She did not let herself use the word "happy," ever,.....how sick would that be.....but by that first spring after they'd crashed, she felt…..good. Both of them were healed from the burns and broken bones, and strong by then enough to ride and hike long distances. The nightmares that had gnawed at them both through that long winter had begun to slowly fade, most nights at least.
No one was looking for them and no one knew, as far as they could tell, that they were even still alive. They were stranded with access to no tech more useful than a few bits of gear and weapons pulled from the damaged black shuttle they’d escaped in, and a half-crazy receiver linked to a broken Imperial beacon. They were getting signal from the outside galaxy, knew that the war raged on, that the DeathStar was gone, the Alliance was on the run....but were still unable to contact anyone. It was terrifying and disorienting.
It was also, in a weird, this-is-how-profoundly-fucked-up-you-are way, the best time in Jyn Erso's adult life.
Maybe it was the increased daylight that helped, or maybe it was the sex they'd started having in the fall. Either way. “Good” was the word that kept coming to her.
The first legit “explore the planet" trip they took together was down to the Riverlands'
The Taun had become very fond of Cassian after he helped them negotiate with the Scavengers and had seemed more than eager to carry them down to see an old wrecked spaceship on the bluffs. “Carry them" in this case meaning "climb up on our three meter high backs and hang onto our long hair while we run very very scarily fast."
She had been places where live creatures were used as transport before, although never before had any of them asked her if she minded if they practiced their singing as they ran because they had a house concert coming up and needed to rehearse.
Jogging along, she remembered shaggy hill donkeys on Ord Mandell and big reptiles on Lethe VII. Riding a Bantha on Tatooine as an adolescent came back to her too .......hot, nasty and unbearably smelly. As fiercely as she tried to seem a battle-hardened fighter, she'd still thrown up in the sagebrush as soon as they dismounted and the breeze had turned. A couple of the local Tuskans had laughed....she'd picked up enough of the dialect to make out "your daughter..." and "delicate".....but Saw must have shut them down hard because nobody said a word after she came back.
He had handed her a canteen and averted his eyes as she spit a little of the precious water out, just to rinse her mouth. It was kindness, at least among the Partisans, and the kind of rare fatherly gesture Saw still made, randomly, in those days. No doubt that was why she had blocked the memory of it for years.
They had already crossed the river at a shallow place and the Taun were kneeling to let them climb down...oh thank heaven...She shuffled these reminiscences away quickly, but there must have been something still lingering on her face, because Cassian moved back toward her as his feet hit the ground. Just looked at her, one eyebrow slightly raised, eyes a little darker than even usual....inquiring.
Oh hell, he was so quick at reading her now.
She shook her head and tried to give him a smile. "Your hair's a mess," she said.
She wasn't fooling him, but he let the pushback go. This backwards dance of intimacy and lingering concealment was something they were still working out. It was so strange. Dying in each other's arms was supposed to be the way relationships ended, not how they began.
They had pretty much reached the place Cassian's new friends had wanted to bring them, below the old wreck. Elfla and Ferla even offered to climb up the bluff carrying them. They could uncurl their hoof-like feet into curved talons for sloth-like climbing....a truly terrifying prospect.....but Cassian diplomatically assured them that he and Jyn could easily hike up on their own.
"Very well then," Elfla said, in his/her oboe-like voice, "if yo-ou'd rather explo-ore on yo-our o-own. We will head do-own to check with the harvesters and co-ome back to-o meet to-omorro-ow."
"It will be interesting to-o hear what yo-ou can tell us abo-out it," Ferla said, "it has puzzled me since I was a child." They galloped off down the riverbank,
It was a rough hike up the limestone bluff, but it took only a few hours, even with their packs. The Taun were a little lax on such concepts as time. "Tomorrow " might mean tomorrow morning, or it might mean two days from now, so they'd brought gear enough to camp it for a couple of days.
She had thought of asking Cassian if he'd gotten directions on looking for the wreck, but once they'd reached the top of the palisade, it hadn't been at all hard to find. This wasn't a fighter or a shuttle. Whatever had come down here was......had been..... a full space ship. Even mostly buried and covered in tall grass it looked to be at least 50-60 meters wide. Impressively crescent curved, from the shape that could still be made out. The aft struts had partly detached and several good sized birch trees were actually growing though the gap.
"In my youth" was the vague date Elfla had given for the ship's crash....which might have meant something if either Jyn or Cassian had the slightest idea how long an average Taun lifespan was, which they didn't. Still, this thing had to have come down at least 20 or 25 years ago, given the amount of vegetation and soil build up. Erosion on the cliff face had exposed the two points of it's curve. Another decade and some good hard rains might send it toppling down to the river below. Jyn grabbed two handfuls of grass near an edge and pulled, topsoil came up with the matted roots. Cassian copied her and they quickly uncovered several meters of white and silver hull plating.
Jyn was no expert in ship identification, but something about this rang a bell. Kestrel Dawn had gotten very good at lifting the credit clearance IDs of wealthy travelers in several busy space ports.
Steal from the poor and they notice right away, steal from the wealthy.....at least the right kind of wealthy, and not too much at any one time....and it may take them days to notice. If ever.
This sideways curve design looked familiar.....
"Fucking hell," she said, "It almost looks like a Lux"
Cassian nodded, running a hand along the scratched but still unstained hull, "Sorosub Luxury 4000. A classic, or so I've been told."
"I didn't know you were familiar with expensive vintage spacecraft, Captain." She was trying to tease him....but got no smile.
He shrugged. "I had occasion to deal with people who were." She had unwittingly crossed a line, she sensed.
I'm sorry, she thought, whatever it is I've made you remember, I'm sorry.
"Me, too," she said.
He nodded, and edged around the now-exposed paneling. "There would be a main ramp entry at the front, " he moved back a meter, looking up, "the flight deck would be above it....and this," he kicked at the rounded shape they'd revealed. "would be the roof of the starboard observation lounge." They still had several hours of daylight, and a couple of folding shovels they'd borrowed from the Scavengers, so it seemed worthwhile to climb up right onto the grass-grown top of the thing and dig a few holes. If any equipment survived that would be of use to them, it would probably be on the flight deck
She dropped her camp pack and shouldered her bundle of "break and enter" gear.
"Give me a boost up," she said.
He laid his pack aside and she stepped close, expecting him to lower his hands so she could use them as a step. Instead of that, ....seeming to change his mind mid-motion......he slipped hands behind her elbows and pulled her toward him, guiding her hands around his back and putting his arms around her.
It wasn't unwelcome, oh my no, no....just unexpected....here, now. She let the bundle of tools fall and burrowed her head in against his neck, tightening her hold, as he pressed her against him.
These clothes were too bulky. Heavy jackets had been shed after getting to the top of the climb, but it still had been a cold spring morning. She felt for the shape of his back, his ribs, through the thick cloth shirt. Cassian? His heart was beating hard enough to feel. Not panic attack fast…but….not in the good way either.
What is it, Cassian?
She couldn't ask....they didn't ask each other questions like that. You don't breach floodgates, you have to let the water out a little at a time.
He stepped back before she could turn her face up, to either kiss him, or look in his eyes.
"Sorry," he said, shaking his head, as if annoyed with himself over some show of weakness, some mistake. It was one of his gestures, she was starting to learn.
My love. What do you want? What do you need me to do?
"Hey, soldier...." she said, keeping her hands on his arms now, "this can wait, much as I like wreck diving, there are other things I like more."
Fucking brilliant way with words you've got, Jyn, she thought.
Cassian stepped back and handed her her gear again, "Good to know…I just, lost track of things for a moment. Come on. Let’s at least get a start on this first. Work before leisure.” His smile made it seem as if a cloud had passed. She put her right hand on his bowed-down shoulder and lifted her boot onto his joined hands. He boosted her up, onto the grassy mound. Not too hard, as a joke, or too little, leaving her to scramble the last few centimeters,
It astonished her every day, that extraordinary care he took with things, with her.
She couched low and reached a hand back to help him up in turn.
The view of the river below was so pretty from up here. The sun was high now and the day was clear. She could see down the river as it wound, sparkling, down the valley toward the grasslands and the main branch of the bigger Green River. The hardwood forests stretched off down the opposite bank. It was harder to make out the shape of the wreck from on top of it. Cassian had thought to bring up a couple of long sticks and stuck one forward from the edge where they'd climbed up.
"Inward about 20 paces from this," he said. She walked across the squishy turf from where he indicated and stopped.
"Here?" she asked
He came up alongside her and took an extra step. "Short legs," he said with one of his small smiles.
"Bite me," she replied glad that the awkwardness had passed.
He was right enough though, they uncovered the hatch quickly. The loose turf was mostly light crumbly soil, held together by matted grass and roots and came up easily. Marking out the edges, they could see that it was intact, still sealed.
"Holy hell," Jyn said. The hull was obviously compromised somewhere, those trees were coming up through the aft strut, but if the main cabins were sealed and undamaged....this could be a treasure trove.
The trick was...."Manual hatch controls are inside," Cassian said, "It might be hard to get in."
"Are you speaking as a relatively law abiding citizen?"
"No," he said, "Just a man far separated from his lock-pick tools."
She rolled her eyes,....you were spoiled, let me show you how it's done, spy boy....then knelt and took a thin silica knife from the rough leg-sheath she'd made for herself. The blade was made from a cut and polished circuit board and she'd won it off one of the Scavengers in a dart game. Not a vibra-knife, but a useful blade if you kept it sharpened. She slid it exploringly around the door seal, and almost immediately could hear a faint hiss of air.
"It's open," she said, astonished. The manual release must have already been engaged from inside.
The pneumatic hingeing was long gone, so they had to work together to lift the hatch, but once the seals were cut it prized open far easier than she would have dreamed. Cassian propped it with a large branch and a couple of rocks because neither of them much liked the idea of getting trapped inside.
It was dark, this style of ship had lots of clear observation windows, but those were all covered with dirt. The only torch they had was one of the last emergency glow-flares they'd pulled from their crashed shuttle. Still, when tucked into a glass mirrored box, like the one the Taun had given them as a lamp, it gave off a fair amount of light. Jyn went in first. Cassian passed her the lamp and lowered himself in behind her. The air had not rushed out very hard as they’d forced the hatch, so clearly there must have been some cracks in the hull somewhere, or a least open vents, but it was close and faintly damp. Cassian passed her a toxin-check strip. Pink. Not great, but with the hatch propped it should be fine. The sweetish smell was immediately recognizable to both of them....how could it not be?.... it was faint and stale though, not recent. There were two pilots seats, but only one body. The remains were skeletal, stripped pretty clean. It seemed almost complete and, though disarticulated, lay largely unscattered over the chair and control console. Whatever small cracks or openings there were in the hull must have let in the tiny scavenger lizards, otherwise an enclosed space like this would have slowed decay a little more. Bigger scavengers would have moved things around more violently though. Jyn stepped forward with the lamp for a better look, but Cassian held a hand up, reflexively, as if to hold her back.
Oh for heavens sake, she thought, like dry bones were something that would bother her.
But that didn't seem to be it, exactly. As he took the light and crouched down to examine the skull, facing toward them on the console, he had a look that seemed so strange. A mix of questioning, and….unhappiness? pain maybe? The skull was elongated, humanoid but not human. There were bright circles still around some of the finger bones, jeweled rings, and rags of what might have been silk robes and brocade.
“Cerean,” he said, “looks like an elderly male.” There was something like relief in his voice, maybe.
They moved around the flight deck. Cut off from solar charge, most of the batteries were so down as to be useless, but they managed to get some chemical emergency lighting strips on the floor to work, opened cabinets, checked compartments.
They moved out to inspect the ramps, and the other cabins, searching as best they could in the poor lighting. There was a great deal here that could be used, or traded, but this was clearly a pleasure craft and not a military one. Lamps, fixtures, even dishes and interior windows and wire would be desirable to the Scavenger bands where they were staying, north of here. The Taun did not value such things for themselves but would appreciate having goods to trade. They liked salvaged fabric and some of these pillows and carpets would make them happy, even with a little must and mold. Jyn found a couple of outmoded but workable data pads, solar battery packs and medical equipment that she and Cassian could claim. No weapons, but they could search more carefully later, with better lamps. Some might be stowed in the interior.
There was still the sweetish smell of decay but no sign of other passengers. No visible bodies. No sign of food in the cabinets. The wine racks were empty, to Jyn’s slight disappointment. Although beautifully decorated, the ship seemed stripped, austere, at least from what she imagined of a wealthy party ship of the Early Republican Golden Age. She'd never actually been inside one. Cassian seemed to be studying the controls, dead as they were, and the one engine strut they could see into.
“It didn’t crash,” he said, thoughtfully, “he landed it here. Landed it quite well.”
She had noticed this too, everything seemed so intact. Nothing had slid. A crystal cup was still sitting on a table in the main cabin. Books, discarded jewelry, lay on others scattered between beautiful leather couches. Cassian paused by an interior door off the main lounge cabin. It was open, but too dark to see anything inside, and he held the light low, as if hesitating to lift it and look.
“What is it?” Jyn asked.
‘The master bedroom,” he said, “or it should be....the way ships like this are usually laid out.”
Something was strangely flat in his voice.
“Give me the lamp,” she said. It suddenly seemed important to her that he not go in there.
“No,” he held it up a little, “I’ll be fine.”
He shook his head as if trying to shake something out of it, “No.” he turned to look back at her, “This ship is like one I’ve….been in before, that’s all. It isn’t that one. This ship must have come here shortly after the Purges, probably not long after after Palpatine seized power.”
“How do you know that?” she asked. He pointed to a carved jade table beside the door. There was a broken silver chain laying on it, square linked, heavy, it looked familiar. She had seen them in a few pictures.
Most recently she had seen one on Mon Mothma across the conference room on Yavin IV.
“A senatorial chain?”
“Pre-Imperial Design. The Last “free” Senate. They were all supposed to be collected and re-forged into the design for the Imperial Senate. Mothma had one and wore it for her famous resignation speech. Still wears it, as do a very few other renegades. I’m told Padme Amidala was buried in hers but only a very few survived.”
She moved close, to stand close by him as he lifted the lamp and walked into the cabin. She could make out gleaming furniture lining the walls, armoires and chests, a large gilt mirror.
Nice, the Scavengers would cut that up and sell it by the piece,…Oh hell, girl, she thought, You're already going native.
A large bed stood in the center of the room covered with what looked like tapestries. Another Cerean body lay covered in it, one skeletal hand laying above the coverlet.
“Another elderly male,” Cassian said quietly, “judging by the ridges.”
They came here to die, Jyn thought. Who were they? What were they escaping? Why did they have the hatches unlocked but sealed, as if they just made no attempt to leave?
She looked at Cassian and was suddenly filled with concern for him without being able to articulate why. This place was sad but what was bothering him was more than a mystery of two dead Cerean noblemen, dying alone ahead of the Empire’s rise.
Something else was hurting him here. She wanted to get him out of this ship.
“Come on,” she said. “This is enough.”
He let her lead him out.
The sun was setting. It would have been safer to sleep inside the ship but she was damned if she was going to do that. A ways off from the wreck, at the top of the bluff they set up a fire and ran what the Taun called a “coal rope” of twisted slow-burning fiber around a good-sized camp site. The blue lizards came out after dark. They were mainly a problem down in the valley, not high on the hills, but burning the rope created a circle of ash that they would not cross and made it safer to camp on the ground.
Jyn laid out her blankets and sat down to eat some of the wrinkled fruit and nutcake that they had brought. Cassian had lifted his bedroll and stood for a moment as if thinking about where to put it. The sun was setting off behind the bluffs west of them and the first of the moons was already up and brightening.
“Do you mind?” he said, seeming to ask about laying it down beside hers.
Now we are getting weird, she thought. What is this about?
“Do you not want to?” she asked, annoyed to hear her voice sound like a teenager whose sweetheart is asking for their sweater back.
“Of course I want to, he said, “I just…I wanted to make sure.”
Even before they had become....whatever it was they were here....they had always shared a bed. Since waking up in the stone house they’d made a kind of temporary home in. Since their rescuers had pulled them, burned and broken, out of that wrecked Imperial shuttle. For months they had changed each other's bandages, held onto each other through nightmares. There was nothing left to hide, she felt. After all, even before Scarif...if "before" mattered anymore......they'd both been soldiers, liars, underground dwellers. Privacy was something people like them knew as a mental discipline rather than a physical one, a matter of millimeters, averted eyes, discretion.
He had her at a disadvantage that way of course, knowing, or at least thinking he did, so much about her.
Imperial prison medical records, she'd thought bitterly, sometimes, the ultimate dating information site.
She thought now, as she sometimes had before, of how it was usually she who reached for him, still. In those first days she'd been nervous about his his back, his slowly healing broken ribs, but she had been the one to..… for lack of a better word,... jump him first. His response was always so quick, so hungry, yet so agonizingly careful at the same time.
The very first time he had said, "You have to tell me, please...if I do anything …."
"I trust you," she'd said and it was true.
He trusted her too, although she wondered if she sometimes blundered into hurting him in her desperation.
Water over stones she had thought, when he ran his hands over the scars on her back and legs, when she had touched his chest, and shoulders, curled against him in the night....trying to wear away the memory of the sound his bones had made, breaking as he struck the beams falling in the data tower, smooth it into something else.
He shook his head when she offered him half the cake and took a long drink of the water instead.
It was getting dark in earnest now and the stars were flickering on. He laid down as if very tired with his head on his rolled jacket.
She watched him looking up at the stars and found herself fingering her kyber necklace, as she often did when she felt at an utter loss.
“Tell me a story,” she said, something she had a sudden memory of saying to her mother.
“About what?” he asked, looking up at the sky.
He closed his eyes for a moment then opened them. Looking at the stars and not at her, he began:
Once there was an Imperial Military Provisional Governor. A well-bred, intelligent and ruthless man, the sort of fellow who tends to go far in Imperial Administration. He was packed off to a posting where he could have the opportunity to prove himself, as the new Military Governor on a planet…let’s say, in the Corellian Trade sectors…. with orders to bring a restive population to heel, and quickly establish secure weapons transport facilities.
The Governor was warned by Command that his continued advancement depended on both immediate job results and fewer distracting public scandals. Being a narcissistic sadist, in and of itself, was no disqualification for promotion, but he had a reputation for….intemperance. He had luxurious time-wasting tastes in wine, fast speed racing, classic spaceships, antiques, and the purely recreational physical and physiological abuse of anyone he felt to be in his power.
He had a fairly young wife who had previously been his mistress, the widow of one of his former commanders actually. There had been rumors, but the scandal was soon hushed up as his career advanced.
Maybe he was blackmailing her, or maybe she didn’t know exactly what he was when she traded up and married him. He was manipulative and could be very charming. Maybe she did know, and being ambitious herself, thought she could handle it. Whatever the case, after the “provisional” posting she found her situation unbearable. He was under Grand Moff Tarkin’s watch now, and this combination of greater work stress, added to the loss of the well-trained servants and house staff that had been her partial buffer for years, meant that she was now not just his favorite object of torment, but his only one.
She was contacted by a local resistance cell, who offered to get her off-planet and into Rebel territory in return for information on her husband’s security raids and movements. She asked for sizable payment in cash-credit up front. The Alliance would have been hard-pressed to meet her demands even if they trusted her not to just take the money and run, but they did not. They counter-offered her a smaller sum in advance, with the rest to be paid to her off-world, upon hand-over of the information. They did not hear from her again, but the cell agent who was her contact was captured shortly thereafter by Imperial Security, and committed suicide before they could be tortured.
Whether or not the Governor’s wife deliberately compromised the agent is impossible to know. If she did, the betrayal did her no good. If anything, her husband’s treatment of her became even less discreet.
The Governor was proving very effective at securing the planet, and getting the transport depot operational on-time and on-budget, but, for obvious reasons, his personal staff turn-over was high. Communications and Technical Staff began to be brought in directly out of the Regional Imperial Academies, since anyone with seniority or influence avoided the posting.
The Governor’s beautiful wife seemed to be increasingly confined to the opulent palace and her husband’s wedding gift of a now dry-docked antique Sorosub Luxury 4000 was one of her few refuges. She was also increasingly desperate. One evening, while her husband was away on a rare inspection trip, she stumbled across one of the new young staff officers, a pretty boy of eighteen or so, in a restricted part of the residential wing. He was not supposed to be there, but had broken into a social secretary’s terminal and was patching an information file onto an outgoing food service order. Her father had had a liaison job with a Bothan company in her youth and she recognized the maneuver immediately as that of a Bothan Intelligence mole. When she threatened to report him, the young man revealed that he had been recruited as a Bothan paid source, and she blackmailed him into acting as her go-between with the Bothans. For three weeks she passed him requested information and he gave her confirmation of the large payments being made into an untraceable numbered account on Kafrene.
The dark and empty ship was their meeting place. When the young man expressed concern about avoiding detection in coming and going, the Governors wife explained, with an ugly, bitter laugh, that so long as she remained “within the barbed wire” as she put it, her husband actively encouraged her to maintain such social conventions as parties, fine clothes and lovers. It was possible she was lying, of course, but the young man had been at the station long enough to have heard such whispers. “We’re in no danger doing the expected, my angel. Do exactly as I tell you and we’ll both get what we need out of this. I promise.”
The boy seemed willing to be persuaded. The messages and bank confirmations were passed on detachable film sheets pinned into their clothes. It was necessary to be very conscious of which cameras were activated when, as well as when a touch of repeater tape could make the music box in the powered-down ship cover up a whispered conversation, and when it couldn’t. He appeared to be an apt pupil.
It was an unsustainable situation in the long term, of course, as the young man could not help but be aware. Other officers had begun giving him wide berth, and he understood what was meant when he heard a drunken maintenance worker mutter to another about “asking directions to the pet cemetery” after passing him in a hallway.
He urged the Governor’s wife to make her escape with him to their now fat bank account, assuring her that he could get them out of the palace and arrange for a Bothan ship. She kissed him then and told him how long she had waited to meet someone so brave and loyal. There was no question of simply leaving, she said. He had her watched at all times, had even had a tracer surgically implanted on her, she could never be safe. Quickly, in whispers, she revealed a plan she had clearly been working on for more than a year.
This ship was not as disabled as it appeared, or as her husband believed it to be, and neither was she. The Lux 4000 had it’s own Lothan crystal battery, undetectable by the Palace main power grid It could not fly far, but was enough power to get out of atmosphere and to a small light-speed craft she had hidden on a storage satellite in near orbit, back when her chains were looser. The only sticking point was getting the landing bay open. She could get the command data cylinder, with the executive code on it, but her husband kept it on him at all times.
She would arrange for him to be called to the residence that night. Sooner or later her husband always demanded to meet her lovers personally. He would would be searched going in, everyone was, but she already knew that the Bothans usually supplied their operatives with scan repellent envelopes. She would find a way to slip him a single-charge blaster, just small enough to slip inside one. He would smuggle it into the residence.
Her husband had security droids and cameras but kept the former outside his private quarters and the latter on internal feed, since he lately had reason to be concerned about some of his excesses winding up on his Imperial record file. She could disable him by drugging his evening wine, just enough for the boy to use the weapon and for her to grab the command code and use it to override the droids. They would have to run, but if they could make it to the ship they could be out and free before the alarm sounded. Free of both the Empire and the Bothan Spynet, they would have a chance together.
Her suffering was obvious and her hatred of her husband absolutely beyond question.
The boy admitted that he did indeed have such an envelope. When he dressed to go, an hour later, after she had slipped away from the ship through the darkened hanger, he found a small blaster cap, barely the length of his index finger and with a single button firing mechanism, hidden in his boot
That evening he was called to report to the Governor’s personal quarters. His unit commander and his fellow officers did not even raise eyes from their pads, and the Sport-Net holos they were watching, to see him follow the droid out. He suspected they had already drawn lots for who would get his bunk and locker. He walked very quickly, much faster than his normal gait.
The scans cleared him at the doorways to the private quarters wing, as did the droids outside the even more luxurious “personal” apartment, within.
He knew he would have seconds at best to assess the room when the gilded door clicked shut behind him.
The governor was dead on the floor, shot through the head with a single use blaster pac. The command cylinder, or a solid reproduction of one, was still in his sleeve and a woman’s body lay on the floor nearby. It was not the Governor’s wife, but another woman, no doubt the same age, size and weight.
That surprised him, it shouldn’t have, but he was still only a very young spy after all.
“I’m sorry” he said, as if the dead woman could hear him. Laid out on her body was a timer charge with a display showing ten seconds remaining.
He took a blue disc from the envelope inside his shirt. It telescoped down quickly into a stick about a meter high and he dove to crouch against the doorframe with it held in front of him. If the explosive had been anything other than a pulse-charge grenade, the small repellent field would have been useless and he would have died, as intended. It was though and he didn’t
The blast door sealed as it was pre-programmed to do, although the fire-suppression droids mistakenly opened the several large air vents because of a malfunction that caused them to think an airborne toxin might be present. A second blast went off. Confusion delayed the Security troopers for an extra nine minutes, and when they finally forced the doors and got inside the room in protective gear, they found the mostly vaporized remains of three people. There was the Governor, the badly burned body of a woman tentatively identified as his wife, and a few handfuls of carbonized residue determined later to be all that remained of a third person. A single partial jawbone remained intact and a DNA scan matched with that of Imperial Communications Technician Corporal Edro Morran. Forensics indicated that Morran must have been carrying a second incendiary, probably in his pocket, that went off too soon, largely vaporizing him.
Although the Capitol was put on immediate lock-down, local Resistance forces, in league with the terrorist Rebel Alliance, must have been fore-warned and took advantage of the confusion to attack the airbase, the data storage and water filtration plants, the detention centers, and the physical plant of the Palace and Administrative headquarters. Fighting raged for three days until the Rebels were finally forced back. The construction of the transport station was delayed by almost two years.
“Devaron,” Jyn said.
Cassian lay on his back still looking up at the stars, saying nothing.
“You killed the Butcher of Devaron.”
“No,” he said, “I did not.”
“What happened to her? Did she get away?” Jyn had rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows. The fire had burned low now, but the circle of lizard-repellant coals around them still glowed, giving off just enough light for her to see his face, as a shadowy profile.
“I have no idea,” he said.
She understood, of course, that the Bothan money and the account on Kafrene had never really existed, but she had so many other questions.
How old were you? Did you feel sorry for her, somehow, at any point? Was this the first or only time you had to do something like that? Is this one of the things makes you hate yourself a little? That make you feel like you've swallowed poison? That some choice that was supposed to be yours to make was taken away from you and you can’t have it back? Do you know how rare shame is where I’ve come from? How most people can’t even feel it and the few who can, die or get twisted by it?
There were many things she wanted to say.
There was an older girl and she crawled under my blanket and kissed me I think she tried to tell me she was dying inside, but I was too young and stupid to understand and a month later she was killed and I lost the gloves she gave me. A boy taught me how to swim and asked me to do more with him and I wanted to but I said not now because I was scared and later he said it was just a joke he didn’t even fancy me. He got sent on a mission a week after and got captured. I heard later that he killed himself. It was years and years before I realized that Saw knew, must have known because it was right after that he dragged me out of camp to a medical station and ordered them to give me my first long-term contra implant. He probably sent that boy on that mission that broke him. The first time I ever had full-on sex with anybody it was a smuggler who straight up told me if I didn’t have the money for transit off the planet where I was stranded,....definitely had no idea I was sixteen and had just been abandoned and left to die by my Partisan unit...that I could trade that and even get a hot meal thrown in. It was the Outer Rim, it was what passed for normal relations for the survivalist lot out there. No coercion beyond presenting the one-for-one. Probably even saw it as a generous offer. Do you know what I thought? I thought “Fine. Who the fuck cares?” and I got dropped off on Tatooine. Do you know how hard it is to find a shower in Mos Eisley? It took me three days picking pockets to get the credits for a pay-per-use sonic shower and I stood in it for an hour and cried because it turned out I cared, I cared a lot, and I couldn’t have my choices back.
She said none of those things.
“I want to tell you a story, too,” she said.
There was enough light to tell that Cassian’s eyes were closed now, and he seemed to shake his head. “No, Jyn. You really don’t….you…”
“I want to,” she said,”listen.”
“There was a woman who thought that everybody left, or failed or lied. She had no home and no name anymore and all that kept her alive was spite. When they came to beat even that out of her, all she could think was, how many can I take down with me before the light goes out? At the last second she was pulled off a prison transport and back to life. Then a man appears, who is playing with most of the same pieces but on a totally different game board. Even when he lies he keeps using crazy words like hope, and trust and home, and when he says her name….which is pretty much constantly, by the way….he says it like he says those words, as if it were something he BELIEVES and fuck all evidence to the contrary. He looks at her and sometimes she hates it, because she has been hiding for so long that being seen that clearly hurts. He keeps coming back for her, even when she yells and runs and it’s stupid and he shouldn’t, and he can’t, but he does. He is the most beautiful thing that she has ever seen. Nothing will change that, not blood or fire or the past or anything else will touch it. “Let go,” he tells her, “Leave it, it’s over.” He gives her everything he has left and they lay down to die and when they don’t, they start again."
She settled back down beside him and looked up at the stars. "That is the only story I know now or need to know.”
They had talked about how they had to go back, they had to find a way to keep fighting, because while the Empire stood, there was no safety, no sitting out for anyone, but it was also true that neither of them were the people they had been before…..the fires on Scarif had burned them both clean. She believed that. They lay in silence for a while.
“I like your story better” he said.
The Taun returned around noon the next day, with bags of tart red berries. They were very excited about the wreck and listened to all of Cassian’s explanations, whether or not they understood them. They asked Jyn and Cassian to take out the bones of the Cereans, since they had taboos about such things but they quickly dug a large grave at the top of the bluff, and after the remains were covered, they filled it with dirt and laid leaves on it.
The profits from stripping the beautiful ship were shared out with the Taun and helped Jyn and Cassian make a number of important contacts among the Scavengers and traders that they would need in the months to come.