It was a quiet trip to the safe house. Between Maya feeling mortified, Darrus staring mutely at her, and Vaaro trying very hard to become the first invisible Rodian in galactic history, there was no conversation. No motion. Hardly any breathing.
The ARC-170 tore past the Wastes in less than an hour, getting them to where Vaaro had been setting up for nearly a week. The place wasn't truly ready but as Maya had pointed out, that didn't matter any more. Stormtroopers were dead. The Empire might officially be over now but on worlds like Tattooine, white armor was still something to be feared.
And something that would be avenged.
There were a few factors in the lady's favor. The repair bay hadn't been specifically licenced to her or to Vaaro; it was an abandoned bay with no clear owner that lots of people in Mos Espa used as they needed. As such, there was no data trail linking the site to Maya. That helped.
In addition, no one here had any knowledge of her affiliation or service to the Rebellion. She'd come to Tattooine following the Battle of Hoth, so she was considered a local. The Imperials wouldn't be able to single her out for the incident. There would be questions and an investigation, surely, but with attacks on stormtroopers and anyone in grey uniforms on the rise since Endor, four dead Palpatine-lovers might have to wait in line for their revenge.
Not that this cleared either her or Vaaro; the Rodian knew that quite well. If they didn't go back soon, their absence would look suspicious. They would need to be able to look the Intel agents in the eyes and lie about their activities or their involvement might come out anyway.
Well, he would have to lie. Knowing Maya like he did, she would try to find some way to throw off suspicion without actually saying something that wasn't true. She was odd that way. He didn't understand her, but they'd been through too much over the past few years for him not to know how she did things. In truth, he appreciated her oddities. Life was never boring around the Transverse Tavern.
So did this change things? He hoped not. Personally, he wasn't all that fond of the dark-eyed human they were leading into the weather-worn house so deep in the trackless deserts of Tattooine. Vaaro didn't much like anything that disrupted his life and this "Jedi" was most certainly a disruption of the highest order.
Of course, Jedi might not be the right word for this man. Humans across the galaxy might have short memories but Rodians did not. Their people remembered things long after the pink-skins forgot them. The Jedi weren't the only wielders of the Force, nor were they necessarily the most powerful. Vaaro's race might have many famous mystics to their credit, but there were stories of beings in the distant past with powers and abilities like this quiet, shadowy human.
Those entities were not called Jedi.
They were called the Sith.
Vaaro didn't know what to make of this newcomer but he knew what kind of power he had over Maya. The human woman was always taking in strays, but this was the first time she'd ever killed for one. This was the first person she'd ever left her bar to protect. There was something going on here and while Vaaro didn't understand it all, he was sure of one thing.
He was sure he didn't like it. Not at all.
So now here they all were, sitting in a rundown hut on the edge of the Dune Sea with a day's worth of water and a small amount of food. There was supposed to have been more but the nearby shed where Vaaro had stored it all was sitting open and empty. Only what he'd left in the house was undisturbed. The rest of the area had bantha tracks and footprints everywhere.
Damn Tusken. They hadn't come into the hut but they'd run roughshod over everything else. Even the vaporator Vaaro'd set up behind the house was gone, literally ripped from its stone base and hauled away. Bandits and thieves, all of them.
Vaaro looked at his two companions, making a silent wager with himself as to which one might talk first. Right now, his credits were on Maya and he was willing to go triple or nothing the words, "I'm sorry" would be what broke the heavy silence in the sunlit room. The female was always apologising for something; it was a pretty safe bet.
"I'm sorry, Darrus. I..."
Vaaro leaned back, head frills swaying smugly.
The human male, if in fact he even was human, shook his head, dark hair flwoing in the hot breeze of the clay hut's main room. "Don't be. I deserved it."
"No you didn't!" Maya looked up, pleading eyes searching him for any emotional reaction at all. it was a futile hunt; the man's half-shaded face betrayed nothing beyond a strange, impermeable calm. "I told you I could sense emotions! I was just out of control. There was so much going on!"
Darrus nodded, ebon eyes looking into a void only he seemed to see. "I know. I don't blame you."
Vaaro's distraught partner balled up her fist and slammed in into the cushion beneath her. "I blame me! I had no right to hit you. I just... Damn it all. I killed him, Darrus!"
The "Jedi" nodded again, this time with even less response. "And I killed the other three. Don't be upset if you can't keep up."
There was a stunned silence in the room. Vaaro turned his head and stared at the man while Maya gaped. Then, as both of them looked at him, her with widening eyes, Darrus did something neither of them had ever seen.
He smiled. Slightly. And then laughed. Quietly.
"It was a joke."
Vaaro snorted, then chuckled, then howled in amusement. On his homeworld, dark humor was the height of comedy. To him, the man's joking about being a better killer than Maya was the height of comedy. "Good one!" Vaaro chortled.
"You..." Maya looked aghast at both of them. "You are both quite mad!" Still, the ridiculousness of the situation ate at her indignance and as both men in the room kept laughing, she couldn't help but eventually join them. Stress and manic pressure came flooding out of all three, ending up with each one sitting on the floor, gasping for breath between now nearly-silent snickers.
"Yes," Jeht rasped, light-headed, "I do believe we have all gone insane."
Vaaro pointed one suckered fingertip at him. "Speak for yourself, hooman. I never..." He wheezed for air. "I never claimed to be rational in the first place!"
Maya leaned back against the wall, holding her sides and shaking her head. It was all too surreal, but at least she wasn't crying any more. Any more laughter and she would be, though. After the last week, all the emotions pent up and all the pain of loneliness and worry eating away at her, it was such a relief to just let it all go. "You two! I swear..."
The front door of the hut burst inward and two men in dust-coloured robes and wrapped faces shrouded in breathing masks rushed inward. Howling as they raised their bladed staves, the figures ran towards them shouting at the top of their lungs.
Maya didn't understand what they were saying, but she knew what they were. "Damn it, Vaaro! You said this place was clear of Tuskens!" She desperately tried to breathe as she reached for her pistols, praying she could get them out before the raiders reached her.
"No!" The Rodian protested, his own weapon clearing its back holster as he scrambled for what little cover the room offered. "I said I could make sure it was clear! That was before you brought us here four days early!"
Darrus did not speak at all, the mirth draining from his face as he stood to face the Tuskens. "I don't want to harm you. Leave this place and keep your lives." His voice was preternaturally calm and stronger than it had been before. The rasping whisper was still there but there was a presence to it now that made his words carry through the whole room.
Vaaro swung his big rifle around, taking aim at the lead Tusken's chest even as a third and fourth one ran into the hut. Maya had her pistols ready as well, both weapons pointed and ready to spit fire at the touch of their triggers.
"Don't. No hurting. No fighting." Darrus' voice was now ethereal and ever-present. Vaaro and Maya were not so much hearing it as feeling it in their minds. In their souls. From the way the Tuskens were stepping back, they were caught by it as well.
"Weapons down. There is no need for violence here."
Everyone dropped what they were holding. Gaffi sticks and blasters hit the ground, clattering as disarmament happened on both sides. Vaaro was staring at his hands, shocked as his body was acting completely against his will.
"This place is ours for now. Please leave us in peace. When we have gone, you are welcome to it. Now go."
The Tuskens did not even hesitate. The word to leave was given and they acted instantly. Perhaps they moved because they had been told to do so or perhaps utter terror guided their feet. In either case, they fled as quickly as they could run, pouring out of the small hovel and leaping onto their banthas without delay. Within moments, they were gone. They took nothing, leaving their weapons behind and the ARC-170 untouched.
Only the dust of their riding beasts' mammoth strides, settling in the desert wind, remained.
Back in the hut, Vaaro could move again. The first thing he did was get his rifle back. The second thing he did was point it at Jeht.
"Vaaro!" Maya looked horrified. "What are you doing?!?"
Darrus slowly raised one hand and sat down tiredly. "It's all right. I do not blame him." He turned his gaze to the Rodian and gestured for him to lower his blaster. There was no power behind the motion and Varro consequently ignored it completely.
Still taking aim at the center of Darrus' body, Vaaro spit vehemently, "You were in my mind, hooman! You controlled me! You are no Jedi!"
Jeht looked down, lowering his hand and nodding as black hair fell across his face. "You are probably right, Vaaro. But I'm sorry. To keep the Tusken from attacking, I didn't have a choice. I had to use the same power on everyone."
Then, looking up again, midnight eyes sparkling in the half-light of the hut, "Please forgive me. I had no right to do that to you. I am just so tired of killing."
The next person to talk was, surprisingly, Maya again. Nearly frantic, her voice was one step off shrieking now. "Vaaro, so help me, if you don't put that gun down, you are going to get your new A-Wing as Tatooine's biggest suppository!"
There was silence again. All eyes turned to Maya, who immediately began to blush.
And the manic laughter started all over again...