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child of the desert

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Life was slower in the desert. That was the thing most offworlders couldn’t ever seem to understand. The people and the slow cycle of their lives was governed by the turning of the twin suns, queens and lovers Tatao and Tati in the old tongue, smiling their harsh and burning benevolence at the blushing sand. Moving too fast meant sweating, and sweating meant loss of moisture, and loss of moisture meant that many fewer klicks you could travel before you dropped dead.

Some offworlders got it. Most of the smugglers and syndicates, the wanted sentients who drifted through Mos Eisley and the Tatoo system in endless circles of jobs and stakeouts and laying low, they got it. Once they spent enough time around Tatooinians you began to see it in their eyes, their bodies. They looked at everything with eyes half-shuttered, the better to keep dust and the suns out, and moved with a hard deliberateness foreign to spacers with twitchy asteroid-field reflexes. It was stone-stillness, when they were sitting in a corner of Chalmun’s bar, allowing everything to move around them without constantly trying to react and interfere with it. Those were the lessons of survival in the desert, and as such they were quickly learned.

Luke remembers the first time he met an offworlder--a real green one--in Mos Eisley. On a rare day off he and Biggs took their old speeder to Chalmun’s, pooling their credits to get a pitcher of home-brewed ardees. It was more bitter than the commercial stuff, and more diluted too--probably the only reason the gruff bartender, Wuher, deemed it acceptable to serve to two dusty kids like themselves. The bar had been slow that day, with only a few regulars nursing their drinks in the shadowy corners, clearly using the place as an excuse to hide from the glare of the late afternoon suns. Biggs and Luke were spinning on the bar stools, getting buzzed, snickering and giggling to each other and ribbing Wuher good-naturedly about his losing bet on the podraces last cycle. They‘d all turned at the heavy clunk of boots down the rough-hewn stone steps--a highly unusual sound among the soft-footed Tatooinians. Wuher had cackled and dried off his hands with a rag, jerking his head towards the sound. “There’s a spacer for you boys. Let’s see what he wants with old Wuher, hmm?”

Luke and Biggs had turned towards the bar’s stairs with anticipation. Sketchy and violent though the cantina was, Chalmun himself had standing arrangements with most of the moisture farmers around Mos Eisley so he could slake the endless thirst of sentients on the run. Even during the most wild nights when scuffles broke out for sentients looking at each other the wrong way, Luke and Biggs had never been bothered. Chalmun’s word was the best security this side of the planet--and one of the few reasons Owen and Beru allowed Luke off the farm, some days.

The spacer clunked unsteadily into view. It was a Rodian, leaning heavily against the wall and panting desperately, a small yellow tongue flicking out to taste the dry, cool air of the bar. They moved with frantic jerkiness, black-glass eyes flicking back and forth, hands jittering. Their whole body seemed to shake, tense with aborted movement under heavy black clothes, clearly better suited for a damper, colder planet. Biggs and Luke stared, unabashed as Wuher rolled his eyes and shoulders behind them. His gruff voice held a tinge of annoyance. “Blasted rainworlders. Never know how to keep themselves from overheating. I tell ya, kids, there’s blasted few places in the universe with as much water, it’s a fraggin’ miracle they manage to survive offworld at all.”

The Rodian eventually stumbled over to the bar and collapses into a stool beside Luke, breathing heavily and fidgeting. They raised a shaking blue hand. “Water.

Wuher raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “You got the credits for it?”

The Rodian looked up at Wuher, massive eyes squinting in confusion. Wuher correctly interpreted the look and leaned across the bar. “Desert planet, bub. That stuff doesn’t just fall outta the sky, y’know.”

The Rodian’s face twisted, but they rifled through their clothing and eventually dropped credit chips on the sticky, silver bartop until Wuher nodded assent and swiped them. Luke tried to stare as subtly as he could out of the corner of his eye, seeing the little white beams of Tatao’s light filter through the webbing in the Rodian’s hand and refract into green and blue. As Wuher turned away to fetch water for the stranger, Luke swiveled to face them and the question leaps from his mouth before he has a chance to think about it. “Are you really from a rainworld?”

Biggs hissed and swatted at Luke, muttering something about getting them both mugged by some offworlder who didn’t know a Bantha from a blaster, but the Rodian turned toward Luke with interest. Luke met the big dark-glass eyes with difficulty--the Rodian moved so much, it was hard to pick a spot to focus on. Their fingers tapped, their knee bounced, bits of their clothing crinkled and crumpled, their antennae flicked back and forth. Their yellow tongue still flicked in and out of their mouth in a desperate bid to cool themselves--Luke noted that they didn’t appear to sweat even a little bit, as most mammals could. They must be cooking inside their scales...

They shifted on the seat and their strange, small mouth worked for a moment, clearly trying to remember the shapes of Basic. “I...yes. Rodia is...lots of water. Lots of green.”

“Green!” Luke exclaimed. The idea, while not new to Luke, still sounded absurd. Aunt Beru had shown him old holos of green planets, from the archives at Anchorhead, but Luke could never really believe they were real. Sometimes there were smugglers that came through and talked about green homeworlds, but they never lasted long on Tatooine. Every so often those ones in particular were found, dead and mummified in a matter of days by the biting wind, clearly trying to walk somewhere outside of Mos Eisley and always woefully underprepared. Luke, Biggs and every other Tatooinian felt no twinges of sympathy for them. You either figured out how to take from the desert, or the desert would take you.

The Rodian got their pitcher of water from Wuher, who still wore skepticism in the crags of his face at this newcomer so literally out of their element. They plunged their face in and drank deeply, for a long time, dripping all over the bar. Luke tried not to stare any more, at such wanton waste. Yes, it was a bar, but folks were careful with their drinks. Liquid of any kind was expensive.

----

Biggs and Luke found the Rodian a few days later, on their way to Anchorhead to pick up parts for their speeder. At first they were only a shape, brittle and oil-black in the heat coming off the sand, like the volcanic rock that sometimes littered the canyons near Luke’s farm. Then the shape resolved into a curled-up humanoid, moved only by the wind.

Biggs pulled the speeder up beside what was once the Rodian. Their dark clothes lay in a ragged circle around them, as they were stripped down to a thin black flight suit. Sand collected in the ridges of clothing, drawing strange shapes around the body. Because that’s all it was, anymore--a body, once light blue and luminous, burned so dark it looked purple. The delicate webbed fingers had shrunken tight and shiny down to the bone, and the huge eyes had collapsed in their sockets, leaving huge, sticky-looking holes in the Rodian’s face. Thin bones stood out in sharp relief, and sand had found its way into the dips and hollows of the now-skeletal form.

Luke and Biggs regarded the body for a moment from the safety of the speeder. Biggs finally spoke, “Hop out and see if there’s anything worth taking, won’t ya?”

Luke obliged, rifling through the Rodian’s thick black parka and assortment of holsters and layers. He finds a few more credits--not much, but he’ll split them with Biggs and they’ll maybe get some nicer bearings for the speeder--a couple of small, strangely shaped knives in hidden pockets, a half-eaten dry ration, empty water packs, a small blaster. The usual accessories of a criminal. Luke took it all in his arms and dumped it in the back of the speeder, tugging a tarp over the mess.

Biggs had meanwhile hopped out and had crouched by the body. Luke came over and squatted next to him, putting his hands on his knees and leaning forward. “What didja find, Biggs?”

Biggs was holding something shiny in his hands, turning it over in the sun. It was made of the same odd metal as the knives, and a chain trails from it to spool into the Rodian’s curled-up hand. He held it out for Luke to examine.

It was a pendant, an odd rounded shape embossed with what Luke assumes is Rodian. The script is sinuous, flowing, completely unlike the blocky, diagonal letters of Basic or the spiky, dotted characters of the old Tatooine languages.

“Think we can get some credits for it?” Biggs said, into Luke’s contemplative silence.

Luke turned the pendant over in his hands. “I wanna see if we can get a protocol droid to translate this for us. Could be neat.”

Biggs shrugged. “Sure. We’ll get some good credits for the knives and the blaster, anyway.”

Luke stood, and kicked some sand over the Rodian. He rooted around in his belt for a few seconds, and drew out a small drawstring bag. Reaching inside, he took out a pinch of salt and allowed the tiny grains to slip between his fingers, and bounce off the curled-up shape of the body. The white specks look like stars against the Rodian’s black and purple.

He bowed his head, and whispered a quick prayer in old Tatooine. Thank you for the gift of your body. Thank you for the gift of your tools. May Tatao and Tati hold your soul between them on their journey into night.

Biggs honked the speeder’s ancient, worn-out horn. “Come on, Skywalker, we’re losing daylight.”

Luke jumped back into the speeder’s passenger seat, resettling the rifle against his side and shoving his arms through the harness. “Keep your hair on, Darklighter, I’m right here.”

Biggs huffed a laugh, and then there is just the wind and the sand whipping past, and the quickly receding shape of a dead rainworlder.