A Monster Lives Inside
When you close your eyes, What do you see?
Do you hold the light, Or is darkness underneath?
Sam Tinnesz - "Man or a Monster"
Two midget sized Omidians approached the man in black with caution. He sat on the edge of a cliff with legs crossed and hands draped over his knees. Ocean waves recklessly crashed the rocky shore below. A sharp wind whipped his mop of black hair across his long face. He faced the ocean with eyes closed.
The two midgets hesitated.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” one said. “Some say he’s a dangerous smuggler. Others insist he’s a magician in dark spiritual arts, who can kill you just by looking at you. It might be best if we leave him alone.”
“All just rumors.” The other said. She scratched her head with her three fingered hand. “Look, there it is,” She pointed to a large speeder bike parked close by. “See, I told you. He’s a mechanic. He’s just what we need. It won’t hurt to ask.”
“It may hurt very badly, Janice”
“Come. Be brave, Finic.” They cautiously approached the man from behind. “Um, excuse me, Sir. We were wondering if you could help us with something,” Janice squeaked.
The man didn’t respond. Little Janice pressed on.
“You bought that speeder from my cousin two years ago and fixed it up real nice. I hear it even runs again.”
“Yeah, that speeder was a piece of junk when you bought it,” Finic spoke up.
The man in black slowly turned his pale, angular face to them.
“That is an M82-Rouge-7 prototype. It’s a classic, not junk. I restored it,” he said.
“Oh, yes and it’s LOVELY. We wondered if you have talent with other machines.” The two midget’s parted to reveal a droid behind them. It was a pyramid shape with three over-sized wheels on the bottom. Three long pole arms protruded from its sides. “Um, are you familiar with F494 units? I traded for it from an outsider nearly a decade ago. It has served my family faithfully every day since, but now it refuses to work.”
There was an awkward silence. The man eventually rolled his eyes and said, “Bring it to me.” He stood, and the little Omidian’s cowered for a moment. He towered over them.
The droid wobbled forward, spit a few sparks and turned a sharp circle. A small stream of smoke curled from its point on top. The man hunkered down and removed a panel on the droid’s side. He fiddled with a few wires. The droid started making a metallic clucking noise. He quickly crossed a few more wires. The machine sputtered and popped. It now smoked from two more places.
“This droid’s circuit board is fried. You’ll have to replace it. The circuits are unique to the droid, so you’d need to buy another F494 and swap out the board. Unfortunately, this is retired First Order tech. They haven’t been manufactured for over eight years – might as will get a new droid.” He turned and walked to his speeder.
“B...but this one has been in our family for years. We use it for everything.”
“Without it, we won’t be able to care for our chickens or plant the seedlings for harvest. We’ll lose the farm!” Finic cried. The man mounted his speeder and grabbed the high handlebars. The farm, obviously, was not his problem.
“We’re ruined,” the two little people hugged each other, sobbing.
“You could scavenge for the part,” The man said from his speeder. “If there’s a First Order dump site on this planet you might find one.”
The two shook their heads. Then, one had an idea.
“What about the wreckage past the dunes? An abandoned First Order air ship crashed there after the Order fell. We could look there,” Janice suggested.
“No, Janice. That’s a dangerous place,” Finic said. “It’s over. We need to scrap our old, old friend, “he patted the smoking bot, “and find new droid. It’s not worth loosing our lives. They say that ship is haunted by angry ghosts of the Order. No man can make it out alive.”
The man’s dark head jerked up. “Where is this crash site?”
“Oh, no, Sir. It’s far to dangerous. You would loose your life, for sure.”
“How would you compensate me if I searched it for you?”
Finic pulled a ring off his pudgy hand, took one last look at it and handed it over. “It’s our family crest,” he said. “It’s all I have of worth.” The man looked it over.
“I’ll do it,” he said.
The midgets jumped around and clapped. They cheered, “We are saved by the man in black.”
“I can’t guarantee it will have the part you need. So, don’t get all excited yet.” He fastened a mask around his nose and mouth. The Omidians gave him directions. The speeder started with a deafening roar.
“You are a our hero,” Janice called over the noise.
“Don’t call me that,” he said. “It’s just ‘Ben,’” He grasped the high handle bars, revved the speeder engine and drove off in a cacophony of wind and noise.
* * *
Ben found the wreckage. The ship had crashed into a rocky hillside. When the Order fell, three years earlier, crewmen of space patrol vessels suddenly found themselves unemployed and with no way to fuel or dispose of the the enormous cruisers. The crewmen had set the coarse of the ships to collide with the nearest planet. Before impact, they abandoned ship. This happened across the entire galaxy. This ship must have been patrolling near Omidia when it all went down. The vessel had crashed into a farming village. Broken remnants of huts, farming equipment and animal shelters littered the site around the ship. The place was a graveyard for both ship and village.
Ben noticed two oddities about the site. First, there was a wide, circular perimeter around the crash site. It was made of fist sized stones. It couldn’t have been part of the ruined village, because not one stone was out of place. The stone circle was a good distance from the ship.
Second, a boy played in a rocky crevice atop a nearby dune. It was odd for such a place deemed ‘dangerous’ by locals. The boy had delicate constructions of buildings and ships around him. They were built with sticks and reed clippings. The whole scene must have taken days to build. Ben approached, but before he could speak, a second boy jumped out from behind a large rock wielding a stick and shouted, “Die resistance scum. I am Kylo Ren, and I will kill you all!” He then ran though the other boy’s buildings stomping and slashing them to pieces.
“Stop, you’re ruining it,” the smaller boy cried.
“No one survives the rage of Kylo Ren!”
“This is a dangerous place to play?” Ben said to the boys. They startled at his voice.
“This is our favorite spot. We used to live in that village and play here, Sir,” the bigger boy said. “As long as you stay outside the rock circle you’re safe. Once you step over the border of rocks the monster attacks you.”
“It lives inside the shipwreck. It kills anyone who gets too close.”
“What does it look like?”
“It moves so fast, you can’t see it.”
“It kills with blaster shots from its eyes,” the small boy chimed in.
Ben surveyed the area, considering the new information. There was one particularly large hole in the ship’s side that seemed made by the impact of the crash. A large animal could have gotten inside. Perhaps a band of thieves could have made it their base inside, also. That would explain the phaser.
“I’m going into that ship,” he said. The boys gasped.
“What’s you plan?” they asked, becoming excited.
“Maybe I can coax the monster to come out and make a home somewhere else. It could go where it won’t hurt anyone else.”
“Not gonna’ work,” one boy said. “A monster can’t be anything else but a monster. Hurting people is what they do.”
Ben paused a moment at the boy’s words. “Then, I’ll have to kill it.” The boys raced to a rocky ledge a safe distance away where they could watch the excitement.
Ben approached the rock perimeter and stopped just outside. He picked up one of the larger rocks and thrust it at the ship. A red blaster shot from the ship and burst the stone into shards. Ben planted his legs firmly apart and concentrated on the ship. He could sense the force of life forms inside, but they were simple, small and incapable of handling a blaster. He surveyed the ship with his eyes once again looking for guns mounted to the exterior. He was too far away to spot their location. He reached his open hand out toward the ground. Three stones rose into the air and floated out in front of him. He stepped over the boundary. Two shots fired at him, but the stones swooped into the path of fire and took the hit. Ben, slowly walked forward with his arm stretched out in front, hand open. Steady shots continued to fire at him. Simultaneously, a steady stream of stones zoomed from the ground to intercept each red blast.
He was making steady progress forward with his shield of flying rocks. The ship was getting closer when, suddenly, another shot fired from the left side of the ship. A stone took the blast, but it was dangerously close to his face. Dust from the sacrificed stone stung his eyes. He jerked his left hand into the air as a series of shots now came from the left as well. His forward progress stopped as he tucked his head down to shield his burning eyes. He could sense the stones were running out. Yet, with head down and both arms raised, he clenched his jaw and continued his advance. Objects from anywhere on the ground were now dashing to him and exploding into bits under barrage of fire. Dust grew so thick in the air that he began to choke. It was too late to go back. He had to get just a little closer. He progressed forward blindly.
All at once, he could sense the guns’ positions. His left hand twisted quickly. The left gun turned to the right. Its next shot shattered the first gun.
Silence. Dust and debris slowly floated away with the wind. Ben coughed the dust from his lungs, then rubbed his eyes clear.
During its last year, The First Order had been mounting small guns to the exterior of its ships. They were working on self-defense programming so the guns could be unmanned. This must have been one of the few cruisers outfitted with the new system. He had overseen the program.
As he shook the dust out of his hair and clothes, a “whoop” sound came from behind. The two boys were pounding their fists into the air and shouting. Apparently, they enjoyed the show. Ben wasn’t sure how to respond to applause. He pretended not to notice and climbed through the hole in the ship’s side.
Inside was a dank and dark hallway. The vessel had landed at an angle. He awkwardly walked along the tilted hall, narrowly missing door frames with his head. A few feet down, he found a control panel on the wall. If the outer defense guns were still working then perhaps other systems had power as well. He touched the panel. Green light lit his face as the panel activated. He punched in his old First Order code. Words flashed across the screen, “Welcome, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.” Instantly he had access to the entire ship’s systems. The ship’s manifest was easy to find. As he suspected, there were no F494 droids on the ship. There remained only one more possibility – droids were sometimes stowaways in the troupers’ sleeping quarters. After all the trouble of getting inside, he may as well check the entire ship. The lighting systems were damaged but, he found the emergency light switch. A red glow lit the hall.
He made his way through the corridors slowly. Walking these halls used to give him a sense of power. Crewmen would step aside as he passed. Generals saluted him. Droids had attended to his every need.
Things were very different now. Three years of dust had collected on the once polished floors. The uneven footprints he left behind evidenced how his left hip had never healed completely after Exegol. It took constant effort to hide his slight limp.
He rounded a corner to a hall marked ‘night quarters.’
Ben felt overheated suddenly. He pulled on his tunic collar and quickened his pace. He opened the doors to the troupers' sleeping quarters only to face a wall of rock. That entire area of the ship was demolished by the impact with the planet. Anyone or anything that had been left in it was gone.
A sudden memory floated to his conscious. His throat tightened. The last time he had entered a troupers’ quarters was after his mission on Jakku. A snitch had told him one trouper had taken loot from the planet. Ben had stormed down the hall with his saber drawn. The stolen droid was confiscated and the trouper severely punished. Losing a left hand by lightsaber had seemed a fitting punishment to him then. He hadn’t just punished the single troupe that day. He had taken the entire battalion to the pit.
Ben ripped his collar down. He felt like it was constricting his breathing. In fact, this whole filthy ship was making him ill. It was a stupid idea taking on this ridiculous search. Since when had he become Omidia’s official errand boy?
He climbed out of the wreckage, slapped the dust off his boots, scolded the two boys for asking him questions and didn’t look back.
* * *
“No! What will we do without our family droid?” the small Omidian family wailed after Ben told them his search was unfruitful. “We’ll lose the farm, and we will all die of starvation!”
“What will become of us?” another cried. At least twelve little people were squeezed into the small hut throwing their hands in the air and crying.
“I’m just going to let myself out,” Ben said walking backward towards the door. He wanted to be done with this whole thing, yesterday. He made a quick escape out of the hut and jogged to his waiting speeder. The engine was about to start when he heard a familiar high pitched beeping. A round droid peeked out from behind a haystack.
“BB8, what are you doing way out here?” Ben asked it.
The white and orange bot rolled on its bottom sphere to him. Somehow, its head always stayed upright. It beeped accusingly at him.
“I’ve told you before, you don’t have to come find me every time I go out. It’s getting ridiculous,” he said. The droid beeped back and tapped the back seat of the speeder with its reaching tool.
“No. I’m not letting you ride home in the back seat with me.”
It made angry beeping.
“You’re too big. You’d fall right off the back.”
“That’s why you need to stay home like I keep telling you. I know you are bored all alone, but you can’t follow me around constantly. It’s annoying.”
“Then find something to do. I’m not your activities director.” Ben put on his riding mask and was about to start the speeder when he paused and looked back at the hut.
“Actually, I may have the perfect job for you.” He took BB8 into the hut. “Look everyone, I’ve found you a replacement droid.”
Cheers erupted from every area in the tent.
* * *
The day’s light was receding as he drove the speeder home. He was closing in on the last stretch of flat land before the road narrowed into a forest path. Remnants from an ancient temple still remained standing there. Time had worn the temple down to a skeleton of a dozen free standing pillars and scattered marble sections. He stopped the speeder abruptly at the ruins. A figure stood in the shadows across the rubble. It faced him with legs planted apart and arms bent, ready to retrieve it's weapon.
“So, this is how it’s gonna’ go down,” Ben said to himself. He had sensed the intruder’s arrival before he saw them. He carefully dismounted his ride and struck a ready position. The figure turned with amazing agility and disappeared behind a pillar.
Ben heard the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber being drawn. He thrust his open hand toward his speeder. A cylindrical object shot from a storage compartment to his hand. He caught the saber, drew it and readied his position in one fluid movement.
“I know where you are,” he shouted. “There’s no point in hiding.”
A flash of glowing saber lit up between two pillars. The figure had moved. Then, he heard its weapon retract. In the increasing dark he wouldn’t be able to see it anymore. The opponent was light of foot, so he couldn’t trust his ears. He had to rely completely on his force sense. He concentrated and reached out with his mind.
He felt the figure move behind another pillar. It was moving closer to him. He adjusted his footing. He heard a rock crack to his right, but sensed the figure on the left. The sound was a diversion. He pivoted to the left and deflected the first attack and dodged the second. He swung, but the figure leaped to the side. With a quick hand movement he pushed it off balance with the force and advanced with two full swings. The opponent deflected both and regained balance. Ben sidestepped and attacked from the right. The figure dodged and side kicked him in the gut. He stumbled back, but caught himself on a pillar. It attacked again. Ben rotated around the pillar and ducked. His opponent’s saber sliced through the marble. It was faster, but he had a longer reach. He attacked again at a further distance, forcing it on the defense. Ben’s advance was steady until he felt the force knock him sideways. He stumbled, rolled, and jumped to his feet just as the other leaped at him. Their two sabers met overhead and sparked. They held position with faces almost touching.
“Not bad,” she said.
Ben’s face turned from concentration to a wry smile.
“Welcome home, Rey,” he said and leaned in the last few inches between them.
A smile spread across Rey’s pixie face. Her body relaxed and she let him pull her against him. Her arms flung around is neck as he pressed his mouth against hers.