This story is dedicated to the memory of Sir Alec Guiness.
PLANET OF DARKNESS
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
More than five centuries before Anakin Skywalker undertook what would become the road to domination by the Dark Side of the Force, before his son Luke would begin the journey to his destiny as the first of a new breed of Jedi Knights, the Skywalker lineage was favored by the Force. This is the story of an offshoot of that mighty line, a young and virtuous woman named Willa Sunrose, who would pursue her own special destiny. Trained to become a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of the learned Mon Calamarian Jedi Gy'les, she would embark upon her own quest, to defend the Old Republic against the unimaginable evil of the Sith. And in doing so, she would encounter one in whom the Force was equally strong. One who counterpointed her every weakness and complimented her every strength.
One who would prove her true soulmate...
"A Jedi Craves Not These Things..."
"Long you have labored, Willa Sunrose," the elder gnome-like being intoned to the hooded young woman as she kneeled before the Jedi Council gathered in their chamber on Coruscant. The entity holding a willow wand over her head smiled as he completed the ritual. His eyes gleamed with wisdom, his posture spoke of humility, his voice cracked with unshakable authority. "No more training do you require; know you all that you need to know. Worthy you have proven yourself. Rise now, Willa Sunrose. From this day forward, a Jedi Knight you are."
The young Jedi lifted the hood from her head, revealing the closely cropped, flaming red tresses from which she derived her name. "I thank you, Master Yoda," she bowed in supplication, "and hope to prove myself equal to the task set before me."
Yoda smiled upon the young woman. "No doubt you shall, child. May the Force be with you." The eldest and most revered member of the Jedi Council hobbled back to his seat, as Gy'les, the Mon Calamarian Jedi who had served as Willa's mentor, smiled at her.
"You have honored me, my Paduwan," he declared stiffly, yet his huge yellow eyes glimmered with emotion.
"I am the one who is honored," Willa replied to her mentor. "You have taught me well, Master Gy'les."
"And you have taken your lessons to heart, young Willa." He took her small hands in his claw-like ones, and nodded serenely toward his charge. Willa smiled, happy at the trust that her mentor had shown in her.
"Now, then," Master Yoda continued, "New business, we must attend to. Mistress Windu's reports of the outer rim, disturb me badly they do. Much evidence of Dark Side interference." He motioned for the regal looking dark skinned woman sitting next to him to continue her report.
"Indeed," Talas Windu announced, "One of the planets of the Outer Rim, Suun'dyl, has sent us several dire messages. Evidently, an artificial worm-hole has opened within the planet's orbit, and there are reports of many terrible creatures walking the planet at night since the worm-hole opened."
"And is it the general consensus that the worm-hole is directly linked to these visitations?" Gy'les asked.
"That seems to be what the populace of Suun'dyl thinks. They have taken to calling the worm-hole 'the Mouth of Darkness'. And several Jedi who have passed the system have reported sensing a high degree of Dark Side activity."
"Could this be a plot of the Sith?" asked another Council member.
"It is possible. In any event, it bears looking into."
"I would recommend a small scouting party," Gy'les suggested. "Two Jedi, to ascertain the level of threat."
Yoda nodded, "Agreed, Jedi Gy'les. "Do you volunteer?"
"I do, Master Yoda."
"I would accompany my mentor, if he would have me," Willa suddenly spoke. Gy'les nodded his massive fish-like head toward his pupil, silently indicating that he would welcome her assistance.
Yoda smiled at the newly-named Jedi. "So eager are you, young one?"
"Only eager to serve, as a true Jedi," Willa answered.
"Then it will be so," Yoda answered. "Jedi Gy'les and Jedi Sunrose, go you will to Suun'dyl."
The meeting soon adjourned, and the separate members of the Jedi Council left to attend to their own affairs. Gy'les approached his young charge and asked, "Are you certain that you are up to the potential challenge? There could be a great deal of risk involved in traveling into the frontier planets of the Outer Rim."
"Master Gy'les," Willa answered serenely, "There is risk in waking up every morning. If I as a Jedi were to flinch from every danger, or every setback, then what is my purpose in joining the Jedi Knights in the first place?"
"I am only concerned for your own welfare, child," the usually gruff Mon Calamarian observed. "Your parents have charged me with the responsibility to see to your welfare. I don't take that responsibility lightly."
"Hey, you guard my back," Willa said, patting the light sabre handle that hung from her coarse cord belt, "and I'll guard yours."
"Very well," Gy'les agreed. "We had better be on our way. We must first make sure that the Vigilance is fully stocked and ready for flight. We leave for Suun'dyl tonight."
The Mon Calamarians have always taken pride in their starship construction. They regard their ships as works of art, as much as vessels of transport. The Vigilance is one such vehicle. Its trademark rounded exterior surfaces mark it as Mon Cal design, as opposed to the jutting angles and flat surfaces preferred by so many other spacefaring species. The Vigilance is a durable ship, and has served as Gy'les personal transport for many years with distinction.
Willa Sunrose finished taking inventory of the ship's supplies. A full compliment of foodstuffs, full fuel tanks, adequate drinking water, two speeder bikes, additional supplies, first aid equipment, spare components should the Vigilance need repairs, all neatly put away in their place.
She smiled as she noticed that Gy'les had remembered the speeder bikes. She always harbored a secret passion for fast land vehicles. As a teen-ager, she had tinkered extensively with her old landspeeder, shaping that archaic fossil of a vehicle into a distance-eating machine. She had even surprised her friends by successfully charting the infamous Beggar's Canyon on Tatooine, the world where she had lived before being sought by Gy'les, to become a Jedi.
As much as Yoda had chided her over the years about her reckless nature, it was still very much a part of her. "Adventure, excitement," Yoda would say. "Pah! A Jedi craves not these things!"
But it wasn't about mere thrillseeking, or at least that's how Willa saw it. It was about pushing herself, bettering herself, exceeding her limits in body, mind and spirit. She had done that much by learning about the Force, by applying these teachings to her daily life. Becoming a Jedi was the most important thing that ever happened to her. It gave her soul, voice and function. It became a way of life that she would gladly dedicate herself.
So why did she feel as though there was something missing? Some vital component to her being, some missing piece. Something was not there. And ever since she discovered her sensitivity to the Force, she had been keenly aware of that loss.
She put down the inventory list, knowing that it was complete, and chose to meditate on her sense of loss. Rather than let that loss control her, she sought to control it. She sat in a lotus position, relaxed herself completely, and attuned her mind to the Force.
After several seconds of peaceful meditation, the sudden visions hit her like a tidal wave. She fell backward, physically stunned by the sudden clarity of her visions. She shook herself out of the meditative trance, and stood up. As she collected her thoughts, she heard a hatch open.
"Willa?" Gy'les asked as he rushed in, concern coloring his gruff voice. "I felt a disturbance in the Force, that seemed to be concentrated on you. Are you well, child?"
"I'm fine, Master Gy'les," Willa answered shakily. "Nothing to be alarmed about, I just had a vision of the future. A rather vague one, but..."
"When did it happen?"
"Well," Willa began, recalling the chain of events. "I had finished inventorying the supplies, but I felt an uneasiness. I couldn't quite define it, so I chose to meditate on it. As I was in my meditation trance, I saw the vision."
"What did you see, Willa?"
"A person," she remembered. "A woman. My age, more or less. Yellow hair. Blue-hazel eyes. Thin, pretty, with a great confidence about her. That's all I remember. But I feel as though she is important to me. That she is someone that I need to know, that I need to trust. And I know somehow that our paths will cross. Soon."
"It is good to trust your feelings in this matter," Gy'les counseled his charge. "The Force has sent you this vision, and clearly it will send this person to you. Trust the Force, child."
"I do, Master," Willa answered, smiling warmly. "The Force sent me here, didn't it?"
"Indeed," Gy'les laughed lightly. "Now, let's get underway. We have a mission ahead of us." The two Jedi prepared to embark on their assignment to Suun'dyl.
"Xander?" The grubby woman shouted from the repair hatch of her Correllian freighter. "Get your tin butt over here!"
"Right away, Buf," XNDR-12, an old but still serviceable explorer droid, responded with its usual laid-back charm, its tank-like treads conveying him to his mistress. The XNDR series was designed to aid surveyors, explorers and pioneers to uncharted worlds. As such, it combined the best features of an astromech, a repair droid and a pack mule, and the linguistic capabilities of a protocol droid. A dull silver plated chassis, propelled by tank treads, with a human-like torso jutting out of the top, with two arms and one head, that carried an AA-1 Verbobrain processor.
The previous owner of XNDR-12 had programmed it with a more relaxed personality than most protocol droids, so Xander, as Buf Somars called him, had a tendency to crack jokes and behave in a casual manner. At times Buf had wanted to give Xander a memory wipe, but at heart, she found that she rather liked having his company on long trips.
This trip was longer than most. She had picked up readings of an undiscovered planet near the Outer Rim, one that could support colonization. Her employers would pay her handsomely to chart this world, so that a new group of colonists would have a new home. However, her ship, the Slayer, had to choose that particular moment to blow a fuel line. She had to land on the nearest planet to effect repairs, and it would have to be Tatooine. Not only one of the less hospitable planets in the galaxy, but the home of the Hutt Cartel. Three times since landing on Tatooine, she had been forced to work for a particularly unsavory Hutt named Snydaa, in order to afford parts to repair the Slayer. Those parts proved to be defective, and she found herself owing Snydaa more than she could afford. She tried to break this vicious cycle by avoiding any Hutt, but Snydaa had been more than just a little persistent.
And about this time, her dreams started. Dreams of a young red-haired woman, whom she had never met. There was a serenity that colored her features, and a sweetness in her smile that made Buf's heart beat faster. When she caught sight of those deep green eyes, Buf thought that she could fall into them, and never emerge. Great, she thought angrily, I'm falling in love with a dream!
But this dream lover, she beat any of the real lovers she had known over the years. Mostly one-night stands, no meaningful relationships. Buf's job as a surveyor wouldn't leave her time for anything more lasting. But this red head. There was something about her. Some force, some destiny, was trying to pull them together. She knew it. But she couldn't understand it.
"Uh, Buf," Xander's tin-like voice interrupted her reverie. "We've got company."
"Let me guess," Buf poked her blonde head out of the repair hatch. "The esteemed Snydaa the Hutt?"
"The one and, thank the Maker, only," Xander quipped. "Shall I translate for you?"
"No, you'd only edit what I have to say. Besides, I've been on this dustball enough to pick up some Huttese. I'll handle Grease-ball." She stepped out of the hatch, brushed off her coveralls, and approached the fat slug.
[Buf Somars] the Hutt greeted her with mock civility.
[Your Ugliness] Buf answered, not even trying to be civil.
[I thought that you would like some employment while you're visiting my fair nation. I've taken the liberty of passing your name to some associates of mine--]
[Snydaa,] Buf cut him off. [Listen to me good, because I'm not going to repeat myself; tell your associates that I don't work for them, and will never work for you or anyone with whom you associate.]
The Hutt slithered slowly toward Buf, who didn't flinch, even though the stink coming from his body could curdle milk at ten meters. [I'm sorry, Buf, but it doesn't work that way. You are only allowed on this world at my sufferance. So long as you stay on Tatooine, you work for me.]
[Fine,] Buf smiled. [As soon as I have my ship repaired, I'll be off our planet, and out of your employment. And if you send your goons to sabotage my ship again, I'll send them back, one piece at a time.]
Snydaa hissed, then laughed. [Do you think that I would condone sabotage against your vessel? You wound me, child.]
With lightning speed, Buf drew her blaster, and pointed it directly at Snydaa. [Wound you? What a wonderful idea! Get away from my ship and out of my sight, slug boy!]
The Hutt backed off, his eyes narrowed in anger. [You've made a mistake, Correllian. The last one you'll ever make!]
[Yeah, yeah, I'm so shaking.] Buf answered as the Hutt slithered off.
After Snydaa had gone, Xander commented to his mistress, "He'll be back, Buf. And I don't know if we'll be able to repair the vessel in time."
"Yeah, I know," Buf answered, holstering her blaster. "But I'd rather be sent to the spice mines of Kessel than ever work for that slug again. C'mon, Xander. We're going to Mos Eisley. Maybe someone knows a way I can get off this hellhole." The two longtime companions left for the city of Mos Eisley.
"A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy."
Mos Eisley. One of the most disreputable places in the galaxy. If you need to locate a bounty hunter, obtain some information, or fulfill your desire to have your throat slit from ear to ear, this is the place. A dry flat city, in the middle of the dry flat planet of Tatooine, Mos Eisley is home to the derelicts, the drifters, the con artists, the fugitives and the disinherited of a thousand planets. And into this city, which a great man would many centuries later call "a wretched hive of scum and villainy" came the Corellian explorer Buf Somars and her droid companion XNDR-12.
"Stay frosty, Xander," Buf warned. "There are thieves and killers everywhere."
Xander looked around him, and observed, "Interesting choice of words, Buf. I don't think the native language has a word for frost."
"Funny, Xander," Buf griped. She scoped out some of the squat buildings around her, her eyes resting on a sign that read "Whistler's". She had met this Whistler before, a devil-headed Labrian who had offered her employment, free from the Hutts. She kept her eyes on his hands as they spoke, to make sure he didn't reach for a weapon or pick her pockets, but she was inclined to trust him more than she trusted the Hutt Consortium. "Looks like we'll have to take him up on his offer," she admitted.
"As long as it doesn't involve the Hutts," Xander conceded. The two figures walked into the bar, and found their nostrils assailed by strong odors; drinks being brewed, she thought at first, but later decided that Whistler simply didn't maintain regular hours to clean his establishment. Not that he ever seemed to have any customers to object anyway.
The fat Labrian raised his eyes from his task of wiping a glass with a dirty rag. [Buf!] he stepped out from behind the bar, embraced her hard, and generally greeted her like a long-lost, and suddenly wealthy, brother. [And you brought the tin toy with you!] he exulted, much to the droid's dismay. [He can entertain my clientle.]
[What clientle?] Buf asked, disengaging herself from the conman's grasp. [From the looks of it, this place hasn't seen a turnover in business since the last time it rained here!]
[You've only caught me during my slack period,] Whistler explained hastily.
[Which started, as I recall,] Xander ribbed the fat fool, [just after you bought the place from the Hutts.]
[I don't think I like your attitude, friend,] Whistler flustered. [So you just go and get yourself dismantled like a good droid.]
[C'mon, Xander,] Buf growled, aiming her contempt at Whistler. [We don't need anything from him, not that he has anything to give.] Whistler stood, surprised as she and the droid left together. He sat alone in his bar, knowing that she was probably the only person who would set foot in his place all week.
"Good call, Buf," Xander affirmed. "Besides, I need to get out of here to clear the air."
"You're a droid," Buf said as they left the seedy establishment. "You don't breath."
"No," Xander answered, "but I do have olfactory sensors, and they were saying, 'get out now, or I won't be with you tomorrow'!"
Buf laughed at the thought, but soon found her attention drawn by another event. Trandoshan traders, large, long-limbed reptiles, had just started an auction, selling their wares. They were slavers, and their 'cargo' were captured Wookiees.
One large and angry slave was being dragged to the auction block, as the Trandoshan hissed out the beast's virtues. Buf raged as she saw this unconscionable act. She had been offered large sums of money to aid the Hutts in transporting slaves from other worlds to the Hutt Throneworld, but refused adamantly. She couldn't stand the sight of an intelligent being in chains. And that sight was greeting her at this very minute.
"Stay here, Xander," she ordered her droid. "After dealing with Fat-boy, I feel like kicking some butt." She quietly stole away toward the auction block, losing herself in the crowd. The auctioneer was shouting out for bids, and some of the crowd were offering increasing numbers of credits for the Wookiee.
"Seventy-five!" someone shouted. "Eighty!" someone else added. "Eighty-five!" "Ninety!"
"One hundred and fifty," Buf added quietly.
"The bid is one hundred and fifty," the Trandoshan announced. "Who'll say one-sixty?"
"One-sixty!" someone behind Buf said.
"Two hundred," Buf said calmly. The Bothan who had bid against her glared at her, her fur rippling his displeasure. Buf just smiled. No other bidders were forthcoming, and the auctioneer slammed his gavel down, announcing that Buf Somars had bought herself a Wookiee.
Buf approached the podium, to claim her prize. The Trandoshan hissed happily at her; [Just pay the two hundred credits, and he's all yours.]
[Oh dear,] she said, acting innocent, [I don't seem to have my credits with me. Perhaps you'll accept a knee to the groin, and a blaster in the kisser.] She proceeded to deliver just that, and as the angry reptile-man struggled to get up, she cuffed him again with the side of her blaster. [This auction's over, Lizard Boy. I'm taking the Wookiee with me, and if you try anything with me, I'll blast you into the next system. Do we have an understanding?] She went over to the Wookiee, and held out her arms, indicating to the hairy giant that he should do the same. He held his arms out in front of him, and she shot at the restraining cuffs with her blaster. The cuffs clattered to the ground, and the freed Wookiee raised his shaggy arms into the air, bellowing joyously.
"Buf!" Xander shouted. "Behind you!"
Buf turned, just in time for the Trandoshan to club her with his right arm, sending her tumbling off the auction dias. The Wookiee growled loudly in anger, and attacked the slavers, sending the audience gathered for the auction fleeing in a hundred directions. He then helped Buf to her feet, and gently inspected her to make sure she had been injured.
"I'm fine, friend," she tried to explain, then turned to Xander. "Your protocol circuits don't happen to know Wookiee, do they?"
"Certainly, Buf," he answered. "I am versed in over six million languages and dialects--"
"Great, Xander, I don't need the sales pitch. Just tell our friend that he's free to go, and if he needs help to locate his family, I can probably get him in touch with the authorities."
Xander turned to the Wookiee, and howled out her message in the beast's native language. The Wookiee responded in kind, and Xander translated; "Our new friend, Ossborca, is grateful for you help, and wishes to accompany us. And he can understand what you're saying, although he doesn't speak Corellian."
"Oh. Well. Uh, Oz, can I call you Oz, I like you and all, but I don't need any company. I barely have provisions for myself."
Oz moaned and bellowed some more, and Xander said, "He says that since you saved him from slavery, he owes you a 'life debt', in the custom of the Wookiee people. He feels obligated to join us, and protect you."
"Great," Buf said under her breath. "Look, Oz, thanks and all that, but I don't need a bodyguard. What I need now is someone who knows his way around a Correlian star drive." Oz beat his chest proudly at her words. "You know how to repair a star drive?"
Oz grunted affirmatively. "Well, maybe we can work together after all." The Corellian and her newfound friend began to talk some more, with Xander translating helpfully. They were unaware of the angry Hutt who had heard about the incident at the slave auction. The Hutt who planned to take his losses from the auction out of Buf's hide.
"This is Willa Sunrose, requesting clearance for the Vigilance to depart Coruscant airspace."
"Clearance granted, Willa Sunrose," the too-sweet computer voice chirped. Willa maneuvered the Vigilance for a clear take-off, and fastened her safety harness. "All systems nominal, Master Gy'les," she announced to her mentor.
"Then let us be off," said the Mon Cal Jedi.
With the flicking of a few switches, and moving of the steering mechanism, the Vigilance arrowed out of its hanger bay, and into the night sky over the northern hemisphere of the capital planet.
Willa always looked at the endless vistas of Coruscant with a strange mixture of awe and revulsion. Awe at the scope of this city, which encompassed an entire planet, and revulsion that there was no room for this central world in the galaxy for anything green and growing. Sure, there were parklands, trees planted at equal spaces among most streets and thoroughfares, but nothing wild, nothing truly natural.
As a child, she escaped the dry arid wastes of her homeworld Tatooine, because something inside her screamed to be among living things. She had considered striking out on her own, maybe the jungles and rain forests of Ithor, or the wild forests of Kashyyyk, or even the oceans of Mon Calamari. Anywhere where there was life.
It wasn't until her path had crossed that of Master Gy'les that she fully understood the truth about herself. Her desire to be among the living was an early manifestation of the Force within her. Gy'les knew that the Force was strong in Willa, and that she would make both a formidable and compassionate Jedi Knight. Despite her age(seventeen the day she stood before the Council, petitioning them for the privilige of being Gy'les paduwan), Yoda sensed an innocence within her, free of fear and anger. Those things, he cautioned, were the path to the Dark Side of the Force.
All life in the universe contributed to the energy field that was the Force. Her desire to be among living things was an extention of her need to be one with the Force. Even amid the vast cityscapes that comprised the Coruscant skyline, the streets and thoroughfares were teeming with life. The desolation of Tatooine couldn't smother her desire to be part of that life, part of the Force. She needed to feel the Force the way she needed to breath.
The Vigilance began its ascent into escape velocity, and cleared the planet's atmosphere within minutes. Soon, it was free from the gravity well of Coruscant's sun, and Willa set the coordinates for the jump to sublight speed. She always felt a strange rush when the stars outside their view port turned into lines as the ship travelled at near-light speed. She took her mind off the ship for a while, and concentrated on her earlier visions.
What was it about this mysterious blond woman that mystified her so? Why should a woman whom Willa Sunrose never met should enrapture her heart like this? She meditated further on her, after taking her leave from Master Gy'les as he piloted the Vigilance, and learned more about her mysterious someone.
She knew that her name was Buf Somars, and that she was from the planet Corellia. An important world in the galaxy, it is often said that the Corellians have rocket fuel in their veins, as the desire to explore, to go out into space and seek adventure, seems deeply ingrained into the Corellian psyche. She was an explorer, like many of her people. A maverick, a bit of a rogue. And someone who was very important to her, in a way she couldn't define as yet. But she would know why. And soon.
"Master," the scared woman cowered before the throne of the hooded man. "What would you have of me?"
The mysterious figure on the throne looked at her with dark eyes, that matched his dark countenance. He smiled at the young woman, laying supplicant before him. A smile without mirth, without heart, without soul. "Continue to serve me as you have done before, Dru'sil. That is what I would have of you."
"I have the information you require, Master," Dru'sil said to the hooded man. "The Jedi Council have sent two of their own to investigate the Suun'dyl wormhole. A Master Jedi named Gy'les, and his apprentice, Willa Sunrose."
"So the Jedi have finally noticed my Mouth of Darkness," the hooded man mused. "Good. I can deal with a few Jedi. Leave me, child, I will ponder the information you have given me." The woman left silently, leaving a powerful Sith Lord to contemplate his options.
He had been aware of events near the wormhole. He knew that there was a woman from his past, stranded on Tatooine, and that she was somehow destined to be a thorn in his side. Ever since he discovered his true power, his control of the Force, he knew that this showdown was coming. He also knew that he had to deal with the Jedi that were travelling to Suun'dyl. He couldn't allow that, not just yet. He needed a little more time to consolidate his power. He needed to stall the Jedi Knights. If he could destroy this pair of Jedi, so much the better.
"Spyk!" he shouted to his apprentice. Darth Spyk, the pale yellow haired Sith apprentice, appeared quickly before him, bowing with respect. "My liege," he addressed his Master. "What do you command?"
"There is a ship, of Mon Cal design, heading toward Suun'dyl," the Sith lord stated. "I do not want them to arrive there."
"Shall I destroy them, my liege?" Darth Spyk asked eagerly. His desire for destruction was known throughout the most shadowy regions of the galaxy.
"Just cripple them," answered the Sith Lord. "I want them to arrive at Suun'dyl eventually, just as soon as I prepare the proper welcome for them. Soon, they will know who is the real power in this galaxy."
As he briefed his apprentice, Darth Ang'lus knew that he would encounter the Jedi himself, soon enough. He relished the opportunity to destroy them.
"We'll be emerging from hyperspace soon, Willa," Gy'les announced. "Prepare for planetfall within twenty minutes."
"But it's too soon," Willa protested. "According to the star charts, Suun'dyl is still ten clicks away."
"The Vigilance is still being pulled into real-space," Gy'les said, as he read the instruments. "Evidentally there's a gravity well within our flight plan, like the pull of a large star."
"But there was no star near this area! I made out this flight pattern myself!"
"I know, child," Gy'les answered. "I don't doubt your skill as a pilot, but we're still being forced out of hyperspace. Hang on, emerging into real-space--NOW!" The starlines coalesced into pinpoints of light, and the Vigilance now flew at cruising speed.
"Willa," Gy'les barked. "Scan the immediate area, tell me what could have caused that gravity well?"
"There's your answer," Willa indicated after reading the scanners. "An artificial gravity generator operating from the planet Tatooine."
"I see," Gy'les agreed. "If that generator is still in operation, no ships in the area will be able to leave. And we need to shut it down to finish our journey to Suun'dyl."
"Preparing to land on Tatooine," Willa announced, unenthusiastically. She had no desire to visit the planet of her birth, and she certainly didn't want to trek through the desolate wastes of Tatooine again. She felt that there was nothing waiting there for her, no reason to return to her home so soon.
She was about to learn how wrong she was.
"In My Experience, There Is No Such Thing As Luck."
Buf Somars slammed her fist on the bar, and shouted to the bartender, "Two Dantoine Ales over here!"
The bartender grunted stiffly. "We don't allow droids here," he declared, regarding Xander with disgust. The XNDR unit, feigning a cool detatchment, told Buf, "I'll just wait outside," before ambling on his treads out the door. Buf scowled at the bartender; Xander was more human, more sentient, than most beings she had encountered during her turbulant life. Her Wookiee companion, Ossborca, grunted understandingly, nodding at Buf. Buf turned her attention to Oz, and discussed their most recent failures at repairing the Slayer.
"So what you're saying," Buf repeated to make sure she understood the situation, "is that the Slayer works perfectly, but it still can't make escape velocity?"
Oz barked an affirmative. Buf let out an exasperated sigh. "Okay, Oz. So is there something else stranding us on this flyspeck?"
Oz barked again. Yes.
"Great," Buf said, mostly to herself. "I'm running dead on into the language barrier. So, what the hell is preventing the ship from departing?"
"An artificial gravity well, my friend," a clipped voice announced from behind her. Buf swung around, blaster at the ready, and saw a large, rose-colored being standing behind her. The being blinked its large yellow eyes and continued. "It seems, ma'am, that you are in the same dire straits as my companion and myself. I am Gy'les," he added, extending his clawlike hand in greeting.
Buf sized up the interloper at once, and decided that he didn't pose a threat. "Buf Somars of Correllia, captain of the Correllian cruiser Slayer. And Ossborca of Kashyyyk." Oz growled out an inarticulate greeting. Gy'les nodded in response. Buf noticed Gy'les' crude rope belt, and the device hanging from it. "A light saber, isn't it? You a Jedi Knight?"
"Jedi Master Gy'les, at your service," he answered, bowing formally.
"And a long way from Mon Calimari, to boot," Buf observed. "Tatooine must not agree with you."
"I must admit I prefer a wetter climate," Gy'les admitted. "Perhaps the three of us should talk. My companion and I have need of someone who knows their way around Tatooine. Someone who can handle a fight if it comes to that. Perhaps if we combined our resources, we could locate the gravity generator, and escape this planet."
"You must be hot to leave here," Buf commented. Oz grunted an agreement.
"Let's say that I have vital business to attend to elsewhere. And you seem as anxious to leave here as I am."
"True," Buf nodded. "However, my business to the outer rim has been cut short by my forced vacation to this little garden spot, and I don't know when my next client will call, so--"
"If it is a matter of money," Gy'les assured her, "I am sure that the Jedi Council, once they learn of your service, will gladly reimburse you whatever you deem fair."
"So I guess we got ourselves a deal." Buf stood up. "So you spoke of a companion? Do I get to meet him?"
"Her," Gy'les amended. "She should be along soon. She's a native of Tatooine, but hasn't been here in several years. Her name is Willa Sun--"
"Sunrose," Buf said suddenly, causing Gy'les to jump slightly. "Her name is Willa Sunrose, isn't it? Red hair, elfin smile, green eyes?"
"Yes," Gy'les pondered. "How did you know--" Before he could continue, Willa entered the tavern door, and stopped dead in her tracks upon seeing Buf Somars.
Buf stood thunderstruck as she gazed at her dream companion. Her flame-red hair, her jade green eyes, her sweet face. The face of innocence, but at the same time posessed of eternal wisdom. She radiated calm, serenity and peace, states of being that Buf Somars never knew but desperately wanted in her life. The redhead stood in a passive stance, but Buf could sense the coiled strength and purpose that lay beneath her humble appearence. It was her eyes, however, that described her true power. Green gemstones, gleaming with ancient knowledge, twinkling with secrets. Secrets that Buf Somars wanted so much to share.
Gy'les looked on as the two women slowly stepped toward each other. "You are Buf Somars, aren't you?" Willa asked timidly, as if saying the name would break the spell and shatter her vision.
The sight of the blond Corellian didn't drift away as her name was spoken. Instead, she looked into the young Jedi's eyes, and answered, "Yes, and you must be Willa Sunrose. So I finally get to meet the woman who's been haunting my dreams."
"And I meet the woman who has been in my visions," Willa added. "I must say that so far you're everything I had expected." She offered her hand to shake, which Buf accepted warmly. "Good to finally meet you," they said simultaneously, and laughed as they spoke.
"Well, my friends," Gy'les announced, breaking up the rapt concentration between the two women, who turned their eyes to glare at him. "Perhaps we could retire to your ship, Captain Somars."
"What good would that do?" the Corellian asked. "The Slayer works fine, according to Oz, but with this gravity well in place, we're stuck like Correlian firemoths in amber."
"If your ship is functioning properly," Willa suggested, "then are your planetary sensors working as well? The reason we ask is because our sensors were misaligned slightly when we crash-landed on Tatooine. We've been able to fully repair our ship, but our sensors are still down. If your sensors work, we can get a closer fix on the gravity well."
"Good idea, Sunrose," Buf announced. "Let's head out for the Slayer, and find that well."
[And how are you going to do that, Buf Somars,] a voice like shredded metal blasted from the doorway, [when you're not going to leave this bar alive?] The two Jedi and the Corellian turned toward the offending voice, and saw a pack of Trandoshans. The slaver whom Buf had earlier taken down led the pack, his lizard eyes gleaming with malice. [Take her! If her Jedi friends interfere, they die as well!]
Buf immediately grabbed her blaster, ready to pick off as many Trandoshans as she could before they made good on their threat. Ossborca knocked his chair away as he stood beside his new partner. Gy'les and Willa sat calmly beside the other two, seemingly blase about the irate reptiles.
"Hello, my formidable friends," Gy'les greeted the Trandoshans. "Would you care to join us in a drink?" Buf Somars looked at them, amazed that they would consider inviting these slavers to drink with them. She noticed his waving his claw-like hand at the slavers, his voice the definition of calm. She wanted to scream at him, to get him to defend himself from these ruffians, but Willa Sunrose raised her hand to stop her. "Peace, Buf," she said serenely. "These Trandoshans have no desire to fight with us. Do you?" She pointed this last query at the lead Trandoshan, who slowly lowered his weapon.
He turned to his cohorts, and said, [We have no desire to fight with them.] The other reptilians looked around at each other, confused.
"There is no need for hostility between us," Gy'les stated calmly. "You have no business here. Be off with you."
The Trandoshans blinked quizically, before filing out of the bar. Buf beheld the sight of six Trandoshan slavers, full of outrage and ready to sink their teeth into her flesh just seconds ago, now submissively following the orders of two unassuming Jedi. She regarded her new friends with awe and respect. "How--how did you--" she started to ask, faultingly, as she sat shakingly next to Willa.
"The Force allows one to control the weaker minded," was Gy'les only explaination.
"The way of the Jedi Knights is not a path of war," Willa elaborated, "but one of enlightenment." She placed a gentle hand on Buf's, and the Correllian shivered at the contact. Was this seemingly frail red-haired beauty even remotely aware of the power she held over her? Did this young Jedi know how she was affecting Buf, merely by being in her proximity?
"Well," Buf coughed nervously, but didn't remove her hand from Willa's, "Thank you for the demonstration. Now then," she added, returning to business, "how do we find this gravity generator?" The four partners began to discuss their current predicament, not knowing that obsidian eyes regarded them with an almost joyous malice from behind a black hood. The hooded man left the bar quickly and quietly.
The Trandoshans were returning to their repulsor-lift, vaguely aware of an important errand they had set out to accomplish, when a stranger spoke from behind them; "Well, well, well, if it isn't the greatest collection of fools it has ever been my pleasure to meet." The six lizard-men turned on their heels, intent on making those words the last this stranger ever spoke.
The stranger stood before them, sheltered from the twin suns of Tatooine by a shop's awning, clad in a black cloak that covered his entire body. He lifted the hood from his head with skeletal hands, revealing a gaunt, ashen face, and bright yellow spikes of hair on his head. His eyes were black irises set amid grey, with a pinpoint of glowing red in each pupil. Hunter's eyes, the Trandoshans recognized them. Predatory, feral, evil.
"Why, in the name of all you believe," the stranger continued, "would you simply let the woman who cost you your prize catch, that magnificent Wookiee of yours, to slip away from you? She interfered with your livelyhood, gentlemen. This cannot go without challenge!" The lead slaver looked around at his compatriots, and saw in their eyes that this man's words were reaching them. Yes, this Buf Somars cost them dearly. She should be made to pay with her life.
"Now then," the stranger continued, knowing that he had these miserable lizard-men eating out of the palm of his hand, "I am prepared to pay you handsomely for that beast, if you can reapprehend it. Simply eliminate Somars, and her new friends, and the Wookiee shouldn't be too difficult to handle. Without his companions, he will prove to be most docile." He knew that wasn't true, but these slavers didn't strike him as the intelligent type. "Bring him to me in," he mimed looking at a pocket chronometer, "one tenth of a cycle, and this," he withdrew a handful of credit notes from his cloak, "will be yours."
The reptiles fairly drooled at the sight of so much currency, and immediatly returned to the tavern, their rage to strike back at the Correlian who dared to mock them returned.
The hooded man smiled at his handiwork. Darth Spyk didn't care who did his dirty work, as long as he could acquire the right muscle for the job. And using the Dark side of the Force to cloud their minds while firing up their blood was all too easy.
"Fools," he sneered contemptuously at the reptiles. He didn't care what happened to them, so long as the two Jedi were stalled.
Buf Somars listened intently to Willa Sunrose as the young Jedi retold the journey of her life to the Correllian. Buf could have listened to that sweet voice, like small chimes to her ears, for all of eternity. As they, with Oz, Xander and Gy'les, made their way to where Willa and Gy'les had left their speeder bikes, they had chatted like lifelong friends. Buf had grown amazed at how at ease she felt around Willa.
They had also spoken about the visions they shared of each other prior to their meeting, without mentioning the more intense emotions that accompanied them. Buf wouldn't admit this to anyone, but she was afraid of the feelings she might be developing for this young woman. She came from a society that didn't consider gender issues in matters of the heart, but she had never allowed herself to become attatched to anyone else. She lived alone and it suited her fine. She wasn't sure she could share her life with another, or that another would want to share that life.
Willa herself was uncertain about her feelings for Buf. She couldn't deny the attraction to this compelling woman. She was drawn to her like a compass needle to magnetic north. And the fact that this woman had seen her in visions, before they even met. Willa found herself wondering, was this woman in tune with the Force? Could she be a potential Jedi? She knew that the council would probably not approve, siting that she was too old to train as a Jedi. But still, if she had the potential, it would be a shame to waste it. Perhaps she should discuss this with Gy'les later.
"Willa," Gy'les interrupted her wandering thoughts. "It occurs to me that we only brought the two speeder bikes with us. Will our new friends be forced to walk all the way to their ship?"
"I am equipped with repulsor lifts in my treads," Xander announced. "I was built for exploring rugged terrain, and my designers thought that it might be easier for me to be able to hover where I couldn't roll."
"And Buf can ride with me," Willa volunteered brightly. Buf was surprised at her offer, but didn't want to refuse it.
"I suppose that could work," Gy'les suggested. "My speeder bike is equipped with a side-car which should accommodate our hirsute friend," he added, indicating Oz. "How fast can you travel with your repulsors, Xander?"
"I can keep up with you, Gy'les," Xander stated proudly. "I've made a few modifications outside of my manufacturer's specs."
"Okay, it's settled," Willa said. "Let's head out of here--" She suddenly stopped in her tracks, and Gy'les and Buf both noticed the serious expression on her face. "Something is wrong, Gy'les," she whispered. "I'm sensing the Dark Side ahead."
Gy'les looked ahead of their path, and concentrated. "Yes, child," he agreed. "We'd best be careful." Even Buf, who to Gy'les knowledge had no affinity for the Force, seemed to sense a wrongness ahead of them. They ventured forward slowly, Buf and Oz two paces behind the two Jedi and the droid, watching their backs.
The ambush was quick and brutal. The six Trandoshans jumped them from all sides. The leader attacked Buf, who drew her blaster just quickly enough to fend off her attacker. She fired two bolts from her blaster, winging the beast in the right shoulder. He howled in pain, and staggered toward Buf.
Oz immediately clubbed the leader with his mighty paw, bellowing his rage that this monster who had enslaved him earlier now tried to harm the one whom he was honor-bound to protect. His eyes flashed green fire, and his canine teeth gleamed in the light of two suns.
Gy'les and Willa, meanwhile, were prepared for the melee, as they loosed the handles of their lightsabers. Willa pushed Xander out of the line of fire as the Trandoshans advanced, and then they drew their blades, glowing brightly with their deadly energies. They feinted at first, as the slavers fired their blasters at the two Jedi. They maneuvered their sabers in front of them, the blades effectively reflecting the shots away from them. One deft move from Gy'les deflected a blaster shot directly at the shooter's hand, forcing him to drop his weapon as he winced in pain. Willa smiled at her mentor, and calmly executed a like move, disarming her opponent. They stood their ground as their attackers gradually lost their courage. They hadn't expected their prey to fight back, certainly not as effectively as they had.
"I will say this once," Gy'les intoned, regarding the slavers with righteous ire. "You will leave here, and never again do harm to our companions. They are under the protection of the Jedi Knights." Hearing these words, the Trandoshans lost the last of their resolve, and departed peaceably. Buf and Oz glared at the reptiles, and fought off the urge to shout back at them. They had won this battle, and they had no desire to start another.
Xander emerged from the doorway into which he had been pushed and, shaking his head, asked, "Is it over?"
Buf smiled at Willa and Gy'les, saying, "I am impressed. I never saw anything like that before."
"The Force guided our hands, Buf," Willa observed sagely, "and brought us victory this day."
"The Force, eh?" Buf asked her new companions.
"You sound skeptical, my friend," Gy'les noted.
"I wonder how much of that was just luck."
"In my experience, Buf Somars," Gy'les countered without malice, "there is no such thing as luck."
"Perhaps, Gy'les." Brushing the dust off of her pants with her hands, she announced, "I tend to be skeptical about what I can't see, hear, touch, taste or smell, but after what I saw today, I'm prepared to keep an open mind."
Willa nodded in acceptence, and then said, "We'd better get moving before our buddies get their courage back. Shall we?" Buf and Willa smiled at each other and led the way to the speeder bikes.
They didn't notice that their departure was being watched keenly by two glittering pale yellow eyes. "Damn lizard-men," Darth Spyk muttered in disgust. It galled him to use lesser beings to test the limits of these Jedi Knights, but he knew that he couldn't face them himself, not while the twin suns of Tatooine blazed so brightly at midday. Wait for the night, Spyk consoled himself. Then his strength would be at its zenith, and he could eliminate the threat of the Jedi himself.
As for Buf Somars, he would have to discuss her fate with Darth Ang'lus. No doubt his master would have special plans for her.
The ride from Mos Eisley to the Slayer went without incident. Oz sat uncomfortably in the cramped side car attached to Gy'les bike, and if he was uncomfortable sitting next to the hairy Wookie, the Jedi master kept it to himself. Xander flew alongside the two speeder bikes, keeping up well enough.
Buf rode with Willa, her arms wrapped securely around the young Jedi's waist. Willa blushed slightly at the contact, but was secretly thrilled by this closeness. It had been a long time since she felt close to another, and she certainly never thought she could feel so safe and secure with someone she had only met less than an hour ago.
Ah, but you met her long before then,a voice cajoled her from the back of her mind. You've known her from the moment you were conceived. She is your other half. Your soulmate. Only with her will you be complete.
She brushed these thoughts aside for now. She had to concentrate on the task at hand. She and Gy'les had to find the gravity generator that was imprisoning their ship on Tatooine, and once the gravity well was eliminated, she and Buf would, in all likelyhood, part ways.
That thought filled her with inexpressible sorrow, and she tried to push it out of her mind again. She concentrated on the terrain in front of them, on piloting her speeder bike safely, and on the strong, slender arms that encircled her.
May the Force grant,she prayed wordlessly, that Buf and I not part quickly.
Once they arrived at the Slayer, Buf headed directly for the navagation computer in the central cockpit. She programmed the nav-comp to locate any anomalous gravitational spots, as well as sources of energy output, because she knew that any gravity generators would require vast amounts of energy to maintain.
While Buf waited by her nav-comp, Gy'les noticed a restive Willa. "Is there something troubling you, Willa?" he asked his paduwan.
"Not really," she shrugged. "I just keep thinking of Buf. She's so pragmatic. Not quite what I imagined."
"And yet, she's so much more, isn't she?"
Willa looked into the wise coutenance of her mentor. "Yeah, she is. Do you think that she may be Force-sensitive?"
"I was wondering the same thing," Gy'les mused. "I suspect that she may be. After all, she seemed to have visions of you similar to the ones you claim to have had of her."
"True, true. But would the Council allow her to train as a Jedi? She's at least as old as I am. And when I first petitioned the Council to make me your paduwan, many of them protested that I was too old, even then."
"Willa," Gy'les reminded her, "we have much to accomplish on Suun'dyl before we meet with Council again. I think that it may be wise to test her blood for midiochlorines. If they are present in her system, then we will have our answer. Then we can deal with the ramifications."
"Thank you, Master Gy'les." Willa smiled sweetly at Gy'les, who simply nodded.
Willa left her mentor, and climbed the ladder to the cockpit. She saw Buf with Xander, as Oz sat in the co-pilot's seat, checking various instruments. The Wookiee was evidently a pilot prior to being enslaved by the Trandoshans. He certainly knew his way around a Correllian freighter's instrument panels.
"Hey, Buf," she asked, causing the young Correllian to turn her head. "Any luck?"
"Yeah, Willa," she answered. "Not good luck, though. And I thought you and Gy'les didn't believe in luck."
"Gy'les and I have debated strenuously on the subject," Willa stated simply. "Did you find the gravity generator?"
"Yeah, and you're not going to like it." Buf punched a button next to her view screen. The screen lit with a map of the surrounding deserts. "The generator is situated some fifteen kilometers from here, south by southeast."
"So," Willa looked puzzled. "If it's not so far, we could shut it off immediately."
"Not likely," Buf fumed. "It's located on property claimed by the Hutt Consortium. And the communiques I received make it less likely that we'll be able to saunter in unnanounced. The figurehead for this operation is an especially unsavory character named Snydaa." She looked at the map again, sighing in exasperaition.
The last thing she wanted to deal with today was the return of Snydaa. But if asked, she would love to be the one to make him pay for what he did to her, for trying to force her to work for him. If he was responsible for her being trapped on this flyspeck of a planet, then vengeance was called for.
And vengeance will not be denied.
To Be Continued