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Like Spring Nights

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The girl sings.

At first Liliana thinks she’s gone insane, she’s hearing things, or else that someone’s hijacked her helmet and started playing a single melody, something quiet and hopeful, under-breath and almost like a secret. This last option would be unusual, but is not something she’d put past Ren. Except Ren would play something he knew she’d hate. And this is oddly calming.

It must be, for it’s only when she’s at peace, at the very center of a self she’s trying to forget, that she doesn’t think of herself as Phasma or as Captain but as Lili, a first name no one uses, a name most don’t even know, which has somehow stayed with her through reconditioning after reconditioning. It will not leave her. After all else is wiped away, still Lili remains, and still in certain times of weakness it is how she thinks of herself.

All this makes her assume something is interfering with her thoughts.

The alternative—that someone aboard the Finalizer, and moreover someone working on the bridge, is singing—is too bizarre to contemplate. In a world that is all glimmering gray and darkness punctuated by starlight, governed by generals and admirals and strict schedules and stricter dress codes, no one sings. If anyone does, she hasn’t met them.

But someone is.

Lili turns briefly and sees her, mouth moving faintly along with the music she hears. The girl is typing, shuffling files, drinking coffee out of a mug the size of a bowl, and all the while pouring out her longings and joys right into the open air. No one has reprimanded her yet. Lili thinks it is a blessing, or perhaps it’s simpler than a blessing: it’s just disbelief. No one has the presence of mind to acknowledge that this girl is doing something frankly surreal.

Her melodies change slightly at times, the lyrics run from subject to subject, but there is a steady stream of something constant there, a sort of melancholy peace and planet-side moonlight, and one gold thread of hope which almost runs unnoticed through the fabric of her song.

(Lili wonders if she herself ever had such a gift, if that was ever something she’d been blessed with, and decides against it. It hurts to think of things that came before her first reconditioning. Usually, she just doesn’t try. Because the voice that says of course you had it, everyone has it leads her along a line that would be impossible to follow. That’s a line of rebellion.)

For now, she’s content to stand at the great window overlooking the star destroyer and listen to the girl, who she cannot see anymore, who she does not want to see anymore, does not want to recognize as her singer. Her singer. How quickly she attaches herself to the girl.

Just as quickly, she must detach.

She doesn’t want to watch the girl fade. Everyone fades here. It happened to her, and she has seen it happen to everyone else. 

She knows she’s intimidating, standing there in full armor, pensive, like she’s there to frighten her company, but she isn’t. She’s just listening to this moment of grace, this moment that comes before someone breaks the girl, because someone will break her, because someone breaks all of them.

People who come to the Order like spring nights get broken, snapped fast and easy without a thought. Their souls miss summer and autumn, they run straight to winter. This is the way of things. Captain Liliana Phasma knows it. She is often the cause.

But the voice is like water, and she is so terribly thirsty. She can’t leave yet, and she tells herself she’s content to look at the stars and listen to the voice, when she longs to stop the girl for a moment, to ask her name, to ask her to continue, to ask her why. None of that will take place, but at the very least, Lili’s troops can manage another few minutes without her.

She’s taken from her thoughts when General Hux strides past with his nose tilted slightly into the air, and looks down at those below him, and says to someone, “Lieutenant Green.”

“Yes?”

The voice is gentle, inquisitive. It’s like the girl forgot that this is a military operation, and opted for a tone better suited to a coffee-shop in the middle of nowhere than a star destroyer.

“Sir.”

“Yes, sir.”

Now she remembers.

“Your hair is not regulation. Frankly it is abominable. I will not mention that you are singing, for I can only assume on that front, you are under some sort of Force manipulation.”

“I’m confused, sir.”

“Well then how may I enlighten you, Lieutenant Green?” The sarcasm and bite in his tone is evident, and Lili wants to defend the girl. She wants to defend that voice. Irrational, she says to herself. She brushes it all aside, and doesn’t move from her place at the window.

“About the hair, I’m doing what you said. I’m letting it grow—”

“And you are now too dishevelled to be fit for work.”

“And about the song, I am sorry, I only—”

“You only nothing. You are upsetting the workings of the whole bridge. I dislike belligerence, Green.”

“I meant none.”

You meant what, then?

“That to grow my hair takes time, and that singing passes days rather better than silence. Sir. General.”

She tries not to flinch when she sees how much he looks like his father after she says that. Like he’s going to either implode or kill someone. She should have learned to acquiesce, not to try to reason with these people, but she can’t seem to help herself. Everyone said that they took her too old when they recruited — recruited, more like stole her, from her older brothers by the side of the lake with the fields and the blue house — and they must have done, for she cannot mimic and certainly cannot believe the blind obedience that some have around here.

But when they took her, she was heralded as very intelligent in books, and lacking in common sense as anyone could be. She can’t help it, she doesn’t know how. It isn’t a flattering picture, and she still doesn’t like it, and she still can’t change it. And somehow it ended her up on the Finalizer, goddess and stars only knew how. She had always thought she would be kept away from such people as General Hux, instead of being assigned to work under the likes of him, and not for her own safety but for his sanity. Such people aren’t often fond of her.

Of course, it was his father who hated her most.

She doesn’t like to think about how much his father hated her.

“You are troublesome and defiant. I’m choosing to overlook your ruckus, and you may not be so lucky—”

“She’s young,” says an overly-tall and oddly silver trooper, cutting into the conversation. Brielle thinks she has seen her, thinks she looks very like the famed Captain Phasma, but she cannot be. She’s heard stories, that Phasma is ruthless, that she’s heartless, that she’s certainly too high up in the ranks and probably too cruel to look down at this blustering ginger and basically say, don’t hurt the girl. Even if she’s saying she doesn’t matter in the same breath, she’s asking for protection.

And despite this Brielle is a little offended. Surely she can take care of herself?

“I know you worry about every detail, but really. Why someone so small? One officer growing her hair and singing won’t take down our ship.”

“It’s insubordinate!”

The armored woman makes a sound rather like laughter. At least Brielle thinks it is laughter. It’s hard to tell under the helmet.

What is funny?”

“Just let it go,” she says.

“Why?”

“You have better things to do.”

“Do you dare try to command me?”

“You and Ren and I are equal, so I can’t. It’s advice, let it go. Anyway,” she scoffs, as best as one can under a helmet like that. “You’ll get rattled and explode or something, and I’d rather not be the one cleaning that up.”

They aren’t talking about her or to her anymore, and so Brielle turns back to the set of data she was working on before they arrived.

“Wait, Lieutenant.”

“Yes?”

“I—never mind, I can manage it myself.” Lili isn’t sure what she’d have said, doesn’t think there’s anything she could have said.

She didn’t want to look at her before, but now she can’t stop. The girl—Brielle—is small, made smaller by the fact that there’s no river of arrogance in here eyes, as there is in most officers’, and by the untamed, frankly ridiculous shock of dark hair that just barely frames her face.

She looks at Lili for a second with a benevolently perplexed smile, and then nods, and then goes back again to her work. It’s enough. Lili only wanted to reassure herself that the girl was real.

 

*******

 

Brielle reassures herself that people are real, too, sometimes, but she does so by touching them. She tries to avoid it when the people she works with are concerned. She usually succeeds. She would, if she were not armored and too far up, probably try to at least brush hands with this woman, to ensure that she's solid, and whisper her thanks so no one else could overhear. Because this woman does not seem real, not at all, not considering the other people Brielle comes across around here, not considering the way they seem troubled by her, the way they seem to hate her. 

 

She touches people to make sure she doesn't need to run from them, too. To gauge their expressions, to make sure she is safe near them.

People change too quickly in her experience, go from kind to cold to murderous, make protectiveness into possessiveness, rage at her before she can get a word in or argue for herself. She can bear such things, but they don’t always feel real. And somehow that—the fact that she’s not sure what’s coming, that no one gives any warning around here—turns into strange gestures, touching people, singing, that sort of thing. Little pockets of space that keep her grounded.

She needs to stay grounded.

 

********

 

Hux walks back to his apartment when his shift ends, and finds Kylo Ren sitting on his kitchen counter, drinking coffee straight out of the pot. Such things are typical, but at the moment it annoys him.

He does not say anything yet, but he picks up Millie when she walks over to him, and squints at her. The majestic orange puffball squints back.

“Do you know what’s wrong with Phasma?”

“No, I thought she was fine.”

“I was talking to Millie.”

“You’re talking to a cat when there’s another person here?”

“Yes.”

“You’re talking to a cat who can’t even speak when there’s a person here who can read minds?”

“Yes.”

“I see how it is.”

He continues drinking the coffee.

“You know if you asked I’d tell you what she’s thinking.”

“If you go running through her head, she’ll murder you.”

“I could take her. Anyway, it’s like she’s talking to me. I’ve been hearing it all day, no effort needed.”

“Well?”

“You didn’t ask.”

He hates Kylo. He really hates him. Of course if he was anywhere else Hux would wish him here, sitting on the kitchen counter, drinking right out of the coffee pot, and being an idiot—the one person he can tolerate belligerence, truly, can tolerate just about anything from—but he’s still rather infuriating.

“Well, what’s she thinking?”

“I can’t tell.”

You can’t—”

Ren laughs. Loudly. Smugly. All he wants, of course, is to get Hux angry, because he thinks it’s hilarious. And Hux wouldn’t have him any other way. This defies all logic—but he wouldn’t.

“It was a feeling. She was—Protective. She wanted to shield it. The singing.” He thinks a minute. “Do you know what the singing was? I couldn’t tell.”

Hux sighs and pulls his lighter out of his pocket. He knows Kylo doesn’t like it, but he absolutely needs a cigarette, and though he’s sure Kylo has a point when he shakes his head and tells him, you have to protect your lungs, he just doesn’t care to listen.

“Yes,” he says after he starts smoking. “And this is why I say reconditioning doesn’t work. Even the great Phasma isn’t immune to such things. Now do you believe me?”

“No. She’s supposed to do this. The other one, the confused one. Phasma’s supposed to protect her. It’s fate, or something like that.”

“And will it change Phasma’s loyalty to us?”

“It’s beyond that.”

Hux is pretty much done by this point, and doesn’t even respond.

He takes the coffee-pot, and takes a drink, which he almost immediately spits back out. Because the thing about sugar is, you can’t see it, and while Hux drinks absolutely none of it, never has, and never will, Ren has put what seems like a bucketful of it right into the pot. And Hux doesn’t even care by this point. He’s just going to go right along drinking it, because some caffeine is better than no caffeine. The only question is whether he should try to break what Phasma might have with this girl, or leave it to what Kylo calls Fate. Can you mess with Fate?

But he’s never thought about it. He lives for power. And this little blip in that radar, which is his care for Kylo—well, he’s telling himself he’s just letting it run its course.

 

************

 

Phasma is too busy to think about fate. She has too much to do, too many people at her command, too many things to think about and too many other things to not think about.

But she finds that at the end of her day, she can’t quite forget the voice.