FN-2187 woke in the early hours to a weight on his chest. Assuming that one of the other Stormtroopers was pulling a prank, he prepared himself for a fight. But it wasn’t one of his fellow members of the First Order sitting on him; it was a soulmate goose. Even in the near darkness of the bunk room, FN-2187 could make out its sleek gray body on top of him and its wet black eyes staring straight at him. It didn’t look like anyone else was aware of it yet, and FN-2187 wanted to keep it that way. The goose opened its mouth, ready to honk, but FN-2187’s quick reflexes allowed him to hold its beak shut before it could make a sound. It struggled, but he held tight.
“What are you doing here?” he whispered to it in a panic, expecting it to be able to answer him. It just glared angrily at him, and he sighed. “You can’t be here,” he tried to explain. “It’s not safe. You have to leave. If I let you go, will you leave?” It made no move to indicate either way, but he let go.
For a moment, it just stared at him. For a moment, FN-2187 thought that maybe he’d gotten through to the goose. The goose would understand that he wasn’t welcome. That FN-2187 didn’t want to be led to his soulmate. That the best thing for everyone concerned would be for the goose to just disappear back to where it came from.
Then the goose lunged forward and bit him on the earlobe.
“Agh!” FN-2187 put his hand to his ear; the goose had drawn blood. He narrowed his eyes at the creature. Then he shoved it off his chest onto the floor. It flapped about in an indignant way but didn’t leave his side.
In the morning, when everyone woke, he was the talk of the unit. It wasn’t unheard of for a soulmate goose to show up for a Stormtrooper, but it never ended well. Members of the First Order were supposed to be soldiers and nothing else. They didn’t have feelings. They didn’t have original thoughts. They didn’t have families. They certainly didn’t have soulmates.
The procedure to deal with a soulmate goose was simple. Step 1: wait until the goose led the Stormtrooper to a soulmate. Step 2: kill the soulmate, even if it happened to be another Stormtrooper. That was it. If there was any resistance, any emotion shown at all, the Stormtrooper was killed as well.
So FN-2187 tried not to respond to the taunts and insults. He kept his head down and just tried to keep the goose from biting him again. He ate breakfast determinedly, spooning meal into his mouth using one hand and fending off goose attacks using a piece of his uniform clutched in his other hand. He didn’t respond to any of the names the others called him like lover boy or saddle-goose. He didn’t even listen to any of the speculation about who his soulmate might be.
The truth was, he already had a good idea about who it might be—or, at least, where they might be. FN-2187 was part of the force that was being sent to Jakku. There was something there the leaders of the First Order wanted very badly, and it was up to him to help retrieve it. It was no coincidence that his soulmate goose showed up the same day he was going there; his soulmate had to be somewhere on that planet.
The goose pecked at him as he got into his uniform. Its beak kept hitting the hard, impenetrable material, but it kept on trying to get through to him. When he tried to swat it away, it hissed at him. “You’re gonna get someone killed!” he tried to explain to it. “Just go. Go now while you still can!” But the goose was immune to his pleas. In the end, when he boarded the atmospheric assault lander, so did his goose.
The Stormtroopers stood in silence as the transports sped toward the planet. Or at least they tried to. The goose refused to shut up. It strutted around excitedly, honking as though it were relieved to finally be on its way.
“Can’t you keep that thing quiet?” Captain Phasma complained through what sounded like gritted teeth. It wasn’t a question; it was a command. FN-2187 tried to grab hold of the goose and force its beak closed, but he only managed to keep his hold for a few minutes. The goose was feisty and excitable.
The planet was dark when they landed, but the lights of the village cut through the darkness like a blaster. As soon as the exit ramp was lowered, it was clear where they were headed. FN-2187 rushed down the ramp with the rest of his unit, the goose snapping at his heels. It tried to steer him in one direction or the other, but he kept with his unit as they all moved at a quick pace.
FN-2187 heard someone shout “Over there! Over there!” And suddenly the goose, like his fellow First Order Stormtroopers, was off in a new direction. It moved fast through the sand on its webbed feet. And even though he told himself he was moving with the rest of his unit, deep down he knew he was really chasing after it the goose. Following was what he did best, what he had been trained to do. But everyone was going in that direction now anyway, dodging laser blasts as best they could.
There were villagers firing at them. And there was a ship of some sort firing as well. FN-2187 lost sight of his goose when it went around a sandstone structure of some sort, a wall or foundation of a building, then it came back into view. It was so low to the ground, the blasts didn’t seem to faze it; it kept right on going. It was right in front of him when the Stormtrooper also just in front of him was hit squarely with a flash of blue and went down in a second. Racing to his side, FN-2187 got there just in time to witness the man’s last gasp. A bloody hand came up, reaching for him, desperate, and slid across FN-2187’s helmet. The goose stood there and squawked at them both.
For a second, FN-2187 couldn’t register what had happened. Was this him? Was this supposed to have been his soulmate? Or was this just another Stormtrooper like him? Except this one was dead. And if this one could die, so could he. If he’d been only four feet ahead, in fact, this would have been him.
Breathing hard, he stood and turned on the spot. Fire over there. Bodies over here. Laser blasts from all directions.
Suddenly, everything felt all too real. The rush of possibility was overtaken by the realization of his own mortality and the danger he was in.
Even though his goose was honking and flapping its wings, trying to tell him something, he did the only thing he could think of and ran for cover. He found a wall and stood there, gasping, panicking, seeing only the smears of blood through the visor of his helmet. He closed his eyes shut, not caring about anything anymore, just wanting all this to end.
Then he felt the bird peck at his armor, trying to get through to his leg. He looked down at it, the sleek gray goose in the middle of a village that had turned into a battlefield. If that had been his soulmate, then the goose would be gone right now, right? His heartbeat began to slow. He slowly regained his senses. When he came out from behind the wall, he saw a squad marching past, down several members. The leader pointed to him, indicating for him to join their ranks. And though his goose protested loudly, it was barely audible amidst the sounds of the battle. FN-2187 followed the other Stormtroopers.
“Stay here.” The leader told him, and FN-2187 stayed. The goose ran circles around him, anxiously, but he stayed. He stayed and watched two Stormtroopers restraining some old man from the village. He stayed and watched as Kylo Ren himself came over. They exchanged words for the briefest of moments before the old man was cut down.
FN-2187’s eyes widened, and he scooped the goose up into his arms. He wasn’t entirely sure if he was going to use it as a shield or try to keep it safe, but he knew he didn’t want it going anywhere near Kylo Ren when that red lightsaber was activated. A moment later, Kylo Ren held his hand up, keeping a blue laser blast from striking him. The blast froze in mid-air. The power was like nothing FN-2187 had ever seen before. And he could see the same incredulous look in the eyes of the man who had fired the weapon.
Two Stormtroopers seized the man and dragged him over. The goose had gone calm and limp in his arms, probably scared about what was going to happen, but FN-2187 still held on tight. The man was forced to his knees, and Kylo Ren moved in closer, bent down imposingly before him.
The man who was so obviously about to be killed took a breath and looked up. “So who talks first? D’you talk first? I talk first?”
Despite himself, FN-2187 smiled. He was glad his expression couldn’t be seen beneath his helmet. He hugged the goose closer to him. Though unable to hear the rest of their short conversation, it was shocking that Kylo Ren didn’t kill him. When they pulled the man up to his feet and marched him to the command shuttle, FN-2187 got a proper look at him. Sweaty and dirty from battle compared to the Stormtrooper’s bright white uniforms, the man still looked striking. The firm jaw. The defiant gleam in his eye. The slick jacket. The wavy, mussed hair. FN-2187’s heartbeat began to race again, but this time not in fear.
And then came Captain Phasma, the reflections of fires dancing on her shiny, silver uniform. “Sir, the villagers?”
Kylo Ren turned to her and, in a flat, emotionless voice, said, “Kill them all.”
FN-2187’s racing heart leapt to his throat. His soulmate… his soulmate was here, had to be here. And now his soulmate was going to be killed before the goose had even had a chance to lead them to each other. He held the goose tightly to his chest, wanting to cry, wanting to scream at the injustice of it all. Not just their part but all of the senseless killing. This wasn’t for the good of any republic. This was straight out murder. Kylo Ren had gotten what he came for. He could have let the remaining villagers go. But, instead, the Stormtroopers closed in and fired.
FN-2187 raised his weapon as well, but he didn’t fire. He couldn’t even hold it right, not with a goose in his arms. But he made a show of pretending to fire. And the movement and blasting and the screaming and falling of bodies made the goose fight against him again. He couldn’t blame it. His soulmate was out there right now, being murdered, and there was nothing either of them could do to stop it.
With not a single villager left alive, Kylo Ren turned to go back to his command shuttle. But he stopped for a moment and stared right at FN-2187. He took in the Stormtrooper’s appearance from the bloody streaks on his helmet to the goose still in his arms. He moved on without a word.
But suddenly FN-2187 understood. The goose was still here. That meant his soulmate must still be alive after all this. Either a villager had gotten away—and that seemed highly unlikely, because the First Order would never allow such an escape to take place—or FN-2187’s soulmate was right here. He must be none other than Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren, their leader. Kylo Ren, a murderer. It explained why his goose was still and calm now; he’d heard that was what soulmate geese did when soulmates found each other. But they didn’t vanish until the two kissed.
FN-2187 couldn’t imagine kissing Kylo Ren. How could someone like him be FN-2187’s soulmate? Feeling sick to his stomach now, FN-2187 followed the other Stormtroopers back to one of the atmospheric assault landers.
The goose was silent on his lap on the way back, and he hugged it close to keep his arms and hands from trembling. Occasionally it tried to bite his face, but its beak couldn’t penetrate the helmet; a helmet that was starting to feel like a torture device. The First Order was his life, his whole world. He’d grown up being taught that it was the only way for the galaxy to move forward. And here it was, murdering villagers for absolutely no reason. And here he was, part of that. He was soulbonded with that.
If he didn’t get air immediately, he was going to be sick in his helmet. The moment he was out of the ship, he found a deserted corridor. He set the goose on the floor and yanked his helmet off. That first breath of air was like nothing else. Sure it was stale and recycled here on the Finalizer, but it was cool and calming. He took breath after breath, his gasps slowing as the nausea passed.
Captain Phasma’s familiar voice made his eyes widen. He turned, still trying to gain control of himself and hoping she wouldn’t notice his panic.
He could hear her suspicion through the vocalizer built into her helmet. “I see your goose is still here. Submit it for inspection later today.”
“Yes, Captain.” He nodded automatically in agreement, though he could only guess what the First Order was going to do with it. Did she also suspect it would lead him to Kylo Ren? Or, worse, did she think it would lead him to her? He wasn’t sure which was worse, but a fresh wave of panic seized him.
She didn’t leave, and for a moment FN-2187 was terrified she would move in on him, try to prove that one kiss from her could bind them forever and make the goose disappear for good. Instead, she said, “And who gave you permission to remove that helmet?”
She was not interested in kissing him, it seemed. He turned from her, still catching his breath. “I’m sorry, Captain.” He hurriedly put his helmet back on.
But it wasn’t enough to please her. “Report to my division—without the goose.”
As soon as she was gone, he pulled the helmet back off. But he looked down at the goose that was no longer trying to peck him or pull his ear off. He’d been so close to finding his soulmate today. The goose had seen who it was, and now FN-2187 knew that he had to find out for sure. If it was one of the other Stormtroopers or Phasma or Kylo Ren, he would just have to deal with whatever came of that. If he was meant to commit not just his life but also his soul and his heart to the First Order, then that was his destiny. The sooner he accepted it, the better. But he just had to know for certain. He had to give his goose a chance before they destroyed it.
He squatted down so he was nearly eye level with the gray feathered nuisance. “All right. I think I’m ready. I think it’s now or never,” he told the goose. “Lead me to my soulmate.” It met his gaze, its shiny black eyes staring unblinkingly at him. Then it bit his nose.
FN-2187 drew back, hand cupped to his face. “Thanks,” he muttered, really wishing he’d just kept his helmet on as Captain Phasma had ordered.
The goose waddled down one hallway then the next. Working sanitation, FN-2187 had gotten to know the layout of Starkiller base fairly well. But there were parts of the Finalizer he had never before seen that the goose was leading him down now. There were service stairways and narrow passages. He was beginning to second guess this decision when he passed a holding area for freshly cleaned uniforms.
“Wait!” he called out, and the goose inexplicably waited. It looked impatient, like if he lingered too long it was going to go after his face again. So he hurried.
After tossing his dirty, blood-covered helmet and uniform in a nearby bin, he took a clean one. The rack automatically inched forward, holding what FN-2187 could only suppose was an infinite supply of Stormtrooper uniforms. He put his new one on. Despite it claiming to be his size, it felt tighter than it should. He couldn’t quite take a full breath. And he could feel his heart beating hard, pumping blood through him. The goose looked at him like it understood. Then it waddled off down another hallway and around a corner. FN-2187 hurried to catch up.
Finally, the goose went around another corner and halted so abruptly FN-2187 very nearly tripped over it. It was a good thing he didn’t, however, because right in front of him were Kylo Ren and General Hux. FN-2187 managed to hang back around the corner just far enough where he could see most of what was going on but not be easily spotted. Kylo Ren headed past two Stormtroopers and straight into a room. The goose squawked, and FN-2187 gave it a small kick, trying to tell it to be quiet without making a sound himself.
Ren. It had led him back to Kylo Ren. There was no denying it now. In all of Finalizer—in all of the galaxy, really—the goose had selected Kylo Ren to be his soulmate. The realization made him feel nauseated and confused. What was he supposed to feel attracted to here? The power? The leadership? The black and silver mask? Nothing in him quickened the way it was supposed to. Nothing drew him in closer. In fact, all he felt like doing was turning and running in the opposite direction as fast as he could go. His goose wasn’t just an asshole; his goose was maniacal—maybe even evil
The door slid open again so Kylo Ren could leave. He had only been in there a few minutes, but when he left, he walked with confidence and purpose. FN-2187 instinctively found himself repulsed by that as well. Clearly his goose had to be sick and demented to endorse such a pairing. For a second, before the door closed, FN-2187 caught sight of the man from Jakku strapped down, held captive. Then he heard Kylo Ren say something about a droid to General Hux. He couldn’t quite make out the general’s response, but Kylo Ren strode off with an “I leave that to you,” and FN-2187 bent down to restrain the goose.
But the goose didn’t go after Kylo Ren. It stood where it was, staring at the door to the room. It didn’t budge as General Hux walked away in the opposite direction. The goose stayed fixated on the room.
And a different sort of feeling washed over FN-2187. Kylo Ren wasn’t his soulmate after all. The goose had quieted on the planet and the goose had brought him here all for one reason: the man inside that room. FN-2187’s soulmate wasn’t a Stormtrooper or a leader. FN-2187’s soulmate was a man in the Resistance. A man who’d just been tortured. A man who was bleeding and hurt. A man FN-2187 was going to have to rescue.
If the First Order found out about this soulbond, the man would be killed. Probably even without the goose’s marking him, Kylo Ren was going to come back and kill the man anyway for being in the Resistance. And FN-2187 could not allow this to happen. He had to get the man as far from here as possible… and he had to go with.
But how was he supposed to do that? There was no way off Finalizer without a ship, and FN-2187 didn’t know the first thing about flying a TIE Fighter or flying anything else for that matter. He could only hope that his soulmate did.
He paused a moment, letting that sink in. His soulmate was here—was right inside that room. In a few seconds, they’d be face to face. What was he supposed to say? How was he supposed to explain who he was or what had happened down there on Jakku? How could he be sure the Resistance wouldn’t kill him the way the First Order would have? He hesitated, wondering if it was just better to turn around and forget this whole plan to escape. This was the only life he knew. He could turn his goose in for inspection and report to Captain Phasma as if nothing at all had gone wrong. He could try to serve in the First Order like the soldier he’d trained to be. But, deep down, he knew he’d never be able to do all of what was expected of him. He’d never be able to murder.
Escape was his only option. This man from the Resistance was his only hope.
The goose seemed to sense it, too. It waddled forward, entirely oblivious to the two Stormtroopers standing guard at the door. FN-2187 hurried after it, trying to look calm when his insides were in fact squirming simultaneously with nerves and anticipation. Just like the goose, he marched past the guards. There was a Stormtrooper inside, holding some sort of tool that was probably used as a torture device. The man had looked bad down there on Jakku, but here he looked infinitely worse. He was beaten and broken and very nearly dead already. There wasn’t much left to save, but FN-2187 was determined to save it. He just hoped the man could do his part when the time came. “Ren wants the prisoner,” FN-2187 said to the Stormtrooper and, just like that, the man’s restraints sprang open.
FN-2187’s heart almost stopped beating when he laid his hand on the man’s hand for the first time. He was stronger than he seemed, and he was more alert than he should be for someone who’d just been tortured. His head, now released from its restraint, bobbed for a second before raising slightly. Their eyes met, and FN-2187 could see the fatigue and caution in them. But there was also much confusion. And maybe there was something else. Just maybe this man could sense they were soulmates.
Knowing appearance was everything now, FN-2187 grabbed the man roughly by the arm and pulled, hoping he wasn’t about to injure the man further. After snapping a pair of cuffs around his wrists, FN-2187 decided putting ones on his ankles wouldn’t be necessary. He got the man onto his feet and dragged him out of the room, down the hall. His heart was hammering in his chest. His face was flushed hot and wet with sweat. He only had a vague understanding of where he was, because the goose’s path getting here had been long and roundabout. But as long as he moved quickly and with purpose, no one was going to stop the two of them—three of them, if you included the goose. After a few hallways, he realized he wasn’t all that far from one of the hangers where ships were kept. They’d gotten lucky.
Or, well, the man wasn’t all that lucky. He looked almost dead on his feet, and he was breathing hard, having a difficult time keeping up. The man would be useless if he passed out from the pain, so FN-2187 found a deserted alcove. “Turn here,” he commanded, a blaster he knew he would never fire pointed at the man’s chest. The man turned and ducked into the alcove under his direction.
The man was so close now. FN-2187 saw the dried blood on the sides of the man’s head and at his mouth. But he also saw those soft lips and those gorgeous eyes. He saw the stubble on his chin and the waves of dark brown hair. He saw the hand-sewn stitches of his jacket and the lovely peach skin his shirt parted to reveal. He took a deep breath. “Listen carefully. If you do exactly as I say, I can get you out of here.”
FN-2187 couldn’t resist being so close. He pulled his helmet off. There was nothing but a few inches of space between their faces, their lips. He wanted so badly to kiss this man. FN-2187 wasn’t sure what instincts were real any more, but he knew he wanted this man. But before that, he had to put him at ease. The man looked terrified and confused. There wasn’t much time. He knew it wouldn’t be long until the rest of the First Order realized their prisoner was missing. But they weren’t going to get far if they weren’t on the same page. FN-2187 tried to explain. “This is a rescue. I’m helping you escape. Can you fly a TIE Fighter?”
“You with the Resistance?”
Confused and frustrated, FN-2187 echoed the man’s “What?” Adding, “No no no.” Didn’t the man understand what was happening here? Didn’t he feel their bond? Didn’t he see the goose? “I’m breaking you out!” They’d die if they didn’t get off this ship in the next few minutes. This was their only shot. This was do or die. He clenched his teeth and made his question as clear as it could be. “Can you fly a TIE Fighter?”
The man’s reply was just as clear, almost defiant. “I can fly anything.” No, it wasn’t exactly defiance in his voice—it was pride. Pride… and honestly.
FN-2187 couldn’t help loving this man already. His face lit up, and he exhaled with excitement.
But the man wasn’t yet convinced. One eye red with burst capillaries, his brow furrowed, the man stared at FN-2187 and asked, “Why are you helping me?”
There were a dozen different answers on the tip of FN-2187’s tongue. He thought about watching the Stormtroopers exterminate the villagers. He thought about how he’d been impressed with the man the very first minute he’d laid eyes on him. He thought about how much he hated his life. He thought about that trickle of blood running down the man’s cheek. And he thought about the soulmate goose that was pecking his shin. After thinking it all through, FN-2187 answered with all the conviction he could muster in an attempt to give the answer that someone from the Resistance would want to hear, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
The man stared at him a moment and then easily called his bluff. “You need a pilot.”
Damn. Almost unable to meet the man’s gaze, FN-2187 admitted it. “I need a pilot.”
Slowly, the man smiled and nodded. Confidently, “We’re gonna do this.”
“Oh yeah.” The man turned and very nearly tripped over the goose he somehow hadn’t noticed until just now. It honked loudly and ruffled its tail feathers, sorting itself out. Cocking his head at FN-2187, the man asked, “This your goose?” He bit his lower lip, an action which just about took FN-2187’s breath away.
The answer was obvious. “Pretty sure it’s our goose.”
The man worked his lower lip between his teeth for a moment longer, and then he broke into a smile. “Guess you need more than a pilot, huh? Guess you need this.” And, with that, he grabbed FN-2187 by the collar of his uniform and pulled him into a crushing kiss.
It took a few moments to realize what was happening. He’d never experienced a kiss before. But the sensation was so raw and strong it overwhelmed him. Blood rushed to certain parts of his body as breath was driven right out of others. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. All he could do was kiss the man back and hope he was doing it right.
And when the man released him and pulled back from the magnificent kiss, the goose was gone. FN-2187 leaned forward, wanting another kiss. Wanting every kiss the man could give.
“Much as I would love to—and, believe me, I would love to—I think you mentioned something about an escape?”
FN-2187’s eyes lit with recognition. “Right!” He raised his blaster again and put his helmet back on again. “Let’s go. Any second now they’ll realize you’re gone. We should hurry.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.”
As they quickened their pace down the corridor, FN-2187 smiled inside his helmet. He didn’t know if his plan would work. He didn’t know how all this was going to end. He didn’t even know the man’s name. But he knew he was in love with a pilot in the Resistance, and that was a good a way to start the rest of his life.