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Within Monsters

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“I know some of you have been through this talk before." The woman in the front holds up her hands, effortlessly drawing the attention of the crowded shuttle. “But it’s important so we’re doing it again.”

 

Rey’s head shoots up, fingers halting over her second-hand datapad. Hands tighten unconsciously around it's edges, feeling each groove and scar in the metal. It’s a battered, half broken thing with something that looks suspiciously like blaster damage shearing off one corner completely. She can't help but wonder if it's a metaphor for her life right now.

 

Worn, weary, but working.

 

Alway's working.

 

She’s been tightening the loose connections to pass the time on the short journey through hyperspace. The busy work keeping her from dwelling too much on the fact that, deep down, no matter how much she tried to hide it from herself, she's just a little bit terrified. The fear of what's about to happen fluttering inside of her stomach with leathery wings, far too toothsome to be butterflies anymore.

 

She's never been this far from Jakku in her whole life.

 

“Listen up newbies, a First Order ship is not a deep space cruise.” Her new bosses words have her snapping to attention. Vahna's hands fisting against her hips as she stares down at the new recruits. Cutting into them with her eyes. “We're here to rewire the data cables and take some strain off the onsite crew. You will do as you’re told, keep your heads down and for the love of the Maker do not talk back. This isn’t a place for politics, people! Stick to the areas assigned to you, and, if you want to make it home again, stay away from the upper-management.”

 

Rey swallows hard, feeling her heart rate pick up at the sharp warning. The speech driven home when, as if on cue, the Resurgent-class star destroyer they'll be working on for the next few months looms into view. A giant grey arrow standing out in sharp contrast against the blackness of space.

 

The unsettling feeling that's been building up in her since they left the planet takes on new edges. An uncomfortable awareness of something she can’t quite put words to gnawing at the back of her mind.

 

She forces it back, slipping the data-pad into her standard-issue rucksack. Gaze fixed almost unwillingly out of the viewport. The Finalizer is huge, rapidly approaching until it's all she can see, blocking out the stars.

 

R’iia, this is the last place she ever thought she’d find herself.

 

Starved to death at the bottom of a sand dune being eaten by desert rats had always been a possibility, sure, but this?

 

She’d never seen this coming.

 

Now it feels almost inevitable. There were only so many wrecks to scavenge on Jakku after all, fewer still after the Outriders encroached into her territory from beyond the Shard. When Unkar Plutt had raised the value of portions for the third time in as many months, she knew she'd run out of choices. Her options drying up like water in the desert sun.

 

She'd been caught up bargaining over scraps when the shuttle stopped to refuel at the Outpost. Every head turning to look at it as it touched down, kicking up clouds of sand in it's wake. They didn't exactly get a lot of traffic there. She'd been just as fascinated, craning her neck across the market place for a better look. The dust clearing slowly, revealing the shuttle's logo. Battered but readable against the clear blue sky.

 

Like a sign from the Maker.

 

Galactech. 

 

She knew them by reputation. They’d sometimes stop at the Outpost for supplies when working on this side of the Western Reaches, a respectable but dull crew. Mercenary technicians with no allegiances or politics. They went wherever they were needed, worked for anyone who would pay.

 

Hired anyone one with the right skills.

 

One look at the shuttle and she knew what she'd have to do to survive. She'd sped back to her home and packed up the few things she couldn’t live without, sold her speeder for less than it could ever be worth, and buried the last of her childish hopes in the sand.

 

Her heart hammering so hard she could taste it as she barged her way on board the shuttle and demanded they take her with them on the next run. Cold sweat beading on the back of her neck as she recited every bit of technical knowledge she'd ever learnt. Imperial, Alliance, everything she'd ever scavenged or simulated. The shuttles she'd fixed, the generators she'd rewired. A desperate, jumbled monologue over the sound of her stomach growling.

 

Her pride the only thing keeping her shoulders straight under their gaze. The only thing keeping her from begging.

 

The longest minute of her life passing in silence before the mission leader had nodded.

 

She was hired.

 

What if they come back when you're gone. Her subconscious, always a fairweather friend, had whispered to her as she walked away from everything she’d ever known. Twisting her gut with worries about a family she could barely remember. The ones who had abandoned her on that waste of a planet in the first place. They're not coming back. She had to remind herself. No one’s going to save me.

 

She had to work if she wanted to survive. She couldn't eat hope.

 

Her mind snaps back to the present as her seat mate starts to fidget next to her. Looking even more anxious than Rey feels.

 

She's been lumped in with the other new recruits, a skinny young man with a nervous face by the name of Lim and a set of unsettlingly attractive twins named Zalya and Yalza. Sandwiched between them on the shuttle, the twins seem content to accept their new leader's words at face value but it's clear that Lim isn't quite as sure. Visibly shaking as he raises his hand, squinting up at the front of the shuttle.

 

“What?” Vahna asks so sharply the boy skitters in his seat. Forcing Rey to inch away from her sudden proximity to a lot of thin, sweaty limbs that aren't her own.

 

"Is it- is it true there’s a-” He looks around, fear dancing in his gaze, as if at any second someone will spring from the shadows and strike him down for his curiosity. “Sith Lord onboard the ship?”

 

Rey tenses. There have been rumours of course, there are always rumours. Scary stories of a Sith-like figure that frequents the First Order’s flagship, taller than a Krayt Dragon and twice as vicious.

 

She doesn't believe it, she told Lim as much back on the docking station before they boarded the shuttle. Jedi Knights and Sith Lords and the rest of it were stories. Good stories sure, the best kind of stories in her opinion, but stories nonetheless. The universe was nowhere near interesting enough for them to be real.

 

Reality was sand and scrap and work. Magic powers only existed in myths and holonovels.

 

“No.” Vahna replies tersely.

 

Rey sighs, relaxing in her seat. Trying to ignore the strange little pang of disappointment that echoes between her ribs. At least a mystical figure, no matter how dark, might spice up the four months of cable rewiring they've got planned. She's about to turn away, gaze drifting back to the terrifyingly huge star destroyer filling up her peripheral vision when Vahna opens her mouth again. Pulling Rey's attention back to the front of the ship.

 

"However..." Vahna's lips thin, something unusually wary passing over her features even as her tone stays firmly professional. "The Finalizer is currently home to Commander Ren, a dark force user of some strength, if the stories are to be believed. Again I advise you all to stay far out of his way.”

 

Rey blinks. An icy shiver running down her spine at their leader's admission. They were legends weren’t they? Surely such a person couldn’t actually exist? Her pulse jumps a little faster at the thought. She tries to tell herself this is a joke, an act. A story told to frighten the new crew into toeing the line, only... in the two weeks Rey's been training with the other technicians Vahna has never once lied. Never once cracked a joke.

 

She swallows hard, stomach dancing as she stares at the ship with renewed interest. Unsure if she's more frightened or intrigued about the prospect of being trapped on a war ship with an actual dark force user.  

 

She's always loved the stories after all.

 

Lim looks like he’s about to throw up. The veteran technician sitting on his other side edging away. Rey does the same, unable to keep from feeling a jolt of compassion for her fellow newbie even as she does so. She might be intrigued by it but it's clear Lim is anything but. He's come from an academy after all, not the wasteland. He hasn't had to live with fear like she has.

 

She squashes the feeling, now is not the time to be worried about anyone else. If the desert’s taught her anything it’s the importance of self preservation. She has to look after her self first and foremost, everything else comes second.

 

Especially now.

 

The landing gear whines as they begin their final descent, the ship groaning as they dock with the Finalizer. Suddenly enclosed in the brightly lit hangar of the Star Destroyer.

 

Rey feels her stomach flip flop as she gathers her things, eyes glued to the viewport as they all fall in line. The hangar is alive with activity. The stark-white shapes of stormtroopers marching back and forth across the dark floor in formation. As if they’re on strings. Squadrons of TIE fighters sitting prepped and ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

 

The scale of it all is overwhelming, stealing the breath from her lungs as she tries not to gape. She's never seen so many people or ships in one place before. At least... she thinks they’re people. The masks make it hard to tell. She’s seen more than her fair share of them in the past, but the ones she’s known were only worn by skeletons in ship wrecks. The masks are even more unsettling now, just as lifeless in motion.

 

For a moment all she can see is moving corpses, a shiver stealing down her spine at the thought. One that's not helped in the least the bone-cold chill that occupies the hangar, sapping the heat from her limbs. Making her almost stupidly glad when she sees it's an officer waiting to greet them at the bottom of the ramp. 

 

The officers don’t wear masks.

 

“Vahna Mark and team from Galactech, ma’am,” Vahna marches ahead of them, back ram-rod straight as she hands off their credentials, “Reporting for work order 0786.”

 

The officer nods, her face pinched and pale under the fluorescents as the crew falls into line in front of her. Her gaze fixed her pristine Order-issue datapad.

 

“Report to Bay 7 for accreditation and quarter details.” She signals over one of the stormtroopers and Rey's heart sinks. The empty expression of it's mask up even worse up close. “Take them to Officer Ang,”

 

The trooper shoots off a smart salute, turning sharply on his or her heel to lead them deeper into the ship.

 

Rey’s home for the next four months.

 

If she survives that long.

 

-

 

Rey’s fear doesn’t last the week.

 

Life on Jakku has made her adaptable. Before she knows it she’s navigating the corridors of the Finalizer like she designed them herself. Their blueprints imprinted firmly on the back of her eyes as she takes the service elevator down to D-deck. Bag swaying on her shoulder as she takes a short cut through the generator room, exhausted from another long, tedious day of rewiring data cables.

 

It turns out the rules for survival here aren't so very different than back on Jakku. Keep your head down, do your job, get on with it.

 

And, unlike life on the desert planet, Rey has a new light in her life...

 

The food.

 

She might not personally buy into the  First Order and their quest for a unified galaxy, but she cannot deny their food is the best she’s ever eaten. Clutching her canteen card between her fingers like it's the most precious jewel in the entire know universe as she swings into the mess hall. Already overcome by the scent of fresh-cooked food from the doorway, she doesn't even pause to return the wave of her crewmates as she heads for the queue.

 

There’s meat, real meat, in a numian sauce, and meal bread too. Not the poly-starch and veg-meat she’s lived off for as long as she can remember.

 

The first time she tastes it she almost cries.

 

She wishes she could say she savoured it, that first meal, but in truth it’s weeks before she stops shoveling it in fast enough to truly appreciate the flavours. 

 

She’s not the only one who eats fast though, the troopers have it down to a science. It's still a shock to see them without their helmets. They’re all so different underneath, young men and women of every kind.

 

So incredibly human.

 

Their meal breaks are regimented, their whole lives structured to the last second, but she still hears the jokes thrown between them as they scarf down their food. Calling each other nicknames instead of numbers.

 

She no longer flinches at the sight of them on the upper deck anymore.

 

The technicians and support staff get longer to eat, picking over their meals in the lull after the long hours of their shifts. She drops herself down at their table, offering a quick greeting before she attacks today's dinner. Listening to them complain with half an ear, too busy stuffing her face usually to pay much heed to the tired gripes of her peers. That is until their voices drop and they start swapping stories about the infamous Commander Ren... the feared Lord Kylo Ren, as she finds out his full name is -and his band of knights. Then she pays full attention. Lowering her fork as one of the older technicians launches into the story of the most recent damaged to one of the comm-rooms on the upper deck.

 

Rey can’t deny her curiosity has been growing over the mysterious figure that supposedly haunts the hallways. The technicians on her crew whisper about him like he’s a ghost. The ones who work for the First Order shudder at his name, complaining under their breath about lightsaber damage before looking around with wide eyes, as if he might somehow hear them from half the ship away and strike them down for their insubordination.

 

Rey just feels a guilty rush of interest, he has a lightsaber. A real life one.

 

The rumours about him are like the best kind of ghost stories told in the dark nights of the Outpost. Terrifying and intriguing in equal parts. Do you know he can hear your thoughts from a hundred miles? Have you ever seen him crush a man from across the room? Did you know he’s descended from royalty? Have you heard he has no face under his mask? I heard it was melted off in a fire...

 

-

 

It takes her weeks to actually catch sight of him.

 

Stuck as she is on the lowest rung of the ship replacing all the data-cables on the supply deck. Grappling with carbon wires and connectors for hours at a time, stuck inside the cramped wall panels with nothing but her magwrench for company. Then, at the very last second, she gets her shift switched with Zayla.

 

She'll be on the top floor now.

 

The Officers deck.

 

She nearly swallows her heart when she finally sees him, striding around the corner like a shadow made flesh.

 

The rumours are true.

 

He’s just as tall and dark and terrifying as they say. Truly alien, his presence filling up the hallway until she can feel her hair standing on edge from the static charge.

 

She stays low, pressed against the wall with her head dropped in the way Vahna has taught them is best to survive. She can’t help but watch him from under her lashes as he sweeps past her. Black fabric and menace. She thinks she can see the dark metal hilt of his saber at his waist and her veins pulse with adrenaline.

 

Then he is gone and the moment passes. Over before it even began. Her heart slowing, giddy fear fading away as the cold reality of her life washes back in. Suddenly unbearably grey in comparison as her adrenaline wanes.

 

With a sigh she cracks open the wall panel and eases herself inside, magwrench between her teeth as she turns on her solarlight.

 

The ship won’t rewire itself after all.

 

Still, she can’t keep herself from daydreaming about magic powers and laser swords as she works.