The Dead-Enders

“What is it you’re looking for?” Unkar Plutt’s meaty hands dropped to rest on his hips as he sized up the pair in front of him. The young man was draped all in black. Plutt thought it strange for Jakku’s scorching climate, but there was something even stranger about the man’s gaze. A slight shiver went up the junkboss’s spine.

“We represent the Acolytes of the Beyond. We deal in Imperial artifacts,” the man is black said, flexing his knuckles. His eyes flicked to the table of salvaged scraps Unkar had on display. “But we’re not interested in that garbage. We’re looking for the big stuff.”

The hulking Crolute snorted. “There’s a whole graveyard of ships that way.” Plutt waved a plump hand in the general direction. “A mess of TIEs, A-wings, and a star destroyer, but they’ve been picked pretty clean. Unless of course you want to haul the ships away. In that case –” he rummaged behind his counter and held up a datapad, “– I’ve got the salvage permit here. Make me an offer.”

The human male took a step closer and sneered. “We’re not interested in rotting ships.” He started to raise a hand towards the Crolute, but the young man’s eyes went wide with surprise. Kylo Ren turned just as the girl spoke up.

“If they’re looking for the caves beneath Carbon Ridge, I can show them.” She looked to be about seventeen and lythe as a cat.

Ren’s eyes sought hers. She’d been listening and her mind was particularly bright. But her gaze was fixed on Plutt.

The junkboss grinned — inasmuch as his species could. “You won’t find the place without a guide,” he told Ren and the tall woman shadowing the dark lord. “And you’d be dead under a rockslide before you knew what hit you. Rey here is the best. You can have her for a hundred credits.”

Rey squared her shoulders. “I want six portions,” she told Plutt in no uncertain terms. “Ten if they find what they’re looking for.” She folded her arms.

The Crolute’s round mouth fell open, but before he could express his outrage, the woman interjected, “Of course, Rey. And you’d be welcome to come back to our ship to share a celebratory dinner. You look as if you haven’t eaten real food in months.” She smiled a sweet smile as she pulled a silky wrap over her blonde hair.

“I haven’t,” Rey grumbled. “He sees to that.” She shot Plutt a withering look. Half-turning to the visitors, she said, “Follow my speeder.”

Ren watched her hurry off then pulled up his hood.

“Is that a lightsaber?” Plutt pointed a fat finger at the weapon clipped to Ren’s belt. “I’ve always wanted to see one of those.” His expression hardened. “Are you some kind of Jedi?”

The dark lord turned on him, eyes narrowing. “It’s a flashlight.” When Plutt shook his head and opened his mouth to argue, Ren waved a hand before the Crolute’s face. “You’ll forget you ever saw it,” he suggested with a sneer.

Plutt’s bloated features went slack. “I’ll forget I ever saw it,” he parroted back.

Amanda Snoke let out a laugh and hooked her arm in Ren’s. “That trick never ceases to amuse me. Come on, let’s follow the girl.”

Out beyond the Goazon Badlands, Rey’s speeder slowed and banked hard to the left, following the path of a ravine to the base of the ridge. Ren tailed her in the two-man speeder and came to a halt when she stopped and dismounted beside a stepped rock formation. The feature was a natural one, carved by a watershed that had evaporated a millennium ago. She used it to climb to a narrow ledge that commanded a view of the canyon. She turned and waited for her customers to catch up. Kylo Ren, unaffected by the heat, was the first to reach her.

“You see that cave over there?” she said, pointing to a large, vaulted opening a quarter kilometer down the canyon. She was careful to keep her head down below a jagged outcrop. Ren nodded as Amanda came up behind him. “It’s guarded by the Dead-Enders. They’re white-beards with crazy eyes. Some say they’re stormtroopers left behind after the Battle of Jakku. They ran out of power packs for their blasters years ago, but I wouldn’t want to mess with them.” She squinted up at him against the setting sun. “Twenty credits gets you in the back door of the place — even they don’t know it exists — or you can take your chances with them.”

“I didn’t think Niima Outpost still used credits,” Amanda mused, giving Rey a wry smile.

Rey shrugged. “They still take them in Tuanal and they’ve got some things I need.”

Ren stood watching the three scruffy old men pace about the entrance to the cave. He had no doubt he could subdue them with little effort, but there was no telling what forces lingered inside. The place was likely booby trapped. He reached into his robes, brought out a credit chip, and programmed in the amount with his thumb. Amanda raised an eyebrow at him.

He handed the chip to Rey with a smirk. “I like the way you think, scavenger.”

As their fingers touched, both of them blinked. A barrage of images flashed through Ren’s mind, including one of a little girl straining against a Unkar Plutt’s grasp and crying out for someone to “Come back!” Ren gave his head a shake to clear it. Rey stared at him, overwhelmed by the vision of a tall boy with a mop of dark hair. The boy started to run, reaching out to her.

Rey recovered first, pocketing the credit chip. “The cave’s just around the bend,” she nearly stammered.

Amanda Snoke eyed the exchange with lifted chin, a peculiar brightness filling her pupils. She took Ren’s hand and intertwined her fingers in his as the girl led them down a path barely visible among the jumble of crags. They came to a narrow opening in the rock face as the shadows deepened and stretched along the canyon wall.

“I think you’ll just fit,” Rey told Ren, measuring his stature against her memories of the abandoned passageways, “but you’ll have to duck and crawl. I don’t know what this place was,” she said before backing away, “but it gives me the creeps. I’ll wait with the speeders. We need to be out of here before dark.”

Ren watched her go, puzzling out the familiarity of her walk and the way she squinted up at him. He felt Amanda tug at his collar and lay her palms on his chest.

“If this place is the old Imperial laboratory,” she murmured, pulling his chin to her and holding it between thumb and forefinger, “we’ll make it so again.”

@MyKyloRen   15 November 2016


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