Signs and Portents: Trinity

Chapter Five

Biggs gritted his teeth. He almost wished the shuttle was harder to fly for a bigger distraction from his worries. Luke's hunches always worked out, but this is the first time his life was on the line with the Imperials. None of this was supposed to happen.

Princess Leia looked over the sensors and then through the viewport. “We're not landing in the settlements?”

“Just in case the Imps decide to check all landings today. The garrison never has anything else to do. They might think annoying Jabba's smugglers is a good idea.”


“Jabba the Hutt, our local crime boss. He and the Imps have an understanding. We’ll set the shuttle down by my parents’ homestead and borrow a landspeeder.” Biggs guided the shuttle through a pass in the craggy cliffs and skimmed over the mesa. “As long as that Star Destroyer is in orbit, they can spot this ship.” But as soon as it leaves, there goes any chance of saving Luke. His throat tightened.

“I have coordinates.” Leia’s hands hesitated over the navigation console. “Father wasn’t sure if they were still accurate.”

“Punch them in. If it comes up with Mos Espa or Bestine, it’ll rule out old Ben as your general. I think Anchorhead is as close to civilization as he’s ever gotten.”

She entered the numbers into the system. The ground map shifted to the jagged canyons that bordered the Western Dune Sea. Biggs glanced at the screen briefly. “The Jundland Wastes, no wonder old Ben was able to watch our races. We probably buzzed his homestead.”

“Not much to do here?” she asked.

“Not like the Core, no, but none of us crashed into the Stone Needle, though Luke came the closest.” Biggs swallowed hard. He had walked away from his smashed skyhopper, but he wouldn’t be so lucky against the Empire.

Leia’s brown eyes winced. “We should have just clubbed him on the head and dragged him on board.”

The image of the dainty young woman hitting Luke in the head with the butt of a blaster was so incongruous, it forced a chuckle out of Biggs. “That’s not very Princess-like of you.”

She rolled her eyes. “You should hear the stories my etiquette instructor has about my childhood. And I’m not the Princess or Senator of Alderaan here.”

“Okay.” There were enough cutthroats around who’d take her for ransom. A gully formed in the mesa edge and Biggs followed it down to the desert below. The landing gear slid out and he set the shuttle down. “She should be all right here. The Jawas’ circuit doesn’t take their sandcrawler up onto this mesa.”

Leia nodded and turned to her droids. “Threepio, you and Artoo stay with the shuttle. Artoo, use the shuttle’s sensors to see what’s going on in orbit.”

Artoo beeped affirmatively and rolled past Leia and Biggs to access the data port between the pilot and copilot seats. Threepio waved his arm. “We will keep the shuttle secure, Princess Leia.”

Biggs brought Leia in through the homestead’s garage. It was mid-morning on Tatooine and all the family landspeeders were out. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Don’t have to worry about awkward questions. You and Lanal are about the same size; you can take some old clothes of hers. What do you have on your feet?”

She lifted her foot as she stepped onto the gantry between the garage and the living areas of the homestead. “Boots?”

He glanced at the knee-high, white boots. “Those are tall enough to keep sand out.” He led her over the underground water tanks and hydroponic growers that she slowed to look down at. She caught up when he turned right into the hallway carved into the bedrock. The first door on the left led to the bedroom he and Luke had shared for the last year.

Her wide eyes took in the bunk beds carved into the wall, the long workbench desk underneath the courtyard window, and the wardrobe cabinets crammed into the corner. The holovid display on the desk still cycled through the images: Luke and Biggs with their skyhoppers and speeders, Owen and Beru Lars in the courtyard of their homestead, and the Darklighters at his father’s wedding to Lanal. “Are you and Luke brothers?” she asked.

He opened the second wardrobe. The blasters and Luke’s blaster rifle were still in there. He strapped on his favorite blaster belt and holster. “Not by blood. Luke and me have been best friends forever. When his aunt and uncle died last year, I asked Dad to let him live with us until we could go to the Academy.” He shook his head while taking out the new model blaster rifle and slinging it over his shoulder. “My bright idea.” He took Luke’s 6-2Aug2 hunting rifle out, forcing himself to be gentle with one of Luke’s few belongings. “Can you shoot this?” He held it out to Leia.

She frowned. “I can take care of myself.”

“Of course you can, but that’s not what I asked. The Jundland Wastes are crawling with sandpeople. If you can’t handle this slugthrower, I have to find one you can.”

She took the rifle, judging the heft of it before setting it against her shoulder and peering down the length. “I’ll make it work.”

“Okay, wait here while I get you some clothes.” He headed down a level to his father and stepmother’s bedroom. Luckily, Lanal was a clothes Jawa. She’d never notice that anything was missing. He chose a mid-calf split skirt, a wrap-around tunic, and a thick shawl to cover her hair and face with. He found a canvas bag for her to pack her senatorial dress in discarded on the wardrobe floor.

It didn’t take Leia long to change while he waited for her. Then they headed back out through the garage. The oldest storage shed on the homestead wasn’t connected to the underground compound, so they hiked across the sandy plain to the dome twice as wide as the front entrance dome to the compound. A ramp had been dug out of the rock to the door as wide as the dome, but Biggs went to the steps down to the human-sized side entrance. “Wait outside while I get the speeder.”

She nodded and adjusted the shoulder strap of the bag. He keyed in the code for the door and stepped into the dim interior. Luke’s speeder was still parked in front of the ramp door. He keyed the open sequence, drove it out to the surface, relocked the shed, and returned to Leia’s dubious expression aimed at the vehicle. “Will this actually get us there?”

“Me and Luke rebuilt this speeder for years.” He offered her a hand with climbing in. “It’s the fastest SoroSuub X-34 on Tatooine.” He vaulted into the driver’s seat and eased the accelerator.

She looked back over her shoulder at the homestead. “Biggs, this may be the last time you’ll be this close to your family. Don’t you want to leave a message?”

“Leave something for the Empire to retaliate against my family with? They’re going to track me down eventually.”

“Your family would denounce you to the Empire?”

He shook his head. “No, my father hates the Empire, but I’m the one who’s supposed to destroy it with one blaster shot. And I really don’t want to hear how I threw all my plans away to save Luke.” He glared at the canyons on the horizon. No, Biggs really couldn’t take a lecture on how looking out for Luke was just holding Biggs back.

Leia rested her hand on his arm. Its heat was different from the heat of the suns. “My father and I agree that the Empire’s tyranny must be stopped, but we can’t agree how. He believes that if we can talk enough worlds into showing support, the Empire will be forced to back down. I’m afraid we will have to fight back, but I’m ready to.” She smiled slightly. “You won’t have to go alone against the Empire to rescue Luke.”

“Thanks, Leia, for everything.”

She squeezed his arm before withdrawing her hand.

The safest route into the Jundland Wastes for landspeeders took them past the old Lars’ homestead, where Luke grew up. Biggs hadn’t been out here since the funeral and making Luke come home with him and his father. That had been a hard enough trip. His mind kept replaying when he and Luke landed their skyhoppers here, so jovial after another insane pass through Beggar’s Canyon, and finding two corpses instead of Luke’s aunt and uncle. It had taken so long to rid the twice-orphaned young man of his bleak expression that had taken hold that evening. Biggs had insisted that his father sell the homestead and give Luke a fair price rather than just add it to Huff Darklighter’s sizable holdings. Uncle Jula had paid for it and moved his family out there. Those credits had paid for Luke’s trip to Coruscant.

He glanced at Leia’s wide-eyed curious face as they passed over the flat landscape. She didn’t say anything, so he turned his attention back to the land in front of them. The entry dome was growing larger on the left and a landspeeder he didn’t recognize was parked in front of it. Uncle Jula and Aunt Silya’s landspeeder would be parked in the homestead’s underground garage. They had visitors, maybe neighbors dropped in for bread and water?

He slowed the landspeeder. This was morning time that the neighbors would be working on their own homesteads before the heat of Tatooine’s suns at the height of the day drove everyone indoors again. His cousins Gavin and Rasca were too young to have friends with landspeeders yet.

Leia turned to him. “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong here.” Figures next to the entry dome were coming into view: a pair of Weequays packing water collection jugs to the back of the landspeeder and a human wearing a breastplate loomed over a human female. She shrank back from him toward the dome. He grabbed her arm and they heard her scream of denial over the sands and the hum of the landspeeder.

“Shavit,” Biggs muttered. He gunned the landspeeder and swerved to aim at the entry dome.

Leia reached for Luke’s rifle that she had stowed beside the passenger seat. “Know what is going on yet?”

A boy charged out of the doorway in the dome with a yell. The man let go of the woman and slapped the boy down into the sand. He planted his foot on the child’s back so he couldn’t rise up again. His laugh carried as he pulled the woman against his body.

“Jabba’s goons decided to collect more than water today,” Biggs growled. “Stay in the speeder.”

She nodded tersely as she tightened her grip on Luke’s rifle.

He slid the landspeeder to a stop in front of the nose of the other larger landspeeder and jumped out. The swarthy human in the breastplate and sweat-stained clothing glared at Biggs’ approach, but Silya Darklighter wrenched her arm out of the goon’s grasp and she scuttled back to the entry dome. The goon bent down and hauled the boy off the ground. Ten-year-old Gavin dangled in front of the man, his feet well off the ground, with the goon’s arm around his chest. Biggs kept his arms loose at his sides. “Morning, Aunt Silya. Collection day?”

Silya Darklighter was Lanal’s older sister, tall and dark as Biggs’ stepmother was tiny and blonde. She backed up toward the steps of the doorway, clenching her fists. “Yes, you’re late.”

The Weequays continued loading the water.

“Sorry, you know how Dad is.” Biggs didn’t recognize the man holding Gavin and scowling at his intrusion. “Don’t know you,” he said bluntly. “You haven’t collected at Huff Darklighter’s before. The silent ones back there have.” Biggs waved at the Weequays ignoring the humans. “Hi guys.”

They continued securing the water collection jugs. The swarthy human glanced back at them and swallowed hard as he saw they were not supporting his attack.

Biggs let his lips curl into a nasty smile. “You must be new to the water collection. You think Jabba’s going to avenge you if we farmers decide we can’t do business with you? Jabba won’t care as long as he gets his water.” He nodded as the Weequays closed the back of the landspeeder and moved to its passenger doors. “Which your pals are taking care of. Let him go and leave.”

The goon’s grip around Gavin’s chest tightened. “Or what?” He snarled.

The sound of Luke’s rifle firing echoed against the entry dome. The slug dug into the sand under Gavin’s feet and before the goon’s toes. All heads turned to Leia in the open canopy landspeeder. She readied the weapon to fire again and adjusted the rifle’s long barrel up even with the goon’s head.

“Or the next slug goes through your head.” Biggs grinned. “And Jabba still gets his water.”

The goon threw Gavin. Biggs jumped forward and caught his cousin before the boy touched the sand. The Weequays climbed into the landspeeder while the human man adjusted the belt as he stepped back. “We’ll see you next month.” He dove into their landspeeder and it floated back before it turned and sped away.

Biggs heaved a huge sigh of relief and set Gavin down. “No blood, Gavin?”

“I’m okay.” But his face was growing red under his dark hair.

Biggs ignored the boy’s obvious embarrassment and turned to his aunt. “Where’s Uncle Jula?”

Her hands remained in fists at her sides. “Installing a new vaporator on the south ridge. I thought I could handle this transaction without him.” Her gaze didn’t leave Gavin, though she finally relaxed enough to rub her arm.

“Wear a blaster next month.” Biggs headed toward the landspeeder. Leia leaned the rifle against her shoulder with her hand off the trigger. “That’ll stop that idiot from doing anything like that again, if he survives long enough in Jabba’s employ to make it to next month.” He reached in the second seat and pulled out his blaster rifle. “Gavin, here.”

The boy jogged to Biggs’ side and wrapped both his arms around the blaster rifle Biggs thrust into them. “What?”

“You keep it. Next time Jabba’s goons threaten your mother or Rasca, just shoot them. That’s the easiest way to get them to listen.”

Gavin grinned, his teeth gapped waiting for the adult ones to grow in. “Thanks, Biggs!”

“Take it inside and check on your sister.” Gavin nodded and scampered down the steps into the entry dome. Aunt Silya turned her frown on Biggs. “I am grateful you showed here, don’t dare think I’m not. But you and the Skywalker boy left weeks ago for the Academy.”

Biggs rubbed the back of his neck above his jacket and cape. “The Academy didn’t work out, Aunt Silya. But it’s best that you never saw us if anyone comes asking about us.”

She nodded. “I’ll make sure Gavin understands. Safe journeys.”

Biggs nodded before he jumped back into the landspeeder. Leia stowed the rifle within reach again as the vehicle moved again. “So why doesn’t Jabba pay for water?” she asked.

“He does pay when his usage goes over the allotment taken from moisture farmers. The farmers pay the allotment so Jabba doesn’t have their homesteads burnt out with them in it.”

Her face jerked from the landscape to stare at him. “Tatooine is an Imperial world. It’s not part of Hutt Space.”

He shrugged. “We’ve got Imperials. They patrol right around their garrisons unless they’re looking for something the Empire wants. And they certainly don’t stop Jabba from doing whatever he wants to do. Good people go into Jabba’s Palace and die,” he quoted.

“The expansion of the garrisons in the Outer Rim was presented to the Senate as bringing law and order to planets that had none.”

“They were supposed to? It won’t happen on Tatooine until after Jabba’s dead, if then.”

They lapsed into silence as the landspeeder hurried on.

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