Kavva did not like sand. It was coarse and irritating, and it got everywhere. Even in supposedly “sealed” stormtrooper armor, standing guard on a burnt out desert planet was not the sort of work he would ever get used to.
Kavva hailed from Rivandon originally, a planet whose surface was ninety-five percent water and where torrential rainfall was the norm three-quarters of its stellar cycle. Its only land masses were small volcanic islands, but only the royal families, their servants and tenant farmers lived there. Kavva’s tribe subsisted on floating barges fashioned from the royal islanders’ refuse, and he had never even seen dry land for his entire childhood. Most of his people survived from fishing, inter-tribal piracy and occasionally trading salvaged space debris to the main islands. Lifespans in the trashlands were brutal, short and often violent. When he was a child – and for a long time before – there were only two ways to escape the cruel reality of existence on this world. The first was hootiea, an intoxicating spirit distilled from the fermentation of the poisonous algae that infested the waters around the floating settlements. The second way out, of course, was death, and often the former option hastened one’s progression to the latter.
It wasn’t until Kavva reached thirteen cycles that a third option materialized, and he owed it to the Empire. Imperial engineers struck a deal with the royal families. It was a typical imperial negotiation. A star destroyer parked in orbit, and a detachment of about a thousand troopers landed on the main island and proceeded to kill the King and Queen and all their children. The royal palace became an imperial base, and the new governor offered the surviving nobles on the other islands a simple arrangement: do what they were told or face the same fate.
The Empire wanted Rivandon not for its water, exactly, but for the hydrogen in the water. Twelve gargantuan converting facilities fell into the sea from orbit. Each one was larger than any natural island and looked like a steel volcano. The stations sucked seawater into submerged intakes that filtered out the salt, and internal generators separated the hydrogen and oxygen. Upper exhaust vents spit out the superheated O2 while giant pumps piped the hydrogen into dirigible balloons as big as Star Destroyers. Once filled to capacity, these would float free and be retrieved by unmanned skitter ships circling the planet in the upper atmosphere. They collected and stored the balloons in an orbital tanker the size of a small moon that would be retrieved and replaced monthly by imperial cargo tugs.
Not wanting to waste droid labor when they had an entire indigenous population to exploit, the imperials forced trashlanders like Kavva’s tribe off their floating piles of garbage and into the converters in the most efficient way imaginable: they set them on fire.
To score clean water and earn a few creds, Kavva spent long nights manning a 'stil for the main hootiea seller on their tribal barge. Therefore, he was one of the few who were awake when the empire made its move. Fire in the form of blaster bolts descended as if the stars had declared war on Kavva’s people. Fleeing the incendiary blasts and resulting firestorm, he managed to make it into the sea where stormtroopers pulled him and the other “lucky” survivors onto their prison platforms. Shivering, terrified and in chains, Kavva had to admire the imperial planning. They had timed the attack perfectly to ensure only a minority made it out of the burning trashlands and that these would be those most able to endure the harsh conditions of the converters. As far as the trashlanders were concerned, it was the end of the world, but Kavva, a homeless orphan at the very bottom of Rivandonian social order, was born knowing the world was against him. Why should he care if it was destroyed?
Apocalyptic storms continually assaulted the plants as the increased oxygen and heat in the atmosphere devastated Rivandon’s climate. Worker safety was non-existent and lightning strikes accounted for as many deaths as did industrial accidents. Against all odds, conditions inside the converter did not manage to kill Kavva. Instead, he grew stronger and developed a taste, even a skill, for violence. As the native workforce rapidly died out, the empire replaced them with criminals, rebels and other undesirables from the darkest corners of the galaxy. Kavva knew next to nothing about the other races who shared imperial space, but he felt an instinctive revulsion toward anyone who was not human. Those the Empire sentenced to the Rivandon penal colony generally tended to be the worst examples of their own species, but Kavva assumed they were all the same. He made a lot of enemies, but he kept few for long. Except for the Wookies whom he gave a wide berth, Kavva never hesitated to settle a grudge with extreme prejudice. Eventually, the station’s imperial guards arrested him following a tooling shop melee that left eight others dead. No injuries; only fatalities.
Shackled in a storage unit that served as a holding cell, Kavva expected to be executed. He did not mind the idea so much, but he was curious how they would do it. Imperials used to be particularly cunning in their death sentences, but now, just six cycles after their arrival, they had gotten lazy, and the punishments had fallen to a basic three. Most likely, they would just shoot him in the head. It was easier for everyone. If they wanted to have fun, they might bolt a heavy weight to his ankle and toss him in the sea. Not so heavy that he would sink right away, but enough that he would have to struggle to stay up and give the other workers a chance to throw trash at him and make bets how long it would take before he went under for good. For the final level up, they could lock him in a exhaust vent and let the steaming O2 scald him to death. Again, this took a lot longer than one might expect, so it was more painful, but at the same time, less humiliating since no one would be throwing crindo at him while he suffered. The guards still made bets on how many exhaust blasts a convict could survive. He knew the record was only three blasts, but Kavva bet he could go for four.
In the early days, there had been an ultimate punishment above scalding. The guards would strap a prisoner to one of the hydrogen balloons and let him die from a combination of freezing, suffocation and decompression as it ascended into the thin atmosphere where a skitter would grab it and zip into orbit. This practice was quietly put to an end when the imperials unloading the hydrogen complained about finding the prisoners’ dead husks in their cargo holds.
Kavva never got the chance to find out how long he could stay above water or withstand being boiled alive. As it turned out, the guards had been paying attention to Kavva’s evolution from a cunning little brawler into an effective and xenophobic killer. They told him that he had talent and would be taken to the training colony on Strakadur as a cadet for the imperial infantry. Kavva had never heard of Strakadur, but for the first time in his life, he would find out what it was like to have the solid earth of a planet under his feet.
It was like going to straight to grapp. Strakadur was a dark, frozen and airless world made entirely of black flint-stone. Its soil had been burned away when its star went supernova millions of cycles ago. Before he arrived there, Kavva had no idea that its nickname was “The Sharpening Stone” or that trainees at its elite stormtrooper school had a mortality rate of 65%. Even so, he reasoned those were better odds than what faced him back on Rivandon.
Out of his entire tribe, only Kavva and one other trashlander had survived the six cycles in the hydrogen plant. Rezarra had been the proud daughter of one of the tribe’s leaders, Chief Forgo, who held the honor of lead negotiator when his people traded with the Royals. Forgo did not survive the star war that had destroyed their barge, and Rezarra had quickly been reduced to a prematurely aged and particularly vicious crone by the daily punishment of converter work. When he was a boy, Kavva had thought her the most beautiful person he had ever seen. He became tongue-tied whenever she passed his way. Sometimes, he would still dream of the girl she had been, but he would quickly forget his dreams upon waking. That Rezarra and that Kavva no longer existed in this new world. What use were dreams when he had more pressing concerns to occupy his mind?
Even though storm troopers were taught to disregard luck, Kavva was one of the fortunate few. He survived The Sharpening Stone and served the empire with distinction in the eight cycles since. Not that it had been easy. Since becoming a storm trooper, he had faced death at the hands of rebels, smugglers and thieves on a regular basis. Less than a cycle ago, he had almost been cut in half by an adolescent Twi’lek wielding a light saber. A real, kwatting light saber! Just another couple of inches and Kavva’s military career and likely his life would have been over. Absurdly, the idiot Twi’lek kid accidentally cut his own kwatting head off with the drakk thing before he could take a second swipe at the trooper. The weapon had been immediately confiscated by his commanders, but the incident earned Kavva a promotion to corporal with the proviso that he never mentioned the light saber to anyone.
Life as a corporal was not much of a reward. He dealt with the same crindo as any other infantry grunt, but he had the added responsibility of making sure his troopers followed regulations. If he failed to report infractions, then Kavva faced punishment, so now his troopmates generally hated his guts. Not that he was all that popular before, but his promotion gave him a better chance to get a blaster shot to the back from “friendly fire” and no more authority to do anything about it. That was the Empire in a nutshell.
Now, here he was on a desert planet in some backwater part of the galaxy looking for a pair of kwatting droids for who knows what drakk reason. With two suns blazing overhead and pretty much wiping out the already overtaxed cooling systems of his armor, Kavva was a ball of sweat, sand and hatred for all the inhabitants of the universe. In this dry dirthole that passed for a city on this planet, Kavva rarely saw two faces that belonged to the same species. If the Empire was good for anything, it had at least driven the subhuman races to the edge of the galaxy, but it was little consolation to Corporal Kavva since that was also where his commanders seemed to send him for every drakk mission!
“Starwalker… Sunlighter… Lightwalker…”
Kavva noticed his sergeant, Welgom, muttering to himself. Like all trooper helmets, it compressed the sound and flattened pitch making even casual mumbling sound like the voice of doom.
“What’s that, Sarge?”
“Those kwatting farmers we wasted, what was their drakk name?”
“Why in grapp you wanna know their names?”
“Gotta make a report in an hour. Command likes details.”
Kavva thought about it. “Skyrider, I think.”
Like everything else in this dalcrindo assignment, that had been bad business. The unit had already been on edge after the Jawas. Smelly little, thieving freaks, Jawas could be found in any dark, filthy hole in the galaxy. They were a wily tribe of tech scavengers that stole any piece of junk they came across, slapped it together long enough to make a sale and then moved on before their crindo broke apart. No one really knew where they came from originally, but Kavva could believe it was someplace like this desert grapphole. A few of the older troopers said that Jawas worshipped some kind of desert god, so it would make sense.
Earlier that day, they had traced the droids from the escape pod to a Jawa sandcrawler. Kavva was already half sick from Bantha scent so strong it got through his armor’s filters. They could have used speeders, but the brain-dead strategists thought riding Banthas would draw less attention. Attention from who? Kavva thought to himself, but didn’t dare say out loud. Who in grapp would be paying attention to this ball of crindo?!
Trusting folk like they are, the Jawas apparently suspected the storm troopers were there to confiscate their stolen property. Idiots. The empire could care less what went on in Hutt territory. Let the subhumans steal from, kill and enslave each other. What did it matter? In any case, while Welgom questioned what he could only presume was the Jawas’ leader – who could tell them apart? – Kavva saw a shape in the rocks to the West setting up a shot with a blaster rifle. He opened fire around the same time as the little creep. Then all grapp broke loose. His Bantha went down, but his shot caught the Jawa between his beady red eyes. Only Imperial storm troopers were so precise.
The rest of the unit assumed the worst and opened fire on the Jawas. Welgom threw himself to the ground to dodge his own mens’ blasters, and the Jawas along with their crawler and stolen droids were all dead by the time Kavva had wedged himself out from under the Bantha. Once Welgom had confirmed that he was still alive and his troopers were uninjured, the sergeant told Kavva to make sure there were no survivors among the Jawas. He took no chances and put two shots into every body he found. Three in the sniper by the rock. They burned the dead Bantha and moved on. Turned out Command was a bit smarter than Kavva thought. If anyone came across the scene, they would see the Bantha tracks and think Sandpeople did it – not imperial troopers.
But, then again, thought Kavva, who cares? We’re the kwatting Empire. This is what we do!
Going off what the Jawa leader told him before everything blew up, Welgom led the unit to a homestead still deep in the desert wastes but a bit closer to what passed for civilization on this world. It was a water farm harvesting moisture from the dry desert air. Might as well try squeezing blood from the rocks, Kavva thought, but something about the place reminded him of Rivandon and his desperate life inside the converter. Already wired from the Jawa fight, his stomach turned from bad memories.
The fat old man in front of the little hut was obviously harmless and stupid. He was no rebel. He smiled at Sgt. Welgom and waved. His face looked strange, like he wasn’t used to the expression. Kavva figured there was very little to smile about on this planet. No surprise. Kavva himself never found much to smile about wherever he was sent. As the sergeant asked the farmer about the droids, another figure emerged from the hut with something in his hands. Going on instinct and adrenaline, Kavva raised his blaster and fired dead center. The old man cried out and lunged for Kavva’s blaster, but the sergeant decked the water farmer with a chop to the back of his graying head.
“You drakk idiot!” Welgom yelled before he backhanded Kavva. The trooper wasn’t hurt, but he was stunned by his superior’s anger.
“What the kwat, Sarge?!”
Kavva had killed a woman - an old woman. The tea set she had brought with her now lay shattered on the paving stones in front of her home. The precious water it had contained was quickly evaporating in the hot, dry air. A stray thought passed through Kavva’s mind that this moisture would be captured by the field of harvesters behind them.
“Tea? Why would she offer us tea?”
“So we wouldn’t kill them, crindo for brains!”
Welgom sighed and shook his head. Then he drew his blaster and put two bolts into the old man moaning at his feet.
“Burn them,” he ordered Kavva.
They searched the homestead and its fields of harvesters, but the droids weren’t there – if they ever had been. Another dead end. Command ordered everyone back to Mos Eisley, the only spaceport available if any rebel cell wanted to take the missing droids off the planet and back to their secret base. To manage that, the rebels would have to get through Kavva’s unit plus about two dozen others. The trooper did not envy their chances, and he itched to burn a few blaster holes into the rebels responsible - or, for that matter, anyone else who gave him half a reason.
“Skywalker,” Kavva heard himself say. The name came to him in a flash.
Welgom nodded. “Right. Skywalker. Shoulda remembered. You run into a lot of silly sounding names this far out. Darklighter. Sunrider. I once knew a guy named Starkiller back on the Stone.”
“Sounds like a badass.”
“Phh! He was washout. Did himself in with his own blaster the first quarter cycle. Names don’t mean anything.”
Just then, a landspeeder approached. The sergeant signaled it to stop while Kavva covered its occupants. A scared farmboy piloted the speeder, and there was a gristly old man in the seat beside him. He smiled at Welgom a bit to easily for Kavva’s comfort, but at least these two looked human enough. They had a pair of droids in back, an R2 unit and a bronze-colored protocol droid.
Maybe these are the kwatting droids we’re looking for, Kavva thought.