He had sand everywhere. It was in his hair, it was in his clothes. It was in his boots, it was in his gloves. There was sand in his hood and in his mouth. He could taste sand, he could smell sand. There was so much of it in his ears, all he could hear was sand. The Trackless Sea was aptly named aside from the vague allusion to water, which didn't seem to exist anywhere out here. Dune after dune he had walked and nothing seemed to change except his rapidly diminishing strength.
He was walking at least. He'd been resting in space long enough for that. Channeling the Force, meagre as it was, had been enough to set things right in his body. He couldn't really claim to be fully healed, but the crack along his spine and his broken ribs were at least repaired to the point of functionality. He could, and had been for hours now, walk. For now, it was enough.
The ARC-170 had come out of hyperspace far too close to Tattooine, an error in the navigational computer's calculations. Not knowing the precise time, the craft's astromech had been forced to estimate the location of the planet based on stellar data. Obviously, the estimate had come up a bit short. Instead of 100,000 kilometers of clearance from Tattooine's orbital ring, his ship had materialized less than a 1,000 kilometers from the desert planet's surface.
What had followed was one of the roughest landings in Darrus' personal experience. Apparently, with enough speed and just the right approach vector, an ARC-170 can "skip" across sand dunes like a pebble on a still pond. He still ached from that little discovery.
With the ship completely out of fuel and no emergency vehicle aboard, his only choice had been to put his new found ambulatory limbs to use. Scavenging what he could from the ARC-170, he'd set out on this path solely on the hunch that civilization could be found in its approximate direction. He wasn't basing that theory on anything factual; as a Jedi, he trusted his instincts. His feelings said to go this way, so go this way he did.
Over his shoulders, the results of his ship looting clattered with each step. He wasn't unarmed any more. The craft had been carrying three DC-15A clone rifles, one of which was slung across his back. The contents of three emergency ration kits were stuffed into whatever pouches and pockets he could scrounge. He was still in the remains of his armor and robes, though he'd taken the time to tear away the burned or melted pieces. Debrising one's self in a fighter cockpit was not an experience Jeht wished to have again any time soon... or ever.
He also had a small stack of Republic credit vouchers, though he doubted they would have much worth here. It was the closest thing to currency he possessed and he suspected anything to be had here would need repayment in kind. He did not expect to find much by way of compassion on the independent world of Tattooine.
Of course, all of that was academic if he didn't make it to civilization. Step after step brought him one staggering footfall deeper into the desert wastes and left an ever-lengthening path behind him back to his crashed ship. The ARC-170 was probably spaceworthy, even after her hard landing, but she'd need fuel before she was going anywhere.
"She needs fuel," Jeht mused. "I need fuel." He took another sip of his canteen. It held a liter of pure water and he had two others. He needed to conserve them; they were literally his life out here. When the water ran out, so too would he shortly thereafter. The heat was not helping; his species, whatever it was, did not deal well with heat. He had already adjusted his ragged clothing to keep from cooking in the planet's double sunlight but perspiration would soon become an issue.
Already he could feel the relentless march of sweat rolling down his face and along his pine. His skin was wet, a blessing of cool comfort but also a bad sign of how much water he'd be going through. If he could not find civilization before the heat leeched all the water from his body, well...
It occurred to Jeht that life shouldn't have to be this hard. Even in the phrase "frying pan into the fire" there were only two perilous situations. He was WAY past two hazards and working on at least number five now. Existence had to get easier eventually, right? Didn't it? Could every day from now on be a struggle just to survive?
Sadly, he knew it could be. He'd visited many worlds as a General in the Republic Army and seen indigent species so traumatized by the depredations of war that their eyes were just hollow. They'd had no hope, even when the Republic had freed them and moved on to the next world. Yes, "freed them" to live in bombed out cities and "rescued them" from their planetary economies, which went into the Republic's coffers to pay for the aid the Army had just rendered.
Jeht closed his eyes, shielded as best they could be under a wrap of gray cloth. Had he really been so blind to the truth behind the Separatists and the war? The whole thing had been a cataclysm, an apocalyptic crucible fired and tended by a single man to melt down the galaxy and reforge the stars themselves according to his twisted ambition.
He saw it clearly now; why hadn't he before?
As his tired feet plied across the infinite dunes, he accepted the dark truth. "Truly blind, he is, that will see not." Yoda had told him that the day he'd left Coruscant to travel to Almas with Republic marching orders. That had been one of the darkest days of Darrus' life, ordering Knights and Padawans to take up arms and join the military. Now, he realized, it had also been one of his most ignorant. Willfully myopic where the Republic and its motives were concerned, he had worn his blinders proudly in the name of galactic justice . He had let himself be used.
No, he added with a sorrowful sigh, he had done worse than that. he had let himself be the instrument by which many others were used. 38 Jedi had accepted the orders he gave them. 38 souls had been fed to the Grand Chancellor's war machine. He had no doubt all of them were now dead - deaths he could never hope to atone for.
He'd likely be joining them soon, he noted as he drank the last few sips of the first canteen and let it fall from his grasp into the sand. There was no sense carrying the weight of an empty container, especially when he had more. He couldn't carry the burden of despair either. With all the fortitude he could muster, he let go of his guilt as best he could.
Yes, he was responsible in some way for the tragedy that had befallen his brothers and sisters of Almas. Right now, he was too busy trying to save his own live to wallow in self-pity. It was a laudable resolve but in practice, he only felt marginally relieved. Still, it was enough.
And slightly lightened, slightly sunburned, and covered in stinging, acrid sweat, he continued on his way. One sand-laden boot step at a time...
He stared at the bottom of his last canteen. How many days had it been now? Three? Four? The Force had kept him going but there were limits to what it could stave off. Hunger and thirst were enemies no lightsaber could defeat. Of course, he didn't have one anyway, so any enemy right now stood a good chance of taking him down.
He had a rifle, but not the strength to lift it. He had the Force, but not the presence of mind to wield it. He had the desire to keep moving, to keep walking across the dunes, but not the physical ability to do so.
His next step was his last. He groaned as every muscle in his body gave out at the same time. The animating energy that had drawn him this far could simply sustain him no longer.
Darrus pulled the mask away from his face, trying to catch his breath in a desperate attempt to fire himself up for another few steps. No good. His lungs burned as the hot desert air scorched them for the millionth time. He felt his knees give out and he sank down onto his legs painfully. His fading eyes caught the faintest glimmer of metal in the distance before they rolled back into unconsciousness.
Then he fell, his back landing on the unforgiving sand, and passed out.
The glimmer drew closer, resolving into a landspeeder within a few moments. Moving straight towards the fallen Jedi, it stopped a few meters short of where he'd fallen. Two figures, both wrapped in protective desert gear, leaped out and ran to him quickly.
"Vaaro," the shorter of the two said in a harsh, muffled voice, "clear the back seat and find some water!"
The larger figure nodded and moved to comply. As he did, the smaller one lifted Jeht up and dragged him by his arms to the speeder. "Let's get him back to the bar. He's in bad shape."
"Hurry, Vaaro, hurry!"