(Author's Note: This is Part 9 of the "Vremya" series. My answer to the question of "How many more parts will there be?" is, of course, however many more parts it will take to tell the story effectively. No more, no less. This chapter introduces the final companion of the Exile aboard the Ebon Hawk before she vanishes into the Unknown Regions. So far, Tysyacha has Rodion Beviin, "Basta", T3-M4, and Kreia via holocron. One more to go!)
Even though "Basta" wanted to leave Tatooine as soon as possible, seeing as how we were likely being blackmailed by "Manager Dillan", something told me we should stay for just a few days longer. That "something", of course, was the Force, although I dared not say so in front of either her or Rodion. Rodion still had his suspicions of both the Jedi and the Sith, which I thought to be perfectly natural, considering he was a Mandalorian. As for Basta, she seemed to stare listlessly into space whenever I mentioned the Force. Was she yearning for days long past, or simply tired of hearing about "its will"?
"There's something out there," I said noncommittally, "among the dunes. We should buy a map from the local cantina or Czerka supply shop and explore."
"Sand, sand, and more sand?" Rodion furrowed his brow. "I've had enough of that. It's cool down in the mines, but that blistering heat--and for what?"
"I don't know. Love--just trust me. We'll find out what it is soon enough."
"I can't say I approve." Basta put her red, work-roughened hands on her hips. "You know as well as I how much we need to get off this planet. If we remain, even for just two more days, Dillan may turn us in to the Tatooine authorities. Even though the--incident--happened on Eriadu, if what you say is true, you both are still wanted criminals. Even if only by the Exchange, although I suspect that word has traveled in much bigger circles by now."
Rodion stood between the two of us, his brash young lover and "the drunk", as he had once pointedly called Basta. His gaze was uncertain, and I decided to assuage his doubts. "One afternoon. That's all I ask. If we don't find what I think we're supposed to find by sunset, then we'll leave and not come back."
Rodion turned toward me. "Does this have anything to do with the Force?"
I nodded and noticed the weary sag of his shoulders, combined with his smile.
"All right, let's go. You win this round, Tysyacha, but if it turns out you've led us on a wild bantha chase through the whole Dune Sea, I'm listening to Basta next time." He slipped his arm through mine, and Basta followed softly behind.
It turned out that Iziz, one of the many Jawas who lived in the spaceport of Anchorhead, had set up a small stand selling maps of the Eastern Dune Sea. After eliciting a few directions from him and handing over the hard-won sum of twenty credits, we were on our way toward--what? None of us knew.
One does not know what a hot day is until one has spent it on Tatooine. The mere desert was not enough; two suns also baked this poor world until it was little more than endless hillsides of broiling sand! We tried our best not to trip and fall, surrendering to the scorching depths of the dunes. We also sipped our canteens gingerly, wanting to conserve water in case our trip took longer than we had expected. Luckily, Czerka marker posts were there to guide our way, keeping us from wandering too far off the beaten path...What was this? It seemed to be a monstrous cave, though not too deep--some beast's lair.
"Krayt dragon." Rodion nodded toward me. "A cave that big could only hold a creature that large, and if my eyes prove true, those are some molten scales and petrified droppings lying around." He wrinkled his nose. "Darling, if you think we've earned cleanup duty, then I'm sorry to say you're wrong."
My whole body tensed. "There's something moving around. Possibly living in there. See?" I pointed to where I thought the figure was, but all we saw were flitting shadows. "Come on. Let's walk in closer and investigate."
"I'll stay back," said Basta, "in case any hulak wraid or banthas show up."
Did she roll her eyes? No matter. My Mandalorian mate and I snuck up further toward the yawning maw of the cavern, dark and ready to swallow us. It turned out I was right--there was
something moving in there, or rather someone,
and he or she (I couldn't tell by the light) peered at us.
"Who goes there? Friend or foe? If it's foe, I know how to use a lightsaber."
A male voice--older-sounding, I thought, than either Rodion's or mine. He might have been Basta's age, from the way his figure slightly shuffled as it moved. I raised my palms in surrender, but Rodion kept one wary hand on the hilt of the blaster at his belt. It was very high-powered, as I'd discovered back on Eriadu. "Friends, I think," I said, my heart pounding. "Definitely not foes. I'm Tysyacha Dvyx, by the way, and this is my partner, Rodion Beviin."
"Jolee Bindo." He suddenly emerged into the merciless blaze of Tatooine's suns. "I'm an archivist for the Jedi Order, although I no longer consider myself part of such. There was a time when I--hmm?" Jolee paused and scratched his head, wiping the sweat from one of his snow-white brows. "Anyway, I've come here to scrounge up some holocrons that I thought might be in here from the time Darth Revan passed this way. Nothing. Go figure. At least the for-profit companies pay for pointless scavenger hunts like this one." He sat cross-legged on the sand, or rather above
the sand, levitating for a bit.
"Mr. Bindo?" I asked. "We're also on a--scavenger hunt of sorts. We're trying to locate Darth Revan, just like you, although he's no longer Darth anymore."
"Who said I was trying to find Revan? All I mentioned was some holocrons."
I slyly winked at him. "It looks like we've done you one better. Come with us, and you'll have more than holocrons to watch out for. We're all going into the Unknown Regions--Rodion, Basta, and I. Basta's name, by the way, is really--"
"Mmph." Jolee shook his head again. "You've got a deal, if only for me to get off this planet. Should have known better than to trust the Jedi fully, or at least not to be so stupid as to get suckered into one of their more dead-end assignments. Sacrifice and discipline are key, they say, but I admit I practice neither. The Jedi are all right, but I'm glad I'm not really one anymore."
Just like Basta,
I thought, and then, Why is her look so distant?
We departed the Dune Sea, collected our credits, and prepared for takeoff...