The heat is almost unbearable. My leg is on fire. I pass in and out of consciousness. The access hatch has been ripped off in the crash and sand pours in with the sunlight. A head emerges, hooded in beige, peering into my fighter. I somehow already have my SE44c in my hand and fire twice. The figure moans, and disappears.
I am being dragged across the sand on a stretcher of some kind. There are two figures pulling it along, and another lying next to me. It’s not a stretcher; it’s the hatch from my fighter. Bundles of junk are lashed around me, metal and electronic components. The figures are wrapped in cloth and the hide of some native beast.
I am still on the makeshift stretcher but we have stopped. I attempt to move but I am bound tightly. The figures remove my helmet. I try to stop them but they manage to unfasten the retaining clips. They hold something to my lips to drink but I resist. As I pass out I can feel them pouring it down my throat.
I am in a tent, wind billowing against the sides, sand beneath me. I am cool and the pain in my leg is more bearable. I am still bound and cannot move my arms. I can hear voices outside, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. My helmet is lying next to me; the obsidian and red now dented and gouged to the silver beneath.
Some time later a figure enters the tent. He has removed his head coverings and I can see he is a humanoid male of a similar age to me, his skin weathered and creased and his eyes a bright blue. He offers me a flask and this time I drink. He grunts and leaves me alone in the tent. It gets dark, and I fall asleep.
In the morning he returns with a female, tall and slim with cropped dark hair. She has the same lined complexion and bright blue eyes. They grip me under each armpit and haul me up. The pain in my left leg flares through my thigh and I buckle, my boot giving way as I collapse onto them and lose consciousness again.
I have been propped up against the side of some scrap metal. I am sitting amongst a collection of hovels, made from canvas and shipwrecked junk. All around me are panels from different ships; destroyers, cruisers, fighters, freighters, Imperial and Rebel. Set between them are a few tents and this small clearing of sand.
We are sheltered here from sandstorms and, I realise, shielded from First Order reconnaissance. The scavengers live out here in the desert like animals. The man lights a fire and crouches down to fan the flames into life. He places a tin kettle on a metal stand and disappears into one of the tents. I am still bound.
Up there in the ether around this planet, my brothers in arms are counting their losses. I know we lost pilots on the Finalizer, not just a few troopers, and they may think this pilot dead. If my helmet is intact then the link to my comm unit may still work. I would have to get them a message before they leave orbit.
The woman emerges with a green ration disc and pours hot water from the kettle. I realise I am hungry. I examine my leg. The rip-stopped black fabric of my flight suit lies tattered below my left knee. The pain is throbbing and cold, where it had been sharp and hot. My ankle is charred and droops at an unnatural angle.
The man returns, supporting a third scavenger. He is a child, perhaps a teenager, dressed in the same cloth and hide strapping. His shoulder is bandaged and the rags on either side are burned. I recognise the patterning as that of an SE44c blaster. He must have been the figure I fired at from the wreckage of my fighter.
I wonder why they haven’t killed me yet. I know they must want something. I know my chances of survival depend on learning what it is as quickly as possible, and only giving it to them on my terms. I think back to the academy, to all that training, to the intimidation and beatings. Glory days.
‘What do you want?’ I ask the male scavenger.
‘Eat’ he replies, coldly, and passes me a lump of reconstituted rations.
‘My hands are tied’ I remind him.
He nods at the female and she walks over and unties them. It takes me a few minutes to move my fingers. They are numb and then tingling, and I realise I may have been here for days. I have one chance to signal the Finalizer if there is any hope of a rescue. I haven’t got time to work through hostage negotiation protocols.
There is a staff lying a few feet in front of me. I push off from the panel behind, fall to my right knee and grab the end. I swing it into the fire and knock over the kettle and stand. The rations fizzle in the sand and hot embers shower the three scavengers. The male howls in pain and clutches his face, the child curls into a ball.
I scramble towards the tent, nearer to my battered helmet, to my comm. link. The female is shouting. I am dragging my left leg behind. The pain should be worse; I wonder if they dosed me with some primitive medicine. The female grabs my good ankle and hauls me backwards, just short of the tent.
I turn and swing my gloved fist at her head, but she dips easily out of range. She has the staff in her hand and she lifts it high above her left shoulder and swings it down in an arc. I roll to one side and raise my arm to block the impact, but my strength is not there to resist. The staff hits my temple and everything fades.
Next: The Scavengers