May 18, 2021 4:49 AM
this is a scientific experiment in whether it's possible to give a force ghost a heart attack
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The war between the Republic and Empire never really ended with the death of the Emperor, no matter what the history books say. And Vader was never the last of her kind, just the harbinger of new, darker players. Step one foot off the main trade routes, and you'll land in one of a hundred brushfires stoked by the two great furnaces, with some kind of Vader wannabe on the side of the oppressors.

Ellaita is involved in one of those so-called minor conflicts, though how minor it really is when there's an entire sector and multiple fleets of starships in the mix is debatable. She's part of a resistance group, for all the good they're able to do against the enemy's seemingly endless legions of stormtroopers. The troopers' commanders call themselves the First Order, they're lead by a guy with a red laser sword and blah blah blah. That's not important. What is important is that they're looking for a weapon, and she's going to beat them to it.

She doesn't have a fancy laser sword or any mystical powers. What she does have is an X-wing, a keen ability to fly it, and intel that what the First Order is moving on Jakku as the next stop in their hunt. She's going to get to Jakku first, find the weapon, and use it against the First Order.

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Jakku has very few major settlements, and only one place advertising itself as a 'spaceport' - though obviously you can put a ship down elsewhere. No one claims most of the sands. Even the Star Destroyers, fallen decades ago with enough salvage to fund one of the many nations popping up like bubbles in tar, are only half stripped, the actual hulls - too bulky to move easily - still almost entirely intact.

Tiny settlements cluster around oases, along rivers. There's no defined paths between them. Anything would be swallowed. No functioning satellites in orbit, nothing for the cheap navigational aids to work off of - if you want to move across Jakku's surface, you either come extremely well prepared in a nice ship, or you travel at night in the wake of native guides, frog hopping between flecks of water in the desert.

If you want to know who's moving, what's around, what secrets lie buried - 

You talk to the scavengers, or you talk to the guides. Often the same people are both.

There's no guild or organization overseeing the guides and scavengers. Just word of mouth recommending this or that guide. Just a few merchants who act as point people for the salvage operations, collecting everything within a few days' travel into one location, then collecting it again at the planet's only spaceport. 

One name pops up - an elderly hermit, believed by some to be a reclusive mystic come to Jakku to meditate on the sands long ago. He's older than anyone here. He started guiding travelers across the sands a few years after the Empire's first shattering. He knows everything there is to know here - if you can find him, and the other guides are canny, with enough sense of loyalty among themselves to be cautious who they direct where.

Still - it's not impossible for her to navigate.

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She hops from village to village, asking after guides, doing odd jobs to help out, gain some trust. Blasts some predators with her "military surplus" rifle, tow's some heavy salvage on her ship's repulsors. Someone will tell her, eventually.

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And they do.

He's out pretty far in the wastes, right now, guiding people along a network of trails that're more dangerous this time of year and that've been having problems lately. No one wants to do those trails even if they weren't so harsh, too, other than the desperate wanderers who have to cut through - night's the only safe time to travel, but strange things happen out there in the dark. Odd lights. Sounds in the wind.

They wish her well and guide her to the settlement on the edge of the old hermit's range, to wait for the next time he cycles by.

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She parks on the outskirts and settles in to wait. Throws some camo netting over the ship and takes to patrolling along the water after dark.

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The strange things don't manifest themselves while she's waiting.

But the old hermit does, a group of four hollow-eyed women trailing in his wake. He gets them settled in the village, gets water into them, and tells them who to follow for their next leg.

And then he goes to find Ellaita, the only traveler who's washed up to this shore. "Greetings, wanderer," he says. His voice is rough and deep, and his skin looks dry and cracked - what little of it's visible under his deep hood.

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"Ellaita Dameron. I hear you know just about everything of interest on this planet."

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He smiles a little. "Not everything. There's much mystery in the galaxy yet, even in places like here."

"What knowledge do you seek then, wanderer?"

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"Something that would bring the First Order here."

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His smile slips away. "Not much here other than the ruins of the past," he says. "What is your interest in the movements of the First Order?"

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"Finding the best way to oppose them."

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He inclines his head a little. "There are things in these sands that do not wish to be unburied," he says, voice low. "What would you do, if you found what the First Order wants before they can?"

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"Use it against them, if I can. Hide it away or destroy it, otherwise."

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"And if it wants simply to be left alone?"

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"...Implying it's a person?"

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"One can have wants without full personhood," he says, sounding amused, then - "But, the First Order, nor any of the many faces of the enemy, have hardly bothered with the ruins here before."

"There is only one thing someone like the First Order's leader would be after, I think."

"Now, tell me, what if they want simply to be left alone?"

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"They may not get the option. I'd like to at least offer an alternative."

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"And what would your alternative be?"

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"Dunno yet. Depends on- what they are."

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He hums. "Reasonable enough."

"Would you walk with me? A short distance only," he says, nodding out to the dark sands around them.

(The village is in a little valley, protected by juts of stone, fed by an underground stream. They're far enough that their words aren't carrying, but - sound travels well, here, and some places have very keen ears.)

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He takes her out into the dunes, walking over warm sand as the cold air nips at their exposed skin. The sand's loose, prone to shifting - everywhere, it seems, but the path he leads her over.

They come to a hollow in the dunes, shielded from sight and sound. They shouldn't shout, still, but - no one will overhear them.

The old hermit sits cross-legged on one of the small boulders exposed by the ebbing sand, hands folded in his lap. "It's difficult to say when I first met her," he begins, examining Ellaita. "I felt her presence during the battle over Jakku, at the end of the Liberation War. What we all believed to be a last dying gasp of tyranny."

"It took quite a while before I saw her face, though. She wishes to be seen by few, and yet fewer can know her. She's the reason some believe this stretch of desert is haunted - not an inaccurate summary, in truth."

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He smiles a little. "A human woman." And, with a small chuckle: "One arguably older than me."

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"And she's haunting the desert?"

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"In a matter of speaking," he says, gaze going distant a bit. "'Haunting' implies a ghost with a bit more attachment than she has."

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