It’s late afternoon when Shmi feels a tugging in the back of her mind that tells her to go into the desert. It’s little more than a hunch, but she had a Jedi child, and knows that such things aren’t always without reason. The Force works in mysterious ways, and this is not Shmi’s first time as the conduit of choice.
She takes the rifle.
“Ma?” Owen questions, when he sees her pulling on her shoes. “Where’re you headed?”
“Something’s off,” Shmi tells him. “I’m going to find out what.”
“I’ll come,” Owen tells her. She doesn’t stop him.
It’s not as hot as it could be, but it’s still not the best of weather. Shmi hands the rifle off to Owen to carry, because he’s the better shot, and they walk for an hour and a half before Shmi spots the disturbance.
This is not the first body Shmi has found among the sands, but it’s one of the few that still has a pulse. The woman is dressed like she’s from closer to the Core, though Shmi can’t say she’s seen the style in even holos, or Gardulla’s. The fabric is soft and knitted, with a hood and zippers and other things that don’t quite fit into the desert lifestyle. There’s no sign of a craft, and Shmi doesn’t find any hint of broken bones or anything else that would suggest the woman fell from a passing ship.
“Any idea where she came from?” Owen asks.
“No,” Shmi says, biting her lip and looking the woman over. “Here, you carry her. I’ll take the blaster.”
The walk back is longer, but they make it by dusk. The woman doesn’t wake up, and for all that she doesn’t seem too badly burnt by the suns, they all know the risk of being asleep, or unconscious, in the day. Heat stroke isn’t always visible.
“Too pale for a local, even if we ignore the clothes,” Beru mutters. “Think she ran from some slavers before they could chip her?”
“It’s the likeliest option,” Shmi says. “I’ll have Threepio keep an eye on her overnight. He can get us if she wakes up.”
The woman does not wake by breakfast, nor by the time that they’re all to start work. Shmi’s staying in the house today, mending clothes and small tools at the table, while the others work on the vaporators. She keeps an ear out for the other room, but it’s not until nearly lunch that Threepio calls for her.
Awake, the woman has slightly more color to her, but still not nearly enough for Tatooine. She sits against the corner of the bed, calm but watchful, head tilted ever so slightly.
“Hello, miss,” Shmi says, with a smile she’d usually use on the more terrified slaves that pass through her home on the way to freedom. “You gave us quite the fright.”
The woman blinks. There is no comprehension on her face.
Shmi wonders if the woman is quite as young as she looks. Tatooine ages everyone too soon, so a Core girl like this is probably closer to Shmi’s age than she thinks.
“Can you give us a name?” Shmi prods. “Or tell us where you need to go?”
The woman blinks again, and then quietly says, “Ja nijeznam vaš jezik.”
Shmi turns to Threepio. “I don’t suppose one of your six million languages is that one?”
“I’m terribly sorry Miss Skywalker, but I’m afraid I have no idea what the language is.”
Well, that’s unfortunate. Still, Shmi hasn’t made it this far by quitting easily. She points to herself. “Shmi.”
The woman nods, and points to herself. “Wanda.”
“Hello, Wanda. It’s nice to meet you.”
Threepio is a blessing, in this situation. For all that he’s largely useless for work out on the vaporators, he’s a magnificent translator, and having processors built for language usage means that language acquisition education is dead simple for him. Wanda seems at ease with miming when she needs to, and appears to thank the droid whenever he helps her. Shmi decides to take it as a good sign, that Wanda treats a droid as one would a person. The woman is quiet and doesn’t smile much, but she slides in to chop some tubers when Shmi sets them aside while prepping for dinner, after the rest of the family has come and gone.
“Oh, you don’t—you don’t need to do that.”
Wanda looks up at her, blinks, and tilts her head. She goes back to chopping the tubers.
Shmi would rather the woman lie back down, considering how long she was unconscious, but it’s not like there’s room to argue with a complete language barrier. She settles for naming items for Wanda, who nods and repeats them, and then tells Threepio what they are in her own language. He has a better memory than any human does for this sort of thing, which means that when the two of them forget something, he’ll be there to play translator. They get through the dinner prep with a vocabulary built on foods and knives and furniture, and Shmi gestures for Wanda to sit while the actual cooking happens.
More words, while they wait. Body parts, mostly, because those are easy to play charades with, and then some miming of emotions. Wanda’s mouth and tongue curl oddly around some of the consonants, but she usually gets it within a few tries.
The others come home, and introduce themselves, and they eat dinner. There are sidelong glances and hesitant questions, but Shmi can’t share much beyond what they already guessed.
They don’t know what to do with her.
Wanda ventures outside only at night, and Shmi hears her singing, low and mournful. The heat is too much, most likely, and Wanda doesn’t seem particularly worried about anything that might constitute a danger. Cliegg offers her a blaster once, just in case she wanders, but Wanda just looks at it.
“No,” she says, and then hesitates, like she wants to say more, but lets her words end there.
It isn’t clear why she has no fear until Beru trips one day, and drops a jar. It’s the kilned one Shmi got as a wedding gift, and she feels her stomach twist at the sight. Beru looks horrified at herself, staring at the shards, and Threepio dithers and frets as only he can.
Wanda emerges from the guest room, looks at the tableau before her, and then kneels at the broken jar and waves a hand over it. Red wisps of something trail after her tensed fingers, and the shards fly back together. They meld without so much as a seam to show the break.
She stands and hands it to Beru, who simply stares.
Wanda smiles, brittle as bone, and says, “magija.”
“Magic,” Shmi says, and leaves it at that.
Wanda looks hesitant, but then Beru puts the jar to the side and rushes off. Wanda’s tiny, hopeful baring of teeth closes away, bitter and disappointed, but Beru runs back in. Her hands are clutched around Owen’s belt, one that snapped a few months back. They’d held onto in hopes of being able to use the scraps of synth-leather on something else later, because there is no room for waste in their lives.
She holds it out to Wanda and asks, “Can you fix this?”
The gesture is clear, even if the words might not be ones that Wanda remembers.
More red, and the rip in the belt is gone. It’s good as new.
“Oh,” Beru says, and shares a look with Shmi.
Well. It looks like they don’t need to worry about stretching their finances to cover for Wanda. The woman can pull her own weight.
Wanda moves about with Owen and Cliegg more after that, riding out to the vaporators. She can’t fix anything complex with a wave of her hands, but her magic is faster at moving sand to unearth things than the shovels are. It saves time, enough that a three-day sandstorm only buries the machines for a few hours instead of a few days. They still need to perform repairs, but at least they can start them.
They still don’t know what planet Wanda comes from, because “Terra” means nothing to them, nor do any of the other names she suggests. When they mention a few core planets in hopes that she can at least name a sector, Wanda just tilts her head and furrows her brow.
“Wild Space,” Owen decides. Nothing else makes sense. Wanda shrugs and lets it slide.
They don’t learn much.
One time, Beru asks after Wanda’s family.
The response is… well. They teach her the words for death and all such things. They teach her other words, when she asks and mimes.
Bombs. War. Brother. Twin. Children. Husband.
All dead, it seems.
It’s a waste of water to cry in the desert, and Shmi knows that Wanda’s learned as much by now. She ducks her head and doesn’t meet their eyes.
It is not the first hard conversation they have. It is not the last.
She goes out to the desert of her own initiative one day, asking Owen to take her to where they first found her. He tells Shmi about it later, how Wanda roamed about and had sand floating about them in a cloud dozens of meters wide, until she found what she wanted.
It’s a book, black and heavy and ominous. It’s even made of real paper, wrapped in what looks like leather. Wanda doesn’t much seem to like it, but it’s important to her, so Shmi ignores the whisper of danger that creeps through her mind whenever she steps to close.
“It brought me here,” Wanda tells her. “I cannot go back, so I will learn what I can.”
Shmi doesn’t ask.
The first time an escaped slave passes through their home, it’s in the dead of night. They keep it quiet, in a hidden room, and Wanda doesn’t find out.
The second time, it is the same.
The third, something goes wrong during a surgery to remove the explosive, and the screaming wakes her.
“What are you doing?” she demands, the words slipping out more easily with every passing day.
They are holding the man down, his leg open and bleeding, and trying to save his life. It’s probably not a good look.
“Removing a slave chip,” Shmi bites out. “Please leave.”
Wanda mouths the words to herself, brow furrowed in the way it does when she doesn’t quite know what’s going on.
It processes, though not quickly, and perhaps not even fully. It doesn’t matter which, because she steps forward and puts a hand near the man’s leg, and Shmi’s breath catches in her throat. Wanda pulls away, fingers dripping with red power but no red blood, and the chip comes floating out.
The man still screams, but the worst is over.
“I do not… I can not help the body,” Wanda says. “But I can do this. This is what you wanted out, yes?”
Beru gets to work saving the man’s life.
The man needs to recover over the course of several days, and Beru stays with him in that time. She’s the closest they have to a proper nurse. There is no schooling for medical purposes on Tatooine, but Beru’s family has been doing this for too long to not know how to save a life.
“Shmi,” Wanda says, brow puckered. “What was that?”
Shmi explains. She shows her own scar. She watches Wanda’s brow furrow harder and harder.
“How many slaves?” she asks. “On this planet?”
Shmi tells her.
“Who has power?”
Shmi answers it all, and not once does her gut tell her to stop talking to the woman in her home.
There are more questions, later. Threepio fields them, the languages switching at a rate that makes it clear Wanda’s asking him, specifically, because she doesn’t know the words, not because of any fault on Shmi’s part. It’s worrying.
It’s worse when Wanda disappears a week later.