Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi waded through the soft, heavy sand with the easy, energy saving gait of men accustomed to all kinds of terrain, hoods drawn up against the hot dual sunlight. For once they were not bickering.
"I hate to scare Mom," Anakin was saying unhappily.
"I understand," his brother answered. "But it's best they be on their guard. The Force is strong in Shmi, and my father and brother too, they could hardly help sensing the nearness of the Dark and if warned will recognize it for what it is and contact us."
"That's true," Anakin conceded.
Obi-Wan smiled faintly in the shadow of his hood. "It would be safest for them to pack up and move to another world, but I can't see Cleigg or Owen agreeing to that."
"Me neither," Anakin said ruefully. "I guess you're right, Obi-Wan -"
"Aren't I always?" his brother interrupted with a glinting sideways glance of mock superiority.
Anakin laughed. "You don't want to open that jar of wrigglers!" He sobered. "But you probably are this time. Besides, like you said, the Sith Master is going to have a lot more on his mind then getting at me through my mom."
"Finding and training a new apprentice for one." Obi-wan nodded.
"And the war for another," said Anakin.
"What's this?" Obi-Wan stopped, ankle deep in sand, looking curiously at a tiny domed building perched on a rocky escarpment.
"Oh, that's the shelter Urglu spoke of," Anakin answered.
"I guessed as much, but who built it and why?" The two of them started to climb the bluff.
Anakin shrugged. "Probably a wildcat moisture prospector originally, but they never spend more than a season or two in the same place. They say a crazy old hermit, a sort of wizard, used to live there but that was at least a generation ago according to Cleigg. He and Owen come sometimes to drain the old cistern. Highlands are good places for collecting condensation."
"I can imagine."
The plasteel door stood ajar. Sand crunched under Jedi boots as they entered and had drifted in corners. The place had long since been scoured clean by the deserts' many kinds of scavengers, nothing was left but the bare adobe of the walls. The main room was on two levels, a sort of entrance gallery above a small living floor with a single bed alcove. An open archway led to a narrow corridor with a trap door at one end.
"The cistern is down here," Anakin said and crunched down the steps to the natural cave of a cellar. He returned a moment later with a couple of gurgling literjohns of water to find Obi-Wan standing, eyes closed, in the middle of the main room. "What?"
He opened his eyes. "The former inhabitant's reputation as a wizard was not entirely unfounded."
Anakin reached into the Force. His eyebrows rose as he sensed the strength of the lingering presence. "I wonder who he was?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Not enough left to tell. Not one of us, I think."
Anakin was startled. "A Jedi? How could he be?"
"People do leave the Order Anakin, they must go somewhere."
Anakin put the literjohns down on the floor, brushed sand off a ledge and sat. "To Tatooine?" he asked in disbelief.
"Why not?" Obi-Wan tilted his face upward, eyes half shut. "Such space, such solitude. A good place to grow closer to the Force."
"Not that I ever noticed." Anakin said, genuinely surprised.
His brother's eyes came down and he smiled at him. "You grew up in a port city, quite a different ambience from the Jundland Waste."
Anakin grimaced. "You can say that again!"
Obi-Wan sat down in the bed alcove. "I find myself liking this world of yours." His eye wandered around the tiny room. "And this house....it feels familiar, as if I've been here before."
Anakin frowned. "You can't have been. You were only on Tatooine that one time and you never left Padme's ship - right?"
"Right," his brother agreed, smiled. "Perhaps I'm remembering what will be, rather than what was."
Anakin shook his head. "How can you?"
Well," Obi-Wan pointed out mildly. "My family does live here."
A look of alarm flickered over his brother's face. "You'd never leave the Jedi!"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Who knows what the future holds, especially now with all possibilities clouded by the Dark Side."
Cleigg descended the twisty path leading from the vaporators spaced along the ridge top down to the flats where he'd parked the speeder. Turning a corner he saw two human sized, brown robed figures waiting by the vehicle and quickened his pace.
"There you are! We were starting to get worried."
"Sorry, it was a long walk back from where we found Urglu," Anakin apologized.
"Urglu?" Then the rest of the sentence penetrated. "You walked across the Jundland Waste!"
Anakin shrugged. "Well we didn't have money for a transport."
"It wasn't a problem," Obi-Wan added. "Jedi often travel on foot. And we're used to extreme climates."
Cleigg studied his sons closely, then shook his head. "Well it doesn't seem to have done you any harm. Go on, get in." They all climbed into the speeder. "What did you want to see Urglu for?"
"Anakin gave Desert Flower to him," Obi-Wan answered, musical voice rich in irony.
Cleigg shot a quick squint over his shoulder at the young Jedi in the rear seat. "What?"
Anakin glared at the back of Obi-Wan's head. "He means the dragon. Desert Flower is her name. Urglu agreed to give her a home."
Cleigg looked incredulously at his elder son. Obi-Wan spread his hands and half smiled. "Anakin can be very persuasive."
Shmi came hurtling out of the dining room and into Anakin's arms. "Oh, Ani!"
"I'm really sorry, Mom," he said earnestly, hugging her. "We didn't mean for it to turn out that way."
"Blame me, Shmi," Obi-Wan put in. "It was my idea. It seemed the only way to get a hearing from Messire Desilijic."
"So, are the Hutts siding with the Republic?" Cleigg asked as they settled around the table and Shmi poured and passed the tall glasses of iced milk.
"Reluctantly," Obi-Wan answered. "But we are preferable to their old competitor the Trade Federation."
"Self interest is usually pretty persuasive," Anakin said, and pulled a face. "I feel dirty dealing with the likes of Jabba - but what else could we do?"
"Nothing," Obi-Wan said resignedly. "We don't have the time or the mandate to overthrow the Hutt hegemony over this planet. And even if we did there's the problem of what would take its place."
Cleigg stared at his eldest. "Could you?"
Obi-Wan cocked his head inquiringly. "Sir?"
"Could you overthrow the Hutts?"
Obi-Wan took a sip of his milk, considering. "Oh yes, I think so," he decided. "Hutt organizations tend to be riddled with treachery and intrigue, plenty of levers to use." He sighed and returned Cleigg's stare with a blazing azure clarity and calm confidence that left his father stunned. "If there were any kind of organized opposition here I'd be seriously tempted to try, mandate or no. But with nothing to put it its place bringing down the Hutts would just crash your economy and eliminate what little law and order you have here." He shook his head. "Not good."
"No," Anakin agreed gloomily. "Even I can see that much. Damn it."
Obi-Wan's lips twisted wryly. "Yes."
Cleigg swallowed. His son was talking calmly about taking on a entire planetary regime and its hired guns, with nobody but Anakin to help him, in full expectation of winning. He remembered the scene in the arena and felt a chill in his stomach regions that had nothing to with the milk. What kind of man had the Jedi made of his boy?
"Do you do that kind of thing often?" he asked.
"Oh no." Obi-Wan seemed a little shocked. "The Republic rarely countenances such flagrant interference with planetary affairs."
Anakin sighed. "That's one of the things I find hardest to accept. I want to put thing right!"
Shmi smiled affectionately and put her hand over her son's.
"Of course you do," Obi-Wan said gently. "We all do. But once one starts meddling where does it end? We are guardians, protectors of the peace. Not rulers and not masters."
Cleigg looked steadily at his son. "Power like yours needs limits."
"Yes," Obi-Wan agreed promptly and firmly. "Pride and self will are the enemies of a Jedi." He smiled ruefully. "And they've always been my especial weakness."
"Mine too." Anakin agreed resignedly.
"Along with recklessness," Obi-Wan continued.
"Hey!" Anakin protested.
His brother smiled. "I meant myself, Anakin."
"Oh." He grinned back. "Well you have been demonstrating a lot of that lately."
Obi-Wan grimaced "I know."
"I mean between leaping out of thousand story windows, walking into traps and surrendering yourself to Jabba..." Anaking said lightly, teasingly, shaking his head in mock sadness.
Obi-Wan lifted his glass for another sip. "It has been an exciting few weeks," He agreed.
"And now you're going to fight a war," Cleigg said flatly.
"Yes. A short one I hope."
"We all hope," Shmi said quietly.