For the rest of her life there are words that echo, painfully and exactly. Words, and sounds, and atmospheres. Even if she wanted to forget, they would not allow it; and Jyn Erso does not want to forget.
Sometimes as she crosses a hangar there’ll be something in the buzz of activity, the hum of voices and machinery; she’ll see fuel lines being unfastened and smell a tang of kerosene or a waft of LOX evaporating from a spill, and it’s dizzying for a moment. A group of pilots go by, breathless, running to their ships, or there’s a sudden call for General Syndulla over the tannoy; and it will be Yavin and the Massassi Temple all over again.
Her spine will stiffen and her reflexes tense, as though at any minute she could be caught and stopped, on her way to a mission forever unsanctioned.
Sometimes the echo is something far more vague and hard to catch, an insect-drift of familiarity about the tension of a meeting. A tone of voice, the flick of a glance. Her name, hard-spoken, or shouted with urgency and fear. Statistics make her shiver sometimes, and sarcasm.
She wonders often what they would have become, their little sudden team, if they’d been granted the time. Whether one day the three Jedhans would have found a place to call home. Whether Cassian and Kay, brothers in all but body, would have continued to work and to fight, to function so perfectly together, until one or both were killed in action or destroyed in themselves somehow. Whether the light that seemed to hold between them could have grown to illuminate her also.
Whether those few days they spent together could have become the future. The beginnings of a life. Since her life was saved.
Here and there among the rebels there are beings who hear of an assault or a skirmish fought and say “All is as the Force wills” devoutly. It isn’t for Jyn to judge them, if this is how they find comfort in their faith, but she shivers. Remembering a man for whom those words were not a consoling platitude but a statement of confident truth. A man who went to his death in that certainty, and the husband who followed him with the faith of love.
Anxious voices are plentiful, too, in a rebellion on the run there are all-too many who are unsure and scared and going on anyway. Their anxiety conjures the fear and strength of the last man who knew her father. The word pilot is spoken so often and is so normal that she becomes inured to it. But very occasionally she hears someone say “I’m the pilot” in a voice that isn’t factual but unsure and afraid, achingly gentle. Her heart stutters at the words.
Each time, she remembers how Bodhi stumbled in his speech, but not in his deeds. She vows again to live up to his sacrifice, and the hope his courage bought.
When General Draven dies in the evacuation of Hoth, she takes to her quarters on Home One for two days, barely functional. It hurts, this latest loss; and hurts more for being so unexpected. She’d never managed to like the man but a kind of respect had grown up between them, an acceptance of necessity. She had understood Draven. And he was one of the few people who had really known Cassian Andor.
Even the General’s last words were an echo, shouted down a tunnel collapsing around him: “Save yourself, Jyn!” He didn’t need to say anything more, but her heart said it for him.
Save the rebellion, save the dream.
So much lost, so many people, so much courage, left dead and torn, buried in rubble or ice.
The worst echo is the word Goodbye, and that is a word she hears said often. Too often. They are at war, goodbyes are a constant presence.
She remembers a Goodbye spoken over a crackling comm; a steel vault door slamming and locking, Cassian at her side crying out in despair. Remembers hearing it gasped, minutes later, in a voice fading almost to ash; a voice that said “Your father would have been proud of you” and then “Go, before it hits. Goodbye, Jyn.” And then went silent; his breath stopped, courage ended.
She had screamed and clung to him for a moment, but his eyes had locked forever in that last weary kindness. Sheer survival instinct dragged her stumbling up the beach to the rescue ship, the only Alliance craft to make it off the surface.
And now, she wonders, as the years of war run on, is it really a good thing, to have saved herself? Perhaps she’s come to be accepted here, as a useful soldier, a capable trainer, an experienced undercover operative. A clean and competent killer. But it’s still a life of utter solitude. People still look up with sharpened eyes at the sound of her name.
The echoes gather round, and she shields herself with them against those hostile eyes. The echoes remind her daily that if she was saved, it was only to do the things the others couldn’t, and see the fight progress, for which they died.
Jyn goes to the forest moon, her belt heavy with explosives; her hands, with weapons. Her heart, with memory. Perhaps it was for this that she was saved, to be one more soldier here at the last, to prevent her father’s monster being remade. Echoes and rage armour her, every step of her fight. Until there is one sound so loud all echoes drown behind it momentarily. And then nothing moves anymore, only her blood.
When the sky lights up in a final white explosion, she sees it, and understands, enough to be sure, though things are fading now. The mission was a success. Hope brought back, though all else must die. The blaze in the air reminds her of another fire, and a place very different to this; of listening in agony to the sound of breathing like her own now, failing, and falling into silence. The white debris falls in heaven, and it too is silent, and brilliant, bringing the future to life.
The echoes gather to her in the forest, and hold her close. She goes gladly into the darkness with them.