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Title: Hope in the Darkness, Part 1
Author: morgonskywalker
Fandom: Star Wars EU
Rating: Rated G
Characters: Jacen Solo
Word Count: About 1450
Warnings: None for this chapter. There may be for later chapters.
Disclaimers: I do not own Star Wars or its characters and I make no profit from them.
Summary: Jacen Solo, on a quick clandestine visit to Tatooine, discovers something unsettling.

Hope in the Darkness

Part 1

Jacen Solo hurried through the narrow streets of the small town, trying not to step on the various pieces of debris that littered the ground after the latest sandstorm. It had been a bad one, lasting for quite awhile and covering everything in the white coarse sand. Even now fine particles flew and swirled about in the hot, dry air. Jacen hated the sand. It got everywhere. It seemed to be in every pore of his skin as well as in his eyes and nose. How these people could stand to live in this place he could not fathom.

Now that most of the sand was gone there was nothing between him and the oppressive heat from the glowing twin suns high overhead. Even the wind was heated, seeming to leech every ounce of moisture from his body. Just a few more hours and he could leave this desolate planet and, if the Force had any mercy at all, he would never return to it.

He supposed he should have some kind of feeling for this place. After all, his uncle, the revered Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, had begun his life here, as had his father, Jacen’s grandfather, Anakin Skywalker. But he could only think they were lucky to have escaped it when they did. One to try to rule the galaxy and one to save it. And yet, even after all that had happened in the galaxy, Tatooine still thrived in its own way.

Finally, he reached his destination. A street even narrower than the previous ones and home to a motley of shops and other businesses. He paused to take in the distasteful environment around him. More filth, more sand, more unidentifiable beings skulking here and there and covered from head to feet, or whatever bodily appendages they had.

He spotted the red markings he had been looking for on a narrow door to his left. Still he waited a moment, letting his force senses stretch out and gently probe his surroundings. It seemed safe enough so he wandered casually through the doorway, trying to give his eyes a chance to adjust from the bright outside light to the dim interior.

He found that he was in a small shop. There were tables and shelves, all hosting an assortment of goods. Shiny trinkets. Delicate serving plates. Paintings and carved stones. Old weapons and gadgets that had seen better days. Before he could stop himself, Jacen sneezed from a combination of old dust and newer sand, all mixing together in the still, musty air.

A lump he had at first glance taken to be a pile of blankets or coverings, suddenly heaved up off one of the low benches, shouting hoarsely in a language Jacen did not recognize. Jacen’s hand immediately connected with his lightsaber hidden under his cloak, though he did not ignite it. He watched carefully as the figure untangled from the coverings and stood.

The being, that Jacen assumed was male though he couldn’t yet be sure, shook itself lightly. Grayish brown hair ruffled over its body, gradually settling back down smoother. Jacen idly wondered what had brought this one to Tatooine, surely he wasn’t native to the planet, not with that hair. He wore a colorful combination of clothes, accented with heavy gold and silver jewelry. His feet in the tall brown boots seemed overlarge for the rest of his body but then so did his long fingered hands.

He rumbled again at Jacen in the strange language. Then, cocking his head to one side, he carefully spoke in Basic in a surprisingly clear voice. “Ahhh…you must be the Jedi who was coming to visit me. Welcome.” He gave a smooth half-bow and then extended his hand to Jacen.

Jacen hesitated for only half a second before reaching out to shake the other’s hand. The hair on the other’s palm and fingers felt strangely oily but Jacen did not let his revulsion show and instead let a smile of greeting cross his face. “You must be Olnik. I have journeyed far to meet with you. I think you will find it will be profitable for us both.”

Olnik smiled, revealing sharp black teeth, and gestured to a table with cushioned chairs. “I am always looking to make a profit. Let’s sit and be comfortable while we talk about it.”

* * * * * *

Two standard hours later, Jacen stepped out of the shop. He was very pleased with himself. Although, Olnik had received quite a high price for his information, he had remained unaware that Jacen would have paid twice the amount if he had needed to.

Jacen looked around himself at his surroundings. He had taken a circular route earlier, and then had been sidetracked by the vicious sandstorm. He thought he could head back in a quicker, shorter way. He rubbed at his face, feeling the sand that still clung to his skin and stubble of beard. At least it was cooler, the suns well on their way to setting, and long shadows already growing in the narrow streets.

He headed back the way he had come but then took a sharp left at the next street. He walked at a brisk pace, noting that in some areas the sand had been cleared away already. Lights were beginning to flicker in windows set deep in the buildings and houses. The air was no longer as stifling as it had been.

Eventually he reached an area of taller buildings with balconies, apartments maybe, along wider straighter streets. There were stairs and walkways connecting some of the buildings. Here not all of the occupants found the need to cover their faces and Jacen saw that there were a variety of species.

Jacen turned a corner and saw that several official-looking vehicles currently blocked off the street. Something was happening in one of the buildings, the one with the blue doors. He drew his head covering a little closer around his face and wondered if he could casually slip through or if it would be simpler to go around by another street.

As he stood watching a moment among the gathering crowd of onlookers, something seemed to nudge at his senses. Puzzled he scanned the others but could detect nothing amiss. His gaze gradually drew upward to the walkways on the sides of the buildings. A man was walking along the nearest one, not in a hurry but at a steady pace. He was in dark clothing and his face was partly covered, but leaving his eyes exposed. When he drew almost even with the vehicles parked down below, he stopped, holding the balcony rail with a gloved hand.

Jacen eased forward through the crowd, using the Force to make himself almost invisible to anyone who did not look very closely. When he was almost directly under the walkway, the man suddenly glanced down, meeting Jacen’s eyes.

Jacen froze, his heart seeming to come to a stuttering halt. At first he told himself, “It’s Luke. He’s followed me here somehow.” But even though the eyes that looked at him were almost the same clear blue as his uncle’s, he knew it was not Luke.

At first there was only curiosity in the eyes but then that changed…and Jacen saw…recognition. Jacen put a hand to his chest. Why was it so hard to breathe? He felt unsteady, body shaking as with a chill. The man was backing up slowly from the railing and Jacen took a stumbling step closer. “Don’t go…please don’t go. Ani…” He heard his own words as if from a distance and they shocked through him.

Behind him there was a sudden loud disturbance and the crowd surged forward, knocking against Jacen and sending him stumbling. When he had regained his balance and pushed back through the others, he looked up at the walkway to find the man gone. There was no sign of him anywhere but Jacen looked until the streets were empty and the lights slowly winking out in the buildings.

A mistake. A mirage. A variety of explanations ran through his head. He laughed softly, trying to ignore the shaky sound of his voice. The Sith Lord-to-be had been tricked. Most likely by his own mind. Exhausted, he stumbled his way back to his lodgings. He’d rest a few hours and then leave this cursed planet behind him. And he didn’t intend to ever set foot on it again.