The plan comes apart almost as soon as the three of them enter the prison.
Poe thought they were doing pretty good until that point. They got into the spaceport with their cover identities in place, made it onto the ship that delivers supplies and new prisoners to Kedai Station in the far Outer Rim, survived the trip with a bunch of bad-tempered and legitimate criminals with nothing more than some bruises and a headache, and got shoved through intake until they were finally spat out as official residents.
The whole process had felt like being digested, but they had a mission to accomplish, so they tried to blend in and not get involved in any trouble. Poe assured Finn and Rey over and over that they’d be smuggled out on the same ship that brought them in, job done and back to base.
So of course things start to go wrong immediately.
“Dead?” Finn hisses, bent close enough that his drab jumpsuit makes its own whisper against Poe’s. “What do you mean he’s dead?”
“I mean he’s no longer alive, what do you think I mean?” Poe hisses back, in the same tone, the kind that’s produced in the transition between knowing exactly what the plan is and being confident in getting it done, and then having it all go south in a flash. They volunteered to be stuck until extraction on a nowhere penal station with a few hundred of the galaxy’s worst examples of sentient life, criminals and guards alike, and their one objective couldn’t even stay alive until they reached him.
“You’re sure he’s dead?” Rey asks next to him, her back to the wall of the corridor that links their assigned cellblock section to the common area, her eyes flicking away from Poe and Finn to make sure no one’s listening, sneaking up, or generally about to try and turn them into fleshy smears on the floor plating for their meal cards. “He’s not in isolation? Or that other restricted section, Administration?”
Poe shakes his head. “I asked a few people.” That had been fun. “Vamma died in a fight with one of the Trandoshans two days ago. Something about a black market deal.”
“What about the Trandoshan?” Rey asks. “Maybe he knows something.”
Another head shake. “Guards pulled him out. Apparently nobody’s seen him since.”
Finn’s expression tightens and he looks away. Rey swears under her breath. It’s not exactly grief; none of them knew Vamma or had ever heard of him before planning the mission, and by all accounts he wasn’t the kind of person anybody would mourn. Lomy Vamma was, in fact, exactly the kind of person who’d get sent somewhere like Kedai Station for crimes starting with piracy and arms trafficking and trending down from there.
But Vamma also managed to trip over some major First Order activity in the Unknown Regions, and just before he was packed off to Kedai he leaked a message generously offering to exchange the intel for no less than a prison break and a fast ride to another system, preferably one with no Republic extradition. Oh, and a few thousand credits. The message wasn’t even secure. There were bounties on his head inside an hour, several tracing back to the First Order, which was the only thing lending Vamma any kind of credibility.
Just get him out of there and find out what he knows, had been General Organa’s summation at the end of the briefing. The First Order wants him dead, which means we want him alive. After that, he can go and make his own money.
“So what, we just give up?” Finn asks.
“Unless he told someone else what he knew, we’re out of luck,” Poe sighs, raking a hand through his hair. They couldn’t get a comlink past the scanners at intake, so there’ll be no sending word out until they get off the station now.
He’s the one who got them into this, who told the general they could make it happen when she agreed they didn’t have enough manpower. The whole operation was arranged hastily and with gaps in their information, since they hadn’t wanted to risk bounty hunters or the First Order tracking Vamma here and silencing him.
Apparently they forgot to account for prison fights started over contraband.
With the new Senate still a mess and the Republic scrambling to recover, the Resistance needed that intel, and they lost it before they even set foot on the station. Not because of their own mistakes maybe, but it still stings. Now they have weeks to get through, with the promise of a miserable debriefing at the end of it.
“There has to be someone here who spoke to him,” Finn insists. “Someone from his section, maybe. Or his work detail. We’re here until the ship comes back for us either way, we should try and find out.”
“Right now, we need to get out of this corridor,” Rey points out. They’ve been standing around too long already. The guards don’t seem to need much provocation, but looking as if they’re trying to conspire out of sight is an especially bad idea.
They walk out into the common area, a big drum of a room with a high ceiling, full of bolted-down tables with bolted-down chairs, all of it the same scored and pitted metal, grey as the floor and the walls and the unvarying jumpsuits. The air has that faintly stale smell Poe associates with old ships that have gone too long without their filters being serviced.
Other inmates of all species lean over the tables, quickly shovelling down the nutrient paste that makes up the local cuisine using spoons, fingers, claws or unfurling tongues. Helmeted guards in dull red armour with stun batons and other less friendly weapons pace the room, looking like blood drops on old carpet, and from the low murmur of chatter in several languages and the occasional round of laughter, Poe doesn’t think they’ve decided to make an example of anyone yet. They’d seen that during intake; the instant hush was deafening.
It’s a quick run through the food line, Poe behind Finn behind Rey, ignoring a shove and a muttered threat from a Sakiyan on his other side. They get their cards scanned by a beaten-up old droid with a missing photoreceptor standing on the other side of a hatch in the wall, receive their precise, small allotments of paste, and find three seats at the mostly unoccupied end of a table. They haven’t received their work assignments yet, which they’ve been told might give them the chance to earn the reward of a bigger portion. It’s the least incentivised Poe can ever remember feeling.
He pushes the chalky paste around his tray and waits for the guards to be a little further from them. Finn eats a spoonful of his and visibly suppresses a shudder. Rey is on her fourth unconcerned spoonful, her eyes still ticking around the room.
“How do you do that?” Poe asks her, a little impressed, nodding at the spoon clutched in her fist.
“What else is there?” Rey says, the words muffled around her fifth and final spoonful. She shoots Finn a small smile as he slides his tray over to her, bumps him with her elbow as Finn smiles back. Poe makes himself busy trying to memorise the guards’ patrol pattern, not an easy task, since it doesn’t look like there is one.
“Okay,” Finn says, drawing Poe’s attention again. “We should ask around, find out if Vamma had any friends, people he talked to.”
“People he might have mentioned finding a secret First Order shipyard to?” Poe asks sceptically, leaning forward and lowering his voice even with the ambient noise. “Wouldn’t be very smart.”
Finn shrugs. “It was his ticket out, right? Maybe he bragged to someone. Besides, if he was smart he wouldn’t have ended up here.”
“We’re here,” Poe says.
“Yeah,” Finn shrugs with half a smile, “but we’re here on purpose.”
At this moment, Poe isn’t really willing to count that as a point in their favour.
“It’s worth a try,” Rey says, stacking her tray with Finn’s and pushing them away. “We can’t leave yet, so we might as well be sure Vamma took the information with him.”
“These aren’t exactly sociable types,” Poe points out, forcing himself through another spoonful of paste. The closest match he can think of for the taste is the insulating material in his flight suit’s thermal gloves. After he’s worn them through a lengthy dogfight.
“They can’t leave either,” Rey says. “We can’t trust them, but we can see if they have anything useful.” Finn glances at her with a worried expression that evaporates when she looks at him.
Poe sighs, gives a nod, and tries to finish his meal.
Night, an arbitrary thing on the station, floating as it is in the middle of empty space orbiting nothing, is even less comfortable than the day had been, which is an achievement.
They’re sharing their section of the station, labelled Green Section for no reason Poe can understand, with forty or so other prisoners, three or four to an unfurnished cell with one thin pad to sleep on each. Some of the prisoners have several pads, others have none. A few make a valiant effort to hold onto them only to lose them anyway.
A Weequay with an uneven, holey grin makes a move for theirs while the guards are occupied down the other end of the section, but Rey barks something in a language Poe doesn’t know and the Weequay goes to find himself another target.
“What’d you say to him?” Poe asks.
Rey shrugs. “It doesn’t really translate.”
The cells clank shut. The lights go out, instant blackness only broken by dull red glows over the section doors and the odd glint of an eye better adapted to the dark than a human’s. The occasional sounds of scuffling last until a guard passes through, driving a stun baton through the bars of several cells. It’s impossible to tell if it’s reprisal aimed at specific offenders or just meant as a general warning. Either way, it gets quiet fast.
They arrange their pads into one area in the middle of their cell, huddle together against the chill, Rey and Poe facing out with Finn between them, his back to Poe’s. They talked about taking turns sleeping, but decided against it. The cells are locked, and they have to work their first detail when ‘day’ comes around. And start asking questions.
“Nice place,” Finn says, barely above a whisper. Poe huffs, not opening his eyes; the dark looks the same either way. Through the pad and thin, scratchy material of the jumpsuit, his hip aches against the floor.
“We’ll make it,” Rey says in the same murmur.
“Yeah, we will,” Poe agrees. Mission or not, success or failure, he’s going to make sure of that.
An arm lays across him, unclear whose until he feels Finn move to put his own over it. Poe reaches his arm behind him, trusting the urge more now that it’s not all his idea, and wraps it over Finn’s side and against Rey’s, a multitude of breathing noises all around them in their little patch of ground in a dark forest of durasteel bars.
Eventually, if only lightly, he sleeps.
The first thing they learn in the morning is that there is no morning.
Complete darkness becomes glaring light, midnight to midday in a searing half-second, every shadow in the room swept away, leaving them all blinking and wincing. The cells open and guards move through, shouting orders in flat voices that get amplified by their helmets and ricochet off the walls.
“Sleep well?” Finn mutters as Poe levers himself to his feet, ducking away from as many light sources as he can.
“Oh yeah,” he says as they wait to be emptied out of their cell. His eyes are still aching in the brightness. “Got a really nice two, three hours there.”
“It’s probably meant to disorient the prisoners,” Rey says, frowning at the ceiling or the general situation.
“Nice place,” Finn says again with a nod.
They’re summoned out with a sharp gesture from the closest guard, joining the line of inmates that’s slowly being herded through the section doors at the far end, a ghostly little march of bent heads and shuffling feet. Almost all these others have been here longer than they have. No matter what they did to end up here, Poe can’t help but feel sorry for them.
“Just stick together, and we’ll be fine,” he says as they get nearer the doors, a brief pause as one of the guards wordlessly shoves a faltering Rodian back into line.
“Wasn’t really planning on wandering off,” Finn says at his back.
“Don’t even think about it,” Rey says, Poe assumes to the two of them.
Passing through the doors shows them an oversized refresher, and they’re briefly instructed on where to put their jumpsuits, how long to stand in the sonics, and to hurry. They’re careful not to lose sight of each other or what’s happening around them as they wait their turn. There’s an awful sense of vacant repetition in the motions of the other prisoners. Nobody speaks, except for the guards.
The trouble Poe’s frankly been waiting for since they arrived finally comes at breakfast.
He’s the last of the three of them to get his tray of paste, and he’s waiting for a cup of water before heading to the table when a hand catches his shoulder from behind.
“I’ll take that,” says a low voice, all sharp hisses and drawn-out vowels. Poe doesn’t need to look at the heavy, clawed and green-skinned hand on him to know it’s one of the Trandoshans. He just turns around, calmly, slowly, tries to catch Finn and Rey’s eyes and communicate Don’t get involved.
The Trandoshan looms over him, sharp eyes and sharper teeth, a flickering hint of tongue in what might be a smile. Poe smiles back, friendly as he can.
“Sorry,” he says, aware of the building quiet and widening space around him. Aware all at once of the total absence of red armour and stun batons. “Already got a dinner date. Maybe you could ask the droid.”
The hand on his shoulder tightens, claws pricking him through the jumpsuit. “Hand it over, and your card, or I’ll take it,” the Trandoshan rattles. There are others watching, dozens of eyes boring into him, but it’s their eerie silence that crawls up between Poe’s shoulders, raises the hairs on the nape of his neck. The room has the expectant feeling of an arena, of some kind of ritual.
Poe quickly weighs handing over his tray against making an issue of refusing. They get one portion per meal, and unpleasant as the stuff might be, he does need to eat, and he won’t ask Finn and Rey to share theirs every time. He doubts it’ll be a one-time thing if he agrees anyway.
So he steps back, both hands on his tray, tension slowly creeping into every muscle, heart rate ratcheting up. The Trandoshan hisses, narrows his eyes, drops the hand from Poe’s shoulder. Poe’s curious if this is the one who killed the guy they were sent to break out, just released from isolation in a bad mood, decides against asking. Then he moves.
The tray clatters to the floor at the same time his fist meets the Trandoshan’s gut. He steps around and brings both hands down hard, as close as he can to the base of the Trandoshan’s skull. The Trandoshan stumbles, hissing and growling, spins to meet him. Poe gets in a punch to the jaw, another to the thick, scaled neck. He’s expecting to feel something fracture in his hand, and then the Trandoshan has him by the throat, three strong, clawed fingers cutting off his air, drawing blood. Poe gets lifted off his feet and hurled sideways, collides with the wall, pain exploding in his shoulder and down his side and in his head. The floor hits him next, followed by a heavy kick to the stomach that he tries and fails to deflect.
He’s left looking up, dizzy and with the wind knocked out of him, just in time to see Rey’s foot take out the Trandoshan’s knee and Finn land a heavy blow into his side, an elbow following it. The Trandoshan staggers to one knee, snarling, and Poe kicks out as he tries to stand, gets him in the shoulder and sends him tumbling back into the wall. The kick jars bones all the way up into Poe’s knee. Rey lands another kick of her own that sends the Trandoshan’s head thudding loudly against the metal, leaving him slumped and unconscious. As he shakes off the fogginess from the hit to the head, Poe’s eyes catch on the red smears on the Trandoshan’s claws.
For a moment, none of them move. Then a hand appears in Poe’s blurry vision. Finn’s. He takes it, gets hauled unceremoniously to his feet, where he sways, swallowing against the rolling of his stomach.
“Thanks,” he says, still out of breath, sharp pain radiating down his side.
“No problem,” Finn says, hand on Poe’s arm now, holding him up. “But maybe next time you can just give up the tray?”
“If he had, there’d be another one tomorrow, and they never would have left him alone,” Rey says, taking up his other side. She’s making a point of meeting the eyes of all the prisoners still watching them. One by one, they look away, going back to their own meals and conversations, everything just slightly more muted than before.
“That was the thought,” Poe says, wincing as he tries to straighten up, wincing again as he touches the thin cuts on the side of his neck, the rising lump near the back of his head. “Might not have done it if I’d known it’d hurt that much.”
“For a flyboy, you did pretty good,” Finn says, and Poe snorts, which makes his head throb.
The thumping of boots announces the guards coming back.
“Caf break?” Poe asks one of the red figures in an innocent tone as the guard shoves him carelessly out of the way, earning him a Seriously? kind of look from both Finn and Rey while they pull him back, as if now they might somehow go unnoticed.
He’s still trying to brace for the nerve-shattering charge of a stun baton when two guards take the Trandoshan by the underarms and drag him away, across the room and into the corridor they came from. Another guard stands in front of them.
“First warning,” the guard says, voice warped by the helmet speakers. There’s no way to even tell what species they are, to work out anything other than they’re tall and humanoid and have no sense of humour. “There won’t be a second.”
“Hey, tell it to my lizard pal there,” Poe says, and that gets him a prod from Finn’s elbow.
The guard stands silent a moment. Poe can see his rumpled reflection in the angular helmet’s black visor. A sudden sickly feeling runs out from his stomach, colder, more unsettling. He shivers, can’t help it. Adrenaline crash, maybe.
“He’s not your concern,” the guard finally says, turns and walks away, stopping at the entry to the corridor and taking up position there.
“All right,” Poe says faintly, and lets Finn and Rey lead him to a seat. He winces as he takes a deep, testing breath.
“That was weird, right?” Finn says, slowly picking up his spoon again. “It’s not just me?”
“This whole place is weird,” Poe mutters. He nods gratefully when Finn offers his water, taking a sip. It’s room temperature and tastes faintly metallic, but it’s better than the burning sourness in his throat.
“There’s something about those guards,” Rey says, frowning off to the side.
“Try everything about those guards,” Finn says. “The armour reminds me of that Guavian Death Gang.”
“Thanks for bringing that up,” Rey mutters.
“They wanna let me off with a warning, I’m not gonna complain,” Poe says, massaging scraped and swollen knuckles.
Rey just shakes her head, distracted. “It’s not that,” she says. After a moment she shrugs it off, returns to her food. Poe eyes his own tray over on the floor, some paste surviving in the centre, but his appetite went away with that kick to the gut. The bruise will be impressive, but he doesn’t think any of his ribs are cracked.
“Wonder what work assignments we’ll get,” Finn says.
“Do you think they’ll keep us together?” Rey asks.
“If not,” Poe says, leaning his elbows on the table, “just go along with it, and we’ll meet up here later. Try and find someone you can ask about Vamma, quietly. Don’t—”
“Cause any trouble?” Finn asks, raising an eyebrow at him, amused little smile tilting his mouth. Poe looks away from Finn’s face, heart ticking slightly too fast.
“Be too obvious about it,” he finishes, as if that was what he was planning on saying. “Remember, we’ve got to last in here until the next transport run.”
“It’s only two weeks,” Rey says.
Finn looks at her. “I’ve got a problem with the word ‘only’.”
“It’s what we signed on for,” Poe says, pushing away the guilt, the fact that things have already changed on them. “We all knew the risks. We can do this, we just need to watch out for each other.”
They nod, finishing their meals. Poe sits back in his seat, tries to casually survey the room for any likely people they could speak to. Hopefully his work detail won’t involve putting him in with any of the Trandoshan’s friends.
Breakfast done, the common area gets cleared of everyone who already has a place to be, leaving just the new and unassigned scattered around the tables before the guards wave them up and get them into a line, keeping order at the end of their batons.
Out of one of the doors they haven’t been through marches an old and irritated-looking Besalisk, grey hair running under his mouth and wattle, eyes standing out in his lined face. He’s missing one of his four arms on the left side, its opposite resting on his stomach, the other two crossing his chest while he looks them over. His sleeveless jumpsuit is blue instead of grey, closer to a uniform, the material stained dark with oil or grease in places. There’s a tool belt strung loosely around his waist.
“All right,” he says on a loud breath, wattle shaking, and the tone makes Poe think of some commanding officers he’s had. Several people twitch. “You can call me Laask, and I make up the duty roster in this prison. I’m also in charge of maintenance and I oversee the machine shop where some of you will be working.” He gestures, and the guards start moving down the line, attaching an adhesive coloured patch to each of their jumpsuits. “These show your assignments: gold for supply, blue for maintenance, red for machine shop, white for sanitation. Don’t lose them, don’t leave your work area without permission, and don’t ask for a change of assignment. Work hard enough and you can earn extra food or sleep mats, or points towards your eventual release.”
That last one gets a laugh from one or two people in the line, which Laask ignores like a statue. He gave the whole speech by rote, almost without inflection, like it’s written on his eyelids and he’s bored of always seeing it there.
The guards reach them, clapping patches to their shoulders. Poe grits his teeth at the hit to his after the blow it already took during the fight. They turn their arms to compare. Rey has red, Poe’s been given blue, and Finn’s patch is gold. Not ideal, is the thought on all their faces as they glance at each other. They’ll have to make do.
“Forget it!” says a shaking voice at the far end, a bald and tattooed human man who rips his patch free and hurls it down at his feet. There’s sweat rolling down his face. “I’m not working for you! I shouldn’t even be here!”
A low murmur like a current runs all along the line, some agreeing, others telling the guy to quiet down. He makes it two steps before a stun baton jabs into his back, and he arches with a cut-off yelp, collapses gasping and jerking to the floor. Some laugh, others look away. A guard seizes him by the forearm and all but throws him the distance to the door. Poe forcefully smothers the urge to step forward, to do something, feels Finn do the same next to him. They can hear the guy shouting all the way down the length of the corridor as he’s taken away, probably to isolation. Hopefully nowhere worse. Nothing they can do in either case unless they want to join him.
Laask shakes his head. “You cannot,” he says into the total, weighty silence of the room, “refuse your assignments. If you wanted something better, you shouldn’t have got yourselves locked up.” He waits a moment, as if he actually believes someone else is going to object. Then he waves a hand with a dismissive breath and the guards start grouping them together, directing them by their patches to different doorways, different areas of the station.
Poe catches Finn and Rey’s eyes as they’re split up, mouthing, Later and nodding to them both, trying to ignore the pangs of unease. They can all take care of themselves. They can keep their heads down until the ship arrives. What other choice do they have?
Heart tripping louder than he’d like and echoing up into his neck, Poe tries to get another glimpse of Finn or Rey before his small cluster of blue-patched inmates are led around a corner, but they’re already out of sight.
Reaching a colder, dimmer, outer part of the station, Poe’s first thought is that he’s been put on the make-work detail.
His group is divided down other corridors as they go, guards posted here and there, keeping watch, a hint of red out of the corner of his eye. There are other inmates with the same patches already working, hands taking apart panels or arms elbow-deep in the walls, cabling hanging down, tools and bits of the station’s innards scattered around. Poe doesn’t think the sections beyond the nearby doors are even inhabited. It looks less like a maintenance effort than some kind of carrion feeding.
He goes where he’s told, midway down a long, narrow, alley-like stretch between two wider corridors. Some of the lights are dead or in low power mode, others flickering. Strange shadows run up and down the walls. Jungle shadows, the kind that don’t look empty. Walking with his back exposed makes him itch.
As he stops near a pile of tools, refusing to look over his shoulder and check with the guard what he’s meant to be doing, a young Elomin woman with purple-pink skin falls out of a hatch near the ceiling, landing in an easy squat. Poe holds back the noise of surprise and almost bites his tongue.
“Ah,” the Elomin woman – girl? – says, straightening, her height bringing her level with Poe’s shoulder, not counting the horns. There’s an oily smudge on her cheek. Poe steps back to avoid any other workers that might start dropping after her. “You must be one of the new ones.” She gives him an assessing look and a faint smile, like he’s some hapless creature that’s wandered into her house.
There are worse reactions, he thinks, and returns the smile. “That obvious?”
“Yeah,” she says, shrugging. She drops a tool from her hand and picks up another, hands it to him. “I’m Idri.”
“Gil,” Poe says, managing not to trip over it. “Gil Tharen.” It’s the first time he’s actually had to say the name aloud so far.
Idri tilts her head at him. “You know how to rebuild an air scrubber, Gil?”
Poe shakes his head. “Afraid not.”
“Well,” she says, not sounding surprised, “you’d better pay attention then.”
Poe does his best to learn as Idri spends the next few hours telling him names and uses of tools, parts and pieces and how the station is put together. Some of it he’s familiar with from working on speeders and starfighters, but his mechanical knowledge is the inconsistent do-this-because-it-works kind, so some of it’s brand new to him and takes him a few tries. Some of it he’s just plain useless at.
He’s trying to fix one of the air scrubber’s connections when a new shadow spreads over him like a cloud crossing the sun.
Carrying his startled twitch into a crouch, knees ready to spring, tool gripped in his hand, Poe’s confronted by a wall of white fur in a jumpsuit that’s been reduced to a vest and not much more. Four inky black eyes peer down from a face that’s a good three feet above him. As his pulse starts to even out, Poe tries to remember if he’s ever actually seen a Talz in person.
“Yadda,” says Idri behind him, “this is Gil. Gil, this is Yadda.”
“Nice to meet you,” Poe says, like autopilot, and gets a series of warbling buzzing sounds back from a small proboscis mouth. His hand presses on the pocket holding his meal card, just in case.
“She can’t speak Basic,” Idri says, as Yadda manoeuvres around Poe – not easy in the constricted corridor – and passes Idri more tools from her jumpsuit/vest, which is apparently its purpose. Idri examines them and nods, makes a bobbing gesture with one hand, gets an answering one from Yadda. “I can’t speak Talz either,” Idri explains when Poe raises his eyebrows. “We get by though. We were on the same ship, and our first night here they put us in the same cell. We’ve stuck together ever since.”
“How long ago was that?” He still can’t guess Idri’s age, but she seems fairly young. Not that that always means much with Elomin.
Idri scratches her head. “A thousand cycles? Maybe more. Gets hard to keep track. And, well, there’s not much point counting is there?”
“You know, light to dark and back again. Can’t really call them days, with no suns or moons or anything.”
He blinks. A thousand or more. He doesn’t want to imagine being here that long. Then again, she would’ve been here when Vamma was brought in, might’ve been there when he died.
“Must’ve been a pretty impressive crime,” he says, playing it lightly, carefully. Nobody in this place has any use for pity, and pointed questions might come back on him or the others.
“Slicer,” she says, with another little smile. “Used to sell account codes I pulled out of some of the big corporate banks. A customer got caught and gave me up for a deal, and I ended up here. Not a great story.” Her smile gets a fraction wider. “They never did break my system though, or find those credits. What about you?”
“Smuggling,” he says, shrugging a shoulder. “Weapons, mostly. Me and two others got picked up on a run to Dosuun.”
Idri gives him another look, and Poe holds the casual stance, telling himself to keep the story simple, nothing he’ll get caught out on later.
“Wouldn’t be the three that got into it with Crussk, would it?” she asks.
“Is Crussk a Trandoshan with a bad attitude and terrible breath?”
Idri nods. “That’s him. Huh. Lots of people here who’ll eat better with him gone.”
“Me included,” Poe says. Figures the smartest move he’s made since he got here was the reckless one that got him flung around the room.
Idri snorts, starts fiddling with another chunk of machinery, Yadda moving and holding a glowrod up for her. Its power cell must be almost gone; there’s just a thin yellow film of light coating their part of the corridor.
“How long d’you think they’ll be keeping him in isolation?”
Idri pauses, bent over a tangle of cabling. She looks up at him, violet eyes shuttered. “Isolation?”
“Crussk,” Poe says. “Just want to know how long I have before he comes looking for payback as well as my breakfast.”
“Crussk won’t go into isolation,” she says slowly. “Hardly anyone does. They took him to Administration. You won’t see him again.”
A low buzz from Yadda, the glowrod waving back and forth in her huge, talon-pointed hand. The sickly light wavers around them, like a dead sun circling. It’s cold in this section, but Poe’s starting to sweat.
Something about the way she says it, the way she’s looking at him, the sharpness of her eyes in the weak illumination, sends a tingle up Poe’s back, hairs on his arms pricking up. “He’s being transferred to another prison?” he asks, knowing that’s not it even before Idri shakes her head.
“The hollow men’ll take him,” she says, the whole thing making less sense and the alarms in Poe’s gut getting louder. “Crussk was strong, big, angry. Those types always end up in Administration sooner or later – they’re who the hollow men want. The fighting just makes them easier to find.”
Her voice has taken on an even, patient tone. Explaining things for the new guy. Like she’s not talking about what Poe’s awfully sure she’s talking about. ‘Hollow men’ sounds like a good term for the guards, faceless figures in armour. He flashes back to staring into that glossy faceplate, the feeling that there was nothing with any care or interest behind it. The other feeling, the one that was closer to panic and wanted to take him out at the knees, he tries to forget.
“Execution?” he asks, not able to help himself. It’d fit this place if it was. Plenty of ways to do it on a space station that wouldn’t even need a blaster, just a long cold walk.
Idri shrugs. “Nobody knows. Nobody wants to. I definitely don’t. But a lot go through there, especially the strong and angry ones, and they don’t come back.”
Poe’s still trying to think of a reply when a shout carries down the corridor. “Hey Idri, tell that rug of yours to stop taking tools from our section! I ain’t dealing with the redsuits if Laask comes up short again during count!”
Idri rolls her eyes, leans around Poe to shout back. “You’ll get your tools at shift change, Sloan, just like always. Not like you ever do any blasted work anyways.”
The guy, Sloan, throws up a hand, stomps away. Yadda taps Idri’s shoulder, waves her fingers in a looping figure, buzzes.
“No,” Idri says, shaking her head slowly. “Don’t worry about it.” She sees Poe’s expression and says, “Talz don’t get it, property, owning things. It’s not how they think. They just borrow.” She makes a hand gesture at Yadda, opening and closing her hand. “Borrow,” she says, an aside for Poe’s benefit. Yadda mirrors the gesture, produces another tool from her vest. Idri smiles, pats Yadda on the arm. “Serves Sloan right anyway.”
Poe thinks he has an idea of how Yadda ended up here.
“So fights happen a lot?” he asks, handing Idri things as she points to them.
“A few,” she says. “They don’t always let it get that far.”
“I heard someone got killed a few days ago,” Poe says, still casual, not missing a beat when Idri asks for another tool. “Guy named Vamma?”
“The Duros?” she says, and Poe starts rearranging the fragments of a dismantled environment sensor to avoid looking too interested. “Yeah, we were there for that. It happens. He tried to scam one of the Black Sun’s people. The one who did it went into Administration, what was left of Vamma got vented.” She shakes her head, sighs. “Vamma was in our section, a few cells over. Didn’t know when to keep his head down, always talking. Even mumbled in his sleep. Said he was important to some powerful people who were gonna come and get him.”
Poe doesn’t look up, doesn’t trust his face. “He say why?”
Idri hums, winding trailing wire around her hand as it comes out of the wall. “No. It’s just something people say sometimes.” She glances at him. “Why d’you care?”
He shrugs, lazily as he can. “I just think it’d be good to find out. Something like that, worth something to people on the outside. Maybe a way out.”
Idri huffs. “Yeah, well, he got out, didn’t he? Only way there is, unless you want to go to Administration.”
It makes him feel like he’s walking further out onto a ledge, but Poe asks anyway, “He didn’t leave anything behind? A datapad or a holodisc, a flimsi, anything like that?”
Yadda buzzes, but Idri doesn’t answer, busy pushing reconnected things back into the wall. A sharp clunk comes from behind the panel as she closes it, then a hum of power, and the lights around them sputter back to life. A faint whir signals air circulating the way it should, some of the stagnancy lifting, the section warming. She grins at Yadda, then turns to him, more serious. “Do me a favour, Gil, and don’t try anything stupid, okay? You don’t seem too bad, and it takes forever to train new people.”
“I’ll do my best,” Poe says, hoping he means it. Hoping she isn’t giving him late advice.
The next meal is at least less eventful than breakfast. Walking in and seeing the others already in the common area dissolves points of tension between his shoulders and in his jaw that Poe wasn’t even aware of carrying. They find a table with enough spare seats between them and everyone else to let them talk, which is easier than it was before the three of them took down Crussk, other prisoners giving them a wider berth.
For the first few minutes they just eat their food, uncomplaining, relief plain on all their faces that nothing else has gone wrong while they were separated, hitting Poe hard enough that he doesn’t try to douse the more unwise things that go on under his ribs when one of them nudges him under the table. He leans in and starts talking.
“So he told people he knew something, but not what he knew,” Finn says once Poe’s done laying out everything he’s learned. It doesn’t take long. “I can’t decide if that’s better or worse.”
“Worse,” Rey says, finishing her last spoonful and pushing her tray away. She’s managed to earn a double ration already, which Poe can only see as twice the punishment. “If he had given the location to someone, then we could go and get it from them.”
Poe nods. “I didn’t get any leads on anything he might have had with him, but it doesn’t sound hopeful. What about you guys?”
“Well supply duty is a bust,” Finn says, grimacing. “I hardly even saw anyone. Just counting things in crates, moving crates to the other side of the bay, counting things again. I’m developing a lot of sympathy for lifter droids. Honestly, I almost miss sanitation.”
“What kind of supplies are down there?” Rey asks.
Finn just points at the food paste on his tray. “There are more storage areas in use, but it’s all sealed – restricted access, security systems, and the guards watch those doors. It’s the sections closest to the docking bay.”
“Contraband,” Poe guesses. “That stuff’s gotta go somewhere, and Idri mentioned the Black Sun have people here, probably bribing the guards or the stationmaster so they can use the prison as a depot. Nice deal for the stationmaster, if the Black Sun gave him any choice about it. He can’t be making much just off the prisoners, unless he’s handing over the ones with bounties on them.” That nasty idea’s only just occurred to him, another problem they could have if anyone finds out who they really are.
“Great,” Finn says. “It’s always nice when the corrupt officials and murdering smugglers are all organised like that. Hey, why didn’t we just bribe the guards to get Vamma out in the first place?”
“With what?” Poe asks. “The Resistance isn’t exactly sitting on piles of credits. We’re spread so thin they sent us into this with no contingency plan. Besides, the last thing we need is open war with the Black Sun for stepping on their toes.” He takes a breath, realises how hard the edge of the table is pressing into his stomach and sits back again, tries to eat.
“They don’t seem like the sort to take bribes anyway,” Rey says, eyes going to one of the guards and then back to them. “All I found out is that this station is in even worse shape than it looks. That and nobody here can tell the difference between a repulsor coil and a power cycler.”
“Well that’s definitely the worst news,” Finn says, earning an eye roll and a shoulder nudge from Rey and a huff from Poe.
“Can you get anything out of there?” he asks Rey. “Build us a comlink maybe?”
Rey shakes her head. “Most of what’s there is junk, and the rest is all droid parts. Nothing that would send a signal far enough. Which is probably the point. And Laask watches everything we do. He knows what he’s doing, so if I took anything, he’d realise why.”
“Droid parts,” Finn repeats, frowning to himself.
“Yeah,” Rey says, leaning in. “Weird, right? A lot of them too. For what?”
“Maybe they’re selling them. Or the droids all work in Administration,” Poe says, thinking of those EV-series models, the ones that enjoy torturing people. “Or in the restricted cargo bays.” He nods at the droid behind the hatch, with its scratches and its broken photoreceptor. “They won’t trust the prisoners around anything they don’t have to.”
“Any idea what’s going on in that Administration section?” Finn asks.
Poe shakes his head. “Nothing good. At best, they’re rooting out the problem inmates. At worst...”
“The stationmaster’s office is in Administration,” Rey puts in. “His name’s Obriss, I overheard Laask talking to him. Laask’s been here longer than anyone else, and he has the codes to get in. Maybe all the codes.”
“That’s probably where the guards’ quarters are too,” Finn says. “Maybe if we tried getting in there.”
“How?” Poe asks, hearing Idri’s voice in his head. Don’t try anything stupid. Remembers the flat, hopeless look she got talking about that section. “And what does it get us?”
“Access to the comm system, or a weapons locker. If we could send a message out, we could get out of here faster,” Finn points out. “Before someone else decides they don’t like your face as much as we do and tries to rearrange it.”
“Or we could all get ourselves killed when there’s a ship coming to pick us up anyway,” he says as loudly as he dares to. “Idri said people don’t come out of Administration, that no one knows why. There are smugglers, pirates, killers and maniacs in here, and that place scares all of them.” He thinks about the fight, how the other prisoners had all just watched and waited, in knowing silence.
Fear of death is unlikely from some of the types in here, and more unlikely as a uniform trait, so what? Torture? Worse? He swallows, stoppers his voice while he still has control of it. He can’t quite meet the look Finn’s aiming at him.
“Something else is going on,” Rey says after a moment, following the same thoughts as Poe. “It doesn’t make sense, this place, out here like this.” She lets out a quiet breath, alert eyes watching everything. “There’s more we don’t know, and I have a bad feeling about it.”
Poe frowns. He knows she’s right, he just wishes he knew what they could do about it. More than that, more with every hour, he wants off this station, wants the stars back and the feel of flight. But above all that, Poe wants his friends safe, in the daylight again. He wants them all far away from here.
Night sees them back in their cell with its pushed-together sleeping pads and the shuffling of the other prisoners around them. The guards don’t like them talking here, so they stick with nods and passing glances, Poe considering if they could adopt some of Idri and Yadda’s signs, communicate while there’s enough light at least.
Doors come down and lock. The lights shut off in a blink. Poe lies back on the pad, feeling the bruises from the fight and the floor digging into the back of his skull, puts an arm behind his head. On his left is Finn’s breathing, and on his right there’s Rey’s. As safe as they’re going to be here, with the bars between them and everyone else, but Poe still can’t sleep, lies there opening and closing his eyes, trying to see the difference in the gloom.
Finn’s hand touches the arm that Poe’s left folded on his chest, a loose grip just above his wrist, pushing up the jumpsuit sleeve. Poe takes his other arm from behind his head and returns the grip. Rey shifts until her shoulder meets Poe’s and adds her hand to their joined arms, a point of contact that’s undeniably real in the pitch black that’s erased everything else. Poe evens his breathing out and leaves his eyes closed, braced by people he trusts, waiting for sleep to weigh him down—
—light, burning, unforgiving, forcing itself under his lids.
He wakes up groaning and tries to roll away from it, meeting a shoulder, his leg bumping another leg, and remembers. Groans again, louder.
“If that was more than four hours, I’ll eat this jumpsuit.” Finn mutters next to him. Other sounds register, feet moving, the accumulated grumbles of people harshly woken, sleeping pads sliding on the floor.
“Probably taste better than breakfast,” Poe sighs, sitting up, hand scrubbing at his face, at the itch of stubble that’s only gonna get worse over the next couple of weeks. He tilts and rolls his neck to try and work the cramp out, looks around and sees Rey already up, reordering her hair and eyeing the other prisoners.
Poe gets to his feet, offers Finn a hand and pulls him up too. His fogged brain is vaguely clinging to a dream of trees and rain and a voice he knew but couldn’t place, shouting.
From there it’s the refresher, into the sonics where he gets a sympathetic hiss from Finn at the rising bruises on his side, then back into the jumpsuit for the walk out again, with guards on their heels all the way to the common area, through the food line and to their table.
“Same drill,” he says, sitting down. “Find out what you can, stay low, and we’ll talk later.” He gets two tired nods around spoonfuls of paste, and they spend the rest of breakfast quietly thinking of their own jobs, of who around them they could approach. The constant wariness and lack of decent sleep is already dragging on them, and Poe has to blink roughly and shake his head a few times when he starts to drift.
When the guards announce the start of work shifts and lead them out again, all three of them look back at each other, stiff-shouldered and shadow-eyed, until the moment they can’t anymore.
He meets Yadda before Idri this time, spotting the towering white fur coat from the other end of the section’s main corridor. He tries to echo the palm-up, hand-circling gesture that he takes for a Good morning. He’s about to try, pointlessly, to ask where Idri is when she comes dropping out of one of the maintenance ducts, stands up holding up a roughly circular piece of machinery and grinning. It catches Poe by surprise that anyone who’s been on Kedai so long has any smiles left in them.
“Got it,” she says to Yadda, then, “Hey, Gil,” to him. He returns the nod, and Idri sets about taking whatever she went looking for apart with tools Yadda hands her.
“Do the guards know you can climb through there?” he asks, looking up at the cramped, unlit shaft.
“Sure they do,” she says. “Where else am I supposed to get parts that still work?” She pulls a few smaller pieces from her find and drops the rest to the floor with a clank. “Come on,” she says. “We need two more if we’re gonna have enough to get the water pumps in this section running right.”
So that’s how his shift goes, following Yadda and Idri through this part of the station, waiting while Idri scavenges things and takes them apart for their internal components or rebuilding them to do something else. Watching her, Poe thinks it’s a shame they don’t get rotated through the common area at the same time; he needs to introduce her to Rey.
His breath frosts in front of him and his exposed skin is almost numb as they walk into a disused section. The jumpsuit’s pockets being no-hiding-weapons small means they refuse to let him stuff his hands into them, edges of his meal card digging into his palm. Idri sticks close to Yadda, who being the only one of them adapted for cold is walking with her head high and an easy swing to her large stride, holding up the light. Maybe this is the only time she’s comfortable in a life of stuffy, close-aired station spaces regulated for species without thick fur.
They change directions at an intersection, shadows eating up their weak light. An icicle hangs from a seal where a leak must’ve sprung, and Idri snaps it off, snaps it again and hands a piece of each of them. It only makes his shivering worse, ice sliding over his already cold-clumsy fingers, but he lets it melt and drinks the water down, crunches the rest, cleaner than anything he’s drank here so far.
“What about the reactor?” he asks at one point, helping Yadda pry a panel from the wall. “Who maintains that?”
“Laask,” Idri tells him. “He has a crew for that, ones he trusts. Same as the computers, which they never let me near. Nobody else goes down there.” Into the tapering spike that houses the reactor for the segmented cylinder that makes up the main body of the station. Poe wonders how stable it’s running if the rest of the systems are being held together with parts peeled away from other areas. Rey said it was in bad shape, worse than it looks.
But then again, a lot of the station isn’t housing anyone, isn’t being watched. There are whole sections with no guards or prisoners – and possibly little or no life support, but still. He wonders how extensive the duct network is. They’ll need a way to reach the docking bay once the ship arrives.
He doesn’t ask, just files it away for when the time comes, and keeps working quietly, telling himself to be patient.
It’s never been his strongest skill.
They get the pumps back up, but their work shift lasts longer this time, long enough for his stomach to be growling despite the guarantee of more paste, and for him to let out a quiet breath when Finn comes through a door with his group of gold patches, and Rey through another with the red-patched detail from the machine shop. They join the line together, get their food and sit.
“Nothing new,” Finn sighs. “More moving crates around. I tried talking to Belea, the Twi’lek who runs our detail, but she just sort of stares right through you. The others either didn’t know anything or wouldn’t talk, and a lot of them just sit around and watch the rest of us work.”
“I didn’t get anywhere either,” Poe tells them. “Nothing on Vamma or his intel, anyway. We need to look at the maintenance ducts at some point though, as a way of moving around the station.”
“There must be sensors watching them,” Rey says. “I haven’t seen any surveillance equipment, but they have to have a way of tracking us.”
Poe scrapes up another mouthful of food, trying to get it down without thinking too much about it. “You can disable those, right, if we need to use the ducts?”
“Maybe,” Rey says. “If not we could get sealed in and they could shut off the air, electrocute us, gas us, anything.”
Finn grimaces. “Yeah, let’s avoid that.”
“There have been escape attempts before,” Rey says. “Big ones. I found that out today. Apparently Laask lost his arm in a riot when prisoners tried to force their way through to the docking bay, but they never made it that far. Laask used to be a prisoner here.”
“A prisoner?” Poe frowns, looking up from his tray. “And now he’s practically in charge?”
“There’s no one I can find who remembers him arriving,” Rey says. “He’s been here for years, nobody knows what for. He must have worked his way up, doing the real work so Obriss doesn’t have to get his hands dirty – it used to happen on Jakku with some of the gangs, and with Unkar’s groups of thugs. But no matter how he got here, I don’t think the prison would survive without him now.”
“If he was a prisoner,” Finn says, “why hasn’t he ever tried to leave? Who’d choose to stay here?”
“He’s got power here,” Poe guesses.
“He argues with Obriss on the comm,” Rey says. “He seems to care about what happens to this place.”
“Just not the people in it,” Finn mutters.
Rey hums and shakes her head, frowning, off in thought. She’s on double ration again, thanks to her skills in the machine shop. She divides up her extra and pushes some onto each of their trays, meeting their protests with a flat look.
“Just eat it,” she says. “The standard portion isn’t enough.”
They can’t really disagree with that.
Poe eats, and starts mentally listing the things that might have started that riot, other than the quality of the food.
Time was already starting to blur together even before their mission seemed so unsalvageable, before they were left with nothing but edgy, restless waiting. After the fifth or sixth cycle – Idri was right, calling them days just doesn’t work – Poe asks the others to be sure they’re keeping count, because he doesn’t completely trust his own sense of it anymore.
“It’d be easier if we had something to mark it with,” Rey says, so that’s what they do. When they sit down for breakfast in what’s become their seats, one of them uses the end of a spoon to scrape a line into one of the chairs when the guards are looking somewhere else. Poe catches himself staring at the marks, passing his thumb over and over them during other meals. By what they agree is the end of the first week, he thinks he can feel the little scratches under his skin when he rubs his fingers together.
He talks less and less during work shifts, finding fewer and fewer things to say. They move around like insects in some giant dead animal, repairing what they can, scavenging non-essential things to keep more vital systems going. They’re running just barely ahead of disaster, and a lot of what they do makes no difference at all. Poe’s learned enough from Idri to realise just how bad things are, and how little they can do about it. It’s a constant feeling in this place.
Part of him wishes he’d joined a different group, one of the ones that just sit against the walls and let it all unfold around them, only moving when the guards don’t give them a choice. Even beyond the weariness, Poe sometimes wants lay down and not get up, and that’s what really scares him, the thought that something’s happening to him in here and he can’t handle it.
“You know,” he tells Idri, frustration getting the better of him, fatigue and hunger making every little sensation into a sharp point he can’t pull back from, cuts from bits of metal on his hands, the chill always there under his jumpsuit, “one day something that can’t be fixed is gonna give out, and it’ll take everyone on the station with it.”
Idri doesn’t look up from what she’s doing, and Yadda doesn’t move away from Idri. “Probably,” she says. “Laask would have to be dead for that to happen though. And it’s lasted this long.”
“Don’t you even want to get out anymore?” Poe asks, hands tight by his sides, fingers stiff with cold. He knows he should stop, get himself under control, but it’s a distant thing compared to the helplessness and the resentment and the gnawing fear. “Don’t you want to leave this station, instead of working like this every day just to make it to the next one so you can do it all over again?”
For a while Idri doesn’t say anything, long enough for his temper to fade and the guilt to settle in, knowing his tiredness is no excuse. Idri’s already done more to help him than he could have expected, considering, and none of this is her fault. Poe’s time here has an end date, unlike hers. He’s about to offer her an apology when she sighs and turns to him, dropping her tool.
“It’s all just trying to reach the next day, Gil,” Idri says, eyes fixed on him, purple skin almost black in the faint light. Yadda is a mass of grey shadow behind her, four black eyes shining like polished stones. “Doesn’t matter where you are, that’s all you’re ever really doing.”
“But there’s no point,” he says, gesturing around them. “It’s always the same. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not for anything. You’re still stuck here.” His breath feels brittle in his chest as he stands there, chest rising and falling. He can’t make it stop.
Idri nods. “You’re right, there’s no point. Or maybe the point is that there’s no point, so you have to pick one for yourself. I just get me and Yadda to that next day, and then the next one.”
Poe looks at her, trying to imagine what it takes to hold out as long as she has, and can’t, not really, and definitely not right now. “And you aren’t tired?” he asks, rubbing at his face. “What do you think you’ll get at the end of it?”
Idri turns away, down at the things scattered by her feet, back at him. “I’ll know I took as many days from them as I could,” she says finally. “That I didn’t just give them all away, even if sometimes I wanted to.”
He blows out a breath. “You don’t want your old life back? Your own life back?” He regrets asking it as soon as it leaves his mouth. He decided to come here, and he gets to leave. No matter how much it’s getting to him, what right does he have to—
“Wanting things gets old, Gil,” Idri says, and goes back to her work.
Poe stands there for a while longer, picturing the day him and the others board that ship knowing Idri and Yadda and hundreds of others are still here, for as long as it lasts, with no future, no hope. It’s a heavy image, and it gets more uncomfortable the longer he looks at it, futility choking him.
Nothing’s worked out the way it should have, the way he’d thought he was prepared for. Not one thing. Including himself.
Something does give out the night after next, just not where he’d predicted.
Poe can’t sleep, even though he’s exhausted and his body feels like it’s being crushed into the floor by its own weight, and the harder he tries the more it slips away from him. His chest is tight, his heart too fast and loud, and he’s assuming it’s him and not the air circulation again. He’s started mirroring the prison, he thinks with a kind of gallows humour that’s unsettling in itself, parts of him just shutting down and malfunctioning.
Finn and Rey are asleep to either side of him, and he tries to narrow his focus to their breathing and their body heat and nothing else, the fact that they survived another day and tomorrow they can scratch their eleventh mark into the empty seat.
Eleven days in a place where days don’t exist and the nights are barely long enough to keep them sane, and whenever Poe manages to drop into unconsciousness for more than a few minutes, his dreams shift into wheeling impressions of trees being ripped from the ground, fighters going down in streaks of flame and smoke and wreckage, of his reflection in a glossy faceplate and he can hear his mother’s voice but he can’t reach her and she keeps asking him where the map is, where’s the map, and he’s at the bottom of a pit where there are no stars or light and Finn and Rey are gone and he can’t climb out, can’t scream because his voice is gone too—
Finn’s hand shaking his shoulder jolts him awake, kicking out as Rey and Finn both try and keep him still, and all he can do is curl onto his side, not enough air in his lungs to stop the choking, not enough strength in his limbs to stop them shaking, noises dying as rattles in his throat. Finn rolls to face him even though Poe can’t see him, just stirring breath as Finn curls around him, the hand on his arm rubbing up and down like he’s hypothermic and that’s why he’s shivering.
“It’s okay,” Finn’s saying, has been saying for a while, beneath the crashing in Poe’s head. “You’re okay. We’ve got you. We’ve got you, it’s okay.” He keeps up like that, just a whisper, Rey joining in with him, fitted to his back, and they’re going to draw the guards down on them but Poe can’t manage to say that. Rey’s face is tucked against the hair at his crown, her hand holding onto his shoulder, and he isn’t crying because his body won’t work right but the tears run over his face and soak the pad under his cheek and he can feel it, all those jagged pieces in him like shrapnel, slicing at him, but he can’t get them out.
He lies there, unable to do anything as he drowns from the inside, trembling all over. His aching eyes run out of tears, the old ones drying tacky on his face. He clutches at whichever of them he can reach – Rey’s arm, Finn’s hip, their hands catching his as they fold up around him like they’re safe, like Poe hasn’t totally let his guard down somewhere they can’t risk it, like he’s not endangering them with every word they say to try and stitch him back together.
Eventually he runs out of energy to feel any of it, just goes blank and numb and distant from himself. From some little remaining corner of awareness all he can do is watch Finn tug him in until his face is hidden in Finn’s neck, Rey still murmuring to him, anchored all down his back with her hand on his chest, and after that he’s not aware of much at all.
When the lights kick on and the cells open, Poe makes it through the routine and into the food line only with a lot of help, Finn catching his arm every now and then, Rey guiding him by the shoulder, reminding him to pull his meal card from his pocket. Someone shoves him when he loses track of himself, curses flying, and the two of them step in front of him. Rey talks low and threatening while Finn squares himself up. It’s when the guard starts towards them with a stun baton raised that Poe lurches suddenly back into his skin, adrenaline bitter in his mouth, gets them all to their seats and as out of sight as he can.
Elbow on the table and the heel of his hand against his forehead, Poe counts out his breaths and grapples for his control again. He can’t do this, whatever’s wrong with him, crumbling inward when it’s almost over. It is almost over, he tells himself. Almost.
“I’m all right,” he says, looking up into two plainly scared faces. His fault. They don’t believe him, and neither does he. “I’m mostly all right,” he corrects with a sigh. “Just... kind of hit some turbulence.”
“We’re getting out of here,” Rey says, leaning close like she thinks he’s about to drop and she’ll have to make a quick catch.
“No matter what,” Finn adds. He puts his hand on Poe’s forearm. “Just don’t disappear on us, okay? We’ve got this. Don’t forget what you said, we just need to watch out for each other.”
Poe nods, as much as he trusts himself to do with his airway trying to close off and his eyes stinging again, completely out of balance as he drags in another breath. He doesn’t put up a fight when they both push part of their breakfast portion onto his tray.
He looks up once he’s done, wants to tell them things that he probably, definitely shouldn’t say, not with the state he’s in, and stops himself just short of it. He’s bled on them enough as it is, without adding to it. It’ll be different once they’re out, and he can clear his head and not get in their way. When space is something they can afford.
They’re all slow joining their work details that morning, and Poe’s the last to leave, nodding assurances as Finn goes through one door and Rey goes through another. When he gets up, he leans to the side and scratches a mark into the chair with the end of his spoon.
Three more marks left to make on that chair, three more cycles in their starless box. He can keep it together that long, he thinks, and when they hit lights out again after a shift in maintenance that Poe doesn’t even remember for how distracted he was, the lights are only just out before Finn’s hand finds his, grips down, and Rey draws his other arm around her, the three of them collecting in the middle of their already small sleeping area. Hands touch his face, and Poe centres himself learning to identify them by the calluses alone. Finn presses his lips to Poe’s temple. Rey’s brush his cheek.
He spares himself any thoughts about why, and how he fits into what the two of them have, and especially about where his own feelings fit into it. Trying to deal with any of that now seems ridiculous and self-indulgent, even with the three of them holding each other afloat like this, like take-holds in null gravity, even when he’s closer than he’s ever been to either of them.
The rules of their lives have been bent into different shapes in here, and when they hammer all the patterns back into what they should be, it won’t look like this. He’s grateful, almost pathetically grateful for what they’re doing for him, but he’s not deluding himself about what it means. Pretending now will only make it worse later.
Poe’s hand spans out on the middle of Finn’s back, his other hand holding one of Rey’s, trying to line his breathing up with theirs, his warm exhales lost against Finn’s shoulder and Rey’s fluttering out against the nape of his neck, stirring his hair.
It’s not as hard to sleep, and when he does, the dreams leave him alone.
They spend their last meal of the following ‘day’ trying to work out the most likely time for the ship’s arrival. It won’t be after lights out because prisoners have to be out of the cells to unload the cargo. It won’t be during meals because the guards would have to leave the common area too poorly-supervised to go bring new prisoners through intake.
“So it’ll probably be during work shift,” Poe says, and stops, having to swallow. “We’ll be scattered in different sections.” He looks at Finn. “You’ll be in supply, nearest the docking bay. Maybe they’ll even get your detail to offload the supplies. Try and make contact with the pilot – she’ll know who you are. If we take too long you might have to tell her to—”
“No,” Finn says, overloud and drawing stares, angry frown springing up on his face. “Forget it. I won’t do that, not after all this.”
“Finn, listen to me,” Poe says, hating it, the whole idea, much less arguing in favour of it, food an unmoving weight in his stomach. “If either of us can’t reach the ship for some reason, and you can, you need to go.”
“Not happening,” Finn says.
Don’t make me do this, Poe thinks, I’m not strong enough, and says, quieter, trying to be who he’s supposed to be in this situation, “Please, Finn. The Resistance needs to—”
“The Resistance needs you,” Finn hisses, carrying on before Poe can get the words out. “Both of you, and I’m not leaving either of you behind. We’re not First Order. There aren’t weak links. We’re not sacrificing each other like that.” He sits back, crossing his arms. “We all go, or we all stay.”
“Finn’s right,” Rey says. “We’ll get out together. Our chances are better that way, we’ve seen that.”
Poe thinks of things to say, looks at the two of them watching him, a united front, and bites it all back. He doesn’t point out that their mission has already failed, and all that matters now is escape, however they achieve it. Doesn’t say that he was assigned to make sure they came back alive, or that he’d rather stay here and have it ruin him than let the same happen to one of them. Doesn’t apologise for letting them down or tell them not to take chances on his account. They’re who they are, all three of them, and Poe knows how he’d respond in their place.
“Okay. Okay, so we’d better stay on our guard,” he says finally. “Remember where your nearest maintenance ducts are, note the guards’ positions, and be ready to move when we have to.”
It’s nothing they don’t know, but it feels more real once he’s said it, makes it easier to believe that time has actually been passing here as well as outside. He doesn’t tell them to be careful.
The moment arrives.
The ship doesn’t.
Poe almost heads into the ducts to try and reach the docking bay anyway when hours of his work shift go by with no alerts, no activity beyond the norm, no sounds of a ship connecting with the station. Fear that they might not know about it until it’s too late stabs between his ribs, worse when he imagines Finn and Rey getting caught trying to reach a ship that hasn’t docked at all, along with an uglier, more rabid fear of being left behind.
They couldn’t be this wrong about the time, not all of them. But it’s been two weeks, two weeks when they’ve been cut off from any new information. Something might have happened to delay their rendezvous, or to the pilot the Resistance installed on the transport. To the Resistance itself. Anything could have happened in two weeks, and they wouldn’t know a thing about it.
It takes all his effort not to sprint to the common area, and then he can’t make himself sit, can’t draw attention by pacing. So he waits, standing by their table, getting sidelong stares from other prisoners who see him jittering and probably think he’s going to start something, that he’s decided to get himself killed by the guards. It’s the dull, unbothered notice of people who’ve seen it all before.
They won’t leave him. They already refused to leave him. He needs to—
Finn and Rey come in through the same door, make for him at the same barely-restrained walk he got here with.
Poe goes dizzy for a second, hand propping him up on the table surface.
Slowly, reluctantly, they join the line and get their meals. Poe tries not to look over at the empty seat, where he knows there are fourteen marks in two neat little rows.
“What happened?” he asks as they all sit uneasily in their usual places, heads bent together, careful of the guards walking around the walls.
“Nothing,” Finn says. “Nothing is what happened. Ship never showed. The whole supply detail was waiting for the cargo delivery, and it didn’t come in.”
“It’s the right time,” Rey says before Poe can. “It should be here. I got halfway to the docking bay when I saw Finn’s detail being moved back here and I had to turn around.”
Poe’s stomach is in knots. He feels cold all over. “Something’s wrong,” he says. “They wouldn’t miss the window for anything small. They knew we might have to blow our cover getting out, they wouldn’t risk us on some scheduling mix-up.”
“What do we do?” Finn asks quietly, and Poe’s teeth clamp down on his lip, because all he can think to say is, I don’t know, and that’s unacceptable.
“We need a new plan,” Rey says when the silence stretches out, filled with Finn’s fingers tapping on the table and Poe’s heart kicking at his sternum. “If that ship really isn’t coming, we have to find another way.”
“There isn’t another way,” Poe says, voice gone thin. “That’s why we had to wait two weeks for this one.”
“Can we contact the Resistance somehow?” Finn asks, looking between them. “If it’s come down to that or nothing, can we risk it and try sending a message?”
“Maybe,” Rey says, frowning, “but I still don’t think I can get everything we’d need without being noticed.”
“Tomorrow,” Poe tells her unhappily. Desperate. “Do what you can. Whatever you have to do. We’re not getting stranded here.”
None of them sleep at all that night, unable to talk, just walled off in their own worry.
At breakfast, the guards announce they’re cutting back the rations.
“How often does this happen?” Poe asks Idri, the moment he can get away with it. He’s still being too obvious, but things are precarious for everyone in the prison now. More precarious. An hour ago they watched a shoving match in the food line escalate into a six-way brawl over meal cards. The guards took down four with stun batons and shot the other two when they tried to fight back, dragged them all out while the impact marks on the floor plates were still glowing. Some people kicked away from their tables and put their backs to the furthest wall, others watched, but more had just kept eating without looking up.
There are empty cells in their section now, more and more unfilled seats during meals.
“Not that often,” Idri says, working. “Every fifth or sixth run, maybe? More than it used to, but the next one always shows up, and things go back to normal again. Just keep your card safe until then.” She’s given hers to Yadda for safekeeping. Three others from their detail have already made moves towards them, looked at Yadda standing there, at the look on Poe’s face, and walked away again.
Every fifth or sixth. Their contact wouldn’t have known, not if the gaps are always that far apart. If that’s even what this is.
“And nobody asks why?”
Idri glances at him. “Nobody asks much of anything,” she says, going back to her tools. “And neither should you, if you don’t want to end up in Administration before that next cargo ship comes.”
“It won’t work,” Rey says when they’re back together in the common area. They’re already done with their feeble portions of paste. Her knuckles are white around her spoon. “What’s in the machine shop just isn’t what I need, and I can’t pull it from anywhere else without getting caught.” She exhales sharply, looks to Poe. “Can you track down anything usable during your shift?”
He thinks about it, sighs sharply, digs his fingers into his temple where a headache’s quickly building. “There’s nothing like that where they send us, and the guards would notice if I tried bringing anything back here.”
“Maybe you can hide something in the ducts,” Finn says.
Rey shakes her head. “I barely got into them last time without being seen, and that was because Laask let us go while he was busy arguing with Obriss again.”
Poe goes still, a sudden rush spreading from his chest and out through his limbs.
“Oh no,” Finn says, pointing at him. “Poe, come on. You’ll get caught. There’s no chance it’ll be unguarded.”
“I can deal with that if I have to,” Poe says, low, meaning every word. As things are, he’d almost prefer being shot at. It would be a change of pace.
“You think you can get into the stationmaster’s office?” Rey asks, leaning in across the table. Finn makes another bitten-off noise of protest, but Poe holds up a hand to stall him.
“If he runs everything, controls the internal comm, he has to have a comlink, or a console. Something,” Poe says. “Look, out of all of us I can slip away the easiest: the guards give us more freedom to go hunting for parts than they give you over in supply, Finn. And I don’t have a crowded machine shop to worry about, or Laask breathing down my neck.” He’s simplifying and he knows it, slapping a no-problem sheen on a hair-thin notion. It’s better than nothing. If they wait, and he keeps fraying, he won’t be good for anything.
“What about Idri, and the others you’ll be with?” Rey asks.
“I’m still back on the armed guards,” Finn mutters.
Poe frowns, thinking about it. “Idri wouldn’t like it,” he says to Rey after a moment, “but I don’t think she’d turn me in.” He can be reasonably confident that Yadda won’t.
“I hate this idea,” Finn says flatly. “Just for the record. You don’t even know for sure there are ducts that go into that section, or that they’re not sealed shut. You don’t know someone won’t tell the guards.”
“Hey, it can’t be harder than stealing a ship and escaping from a Star Destroyer,” he says, shrugging with a lightness he doesn’t feel.
Finn raises an eyebrow. “You do remember how that ended, right? With the shooting and the crashing and hours walking in the desert?” He shakes his head. “Poe, I want out of here too, but even for us, this is...” He trails off, not saying anything else. His expression says plenty.
“I don’t like it either,” Rey says, to Finn more than Poe. “But we’re out of options.”
“He’d be on his own,” Finn says to her, hushed, obviously trying to keep his voice down. “If anything goes wrong...” He huffs, trailing off again, maybe realising how wrong it’s gone already.
Poe lets out an uneven breath, grits his teeth against the throbbing in his skull. “All right,” he says to them. “You’ve got until the next work shift to come up with a better idea.”
That night it’s Poe who reaches out first. He gets one of their hands in each of his, brings their knuckles to his lips, holds them there one after the other, grips tight and doesn’t let go.
He’s sure he won’t sleep, but his body doesn’t give him any say in it.
Breakfast goes down like a stone, chased with as much water as he’s allowed. Rey and Finn sit across from him, apparently struggling with their appetites just as much.
“Will you both stop looking at me like that?” Poe says, rummaging for a smile.
“Like what?” Finn asks flatly, expression blanked out.
He answers Finn’s unflinching look with his own. “Like you’re never gonna see me again.”
“I’ll stop when you get back,” Finn says, tone not changing, and Poe sighs, sits back in his seat.
“Don’t tell me you regret signing up for this now,” he says, looking for the voice he uses to get the other ships on his wing to join him in a headlong rush at lousy odds.
“We don’t regret it,” Rey says, before Finn can get out whatever has him clenching his jaw like that.
“You sure?” he asks, thinking if something does go wrong, he might as well spend a few minutes now trying to make them smile once, something. “I mean, you followed a pilot into a jail.”
“Well,” Finn says, like he’s catching on or maybe humouring Poe, because of course he knows what Poe’s doing. The kindness of it sets something aching under Poe’s sternum. “The first time was just so much fun.”
Rey huffs and rolls her eyes, lips twitching. Poe’s smile settles a little more real on his face.
“We didn’t, actually,” Rey says, back of her hand brushing his arm. “We followed you.”
The call for work shift comes too soon, and Poe can still feel the nutrient paste sitting unwanted in his stomach as he walks the corridors, nerves tingling in his fingers. But there’s something else too, and it takes him a moment to realise it’s that he actually isn’t scared in this moment, not like he has been. There’s mostly just the anticipation that’s all common sense and the knowledge that he’s going to risk his neck, and it’s almost enough to make him smile again, calling up memories of all the other times he’s felt like this and made it out the other side.
So he finds Idri, and they make their way through the usual pattern of scavenging anything that hasn’t already been taken and using it to fix the few things they can. Poe counts the minutes and tries to stay oriented with the direction to the Administration section as they round corner after corner, waiting for a moment when the guards are occupied.
“Idri,” he says, quick and quiet once they have a stretch of corridor to themselves, Yadda blocking the light behind them. “I’m about to try something stupid.”
She stops, staring at him. Yadda tilts her head and chirps.
“Don’t,” Idri says, matching his tone, eyes wide and scared, looking over her shoulder. “Gil, don’t.”
“I have to,” he tells her, and then just as honest, “I’m sorry.” He pauses for a second, then reaches into his pocket, takes out his meal card and hands it to her. “Look after this for me until I come back, okay?”
Idri looks at the card in her hand, at him, understanding perfectly well. If every possible worst scenario plays out in the next few minutes, then at least she’ll eat a little better. He’s willing to count that as an accomplishment. And if she gets questioned about it, Poe trusts that she’s smart enough to blame everything on him.
With his pulse racing, Poe braces his hands on the edge of a duct and hauls himself into it.
“Gil,” he hears behind him, tinny and faint, “don’t get caught.”
The advice Rey gave him about the duct network amounted to cramped, cold and uncomfortable, which for people who aren’t Rey means it’s nearly impossible to shuffle through the constricted spaces, it’s so cold that it hurts to breathe, and Poe loses count of all his new bumps and bruises before he gets past the third junction point.
He pulls his sleeves down over his hands as much as he can once he starts losing clammy skin to the frozen metal, forcing himself along in tiny increments, holding onto the mental map of what turns he’s supposed to be making. There are drops where the ‘floor’ has been torn up, shafts that plummet into the total darkness of levels below him, skeins of pipe and wiring Poe scrapes his scalp raw against, and occasional groans and twangs of instability that leave him paused with his eyes clenched shut and every prayer he’s ever heard running silently in his head.
When he gets out of this, he’s going to tell Idri she’s very brave.
The first faint hint of light and warmer air makes Poe drop his head between his shoulders with relief, exhaling a plume of steam and crawling towards a hatch with dull amber light coming through it. Just the fact that there is a hatch in place says he’s in a better-maintained part of the station.
Looking out through the grille, he sees a corridor with the same-as-everywhere floor, doors, and a guard in typical red armour standing watch. Quietly as he can, Poe slides his way back and further over, looking for an empty corridor or a storage room, anything he can drop into unnoticed. His knees are throbbing and his breath sounds too loud in his ears.
Another hatch, this one looking directly down, another corridor with doors spaced along it. Empty. The hatch swings up with a faintly audible squeak and settles on its hinges vertically in front of him. Poe lays himself flat, lowers his head through for a better look before he leaves the duct.
Still empty, just the sound of air circulating and the tripping of his heart that he can feel in his fingertips. He arranges himself for a feet-first drop to the floor.
A door opens, letting out voices and a sour, unpleasant smell.
Poe jerks back away from the opening, fumbles with the hatch. He lowers it as fast as he dares and gets it shut just as a grey jumpsuit topped by a bowed head passes underneath, then a pair of arms locked in stun cuffs behind the back. Next comes the barrel of a blaster rifle and the sound of booted feet on the metal plates, and then a—
Poe halts his breathing, flattens out and looks through the grille again. He watches while prisoners, some he recognises, get marched out through a larger door at the far end. A door that’s pretty obviously a working airlock, with a ship waiting on the other side. Immobilised, Poe watches more restrained prisoners get paraded down the hall at the points of blasters.
It takes him half the time to backtrack, partly because he knows where he’s going now and partly just sheer adrenaline making him ignore the painful knocks to his head and elbows. He barely stops himself falling out of the duct, landing in a clumsy heap against the wall with Idri’s face in front of him.
“Are you hurt?” she asks as he pants, rubs hands over his face and through his hair, wincing at the sting of cuts. He shakes his head, finally thinks to look around to make sure it’s still safe.
“No,” he says, pushing himself up the wall, abused joints creaking and popping. He takes his meal card back when she holds it insistently out to him, looks around again, asks like he’s in a daze, “Where’s Yadda?”
“Buying you more time,” Idri says. He barely hears her. “You saw them, didn’t you? The hollow men. Gil? Gil?”
Poe remembers that’s meant to be his name.
“Idri,” he says, dry-mouthed, reeling as he mentally reviews everything he knows about Kedai, their mission briefing, what he knows about the surrounding systems. He focuses on Idri’s worried eyes. “The hollow men aren’t the guards, are they?”
Idri’s looking at him like none of the words he just used meant anything to her.
“No,” she says slowly. “The guards are the guards. The hollow men are—”
“Stormtroopers.” His breath thunders out, ugly reality resolving in front of him. “They’re called stormtroopers.”
And now Poe knows they’re here and what they’re doing, he knows why. Already knew why, because the Resistance has known for as long as there’s been a Resistance, despite the First Order doing everything to keep it quiet, to deny it, to make people look the other way just long enough.
“Shining white, like there’s nothing inside,” Idri says, the name apparently not registering. Too young, living too far from the Republic, locked in here too long. Exactly the reaction the First Order wants, until they’re ready to swarm out of the Unknown Regions. “No faces, but not like the guards. They come and people disappear.”
“They’re soldiers,” he says, flexing his hands, shaking blood into them like he’s only now coming back to his body. He wasn’t asleep, but now he’s violently awake. “They’re still people in armour, but they’re more dangerous than the guards.” Then something else clicks, even as his mind spins in multiple directions. “Idri,” he says slowly, “when did you see them?”
She’s not looking at him now. Won’t look at him, even as he steps closer, pushing off the wall.
“Idri,” he says again.
“I saw them,” she says, swallowing. Her eyes meet his, wet and shining. “I saw them when I tried to escape.”
Poe steps closer to her again, almost involuntary. “What happened?”
Idri shakes her head. “It was a long time ago.”
“You went through the ducts,” he says, prompting, because of course she did. “Trying to get into Administration.”
Her breath catches and she aims her face down the corridor again. “There are computers in there,” she says quietly. “I thought if I could—I just wanted to go home. I wanted to see the sky.”
Poe nods. “I know. It’s okay.”
“No,” Idri says. “I was wrong. I got it wrong.” She lets out a shaky exhale, eyes not staying fixed on anything. “I hadn’t been here long, and the supplies didn’t come. There wasn’t enough food. There was a lot of fighting, and the guards...” She swallows, wiping at her eyes. She looks painfully young. She looks terribly old. Poe’s frozen, afraid to try saying anything to her. “I wanted to distract them,” Idri says then. “Make them leave so I could get to a console, unlock the doors, try and call for help. So I went into the walls and rewired the decompression alarm, to make them think there was a breach.”
“And it didn’t work,” Poe guesses, but Idri shakes her head, sending a tear in a fast drop to her chin.
“The alarms went off everywhere,” she says. “The whole station. People panicked that the air was running out.”
Poe’s stomach twists on itself. “The riot.”
Idri nods, a quick jerking motion. “They were just trying to get out, and the guards started to—and then I saw the...the stormtroopers, and I thought if they found out it was me—people know Yadda helps me. They’d take her, take both of us. I came back, and shut off the alarm, and we hid until the shooting stopped.” She wipes her palms across her cheeks, breath shuddering. “So now I just fix things,” she says, quieter. “I fix things, and I teach the new people, and I don’t think about escaping anymore.”
“I’m sorry, Idri,” Poe says when he can find the words. “I know you’d never mean for that to happen.”
“You can’t break in there,” she tells him, suddenly sharp. “You can’t. It won’t work, and more people will get hurt. Please, Gil.”
It bothers him suddenly, that he’s been lying to her, that he still is.
“Idri,” he says. “Those stormtroopers, someone has to stop them. You know about the old Empire, what it used to be like? Well, they want it back. All of it put back the way it was.”
She frowns, still upset, but at least a little distracted. “How?”
Poe holds her gaze, this girl who’s survived years in a place that’s shoved him up against a breaking point in weeks, who fixes her own prison, who invents language for someone she can’t share words with. Who could be next.
“Slaves,” he tells her. “They take people and make them slaves, and they make the slaves build their empire.”
Consequences of an inattentive, ineffective Republic and a struggling, deprived Resistance. Things beneath the notice of militaries and governments, lives too small to matter swallowed up in forgotten, dark places. The kinds of things that breed when the light’s content to turn its back.
The understanding crossing her face is hard to watch, harder than the tears.
Hesitating for a second, Poe sends up a silent plea that he’s not about to make things worse and says, “Idri, I’m not a smuggler. My real name is Poe. Me and my friends, we—” He wonders how to explain it to someone with Idri’s context. “We work for the Republic. We came here to help, to keep the stormtroopers from hurting anyone else.” It’s the truth, if stretched a little. It’s an improvement anyway.
“Poe,” she says, testing it out, staring at him. He’s not sure what he’ll do if she thinks he’s lying to her now instead of before. He just nods, lets her make of it whatever she’s going to. Then she holds out her hand. “I’m Idritalkaasam. You should probably still call me Idri.”
His huffed laugh surprises both of them, and he takes her hand.
“What are you going to do?” she asks, letting go, and that’s the question. He needs to find the others, tell them everything. Maybe he can try getting to that office again once the stormtroopers leave the station.
Yadda comes back while he’s still trying to answer, signing quickly with Idri as she strides up to them, buzzing low.
“Poe,” Idri says, worried again. “Laask is looking for you.”
“Need this one for other work,” Laask says, leading Poe past a guard without slowing down. It’s the same thing he’s said to every guard they’ve passed. He hasn’t said a word to Poe.
“Does this mean I’m finally getting a raise?” Poe asks as Laask drives him forward with a jab between the shoulders, thinking about surveillance they haven’t found, about sensors in the ducts, about stormtroopers taking prisoners and where Finn and Rey are right now and if they’re safe and just how useless he is if they’re not. He slows and gets another prod in the back, but no more clues.
“Stop here,” Laask says as they reach a secured door. Poe gives serious consideration to making a move right now, in this corridor, throwing a punch as hard as he can and running to try and reach the others. Laask taps out a code, puts his hand on a security plate and the door hisses open, with both Finn and Rey standing on the other side.
Now Poe’s thinking about what the First Order would pay for the three of them and how much money it would sound like to the junkboss of a half-dead prison station, hands curling into fists and his body tensing up.
“It’s okay,” Rey says then, bringing him up short.
“It is?” he asks, meaning a lot of other questions he can’t ask.
“You said you wanted a better idea,” Rey says as Laask walks over to a cluttered work table and leans against it, two hands braced behind him and one scratching his chin, like now he’s got all the time in the world.
Poe blinks, glances between them, Rey and Finn, Laask and them.
“We know,” Finn says, arms crossed, “but he came to us.”
“There are stormtroopers in Administration,” is what Poe says, and gets surprise on only two faces out of three. He looks at Laask. “Real nice setup you’ve got here.”
Laask answers, evenly, “Not my setup.”
“What stormtroopers?” Rey demands, stepping closer to him with Finn.
Poe keeps his eyes on Laask. “They’re taking prisoners for slave labour. That’s what it’s all about – the people disappearing into Administration, the guards not stopping fights, the ships not arriving.” He tips his chin in Laask’s direction. “How much does Obriss get for every one he turns over to them? I know they take the biggest and strongest first. So how much, and what’s your cut?”
Laask’s expression doesn’t even flicker. “He’s never said, and zero.”
“You knew?” Finn says, rounding on Laask. “And you just decided not to tell us?”
“We don’t have a whole lot of time,” Laask says, pushing off from the table. “You can either keep this going until guards come through that door or we can talk about your plan.”
“Our plan.” Poe glances at Finn and Rey. “How much have they told you?”
“Mostly that I’d want to talk to you,” Laask says. “Lucky for you, I believe them. More lucky you didn’t try anything just now in those ducts. So. Can we deal?”
Poe’s still busy adjusting, trying to find his footing like the gravity’s just failed, halls becoming chutes and a steep drop suddenly opening in front of him. “Why would you help us?”
Laask sighs, irritated. “That’s my business.”
“Yeah? Well it’s ours now too,” Finn says. “You set this up, and you obviously don’t wanna get caught talking to us, and there are stormtroopers on this station right now. We deserve to know your end of it.”
“My end of it is that I know every type that comes through here,” Laask says. “I’ve been here long enough to spot all of them at first glance. But you’re different. You don’t make sense, none of you. No, you’re something new, something I can use.”
“We’re not here to help you take over from Obriss,” Poe says. “If you want to replace him, do it on your own. We don’t work with slavers.”
Laask’s expression twists. He moves quickly, driving Poe back, Rey and Finn stepping in to bracket him. Laask jabs all three forefingers at Poe’s chest and leans down into his face.
“Now you listen here,” Laask says, rumbling and rasping. “I want nothing from those Empire-loving freaks and their toy soldiers. I remember the last Empire. The deals Obriss has made are on his head. He’s already killed this place, and he’s getting desperate.”
“So you want out,” Finn guesses.
“No,” Rey says slowly, eyeing Laask. “He wants the smuggling operation.”
Laask straightens, squinting down at Rey. He almost seems impressed. “See, I knew there was something sharp about you.”
“You’re with the Black Sun,” Poe guesses. “Great.”
“Control of the smuggling’s all I’m after,” Laask says. “The rest can die with Obriss.”
“That’s some charming relativism,” Rey tells him.
“It won’t work,” Finn says. “Stop the slaving and the First Order will blow the station apart. They won’t just leave you alone, leave witnesses alive.”
“Why are they paying Obriss at all?” Rey asks. “They could just take everyone, the whole station. Obriss and his guards can’t stop them.”
“But there’d be no more after that,” Finn says. “Not from here. There are lots of places like this, but finding new ones is always a risk.”
Poe nods, grim. “This way they get what they want and no alarms go up. No colonies going dark or governments demanding to know why their citizens are being abducted. It all goes on quietly, with people nobody will miss.”
“And Obriss makes money,” Rey says tightly. “Selling people to be used and thrown away.”
Finn’s jaw clenches. “Well we’re not letting him get away with it. Right? Tell me we’re not.”
“No,” Poe agrees. “We’re not.”
“You want him stopped,” Laask says, “and I want him out of my way. Mutual goals.”
Poe nods at Finn. “You heard what he said. You can’t run the station if you won’t cooperate with the First Order.”
“And we won’t help you do that,” Finn stresses, still looking wound tight, his jaw showing knotted muscle.
“Easy enough to re-establish the smuggling at a new base,” Laask shrugs. “Plenty of hidden corners in the Outer Rim. I can even expand.”
“And what happens to the other prisoners?” Rey asks.
“They can run or join up as they like,” Laask says, waving a dismissive hand. Not his priority. Poe unwinds his fists, palms pressing hard on the outsides of his thighs. “A lot of them are smugglers already, even more who just go where the credits are. No percentage for me in keeping them locked up.” His attention goes from Poe to Finn to Rey and back. “Help me get it done, and you’ll have a way off this station at the end of it.”
“How?” Poe demands. “‘Cause if it involves trusting you to fly us somewhere...”
“Obriss has a shuttle,” Laask says.
“A shuttle,” Poe repeats.
“It’s docked to Administration right now. It’s no use to me – too small for the cargo, not even worth much. But it’s yours, free and clear, once we’re through.” Laask smiles enough to show a few teeth, most of them sharp.
A long look goes between Poe, Finn and Rey, Laask watching them with a slight curve still left to his mouth. Rey nods, then Finn.
“What about the guards?” Poe finally says, having to pick one specific concern. “They’re armed, we’re not.”
“Stop Obriss and you stop the guards,” Laask says. “They’re droids, basic programming, controlled from his office.”
“Droids,” Finn echoes.
“The machine shop,” Rey says. “You’ve been fixing them.”
“Like I said,” Laask tells her, “not my setup.”
“There’s enough of them to do a lot of damage,” Poe says.
“But they’re still outnumbered by the prisoners,” Finn points out.
“Another riot?” Rey asks, frowning. Poe winces inwardly, remembering Idri.
“More like an uprising,” Finn says. He catches Poe’s eye. “We can draw the guards out while you go after Obriss.” Then to Laask, “How many other people can you talk to, ones you think will fight?”
“Won’t matter once they seal us off and vent us,” Laask says.
“I can rig it so the doors won’t close once they open,” Rey says. “Obriss won’t decompress his own section.”
Laask looks between them, fingers tugging the tufts of whitish hair below his mouth. “Enough,” he finally says to Finn. “I can get enough to put up a fight, and the rest might just join in, but only if those doors stay open, or Obriss will suffocate the lot of us.”
“All right,” Poe says, holding up a hand. “So if we can distract the guards, if we can keep those doors open, and if we can get to Obriss, we’ll have a clear path onto the shuttle.” He stares at Laask. “Say we do this, what are the chances you pull a double-cross on us?”
“If it was you I wanted gone,” Laask says, mouth quirking again, “you’d be gone.”
More quiet. More eye contact between the three of them.
Two lives, Poe thinks. Please just these two lives, if not his own, if nothing else. It’d all be worth it then, even if they didn’t forgive him for it.
“We go free,” he says. “Anyone else who wants to leave goes too, Black Sun or not.”
Laask’s brow tilts. “What’s a horde of criminals mean to you anyway?”
“People,” Poe counters. “People who deserve a better end than what they’ll get here, no matter what they’ve done.”
That gets him a long stare in return, and he doesn’t blink. Then Laask barks a scraping kind of laugh. “Tharen, is it? Just another smuggler and his accomplices?”
Poe ignores that, says, firm as he can, “Yes or no?”
They’re in the turn now, accelerating all the while, no way out but through, no looking back until they hit daylight.
Laask gives another pleased huff, and drops his chin once. “First Order’ll be jumping away before lights out,” he tells them. “Move as soon as you reach your next details, all of you.” He nods at Finn. “There’s a few Black Sun down in supply, they’ll get you where you need to go.” On to Rey. “Don’t foul up with those doors unless you want to be sealed in a section with no air. I can open them, but not for long, and it won’t work more than once.”
“I won’t need it to,” Rey says, earning that near-impressed look again.
“And you don’t hesitate once you get close to Obriss,” Laask tells Poe, pointing a finger his way. “Or you’ll have to watch him escape in that shuttle you’ll be needing.”
Poe expels his breath, swallowing against a sharp weight, picking up determined glances from Finn and Rey. Laask steps past them, opens the door, and leads them back to the common area before he washes his hands of them again.
There are more empty seats. People are gathered in clumps with their eyes down on their trays, haggard ghosts avoiding the guards with a perpetual flinching. Some have given up their rations to be let in with one group or another. Almost no one’s talking.
They sit in a row facing away from as much of the room as they can, Poe with Rey and Finn to either side. His meal sticks in his throat even as he washes it down with his entire water ration.
“You know we can’t trust him,” Finn says as soon as it’s mostly safe to talk.
Finishing her food, Rey says, “We can trust him to do what’s in his own interest.”
“If it doesn’t work, or he springs something on us,” Poe says, “do whatever you need to do. Once it starts, don’t let anything slow you down until you’re on that shuttle.”
He’ll try and get Idri out with them, Yadda too, anyone else he thinks they can trust in close quarters. The Resistance can send a larger transport and make sure no one’s left behind by the time the First Order realise they’ve lost their foothold. No way of knowing if that missing supply ship just stayed clear or if it was driven off. Or worse. If not then the Resistance may well already know about the First Order operating here. But they can’t wait on that. They’ve waited too long already and gotten nothing for it. The prison, himself, it’s all become unsustainable.
Finn bumps his knee under the table, shaking Poe out of the tired spiral in his head. Finn leaves his knee there, just a faint pressure, and Poe makes the attempt to smile, to steady his hands. Rey presses her arm against his on his other side, elbow to wrist.
Poe glances around and tries to believe this is the last time they’ll need to sit in this room, then leans close to the others and shuts everything else out.
It’s dark for barely more than an hour when the lights come back up again.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Finn says, the first one on his feet. Poe pushes his fingers against the corners of his eyes, blinking as he looks around. Other prisoners are slowly standing, stepping up to the bars and peering at the doors, expecting the worst.
“No guards,” Rey says quietly.
“I don’t like this,” Poe mutters.
The door opens at one end, and instead of a guard a green-skinned Twi’lek woman comes through, walking quick and purposefully, setting off confused voices as she goes. It’s clear she’s coming for them before she stops at their cell. She has a dark stare that goes right to Poe’s spine and a wicked-looking scar running across her chin. There’s a guard’s blaster in her one hand and a stun baton in the other.
“Belea,” Finn says. Not surprised, Poe doesn’t think.
“It’s happening now, and you need to move,” she tells them. Then she levels the blaster and takes out the locking mechanism. A hard tug opens the door, bars clanking, metal whining. The muttering around them turns to angry shouts and demands and pleas for her to open the other cells.
“What happened?” Poe asks as he steps out with Finn and Rey at his back, danger clearing the lethargy from his mind if not his body.
“Obriss knows,” she says shortly. “We’re getting to as many of our people as we can.”
“We’re not leaving everyone except ‘your people’ in these cages,” Poe tells her, imagining guards walking through, blasting indiscriminately between the bars, or explosions spreading through the station, or the cellblocks deliberately exposed to space.
“You want them, you get them out,” Belea says. “This’ll do it.” She hands him the stun baton and heads back the way she came, ignoring reaching hands and desperate voices all the way to the door, raising the blaster and glancing around the corner before she leaves.
“What do we do?” Finn asks. “The plan’s blown.”
“We could go after Obriss ourselves, and forget Laask,” Rey says to Poe. “You know the way.”
Poe can’t say he isn’t tempted. It’s burning in him, the intensity of just how much he hates this place, every wall and bolt of it, fire where there was ice before, threatening to empty him out. He looks around, at grasping hands and hopeless faces, and damps it down.
“I’ll go for Obriss,” he says. He hands Finn the stun baton. “Still think you can get a little revolt going?”
“Oh sure, why not,” Finn says.
Poe faces Rey. “Can you do anything with those doors now?”
“If Laask hasn’t already used the codes, I can,” she says. “But it’ll take time, and we don’t even know where he is.”
Sounds start to reach them over the clamour from the cells. Shouting. Blaster fire. Dully resounding thumps of impact.
“I’m guessing that’s him,” Poe says. “I’ll go the other way, get into the ducts. We’ll meet in the middle once the doors are open, and then take that shuttle out of here.” He’ll need to find Idri, break her out.
A sharper, louder sound goes off, followed by a heavier thud, faint rumbling coming up through the floor. Everything goes quiet for a second, inside and outside their section. Then it all resumes, louder than before, a higher pitch of chaos.
“Grenade,” Finn mutters lowly like a curse, looking in the direction of the noise.
“Probably a power cell on overload,” Rey adds.
They look between each other, out of time, the din of things coming apart getting closer. Words rise up in Poe’s airway, almost staggering him. Things he wants them to know, and no time for any of it, not to mention selfish, leaving them with that right now.
He lays a hand on both their shoulders, a quick, tight grip. He says, “Get going,” and starts running before he changes his mind, not trusting himself enough to look back.
The corridors are a disaster. The walls are scarred, broken panelling hanging down at off-angles, some inner machinery that’s taken hits coughing out sparks onto the floor. Everything reeks of smoke and heated metal. Reckless, stupidly reckless, firing wild on a station that’s barely supporting them already, with so little between them and vacuum.
Poe runs faster, through the common area, passing one body and then two, both facedown. He doesn’t slow, not noticing much more than scorched jumpsuits and the unmistakable stillness, a quick hit of meat-burning stink. More Black Sun, he assumes, working with Laask. He wonders who tipped off Obriss, then decides it doesn’t matter.
His body resists the pace, stiff and exhausted and kept going too long with not enough fuel. His side burns and he has to slow, breaths coming sharp and painful. Poe grits his teeth and keeps on heading for the open duct that’ll get him where he needs to be. Not far, he just needs to keep moving, one more section and he’ll know where to go, can’t turn around, can’t think about what might be happening behind him. His heart is a bomb exploding over and over.
A guard steps around the corner, armour dented and its helmet showing a spidering crack in the faceplate. Poe throws himself to the side, reflexes too slow, limbs sluggish. The blaster bolt zips past him, almost skims his shoulder, hits the wall. He rolls, coming up inside the reach of the guard’s arm, knocks the blaster aside, trying to get his hand in the join under the helmet and yank out something, anything vital. The guard’s free hand punches him low in the side and Poe doubles over, knocked back, blinded for an instant. The blaster comes up again.
A huge white-furred hand grips the guard by the helmet, talons digging in, and slams it back into the wall once, twice, three times. There’s a loud and inorganic crack above the crunch of breaking plasteel and the low, reverberating thuds. The blaster falls to the floor, and so does the guard. Its fingers twitch, and from inside the crushed helmet, dark smoke trails up.
Yadda stands over it, turns to Poe and chirps high and loud, makes a sign he can’t understand.
“Where’s Idri?” he asks, pointless but not able to help it, vision still throwing coloured specks. “Idri, Yadda. Where?”
“I’m here,” Idri says, and he wheels, finds her stepping up behind him, almost doubles over again, exhales and forces himself upright.
“Thanks for the help,” he says. “But you shouldn’t be out here. How did you get away?”
“Yadda,” Idri says with an explanatory wave at the crumpled guard. “We were hiding, and then we saw you coming this way. Most of the guards are on the other side of the cells, where people are still fighting. Did you know they’re droids?”
Poe flinches on Finn and Rey’s behalf, a fresh cold rush of fear hitting his veins before he makes himself cling to still fighting. “I’m going to stop this,” he tells her. “But I need to get back where I was yesterday, to the duct.”
Idri looks up at him, mouth pinched. Working out his chances without her, maybe. “This way,” she says, and takes off running, Yadda keeping up at a fast walk. Poe inhales through his teeth, hand kneading at his side where the shooting pain hasn’t faded. He snatches the blaster from the floor and runs to catch up.
Around another corner, down more corridor, Yadda’s white bulk a blur ahead of him as he swallows acid, chest on fire. Past more fight-damaged walls, a shattered light, a shorted-out and discarded stun baton. Acrid smoke hanging around triggers an inane thought that the air scrubbers are broken again.
Then in a flash Poe recognises where he is, like breaking through a tree line. He stands underneath the duct, looking up at it before he turns back to the two of them, lungs heaving.
“Idri,” he says, steeling himself between gulps of soured air, “I need you to do something else now. I need you to go find one of my friends; her name’s Rey, she needs your help getting some of the doors open.”
“What about you?” Idri asks.
“I’m gonna go make sure we have a way out of here,” he says. “All of us.”
He’s not sure if she believes him, but she seems like she wants to. Poe knows the feeling.
“To go where?” she demands then.
“Wherever you want,” Poe says as earnestly as he can. “I’m a pilot. You can come with me and my friends, or I’ll take you and Yadda anywhere you want to go. I promise.”
Idri bites her lip, eyes boring into him. She puts her hand on Yadda’s arm and starts to head the other way. “We’ll find your friend,” she tells him. “But be careful, Poe.”
He nods, all he can do, tosses the blaster into the duct and gets ready to force his body up after it. He pauses, calls out to Idri as he suddenly remembers. He dredges up a smile and directs it down the corridor as Idri spins to look his way.
“You’re very brave,” he tells her.
“I know,” she says, smiling back. “So are you.”
Poe watches her slip around a corner, Yadda’s shadow trailing behind, braces his hands on the lip of the duct and pulls. Not dwelling on his history of promises in this place, or what those sounds he can hear might mean. Not thinking about the next day. Just about putting his hands down one after the other, pushing away ache after pain. Not stopping. Crawling for the light.
It’s all the same confined spaces, the sharp angles and inconsistent life support. All the visible differences are outside, through the hatches and the grilles.
Pushing himself forward, Poe gets more glimpses of charred panels, more smoke hanging in the air. More bodies, all in grey, scattered like fistfuls of dull coins. They’ve been shot with blasters and burned with stun batons and some of them just beaten until they must’ve stopped moving. There’s an occasional guard among them, blaster hits pockmarking their armour, clawed-through limbs with wiring spraying out from them.
An exit point with no hatch on it leaves Poe looking down at three prisoners trying to take out a guard with lengths of pipe they’ve ripped free from somewhere. They pass under him, prisoners taking swings but still being herded to a dead end, the guard disarmed but still advancing, unconcerned as the pipes rebound off its helmet. Poe rolls onto his side, extends his hand through the hatch with his pilfered blaster in it, and lets off three shots. Two take the guard in the back, one in the head. The guard goes down, but Poe’s too busy edging through the next length of duct to see it happen.
Administration is a soft yellow shine through the hatch grille he opens, looking down and seeing no one, hearing nothing. He’s put enough walls and doors between him and the real fighting that it’s all blocked out, is what he reminds himself as he twists inside the duct, gets his feet out first and drops to the floor.
Walking corridors where the metal still shines, where the lights are all working perfectly, where the doors haven’t had their controls removed, Poe can feel the hot anger climbing from his gut again, red in his vision.
Once it’s abandoned, Poe’s going to get permission to bring a squadron back and reduce this station to glowing vapour.
Taking another turn, expecting more guards, blaster held up and his back close to the wall, Poe sees the airlock the First Order was using, sealed and with empty space showing through a tiny square viewport. That makes him freeze for a second, two, staring at the little patch of dark dusted with stars, aware of his heart racing.
He looks down the corridor, and there’s another airlock, green pressure indicators on its control panel. A sign above the far door marks it as the stationmaster’s office. It’s open, and there’s brighter light spilling out onto the corpse that’s lying across the threshold, not in a jumpsuit.
Poe gets down the corridor in quick, overhasty steps, flattens his back against the wall by the doorway. The body belongs to a human man, red hair and beard, his richly blue-and-white clothes ruined by four blaster hits, all in his back. Poe’s never actually seen Stationmaster Obriss before.
He rounds the doorway, stepping past what’s left of Obriss and levelling the blaster. The office is a wide rectangular room, with a desk to his left and the wall opposite the door lined with displays fixed above a row of computer consoles that cast a blue tint across the ceiling.
“I really hope I don’t look surprised,” he says.
“You could try saying thank you,” Laask tells him, one hand casually braced against the console behind him as he turns. There’s a blaster sitting on the next console over. “Since I did your job for you.”
Poe doesn’t lower his arm. “I’d be more grateful if you’d done your job instead.”
“Couldn’t be helped,” Laask says. “It wasn’t ever going the way you wanted.”
Poe raises the blaster until it’s in line with Laask’s impassive expression. “So that’s why you gave us up to Obriss?”
Laask gives the barest hint of a shrug. His hand moves slightly further. “Needed the diversion. You’ve done better than I expected, I’ll give you that. Smart of Belea to kick the whole thing off early – I almost didn’t get here before Obriss revoked my clearances and ran.”
“Belea.” Who runs the supply detail, Finn said. “I thought you were all Black Sun.”
“Being Black Sun hasn’t done me much good,” Laask says, composure slipping for a moment, hands twitching. “Years on this station. My life. My arm. All to watch some Twi’lek runt replace me? So that slug Obriss can throw it all to the First Order?”
Poe nods at the door behind him. “Then why stay? Just get out, start again. You’re not dead yet.”
Laask shakes his head, sharp, real anger on his face now. “I’m getting what I’m owed, and I’m making sure there’s nothing here that leads back to me.”
“That’s not gonna happen,” Poe tells him, bringing his other hand up to steady the blaster. “So what now? Gonna offer me another deal?”
“Would you take it?” Laask asks. “I have the shuttle. I can still let you off this miserable scrapheap. Just you, right now.”
“Can’t say I care for that idea,” Poe tells him, and Laask shrugs again, hand still moving.
“Hope I don’t look surprised,” Laask says as his hand meets the blaster and his arm swings up and Poe squeezes the trigger, squeezes it again. A third time.
Poe stands there breathing hard as Laask folds face-first to the floor, as smoke drifts up from Laask’s jumpsuit and the flesh under that, as the silence in the room buries him. There’s what could be nausea or could be anger or could be a sob clogging up his throat, his body right there and his mind gone off somewhere else, refusing to absorb anything.
Alarms snap him out of it, a blaring two-tone warning, and the locked-down console Laask was covering says it’s going to take another twelve minutes to finish completely decompressing the station.
Less than twelve minutes.
He runs out of the office with its two corpses and past the airlock with its waiting shuttle, down the corridors, overshooting the hatch he came through until he remembers the section doors and Laask being the one with the codes and turns around.
The alarm is deafening inside the ducts. Poe falls out, missing the blaster and with red on his palms where he’s scraped them, sweat in his eyes despite the cold. He hits the floor hard and needs to reach out to the wall to stand, trying to keep counting seconds while blood pounds in the backs of his eyes.
He sees Rey first as he comes around an intersection, almost tripping on the body of a prisoner. Rey’s got two of the floor panels up near the section door and her arms in the machinery up to her elbows, Idri sat on the side of the opening with a fierce frown on her face and Yadda standing by Idri’s shoulder, her fur matted with ashy streaks.
There are three downed guards in the corridor, but a lot more bodies in grey jumpsuits. None of them are Finn.
“Poe,” Rey says seeing him, leaping up and grabbing him by the shoulders, putting a hand on his face where he’d cut it in the ducts. “Are you okay?”
“We need those doors open,” he says, fingers tight on her arms. “And where’s Finn?”
“I know we do,” Rey says. “I’ve got them set to lock in place once they open. Finn’s trying to get everyone into the sections that haven’t decompressed yet, but Poe, this the farthest one we can reach and we still haven’t seen Laask.”
“He’s not coming,” Poe says, and she reads it perfectly, whatever’s on his face.
“Right,” she says, looking aside towards the opened floor, nods to herself. “I can still do it.”
“Before the decompression hits us?”
Rey’s eyes snap back to him, and now it’s Poe reading what’s on her face. He lets go of her as she moves quickly back to the door, grabbing tools again.
He catches Idri’s eye, says over the alarm, “Laask locked out the computers. If you get to them, can you stop the venting?”
“I think so,” she says, transferring her frown his way. “But the air will run out in here before I break the encryption.”
“Not if we get the doors open,” he tells her.
“I can do it,” Rey says to Idri, and Idri looks at her, then nods, standing up.
Idri turns to Yadda and puts a hand on her chest. “Protect our friends,” she says, and runs down the corridor and past the turn Poe just took.
“If we run out of time,” Poe says to Rey, “we’ll have to start getting people into Administration through the ducts.”
“That won’t buy us very long,” Rey says, not looking up. “How big is that shuttle?”
“Not big enough,” Poe tells her flatly. Not for all the prisoners, even if their numbers are shrinking, and he knows he’ll never be able to force Finn and Rey into those ducts and onto the ship anyway, that there’s no argument that would do it. He glances down at Rey, minutes away from another broken promise.
A dirty grey tide of prisoners suddenly rolls through the corridor behind them, Finn and Belea at the front, blasters in their hands. Belea points down the intersection, shouting orders about watching for more guards, and some of the group splits off.
Finn makes a beeline for Poe and pulls him roughly into a hug that Poe returns after a moment or two of chest-cracking relief that numbs his limbs.
“About time,” Finn says near his ear, and Poe can’t talk, physically can’t work the signals to get his voice out of him. He tightens his arms. Finn’s breath washes up against his neck as he says, “Yeah, you too.”
“Nice uprising,” Poe tells him when they move apart, still a little winded. “What’d you tell them?”
“The truth,” Finn says. “Figured it was the one thing they hadn’t heard. I think they’re all Belea’s people now though.”
“Not that this isn’t touching,” Belea says from near the door, “but we’re a few minutes from asking for volunteers.”
“Rey?” Finn says, stepping away. Poe swallows hard and rubs at his neck.
“I’m trying,” Rey says shortly, leaning over the opening in the floor almost up to her shoulders now, sparks flickering from whatever she’s doing.
“Try faster,” Belea tells her. “Unless you want to be first.”
Finn steps between her and Rey before she gets any closer. Yadda does the same. Belea scoffs, then turns with a flick of her head-tails and goes back to issuing orders to the prisoners. Her people, apparently.
Poe walks up to the door and puts his palm on it. Strong alloy, too thick, and there’s not enough time to blast through even if the ricochets didn’t kill them before the air thins to nothing. He glances Rey’s way. “Hate to rush you.”
In a frantic-quick motion Rey gets to her feet. Poe steps away from the door, then turns back to Rey when it doesn’t open. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s not working,” she says. “There’s no way without the codes.”
“Wait, what?” Finn asks, but Rey shakes her head, staring at the door.
“There’s one more thing I can try,” she says.
“Do it,” Poe and Finn say in unison, but she’s already moving.
They watch as Rey closes her eyes, shoulders dropping in a deep breath. She puts her hand up, palm parallel with the door, frowning, her head tilting.
“What’s she doing?” Belea demands, coming back over. Finn gestures her quiet.
Rey’s jaw clenches, concentration tightening her expression by degrees. A few steps away, Finn’s whispering something Poe can’t hear over the alarm, whether to himself or Rey he doesn’t know.
“I can see it,” Rey says, her voice strained, hand moving upwards. There’s a clunk, then another. “I can see it,” she says again, stronger. Her eyes open, something like a smile pulling at her mouth, like she’s somewhere else completely. She moves her hand again, eyes narrowing sharply, and the door opens slowly, mechanisms grinding.
There’s a faint pressure shift that Poe feels in his inner ear, and air stirs in a whisper through the section, moving the hairs on his nape, whistling as it’s pulled from under the door.
Behind them, all the prisoners have gone silent.
The door in the section up ahead opens. Then the one ahead of that, a long curved line of open corridor slowly appearing, right into Administration.
“I don’t believe it,” Belea says.
Rey’s standing with her feet braced apart and her arm outstretched, hand trembling in the air and held almost higher than her head now. There’s sweat running down her face, staining her jumpsuit at the collar, but she’s smiling.
“Oh, believe it,” Finn says, and laughs. Even with the alarm, with voices starting up and doors groaning until they lock open on their tracks, it’s the only sound anywhere. Poe notices the muscles in his face aching before he’s aware that he’s grinning.
Rey stumbles forward as her arm drops to her side. Finn moves to hold her up at the same time Poe does, the three of them suddenly a jumble of arms and tripping feet and all of them laughing now, instantly drunk with it.
Finn’s hand cups the back of Poe’s neck, fingers under his collar, and then Finn’s kissing him, long enough for Poe to think Yes and to accept just how much trouble he’s in, long enough for him to kiss back. He goes along when Rey tugs at his chin to turn his head, bright eyes still showing the laughter as she gives him the same treatment, fingers holding him in place until she turns to Finn.
Poe drops his forehead to Rey’s shoulder, all their shaking passing through him while they prop him up, and he loves them and he’d die for them and he’d hand them his heart or his life for the asking, no better use he could imagine for either one.
Behind them, someone says the word Jedi as the decompression alarm cuts out.
Idri’s voice takes its place. “Got it! We have life support again! Is everyone okay down there?”
The cheer goes through the entire corridor like a brushfire as the three of them stand there, beyond all endurance, their heads bent together, breathing into the same space.
“Can we go home now?” Finn asks weakly, and Rey huffs with her eyes closed.
“Yeah, buddy,” Poe says, voice reduced to a croak, an arm around them both. “Yeah, we can go home.”
“You’re sure you don’t want us to get you a transport?” Poe asks Belea as she comes back to the airlock.
“Completely,” she says, rolling her eyes. “The less I have to deal with you Republic types, the better. Now that we have comm, thanks to your slicer friend, we’ll make our own way.”
“Don’t take too long,” Finn tells her. “The First Order won’t.”
Belea waves a hand in acknowledgment. “Just long enough to clear the cargo bays. And we’ll be leaving the First Order a nice little parting gift in case they ever come back here, so you should probably steer clear.” She looks Poe over. “So I think I owe you one.”
“For knocking off your competition?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “Because he didn’t really give me much choice.”
“Laask was never my competition,” she says coolly, that pit of a stare in place again. “But he has given us a good idea.”
“Your own smuggling ring,” Rey says, shaking her head.
“Just don’t name it after us,” Finn tells Belea. She smirks and pats him on the cheek.
“If you ever find yourself needing work...” she says hand brushing his shoulder as she lowers it and walks casually back down the corridor.
Rey turns to Finn. “You don’t need work,” she says.
Finn nods. “I really don’t.”
“No,” Poe says.
They pass through the airlock into the shuttle, and none of them look back.
As he heads for the cockpit, Idri intercepts him, Yadda stooping behind her with the low slant of the hull.
“Yadda has something for you,” she says. She makes the Borrow gesture at Yadda, who holds out her hand and uncurls her fingers to show a small datachip cradled in her palm.
When Poe looks up at Yadda’s face and then to Idri, blankly, Idri tells him, “It was Vamma’s. Yadda borrowed it from his cell, but she wants you to have it. As a thank you.”
Poe looks back at the datachip. Opens his mouth. Closes it again.
“Poe?” Idri asks, peering up at him. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he says, once he can. He scrubs at his face. “Yeah, I’m—I’m okay.” He plucks the chip off Yadda’s palm with unsteady fingers, meets the black eyes blinking down at him. “Thank you,” he says, making the sign for it since it’s one he knows, getting a high chirp and a nod in return.
He drops into the pilot’s seat with boneless legs.
“Is everything all right?” Rey asks from the seat beside him, finishing the last of the pre-flight check. Poe nods, pocketing the chip as Finn steps into the space between the chairs, a hand on the back of each. Rey’s still watching him. “Are you sure you’re good to fly?”
“He looks like he’s about to make lightspeed all by himself,” Finn says, and Poe laughs, or cries, he doesn’t know.
“I’ll tell you later,” Poe says, and takes the yoke in one hand, hitting the docking controls with the other, disconnecting them smoothly from the station. He could be in much worse shape and still fly. It’s what he was made to do.
Stars fill the canopy, and he looks over at the two of them. “You probably won’t believe it.”
Poe aligns them with their jump vector, feeling the hum of the ship pulsing through him like a living thing, like a part of him, along with the two people next to him. He grins, giddy and helpless, pulls the initiator, and the universe vanishes around them.
He’s still somehow on his feet after they land, passing through the people who pour out to meet the shuttle, the three of them getting applause and hands passing over their backs and an outpouring of relief.
Poe’s pulled into hugs by the rest of the Resistance pilots, who tell him they were about a day from staging a mutiny to come and get them, that their contact on the supply ship tried to run a cordon of First Order TIEs and barely made it out to raise the alarm, and that if he tries to volunteer for anything else any time soon they’ll shoot him themselves. Poe doesn’t protest, and he wisely says nothing to anyone about any plans to steal half the starfighter corps.
The three of them all vouch for Idri and Yadda with increasing insistence until they’re given their own quarters, since they won’t be separated, with no guard and as much food as they care to ask for once the medics have checked them out. Idri barely notices any of that discussion, her head tipped up to the cloudy blue sky as she turns in circles on the tarmac.
He’s maybe two steps into the base before BB-8 barrels into him, chattering and whirring in binary faster than Poe or Rey can understand, then looping all around and between them, knocking into their legs until they have to stop. Poe crouches, grinning, and puts his hand on BB-8’s side. The rapid chirruping slows into a lecture.
“I know, I know,” Poe says. “You told me so. And you’re right, it was a huge mistake. Tell you what, I won’t go on any more missions where I can’t bring you along, okay buddy?”
They’re ordered to go through the infirmary themselves as soon as they get away from the crowd, and they drop onto a table, sitting shoulder to shoulder and being hummed at by doctors and medical droids. There’s nothing surprising, even if the final assessments aren’t great, and they agree to the strict instructions for food and rest with no arguments and matching overtired smiles.
It’s an unreal blur, all of it, from the landing to his quarters, and Poe drags himself through the refresher, cleans up as fast and best as he can, getting rid of the beard growth and blinking at himself in the mirror for a disoriented few seconds until BB-8 trills and nudges the back of his calf.
He pulls on the first clean clothes he can find that aren’t grey anywhere, then heads in the direction of the general’s office, chewing his second ration bar and carrying another in his pocket. BB-8 keeps rolling along beside him, still putting in the occasional complaint about being left behind.
General Organa meets him at the door and points him to a chair. “Before you fall over,” she says, taking the one on her side of the desk. She pushes a glass of water closer to him and assesses him for a moment. “You’re sure you’re in the shape to do this right now, Poe?”
Poe nods. He’d had the medics give him something so he could. “I’d prefer not to wait, General, if that’s all right.”
“It’s fine with me,” she says, “but then I haven’t just broken out of prison. Somehow I doubt it’s gotten any more enjoyable than what I remember.”
“Probably not,” he admits, with a small smile.
She leans forward, folding her arms on the desk. “Poe, tell me honestly, are you all right?”
He pauses, trying to put together an answer, not wanting to lie to her. “I will be,” is what he settles on, and after another few seconds of looking at him, she sighs.
“Take your time,” she says, settled in behind the desk, “and tell me everything you can.”
Poe nods, letting out a breath. He leans against the chair back and starts talking, careful to get it all in the right order, only leaving out the things he can’t bring himself to say, not to Leia Organa, and they aren’t relevant to the mission anyway.
Her expression gets progressively darker once he explains the First Order’s involvement, her eyes leaving him to make quick notes on a datapad, and Poe takes those intervals to reach for the water, to get air into his lungs. Once he starts repeating himself the general cuts him off. Poe wipes his damp palms on his thighs and waits, blinking gritty eyes.
“Well,” she says concisely, sitting back. “Well. You completed your mission, which doesn’t begin to cover what you had to go through for it. Understand, if we’d known what we were really sending you into—”
“It was worth it, General,” Poe says quickly, leaning forward, hands on his knees.
“It was,” she says, holding up a hand. “I won’t insult you by pretending otherwise.” She plucks the datachip up off her desk. “What you’ve brought back is the most valuable intelligence on First Order operations we’ve had since Starkiller Base, and I’m proud of the three of you for getting it here.” She lets him absorb that for a moment. “That doesn’t mean we need to dismiss the price, or that we should.”
The price in lives and casualties harder to account for. In the things you find when you can’t run from yourself, and in who you are afterwards. Courage. Courage is the price for hope, or maybe its source.
It’s an effort to meet her eyes, with all their understanding looking back at him. “No,” he says, a little hoarse. “But... so long as it wasn’t for nothing, I know we’d all do it again.”
“I have no doubt,” she says, drawing herself up. “Now, you’re officially on medical leave, understand? I’ll leave your return to duty to your best judgement, with your word that you’ll use it and not climb back into the cockpit tomorrow.”
“Yes, General,” Poe says. And then, “Unless it’s a matter of real urgency.”
She accepts that with a huff and a flick of her eyes toward the ceiling. “Flyboys,” she mutters, by way of dismissal. “All the same, every one of you.”
He finds Finn and Rey waiting for him not far down the hallway from the general’s office.
They’ve changed and cleaned up, same as him, and Poe thought they’d be off somewhere together, finally getting some rest, but he can’t stifle the swell of relief at seeing them, at knowing where they are and that they’re okay, even if they’re half a galaxy from Kedai Station now. He’s not convinced it’ll wear off. Like a lot of things he can’t stifle.
“You’re coming with us,” Finn informs him.
Poe raises his eyebrows. “Who made you the shore police?”
“General Organa,” Rey says with a smile. “She told us you were about to be debriefed and we should come and collect you afterwards.”
“Collect me,” he says, a little affronted, pleased behind that. He glances down at BB-8, who chirps, lens eye aimed up at him. “Conspirator,” Poe says, nudging BB-8 with his foot. BB-8 chirps again, unrepentant.
“Come on,” Finn says. “Don’t make us hurt you.”
“We will,” Rey nods.
He rolls his eyes, laughing a little, and falls into step with them, BB-8 following behind. “Is it classified or can I know where we’re going?”
“You’ll see,” Rey tells him, her shoulder bumping his, Finn’s hand on his back.
They walk through the base complex, all of them nodding as they pass people still congratulating them on the success of their mission, and Poe wonders if it’s giving the others the same dreamlike feeling, if they’re having to try as hard as he is not to baulk at familiar things. If the closer nudges on both sides of him are just for his benefit.
The door to their room opens, same as every other on the base except for the two standard slender beds that have been pushed together, except for the things around the room that belong to both of them, a familiar jacket and a flight helmet retrieved from Jakku, shelves of plants and piles of clothes, odds and ends of machinery. Except for the way something in Poe’s chest creaks as he inhales.
“We’re all tired,” Finn says, understatement. Everything the medics gave Poe wore off back in the debriefing. “We figured you might actually get some sleep if someone was there to make sure.”
“I was going to,” he protests. It’s the truth. He just wanted to check on Idri, and maybe look into the hangar to see his fighter, make sure there’s been no other action while they were gone.
“Come on,” Rey says, believing him about as much as Finn, and he gives up objecting somewhere between Finn’s hand wrapping around his waist and Rey guiding him by the shoulder as she shuts off the lights, until finally there they are, three people on two beds made for one.
With Poe on the inside near the wall, Finn next to him and Rey on the far side, all of them leaning into each other, he thinks he understands the thought behind it, even if there are no bars, even if they’re alone and safe. He’d thank them, but it wouldn’t come out steady, too overwrought, everything pushed up near the surface.
“BB-8,” Rey prompts, and Poe lifts his head enough to watch BB-8 roll to the middle of the floor, burbling faintly, and then there’s the blue glow of BB-8’s holoprojector, and the air flickers to life with stars and moons and planets, all circling lazily around each other. The projection fills the space between the walls and hovers over the bed, soft shadows curling in the corners.
Air snags on its way out of Poe’s lungs like it’s on a tether. “Aw,” he says, in a lightness that’s squeezed so thin even he can’t hear it, “you guys had a whole plan and everything.”
Finn snorts, nudging his side, and Rey just smiles, looking up, eyes reflecting a passing sun.
“Thank you,” Poe says then, not much more than a whisper. Not what he wants to say. But close enough.
“Sleep,” Finn says, his hand finding Poe’s, Rey’s fitting over them as Finn lays them on his chest, the warmth carrying up Poe’s arm. Poe lets his head fall against Finn’s shoulder, slots his legs in among theirs. Some of the planets he recognises, and some are completely new.
Poe’s eyes unfocus as the galaxy revolves in front of him and Rey says quietly, “I told you we’d make it.”