Bodhi Rook’s mother dies at midnight, taking with her his last good reason to remain.
Her funeral is over by the time Bodhi hears the news. When he docks at Eadu a Jedha pilot called Anber Kine claps him on the back and hands him a datapad. “So sorry,” he says. “Gotta unload.” He shrugs. “You know how it is.”
Bodhi does. The Empire does not tolerate delays.
He takes the datapad and stares at the display. Anber wiped his hands on his jumpsuit before he handed the pad over, but the screen is spangled with diamond-coloured kyber crystal dust. Bodhi traces one finger through the sparkling powder as he reads the brief message. His chest clenches like a fist.
He returns the pad to Anber. The pilot takes it, grips Bodhi’s shoulder awkwardly, and hurries away to reload. He can’t wait. Delivery deadlines are literal these days. Harsh penalties are levied on anyone who blocks the Empire’s relentless march to victory.
Bodhi doesn’t let himself think too hard about what he does next.
He pulls his goggles over his eyes so they can’t see him cry. Then he heads into the hold, flips a hatch, and finds a flux capacitor that’s been working loose for days. He breaks the housing with one kick.
The capacitor sprays sparks and shorts out. Bodhi pulls out his own pad and records the damage. Then he goes into the hangar and hands the pad to the first cargo tech he sees. “The capacitor’s broken,” he says, struggling to keep his voice steady. “I’m taking a break.”
He heads into the bruise-coloured sunset with no clear destination. When he sees a path leading up into the pillars of purple rock, he takes it.
It doesn’t take him long to climb above the clouds. The path grows narrow as he ascends. It’s steep and rocky but Bodhi’s crying too hard by now to take much notice. When he reaches the top of the pinnacle he’s out of breath and almost out of tears.
A small weather station crowns the pillar, not much more than an antennae and a couple of dented metal instrument boxes. Bodhi leans up against the closest container. Condensation soaks his uniform. He pushes his goggles up onto his forehead and wipes his eyes with the back of his hands.
The Empire didn’t kill his mother. But they wouldn’t save her either.
Bodhi was fifteen when the Empire invaded Jedha. When the Holy City surrendered, the Empire crushed the Jedi Order and razed the Temple to the ground. They replaced Jedha’s traditional healers with Imperial clinics reserved for Empire troops. By the time Bodhi screwed up his courage and smuggled her in, it was too late. Incurable, the medics said, before they threw them out.
Bodhi’s captain Hyrren Vas is fond of saying that the needs of the Empire come before all else. Two people’s troubles don’t amount to anything in this galaxy.
Bodhi shivers. It’s cold here on the mountain. The impulse that drove him to climb fades, replaced by numb reality. He knows he needs to return to his ship. He has no idea how far he is from the base, or how much time has passed. He can’t even see the base.
He pushes off from the control box, turns, and freezes.
The rocks of Eadu form craggy, narrow mesas that are nightmarishly hard to navigate. The weather station nestles in a crevice surrounded by tall pillars. The pillars are roughly the height of a man.
One of the pillars is a man.
Bodhi’s first instinct is to apologise. He can’t see a toolbox or maintenance droid, and solitude is the only reason that anyone would come up here if they didn’t have to. There’s a grim joke in that, each ruining the other’s attempt at solitude. His apology dies unspoken as he examines the stranger more closely.
The stranger is older than Bodhi and much paler. His hair is streaked with grey and his severe face is all lines and angles. He wears an officer’s dark uniform, though Bodhi can’t make out the insignia from where he’s standing.
Bodhi swallows. His hands begin to shake. Imperial officers can be dangerously capricious. He’s seen a commander shoot a mechanic just for getting in his way. The man was lucky. His death was quick, and they didn’t kill his family.
Bodhi has no family left. He’s still afraid.
He licks his lips and finds his voice still works. “Sss.Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” the officer says quietly.
His reply is unexpected, but Bodhi doesn’t wait to hear more. He turns away and stumbles down the rocks, slipping over stones he passed without thinking a few minutes before. He doesn’t recognize the path. His hands are still shaking by the time he reaches port.
The Empire is an efficient machine. Bodhi’s ship is ready. An engineer meets him at the door and returns Bodhi’s data pad. “Where were you?” he says curtly. “We’re almost done.”
Bodhi makes an excuse. Nobody else seems to have noticed his absence, and there is no sign of the officer who could betray him. He checks the shuttle systems and fires up the engines for the return trip. The capacitor has been replaced, and his cargo hold is empty apart from a scatter of glittering dust.
The tricky ascent consumes all Bodhi’s attention for a few welcome moments. He hauls the shuttle out of Eadu’s atmosphere and makes the jump to hyperspace. The ship groans. For a moment, Bodhi fantasises that the drive might fail. If that happens he’ll be lost forever in the vacuum between stars. The thought is strangely comforting.
The Empire has recently abolished the co-pilot rule for routine cargo runs. Bodhi and every pilot that he knows considers this a terrible idea for many reasons. Now he’s grateful for the privacy. The computer beeps, reminding Bodhi he has manifests to complete before he lands. He ignores it. Instead he flicks on the autopilot to guide him through the spaces between stars and curls up in his bunk, wrapping his arms around the ache in his chest.