Rey had thought that now they knew where Luke Skywalker was, someone would take off immediately to find him. But as it turned out, it was not that simple. First she, Chewbacca, and whatever off-duty Resistance people cared to show up spent a bit of time going over the Falcon, yanking out the garbage mods and repairing all the things that didn't work right after years of Unkar Plutt's mismanagement. It was not a small job.
"If Starkiller Base were still out there—if we hadn't just dealt the First Order a massive blow—I'd have sent someone out immediately," General Organa said when Rey asked. "But we don't need Luke immediately for military operations, and if I know anything about my brother that means he won't be coming straight back here. He may decide to train you. He may decide the Force is telling him to go off on some mission or quest on his own. He may do something completely different … but he'll probably need a ship in decent repair to do it with. A fully functional Falcon will save us all no end of grief in the long run. Besides," she said, a distant expression on her face, "Han would have wanted it that way."
Rey didn't ask her again.
She did complain to Poe about some of the parts that were being taken out and replaced—most of them had plenty of life in them, if they'd only let her refurbish them!
"Are you kidding?" Poe asked incredulously, industriously ripping out enough parts to feed a person for months. Rey couldn't quite bear to watch him do it. "You couldn't possibly get those capacitors back to anything like factory specs—too much wear on them. You'd have to baby them along, and they'd go out at exactly the worst time. Sure, they'd work okay for a tramp freighter in the back of beyond where nothing exciting is going to happen because even the pirates don't think they're worth attacking, but not in a ship that's probably going to be seeing action."
Chewie, down further into the guts of the ship, yowled something, and Rey stopped to listen. "You can keep them as spares, if you like," he said. "We won't be carrying a cargo, so there'll be room."
"I'll do that," Rey said, turning back to the panel she was re-wiring.
BB-8, working alongside her, said that the only proper fate for this whole hunk of junk was to be melted down into something entirely new. Chewie objected, and the two were drawn into an argument that Rey didn't bother following.
"So are you a mechanic?" Poe asked. "That what you did for a living on Jakku?"
"No, I'm a scavenger," Rey said. "There's a whole graveyard of ships on Jakku, and people take them apart to see what parts can be re-used, and sell them to Unkar Plutt—the junk dealer. He pays more if they're in working condition, though, so I learned early to clean and fix anything fixable."
"How'd you get into that line of work?" Poe asked. "Family trade?"
"Haven't got a family," Rey said. "Never did. Anybody can scavenge; and when I was little, some of the other scavengers would show me things, little tricks to help."
"Hang on," Poe said, emerging from the compartment his head was stuck in, "what do you mean, you never had a family? Who took care of you as a child?"
"No one," Rey said. "Unkar Plutt did, for a while, or at least he made sure I had food and water and nobody hurt me—I think he must have been paid to do so by the person who left me on Jakku. And he made sure I knew at least the basics of scavenging before he turned me off on my own."
"Left you?" Poe asked. His voice sounded strange.
"Yeah," Rey said. It was odd; she'd never told the story, in full; everyone on Jakku either knew already or didn't care, or both. "I don't remember much of my childhood, but … I was dropped on Jakku when I was, I don't know, six? Seven? Eight, maybe? I remember Unkar Plutt holding me while the ship left without me. They said my family would be back for me." She shrugged. "Nobody ever came." Her eyes burned, but the first rule of the desert was not to waste water, and she'd learned early not to cry. Besides, now that she'd finally left Jakku behind and stopped hoping they'd find her, it seemed silly.
"I'm so sorry," Poe said.
"Not your fault," Rey said, puzzled.
Poe went back to his work, and Rey did, too. Chewbacca and BB-8 had finished their project and moved on to another one elsewhere in the ship. But Poe kept asking questions about her first few years on Jakku, and the little fragments she remembered of her life before and being left there.
"Look," she said eventually, "You're obviously getting at something, so spit it out."
Poe sighed. "It's really far-fetched, and I don't want you to get your hopes up. But I just … what happened to you was really weird. I can only think of two reasons someone might take a kid to a backwater hellhole and pay for them to be taken care of, and just … leave them there. First, if there was a great danger—someone was coming for them, they were under attack, and the only hope the kid had was if they left them somewhere nobody knew anything about them. Then, the parents get killed by the great danger, and can't come back for their kid. Or second, if an enemy were to kidnap the child to distract the parents or for revenge, and puts them somewhere terrible so that they can later be revealed when it will be most damaging to the parents."
Rey considered this. "You've led a really sheltered life, haven't you," she said.
Poe laughed. "I've been all around the galaxy, fighting the First Order," he said. "I've seen every evil they've done, I wouldn't call it sheltered."
"But how much of the little evils have you seen?" Rey asked. "Not the great and terrible First Order, but all the little ways sentients can be cruel to one another? Ever gone hungry? Not just missed a meal, but in danger of starving? I have."
"And? So?" Poe said.
"I've seen people kill children to hurt their parents, but I've never seen the kind of complicated plot you describe," Rey said. "And what about parents who just … don't want to be parents? And leave, so they don't have to be?"
That was, after all, what everyone on Jakku who knew about her thought had happened. Rey had never believed it. Except late at night, when she hadn't eaten in a while, and it was dark, and the only sound was the sand blowing in the wind, against the At-At.
"Even on Jakku, there were more humane places to leave you than in a junkyard with Unkar Plutt," Poe said. "The community of Alderaanians that I was sent to meet, for example. Lor San Tekka's people. It would have taken very little time or effort to do that."
Rey shrugged. "I've spent hours trying to imagine why they did it," she said. "Waiting for them to come back and explain it to me. They never did."
"I'm sorry," Poe said again.
"Still not your fault," Rey said.
"No, but it was really terrible that you had to experience that," Poe said.
"I guess," Rey said. It hadn't much worse than a lot of other peoples' lives, on Jakku, and better than some.
They worked in silence for a while longer. Rey tallied up the value of the parts they were taking out. The Resistance was outfitting them very generously with food and water, but who knew how long they'd be out there? Rey could go without much, but Wookies had entirely different caloric needs.
"It just makes me wonder," Poe said.
"What does?" Rey asked, testing the connection in the regulator she'd just installed. If they really got into trouble, they could re-install the old parts and sell the new ones. That would feed them for a long while, she thought, reassured.
"Force sensitivity is a pretty rare thing," Poe said. "And being able to use it without training—you escaped from Starkiller and beat Kylo Ren at his own game."
"He was injured," Rey pointed out.
"And he's trained all his life to call on the Force and fight with a lightsaber and do all sorts of things with the Force," Poe pointed out. "You have none of that."
"I know how to fight with a staff, though," Rey said. "That was helpful."
"Staff's not a lightsaber," Poe said. "It just makes me wonder if you had training—even a little bit!—sometime as a child. And you don't remember your childhood, so maybe it's possible. You were left on Jakku sometime around the same time as Skywalker's training facility was destroyed by the Knights of Ren. Most of his students were adults or teens, but there were kids there, too. If someone grabbed a kid and took off in the confusion, would anyone even know they were missing? And it's not common knowledge, but my mother was a friend of Luke Skywalker, and he had a kid. They kept it quiet, for protection, but it was true. And the kid was kidnapped, not long before the Knights of Ren came to destroy the school."
"You think I'm that kid?" Rey asked, overwhelmed. It seemed far-fetched, but was it possible? Might she meet her family again, even after giving up all hope?
"Who knows?" Poe asked. "If you were Skywalker's daughter, you'd think General Organa would have noticed, but … maybe you changed a lot, as you grew up."
"I tried not to," Rey said, touching her hair, which was done in the same way it had been when she was left on Jakku.
"It's probably not true," Poe said. "There's probably some other explanation."
"Probably not," Rey agreed.
But that evening she happened to eat her dinner in the mess hall at the same time as General Organa. Even with the overwhelming choices available (fresh everything! No ration portions!), she couldn't help stealing glances at the General and wondering if Poe might be right. But the General finished her meal and left by the time Rey had gathered up her courage to ask.
She never did get around to it before the Falcon was ready and it was time to say good bye to Finn and Poe and leave to find Luke Skywalker. This, she realized, was something of a mistake, as she stood in front of a man who might be her father and held out his lightsaber to him, watching him stare at her with an emotion she couldn't read in his eyes.
How did she ask that question? Are you my father? Why didn't you come for me?
"You have a question tearing you up inside," Luke said, later. General Organa had been right; he hadn't left with her, but rather invited her to stay and learn with him, at least for now.
"Yes," Rey said.
"Why don't you ask it?"
"I'm afraid of the answer," Rey said.
"Yes," Luke said. "There are times when fear teaches us healthy caution, and times when fear traps us. That's the dangerous kind of fear. Which is this?"
"I don't know," Rey admitted. "Were there any children who died, when Ky—when the Knights of Ren attacked?"
Luke closed his eyes. "Yes. Several."
"Did any go missing? Or could they have been taken?"
"No," Luke said. "Not then. All the bodies were present and accounted for, and anyway, I felt them die." His breathing was perfectly even, but tensely so, as if only held that way by force of will. "Why do you ask?"
"I was abandoned on Jakku as a child," Rey said. "I don't remember anything before that, where I came from, my family, anything. And being strong in the Force is really rare, isn't it? And I held my own against Kylo Ren. So I wondered …"
"You wondered if you had some training as a child, if you might have been taken from the school during the attack," Luke said, nodding. "I wish I could help you find some peace, but even if I had somehow been deceived about one of the children dying … I would recognize them in the Force if I were to meet them again. No matter what else had happened, no matter how they'd grown, no matter what they had been through, I would recognize them. Force-signatures are unique, that way, if you have the skill to see them and you're looking—you'll learn that as you get more control. But I don't recognize you. I'm sorry."
"Oh," Rey said, softly. She felt like crying. Here on this world made of salt-water, what were a few drops more or less?
Luke put a hand on her shoulder, and she felt his care and concern wrapping around her like an insulating blanket on a cold desert night. There was conflict in him, she could feel it, but his compassion for her was true and easy.
FN-2187 woke up slowly, groggily, afraid he had missed morning roll call. He tried to roll out of his bunk.
Someone held him down—no armor. On them, or him. What?
"It's okay, you're okay, you're going to be fine," said a voice he didn't recognize. "Get Poe Dameron in here."
FN—Finn, that's right, Finn—opened his eyes to stare blearily at a man he didn't recognize. Wearing a uniform he didn't recognize, either. He'd defected. He was on the Resistance base, and although all previous encounters with medical attention had been painful and awful in ways he couldn't describe, somehow he knew he was safe, here. He relaxed.
"What?" he asked. Tried to, really; it didn't come out well.
"Here you go, Finn," said the man. Finn squinted. He wasn't human, but Finn didn't know what species he was. The man was holding a spoon out to him. Finn opened his mouth obediently, and felt something cold, hard, and tasteless deposited in his mouth. Ice? What?
"Just let it melt and soak into your tissues," the man said. "That should help you feel less parched, and get your throat feeling better. No, don't try to sit up—your spine is repaired, but the muscles and other tissues around it are still new and healing. We'll get you set up with a physical therapy droid right away, when Major Kalonia clears you to get up. I'm Nurse Jaco, and I'll be coordinating your care."
"Why not just a droid?" Finn asked.
"Most people respond better to organic caregivers than to droids," Nurse Jaco said. "Unless you have special nurture units with the soft, padded covers. But we don't have any of those, here."
"Oh," Finn asked. Caregivers? Nurture units? Nurse? He knew what care meant; it was when you did proper maintenance of your gear. He wasn't sure what it meant in this context. "What's your rank?" The ice chips did seem to be doing their job, because his throat was feeling better already. Ice chips. Simple and easy. Why didn't the First Order have anything like that?
"I don't have one," Nurse Jaco said. "I'm a civilian, not part of the military hierarchy." A door hissed open, and Nurse Jaco looked up. "Ah, Commander Dameron, how good to see you!"
Finn twisted his head to see Poe stride in. He couldn't see the floor, but he recognized the sound of BB-8 rolling along. "Poe," he said.
"Finn, you're looking better already," Poe said.
"He's still healing," Nurse Jaco said. "He should stay lying down, and I don't want him to talk much."
"I got it," Poe said. "I can take over the ice chips?"
"Be my guest," Nurse Jaco said, handing over a cup and spoon.
Poe spent the next half hour filling Finn in on all that had happened since he'd been in medical, including the progress on the Base's evacuation and where Rey had gone. "She's off to meet Skywalker?" Finn asked. There was a lump in his throat, and he didn't know why.
"Hey, she didn't abandon you," Poe said, holding his hand. "She spent a lot of time with you before she left, and she'll be back."
Finn hadn't been worried about that. Of course she would be back. Rey was faithful, faithful beyond reason. But he wished he were with her now, meeting Skywalker.
"Why haven't you started to teach anyone else?" Rey asked one day after dinner. "Surely there would be a way to do it that wouldn't leave you vulnerable to the Knights of Ren, again."
"Physical attack … is not the issue," Luke replied. "I'm not sure what to teach."
"You've been teaching me," Rey said. She clambered up a pile of rubble to see what was at the top of it; this old temple had lots of large spaces, almost reminding her of the Star Destroyer on Jakku.
"Only the how, and not the why." Luke sighed. "And that won't work for much longer. The Force … if one uses it thoughtlessly, carelessly, without a sound philosophical and ethical framework for how and why and when … we are so powerful, if we act in anger or fear we can do so much damage. Even thoughtlessness can be harmful. But the wrong reasons, the wrong framework, can be worse than none at all."
"And you don't know what the right framework is?" Rey asked. As she'd thought, there was another inscription, here, in that writing she couldn't read; she took out an imager and snapped a still of it, then took a rubbing as Luke had taught her to.
"My training was … very abbreviated, and most of the records of the old Jedi were lost," Luke said. "And … much of what I was taught … didn't seem to apply to the situation I found myself in. Perhaps that is true, or perhaps my understanding was incomplete."
"So were the old Jedi right, then?" Rey asked, testing her hand and footholds carefully as she descended. It had been a surprise to find she actually liked climbing, when she always had enough to eat and her next meal didn't depend on finding something worthwhile at the top.
"I don't know," Luke said. "They failed, too. That's why I came here." He indicated the ancient temple around them. "To see if—how—things had changed over time. If there was another way, a better way."
"Or, at least something that could be cobbled together out of the three different ways of thinking," Rey said, handing it to him. "Anything interesting?"
"It's a meditation, aid, I think," Luke said. "They would write proverbs and koans around the top of the wall. This is one I haven't seen before. 'Plant the seeds of rebirth, rather than the roots of destruction.'"
"What does it mean?" Rey asked.
"What do you think it means?" Luke asked.
Rey considered. This wasn't the sort of thinking she'd ever had to do before. "Planting seeds, that's farming, right?" That was fairly obvious. "And roots—again, farming. Making something grow."
Destruction, she knew. "What's 'rebirth'? How can something be born again?"
"It's a metaphor," Luke said. "Think … transformed. Made new and innocent again. Revived. Restored. Revitalized."
"So we should plant good things rather than bad? Is that what it means?"
"Exactly," Luke said, smiling at her.
"I don't farm," Rey pointed out. "You're the one who tends the garden."
"The whole thing is a metaphor," Luke said. "They don't mean literally planting. Well, maybe they did, in part; there were a lot of gardens, here. But it's also about how you live your life. The seeds are our thoughts and actions. We should do and think things that lead to rebirth, rather than towards destruction."
"That … seems rather obvious," Rey said. "I mean, if you're looking to be a good person, of course you'll do that."
"You and I both know that there are far too many people in the galaxy who aren't particularly concerned with whether or not they're a good person," Luke pointed out. "Also, it's easy to say, but often hard to do in practice."
"Yes," Rey said, thinking about how easy it would have been to sell BB-8 to Unkar Plutt, and all the destruction that would have come from that. "So how would they use it to meditate?" Luke had been teaching her to meditate to the sound of the waves; it turned out that meditation was a lot like sitting in a downed at-at, listening to the sound of the sand outside, letting it lull you and bring you out of yourself. Except that the way Luke did it, she connected to the Force, and ended up listening to it instead of the physical sounds around her.
"By repeating it over and over as they slipped into the trance, using that instead of the sound of the ocean," Luke said. "We can try it this evening, if you like. Such repetition, if you do it often enough, shapes your thinking so that the saying becomes a part of how your mind works."
"It sounds like a pretty good saying to shape it," Rey said as they walked on through the ruins. The light from the windows was fast fading, so she flipped on her light.
"Yes," Luke said, flipping on his own. "Better than the ones I was taught. Or tried to come up with on my own."
"So what was the problem with how you were taught?" Rey asked.
"The old Jedi were very concerned with attachment," Luke said. "They were suspicious of connections between people, or at least between Jedi. They thought such bonds would distract you from the Force, and even worse, lead you into passions that might lead you into the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, that was a big one."
"Well, fear can lead that way," Rey said. "Or it can lead you to … to not do something you should. I almost went back to Jakku instead of coming with Finn and BB-8, because I was afraid my family would come back and I would miss them." The corridor led them into a larger chamber, tall and wide. Rey craned her head back. There was art on the ceiling, she thought, faded like all the paintings and carvings throughout the complex, and some of the ceiling tiles had fallen, leaving gaping wounds in the art. She defused her light to a wide sweep and turned up the power so that it reached the ceiling even so.
"Are those stories?" she asked, watching the beings in robes talking and doing all manner of things together.
"Yes," Luke said. "Though, before you ask, I don't know what the stories are. Well, I may know some of them, but not well enough to match them up to the images."
"Too bad," Rey said.
"Fear is a problem," Luke said. "But the old Jedi Order were so afraid of fear—of all the passions—that they denied them, and tried to isolate themselves. The perfect Jedi would have no close relationships—no parents, no children, no close friends, no lovers—only the Force."
Rey shuddered. It sounded far too much like her time on Jakku. It was half the misery of her life, rolled up into one concept. "And they did that on purpose?"
"Yes," Luke said. "There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force. That was their mantra, their code."
"When you put it that way, it doesn't sound bad," Rey said. "Or, at least, it doesn't sound like they'd make you isolate yourself. But how could they think that being alone would help them? Yes, being around people has led to me being angry and afraid, but it's also led to every good thing in my life."
"Mine, too," Luke said. "And it wasn't a philosophical belief or a meaningful mantra that brought my father back from the Dark Side—it was my love for him, and his love for me. That relationship, that tie. I'll never know why he turned to the Dark Side in the first place, maybe it was his attachments. But even if so, they were also what led him out of it."
"So you taught that attachments were good," Rey said.
"I taught that healthy attachments were good," Luke said.
"What went wrong?" Rey asked.
"My son was stolen," Luke said, voice brimming with more emotion than Rey could name. "We were out on the Outer Rim, I was looking for Force-sensitives to bring back and train. A lot of them had fled to the Outer Rim during the time of the Empire, you see, to escape his Inquisitors. I had little Owen with me, I grew up on the Outer Rim, I knew how to handle its dangers. I thought. We were in a market, on the edge next to the small port. I was haggling for our lunch. The stall across the way sold old junk, and he started poking through it. My guard was down—it was such a pleasant little town."
His eyes glistened, but he was looking at something Rey couldn't see, grief sitting on him like a cloak. "The Force warned me, but not soon enough. There were slavers coming through, looking for children. They snatched him and were gone within seconds. I followed, but too late. I tracked them … but by the time I caught up to them, they'd already sold their cargo. I backtracked to the auction site, but the place had been destroyed by the First Order. Someone had pirated the wrong ship, out in the Unknown Territories, and sold it there, and the First Order retaliated by destroying the whole depot. There was no one left to tell me where they'd sold my son. I tried following him through the Force—it's very imprecise, and very slow, which is why I'd been using more conventional tracking means. But something … happened to him. I don't know what. I don't think he died. But our connection snapped, and I couldn't sense him, any more."
Rey shivered, the bleakness in his eyes making her feel cold. Or was it the chill that came in the evening? She couldn't tell. But she didn't want to disturb Luke's story.
"There was nothing left to do," Luke continued. "I went home, to the Jedi Academy. And found Ben gone, nobody knew where. If I had been there, with him, I might have prevented it. Instead, I spent weeks, months, searching for Owen, and failed both of them. I knew Ben was conflicted, and I left him alone. I thought it was only his own demons he had to face. I didn't know Snoke was whispering in his ear. The attack came. My students were killed. I followed Ben, tried to bring him back as I had my father. I failed."
"It wasn't your fault," Rey objected. "Ben made his own choices."
"How free could they have been, with Snoke whispering in his ear?" Luke said. "Ben has done—and continues to do—terrible things, for which his soul must bear the burden. If he can be turned back to the Light, and I hope he can, he will have to face the consequences of his actions. But I knew he was struggling, and I knew he didn't get on with any of the other students. I knew I was the only one there he had any connection for. I could have taken him with me. I thought about it, but I'd spent so much time with him, I wanted time alone with Owen, instead. If I'd known about Snoke, I would have. No, if I'd known about Snoke, I would have broken Snoke's link to him and then taken him back to his parents to heal."
Luke shook his head. "I knew there was something wrong with him, the Force fairly screamed it, but I couldn't imagine anything truly bad because I remembered him as the sweet child he had been, the one I knew and loved. My attachment to him blinded me. And my attachment to Owen kept me away when I could have kept him from falling. My attachment to Ben wasn't strong enough to loosen Snoke's hold, when I caught up to him, and his attachment to me wasn't enough to cause him to reach for the light, either. We fought; I couldn't save him, and I couldn't kill him. I left. I came here. I was … shattered."
Rey considered this. Luke sighed and turned to a side passage, leading them on. In a few minutes they came to a tunnel Rey realized, and in another ten they were back at the rooms Luke had claimed for his—now their—use.
"I don't see how the Old Jedi teachings about attachments would have made anything better, though," she said as they stowed their lights. "Somebody still had to search for Owen, and you were the best suited to it. The problem wasn't attachments, it's that there was only one of you—you couldn't be in two places at once. If the new Order was larger, if there had been others you could have sent out to find new recruits, other teachers to try to help Ben who would have been more objective, then things might have been different. But if Ben's attachment to you wasn't doing something to keep Snoke at bay, why did he wait until you were gone to leave?"
Chewbacca had been sitting in a corner, reading. "You should listen to the cub, Luke," he said. "It wasn't a lack of love that drove Ben to the Dark, nor a lack of care. A lack of knowledge, yes; if we'd known about Snoke to begin with, we'd have gone off together and found him and carved out his heart and everything would have been different then. But not caring wouldn't have made it turn out any better."
"I know," Luke said. "But I still had to heal—"
"You'd have healed quicker and better among your family."
"—and I had to think, and I couldn't have done that, with everyone else grieving as much as I was," Luke continued. "And I had to learn. I knew the Old Jedi way was wrong, and I'd just turned it around and done the opposite. I needed to find a third way, and I thought studying the ancient ones who went before might help."
"And did it?" Rey asked.
"We'll see," Luke said.
"How much longer are you going to have to study here?" Chewie asked.
"I don't know," Luke admitted. He shrugged. "The Force led me here. I think I may have learned all that these stones have to teach, but … the Force hasn't told me it's time to go, yet."
"And you'll know when the Force thinks you should go?" Rey asked. "How?"
Luke shrugged. "I'll know it when it happens."
Finn was indeed up and around in a very short time. Nurse Jaco—'nurse' was a title, he learned—took care of him, and so did Poe. It was weird; Jaco and Poe paid as much attention to his wellbeing as you gave to a rifle. The med droid oversaw the remaining treatments for his injuries, and the physical therapy droid taught him how to walk again. Major Kalonia oversaw the whole process. It was effective and efficient—he certainly couldn't have slacked off, even if he wanted to—yet miles away from the cold utilitarianness of the First Order's med bays. He was out of Medical completely by the time the last cargo ships were loading up the last remnants of the base.
En route to the Resistance's new base, he was brought in for debriefing. First Order codes and procedures were first; he didn't know many, and those he did were very low-level, but he told them what he knew. Then locations of First Order bases. He knew a lot of names, but few of them matched up with the things on the Resistance's maps. The Unknown Regions were just that, and maps often had three or four different names for the same system depending on whose map it was. And the Order often renamed things, as well. Then combat tactics; he knew all about ground combat at the tactical level, but nothing of the larger strategies they were a part of. Then all sorts of general things: day-to-day conditions, stormtrooper training, stuff like that. By this point, they'd been at this for a week. Poe had spent most of that time sitting at Finn's side, making sure he had enough to eat and drink and the right breaks to do all his exercises the med staff had given him.
Finn was explaining how reconditioning worked and when it was used when General Organa came in. Everyone stood to attention, but she waved them down.
"Don't mind me," she said. "I've been reading the reports, but I thought I'd sit in, today. Go on," she said.
Finn sat down. Having a general in the room was nerve-wracking, but Organa was nothing like Hux. He went on, telling them everything he knew. When he described what it felt like, Poe reached over and held his hand. Finn held on, tightly.
"How are recruits chosen?" the debriefing officer asked when he'd told them everything he knew about reconditioning. She was a brisk woman with a kind smile, and hair that looked a lot like General Organa's. Off to the side, an array of secretaries took notes and collated the information Finn was giving them with things they already knew.
Finn looked over at Poe. "Recruits?" he asked. Every so often, they used a word he didn't know. He would ask the debriefing officer, but General Organa was sitting next to her, and he'd been trying to avoid looking at her. She'd seemed normal when she came in, but her stare had gotten more and more intense the longer she looked at him. He didn't like being looked at. Nobody looked at individual Storm Troopers, unless they had screwed up and needed to be corrected.
"New Storm Troopers," Poe explained. "People who need to be trained?"
"Oh, shinies," Finn said, nodding. "They get shinies a lot of different places. Orphans, mostly, or kids whose families can't take care of them. But sometimes when a planet is getting restive they'll send out a force to make an example of them. They kill the adults, but the kids who are healthy get brought in for reconditioning and made into shinies."
"They recruit children?" Poe asked. He seemed surprised; Finn didn't understand why. Wasn't it common knowledge?
"Yeah," he said. "Reconditioning works better when you start young and wipe any memories of the life before. Sometimes they go for young adolescents, too, if they can get the wipe to stick. If they can't, they go to the labor battalions. Or sometimes they'll attack a slaving depot, and scoop up everyone there. The adults and older adolescents go to the labor battalions, the children become Storm Troopers."
"Where they are wiped, reconditioned, and then subjected to the propaganda and training you've already described," the debriefing officer said.
"Yeah," Finn said. Propaganda was another term they'd had to explain to him.
"How old were you when you became a shiny, Finn?" General Organa asked.
"I don't know," Finn said.
"And the first thing they do with new shinies is wipe them and recondition them?"
Finn nodded. "They bring them in, strip them naked, wipe them, and they wake up with no memories but basic procedures in their armor, in the barracks. Older shinies take them in hand, show them the ropes."
"And you have no idea where you came from before that?"
"None," Finn said. "That's kind of the point of wiping and reconditioning."
"Finn, I'm sorry," the General said. "When you first came to us, I was so caught up in the fight, in what the First Order was doing and Starkiller Base and my search for my brother and Han's return, I didn't take the time to properly look at you. I should have, and I'm sorry."
"That's … okay, sir?" Finn said. "You … gave me a lot more attention than I was expecting, as it was." He'd never thought General Organa herself would take an interest in one traitorous Storm Trooper. Her stare was … really, really intense. He felt naked, like she was seeing things about him that even he didn't know.
"But not enough attention to see what was right in front of me," Organa murmured. She looked … electrified, somehow, like Hux just before a speech. In a First Order officer, he would have known what to expect. Here?
She looked up at the ceiling, and Finn let out the breath he'd been holding. "Luke, you need to be here now," she said. Finn could feel the power in her words. They weren't just words; she was reaching out to her brother in the Force. Finn didn't know how he knew that, but he did.
"You can just do that?" Finn asked. "Then what was all that scrambling around for the map?"
"Luke's been ignoring me for years," Organa said. "He doesn't believe my military needs are as important as his quest. I was hoping to be able to see him face to face, argue him around. You can't do that over the Force. But he'll know things have changed. He may not know what, but he'll know. And he'll come back."
"What's changed?" Poe asked.
General Organa's gaze turned back to Finn. Except this time, he realized what made it feel so intense. She wasn't just looking with eyes alone, but with the Force as well; and now she was reaching out to him, as she had earlier reached out to her brother. Finn wanted to return the gesture, but didn't know how.
"You," she said.
Luke was directing Rey in lifting rocks with the Force when abruptly he stopped talking and closed his eyes. "Leia," he murmured.
"What?" Rey asked, dropping the rocks.
"It's time to go, now," Luke said, turning and walking off toward the ship. "Leia needs me."
"She's needed you all along!" Rey said. "What makes this different?"
"No, she wanted me all along," Luke said. "Now she needs me. That's the difference."
The new Resistance base was a hive of activity, pre-fab buildings going up and equipment being installed all over the place, when word came that the Millenium Falcon had dropped out of hyperspace and was coming in for a landing. Finn froze, and panicked, and wished he had somewhere to hide. Everyone was looking at him. It was unnerving. For just a second, he wished for the anonymity of his old armor.
"Breathe," Poe murmured. Finn had been helping him set up the pilots' training and briefing area. "You've got nothing to worry about."
"What if he's disappointed in me?" Finn asked.
"He loves you, and you are the bravest man I've ever known, to take your chance and escape with me," Poe said, grasping his shoulders. "Everything is going to be fine."
Finn nodded. "Right," he said, rubbing his hands off on his trousers to get rid of the sweat. "Everything is going to be fine."
They walked out to the landing field together, Finn clutching Poe's arm.
Gen—Leia met them there, smiling, reaching out to touch him with the Force. She did that constantly, as if to reassure herself that he was there, and he'd learned to respond, if only clumsily. "Relax," she said, taking his hand. "This is a happy day."
"Right," Finn said. He concentrated on his breathing, tried one of the little exercises Leia had shown him. They'd found there were still fragments of his life before the First Order, floating around his mind; few and far between, and tiny fragments only, but they were still there, and the Force could bring them out.
The Falcon landed, and the ramp hissed down.
A man in brown robes strode down it as soon as it touched down. He looked familiar, though rather greyer than Finn thought he should. Luke Skywalker.
"Leia," he said, "what's so important—" he broke off and stumbled to a halt, staring at Finn. He reached out with the Force, and that, that Finn remembered. He reached back, as Leia had shown him.
"Owen," Luke said, voice breaking.
"Dad," Finn whispered. He couldn't make himself step forward, but his father covered the ground in a few long strides.
Dad wrapped his arms around him, enveloping him in his warm robe. Finn had been much smaller the last time they'd done this, but he remembered the feeling.
"Owen," Dad said again, rocking slightly.
Finn wrapped his arms around his father and laid his head on his shoulder, breathing in a scent he hadn't remembered enough to miss. He was home.