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Heavy Lifting

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Jyn goes to the med-bay daily, but they won’t let her in.  The other survivors from Scarif are there, many of them still in Intensive Care; she’s one of the few to be released as yet.  Still limping, and favouring one arm, but mobile enough just the same to shove out, free-up a bed. 

Medical has to prepare for the evacuation.  Everyone does. 

They may have destroyed her father’s monstrous work, and dealt the Empire a crippling blow, but with their location known, there’s no choice but to run. 

She accepts being discharged with relief, glad to be out of the unfamiliarly clean and sterile ward and the detached attentive supervision of droids and medics.  Jyn has had her share of wounds, has walked on through her share of ill-health, but a bed-stay in a proper med-centre is not something she’s experienced before, and it disturbs her, in quiet nagging ways, to have had to acknowledge her injuries and submit to the authority of professional treatment.

Turns out she’s still under their authority outside, anyway.  When she begs for news of her friends (hearing the word fall from her own lips with an incredulity that is very like joy, even here, even now), she’s met by a simple answer, a no so calmly, firmly implacable she thinks the medical staff could teach even General Draven a thing or two.  She isn’t next of kin or a listed contact; she can’t see any of the patients still in the ICU.

It’s ridiculous; three of the people she wants to visit aren’t even Alliance personnel.  No-one has any right to apply the protocols for enlisted sentients to Bodhi, Baze or Chirrut. 

But she isn’t personnel herself, either, and the longer she stays and argues, the more attention she’s drawing to herself.

“If any of them ask about me, will you tell them I came?” she asks. She wants Bodhi especially to know that she’s thinking of him, and he isn’t alone.  And Cassian... “Tell them I’m still here, I’m – I’m staying, I’m not going anywhere.  I want to do what I can.  Tell them all?  Please?”

It must be a familiar plea; the medic just nods and makes a note, and shows her the door.  And Jyn is there, in a humid stone passageway, still lame and sore, but alive.  Everyone she wants to be with, behind her in the med-bay; everyone she wouldn’t know from the ghost of Padme of Naboo, ahead.

People she doesn’t know, and who don’t know her.  Strangers’ eyes, measuring her up, knowing she doesn’t belong; and strangers’ boots marching briskly by.

No matter her brazen defiance of recent days, a lifetime’s habit of keeping a low profile isn’t to be broken overnight.  Bodhi, Baze and Chirrut, and Cassian, would want her to be safe.  She can’t feel safe when she sticks out like this.  At some point Command will catch up with her, and either recruit her or throw her out.  She still isn’t sure which it will be; or which she wants. 

But for now she has to stay around.  Her friends are here, and since after all the odds that stood against it, still somehow she’s alive, perhaps she can at least make use of her time.  There’s work to be done, and she needs to keep busy, or she’ll think too much; needs to do something, however small, to feel less useless, and less guilty.  Keep busy to keep sane.  To be able to sleep at night.

At least until she can talk to the others again.  Talk to Bodhi, who knew her father; to Chirrut and Baze, who are wiser than her.  To Cassian.  She wants to talk to him, more than she can remember wanting to talk in years.  He will understand her, and that is immeasurably precious.

And there’s surely no-one else here she can talk to.  

Her mind is still numb with all that’s happened, all that’s still unknown.

But a harried Quartermaster assigns her a bunk in a dorm room shared with a dozen other transients and civilians, and her willingness to assist in the evacuation preparations is duly noted.  The medical discharge note says “No heavy lifting” but she can still help fill packing cases, fill-in stock-checks, steer a floater truck across the base.

She has no idea how they do things here; from what little she’s seen of their operations, the Rebel Alliance seems both far more of a formal military outfit than the Partisans, and at the same time far less of one.  Jyn asks for and is issued some new clothes, and suddenly looks more like everyone else; drifts into a task, into a group, and finds herself assisting a quiet Twi’lek Warrant Officer, packing up non-perishables in the stores at the back of the main mess-hall.

She avoids identifying herself.  It would be easy just to give an old name, Tanith Ponta, say; Tanith was the epitome of the hardworking nobody, after all.  But just being unnamed is as habitual in its way as living under an assumed name.  Jyn is just a pair of hands, another helper.  She’d like to stay that way, nobody, just helping, no decisions needing to be made and no explanations given, for a little while longer.  No heavy lifting, physical or mental.

The kitchens have to keep working, feeding the thousand-plus personnel still on base, even as their kit and supplies are prepped to be lifted out wholesale.  It’s a complex operation to pack everything else without disrupting that work. 

“At least we have the time to pack properly,” WO Mona Amelle tells her. ”For a while back then it looked as though we’d be evacuating people and have to leave everything else.   The Force alone knows what we would’ve lived on if we’d had to keep running for long.  Run out of food or medical supplies in hyperspace and you can forget about freedom and hope and all the rest of it.”

“You fight on your stomach,” Jyn says, nodding. “My – my mentor used to say that.”

“Your mentor was right.”

They’ve spent two hours shifting fresh produce to one side of the stores, ready to be used up, before moving onto the non-perishables.  They’ve got a little hauler working with them, a patient set of legs carrying a temperature-controlled packing case; it looks as though it started out as a GNK power droid, though it seems to be very happy in its new role.   The three of them have got a steady rhythm going, Jyn and Mona unpacking cupboards of dried and canned goods, parcelling them up and relabelling them, then loading them onto Legs who carries them across to the floater parked outside and a waiting CL6 load-lifter. 

Jyn can hear them chattering in binary as they pack the cases onto the truck, and the faint wheezing of Legs’ joints as it trundles back five minutes later.  In the background, from the next room, comes a steady rattling and an occasional muttered curse as two techs dismantle the main protein-vats for transportation.  Work carrying on, all around her, practical and useful and focussed.  There’s something quietly comforting about the sounds. 

Maybe, if she can just settle into some sort of routine, just let her mind rest for a few hours, a few days, more, this new situation will start to feel safe; and she’ll find her way.

She wants to find a way, somehow.  A path, a future.

No finding it now, though, there’s plenty of work still to do in this store, and it’s only the first of a dozen.  The last load Legs hauled had been mostly baking sundries and packs of sky-corn kernels like the ones she remembers popping over a hot fire with her Mama.  The next cupboard, opened, reveals shelf upon shelf of luxury goods, and Jyn blinks at Mona in surprise.  “Naboo cherries in brandy?  We need this stuff?”

“Yup.  Morale.  Getting a treat now and then cheers everyone up.”  Mona lifts down a case of tinned beesli-buds, and behind it Jyn sees vac-packs of smoked fish roes, jars of Corellian olives, golden bottles of fruit cordial.  And then, on the next shelf –

They both freeze for a moment. 

Alderaanian emerald wine, a couple of dozen bottles.  Bags of yellowblossom tea from the Juran foothills.  Highland kaf berries in vacuum packs.  Three tins of traditional autumn equinox biscuits, still in their coloured paper wrappers with the picture of Aldera City and Appenza Peak.

There’s a moment of numbness before the grief hits again.  She saw Alderaan only once, from a ship in orbit, a stop-over awaiting an onward transfer shuttle.  She saw the thing that killed a world, more often than the world it murdered.  She knows what that murder felt like, the visceral knowledge of that moment before death; she still dreams it, earth and rock ripping apart around her, below her, above her, and the vaporized inexorable sea coming down on them shining and silent, her and Cassian, clinging to life, so alone in the face of that death.   

Jyn makes herself move; standing and staring heals nothing, and someone might come, who is less able to handle this even than she.  She says nothing.  Quickly they pack the supply of Alderaanian foods into a large box and seal it.  Mona slaps a label on the outside, writes Do not use in large letters.  In silence they move onto the next shelf.

Bothan festival foods; canned sand snake, pickled acid spinach.  Ten-packs of braised spiced bean curd from Deimaak.  Kilo bags of dried fruit, from Naboo and Salliche.  The idea of treats, of morale boosters, seems brutal.  How can anything ever be the same now?  Her father’s crime, the unforgiveable act.  Genocide, biocide.

Mona says quietly at last “We will all carry them with us, forever.  Alderaan will be a memory to burn all fear.  And Jedha.  We will carry the two billion, and the one million, and all the innocent dead.  The Force will be with them, may it be so.” It has the cadence of a prayer.

“May it be so,” Jyn echoes the response automatically.  She swallows; dry throat, blurred eyes. 

“And the heroes of Yavin and Scarif, we will carry them.  Their sacrifice bought our hope.  The Force will be with them.”

“May it be so.”

If I told you I was at Scarif, Warrant Officer, would you call me a hero too?  If I told you my name, would you call me a monster?  I am a murderer’s child.  Oh Papa, can the galaxy ever forgive you?

I’ll carry them all with me for the rest of my life, those helpless people.  I did not build the Death Star but my name did.  And I must find a way to carry that.

She bends without thinking and sets her arms round one of the outers of dried fruit, meaning to lift it onto Legs’ carrying-case.  Mona jumps in, clucking protectively and batting her away. “No heavy lifting, that’s what you told me they said –“

“I’m okay – I can manage –“

“But you don’t have to.  Manage, I mean.  Not alone.”

Please let that be so.  Not alone. Please.

Let my friends live.  They are good men.  They deserve a chance.

And I’ve been alone for so very long.

She’s stopped dead again, she realises with embarrassment she’s staring at and right through WO Mona’s kind pale-blue face.

“I’m sorry,” she says hastily. “It’s - not easy.”

Mona bites her lower lip for a second. “You were there, weren’t you? On Scarif, I mean.”

Jyn’s heartbeat quickens, even as her limbs go to jelly.  She can’t move, her body is refusing outright even to let her speak.

To tell the truth, and hope, or lie and hide?  Even hope feels like a burden suddenly, under the weight of her life.

She swallows again and nods her head.  Manages to exhale; the single word “yes.”

“You – don’t want it known?  You don’t have to talk about it, please forgive me –“

Jyn breathes, and shakes her head convulsively. 

I have to face this, I have to carry it now, or run, and be Tanith forevermore, and alone.  Lose those friends I found, and never see them or this sense of meaning, ever again. 

Another breath.  It was easy to say these things in defiance, to that worm in white, on the tower; but to say them now to someone who has been kind is another matter. “It’s not just that – I’m –I’m Jyn Erso.”

“Yes, I know,” says Mona after a moment.

“My father –“ Jyn starts to explain, in a stumbling voice that sounds hard and affectless even to her own ears.  The words hang for a moment, dead in the air.  She can’t say it.  My father, the mass-murderer. 

“I know,” Mona says again. “People – people talk.  And they - argue.  But we can make up our own minds.  What you did – you and that Intelligence guy, the quiet one – it was incredibly brave.  That mission – well, I’m glad some of you made it back.  We need more people like you.” Her voice shakes slightly and strengthens. “I know what it’s like to feel guilty.  Everyone here does.  My parents are collaborators, I have to live with that.  They do it to survive, but still…”

They stare at one another, over the cases of canned goods.  Legs straightens up with a wheeze of servos and sets off back to the floater-truck and his binary buddy.

“I’m not saying any of it is easy,” says Rebel Alliance Warrant Officer Mona Amelle, whose parents are collaborators on Ryloth. “But you didn’t do what your father did.  You did what you did.  And you don’t have to carry this alone.”

“May it be so,” Jyn says, and swallows.  For the first time in days, she realises, she’s smiling. 

There will be a way, somehow.  She’s still learning how to live in hope, but it feels real, and maybe it won't always be so heavy to carry.

They go on working, because there’s still a lot to be done.  But they’ll get there.  They’ll all get there.