Mara Jade stumbled out of the escape pod.
The thrusters had given out just before landing, so she had been forced to drive the nose down into the sand to avoid hitting one of the mountains. The crash landing had shaken her up slightly. Her head was throbbing. She reached up and brushed a hand over her forehead. It came away with blood.
Closing her eyes, she opened herself to the Dark Side. It rushed through her blood like ice water. She was using so much of the Force that it turned her eyes momentarily blue. She used it to heal the bruised bone and muscle, before stitching the gash above her eyebrow. By the time she had finished, there was barely a scratch left. Her master had taught her well. The foolish Jedi had no idea what power was contained in the Force, power to mend and heal anything, as well as power to destroy. They believed that those who bore the name of Darth were only capable of killing or destroying with the Force. They had no idea what else they were capable of. It would be there undoing.
Before letting go of the Force, she used its heightening powers to reach out into the desert. To most people, the desert world of Tatooine seemed dead. To a Jedi or a Sith, though, it was teaming with life. Creatures lived beneath the sand, in the cavernous bedrock below. Others made their homes in the rocky mountains, while still others lived within the sand itself. It was as full of life as the sea. Mara, though, was looking for something in specific. She fazed out the rest of the life, seeking the throbbing hub that was Mos Eisley. She found it easily.
Once she had located it, she crawled back into the pod. Imperial Intelligence had prepared her well. In the shade of her old cockpit, she stripped completely, carefully folding her flight suit behind the seat. She allowed herself a moment to enjoy the feel of the darkness on her skin, before pulling her disguise out of the compartment beneath the main flight board.
Moments later, a Tusken raider stepped out of the escape pod.
Mara stared out at the desert once more. There were a thousand shades of gold in those specks of dust, augmented by ochre and crimson. The two suns turned the afternoon sky a glorious fiery orange. Wind raced past her, throwing sand into the escape pod. She didn’t care, she wouldn’t be coming back to it. She allowed herself to savour its caress, taking a sip of water through her desert suit.
The desert reminded her of herself. Scoured clean by the Dark Side, constantly shifting through a thousand faces and a thousand lives. Ever since she was twelve and the men in the red capes came to find her. Her parents had been so proud that one of their daughters had been chosen by the Emperor himself. They let her go without even asking what they wanted her for. As far as they knew, she was going to a life of bondage and servitude as one of the Emperor’s concubines.
Now, she knew better. Her master was far above such things. He was a god, or as close as it was possible to come.
She set off into the sands, jogging steadily. The sand shifted beneath her, making it difficult to run. Her feet couldn’t find any purchase. To compensate, she allowed the Force to race through her, bringing her body into a perfect rhythm with the desert. It was as her master had taught her. The Force surrounded them, bound them, brought the entire universe together into a clockwork of perfection. If she allowed it to, it would bring her out of the chaos of life into the order of the divine. That was her master’s plan.
It took her an hour to reach Mos Eisley. It appeared out of the desert like a mirage, shimmering and vanishing in the relentless sun. Its architecture was typical of this backwater world, with a smattering of Rodian style where refugees had settled.. Every house was a block of pure white rock, reflecting the sun’s rays back into the air. They were sunken into the sand. She arrived on the outskirts, avoiding the main streets. She vanished into the alleyways and byways, heading inwards. The city was arranged in a wheel formation, with the main power and water distribution plants huddled in the middle. She passed run down docking bays and landing pads, keeping out of sight and in the shadows. Every so often, a ship would take off from one of the bays, shaking the walls and throwing clouds of dust into the air. Mos Eisley was the city that never slept. It was home to the scum of the galaxy.
By now, she was tiring fast and her muscles were aching. She enjoyed it though. The Force made so many things so easy, she was sometimes afraid that she would forget about effort. Though her parents seemed a universe away now, some of what they had taught her as a girl still remained. One of those things was hard work.
No one seemed surprise to see her. The Sand People were feared, but not hated. They traded with the humans and other races who were trying to get scrounge some kind of life on this pitiful little world. She could blend in here while she tried to find out what she needed to know.
She soon passed out of the more tourist friendly “New Quarter”, and into the real heart of the city. The buildings became both seedier and larger. Somewhere in this warren of streets was Jabba the Hutt’s residence, as well as her first stop: the Mos Eisley Cantina.
She stopped in the shadow of a hanger and studied the building. It seemed totally harmless, but Mara had stepped into enough cantinas and bars to know that appearances were generally deceiving. Considering the clientele that she noticed walking in and coming out, this was most probably the same.
Mara strode across the square between the alleyway and the Cantina. She looked around to make sure no one had followed her, then she slipped inside. She found herself in a darkened alcove. It took her a moment to adjust to the danker interior. She felt a thousand eyes on her, but she tried to ignore it. As far as they were concerned, she was just a Tusken raider here to do some business.
There were a few steps down into the main room. As she walked down, she studied the others in the room. There was a smattering of humans in the sea of aliens that seemed to ooze out of the walls. She sneered beneath her mask. These non-humans truly were the dregs of the galaxy, as her Master said. They were the true reason behind the fall of the Jedi into decadence. They were the reason why her Master had been forced to act.
An all-alien band were playing in the corner. She ignored them and headed for the bar instead. She inserted herself between a disgruntled Aqualish and a particularly ugly human. She glanced at the human’s face – she was sure that she had seen it somewhere before. Considering the look on his face and the blaster at his side, it was probably on an imperial warrant.
She reached over and tapped the bartender on his shoulder. He turned to her and scowled. Nevertheless, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. Good. He was nervous. That was always a good place to start to get information.
“What can I get you?”
She paused, as if allowing a universal translator to modify what he had said. Then she spoke, the voice box hidden in her suit modifying her tones to sound like the guttural voice of a Sand Person.
“I am looking for someone.”
“Sorry, we serve drinks not information.”
She tensed. She didn’t want this to get nasty but if she had to she would tear this cantina apart to get what she needed. Luckily, there was no need. A huge, furry hand dropped on her shoulder from behind.
“Waooo huur naaaa.”
This time she really did have to wait for the translation. I can help. She turned and looked up. And up. And up. The Wookie towered over her. Like most non-humans, she couldn’t tell whether it was a he or a she. The only thing that differentiated him from any other Wookie slave was the crossbow hung over his shoulder. Whatever it was, it was dangerous.
“What do you need to know?” the Wookie asked. It looked like it had been living on the street. Its fur was covered in sand and dust.
“I am looking for someone.”
“Come with me.”
She followed the huge fur ball across the room into one of the dark corners. The music was less here, so they could talk low without being overheard and still be able to hear one another.
“Who are you looking for?”
“Your name first.”
Mara smiled. “I don’t like to deal with someone who I don’t know.”
The Wookie seemed unsure, but when Mara put the coin on the table, he soon turned around. “Chewbacca.”
“Well, Chewbacca, I am looking for a man and his son. Name of Skywalker.”
The Wookie chuckled. “I know where they are. How much?”
Mara tried to hide her excitement. She hadn’t expected it to be this easy. If this monster was telling the truth…
“200 credits. But you have to show me where they are.”
The Wookie’s eyes went wide. She had guessed correctly that it was probably more money than Chewbacca had seen in his entire life. He nodded vigorously. Mara smiled. He would never see a single credit of the money. And Skywalker would soon be in her grasp.