Owen Lars wiped a hand across his sweaty forehead-even in the late afternoon, the suns were still hot. Beside him, his small nephew did the same. Owen grinned at this copycat action, but all he said was, "Hand me a Number Eight multipick, Luke."
Luke passed him the tool, the corners of his mouth twitching in concentration as he rummaged in the toolbox. Owen turned back to the vaporator, which was stubbornly remaining non-functional. Although he wouldn't admit it, Luke was becoming fairly handy around the farm-he had an intuitive gift for understanding machinery, when he chose to apply it. Owen was going to miss having him around when he went to school after the harvest-the Empire, when it had taken over Tatooine a couple of years earlier, had decreed that all six-year-olds must attend Imperial-approved elementary schools. If Luke had been Owen's own boy, he would have been inclined to buck the rule, but the last thing he wanted was to draw official attention to Luke. Owen figured he'd be less conspicuous inside Imperial school than out.
Not that he was happy about it. He had the traditional Tatooine mistrust of authority, and in his opinion Luke would learn more useful skills on the farm with him than stuck in a classroom.
"Now see here, Luke-" he said to the boy, only to find him squinting up into the cloudless sky above.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for stars."
"Luke, it's not dark yet-it's an hour to sunset, even-there won't be any! Honestly, we ought to call you Stargazer instead of Skywalker-or Sandgatherer. Now come and look at this vaporator, and I'll show you how to clean the vents."
"Do as your told before I skelp you, " Owen threatened automatically. He didn't spank Luke often; the threat of it was usually enough to make him behave. Luke liked to be on good terms with people, he would howl if you looked at him sideways.
The two of them worked on the vaporator until the suns were dipping to the horizon. Then they got back in the speeder-Luke insisted on lifting the toolbox himself, although it was nearly as wide as the span of his small arms.
Owen slowed the speeder in front of the garage, allowing Luke to scramble out and run off, trying to turn a cartwheel as he went. He tumbled head over heels in the sand. Owen chuckled to himself as he parked the speeder and put away his tools.
Beru was cooking when he entered the house, a pleasant smell of stew drifting out of the kitchen door as he went to clean up.
"Hello, dear," Beru called. "Good day?"
"Not bad-that pipeline on the South Ridge is leaking again though."
"Oh no! Will you need to replace it?"
"I don't know. I'll patch it together as best I can. That dinner smells good."
"It's Luke's favourite-it's a wonder he isn't in here pestering me."
She glanced around.
"Is he still outside?"
"Didn't he come in her? I thought he went in."
They looked at one another fearfully for a moment.
"He was in the yard not ten minutes ago-check he's not in the house," Owen said, then turned and plunged back up the steps again.
"Luke! Luke? Luke, where are you?" he shouted.
The child was in the yard, or in the garage. Owen ran back up the steps and stared round the horizon. He couldn't see Luke anywhere, and the setting suns were getting in his eyes. He pulled out his macrobinoculars and scanned the area. No sign, but the sand was still at body temperature and radiating heat. The thermal signature of Luke's small frame could easily be hidden by the background heat. Beru ran to him, trembling.
"He's not in the house, Owen. And it's going to be dark soon."
"Stay here-he may come back of his own accord. I'll take the speeder. At least the sandpeople haven't been around lately."
He was hurrying back to the garage even as he spoke, and gunned the speeder out with a fervour it had not seen since his teenage years. He flew in widening circles from the farm. The desert was wide and empty, the evening breeze lifting dust devils on the horizon. Where could his boy be, in all this vast, darkening expanse? There were so many dangers, and Luke was only one small boy.
Owen kept circling, and calling, though Luke couldn't possibly hear him over the sound of the engine. He glanced at the speeder's aged scanner, which crackled. This would be a fine time for it to give out! He thumped the side of the display unit, and the readouts settled. They showed the hazy thermal confusion of the homestead, and a tiny fluctuation in heat over to his right. Owen swung the speeder's nose round, accelerating to the battered craft's limits.
A rocky outcrop lay ahead, the planet's bones thrusting their way through its thin blanket of sand. At the foot, Owen saw a faint blur of white.
He slowed the speeder, peering out.
The little boy lay sleeping on the warm sand, one arm pillowing his head. His thumb was lodged firmly in his mouth, and there were tear marks on his face.
Owen sprang to the ground and scooped up his nephew, who woke suddenly with a small yelp.
"Lukie, you gave us such a fright!" Owen bestowed a rare hug and kiss to the child.
"You bad, bad boy-"
He put Luke across his knee and gave him a few sharp blows across the backside. Luke howled and wriggled.
"Never, ever do that again! What if the sandpeople had got you the way they got mom? What would Auntie and I have done then, huh?"
He climbed back in the speeder, Luke wedged under one arm. Luke squirmed across the passenger seat on his stomach, yowling in protest at the spanking he'd just been given.
"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is off the farm at night? Grown men have been slaughtered for less than the stupid, bantha-brained stunt you pulled tonight-"
Beru ran out to meet the speeder as it pulled into the yard. Luke was out and heading for the garage as soon as the vehicle stopped moving.
"Oh Owen, thank the Maker-"
"Now where are you going?" Owen yelled in exasperation. He followed the child into the garage-he wasn't about to let Luke out of his sight for a second. His small nephew was underneath one of the worktops, wedged in so tightly it would be a job to remove him by force.
"Luke, come out of there. Now, please," Owen said with forced patience.
"You hit me!"
"Because you were very naughty-you deserved it."
"But, Uncle Owen, there was a citri out there, an' it was hurt. I went to get it, an' then I couldn't see the house any more, an' I couldn't find my way back, an' I was scared..."
He pulled his shirt open to show, to Owen's surprise, a very small infant citri clinging on below Luke's shoulder with it's suckered pads. On second thoughts, it wasn't that surprising. Luke had an unchancy affinity for anything that moved, and an insatiable curiosity. Owen groaned.
"How on Tatooine could you know that critter was out there, Luke?"
The little boy's mouth set stubbornly.
"I just knowed. I wanna keep him, Uncle Owen. Please?"
"Luke-" Owen began, but Beru's soft tones came gently from behind him.
"Let him have it, Owen-it's not much to ask, when he's back safe."
"Useless creature guzzling my water-" Owen grumbled, but he capitulated.
"Now will you come out of there and get your supper?"
Luke went into the safe haven of Beru's arms, smiling contentedly, and the little family went in to supper.
In the dining room, Owen ate warmed-over stew and pretended not to notice Luke sharing his milk with the baby citri under the table. He was surprised when, after clearing his plate, Luke slipped round the table and wrapped his arms round Owen's neck-it was usually Beru who came in for these spontaneous displays of affection.
"I'm gonna be good tomorrow," he said seriously.
"I'll believe that when I see it," Owen grunted. But he hugged Luke back, holding the little pliant body close.
He ignored the fact that the citri was now firmly ensconced in Luke's hair.