“This is the Phantom Traveller, requesting clearance for landing, authorisation codes to follow” Rey Niima spoke crisply into her head set, as she sat at her captain’s right hand.
“Good Niima, how send them through, and let’s get this party started” Captain Dameron wasn’t exactly a standard captain. For starters, he was about 10 years younger than any she’d ever had before, and with his dashing dark good looks, he was certainly more charming than anyone she had met in all her time in the academy.
Outside the viewport, a moon floated before them, a pale white blue, it seemed to glow from within. Rey typed in the code, and waited for authorisation.
“So, any plans this weekend?” Captain Dameron asked, leaning away from the controls to angle a look at her. She ignored his probing stare.
“I have an exam to study for” she said, already anticipating the quiet of her small apartment in the barracks. Moving out of military dorms when she’d graduated, top of her class, she had decided to stay on base in subsidised housing, closer to the action. In truth she felt no compulsion to be out in the city and alone. She had spent half her life like that, and now, she liked being around others who had the same purpose as her.
“You have to be careful Rey… if you don’t make more of an effort… people will start to suspect the truth about you” Dameron said it lightly, but the words sent a prickle of alarm over Rey, and she turned and looked at him.
“Know what?” she asked, striving for nonchalance. His dark eyes were fixed on hers, warm and inviting, his grin was well known around the base for cause pants and morals to drop.
“That you aren’t like us…” he murmured, clearly still enjoying his teasing, while Rey felt hot and cold flash through her in turns. Sweat broke out on her palms.
“That you’re a robot… sent from the future, programmed to show everyone else up” he finished, and Rey could hardly help the sigh of relief that escaped her at his words.
“Right, I’ll get on that… be more of a slacker”
“That’s an order, Officer Niima”
“Captain” she agreed, turning back to the moon, now close enough to make out the low squat architecture of life there.
“Call me Poe”
“I’d love to, but my programming won’t allow it.” Rey teased back, as a message flashed before her eyes from the penal colony below.
“We are cleared for landing, Captain”
“Very well, let’s get this over with” Dameron said, turning in his seat, and becoming professional once more. This was not a mission to mess around on. Prisoner transport was always nerve wracking, and this prisoner was more nerve wracking than most.
A prominent figure of the terrorist group known as the First Order. They had emerged from the ashes of the Rising, from the damaged lost souls who had survived to find a new world of order and control, control over Alphas, and they hadn’t liked it.
Most of the First Order were Alphas, displaced from their lives, missing the power they used to wield. They carried out attacks on civilian targets to get their message across, and attacked the government at every opportunity.
Kylo Ren, though young, was one of the most recognisable figures of the organisation, with his propensity to wear black, and his height and stature setting him apart, even in a group of Alphas, who always tended to be large and strong. He was a killer and a master manipulator who had no regard for human life.
A few years before, he had murdered the much adorned beta Prime Minster, broken into his house late at night and slipping through numerous safety measures without detection, had slit his throat, and then quartered him. The savagery of the act was chilling. Rey could still remember the grainy pictures that had appeared of Kylo Ren bending over the body of the dead man, the symbol of hope for their city, all recorded live for broadcast over the holonet.
He had been caught, but Rey had found the entire thing strange. If he had gotten into the secure building so easily, how he couldn’t escape before being caught was odd, but after he was sentenced, news of him died down, and she had forgotten about it, moved onto the newest elected Prime Minister, Snoke.
Though older than his predecessor, Snoke had none of the frailty that one would imagine from a man his age. He was a Beta, though he had the stature of an Alpha, tall beyond imagining, though now, stooping a little with age. Rey didn’t particularly like him, and she didn’t know why. Something in his eyes, or his calculating smile, but she knew politicians were untrustworthy, and left it at that.
Kylo Ren had been sentenced to life on the Barrens.
Apparently, even that wasn’t good enough to contain him, for now, she and Captain Dameron were to escort him to on world, for another trial, one that would result in his execution, the verdict of guilty being a foregone conclusion. No one wanted Kylo Ren alive, well, no one in power, therefore, for whatever reason they cooked up, by this time next week, he wouldn’t be.
Rey didn’t like to read into things too much. She knew the problems of the city, since the Rising. Other cities had survived like theirs, safe havens for those hoping to escape the aggressive and feral remains of the old system, who lingered outside the city walls. Even inside the walls, people still suffered. She knew better than most the conditions many had to live in. The world they now lived in was not a kind place, if it ever had been. The government did what they could to make it safer for those who could follow the rules and contribute. People like Kylo Ren did nothing but incite hate and violence. Good citizens kept their heads down and did their jobs, and did not attract attention to themselves. The strategy worked well, and it was how Rey had survived, all those years ago.
For, Rey Niima had a secret.
"Barrens command, touching down, prepare security protocols” Captain Dameron said into his head set, as they descended toward the landing pad of the prison.
Impenetrable walls of steel and stone rose around them as they lowered into the pit, belching steam into the frigid air. Heavy doors in the ceiling slowly opened beneath them, allowing them further into the underground belly of the most vile and forgotten prison in existence.
"Prisoner transfer protocol initiated, await further instruction” the voice on the radio said, as Rey finished powering down the ship, running a diagnostic on all systems. The last thing they wanted was ship trouble, with Kylo Ren aboard.
“So, hardly a vacation spot, is it?” Dameron muttered, looking around the intimating landing pad they were on. Outside, crystals of ice hung from sharp spikes, set at even intervals along the roof, and freezing wind rocked the ship, even inside.
“It’s hell” Rey said, her sense reaching out through the buildings on the surface, and dipping down deeper, into the caverns below.
“Utter hell” she muttered, her mind suddenly overcome with the feeling of the place and the hopeless souls trapped inside. Pain and fear, suffering and anger. Such rage, it stole her breath away.
"Well, deserved hell, at least we can take comfort in that, though I wouldn’t want to get posted up here” Dameron murmured, as he surveyed the diagnostic.
“That’s strange” he said quietly, and Rey looked over his shoulder to see.
“The air filters are showing as low, but I changed them out before we left, they should only be 4 or 5 % degraded by now, not 79%”
“Should we refuse the transfer?” Rey asked quickly, seeing that there was some sort of movement within the loading dock, armed guards coming out to line the walls. Time was running out. The captain thought a moment, and then brought up another screen to scroll through a list.
“We have several changes on board, so that’s fine. We can change in transit if needed. It is nowhere near the brig. It’s fine.”
“Very good, Captain. I believe we are starting” Rey said, indicating over his shoulder to the front viewport, where now a large black metal box was being rolled down the ramp, with several guards pushing it.
“Right, let’s get out there and meet our new charge” Dameron said, looking far more excited than Rey was feeling.
This was the highest profile mission she had been on yet, and she desperately wanted to make a good impression. She had worked hard to reach where she was, despite certain things in her past.
In the years since the Uprising, all designations had been repressed by conditioning and medication. When governments looked into the causes of that first, bloody war, they had decided that the war between designations had been the largest causing factor. Not the lack of opportunities or shrinking middle class, not the elitism of force users, and the grinding poverty of those without the ability, but designations. Alphas had ruled supreme, and those who found their true mate, were unstoppable. To be born Alpha was to be physically strong and dominant. For those who found their true mate, it meant strength in the force that Betas could never achieve.
For many centuries, the Alphas ruled unopposed, but, as the modern world crept in, and technological advances were made, clever, political betas become more and more influential. When the Alphas rose up, in a violent and unforeseen attack, many were lost. The designation that suffered the worst was Omega.
Omega designation had already been the rarest, and during the uprising a massive number of Omegas had been killed, raped to death in the lawless streets, hunted down and kept in captivity by Alphas who cared little for their prize, except for the value between their legs. The government fought back, and though it broke the city in two, the Alphas were subdued, and killed, or sent to life imprisonment on the Barrens, a prison moon.
In the aftermath, it became mandatory for all designations except Beta to medicate daily, and attend conditioning centres. For children, starting medication before they presented meant they would never fully become their designation, they would never even truly know what they were, so indistinguishable were they from each other. No scents, only chemicals. Betas ruled supreme, unmedicated and untainted, their connection to the force was unimpeded, unlike Alphas, who were mere shadows of their previous selves, and Omegas, who were so rare that Rey had never met one, except her mother.
As an orphaned child, Rey had stayed away from unmediated Alphas in the Vaults, the underbelly of the city, where wanted criminals and thieves roamed freely. Rey did not grow up like Captain Dameron, the young Beta and superstar pilot, in a comfortable family home, attending school in the city and the academy afterward. No one knew Rey’s childhood, no one could have imagined that a child of the Vaults had reached where she had. That a scavenger orphan, unregistered and left to run wild, survive as she might, could now be sitting as second in command on such an important mission, top of her class, the perfect Beta student.
For Rey Niima had a secret. In fact, she had two.
Rey Niima was an omega.
In this age, it was unheard off, impossible, and yet, she was. Orphaned in that first brutal Rising, she had survived alone, from the age of 9 she had hidden in dirty subway tunnels, and slept in abandoned buildings. She had stolen food from other people’s rubbish, and sometimes, when she was desperate enough, even from their fires when they weren’t watching.
She had presented when she was 14, alone in an old car, the first strange and unwelcome feelings of omega characteristics had descended on her. She had lain prone and desperate on the backseat of the rusted vehicle, fever breaking over her skin, a pounding headache and every nerve of her body felt as though it was burning. She had stuck her fist into her mouth, hoping it was enough to muffle her cries, when the door had wrenched open, and two men had pulled her out.
Their eyes were wild, their nostrils flaring, there had been no doubt that they had known what they had found. They had dragged her into an abandoned building, and tied a stinking piece of cloth between her teeth to stop her desperate screams. The official protocol was to turn any feral omegas into the authorities, and Rey’s initial fear, that she would be conditioned and medicated was soon replaced by another. That these men would not take her anywhere. That these men would keep her.
She had fought back, wild scratches and kicks, bucking her entire body to make her unapproachable. She had grown up in the Vaults, she was a wild animal and she wouldn’t go down without a fight. But they were strong, unmedicated Alphas, probably wanted criminals for that crime alone, and they had scented an Omega. Nothing would stand in their way.
And then, just when she thought all hope was lost, she had felt it. Within her soul, the darkness inside her, moving suddenly, shaped by her thoughts, flowing through her. It came from the place that announced her as omega, and it was powerful. As one of the men bent over her boots, trying to rip them off, she had stopped struggling, and lain still. Her sudden stillness had baffled the men, as they looked at each other and smiled. Then they had looked at her, and their leers had turned to confusion, for she was smiling as well.
She didn’t know how she understood what to do, not sure how it was directed, or even what it was, but a flash of power surged from her, brilliant white in the dark night, changing her forever.
For Rey Niima’s other secret, was that she had the force, when no other omega or alpha did, not anymore, not since the Rising and the subsequent conditioning.
She had staggered out the building, wrapping her bundles of rags around her, and headed for the sewers, where the stench of omega could be hidden. Behind her, two smouldering corpses sent the sweet smell of cooked meat into the air, no doubt attracting scavengers who would be happy with their human feast.
She stayed in the sewers for a week, with only meagre supplies she had managed to steal, and tried to think of a way to survive.
It was impossible to live as she had as an omega. She would be a magnet to alphas and betas alike. She could register, and go on the medication, but there was always the chance they would find her presentation unacceptable, and send her to the Barrens. On the prison moon, populated mostly by Alphas, she would be ripped apart in hours.
In that darkness, she drifted inside herself, and examined the strange power there. It felt like a slumbering dragon inside her. She tried to summon light in the darkness and couldn’t. She tried to use it in any way, and couldn’t.
It was on the sixth night when she made her break through. She had been dozing against a wall, when she had heard voices, male and coming quickly toward her. Frozen there in the darkness, she felt a terror unlike any she had known. Before she could have hidden there, in the black shadows, but now her scent was broadcasting her designation far and wide, and they would find her, even in the dark.
She had crouched out of sight anyway, and squeezed her eyes shut. She had prayed to her mother, she had bargained with the maker, but still the voices came closer and closer. She finally imagined herself encased in a glowing white light, sealed inside, anything to distract her spiralling mind and help her stay silent and still.
The voices reached her, three men, their scents announced an alpha and two betas, untouched by suppressant medication. There were many like them in the Vaults, criminals the lot of them.
They had talked, and laughed, and as Rey listened, she’d suddenly realised, they had passed her by.
They walked right past her hiding place without paying her any notice. She sat crouched there for hours, sure it was a cruel trick and they were lying in wait for her, but she truly was alone.
The force, she had realised, had protected her. Hungry and thirsty to the point of desperation, she had ventured out into the streets, all the while, imagining that white shield around her. She walked unimpeded. No one barred her way, or even glanced at her. She was safe. She could hide her designation. She was free.
For months after her discovery, she played with the force. She explored it and expanded it, and found ways to make it work. She found she could sense salvage that was valuable, without entering dangerous, dilapidated buildings, and soon, began to build strength, eating daily, sometimes, even twice a day. She found safe places to sleep, where she could set a mental perimeter that woke her if someone came close.
Betas seemed unable to sense her use of the force, which puzzled Rey at first, she had thought that force users could tell when someone was accessing that special power. She started to hunt down books as well, in her scavenging, and reading as much as she could about her new power. It seemed that each designation accessed the force in a different way. Alphas and Omegas were closer, probably because their power could meld if they pair bonded, while Betas were completely different. It worked in her favour, as Rey found herself able to use the force before Beta eyes, and remain undiscovered.
In one of the routine busts of the Vaults, where controllers descended on the dark, writhing underworld of the city, she had been discovered as unregistered. She was 16, and when her blood sample failed to show a name and designation, they had taken her to a detention centre.
When she was interviewed by a record keeper, his tablet open in front of him, the solution to her problems had seemed so easy, if he could just write her a registration and back date it for her birth year. Before she had really realised what she was doing, the man with the tablet had done just that, his eyes oddly empty as he followed her silent commands. She had sat staring at him in shock, as he finishing typing on the machine, and turned an apologetic smile to her.
“Miss Niima, I can’t apologise enough for this misunderstanding. It seems the scanner that the controller who detained you with must have been malfunctioning. Everything is sorted now, and you are free to go”
She had walked out the detention centre with a new ID in hand – Rey Niima – Beta NFU, and into a new life. Her designation was Non Force User, for they had detected no magic about her false Beta energy, and she thought it best to leave it that way.
Without a place to live or credits or any sort, she had faced limited options. She had enrolled in the military, being one of the few places where she would get meals and accommodation to live in.
She found she used her powers seldom in her training, except to shield her omega markers. She worked hard, and gave the education all her focus. She didn’t want to cheat, she wanted to be the best.
By 21, she was one of the youngest pilots to be given a second in command post on a ship. She had a natural talent for flying, and when her supervisors had seen it, they had put her forward for every opportunity that had come her way. She had no life outside the academy, no family to get home to. She was completely dedicated to her mission.
Stay undetected, stay alive.
She strode down the gangplank after Dameron and waited at the bottom to receive the prisoner. Prison transfer protocol demanded a minimum of two people aboard the vessel. The reason being that more drew attention, as well as the fact that they had strict orders in case of problems or prisoner escape. If escape looked like a possibility, the entire ship, including everyone within, were to be eradicated. Self-destruct, the most secure way of cleaning up a bad mission.
The guards at the bottom of the column saluted Captain Dameron, and the CO stepped forward.
“Prisoner transfer number 14326. Can’t say we aren’t glad to be rid of him” the CO said, glancing contemptuously at the black floating prison. Rey focused on his face, feeling a sudden pull to look toward the windowless box. It hovered in the air beside her, and could swear that the man inside was staring at her, even through the metal.
“Officer Niima, shall we?” Dameron was saying, and Rey nodded collecting herself. She was just skittish, she reassured herself. It was a high-profile mission and she was anxious for it to go well. She tried to ignore a slight tingling in her chest that felt like a warning.
They turned, and followed the prison aboard the ship. Inside they settled into the holding dock for the vast box, and as it sensed its charging station, it clicked into place with a loud boom, and slowly lowered to the floor with a hard thump.
“Well, do your checks, and I’ll get us up and running. Everything by the book Niima, let’s not tempt fate with this passenger”
“Of course, Captain” Rey replied wondering if she should feel insulted he had felt the need to say it.
Poe left the prison cells, the door shutting behind him, and Rey turned to the black prison. They had cells on the ship too, but this one was more secure. It had no windows and its own controlled environment. Using the controls outside she could check on the status of the prisoner, without ever engaging. Kylo Ren would never know the face of the woman who had transported him to his certain death, and she would never have to look in the condemned man’s eyes. Despite his fearsome reputation, she was glad of it.
She checked the box, all the controls were flashing green and stable. Her fingers hesitated over the camera button. It was protocol to do a visual check on the prisoner, ensure that they hadn’t been able to harm themselves inside. She wasn’t sure why she hesitated, only that the tingle in her chest was spreading, and feeling stronger and stronger. She pressed the camera at the same time she raised a hand to her chest and rubbed the ache there.
The camera flickered on, a hulking figure sat in the corner, showing white in the infrared camera. Inside the box was dark, of course.
“Rey?” Poe’s voice surprised her, making her finger slip off the button, but not before she had made out the large head swinging her way.
“We are clear to go, initiating take off” he said.
“On my way” she said, stepping back. She had to go, she thought, even as her finger inched toward the button once more. She was intrigued, she realised. Kylo Ren was the stuff of legend, and few had ever seen the real man, well, few who were not incarcerated alongside him.
Before she could stop herself, she pressed the button again, and jumped backwards in her fright. Where before a figure had lurked in the corner, in her hesitation, he had approached the camera, and as she flicked it on, had been treated to a face, with black predatory eyes, looking straight at her, separated only by a few centimetres of steel.
Her elbow banged behind her, and she cursed, dropping her checklist. She couldn’t talk to him, without pressing another button and she knew he couldn’t hear her, but for some reason, she had almost a certainty that he was listening to her, that he could hear her awkward clatter and her rapid breathing. She felt irrationally sure he could hear her heart beating. She glanced down at the clipboard and looked at the restraints he was wearing. Handcuffs were standard, but no force suppressor? She leafed through the file. He was an Alpha, she wasn’t surprised to find out, and a NFU, which was more surprising. He was older than her and must have presented before the government roll out of conditioning and medication was complete. These transitional generations Alphas had struggled the most with the new protocol.
She stared at it, that tingle inside her building as she did. It couldn’t possibly be wrong, she reassured herself. They were never wrong, the tests they ran were fool proof. Except hers, she reminded herself suddenly. There were ways to cheat the system, but there was no way Kylo Ren could have. He had been prisoner on the Barrens for a year. If he had the force, why wouldn’t he had used it in that time?
“Captain Niima, all hands on deck” Poe reminded her, sending alarm shooting through her again. She was just damn nervous, she told herself, as she gave one last look at the box, and turned and left, checking the door lock on the other side. It was normal when you were trapped in a floating tin can in space with a homicidal maniac. Totally normal.