Previously published "Shadowstar" 25, 1987
Luke Skywalker slid to an abrupt halt behind the small brick wall. He pushed his back against the sun-warmed stone, the heat seeping through the light cloth of his tunic as he waited, hoping for a short respite from the chase. His chest rose and fell swiftly as his body fought to pay the oxygen debt it had acquired during his sprint to this secluded spot. He heaved in another breath and wiped perspiration from his brow, annoyed at the way in which his hair was pasted to his skull. He hugged the heavy blaster to his body, knowing that, if he was found, it may be his only chance for his survival.
He began to relax as the minutes passed with no indication of pursuit. His thoughts wandered to how he had gotten himself into this situation: he had been passing through a quiet sector of the Astral System when his scanners had picked up what had seemed to be a distress signal coming from the third planet. He had taken it upon himself to investigate, and had walked right into the trap. How the bounty hunter had known where he was going to be, Luke could only guess, but one this he did know: the longer he ran, the longer he let the hunter tire him, and the longer he was at a disadvantage, the less would be his chance of escaping this planet unscathed.
Luke's body stiffened as he heard footsteps scrape along the dry ground. His heart pounded with fright as his adrenalin flow increased; he fought to control his breathing, lest his enemy should hear him. His hand tightened on his weapon: his hearing strained as he listened in an attempt to pinpoint the man's location. The footsteps stopped, and Luke feared his hiding place and been discovered.
"I know you're here, Skywalker," the voice mocked him. "Why don't you come out? You know I'm going to win. I always do."
Luke started at the last sentence. So, they knew one another - or, rather, the bounty hunter knew him. They had met. Luke raced through his recent memories, trying to locate the man in his thoughts, trying to work out where their previous confrontation had occurred. Then, in a flood, it came to him: it had been on Arene V, he was almost sure. The attack that time had come so suddenly, so swiftly, he hadn't had time to react. His defeat had been embarrassing.
The footsteps moved closer. Luke pressed himself more tightly to the wall, wishing bricks were flexible.
"Come on, Skywalker, give it up!"
Nervously, Luke nibbled his lower lip, knowing that soon, he would be forced to stand and fight.
Luke checked his blaster's power level.
He threw off the safety catch.
With a loud cry, Luke launched himself to his feet, jumped the wall, and rushed his opponent. The movement was so sudden, so unexpected that it threw the hunter into a brief panic, giving Luke the advantage. He fell back under the younger man's frenzied attack, crying out as a burst of laser fire scorched his thigh. He fell to the ground, clutching the injured leg.
Luke paused, hesitated, almost amazed by own success. He stepped closer, enjoying his moment of triumph. Grinning happily, he kicked the other's weapon aside and bent to pick it up, feeling that the fight was over.
The roar of an approaching landspeeder caught his attention and he involuntarily glanced up, looking for the source of the noise. In the distance, fast and gaining ground, was a sleek silver vehicle. His moment of distraction was a mistake: he soon found himself tripped to the ground, on his back and fighting for his life. The hunter was strong in spite of his wounded leg. Luke scrabbled away from him, flinching as stones cut into his flesh. There was a glint of dying sunlight on the keen metal blade of a knife as the dark one lunged at Skywalker, putting his entire weight behind the death thrust. Desperate, Luke rolled onto his side, barely avoiding the knife's cutting edge. He lashed out in panic with his legs, kicking the hunter's wound and bringing him down. He used the moment in which his opponent cried out in pain as the time he needed to gain his feet and sprint across the open yard.
"Run!" the injured one screamed in fury. "Run! But I'll find you!"
Luke took the steps three at a time as he made his rapid descent into the garage. He lost his footing on the last step, stumbled, and rolled over the rough ground. Sitting up, he cursed as he felt the ragged ache build in his elbow. Quickly, but carefully, he drew up his sleeve and winced at the deep scrape there, oozing blood. He felt little tears trickle from the corners of his eyes; he wiped them away in anger, scolding himself for crying like an infant. He let his sleeve drop and picked himself up from the garage floor, holding his sore arm out to the side, as though it was broken. He glanced around the garage.
It was empty of vehicles for now, but was cluttered with crates and scattered tools. It was also dark, the corners hiding murky shadows of some unknown but imagined creatures, the products of an active mind. Luke was smiling half-heartedly, dismissing the idea, when something scuttled across the floor behind him. He froze, fearing his enemy had found him. There was silence. Slowly, cautiously, Luke turned on his heel, his eyes searching the dusk before him. Nothing, and yet… He felt there was something. He took a slow step forward and stiffened once more as the shifty sound repeated. He swallowed hard, his alarm growing. Carefully, he looked toward the garage door and almost collapsed with relief and humiliation. There, before him, in the evening light sat a tiny lizard, its little red eyes staring at him curiously as its tongue flicked, testing the evening air. Luke decided it was time to leave.
Watchful, he ascended the stairs, aware that the hunter was still outside somewhere, looking for him. He brought up his blaster as he peeked around the entrance, scanning the yard fro any trace of his foe. It was empty but bathed in the brilliant red and golden light of the setting stars. He might have stopped and stared in awe at the spectacle if he hadn't seen it hundreds of times before and wasn't so preoccupied with trying to win over the Bounty Hunter. He smiled, the small movement tinged with relief, as he spotted the parked speeder, which was also empty. If he could make it to the vehicle, he could easily escape. Eager, he started toward it, cautiously at first, but with increasing speed as he realized that he was going to make it.
His hand reached out to pop the canopy…
It was then that the blurred figure threw itself at him from behind the nearby dwelling. Luke squealed in surprise and fright as he turned to flee, but his legs were tackled before he could take more than a step or two. He fell heavily. They rolled together, Luke trying desperately to struggle free from the onslaught being inflicted upon his person. He screamed, tears forming to slide down his reddening cheeks.
He broke, shouting between shrieks, "I give up! I give up!"
The attack continued.
"Stop it! You win!" Luke coughed, choking. "Biggs! Please!"
Biggs Darklighter rolled away, laughing, as Luke lay there panting and trying to recover from his friend's wild tickling attack. Their game ended, their pretend blasters and knives faded along with the characters of Bounty Hunter and Hunted. Their imaginations set aside for now, the two boys lay on their backs, watching the first stars of night appear in the darkening skies.
"Your dad's here," Luke stated, referring to the land speeder, needlessly breaking the silence.
"Yeah," Biggs drawled, tired. He drew himself to his feet and sauntered over to his father's speeder. Opening the canopy and reaching inside, he withdrew a full water canister, which he tossed onto Luke's stomach. He smiled at the younger boy as he plopped onto the sand beside him. "You almost won, this time."
Luke opened the bottle and drank thirstily. "Next time," he enthused between gulps. "Next time, I'll win."
Biggs chuckled. "Maybe" He wasn't going to commit himself. He took the bottle from his friend. "Maybe not. But someday, you will." He swallowed deeply, relishing the cool, sweet liquid as it wet his mouth and throat. He lay down, taking another mouthful, swirled it around, then squirted it out between his teeth, sending a stream arching into the air. Luke giggled at the act which, if seen by an adult, would have brought a swift and severe reprimand. Water was too precious a thing here on Tatooine.
"You really think so?" the blonde boy asked, referring to Biggs' last words.
"Sure. Someday, you'll be as good as me."
Luke sat bolt upright. "Really?"
Biggs laughed at the childish squeak of his friend's voice and the sparkling excitement in his eyes, then reminded himself that three years lay between them. "I said so, didn't I?"
Luke fell back onto the sand, satisfied, silent.
Biggs stared at the horizon, watching the dune ridges disappear into the night shadows. The quiet moment between the two of them felt potent, full of possibilities. He glanced at Luke, looking forward to the younger boy's reaction to what he was about to say. "My Dad's gonna teach me how to fly."
It was a simple sentence, said plainly, but Skywalker was immediately afire with enthusiasm, admiration, and envy. "Wow!" he breathed, unable to get anything more elaborate past his lips. The pedestal on which he had always held Biggs grew a bit taller at that moment.
"He said it's time for me to start learning," the older boy explained, unable now to hide his own enthusiasm. It was all he and Luke had talked about since his fourteenth birthday, the common age at which Tatooine fathers instructed their eager offspring in the techniques of skyhopper piloting. The skill was useful in the running the large moisture farms and for giving the young an outlet for their pent-up energies and emotions which always accompanied that transitional stage of the life-cycle known as adolescence. "He's taking me out in the 'hopper tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" There was heavy disappointment in Luke's voice, as well as a touch of hurt. "You were supposed to come over again tomorrow."
Biggs couldn't help but smile as Luke turned away from him, in a huff. "I know," he said quietly, trying to placate his friend. "But…"
"It's all right." Skywalker sighed heavily, sounding resigned. "Uncle Owen will find me plenty to do." He fell silent again, his back still to his friend, disappointment now victorious over his previous enthusiasm.
The grin on Biggs' face grew as he recognised the younger boy's tactics. It was it "I'm going to be miserable and you're going to feel guilty for it" ploy. It usually worked, too - but this time it wasn't needed. "Dad said you could come, too."
"What!" Luke jumped back around, his young face full of surprise, his eyes sparkling with an excess of excitement. "Really? He said that?"
Biggs laughed heartily. "Yeah, he really said that."
Abruptly, Luke's face fell; the glitter in his eyes faded. Angry he picked up a rock and threw it across the yard.
"What's wrong?" Darklighter asked, puzzled by this sudden change of emotion.
"My uncle." They were only two words, but they conveyed so much.
Playfully, Biggs punched Luke's arm. "You idiot," he scolded affectionately. "Why do you think it's taking them so long to shout us in, huh?" He gestured to the dark sky and the bright stars. "My dad's talking to your uncle. Don't worry, you'll get to come with us."
Hope flared within Luke. "You think so?"
"I know so." The older boy was relieved to see him smile again. Lights in the sky above them caught his attention; he nudged Luke's elbow, pointing to the meteor shower above them.
"Where will he be taking us?" Luke asked eagerly, still watching the light show above.
"The Dune Sea, to the North. He says it's the safest 'cause it's no where near the canyon…" Biggs' voice trailed off at the mention of the ultimate flying challenge on Tatooine: Beggar's canyon. It was dangerous, forbidden, and consequently an attraction to the many daredevil pilots which the sandy wastes seemed to spawn. They flocked to navigate its narrow, high, and craggy walls, to race one another in its tight turns, to take shots at the womprats who made their homes in borrows on the canyon floor. They all believed in their own invincibility, their own immortality, and their youth. Alas, many found their beliefs shattered - but still, they returned. It was the ultimate challenge, and one the youth of Tatooine could not ignore. "I can't wait!" Biggs was in a state of excited agitation, now. "Someday. Someday, I'll thread the Stone Needle!"
Luke's eyes widened with shock, horror and exhilaration. The Stone Needle was the most treacherous path through the canyon, the one which attracted the most interest, and the one which remained as yet unconquered. "Wow!" he said again, impressed by the elder boy's determination. Luke knew if anyone was going to ever thread the Needle, it would be Biggs.
His friend, however, was bemused by this hero-worship. "I haven't done it yet, Luke."
"But you will," the blonde said, convinced of his friend's yet to be realised talents. "You will."
Biggs laughed at those resolute words. "So might you."
"You think so?" Luke hadn't considered the feat for himself.
"Why not?" Biggs had to firmly prevent himself from chuckling loudly at the frown that crossed the younger face as Luke fought to come up with an answer for that question. At eleven years of age, Luke still hadn't realised that his life was full of possibilities and opportunities, and that in time, he would find his own talents. Again, Biggs looked to the sky, to the speeding silver trails of burning rocks. He pointed at two as they arched down together. "That'll be us, Luke. That is us. A couple of shooting stars."
Luke almost giggled at the words, but he saw that Biggs was serious, so he stifled his laughter as the elder boy's mood began to infect him. It was one of those moments which both of them would remember and treasure well into adulthood. "And we'll never be stopped," he added, whispering. The two boys then stared at one another, each knowing their friendship had been confirmed, finalised. They were the closest, the best… They burst into delirious laughter, climaxing into a furious, fun fight.
"Luke! Biggs!" Owen Lars called them in, having realised that the boys were still out, and that night had fallen.
"Coming!" Luke shouted as he pushed Biggs to the ground. "Race you!" he challenged the sprawled youth, then took off, sprinting across the open sand.
Biggs pulled himself to his feet and set off after Skywalker. "Just you wait!" he yelled happily. Then, he stopped, pausing as he felt compelled to look up and behind him, at the sky. A single meteor traced a line of brilliant white across the heavens. Biggs frowned, that lone blaze somehow disturbing him. His gaze returned to Luke's retreating back; then he shrugged, telling himself that he was getting weird, and followed his friend into the homestead.
But the thought was still there: a single shooting star.