “You hear me? None!” He flew up to hover near the top of the entrance door. “Slave!” “Yes, Watto,” Shmi replied. “I’m going out to check on my podrace crew!” “Yes, Watto,” Shmi repeated, puzzled. Watto never left the shop in the middle of the day – the air outside was too hot and dry, and even if there were no customers, there were always parts to inventory and clean. The Toydarian continued, “You will wait on customers for the next 30 minutes. Then you will lock up the shop and go home. Is that clear?” Shmi’s eyes darted from Watto to the Jawa, and suddenly she smiled. “Perfectly clear.” Watto nodded once, brusquely, turned in mid-air, and sailed out the door. Shmi and the Jawa watched him pass the front window and glide out of sight. “I don’t understand,” Smallest said. “I do.” Shmi turned and bowed slight to Smallest. “Honored customer, how can I be of assistance?” The Jawa waved its hands in confusion. “Customer? Assistance? But Watto said –“ “Watto is, unfortunately, not here to see –“ she emphasized the word “—to your needs. But I would be happy to help. Could I, perhaps, carry this box of parts to your riding animal for you?” She nodded toward the ronto tied to a railing outside the store. Smallest’s hooded gaze turned to the box, then back to Shmi. “Wha – oh. OH! Of course. That would be … very helpful.” Shmi picked up the box and placed it on the counter. “And before I do that, could I perhaps help you find a few repair parts that I’m sure we have in stock? And carry them out as well?” “Yes. Yes, that would be very, very helpful,” Smallest replied. “Then come this way, please,” Shmi Skywalker smiled as she led the way to the parts storage area of Watto’s salvage shop. ~*~*~ End ~*~*~ Author's Note: This story was the result of a prompt from the Underappreciated Character Mini-Challenge. My character was Watto. Although I frequently write about non-humans, I'd never written a "bad guy" type as a main character before, so this was indeed a challenge. Thank you, @Ewok Poet.