The school met regularly three times every year for a
short semester, the final term of which incorporated the intergalactic
examination diet. Each sector had its own variations, but ultimately these exam
results could, if the student was human and particularly bright, take him or
her all the way to Coruscant. The students were supposed to attend each
semester, but on Tatooine that was either impractical, or impossible. Tuition
cost many credits and most settler families were cash strapped and unable to
cover the fees. They'd worked out a compromise for the more isolated and often
poorer families, with a correspondence course serving to good effect instead.
Still, for the semester containing those all-important exams, the students had
to attend in person.
Area Educational Institute – Anchorhead
The bleached white building emitted a waiting air. Nothing
moved inside or out. The two suns had barely risen and already it was hot, the
daylight harsh. Beyond the confines of the mesh enclosure lay the scattered
buildings which made up Anchorhead and after that, nothing but desert.
A gate swung on rusted hinges with a peculiar squeak and a
ramshackle sign hung drunkenly over it. The sand blew gently and then lay still
as two figures completely enveloped in traditional desert garb made their way
into the building. With a satisfied hiss the security door unlocked and the two
teachers pulled off robes and hoods. Half an hour and a cup of stim tea later,
they were ready for whatever came through the door.
Fara Windstormer gave her colleague a curious look. "What
do you make of this year's crop of budding moisture farmers?"
Seton Overlander tapped his data
pad and perused the list thoughtfully. "The usual, apart from Darklighter and
maybe…" his voice tailed off.
Fara grunted. "Is Windrider back?"
"Fixer? Course he is, or so his
parents say. Waste of time and space if you ask me. Fixer is not interested in
the educational process."
His colleague sniffed. "The brain
is there, but…" she let her voice drift. She didn't need to say any more.
Seton laughed. "Fixer talks big.
He's got a job, or so he tells me."
"That doesn't surprise me either
and it's probably for the best. Although I hope he adopts something of the work
ethic or he won't be employed for long. Employers don't put up with half the
contents of a jawa sandcrawler like we do."
Seton gave a dry chuckle. "Too
Fara fumbled around on her desk
and grabbed a stack of pads in her wrinkled fingers. "I see Darklighter is
aiming to get the Academy entrance requirements this time. He's the best
student we've had in years."
"You think so?" Seton's voice
sounded a little odd, as if he knew something Fara did not.
"Oh yes, even backed with his
father's money, he's a nice boy. Darklighter has it all. Looks, money,
intelligence and charm. He'll take the tests with Fixer this year. I won't
spoil the surprise by guessing who's going to come out top." She chuckled
"Good, a year early. He'll get the
entrance requirements easily."
"So I should hope. His father made
a very generous donation to the school last year. If Tank keeps his wits about
him, he may manage to get the grades too. Any one else?"
Seton looked a little strange and
shuffled a few pads. "Well…" he drawled slowly. "There is one other."
"Who?" Fara ran her eyes down the
list on her data pad. Fixer was retaking the tests against his will; Biggs
Darklighter was attempting them a year early. A couple more students were the
right age and would pass but not gain marks that would gain them Academy
entrance. There was no one else.
"It's Luke Skywalker." Seton
waited for the explosion and it wasn't long in coming.
"Luke Skywalker!" Fara nearly
dropped the pad in astonishment. "But he's only… what… fifteen?" She shook her
head. "You're fooling me. He joined the senior class a year early as it was,
against my recommendations I might add."
"He has to, the parents can't
Fara pushed a wiry grey strand of
hair back into its bun. "Guardians, not parents."
"Luke Skywalker is brought up by
his Aunt and Uncle."
"Is he? Well - he's joining your
class and is sitting that test. Anyway you've never taught him."
Fara snorted. "I have and he was a
complete idiot - head in the clouds."
"He's not an idiot. He's a nice
lad. Alright he's a bit of a dreamer, but there's a laser sharp brain in
"Mm…" Fara looked unconvinced.
"Get him to do something he loves
and you'll be pleasantly surprised. You saw him for one class, when I was away
at that conference. A crowd of bullies had just picked on him. If Darklighter
hadn't stepped in and stopped the situation, he would have landed in the local
medicentre." Seton sighed softly. "All the boy had said was that he was someday
going to fly the stars like his father."
Fara paused, the sarcastic retort
dying on her lips. The words had been oddly poetic. "His father's a moisture
"That's his uncle, or so you said
earlier," Seton reminded her calmly.
Fara threw a data pad at him.
"Mistress Windstormer!" Seton
mouthed in mock shock. "I hope the board of trustees never hear an experienced
educator using such language."
Fara snorted. "I'm human…"
"That's not what some of your
students think," Seton interjected quickly. "What was it I heard…? A cross
between s krayt dragon and an Imperial probe droid."
"I know and I've carefully
cultivated the image for the past twenty-five years. Occasionally I need to let
off a little steam. I've taught Fixer for years. That's enough to drive me to
spice or alcohol… or both. I think the occasional swear word is a small price
"Still, about Luke Skywalker,
you're wrong, you know. Watch him. That kid's got something."
Fara peered through the narrow
window that faced the school compound. The students were already arriving for
the day's lessons. They started early to get the benefit of the coolness of the
early morning. The children were all shapes, all sizes and of mixed races.
Still, the majority were humanoid in appearance. The Empire's policy on human
superiority even reached all the way out to Tatooine. Why educate those only
fit to labour?
She watched as the students from
farther into the desert began to arrive. It was a sure indication of a family's
wealth signified by the model of skyhopper, or landspeeder the child piloted.
Because of the vast distances between even the closest of properties, the young
of Tatooine learned to pilot anything and everything well at very early ages.
Luke Skywalker didn't arrive with
a fanfare of kloo horns after the build up that Seton had given him. He
wandered in; shoulders slouched, scuffed desert boots kicking the piles of sand
in front of him. Fara would have normally ignored Seton's talk of a pupil she'd
already decided to ignore, but today she found herself studying the boy. Slight
of frame, with unruly blond hair and a naïve, yet dreamy outlook. Only the
occasional glimpses of intelligence from startling blue eyes made you think there
was anything more to him, than just an average kid off the moisture farm.
Still, he hadn't proved himself in her class. She'd barely had dealings with
him, but as an educator of many years standing she trusted her instincts about
people and had rarely been proved wrong. Still, there was always a first time.
She pulled up his records. Details about the boy were sketchy. She frowned at
the lack of personal information. Nothing on his parents, just that he'd been
orphaned as a baby and his guardians were his aunt and uncle. She moved on to
his school particulars. Seton was correct. The boy's marks were very good
Fara turned her head and gazed
back out of the window at the arriving students. Luke paused at the gate and
searched for his 'friends'. He stood with an air of uncertainty, before ambling
slowly towards a rowdy group gravitating towards Fixer. Fara could almost see
Luke steeling himself to join them, unsure at what his reception might be. The
self-proclaimed leader of the group ignored the hesitant boy and his acolytes
took their cue from Fixer. For a brief moment Luke's face showed hurt and
resentment, but these feelings were quickly masked as a pretty girl sauntered
Fara groaned to herself. If that girl had anything in her
head besides boys and holovids it had yet to be found. Luke tried to engage her
in conversation but was brushed away like a speck of sand on the wind. Camie
clamped herself securely to Fixer's side and the disillusionment on Luke's face
was almost amusing to behold. So he had some standards.
"Well, I'm going to get nothing
out of Camie this season."
"Did you expect to?" Seton asked
with a grin.
"I hoped," she muttered shortly.
"But I didn't really expect anything of her and now I've been proved right. Why
do we persist in wishful thinking?"
"There's little tradition of going
further educationally on Tatooine. The girls mature early and marry young. The
boys work the moisture farms like their fathers before them. Why should they
aim for the skies when there's a miserable existence waiting for them to step
into? Ambition is not something to develop lightly on Tatooine." His voice
turned cynical. "Most of the kids here are stuck and they know it. You still
need money to get off this planet. If we're lucky we will see one or two Biggs
Darklighter's in our careers and perhaps even a Luke Skywalker."
"Now you're just being
ridiculous," Fara admonished severely.
Seton raised dark eyebrows. "We
Luke hovered on the edge of the
group – a part of it, yet not a part. With an abrupt turn, he mumbled something
to Deak and stared fixedly into the blue, blue sky. Not a cloud ever deigned to
mar such cerulean perfection, but Luke still gazed into the horizon, a worried
frown puckering his forehead.
"Sandstorm," he muttered. "Bad
one," and disappeared inside the faded school buildings to a contrapuntal
chorus of mocking jeers.
Biggs Darklighter had been
watching Luke's attempts to join in with Fixer's group and had heard Luke's
"Sandstorm!" he repeated. "There's
been no word of one and there's no sign of one either."
Fixer laughed sneeringly. "That's
Wormie for you. Just ignore him – we usually do."
Camie wound her arm around Fixer's
waist and joined in, her voice low and husky. "He's always saying stuff like
Biggs gave the clear sky an
uncertain look. "Is he right?"
Fixer shrugged and Camie looked a
little uncomfortable. "Well…"
Biggs turned and looked back at
the hot blue horizon and his eyes widened. "Bantha… crap!" he swore quietly,
before raising his voice in instinctive command. "Get everyone inside, Fixer –
"When I'm ready," Fixer mumbled as
he bent to kiss Camie possessively.
"No – now." Biggs pulled the two
of them apart, his voice urgent. "Look nerf-brain! There's a sandstorm coming
and it looks as if it will hit Anchorhead dead on."
"There can't be!"
"Told you, Wormie was weird."
Camie muttered spitefully to Fixer, but Biggs' sharp ears had caught her words.
The glare he levelled on her was enough to make her flush ashamedly.
"That's enough!" he ordered
sharply. "Get inside now… all of you." Biggs held his hand up to quell Fixer's
protestations. "Don't argue – have you looked at the sky?"
The small group turned and risked
glancing behind them. Biggs began to usher them inside. "That storm has arrived
For once, Fixer didn't dispute the
Luke skidded into the school
building and tumbled to an undignified halt on his knees, right at the booted
feet of Educator Windstorm. He stared up at her, his blue eyes huge in his thin
face. "I'm sorry. Sandstorm coming," he mumbled apologetically. "Big one."
Fara ran her hand through her
untidy grey hair, dislodging a couple of pins in the process. "I've heard no
reports." She pinned the nervous boy in place with her gaze.
"It's coming from the south and
it's bad. Maybe last a couple of hours." Luke blushed.
She shook her head. "I don't think
so," she said, somewhat patronisingly. "I always listen to the weather scans
before leaving home in the morning. There was nothing forecast."
Luke peered up at her, she seemed
taller than usual and it crossed his mind that he'd rather take on a krayt
dragon than Mistress Windstormer. "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I'm always right." He
blushed again, amazed at his own temerity. "Sorry," he muttered again and edged
away, getting to his feet and disappearing round a corner.
Seton watched the exchange with a
small smile as his colleague turned to him with a 'see what I mean expression'
on her face.
"That boy's an idiot and you've
put him in my class." She stomped along the corridor until the number of
panic-stricken students running along the corridor halted the teachers in their
"What's going on?" Seton grabbed a
shoulder as it moved past him.
"There's a storm coming."
"Can't be." Fara and Seton moved
to a window and stared out. Where once there had been blue sky and two suns
visible, there was a swirling darkness. "Get everyone inside."
Fara gaped at her younger
colleague. "I don't believe it. How did he know?"
"Hey, Wormie, how d'ya do that?"
Luke shrugged, keeping his eyes on
the floor. "Don't know, must have read it somewhere." He lifted his head and
fixed his eyes on the sand battering the outside of the school building.
"Oh, now he reads weather scans. I
thought you wanted to fly the stars like your non-existent father. Not become a
girly holovid weather reporter."
The mocking tone flooded Luke's
sense, but the only reaction he gave was to clench his fists. One day he would
show them. There was no explanation to how he knew there would be a storm, but
he knew. The temptation to turn and plant a fist in Windy's face was so strong,
but he just couldn't. Windy was his friend, although he was unsure if most
friends treated each other in this way and the nagging vision of Uncle Owen's
cantankerous face filling his mind's eye if he dared to fight. He'd be really
angry and as for Aunt Beru… His Aunt wouldn't say anything - he knew that.
She'd bathe his wounds, but all the while her face would wear this expression…
Luke snapped back into the present trying to ignore the mirth around him. It
was only funny if you were part of it.
Fixer crowed with laughter and
opened his mouth to add to Luke's discomfiture. But before he could do so...
"Leave him alone!" The voice
although young, had a natural air of authority that came from wealth and the
confidence of a popular and intelligent young man.
Biggs Darklighter wandered
casually over to the group surrounding Luke, who still stared down at his old
scuffed desert boots, his shoulders stiff with suppressed anger. Biggs, at
seventeen, already possessed the maturity and wisdom of someone double his age
– a natural leader. The boy intrigued him – he was different from the rest of
them. He didn't fit in, that was obvious, but naturally he wanted to.
Fixer and his crew whispered among
themselves, but they were all genuinely in awe of Biggs, and the young man
himself had grown tired of their immature behaviour and childish cruelty. He
watched as the boy lifted wary blue eyes and peered through untidy fairish hair
at a world he had already decided was not too kind. Biggs had made approaches
before but he suspected Luke hadn't realised it, even though Luke's aunt and
his stepmother were friendly. He knew that for some reason the Lars family were
very protective of their ward. Luke wasn't allowed the freedom the rest of the
boys had. When not in school, he was already working full shifts on his Uncle's
"Heard you like to fly,
Luke peered through his
sun-bleached fringe of shaggy blond hair at Biggs, then scanned round to see to
whom he was talking. There was no one else there – just him. Fixer, Deak, Windy
and the others had melted away leaving him alone with Biggs, the most popular
and accomplished boy in the school. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, I do. I want
to go to the Academy one day."
"You'll get there."
"I hope so."
"They don't understand," he whispered,
taking a furtive look at Fixer and the others who were still watching them from
"No," Biggs agreed. "They don't
and they never will."
"I've dreamed of being up there."
He waved his hand upwards. "Clear skies and my eye on a distant star. I want to
visit them all." A dreamy expression clouded his gaze and he stared rapt into
space. "I want to know what these worlds are like, the people that live there
and the lives that they lead."
Biggs marvelled at the poetry in
the vision. Luke Skywalker was certainly different from his peers. He moved to
the window, the storm hadn't abated one bit. "Hey, I'll see you after class.
You could maybe help me out. I don't suppose you'd know what is making my
skyhopper a little sluggish? It hasn't been flying as smoothly as I would like
and I can feel something's wrong."
Luke considered the question
seriously, his forehead scrunched up in thought. "It could be a faulty power
converter, either that or the thing's shorted out."
"I never thought about that." Biggs
was impressed that Luke could pinpoint a possible problem so quickly.
"I could help out…" Luke
paused. "I'm good with technical things. I help my uncle on the farm – you
know, keeping the droids going and the like." He shrugged. "I'm all he has,
apart from a couple of real clunkers. I don't think they make the version of
the treadwell any more that my uncle relies upon."
'A treadwell?' Biggs
chuckled. "Luke, you've got a deal."
The younger boy grimaced. "I'd
have to check with my uncle – to see if it was okay. I hope you don't mind?"
Biggs grinned widely, his teeth
startlingly white in his tanned face. "No problem, Luke. To tell the truth, my
father likes to know where I am too. This is not the safest world in the galaxy
– at least that's what they told me in survival school. Say… I could get my
stepmother to contact your aunt."
"You really mean this, don't you?"
"I think we've a lot in common,
Luke, and let me tell you, my stepmother can be very persuasive. Now, what do
you think about…"
Luke stood bemused as Biggs began
to outline what he wanted to do to his skyhopper and then completely
embarrassed the younger boy by assessing the merits of some of the girls in his
The siren sounded for class and
Biggs clapped Luke lightly on the shoulder. "I'll see you later."
Luke nodded and made his way to
his designated classroom. Biggs gave a start of surprise as Luke filed quietly
in and found a seat at the back. He was too young to be in this set, but the
educator merely nodded at him and pressed the console to activate the start of
The term passed agonisingly slowly
for some and far too fast for others. The all-important tests had been long
passed, only the inevitable waiting to know the best or the worst. When the
final exams had been marked and the results assessed, the list was printed and
tacked to a board outside the main entrance. Word spread like fleas on a
womp-rat and anxious students engulfed the board.
Fixer stood sullenly aside
boasting to anyone who'd listen. "I tell you what I did when they made me take
this test. I said 'I ain't taking no crummy test.' You know what I did? I
walked in, filled in my name and walked out again." Eventually he got tired of
being ignored and slouched off to join the rest of his little gang. None of
them would take the test, so all were impressed by Fixer's daring.
Biggs would be top. He always came
first in all the exams – no question about it. Biggs came first in everything.
If he'd even blinked in Camie's direction she would have deserted Fixer
immediately, but he never did.
The sheet of flimsy was already
yellowing by the time Biggs decided to find out how he'd done. He'd waited
until after the majority had seen their marks and now the school building and
the compound were largely deserted. He wandered casually up to the board, the
exam had been a breeze and he was sure he'd done well. He hoped it was enough
to get the entrance marks for the Academy scholarship. Of course his father
could pay, but Biggs wanted more. He wanted to be the best.
For a second the shock coursed its way through his system.
Then he gave a rueful chuckle. He should have guessed he'd come second. Still,
he had managed to gain the marks he needed.
Luke waited until well after
everyone else had left before he plucked up the courage to search for his own
name. With a mounting sense of panic he frantically scanned the list. He had
to pass – Uncle Owen hadn't said very much but Luke suspected there wasn't
money for next semester's schooling.
"What is it, Luke?" The sound of
Biggs Darklighter's voice behind him made Luke spin around surprised. He'd
assumed he was on his own.
"Congratulations." Biggs extended
his hand and Luke, with a confused blue expression, took it.
Biggs laughed. "For acing the
test, hotshot. You came first."
"I did…?" His voice shook. "I
"You more than passed, Luke. You
have the marks to get you anywhere in the galaxy that you want to go, including
"I passed." Luke repeated in a
dull monotone. Then the news finally penetrated the fog surrounding his brain
and he jerked his head to stare at the top of the sheet of flimsy. His name was
there – right at the top of the list. "Aunt Beru will be pleased and Uncle Owen…"
Somehow Luke didn't think Uncle Owen would be quite as pleased as Aunt Beru.
"I'm sure your aunt and uncle will
"I'm not so sure about Uncle Owen,
he's been really… strange about a lot of things lately, gets this funny look in
his eyes when I talk about flying. I can't explain it, but it's almost as if
he's frightened about something."
"I'm sure you're imagining things,
"Honest, I'm not. Aunt Beru has it
too." Luke stared at his name on the board. He'd come first; he'd actually
come first. "You're probably right and I am imagining things, but…" He ripped
the sheet from the board, holding it in his tanned hands. "I actually passed."
Biggs clapped him soundly on the
back. "Enough of this doom and gloom. We have some celebrating to do. Why don't
we go race Beggar's Canyon?"
Luke brightened. "Yeah, why not!
Maybe I'll beat that latest time of yours. I've added a couple of modifications
to the skyhopper." The sheet crumpled in his grasp and fell, forgotten to the
"I'm shaking in my boots, Luke."
"I could tell. Watch out - that time is in peril."
Fara and Seton watched the two
boys walk out of the school enclosure laughing and joking. It had been quite a
surprise when Biggs had picked Luke to befriend, but it had become less so over
the weeks. Somehow they matched.
Luke's final test paper sat in
front of them. "Full marks," Fara whispered, still in shock at the result.
Seton nodded. "I've never seen
anything like that in all my years of teaching."
"Neither have I and I've been
teaching for a lot longer than you have, Seton. I thought he was having trouble
with the exam, he sat and stared out the window for ages before he wrote
"Biggs has still got one of the
top scores in the entire sector, so he should get his Academy place for sure,
but what will Luke do, he's too young?"
"I don't think the family has
enough money to send Luke to the Academy. It's worth mentioning to them that he
could apply for a scholarship place. There would be more exams to sit, but
there might be funding for him to get special tuition."
"Good idea. I'll write to his
Uncle and Aunt tomorrow."
"I see Fixer did as well as
"Don't tell me. Walked in, filled
in his name, and walked out."
Fara gave a dry bark of laughter.
"That's Fixer. How I remained sane teaching him, I'll never know." She pushed a
wiry strand of hair back from her face and turned to her computer. "We'd better
get these marks collated and logged. The government wants to know national
statistics - make league tables of results. Why they think that does any good I
have no idea."
"There will be some bureaucrat
pushing data pads around somewhere or stockpiling sheets of flimsy." Seton
busied himself by inputting the statistics. "Is it my imagination or are things
getting tighter around here. More control – that sort of thing? This is
Tatooine, but Coruscant seems to get nearer every day. Who is interested in
what we do here?"
"Who indeed." Fara murmured