The sun beats down on Phasma’s head despite the light cloak she has wrapped herself in. She feels naked without her armor but Hux had stressed the importance of not drawing attention to herself on this mission.
Phasma often disagrees with Hux but she understands his point in this case. They need the weapon prototype data, not trouble.
The locals call this place a graveyard. It strikes Phasma as the final resting place of the Empire, their last stand reduced to nothing but the broken hulls of their ships.
She leaves her speeder along the side of the Interrogator, partially hidden in its shadow. There is someone else here, as evidenced by the vehicle parked in the sands. Phasma waits, preferring to lose time than to have a run-in with whatever scavenger beat her here.
Eventually a small figure comes out, toting a bag full of machinery clearly stolen from the wreckage. Phasma feels a sting of anger for such casual disrespect but she supposes she will be doing no better in a moment, taking what she wants.
The scavenger is a girl, Phasma can see when she pulls off her goggles and unwinds her head wrap. A thin, young girl, light-skinned and dark-haired. She doesn’t notice Phasma and simply kicks her speeder into gear and is gone.
Once she’s gone, Phasma makes her own way into the Star Destroyer. Maneuvering inside takes some skill but crashed or not, Phasma knows the layout of an Imperial II class Star Destroyer and it isn’t too difficult to find her bearings.
The problem is that what she is looking for isn’t here.
It’s possible that any number of things could have happened. The data could never have been here in the first place; Hux could have been given bad intel. Anyone could have stolen it over the years, not knowing the value of what they had.
Or Phasma was simply minutes too late and the data stick is now in the hands of the girl scavenger.
Phasma tracks the girl to Niima Outpost, where a disgusting Crolute called Unkar Plutt trades food for scavenge. The girl has gone by the time Phasma arrives and it is clear by the demeanor of the beings gathered around that asking after her would be unusual.
You must not be noticed, Hux had stressed.
Phasma pays for a bed for the night, knowing she’s been outrageously cheated, particularly considering the state of the bed, and wishes she could simply have solved this problem by force. In her armor with a blaster in hand and a few troopers at her back, Phasma could have gotten whatever she wanted without all this damned subterfuge.
But she can follow orders.
The following day she stakes a spot for herself at one of the tables where the scavengers clean off their goods before trading them in. She hopes the girl will show herself, hopes that her haul the previous day won’t have been enough to earn a day off.
It apparently wasn’t, because just when Phasma had begun to wonder whether she needed a new plan, a small, thin girl with brown hair comes walking in, lugging a net full of old ship parts behind her. Phasma recognizes the shape of her figure and the grayish-beige of her wrapped clothes.
It’s the scavenger.
The girl looks towards her once but her eyes dart away immediately, as if she is too nervous to hold anyone’s gaze or to be caught looking. A survival instinct, maybe, or perhaps just shyness.
Phasma decides it might be better to follow the girl, find where she lives. She doesn’t want to spook her and the girl probably has the data stick back at her home. In any case, she hadn’t given it to Plutt, and if she hadn’t done so yesterday Phasma can’t see why she would today.
It stands to reason that the girl has no idea what she possesses.
So after the girl makes her trade – an unsatisfactory one by the look on her face as she leaves Plutt’s stall – Phasma waits a short while and then follows her on her speeder. She keeps a safe distance, not wanting the girl to know she was being followed.
She ends up at the wreckage of an AT-AT. She is almost impressed by the girl’s ingenuity. Phasma circles back around the dunes to give it more time, so that when she finally approaches it will seem like mere happenstance.
Then she does.
The girl hears the speeder before Phasma stops and comes running towards her, wielding a staff.
Phasma gets out and says, “Hello.” She briefly considers trying a smile but it’s been so long she isn’t sure she can manage it without it seeming more like a grimace.
“I saw you at Niima. Did you follow me here?” She sounds both wary and accusatory all at once.
Phasma holds up her hands in an attempt to make herself appear less threatening. The gesture feels as though it goes against everything Phasma has ever been taught and ever believed in. “I was simply passing through and was lucky enough to find you. Could you spare a little water? I’m afraid I’ve run out.”
In truth Phasma has plenty of water stored in a secret compartment in her speeder, but she can’t think of a better reason to force the girl to interact with her. Phasma has always been a soldier, not a spy. She is not made for this sort of work.
“That was stupid. Jakku is no place for a stupid traveler to get caught out.”
The jab stings. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t true, that Phasma is being deliberately dumb. She dislikes letting even this strange girl think Phasma is less than she is.
But it is for the mission, for the First Order, so Phasma carries on. “I was overconfident. I was on my way to Blowback Town.”
“You’ve gone in completely the wrong direction then. Blowback Town’s on the other side of the Sinking Fields.”
“Is it? Well, that’s a shame. I was always warned that my sense of direction is deplorable.” This is a terrible lie. She hopes the girl won’t notice.
She doesn’t seem to. “It’s too late to go now. You won’t make it by nightfall and it gets too cold to be out past dark.”
“Is that an invitation?”
The girl scowls. “No. I don’t even know you.”
“My name is Phasma. Now you know me.”
“You think your name is better?”
The corner of the girl’s mouth twitches. “I’m Rey.”
“Now we’ve been introduced.” An idea occurs to Phasma and she makes a move towards a bag in her speeder.
Rey’s staff is in Phasma’s face in a blink and it takes all of Phasma’s self-control to step back rather than defend herself.
“What are you doing?” Rey asks, challenging.
“Please,” Phasma says, slowly pulling open the flap of the bag. There are rations inside, likely more food than Rey has ever seen at one time in her life, judging by the expression on her face. “You give me a place to sleep for the night, I’ll share my food with you. Fair?”
Rey hesitates but her stomach wins out over her independence. “Fair.”
“Thank you,” Phasma says, senses relaxing slightly as Rey lowers her weapon.
Rey jerks her head in a nod and says, “Come on.”
Phasma follows her, bringing the rations.
She feels another nudge of reluctant respect when she realizes what Rey has set up to protect herself from intruders, traps and motion sensors. She finds herself wondering how long Rey has been here, how long she has been on her own.
She really is just a girl, a teenager. She would have made a good trooper, Phasma thinks, smart and resourceful, capable of defending herself.
They enter the AT-AT through the belly hatch. Rey is silent as she moves, and Phasma merely takes in her surroundings. A computer that looks like it was taken out of a ship, a woven hammock where Rey must sleep, some spindly green plants and a doll dressed in what’s reminiscent of a Rebel Alliance orange flight suit. There is a small lamp, a beat-up stove, seats that were probably dragged out of a cockpit, and a wall covered over with single marks, as if to show the passage of time.
If there is a mark for every day Rey has lived here, then, she has lived here a very long time.
Phasma notices that Rey is watching her and hands over a protein bar and one of the gel packets. “Here. My part of the bargain.”
Rey takes Phasma’s offering like she thinks it might be stolen from her and she eats like she isn’t sure when she’ll eat again.
Phasma looks away.
“You can sleep over there,” Rey says, and points to the seats. It proves to be the last thing she says to Phasma for the rest of the evening.
It shouldn’t be hard, Phasma thinks. In the morning she will pretend to leave and then wait until Rey goes out for the day. Now she knows her way around, she knows what precautions Rey has taken against trespassers, so it will be easy enough to go back inside the AT-AT unnoticed while Rey is in the graveyard. She’ll find the data stick and then she’ll be free to leave this miserable planet.
Phasma sleeps well.
Phasma awakes to the sound of thunder booming overhead, the feeling that something vast and heavy is battering at the walls around her. She is immediately awake, upright in the seat where she has been sleeping.
The interior of the AT-AT is dim, dark enough that it is difficult to see in front of her even after her eyes adjust. She can just make out Rey across the way, in her hammock.
“What is it?” Phasma asks.
“X’us’R’iia,” Rey says, the unfamiliar words falling naturally from her tongue. “A bad storm. You won’t be leaving for Blowback Town until it has passed.”
She sounds annoyed. Likely she is regretting the fact that she had allowed Phasma to stay.
“How long will that be?”
Rey shrugs her shoulders. “Depends on how bad it is. Could be a day. Could be several.”
That changes things. Phasma wonders if she can find the data stick while she is stuck in here with Rey.
She settles again and tries to sleep, but the thunder keeps her up.
In a few hours Phasma thinks it might be morning, but her internal chrono still hasn’t quite adjusted to time on Jakku and the storm continues to block the sun. Rey is moving about, though, and Phasma is tired of sitting still.
She has another bit of rations from her pack for breakfast. She shares with Rey, who in turn shares her water. Phasma doesn’t know how long Rey’s water stores will last, particularly when being spread between two people, and she regrets her decision to feign having none.
Rey is clearly grateful for the rations, however, even if she won’t say as much.
They mostly keep to themselves throughout the day. Phasma does as much surreptitious snooping around as she can. The neck of the AT-AT is crushed, leaving the path to the head impassable, but Phasma knows there is a top hatch and she wonders if Rey might enter it that way, when there isn’t a storm raging outside. It would be a good place to store things.
Like a data stick, perhaps, the value of which is greater than a scavenger could possibly know.
Or perhaps Rey is the wrong scavenger. That is the most frustrating part, knowing that this delay might prove worthless in the end.
Rey spends a lot of time on her salvaged computer, running flight simulations. She is surprisingly good at it. Phasma thinks she might make a decent pilot, should she ever make it off this rock.
It’s a waste, Phasma thinks. A girl like Rey, left here in a dead-end life, just scraping by, when she has so many talents easily visible to even a stranger. She wishes there were a way to bring her in to the First Order, where use could be made of her, where she could be of value to others, where her skills wouldn’t be wasted on mere day-to-day survival.
But Phasma is not a recruiter and she is not a savior. She is here for one thing, her mission.
Her mission is not Rey.
The storm has not abated by the following day. Rey pulls out a stored stash of rations earned through her scavenge but there is reluctance on her face and Phasma feels a strange twinge of pity.
She gives Rey another protein pack.
Rey is slightly more generous with her water store.
Phasma has carved out a bit of space for herself to run through what training drills she can, uncomfortable with so much sitting around. Rey is watching her with undisguised interest.
“Are you sure you’re just a traveler?” she asks.
“Travelers can’t be fit?”
“I suppose they can be. You just move like…” Rey stops, and Phasma looks at her.
Rey is chewing at her bottom lip and eventually she shrugs. She is blushing. “You’re just… you’re so… I don’t know. I guess I just don’t spend much time with anyone, travelers or otherwise. You remind me of what I think a soldier must be like.”
Well, that’s appropriate. “You’ve never seen a soldier?”
“No one much comes around here.”
Phasma would say, Can’t imagine why not, but that seems rude and she doesn’t think irritating Rey is in her best interests.
Eventually Rey returns to her computer and her flight simulations. Or at least, that’s what Phasma thinks she is doing, but when Phasma finishes her workout and walks nearer, she notices Rey fiddling with -
She has the data stick. It must be it. Rey can’t get the data to show onscreen, the encryption level is far beyond her jury-rigged computer’s capabilities, but the evidence is damning and coincidence too unlikely.
Rey has what Phasma needs.
Rey notices Phasma watching her and flushes, looking guilty. She had probably wanted to keep her find to herself. “Just something I found,” she mutters, pulling the data stick out and closing her fist around it. “Can’t get it to play.”
“I imagine it’s encrypted,” Phasma says, keeping her tone even and unconcerned. “Bit of scavenge?”
“It’s nothing. Doubt Plutt will want it.”
Except Rey seems unsure. Phasma realizes that Rey had wanted to determine exactly what she was in possession of before she tried to trade it.
She hadn’t wanted to get cheated. Smart.
Phasma pretends she is uninterested and moves away, but her mind is furiously plotting. Rey has the data stick. She doesn’t know what she has. Phasma only needs to wait out the storm, steal the plans, and leave this miserable planet behind.
She wonders why she feels an odd pang at the thought.
They sit together that evening, quietly, and it is unexpectedly comfortable. Phasma appreciates Rey’s ability to be still and silent, whether it’s from innate introversion or a product of having been alone so long. Phasma has little patience for chatter and Rey seems to lack the inclination.
Perhaps she is only reacting to her present company. Whatever the reason, Phasma finds it pleasing.
She cannot, however, deny her curiosity about Rey.
Phasma is not made for small talk. She does not wish to pry and she does not wish to encourage a conversation that may lead to questions about herself she doesn’t want to answer.
And yet, as the thunder pulses beyond the walls, Phasma asks, “You live alone?”
Rey seems surprised but she answers, “For years.”
“Your family is…” It seems careless to say ‘dead’. Phasma stops herself only just in time.
“Coming back for me,” Rey finishes. She seems very certain in the way of a person who has told herself the same lie over and over again until she believes it.
Phasma does not believe the lie. “Of course,” she says.
“You… have a family?” Rey’s eagerness is telling. She doesn’t know what family means, not really, but she wants to.
“Not as such. No.” Phasma has her troopers, but they are not her family. She is loyal, and they are loyal, but they all serve a purpose. Loyalty, in the end, only stretches as far as usefulness. Skill will be rewarded and valued but dead weight will be cut.
Phasma has little notion of how family, in the sense that Rey means it, works. But she thinks that probably Rey would not approve of Phasma’s command, would not accept that as a family in any sense.
“You aren’t lonely?”
Looking at Rey, Phasma finds herself deeply considering the question. Loneliness is not an emotion she has often contemplated. She has her work. She has the First Order. She has never really wished for anything more.
Phasma is an officer but she was once a regular trooper like all the rest. She does not remember where she came from. She supposes, once, she had a family. Perhaps they miss her. Phasma finds it difficult to desire a thing which she never truly had and which she can’t remember.
She isn’t lonely. She likes her life. She is good at what she does.
But she looks at Rey and feels an odd sense of… not longing, exactly, but wondering. She wonders if there isn’t something else. Something more.
“I am content,” Phasma says, and Rey accepts it.
They listen to the storm together.
In the morning, the noise has subsided. The storm, Phasma thinks, must have passed.
It is early and Rey has not yet woken. Phasma knows she will need to go out; she will need to return to her ship graveyard to scavenge so that she can find something worth trading to replenish the stores she went through during the storm.
If Phasma takes the data stick now, before Rey wakes, she thinks perhaps Rey won’t notice until after Phasma is long gone. It would be easier. She will not have to wait and she will not run the risk of being unable to bypass Rey’s security measures.
It feels duplicitous, but then, stealing the data stick will be duplicitous either way. Rey is not a friend and she matters little in the scheme of things, but she has been Phasma’s companion and benefactor these last few days. She has been kinder than she needed to be, even if it had been reluctant kindness.
Phasma likes her. It is a strange feeling.
But it doesn’t matter. Rey stands in the way of the completion of Phasma’s mission and Phasma will be stopped by nothing. Certainly not by generous feelings towards a near stranger whom she is unlikely to ever see again.
Rey has left the data stick by her computer. She had little reason to hide it, Phasma supposes, given that it had been no secret.
Her fingers hover momentarily above the small item as Phasma finds herself hesitating.
She could leave it. She could lie to Hux and say it had been destroyed, say it is long gone. It isn’t as though Rey will ever be able to make anything of it. The girl is smart but she has limited means. She will never be able to break the encryption, not on Jakku, and it is worthless otherwise.
But that is foolishness. The weapon will aid the First Order. That is the only thing that matters.
Phasma slips the data stick into her pocket.
She returns to her bed and waits for Rey to wake.
It doesn’t take long. When she does, there is no way for her to know that Phasma has done anything but lie there on her seat.
Rey blinks her eyes and stretches. “The storm is finished,” she says.
“I thought it might be,” Phasma says. “It’s quiet.”
“You’ll be leaving, then.” She sounds strangely disappointed and Phasma is almost glad of it.
“I was only passing through.”
Rey nods. “Most are.”
They eat together one last time. Phasma gives Rey more than she needs.
Outside, the sun is bright. The AT-AT appears undamaged but the dunes are changed, the sands having been shifted by the storm.
“I need to head out,” Rey says. “X’us’R’iia often uncovers what used to be unfindable.”
“A good day for scavenging.”
“If I’m lucky.”
They stare at each other. Phasma says, “I should be on my way, too.”
She is briefly concerned that Rey will suspect her of theft, that Rey will check to make sure Phasma is not attempting to make off with anything.
But Rey doesn’t. Trust, Phasma realizes. She has earned Rey’s trust.
There is a sick, uncomfortable feeling in Phasma’s stomach that she dislikes greatly. She imagines Rey discovering that Phasma stole from her.
Phasma banishes the image from her mind and steels herself. Rey’s opinion of her doesn’t matter. The mission matters.
Phasma feels naked without her armor but she is still Captain Phasma, no matter who she has been pretending to be.
The data stick feels heavy in her pocket.
“You could leave here,” Phasma says, not entirely understanding why she does. “You deserve better than this life. Jakku is… It isn’t a place for someone like you.”
Rey smiles at her. “If I leave, my family won’t know where to find me.”
Stop lying to yourself, Phasma thinks. You know they aren’t coming.
But Rey has been lying so long she doesn’t know how to stop. Phasma knows she is not the sort of person who can make Rey stop.
She wishes she were. She wishes she could bring Rey in, wishes they could serve together.
She wishes maybe she could -
But Phasma is not built for wishing.
She offers Rey her hand. Rey hesitates before taking it.
“I am glad we met,” Phasma says, and that is something true. “Perhaps someday, we will meet again.”
Phasma does not believe they will.
But she wants to.