At the Oasis: The Legend of the Abominable Roon Mudman
Rating: PG

Iella

This story was written in response to a challenge idea by ThrawnMcEwok at TFN. It's a kind of spin-off from my At the Oasis story series, and so is AU in nature. However I think it's fairly self-explanatory in terms of the characters so you don't need to read the original stories - unless of course you want to. LOL Basically, in the Oasis scenario, Anakin and Tahiri are domiciled on Tatooine where Anakin is a detective like his mum. They have a daughter — Paddy — and another one on the way.

ThrawnMcEwok himself makes a cameo appearance as does another TFNer called Spike, along with some familiar canon characters.



"Mud, mud, glawius mud, nothing kite like it for cooling da blood."

I think most of you would agree that mud is not something you see a lot of on Tatooine. In fact, the average Tatooinian would probably have no idea as to what the word means, except that it crops up in songs and idioms sometimes. Like that song Paddy's singing at the moment as she plays in the play-pit she talked me into building for her in the shaded area beside my work shed. Or like the cryptic Holonet message I've just read from my brother Jacen:

"My name is mud!"

So why this sudden interest in mud in a place where sand and dust are a way of life? Well — it's a long story, so if you don't mind I'll pour myself a long, tall glass of Tahiri's latest fruit concoction and make myself comfortable before I begin. And while I'm doing that, see if you can figure out the meaning behind that statement of Jacen's. A clue — it's his reply to the message I sent him yesterday asking if he'd managed to sort out the mess he'd got himself into. Well, actually more of a quagmire than a mess. And not so much "got into" as fallen into and held there squealing for mercy. Heh heh.

Got your interest have I? Okay then — grab a seat, put your feet up and I'll tell you all about it.

You're probably aware by now that my brother Jacen is something of an animal expert, and for a few years now he's been director of the Galactic Xenobiological Gardens on Ithor. He's also the star of a regular holo-documentary in which he and his team of intrepid followers seek out unusual and sometimes dangerous forms of wildlife. Yeah, I know what you're saying — not another stupid reality holo-programme. But bear with me on this, um, I uh ... think you might find it quite titillating. Hint, hint. Heh heh. Oops! Spilt some of my drink, so I'd better go and grab a cloth. Although mind you this is nothing compared to what I had to clean up two nights ago ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Be back in a mo'.

Hmm — maybe I'll just quickly check on Paddy, too, although I can still hear her singing, which suggests that she's still on task. She has pretty good concentration skills for a two-and-a-half-year-old, but there again I think this whole mud thing has her inspired.

Yeah, I know — I'm really drawing it out and rubbing it in, aren't I? What is all this mud business, you're asking? And what's it got to do with messing up the living room? Well, don't worry — all will be revealed soon, and when I say all I mean ... heh heh. Just a minute while I talk to Paddy.

"Hi, sweetheart. How's it going?"

She's got a bit of mud on her clothes, but fortunately Tahiri doesn't mind mess as long it's what she calls "constructive" play. Actually I'm quite impressed. Paddy's had it drilled into her not to waste water, and she's obviously made an effort to make the pottle I gave her go a long way.

She's also made something, and she's holding it up to show me. It's got a head, I think, and a body and um ... well, I'm not sure if they're going to be arms or, er, ... something else.

"Wow that looks pretty good." Yeah, yeah, I'm doing a rapid data search through my rather pathetic knowledge of galactic fauna. It sure doesn't look like anything local — certainly not a nuna, or a profogg.

"I like his face." I decide to go for the non-committal approach.

Paddy smiles at me with the kind of indulgent sympathy all kids reserve for their sometime imbecile parents. "It a lady, Daddy. A lady Mudman, like dose ones Unkie Jacen find."

"Ah."

Of course — I should have known. A lady Mudman! I wonder if Unkie Jacen knows what he's unleashed on the galaxy? Probably not. But there again, he's probably too busy with damage control. Heh heh.

Paddy doesn't want a drink or anything so I leave her to her artistic creation; after all I've never been one to stand in the way of creativity — in fact, I even get the odd creative urge myself from time to time. So here we go with my little addition to the art of storytelling — I think I'll call it ... the Legend of the Abominable Roon Mudman. Yeah — that sounds good.

It had been a fairly normal day for us: up early before the sun gets too fierce, a leisurely lunch and then time for Tahiri to have a rest. She, mum and my sister Jaina were going to Mos Espa to see a concert by the visiting Alderaani Ballet Company. Hmm, quite a bit of information there for you to process, huh? I'll divert from the story for a minute and fill you in on some background. Scene-setting they call it don't they?

Mum — being married to Dad — doesn't exactly get much opportunity to indulge in cultural events that don't involve various forms of liquid refreshment. So when she heard the Ballet was here, she jumped at the chance to go. She and Dad have been here for the last few days to help Tahiri out while I was away at Sector Security HQ catching up on some business.

And why does Tahiri — the original Miss Capable — need help? And why does she need to rest? Well — take a look at her, especially side-on, and maybe you'll be able to figure it out. And no — it's nothing to do with eating too many Tatooine capons. That's my son filling out all that space, and preparing himself for his grand entrance in about a month's time. Mum and Dad will stay on here now until he's born, and then they'll probably stay for a bit longer so they can get to know the little tyke.

Jaina — here so she can meet up with her boyfriend for a few days of R and R — isn't exactly a big ballet fan but she never says no to a girls' night out. And anyway — it's a chance to get away from Dad and his never-ending questions about her relationship with the boyfriend, Jag. Why? Partly because he just likes giving her a hard time because of the last two fiascos in her love life, and partly because, beneath that rough-as-guts exterior, he's just a big softie. And if you don't believe me — take a peep next time he's playing tea parties with Paddy.

Jag is Jag Fel the Funk star — lead singer of that Chiss group Blue Fusion that are currently all the rave amongst the with-it set. I have to admit that I can't really see what all the fuss is about. But if you ignore the crazy hairdo, that looks like he's been overly friendly with an ion cannon and then caught in the cross-fire of a blue paint pistol, he's an okay kind of guy. Doesn't say much — but there again with Dad around he probably doesn't get much of a chance. He was due to arrive the next day.

There — I think that's about all you need to know, except maybe to say that Dad and I had the job of babysitting Paddy. Normally we might have considered going along with the girls to Mos Espa and taking Paddy out for tea, and then moseying around while we waited for the ballet to finish so we could all come home together. But Jacen had messaged us that morning to tell us that he and his team were going to do something a bit different from usual. They were going to transmit their next episode live — quite a risk when you think about it. But apparently the guys that front up with the funding were getting a bit titchy because the programme had been losing ratings, and so they figured it was time to do something about it. Nothing like the prospect of crazed wild animals and potential bloodshed to attract the crowds.

Anyway, the thing was scheduled to screen that evening, and so we figured that it might be a brotherly and fatherly thing to do to boost the ratings by logging in to watch it. Which is what we were working towards doing when we heard the thrum of a speeder outside.

It was Jag — unexpectedly early — and two others — unexpected completely. Although we didn't actually realise he had brought friends until Paddy alerted us to the fact. I was in the kitchen, tidying up the dinner things — yeah, I can multi-task ... when I have to.

Anyway Paddy had rushed to the door when she heard the speeder. She likes Jag, and I have to admit he's good with kids — he even wrote her a song. And what's more amazing, I can understand the words when he sings it, unlike most of the things he pumps out in those M-holovids.

"Dag here!" she called. "He dot some fends!"

"He hasn't brought those morons he calls his group has he?"

That was Dad from his position as official couch-warmer.

"He dot a man in a funny hat and a lady," she announced, and then added for our further edification. "She a hairy lady."

I heard a chuckle and the squeak of springs — a sign that Dad's curiosity had overcome his support for the law of entropy.

"Maybe he's joined the Great Mantrusian Circus and he's dating the bearded lady," he murmured as he passed the door.

"That would spice up the song-writing," I grinned. As I said — I quite like Jag, but I can never resist the odd throwaway line. I gave the bench a final sweep and then joined the old man at the door. A hairy lady is not something you see every day, especially on Tatooine. Actually I very much doubt the Mantrusian Circus would have one either. The Mantrusians are a pretty good-looking bunch, especially the women.

Well — the hairy lady turned out to be some guy in a skirt. It turned out that Jag had stopped off on Balmorra on his way here to catch up with his manager who had an old friend staying with him, who happened to be none other than the presenter of the Holonet arts and music magazine programme Alternating Paths. Basically the guy's interested in anything arty that isn't mainstream, and as Funk is still regarded as the renegade in the music scene, and as Blue Fusion has a real grip-hold on the market at present — then the hairy guy, whose name it turned out was Thrawn (no relation to the Chiss warlord), was pretty excited about the opportunity. In fact I don't know if it was the excitement or not, but I found him a bit hard to understand, although I have to admit that Endor — which is where he was from — is one of those places I have never visited. Dad had though, and it wasn't long before he and Thrawn were engrossed in a deep and meaningful discussion about the relative merits of Endor Dark Ale over Corellian Malt Lomin — a discussion interspersed with appreciative grunts and lip-smacking directed at the selection we had on offer. I got involved in a little viticulture myself recently — small scale of course — but what I can't provide, Dad kindly brings with him.

Which left Paddy and me to entertain Jag and his manager — a guy called Spike.

Apparently — just in case you're one of those analytical readers who really likes to understand a character's roots — Spike is a native of Balmorra, from a city called Middlesburrow. Quite evocative huh? You kind of imagine this network of underground passages teeming with busy little furballs — the kind of place that might interest Jacen. But apparently, according to Spike, it's pretty much like any other town, its one claim to fame being its smashball team that recently made it into the First Division of the Galactic League.

I got the impression that Spike fancied himself as a gentleman, a bit like Lando, because he said he was born in a castle — a new one — at least I think that's what he said. He had a fairly broad accent, too, and I have to admit that in between trying to field Paddy's questions about why men have funny knees and shuffling the chairs around to make room for everyone, I may have misunderstood what he said. He seemed quite happy anyway, and didn't seem fazed when Paddy, captivated by his peaked tweed cap, dragged him into her room to show him her hat collection — the one in her dress-ups box that Wes and Hobby probably have nightmares about.

"No dress-ups tonight, sweetie," I warned, deciding a pre-emptive course of action was in order.

"Eee by gum she's a little cracker, isn't she," Spike commented when he returned — hat still intact. I wondered idly if perhaps the thing was permanently attached to his head.

"She's a bonny wee lass alright," the skirted one agreed and raised his glass to her. "Takes after her mother," Dad contributed slyly. I can take it. At least I'm doing my bit to ensure there's another generation of Solos.

Thrawn suddenly leapt to his feet in an apparent fit of excitement. "I'm beginning to see it," he announced. I wondered for a moment if he was having some sort of clairvoyant moment, because he had closed his eyes and was painting imaginary scenes in the air. "Jag Fel, a young man isolated and held psychological captive in a repressive, rigidly structured culture. He seizes his chance — he breaks free!" The contents of his glass succumbed to sudden centrifugal force, but Dad's reflexes are still as keen as those of a man half his age.

"Calm down, calm down!" Spike's weren't.

I handed him a cloth.

Thrawn was lost in full flight of fantasy though, dancing round the room as if performing some exuberant ethnic dance.

"He discovers the galaxy ... new ideas, liberation, sexual freedom, music, love ... he forges bonds with other humans, non-humans ..."

"Jaina," Dad contributed helpfully, highly amused by the floorshow.

"Exactly! And all of you as well." To Dad's consternation Thrawn threw his glass in the air and, gurgling enthusiastically, grabbed him by the shoulders. "It'll be the classic journey of self-discovery! Being solo to being a Solo — so to speak." He grinned. "His lyrics as autobiography! Perfect. Och aye, I can see it all now."

Really? All I could see was the ale stain on the Alakathan rug and Tahiri's face when she came home and found it. I tried to catch Jag's eye, but he was leaning back in his seat with a sublime expression on his face. Or maybe he was asleep. It's hard to tell the difference.

Spike was shaking his head and looking dubious. "Eee I don't know, man. It all sounds a bit too arty farty to me." He turned to Mr Funk. "What do you think, lad?"

The lad opened one green eye. "Cool."

The ultimate seal of approval, apparently. Spike sighed and tipped back his glass.

Paddy wiggled out of my arms and over to where Spike sat looking a little disconsolate — or maybe that was his habitual expression. "I dot petty cups." She gave him the full dimple treatment.

"Ha, no you don't my little mischief maker. Bedtime for you."

"Aw, Daddy. You big meanie." Dad loves making it difficult for me. I can't help thinking he thinks it's some kind of poetic justice. Or maybe he just likes seeing grown men humiliated and blackmailed into wearing dresses. And is there some deep psychological message there? I may have to explore that later.

"Dag come too. He nice — he sing me a song. Come on, Dag."

Now how's that for manipulation? Whose daughter is she again? Heh heh.

"So do you think Thrawn's serious about doing this programme on you?" I asked Jag as I tucked Paddy in, and while he played with her toy talking mouse-droid chrono. Thrawn must have been getting to me — I couldn't help wondering if Jag had had toys to play with when he was a kid.

"Not sure."

Talkative, ain't he? Maybe that was why Thrawn sensed a need to involve others, otherwise it might be the first silent interview ever.

"Well, after he's watched Jacen's holo-doc with us tonight he might revise his ideas about involving the family, unless he interviews us in a cage. There we go, sweetie — all snuggled up and ready for your song?"

As always she reaches up for a hug. There are times when I understand what people mean when they talk about loving a child so fiercely you don't want to let her go.

But I couldn't put the feeling into words.

And anyway — there's that stain on the rug.

"Night night, Daddy."

"Mmm — sleep tight, sweetheart."

"What holo-doc?" asked Jag in a fit of unusual eloquence.

I winked, and mouthed later. Too much detail at this point would arouse Paddy's curiosity and then we'd never get her off to sleep. I left the room to the strains of Desert Flower.

It struck me that Jag the singer was quite different from his everyday personality — or maybe the songs burned all the words out of him.

Back in the living room, Thrawn was still trying to sell the interview idea to Spike who kept muttering something that sounded like he's a Funk not some poncy artist.

"I'm ringing the gong in two minutes," Dad announced, emptying the ceramosteel fruit bowl and holding it up with a spoon poised ready to strike. "And if you're still not finished then, you're both going outside."

We treat our guests well in this household.

Thrawn eyed the line-up of bottles and sat down, suddenly calm.

"Och aye. Haven't watched a good holo-doc in a while," he grinned crossing his legs with a certain daredevil flamboyance.

"There's no such thing as a good holo-doc," grumbled Spike. "Pretentious junk. No women, no wine, no song. Boring."

"So how long have you two been friends again?" Dad asked conversationally.

"Years and years, man. We met at Ikrit's Golden Globes the year Sny Snootles scooped the awards pool. She was my first interview."

"And a first not only for interview if memory serves me correctly." Spike raised his glass. I don't know if it was the cap masking his face, but it was pretty difficult to read his expressions. But there again, he seemed to be a fairly laconic type. As well as provocative.

"Ah. She was all woman." Thrawn sipped his ale, unfazed.

"Speaking of women." Spike appeared to perk up now that we'd settled on a topic close to his heart. "Do we have any?"

"Well we do." Dad refilled the glasses. "But they're out."

Spike's moment of hopefulness faded and he grunted despondently. I got the impression we were about to be rubbed off the list of fun party hosts.

"However," Dad added as he simultaneously switched on the holo-set and plunked ice into his glass with a dexterity born from years of experience. "If you keep watching you might just get lucky — if you like the outdoors type."

Thrawn chortled something about beggars not being choosers, but the rest of his comment was lost as Dad tweaked up the volume, and the jungle-like drumbeat of Jacen's theme music filled the room, followed shortly afterwards by a zoom shot focusing on his face. The hair and beard looked a bit more unkempt than usual, and I couldn't help noticing the stress lines behind that irresistible Solo smile. Heh heh.

I watched curiously as he delivered his intro spiel.

"Greetings viewers and friends and welcome to this week's edition of Animal Histories and Mysteries. This time we're going to take you on a journey through the forests and wilds of Roon — in search of the infamous Roon Mudman. Is it a real creature? Or is it a myth?"

He paused for dramatic effect.

"He doesn't look like you," observed Thrawn, flicking his gaze from the screen to Dad and back.

"Thank you," said Dad and moved over to make room for Jag who had just returned.

"Is she okay?" I asked. He pantomimed sleep and snored which I presume meant Paddy was out to it. Or maybe he was suggesting I was boring.

I decided to go with the former.

"I don't know," Spike ruminated. "He does have your eyes."

"So that's where they went to," Dad quipped, although a little testily.

"I think there's a similarity round the chin, too," added Thrawn helpfully.

Dad leapt to his feet and gave them the full brunt of his I've-dealt-with-all-kinds-of-scum-and-you're-beginning-to-hack-me-off glare ... a split second after the holo-cam focused on Jacen's help team.

"Stone the crows!" gasped Spike, and he sat bolt upright.

"Goddesses! Goddesses in shorts!" exclaimed Thrawn.

"... and here to help me as always — my very capable assistants, Tenel Ka and Danni Quee."

The girls nodded to the holocam looking capable and calm as usual — although this time I sensed a certain tension behind their holonet-professional facades. Was it the stress of performing live? Or was it something else?

"Och, such beauty! Such perfection! Such balance!" Thrawn was leaning forward so engrossed with the image on screen that he didn't notice how close his elbow was to the table, and to Dad's prize samples of Whyren's Vats 58 and 72.

I turned to see Dad signalling frantically at me. "He's going to knock them over!" he hissed.

"What?"

Dad held his hands up in horror as Thrawn's gesticulations came dangerously close to his treasures. "The ... the —"

"... great sets of —" Spike proclaimed admiringly, looking a little flushed.

"—jugs!" Dad finally got the connection between brain and mouth working properly.

"And the legs — ah the legs." Thrawn looked as if he'd transcended this world and had moved on to a higher plane.

But I moved the jugs of whisky anyway — in case he got thirsty and came back.

Jacen rambled on for a few minutes filling us in on the background to their search: the reported sightings of the creature along with various eyewitness accounts of attacks and other close encounters. It sounded to me like one of those myths familiar to just about every planet in the galaxy — the monster that lurks at the edge of society feared and yet also pitied. However, I could see that it made good holo-doc fodder.

"I like the redhead." Spike's eyes were sticking out so far I could have glued them to the screen.

"Och, she's okay. Personally I prefer the wee blonde. I've always been a sucker for a bonny lass with green eyes."

"Ack — too skinny. Give me a woman with a bit of substance, something to grab hold of in an emergency."

"That redhead could eat you for breakfast, man."

"If you don't shut up, I'll invite the local Sarlacc here so he can eat you!" snarled Dad.

"Charming," Thrawn countered calmly. "We're just showing our appreciation for a particularly tasty bit of art, d'ye ken?"

"Well, just keep it down."

For some reason Spike found Dad's warning incredibly funny, but he was soon diverted by the sight of Jacen's helpers trudging along a dusty section of track that wound its way through a sparse area of scrub. You could tell it had been an uncomfortably hot trip by the way their clothes clung to them. Jacen should have advised them to do what we do on Tatooine — go for the light colours and the loose, flowing look.

But there again — I doubt either Thrawn or Spike would have been too pleased with that.

"It's been an unusually dry season in the Roon borderlands. Normally at this time of year the bush would be alive with the sound of native avians, notably the Greater Spotted Kawkaw renowned for its raucous cry of ... "

"Kaw, kaw!" screeched something out of the view. The cry was followed by a fruity squelch, and something white, wet and sticky plopped on Jacen's head and began trickling down his face.

"As well as its territorial tendencies," he added quickly, and, without missing a beat, produced a large handkerchief to mop away the mess as he carried on explaining about a few other peculiarities of Roon bush wildlife. Thrawn and Spike recovered from their amusement and applauded.

"Brilliant recovery!" enthused the kilted man from Endor. "What timing."

"We're nearly at the location of the last sighting of the Mudman," Jacen carried on with equanimity as he toiled up a steep section of track. The leading holocam angled in to show the operator's view of the landscape ahead, which appeared to be largely a back view of both Danni and Tenel Ka. I wondered if the man had been finding his whole wildlife experience to be a little unstimulating.

Unlike our guests.

"Poetry in motion," Thrawn sighed. "I'm seeing a whole new concept — a programme celebrating the art wonders of the natural world."

Tenel Ka flashed a look behind, and, realising the holo-cam was focused on her, she threw the operator a ferocious look.

Spike caught his breath.

"I'm seeing raunchy holo-vids with wild, wild women."

I was seeing two women who looked as though they had had enough.

The operator must have got the message, because he adjusted the focus and gave us a wide-angle shot of what I assumed they could all see from the crest of the hill they had just climbed — a dried up water hole. Tenel Ka walked into the middle of it tentatively testing each step, while Jacen gave us an emotional description of the suffering caused by drought on the animal population. Then the shot moved to Danni who was standing beside a wizened old man who, it turned out, was the one who had found the Mudman's footprint at that very spot the previous year. Jacen patiently elicited information from him about the number of toe pads and whether it had claws or not, while the holo-cam kept flicking from the old fellow to the girls as they paced around on the caked mud.

Suddenly I found I was straining to see, and it occurred to me that the scene seemed to be getting darker, which was strange because it was meant to be early afternoon. Jacen apparently hadn't noticed anything untoward, however, as much to the delight of our guests he sent the girls off to check for any new prints — a task that involved a lot of bending. The holo-cam man stuck to them like glue.

"There's a certain art to being a good cam operator," Thrawn informed us appreciatively.

"He's artful alright, man," Spike chuckled. "Eee! Flamin' Nora!"

Tenel Ka had snapped upright suddenly — a move the operator, who was filming at eye level, hadn't predicted. The operator was short. Tenel Ka isn't.

We were all afflicted with an acute case of paralysis to the lower jaw muscles. And of course it didn't occur to any of us to analyse the reason for Tenel Ka's sudden alacrity.

Well — initially anyway.

"It's raining."

We turned in concert to where the pronouncement had come from. Jag was sitting gripping his seat as if at the start of a podrace.

"Rain," he intoned, and then after a pause in which he gesticulated incoherently at the screen. "Mud."

In the seconds that followed, we registered the full range of expressions from surprise through incomprehension to dawning delight, a little like a round robin.

Pathetic? Maybe.

Excusable? Well, I think so.

"Mud!"

"Women!"

"Wiminnn."

"Mmmud."

"Ahhhh."

The holo-cam focused on the parched and cracked ground as it slowly blossomed with great splotches of dark grey.

And then the heavens opened and it poured.

If the number one holo-cam operator had been thinking logically he probably would have beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the rocky outcrop under the shelter of the skinny-leaved trees. However, I guess he found logical thinking a little difficult under the circumstances, although mind you the torrents of rain sheeting down had probably blurred his vision.

Which might explain why he couldn't seem to train his holo-lens away from the sight of the water streaming down the long blonde tendrils of Danni's hair, forming rivulets that cascaded down on to her top to create an effect not unlike a kind of topographical map.

The kind of topography that could make the science of map-making a subject or unprecedented popularity in boys' schools around the galaxy.

Or in arts holo-magazine shows.

Thrawn was ecstatic.

"Oh, ye take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in girly heaven afore ye," he sang.

Danni, on the other hand, was gasping and squealing. Under the circumstances, you'd think they'd be grateful for the abundance of water in such an arid environment, but I guess it was the suddenness of the event that had them both off balance. Plus I guess no-one likes the feel of water pouring down the back of your neck — the sudden chill makes you feel ... well, cold.

"Mother of met—" Dad spluttered and dropped his glass.

Spike looked as though he'd been struck dumb, except for his mouth which was opening and closing like a Mon Cal stranded in the Dune Sea.

Thrawn was the only one of us still capable of speech. "Och yes, the wonders of nature. It reminds me of the mountains back home — perfectly formed little cones that rise into perky little peaks."

Jag started giggling hysterically. I toyed with the idea of slapping his face as you're meant to do in such circumstances, but the holo-cam had shifted in response to an unearthly screech — and I got distracted by the sight of Tenel Ka scrabbling over to the operator, her arms flailing wildly.

"Point that thing somewhere else you pervert!"

There was a pained grunt and the view on screen wavered and then tipped sideways, and the picture dissolved into a canvas of brown mud.

A high-pitched female voice shrieked in the background. "What did you do that for? He's just doing his job."

"Are you dumb or something. Do you have any idea what we look like?"

"Girls! Girls! Calm down."

I didn't need the holo-cam to tell me that was Jacen, but it was thoughtful of the operator of the back-up unit to start showing us what was going on from the safety of his position on the bank. Jacen was tottering towards Danni who was struggling to pull her foot up from the slime that had engulfed it.

"No I won't calm down? I've had enough. This has been the worst trip ever. I told you that filming live wouldn't work."

"Go, Red, go!" Dad cheered.

"It's not that bad —" Danni began.

"Oh well, I guess it isn't for you. After all, you don't mind having Mr Creepy Holo-cam Man goggling at you all the time."

Despite the distortion caused by the rain, Mr Creepy Holo-cam Man Two managed a perfect shot of Danni's face in full pout.

"You're just jealous," she shouted, "because he prefers filming me."

"Girls — I really think you're being ridiculous. And I don't know whether you realise it or not, but we're all still being filmed."

"Good. In that case it's a good chance for everyone to see just how stupid you are, friend Jacen."

Oh boy. How much venom can you inject into a word?

"Jacen's not stupid, he's brilliant. Aren't you, Jace?"

"Er, um ..."

Well, what would you say? Heh heh.

Jace decided that escape was the safest course of action — which of course entailed trying to move towards the bank. In hindsight, it was not the wisest of moves.

"I really think we need to get out of this mud before ... aaah!"

Obviously not really thinking what he was doing, he grabbed the nearest thing at hand — which happened to be Danni's arm. Or maybe I'm doing him a disservice; maybe he was thinking. Whatever the case — he landed with a mud-splattering thump on his back. Danni was lucky, however. She got the soft landing.

Well, soft in the sense that she didn't actually land on the ground.

"That's right — help her. Never mind the fact that I might need a hand."

Personally, it's hard to envisage Tenel Ka as a woman in need of help. But there again, she's also not the kind of woman you want to dispute the point with either.

Aware that his position was not exactly the best one from which to offer a rebuttal, Jacen flailed and struggled, but the weight of his backpack worked against him. Instead of clambering to his feet, he ended up simply reversing his and Danni's positions.

Danni saw the funny side.

Tenel Ka saw red.

"You're enjoying this aren't you?" She had managed to pull one foot clear and lurched towards them, shucking her backpack as she went. "Any excuse to nuzzle up to her."

"I'm trying to get up!"

It was one of those situations where, no matter what he said, he was bound to be misconstrued by somebody. Thrawn and Spike collapsed back in their seats with helpless laughter.

"If at first you don't succeed ..." Thrawn managed before the giggles overcame him again.

"It's not that hard." Tenel Ka was obviously going for sarcasm. If she'd been capable of seeing things from our point of view, she probably would have realised it wasn't working.

Thrawn struggled out of the depths of his chair and reached over to give Dad a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "I think you need to have a chat with him, man."

Any rejoinder Dad was planning was lost in the excitement of seeing Jacen being yanked up by the singlet straps, until he was face to face with his formerly imperturbable assistant.

"See," she hissed.

"Okay," said Jacen. Did I sense a faint tremor in his voice? "I think we all need to calm down and remember why we're here. Think of the animals."

"For some reason," said Spike. "The animals are the last thing on my mind at present."

"Jace is right." Danni had managed to wiggle out from between Jacen's legs and was clambering up unsteadily to her feet, attempting to wipe away the mud clinging to her clothes. The only effect that had was to smooth it down until it formed a slick second skin — brown and wet-polished.

"Oh, oooh." Even Thrawn was momentarily speechless as he searched for an appropriate metaphor. "The archetypal female emerging victorious from the primeval soup," he stammered eventually, "or Venus rising."

I didn't get the Venus reference — must have been something peculiar to Endor.

Spike looked a bit blank, too.

Although he did pull his hat off and start fanning himself.

"The only animal I see is that one behind you preening herself," Tenel Ka spat between gritted teeth.

Jace continued to try the reasoned approach. "Please, Tenel Ka. You're making a scene."

"Me?" She grabbed his ears and gave him a vigorous shake — presumably to knock some sense into him. "I'm not the one who's acting like a Ho."

Danni stiffened, and we watched with bated breath as her hands crept slowly to her hips. "Well, I'm not the one who has to shave my mo'," she retaliated.

"Hey," Jag leapt to his feet. "That's good." And he began beating out a rhythm on his thighs and repeating it as if it was a song.

"This is so ... inspiring!" Thrawn exclaimed wringing his hands excitedly. "It must have been Fate leading us here."

Maybe Fate was working for him — but it sure wasn't doing much for my brother.

"What did you say, you —"

Jace finally snapped. "Stop this!" He tried to turn round to holo-cam operator number two, but his feet had been motionless long enough to become implanted. We were as astounded as he was at how deep the mud had become in just a few minutes.

"—op the ... pah, yuck ... holo— ..." he spluttered waving frantically at the cam operator, and trying to spit out the mouthful of mud he'd nearly ingested.

"Sorry, mate! Got the call from the boss to keep it rolling no matter what. Best ratings in years apparently — you're pulling in billions with this."

Doesn't popularity suck sometimes?

Jacen fell back with a groan, or maybe he was ducking to avoid Tenel Ka as she lunged at Danni. Whatever the case, all three of them disappeared temporarily into the mudpit to emerge a few seconds later with Jacen performing some kind of swimming motion to escape the tumbling, lurching bodies of the two enraged women.

"Wow!" Dad gasped as Tenel Ka rose to her knees. The cool rain pounding on to the sun-baked ground had turned it into a sauna as well as a mudpool, and she looked like one of the legendary titans rising from the volcanic pits of Eol Sha.

"Ouch!" Thrawn cringed as she grabbed Danni by the hair and attempted to pull her to her feet.

"I've had it up to here with your simpering nonsense!" she screamed, and then doubled up as Danni managed a crafty punch to her midriff. Encouraged with her success Danni lashed out again, but this time her fingers only succeeded in clutching the edge of Tenel Ka's top before she slipped back down.

Thrawn cheered.

"That's what I call getting abreast of the situation." I could tell Dad was impressed, too.

"That's what I call fighting dirty," Spike complained, although it didn't stop him grinning. "Blondie's for it now. Ooh!"

I have to admit my sympathy was tending toward Danni. Having someone leap on your back and pin you down can be pretty frustrating, especially when you're stuck in mud.

Although there again, mud has wonderful slippery properties.

"Down but not out!" cried Thrawn. "You wee beauty!"

"Great move," Dad grinned approvingly. "Wonder what you'd call it?"

"A half-twist-wriggle-and-you're-out?" suggested Thrawn, leaping to his feet to get a closer view of Danni and Tenel Ka on their knees grappling together as each tried to get a suitable grip on the other's shoulders. Jacen, meanwhile, had recovered his wits sufficiently to realise that any further attempts at reason would be about as much use as marketing deodorants to Jawas, and he reversed thrust and began thrashing his way back towards the women.

The holo-cam zoomed in on Jacen's face as he slipped and wallowed through the mud. He was completely brown except for pale smudges where he had cleared the mud so he could see, which created the effect of a set of wild goggling eyes, and his hair stood up in a moulded dome as if he had a pointed head.

There was a small explosion and a spurt of ale left an amber trail on the rug. Dad wiped his face. "He looks like a Hutt!" he spluttered between guffaws.

Jacen the Hutt. Heh heh. It has a kind of ring to it, don't you think?

Meanwhile the women had made progress of a sort. Although shorter, Danni had the advantage of also being lighter, and hence she was not quite so firmly entrenched in the mud. So when Tenel Ka shoved her, obviously intending to push her backwards, all she succeeded in doing was pushing Danni far enough away for the girl to struggle to her feet. As she stood there tottering, Jacen floundered worm-like into the gap between them and began to clamber up. But Danni was too busy focusing her energy and aim into one almighty two-handed swipe ... that she delivered with a throaty roar ...

... and knocked Jacen out cold.

For a moment Tenel Ka hesitated as if struggling with the moral dilemma posed by Jacen sinking unconscious into the mud.

"Watch out, Red!" yelled Spike leaping to his feet and throwing mock punches at the air to demonstrate the ideal next move.

But Danni had the scent of victory. In that tiny moment of prevarication, Danni mustered her strength, tipped sideways so she could yank her right foot out of the mud, and then swung it round ferociously.

Thrawn showed his support by mimicking the move. "Go, Blondie!" he cried pirouetting with great enthusiasm into Spike so that the two of them fell in a tangled heap on the floor.

Unaware of the havoc she was causing in our living room, Danni continued her spin. At the ninety-degree mark her foot slapped into the side of Tenel Ka's face connecting with her ear, and then tracing a slimy trail to her mouth where it resided until Tenel Ka bit down on her toes.

"Ooh! Sneaky tactics!" Thrawn complained from his supine position on the rug, waving his fist furiously at Tenel Ka.

"Incisive you mean," Spike quipped. "Grab that leg, Red!"

"No! No!" Thrawn gesticulated wildly in his effort support his fair maiden.

Danni squealed again, but her inertia carried her on round in a circle — which meant that by the time Tenel Ka had reached up to grab Danni's leg, it was already out of reach. Her fingers scrabbled wildly in the air while Danni completed her spin, landed, straightened herself up and lashed out with a snap kick to the shoulder that sent Tenel Ka back with a splat. The shower of muddy droplets cleared to reveal Danni turning slowly toward the bank. The holo-cam tracked her advance, focusing lovingly on her hands reaching up slowly to smooth her tangled hair from her eyes — on her chest heaving.

Thrawn crowed and threw himself back in exuberant triumph. Spike just sat there gawping.

And miraculously, in that moment the rain stopped.

And a little hand reached up to take mine.

"What dat animal, Daddy?"

But before I could think of a suitable reply, another voice piped up from behind Paddy.

"Anakin Solo! What in the name of the Force do you think you're doing?"

I could see them surveying the scene: Thrawn and Spike spread-eagled on the rug; Jag frozen in the middle of some kind of crazy dance move; Dad with his arms raised victoriously in the air ... me holding Paddy's hand. And Danni, unrecognisable as herself, long legs glistening with mud, strolling towards us on the screen.

Not to mention a room that looked as if it had been plundered by a troop of Gamorreans.

Jaina was the first to recover the power of speech.

"So that's what Endorrians wear under their kilts!"

I could see things had the potential to get nasty so I seized the initiative. "It's not my fault!"

"Han?"

It occurred to me that brown eyes when angry can be as terrifying as green.

"Oh no you don't. It ain't my fault either." Dad thrust his finger accusingly at the screen. "It's his."

Mum glanced up at the screen in time to see a slug-like creature pull itself up out of the mud-pool and swipe clumsily at its eyes.

"Dat Unkie Jacen," announced Paddy, and then she giggled. "He dirty."

Mum's mouth dropped open and she sank down on to the nearest chair, but Tahiri was not going to be so easily distracted.

"Oh, Anakin! How could you?"

Gah! I hate questions like that. I mean how do you know where to start an answer that will satisfactorily explain what is essentially a highly complicated sequence of events? And how could I reassure her that Paddy wasn't involved, when I strongly suspect she had crept in and watched the whole thing?

That's the last time I trust Jag to put her to bed.

That's the last time I trust Jag's friends.

Actually that's the last time I trust Jag full stop.

And yeah — I'm a great believer in shifting the blame.

I threw Dad a desperate look, and caught the surreptitious signal — three fingers. That means ...

I took a deep calming breath, gritted my teeth and put on my best, most lop-sided, most irresistible smile.

"It's not what it looks like."

Sometimes I'm not sure about Dad's list of appropriate responses. They don't seem to work too well with Tahiri.

Which is why I'm on what she calls withdrawal of privileges. In other words, she and Mum are off having fun in Mos Espa and I'm on babysitting duty. Dad cleverly managed to hitch a ride off planet with Jaina and Jag to deal with some "unexpected business" that I strongly suspect involves Thrawn and ale.

But I don't mind really.

So — er, reckon I'd cut it as a storyteller?

Yeah, I know: don't quit the day job.

But hey — it helped pass an afternoon. Astral, huh?


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