Everything casts two shadows.
The suns had determined this at the dawn of creation. Brothers, they were, until the younger sun showed his true face to the tribe. It was a sin. The elder sun attempted to kill his brother, as was only proper.
But he failed.
Burning, bleeding, the younger sun pursued his sibling across the sky. The wily old star fled for the hills and safety, but it was his fate never to rest again. For the younger brother had only exposed his face. The elder had exposed his failure.
And others had seen it—to their everlasting sorrow.
The first Sand People had watched the battle in the sky. The suns, dually covered in shame, turned their wrath on the witnesses. The skybrothers’ gaze tore at the mortals, burning through flesh to reveal their secret selves. The Sand People saw their shadows on the sands of Tatooine, and listened. The younger spirit urged attack. The elder told them to hide. Counsels, from the condemned.
The Sand People were condemned, as well. Always walking with the twin shadows of sacrilege and failure beside them, they would hide their faces. They would fight. They would raid. And they would run.
Most Sand People struck at night, when neither skybrother could whisper to them. A’Yark preferred to hunt at dawn. The voices of the shadows were quieter then—and the settlers who infested the land could see their doom clearly. That was important. The elder sun had failed by not killing his brother. A’Yark would not fail, had never failed, in killing settlers. The elder sun would see the example, and learn . . .
. . . now.
A’Yark charged toward the old farmer who had given the cry. The raider’s metal gaderffii smashed into the human’s naked chin, shattering bone. A’Yark surged forward, knocking the victim to the ground. The settler struggled, coughing as he tried to repeat the cry. “Tuskens!”
Years earlier, other settlers had given that name to the Sand People who obliterated Fort Tusken. The raiders back then had welcomed the name into their tongue; it was proof the walking parasites had nothing the Sand People could not take. But A’Yark couldn’t stand to hear the proud name in the mouths of the appalling creatures—and few were as ugly as the bloody settler now writhing on the sand. The human was ancient. Apart from a bandage from a recent head injury, his whitish hairs and withered flesh were exposed to the sky. It was horrible to see.
A’Yark plunged the hefty gaderffii downward, its metal flanges crushing against the settler’s rib cage. Bones snapped. The weapon’s point went fully through, grinding against the stone surface beneath. The old settler choked his last. The Tusken name again belonged only to the Sand People.
Immediately A’Yark charged toward the low building, a short distance ahead. There was no thought to it. No predator of Tatooine ever stopped to reflect on killing. A Tusken could be no different.
To think too long was to die.
The human nest was a wretched thing, something like a sketto hive: scum molded and shaped into a disgusting half bulb, buried in the sand. This one was formed from that false rock of theirs, the “synstone.” A’Yark had seen it before.
Another shout. A pasty white biped with a bulging cranium appeared in the doorway of the building, brandishing a blaster rifle. A’Yark discarded the gaderffii and lunged, ripping the gun from the startled settler’s hands. A’Yark did not understand how a blaster rifle tore its victim apart, but understanding wasn’t necessary. The thing had a use. The marauder put it to work on the settler, who had no use.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. The settlers did have a use: to provide more rifles for the Tuskens to take. It might have been a funny thought, if A’Yark ever laughed. But that concept was as alien as the white-skinned corpse now on the floor.
So many strange things had come to live in the desert. And to die.
Behind, two more raiders entered the structure. A’Yark did not know them. The days of going into battle flanked by cousins were long since past. The newcomers began flipping crates in the storage area, spilling contents. More metal things. The settlers were obsessed with them.
The warriors were, too—but it wasn’t time for that. A’Yark barked at them. “N’gaaaiih! N’gaaaiih!”
The youths didn’t listen. They were not A’Yark’s sons. A’Yark had but one son, now, not quite old enough to fight. Nor did these warriors have fathers. It was the way, these days. Mighty tribes had become mere war parties, their ranks constantly evolving as survivors of one group melted into another.
That A’Yark led this raid at all bespoke their misery. No one on the attack had lived half as long as A’Yark had, or seen so much. The best warriors had fallen years before; these youths certainly wouldn’t live to vie for leadership. They were fools, and if A’Yark did not kill them for their foolishness, they would die some other way.
Not this morning, though. A’Yark had chosen the target carefully. This farm was close to the jagged Jundland Wastes, far from the other villages—and it had few of the vile structures by which the residents wrenched water from a sky none could own. The fewer spires—vaporators, the farmers called them—the fewer settlers. Now, it would seem, there were none. Except for the young warriors fumbling, all was quiet.
But A’Yark, who had lived to see forty cycles of the starry sky, was not fooled. A weapon stood beside the doorway leading outside. The old human’s, left by accident? Rifle to silvery mouthpiece, A’Yark sniffed.
No. With one swift motion, A’Yark smashed the weapon against the doorjamb. The rifle had been used to kill a Tusken. The smell of sweat from another day still clung to the stock. It differed from the old human’s scent, and that of the white creature the settlers called a Bith. Someone else was here. But the rifle could not be used now, nor ever again.
A weapon that killed a Tusken had no more power than any other, so far as A’Yark was concerned; such superstitions were for weaker minds. But just as Tuskens prized their banthas, the settlers seemed to prize individual rifles, etching symbols on their stocks. The human that carried this one was more formidable than the old man and the Bith creature, but he would have to resort to something new and unfamiliar next time. If he survived the day.
A’Yark would see that he didn’t.
The war leader reclaimed the gaderffii from the floor and shoved past the looting youths. Footsteps in the sand led around back, where three soulless vaporators hummed and defiled. A small hut for servicing the foul machines sat behind them.
Fitting. A’Yark would make the inhabitants bleed for using the vaporators. Slowly, and so the suns would see. What the settlers had stolen would return to the sand, a drop at a time.
“Ru rah ru rah!” A’Yark called, straining to remember the old words. “We is here in peace.”
No answer. Of course, there would be none—but someone was surely inside and had heard the words. The warrior was proud of remembering them. A human sister had joined A’Yark’s family years ago; the Tuskens often replenished their numbers by kidnapping. The band needed reinforcements now, but would not take anyone here. The settlers’ presence so near the wastes was too great an offense. They would die, and others would see, and the Jundland would be left alone.
The other warriors filed from the house and surrounded the service hut. The Tuskens numbered eight; none could challenge them. Cloth-wrapped hands curled around the shaft of an ancient gaderffii, A’Yark inserted the traang—the curved end of the weapon—into the door handle.
The metal door creaked open. Inside, a quivering trio of humans huddled amid spare parts for the thirst machines. A black-haired woman clutched a swaddled infant, while a brown-haired male held them both. He also held a blaster pistol.
It was the owner of the busted rifle—and A’Yark could tell he was missing the weapon now. Swallowing his fear, the young man looked right into A’Yark’s good eye. “You—go! We’re not afraid.”
“Settlers lie,” A’Yark said, the strange words startling the humans almost as much as they startled the other Tuskens. “Settler lies.”
Eight gaderffii lifted to the sky, their spear-points glinting in the morning light. A’Yark knew some would land true. And the old skybrother above would see again what real bravery was—
The sound echoed over the horizon. As one, the war party looked north. The sound came again, louder this time. Its meaning was unmistakable.
The youngest Tusken in the party said it first: krayt dragon!
The warrior-child spun—and stumbled over his own booted feet, landing mouthpiece-first in the sand. The others looked to A’Yark, who turned back toward the hut. The war leader had seen enough human faces to read expressions—but even to a seasoned marauder, the visages were startling.
The farmer and his wife didn’t just appear relieved. They looked defiant.
In the presence of a krayt? The greatest predator Tatooine knew, after the Tuskens? Yes, A’Yark saw. And that wasn’t all. The young mother was clutching something, beside the baby, in her free hand.
A’Yark barked a command to the warriors, but it was too late. With the horrific sound in the air, none would stand. The two looters from earlier nearly trampled the fallen youth as they darted away, trying to remember where they’d set their stolen goods. The others clutched their gaderffii to their chests and fled behind the main hut.
Wrong. Wrong! This wasn’t what A’Yark had taught them. Not at all! But they scattered before they even knew where the dragon was, leaving their leader alone with the settlers. The young farmer kept his blaster pointed at A’Yark, but did not fire. Perhaps he’d calculated the risk, deciding the unfired weapon was more of a deterrent than a shot by a shaky hand.
It didn’t matter. If the settlers had hoped for a distraction, they had gotten one. A’Yark snorted and stepped backward, tan robes swirling.
The warriors were running this way and that. A’Yark yelled, but no one could be heard over the din. There was something unnatural about the sound. But what? No one would pretend to be a krayt dragon! If any could, it would never sound so—
No mistaking that, A’Yark thought. The moan of the dragon had resolved itself into a head-splitting shrill, far beyond the capacity of any lungs. It was coming loudest from a new source, immediately apparent: a horn attached to one of the silver spires in the middle of the farm. And there were similar sounds, emanating from over the hills to the north and east.
A’Yark stood in the middle of the yard, gaderffii raised aloft. “Prodorra! Prodorra! Prodorra!”
The young looters appeared again, running over a crest back toward the farm. A’Yark exhaled through rotten teeth. At least someone had heard, over the racket. Now, at least, maybe they could—
Blasterfire! An orange blaze enveloped one of the runners from behind. The other turned in panic, only to be incinerated as well. A’Yark crouched instinctively, seeking cover behind the accursed vaporator.
“Wa-hooo!” A metallic wave, copper and green, swept over the dune. A’Yark recognized it right away. It was the landspeeder that had haunted them before at the Tall Rock. And now, as then, several settler youths clustered in its open interior, hooting and firing wildly.
A’Yark darted behind a second vaporator, suddenly more confident. There was no dragon, only settlers. The Tuskens could be rallied against them, if they stood true.
But they weren’t standing. One fled toward the nothingness of the east, and A’Yark could see two more landspeeders racing after him. And the clumsy young warrior—who had barely survived the rites of adulthood days before—hid behind the hut, clutching at the sands in cowardice. Only the suns knew where the others had gone.
The first speeder circled the settlement, its riders showering fire on nothing in particular. And now another hovercraft arrived. Fancier, with sloping curves, the silver vehicle carried two humans in an open compartment protected by a windshield. A grim, hairy-faced human steered the vessel as his older passenger stood brazenly up in his seat.
A’Yark had seen the passenger before, at a greater distance. Clean-shaven, older than most Tuskens ever got—and always wearing the same senseless expression.
The Smiling One.
“More to the south, folks!” the standing human said, macrobinoculars in hand. “Keep after ’em!”
A’Yark didn’t need to know all of the words. The meaning was clear. The missing warriors weren’t nearby, ready to strike. The band, routed, had taken flight.
Seeing the tall human’s landspeeder, the cowering young Tusken from earlier squealed and stood. Leaving his gaderffii on the ground, he bolted.
“Urrak!” A’Yark yelled. Wait!
Too late. Another landspeeder banked—and the hollering riders aboard chopped the fleeing Sand Person down with blast after blast. Not six days a warrior, and dead in seconds.
This was too much. A’Yark rose, weapon in hand, and dashed behind the hut. Away from where the laughing settlers, aware only of their killing, could see. Ragged fabric flew as the warrior tumbled over a dune into a dusty ravine. Another dune followed, and another.
At last, A’Yark fell to the ground, gasping. Three had been lost—maybe more. And the Sand People couldn’t afford to lose anyone.
Worse, they’d lost to settlers using a low trick no Tusken four years earlier would’ve fallen for. The settlers would know now: the mighty Tuskens were not what they once were.
Struggling to stand, A’Yark looked down at the ground. The elder shadow lengthened. Like the older brother sun, the band had struck—and failed.
It was time for the Tuskens to hide. Again.
Orrin Gault towered over the farm, a lofty witness as some Tuskens ran for their lives—and others ran to their deaths. Clinging to the side of the vaporator tower, he watched the last landspeeder disappear over the horizon.
“Okay, Call Control, that’s got it,” he said into his comlink. “Shut it down.”
He released the comlink button and listened. His ears still rang from the alarm atop the tower, which he had just deactivated by hand. Peering out from beneath the canvas brim of his range hat, he scanned the landscape. One by one, the sirens kilometers away went quiet—and silence returned to the desert.
He looked at the comlink and cracked a grin. Orrin, son—that’s some pull you’ve got there. It was nice to reach a point in life where people did what you said. And on Tatooine, where the people were born cussed and nobody took orders from anyone else, it meant even more.