A/N: Here we are again, with a story long in coming. I own nothing created by Victor Hugo, George Lucas, or J.J Abrams. I am merely borrowing and mixing it up for amusement's sake
Chapter 1: Escape
There was light before Kessel. This one fact was something Cosette could be sure of, regardless of every single day she woke up to the stifling heat and darkened tunnels of the old prison colony. It was not always easy to remember though, especially when everyone else was sure of the opposite.
"Dreaming again, Cosette?" a young but harsh voice cut through her reverie. "You're lucky the wardens can't read your mind."
"They don't do that but they have ears, Ponine," the golden haired waif retorted as she looked up from the cables she was picking apart and into the dark, tired eyes of her friend. "Come sit by me, it's better that way."
The dark-haired girl looked around for a few moments before sitting next to Cosette. "You make a peep, it will be the torture chambers for us next. They almost got Gavroche today, but I found him first," she whispered furtively.
"I heard. I saw," Cosette remarked as she handed one end of the cable to her friend. She stuck her tongue between a gap in her front teeth as she continued stripping the coverings from the twisted and charred cables. It was painful, mind-numbing work, but far more preferable to working in the tunnels, or worse, enduring any span of time at the hands of the First Order's correctional officers.
'There was something before the First Order too,' Cosette thought. Now this was certain fact: before the First Order had arisen, there had been the Empire that had built and fortified this prison. Its mark was still in the featureless walls and most of all, in the deadened eyes of the prisoners who were still here for crimes no one now remembered. More importantly this Empire was still very much alive in the merciless gazes of the overseers and wardens who stood watch over every being in this prison, innocent and guilty alike.
At that moment one of these wardens suddenly looked towards the two girls and strode up to them. "You two. What are you doing?" he barked imperiously.
'Don't look up, don't look up,' Cosette told herself. It never did good to make such contact. Anything, even a word or a gesture, was always considered a challenge.
Eponine never learned for some reason. "We're picking cable, Sir," she replied, holding up a still unstripped end.
The warden growled before seizing her arm to shake her. "Faster, girl. We don't have all day!" he snapped before bringing the cable down against Eponine's wrist, making her gasp and bite her lip with pain. He glared at her before pushing her down on the hard floor. "Don't let me catch you two here again."
'You won't,' Cosette thought even as she risked a glance at Eponine, who was biting her lip in an attempt not to cry. "We'll move soon enough," she whispered.
Eponine looked at the rising welts on her arms before grabbing the cable and swiftly ripping away a plastic sheath.. "I hate him. I hate all of them!"
"We all do," Cosette murmured. Yet even as these words left her lips, she could already feel a sense of unease, as if the darkness had suddenly began to gather behind them in a way she did not dare to place.
There was also talk of something that had torn the Empire apart, of a certain Luke Skywalker from a backward planet known as Tatooine. "Bah! What a story!" one of the older prisoners, Thenardier, had sneered when this story had been brought up. He had once been a powerfully built man, so he claimed, but nowadays he was as skinny as the cables on the landing pads of this prison."A man with a jot of sense would not fade away-but take the Emperor's Throne for himself!"
"Men are odd nowadays, darling," Thenardier's wife crooned. She cast a knowing look at her daughter, Eponine, who was pulling at some wires that had been part of a broken droid. "So are girls too."
"Not my fault I wanted to go simming, Mama," Eponine retorted. "I'm not picking wires all day."
"Flying is all well and good, but leave that to those young men—those who'll be employed by the wardens to run stuff in and out of here," Thenardier warned. "Unless you want to be a smuggler and run the Spice Route, my girl!"
Eponine snorted. "Would be better than this. I'll get someplace lovely."
Her mother sighed. "Someday, there will be one for you though. And for your sister too."
'But never for me or Gavroche,' Cosette thought, having heard this entire exchange from where she was boiling what little water could be used for the Thenardiers' meal. It was not usual for prisoners to serve other prisoners, but old Thenardier had been accorded a 'special favor' by the wardens, who now allowed him to employ anyone to see to his family's daily needs. And of course what better person for the task than someone whose own kin had dropped her off and apparently forgotten about her?
There was light before Kessel; it had been in Cosette's mother's eyes. She remembered seeing as much, under a clear blue sky elsewhere in the galaxy. 'You're in my thoughts, darling. Wherever I am, you are there. You and I will know it,' she had said once.
Cosette had never forgotten, though she was sure that she couldn't have been more than three years old when that had happened. That longing and knowing had never really been diminished over the past fourteen years, not even during the nights when she had cried in pain from her own injuries, or listened to her friends hold back their own grievances. Even now, as she ambled to where the two younger Thenardier children were trying to keep warm beside a heated piece of metal, she could still feel that reassuring tug in the back of her mind.
Azelma, the younger Thenardier girl, smiled wanly at Cosette. "It was no man. It was a Jedi," she whispered. "That's how the story really ends."
"Hush!" Cosette whispered, glancing fearfully from Azelma to Gavroche curled up in their corner. Any mention of the Jedi was grounds for a visit to the torture chambers, or worse. For a moment she did not dare to say anything more, not till she was sure that no footsteps were coming into their little hovel. "Once, there were many. They were called Jedi Knights," she said in an undertone. "They did many great things throughout the galaxy-and kept the Old Republic safe."
Gavroche made a slashing motion with his hands, as if he was holding some sort of saber. "I heard that it would take only one of them to free everyone in this prison!"
"One man against a thousand," Azelma said, shaking her head. "Never happens. For one thing, who would come for us?"
This sobering question made Cosette sigh. Being thrown into this prison-even for a mere 'refugee' or 'orphan' like her-was just as good as being sent out into one of the black holes of the Maw. Before she could say anything, she felt something thud in her chest, as if she had been pounded from within her ribcage. 'Like something broke-'
"Cosette? You look pale," Gavroche asked from seemingly far off.
"I'm fine," Cosette murmured, yet even so she could already feel that strange gnawing within her. There was nothing holding her, nothing to keep her at bay. 'Mother?' she almost asked but suddenly the sound of running footsteps made her stand up and push her friends into a corner.
"Thenardier! Have you seen it?" a voice asked breathlessly. "A ray of light as bright as the sun, slashing across the sky!"
"What is it to you or us, Panchaud?" Thenardier growled at their neighbor. "Probably some ship just went down and crashed outside the containment-"
"There's no smoke, no nothing!" Panchaud yelled. "That light, it headed across space. Bound for somewhere towards the Core."
Eponine immediately slunk to a corner and pulled out a sheet of flimsi. She ran her finger along the map and winced. "So many worlds. Did you see what exact direction, Panchaud?"
"Ponine, put that map away! What if someone sees you?" Thenardier growled. "You aren't even supposed to have that!"
"No one looks for things from a refuse heap," Eponine reasoned as she rolled up the flimsi and put it in a pocket of her tunic. "It could be anything. Hopefully it's not some star exploding and scattering its remains all over the galaxy."
"Now I've seen a supernova, young Thenardier," Panchaud said. "It does not do that. It's no working of the stars, trust me."
Cosette shivered even as she saw Azelma back into their corner while Gavroche thumbed his nose. 'What could it be then?' she wondered. Surely the First Order, terrible as it was, could not have come up with something so powerful as that?
Yet it was only a matter of hours till the first whispers and rumors began to seep through the prison colony. They had begun as the softest of murmurings till they were loud enough to tug Cosette from her fitful slumber. "It's a destroyer of worlds," the Thenardier lady muttered. "We'll be next. No one wants us here."
"Nonsense!" Thenardier retorted. "The First Order needs a rock to put its slime on."
"We're not slime! At least I am not-"
Suddenly Cosette felt a callused hand on her shoulder. "Ponine! What are you doing?" she whispered, turning to look at her friend, who was dressed in a sort of travelling cloak over her usual tunic.
"Wake up Zelma and Gavroche," Eponine instructed. "We're not sticking around for this."
Cosette nodded as she took in the sight of the small bag in her friend's hand, and the small square of flimsi in her pocket. "How? Where will we go?"
"Hangar 8. The guards have forgotten about that, and I bribed someone in the gates," Eponine said. She shook her head, clearly not wanting to let on how such a bribe came about. "We have to get anywhere but here. My mother is right."
"But your parents?"
"I'll try. Get my brother and sister."
Cosette lost no time in dashing to where Azelma and Gavroche were curled up in pallets on a corner. She shook Azelma and placed a hand on the younger girl's mouth. "Get dressed. Ponine said so."
"Again?" Azelma groaned. "If the guards catch us this time, there'll be no getting home before they set the blasters on us-"
"Which is why we have to go. Come on!" Cosette urged before shaking Gavroche. It wasn't the first time that Eponine had engineered an escape attempt, however each venture had failed and brought them closer and closer to the notice of the First Order wardens. The last attempt had very nearly cost them their lives. 'I really hope she's thought it through this time,' Cosette thought as she gathered up a few clothes, some knives, and what little food there was in the hovel, and stashed it all in a pack. All the while she could hear Eponine arguing with her parents in increasingly loud tones, till a resounding smack of a fist against flesh ended all discourse.
Cosette rushed towards Eponine, only to find her crouched on the floor and holding a hand to her cheek. "Ponine!" she whispered. "What happened?"
"If the children want to go, let them," the mother snarled at her husband. "I will not let my daughters die here."
"What! They'll be shot down by the prison guards!" Thenardier snapped. "You foolish woman!"
The Thenardier woman did not say anything to this, but only glared at Cosette. "You are staying here."
This time Eponine sprang to her feet and shoved her mother's hand away. "She knows the way. She's coming with us."
'I don't-' Cosette almost protested till she recalled now what her friend had meant. In all their past escape attempts, she had been the one to direct them back down the alleys where no one was looking, just to get them as far as they could go-or back home when their mission failed. 'Can I do it again?' she wondered even as she dashed towards the doorway. She thought she heard a scuffle behind her, but there was no use in looking back, not when the way out was still open. At last she saw that Eponine, Azelma, and Gavroche had finally caught up with her. "What happened?"
"Hosnian System. I'll explain later," Eponine said. She swiped a hand across her eyes. "We have to go. Where can we pass?"
Cosette took a deep breath as she looked around, waiting for any lights, footsteps or any sign that someone had noticed their escape. "You said we have to be at Hangar 8?"
Eponine nodded impatiently. "Can we make it there?"
The older girl swallowed hard. "This way," she said, directing her friends towards a narrow corridor to their left. It was actually a passage to the refuse heaps, and overlooked for a particular reason. "Hold your breath," she instructed.
Azelma let out a belching sound. "Cosette, you can't be serious!"
"It's the only way!" Cosette argued. She could almost hear the prison guards coming for them, tramping in the passages above their heads or worse, waiting at the end of the tunnel. She took Eponine's wrist to lead her and the other children down a corridor turning right, then another turning left. At last when she felt certain that no one was following them, she nodded to her friends. "To Hangar 8 now."
"I sometimes hate it when you do this, Cosette," Eponine muttered. "It's scary."
"It works though!" Gavroche cheered. "Look!"
The sight of the mostly empty hangar nearly had Cosette shouting for joy, till she realized what sort of ship was in the middle of it. "We're flying out in that?" she whispered, gaping in horror at the dilapidated freighter occupying the hangar.
"Got any other ideas?" Eponine challenged as they raced up the ship's gangplank. "They call us rubbish pickers, and we may as well live up to it one more time, you know!"