Jenk wants the weapons first. We throw up the blasters and follow with the nets of salvage. He has seen what I am capable of doing with an E11. I know Jenk enjoys the killing more than I ever would. And he knows that I can kill with a precision and efficiency that frighten him. I am a professional. He is just a murderer.
‘Stay cool’ I whisper to Case before I haul him up, ‘tell her to be ready.’
‘She’s ready’ he nods, ‘we both are.’
Jenk inspects the nets and grunts his approval. He has no idea that for weeks we’ve been hoarding blasters, armour and droid components. We have been tapping our stash over the past few days. Case collects it while I work on the Interceptor. All Jenk sees is the same as usual; nets bulging with the daily load of salvage.
‘We move to the next site tomorrow’ mutters Jenk.
‘No’ I look him in the eyes, ‘there’s more down there, too much to carry.’
‘Get it now then’ he says, ‘We move on tomorrow.’
‘No’ I uncouple my harness and drop the line, ‘after I rest.’
Jenk thinks about it, hesitates. I detach Case and gesture for him to head for the mineshaft. I can tell Jenk is seething. He stalks over to the sledges and starts lashing the nets together. He is afraid of me, afraid of what he has seen me do. He has a weapon, and I am unarmed, but now he knows that will not stop me.
I feel a needle of pain shoot through my forehead. There are images in my mind; a scavenger kneeling, screaming, crying, begging as a black gloved hand fires a blaster point blank at his head; the surprise on his face, first as the E11 jams, and then as I smash it into his face until his nose crumples and caves into a bloody pulp.
Jenk will not cross me, but he will never take his eyes off me again, and he wants me moving on through the wreck. I think he will separate me from Case too, as soon as we finish stripping this section of the Destroyer. We have to make our move now, today, and before the Interceptor is out of reach.
I wait until Case has headed topside and the sledges are loaded. I know exactly how much time he needs to reach the surface, trek to the camp, and get his mother to the pickup point. Jenk is ready to haul up the salvage and the others are packing up all our supplies. He has no intention of coming back down here.
‘I’ll go now’ I tell him, hooking on my line.
‘We’re heading up’ says Jenk, ‘be back tomorrow.’
‘If you want that pile of blasters, I go now’ I insist, ‘and there are a few thermal detonators down there too …’
‘Be back up before I clear this sledge’ he orders, taking the bait, ‘I’ll lower it back down.’ He turns to the others, ‘Once you’re all up, blow the shaft.’ They nod and carry on with what they were doing; no surprise there.
I take a last look at the upper chamber and jump back off the ledge, abseiling into the abyss, down into the belly of the beast. I haven’t got a blaster, but I know where to find a few. I couldn’t waste time wrangling with Jenk. There is a risk he will blow the mineshaft while I’m still down here, but that’s just fine with me.
It takes several hours to reach the repair bay but I could find it with my eyes closed. Case and I have mapped every corner of this section. We have incapacitated every droid, stripped every corpse and stolen every weapon. There are a series of drops, corridors and collapses to navigate, but nothing else.
I stop once; to retrieve the bag I hid behind a broken access panel several days earlier. I check each of the weapons and ensure the power cells aren’t leaking. Then I peel off my flight suit, now tattered and sand-blasted. My droid leg catches the light from the blinking, exposed console as the hydraulics hiss and whirr.
I pull on the W1ND8K. I recognised it as an original straight away, as soon as I saw it hanging there, a relic in the mausoleum of some long dead Imperial officer’s quarters. It’s a predecessor of the 181st flight suit and the toughened black fabric, still flawless after all this time, fits me perfectly.
I lift up the grey flack vest and push my arms through the rings at either side, pulling the fabric down across my chest and back, tightening the straps to fasten it to my body. I flip the seals to secure my gloves and boots. The pressure gauge is heavy and reassuring on my chest. I can’t wait to retrieve my helmet.
When I reach the Interceptor I waste no time. She is primed and ready, the black panelling opalescent against matt grey in the half light. I flip the access hatch and drop into the pilot’s chair. It feels like I was born to sit here. I can feel my heart beating faster as I envisage the launch tube and the sand and rock that block the end.
The power cells are fully charged, R5-10-62 made sure of that after we convinced Jenk to leave him down here. It seemed to make sense to him, to power up the Ravager and activate the lights and doors. I didn’t think we had much chance of pulling this off, not until Jenk made that fatal mistake.
‘R5-10-62’ I shout back at him, strapped unseemly but securely to the hull and jacked into the external data port ‘power up the Ion Engines and set shields to maximum, we go full throttle in three, two …’
The droid whistles his approval. I close my eyes as the engines hum and the cockpit vibrates. The ship lifts and hovers and I throw the throttle forward full speed. The enormous engines scream a vainglorious song as we hurtle through the repair bay, over the fleet of abandoned ships and towards the launch tube.
I tap the triggers and green light bathes the cockpit. The noise is deafening. The tube narrows and billows with sand. I tap again and again. Shards of rock bounce from the shields and are thrown behind into my slipstream. The Interceptor starts to shake as we exit the tube and the sand flows against the ship itself.
R5-10-62 is beeping and whistling. The shields are failing, I already know that much. A dark expanse of rock looms ahead in the sand. I am tapping with both triggers and the rubble explodes to either side as the shields collapse. I flinch, just once, just as the Interceptor punches through, up and into the blue.