The heat hit Kylo first. After the coolness of space, the warmth that engulfed him as he strode from his ship had sweat drenching his mask and thick robes almost immediately. It felt like stepping into a furnace.
Then came the smell, and he understood why no Alpha would choose to live on this rat’s arse of a planet.
The air was so dry and the wind so strong that the smells were more intense than anything he’d encountered before. There was nothing to disguise the stench of the natives, nothing to dampen the undeniable fact that on this planet with no water, washing was a luxury.
The scents seemed to travel from miles away, and he smiled wryly to himself. This dry air would make it easier to track her down.
He surveyed the scene in front of him. According to his sources, this was the main trading outpost, and hence, most inhabited part of the planet. Scattered in front of him stood a collection of ragged tents, offering scrappy bits of shade to the wretched-looking locals. A large tank filled with stagnant water dominated the north part of the settlement and a rusting metal hulk, the south.
The locals did not lift their heads to look at him or come to welcome him. They continued with their business; scrubbing bits of scrap, bartering for tokens, surveying one another for opportunities. But he smelt their fear, read their thoughts and knew he was keenly observed.
They knew who he was. Every soul in the universe knew who he was. Kylo Ren. The galaxy’s most powerful Alpha. Right hand man to the Supreme Leader.
He scoured the mismatched bunch. He noted some were well fed, more than well fed, and these ones prowled around ordering the others about. The weaker ones were bony, their face’s hollow and their eyes vacant.
His stomach lurched. He wondered what sort of Omega she’d be living on a planet like this. Dirty and starved. Smelling like this planet’s latrine. Hardly an Omega worthy of a man like himself.
But if he was completely honest, he didn’t care. He was intrigued. Intrigued by the tales of this Omega. An Omega who had escaped the clutches of an Alpha and had not allowed herself to be claimed. An Omega like this - he’d never heard of such a tale before.
The sun blazed high in the sky, and he noted the way the scorched earth cracked beneath his boots as he marched towards the metal box. It was the most secure looking place, providing the most protection from the unrelenting battering sand storms for which this place was notorious. He deduced, therefore, that it must belong to the being in charge of this junk yard.
A window, barred and shaded by a canopy, faced out from the container towards the settlement, and within it hunched a large crolute male. The boss. His skin was pale and fell in deep glutinous waves about his blob-like frame. Two deep-set black eyes peered at Kylo from behind a broad, flat nose. Intelligent, calculating eyes. Down his front he wore plates of armour, and on his head a tin hat. This boss clearly feared his own people.
The air about him reeked, and Kylo was thankful for his mask, at least it did something to lessen the stink.
As Kylo approached he sent a knock through the force, rattling the caravan in warning. They could say what they wanted about Kylo Ren, he had never admired those who took advantage of the weak.
The two males eyed each other.
“How can I be of service, my lord Alpha?”
“Your name?” Kylo demanded, his voice deepened and mechanized by the modulator in his mask.
“Unkar Plutt. I assure you that everything here is above board,” Plutt hesitated. “Or perhaps this isn’t an inspection - perhaps you’ve come to source something?” A smirk hovered at his lips.
Kylo curled his hands into fists, resisting the urge to throttle the repulsive being.
It was a source of shame that he, Kylo Ren, had not acquired an Omega when lesser Alphas had.
Yet, it wasn’t that which had compelled him to fly halfway across the galaxy to this waste of a planet. It was the prospect of a fight; the thrill of a chase. Kylo had fought for everything in his life, everything worth having, and a charge had careened through his veins at the prospect of hunting down this Omega and taking her for himself.
“The Omega. You know where she is? Who she is?”
“Yes, one of my scavengers. But she’s not been seen since she was discovered.”
“It was not known that she was an Omega?
“There are no Alphas on this planet, my lord. She had not presented.”
“Has she left the planet?”
“And how would she do that?” He scoffed.
Kylo scowled at him from under his mask, his eyes turning menacingly darker.
“Can my men be of assistance to you?” Plutt asked, sensing an opportunity. “I see you are alone, and other Alphas have arrived here in the last few days - also seeking the Omega.”
Yes, he was alone. It was a risk, he knew. If the Resistance learnt of his visit, they could launch an ambush. And then there were the other Alphas. But coming with an entourage would only draw attention; alert more Alphas to the existence of this Omega, or his master for that matter. He had left alone, telling only a couple of his most loyal knights where he intended to go and what he intended to do.
Kylo stretched out his right arm, and with the force gripped the foul creature by the neck, squeezing firmly until his eyes bulged and he scrabbled with his hands at his throat. Behind him, several men rushed forward, but Kylo swept his free arm and they were sent crashing through the air, landing violently on the ground, where they remained motionless.
“Tell me what you know?” Kylo growled, the blood in his temples thumping.
“And my reward, Alpha?” Plutt spluttered.
“I will spare your life.”
The pin-like eyes narrowed.
“I can tell you the location of her home. That’s as much as I know.” He told Kylo the coordinates, and Kylo determined it was the truth. If Plutt had any more information, he would have tried harder to sell it.
Releasing his hold, he let Plutt crumple to the floor and turned his back on the creature to scan lightly the minds of the other heavies and scavengers. He found nothing of use, but noted the side-ways glances they threw towards his ship, and he decided that the safest course of action would be to hide it if he needed to leave it.
He twisted back to Plutt. He wondered whether to threaten him not to reveal his whereabouts - but decided this would only spark his curiosity.
“Give me a large supply of your rations.”
“I have water sources marked on my map.” He watched while Plutt’s minions gathered up his food, and then a thought occurred to him. “Are there others who may have given shelter to her?”
“There is another village, Alpha, yes.”
Rey was hungry. The feeling was not unknown to her; most days were spent unsatisfied and unfulfilled. But this kind of hunger she’d experienced only a handful of times - when she’d been too ill or injured to scavenge, or the sandstorms had raged for days forcing the market closed.
She hadn’t had the opportunity to grab her stockpile of saved rations before she’d fled, and as the days passed, the thought of them buried deep within her home became ever more tempting.
The last few days had seen Rey on the constant move. She figured that staying in one place would just allow whoever was on her tail to catch up with her. There was the option to leave the planet, but the only place to obtain a ship was Unkar’s yard - with too many watching eyes, and she most definitely had a price on her head by now. Besides, as much of a dump as it was, this planet was her home. It gave her an advantage - well, of sorts, anyway.
It would be a risk to go back to fetch her rations. She knew there were Alphas out there. She could smell them on the wind, and the villagers who gave her scraps four days ago had warned her of strangers looking for an Omega. So far, she’d avoided crossing their paths.
But two weeks had passed since her presentation had been triggered by the visiting Alpha and her designation as an Omega revealed, surely they’d already searched for her at her home? She hoped very much the longer she stayed out of reach and hidden, the sooner they’d tire of this planet and leave her in peace.
She rested with her back to her speeder, crowded in the little shade it provided, every part of her skin wrapped in cloths protecting her from the sun’s ferocity. Her stomach growled pathetically, no more energy left to protest any harder, and the pain forced her eyes shut and her teeth to clamp.
She had no choice. She’d have to go back.
Kylo sat in his ship, relieved to be out of the heat and away from the smells, and input the coordinates for the village and the Omega’s home. Her place was closer, and he decided to start there. He doubted there would be any trace of her left, any clue that would lead to her whereabouts, but he was curious to learn more about her.
He skimmed his fighter over the dunes, enjoying the way the sand kicked up behind him in a golden procession, watching the way the black shadows dancing across the ground lengthened as the sun dropped in the sky. He had a few hours before sunset yet.
As he drew closer to his location, he began to spot the great capsized wrecks and hulks of giant ships. Some marooned on their bellies, some flipped with their bottoms skyward, some with gaping wounds to their hulls. All cracked, rotting and stripped bare.
The graveyard of ships. Scars from the battle of Jakku.
His coordinates brought him to stop in front of the cemetery, and for a moment he was forced to catch his breath, before he shook his head and alighted from his fighter.
It was clear she must have made her home in one of the upturned vehicles, the perfect home for a scavenger, he thought.
And then the air shifted and his head snapped instantly to the East.
Her scent. So vivid it hit the back of his nose and exploded in his mind; images of sand, wind and sex firing across his eyes. The strength of it was far more dense than anything he’d ever experienced before. His mouth salivated like a sugar-starved child shown candy.
“Unmated,” he muttered to himself, “you’ve just never smelt an unmated one before.”
He followed the scent, his legs carrying him with speed despite the way the sand sucked at his feet.
But as he drew closer, other scents drew his attention and he halted in his tracks. Alphas. They’d been here already. At her home. He ground his teeth. Inside her shelter; a toppled AT-AT walker. His jaw tensed with rage. The door had been pried from its frame, and belongings were scattered about the sand.
He strode over, crouching on his haunches and turning the possessions over in his gloved hands. There was her smell again, buried beneath that of the Alphas. How many? Four? Maybe five? The scents were of different ages, showing the Alphas had been there at different times over the last few days.
He picked up a couple of torn and yellowing books, an ancient looking pilot’s helmet and some cooking utensils and carried them inside.
The low angle of the sun let orange light slip into the few windows that remained above sand level, but still her home was dark and dingy. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he could discern that her home had been ransacked. Belongings pulled from shelves and flung across the cramped space. A window smashed. Bedding shredded. A worn, colourless doll lay lifeless on the centre of the floor, her guts streaming from her belly and her eyes pulled out.
He cradled it in his hands and, gently with his forefinger, pushed her stuffing back inside. Then, without thinking, he removed his helmet and ran the doll under his nose, breathing deeply. There was the faintness of others but then her, concentrated in this one small toy. It hit him in the gut and he remained frozen for a moment, sweet sensations coursing through his veins. Finally, he huffed out violently, attempting to clear her from his nasal passages, and fixed his mask back in place.
An anger then swam through his body as he surveyed once more the desecration of her things. He vowed to pulverise the scum that had done this to her sanctuary, before starting to clear the mess, sweeping away the glass with his foot, piling the rags into a corner, placing her stuff back onto the counter and the table.
When it was completed, he felt a strange satisfaction, and he puzzled at himself and his actions. He spun around in the tight room and then spotted it hidden in a shadowy corner he’d failed to spy earlier: her little bed. He crept towards it and placed his hand on the hard mattress - the springs easily discernible. He sat and, as he looked to the wall, found strange marks scratched into the metal. Like tallies.
“Counting what, little Omega?” He asked, pulling off a glove and gliding his hand against her scrapings. “Counting what?”
Suddenly, he felt it, a slight disturbance in the force. He rushed to the door. The sun hovered at the horizon, painting the sky a glowing orange, and yet the land was a violent swirl of blackness. A sandstorm. The ground trembled slightly as if in fear of what was fast approaching, and he heard the faintest of rumbles.
He had a choice. Go back to his ship and outrun the storm, or remain here and wait it out. He chose the latter, telling himself that he needed to sleep.
He retrieved the broken door and, going back inside, wedged it against the entrance, sealing himself inside. Then he removed his cloak, his helmet and his boots, and sitting on her stool at the counter ate some rations as he listened to the thundering noise grow ever louder.
Soon darkness enveloped him, and the walker shook as the sands and winds buffeted and battered it from all sides. He crawled to the little bed and lay listening to the great ghosts of ships howling and groaning in the storm.
Rey waited for nightfall; then set off for her home. Night was never that dark on Jakku, which meant she could find her way over the star-lit dunes with ease, scanning a watchful eye for movement and signs of others.
The graveyard loomed ahead of her in the distance, and her stomach moaned in anticipation before it hit her. A slight whiff on the air, blowing briskly towards her so that she’d swallowed it whole before she’d registered its existence. She cut off the speeder immediately.
Smells had always been evocative to Rey. Things that were powerful and vivid. But since she’d presented, this had changed completely. It was like suddenly waking up to a whole new world, a world that had always been there, invisible before and now clear before her eyes. Now she had a whole new language she could speak. Forming an impression of people, their feelings, their motives, not from their movements, their expressions, their words - but from these secret messages they emitted in their scents, and now she could read them.
The smell coated her tongue and the inside of her mouth and nose, yet it seemed to come from the far distance. The scent was unfamiliar, calling to her of things she had no name and no picture for - of things strong and alive. An image sprung into her mind of the Alpha she’d seen on posters and broadcasts. A tall man, always dressed in black robes, his face masked, a red crackling lightsaber grasped in his gloved hands.
She shook her head, snorted hard, and spat into the sand.
That was silly. You couldn’t recognise someone by their scent when you’d never met them. It was probably because he was the most well known Alpha - that’s all. And yet - she hadn’t formed such a clear image from any of the other Alpha’s scents she’d encountered.
She was just tired and worn out - and the hunger confused her.
She needed to pull herself together and find some food. Without food, she’d have to stop moving - and then they’d find her.
She left her speeder and decided to cover the rest of the distance by foot. It would be quieter that way, and she could hide in the darkness, determine if this new Alpha lay in wait.
It was clear to her that she’d arrived on the heels of a sandstorm, the air smelt molested, a fine layer of dirt covered the decaying ships around her and the ground lay undisturbed by recent feet, wheels or hooves.
Rey crept over the dunes, hugging the shadows of the wrecks, darting from one dark spot to another; her eyes, ears and nose alert.
Soon she could see her home. It halted her in her tracks. Even from here, she saw it had been invaded - and the smell was all wrong, not welcoming, not safe but reeking of Alphas and violence. And strongest of all was that same scent again, so fresh she knew he must be near.
She should turn and run. That’s what her brain screamed at her to do. Turn and get out of there quickly. But her feet and her body did not respond. They answered to something more basal and more primal. That scent.
What was it? Alluring, tempting. Calling to her of something she did not understand. Her body reacting in a way she struggled to control.
This was why she needed to get away? Before…