Star Wars: Before the Awakening (6 page)

BOOK: Star Wars: Before the Awakening
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She closed her eyes, feeling, for the first time in a very long time, very much alone.

The
X’us’R’iia
lasted three and a half days.

Rey finished one bottle of water and half of another, guarding her thirst, because she didn’t know
how long it would be until she’d be able to get into Niima for more. She was out of food by the second day, and by the time the storm was over her headache was so intense she was lightheaded and had to go slowly when she moved around her little home.

She’d jury-rigged a computer using pieces scavenged from several crashed fighters over the years, including a cracked but still-usable display from
an old BTL-A4 Y-wing. There were no radio communications to speak of—no way to transmit or receive and, frankly, nobody she wanted to talk to anyway. On the wreckage of a Zephra-series hauler, though, she’d once found a stash of data chips, and after painstakingly going through each and every one of them, she’d discovered three with their programs intact; one of them, to her delight, had been
a flight simulator.

So when she wasn’t sleeping or just sitting and listening to the storm or tinkering at her workbench, she flew. It was a good program, or at least she imagined it was. She could select any number of ships to fly, from small repulsor-driven atmospheric craft to a wide variety of fighters, all the way up to an array of stock freighters. She could set destinations, worlds she’d
never visited and never imagined she would, and scenarios, from speed runs to obstacle courses to system failures.

At first, she’d been truly horrible at it, quite literally crashing a few seconds after takeoff every time. With nothing else to do, and with a perverse sense of determination that she would
not
allow herself to be beaten by a machine that she herself had put together with her own
hands, she learned. She learned so much that there was little the program could throw her way that would challenge her now. She’d gotten to the point where she would, quite deliberately, do everything she could think of to make things hard on herself, just to see if she could get out of it. Full-throttle atmospheric reentry with repulsor-engine failure? No sweat. Multiple hull breach deep-space
engine flameout? A walk in the park.

It was, if nothing else, a way to pass the time.

When Rey finally ventured out, it took her an hour to get her door open. The sand was piled so high and packed so hard against it that she could move it only by centimeters at first. With each push, more of the desert rushed into her home. When she finally
did
have the door open, she had to spend another
hour cleaning up, but that was mostly because she was working very slowly. Every time she bent and straightened up again, the lightheadedness would return and she would have to stop and steady herself with a hand on the wall.

The sun was hot and mean when she finally emerged. Miraculously, her speeder had been spared the worst of the storm. She dusted it off, checked the power, started the engine,
and was pleasantly surprised when it responded without hesitation. She went back inside long enough to get her staff and a few pieces from her workbench to offer Unkar. She then closed up, mounted her speeder, and took the drive into Niima. She went slowly, mindful that she wasn’t at her best.

The little town—if you could call it a town, and she wasn’t certain you could, but she didn’t have much
to compare it with—was still nearly deserted. The tarps over the washing station had been shredded by the
X’us’R’iia
, and there were two sentries out working on repairs. Rey parked between the station and Unkar’s place and looked over at the little airfield out of habit, counting the ships. There were the same three ships parked there, the same three as ever. All of them looked like they’d survived
the storm without damage.

She trudged over to Unkar’s window, feeling the sun pummeling her. He was already there, watching with swollen eyes in a bloated face.

“First one in,” he said.

Rey dug in her satchel, pulled out the three pieces of salvage she’d taken from her bench, and set them on the counter between them. “What’ll you give me?”

One of Unkar’s thick hands reached out, palming the
pieces one at a time and pulling them through the opening so he could examine them more closely. Rey waited, glancing about. More people were arriving, venturing out after the storm. A couple of other salvagers apparently had gone out hunting first and were making their way to the washing station to clean up their finds. Rey cursed herself quietly for not having done the same. The storm would’ve
shifted the sands in the graveyard. Who knew what it might’ve uncovered? By the time she got out there, there’d be nothing left.

“What’s this supposed to be?” Unkar asked.

Rey looked at the piece in his hand. “It’s the actuator for a Kuat-7 acceleration compensator.”

“Not like this it isn’t. And this, this supposed to be part of a data buffer set?”

“Yeah.”

Unkar grunted. “This one is good,
low-interference regulator for a Z-70, I can move this.” He spread the three pieces out between them. “Give you three portions, one for each of them.”

“The Z-70 is worth three alone, Unkar.”

“I’m offering you three, Rey. Take it or leave it.”

She winced. The sunlight was making her headache worse.

“Three portions, two bottles of water,” Rey said.

She was eating the muck that passed for
a meal—one portion—in the shade by the vendor stalls when she heard the engines. Everyone looked up, Rey included. They all watched as the ship came in lazily over the airfield, then set down with a whisper. It was an old
Hernon
-class light freighter, boxy and ugly. Rey had seen it there maybe ten times before, and so had everyone else; just as quickly their attention strayed from the arrival
back to the various tasks at hand. Unkar did a lot of repeat business with some traders, people looking to buy his salvage on the cheap and off the books.

There were a few dregs of the blue slop remaining in the packet in her hand, and Rey brought it to her lips and squeezed what was left into her mouth. She got up and wandered toward the washing station, now with every position filled and another
half dozen fellow salvagers waiting their turns. She tossed the package in the trash and looked back at the airfield. The ramp had dropped, and the first figure to emerge was exactly the one she’d expected: the same human she’d seen there every other time. He stopped at the bottom of the ramp and turned back to speak to someone still aboard, and Rey saw another figure descending, a young girl,
followed by yet a third, an older woman. Those were new faces to her, and Rey found herself staring.

The man gestured toward Unkar’s, speaking to the woman and the girl. The girl stuck her hands in her pockets, shoulders dropping, and the woman put her hand on the girl’s head as she spoke to the man. The man lowered his hands and set them both on the girl’s shoulders. She looked up at him and
he bent toward her, maybe speaking, and then pointed into the ship. The girl turned and followed the woman back up the ramp and out of sight. The man headed for Unkar’s.

Rey returned to her speeder, trying to imagine what the exchange had been about—what the girl had said, what the man had said, what the woman had said. She kicked the engine to life and wheeled her speeder back toward the desert,
mulling that over.

She didn’t have the first idea what it had all been about.

Rey didn’t have much hope for a good find. She’d lost the morning already, and by the time she’d ridden her speeder out to the edges of the graveyard, it was midafternoon. Anything the storm had revealed farther in had already been claimed. As she rode, she could see small groups of scavengers working new wrecks.
A lot of people worked in teams, figuring they could cover more ground that way. Rey worked alone and always had. It was easier when she was alone; there were fewer complications, fewer things to worry about. The only person she had to trust was herself.

She rode out farther, beyond the easy finds and into the harder terrain. She was feeling better, the meal having satisfied the gnawing hunger,
at least for the moment, and she opened up the speeder. Rey rode fast and hard, enjoying the thrill of the machine’s power and acceleration. She’d had the speeder for years, built it herself as she had so many other things, and as much as she could allow herself a sense of pride in anything, she was proud of that.

The graveyard wasn’t, strictly speaking, just
one
area but a vast expanse, and
you could go for kilometers without seeing signs of anything, then crest some high dune and suddenly find yourself looking down at a field of wreckage. The storm had done more than reveal new finds, however; it had changed the terrain, reshaped the desert, and it wasn’t until she hit the Crackle and saw the Spike that Rey realized how far out she’d gone, how long she’d been riding. The Crackle was
one of the few constants in the desert, marked by the almost perfectly vertical spine of some massive capital ship—the Spike—half-buried in the ground. Nobody knew what kind of ship it had been, Republic, Imperial, something else from earlier; it was impossible to tell, because all that remained was the keel line, rising out of the ground, and some twisted support beams still clinging to what remained
of the frame. Everything else of the ship was simply gone, taken in the explosion of plasma that had erupted on impact. The heat had been so intense it had seared the desert sand, burning so fast and hot it had turned the ground to blackened glass. Over the years, the glass had broken into smaller and smaller chunks, on its way to becoming sand once more, but when you rode or walked over the
land, you’d hear it cracking, echoes that seemed to whisper for kilometers.

Hence the Crackle.

Rey stopped as she approached the Spike, squinting up at the sun as she pulled a corner of her wrap from her face. Maybe two hours of daylight left, she calculated, and she’d need most of that to get back home. The temperature plummeted at night, got as cold as it could be hot during the day. What
little wildlife there was on that part of Jakku emerged in the darkness, as well, and most of it was predatory, as desperate to survive as every other living thing. The swarms of gnaw-jaws came out at night, carnivores that ran on six legs and preyed on warm blood. Getting caught in the dark wouldn’t be good.

She’d lost the day, Rey concluded, but maybe she could get a head start on the next
one. She shut down the speeder, dismounted, and spat out more sand. She drank half of one of the bottles she’d gotten from Unkar, then stowed it back in her satchel. Rey looked at the Spike critically, thinking. It was definitely climbable. Not particularly safe but climbable.

Slipping the staff from her back, Rey left it leaning against the side of the speeder and made her way to the base of
the Spike. The ground broke beneath her boots, glass popping and cracking. The pillar creaked as she reached its base, the Spike resettling in the sand, as if warning Rey to reconsider her plan.

The metal, hot from a day in the sun, burned under her hands as she climbed. She used the edges of her wrap as makeshift gloves, but still the heat seeped through. There were more handholds and footholds
than it had at first seemed, and she ascended quickly, focusing on what she was doing rather than what was above or quickly growing farther away below. It wasn’t until she felt the wind snapping the ends of her scarf that she realized how high she’d gone. Rey stopped, then wedged herself into a gap on the Spike where she could almost sit. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was secure, at least for
the moment.

The view was amazing. She’d climbed easily one hundred meters, maybe higher, she thought. Looking back the direction she’d come, she could just make out what she guessed was Niima, shimmering and distorted in the heat haze. Between her and the town stretched the majority of the known graveyard, the edge marked by the dead Star Destroyer, and from there even that appeared small. Rey
shifted her weight to the side and pulled her macrobinoculars from her satchel. Only one of the lenses worked, so it was more a macromonocular, she figured, but it worked all the same. She brought it to her eyes and scanned the desert spread out before her.

There were a couple of Teedos on the horizon, the range finder on the macros telling her they were over fifty kilometers out. They were walking
their luggabeasts instead of riding them, which meant they’d been out on a long search and were returning home. She swept her gaze to the left, over the featureless desert. It was disappointing. There was nothing new to see, and the few wrecks she knew to be out that way were gone now, eaten once more by the desert.

Something dug at her vision, a flash—metal or glass—just for an instant, and
Rey swung her view back, slower, and felt her heartbeat quickening. She forced herself to look slowly and tried to retrace the path her eyes had taken, but it took genuine willpower to do it. The sun was dropping, and Rey knew that whatever the light had caught, it had been a case of right place, right time; in minutes, perhaps even seconds, the sun would drop even lower, and what had been revealed
might vanish forever.

She saw it again—the flare of sunlight glinting off exposed metal—and she refocused the macros and pulled out. What she found nearly made Rey fall off the Spike.

It was a ship.

Rey lowered the macros. She checked the sun again. By the time she climbed down, she’d have just enough time to make it back home before darkness fell. If she pushed to the wreck she would make
it with daylight left, but there’d be no way to get back to the walker before the desert turned cold and dangerous with nightfall and everything that came with it. She could leave it for tomorrow, head out at dawn, and hope that she would be able to find the wreck again and that nobody else would discover it before she could claim it.

It was those last two unknowns that made her decision: the
fear that she would never be able to find it again and that someone would steal it from her.

She stuffed the macros back in her satchel and began the long climb down.

BOOK: Star Wars: Before the Awakening
4.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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