Wow- it's been so long!
It's actually slightly embarrassing- I thought I'd uploaded this already, but I knew I had a new chapter to upload, so I've literally spent months looking for chapter 18.
Have chapter 17, folks.
And yes, you may all laugh at me.
I don't own Star Wars.
I don't own chapter18 yet, either... haven't written it. I'm a smart cookie!
The next morning came with its own complications. The good news was my arm was bandaged up, with something I wasn't completely familiar with. Chelsea called it bacta, but I had never heard of it before. Unfourtunately, the bad news was that the restrictive binding holding the two halves of my bone together meant I couldn't crack the whip I had discovered to aid in controlling the snotty Eopies.
On the upside, it was a sunny day. Of course it was. The Tatoos shone down from clear skies, without any hint of winds or even a small breeze. I spent my morning brushing down the smallest cu-pa, saddling two irate rental eopies before starting to clean out the keep while the creatures fed at the troughs. The troughs I was now familiar with and could even pronounce.
Over lunch, Cheel and I covered the rest of the aurebesh, through to zerek and even those annoying double exception symbols. By the time I was sent outside again, I was humming the tune incredibly tunelessly, having discovered singing wasn't my forte. My voice was still very much suited for Tusken rather than Basic.
Chelsea came out to keep my company as I was exercising a newcomer- a jerba. According to the owner, it was friendly and well-trained. According to me, it wasn't.
"That's kinda smelly." She pulled her top- bright pink and yellow tye-dye today- over her nose.
"I'd noticed." I grumbled, wiping the offending substance (most probably the product of an eopie) off my hide boot onto a post. A tiny amount had smeared on the cuff of my green trousers, but I wasn't too fazed.
"Looks like fun." She commented dryly while I dodged a projectile of spit from the supposedly placid creature.
"Actually, it's boring." I complained. "Jerbas are a little annoying, really. And I'm going to have to brush this one."
"My heart goes out to you." She laughed.
I didn't understand the expression. Why did I need her heart to comb out Jerba hair?
"Tell you what- I'll keep you entertained. Spell my name."
"Learn while you work!"
"Speaking of work…" I jabbed my head towards the inn.
"Oh, it's fine. I borrowed a cleaner droid from the dealership next-door. Trail run apparently. So I'm free to spend my afternoon-"
"Spell Chelsea." She pressed.
I sighed again, but began to think even as I coiled the rope and fetched a brush. "Cresh…"
Oh, right. The double exceptions. "Uh… Cher…r…rrr…"
"Cherek." She prompted.
"Good." She applauded. The jerba started at the noise.
"Jumpy little thing, huh." She stared at it. "Worse than a baby ronto in a cantina."
I shook my head at her bizarre analogy. "I agree." I laughed quietly at her.
"Never mind. Spell your name."
"Osk-lenth-isk- er… ver… ven… vev… vev! Osk-lenth-isk-vev-esk."
"Wicked. Now try-"
"Chelsea Berl! What in your father's name is this droid doing breaking up the bar?" Maha's voice carried out from inside.
She gulped. "At a guess, I'd say… breaking up the bar." She winked at me, probably happy to deliver the smart-ass comment without any consequences.
"Smell ya later, Oli."
I gave her a blank look.
"As in… see you later, but not. Although, I probably will smell you before I see you…" She walked off backwards, facing me all the time.
I rolled my eyes- something I'd been working on, but hadn't quite perfected.
"Jerba. Jenth-esk-ren… rorn… resh… ronth… wait, resh. It's resh, isn't it?"
The jerba stepped on my foot.
I hit it.
Despite winning the short-lived fight with a big hairy jerba, my arm still hurt like boboqueequee. I finished the grooming and sat down, leaning on a post, my closed eyes upturned to the warm sky.
"Rise and shine, sleepy-head!"
I groaned. Clearly the droid had been dealt with.
"Hello Cheel." I grumbled.
"If you want a break that bad, you know, I could always show you around."
I opened my eyes. "I've seen the place already, Chelse."
"I mean Mos Eisley. This isn't Anchorhead, you know."
Well of course it wasn't. What a stupid thing to say.
Even if I had known what Anchorhead was.
"Come on. Get up and maybe get changed."
"Out of these colours?" I smiled wryly. It was a good wry smile. I was proud.
"Out of that poo."
"This is the dealership next-door. They sell second-hand droids, parts, and tools. Mostly rubbish. But very cheap."
I nodded politely to disguise my confusion.
I had never been in a place like this before. As a Tusken, I lived in the open sands of the Dune Sea. We might have raided a farm, or ran into a clan maybe once or twice a month. With the Jedi, we had been in total seclusion.
But this- this was masses of all forms of being, congregating in bustling streets. It seemed like even more languages were being spoken, ones I didn't even recognise as speech at first. Everywhere I looked, some new form of being would appear, getting in my way or trying to sell me something.
If I was overwhelmed, Chelsea sure wasn't. She dealt with the sellers like naughty uli-ah- children. Anyone who got in her way got shouted at. It became clear she was completely used to this, a born local.
I'd give her three days out on the Sea.
"Down there's the junk saler's little alleyway. You can get a good deal out of them, but only if they can see a big blaster on your belt. If you ever need an engine, a motor, driod, even a pod, if you go to the right place…"
She continued, describing the individual wares on offer.
I could only gape at the array of machinery scattered in piles beside stalls, in front of doors, heaped beneath a hoarding sales… something. The creature had horns. I don't know.
This wasn't exactly my kind of place. I almost expected to see Jawas running about the place, hitting things with their tiny cloaked hands, just like they did out on the Sea. The only time a Jawa had tried to sell me something, I had hit it with K'qui'ca'ck's gaderffi. I wished I had that now.
"What's down there?" I pointed to a small collection of backstreets, lined with few tatty stalls, old women sitting outside and children running around.
"Oh- that's the slave quarter. It's kinda fun to play with those kids, I suppose, but don't let their owners catch you. And don't, like never, go down there after dark. Slaves can't be trusted. One of my cousins got beaten up around here a few years back. Nasty stuff."
I wondered briefly if this was more assumed distaste for a certain group- prejudice, I think the Jedi had called it- like the kind I had been subjected to. Maybe the Slaves didn't deserve that reputation. But it was a big maybe, though, because if Chelsea's family had been hurt, it was a safe assumption that at least some weren't going to be very welcoming to either of us.
"Oh- over here- the centre of town. Chalmun's Cantina."
I looked over at the large building being leaned on by an assortment of drunks in a complete set of colours and sizes. I could hear laughter and rowdy singing from inside. With the odd crash or bang, often in time with the strange music overpowering the entire audible scene.
"The most wicked Jizz band on Tatooine plays there- the Modal Nodes. Great music." She began ticking off her fingers as she listed. "Hard drinks, hard chairs, hard floors, hardened criminals. Best not to go in there alone, but don't go in a group too big unless you want trouble. A tip to the bartender and he'll clear up a body if need be. Good place."
A small waft of air gently tugged at my blue dust-jacket. Chelsea flicked her hair away from her eyes, prompting calls from the collected inebriated men. She rolled her eyes- much better than I could, which was annoying. Scowling, she pulled the amazing stuff into one bunch, tying it securely with a pale yellow ribbon.
"Hope this wind's not another storm." She watched the dancing sand play about our feet.
"It's not." I confirmed. The feel wasn't right- it was just a breeze.
She shot me a look. "Who needs weather reports when I've got you?"
"I tell you what I do need- two girls who do their jobs!"
Chelsea and I whipped around to come face-to-face with Maha.
"I'm just showing Olive around- I cleaned up the droid, and she's done everything." Chelse explained in a quick voice.
"If you're going to show her around, show her the back pen. It's filthy."
"Oh, come on, Maha! No one ever uses it!"
The woman bore down on Cheel, frowning. "Oh, no?"
She didn't waver. "No. When was the last time someone brought in anything that needed the pen?"
"If a guest brings a Ronto-"
"No one's stupid enough to bring a Ronto into Eisley, Maha."
I was looking back and forwards between them like I was a massiff chasing two separate people. "I'll clean it." I yelled over them, just to shut them both up.
"Yes you will. And Chelsea's going to help you."
"What? Oh, come on!"
But Maha was already gone, moving down a zigzag of alleys.
Cheel viciously kicked a grain of sand. "Poodoo and a half. I swear I'm gonna end her."
I worked out the meaning of her outburst reasonably quickly.
"I guess I'm showing you the back pen, then." She snorted. "Follow me."
Maha wasn't wrong. The back pen was filthy. It was also huge.
The fence towered far above my head, able to be opened by a door-within-a-door, one I had to duck slightly to go through, and the other almost the full height of the fence itself, and almost as wide.
Chelsea had rattled the formidable-looking bolt in the smaller door until it came away from the large one it was set in, teaching me the art of kicking it in just the right place as to open it almost noiselessly- apart from the grating bolt and thump of boot-on-fence.
She looked disdainfully at the pen. The ground was covered in debris and muck- all of it, which was a fair amount. Cheel had mentioned Rontos using this space- it could fit three.
"Hey- a trough!" I pointed out.
Chelsea stared at me. "Yeah- let's all shout 'whoopee' for the trough I could sleep in. And look- another one! Hooray!"
I figured that was sarcasm. "I'll clean the troughs." I offered.
"Wicked. I'll do some sweeping, I guess, then."
And so I scrubbed and she swept until our hands were sore and our necks slick with sweat- hers more so than mine. The pen looked less and less like a dungheap the more we worked at it, and it was almost at the point of 'clean' when the light began to fade.
"That's it." Chelsea threw down her tools and held her back. "I'm totally pooped. You?"
"Uh…" Pooped? "I'm a little tired?"
She laughed. "You're amazing, Oli. Half a day scrubbing old sick off walls and you're a little tired. Whatever you're on, I want it."
"I'm on sand. Well, at least, my- I mean your- boots are."
She slung her arm over my shoulder. I forced myself to accept the gesture. It felt like a challenge, even a threat, to me. But Chelsea was still smiling. Arm aroung shoulder was good, then. Good. I told myself. Relax- it's good.
"Come on. Dinner beckons." She started walking- I was forced to move with her. "And then, of course, the bar, with Yasug and all the others…" She groaned. "Take my advice- run to your room right after dinner. Something tells me you're not a fan of the bar."
I thanked her, and determined to follow her advice.
It was night.
I couldn't see the moons. Ghomrassen, Guermessa and Chenini were all three of them strangers to me tonight. I hated that.
Quietly, I said goodnight to them, as K'qui'ca'ck had long ago taught me to do. I spoke in my own, comfortable tongue. I used the names the Tuskens had given them, not the ones the Jedi had taught me.
My words had too few sounds to my ears.
I repeated them over and over again- but as easily as the slipped out, they weren't familiar.
I was suddenly desperate to be out on the sand again, not cramped up underground. Pausing only to slip on the blue dust-jacket again over my ankle-length nightshirt- a spectrum of purples- I ran lightly on my toes out of the Eisley and into the street.
The sand wormed between my toes, cool as only midnight sand can be. There was no residual heat left- my feet were chilled. I began to run, not caring where I was going, not noticing my dully throbbing arm, not minding the night wind that blew the unfamiliarly cold sand into my face. I crunched grains between my teeth, enjoying the sensation.
I stopped short at the outskirts of Mos Eisley, too breathless to carry on. Before me was the wide open space that had for so long been my home.
I could hear the gentle hum of power generators from the spaceport. I heard the wind over the dunes. There was a quiet murmur of life behind my back. Before me lay only the deaths that I remembered too well. No sound, not anymore.
In the distance- a call. A very distinctive call. The call of a Bantha.
So recognisable… instantly, I knew it.
But I didn't believe it.