The silence wakes him.
Bodhi Rook pokes his head cautiously out of his bedroll. He’s been stuck on Garel for a week, waiting for the skies to clear enough to give him a clean run out of the atmosphere. Every morning he’s woken to the sound of explosions, blaster fire, and screams. The Rebels are providing the Empire with more of a challenge than they expected, something that Imperial Intelligence calls an unfortunate minor setback in our glorious march towards progress and everyone else calls a bloody massacre.
This morning is different. No shots are being fired. Bodhi wraps his blanket round his shoulders and rolls out of the shallow scrape in the ground that he’s been using for a bed. His U-wing has been commandeered as a hospital for the last three days. It’s not perfect, but at least it has walls.
He lifts his head cautiously over the trench wall, tensed to duck and cover at the slightest opportunity. Things have definitely changed overnight. In Bodhi’s experience, things only change for the worse.
A stormtrooper crouches at the end of the trench, watching the enemy intently through a pair of binoculars. Bodhi creeps towards her. He sees no movement in the field of blasted stubble that serves as a no-man’s land between the two forces. “What’s going on?”
The trooper does not move. “I don’t know,” she says. The commlink in her helmet gives her voice a faintly metallic sound. “The Rebels have stopped firing.”
“Have they surrendered?”
The trooper shakes her head. “I don’t know,” she says. Her white plastoid armour is stained and battle-scarred. She looks like she’s been fighting for a long time. “Let me look. It’s been like this since midnight. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Bodhi reaches into the pocket of his jumpsuit and finds a ration bar. He hands one to the stormtrooper, who looks at it and sets it down in the greyish dirt beside her. The rations taste like cardboard, but they’re the only food he has left. The native flora is all poisonous. Bodhi wonders why anybody bothered to colonise Garel at all.
Then he hears the singing.
It’s the Battle Hymn of the Rebellion. The sound drifts slowly through the air towards them, like nerve gas. Bodhi finds himself humming along. The stormtrooper lays down the binoculars and looks at him.
Bodhi stops humming.
He expects her to discipline him but instead she takes the song up. The tinny vibrations rattle through her helmet. It’s out of tune. Her voice is terrible, even without the distortion of the commlink, but Bodhi likes it. “Why are they singing?” he asks through a mouthful of cardboard-flavoured food.
She shrugs. “I’ve heard it’s some holiday.”
She stops humming. “No idea.”
Bodhi shrugs. The Empire has no holidays. Every day is much like the next. He peers over the low wall of crumbling earth. The Rebels have set up blockades, barriers, and trenches much like their own. Even the anti-aircraft guns are silent. It’s surprising how pleasant Garel seems without blaster fire flying around everywhere. Lights twinkle in the trenches across the field.
At first Bodhi thinks that they’re grenades. He shrinks back into the trenches before he realizes that they’re lanterns. The Rebels are lighting lanterns. They’re singing songs. And they’re not firing.
He exchanges glances with the stormtrooper’s visor.
The troopers gaze snaps back to the trenches, where a white jacket, fashioned into a makeshift flag, waves in the air. “Don’t shoot!” someone calls again.
The stormtrooper’s hand moves to the trigger of her rifle, but she does not fire. There are Imperial troops in trenches much like this one across the field, but nobody else shoots either.
“Don’t shoot!” The voice is male, young. “Until midday. We won’t shoot either. If you come and talk to us, we won’t fire.”
“Do they mean it?” Bodhi asks.
The stormtrooper sets her binoculars down. “Only one way to find out,” she says, and stands up.
To Bodhi’s surprise, they don’t shoot her. She stands there for a moment, hands raised. Then she fumbles at her wrists and begins to pull off her gloves. Her hands are dark against her armour, fading to pink on her fingers and palms. She raises her hands again to unfasten her helmet. “Cease fire!”
The command rattles through Bodhi’s own earpiece. The Rebels’ song fades away. A bird twitters nervously from the jungle. The soft click as the stormtrooper unclips her visor is clearly audible. She takes off her helmet.
Her hair is cropped short, and there’s a bruise on her cheek. She tucks the helmet under her arm and stares straight forward. Then she begins to slowly walk across the field. The ground is rough, and she stumbles once or twice, but her gait is steady, determined. The Rebel flag jerks and rises. Bodhi sees a man holding the banner, a Rebel wearing a pilot’s orange jumpsuit with a white bandolier slung across his chest.
They’re close enough that Bodhi can see the Rebel swallow. The pilot’s eyes are wide, his mouth a little open. But he raises his white flag and steps forwards. The two of them move closer, step by careful step, as if they are partners in some strange dance. They meet in the very centre of the field. The Rebel clutches his flag, the stormtrooper carries her helmet. They reach out and shake hands.
Bodhi raises his head above the barricades for the first time in weeks. As if by magic, more people emerge from the trenches. Bodhi grins at the stormtrooper’s back. The edges of the trench crumble beneath his hands as he crawls out. His back stiffens as he stands up, the posture unaccustomed after so long spent hunched in cover.
It’s not far to walk.
Bodhi shakes hands with the rebel pilot. The Rebel leans the flag against his shoulder and grins a little self-consciously. He has dark curly hair and a straggly beard. “My name’s Kes Dameron,” he says.
“I’m Bodhi.” Bodhi touches his chest. “A pilot.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Kes Dameron tells him. He lays down his flag, pulls a small bottle from his jacket and hands it to Bodhi. “Have some jet juice.”
Bodhi unscrews the bottle and takes a drink. The jet juice is sharp and pungent and it makes his eyes water. He hands the bottle back, feeling a little embarrassed that he has nothing to offer in return. Bodhi has an idea. He pulls off his goggles and hands them to the Rebel.
Kes Dameron grins as he takes off his helmet and passes it over. He pulls Bodhi’s goggles over his eyes and flicks the vents. “No expense spared,” he mutters.
Bodhi sniggers. Dameron’s helmet is painted red and black in stripes. Unlike Imperial pilot helmets, it has a microphone attached. The visor is tinted a faded yellow that lends the scene a sunburst tint. It’s a little loose, and it doesn’t fit too comfortably over Bodhi’s ponytail. He grins, and looks around.
The stormtrooper is deep in conversation with a Calamari general. She props her helmet on her hip, at ease in a way that Bodhi’s never seen before. A group of soldiers from both sides cluster around a hologram of a Twi’lek dancer. A Twi’lek woman in faded camouflage shyly shows a faded photograph of a human woman to an Imperial soldier, who nods as he kisses his fingers. “Beautiful,” he says.
Kes Dameron follows his gaze. “Just for today,” he says. “Tomorrow will be different.”
Bodhi sighs. “It won’t last long.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Dameron says.
They drink together. The Rebels teach the Empire soldiers the words to the Battle Hymn of the Rebellion. The Imperial troops teach them different words. Most of the words have four letters.
Then someone throws a ball.
Bodhi never remembers just which side it was. He doesn’t even remember if it even was a ball. It could have been a box of rations, or someone’s tied-up sweater. He does remember that the Empire wins, four goals against two.
Years later, on Yavin, Bodhi meets a Rebel pilot who swears that the Alliance won the game three-one. Bodhi brushes him off. The point isn’t who won.
The point is that it happened.
It’s a pity that the ceasefire doesn’t last for long. Anti-aircraft fire splits the sky and the soldiers scatter. Some throw themselves flat on the ground. Others stand staring at the sky. Then they gather their clothes and their keepsakes and race back to the trenches. Bodhi finds Kes Dameron in the throng and hands him back his helmet. Dameron tosses Bodhi his goggles. Then he extends one hand.
“May the Force be with you,” he says.
Bodhi takes it. Dameron’s grip is firm, his hands calloused from clutching controls or triggers. Bodhi grimaces. Then he turns his back on the Empire pilot, pushes his goggles back onto his forehead and turns away, shoulders hunched against an imaginary bullet.
When Bodhi reaches the trenches, he finds that Dameron’s pushed the bottle of jet juice into his pocket. The liquor warms him for a while, but the memories last longer.
Hostilities resume the same day. The Empire issues a statement, ordering that no communication of any sort is to be held with the enemy, that no combatants should be allowed to approach the Empire trenches, on pain of death. Bodhi never sees the stormtrooper again. The Empire have a poor view of fraternisation. They consider it bad for morale. It’s hard to shoot people when you’ve shared a drink or played a game with them, admired their sweethearts and pinups, walked a mile in their shoes.
Bodhi keeps his head down. He flies out of Garel two days later. But he never loses sight of the Rebels as people.
He never loses hope.