For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. - Vincent Van Gogh
It was quite early in the day, but the streets around the Harvard Observatory campus were already bustling with people walking and riding bicycles, despite the cold and threat of snow that accompanied the early days of March. The sun was nothing but a blurry halo of light behind the low hanging clouds and Rey needed to hurry if she was going to make it on time. Today would be her first day here, and she was eager to make an excellent impression
“Excuse me?” Rey approached a man smoking and watching a horse-drawn streetcar thunder by on the street corner and smiled up at him. “I’m looking for ‘Building C’, do you think you could point me in the right direction? It’s my first time here,” she tacked on quickly.
“Starkiller Base?” the man scoffed. “You’ll find it two blocks in that direction.” He pointed and took a long drag from his cigarette. “Good luck, little lady. Lord knows you’ll need it with Professor Ren.”
“Thank you,” Rey said, smiling at him and taking off in the direction indicated. Of course she had heard the rumors about where she would be working. That it had a ridiculous nickname and that the man who was in charge there had chased away more people from working with him than were currently staffed on this part of campus. “Seems at least half of it’s true,” Rey mused quietly to herself as she crossed the street and down the road to the front doors of ‘Starkiller Base’.
Rey smiled up at the building, moving slightly out of the way of passing bodies. She had spent years of her life struggling, learning, pushing through where not many others had. Indeed, she was the very first woman to graduate from her alma mater, a fact that had brought her mother immense pride and greatly increased the chances of her launching into lengthy speeches about her daughter at any passing mention by an acquaintance.
Gathering the skirts of her favorite work dress, the light blue one with velvet stitching, a perfectly bustled skirt and buttons that ran from neck to navel, up in one hand, Rey quickly ascended the massive stairs that led to the building in which she’d be working. Rey hadn’t made it this far in life by letting other people's opinions deter her from going after what she wanted. She would simply find out for herself if the rumors proved to be true, and if they did, well, she was confident she could weather that storm too.
She knocked on the door with a quick ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ then stepped back, smoothing out her skirts as she stood to wait. She barely had time to admire the slope of the observatory roof where it rose to the side of the building before the door swung open.
Rey quickly decided, whatever people had to say about Kylo Ren, they all left out how handsome he was. She desperately hoped her cheeks were not as red as the warmth suddenly flooding them led her to believe. He was tall, certainly taller than most men Rey had met in her life, and broad shouldered to match. His hair was dark brown, nearly black as it hung down low enough to just cover the tops of his ears and looking just-ran-a-hand-through-it tousled. Clean shaven, with a hint of stubble around plush lips, and dark circles under his warm brown eyes led Rey to believe he hadn’t slept much the previous night, if at all. Despite that, his dark grey coattail jacket was in pristine condition and his pants were perfectly pressed while the slightly loosened collar of his shirt let to an air of relaxed study. Surely sleep deprivation had never looked so good. She tried to ignore his scrutiny of her own person, and the niggling suspicion in the back of her head that she had met him somewhere before.
“Can I help you?” Rey jolted at the low timbre of his voice.
“I’m Rey Niima.” She fished her paperwork from her bag. “I’m here to fill the position of computer. Amilyn Holdo should have mentioned me.”
“You’re Rey Niima?” he asked, seeming somewhat surprised.
He looked like he wanted to say something more, but stepped back instead. “I’m terribly sorry, you’re younger than I imagined you to be with your list of credentials. Please, come in.” The door swung shut after her, and Rey glanced around.
“I’m Professor Kylo Ren.” Rey looked up at him and took his proffered hand, giving it a quick shake.
“It’s a pleasure. I read your paper on Binary Stars, and I’ve been hoping to meet you ever since.” She watched as his shoulders tensed but she barreled on. “Getting the job here was purely circumstantial though. Miss. Holdo said she would recommend me to where my efforts would be most needed.”
Kylo grunted and strode off, waving at her to follow. “We are rather backed up on cataloging the star plates. Most of the candidates Ms. Holdo recommends are abysmal, but as I said, your credentials were impressive. Hopefully you’re up to the challenge.”
Rey stepped into the long hall, pushing the door shut behind her and nearly ran to catch the long strides of Professor Ren. Several doors lined the hall with one large open doorway leading into a library, making Rey slow her steps to get a better look at it.
“This way, Miss Niima. There will be plenty of time to ogle the library later,” Professor Ren called, now standing outside of a door and clearly impatient.
“Right, sorry.” Rey rushed, feeling her cheeks warm with a blush as she turned from the books just waiting to be read and made her way to where her new boss waited.
“I think,” he drawled, a smirk teasing at the corners of his mouth, “that what’s beyond this door is far more pleasing to the eye.” His hand fell to the knob and twisted, hesitating for just a moment before he pushed it open fully and Rey felt her breath escape her all in an instant.
“Oh,” she gasped, her eyes barely taking in the scattered tables and the handful of workers before the focused on the gleaming bronze of the telescope that hovered above them all. A great wooden ladder stood off to the side, just waiting to be used. “She’s magnificent,” Rey said, and beside her Kylo puffed up with pride.
“The best telescope this side of the Atlantic, which upsets Professor Dameron to no end. There will be time to meet him, I’m sure. He’s in charge of the other observatory on campus, much smaller.” Rey only hummed in response before he stepped into the room. “Everyone, your attention please. This is Miss Niima, she will be joining us as a computer. I expect you to give her a warm welcome and show her the caliber of work I expect.” Three pairs of eyes peered up from what they were working on to look at Rey and she gave a small smile in return. “If you need me, I’ll be in my office,” he said with finality before striding the length of the room and disappearing through yet another door.
“You get used to it,” Rey turned towards the voice and found herself smiling at the young man that appeared to be close to her in age, with an easy smile and kind eyes. “I’m Finn. Finn Storm, this pasty ginger is Armitage Hux, nearly as moody as the boss, and this elegant Amazon is Eleanor Phasma-”
“Please, just call me Phasma. My mother’s name is Eleanor, my grandmother’s name is Eleanor too, if you can believe it. On both sides, honestly, what are the odds - do not answer that Armitage.”
The redhead's mouth snapped shut and he exhaled heavily through his nose, “I won’t, but I’ll have you know that I know the answer.”
“You cannot possibly know the answer to that, not an exact one at any rate.”
“We will never know now, will we? You can call me Hux, new star girl, and welcome, to Starkiller Base.”
“Ignore him!” Finn and Phasma nearly shouted in unison.
“It’s Rey,” she said with a nod, taking Hux in. If she had thought Professor Ren looked well put together, Armitage Hux put him to shame. He was dressed head to toe in black, with gleaming brass buttons lining his vest and a shine to his shoes that could probably reflect her face if she cared to look close enough. “So, where do I start?”
“How about a proper tour?” Finn asked. “It can be a bit of a maze in the stacks until you’re used to it, best get started early.”
“The stacks?” Rey asked, watching as he stood from his table.
“It’s where we file the star plates.” He waved at the far side of the room. “These are all of the ones that haven’t been catalogued yet, but once they are done we tag them all and file them appropriately. Come this way and I’ll show you.”
He led her from the room through a different door and they crossed the hall to enter another room. This room was easily twice the size of the observatory room they had just left, and was filled with nothing but rows of shelves.
“These are some of the first plates to be classified. Professor Ren worked on them with his advisor, Doctor Snoke, but when he died a few years ago Professor Ren took over and initiated the computer program. I’m sure you know all of this though.”
“I don’t, actually,” Rey murmured, gently pulling a star plate from the closest shelf. A line of tape was on the edge, marking the coordinates of the picture with two sets of initials signed to it. “I’ve certainly heard wild rumors regarding Dr. Snoke, but it all seems so unbelievable.” She traced her fingers over a cluster of stars, dark grey on the glass plate.
“No one knows the whole truth except for Professor Ren, and he’s refused to talk about it or the accident,” Finn said quietly, taking the plate from her and returning it to its place. “Come on, let me show you the rest of the stacks. Things used to be organized solely by date, but now we organize by date but also location, so we have tried to accommodate for that, and left plenty of space for new plates.”
“How many stars have you categorized?” Rey asked, following him through the dimly lit room.
“Oh, not many, just over a thousand, I think?”
“Not many?” she exclaimed.
Finn laughed. “The Professor is almost at 100,000, but he’s been doing less since he took over here, so it’s impressive, but not as impressive as it could be.” He opened a door placed halfway through the room. “The library. Obviously it’s partial towards what we do, but there are a few gems in here if you ever want to read when your brain needs a rest from actual work.”
Finn showed Rey a handful more rooms, the restrooms, and a few smaller office spaces, one occupied by several more computers who were happy to see Finn and meet someone new before they quickly got back to work.
“You get used to it,” Finn said yet again. “Professor Ren has high standards and expects the best and for everyone to churn out consistent numbers. Once you establish what you can do, if you don’t go through enough plates in a week he pulls you in for a review. Most computers end up fired.”
“Seems a bit harsh,” Rey mused, following Finn back to the main observatory room.
“It’s Professor Ren,” he said again, as if this explained everything to a new person like Rey. It did not. “We used to not work in here, because of the telescope, but we’ve expanded staff a lot lately and haven’t the room to accommodate everyone, so we’ll be in here. Everyone is on rotation for telescope cleaning. If you’re really lucky, or you’re just really good at your job, Professor Ren might select you for nighttime records. Which means you actually get to use the telescope.” He leaned in, almost as if he was telling her some great secret, and Rey found herself smiling.
“Back already?” Hux asked, not bothering to look up from what he was doing.
“It’s not that large of a building,” Finn countered.
“Didn’t show her the best places to have a cry for when the Professor shouts about sloppy work then?” Phasma looked up and gave a fake frown. “If the bathroom is ever full, I find hiding in the back of the library helps, no one ever goes there.”
“Ah, thank you? I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Rey took a deep breath before clasping her hands together in front of her. “So, where do I start?”
By the following week Rey was confident enough to go at it alone. Finn had handed her her assigned plates that Friday morning and informed them all that Professor Ren would be in meetings all day. Hux took this as his cue to slack off and casually catalog before opting to polish the telescope during the afternoon.
“I really hope Professor Ren comes back early and catches you,” Phasma drawled, leaning back in her chair and stretching her arms high above her head. “Didn’t he almost fire you just last month for this exact thing?”
“Ren can’t fire me,” Hux scoffed.
“Hmmm, yes, almost forgot. Must be nice, to have such an important daddy.” Phasma leaned across the small aisle towards the table where Rey was diligently making notes. “Armie’s father is on the board. Despite him knowing what to do, I’m very convinced he wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for his father.”
“Yes, that’s exactly -”
“Armitage.” Professor Ren’s voice cut through the room, and Rey watched as Hux froze in place on the ladder. “I believe she was just cleaned two weeks ago and isn’t due for another cleaning any time soon. Do you care to explain what you’re doing up there when we still have an extreme backlog of plates to go through?”
“I - well, you see, there was a smudge, and it was extremely distracting, and I just thought -”
“Thought that you would disobey my explicit directions, just because Finn gave them to you?”
“You know that has nothing to do with it.” He cambered down the ladder and turned to Finn, “I respect you, you know this, right?”
Finn lifted a brow and Rey found herself chewing on her lip as she watched the exchange. Finn was one of the first black men to graduate from Harvard, and certainly to first to hold a job in the Harvard Observatory. He deserved respect, Rey thought watching Hux fidget under the stares of both Professor Ren and Finn.
“I respect Finn, however, I do not -”
“I would advise you not to finish that sentence, Armitage,” Kylo sneered, arms crossing against his chest as he moved to lean against the door frame. “You are under the illusion that you’re still here because of your father. You are not. I would be more than happy to fire you, and your father wouldn’t give a damn or come to my office demanding I change my mind. No, he would only be disappointed in you.” He pushed himself away from the door and quickly closed it. “Armitage, you are still here because, despite your abysmal attitude, you are one of the best minds out there. You have a gift for this, and I won’t see it squandered away. So get your act together, or I will fire you. Miss Niima is already proving her worth, and if I were you, I might be worried.”
Rey watched wide-eyed as Kylo turned to her, giving what she thought might pass as a smile before he passed through the room and into his office, leaving Hux, mouth gaping like a fish, staring after him.
“Well, that was pleasant!” Phasma piped up after several moments of silence. “I for one cannot wait until I can go home and spend several days away from all of you.”
“You better not try to take my job, star girl,” Hux huffed, throwing himself into his chair.
Rey rolled her eyes and Phasma scoffed. “You both have the same job. If anything, the atmosphere would end up just a sight bit more pleasant without your face around.”
Hux bristled, but stalked quickly to his work table before swiftly sitting down, glaring across at Phasma, who pointedly turned to look down at her work. Rey caught Finn’s eye for a moment and his eyebrows lifted while Rey shook her head, smothering a laugh into the palm of her hand.
Rey’s hands were restless, the pencil trapped between her ring and pinky fingers of her right hand tapping against the tabletop while her left hand lifted the corner of her notebook before gently releasing it, letting the paper skim the pads of her fingers as it fell. She was reviewing a star plate that one of the girls in the other room had handed in before being fired not long after. All of her work was now under review, and it was tedious.
“Miss Niima,” Kylo called, and Rey looked up to find the professor leaning against the door frame to his office. “A word, please,” he said, before turning and retreating into his sanctum.
Hux’s smile was manic as she passed him and Rey sent him a glare before hurrying towards the office.
“Close the door,” Kylo said as soon as she stepped foot inside. “Then have a seat.”
Rey did as instructed and sat, dreading what might be coming.
“How are you finding the work thus far, Miss Niima?” he asked as he shuffled some papers around on his desk.
“Oh, I love it!” she declared, leaning forward on her chair to smile at Professor Ren, “I love the challenge, I love finding new things, I don’t even mind doing the reviews.”
“How are those going?” Kylo asked, gaze intent on her and Rey struggled not to squirm in her seat.
“Slow, if I’m being honest.” She leaned back and looked out the window behind him, contemplating her next words. “If I may be so bold, you were right to fire her.”
“There are a lot of errors then?”
“A fair amount, yes.”
Rey watched as he began shifting papers around on his desk again, before pulling one out and placing it at the center. “Very well, you will be taking over cataloging from Armitage if you feel you are up to it?” He glanced up at her and Rey was quick to nod. “Good, please send him in after you and be sure to switch your work stations. No sense in moving all of those plates now, worry about it in the morning.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, standing, flicking the hen of her skirts around as she turned to leave. “Oh,” she breathed, catching sight of the painting taking up the space on the wall immediately to the left of the door.
“Do you like it?” Professor Ren asked, and Rey looked over her shoulder at him to find him studying both the image and her from his desk.
“It’s beautiful.” She smiled, turning back. It was an inverted star plate, black background and white stars, blown up, and recaptured meticulously by an artist. “Alpha Andromedae,” she supplied easily, and heard the Professor hum behind her. Rey took another moment to linger before the painting before remembering she had work to do. “Sorry, I shall go and fetch Hux.”
“Good day, Miss Niima,” his voice was quiet as it floated after her as she left his office, and Rey decided that Professor Ren wasn’t nearly as bad as people claimed him to be.