The only thing Stormtroopers own are stories.
At least, that's how it works in their base, in their bunkroom of messenger pilots. Maybe things work differently for other groups. Maybe they fall asleep in silence, not talking to each other, not even looking at each other. Maybe that's how things would have been for them too, if not for BK-1245.
BK-1245 is old, for a Stormtrooper, though how old is something that no one's dared to ask her. But they checked and there's not a single other BK Trooper left in the whole First Order, just her, lasting against all the life-expectancy statistics, and to ask why she's the only one left feels wrong somehow.
BK-1245 doesn't talk about her old squads, and she's scary when she wants to be.
Stormtroopers aren't meant to be inquisitive anyway, but there's something else keeping them from asking how she did it – how she's stayed alive so long for a First Order soldier – besides respect for a commanding officer and an education forbidding curiosity. It just doesn't feel right.
They think they know the answer already anyway. It's luck. It's sheer dumb luck for you to make it when the Trooper next to you, who you might have grown up next to since you were brought into the First Order, didn't. BK-1245 just has more luck than most, something she's commented more than a time or two.
Well, it's not just that. BK-1245 is also an incredible pilot and a flawless officer. Her bunkroom is without disciplinary issue and there's no faster messenger in the whole First Order, so the First Order hasn't had a reason to dismiss her. She's considered one of their greatest successes by her commanding officer, a compliment that she takes with a nod and a blank face as a good Trooper does.
That's what they do here, in their strategically placed base on an otherwise inhospitable rock, carry messages for more important people than them, data too important to be transmitted but not so important that it can't wait for hyperspace transport. Shipments of food, weapons, ship parts, everything necessary to the First Order imaginable, moves through their base.
It's a link in the chain that the higher-ups probably never think about – a stopover place that never stops moving, never sleeps.
Except that Troopers, for all that they're trained and conditioned for the utmost efficiency, still need sleep. It's a preset amount, and they're never allowed a minute more or less than their allotted period, but it's a time they've managed to make their own, thanks to BK-1245.
JN-1500 didn't know what to think when she first walked into her newly assigned bunkroom, and started preparing for her allotted dormancy period only for JM-2002 and JM-2003 to pen her in between them and march her to where the rest of the bunkroom was gathered. They sat her down in a large semi-circle and then sat down on either side of her, looking towards their commanding officer expectantly and not paying her and her confusion any attention whatsoever.
BK-1245 was sitting in the middle of their circle, having removed her armor and helmet and changed into the plain black sleepwear that all of them wore, which didn't look much different from their under-armor wear. JN-1500's first thought was that BK-1245 was so old, all solid and thick with the beginnings of lines around her eyes.
And then that their commanding officer was... pretty. With her smooth dark skin and wide lips and black eyes and hair, BK-1245 is a splash of unexpected color among the monochrome First Order by her appearance alone.
JN-1500 will never forget that first night, because it marked a different kind of memory than the regular training-delivery-repeat. She remembers how BK-1245 looked around the room and the Troopers leaned forward eagerly, how BK-1245 locked eyes with JN-1500 for a moment and smiled, a shock of white teeth against her dark face that JN-1500 hadn't known what to make of then. And how BK-1245 started to speak, eyes on JN-1500 the whole time, and gave JN-1500 her first Second-Hand Story.
“Because we've got a new face with us tonight, I'm going to tell Maolo V Story,” BK-1245 said, in a low and soothing tone that made it the most rich voice JN-1500 had ever heard. So different from barked orders and the monotone exchanges of First Order soldiers. “As a new pilot, I was shipping construction supplies to two new outposts on Maolo V...”
BK-1245's story lasted no more than fifteen minutes, but those fifteen minutes changed JN-1500's life forever. It wasn't a controversial story, though the higher-ups never liked any information to be spread around unnecessarily, or a story that would be told around the galaxy for generations to come, but it made JN-1500's heart act strangely all the same. Because it was... funny.
A humorous anecdote about two outpost commanders constantly arguing and seemingly incapable of sharing supplies - though JN-1500 wondered why such silly men had been put in charge of anything - that worked out happily for all parties in the end.
JN-1500 didn't know why she didn't report BK-1245's behavior, which was definitely against regulations and probably grounds for the reconditioning of their entire bunkroom. She reasoned to herself that BK-1245 was her commanding officer and it wasn't her place to attract attention or speak out, and that it had clearly been happening in this bunkroom without issue for quite awhile.
They went to sleep then, twenty minutes into their allotted dormancy period, and JN-1500 spent the next twenty wondering why the story had been told. There seemed little point to such things, as they interrupted limited allotted dormancy periods and the information was completely unnecessary to JN-1500's ability to do her duties. There was no point to it at all.
JN-1500 fell asleep wondering if BK-1245 would do the same again the next night.
And again the next night.
And again the night after that.
Every night, BK-1245 told them another story, sometimes two or three. She never went past thirty minutes of interrupted allotted dormancy period, but she made those thirty minutes count.
On the nights that BK-1245 wasn't present, off on a crucial mission that only their leader was deemed fit to handle, or was simply tired, another Trooper would take over and give their own stories. Most weren't nearly as good at telling stories as BK-1245, but JN-1500 listened intently all the same, because every Trooper had unique, interesting tales of their own to tell.
They were messengers, every one of them, selected for their piloting abilities and fast reflexes, showing superior skill in speed flights and evasive maneuvering. They traveled constantly, to many systems, to many other bases and outposts, and had collected many stories.
The ones that transferred from farther bases had been to systems that JN-1500 had never heard of before, would likely never go to, and they could give vivid descriptions of exotic planets. GC-0492, called Postcard after a joke a higher-up made after his first transfer of his total of three, was the best at telling those stories – Place Stories – of seas that never ended, of trees taller than Star Destroyers, and of cities carved into mountains that touched the clouds.
After awhile, reporting what went on their bunkroom became unthinkable.
JN-1500 didn't notice any changes in herself, maybe more than a little intentionally. She went on missions, she delivered data, she did her job without any difficulties – got herself a nickname from her bunkmates, Double-O, or Doublo. Then she came home, removed her helmet and armor, sat herself down between JM-2002 and JM-2003, whom she learned were called Two and Three, and listened to her fellow messengers tell stories.
If she remembered how their activities would not be permitted by the First Order, she made sure not to.
If she noticed that no other base or bunkroom did what they did, she looked the other way.
If she paid more attention to her surroundings on missions, listened more closely to other people's conversations, and started looking for stories of her own, then... well, it didn't interfere with her ability to run messages. So it didn't matter.
There was no need to turn herself and all her bunkmates in for reconditioning. Not Postcard, with his delighted descriptions of colorful fish and beautiful birds. Not Two and Three, with their touchy jockeying and somewhat endearing annoyingness. Not BeeKay, who hooked them in with harmless stories and then put increasingly dangerous ones into their heads, and yet watched over them protectively and forcibly kept them in line and out of suspicion.
No need at all, Doublo tells herself.
The First Order already owns their lives.
The only thing Stormtroopers own are stories.
Doublo has many stories now. Second-Hand, Third-Hand, and Fourth-Hand Stories mostly, with some Further-Hands too – even a couple Far-Hands, though they're the same ones everyone has. She has a respectable number of First-Hands to her name, though she's never quite got the hand of telling them or other stories, and they're not very good.
She hasn't found what she's best at yet either. BeeKay is good at everything and has so many stories, though she specializes in Mission Stories best. Postcard (GC-0492), as stated, is good at Place Stories. Two (JM-2002) tends towards People Stories and Three (JM-2003) likes Thing Stories best, and they both say that Doublo will find her sort eventually.
It takes feeling to tell a good story, and sometimes it takes awhile to find the ones you really feel for, their bunkroom agrees. Sometimes it takes awhile for the feeling to build.
Doublo's thought about it, and the thing is that she feels the Far-Hand Stories the best – the ones where nobody knows where they started – the ones that could be called legends or myths. BeeKay says they're real, but she's also warned Doublo that Far-Hand Stories only come once in a lifetime, in small bunches in short bursts after long, long waits.
But still, these are the ones that Doublo really feels. The ones filled with Death Stars and Old Empires and Skywalkers. The ones with smugglers riding Millennium Falcons and princesses commanding Rebellions and Jedi and Sith wielding the mystical Force.
Some Troopers don't like these ones – almost hate them – because they're far more dangerous than Postcard's scenery descriptions and BeeKay's mission anecdotes. Treason of a far more explicit kind than their other Story Circles. They don't want to hear them; they don't believe they're true, they don't want to listen to something that could get them killed, or they're just not comfortable with something that goes against everything the First Order taught them to oppose and destroy.
They're stories rarely told and rarely listened to. Some of Doublo's bunkmates will curl up in their bunks rather than listen, and mutter wondering why they're even told.
Doublo thinks they're told because they have to be, like all of BeeKay's stories and storytelling tradition, though she doesn't know why.
Either she'll die in the line of duty without ever knowing, like several of her bunkmates have since her already, like is her primary duty as a Stormtrooper of the First Order, or...
Or she'll find out one day.
There's been a strained feeling in the base for the last while when they first hear the news.
Not of Kylo Ren, not of Starkiller Base finishing construction and being turned towards the Republic, not of Luke Skywalker gone missing, not of the map to him that both the First Order and the Resistance are both searching for – no, they know those things already. They make it their business to know those things, do the storyteller messengers of BeeKay's bunkroom, because it's all they have, really.
The news they hear is that of FN-2187.
He's a defector – a traitor to the First Order. He's not the first, nor will he be the last, and the First Order expects to retrieve him and end him quickly.
The higher-ups have more important things to worry about than the rumors running through the ranks. Stormtroopers aren't supposed to do things like gossip, and have learned to keep the named officers under the impression that they don't. To most of the higher-ups, Stormtroopers might as well be a part of the walls rather than anything sentient, much less alive.
Stormtroopers are everywhere and hear everything, and they often talk to each other, because the only thing that Stormtroopers own are stories.
So the story of FN-2187 spreads quickly, First-Hand Stories, and Postcard returns to their base with a Second-Hand Story, having been making a delivery to the higher-ups on the ship where FN-2187 was assigned when it happened.
Postcard is built as all Stormtroopers are: tall and stocky with muscle. He has pale skin, stubbles of blond over his scalp, and a squashed and scarred sort of face. He looks more like a brawler than a pilot who takes delight in describing fields of exotic flowers. Postcard's not as ancient as BeeKay, but he's definitely one of the senior Troopers in their bunkroom – older than Doublo, Two, and Three at the least – but he's almost jittery with excitement like a nervous Trooper just assigned when he comes in.
Three asked him if he just visited a really amazing new planet with flying oceans or something.
Postcard responded with a story like nothing they'd ever heard before.
FN-2187 went down to Jakku with frequent subjects of People Stories: Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma, on his first mission. For his first mission, they raided a settlement of Resistance Sympathizers for the Map to Luke Skywalker, the infamous religious fanatic and Rebel terrorist. Kylo Ren captured the Resistance's best pilot, then ordered the destruction of the settlement and all who lived there.
Except FN-2187, whose file is marked with officer potential but empathetic tendencies towards weak links, didn't fire a single shot. Not one. His blaster record has been checked again and again, but the result never changes. He never pulled his trigger.
Upon return to base, FN-2187 was marked for review and reconditioning by Captain Phasma, but never reported to his new assignment. Instead, he freed the Resistance pilot, stole a TIE Fighter, dealt severe damage to the Star Destroyer he was escaping from, was shot down over Jakku, and is either dead or missing on the planet's surface. Like the Resistance pilot and the BB-8 droid currently holding the Map to Luke Skywalker.
This is... different. Defection Stories are those of Stormtroopers who are caught, then reviewed, reconditioned, or dismissed by the First Order. Defection Stories are those of Stormtroopers who malfunction like a droid with bad programming and run, only to be hunted down by the First Order and made examples, to die unable to survive on their own, or to just disappear entirely.
What FN-2187 did was... loud. Even when a Stormtrooper defies the First Order, they don't so openly defy the First Order. They defect quietly and hope to hell no one notices. But FN-2187 went out with a bang. Literally.
“Traitor,” some Troopers growl, since they're all trained from birth to obey, reject the idea of doing anything else, and to enforce obedience in everyone else.
Their bunkroom doesn't dare, though. It would be incredibly hypocritical, even if what they do isn't so explicit as what FN-2187 did. Doublo isn't sure that she could get that hateful vitriol into her voice, so like a good Stormtrooper, she doesn't say anything.
She's still not sure why BeeKay's bunkroom hasn't all been dismissed for spreading Resistance propaganda, but she's not going to be the one to reveal them. She's not going to damn her bunkmates and stop the only part of her life that she actually looks forward to.
“But why did he do it?” some others ask each other, confused and helpless. “But why?”
“Maybe he was a Resistance plant?” someone suggests, but that's quickly shot down as incorrect.
FN-2187 was a Stormtrooper, trained and raised, no different from any of them. He was taken from a place that many others were and educated through the exact same program. He ran the same procedures and took the same tests, was quick to obey and quicker to learn. Brilliant soldier. Top of his training group in most if not all skills; he was a cadet who was going places, as far as Troopers can go, and his fellow cadets were probably jealous of him. Just given the way some of them apparently spit his designation and how he never got a nickname of any kind, though most Troopers do.
He had some behavioral problems, but was marked as officer potential nevertheless by Captain Phasma herself. And most Stormtroopers had at least a couple issues that needed to be fixed, that's what conditioning and reconditioning is for, even if some tried to pretend otherwise.
FN-2187 was just the same as all of them, without any prior signs of disobedience. Just another Trooper in the hallways, just another Trooper on the ground, just another Trooper on the training field, that was FN-2187.
Except... when FN-2187 was dropped into his first battle, he wouldn't pull the trigger.
He wouldn't shoot.
He wouldn't kill.
He didn't exactly say no, but...
He said no in the loudest way possible, by breaking Kylo Ren's personal prisoner free, stealing a TIE Fighter, shooting up a hanger bay, and breaking free of the First Order's orders. All that, without any sort of prior indication or obvious reasons; FN-2187 chose not to obey.
“But why?” the Stormtroopers whisper to each other, while the higher-ups ignore them in favor of searching somewhat desperately for more important things than rumors. “But why did he do it?”
Why him? Doublo hears them say without saying it.
What makes him different? Why him and not... just for example... me?