“Please, please, don’t make me leave him!”
On the beach at Scarif, Cassian Andor was near collapse when rescue arrived. The shuttle that carried them off-planet would finally rendezvous with a medical cruiser after a terrifying half-hour creeping through the floating debris field of the battle, trying to avoid being noticed. By the time he can be carried into a properly equipped med-bay he is unconscious, barely breathing.
Jyn is wide awake and raging, shaking with delayed shock and pain, pushing back when a med-droid tries to separate them.
The droid tells her his internal injuries and internal and external bleeding have gone untreated for too long; she cries out in refusal of the news, but the calm medical voice goes on regardless. “Brain activity is minimal and his heartbeat is weakening. It is unclear if he will regain consciousness.”
She knows what that means. Cassian is dying.
Jyn stares. Helpless and sick she says “There has to be something you can do!” Says it over and over, to faceless, unresponsive droids and silent, frantic sentient medics. No-one will listen to her.
No-one can even tell her if anyone else survived.
The hospital ship purrs on into the unnatural calm of hyperspace. It’s cold, and there’s a firm mattress and a hastily-offered painkiller shot, and the sleep of the broken and exhausted comes on her, though she wants to fight it. She cannot hold on any longer.
Jyn blacks out, and falls out of the waking world. She wakes into a dream.
Lyra and Chirrut are standing in front of her; they appear to know one another already, which seems fitting, and they tell her that she can use her crystal, and touch the Force, that she can take herself into the Realm of Death and find Cassian and the others. “There are survivors, there can be survivors, they can escape if you find them before it’s too late. If you can cheat death of them. You can beat the code, Jyn, you can steal back the hope that’s been taken from you. Trust the Force.”
Jyn is dazed and in shock, even in the dream (& ah how terrible the memory, his voice saying “You’re in shock” so coldly, so dismissively, just a few days ago, when then he was so wrong, and now he would be so right). She wakes again and sits up, desperate and dry-mouthed, dizzy and nauseous. Despite the hypo-spray shot she’s in increasing pain from her own wounds, which no-one seems yet to have catalogued or treated; and fair enough, she thinks sickly, I told them not to, I told them Leave me, help Cassian. The fractured bone in her leg, the cracked ribs, the head blow she took when she nearly fell from the gantry. But she’s awake, pain or not; she hauls herself to her feet and stumbles down a long, swaying storm-wave of a passageway, to the ward where Cassian lies unconscious and unmoving.
Trust the Force. Steal back your hope.
Clutching her pendant she bends over him, her breath starting to go erratic with pain, wanting to speak and to tell him “I will come for you”; and everything turns stormy-black and sea-sick. Jyn slumps to the floor by the side of his bed.
She is running down, into a deep cavern, bigger and darker by far than the cave on Lah’mu; it seems to go deep under both sea and land, the air inside is dark and cold, the traces of light greenish, gelid and thin. She comes to a doorway, a long descending stairway, another door; and a land beneath the waking world. On a silent beach, like and unlike the black shores of her childhood, a boat is waiting in the surf, and a boatman, who asks without speaking, mind to mind; what will she give, to win the prize she seeks?
Everything, Jyn says. Anything.
He holds out a hand to help her aboard. She ignores it. Climbs into the boat unaided.
She’s doing this. Maybe it will kill her, but she’s doing it anyway.
They sail across mountainous seas, for hours upon hours, that run dizzyingly into one another, until Jyn is ill with weariness and constant seasickness, and her hands are numb with cold, her throat dry from the salt in the air. Then they come to a calm, and for days upon nights and nights upon days the only sound is the steady purr of the engine, as the little open boat slides across the mirror-flat water. The boatman never addresses her again, the whole way out.
Jyn sits in silence, waiting; there is nothing she can do but wait, or throw herself over-side and drown.
She’s not going to drown herself. Whatever follows this nightmare voyage, she will remain alive long enough to see it come and name it, know what it is.
At last they come to a high grey tower, rising from a single spire of rock in the midst of the flat calm of the ocean. The boatman hauls the vessel close in to shore with an iron boat-hook, and turns, nodding to her to rise and disembark. Aching all over, every limb shaking from tiredness and thirst, Jyn clambers out, onto black granite, and a rock-cut staircase slippery with tide-weed. She ascends slowly to the door of the tower; there are no controls to open it, so she knocks, stilling the quaking in her fist. The door opens.
Servants; silent, like the boatman, guiding her with gestures, a hand touching the side of her arm or brushing the small of her back. The intimacy of the gesture, and its familiarity now after years of never being touched; it’s as if they have Cassian in their hands, and she remembers him, and resolves to hold to her purpose no matter what. Trust the Force, she thinks; yes, I will, I must, I do.
She is conducted into a vast chamber, the walls lined with computer consoles, a hundred or more deep, from floor to ceiling. Right at the very top, there’s a door.
For a sickening moment she thinks she will be asked to climb; but instead, a voice in her head tells her “play the last battle, break the last code”.
She has no idea what it means; all this is nightmare upon nightmare, incomprehensible and full of giddying sick echoes of the life she has crawled and fought through, the years she has struggled on alone and the days she’s run by Cassian Andor’s side. But it’s a nightmare lit by the fire of hope he helped her reignite, after those years in the cold. She tries to say “I don’t understand you” and sees bubbles rise from her own lips; she is afraid, yet going on, she is underwater, but not drowning.
She takes a seat, at one of the countless terminals, and hacks into the system.
Someone, something, is playing games with her.
Jyn Erso is a top-flight slicer and she isn’t going to go down, in this under-world-inner-world-nightmare at the back of the Last Wind, on the farthest shore of the Sea of Nothing, without testing every option and trying every trick, and breaking every code she can find.
She sits at the desk, working, alone, without breathing or pausing, without food or drink, hour after hour and day after day. Hack the code of death and bring home those who’ve crossed this gelid sea. Save the people who gave their everything for her hope.
She wins the first game, after three days of playing, and without ever having had the rules or the objectives explained. Suddenly her terminal lights up and the voice in her mind congratulates her. “Well done. Win the rest for me and I will reward you with what you seek.”
Right, Jyn thinks. Now we’re talking.
She breaks into the system on the next console and starts again.
She has no idea how long she is in the grey tower, on the dark island, in the sunless and windless sea under the world within the world. She just sits, at terminal after terminal, coding and slicing and working out the weak points of each new software system, each new tangle of AI or web of game-tech. Sometimes the puzzles are freakishly simple, just when she’s got used to an almost infinitely layered complexity. Sometimes they key on poignant reminders of her past, on the words of friends long lost, or friends newly-found, known for a few days only; on faces she can dimly recall from the passageways of the Cadera monastery or the crowded halls of Yavin. She cracks a puzzle that involves building the image of her three parents’ faces from all the number codes she’d ever used to re-write Imperial scan-docs; she plays a concepts-game that trips her with words that are knife-sharp in her memory; home, force, rogue, escape, free, pilot, captain, hope, trust… Sometimes the tangles she has to cut into are convoluted and fenced about with firewalls that burn her every attempt at getting through, until it seems the only thing she hasn’t tried is to ask please let me in… Slowly, bitterly and with gritted teeth and no air in her lungs, she beats every one, eventually.
She’s worked her way through an eternity of game-play and system-cracking, ascending the numberless levels, and she is at the top of the final layer of computers, at the roof of the great hall. She hasn’t spoken to another being for longer than she knows how to measure time. When she looks down, she feels giddy. But she’s reached the door.
There’s a control pad. Finally. Jyn slaps her hand on it, noticing in passing and without surprise that her flesh is ghost-white and slack-looking, her fingers narrow and polished as bones. The door opens and she steps through, remembering slapping another control panel, stepping just this way into an elevator (only that was with him, not like this, not alone) and she comes to an unlit passage, a staircase climbing, spiralling.
Trust the Force. Climb.
It was bound to be that, in the end. Climb. All the voices of lost love, mother, fathers, friends dead and friends who deserted her, Cassian shouting from below, K-2 barring the door with his own life; all uniting now to tell her, climb, climb.
Very well, she will climb.
She won’t look back. If there’s any hope, now she’s beaten the incomprehensible games in the final tower, then that hope has to lie ahead, on the far side of this last ascent, this last effort.
She emerges into the last thing she had expected, a jungle. She’s thin and withered, and the richness of the air makes her cough, but all around her is life, life, life, dense and green, bird calls, leaves clutching and hoarding light, oxygen flooding her senses. She falls to her knees at the entrance to the shaft, with the black stairway closing up behind her. Her hair falls in her face, an unkempt curtain she has to rake back out of her eyes. It’s clean, but heavy, and it seems to be everywhere; it has grown long, while she climbed the hall of puzzles, in her time without time.
She flails with one weak hand and catches hold of a whip-like sapling. Claws up its length, pulls herself to her feet by sheer main will.
Her throat is dust, her legs feel like rubber, like rags.
There’s a narrow path, an animal track through the undergrowth. And the trees that tower above are faintly, distantly familiar, the liquid bird calls and animal cries uncannily like –
Yavin. It’s the forest around the base.
Jyn staggers down the path, grabbing weakly onto tree trunks, stumbling and falling, hauling herself up again. She’s been dreaming for so long she’s almost forgotten it was a dream; but something deep inside her says Home, home, home and she fights through the undergrowth, pressing ahead, with no conscious awareness of her direction, but sure nonetheless that there is a home here, somewhere. And in a rush of noise and with her bone-white hands outstretched before her, she bursts through the edge of the forest, onto the cracked duracrete of the landing strip.
Things look different; fewer people and fewer ships, no fighter-craft at all, the runway and the hangar near-empty. But there’s one ship in front of her, waiting to take off. Jyn stumbles towards it. It’s a medical transport, she recognises the sleek domes of the modular hull; and queuing up to board it, a string of personnel and med-droids, escorting hover-dollies or pushing floater chairs.
No-one so much as looks at her as she comes up to the line.
Some of the wounded are awake and alert. She recognises faces from the huge meeting she addressed, humans in the main but also Mon Cala, Rodian, Sullustian… She sees with a surge of astonishment one of the Rogue One volunteers; his left leg is splinted and strapped from thigh to foot and elevated, and there are dark new scars across his pale face. A couple of hover-beds back from him is the slim young man Tonc, who stayed on the ship with Bodhi Rook, and another man she remembers being among Melshi’s team, and then a female pilot she remembers seeing in the hanger, one of the Blue Squadron X-wing pilots.
There were survivors. As her mother had promised, and Chirrut, and all the silenced voices of her dead.
Patiently and slowly the med staff load their charges onto the medical shuttle. They speak to one another, but no-one speaks to her. No-one looks her way.
As she walks back, down the line, getting closer to the end of the queue and to the bulk of the main ziggurat where Command was housed, it’s steadily clearer how much of the base has already been broken down and cleared. This isn’t just a medical evacuation, it’s everything. The whole rebellion is moving out.
Am I a ghost? Did we lose? Are you running?
We. You. I. Do the words even have a meaning anymore?
Towards the back of the line she finds Bodhi, one of the walking wounded, being helped along on crutches. He has some of the worse facial scarring she’s ever seen, and she knows somehow that his right hand now is an interim cybernetic model. But he’s alive, and chatting, in a hoarse, weary voice, with the good-looking young man assisting him. She steps close, tries to reach out to him; but she can’t seem to touch him, and he doesn’t register her fingers brushing past in the warm air.
I am a ghost.
So be it. I said I’d give everything and I meant it.
She’s at the back of the line.
On the next-to-last stretcher, Cassian Andor is lying prone, looking very pale, as if he hasn’t been outside for a long time. But his eyes dart about, taking in details, and he is speaking softly.
Not to the medic steering his bed, and not to himself. He’s talking to the still, silent figure on the final hover-dolly in the line. Mute, whiter than the sands of Scarif, comatose and barely breathing. Herself, Jyn Erso.
“Don’t worry, Jyn, we’re just on the tarmac now. The ship is an old Pelta-class, I’ve been on her before, the Hand of Starlight. Good facilities, you won’t miss a thing compared to med-bay on base. We’ll be boarding in about ten minutes, maybe less. Not too much longer to wait... How does the fresh air feel? I bet it feels good on your face.”
Her face. She’s never been a beauty, Force knows, but she looks like a bit of human wreckage now, that’s for sure. A bandage round the upper portion of her skull, a blur of long scars snaking out of it, cutting right to the edge of her left eyebrow. Bruise-black shadows flood the skin under her eyes, and her cheeks are hollow and white as chalk. Her bare arms lie on top of the sheets, pathetically thin, all their muscle tone faded into slack softness.
“I know how disorientating this must be, but keep listening to my voice,” Cassian murmurs. “We’ll be aboard soon, then it’s a five minute flight to the B-2 in orbit, and off to our new home.”
He’s getting hoarse, she notices with a pang.
The medic brings a beaker with a straw to Cassian’s lips and helps him to drink. Then turns to check the monitors scanning her vitals. “She’s comfortable, Captain. Keep up the good work, keep talking, you’re giving her something to hold onto.”
Jyn watches as Cassian swallows, hard, and for a moment his face falls into broken pieces. Then he draws in a deep breath, and goes on speaking. “And did you ever have a chance to listen to the birds in the forest? I’m gonna miss that about Yavin. But we’ll be happy in the new base, and we’ll be safe again. You’re gonna wake up to a new day and a new start, a new home.”
Her body sleeps, unresponsive.
She boards the transport beside him, beside herself, with her ghost hand on her crystal. She went under, into the place beyond the world, she offered herself up to try to break the code of death. She went willingly.
All she can do now is hope and wait, and trust. Go where he goes, and try to come back to him. To come home.