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Dust Devil

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Dust Devil

A black-clad figure shimmers across the desert with purpose in its steps. He makes his way along a speeder-carved path until he pauses, and takes a small chrono out of his rucksack. It has an hour left, maybe two, and is counting down quickly. Kylo lowers himself to the exhaust-flattened sand. One gloved hand reaches out along the path as his eyes slide shut behind tinted goggles.

The goggles were the first thing he acquired after he'd ditched his mask. It keeps the sand and wind away now, but at the time he just couldn't bear catching his reflection and seeing eyes that weren't his own.

Focus. A speeder's coming up the path, in the direction Kylo's headed. He stands and holds his hand out as it slows to a stop. A Togruta woman with sad eyes sits in the driver's seat.

She tells him her name is Saarke, and not much else. She lives on a modest moisture farm, and when they get out of the speeder, he hangs back, not thinking of his uncle. As Saarke unlocks the front door, she turns to look for him, but all she sees is a curl of dust plucked up by the wind. Then the door opens, and there he is, with a smile that doesn't quite meet his eyes.

Before she can ask what just happened, Kylo pulls out a holocam and captures her image.

"Saarke," he calls to her, in a voice that almost feels like home.

As the second sun sets and wind claws at the windows of the bedroom, Saarke rides him with the desperation of the dying. She's close, so close, and as Kylo feels the chrono in his rucksack wind down, he reaches up and snuffs her life out.

For the span of a final heartbeat, he allows himself to clutch Saarke's limp body to him in a goodbye embrace. Then he takes out his vibroknife and begins his work.

***************

A few kilometers away on a Resistance base, and lightyears away in the carcass of a war machine, a former stormtrooper and a frustrated scavenger both pause and listen to the wind outside their doors.

***************

Kylo checks the time of death on his chrono, and enters it into the holocam under Saarke's image. 14:58. Later, he allows himself the luxury of a water shower to slough off the blood.

Cleansed, he dresses while surveying his work. The first sun pokes fingers of light through curtains newly patterned with spirals. More light feels its way onto walls scattered with handprints, more spirals, and a huge, skeletonized figure wreathed in flames.

Kylo slides his goggles into place as morning glare hits the standing mirror. He lingers one last moment to admire the smiling portrait of Saarke he painted on its surface. He does not examine his own reflection.

Outside, Kylo unwraps four severed fingers from a handkerchief and places them in a small ice chest, which he puts in the speeder's trunk. He then removes a spare tankard of fuel and hauls it back to the homestead that does not remind him of his uncle.

The subspace radio on the porch is tuned to local news, but he hears the word 'Resistance' and flips the dial over to a Tusken holy man praying to end the drought. Kylo sloshes fuel throughout the building, into the foyer. Then he strikes a match on the doorframe, lets it fly, and closes the door behind him.

Flames begin to lick up the outside of the homestead as he enters the speeder. He drives in a spiral, signing his work before guiding the vehicle out into the desert.

***************

"I can't do this anymore, Plutt," the scavenger says. "It's sucking the life out of me."

The junkboss narrows his eyes. "And you think going somewhere else will fill you up again?" He makes a phlegmy noise of derision low in his thick throat. "What will happen when your parents come back and you're not here, eh?"

"My parents aren't coming back, and you damn well know it."

"Now, girl, I'm trying to be reasonable—"
"Don't you touch me—"

The slap echoes across the bombed-out remains of Niima Outpost as the scavenger stumbles backwards. She catches herself and fixes her brute of a boss with one final glare before marching to her speeder.

"I'm not changing my mind," she says. "Not this time.

Plutt stands in shock for a moment, then takes off after her.

"Wait," he calls after her, "where do you think you're going?"

"I'm leaving Jakku," she shouts back over the rev of the engine.

"On whose ship?"

The scavenger ignores her boss and starts to pull away, but he grabs on to the side netting holding her scant belongings and jogs alongside.

"Talk to me," he says. "I'll… I'll pay you double what I pay you now. Would you like that? Talk to me, Rey, please!"

"Just let me go,” Rey says as she shoves him into the sand.

She hits the accelerator and drives up the open ramp of a freighter untouched by last week's orbital bombardment. It slumbers under a tarp next to the remains of a once-sleek quadjumper. Rey stows her vehicle in the cargo hold, then makes her way to the cockpit.

She ignores the muffled shouts of "that's my property!" coming from outside and does a quick once-over of the flight console. After ripping out a superfluous compressor on the dashboard's upper section, Rey readies the ship for takeoff.

With a groan, the freighter shrugs off its canvas bedclothes and makes its way heavenward. Rey allows herself a moment to breathe once she breaches atmo before heading off to check what else needs repairing.

***************

The former stormtrooper drifts awake to the sound of a comm unit buzzing. He rubs lingering grains of sleep from his eyes and presses the answer button.

"Yes, it's Finn."

"Hey, buddy," Poe Dameron says from the other end, "come to General Organa's office right away. We've got an assignment for you."

Finn dresses mechanically and makes his way through the repurposed fortress that currently houses the Resistance. BB-8 meets him halfway and chirps softly as she escorts him to the general's office.

In the office are General Organa, Poe, and a middle-aged Twi'lek woman with mottled blue and brown skin. The Twi'lek stands and holds out her hand.

"Sheriff Cornelia Beyman, from Mos Eisley," she says as Finn shakes her hand. "The general and Commander Dameron were just telling me how much of a help you've been in the short time you've been here."

Finn forces a smile. The last month has been a blur of motion for him to stave off unpleasant thoughts and nightmares, held back only by throwing himself into any task that lands in his lap.

"I do what I can," he says.

General Organa nods. "That's why we think you'd be the perfect person to help out Sheriff Beyman. Mos Eisley doesn't have much of a police force—hasn't needed one, since the crime rate plummeted once the Hutt cartel lost power."

The sheriff glances at the general for just a moment with something approaching adoration in her eyes, then shakes her head to clear it.

"Right, yes. And now there's been a suspicious arson on a nearby farmstead. Probably a homicide too. And frankly…well, to put it bluntly, I don't think my deputies are up to the task of a murder investigation on this scale."

Finn takes a deep breath. He sees his former comrade, Slip, bleeding out, bloodied fingers streaking across his stormtrooper mask. He sees Han Solo skewered by a lightsaber and hurtling into the bowels of a dying planet.

At least this person is already dead.

"I'd be glad to help," he says.

***************

Sheriff Beyman's speeder is an old roofless model that's been retro-fitted with a foldable awning. They settle into the ride, Finn studying the landforms while Beyman relays instructions to her deputies via comm every few minutes. After an hour and a half, they wind down a dusty path to a moisture farm. Beyman turns to Finn as they exit the car.

"So this farm belonged to the Haarho family," she says. "The kids are grown up and moved away, husband is off-planet on business, we're trying to contact him. The wife is…probably inside. I should warn you, this is going to be rough."

Finn eyes the house. "I'll be alright."

"I know you've seen combat," she says, "but the whole place has been gutted. There's body parts everywhere. It looks like a commando unit's been through."

Finn thinks back to Tuanul village.

"Like I said," he says, "I'll be alright."

Inside, people in dust masks, gloves, and plastic booties are taking holos, scraping residue off surfaces, or just standing around looking baffled.

A Rodian approaches them, salutes, and holds out two plastic bags.

"'Lo, Sheriff. Dr. Kalonia warned us all to put these on before going inside."

"Thank you, Botes," Beyman says. "This is Finn, by the way, he's also from the Resistance, he'll be helping us out here."

Botes eyes him warily as he hands him his gear. Finn tamps down the twist in his gut at having to wear a mask again.

"What have you found so far?" he asks.

Botes begins to speak, but Beyman shakes her head.

"Actually, I was wondering if you could give us your impressions, just going off what you see here."

Finn pauses, then heads back to the foyer. He examines the burn marks on the walls and floor and the discarded fuel canister.

"Not to state the obvious, but I think this is where the fire started," Finn says. "And whoever started it doused the area in fuel rather than using a flamethrower."

He glances to Botes. "Have you checked the owner's speeder?"

"S'not here." Botes says. "Whoever did this probably took off with it." He pauses. "Can I tell him that, or…"

Beyman waves her hand. "We're looking for it."

Finn rubs his chin. "Anything seem missing from any storage sheds? Check that after we're done in here. Otherwise, there could have been a spare can in the speeder."

Beyman scratches a lekku. "Sure, but why?"

Finn lets out a breath. "Just trying to get a feel for how impulsive an act this was."

"How do you mean?"

"Well...keep in mind, it could still have been planned if they did use fuel from here. A farm's guaranteed to have flammable stuff on the premises, and you don't have to bring your own supplies."

Beyman nods.

"But," Finn continues, "if there's definitely no fuel missing from the farm, and the car has a spare can still in it—"

"Then the arson was definitely planned ahead," Beyman says. Finn sees a flash of teeth filed sharp as she grins. "I knew bringing you on was a good idea."

They continue talking as they walk into the main room of the house.

"Were there any footprints outside the house, by the way?"

"Just leading up to the door and back from where the speeder was probably parked," Beyman says, "but they were too windswept to be helpful."

"Hmm." Finn taps his chin. "That actually...no, that's very helpful, that means whoever did this arrived with—"

He's jerked out of his thought process as he looks up. On the wall, a figure drawn in blood leers back at him. Its gaunt face is sunken, almost cleaved in two, and it seems to writhe in the painted flames that surround it.

Finn blinks, and he's back on the Finalizer, watching a televised declaration from the Supreme Leader. Snoke is dead, has been for nearly a month if the reports are to be believed, yet here he is on the charred husk of a Tatooine farmstead.

***************

As she busies herself in the guts of the ship, Rey wonders what would have happened if she went with the round little droid that had showed up outside her AT-AT a month ago. When they found BB-8's owner in Niima outpost, he tried to recruit Rey to the Resistance while his quiet friend hung back. Then the bombardment began, and she lost them all running for cover.

Well, no point wondering now. Rey wipes her hands on her shawl and makes her way back to the cockpit. With no real destination in mind, she hits the 'Last Entered Coordinates' option on the console and engages the hyperdrive. Maybe if she's lucky, she'll end up somewhere green.

***************

"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" Dr. Kalonia asks as she leads Finn and Sheriff Beyman into the autopsy room. A Tusken woman in a doctor's uniform takes notes on a datapad in the room's center.

Beyman shrugs. "The bad, I suppose?"

Dr. Kalonia nods to her assistant. "Muryen, if you would?"

Muryen clears her throat. "Well. It's hard to tell for sure due to fire damage, but it looks as if the body is almost all drained of blood. The limbs and head have been removed with some kind of vibroblade, most likely."

She points to the place where a leg was severed from the body.

"But you can see, all along here… there are teeth marks." She pauses. "And the killer took all four fingers from her left hand. We also found a small chronometer inside her throat...what is the word…cavity, that's it."

Muryen looks up. "And so the good news, as Dr. Kalonia called it: none of this happened while Saarke Haarho was still alive."

Finn lets out a deep breath of relief. "So what did kill her?"

She points to the neck. "Her topmost vertebrae are broken, close to the skull."

"Did you get the drug screen results back?" Dr. Kalonia asks.

Muryen nods. "Nothing in the samples we took. Also, I don't think she was tied down—there's no marks at the wrists or ankles like there would be if a person were trying to break free."

Finn studies Muryen's mask to avoid staring at Saarke's nude, partially burnt body.

"Did you find any signs of," Beyman pauses. "Er. Sexual assault?"

Muryen shakes her head.

"Fortunately no," she says. "Though there was some sign of recent… um," she glances at Dr. Kalonia. "Cuetus?"

Dr. Kalonia bites her lip. "Coitus."

Muryen huffs out a laugh. "Right, yes, 'coitus.' Unfortunately, we couldn't find any DNA from Saarke's partner, so we don't know who they were or if it's even who killed her."

She beckons the group over to a workbench lined with equipment.

"Now, the bits of paint you gave us were very interesting."

Finn blinks. "It wasn't just blood on the walls?"

Muryen hands a datapad to Dr. Kalonia. "Oh no, there were small bits of…what's the word… a paint, but before you mix it up?"

"Pigment?" says Beyman.

"Yes! Pigments. The test showed two kinds of iron oxide for the red and black colors, and there were white parts where fat was mixed with kaolin clay."

Beyman sighs. "I'd appreciate the art a bit more if the artist had signed their work with a fingerprint or three."

Then she freezes and glances at Muryen.

"Miss Muryen," she says. "I don't know how to ask this delicately, but… is there any chance you think that the person who did this is Tusken?"

Muryen stiffens.

"Just to be clear," Beyman says, "We don't suspect a Tusken did this. We know basically all 'raider' attacks on settlements were just bandits in costumes."

She takes a breath, then continues. "But if, heavens forbid, it turns out some bad seed individual with a…a grudge or something...did do this, I want to be on top of it, so thirty years of progress between our communities isn't shattered overnight."

Muryen considers Beyman, then picks up another datapad. She tabs through images from the burned house slowly, pausing here and there to zoom in. When she reaches the image of the figure that looks like Snoke, she looks up.

"It doesn't look like our religious art. We do a lot of writing in the form of fancy shapes, tile patterns. And this figure," she taps the datapad, "It has a bare face. If the killer is indeed a Ghorfa—that's what we prefer to call ourselves, Ghorfa, not Tusken—they've cut all ties with their clan and culture."

***************

Kylo hitches a ride on a passing sandcrawler after abandoning the speeder in a ditch. The other passengers are Twi'leks, and they perk up when he offers them tabac from a pouch. The three roll cigarras and strike up a conversation.

"The things I've seen out here," the green one says, "you wouldn't believe. You seen much of the war?"

Not this again. Kylo glances out of a nearby bolthole. "How far is this crawler going?"

"All the way to Mos Espa," the red one says.

He exhales a curl of smoke. "What's the next stop?"

She rolls her eyes. "That shithole, Mos Eisley."

Kylo smirks. "Anyone ever get off there?"

"No," the green one laughs. "The crawler just fills up on water."

The red one nods. "People get on at Mos Eisley. No one ever gets off."

***************

Rey comes out of lightspeed above a planet with a disappointing lack of green. Still, it glitters invitingly and she guides the ship down towards the surface, steering towards a settlement at random. If the place isn't to her liking, she can at least refuel, find something to eat, and rest before heading somewhere else in the morning.

***************

The sandcrawler creaks in to the edge of Mos Eisley past herds of anemic bantha. People milling around a signpost perk up at the sight of it and queue up to board. The sign reads, "Pray For Rain."

***************

Sheriff Beyman steals a look at Finn as they leave the autopsy room.

"We'll want to have some kind of expert look at those paintings," she says.

Finn nods.

"I don't suppose…" she chews her top lip, "would the General's brother maybe be willing to consult?"

Finn snorts. "I doubt it. After we got the map to his hideout, Chewbacca—I don't know if you've met him, but he's not exactly easy to miss on base—went to go get him."

Beyman nods. "I haven't had the honor of speaking to him, but I've seen him on previous visits."

"Well," Finn says, "Chewie's gone for about a week before he comes back...not even angry? Just kind of, I don't know, deflated. And he says that Luke refuses to come back, barely even talks to him."

Beyman's eyes are wide.

Finn continues. "The worst part though? Chewie says Luke didn't even know Han had died. He'd cut himself off from the Force somehow. Chewie had to tell him himself what…what..."

He's interrupted by a blue-freckled hand settling onto his shoulder.

"Shhh," Beyman says. "It's alright. General Organa told me you were there when her husband was killed."

Finn gulps down air. "No, you don't understand—"

Beyman shakes her head. "You're right. We've been lucky out here. I've never lost a deputy in the line of duty."

She cradles his shoulders as he rocks back and forth. Finn doesn't dare tell her that it isn't just having seen Han be killed. It's knowing who it was that killed him.

***************

Rey parks the freighter in a mostly deserted shipyard. She finds a water setting on the shower unit in the refresher, but finds she balks at the thought of using it when the sonic is perfectly functional.

There's a kitchen unit on the ship, but any food supplies had been plundered back on Jakku, so she locates a wad of credits in a hidden compartment and goes to buy dinner.

The cantina Rey chooses at random is sparsely filled but blessedly cool. An Ithorian sits at the bar talking with the Wookiee bartender, while a human dressed in black stands playing a game machine.

As she gives her order for a bantha burger and a cup of iced caf to the droid working in the kitchen, there's a soft 'meow' behind her. A violet tooka cat preens on the console of the bar's game machine, and the tall man in black is gone.

When Rey settles down to eat across from a window, she notices the tall human again outside. Rey feels a little less alone as he watches her take her first ever sip of iced caf. The bittersweet coolness floods her senses, and she marvels that food can actually taste good.

Rey watches the man walk over to a pale Zabrak dabbing on sunscreen in the side-view mirror of his speeder. They chat as the man takes out a holocam. After he takes a holo of the Zabrak, they get into the speeder and leave.

She savors her meal, then decides to drive her own speeder around for a bit. Rey isn't used to the time difference on this new planet, though, and its twin suns dip below the horizon well before she's returned to the shipyard.

Between the darkness and the lull of the engine, Rey finds herself nearly drifting into sleep atop her speeder easier than she did in her home on Jakku. She's just blinked her eyes open again when a tall, broad figure steps into the speeder's path. Rey gasps and banks a hard left, sending the vehicle nose-first into a sand dune.

She looks back, but the person is gone. Whoever it was had been wearing the same black clothes as the man from the cantina. Only his face had been all wrong, a wizened bony thing with a caved-in forehead.

Rey rests her forehead on the dashboard for a moment, then tries to back out of the dune. The speeder won't budge. She sighs and hops down with a shiver. The temperature is starting to drop, and she's tired enough from the long day that she's clearly seeing things.

There's a thermal bedroll in one of the side nets, so Rey pulls it out and cocoons herself inside next to the speeder. She'll dig it out in the morning. Right now, she just needs to rest.

***************

That night, Finn's dream is not one of his usual nightmares. Instead, he finds himself back in the autopsy room. It's dark, and the floor is strewn with candles.

"Sorry about the lights," Muryen says. "There's been a power outage."

A human family stands behind the center dais. The men wear dark suits, the women patterned dresses with wide shoulders and triangular hats that sit flat atop their heads. Their skin is dark, like Finn's.

.

He approaches in a daze. Bodies on other slabs rise in curiosity as he passes. When he reaches the dais, the body on display is his own.

Muryen holds out a stone hand-axe with a spiral painted on the side.

"If you take this," she says, "you can put it right."

Finn hefts the ax high above his head, then slams it down, severing the fingers of the body's left hand.

He writhes awake, clutching his hand, to the groan of a passing sandcrawler.

***************

Rey awakens the next morning to a stunning sunrise. She assesses her stuck speeder and is about to simply start digging it out of the dune with her bare hands when a flash of light further up the path grabs her attention.

Maybe it's someone she can barter with to help get her speeder out. Rey walks towards the glinting light until another speeder comes into view. It's the same model as the one she saw the two men with yesterday, a bulky thing meant for hunting trips, with windows tinted so she can't see inside.

"Hello?" Rey calls. "Hello? Is anyone awake?"

She taps gently on the door, but there's no answer. Before Rey can press her face to the side window, a gloved hand comes down on her bicep. She whips around, already reaching for her staff.

Her confronter quickly raises their hands and speaks in a language Rey doesn't recognize. She relaxes. The stranger's face and whole body are covered in wrappings, but it's obvious from their posture and the small shovel dropped in the dirt that they're not a threat.

"Hang on, hang on," Rey says. "I don't speak…um. You speak Basic?"

The stranger cocks his head. "You're not Ghorfa? Thought with the gaderffii stick and you all covered up…"

Oh. She had pulled her wrappings over her hair and face yesterday to keep the sand out while riding, and kept them on for warmth during the night.

"Nope," Rey says. "Sorry for nearly taking your head off. Actually, you might be able to really help me out, my speeder's stuck in a dune and I see you have a shovel."

The Ghorfa glances down the hill. "Ah, sure," he says, "that doesn't look too bad."

They pick their way down to Rey's speeder. Rey's helper tells her his name is A'Ghem, and he's working on a moisture farm to save up for law school. Rey tells A'Ghem about Jakku and a little bit about why she left.

When the speeder is free of the sand, Rey hands A'Ghem some credits. He takes them with a shy bow of the head. They wish each other good luck, and Rey sets off back the way she came.

***************

When Rey has been driving for about half an hour, a figure steps onto the side of the path and extends a hand. As she draws closer, she recognizes the man from the cantina yesterday, and pulls over.

"Where you headed?" she asks.

He smiles. "Nowhere."

She smiles back. "Just came from there. Anyplace else, I'm good for. Come aboard"

The man climbs onto Rey's speeder, pulls his cowl around his face, and then rests his hands on her waist. A spark shoots down her spine deep into her gut.

"I saw you at the cantina yesterday," Rey says as they drive off. "Figured we're on the same road and you needed a ride."

Her pulse accelerates as he bends closer to hear her over the roar of the engine.

"Anyway," she says, "I'm Rey"

Her passenger nods. "Pleased to meet you."

Rey waits a beat, but he doesn't tell her his name.

"So…" she says. "What are you doing in this part of the galaxy?"

"I'm a tourist," the man says.

Rey glances back at him. "Where are you from originally? Wild space, maybe?"

He sighs. "I travel a lot. Didn't grow up any particular place. I only really feel comfortable on the move."

"Sorry," Rey says. "Where was it you wanted to go?"

"Why?" the man asks. "How far are you headed?"

Rey pauses. "My ship is parked in Mos Eisley. But once I get there… I don't know. Somewhere there's water."

"An ocean," he says, pulling even closer to her. "Somewhere green."

"Exactly!" She says. "Yes. Exactly."

They lapse into silence for a few moments.

"You're not running from something," he asks, "are you?"

Rey blinks. "What?"

"I don't know," her passenger says. "You just look like you might be running from something, that's all. Like maybe you commited a murder and the police were after you."

Rey thinks of Unkar Plutt and laughs.

"No," she says. "Stars, I wish."

He turns his face towards hers. "You want to talk about it?"

For a few lovely moments Rey just soaks in the sensation of his breath on her neck. Then she shakes her head.

"No," she says. "I don't think so."

"That's alright," he says as his hands inch just a fraction lower. "We've got nothing but time."

Rey is this close to pulling down the wrappings covering both of their mouths when he pulls a holocam out of his bag and captures her image.

***************

Back at the Resistance base, Finn comms the only person he can think of who might know something about the mural.

"Finn!" Maz Kanata beams from the projection screen. "Good to see you."

"Uh, hey," he waves. "How're you holding up?"

"Never better," she says. "I'm overseeing some union negotiations, but right now both sides are taking a break to regroup. But you didn't comm me to hear about trade agreements."

Finn nods. "I'm actually helping out the sheriff where we're staying with an investigation. Do these paintings look like anything you've seen before?"

He holds up a datapad and tabs through each image as Maz indicates for him to scroll through. When she's done, she removes her goggles and looks at him carefully.

"The real question," she says, " is whether you're willing to believe what I have to say."

Finn raises an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

Maz points to the datapad. "There is power in those symbols."

"The Force?" he asks. "You mean a Force user did this?"

She wavers. "I don't know. But it's old, and potent, and you must be careful. Have you had any strange dreams since starting this case?"

Finn nearly drops the datapad. "Er, no. Not that I can remember."

Maz gazes at him for a moment, puts her goggles back on.

"May the Force be with you, Finn," she says. "Give my regards to Leia and Chewie."

He nods wordlessly as the transmission cuts out. As he turns to leave, the comm system shows another incoming message from Sheriff Beyman. There are weary circles under her eyes.

"Finn, there you are," she says. "A farmhand called in an abandoned camping speeder this morning. There's been another murder."

***************

Somehow, the conversation between Rey and her passenger has turned to religion.

"You must believe in something," he says. "Some kind of god or spirit. The Force, at least."

Rey shrugs. "The Teedos on Jakku worshipped a goddess called R'iia, but it never seemed to do them any good. And don't get me started on the Force."

He cocks his head. "What do you mean?"

"There was this village," Rey says, sighing, "full of… they didn't have the Force, but they worshipped it. I'd go there sometimes to deliver messages for my boss and they were always so kind to me."

Her passenger draws back slightly. Rey aches at the loss.

"Just a month ago they were all slaughtered," she spits out. "A survivor said it was the First Order. They bombed our main trading outpost the next day."

He's silent for a moment. "I'm sorry."

Rey shrugs. "It's not like you ordered them killed. I just… it seems like faith never seems to do anything for anyone, is all."

"Faith is one thing," the man says, "but you don't think any kind of superior force guides you hand?"

"Fuck superior forces," Rey says.

Far ahead on the path, another figure shimmers into view. It looks oddly similar to Rey's passenger. She blinks, but he only becomes more similar as they draw closer.

"Keep your eyes on the road," her passenger says. "You don't want to fall asleep."

Rey stares. "He looks just—"

"Don't stop," he says. "Drive on."

"Who the hell was that?" she asks. She glances back, but both men are gone.

Her passenger must've fallen off. Rey slams on the brakes and pulls off to the side. There's no sign of him anywhere in the sand behind her, or of the other stranger further down the road.

"Wild Space?" she calls out.

A dark blue bird resembling a steelpecker circles overhead. Once again, Rey is alone.

***************

When Finn arrives at the police station, Sheriff Beyman waves him into her office. She sits at a green durasteel desk strewn with datapads and flimsi printouts of the two murder scenes.

"You're sure it was the same guy?" Finn asks as he pulls up a chair.

Beyman nods. "There was a chrono in the victim's throat, and the fingers on the left hand were taken. And there were more paintings on the inside of the speeder."

"They didn't set fire to the speeder?" Finn asks.

Beyman shakes her head. "And the victim was a Zabrak man, not a Togruta woman. We checked the speeder in the vehicular database, found it registered to someone named Ovni Kurus, in Mos Espa. His sister's coming here to ID the body. Stars help her."

Finn shudders and massages the bridge of his nose.

"Speaking of databases," he says, "is there one for criminal cases?"

"Sure," Beyman says. "What do you want to look up?"

Finn spreads his hands. "I just want to see if there are any similar cases to these two any time before you'd have known about them. You said Mos Eisley used to have a really high crime rate, right? A murder like this might have slipped through the cracks."

Beyman stands and walks to a yellowed computer console in the corner of the room.

"Okay," she says, "I'm putting the timeframe as a week ago to whenever. Location is...Greater Mos Eisley area?"

"Sounds good," Finn says. "We can expand it later if we don't find anything."

"Right," Beyman says. "Now, keywords. 'Chrono,' 'fingers,' 'mutilation,' 'painting and/or mural'... What else?"

"Put in 'fire and/or arson' too," he says. "Keep track of the keywords, then we can search for different combos after—"

A guttural shriek has Finn nearly flying out of his chair. Beyman is moving to the door, teeth bared.

Finn hears indistinct voices and wailing from behind a door marked 'Interrogation' as they make their way down the hallway.

"Botes and Dutoi were just getting a description from a witness," Beyman says. "What the hell are they doing?"

Finn's hands begin to shake as they reach the door. Before Beyman can press her palm to the scanner, he kicks the area above it on the door and it flies open.

Inside, Botes and a yellow-skinned Mirialan who must be Dutoi restrain a Ghorfa with his wrappings pulled loose. Finn barely registers Beyman gasp behind him as he shoves aside a table and cold-clocks Botes across the snout. Dutoi drops the Ghorfa into a heap and back away as Botes reels from the punch.

Botes clutches his snout. "The fuck was that for?"

Finn places himself between the man huddled on the floor and the two deputies. He finds that he's too angry to speak.

"Dutoi," Sheriff Beyman says from the doorway, "there better be a damn good explanation for this."

Dutoi and Botes both flinch.

"It's nothing compared to what his people did to Saarke Haarho and that Zabrak fella from Mos Espa," Dutoi says. "Nothing compared to what he'd do to us if he had the chance."

Finn takes a step forward, but Beyman shoots him a look.

"You seriously think a group of Ghorfa did this?" she asks, folding her arms.

Dutoi rolls his eyes. "Yeah. It's obvious that Tusken raiders committed these crimes. You really think they care about some stupid treaty? Please."

Botes lets out a wheezing laugh. "This one told us he wants to go to law school. You believe that?" He crouches down to the Ghorfa's eye level and cups his hands to his snout. "Thirty years ago you'd have been shot on sight trying to enter civilization—"

"And thirty years ago, I'd have been a fucking slave," Beyman says, "but right now I am your superior officer. And you two will be lucky to keep your jobs after this. Get out, both of you."

The two deputies slink away as Finn begins to turn to the man cowering on the floor. Beyman grabs his arm.

"Don't look at him," she says. "It's taboo for Ghorfa to be seen with their wrappings undone." Then she points to a side door.

"There's a fresher in there so you can fix your wrappings," she calls over her shoulder.

"Thank you," a low voice says. There's a sound of rustling cloth and a door closing, followed by water running.

Finn lets out a sigh and sets the overturned table upright. Under it is a stylus and datapad. On the datapad's screen is a sketch of a human woman with light skin wearing a pale headwrap and goggles. Tufts of brown hair peek through the wrappings. She looks familiar for some reason Finn can't place.

A few minutes later, the Ghorfa emerges redressed. Beyman steps forward.

"Your name is A'Ghem, yes?" she asks.

A'Ghem nods.

She spreads her hands. "I am so sorry for what my officers did to you, I have…no excuses. And I'm going to do my damndest to make sure my remaining deputies will never do anything like that to any Ghorfa they encounter, ever."

He nods again and rubs his arm. "May I go now, please?"

Beyman sighs. "Yes, of course. Finn and I can give you a ride back home."

A'Ghem shakes his head. "N-no, that's alright."

"Okay," she says. "Be safe."

They escort him out of the station. After he shuffles away, Beyman reaches into her pocket and hands Finn some credits.

"I'm going to finish up that database search," she says. "You look like you could use a drink, though. Head over to Chalmun's Cantina down the street, I'll meet up with you in about an hour."

Finn takes the credits and heads out the door. The wave of desert air that buffets him outside brings him back into his body. He dissects the events of the last few minutes in his mind. Perhaps a drink is exactly what he needs.

***************

Chalmun's Cantina is dimly lit and empty, which is fine by Finn. He orders a beer from the Wookiee bartender and nurses it while not thinking about anything in particular.

He's just ordered a second drink when Beyman sits down next to him.

"Here's the files," she says, handing him a datapad. "There's cases going back a few hundred years. I looked up death certificates that were chalked up to Ghorfa attacks on settlement, too since…well."

Finn takes the datapad wordlessly and flicks through it. A file from around fifty years ago jumps out at him.

"Shmi Skywalker Lars," he says. "Supposedly kidnapped by Ghorfa from her home and tortured, rescued by her son but expired from her injuries. Coroner noted she was missing fingers on her left hand" He looks up. "Is 'Skywalker' a common name on Tatooine?"

Beyman shakes her head as the bartender hands her a beer. "Not at all. And Lars was the name of the uncle and aunt who raised Luke Skywalker. This is almost certainly his and General Organa's grandmother."

Finn reads over the report again. "Then her son..."

"Was Dar—" Beyman catches herself. "Was Anakin Skywalker, yes."

The fog swirling around Finn's mind lifts somewhat. "According to this, no one saw her get abducted. So our suspect attacks her when she's alone…but then how does she end up at the Ghorfa camp?"

Beyman pushes a lekku behind her shoulder.

"In recent years," she says, "since relations with them have gotten better, there have been a decent number of cases of people lost in the wastes who've been saved by Ghorfa encampments."

The bartender clears their bottles away and puts out a fresh bowl of koja nuts.

Beyman pops a nut into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. "I know Ghorfa used to be a lot more leery of colonists, but…maybe they saw her being attacked and went to help her?"

Finn rubs his chin. "The report says she showed signs of starvation, though."

"

I think I know why," Beyman says. "Ghorfa can't really eat much of the foods most other sentients can, and the stuff they do eat that isn't outright poisonous tends to be difficult for our bodies to actually get nutrition from."

Finn's eyes widen. "So you're saying…"

She nods. "They wouldn't have had any way of knowing, but if Shmi spent significant time in a Ghorfa camp like the report says, it doesn't matter that they were feeding her. She'd have been starving to death."

"Fucking hell," Finn says.

Beyman glances down. "It gets worse, though. Not for Shmi, I mean."

Finn raises an eyebrow.

"Word is Anakin went back to the camp," she says. "And he just…killed them all. The elderly, the children…stars. They tried to help a person in distress. And they got slaughtered for it."

***************

That night, Rey returns to the freighter and finally indulges in a real water shower. After she scrubs herself clean, she shuts her eyes and slides down the wall of the fresher, letting the water beat down her back.

She has enough credits to refuel. Maybe she can barter with the small robed traders that traverse the desert for other supplies. But the reality of Rey's situation is sinking in.

Her fingers close around a small blade taken from the room's supply cabinet. She holds it above her left wrist, right hand shaking.

***************

Kylo pads toward the fresher, curved knife in hand.

***************

Rey shakes her head, leans back against the fresher wall, and drops the blade. She can't bring herself to give up, not yet.

The fresher door opens a crack and Rey's head shoots up. She grabs the blade and exits the fresher. There's no sign of anyone in the hallway.

Rey still runs a full scan of the ship once she's towelled off. Nothing. It still takes hours for her to fall asleep that night.

The next morning, she can't quite bring herself to leave Tatooine. Instead, she finds herself climbing back onto her speeder for another day of exploring.

A muscular pair of arms wrap around her waist and Rey jolts forward. When she looks turns, her passenger from yesterday is sitting behind her.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

Rey stares at him. "Who are you, exactly? And where did you come from just now? Where did you vanish to yesterday, for that matter?"

The man grimaces. "You fell asleep."

Rey pinches the bridge of her nose.

"I thought I was going crazy," she says.

He glances towards the freighter. "We should get going."

"What makes you so sure I'm still going to give you a ride?" Rey asks.

The man hefts his rucksack onto his back.

"I mean, it's your choice," he says. "I'll go if you want."

Rey studies his face for a moment. "Alright, let's go. I want to explore for one more day before we leave."

Her passenger smiles. "I know just the place."

***************

"We're driving in circles," Rey says a few hours later. "I'm sure of it."

The words have barely left her mouth when they crest a hill and come to a flat plain with a winding cliff gouged into the far side.

"Here it is," her passenger says. "Welcome to the edge of the universe."

They dismount and walk to the edge. The canyon is massive, with tiny dwellings dotting the jagged walls and a great stone spire jutting into the sky in the center. Rey is at a loss for words.

Her passenger rests a hand around her shoulder.

"This is where creation was spawned," he says. "Where the snake father broke the earth with his coils and breathed life into being."

"Shh," Rey says, "don't spoil it."

He pauses. "But you don't understand—"

She lays a finger across his lips, and they're so soft. Then she tugs his face down to her own and kisses him.

***************

They get dinner at an inn in a small town called Tosche Station. The innkeeper has a radio tuned to Tatooine blues, and the music wafts out onto the patio where Rey and her passenger sit enjoying the evening.

He holds out a hand. "Care to dance?"

Rey begins to reach for his hand, then pauses.

"I've never really danced before," she says.

The man smiles. "Neither have I."

He shows her where to put her hands, and they sway back and forth to a mournful song of ill-fated love.

***************

Finn is greeted at the Haarho residence by Dutoi and Botes.

"We've been waiting for you," Dutoi says. There are strange runes painted on the door, and Botes licks one as Finn passes.

He brushes past long leaves hanging from the ceiling towards a Togruta woman facing the wall at the back of the main room. She wears a modest black dress, and a sheer veil covers her eyes.

"Saarke," Finn says. "I'm so sorry. I'm doing everything I can."

Saarke holds her hands up to the sides of her head. Tears of blood drip from her eyes. Then she reaches out and pulls Finn in to kiss him.

Finn shoots upright in bed, gasping for breath. Maz Kanata stands in the doorway of the room.

Finn stares at her. "I...I was dreaming."

Maz stares back sadly as BB-8 rolls by behind her.

"That was no dream," she says.

A burned hand sinks its fingers into Finn's chest as a cold weight settles on his back. He cries out and to dislodge the writhing thing as it pulls his heart out of his chest.

Finn awakens a second time, sweat-soaked and clawing at his sternum. He sits up to find Maz still standing in the doorway, BB-8 by her side.

"You're in a lot of trouble," she says. "You're going to have to talk to me."

Finn lays his head in his hands for a moment.

"Am I awake?" he asks."

"No, Finn," Maz says. "Now, you're dreaming."

***************

Unkar Plutt lands on Tatooine with little incident and locates his stolen freighter with similar ease, due to the beacon hidden under the console. It's locked, though, which means he'll need to find Rey before he can fully inspect it. No matter. He has no intention of returning to Jakku without his best scavenger in tow, willing or not.

He wanders the streets of Mos Eisley until he encounters a cantina filled with people dressed completely in cloth wrappings. The local junkboss must be soft if his scavengers can afford to waste their portions on alcohol and games.

All chatter dies when Plutt enters the cantina. Good. They should be intimidated by their superiors. He approaches the bar and notes that even the bartender seems to be a scavenger. Odd.

"I'm looking for someone," he says. "A human girl named Rey. She is a valued employee of mine and she has stolen my property."

Plutt takes out a holo of Rey scowling next to a height chart and places it on the bar.

"Pass this around," he says. "See if anyone recognizes her."

The bartender doesn't even look at the holo. "She hasn't been here," she says. "You need to go to the other bar."

"What are you talking about?" Plutt asks. "This is where all you people hang out, isn't it?"

"No one here has seen this person," the bartender says.

Plutt grabs the holo off the bar with a huff and turns to face the crowd.

"I'm looking for my employee," he repeats. "Has anyone seen her?"

Most of the onlookers have gone back to their drinks and conversation, but he catches one person staring at the holo.

"You," he says, striding over, "you recognize her, don't you?"

The person's friends step in front of him.

"No one has seen anything," one says. "There's nothing for you here."

"Listen," Plutt says, "Stop playing games with me. I don't care how softly your boss treats you, some of us don't tolerate sand rats disrespecting our authority."

And that's when the beatdown starts.

***************

After dinner, Rey's passenger pays for a room on the first floor of the inn with a soft, wide bed. They peel away each other's layers between frantic kisses that leave her body humming like a dynamo, and when he enters her she thinks she might come from sheer excitement alone.

Rey runs her hands over a gnarl of scar tissue on the man's left torso and he quickens his pace.

"Rey," he says, "shut your eyes."

She tries to turn to look at him, but he pulls out and flips her over. He sinks back into her at an angle that has Rey spasming around him.

She sags to the mattress as the man gathers her hair in his fist. He pulls her head back and buries his face in her neck with more brutal thrusts. Rey scrabbles for purchase on the sheets as another peak begins to build.

"Don't hold back," the man says. "Come for me." He punctuates the command with a roll of his hips, and Rey shatters with a cry. The man wraps her in a crushing embrace and gives a few final thrusts with an inhumanly deep groan. He collapses to the side still holding her.

Rey turns to face him, careful not to dislodge him from inside her. He shudders at the movement and pulls her even closer. They lie there in the nest of sheets catching their breath.

"But you don't understand," the man says, almost to himself.

Rey's fingers wander back to the scar on his torso. He takes her hand and twines his fingers with hers.

"What happened to you?" she asks.

"Don't let go," he says.

Rey reaches up to run her fingers through the man's hair and he breaks.

"Sometimes," he says, "It's like there's this wind blowing inside my head. My skull just might blow apart to let it out." He gulps down air. "I'd give my life for a quiet corner of the galaxy, but this wind…it keeps blowing me on, and on. It's silent up there, Rey. And so bright."

"It's okay," Rey says. "Just rest now."

The man sighs. "But you don't know who I am." He rests his cheek on her head anyway, and closes his eyes.

***************

Awake now, Finn follows Maz from the barracks to the rooftop.

"This is the work of an ancient being," she says. "A dust devil. They seek control over the material world through the ritual of murder. They have the power of visions, and the power to shield themselves from detection. They prey upon the despondent, the weak, the faithless. And they suck them dry."

Finn frowns. "They're still flesh and blood, though. They must be."

Maz walks closer, wagging a finger.

"You've got to stop thinking like a stormtrooper," she says, "and start thinking like a free man. Or you'll be in big trouble. You can't hunt something like this like an ordinary criminal. They are of the spirit world. They smell Mos Eisley dying and have come to harvest souls."

Finn sighs. "Then what do I do?"

Maz sits on the ledge beside Finn.

"They are bound by mortal form in this world," she says, "so they are vulnerable to mortal failings. They work through ritual, so they must be defeated through ritual."

From her bag, she takes out a familiar weapon.

"If they can be tricked into stepping across this lightsaber," she says, "they will be stripped of their powers and bound to the spot."

"You really want me to have this, don't you," Finn says as he takes the saber.

Maz looks away. "The one who needed it most never came, and it is too late now for the one she waited for to come back. All that can be done now is to release him."

She turns back to Finn and hands him another bundle from the bag.

"Once they are bound," she says, "strike them down. And burn this root before you do it, or his spirit will enter you, and you will become his next host."

Finn sniffs the root. It has a sharp, unpleasant smell, and he dreads having to burn it.

"You must go now, Finn Mukurob," Maz says. "When you come back, I will tell you about your family. But be careful. Death hunts you just as you hunt the dust devil."

***************

The fresher in their room isn't big enough for two, so Rey's passenger lets her go first while he smokes a cigarra with the window open.

When it's his turn, after Rey dresses, she can't resist the scavenger urge to examine the possessions in his rucksack.

The first thing she finds is a holocam with images of several people inside, starting with the holo taken of her on the speeder the day before. All of the images except for hers have times underneath them.

Rey smiles. It charms her to know he keeps a token from all of the people he's traveled with.

The next thing Rey pulls out is a black oblong box. Inside are fingers of all colors, in various states of preservation. Rey is so stunned she doesn't hear the fresher door open.

"Don't touch that!"

Rey whips around, reaching for a staff that isn't there.

The man stands in the fresher doorway clad in his briefs, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Why?" she asks. "Stars, why?"

"I swear, Rey," he says. "I never had any choice. They wanted to die. I just helped them."

A small blade clutched in her hand. A fresher door opened just a crack.

The man backs toward the door and locks it.

Rey shakes her head. "You're out of your fucking mind."

"No," he says. "You don't understand. They came to me. I can tell when someone's time is up."

He walks towards Rey, and she takes a step back.

"What the hell are you?" she asks.

"You know who I am," the man says.

Rey stumbles back onto the bed.

"You're not from Wild Space," she says as she stares up at him.

The man smiles. "I'm from the other side of the mirror."

He kneels and rummages in his bag.

Rey's limbs feel leaden. "Why...why me—"

"Because you need help," he says, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. "Anybody can see that. You're right on the edge, like a desert sky. At night, just after sunset. Or maybe just before dawn."

The man punctuates his speech with a snap of his glove, and Rey yelps. Why can't she move?

"You have a choice to make," he says as he draws out a vibroknife. "Day, or night?"

He pounces on the bed beside Rey as she begins to struggle.

"You have a spark of light inside of you," he says. "I'm just a midwife. All I have to do is make a small incision and cut it out."

He holds his knife above Rey's sternum.

"Don't be afraid," he says, stroking her cheek. "Everything's alright now, I'm here. I should have done this days ago, but I get lonely sometimes. Forgive me. I won't keep you waiting any longer."

He angles the knife to the side.

"There is no dark or light," he says. "Only the spectrum. There is no death, only the For—"

Rey surges forward with a scream and the man goes flying backwards. He lands against the wall with a crack, slumps to the floor, and stares at Rey for one stunned moment before his eyes slide shut.

Rey grabs the vibroknife and points it at the unconscious man while she shoves her feet into her boots. She grabs her speeder key from the nightstand and starts to unlock the door when a hand grabs her ankle.

Rey turns and delivers a vicious kick to the man's head, and he lets go with a grunt. She flings the door open and dashes through as he crawls after her. Rey slams the door on his head and runs to her speeder.

"You picked the wrong girl, you son of a bitch," she calls over her shoulder.

From the corner of her vision, Rey sees the man get up and stride toward her. As he draws closer, his face contorts into a snarling mask. The man reaches out a clawed hand to pull Rey from her speeder, but the engine kicks in just in time and she's off.

***************

Kylo watches Rey flee into the dark as rage boils within him. He raises his arms, and with a flick of his wrists, the speeder is no longer under her control.

He notices a nearby sandcrawler making its way towards town. With another turn of his right wrist, he sends the speeder careening into the path of the slow-moving vehicle.

Kylo waits until the last possible second before making one last jerk of his left wrist, and the speeder veers out of the way of the sandcrawler just enough that it only partly clips the side.

Rey goes flying into a sand dune, and the speeder grinds against the wall of the crawler hard enough to produce sparks as it's torn apart. The larger vehicle groans to a halt, dripping fuel.

Kylo walks toward the sandcrawler. He watches, bemused, as the Jawa driver argues with the matriarch of an Ithorian family of four as the rest of her family files out of the crawler to inspect the damage. Their argument dies down as they notice him.

He smiles and lights a cigarra with the lighter he took from the Zabrak two days ago.

The Jawa swears and scurries away from him while the Ithorians stand frozen. The eldest child is the first to react.

"Mom," she says, "please, come here."

The Ithorian mother backs away slowly. In the dunes, Rey blinks awake.

Kylo tosses the lighter towards the puddle of leaking fuel.

"Run!" the Ithorian mother yells as she grabs up her youngest child. Her other two children and the Jawa follow her towards Tosche Station.

Rey sits up in time to see the horizon engulfed in flames. On the other side of the blaze, Kylo raises his arms to the sky and soaks in the feeling of panic swirling around him as Rey flees into the desert.

The sandcrawler explodes just as Rey makes it to the top of a nearby dune, sending her tumbling down the other side. She takes one look back at the carnage, then wraps her face with her shawl and soldiers on.

***************

Operating on instinct, Finn drives back to Mos Eisley after his conversation with Maz. BB-8 insists on coming with him, and he's glad for the company. He uses her lighter to start the root burning and sets it in a little compartment meant to hold drinks, and the smell is as foul as he feared.

At the station, Finn and BB-8 are met by a Nikto deputy with green scales.

"Didn't expect you in so early," she says. "Sheriff wanted you to know there's a guy in lockup, might be connected to your case. I'm Neena, by the way, nice to meet you."

They shake hands. "What did he do to land himself in lockup?" Finn asks.

Neena rolls her eyes. "Damn fool lands planetside and the first thing he does is piss off an entire cantina full of Tusk—sorry, Ghorfa."

She huffs out a breath, then continues. "Anyway, we pull him out of there and get him to the hospital and he keeps going on about… scavengers, or something? And waving around this holo of a human woman, saying she was his employee."

Finn realizes where this is going.

"Was it the woman in the sketch we have?"

Neena grins. "Exactly. Though we didn't make the connection. The sheriff realized the poor guy Botes and Dutoi roughed up was in the cantina crowd and went to see how he was doing, and he told her that he recognized the lady from the holo."

Finn nods. "Alright, I'll go talk to him."

Neena hands him a keycard, a pair of stun cuffs, and the datapad with the sketch.

"He's just being held here so you can talk to him," she says, "so you can let him out when you're done. The cuffs are just in case he tries anything stupid. We don't have anyone else in custody, you can't miss him."

Finn and BB-8 search the holding cells until they find one occupied by a dozing crolute man covered in bruises. Finn taps on the bars of the cell and he jerks awake with a phlegmy cough.

Finn holds up the datapad. "Is this your employee?" he asks.

The Crolute sits up.

"Rey stole," he says, "my property!"

***************

Back at the inn, Kylo dresses and repacks his bag. He walks back to the burning entrails of the sandcrawler under a swiftly-reddening sky. A glint of metal catches his eye and he stoops to pick it up. It's the key to Rey's speeder. He holds the key to his nose, inhales, and lets it drop to the desert floor.

***************

Finn follows Plutt to the stolen freighter in a shipyard not far from Chalmun's Cantina. From there he asks around until he finds a Weequay who recognizes Rey from Plutt's holo and points them in the direction of Beggar's Canyon.

From there, they follow the speeder path to Tosche Station, and the smoking cadaver of the sandcrawler just outside town limits. The Jawa owner is attempting to salvage her goods, and she points them in the direction of the inn.

Finn pulls open the door of the rented room with his bowcaster at the ready, but it appears empty. He checks it carefully to confirm no one is inside, then motions Plutt to follow him with his blaster into the gloom.

He turns on a light, then examines the scattered personal effects spilling out of a leather satchel left behind on the unmade bed. Threadbare goggles, mechanical tools made from mismatched parts, a battered canteen with a few drops of acrid water. All speak of a harsh life where every last commodity is fought for.

Finn turns to Plutt. "Rey was your employee, huh. You pay her?"

Plutt stands up straighter. "What she's owed."

Finn isn't in the mood to get into an argument about fair wages, but he thinks he's beginning to understand why this woman stole one of Plutt's prize ships.

***************

Rey isn't certain how long she's been walking. She's used to spending the hottest part of the day in the bellies of great ships, and though the ambient temperatures inside those behemoths can soar, it's nothing compared to the direct heat of Tatooine's twin suns.

Besides the heat, she no longer has her goggles or canteen, and thirst and glare from the sand are starting to affect her.

***************

From atop a mesa, Kylo watches Rey meander across the dunes through a pair of binoculars. She stumbles and pauses at the base of a dead tree before slumping against it.

This won't do. He stands and makes a sweeping inward motion with his right arm. The joints in his fingers pop as he does a complex set of movements that stir up violent winds.

Kylo watches as Rey shields her eyes and curls into a fetal position around the tree. The temperature drops as clouds of dust blot out the suns.

***************

Finn, Plutt, and BB-8 are following Rey's tracks into the desert when the speeder is engulfed by the dust storm. Plutt balks when Finn closes the windows.

"Why are you burning that thing for?" he asks. "I can barely breathe in here."

"It's to keep us safe," Finn says.

As if on cue, an impossibly tall and bony figure chooses that moment to leap onto the speeder's front. It springs off with such force that the vehicle begins to spin uncontrollably, until it comes crashing to a halt.

***************

Plutt comes to upside down. He digs a chunk of transparisteel out of his scalp but drops it with a start at the sound of bowcaster fire outside the speeder.

The round astromech beeps angrily at him as he undoes his seatbelt and plummets to the ground with a heavy 'thud'. Plutt pulls out his blaster and crawls out of the bent passenger door.

Finn is firing blindly into the surrounding storm.

"What the fuck is going on?" Plutt asks.

Finn shoves him back towards the speeder.

"Get out of the way," he says as he fires another shot.

"Stop shooting," says Plutt, "there's nothing out there."

Finn ignores him and keeps firing.

Plutt points his blaster at Finn.

"Listen," he says, "put it down, or I swear to god I'll blow your head off."

Finn turns to him with a disgusted expression on his face.

"I mean it," Plutt says.

Finn reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a red object.

"I took out the plasma cell," he says.

Plutt stares at his blaster. He pulls the trigger, but nothing happens.

Finn points the bowcaster at him.

"I escaped the First Order," he says. "You think I'd let some small-time junkboss get the best of me?"

Plutt raises his hands and sinks to the ground. Finn takes out stun cuffs and throws them in front of him.

"Put them on," he says. "One around your wrist, one around the bumper."

Plutt picks up the cuffs with shaking hands.

"Don't leave me like this," he says, swallowing a sob.

Finn picks up Plutt's blaster and lets the droid out of the speeder.

"Don't worry," he says. "You still have a chance. The thing I'm after only takes people with nothing to live for."

He turns and walks into the dust storm, the little astromech rolling after him.

***************

Rey lies half-buried in the sand, still clinging to the withered tree. She feels the caress of a hand through her hair.

"You're almost there," a familiar voice says.

The speed she sits up with causes her head to spin. There's no one around, but the tracks of a side-winding snake lead up a low dune.

Rey follows the tracks to the top, and what she sees there makes her heart soar. A village sits across the way, in the shade of a rocky outcropping. She doesn't even care that it appears long-abandoned.

As she approaches a hut at random to search for supplies, Rey's shocked to find another person approaching her, and even more shocked to realize she recognizes him.

It's the Resistance pilot's quiet friend from Jakku, and he looks just as shocked to see her. BB-8 rolls around from behind him and beeps excitedly at her.

"Rey of Jakku?" he asks.

Rey nods, puzzled. "Who are you?"

"Finn," he says. "I'm with the Resistance."

A comm unit chooses that moment to buzz somewhere in the village. They glance at each other. Finn hands Rey a blaster.

"Take this," he says. "Be on your lookout."

He ducks into a hut, brandishing his bowcaster. Rey waits a moment, then follows him inside.

They find the comm unit in the third room of the hut. Finn answers it. His face goes slack, and he drops the unit like it burns him.

"Are you alright?" Rey asks.

"I know what I'm doing," Finn says.

"That won't help you," Rey says.

Finn looks away. "Yeah. I know."

He brushes past her from the hut, into another one. Rey leans against a support beam and closes her eyes.

***************

The second hut Finn enters is larger, and more sand-choked than the first. In the main room, a basin and jug peek from the dust next to what Finn realizes is a mummified hand wrapped in cloth curled around the handle of the jug.

He stoops to examine it more closely and notices the dessicated jut of a shoulder nearby, similarly wrapped. He stands up, and the glint of metal catches his eye.

A mask, eerily similar to the one worn by Dr. Kalonia's medical assistant, lies half-buried beneath a wall hanging spattered with what can only be dried blood.

The sound of a holocam capturing an image brings Finn back to the present. He moves in the direction of the sound and stumbles back outside, where he comes face to face with Kylo Ren.

"FN-2187," Kylo says.

Finn is so shocked he doesn't notice the vibroknife until it's too late.

***************

Kylo watches FN-2187 stagger away with the wound to his torso. He walks slowly behind until the traitor's legs give out. Kylo catches him and gently lowers him to the ground on his back.

He takes out a chrono, but before he can check the time, Rey is there and pointing a blaster at his head.

Kylo turns to her. "You can't fix this."

He glances back at the chrono. It's running down, but not as quickly as it should be.

"It's on safety," he says.

Rey fiddles with the blaster until she finds the switch, then points it back at his head.

Kylo stands and takes a step towards her.

"Back off," she says, "hands in the air. I mean it."

Kylo cocks his head.

"What are you going to do?" he asks. "Shoot me?"

"Goddamn right I am," Rey says.

Kylo glances at the sky.

"There's a storm coming," he says. "I think it's going to rain. If you kill me, I will always be with you."

Behind his back, he takes out his curved knife.

"You have to trust me, Rey."

Rey takes a step back and fires. The blaster jams.

Kylo smirks. "I thought you were going to shoot me."

Rey throws down the blaster and picks up the bowcaster.

Kylo ignores FN-2187 writhing off to the side, and takes a step forward. Something slaps to the ground under his foot, and he freezes.

The traitor has managed to get him to step over a lightsaber, just as Kylo tricked Snoke what seems like a lifetime ago.

***************

Rey takes aim with the bowcaster.

The man takes one last look at her, and he's so sad.

"I love you, Rey," he says before she shoots him in the head.

***************

As Kylo's body crumples to the ground, it throws up a curl of dust that flows around Rey. When it settles, she blinks a few times, then walks around the lightsaber toward his rucksack.

She examines the chrono, which has slowed to a crawl, then looks at the still-breathing traitor. She deletes his photo from the holocam, picks up the rucksack, and makes her way back into the desert.

***************

BB-8 already has an uncomfortable sense of deja vu from being told to wait at the edge of the village when she hears the sound of blaster fire.

She rushes toward the sound and finds Finn lying on the ground with a hole in his chassis, a deactivated human with a hole in his console, and Rey walking in the direction of Finn's speeder.

Good, she's going to radio for help. BB-8 rolls over to take a look at Finn and thanks the Maker Poe thought to install that first aid subroutine in her cortex.

From a small slot in her chassis, she removes a tube of bacta, tweezers, and a medicated towelette wrapped in foil. She pulls the cover away from Finn's chassis and scans the damage.

Miraculously, no internal components have been damaged, and the hole doesn't lead out the other side. BB-8 quickly removes some bits of cloth and grit trapped in the hole and swabs it with the towelette.

Finn begins to stir. "BB? That you?"

BB-8 chirps for him to hold still as she measures out bacta into the tube's cap and pours it in.

Finn sighs as the medicine takes effect.

"I'll never get used to that," he says.

***************

Rey walks for about half an hour when she reaches an overturned speeder. A phlegmy voice calls out to her as she walks by.

"Rey?" Unkar Plutt says. "Rey, wait, it's me, I'm stuck—"

The bowcaster is lowered to face him before she's even fully turned around. Plutt sags against the vehicle and Rey continues onward.

She comes to a speeder path and lowers herself to the exhaust-flattened sand. One gloved hand reaches out along the path as her eyes slide shut behind sunburned lids.

***************

By the time Finn and BB-8 make it back to the speeder, Unkar Plutt has died of thirst.

***************

That evening, back in Mos Eisley, Rey types the coordinates for a small green planet and takes off into hyperspace.

She supposes the fact that this ship is the Millennium Falcon should bother her, but Rey is full of ghosts herself now and her choice of ship feels fitting.

After washing the day's grime off, she crawls into one of the bunks, wraps herself in the cowl from the bottom of Kylo's rucksack and breathes in deeply. Her hand drifts down between her legs, and she feels her fingers growing longer, thicker, rougher.

The first one breaches her entrance and she moans. Her other hand wanders to her left breast and squeezes.

A second finger joins the first one as the pad of her thumb kneads against the nub of flesh just above. Rey grabs the edge of the bunk as they scissor back and forth inside her.

"Kylo," she says. "I—"

A ghostly hand wraps around her throat as a feeling of impossible fullness seizes her. Blunted claws sprout from her fingers. They curl against her walls, beckoning her onward.

"I have the last piece of the map," she says between gasps. "I'm going there—ngh—now."

Invisible fangs scrape against Rey's nipples and her thighs begin to quake.

"I'm going to find the person who hurt you," she says, voice echoing. "And I'm going to make them pay."

She slides one last finger home, and with a final grind of her hips that has her seeing white, Rey comes harder than she ever has in her life.

***************

Rey pads to the cockpit, still naked save for the cowl, as Ahch-to comes into view.

She can feel Luke Skywalker's presence from here. He's cut himself off from the Force, as if he thinks that will absolve him of his crimes. The old fool won't even sense her coming.

Rey supposes she'll be able to enjoy her green watery planet for a day or two while she toys with him, but what little other life she can sense seems content, and that doesn't suit her needs. It'll be back to someplace miserable like Mos Eisley or the Supremacy before long.

Rey leans on a chair as phantom arms enfold her in an embrace. She thinks she finally understands.