Chapter 1: Shmi Skywalker
Even at the height of their power, the Jedi Order's influence never extended beyond the borders of the Republic. For most of those who dwelt in the Outer Rim, Jedi were little more than a distant rumour, their faith a relic of ancient, outdated myths. Tatooine was no exception.
Certainly the Jawas and Sand People believed in the Force – as an enemy god, vengeful and diabolical. To the homesteaders, it was mere sorcery, something to be feared and kept at a safe distance, while few others acknowledged its existence at all. Of all the peoples of Tatooine, only the Alsarai worshipped it outright.
To them, the Force was sacred. They revered the never-seen Jedi and among themselves, reserved positions of the greatest authority and honour for their own anakyria, the Chosen.
Anakyria walked with the Force, guiding their traders on the earth and their pilots in the sky. The stronger ones served for decades on end, but even the weakest could reasonably expect to command a caravan or a starship at some point.
Shmi was not weak.
“I don’t see why I shouldn’t have my own ship,” she said, scowling at her breakfast.
“You’re too young, Shmi,” her mother said tiredly. “Besides, I need you here. I’ll sponsor you next season, but for now -- ”
“That’s what you said last year!”
Shmi’s oldest sister, Lukia, glanced from one to the other, biting her lip. “Mother, she’s right. You did promise. And she’s almost two years older than I was when I got my first ship.”
“I can’t sponsor her right now. She’ll have to wait just like Ladhri did.”
Shmi slammed her spoon down. “She is sitting right here!”
“Shmi,” Lukia said, “if you want a ship that badly, I could speak for you. It wouldn't be worth much – nothing like what you'd get if Mother or Grandmother did it – but there are a few freighters that need navigators.”
“Their usual navigators aren't even anakyria – they'd be very lucky to get one at all, let alone one as strong in the Force as you are. You could have your own ship, get some experience, and they'd be grateful to have you.”
“You wouldn’t make it a month,” said their mother fondly.
Shmi’s eyes narrowed. “I’d be grateful for any appointment you could get me,” she said. “Thanks, Lukia.”
The council proved amenable.
“If your sister is willing to serve on one of the - er - recommended vessels, I can think of no reason why she shouldn’t,” said the Skymaster, shaking her head in bewilderment. Lukia only smiled.
Within the week, Shmi had her appointment, and was given directions to the port. She didn’t need them; she’d gone there almost every day since she was a child, watching the pilots and navigators. It only took her a few minutes to find the ship.
For the first time, she doubted herself. The ship was – well, it was a ship. Technically.
“Does it even fly?” she muttered to herself.
Behind her, a woman laughed. Shmi spun around.
“Sure,” said the woman, “if the wind’s blowing in the right direction. I’m Jenn Teka, by the way – the one who flies this thing, the Force willing. You’re our navigator, right? Lukia’s sister?”
Shmi swallowed. “Yes. I didn’t mean – ”
“And you’re anakyria too? Not just Lukia?”
“Of course!” Shmi saw the captain’s surprise, and hurried to add, “We all are – my mother and sisters and everyone. The Force is strong in my family.”
Teka whistled. “Well, come on up. I can show you around.”
Shmi followed her, hoping that the interior looked a little more impressive, or at least more functional, than the ramshackle exterior. To her relief, nothing appeared to be in urgent need of repair.
“I’ve been wanting to upgrade the rear thrusters,” Teka said chattily, “but we figured we’d need a navigator if we were ever going to do more than scrape by. Never thought we’d get a proper skywalker, of course – with you along, we’ll make up the requisition fee in no time. Maybe even get an astrodroid.” She grinned. “Damn, nobody’s going to believe this.”
“My mother didn’t,” Shmi said, then flushed bright red. Teka only laughed.
“I bet she didn’t. Oh, here’s the navigator’s cabin. I’m going to sound like a broken hologram, but we really had no idea you’d be a skywalker, so we didn’t – well, it won’t be like what you’re used to.”
It was neat and clean, and she wouldn’t be sharing it with four sisters.
“It looks wonderful,” said Shmi.
They’d just reached the cockpit when someone stalked through the doorway. She was a tall, rangy woman of about fifty, her black hair cropped short. She scowled at the captain, sparing scarcely a glance for Shmi.
“We don’t have time for this, Tek. I told you to get a real navigator, not one of your - ”
“Madam Skywalker,” Teka said, sketching a half-mocking bow, “meet Díais, first mate of our ship. She keeps me in order.”
“What?” Díais stared at Teka, and then at Shmi. “How – you’re anakyria? What’d you do to end up on a useless piece of rubbish like this?”
Shmi smiled brilliantly. “I wanted to fly,” she said.
Chapter 2: Beru Whitesun
For all the talk about quarrelling females, sometimes women did like other women. Not out of morbid curiosity, or a desire for gossip, or the family’s convenience: they just liked each other. It wasn’t anything extraordinary.
Beru liked Shmi. In fact, she’d liked her from the very first.
At fourteen, Beru couldn’t imagine any life other than the one she lived, or any world beyond the homesteads. Even Anchorhead seemed impossibly busy and exotic; Mos Eisley might as well have been on another planet. Slavery she knew only as a terrible thing that happened far away, to people she didn’t know.
“Hello?” Beru knocked again, her knuckles stinging. “Is anyone home? It’s Beru. I’ve brought the fruit you asked for.”
She whirled around, heart thudding until she saw a woman standing by the kitchen door. She was older and taller than Beru, her dark hair knotted at the back of her neck and her face lined. She looked almost as startled as Beru felt.
“Oh, hello,” said Beru. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you. I’m Beru Whitesun.”
The woman smiled. “I am Shmi Skywalker. Would you like to come in? You must be tired, walking all this way. I can get you some milk.”
“Yes, please,” said Beru, and found herself shepherded into the kitchen before she quite knew what had happened, a glass of cold blue milk in her hand. She wondered vaguely if Shmi didn’t like milk; at any rate, she didn’t pour herself any, but started taking the fruit from Beru’s basket and putting them in a bowl.
“Thanks - uh - Madam Skywalker,” Beru said.
Shmi started, her hand stilling on an apple. “It has been – a very long time since anyone called me that,” she said, almost to herself, then glanced back at Beru. “You may call me Shmi. Everyone does.”
“They won’t if you stay here,” said Beru frankly. “My stepmother and Madam Darklighter have been friends for over twenty years, and I don’t think they’ve used one another’s proper names more than twice. Oh, let me help you.”
“Thank you,” said Shmi, looking surprised. “I do think I shall be here some time, though I won’t have this name for much longer.”
“Oh, you’re going to be married?”
“So I have been given to understand,” said Shmi, with an odd twitch of her mouth.
“That’s nice.” Beru hesitated. “Nobody ever used your surname, at the place you lived before?”
“Mos Espa, and no.”
Beru dropped an orange. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she cried, snatching it up and checking for bruises. “Um, I think it’s fine. I – if you need anything, my family only lives about a half-mile to the east. My sisters or my stepmother or I – well, you’ll be the only woman here, and farm life – it’s probably not what you’re used to. I mean – ”
“I understand,” Shmi said gently. “Thank you, child.”
Beru didn’t think the older woman would actually take her up on the offer, though it was not less sincere for that. However, Shmi sent for her within the fortnight, a few days after her marriage.
Madam Whitesun blinked at the droid. “Of course it’s not inconvenient,” she said, “though I can’t imagine what your mistress wants with her. Beru, are you – Beru! How could you mismanage tying your boots?”
“I don’t know.” Beru grinned. “But I think I’ve got them fixed now.”
She followed the droid to the Lars homestead, then made her way to the kitchen, where Shmi was tinkering with a reconstitutor.
“Oh, Beru! Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“Good morning,” said Beru, amiably confused. “The droid said you needed my help with something. Uh, I’m not good with machines.”
Shmi laughed. “Oh, I can manage this. I requested your assistance in another matter. It seems I am expected to make bread.”
“Well, yes. Probably.” Beru’s brain caught up with her. “You don’t know how?”
“Somehow, cooking was never included among my – ah – duties,” said Shmi, her soft, lilting voice sharpening a little. “Your stepmother, however, mentioned that you have something of an aptitude for it. I fear my incompetence might prove tiresome for a woman of my age, but I thought you might have rather greater patience for me.”
Beru beamed. “Of course, ma’am.”
Ten minutes later, she had discovered that Shmi didn’t know anything. Well, not about bread. She’d got the ancient reconstitutor working better than the Darklighters’ bright new one, and a droid fetching her ingredients even though it didn’t have hands.
Beru stole a glance at Shmi and looked down again.
“You can ask,” said Shmi, fumbling with the dough.
Beru turned bright red. “I was just wondering, where are you from? I can’t place your accent at all – it’s not Coruscanti or Corellian or anything I’ve ever heard before.”
“I am a daughter of Tatooine, as much as you or any of your sisters. My mother’s house was about – fifty miles northeast of here, I think, though of course I cannot say for sure.”
Shmi’s gentle eyes hardened. “Certainly not.”
“I am Alsaraian. I beg your pardon, but we were on . . . less than friendly terms with the Sand People.”
“I’ve never heard of Alsaraians.”
“The Hutts slaughtered my people before you were born,” replied Shmi. “You would have had no opportunity to hear of us.”
“But you lived.”
The corner of Shmi’s mouth twisted into something that nobody could call a smile. “A handful of us were . . . spared.”
Beru flinched. “I’m sorry,” she said inadequately. “It must have been awful.”
“Well, rather.” Shmi laughed a little. “Still, I was better off than many of the other slaves. We had certain freedoms. Even when I got pregnant, I was only beaten a little, and it never got so bad that we couldn’t look after one another.”
Beru decided that she wanted to be Shmi Skywalker Lars when she grew up.
It wasn’t that she felt the slightest desire to become a slave of the Hutts. It wasn’t even that Shmi had lived an extraordinary life, though of course she had. It was Shmi herself.
“Was your life hard before that?” asked Beru, setting a loaf out to raise. “With your people, I mean?”
Shmi considered, pounding her dough into submission. “No,” she said finally. “I had some small difficulties and tribulations, of course, and they seemed enormously significant at the time, but they were nothing. Credits and authority and all the comforts of life came easily to me. By nineteen, I had everything I’d ever wanted.”
Beru suppressed a twinge of envy. Whatever Shmi’s life had once been like, it had turned out worse than hers could ever be. “I guess you didn’t stay home?”
“Oh, no.” Shmi laughed, eyeing her misshapen loaf. “I was a navigator on a spice freighter.”