Anchorhead was hot, like always. He'd only been out in the open for no more than a minute, but could still feel a few drops of sweat forming along his hairline. Standing just outside the spaceport at the center of the town, Lian wore a simple Jedi tunic with a hooded poncho over the top. It was more practical than the traditional robe, and kept in less heat.
Large crowds streamed out of the spaceport behind him, flocking to whatever accommodation was still available so that they could stay for the legendary swoop race about to begin the next day. It was one of the largest on Tatooine, and made for the busiest few days in the Anchorhead year. Decorative ribbons hung from buildings and across streets, market peddlers set up impromptu stalls selling exotic foods and drinks of all kinds, and cantina crowds flowed onto the streets in a party atmosphere. Beneath this, however, lurked an inexplicable yet ever-present sense of danger. The padawans may have sensed it, too. Lian certainly did, and it kept him on edge. Had their arrival been noticed by something, or someone? Were they being watched? It was impossible to say.
Casting a glance over his shoulder, Lian made certain the two padawans accompanying him were still there. They were. “Stay close, you two. It’s easy to get lost.” His words were blunt, and his tone a little colder than intended, but he was still adjusting to his new role of being 'responsible' for the two. It was as much a learning experience for Lian as it was for the padawans.
His old partner, Rahli, had always nagged at him to train the next generation. She insisted he would be a natural teacher, but he wasn’t so sure. She certainly was, and it was that very fact that had her on Ajan Kloss, teaching, during the attack. It was in her memory that he had decided to, at the very least, try.
“I hope you got your rest on the trip. Today will be busy. First, we need to meet Dex. He’ll be at the station, not far from here.”
He had already briefed the two on what he knew. A sixteen year-old, popular orphan girl by the name of Tallie had vanished without a trace. No longer was she visiting Quarvik at his bakery every morning, nor was she checking in on Dex as she was fond of doing to kill the time. It had been three days since she had vanished, and Dex had an instinct that something was very wrong. Over the years, Lian had come to trust that instinct.
It had been rough rotation this last cycle and she had the feeling that the risks would only be increasing as she grew in skill; that much was to be expected. What had surprised her, however, was that Master Fonwim was not accompanying her on this investigation concerning the missing person’s report. It may well have been that the council needed his skills somewhere else for the time being; he was not forthcoming with the information and she was not one to pry into the affairs of the knight. Still, it would be her first mission without his supervision and it gave her mixed feelings.
Rah’la didn’t want to be excluded from some interesting assignment Oorrl might be pursuing, nor did she wish to be regulated to the supervision of another knight as though she needed a babysitter. Perhaps this was punishment for giving her parents his holo-number? After the Pajama Bandits incident he had been as furious as she could ever recall. Her gaze lifted from the dusty street to the back of the knight before her a bit nervous. Maybe Oorrl was so vexed that he was trying to foist her off on a new Master.
Visibly her spine straightened causing the hood of her robes to shift back onto her shoulders. Though they hung slightly open at the front revealing her dun colored trousers and beige tunic, her lightsaber was hidden yet accessible at her side. Deciding to deal with the issue of her future after their investigation was completed, Rah’la went over the information about the missing Tallie. Hopefully she was off on some romantic adventure rather than having been picked up by slavers or worse. Wordlessly she nodded to Lian after being cautioned to stay close, and as they walked toward the station to meet Dex, she turned to the other Padawan Maiko Sigur and mouthed the words, ’Who’s Dex?’
It was Maiko's first time on Tatooine, and it showed on the way he openly admired Anchorhead.
From the overall excitement around him and the delighted voices floating to and fro, the young padawan had gathered that there was some kind of event that was about to take place. Maiko was curious, to say the least, but he held it off to focus on the reason why he was on the planet with a fellow Padawan and a Jedi Knight in the first place.
An orphan girl by the name of Tallie had gone missing, the disappearance so sudden and had left those who knew her with no reason nor any kind of trace to be used to find her. As if she had vanished into thin air. According to Knight Sheffield's friend, the girl had been missing for three days already and any kind of pursuit nor investigations were all met with a dead end. Maiko felt that this wasn't just a case of a young teenage girl who left so she could pursue an adventure of her own. The Force sent him a gentle warning, the foreboding feeling of danger only increasing in his mind.
He had to be alert. He couldn't afford to disappoint his companions. Master Voran wasn't here to give him directions, and so Maiko would put his trust on his fellow Padawan and the Jedi Knight with much confidence.
Heeding Knight Sheffield's words, Maiko stayed close to his companions and turned to look at Padawan Rahla Vimt just in time to see her mouthing a question.
"Dex Sandrider," he replied as he scooted closer to her so she would be the only one to hear, "is the town's local sheriff."
The grip on his satchel tightened as he briefly gazed away from Rahla to look at their surroundings. "Curious," Maiko muttered absently as his focus shifted back to her. "Why didn't the sheriff call the Sector Rangers for help?"
As the group started to move away from the central square that surrounded the spaceport itself, the streets of Anchorhead grew narrower and the crowds thicker. Music blared from each cantina they passed, and drunken revellers fell into one another with hearty laughs. Pushing their way through the crowds, Lian had to very-well near shout just to be heard.
“There’s a big swoop-race tomorrow. One of the biggest on Tatooine. Seems even more popular than it was when I grew up here.”
His attempt at idle chat was a little stiff, but it was something. He’d be lying if he said he new either of his companions particularly well, but they seemed like a good sort. Lian hoped that they’d learn something from the excursion, if nothing else. Learning to read people, investigate covertly, develop instincts and how to ask the right questions – these were all skills crucial for any Jedi.
The party atmosphere continued as the group made their way down various alleyways and streets. It was an all-out assault on the senses. Smells of exotic foods being freshly prepared at stalls, species of all size and colour shouting to be heard over the music, and the heat. The never-ending, intense heat. There was a wind today in Anchorhead that did little more than blow currents of hot air through the streets, carrying with it the taste of salt from the Chott Salt Flats that Anchorhead sat upon.
Gradually, as they ventured deeper into Anchorhead, the crowds began to lessen until there was but a few stragglers going about their business. Probably locals, not bothered by the race – or those who’d gone too hard and fast with the drinking, and now found themselves struggling home. The sounds of music and cheering crowds could still be heard in the distance, the bass from every beat being especially pronounced.
“Just there.” Lian pointed a finger casually at a small, run-down looking building that sat alone at the end of the street they were walking down. Chipped white paint barely covered the exterior, sporadically exposing the blocks of sandstone behind. It was perhaps better describe as a shack than a building. Outside, a short and stocky Zabrak seemed to take notice of the group, calling out to them.
“Lian! Karking Krayt! C’mere!”
The two were clearly on friendly terms, taking one another in a solid forearm shake.
“It’s been too long, Dex.”
“Yous tellin’ me. What happened t’you and Lana’ coming out here three cycles past, ah?”
Lian pursed his lips into a slight smile at that. The Zabrak wasn’t aware of the attack on Ajan Kloss, how could he be? Now wasn’t the time to get into that, though. They could talk of that later.
“You know how it is.”
“Och’, it’s good to see ya’ either way.” The Zabrak lifted his attention from Lian as they broke off the shake, and looked to the two stood accompanying him, giving them each a little nod in greeting.
“Din’t say yous was bringing friends.”
Lian stepped to the side to as to allow Dex and the Padawans to face each other properly, and he opened up an arm toward the two.
“This is Maiko, and Rah’la. They’re going to help.”
Dex grunted in acknowledgement at that. “Yeah, well, we’s going to need it. I got a few leads for ya’. Tallie’s got a lil’ shack she used as a home, a’ sorts, just on the outskirts of Anchorhead. She were buildin’ a swoop-bike out there, to compete in the race. Karking shame, she were real talented. Everybody wanted to see one of our own race, you know?”
“Den’, you’ve got some other places to know of, too. There’s the Golden Sands, run by this Quarrian called Tsu’ – real name is somethin’ longer nobody can say – and it’s where all the rich folk stay when they come to Anchorhead. Real fancy. Tsu’ owns the race-track, too.”
Dex paused a little, scratching at his scalp.
“..what else.. oh, yeah—the Bantha Queen, it’s this cantina on the outskirts, too. Stay away from it. Krayt Dragons – some gang, no’ the karking creature – run it, and they don’t play.”
Having listened along, Lian offered his attention to Maiko and Rah’la. Dex had been useful, even if he didn’t have much actual information to give them. Still, being on their side meant he was forthcoming with what he did have.
“It’s not much, but it’s a start. Where d’you two want to start? Oh, and if you have any questions for Dex, now’s the time.”
Maiko tried not to be distracted by the throng of sentients all around them. He focused on Knight Sheffield who took the lead and Rahla by his side. The younger Padawan apologized every time he bumped into someone, and would watch out for his fellow student whenever he could. He followed the Knight and tried to stay close, noting the information as to why such a large crowd had gathered and filing it away for future use.
A swoop race. He'd never heard of that before.
The padawan focused on his companions whenever he felt that he was close to being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds around him, his grip on his satchel tightening with every step. Maiko was an introvert and while he got used with being in a crowd given that his family – a large one, at that – ran a common house back on Sorgan, the amount of people here on Anchorhead was too much for the padawan.
The heat was unbearable as well.
He could only sigh in relief and gather his bearings when the three of them began delving deeper into the town. Maiko, trying to be more alert than he had been earlier, took in the sight of the locals and stragglers minding their own businesses. He tuned out the distant sound of celebrations and focused on the task at hand, mindful of the direction Knight Sheffield was now pointing towards. Dutifully he followed the Knight and smiled at the Zabrak in greeting.
Lana? Who was that?
Ever curious, Maiko's gaze shifted from Dex to the Jedi Knight. The question was in his mind, but he did not dare voice it out. He would never want to pry on anyone else's life, personal or otherwise.
At Knight Sheffield's introduction of the two padawans, Maiko offered Dex a polite and respectful bow.
He would've said that he hoped they met undet brighter circumstances, but he held himself. Best they got to business or else he'd start asking questions more about Tatooine than the mission at hand.
The Zabrak started listing down places Tallie frequented and where she might be. As much as they needed places to go to fpr their search, Maiko couldn't help but shoot Dex a confused look. Was... Was that all?
Well, Dex would've given them more if he had more information. Nodding to himself and at Knight Sheffield's words, Maiko raised a hand to his chest awkwardly, as if a student in class who was reluctant to share what he learned, before speaking when acknowledged.
"I have a few questions, Mister Dex, if that's alright?" Maiko started, raised hand going back to his satchel's strap. "Before Tallie's disappearance, the days prior to it... was–" no, he had to rephrase that. She was missing, not dead. "Has she been acting... strange? Has she told you anything that's troubling her? Any changes in her behavior at all? Has she– Has she been trying to avoid someone? Or hidig from someone, perhaps?"
Maiko was no detective, but he'd learned enough from his older siblings to know what questions to ask when someone just disappeared without a trace or a note.
Swoop racing wasn’t something she had really experienced in person, though she had watched recording and couldn’t imagine willingly participating in such a dangerous sport. Half the swoop racers looked like they were held together by a wish and a prayer and there didn’t seem to be any rules about, well, anything. It did explain why there were so very many people wandering about who didn’t seem to have much of an agenda; folk who were more touristy than tending to the day’s business. The further along the street they moved the more spirited the crowd because until they were in the midst of a full blown festival event.
Rah’la would be glad when they got off the street and could escape the mayhem. She had a feeling the later in the day it became the more drunk it would be outside. Fortunately they were quite close as Lian pointed out. ”Huh”, she commented softly when she caught sight of the rundown building. She didn’t know what she expected but something that instilled confidence in the local Sheriff. It was best not to confuse looks with competence, she knew, and was forced to be open minded about the Zabrak’s capabilities.
Looking on in respectful silence, she took the opportunity to study the man through the use of force sensing. His pleasure at seeing Lian seemed genuine and later on when the Knight paused to introduce the two Padawans, she nodded her head in greeting and said, ”Padawan Rah’la Vimt”, she said supplying her name. ”It is nice to meet you Sheriff”,she concluded and then fell silent while Maiko asked his questions. Once he was through she piped up before Dex had a chance to start answering the questions. ”And I would be interested in knowing how she made her living. Did she have to go into debt to build her swoop bike and is she good enough to threaten someone’s profits?”
Tsu’ seemed a likely suspect if Tallie might win and make off with a lot of money, but Rah’la knew that was just an assumption. It was an assumption she would be naïve not to make, for racing and gambling went hand in hand, so it was not unthinkable that someone might control the outcomes to ensure the bulk of those funds stated in house.
Lian stood to the side of Dex, facing the Padawans as they voiced their questions. A half-smile formed on his lips as he listened to them – they were asking along the right lines, and he was beginning to understand that he had underestimated them. This wasn’t going to be a case of them simply observing Lian as he carried out his duties, as he had first expected it to be. Instead, these two were going to make their mark, and he began to recognise that his role should be to facilitate them. Perhaps all this teaching business isn’t that hard after all, he mused to himself.
Dex, meanwhile, was only too eager to answer the questions asked of him. His beady eyes shot to Maiko as he spoke first, “Strange? Tallie?” A short burst of laughter escaped from his lips. “Karkin’ girl were always strange!”
He sucked on his teeth, hocking a large glob of spit to the ground. “She were real excited ‘bout the swoop race, is all. No changes in ‘er behaviour that I noticed.” He shook his head resolutely. “Nah, she weren’t actin’ any stranger than normal, and no folks I know of were after ‘er neither. Everybody liked—” Dex cut himself off there, “—likes Tallie. She’s a good’un.” He still had hope that she would be found safe and sound.
His attention soon turned to Rah’la who had her own questions. “I’unno how she were buildin’ it, really. It were her own business. There’s a junkyard on the otha’ side of town – think she got scraps there. She were real good at fixin’ things up. Sometimes folk’d send her their mechanics t’fix, and she’d do it. Prolly’ got some credits that way.”
“As for that…”, he spoke in reference to the final question from Rah’la, “…Tsu’ owns the track, an’ sponsors the credit-prize for the winner, too. Costs ‘im a lotta’ creds, but ‘e probably makes it all up from the business the guests give the Golden Sands. Probably, anyway. I ain’t a business feller’. I were actually gonner’ go speak to ‘im later.”
"Tallie were a real good racer, though. If y'ask me, she coulder' won. She were real good. Jus' a shame her old swoop came apart in a practice a few months back. Ain't unexpected, though. She had that swoop through the ringer!"
Dex turned to Lian at that, having offered up what little more he knew. Lian had subconsciously brought a hand to idly scratch at his beard as he listened, hatching ideas alongside.
“We should split up, if you’re going to see this ‘Tsu’, Dex.” Lian nonchalantly pointed a finger at Rah’la – she was the older, and likely more experienced padawan. “Why don’t you take Rah’la with you, and I’ll take Maiko to see if your lot missed anything at Tallie’s place on the outskirts. We can keep in contact on comms, see what we find, and go from there.”
Ever the patient teenager, Maiko nodded in agreement with Rah'la's question and waited for the sheriff's response. The young Padawan frowned thoughtfully when Dex answered his questions. He listened attentively as well when the Zabrak answered his fellow student's question, filing everything in his mind in case they might need it sometime soon.
For reasons he could not explain, Maiko too great notice of the mention of the fate of Tallie's swoop during a practice only a few months ago. He wasn't familiar with swoop-racing, it was even his first time hearing about it and knowing that it existed. But if Tallie had been "real good" – as Dex claimed –at racing and building her own swoop-bike, then what were the chances of said swoop-bike coming apart during a practice? Perhaps the young Padawan might just be over-analyzing things but he couldn't help it. Not when a person was missing, and anything Maiko found odd while folks around here considered to be normal? That could be something useful for the investigation. Hopefully.
But mostly he just hoped that this certain oddity to him would turn out to be really just a normal occurence.
Maybe he should start learning about swoop-bikes and -races just in case he found himself back on Tatooine.
Turning to look at Knight Sheffield, Maiko gave the older male a nod and a smile. "I'm cool with it, Master Sheffield," he replied with growing confidence. If he wanted to be useful in this investigation then he would need to trust in his other capabilities outside of his own interests that aligned with becoming a healer.
There were already two medpacs in his satchel, along with his own commlink. Maiko knew that the possibility of using the training staff strapped to his back existed, but if he could avoid conflict then he would be glad for it. But it was something he had to prepared for as well.
He took a step forward until he was standing beside Knight Sheffield, hands on the strap on his satchel. Maiko gazed at Rah'la and Dex with an encouraging smile.
"I hope your meeting with Tsu' will go well and in our favor," he told the pair with a polite incline of his head. "May the Force be with you."
As Dex answered all their questions she had to wonder what was the real reason off world assistance had been called for to find the girl. By all accounts she was a nobody, not a senator’s daughter, nor a government official, not even a wealthy merchant. There had been no ransom note as in the event of a kidnapping and by the sounds of things no one with animosity to her making death threats unlikely. It seemed like an unnecessary expense in man hours and resources alike. Might she just as easily gone off into the desert to practice on the swoop racer and crashed into some canyon wall? Whatever the final explanation might be, it didn’t explain why the sheriff didn’t just handle this issue himself.
Opening herself up to the force she expanded her sensing capability to attempt and detect tell tale signs of lying or withholding information. Perhaps it was just as face value presented itself. Knight Sheffield and Dex were old friends. Maybe the sheriff knew that whoever approved his budget each cycle would never sign off on the expense associated with a real manhunt over what they might term as a nobody. The picture of who Tallie was grew with every word the man spoke and though her skills as a swoop racer were considerable no doubt the threat of losing prize money to the girl would not cut that far into the profits of the race track owner. It might even boost profits by creating a stir over the local girl’s rise in notoriety.
She caught the catch in the Sherriff’s voice when he changed verb tense from past to present. Clearly the man was not yet ready to admit that in all probability the girl was dead. With her own minor skill in sensing she determined Dex was not hiding anything; not unless he was quite masterful at such things. Her eyes drifted to Lian’s face as he made the plans for them to split into teams. Nodding her head once the arrangements had been laid out she said, ”Very good Master Sheffield”, her eyes turning toward Dex and giving him a smile, ”I am at your disposal, Sheriff. The only other thing I can imagine is the possibility of dumb luck; being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tallia may well have witnessed something and this has nothing to do with racing at all.”
Her last words were directed to Maiko and she went on to say, ”Hopefully you will be able to retrace her steps before the disappearance. May the force be with you.” Silently she added Tallia to her prayer hoping that this was not all just a bit too late for the girl.