Things never went her way, but Girl knew that her luck had to change sometime. Abandoned, sold by her parents to the avaricious junk boss Unkar Plutt and his cruel crew of orphan ‘minders’, she survived day to day on the rations that she earned by gathering salvage from the wrecks that littered the sands beyond Niima Outpost.
She was alone in the expansive darkness in the Atmospheric Processing Complex of the Imperial Star Destroyer Ravisher, as it sat in permanent dry dock in the Starship Graveyard of Jakku. She tugged lightly at the goggles that protected her eyes. Ravisher was huge – the size of a small city on one of the Core Worlds from what she’d heard - but at least it was reasonably stable, its bulk having settled soon after it came to its final resting place.
Other ships shuddered into hidden pockets in the dunes without warning, callously taking any scavengers still inside to their doom. Places like the Sinking Sands swallowed ships whole, taking with them any chance of salvage.
The ship lay in the sands for more than a decade, as the scavengers of Niima slowly worked their way into the stale dark core, past the husks of damaged droids and the armor that still contained the remains of the stormtroopers who had perished there.
Girl’s small hands pulled at the of the environmental core control module illuminated by the small light on her head. Three redundant systems were in every scrubbing tank of every ship of Imperial design. Often, the ones she found had been damaged in the battle or in many cases, neglected by the dispirited crews in the weeks between the Battle of Endor, and the Battle of Jakku.
This one was whole. She pressed the switch, and the maintenance light glowed brilliantly in the extreme darkness. It had probably been replaced right before the Ravager went into battle.
Something stirred deep inside her that made her heart beat a little faster, and she felt a lightness at the center of her chest.
This would be the turning point. Maybe this would pay enough so she could lay in supplies for the coming bad season, when temperatures on Jakku soared to deadly levels, forcing even the native inhabitants of the planet to go to ground. Maybe this year she wouldn’t have to borrow against what she’d already repaid on her indenture, and she could start paying back.
In the humid silent darkness, she breathed thanks to the ghost of whichever Imperial Environmental Services engineer was responsible for this ship. Their diligence two decades ago would put food in her belly today.
She wrapped both hands around the green cased cylinders. Her hands were small, even for a 9-year-old. The container was smooth, with no ridges or indents that she could grip.
The lightness in her chest faded, then flared again.
She unwrapped her scarf from around her head and wrapped it firmly around the cylinder, hoping it will give her the leverage she needed.
She tugged, throwing herself in the counter clockwise motion she knew will unlock it. Despite her best efforts, it wouldn’t budge. She was strong for her age, but this part was designed for a droid to maintain, not human, and certainly not for children.
Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten yet today. Unkar had been setting the price of salvage lower and lower as they got closer to the hot season. She’d been scrimping and saving, but she needed this ECCM to break even.
Frustration nibbled at the hope in her chest. Why can’t things just go her way for once?? She was so close!
She grunted, giving into the frustration, throwing her hands up in the air. The sound echoed in the hollow corners of the scrubbing tank.
No one will come to help her. No one would hear her at all. Not that they could – the EPC on the Ravager was buried behind sealed blast doors. Only Unkar’s orphans were able to slink through the droid maintenance tunnels and air ducts of the ship to the parts that remained.
Her ‘minders’ had left her alone hours ago. They never stayed. They were responsible for Unkar’s crew of indentured children and, technically, one of them was supposed to stay.
They were realists. If she got stuck, there wasn’t much they could do, even if they cared to. The children brought in profit for Unkar, but one truth remained.
Girl was one of the disposable ones. Parents unable to feed another mouth abandoned children regularly on Jakku. They were taken in by the New Anchorites, or the work gangs at the gas mines, or sometimes found more unscrupulous occupations. Or sometimes they were sold into indenture.
Something told her she was different – she was special, she was skilled, but that wouldn’t bring her parents back to her. She hadn’t cried about it in two years. She wasn’t about to start again now.
If she weren’t ready when the Minders returned (which varied greatly from day to day), they would leave her defenseless, overnight on the waste fields. Long ago she learned to carry a stick to defend herself against the creatures that roamed the sands at night, and she always wore an extra layer of fabric she could use to ward off the cold night air. Luck had helped her survive to 9. Other indentured children hadn’t fared as well.
Loneliness was her only true companion.
She had been pushing her luck of late, and she knew she’d get the back side of Barsa’s hand (or worse!) again if she didn’t do what she was told. Girl’s anger would get the better of her, and Barsa was happy to remind her where she belonged.
Her hand went to the bruise purpling on her arm. They didn’t like it when she went off on her own, searching for her own salvage. But she’d wasted uncounted hours waiting for them to collect her.
She tugged and tugged and tugged, but the ECCM still wouldn’t budge. Tears welled up in her eyes. She knew they’re a waste of water. She refused to let them fall.
Her friend BZ9-L1 loved to tell stories of the mysterious Jedi of old, who would have simply called the Force, and it would have lifted the ECCM removal tool that certainly lay somewhere in the darkness nearby to her hand.
For a moment, she believed in the Force, that it was more than just the stuff of the vivid imagination of her droid friend.
She turned back to the ECCM. This time, instead of pouring her frustration on it, she breathed deep, willing the part to come free.
Something twinged in the ship. The floor tilted slightly and she heard the sound of metal shuddering. She was lucky to escape from other ships later settled into those unmapped holes in the desert floor, but she’s never felt the Ravager move before.
That jarring feeling scared her more than anything. Her path to the outside world was precarious if the ship is stable. Bulkheads and huge parts hung tenuously over the air ducts she had followed to this point, needing only the slightest nudge to block her escape.
She gave one final tug to the ECCM, expecting resistance. Only this time, there was none.
She didn’t know if the corroded bezel broke free of its own accord, or if the last frustrated yank had broken the seal, but this time it came free immediately.
Despite the danger, she tried to remove its two mates, and was rewarded with parts that were perfect in every way.
“Yes!” she whispered, awed at her luck.
She’d eat well tonight. She might even get a full portion.
There were three, and she counted them as she placed them carefully in her carry sack: One for her, one for her minders, and one for her future.
Not only that, but there were another dozen in various states of decay just waiting for her to return for them. The greatest haul of her entire life!
But then she knew she was pushing her luck as the floor shuddered again beneath her feet. Now was the time to leave, if it wasn't already too late.
She scaled up one side of the scrubber tank in the Atmospheric Processing Complex and down the other.
The metallic groan that rises from the superstructure is loud, cutting through the thick darkness, setting her heart beating even faster.
There was no time to worry. She needed to escape. She shut her fear behind walls of willful forgetfulness and began the journey to the light.
The grumble of the derelict ship reached the soles of the soft boots that barely protected her feet from the sharp metal edges that filled every ship carcass.
The fear refused to remain behind the walls of her mind, rising in her throat, making her heart pound.
She needed to get out, now.
The ventilation shaft rolled under her as she crawls hands and knees, pushing her precious carry sack in front of her.
Moments passed slowly. Hand over hand, she skittered, stopping to push her treasure. She tried to breathe slower, controlling the fear that threatens her.
The sack fell suddenly through the entry hole in the ventilation shaft, taking her breath away as its tether pulled on her belt.
Grabbing the edge of the hole, she swung down to the floor of the ship.
She steadied herself against the bulkhead and a jolt of pain ran up her arm as it rose unexpectedly to meet her.
Splintered metal, mixed with dust and sand, fell in waves as the floor tilted, making her grateful for the goggles made from retrofitted Storm Trooper armor.
As she dashed down the angled corridor, her feet slid on the dusty floor, and she felt her backpack slipping down her back.
No! she screamed internally. Those perfect ECCMs were her ticket to a hot meal and a happy stomach. She refused to lose them.
She stopped for a heartbeat, giving the backpack a bump with her butt, then tugged on the jury-rigged straps, jostling the load up her back until it was comfortable on her shoulders once again.
There was another metal screech, this time above her head. Looking up, she saw the compartment fire door, designed to contain atmosphere during a hull breach had lost its pinning. She was standing directly in its path, certain to be crushed by the dead weight.
Unconsciously, she raised her hands up to protect her head.
Miraculously, the door slowed. Taking her shot, she pushed off from the ‘wrong’ side of the door, just as it slid shut.
Hallway after hallway, she ran now, her backpack canting from side to side with each stride, realizing that any bulkhead might snap shut. She never feared being inside the big ships until now.
As she reached the ragged hole on the side of the ship, she breathed in huge lung-fulls of the hot dusty air that flooded through the breech. She took a moment to rest against the now heavily angled bulkhead wall.
She longed for someone to tell of her near disaster, but she knew that no one would care.
Barsa would only complain about the lost an opportunity to be rid of her least favorite trouble maker.
Moments pass, and the sound of creaking plasteel slowly returns to the uncanny silence.
Despite all, she still had her three ECCM’s. It didn't matter if anyone cares or not. She wasn't dead, wounded, or trapped and she would eat tonight. That was an acceptable outcome.
She rappeled down the wall of the wrecked Star Destroyer, now several feet further from the ground than her belay rope. She had to drop the backpack to the ground, before following, landing crouched in the soft sand.
The shade of the ship was little comfort as the sun passes noon. She pulled her remaining water ration from her belt, sipping it slowly, wondering where she could hide this treasure until she could retrieve it unseen.
If Barsa was true to her usual careless manner, the crew would come for her as the sun was sinking in the sky. That meant she probably had the afternoon to herself.
She mourned the loss of the other ECCMs that still sit in their cradles inside the big ship. She won't be able to get past the bulkheads that have slammed shut.
Her ears picked up the sound of a turbo laser over the whistling desert wind.
She scanned the horizon with her binocs. To the south was the ‘Plaintive Hand’ - a rock formation that had somehow survived the fall of both Imperial and Republic ships during the Battle of Jakku.
Near it was an Imperial installation - a Weapons Facility it was believed, but no one knew for certain because of the guns.
The junk wall was as close as anyone got to the mysterious Imperial installation. Inside would get you dead - and quickly.
She started walking, telling herself she just wanted to see what was going on.
She understood the draw the Weapons facility held, like some forbidden treasure chest. Wouldn’t something so strongly defended contain valuables? Until someone reached the door, it would remain a mystery.
She was smarter than that.
Someone was not. Someone was tempting fate because the sound of the laser canon rang again over the bright golden sand.