This time I scream myself awake. This is no adrenaline fuelled Twin Ion Engine call to arms waking me from the sweating vortex of nightmares in my bunk. It is the knowledge that the numbing ache in my leg means that my ankle is lost to me. I look down and see that my knee is gone too, replaced with metal and hydraulics.
What the fuck have they done? I expected to be dead, rotting at the bottom of some wreck’s exhaust tube, or else repackaged and sold on as rations. They had me where they wanted, hobbling and pathetic, and at their mercy. They should have killed me, so why the hell have they fixed me with this fucked up leg?
‘Is this from a protocol droid?’ I shout into the darkness, ‘Why have you grafted this piece of shit onto me? What the fuck do you want from me?!’
I force a dark thought to the back of my mind; I cannot afford to face that yet, I have to focus on now. On any First Order ship the med bay would have at least some basic prosthetic limbs. Aboard The Finalizer there were hands that looked real. These savages have grafted a droid leg onto me, a fucking protocol droid.
It is several hours before the male comes to see me. He ignores my screamed questions about the leg, just leaves me some rations and a flask of water. I eat and drink quickly. When he returns he has a chain with him, and a manacle. He secures my good leg and attaches the other end of the chain to a metal pipe high on the wall.
I can move around. The leg is solid, at least more so than it looks. Although the light here is poor the droid appears to have been black once, beneath the layer of rust and grime that coat the exoskeleton. It clicks and hisses as I stumble forward, putting my weight on the abandoned robotics, and the chain clinks along in time.
They have moved me to a chamber with dull metallic walls, perhaps made from the shipwrecked junk panels. I manage to gather some momentum and stagger to the pipe. It emerges from one wall near the corner and disappears into another. I grip it with both hands and pull hard, but there is barely any give at all.
The leg catches on the woven mats that cover the floor. It can support me, and I can move forward, but I am struggling to coordinate the rusted limb. I know I will get there, spatial awareness is hardly a problem for ESF pilots, but I need to get there today. The remaining flesh is beginning to chafe and swell above the robotic knee.
I gather up the chain and knot and twist the length, pulling backward to find any weakness in the rusted links. I sit down and work my way back, taking the pressure off my leg, and hold for several minutes. When I unravel the chain there are no deformities, nothing is twisted out of shape. Only me.
When the man returns he is holding a blaster. It is an old Republican weapon of some kind. I doubt it works but I play along, what else can I do? He takes off the manacle and prods me out of the chamber, through an opening in the darkness beyond the reach of my chain. He walks behind me, needling me with the blaster.
I stumble along a narrow corridor, walls made from canvas riveted to metal, grills underfoot partially covered with the sand that sits beneath them. There are small piles of clothing, equipment and utensils piled on either side. I realise that these are living quarters. More comfortable than a tent, and more secure.
We emerge into the same clearing by the fire pit. The woman shoots me a furious look, and holds my gaze until I look away. The kid has burns on his cheek to go with the dent in his shoulder, but he can’t suppress a smile and I know he likes me. I know because once upon a time I was a deadbeat kid with no hope too.
This time we eat together, once they have bound my legs, my flesh and the droid metal, together. It is late afternoon. I am still wondering what these primitives want with me. Is there a market for slaves here? They must know they cannot hide me from the First Order; buying me would be a death sentence!
After we have eaten they unbind my legs. All of them are armed now; even the kid has an ancient blaster of some kind. I am marched out of the clearing and around the tent. I stumble every step, and right myself. I fall over, and they watch while I push myself back up. I fall again, and they stand back and wait.
We all know that one mistake will cost them their lives. If their weapons work then I won’t hesitate to neutralise them all. The man, the woman, and the child too. I am not a monster, but the fate of fathers and sons has cost our galaxy dear, and the risk is too much to take. I’ll spare them seeing him die if I can, and shoot him last.
We are moving up the side of a shallow dune. The next time I fall I take a look back. The camp is smaller than I thought, just a few clusters of tents and shacks, barely emerging from the sand. There are several tall pipes too, which I guess are sunk deep as protection from suffocation during sandstorms.
We reach the crest of the dune and they nudge me over. The light has begun to fail and it takes me a few moments to process the information. I am looking at a small craft of some kind. I start to walk faster, to stumble, to fall and roll. The scavengers keep pace with me easily. I pick myself up and stare.
This is no starship. I start to laugh. It is like a child’s model made from space junk. Even if it could be made to fly, even if by some miracle the hull and the drives all hung together, who the hell would be crazy enough to fly this thing? And that’s when I realise why they need a pilot with two legs. Oh fuck.
Next: The Salvagers