The drive, as always, is brutal. 400 klicks from Reestkii to Niima Station, in a landspeeder that was old when the Empire was young, traveling across the wastes in the late night dark with the headlights dimmed to save power - it wasn't an easy trip twenty years ago, when the Graveyard was still new and Beata could still walk without a cane. Now the three hour drive is agony on her hips, and she has to take a break in the middle to stretch her back lest she freeze up somewhere in the last 50 klicks.
Niima Station looks the same as always in the desert darkness: scrubby and worn down. As always, the light is on at Zuvio's office; Beata sees Drego loitering outside the doorway, eating a protein bar.
"Don't you ever get sick of those?" she asks mildly as she hobbles to the door.
His yellow eyes, faintly bioluminescent in the darkness, slide up to her face before slowly sliding back down to the ground.
Beata huffs out a laugh, and pushed the door to the office open. Zuvio is already at his desk, painstakingly typing a report. A cheap folding chair has already been set out, and a cup of hot caf is steaming on the desk in front of it.
"My hero," she sighs, and nearly falls into the chair.
There are three children sleeping in the back room; the little Pavviet girls, who had just last month miraculously survived the sand storm their parents suffocated in, and a sullen teenaged Twi'leki boy who'd been marooned by his crew a week ago for "reasons unknown" (but was probably insubordination). None of them would be easy to place, but at least once they were back at Reestkii, Beata could get the ball rolling and see what could be done.
"The boy's a definite flight risk," Zuvio says, voice rasping. "I think just find him a job and a room to rent, and leave him be until he manages to find his way off-world?"
Beata squints at his file and sighs. "Yes, I think you're right. He have any mechanical skills? I think Jorah told me he was hiring for skimmer work late last month."
Zuvio just shrugs. "Kid won't even tell me his name, let alone what he can do," the Constable says laconically. "But he has a pretty decent mechanic's kit, so I think that will be a good choice. What about the girls - do you think anyone would be willing to take them both on at once?"
Beata chews on her cheek as she thinks. "Not anyone off-hand, no. There are a couple of families in Reestkii looking for farmhands, but only for one person, not for two. I'll have to ask around - maybe one of the outlying areas I haven't visited in awhile?"
Zuvio coughs a bit, the sound distorted by his breathing apparatus. "I know you hate them, but what about Tuanal Village?"
"If you know I hate them, why bother bringing them up?" Beat asks tartly. "And the answer is still no. If an adult chooses to live some kind of strange primitive lifestyle, that's their choice, but a child deserves a little better. There's more to the galaxy than Jakku. No, I'll take them home with me and put some feelers out. Worst comes to worst I can teach them a bit of tracking, see how they take to it. They must have some survival instincts, else they wouldn't have survived that bad storm last month."
There's a very obvious pause in the conversation, and Beata finds herself peering at Zuvio, cataloguing all the little twitches he's making. "That is how it happened, right?" she says suspiciously.
It turns out Rey is the reason the Pavviet girls are alive.
"You're kidding me," Beata says, disbelieving.
"Wish I were, it would make more sense," Zuvio rasps. "But both girls told me the same story: They were separated from their parents, trying to get back to Niima Station through the storm. Rey found them in that mess and guided them to that broken cruiser near the Ravager, where they waited out the storm. After the storm, Rey brought them to the Station, and managed to convince F'thev to look for the parents' bodies."
Beata just...sighs. "Unbelievable."
Zuvio chuckles. "Which part of the story? The part where she found two girls she barely knew in the worst sandstorm we've seen in five years? Or the part where she managed to convince one of our resident desert hermits to actually contribute to the community for once in his blasted life?"
Beata chugs down the last of the caf. "All of it! None of it. I don't know, I wish it did surprise me. But honestly, I'm still caught up on the impossible fact thing that a twelve-year-old human girl currently has the title for 'longest tenure as a solo scavenger' on Jakku," Beata says with great feeling. "I think I gave up being surprised by anything Rey did the third time she escaped my tender loving care and hitched a ride back here."
Zuvio snorts. "You and me both. How old was she then - six? Seven?"
Now it's Beata's turn to snort. "Something like that. She's still never told me the full story of how she managed to make it here - I know that idiot Tav only picked her up 100 klicks from the Station. Still don't know how she managed to travel the other 300 klicks in less than a week."
"Can you blame her? The girl still avoids the Station like a plague the day before your arrivals," he says. "Probably terrified you'll figure out a way to make her leave the Station permanently and miss her family the very day they come back for her."
Beata snorts at the sarcastic twist Zuvio gives the final phrase. They both know how likely it is Rey's unknown family will return for her. "And that's another thing: how does she always know when I'm coming? I only ever comm you an hour or two before!"
"Oh, that's the easiest thing to explain," Zuvio grunts as he pushes away from the desk and stands out of his chair. "I'm sure someone comms Plutt when they see you drive out of town in our direction, and he tells Rey to go to ground until you leave. Can't have his precious independent contractor get swiped by our planet's resident bleeding heart, after all."
And that's why I come at night, fool! How does she know to avoid me hours before I decide to even make the trip, let alone inform you? But there's no point in saying that to Zuvio; for some reason, he's grown used to the unbelievable things Rey does. Beata just rolls her eyes at Zuvio's little dig, but otherwise ignores it as she leans over to peer at the back room's door. Zuvio unlocks it, and opens the door, fumbling for the light switch.
"Time to wake up, kids. Your ride out of this miserable pit is here!"
The kids are no better or worse than any of the others Beata has picked up over the years. The boy grumbles a bit, but starts moving once he realizes he's leaving; the girls don't cry, but it's a near thing. It's the work of maybe half an hour to get the kids and all their belongings chivvied into the landspeeder. As always, Beata knocks fists with Zuvio and whatever cousin is on duty - that’s right, it’s Drego, the protein bar fiend - tonight, wishing them a good tomorrow, and taking the little thermos of caf Zuvio is always kind enough to gift her with. She'll see him in three weeks in Cratertown, for the Lorrdian boy's murder trial. After that, who knows? Life on Jakku is both monotonous and difficult to predict, although outsiders never understand that.
As Beata drives past the edge of the Graveyard, the dimmed headlights catch a glimpse of a small figure standing by the side of the road. Beata may not be getting any younger, but she's not foolish enough to pretend it's just a trick of the light on her old eyes.
"Until we meet again, kid." Somehow, she just knows Rey can hear her.