Rey knows something about pulling things apart. She learned how to rip the guts out of a dead Star Destroyer’s console long before she figured out how to make it work again. In the end, her method of repair is simple: to fix it, rip out the problem. An elegant solution often takes too long. You break a machine down, you simplify, you pick out all the bad spots like flecks of sand from your rations. She picks the guts out of a dead starship, she tears the dampener out of the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive.
Sometimes the best you can do is knowing what to grab onto, and when to pull.
“I destroyed the map,” Rey lies. Ren stares at her, his eyes glinting like the carapaces of the flesh-eating beetles that infest the desert back home. “After I saw what it contained, I knew it was safer with me. So I destroyed it.”
“You’re lying,” Ren says. It’s because he accuses her that she knows he will believe her. He cannot see into her mind, that much is clear. Lacking the evidence he needs, he will believe the lie that he wants. It should buy her friends some time.
She’s still strapped down after Ren leaves, her head still aching from their little battle of wills. Ren has something else to consider now—his movements will be more cautious. And so Rey waits, in silence and alone. Even if she could stop her mind from turning over the events of the past few hours—the lightsaber, the vision, the power that welled up in her mind and crashed against Ren’s like two waves breaking apart together—even if she could lose herself in the emptiness around her, she can still feel it. Maz told her it was like a bright light all around, but to Rey it’s like standing in the center of a dead ship’s heart, and seeing the distant glint of sunlight from an opening far away.
She knows what it is even as she doesn’t. Maybe she’s felt it all her life, an only now has given it a name. When she felt it with the lightsaber, it frightened her—now, she realizes the power is her own. Power is a tool, and in Rey’s experience, tools are meant to be used.
“You will remove these restraints, and leave the cell with the door open.” The words feel unnatural in her mouth, and yet: the restraints are open. Rey knows now that she can escape, that the way to opening the door is as simple as asking it done. But she thinks of her friends, newly made yet so important to her already—she thinks of a droid with the knowledge that is now tucked away in her mind, seemingly out of reach.
How long has she bought them already? How much longer could she buy? Their biggest obstacle was ignorance, not knowing the planet-weapon’s weaknesses. There is much that Rey can learn, trapped here by an enemy that has already underestimated her.
“Wait.” She hears the Stormtrooper’s feet stop just inside the door. Rey knows what she has to do. It doesn’t mean she has to like it. “Come back and put the restraints back on.” Once again, the Stormtrooper does as she asks him. When he takes his place back by the door it’s as if nothing had happened at all. Rey settles back, flexing her stiff muscles against the metal that binds her, and resolves herself to more than waiting. She’s tired of waiting. For once, perhaps she can do some good.
The one in chrome comes in a while later, after Rey has been moved to a cell clearly made to hold her for a longer period of time. This new Stormtrooper is more machine than anything else—metal, hard, expressionless, and tall enough that Rey has to crane her neck back to look the helmet in the eye-slits. It’s only when Rey hears her voice, distorted through the metal of her helmet, that Rey knows she’s a woman—knows she’s anything close to human at all. Her words themselves are not what Rey expects at all.
“You’re the pilot,” she says.
Her tone sounds affronted as a base state of being. Rey stares at her without comprehension, biting her tongue against the questions that rise up; she isn’t sure what she’s allowed to give away. The Stormtrooper—Captain, by the marks on her armor—regards her with about as much expression is capable on a motionless metal mask. “You outflew my best tie fighters,” the Captain continues, her tone still bordering on something between accusing and begrudging respect. “They were trained for years. Where did you learn?”
Rey forces a stiff smile. “Is that an official interrogation question, or is this off the record?”
Again, no change in body language. “Ren said you were resistant. You’re lucky he’s yet to decide what to do with you. Not lucky for long, though.”
Rey’s smile of false bravado disappears as quickly as the Captain does.
Phasma returns at odd times, banishing the guard in order to ask her questions. At times, there are injections that make Rey’s mind feel like oil on the surface of water, slipping, slipping away. She holds tight to the thing inside her that is sometimes a whisper and sometimes a light so blinding she can only see it when she closes her eyes. She says nothing. But in between her silences she learns something of her own, pieces of the planet’s anatomy, mentions of the weapon itself. She asks questions of her guards every time they rotate, pushing at their minds from within—she learns of the Supreme Leader, and some suggestion of where he might be located.
If the knowledge she gains is useful, Rey doesn’t know. But she hoards these bits of information like salvaged parts. For now, she has nothing to trade the for. Rey was never a soldier, and she’s never had a cause beyond waiting. In her long days defined by bright lights and cold metal, she needs something more than a mission. Something human.
“What is your name?” she asks one day. The Captain has been quiet today, checking Rey’s vitals, searching for a weakness. Rey can recognize that.
At the sound of her voice, the Stormtrooper looks up. The mask, with its perpetual glower, reveals nothing. “Why should you want to know?” she demands.
“Maybe I’m curious. I’d say we’ve spent enough time together to get the introductions over with, don’t you think?”
“That would be fraternizing.”
And that would have been the end of the conversation. Except that Rey is tired, tired of simply waiting and absorbing what information slips through the cracks in people’s words. For once she wants to take. So she straightens up a little on the gurney and finds the power inside herself. “Identify yourself.”
This time there’s no non-starts, no scoffing disbelief before the plunge. Only a long silence in which Rey wonders whether she’s outstretched herself, whether this one’s mind is metal as well. But then, the Stormtrooper speaks: “My name is Phasma.”
It’s not what Rey expects. “I thought Stormtroopers just had identification numbers.”
“A name is an honor I have worked hard to receive,” Phasma snaps, her words as sharp as the click of her boots as she strides out of the room moments later. Rey thinks of Finn, how he wore his own name like a badge or a smile. There’s nothing of his naiveté in Phasma. Finn’s name was a gift—who knew what the Captain had done to earn her own, and how she felt about it. For the first time since she woke up in this place, Rey finds herself curious.
She thinks that’s when the first piece inside herself shakes loose.
Anyone looking to make friends didn’t stay long on Jakku. There are people you see on a constant basis, and some of them you might even be friendly with—but in the end, it all comes down to the question of survival. Of how much they have, and how much you have, and how you might get more out of them. Rey isn’t sure what friendship is, though she has a few ideas about loneliness.
Perhaps it’s the latter that keeps her talking every time Phasma comes in. But of course, it’s the information she’s after. She can’t forget Jakku and its rules of survival. Get what you need. Don’t think about how.
Rey learns to lean on the power inside of her, and it gets easier by the day. “Are there any cameras in this room?” she asks. They’re back in the interrogation room. Rey has waited until they brought her back here for more questioning before making her move.
For all of Rey’s confidence in her own newfound abilities, Phasma still seems to struggle against an answer. She isn’t like the others that Rey has influenced; her will is strong, and when she answers she speaks not in a blank monotone, but as herself. It is only the words themselves that Rey pries out of her silence, a vent that Rey clears to let them pass. “No. Ren doesn’t like to feel watched.”
“Good. Open my restraints.” Rey still has to brace herself when giving such a direct command—she has never been the type to give orders. But after a moment of hesitation, Phasma opens them all the same; Rey can stand up and stretch her legs, rub the feeling back into her limbs before moving to the computer console on the wall. She’s gained much of her best information through hacking this way, and there’s always more to find. Soon, Rey will have enough that she can allow herself to leave. But not yet.
Rey glances over her shoulder to see Phasma watching her work. Behind the mask, Phasma’s expression is an unknown that Rey doesn’t like to account for. But her power holds, and if Phasma is aware of what Rey is doing, it doesn’t stop her from coming back. Rey wonders if part of her does know—if she keeps walking into Rey’s cell anyways. When Phasma locks her back into her restraints once again, it seems she has left then looser.
Rey remembers what Finn has told her about his life, and wonders what Phasma knows of loneliness as well.
“Where were you from?” Rey asks her another time.
Phasma snorts. “I’ve lived my whole life on this ship, or another just like it. Their identification codes would mean nothing to you.”
“But you weren’t born here,” Rey argues. “Fi—someone told me that Stormtroopers were taken as babies from other homes. Do you know where you came from?”
Silent for a long time, Phasma eventually shakes her head. “They are careful that we never find out.”
Rey frowns. “Why?”
Phasma does not shrug, or gesture, or make any motion not stiffly coordinated. She is cut off from her own body, the metal suit trapping her deep inside where expression can’t find a way out. Her soul is like a pebble ratting around in a tin can, struggling to find the opening that let it slip inside in the first place. “They program us from birth,” she says. “Any knowledge of our origins, our family, would be distracting.” She hesitates. Rey wants to push her, to demand more answers, but she forces herself to stay silent. This is not an interrogation. This is tugging on wires, pounding on panels, trying to find the right fix.
“There used to be other ways of obtaining infants,” Phasma says at last. From the tone of her voice—so often as hard and uncompromising as steel, now faltering—Rey is glad that she did not force this topic out of her. “Once, we were clones; and when that failed, they allowed us to breed.”
A chill moves through Rey’s body, until her skin is as cold and lifeless as the metal she’s strapped to. “That was before my time,” Phasma continues. “They discontinued the program after the first generation. It led to inappropriate ideas; attachments formed between individual units. Affections, even. Such a thing is not compatible with our programming. The defects were purged, and new units were harvested from off-ship as infants.”
Rey is silent. The defects were purged. So clinical—Phasma says it as if she is reading a line she has repeated many times before. Rey supposes that’s a part of her programming to, to see horror and slaughter as necessary and right. But there is nothing in Phasma’s voice to suggest satisfaction, or even acceptance. She is as carefully blank as her mask. Perhaps beneath it there is something more than the sheen of Rey’s reflection warped in the metal panes. Perhaps Phasma’s face, safely hidden, is twisted in anger or disgust. Then again, perhaps not.
Rey remembers what Finn had said, though it feels like so long ago: a Stormtrooper’s mask filters smoke, not toxins. She’d found it strange at the time. Now she is beginning to understand. What more efficient way to purge the defects, after all? Rey feels sick.
“You have nothing to say to that?” It is the first time that Phasma has prompted Rey to speak of anything but a valuable piece of information.
Rey is not good with words. She says only what she knows, the simple, bitter truth that rises up in her like bile before anything more eloquent can take their place: “It’s horrible.”
A burst of something like static sounds from behind Phasma’s mask. After a moment, Rey recognizes it as a bitter laugh. “Words like that don’t apply here.”
After Phasma leaves, Rey thinks of Finn again. Once, he and Phasma were surely not so different. Both of them were created, built up as carefully as machines, conditioned and programmed until everything inside was cold and dead. Rey wishes she could have asked Finn what happened to wake him up again, to give her an idea of where to start. She’s always been good at fixing things. But this isn’t like burrowing under the skin of a ship and pulling at wires until something works. Phasma’s inner workings have already been yanked out. For once, Rey has to learn how to put them back together.
Rey is not sure how long she has been here—days? Weeks? Her existence is restricted to days spent pacing a miniscule cell, and then strapped into the metal brace for questioning. Kylo Ren senses her potential, the way that her mind lashes back to him when he tries to dig the truth out of her. He offers her training, power—she offers him silence.
“You know your ‘friends’ will only want to use you,” he says. “As soon as they find out what you can do, you’ll never be free again.”
And how are you being used? she wants to ask. Are you any less a prisoner than I am?
In the end, she says nothing. Ren leaves, and Phasma returns in his stead.
Rey has harvested enough information to know that Ren is biding his time, that the Resistance are doing the same. Everything hangs in balance, but on what edge she cannot be sure. The time is coming. She knows more about Ren’s weapon-planet than she could hoped to gain—codes and weaknesses and schedules pulled from behind the lips of unknowing guards.
And then there’s Phasma. She has been instrumental in her own way, though it isn’t how Rey might have expected.
“What if you could leave?” she asks, staring hard into the eyes of Phasma’s helmet as she does. It bewilders her to think that she has never seen this woman’s face. That if someone were to don that same armor and step into Rey’s cell without speaking, Rey would scarcely know the difference. And yet, she thinks she would—she is beginning to think that she would recognize Phasma anywhere.
In answer to her question, Phasma emotes nothing. “Such thoughts do not befit a Stormtrooper,” she says.
“There are no cameras. No one is watching,” Rey argues. “It’s only a question. Questions are harmless.”
“Not here, they aren’t.” Still, Phasma is quiet in the way that Rey has come to recognize precedes any answer. “If I could leave, it would mean many things,” she says at last. “That the First Order was dead, and would not hunt me; that there was anywhere in the unvierse I could go; and most important, that I was something different from what I am.”
“Why would you need to be different to escape?” Rey says. “It’s not like that mask is welded to your face. If you take it off, you’re like any other person.”
“I’m not a person.” This time, there is no hesitation before Phasma’s answer. Rey cannot see behind her helmet, but she knows Phasma’s eyes are locked on her own.
“Take your helmet off.” Rey speaks so quickly that she cannot even be sure whether she has used her power or not. The strength behind her voice might come from that bright place inside of her, or from somewhere deeper and less defined. She is angry. She wants to prove a point. But more than anything, she wants to look on Phasma’s face.
For a long moment she thinks that she has crossed the line of her influence—but then, Phasma’s hands raise up behind her head, and with a sound like air being sucked into a vacuum the helmet slowly lifts off.
Rey stares at her face. She cannot connect this woman with the mask still clenched in her hands. She cannot imagine this face existing beneath the metal one, this mouth forming the words that come out metallic and hard. It’s one of the few faces Rey has seen in some time, trapped on a ship where everything soft and flesh is caged behind metal. Phasma’s face is not soft. Her jawline is as hard as the metal edges of her suit, her teeth perpetually clenched; her hair is shaved close to her scalp, just like Finn’s was, and her eyes stare back at Rey with a defiance that is wholly familiar.
For a long time they both say nothing. They merely stare. It seems that Phasma is challenging her to something—to reach out and touch. Rey’s hands might as well be locked into their restraints.
At last, Rey swallows and looks away. “You can put it back on now,” she says. There’s a long silence—for a moment, Rey thinks that Phasma will not put it back on at all. But then there’s the sound of movement, and the hiss of air, and when Rey looks up she’s staring back into the mask once more. For all its harsh lines, it almost manages to look chagrined.
“I’ve never looked at you without the filters on my helmet before,” Phasma says at last. Her tone is cold, clipped—Rey almost laughs.
Phasma looks down. At once, Rey sees the gesture for what it is—unconsciously, Phasma is hiding a smile. That realization sends something powerful alight in Rey’s blood. How many years had Phasma been trained to hide such a simple, human gesture, only to repeat it for Rey? She cherishes that tiny movement like the flowers she picked on Jakku, precious and fragile and alive.
When Phasma visits her next, she takes her helmet off unprompted. It’s then that Rey knows that it’s time to leave.
“What would you do if I told you that I was going to escape?” Rey asks.
Phasma sits across from her on the other side of the cell, her helmet on the bench beside her. As carefully schooled as her facial expressions are—her face is programmed to be an extension of the mask, unchanging—Rey sees a flicker of uncertainty dart through her eyes.
“I would say that I would have to stop you,” Phasma decides at last.
“And what if I could make it so you didn’t have to?” Rey says.
“It is impossible. My programming demands I obey, whether I want to or not.”
“But do you want to obey?”
Phasma’s hands tighten where they rest on her helmet. That is one tell that Rey has come to rely on—Phasma’s tendency to reach for whatever is nearest to her and squeeze. “No,” she says softly. “But it doesn’t matter. I cannot rescue you, Rey. I’m not like FN-2187. My conditioning is almost infallible.”
Rey leans forward, eyes bright. “I’m not asking you to rescue me,” she says softly. “I’m asking you to let me rescue you.”
Again, she seeks out the microexpressions—a minute tightening in the lips, a pain that clenches around the eyes. “If such a thing were possible…” she says, and her voice contains a sigh. She glances to the door—whether she’s thinking of freedom, or of the ears that might listen nearby, Rey cannot be sure.
“But if it were possible,” she presses. “Would you say yes?”
Phasma stares at her. Rey cannot be sure what is going on behind her eyes, any more than she could have guessed at the stern beauty behind the chrome mask. But then, so quick that Rey almost misses it: a slight nod of her head.
At once Rey is on her feet. “Put your helmet back on and secure my hands in the restraints,” she says. It’s the first time she’s used her power on Phasma in a while, and yet this time the effect is nearly instantaneous. Phasma rises, fully clad in her armor once more, and steps forward with the metal braces in her hands. Without question she locks them over Rey’s wrists. As soon as she feels them tighten, she turns to the door.
“Open it, and walk me to the hanger,” she says, and again Phasma does not hesitate. Rey knows that Phasma’s will is not so easily bent, that it’s the programming and not the person that Rey’s power overthrows. If she wanted to, Rey believes that Phasma could have resisted her from the very start.
Rey has learned by now where the hanger is in relation to her cell—she can almost recognize the hallways they pass on the way. Few people look at them twice. Perhaps they’ve learned not to stare at the Captain going about her business. They are close, so close that Rey can see the wide door ahead of them. They step through it. The hanger opens around them, filled with the hulking, crouched-down shape of ships having just landed.
“Find us the easiest ship to steal, and get us on board,” Rey whispers under her breath. Phasma is moving slower now, her programming fighting against Rey’s commands—but it is two against one now, and Rey gives the final push needed for Phasma to overcome it. She guides Rey towards a waiting tie fighter before Rey stops her short.
“Wait,” she hisses. Her eyes are on a dark form across the hanger, its wings folded high over itself like a grim, black bird. She recognizes it—Kylo Ren’s ship. Rey fights down a vindictive grin.
“That one,” she says. Rey tells herself it’s practicality, not pettiness—it’s a strong ship, even if it isn’t a good one. Still, surely they can be petty and practical at once. She knows it’s her imagination, but she could have sworn the fixed expression of Phasma’s mask suddenly looked much more like a smirk.
Phasma guides her to the ship. No one stops them. After all, with the Captain at her side who would think that their movements were unauthorized? The door slides shut behind them, and they’re alone again. Alone, but not free.
“Remove my restraints and put them on yourself,” Rey says, because she isn’t sure what will happen when Rey turns her attention elsewhere. As soon as Phasma’s armored wrists are secured by the bindings and her body strapped in to the flight harness, Rey slides into the cockpit. The controls before her are new, but familiar; the radio requests Captain Phasma’s identification code and an answer as to where she is taking the prisoner.
With a smile, Rey reaches for the controls.
Later, much later, after the running and the fear and the near-misses that add up to their escape, Rey sets the ship down on a planet far from anywhere, whose name even the locals were still debating. There are few plants, no trees, only the swell of gentle hills to hide them—but out here, no one is looking.
The first thing she does is open a communications channel and pass on everything she has learned into the hands of the Resistance. She does not know how useful it will be, but she has long been accustomed to delivering spare scraps and letting others appraise them. Truthfully, she never expected to deliver it herself. Rey’s warnings about her being used hit a little too close to home. She’s sold enough scrap to know how useful things get broken down when they can’t defend themselves. She’ll go back, eventually. Just not yet.
And then, for the first time since their frantic flight to freedom, Rey unbuckles herself from her flight harness and makes her way to the back of the ship, to face what waits for her there.
Phasma sits quietly, alone in the large passenger bay, her hands still bound and resting in her lap. Rey lingers for a while, unsure whether the blank eyes of the helmet are watching her or watching nothing—at last, she steps forward and unbuckles Phasma from her chair.
Phasma only moves to help shrug out of the harness, the motions slow and careful. She knows what Rey is capable of, what Rey has done to get her here. Rey wants to as her if she is okay. But speaking isn’t safe anymore—Rey isn’t sure she can trust her voice, and she will not blame Phasma for distrusting it either.
Instead, she reaches forward and releases the cuffs on Phasma’s wrists. It’s not the smart move—on Jakku, it would make her a fool—but it’s the only gesture of trust Rey has left.
When Phasma shakes loose the restrains to clatter on the floor, Rey hesitates. For the first time, Phasma is cut off, wrenched out of her ship and cast adrift. Rey cannot know what her programming is telling her to do now—whether it’s even still there at all. She can see nothing behind Phasma’s helmet. There is no glint of relief in the hollow eye sockets, no darkening of the metal brow. Slowly, carefully, Rey reaches up—her fingers find the clasp at the back of Phasma’s helmet. For a moment she waits. Phasma does not tell her to stop. Instead she bows her head, ever so slightly, to let Rey get a better grip on the release.
She opens it. The helmet relaxes like a flower opening up, enough for Rey to gently pull it off of Phasma’s head. Beneath it, Rey gets her first glimpse of the woman’s eyes. She wasn’t expecting to see fear. But there it is, the clearest show of emotion Rey has seen on her yet—Phasma is afraid. Of course she is. Rey knows something about being plucked from home, even a bad home, and knowing there’s no way to get back.
She sets the helmet aside, and starts to work on the rest of the armor.
It’s slow work, finding clasps, Phasma’s hands guiding her when the unfamiliar technology stymies her. Her fingers dig into cracks and pull at hidden levers. This is breaking down, taking apart—Rey is good at it. The bracers come off, and then the gloves—the plates pulled away one by one, revealing the dark bodysuit beneath. Piece by piece, Rey takes her apart. Without her armor Phasma looks smaller, yet her height and strength are formidable still.
When the last of her armor clatters to the floor, there is nothing left between them. Rey sits back on her heels before her, waiting. Phasma stares down at her hands, the fingers so small and unprotected without their gloves. She clenches them in her lap, then lets them go.
“What planet are we on?” she asks in a voice that also seems stripped of its defenses.
“I don’t know,” Rey says.
Phasma hesitates. “That armor was a part of me,” she says quietly.
Rey nudges the chest plate on the floor beside her, watches as it wobbles. “What do you want to do with it?”
Rey looks back up into Phasma’s face. As always, the woman is inscrutable. She could ask to put it back on, for Rey to take her back to the ship. But Rey can see something growing in her eyes, an emotion rushing to the forefront like the approaching wall of a sandstorm.
“We’ll burn it,” Phasma says, and Rey smiles—after a moment, Phasma smiles back.
Her eyes turn towards the outer door, waiting patiently just beyond them. “What terrain have we landed on?” she asks.
Rey thinks back to the dull grey hills that swept beneath their craft, with their tough sod and grey sky above. “Grass,” she decides.
Phasma nods. For the first time Rey can remember, she seems almost shy. “I think I would like to walk on it barefoot,” she says. “I’ve never done that before.”
Rey rises to her feet and goes to the control panel without hesitation. A slow grin spreads across her face. “I don’t think I have either.”
With the press of a button, the solid wall of metallic darkness springs a leak—a crack of light breaks through, and then a gap, and then a hole—Rey and Phasma squint against even the watery sunlight, so different from the artificial light they have come to know. The brightness and the cold outside cleanses away the memory of the ship.
Phasma pulls off the lining over her feet, stands barefoot on the cold metal floor with the old pieces of herself strewn at her feet. Outside, the world awaits. Rey reaches for her hand and pulls her out into it.