Ben opened his eyes and looked around him. What did he expect to see there? Waking up in his spacious bedroom every day, Ben had hoped that when he opened his eyes something would be different. That was foolish of him, he knew that, but he couldn’t stop hoping. He didn’t even know what he was waiting for, but he still waited. And every day was still the same.
Ben groaned, stopping the urge to throw his alarm clock into the wall, and turned the bloody buzzing thing off. Everything around him seemed gloomy. It was the first day of the autumn semester, and Ben had to turn up on campus in several hours. He had a couple of classes today and then he was free to do whatever he wanted. He would probably call Hux, that ginger bastard had owed Ben a pint for a lost bet. Ben smiled at the thought of his best friend. They saw each other often now as both of them had been working at Takodana University for the last couple of years. Hux and his wife Phasma had been Ben’s friends since their first year at the First Order Institute of Technology where the three of them studied Engineering. Ben frowned at the memory. Too much had happened since his first day at FOIT, some of those events he would be very glad to forget forever. But he couldn’t. Hux was a professor in Engineering just like Ben, and Phasma owed a little coffee shop not far from the campus. The place was unique. It looked completely out of place in their small traditional university town. The coffee shop had its modern design and crazy names for beverages that were served there. But “The Workshop” was popular among students, and the business flourished. “The Workshop” was the only place outside his own flat where Ben drank coffee. Phasma just knew how to make coffee right and Ben always had a special place in her coffee shop reserved for him. There, in his favorite corner, he could sit, relax, talk to Phasma, Hux or the both of them and not talk to any other people. Ben hated people. Especially students.
He sipped his coffee, burning his tongue and welcoming the feeling. Sometimes some pain in his body helped him coping with much deeper pain in his soul even if he didn’t want to admit it. Ben preferred to think that he had no soul at all, but sometimes something he couldn’t suppress still ached inside him. It ached and made him very angry.
He still had some time before he had to go to work, so he turned to his daily routine. Ben worked out for an hour in the gym in the basement of his house, showered, and made himself one more sandwich. Warm ham and cheese, a lot of cheese, was his favorite, so when he finally left his home, everything seemed tolerable, even the necessity to go to his classes and deal with students. He messaged Hux, asking the gingerhead to meet him in the evening, and left the flat.
Here we go again… Ben thought to himself.
Rey opened her eyes and looked around her. The dream she had had was nice and she smiled to herself, trying to imprint the last moments of it into her memory. There, in her dream, she was warm. Someone’s gentle hands were caressing her, and Rey felt like she finally belonged somewhere. It wasn’t some exact place, but the feeling of staying in those arms. They were large, enormous even, with nails neatly trimmed. For some reason Rey remembered those nails. The nail plates were very subtle and elegant, and she had never seen the fingers so long and beautiful. She snorted to herself: it was stupid, really, to think about someone’s nails. Rey took her hand out from under the blanket and looked at her own nails. She wore them short as it was impossible to work in the auto repair shop with something longer, and she didn’t wear any nail polish as long as… Well, it was hard to keep it in place while working with some greasy engines.
Poe always chided her for the way she wore her nails, telling Rey that it wasn’t feminine enough. Poe actually chided Rey for almost everything she did, starting from her style in clothes and ending with her choice of education program. The last one was actually strange, as the two of them had met each other during Rey’s first year at Takodana University where they both had chosen to study Engineering.
Everything had been so different back then! Rey and Poe had had similar backgrounds. Well, in a way… Though, unlike Rey, Poe wasn’t an orphan, he had grown up in the favelas of Yavin. His parents had been some junkies, and Poe had led a miserable life until he had been found by his rich grandmother who had taken him to her house, made him the heir of her fortune and let him get a proper education. Poe had money now and didn’t have to worry about his future. However, he had still entered Takodana University to study Engineering. His grandmother had died several years before he met Rey, and Poe had become rich. Like very-very rich.
He was three years older than Rey and had become the best student on the course in the previous semester. He had been so very proud back then and so had been Rey. Well… Sort of… The thing was that everyone would say Poe was perfect. He seemed kind, generous, smart and caring. But it’s been a while since Rey had started to see the real Poe. And she wasn’t sure that she liked what she saw anymore.
When they had started dating, Poe had encouraged Rey in everything she did. He had admired her intelligence, had told her how beautiful she was, and soon Rey had realized that she had fallen hard for him. Rey had never had enough money for herself, she had her scholarship of course, but money was always tight. First year at the TU she had lived on campus and had shared a room with a girl from Canto Bight called Rose Tico. Rey and Rose had gotten along right away as they shared passion for Engineering. Rose was a badass and confident, the complete opposite to Rey. Rose and her elder sister Paige had become Rey’s best friends, and when Poe had asked Rey to move in with him several months after the two of them had started dating, she had agreed but had hated to leave her two girls behind.
However, Rey had agreed. Not only had she loved the guy, but also Poe had his own flat, so the rent wasn’t an issue for her anymore. She had also found a job in a small auto repair shop on the other side of the town, so money became easier. She was even able to eat regularly. But otherwise many things had changed to the worse.
At first she hadn’t noticed those changes. They were slow and gradual. Poe hadn’t liked the way Rey dressed. He had laughed at her choice of clothes and at her hairstyle. She had never minded him making a bit of fun of her, so she hadn’t put her mind into this. Until once he had bought her the whole new wardrobe without even asking her. The clothes had been nice, but had also been nothing like her. All those tight short dresses, tops that had showed just too much of her body... Poe had demanded that Rey wore them. Rey had tried one of the dresses, and the girl who had looked at her out of the mirror was not her, but some cheap whore from some rusty bar in Yavin. Rey had refused to wear the new clothes, and Poe had gotten furious. He had shouted at her, told her that she had no taste. He had told her she wasn’t even slightly pretty and made no effort to fit him. Rey had been shocked. Quickly, she had gathered her things and ran away from Poe’s flat. Rose and Paige had been equally happy to see her and terrified by the story Rey had told them. She had stayed with them for three days, looking for some options to move back to campus. With Rey being gone, Rose and Paige had moved to the smaller room and Rey had had to sleep on the floor. The dorms had been full.
And them Poe had come back.
He had begged her for forgiveness, had almost crawled on his knees in front of Rey, asking her to give him one more chance. Rey had hesitated at first, but the thing was she loved Poe, so after all she had agreed to come back together with him.
At the same time her boss in the auto repair shop had decreased her salary. There had been no reason for him to do so, but Unkar Plutt had assumed that, mentioning the market situation, some undergraduate like Rey would not be able to find some other job very quickly, so he had just decreased her salary, and money had become problem for Rey once again.
Things with Poe had been stable for some time but then everything had started to get worse again. Rey and Poe had often discussed Engineering at home, and Rey’s point of view had often been contrary to Poe’s. Rey had never been a conflict person. Growing up in foster system, she had learned to keep quiet just in case her foster parents had not been in the mood. So she had tried not to get into the fight, but Poe had always pushed the subject to the point where he started yelling at her and insulting her. He had always come back apologizing afterwards, but things were tough. Once Rey had noticed that Poe had used one of her ideas, the one he had been so vehemently speaking against, in one of his projects. It had surprised Rey, but had warmed her heart at the same time. He had actually agreed with her, she had thought, even if he hadn’t admitted it. It had warmed Rey’s heart, but truth be told, Poe had never thanked Rey for that, despite his project had been very well appreciated by those who had seen it.
Their relationships were complicated. But she still loved Poe… In a way…
Rey’s work didn’t bring her a lot of money, and it seemed that Unkar had been right, assuming that she wouldn’t be able to find something else. Poe helped her, of course, but Rey didn’t want to take his money. At some point she had realized that she wanted to move away from him when she had an opportunity, just to be a little bit more independent. She knew that Poe wouldn’t like it. It seemed really strange. Poe was often rude with her, but for some reason Rey knew that Poe was afraid that she would go away. However, she wanted to try. Just to move away at first maybe. But the dorms were full, Rey couldn’t afford a flat on her own, and there was no one willing to share one with her. Things with Rose and Paige had changed as well. Rose was still her best friend, but Paige’s attitude towards Rey had changed for some reason. The girl had often seemed annoyed by Rey’s presence, and it had come to the point where Paige had asked Rey to have her one-on-one meetings with Rose somewhere outside the dorms. Rey had been hurt, and Rose had got furious, but Paige hadn’t changed her mind.
The worst part was that no one, except for Rose, would believe in Rey’s stories about Poe. No matter what had happened between Rey and Paige, they all still gathered together from time to time. Before moving to Takodana Rey had never had friends, so she still hoped that the situation with Paige would change somehow and everything would go back to normal. Rey even hoped that if she and Poe broke up one day they would still stay friends. The truth was that Rey’s worst fear was not even to stay hungry and homeless (after all, she had been there already during her years in the foster system and had survived), Rey’s worst fear was to lose her friends and to be left all alone. Rose, Paige and Poe were her friends, no matter what. She had believed that. And there was also Finn, Poe’s best friend who was always good to Rey and who had also almost become her friend during her time with Poe. That was their little circle, the five of them, and Rey was deadly afraid to lose them.
And, as it was said, none of them, except for Rose, would believe Rey’s stories about her boyfriend. When they all got together, Poe behaved just like he had in the beginning of their relationships. He was caring and loving and oh so very gentle. Rey had always been deprived of love and care, so when Poe was like that, she forgot all of their problems. They would come back home afterwards and have sex, and then Poe would change again until their next meeting with their friends. Everything was too complicated. She probably had to go away, find the strength and the opportunity to do so, but if Rey were honest with herself, she would admit how much she depended on Poe and how afraid she was to lose everyone she cared about because of him.
Rey sighed and got off the bed as silent as she could. She had an advanced Auto Engineering class this morning and she had to be there in time. They said that Professor Solo was awful with latecomers, and Rey didn’t want to check if it was true, being one of the latecomers herself. She had never seen the man, but he was sort of a legend at Takodana University. Professor Solo and his colleague Professor Hux had been the two youngest professors on campus when they started working at TU. People said, they were friends, but that fact didn’t stop the two of them from competing each other all the time when it came to engineering. Their student’s projects were presented in every engineering competition, and sometimes the jury had hard times, deciding which one of them should take the first place. They said, in class Solo was fierce. He was open to the discussions, but had he noticed that someone was fooling around in his class, the consequences were dreadful for the one who had got the young professor’s attention. Rey was crazy about engineering, but she was already scared of Solo. She definitely didn’t want to be late.
“Could you be even more noisier?” Poe grumbled, entering the kitchen. “My classes start in the afternoon, so for sure I wanted to wake up at 6 fucking o’clock in the morning!”
“Sorry,” Rey apologized quietly. Poe was in one of his moods, and her every word could make him explode. Her best strategy in that case was to keep quiet and wait till Poe went away.
“When do you come back here today?” he asked, still sounding annoyed.
There had been a time when the question had sounded as “when would you come back home”, but Poe didn’t refer to his flat as their flat anymore. On the contrary, every time he spoke about the place now, Poe made sure Rey realized that it was his flat. It was especially disgusting for Rey to hear that before she and Poe had sex. It was like she owed him sex for the fact that she was living in his place. Rey shivered at the memory of their last time.
“I have a shift at Plutt’s today in the evening. Till ten. Then I’ll head ho… here…”
“The fact you can’t find another job is quite disturbing, don’t you think, Rey?” Poe smirked, and Rey realized he was definitely furious because of the fact she had woken him up so early. She prepared herself for something bad to follow his previous phrase. “I mean, if you are studying Engineering in Takodana and everything you can hope for is a job in some rusty auto repair shop near the junk yard… Maybe it’s better for you to just drop it now and not waste your time?”
Rey gritted her teeth, but didn’t let Poe drag her into this dispute. Not receiving an answer, Poe smirked once again.
“Do you need some money, Scavenger?” Rey wrinkled at the nickname.
She didn’t like to be called that, and Poe knew it perfectly well.
“Uhm… No, thank you. I have some.”
“Oh, then you’ll probably will pay your part of utilities payments this month, huh?”
Poe had never asked Rey to pay the rent, but the utilities was part of the deal from the very beginning. Actually, it had been Rey who had offered him to pay for that, not wanting to sit on Poe’s neck. He had refused at first, but Rey had insisted and started to pay her share. Now Poe mocked her for it every time she had no money for utilities. She didn’t actually have a lot at the moment, but this morning she didn’t want to take anything from Poe. It seemed, she had to go with her breakfast only and probably some crumpled sandwich from the vending machine today.
“We’ll see, Poe,” she managed to smile at him.
“Whatever! See you later, honey,” she kissed her roughly on the cheek, scratching her skin with his stubble, and left to the bedroom.
Rey inhaled deeply and then exhaled. She had to hurry up, she didn’t want to be late.
“Oh, you almost got yourself into trouble,” Rose smirked kindly at her.
Rey had got into class two minutes before it started.
“Well, I am not late, am I?” Rey frowned, getting her things out of the bag.
“How are things with Poe?” Rose asked concerned.
Rose frowned and wanted to tell something, but froze in mid-sentence.
“Hello, class,” Rey heard a voice from the class’ entrance. She turned her head to see Professor Solo entering the room.
Rey froze. The man was huge. Tall, broad-shouldered, his messy black hair reached his prominent chin. He had a really big aquiline nose, and his brown eyes looked almost black to Rey. He couldn’t be called handsome by general standards, but there was something about him that made her shiver. Professor Solo was in his mid thirties, Rey knew, but he looked younger. All in all, Rey thought he looked... gorgeous. Rose nudged Rey, and the girl realized that her hand had frozen in the air above her notebook.
“He is kinda terrifying, isn’t he?” Rose whispered.
Rey could only nod.
However, her initial shock faded quickly as soon as Professor Solo started the class. Rey immediately realized that if she wanted to survive this semester, she had to stay focused and aware. As soon as he checked if everyone was present, Solo started asking the questions. And those questions were nothing like the ones other professors asked the students to understand the level of knowledge of the newcomers. The questions Solo asked were advanced, and to answer them one required not only knowledge from the books, but also some complicated logic. The class was failing, and Solo started getting furious.
“This is advanced Auto Engineering, for God’s sake!” his fist slammed the desk in front of him. “How do you all suppose to pass it if you know nothing?! Okay,” he took a deep breath, obviously trying to calm himself down a bit. “Okay, one last chance for all of you. If the next student I ask the question fails as hard as all the previous ones, you will all be assigned with the paper so complicated that most of you will decide to switch classes. But if that’s not the case, which I doubt, to tell you the truth, you will get a regular paper, the one I usually give to my students on their first lecture in the semester. So, are there any volunteers?”
The class was deadly silent.
“I thought so,” Solo smirked. “Okay, let me see... Johnson!”
Rey tried to remember if there was somebody else in her class with the same surname as hers. After all, Johnson was a common surname, wasn’t it? Right? Right?!
But as she raised her eyes to her teacher, she realized he was looking directly at her.
“Y... Yes, Professor?”
“So, Miss Johnson. Say, your car breaks down on the motorway somewhere in the Jakku desert,” Solo smirked. “You are driving the “Silencer GTI-198”, by the way. You wouldn’t be able to afford something a little bit more expensive, judging by the clothes you are wearing now,” Rey frowned, insulted a bit by Solo’s dismissive tone. She had had enough of that shit back at home with Poe, so she absolutely didn’t need some more here, in the class. However, Rey had to stay focused. Getting the whole class into trouble would be the worst-case scenario in her situation. Solo went on. “There is some smoke coming from under the hood. Before the car stopped, you had heard some strange noise. It sounded like someone was rolling the dice again and again inside the car. So, Miss Johnson, pray tell me, what is wrong with your car? What will you do first of all? And how can you fix it, if you can fix it, of course?”
When Professor Solo had started questioning her, Rey thought she would be dead in the end of the process. But as Solo went on, she felt more and more relieved. It seemed, some higher powers were watching her today. The Jakku desert. The “Silencer GTI-198”. The sound of somebody rolling the dice inside the car.
Thank you, God, or whatever you are! Rey thought.
She had grown up in the deserts of Jakku. She didn’t remember her parents who had abandoned her, dropped her on the side of the Jakku highway in the middle of nowhere under the burning sun with nothing but a nametag on her wrist. Well, it was not actually a nametag. It had been a small piece of paper attached to the colorful ribbon that had said “Rey, 5 years old”. Her name was the only thing that had always been her own. Since then Rey had being moved from one foster family to another. Jakku had never been an orphan paradise, and the authorities had never really cared about the abandoned children. That is why almost all foster families Rey had been moved into were quite… troubled. But one of her foster parents had actually been quite nice. The man had still been a drunk who cared mostly for money he had got for “taking care” of Rey, but there had been times when he wasn’t drinking, and at those times he had worked as a mechanic in his own small auto repair shop. He had taught Rey a lot about the cars, especially about those that had ridden around the desert before he died and Rey was moved again. And that was why Rey knew the exact answer to Solo’s question.
“And according to the number “198” my car was produced in 1998. Silencers GTI-198 had problems with the cooling system. That was the reason why they recalled a lot of cars back then. So I don’t really know what I am doing in the Jakku desert, riding this car. I might actually be really stupid to do so because there is like 70% chance that something will go wrong if I ride it there,” Rey could swear that Solo had contained a smirk. “However, what you are describing looks like the problem with the cooling system that was caused by some pebble in the radiator grill. The sound you mentioned… There are a lot of porgs living in Jakku. People there complain a lot about small stones that cover roads sometimes. They call it “porgs’ shit” and it is literally… shit… Sorry, Professor, but that’s true,” Rey heard students around her laughing, but all laughter died out quickly as Professor Solo viewed the audience with a deadly stare. Rey went on. “Porgs’ shit can get everywhere inside the car, and it usually sounds like someone is rolling the dice when that’s the case. So, I guess, some porgs’ shit broke the radiator grill in my car. It can be temporarily fixed with some sealant. But, to answer your question, first of all I would put some gloves on. It is bloody hot in the Jakku desert, so I will burn my hands otherwise…”
Rey almost didn’t look at Solo throughout her speech. The man was intimidating, and she didn’t want to lose her thoughts in the middle of her answer. However, as soon as she finished answering she forced herself to look up at him.
Solo was watching her, and Rey’s guts made a twist under his stare. Rey swallowed, and for a second she thought that a glimpse of a smile had touched Professor’s lips before his expression turned blank again. Rey held her breath.
“Well,” Solo finally said. “I guess you are all saved for today, thanks to Miss Johnson.”
The class cheered, and Rey felt capable of breathing again.
“However, it seems I asked a question that wasn’t so hard for you to answer, didn’t I?” Solo smirked, and Rey tensed. “Are you a frequent guest in Jakku, Miss Johnson?”
“I grew up there, Professor. I left Jakku to enter Takodana.”
“I see… Well, it means that you had an advantage with this question, didn’t you? That’s not really fair, don’t you think?”
The question made Rey angry to the point where she forgot how terrifying had Solo seemed to her just a few minutes before. She didn’t make him ask her this question after all, so what was a fuck?!
“I disagree, Professor,” she managed to stay calm despite the seething rage inside her. “I may be from Jakku, but not everyone there is capable of answering you question.”
“Is it so, Miss Johnson? Well, if that’s true then I have one more question for you. The easiest one, to tell you the truth, if you as good as you claim to be…”
Rey tensed. Had she thought that Solo was gorgeous? What a stupid thought it had been! Well, he probably was quite handsome, but he was a murderous snake to say the least!
“So, Miss Johnson, please list all the materials that were used to make car bodies back in 1970-s. I repeat, in 1970-s.”
Rey was surprised. The question was actually quite easy. But there should have been a catch. She started to list the materials. Truth be told, there hadn’t been too many of them back in the 70-s. The technological breakthrough that had helped to find the way of using Alderaanian steels in car manufacturing had happened in the 80-s, and before that there hadn’t been too many options available.
“…and, of course, there was Yavin iron that wasn’t used too often because its mining was too expensive. They stopped using it completely after 1981 as far as I remember,” that was it, she didn’t remember anything else. It seemed, Solo wasn’t furious, so she had probably managed to give a sufficient answer. But then it suddenly dawned on her. Of course, how could she forget! “Oh, and I also forgot to mention the Tatooinean copper!”
At that Solo smirked. And not in a kind way.
“Tatooinean copper? Seriously, Miss Johnson? And I thought you actually knew the subject… When you mentioned the Yavin iron, I thought you were actually not that bad. Everyone usually forgets it as long as it wasn’t too popular and they stopped using it ages ago. But then… Tatooinean copper… I think you just listed all the materials you know, didn’t you? You are just as hopeless as the rest of this class, Miss Johnson,” Solo looked evil. There was not a trace of a smile she had seen on his face after her first answer.
Rey froze under his gaze. She hated conflicts and she was always afraid to get into one. But years spent in the foster system instilled a habit in her of defending herself when a clash was inevitable. Rey sensed the danger and realized that she wasn’t able to avoid the fight, and it made her furious.
“I know much more materials than I have listed, Professor,” she hissed. “I may be as hopeless as everyone here, but I know for sure that Tatooinean copper was used in the production of “Millennium Falcons” in 1973. There was a limited edition, fifty cars only, back then. And they used Tatooinean copper for car bodies production. You can google it, if you want.”
Solo froze. His expression changed, but Rey couldn’t read it anymore. Was he furious again? Was he angry at all? She couldn’t say. Minutes had passed before he finally spoke again.
“I see… Well, if you know about “Millennium Falcons” then I have to reconsider my previous opinion about you, Miss Johnson. You are completely right. Tatooinean copper was used for Falcons. There is just one Falcon left from the mentioned line at the moment, by the way,” Solo addressed the class. He then looked back at Rey and this time she saw the real sad smile on his face. Just for a moment, but it was there. “I guess I have to apologize, Miss Johnson. You saved the class today and you are not hopeless,” Rey smirked from under her breath. “Not hopeless”, oh that was rich…
“Our class is over,” Solo said. “I’ll see you all on Friday. And before you go, here is your task. As you may all know, I am looking for students who are capable of participating in the engineering competition held by Takodana University with the possibility to go to the State competitions in case the project is really good. So, what I want to see on my table this Friday is a project description that you think you might do for such a competition. Use you brains in case you have it and use your fantasy. Don’t restrict yourself. You are free to go now.”
Rey finally let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding, put her stuff into the bag and followed Rose to the exit.
“Well done, darling,” Rose smirked. “You’ve just saved our lives.”
Rey rolled her eyes, exiting the class. She didn’t even want to think about the fact that it had taken all her willpower not to look back at Professor Solo.
Ben was watching the students leaving the classroom. One more class full of dumb assholes. No one knew anything these days, so it seemed. But this girl, Miss Johnson… She was fierce, he could tell. Ben hadn’t even noticed her when he entered the classroom today, but as soon as she had started to speak, he was… captured. The feeling was strange. Ben was always so full of anger and hate that at first the feeling in his chest had seemed alien. It had felt so unfamiliar that Ben had thought that there was something from the outside that had been causing it. But as the girl spoke, the feeling grew. It was warm, and it was a bit painful. It was new or probably just long forgotten. He wasn’t sure, but that feeling scared him.
Ben hated his students, but this girl… This girl terrified him.
Porgs’ shit, he smirked, trying to suppress the terror in his chest. Rey…