A frightened gasp echoed in the shipping container. Drenched in a cold sweat Jenny shot upright, and clawed at the course blankets tangled around her limbs. Then her stomach heaved. Desperate, she rolled off of her cot and grabbed blindly for the metal bucket before pulling it close, doubling over and retching. She waited for her shaking hands to still, and for her arms to stop trembling, then spat. Her groan evolved into something more akin to a whimper as she shifted over the ridges of the floor, and she fumbled clumsily in the dark for the all-too-real prosthetic that she then plugged in and snapped into the base where her left leg had been.
Dragging herself to her feet, Jenny sniffed, and picked up the bucket. Her nose scrunched against the bitter taste in her mouth, and swiping the back of her hand over her cold nose as she padded to the cracked steel doors that opened out to look over the slums of the orbital city. Seventeen blocks away the city was modern and sleek, with clean streets and laughing customers who came and went from ships and telepads on the planet far below. But here laundry lines slung with dirty clothes hung draped between the wooden shacks and shipping crates piled atop each other. Alleys were littered with trash and filth from who knows who, and the narrow streets weren’t much better.
She used the community spigot just outside her door to wash out the bucket in the predawn light, then slumped to sit on the ledge. Eyes still red from her nightmare, she watched the rising of the first sun through the haze, and the gem-like glow of Nexus.
Jenny felt so tired. Tired of being tired. Tears burned in the corners of her eyes as she stared unblinking past the haze of Hei Xing’s skyline. She wanted to go back to sleep, but she feared that she would close her eyes and see them. That she’d smell and feel the Grund, and Krogg, Oghra, and Seth…. She wanted to shower. To burn her clothes and peel away her skin in the hopes that the memories and the guilt would go with it.
It was always the the same dream that woke her, the same memories of a living nightmare she couldn’t shake even when she was two joints deep and locked in her hovel pretending to feel safe. Lifting a hand she felt along the metal slave collar secured around her neck, and then the still tender burn on her skin beneath from her most recent attempt to pick the single tiny manual key hole to remove it. Diaego had put a block over the tracking device in the collar to keep the Marauders from finding her. And in half a year, when she wasn’t worth the effort of being remembered, he would take the collar off. He’d promised. She had to believe that the Ekose would keep his word, if not simply for her own desperate need to hope. While indentured servitude to that slime ball was hardly a step up in the world, it was still something. She’d take anything, really.
“Hey!” shouted the gravelly voice of the Ekose from the filthy street three stacked containers below hers. “Blackstar! Get your ass up! We got ourselves a full day o’ work!”
Jenny grit her teeth and hurled the bucket down at the middle-aged thief of a mechanic. “I swear by Fazaar, Diaego, I’ll rip yer throat out if ya call me that again!” she spat down at the Ekose.
“I got six more months of callin’ you whatever I damned please. Get your skinny limbs in your gear, Blackstar. Ya got ten minutes t’ be at the shop.”
She was gonna kill him. Jenny hated her name. Hated that ‘Blackstar’ clung to her even now, like a leech drawing even more out of her life when she thought there was nothing left that he could take from her. No one called her Jenny. No one called her Brightmist. That person had died four years ago in Malgrave.
Struggling to her feet, she turned into the shelter she called home, shoved a rations bar into her mouth, and began to get ready. The Void light had gone out hours before, making the cramped space feel colder. She touched the bottom of the dangling chain to set a fresh light. The soft golden glow illuminated her features, and Jenny liked to pretend that it felt warm. It helped her ignore the fact that she was alone.
Fitting into her shorts that were beginning to get loose, then a worn, roomy t-shirt she’d stolen several months back, Jenny pulled her work coveralls on over the top before looking to her reflection in the cracked sliver of a mirror. She hardly recognized herself, though to be honest she hadn’t for a long time. She was thin, and looked as fragile as she felt. Painting on her makeup she tried to ignore the chopped off, brunette hair that brushed around her ears. A few more weeks and she would change how she styled it and dye it again. Maybe turn in enough scrap so she could splurge on a fancy color. Something bold to distract from the blue eyes of someone who had just about given up. Glaring back at her reflection, Jenny started when she heard the Ekose calling again.
“Hellen! Two minutes!”
“Slag! I’m comin’! I’m comin’!” Snatching up her boots, she ran barefoot out of the container to scale down the others filled with vagrants who were too exhausted or too drunk to wake up. Six more months and she could begin again. Somewhere. She could make something of herself that she might be proud of…. If she lived that long. Maybe… maybe it was better to die forgotten than live a coward. Stars, any other life had to be better than this.