Chapter 1: Ghosts from the past
I've rewritten the first chapter. I looked back at it and it was kind of looking at a drawing the next morning and realising every way it just doesn't work. So I fixed it (without changing the story). I will probably do the same for the second and third chapters, maybe the fourth and the fifth as well. I hope it came out better this time.
‘Show me the way,’ Kylo pleaded to the helmet, the last of his grandfather’s remains, ‘the light is calling me again. I don’t know if I can resist it. Supreme leader knows.’The mishappen helmet remained as silent as it had for years. Ever since the first time Grandfather had spoken to him.Kylo sighed and got to his feet. He turned to leave the room, but a disturbance passed through the force. Swiftly turning to the source, he drew his light saber. A figure was standing in the middle of his chambers, calmly observing him.Kylo cursed at his own carelessness. At letting his guards down enough for a str anger to sneak up at him.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded, raising his saber at the stranger.
‘Don’t make the same mistakes I have,’ the figure was engulfed in an odd blue light. He had something undefinably familiar about him.
‘What do you mean? Who are you?’
‘You already know who I am,’ the figure spread his arms, ‘my grandson.’
‘That can’t be,’ Kylo lowered his weapon, ‘you’re lying. Grandfather has spoken to me. And it wasn’t you.’
‘Because that was an impostor, a trick to turn you away from your family,’ the figure flickered, like a hologram. Kylo raised his saber again and slashed through the figure. It did no harm.
‘Calm your mind and you’ll know my words to be true,’ the hologram flicked once more before disappearing completely.
A chaos of blaster fire and desperate screams spread out all around FN-2187. Finally reaching his injured ally, he crouched down behind the wall the other trooper was leaning against.FN-2187 shook him, trying to get him up, to no avail. His ally reached out his hand, trying to grasp whatever hold-on he could find. But it was too late. His bloody hand slid down FN-2187’s helmet as his life left him. FN-2187 remembered the other boy from training. He had screwed up every single training exercise. The other troopers had laughed at him, calling him a failure that wouldn’t last a minute on a real battlefield. The taunts were cruelly proven to be true.
Pushing himself off the ground, away from his fallen ally, whose life had been cut short before it could’ve really begun, FN-2187 joined the fray. The smell of blood, fire, and decay made his stomach turn. Ducking behind the first cover he could find, FN-2187 hid behind a stack of crates, far removed from the heart of the battle. He still hadn’t moved by the time the battle started dying down around him. His blaster hadn’t been fired a single time. Slowly peeking out from behind the crate, he saw a command ship touching down. the ramp unfolded and General Hux emerged. Conveniently after the battle had ended.A single prisoner was dragged to the General. Hux sneered down at the old man and began asking questions. FN-2187 joined formation just in time to see Hux turn bright red. The prisoners just smiled. Phasma approached the angry General, ‘Where’s Ren?’ she demanded.
‘Our Supreme leader required his presence. I’ve been given further command of this mission,’ Hux didn’t even look at her and continued interrogating the prisoner, ‘turn over the map or these villagers will pay the prize. One by one,’ he aimed his blaster at the civilians rounded up a few feet away. Hux’s command was almost cut short by a blast almost hit the General. The only thing saving his life was Phasma yanking him to the ground. A lone figure was dragged from the shadows where the blast had originated from. Hux pulled himself off the ground, dusting off his clothing. ‘This one will know more,’ he approached the new prisoner, ‘he’s resistance.’
‘Ah, you remember me,’ the new prisoner just smiled, ‘How touching. Tell me, did you ever repair that cannon?’
Hux scowled as he turned his blaster at the first prisoner and pulled the trigger. The new prisoner screamed in despair. ‘take him to the ship,’ Hux ordered before turning to Phasma. ‘I trust you’ll clean up here. We don’t want any witnesses.’
‘Very well,’ Phasma said before raising her voice to her troops, ‘on my signal.’
All stormtroopers got in position. FN-2187 raised his blaster along with the rest of his unit.
‘Shoot,’ Phasma ordered.
FN-2187 moved to pull the trigger, but his hand didn’t obey. He lowered his weapon. He couldn’t do this. He wouldn’t do this. They couldn’t make him. He wouldn’t kill for them.
FN-2187 was shaking in his boots when he stepped back on the cruiser. He pulled the helmet off his head, trying to finally breathe. The bloodred handprint of his fallen ally was smudged over it. The last trace of a soldier who never had a name. whose existence would be forgotten. He rushed into the nearest corridor. Someone must’ve noticed he hadn’t fired a single shot. Just to make his day, Snoke’s mothership was floating above the cruiser. He hoped the honours weren’t for him. Although, he doubted Snoke would make time for wayward stormtroopers.
‘FN-2187,’ Phasma came stomping around the corner, ‘who gave you permission to take off your helmet?’
‘Apologies,’ he said, not looking her in the eyes.
‘Have your blaster admitted for inspection,’ she ordered, ‘then report to SG-2745. Supreme leader requires assistance.’
Great, he would be exactly where they would want him when they were done inspecting his blaster.
‘Get away from me,’ Kylo pointed his saber at the hologram claiming to be Darth Vader. If anyone thought they could sway him with cheap tricks, they would find themselves sorely mistaken.
‘I’ve tried to reach you for years,’ the hologram said, having reappeared within hours, ‘but Snoke has prevented me, aided by your own rage. It’s only now your mind has cleared enough for you to perceive my presence.’
‘You’re an impostor,’ Kylo bit at him, ‘Grandfather has spoken to me.’
‘You know that was not me,’ the stranger countered.
‘Liar,’ Kylo yelled.
‘I’m no liar,’ the stranger said, ‘and not a fool anymore either. Unlike you.’
‘I was a fool when I turned to the dark side. I thought it would give me the power to save what I loved,’ the stranger closed his eyes and sighed, ‘I was wrong. Countless have suffered for it. Do not make the same mistakes. Don’t let your rage and fear control you. Don’t let Snoke twist them to his own ends. Go home.’
‘Liar,’ Kylo repeated, but his conviction wavered. Not even Supreme leader could tell him the details of the story. How would a stranger know all this.
‘You already know the truth, my grandson,’ the hologram faded into nothingness.
What was this? Who was that person? Kylo’s grandfather had been Darth Vader, the ultimate champion of the dark side. Surely, he had fallen victim to a moment of weakness, but it had only been a moment. Supreme leader had told him as much.
A knock on the door interrupted his stream of thoughts.
‘Sir,’ a voice called from the other side, ‘Supreme leader wishes to speak to you.’
‘I’ll contact him from here,’ Kylo answered.
‘In person, Sir,’ the voice called, ‘immediately.’
‘I’ll have to depart for the mission in twenty minutes,’ Kylo said, ‘did Supreme leader say why it is so urgent.’
‘Sir,’ the voice said with a twinge of unease, ‘the mission has already been completed in your absence.’ Kylo was taken aback, not knowing how to answer. He had been supposed to lead the mission. No one had informed him of any changes. After a moment, he opened the door, not even minding his mask.
‘How far away is our leader’s flagship,’ he demanded.
‘Within range of the cruiser, Sir,’ the two stormtroopers, FN-2187 and SG-2745 waiting outside jumped up at his emergence. They clearly didn’t want to be here. Obvious even with their helmets on. Kylo didn’t like this situation either. Supreme leader usually kept far away from the battlefields, unless his personal intervention was needed. Said intervention was rarely pleasant.
‘Prepare my ship,’ he ordered the troopers.
‘Uh, Sir,’ SG-2745 stammered, ‘we have direct orders to escort you. Orders from Supreme leader Snoke.’
‘Very well,’ he snapped and pushed past them.
‘This way, Sir,’ SG-2745 caught up to him, FN-2187 in tow.
‘I know the way to the hangar, thank you.’ He didn’t like this situation one bit. Supreme leader had sensed his weakness. There could be no other reason for him to come all this way.
‘Leave us,’ Supreme leader waved the stormtroopers off. They hurried out of the room, leaving Kylo to face down Snoke on his own. The praetorian guard lined the walls.
‘I’ve sensed a great source of conflict in you, my apprentice,’ Supreme leader said from his throne, a hint of compassion in his voice.
‘It’s nothing,’ Kylo tensed as he knelt down.
‘Do you hold me for a fool?’ Snoke snapped, ‘you think I would’ve come in person if it were nothing.’
‘Of course not.’ Shivers went down Kylo’s spine.
‘Why don’t you show me what troubles you,’ Snoke struggled up from his throne and strolled towards him. Every step calm and deliberate. ‘What have you found?’
Kylo should have known better than to think he could’ve kept it hidden. He reached for his pocket and took out the golden dice. During his last mission, some bounty hunter had given it to him to prove he had captured Han Solo and his crew. Hux had reported it a failure. The prisoners had escaped before the troops could arrive.
‘It’s a meaningless trinket,’ Kylo said.
‘Yet you still have it,’ Snoke said softly, tracing a finger over Kylo’s cheek. It took effort not to pull away, ‘what am I supposed to make of that?’
‘It was a foolish mistake. It won’t happen again.’ He looked at the floor, avoiding Snoke’s stare. Neglecting to bring his mask had been a mistake.
‘You let this trinket plant doubt on you,’ Snoke raised his hand and brought it back down with force.
‘It won’t happen again,’ Kylo repeated. A metallic taste filled his mouth.
‘Your resolve is fading,’ Snoke shook his head, ‘your letting your family influence you.’
‘I won’t give in to it,’ Kylo looked up, turning his eyes back to the floor when making eye contact.
‘Your doubt is making you weak. It’s crippling you,’ Snoke said.
‘I’ll resist it.’
‘Have you forgotten how your family thought you a monster?’ Snoke continued without paying attention to the interruption, ‘how they thought you a monster? How they would’ve killed you in your sleep?’
‘I’ll never forget,’ Kylo jerked his head up.
‘Good. There it is,’ Snoke bared his teeth in a grin, ‘your anger. It has always been your strength.’
‘I will restore my resolve,’ Kylo said, ‘if you give me the time, I will become stronger.’
‘You’re getting sentimental,’ Snoke’s face turned inexpressive, ‘such a shame.’
‘It was a moment of weakness,’ Kylo declared, ‘I will overcome it.’
‘I trust you will,’ Snoke gestured at the praetorian guards, ‘here, let me help you.’
‘What?’ Kylo struggled as the guards pushed him down, tearing the protective cloak from his back. He was shoved into the floor.
‘Don’t forget, my apprentice,’ Snoke said in a gentle tone, ‘it was your father who caused you this pain.’
Hot-red pain shot through his back. Again and again, until the red guards didn’t need to hold him down anymore. The world turned into a sea of searing, white light. He still clutched the golden dice in his hand when the stormtroopers that had brought him dragged him away.
Chapter 2: crashing on the way out
fixed this one too. I'm just going to go through all chapters to see what I can improve. The overall storyline is going to stay the same.
also this is one chapter again.
‘Escort my apprentice back this chambers,’ the Supreme leader looked down at them from his high and mighty throne. FN-2187 hoped Snoke wasn’t reading his mind or something anything of the kind. If this is what the guy did to his own apprentice, what would he do to a traitor stormtrooper?
He helped SG-2745 lift Ren of the floor. They had to drag him since the man wouldn’t stand on his own. Besides neither, he or SG-2745 wanted to linger any longer than necessary. Although he did grab the discarded cloak from the ground on their way out. The eyes of the Supreme leader burned through him as he did so.
The clothing on Ren’s back was torn to shreds. Blood seeping into the fabric and burns visible underneath. The sight made FN-2187 flinch.
As soon as they left the throne room, he stopped to toss the cloak over the wounds. Making sure the cloak wouldn’t shift over the wounds, he clasped it shut and drew the hood over Ren’s head. SG-2745 waited impatiently until he was done, but didn’t complain about having to hold Ren up by herself.
FN-2187 moved back into position to help her. Together they brought Ren back into the ship they came in. All heads turned when they passed, staring in varying degrees of terror and astonishment as the fearsome Kylo Ren was being dragged through the hallways like a defective droid.
Snoke was setting quite an example. Whatever Ren had done to piss that creepy gremlin off, no one would be thinking of doing it any time soon. FN-2187 felt both dread and satisfaction that he had inadvertently thwarted Snoke’s plan, if even a little, by covering up the extent of Ren’s injuries.
Finally getting back into the transport, they dropped Ren on the nearest seat. Ren collapsed with his elbows on his knees. FN-2187 peeked under the cloak while the ship rose up. SG-2745 stared at him from beyond her helmet.
He dropped the cloak back down when he saw the wounds. How did Snoke manage to do that in the fifteen minutes they’d been waiting outside?
Ren grabbed his wrist, squeezing it. FN-2187 moved the cloak back with his other hand. He hadn’t thought Ren was actually conscious, but the man was staring at him, or rather through him. His eyes were wide open but didn’t seem to focus on anything.
‘Hey,’ FN-2187 called, ‘can you hear me?’
The only response he got was Ren jerking back, his eyes widening further. He was afraid. FN-2187 hadn’t thought him capable of the emotion, but couldn’t exactly blame him given his condition.
‘Get him up,’ SG-2745 said, ‘we’re there.’
FN-2187 hadn’t noticed they’d reached the hangar, but sure enough, the ramp opened up to let them out. Ren offered no resistance when they hauled him back to his feet. After dragging him through a few more corridors filled with studying eyes, they dropped Ren on the bed in his chambers.
‘Should we sent for a medic,’ FN-2187 wondered out loud when he removed the cloak and tossed it aside.
‘Not our concern,’ SG-2745 left the room without looking back.
FN-2187 threw a last look at Ren. He had never seen the man’s face before, but he could tell it was alarmingly pale. There was nothing more FN-2817 could do for him. He had opposed Snoke enough for one day. If he pulled any more attention to himself he would end up the same way, or worse. Determined not to let that happen, FN-2187 made his way to where they held the prisoner of Jakku. Time to get out of here.
‘You must understand,’ Grandfather said, sitting at his bedside, ‘he’s manipulating you.’
‘Supreme leader is wise,’ Kylo monotonously repeated the old dogma. The side of his face was still pressed into the pillow. He hadn’t had the strength to push himself up.
‘He’s using you for your power. Like he’s using everyone around him,’ Grandfather no longer appeared as a hologram. The blue light that shaped him was nearly solid.
‘He’s making me strong,’ Kylo had intended to shout, but it came out as more of a whisper.
‘He’s trying to break you. If he can’t he’ll destroy you.’ Grandfather brushed the hair from Kylo’s face. The touch was surprisingly solid and strangely reassuring.
‘You’re wrong,’ Kylo argued, ‘you made a mistake when you turned away from the dark side.’
‘Perhaps,’ Grandfather sighed, ‘One can only assume what he’s doing is right. But stay here and you’ll never find out for yourself.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Snoke is losing his hold on you. I can sense it,’ Grandfather gently stroked his cheek over the bruise Snoke had left, ‘It won’t be long until he decides he can’t use you anymore. You have to leave.’
‘I can’t. Not now. Not anymore.’
‘You know I speak the truth, my grandson,’ Grandfather countered with intensity, ‘you must leave before Snoke disposes of you.’
‘Even so, what should I do?’ Kylo asked, ‘jump into the nearest TIE fighter and hope nobody will notice?’ the situation was catching up to him at a troubling pace.
‘You don’t have the strength do to so in your current condition,’ Grandfather mused, ‘However, you’re not the first today to think up such a plan.’
‘The soldier that brought you back here,’ Grandfather said, ‘you must’ve felt his fear.’
‘FN-2187,’ Kylo guessed, ‘he’s planning something.’ Even though his mind had been clouded by the pain, waves of terror had broken through to his consciousness, originating from the stormtrooper that had given him back his cloak.
‘Yes. A daring plan, I must say,’ Grandfather chuckled. ‘He has courage, if not the gift of common sense.’
‘I’ll ask if he would be so kind as to let me tag along,’ Kylo pushed himself. An inch was all he could manage before the pain on his back became too much. ‘That is if he doesn’t get shot down or blown up first.’
‘If only, but I fear there is no such time. His plan is already on its way,’ Grandfather said, ‘get up. Use my strength and go. I’ll guide you and keep Snoke from prying in your mind.’ The Force surged through Kylo’s body, powering his muscles and dulling the pain. He pushed himself further up, finally having the strength to get up from the bed. When he looked up, the apparition of his grandfather was gone. he put on his mask and replaced the torn clothing to hide his injuries. There was barely any pain when he shrugged on the shirt and put the cloak back on his shoulders. Before leaving, he tore the position sensor from his belt and shoved it under the mattress. Running away and hiding with a tracker attached to you wouldn’t get you very far. Regaining his breath, he opened the door. Walking into the hallway, he followed the path Grandfather led him. For the first time ever, it was clear. It might be his only chance.
‘Ren wants the prisoner,’ FN-2187 announced when he walked into the cell.
‘Why?’ one of the guards demanded, ‘all necessary intel has already been extracted by Supreme leader himself.’ The prisoner indeed didn’t seem to be doing very well. No one would if Snoke’s hologram popped in on your interrogation and joined by poking around in your brain with the Force. FN-2187 had seen it once. He wasn’t in any hurry to personally experience it.
‘Are you questioning Ren’s orders?’ FN-2187 asked. it was a wry relief knowing Ren was in no shape to contradict him anytime soon. The guards didn’t answer but released the restraints nonetheless. FN-2187 pulled the prisoner to his feet and led him out of the interrogation room. ‘Turn here,’ he pushed the prisoner into an empty hallway, ‘listen carefully. If you do exactly as I say, I can get you out of here.’
‘What?’ the prisoner turned and frowned.
‘This is a rescue. I’m helping you escape,’ FN-2187 elaborated. ‘Can you fly a TIE fighter?’
‘You’re with the resistance,’ the prisoner’s eyes lit up.
‘What? No, no. I’m breaking you out. Can you fly a TIE fighter?' FN-2187 repeated.
‘I can fly anything,’ the prisoner said, ‘Why? Why are you helping me?’
‘Because it’s the right thing to do,’ FN-2187 declared. It wasn't a lie, even though it technically wasn't the truth either.
‘You need a pilot,’ realisation flashed over the prisoner’s face.
‘I need a pilot,’ FN-2187 admitted. ‘I have to get out of here.’
‘We’re going to do this,’ the prisoner nodded with a grin, seemingly relieved at the reassurance.
Okay. Stay calm. Stay calm,’ FN-2187 whispered to himself as he guided the prisoner through the hangar. ‘Don’t panic.’
‘I am calm,’ the prisoner said.
‘I was talking to myself,’ FN-2187 replied, still holding his blaster to the man’s back. It must’ve been convincing. No one as much as batted an eye as he walked a high-interest prisoner through the hangar, the place where things usually left the cruiser. ‘Not yet,’ FN-2187 told the prisoner, estimating the distance to the nearest TIE-fighter. ‘okay. Go. This way.’ He pushed the man to the side, moving swiftly. They climbed into the TIE fighter before anyone could see them.
‘I’ve always wanted to fly one of these things,’ the former prisoner dropped into the pilot’s seat, way too enthusiastic given the circumstances. ‘Can you shoot?’
‘Blasters I can,’ FN-2187 looked down at the controls. He had never been inside one of these things. What were half these things even for?
‘Okay same principle,’ the man explained, ‘use the toggle on the left to switch between missiles, cannons and mag pulse. Use the sight on the right to aim. Triggers to fire.’
‘This is very complicated,’ FN-2187 muttered as the ship roared alive. Nothing on the controls resembled anything on a blaster. He assumed the big thingies were the triggers.
‘Your half-baked plan might actually work,’ a deep voice said, ‘but as you might notice, we’re still attached to the hangar. Want me to fix that?’
FN-2187 turned to the source of the voice and let out a string of curses that were probably against the code of conduct. Ren let it pass while calmly sat on the floor, his helmet in his hands.
‘Ben, buddy, where have you been?’ the prisoner turned in his chair, nearly falling off it. ‘Everybody thinks you’re dead.’
‘Dameron,’ Ren narrowed his eyes. The man had recovered surprisingly quickly from his wounds. His eyes were clear again and he showed no signs of pain or fatigue. Apparently, he also knew the prisoner to complicate matters. To emphasize Ren’s earlier statement, the ship was yanked back towards the hangar. Ren steadied himself against the wall and the prisoner pushed himself back in his chair. As the only one properly seated, FN-2187 was a bit shaken, but able to stay in his place without too much trouble.
‘I can fix this,’ the prisoner yelled. The ship moved forwards a few times, only to be yanked back every time.
‘Allow me,’ Ren raised a hand and the resistance fell away. The ship shot into outer space, followed by heavy fire. They hadn’t left unnoticed.
‘That went better than I expected,’ Ren said. FN-2187 considered tossing him from the ship. He doubted Ren would be able to put up much of a fight, even if the guy seemed to be doing reasonably well. Then again, they could use his help and Ren had plenty of reason to want out as well.
‘This thing really moves.’ The former prisoner hadn’t lost any of his enthusiasm despite the fact they were being shot at. ‘We’ve got to take out as many of these cannons as we can or we're not going to get very far.’
‘Alright,’ FN-2187 said, glad that the pilot had, in fact, noticed that little problem.
‘I'm gonna get us in position. Stay sharp,’ the prisoner said, ‘Up ahead. Do you see it? I got us dead center. It's a clean shot.’ FN-2187 looked and aimed at the cannon straight ahead. It was indeed a clean shot. All he had to do was keep the guns in a straight line. The cannon came off with a satisfying explosion.
‘Did you see that?’ he yelled, ‘did you see that?’
‘I saw it,’ the prisoner said.
‘Impressive,’ Ren mocked, ruining the moment. Was it too late to toss him from the ship?
‘How about you pull some of the weight, Ben?’ the prisoner asked. FN-2187 could appreciate his dedication to mispronouncing Ren’s name. Ren petulantly raised an arm. A single cannon blew up with no discernible cause. It was far more than FN-2187 could’ve managed. Still, he wondered how much effort it took Ren to remain conscious. Force or no Force, injuries like that didn’t just disappear. ‘Alright,’ the prisoner said, ‘don’t tire yourself out.’ Ren scoffed and threw him a nasty glare.
‘Hell yeah,’ FN-2187 yelled when he shot down another cannon. ‘there goes another one.’
The prisoner laughed. ‘What’s your name?’
‘F-what now?’ the prisoner turned in his chair.
‘It’s the only name they ever gave me,’ he said.
‘Well, I’m not going to use it,’ the prisoner looked back ahead, ‘F-N uh? Finn. I’m going to call you Finn. Is that alright?’
‘Finn,’ he tested the sound of the word, ‘yeah. I like that.’
‘I’d say we have more urgent concerns right now,’ Ren complained from his place on the floor. Altogether, he was being rather unhelpful. It was to be expected given the fact he hadn't been able to stand by himself less then an hour ago, but he should stop complaining if he wasn’t going to contribute anything.
‘Never mind him,’ the prisoner said, ‘I’m Poe Dameron.’
‘Good to meet you, Poe.’
‘Good to meet you too, Finn,’ Poe said. ‘Also, Ben how did you get here? An why are you dressed as your grandfather. Mask and all that?’ Ren only scowled in response, still not doing anything useful.
‘Don’t tell me you became one of those ‘knights of Ren,’ the prisoner continued. He was seriously underinformed for a resistance agent.
‘That is Ren,’ Finn filled him in.
‘No, he isn’t. That’s Ben,’ Poe said before falling silent, ‘Ah, kriff. What the hell, Ben?’
‘Now that’s cleared up, on your right, Finn,’ Ren said.
‘Hold on. I see them,’ Finn aimed the guns for the TIE fighters approaching and pulled the trigger.
‘Nice shot,’ Poe cheered.
‘Where are we going?’ Ren asked, his voice suddenly much weaker.
‘Back to Jakku,’ Poe said, ‘That’s where.’
‘No. We can't go back to Jakku. We need to get out of this system,’ Finn yelled. Did this guy have any sense of self-preservation?
‘I agree. Turn this thing around,’ Ren demanded, still in no position to make any demands whatsoever. He did make a good point though.
‘I got to find my droid before the First Order does,’ Poe said.
‘What, a droid?’ Finn exclaimed. He should’ve gotten another pilot. This one was an idiot.
‘That's right. He's a BB unit, orange, and white. One of a kind,’ Poe continued, not getting the hint.
‘I don't care what colour he is! No droid can be that important,’ Finn yelled.
‘This one is.’
‘That’s moronic,’ Ren said.
‘O hey, Ben. You’re still here?’ Poe countered, ‘tell me. What’ve you been up to besides disappointing your mother?’ Ren’s jaw dropped. Finn didn’t even attempt to suppress his laughter.
‘But, seriously,’ he was forced to regain himself when a blast rocked the ship, ‘we need to get as far away from the First Order as we can. We go to Jakku and we die.’
‘That droid has a map that leads straight to Luke Skywalker,’ Poe explained.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Finn groaned. Even Ren rolled his eyes. Did he do that a lot? He totally could with his mask on. Finn had certainly made a few faces at Phasma. Considering he had never been blasted, she hadn't noticed. Another blast hit the side of the ship, rocking it even harder than before. Finn had to hold on to his chair. Ren was tossed from his spot on the floor. The ship was turning, round and round, thrown from its course.
They were going down.
Chapter 3: Point of no return
‘FN-2187 reported to my division, was evaluated and sent to reconditioning,’ Captain Phasma listed. A single stormtrooper accompanied her.
‘No prior signs of non-conformity?’ Hux inquired
‘This was his first offense,’ Phasma said, ‘SG-2745 worked on an assignment with him minutes before he defected.’ She turned to her soldier, ‘tell him.’
‘We were ordered to escort Kylo Ren to our Supreme leader,’ a young, female voice spoke behind the helmet, ‘FN-2187 was acting odd, but not necessarily suspicious. I do not believe he planned this in advance.’
‘I don’t care how long he was considering high treason,’ Hux brushed her off, ‘retrieve Ren and bring him here. Tell him his expertise is required.’ The stormtrooper didn’t move, only gaped at her captain.
‘How would a deserting stormtrooper require Ren’s assistance? He would do better to locate that droid,’ Phasma said.
‘The charging cable became undone with no visible cause. One of the cannons blew up on its own accord. What does that tell you?’ Hux lost his patience. The situation was vexing enough without soldiers questioning his orders. ‘a force user aided in the escape. That’s how it concerns Ren,’ he continued when Phasma didn’t answer. ‘Now hurry up and bring Ren here.’
‘Sir,’ the stormtrooper interrupted, ‘I do not believe that is currently possible.’
‘How so?’ Hux raised an eyebrow, memorising the soldier's number of identification. Perhaps this one would also benefit from reconditioning.
‘Ren is incapable of leaving his chambers,’ the stormtrooper paused, ‘he’s unwell.’
‘Unwell? Has a medic been sent?’ Hux asked. He was supposed to be briefed on the status of all high-ranking officers on the ship. Ren was no officer, but he was included under the protocol. The man, however, had refused to follow either orders or protocol ever since he set foot on this cruiser. Still, had it been serious enough to impede Ren’s performance, he would’ve been informed through the normal channels, not by a soldier who happened to mention it.
‘We- we weren’t ordered to,’ the stormtrooper stammered.
Hux had expected Ren wouldn’t enjoy his audience with Supreme leader, but for the man to hole himself up in his room was a new kind of pathetic. Not only was Ren now disturbing the carefully maintained order, but his impetuous behaviour was also delaying the task on hand.
‘General,’ the technician charged with tracking the movements of the stolen TIE fighter turned away from the screen, ‘they’ve been hit.’
‘Destroyed?’ Hux asked, heading for the control panel.
‘Disabled,’ the technician said, ‘the fighter is projected to crash in the Goazon Badlands.’
‘They’re going back for the droid,’ he turned back to Phasma, ‘Send a squad to the wreckage and approach with caution. The force user may have been on the ship. I’ll send Ren after you as soon as possible.’ He resented the trouble the man caused him, but sending a stormtrooper would be pointless and a waste of essential time. He would have to deal with Ren himself.
Finn awoke in the middle of a desert, the Jakku desert. Sand stretched as far as he could see. Nothing but the wind moved for miles, except for a pillar of smoke rising up in the distance.
He struggled out from the straps holding him to the ejected chair. Dumping his armour, he staggered to the wreckage, screaming for survivors. Not a sign of life was to be found around the TIE figher. No sounds, no movement, not even footprints. They had to still be inside the ship. Having seen the result of Ren’s self-control issues, Finn knew that he could’ve fought his way from the wreckage any time he wanted to. they were either unconscious or dead in there.
Reaching into the first opening he found, Finn caught unto something thin and flexible, fabric. He yanked it out of the wreckage. It was Poe’s jacket.
‘Poe,’ Finn called, motioning to open up the rest of the ship. before he could, the sand under his feet sunk away. he jumped back in surprise.
He could only watch as the desert swallowed the wreckage whole. If anyone had been alive in there, they were dead now. He was alone.
Kylo coughed up the sand stuck in his throat. He was drenched in his own sweat. Not an ideal way to start a trip through the drought of Jakku.
Dameron was several feet away, still strapped to the pilot’s seat. The ejection mechanism had probably saved his life. By all logic, Kylo should’ve been crushed on impact considering he had been sitting unsecured on the floor. He vaguely remembered the gravity falling away and all his senses being throwing in disarray, leaving him only the Force to rely on. He had reached through it until he found something familiar. Without realising it, he must’ve used the Force to break his fall.
He struggled to his feet. The ground shifted under him and he fell back into the sand. Sweat prickled in his wounds, making the blood retreat from his head. Grandfather’s strength was gradually fading.
Dameron rolled from his chair and looked sheepishly at his surroundings. His eyes went wide when he noticed Kylo.
“Ben,’ he shouted, ‘are you alive?’ Kylo didn’t bother answering while he sat up. Dead people didn’t sit. Dameron jumped up and came his way. When he reached, he pulled Kylo up by the arm. Normally, Kylo would’ve refused the help, but the sand wasn’t very comfortable.
‘Where’s Finn?’ Dameron asked immediately.
‘I don’t know,’ Kylo said, looking around. Nothing but sand.
‘Can you try harder?’ Dameron crossed his eyes, frowning, ‘you know, Force stuff.
‘Force stuff?’ Kylo raised an eyebrow.
‘Do your magic thingy and find him,’ Dameron said while making random gestures in the air.
‘I can’t,’ Kylo looked around him once more. He reached out through the Force only for his attempts to bounce off., as was to be expected Normally it would’ve been easy enough, but now he was too weakened to seriously try.
‘You blow up cannons with your mind, but finding someone is impossible?’
‘It doesn’t work like that,’ Kylo snapped, ‘we have to get out of here or we’ll die.’
‘But Finn might still be out there somewhere,’ Dameron protested.
‘Finding him is unlikely,’ Kylo said.
‘We have to try.’
‘What would you suggest?’ Kylo said, ‘there are no tracks. No landmarks. Even the ship’s gone. We have nothing to go on.’
‘We have to do something,’ Dameron insisted, still not offering a plan.
‘You’re free to try,’ Kylo turned away, ‘I’ll be going.’ They had as much chance of finding Finn heading for safety as they did going in any direction. If he recalled the maps he studied for his missions, there had to be an outpost and several settlements on the northern reaches of this planet. Judging from the sun’s position and the length of their shadows north was over there.
‘Wait,’ Dameron stopped him by grabbing his arm again, ‘we have to stick together.’
‘Are you kidding me?’ Dameron asked, visibly irritated, ‘were in the middle of the desert.’
‘A desert that will be crawling with stormtroopers within hours.’
‘Yeah,’ Dameron nodded, ‘that’s going to be a problem.’
‘Finn probably died in the crash. Just look at the distance we fell from,’ Kylo said, ‘we’ll die trying to save a dead man.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ Dameron muttered, looking down.
‘If he somehow did survive, we can’t help him. We have no idea where he would’ve landed,’ Kylo said, ‘the only thing we can do is get moving.’
‘Yeah, you’re right,’ admitted hesitantly, ‘I still need to get back for my droid though. I’ve got a good idea where he is. The resistance depends on it.’
Kylo groaned, ‘do you have a plan? Like I said; the order’s going to be crawling all over this planet.’
‘Not really,’ Dameron said, ‘hadn’t considered that.’
‘I’m going,’ Kylo turned and trudged away.
‘Alright, alright,’ Dameron hurried after him, ‘I’ll figure it out on the way.’
‘Don’t expect my help.’
‘Don’t you want to find your uncle?’ Dameron asked.
‘Sure, if I want to be murdered in my sleep.’ The prickling in his wounds flared up to a biting pain.
‘What? Wait no, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know,’ Dameron said, looking up and down, ‘Black clothes and capes aren’t very useful in deserts.’
‘Can’t be helped.’
‘You can just dump the cloak,’ Dameron suggested.
‘Mind your own business,’ Kylo snapped. He wouldn’t be able to bring his hands up far enough to unclasp the cloak and Dameron didn’t need to know about his injuries. It would only slow them down. Something they couldn’t afford at the moment.
‘Whatever,’ Dameron shrugged, ‘you do you.’ They continued in silence until the desert began twisting around them. Kylo stopped to maintain his balance. The sand was spinning in circles under his feet.
‘What is it?’ Dameron looked back. Didn’t he see it? Everything was turning. How could he not see that?
Kylo’s knees gave out. The edges of his vision went dark. The sand closed in. Fighting to stay conscious, he reached out his arms to break his fall. Searing pain shot through his back. Everything went dark.
Rey cut the net Teedo had trapped the droid in. He hurled insults at her as she pulled the severed cords aside.
‘Beat it,’ she shouted back in his own language. Teedo screeched a last insult before steering his mount away. He always scrammed at the first sign someone was putting up a fight. The droid added some provocations of his own to the exchange as Teedo departed.
Rey hushed him. Teedo was a coward, but no need to push their luck. The droid went quiet with an offended movement. When Teedo had disappeared from sight, the droid beeped questioningly at her.
‘That’s just Teedo. Wants you for parts,’ she knelt down to the droids height, ‘he has no respect for anyone. Your antenna is bent,’ she reached to fix it. The droid sat still while she bent the antenna back into position and beeped a thanks when she was done.
‘Where do you come from?’ she asked.
‘Classified. Really? Me too. Big secret,’ she joked, pointing away, ‘Niima outpost is that way, just stay off Kelvin’s ridge and keep away from the Sinking Fields in the north, you'll drown in the sand.’ She stood up to leave. The droid rolled after her when she walked away, beeping loudly.
‘Don’t follow me. Town’s that way,’ she pointed again.
‘Follow. Stay together? Please?’ the droid asked.
‘What? No,’ Rey said. She couldn’t be hauling a droid around during her scavenging trips.
‘Alone. Scary,’ the droid beeped sadly, ‘Help?’
Rey hesitated. The droid was such a small thing. What if another Teedo saw him? He couldn’t defend himself. ‘Come on,’ she finally nodded. The droid raced to her side, obviously pleased.
‘In the morning, you go,’ she said. The droid just beeped in happiness and gratitude.’
Hux glared around the room. The chambers were nothing out of the ordinary. Except for the fact that they were empty. According to the position sensor Ren should be right in front of him. His eyes were telling him that wasn’t the case. He checked the sensor again. The signal came from the bed, but it was obviously empty. Either Ren had chosen to go out with his clothes unfastened or the sensor was faulty. He didn’t have time for this.
‘Send a squad to Ren’s chamber,’ he ordered into his transmitter.
‘At one, Sir,’ the voice on the other side answered.
Following the signal to the bed, Hux began searching the room in the meantime. On the off chance that Ren had indeed gone out without his belt, he pulled the pillow and sheets aside. Nothing was under it.
He crouched down to look under the bed. If Ren took as much care in keeping his room orderly as he did with observing protocol, Hux wouldn’t be surprised if that was were unused clothing was kept. Indeed, a heap of fabric was piled against the leg of the bed. He lifted it up, fully expecting the belt to tumble out. He would have to discuss Ren’s negligence with Supreme leader.
Instead of the belt tumbling out, scorch marks emerged in the folds of the fabric, accompanied by the occasional bloodstain. This was what the stormtrooper had been referring to. Apparently, Snoke hadn’t appreciated Ren’s transgressions either. While it was good to know he could be expecting more cautious behaviour from Ren, it did pose an issue. If the man was unable to assist in the capture of the unknown force-user than they’d have an entirely different problem. This is why protocol had to be observed at all times. To avoid situations like these.
But Hux wouldn’t tolerate any objections against his orders from Ren. If the man was capable of leaving his chambers and evading him, then he was perfectly capable of taking part in this mission.
Hux straightened himself when the door slid open and the squad finally arrived. He held unto the piece of clothing, hiding it from the soldiers. No need to damage morale.
‘Search these rooms,’ he ordered.
‘Sir,’ one of the stormtroopers sputtered, ‘these are Ren’s personal chambers.’
‘Yes. They are,’ anger welled up in him. For some reason he didn’t grasp Ren had managed to obtain the loyalty from a part of the troops. Now some had the nerve to prioritise Ren’s authority of his own. ‘Do you see him?’
‘No, Sir,’ the stormtrooper unironically looked around.
‘Exactly,’ Hux said, ‘search this room for any indication where he has gone. Search the rest of this ship next.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ the squad came into motion and scoured the room. Hux didn’t expect them to find anything useful in here, but they had to start somewhere. He felt some satisfaction at knowing Ren would come back to find his possessions thrown around. It would probably be a show to be enjoyed from a safe distance. Although he hoped Ren would show some restraint now Supreme leader had given him the incentive. If not, Hux would have to discuss it with Supreme leader after all. The destruction Ren left at times was getting out of hand.
‘Sir,’ the nearest stormtroopers called, crouching by the bed, ‘I’ve found something.’ Hux approached to see. Had he missed anything?
The stormtrooper lifted the mattress from its place. Underneath lay a single piece of machinery. He carefully picked it up. Ren probably didn’t keep explosives under his bed, but one could never be too careful. Hucmoved to get better lighting. The tracking device in his pocket beeped. Either Ren was on the move again or the position beacon was functioning again. He took the device and looked at the screen. It still indicated Ren was in the room, just slightly more to the left. He went to see whether any of the soldiers had found the belt. The signal on the screen moved with him. Cold realisation rolled over him. The prisoner that had escaped had been of great interest to Ren. Still, Hux hadn’t seen him since the TIE fighter was stolen. On top of that, a force-user had assisted in the escape and there were not a lot of them left.
‘Put every available unit on this search and contact Supreme leader immediately,’ Hux ordered, ‘tell him it’s of utmost urgency.’
Chapter 4: out of the sand
After what seemed like an eternity, Finn saw some sort of settlement in the distance. He struggled through the sand, the sun mercilessly beating down on him. His throat felt like it was going to burst.
When he finally reached the cover of the countless tents gathered together. He took Poe’s jacket off his head. Shrugging it on, he stumbled to the first being he saw.
‘Water. Please, water,’ he begged, barely managing a whisper. The creature simply shooed him off. He raced to the next, having even less luck next time. This one didn’t even seem to understand him, or maybe just pretended not too. it didn’t matter. Finn needed water or he wasn’t going to last. Trying again, he stopped the nearest living creature he could find. Only to be shoved aside without consideration. He needed a better plan.
The comforting sound of splashing water promised relief of the burning in his throat. Without thinking he raced towards the source of the sound and stuck his head in the water, desperately guzzling down the water. Only when the extremes of his thirst were quenched did he notice the other creature drinking from the water basin. He gagged, realising what the four-legged mass of blubber must’ve left in the water. But the thirst won from the disgust and he continued drinking, holding his vomit down.
Sounds of a nearby struggle made him tear away from the refreshing, life-saving water. He jumped up with renewed strength.
A girl was being attacked by two figures in black. Finn approached to help her, but the girl was already taking care of it herself. She kicked her attackers to the ground with impressive ease. The figures in black showed the good sense to make themselves scarce. The girls crouched down while the figures disappeared around the first corner they saw. She reached to grab a small sack off the ground. The sack moved in circles through the sand. Was it supposed to be doing that?
When the girl finally got a hold on the sack, a small droid peeked out from under it. Rolling out from under the bag, the droid came into full sight. It was a BB-unit, white and orange.
Oh no. That had to be a coincidence. Like, what are the chances? There were a ton of these droids. No way this was Poe’s droid. It was all just some stupid coincidence. He was not about to get dragged back into the crazy because this droid fit Poe’s description. There were probably around five dozen droids on this planet that fit the criteria.
‘One of a kind,’ Poe’s voice echoed in his head.
Finn took a deep breath. Back to the crazy it is. He moved to approach the girl, but she saved him the trouble. She came running to him. He looked around, trying to figure out what she was going for. It couldn’t be him, she would’ve no idea who he was. But still, the girl was staring straight at him and she wasn’t making a happy face. A staff perfect for hitting people with was clutched in her hand. Not taking the time to ask her what was up, Finn made a run for it. He didn’t need another smack-down on top of the contusions from the crash.
The girl pursued him with a zeal he hadn’t seen in a while. Considering his former employment, that was saying something. He followed the example of the previous poor sods that had the bad fortune of having a confrontation with this girl and turned around the first corner he could find. Something smacked him to the ground before he got the chance to look where he was going.
The girl was standing over him, staff raised. How had she gotten here so fast? She was behind him a second ago.
‘What’s the hurry thief,’ the girl demanded, not giving him a chance to inquire about her abrupt change of location.
‘What?’ Finn stayed down. better not to give her a chance to use that staff, ‘Thief?’ He had done plenty of things today, but he wasn’t a thief. He might’ve ignored direct orders. He might’ve busted out a prisoner and he might’ve flown said prisoner out on a stolen TIE fighter…
Okay, maybe thief could be included in the list of things he could rightfully be called. But still, this girl couldn’t know that. The First Order usually didn’t go around announcing their setbacks.
The droid came rolling around the corner, probably equally confused by the girl’s apparent teleportation skills. She should sell that stuff. It would make some serious money.
The droid seemed to think he should also contribute something to Finn’s predicament and zapped him.
‘Hey!’ he yelled, estimating how far he could bowl the little screw collection.
‘The jacket,’ the girl bit at him, ‘the droid says you stole it.’
‘Alright, listen up. I’ve had a pretty messed up day already,’ Finn didn’t say that lightly. He was used to Phasma breathing down his neck, but this day alone he had barely avoided either execution or reconditioning, and he didn’t know which one would’ve been worse. Next, he had been forced, not just once but twice in fifteen minutes, to be in the same room as that bathrobe-wearing piece of mashed potato. Like, put on some actual clothes if you obligated people to be in your presence. And last but not least, he had to listen to Ren’s nagging until they were shot down. ‘so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop accusing me of-,’ the droid zapped him again for no particular reason. ‘stop that.’
‘Where’d you get that?’ the girl demanded, moving her staff a little too much to Finn’s liking, ‘it belongs to his master.’
Ah, that cleared things up. What you could not achieve with actual communication, instead of hitting people over the head with a stick.
‘It belonged to Poe Dameron,’ Finn looked over to the droid, ‘That was his name, right? Both the droid and the girl began pushing for information. He gave them a short summary of the day’s events. If the girl had any affiliation with the First Order she would’ve already handed over the droid. He did leave out the part where the Order’s secret weapon had hitched a ride. That wouldn’t get him any credit on either side of the war. Besides, keeping quiet about Kylo’s death might keep the order busy for a while. He felt kind of bad about using a guy’s death in his benefit, but he doubted Kylo would object. He also didn’t mention the part where he used to be a stormtrooper. The resistance wouldn’t appreciate the stormtrooper part and the First Order might frown upon the used-to-be part.
‘Poe didn’t make it,’ he concluded his story, ‘Look, I’m sorry. It tried to help them.’ he slipped up but they didn’t seem to notice. If they had, they weren’t interested in who else tagged along.
The droid beeped once and rolled away, his head hanging.
‘You’re with the resistance?’ the girl asked, wide-eyed and smiling. He assumed she hadn’t known Poe, or at least hadn’t liked him very much.
‘Yeah, yeah, I am,’ he lied without much thought. This girl seemed to like the resistance. Better to not get on her wrong side. She was still holding that staff. Besides, who could disappoint a smile like that?
‘I’m with the resistance,’ he whispered, mostly to himself.
‘I’ve never met a resistance fighter before,’ the girl finally put her staff away.
‘Well, this is what we look like,’ Finn said before catching himself, ‘Some of us. Others look different.’ He should probably shut up now.
‘BB-8 says he’s on a secret mission. That he has to get back to your base,’ the girl said.’
‘Apparently, he's carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker, and everyone's after it,’ Finn groaned. What had he done to gain the ire of the universe? It couldn’t just be any map. It had to be the map to Luke Kriffing Skywalker.
The girl’s jaw dropped, ‘Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth.’ Yeah, he’d wish. Maybe he could tell the order that and they would lay off.
In the meantime, the droid was beeping angrily at a corner, possibly choosing the girl’s next victim. Indeed, the girl went to check. Finn followed to watch the show. At least he wasn’t the punchline this time. He hoped.
It so possibly got worse. The guys that had just harassed the girl were chatting with a couple of Finn’s old colleagues. Perhaps they were swapping war stories. More likely they were snitching.
He took the girl by the hand and scrammed. The girl complained the entire way about him holding her hand. The blaster fire and flying debris that followed them didn’t seem to bother her.
Ben was even heavier than he looked. Poe was half-carrying, half-dragging him through the sand as he slipped in and out of consciousness. He gurgled something in Poe’s ear and drooled on his shoulder. Was he really Kylo Ren? He certainly dressed the part.
Poe had ditched the cloak half a mile back. If Ben had any complaints about it, he could voice them when he was actually capable of forming a full sentence again. What was he thinking keeping that thing on to begin with?
Ben murmured something else. Poe ignored him. There was no making sense of it anyway. Maybe he should’ve listened.
Poe was dragged facedown into the sand when Ben collapsed completely. He crawled out from under the massive weight. Ben remained motionless in the sand. Poe shook him a bit, but Ben didn’t move.
They needed water quickly or he would have to tell General Organa her son was dead, for real this time. How the hell had Leia’s son become Kylo Ren anyway? He would’ve to ask later.
In a last attempt to wake Ben up, Poe lightly tapped him in the face. He almost expected Ben to jump up in anger, but he only opened his eyes slightly before promptly closing them again.
Poe sighed and rose to his feet. He did a quick glance-over. Ben had no obvious injuries from the crash beside the swelling under his eye. He also hadn’t complained about any pain when Poe had pulled him from the sand and they’d walked a good distance before Ben had collapsed the first time. It had to be the heat. He just needed to find water and shelter and they’d be fine.
He was about to hoist Ben back up again when the sound of engines sounded in the distance. Someone was close. He dumped Ben back into the sand and raised his arms above his head, waving them around.
‘Over here,’ he yelled when he saw the truck, ‘over here. Help.’
The vehicle turned into their direction. Poe jumped up and down to make sure he was seen. He stopped to catch his breath when the truck accelerated. A woman leaped from the driver’s seat as soon as the truck skidded to a halt. An old man emerged from the cargo space.
‘What happened?’ the woman asked, ‘Who are you?’
‘We crashed. I don’t know where we are. He needs water,’ Poe said, pointing at Ben laying in the sand behind him. ‘please, help.’ The woman pushed past him and hurried to Ben’s side, checking his pulse.
‘He has a heat stroke,’ she declared before turning at the old man waiting by the back of the truck. ‘Dad, get some water. You,’ she looked back to Poe, ‘help me get him in the back.’
‘Yeah,’ Poe crouched down to as she said. Together they lifted Ben into the cargo space. The roof was barely high enough to stand under, but the tattered tarps held out the scorching sun. Ben stirred awake when they laid him down.
The old man handed Poe a canteen and another one to the woman. Poe quickly gulped down the cool water in a single swig. He hadn’t noticed how dehydrated he had been until that moment. His energy was restored almost immediately.
‘Why is he wearing clothes like these in the desert?’ the woman asked while she helped Ben drink. Her father left the cargo space without a word.
‘I don’t think he expected to be here,’ Poe said, looking after the old man, ‘you should’ve seen the cloak he was wearing.’
‘What?’ the woman looked up. Ben was staring at her with wide, hazy eyes. The truck shuddered alive and the engines roared. They drove away.
‘Help me get him out of these,’ the woman said before Poe could ask where they were going. She unclasped the belt holding Ben’s shirt together. Something that had been attached to it rolled over the floor as she tossed it aside.
Poe moved to assist her by holding Ben up in a sitting position. She quickly undid the clasps of the shirt. Ben narrowed his eyes at her. she ignored him and moved the shirt aside.
‘Wait. This isn’t a heatstroke,’ she frowned. Ben began making a fuss by trying to roll around. They were saving his life and he decided to make their job harder. It was about how Poe remembered.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked while holding still and ignoring a struggling Ben.
‘He’s sweating,’ the woman explained, ‘your body hoards water when it’s overheating. You wouldn’t be sweating.’ She was paying even less attention to Ben’s stupidity than he was. ‘something else is wrong.’
‘Like what?’ Poe asked, pinning Ben’s arms down at his side.
‘I don’t know,’ the woman frowned again. She shoved the shirt aside. Poe moved to a better position and took over.
‘Don’t,’ Ben ailed.
Poe disregarded the feverish protest and pulled the shirt away. It took some effort as it had gotten stuck in the dried sweat. Ben stopped struggling, making things a lot easier. Although it was probably because he passed out again.
‘I think I know what’s wrong,’ Poe’s stomach dropped as the shirt fell to the ground, revealing damaged skin. He began to understand why Ben had involved himself in their ‘half-baked’ plan.
Over a dozen dark-red, raised grooves traced over his back. Blisters running along each line. Blood trickled down from the spots where Poe had just torn the skin away along with the fabric.
‘Are you absolutely certain?’ the Supreme leader demanded through the hologram, still on his throne.
‘Completely,’ Hux answered, ‘Ren’s helmet has been found inside the wreckage. That leaves little room for alternative explanations for Ren’s sudden disappearance.’
‘And Ren himself?’ Snoke glared down at him with eyes of steel.
‘The shipwreck was engulfed by the sand,’ Hux summarised the report, ‘we managed to salvage what remained of it, but no bodies were found. Still, we have no way of knowing whether all occupants survived. We have been able to construct two trails leading away from the wreckage, both starting within range of the crash site.’
‘I trust you’re prioritising this search, General,’ Snoke interrupted, glowering.
‘Of course,’ Hux straightened his back, not backing down under the stare that would send less composed beings running, ‘we’ve been able to confirm that the deserting stormtrooper is heading to Niima outpost due to pieces of discarded armour recovered from the trail nearest to the crash site. We don’t know whether Ren was with him, but I’ve sent my troops to search the outpost and more to follow the other trail.’
‘Tear that planet apart if you have to,’ Snoke snapped, ‘find Ren and bring him to me, alive.’
‘Supreme leader,’ Hux said carefully, ‘he may not have survived. I will continue to put all available units on the search, but I cannot guarantee that we will find Ren alive.’
‘He’s alive,’ Snoke snarled, ‘I would know if he weren’t.’
‘As you wish,’ Hux nodded. He didn’t question the statement. It was not his place to openly doubt the powers of the Supreme leader. Still, the uncertainty that a factor as unpredictable as the Force presented, had been a thorn in his side ever since he had begun his rise through the ranks. Ren’s presence on his ship had only emphasized that fact. Hux would’ve preferred to see him gone for good, but Snoke would not take well to such suggestions. Whatever the reason, Snoke was determined to have Ren returned alive. Even though any other soldier would’ve been executed for the offenses Ren had committed.
Hux was about to turn and get back to coordinating the search when the receiver in his pocket beeped. He took out the device and read the report that had appeared on the screen after he unlocked it.
‘Well?’ Snoke asked when he was done.
‘The stormtrooper has been located. Ren was not with him, but the droid holding the map to Skywalker is,’ Hux swallowed, ‘the other trail went cold in the desert.’
‘Do not fail me, General,’ Snoke’s said in a cold voice, ‘the consequences would be most dire.’ The hologram flickered and disappeared.
Hux’s hatred for Ren soared to unprecedented heights.
Chapter 5: Lies
‘Let go of me,’ Rey demanded as the resistance fighter squished her hand. He was leading them in a circle. A few more minutes like this and they’d be back where they’d started.
‘No we’ve got to move,’ he yelled. The blast flying over their heads had already notified her of such. She yanked her arm lose.
‘I know how to run without you holding my hand,’ she said, running ahead of him. He clearly had no idea where was going. ‘BB-8, stay close.’ The lack of legs didn’t slow him down at all while he skimmed over the sand.
‘This way,’ she gestured to an opening between two tents. They ducked under a tarp and took cover inside the left one. It wouldn’t fool anybody for long, but it was better than running around aimlessly. She leaned against a pole, calming her breath down to its normal rhythm. The resistance fighter began raiding the storage units at the other side of the tent.
‘They’re shooting at both of us,’ she pointed out.
‘Yeah, they saw you with me. you’re marked now,’ he explained, not looking up from throwing stuff out of a drawer.
‘Well, thanks for that,’ Rey said. Scavenging would be a challenge with troopers shooting at her.
‘Hey, I’m not the one who chased you down with a stick,’ he looked up and jabbed a finger in her direction. Was he seriously holding that against her? What else was she supposed to do? Walk up to him and politely ask him where he had gotten that jacket?
‘Doesn’t anyone have blasters around here,’ he yanked open the rest of the drawers. Why would they? People generally didn’t go around shooting each other. The First Order were the only ones around who seemed to think it was a good idea. Everyone else on Jakku was perfectly fine with dodging quicksand instead of blaster fire.
She crouched down to check on BB-8. ‘You’re alright?’
‘Yup,’ he beeped, ‘boom is fun.’ That last part made no sense. The poor guy had probably busted a circuit while they were running. The resistance fighter hushed them. Before she could protest he grabbed her hand again and dragged her back outside. BB-8 raced after them.
‘Stop taking my hand,’ she yelled while they sprinted away from the renewed blaster fire. Apparently, the troopers hadn’t left yet. On the contrary, it seemed like they brought some friends.
TIE fighters screeched through the skies. Explosions to massive to come from the ground troops tore apart entire structures. Debris sprung up in all directions. Was this all for one droid? Did BB-8 have an arsenal of weapons hidden in his belly?
A massive weight slammed against her. She barely managed to get her arms up in time to break her fall. The air was forced from her lungs.
The resistance fighter had gotten off even worse. He was lying motionless, his face pressed in the sand. She crawled to his side, careful to stay under the cover of the settling dust. BB-8 rushed past her, beeping in distress as he saw the resistance fighter. Rey caught up and rolled the resistance fighter on his back. He jerked awake at her touch.
‘Are you alright?’ he asked as soon as he sat up. Rey’s mouth fell open. His own condition had been more worrying. Yet, the first thing he did was check on her.
‘Yeah,’ she helped him to his feet, ‘follow me.’ they couldn’t outrun TIE fighters. They needed a ship. Good thing Plutt had been hoarding those.
She led them to the edge of the outpost. They encountered fewer obstacles than she’d expected. The TIE fighters had demolished half the buildings and most of the tents. She jumped over a low wall that used to be part of a warehouse. The rest of the structure had been reduced to a pile of rubble. The traders that had owned the building wouldn’t be happy. Rey, however, could appreciate the fact that she didn’t need to go around.
The edge of the sight came into sight. The gate out of town had somehow been spared from the airstrike. Not for long though. She sprinted through it, BB-8 and the resistance fighter on her heels. Just like the TIE fighters.
She didn’t look back, but an explosion indicated that the gate was no more.
‘We can’t outrun them,’ the resistance fighter yelled over the racket. She hoped he hadn’t just realised that or the resistance had to go find themselves some smarter agents.
‘We can in that quad jumper,’ she pointed to the only decent ship among Plutt’s collection.
‘We need a pilot,’ he shouted, yet again stating the obvious. Did he think she’d expected the ship to fly away by itself?
‘We’ve got one,’ she yelled back. Those simulations she’d run on that old computer were going to pay off after all.
‘You,’ he asked in disbelief. Rey didn’t feel the need or opportunity to refute him. She just kept running. The TIE fighter had come dangerously close.
‘What about that one?’ he pointed at one of the rust buckets Plutt had abused. She’d sneaked in a few times to see how the engines worked. Plutt’s additions hadn’t done the ships any good. The quad jumper hadn’t been here long enough to have suffered too much under the ‘maintenance’.
‘That one’s garbage,’ she explained. She barely finished her sentence when the quad jumper was disintegrated. Blown to dust by the TIE fighters soaring over them. it left them with few options.
‘The garbage will do,’ she turned on her heels. It would have to. out of all ships here, that one had at least some artillery. That is assuming Plutt hadn’t made any new ‘adjustments’.
Explosions marked the path they took to the freighter. Rey rammed the outside control panel until the doors opened up and the ramp slid down. She sprinted inside and closed it again once the resistance fighter and BB-8 were inside. Not waiting for them to catch their breath she pointing the resistance fighter to the gunner’s position before racing to the cockpit herself.
‘Did you ever fly this thing?’ the resistance fighter asked from below.
‘This thing hasn’t flown in years,’ Rey yelled back and looked at the controls. She talked some courage into herself and turned on the engines. The ship roared alive, the engines rumbling. It didn’t sound good.
She grabbed hold of the yoke and steered the ship straight up.
‘Stay low,’ the resistance fighter yelled.
‘What?’ shouldn’t they be getting away from Jakku’s surface?
‘Stay low. It confuses their tracking.’
That made sense. She directed the ship back down, skimming the rocks below. An impact on the left made the ship rock. The TIE fighters had caught up with them and resumed their barrage. She reached for the switches on the other side of the control panel. Which one was for the shields again?
A second blast rocked the ship, throwing them off course. She reached for the yoke again and stabilised the ship.
‘Are you ever going to fire back?’ she yelled. The cannons hadn’t even been moved since the resistance fighter went down there. Was he waiting for an invitation?
‘Working on it.’ he answered, ‘are the shields up yet?’
‘Not so easy without a co-pilot,’ she tried to turn on the shields again, holding one hand on the yoke. Flipping the switch she dropped back down in the pilot’s seat. The cannons finally started firing, missing every target in sight. Unlike their pursuers who hit them several times in a row. the shields barely dampened the blasts.
‘We need cover, quick,’ the resistance fighter stated, still not hitting anything. Didn’t the resistance have a minimum skill requirement at the very least?
‘We’re about to get some,’ she answered, ‘I hope so.’ Her plan was a desperate one, but it might just work. Besides, the alternative was being shot down. Or depend on the resistance fighter’s shooting skills, which came down to the same thing.
She steered the ship to the graveyard, barely dodging more cannon fire coming their way. The freighter’s artillery shot back but hit nothing. The TIE fighters continued chasing them down, completely unbothered. She positioned the ship to fit into the canyon below.
One of the TIE fighters had to maneuver away from the rock walls, unable to evade a blast from the freighter’s cannon. It went down burning.
‘Nice hit,’ Rey yelled to the resistance fighter, navigating her way through the ship graveyard beyond the canyon. Slaloming around the wreckages, she tried to shake the last TIE fighter. She was nearly thrown her seat when the freighter rocked sideways again. It wasn’t even the TIE fighter this time. She had simply miscalculated the distance between the ship and the wreckage she just passed.
‘The cannon’s stuck in forwards position,’ the resistance fighter informed her. Shooting back just became a lot harder.
‘Get ready,’ she braced herself and changed course. Her plan was about to get a little more desperate. She steered the freighter into the wreckage of a star destroyer. There little space to maneuver inside, but she hoped it would deter the TIE fighter from following. It did not.
The fighter kept pursuing, dodging the debris and firing. Time for plan B. She guided the ship through the wreckage to the other side. Blue sky emerged through the large hole ripped through the star destroyer’s hull. The TIE fighter followed closely behind. Rey waited for the right moment and steered the freighter up, the cannon now facing the TIE fighter. The resistance fighter fired and the TIE fighter blew up, ridding them of their last pursuer.
Rey cried out in victory and relief while she steered the freighter up and away from Jakku.
‘Your last shot was dead on,’ the girl came running out of the cockpit.
‘You set me up for it,’ Finn said.
‘Yeah, it was perfect.’ Her eyes gleamed.
‘That was pretty good,’ he admitted right away. There was no denying it had been. The droid came rolling in. Where had he been? Weren’t BB-units supposed to assist pilots? Maybe he wasn’t compatible with such an old model freighter. The girl had been right. From the inside, this ship indeed closely resemble a trash heap. He was glad he never had sanitation duty on this thing. There was no getting rid of rust like that.
‘He’s with the resistance. He’ll get you home,’ the girl crouched down when the droid began beeping. ‘we both will.’
Oh yeah, right, he had said something like that. Too late to fix that now. Besides, he was helping the resistance. That technically did make him a resistance fighter.
‘I don’t know your name.’ the girl got up and looked him in the eye.
‘Finn,’ he answered without a doubt. No more of ‘the number sequence with a couple of consonants slapped on’ junk. He was a person now. Deal with it, Phasma. ‘what’s yours?’
‘I’m Rey,’ she smiled. The droid, however, was throwing him a dirty look. Somehow managing to pull it off without facial muscles. Finn pushed down the unease rising in his chest. He hadn’t lied that much. Just a little.
He wasn’t granted much time to dwell on it. Steam rose up from the floor with a burst. This ship really was garbage.
‘Help me with this.’ Rey ran towards the source of the steam pile and began tugging at the grating. ‘Quick.’
He raced over and joined her effort. Together they moved the grating aside while the droid was unhelpfully rolling around and bleeping. Probably complaining. Kylo would’ve liked this droid. Rey lowered herself between the gears and wires in the hole. Finn hoped she knew more about engines than he did. if not, they were screwed.
‘What going on?’ Finn tried to get a better look. ‘How bad is it?’ Rey pulled at some wires. He had no idea where those were for. Listening to those dull conversations the technicians had, may not have been a bad idea in hindsight.
Rey’s head popped up from the floor. ‘It’s the motivator. Not good if we want to live. Grab me a Harris wrench. Over there,’ she pointed at a chest against the wall before her head disappeared back under the floor.
‘They’re hunting us now,’ Finn hauled the chest to the opening and unlocked it. He threw some stuff that didn’t qualify as a wrench aside. ‘We need to get out of this system.’ The Order wouldn’t be stuck on trying to find Ren for long. Not if BB-8 had the map to Skywalker. They just decimated an entire settlement to get to it.
‘BB-8 said the location of your base is “need-to-know”,’ Rey said from under the floor. ‘If I’m taking you there, I need to know.’
‘this it?’ Finn tossed her something that could be a Harris wrench. She popped up and took it before diving down again. He crawled over to BB-8. ‘You’ve got to tell us where the base is.’
The droid looked up, cocking his head, and beeped something.
‘I don’t speak that,’ he whispered, looking back to see whether Rey was reaching for her staff. She was not, thank the Force. ‘Alright between us,’ he continued in a low voice. ‘I’m not with the resistance, Okay? I’m just trying to get away from the First Order. But if you tell us where the base is, I’ll get us there first. Deal?’
BB-8 rolled back, giving Finn his version of wide eyes. Couldn’t Rey understand the beepy language?
‘Please,’ he whispered
‘Pilux Driver,’ Rey pooped up again, giving Finn a minor heart attack. ‘So where’s the base?’
‘Tell her,’ Finn reached for the pile of tools. The droid just stared at him, not making a beep. ‘Please,’ Finn tried again, waiting for Rey to smack him in the head all over again. BB-8 looked over to Rey and beeped. Rey’s head popped up once more, not looking pleased. It might be time to start running.
‘The illeenium system,’ Rey exclaimed. Finn let out a sigh and tossed her a driver, which may or may not be a Pilux driver.
‘That’s the one,’ he feigned certainty while trying to recall where exactly the Illeenium was located.
‘I'll drop you two at Ponemah Terminal. I need the bonding tape, hurry,’ she shouted from the hole. ‘I need to get back to Jakku.’
‘Back to Jakku,’ Finn echoed, ‘why does everyone want to get back to Jakku?’ Kylo had said exactly one useful thing in the TIE fighter. Going back to Jakku is moronic. Finn was planning on taking that advice.
‘Not that one,’ Rey said when he handed her something that looked like tape. ‘that one.’ What was she pointing at? There was an entire pile over there.
He threw aside anything that wasn’t tape. In the meantime. Rey was describing a lovely picture of what would happen if he didn’t hurry up. Poisoned gas didn’t even sound that bad at the moment.
‘This?’ he held up something sticky. It didn’t exactly look like tape, but nothing else in the pile did either. She took it and disappeared back into the hole. ‘You’re a pilot. Why go back?’ You’ve got a family? a cute boyfriend?’
‘None of your business, that’s why,’ Rey glared over the edge of the hole. Where was she keeping that stick again?
A shudder went through the ship. All the lights went out, engulfing in near complete darkness.
It was official. The universe hated him.
‘Do you honestly think they’ll take you back?’ Snoke mocked from the void surrounding Ben.
‘Leave me alone,’ he shouted. His voice deflected from the boundless darkness.
‘You’re a monster and they know it,’ Snoke continued, ‘you have nowhere to go.’
‘Shut up,’ he shouted, trying to find a way out. But no matter how much he fought, his legs remained immovable, frozen in their place.
‘Only I will help you,’ Snoke emerged from the nothingness, approaching slowly but intently.
‘Get away from me,’ Ben screamed, failing to calm his voice. He tried to get away, but his muscles refused to work. Colours sprung into existence around him, twisting through the void. Shifting and turning, the colours formed solid shapes. Pain shot through his back. He was in the throne room again. On his knees.
‘Return and all will be forgiven,’ Snoke extended his hand, ‘you’ll be welcomed back.’
Sharp throbs shot through Ben’s skull, like knives. Like something forcing its way in. He tried to calm his mind to no avail. Ragged thoughts raced through his head, making it feel like it would explode. Snoke was right. His parents abhorred him. Luke feared him enough to kill him in his sleep. The republic would see him dead as well if given the chance. If he turned his back on the First Order, he would’ve nowhere left to go.
‘Nobody wanted you. No one cared for you,’ Snoke continued, calmly bringing his hand to Ben’s cheek. ‘but I took you in. I protected you. I gave your life purpose.’
‘Don’t touch me,’ Ben jumped to his feet. His muscles finally back under his control.
‘Nobody could care for someone like you,’ Snoke sneered, ‘they would all kill you if they could.’
‘Liar,’ Ben said, backing away. his voice wavered. The image of a woman gently urging him to drink flashed in front of his eyes. A figure from his distant past lifting him from the sand, regardless of his own survival appeared in his mind. The memory of a single soldier facing down Snoke to give him the small comfort of something to hide behind resurfaced.
‘You’re lying,’ Ben repeated, his voice steady now.
‘Yes, he is,’ a reassuring presence emerged beside him. No longer an apparition, his hair was now blond, like Luke’s. Grandfather stood tall, his eyes fierce and filled with rage.
‘You,’ Snoke bit, moving back. His face contorted with hatred.
‘Leave,’ Grandfather commanded. ‘this family has suffered enough under the darkness.’ The walls came down around them. The entire throne room crumbled, the very shape of it falling apart.
‘Heed my words, Kylo Ren,’ Snoke snapped, ‘this is not over. You will return to me.’ For the first time ever, Ben saw fear in his expression.
‘Enough,’ Grandfather said, waving his hand in a brushing motion. Snoke vanished in an instant, not leaving a single trace of his presence.
‘He will be back,’ Grandfather said as his presence flickered, ‘I cannot keep him at bay forever.’ The world shook.
‘Wake up,’ a distant voice called. ‘Ben.’
‘Be ready,’ Grandfather urged before disappearing as well.
Ben forced his eyes open, barely registering that they’d been closed. He squinted as light filled his vision. Two faces came into focus when his eyes adjusted, both hoovering over them. The world stopped shaking.
Chapter 6: The road home
‘Chewie, we’re home,’ a grin spread over Han’s face as he walked back into the familiar hallway. Both he and Chewie held their guns ready in case it came to a fight. The ship hadn’t flown itself over here.
He gestured for Chewie to split off. They’d cover more ground that way and they were both more than capable of dealing with whatever nitwits thought they could just parade the Falcon around without any kind of cover. Despite the threat of imminent battle, warmth rose in Han’s chest when he searched the rooms. He hadn’t expected to ever see it again. By the time he met up with Chewie in the cockpit, neither of them had found a living soul. None of the escape pods had launched before they shut off the power, so where had the crew gone?
The sound of metal hitting metal coming from the maintenance hatch answered the question for him. He gestured at Chewie to open it up while he brought his blaster into position. Chewie tossed the solid metal grating aside like a sheet.
Two kids with gas masks and a droid were underneath, tinkering with the engines and obviously having no idea what they were doing. They were going to break the motivator that way. The entire Falcon would be flooded with poison gas.On second thought, they might know that after all, especially given the gas masks. Not a bad strategy, actually.
‘Where are the other?’ Han demanded, ‘where’s the pilot?’ He sure hoped they hadn’t left these kids behind to stall while all the grown-ups escaped. That would be a cheap move.
‘I’m the pilot,’ the girl held her arms in the air.
‘They’re lying,’ Chewie said. ‘There have to be others.’
‘It’s true,’ the girl yelled. ‘We’re the only ones on board.’ Technically it was possible. He and Chewie had flown the Falcon with just the two of time for years. But these were just children. Whatever the case, this was getting them nowhere. He put his blaster down.
‘You can understand that thing?’ the other kid asked, referring to Chewie with the usual ignorance.
‘And that thing can understand you,’ Han knocked the kid down a peg. ‘come on out of there.’ The kids climbed out of the hatch. The droid followed by the use of a cable.
Why did they keep putting gadgets into droids to make up for the absence of limbs when they could just give the droids limbs?
‘Where did you get this ship?’ he asked when the kids rose to their feet.
‘Niima outpost,’ the girl said.
‘Jakku? That junkyard?’ The one place they hadn’t bothered looking because it was the very definition of nowhere and the Falcon had been there. It was a wonder it wasn’t stripped to the hull. Scraps torn from shipwrecks were the only resource the entire damn sand ball had going for it.
‘Thank you. Junkyard,’ boy agreed, oddly passionate about it.
‘Who had it? Ducain?’ Han ignored him. He wasn’t here to discuss holiday destinations.
‘I stole it from Unkar Plutt,’ the girl said. Han didn’t know who Unkar Plutt was, but he was beginning to like this girl. ‘he stole it from the Irving Boys, who stole it from Ducain.’
‘Well, you can tell him Han Solo took the Falcon back. For good.’ Han turned around, taking in the state of the Falcon. It needed some fixing up, but it would be just fine. The extra spots and rust actually added something to the Falcon’s spirit.
The kids were debating history while he looked around. He decided not to join in and went for the cockpit.
‘Twelve parsecs,’ he shouted back when the girl got it wrong. ‘pfff, fourteen.’ What would’ve been impressive about fourteen?
His heart skipped a beat when he sat down in the pilot’s seat. It was exactly as he remembered. Only the golden dice that had won him the Falcon were missing. The loss of it dwarfed next to the joy of finally having his home back. Still, the memory of big brown eyes locked unto it in awe and adoration surfaced. He pushed it down. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t bring his little boy back. Something on the control panel caught his attention. It hadn’t been there last time. He took a closer look. Oh, come on. ‘Some moof-milker put a compressor on the ignition line,’ he stormed back to the others. ‘It puts too much pressure on the-‘
‘Hyperdrive,’ the girl interrupted. The kid seemed to know her stuff. She might’ve actually flown the Falcon here if she’d figured that out on her own.
‘Chewie, throw them in a pod,’ he said. ‘we’ll drop them off at the nearest inhabited planet.’
‘Wait, we need your help,’ the girl protested.
‘My help?’ Han shook his head and walked away. Fat chance. He’d drop them off and that would be the end of it.
‘This droid has to get to the resistance base as soon as possible. He’s carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker,’ the girl stalked after him.
Han froze in his spot. No one had seen or heard from Luke in six years. Ever since-. he shook the thought.
‘You are the Han Solo that fought with the Rebellion. You knew him,’ the other kid stated the obvious. Were there any other Han Solos piloting the Millennium Falcon out there?
‘Yeah. I knew him,’ he sighed, ‘I knew Luke.’ This conversation was going to be a drag.
A loud clanking noise saved him from it but indicated something much worse.
‘Don’t tell me a Rathar has gotten loose,’ Han hurried back to the freighter they’d come with. He’d preferred the conversation
‘You’re not hauling Rathars on this freighter, right?’ the boy asked in a panic.
‘I’m hauling Rathars,’ Han broke the suspension. He checked the surveillance screens. Good news; the Rathars were safely where he had left them. Bad news; his business partners were knocking down the front door.
‘What’s a Rathar?’ the girl asked Han rushed through the hallways. Both the kids and the droid were following after him. Chewie closed the line with his bowcaster ready.
‘They’re big and dangerous,’ Han explained. He hadn’t really looked into it himself, but he definitely remembered the nasty, slimy tentacles slashing at him. The boy interrupted with a vague history lesson that concluded in the girl still not knowing what a Rathar was.
‘I got three of them going to the king of Prana,’ Han continued.
‘How did you get them on board?’ the boy asked in disbelief. Han had wondered that himself a few times.
‘Used to have a bigger crew.’ he still shivered at the onslaught the beasts had havocked upon them. He didn’t get to reminisce about it. A hatch on the other end of the corridor opened up on its own accord. The Guavian death gang was waiting for them on the other side. Or to be more precise, mostly just for him.
‘Get below deck and stay there until I say so,’ he instructed the kids, ‘and don’t think about taking the falcon.’ The kids wouldn’t be getting far if they tried, but it would still be a hassle.
‘What about BB-8?’ the girl asked before climbing down.
‘He stays with me,’ Han decided, ‘until I get rid of the gang. Then you can have him back and be on your way.’ The death gang wouldn’t care about the droid and it couldn’t hurt to have some insurance.
‘Where are you keeping the Rathars?’ the boy asked. Tentacles hitting the glass of the door behind them was enough of an answer for the kid to scram.
‘What are you going to do?’ the girl asked before following her pal.
‘What I always do,’ Han said, ‘talk my way out of it.’
‘You never do,’ Chewie grunted.
‘Yes, I do, every time.’ He wouldn’t be standing here if he hadn’t.
‘Leave me alone,’ Ben screamed hysterically, aimlessly kicking around.
‘Easy there,’ Poe said as he tried to hold him up for Kina, as the woman had introduced herself, to look at the wounds. ‘We’re just trying to help.’ He didn’t think Ben could hear him but it was worth a shot.
‘How did you not know about this?’ Kina asked while she put some blue substance on the burns, careful to avoid touching the blood-filled blisters.
‘He didn’t tell me.’ Poe said, ‘Looking back, I’m pretty sure he was hiding it from me.’ it would explain that ridiculous situation with the cloak.
‘Get away from me,’ Ben kicked some more, nearly throwing Poe over.
‘So you have no idea how this happened?’ Kina frowned in concentration. ‘it looks like he lost a wrestling match with a bunch of live wires.’
‘Shut up,’ Ben screeched, trying to wrestle loose. Poe gave up on trying to hold him up and lied him down on his stomach, pinning his arms down above his head.
‘I meant no offense,’ Kina said dryly, adjusting her position. ‘But seriously? You don’t know what happened?’
‘Not a clue,’ Poe shook his head. ‘I didn’t even know he would be on the ship. He just kind of popped up.’
‘Fascinating. Hold him still,’ she said as Ben motioned to roll over. Poe didn’t know a lot about medical care, but he knew you weren’t supposed to lie on open wounds. Especially not on a sand-covered floor in a musty truck in the middle of a desert. He put his knee on Ben’s shoulder, holding him pinned in his place.
‘Don’t touch me,’ Ben yelled, although much calmer this time and without the kicking. Whether it was specifically aimed at him or at some figment of Ben’s imagination, Poe ignored him. it was for his own good.
‘Does he ever shut up?’ Kina asked while pulling some supplies from a crate. She opened a package. The contents rolled out and puffed up in a white, rectangular lump.
‘Don’t know. I haven’t seen him in years,’ Poe said. ‘What’s that?’
‘They’re usually for sunburns, but they’ll do.’ She spread the mass out on Ben’s back. It bubbled before adhering to the skin, forming a protective layer. ‘they were designed with blisters in mind.’
‘Neat,’ Poe leaned over to take a look. The shapes of the blisters were still visible under the bandages.
‘It contains a pretty strong anesthetic too. Unless he has anymore surprise injuries, your pal should wake up any moment now,’ she sat down and leaned back. ‘You said you haven’t seen him in years, right?’
‘Yup.’ Poe moved his knee off Ben’s shoulder. The guy had gotten a lot calmer. No more thrashing about.
‘And he just shows up in your ship unannounced?’ Kina raised an eyebrow, ‘he couldn’t have sent a message first?’
‘Well, uh, you see,’ Poe cursed internally, ‘there was a mix-up. Uhm Yes, a mix-up. It was all one big mix-up.’
‘Liar,’ Ben muttered conveniently.
‘Resistance or First Order?’ Kina asked with a smirk.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he stammered, ‘I’ve got nothing to do with either.’
‘You’re lying,’ Ben said in a low voice, but with full conviction.
Poe sighed. Couldn’t Ben wake up some other time?
‘So?’ Kina cocked her head, not pulling out a blaster and altogether staying impressively calm.
‘Resistance,’ Poe said, closely watching her reaction. There was no point in denying it. He had already talked himself into a corner.
‘Good thing were driving away from Niima outpost then,’ Kina said, taking her shawl down from her head and draping it around her shoulders.
‘What’s in Niima outpost?’
‘Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, airstrikes and all that,’ Kina shrugged, ‘I’d ask if you had anything to do with that, but you were heading towards the outpost. Not very smart if you just escaped an airstrike. Also there was something about a droid and you don’t have one with you.’
‘What droid?’ Poe jerked his head up.
‘A BB-unit.’ Kina moved over and reached for Ben. ‘Help me get him up. he should be waking up about now.’
Poe simply turned Ben over and pulled him in a sitting position before his back could touch the floor. It was a lot easier now he didn’t struggle.
‘Slowly, I meant,’ Kina pulled her hand back.
Ben’s breath was still rapid and shallow, his eyes still shut. He wasn’t even making a sound anymore.
‘Ben,’ Poe shook him. Kina said he should be waking up. Why wasn’t he? Did they miss something? Ben’s head fell to the side.
‘Oh, I guess he’s still out of it,’ Kina frowned, ‘that’s weird.’
‘Wake up. Ben,’ Poe called, shaking him harder. Leia would be waiting for them.
Ben’s eyes shot open. They fluttered a few times then he looked straight at them. Poe slowly let go off him. He didn’t fall over.
‘What do you remember?’ Kina asked, articulating each word carefully.
‘Sand,’ Ben pouted, ‘I hate sand.’
‘That makes two of us,’ Kina chuckled.
‘Where are we going?’ Ben stared around the cargo space.
‘Blowback town.’ Kina said. ‘I’m Kina, by the way. Hey.’ She waved sarcastically.
‘What?’ Ben looked at her with open mouth and a shimmer of a grin.
Poe grabbed his arm. This wasn’t some fun trip. They had serious business to deal with. ‘why didn’t you tell me?’
‘What?’ Ben repeated, pouting some more.
‘About you being grilled,’ he snapped. ‘What happened?’
‘That’s none of your business,’ Ben pulled his arm loose. ‘And stop grabbing my arm.’
‘Oh, you’ve got complaints now too?’ Poe asked. ‘Next time you fall over, I’m going to leave you there.’
‘I never asked for your help,’ Ben shrugged.
‘You little-,’ Poe began.
‘Guys,’ Kina interrupted, raising her hand. ‘Can I guess what happened?’
‘Who are you?’ Ben asked. ‘Besides Kina.’
‘The person who is going to get you away from those First Order clowns,’ Kina said. ‘You can get a ship in Blowback town.’
Ben moved to jump up, stopping halfway when he realised he was still human deep fry. Poe pushed him back down, ignoring his perpetual pouting.
‘Don’t worry,’ Kina said, ‘I’ll be glad to help anyone bother those pests.’ Ben’s face fell. He blinked a few times.
‘You said something about a BB-unit?’ Poe interrupted the awkward exchange before Ben did something stupid.
‘One of Unkar Plutt’s scavengers, called Rey, and some other guy escaped with a BB-unit aboard a stolen freighter,’ she explained, ‘The First Order leveled half Niima outpost trying to get them.’
‘That must’ve been BB-8.’ Poe yelled. ‘Did he get away?’
‘He got off the planet. Was that your droid?’ Kina turned her head to look him in the eyes, studying.
Poe couldn’t suppress a smile. His little buddy was fine. He straightened his face and nodded when Kina narrowed her eyes.
‘That should save you the trouble,’ Ben muttered. Definitely leaving him next time.
‘But were you undercover?’ Kina asked. Ben gaped at her and shook his head, stunned. His expression was hilarious, but this might become a problem. Someone who so openly opposed the First Order wouldn’t appreciate Kylo Ren sitting in the back of their vehicle. Where did that dumbass name even come from, anyway?
‘No?’ Kina furrowed her brow a little. ‘Did you desert? I heard there was some ruckus going on with the Order. Not sure what it was about, though. You’ve got anything to do with it?’
Ben opened his mouth to answer but closed it again, chewing on his lower lip. Poe tried to think of anything to say that might get him out of this one, but Kina already nodded her head in realisation.
‘I won’t judge,’ she said to Poe’s surprise. He had expected blasters to get involved right about now. ‘You’re not the first I met who was running from the First Order. Dad served them for years before realising their true nature.’ She pointed at the driver’s cabin.
‘You’re right,’ Ben stated, ‘I am- I was with the First Order. I got out because I had to.’
‘So they did that to you?’ Poe asked, gesturing in Ben’s general direction. He was practically one big burn.
‘Yeah,’ Ben looked away. No wonder he was running.
‘I see,’ Kina twisted the corner of her shawl between her fingers.
‘I won’t report you or your father,’ Ben interrupted her. ‘you saved my life. You had no reason to do so.’ So now he decided to show a little gratitude.
‘Normal people don’t leave others to die when they can help it. Not everyone is like the First Order,’ Kina said. ‘I hope you see them for what they truly are now.’
‘The First Order is bringing peace and stability to the universe,’ Ben argued, confirming what he had said. He hadn’t gotten out because he had seen what was wrong with the First Order, but because he was forced too. A good enough reason, but it did complicate matters. The news he had to bring Leia wouldn’t be as good as he might’ve hoped.
‘That’s why they did that to your back?’ Kina asked, ‘for peace and stability?’ Ben didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at her. You’d think anyone raised by Leia would have better manners.
‘Let me tell you a story,’ she continued, ignoring Ben’s interjections, ‘a soldier, a stormtrooper, was tasked with retrieving a spy gathering intel on a resistance uprising in a mining colony. He found her in enemy territory, but she refused to leave.
What she’d seen had shaken her beliefs. The resistance wasn’t just criminals as they had told her. They were just people fighting for survival like anyone would. Good people who suffered for their freedom. Who fought for what they loved. The stormtrooper thought it absurd, it defied everything he knew.
You probably know, but the First Order trains their stormtroopers, as well as most officers, from birth to believe their every word.’
‘It’s a necessary evil,’ Ben interrupted, ‘Personal conflict only gets in the way of doing what needs to be done.’
‘Yeah, independent thought’s scary, right?’ Kina said wryly before continuing her story, ‘the stormtrooper didn’t believe her, so the spy made him see for himself. He could not deny what she had told him. So he convinced the two sides to cooperate to reach their respective goals, the wellbeing of the populace and the mining production, which worked out better for both sides, even if the situation wasn’t ideal. Until the higher-ups caught wind of it and ordered the annihilation of the resistance. Many refused and were ordered to be killed as well.A struggle broke out, leading to an all-out battle. Resistance, First Order, and civilians were massacred alike. When the dust finally settled, corpses covered the streets.The stormtrooper and the spy were among the few survivors.They had defeated the First Order this time, but they would be hunted forever. So they fled alongside the other survivors to the outer rims, forever escaping the Order’s grasp,’ she concluded her story.
‘Their weakness caused this,’ Ben said, ‘had they been strong enough not to let themselves be led astray by sentimentality, all this harm would’ve been prevented.’ Poe felt an ache in his throat at these words. How could Leia’s son have become such a fanatic? Of course, he had been a gloomy, prickly kid, but this was just completely wrong.
‘What would’ve done that harm if not for the First Order?’ Kina bit with ferocity, ‘and that sentimentality you speak of is what most would call a conscience.’
Ben seemed to hesitate, but then said with utmost confidence, ‘the First Order will bring peace to the universe, whatever means necessary. Their cause is righteous.’
Poe considered trying to knock some sense into that thick skull but he figured that was Leia’s job.
‘What was their reason for frying you? it must’ve been a good one,’ Kina argued. Ben developed a sudden interest in the floor.
‘They did,’ he muttered, ‘I was weak.’ Poe wondered if the general would mind if he took over her job for a bit.
‘If you really think so, then why are you here?’ Kina asked, making a good point.
‘My grandfather told me to,’ Ben said, baffling all currently present. Did Ben even have a grandfather besides the old empire’s masked wardog?
‘Okay, whatever,’ Kina gave up and turned to Poe, ‘we’ll get you a ship and send you on your way, but his nutjob needs a better disguise.’
Chapter 7: Crossed wires
‘They have blasters,’ Rey peeked through the floorboards.
‘A lot of them,’ Finn added unnecessarily. She could count. In the meantime, Han was failing miserably at talking his way out of it. They had to do something. The gangs had taken notice of BB-8. They’d be running to the First Order the first chance they got. No doubt there was a good reward on BB-8 head as well as theirs.
‘-and two fugitives,’ the gang member with the accent said. They definitely had to do something now. But what? She couldn’t exactly jump out and smack people. They’d blast her at sight.
The junction box they passed as they tried to find a way out gave her an idea.
‘If we close the blast doors in that corridor, we can trap both gangs,’ she lifted the cover from the box.
‘Resetting the fuses should do it,’ she’d taken things like these apart and put them back together several times. All blast doors where connected to the nearest junction box. She pressed the fuse in the middle. That cable should go straight up to the doors above. A spark flew up and the sound of screeching metal went up. She looked up to admire her handy work. Her face fell when she realised the middle cable was curving to the right.
‘Oh no,’ she realised out loud. The one on the left had been the one going straight up.
‘What?’ Finn looked over the junction box with a frown.
‘Wrong fuses,’ she had just released those Rathar thingies. Inhuman growls and blaster fire mixed together in a deafening clamour. They didn’t stick around to wait what would happen and resumed their crawling.
‘This was a mistake,’ Finn reminded helpfully.
‘Huge,’ Rey agreed. She threw open the first hatch she could find and climbed on the deck. Finn followed immediately after and together they ran for their lives.
‘What do they look like?’ Rey asked nearly out of breath. That tentacle hitting the window back in the hall didn’t promise anything nice and fuzzy. More like slimy and nasty.
‘Like that,’ Finn screamed as they turned a corner. A giant ball of tentacles and teeth was lifting a man off the floor, bringing him to its row of teeth. Throwing the man into his mouth, the creature devoured him whole.
Finn turned on his feet, dragging her along as she was frozen in her place like a sand hare facing a ripper-raptor.
‘This way,’ he yelled when she started running on her own.
‘Are you sure?’
Before he could answer, a large, disgusting, disgusting green tentacle reached for Finn, lifting him off the floor and carrying him off.
‘Finn,’ she screamed at the top of her lungs, racing after him. Her heartbeat in her throat and blood rushed in her ears. Her feet thumped on the floorboards, but the Rathar was simply too fast. She lost sight of Finn.
She needed another strategy fast or Finn would be monster chew. There was a control panel in the hallway she just passed. At least, she’d know where the monster was taking Finn. She ran back, rapidly eying the screens when she got to the panel.
The Rathar was approaching a blast door, Finn still squished in its slimy limbs.
She bided her time, waiting for the Rathar to pass the blast door with Finn trailing behind it. At the exact right moment she slammed a button, causing the blast door to come down. The correct blast door this time. The nasty tentacle was sliced in half, freeing Finn. He fell to the floor, trying to shake the severed monster limb off him. Rey sprinted to his side.
‘It had me, but the door-,’ he stammered when he saw her.
‘That was lucky,’ she said, dragging him to the Falcon. Han could say what he wanted. They were taking that ship.
Han was already in the Hangar helping the Wookie unto the ramp. That solved that problem. They couldn’t be taking the Falcon from him if he was on the ship. Also, he was probably a better pilot than she was.
‘You close the door,’ he instructed her when they caught up with him. ‘You, take care of Chewie,’ he shoved the injured Wookie into Finn who didn’t seem to appreciate the arrangement and ran off.
She waited until everyone had gotten unto the ship, shut the doors and raced after Han, having remembered another one of Plutt’s little additions.
‘Continue constructing the remaining route and search the outpost again,’ Hux ordered the officer on the other side of the screen. ‘Question every civilian you can find. Ren could not have disappeared on his own.’
‘As you wish, Sir,’ the officer answered, ‘although I don’t believe we’ll find anything more at this point.’
‘Increase pressure on the local populace. Let them know what happens to those that oppose the First Order,’ Hux instructed. Wherever Ren was hiding, they’d smoke him out. Civilians wouldn’t help him once their daily lives were at risk.
‘Very well,’ the officer saluted.
‘Dismissed,’ Hux said. The face disappeared from the screen. He checked the next call on the list. Some bounty hunter. They were a dozen a dime. This one claimed to have essential information. They all did.
‘State your business,’ he opened the call, hoping to have it dealt with as soon as possible.
‘It’s about the droid you’re looking for,’ the new face whispered as if he was sharing gossip in the back of a lowly bar. He had an accent Hux couldn’t quite place.
‘Do you know where it is?’ Hux asked. he had more urgent matters to deal with. The map to Skywalker falling into the hands of the resistance would be problematic, but not quite as much as Ren being on the loose. The resistance would still need to retrieve Skywalker, which would delay them significantly. Besides, unlike Ren, Skywalker could perhaps be reasoned with. If not, Hux had a foolproof contingency plan.
‘There’s a reward, I’ve heard?’ the man asked.
‘If your intel is as useful as you’ve promised, you’ll get your reward. ‘now speak up.’
The man described the events that had occurred. Most of it was of little consequence. He described the droid exactly like his troops had, but the location where it had gone was unclear. The only point of interest had been the presence of an old rebellion general. If this bounty hunter’s story checked out, the droid was now in the hands of Han Solo, the pilot who had greatly contributed to the fall of the empire. It was another layer of complications in an already unmanageable situation.
‘The First Order thanks you for your assistance. We will contact you when we’ve verified your intel.’ Hux ended the call. He would need to inform the Supreme leader.
‘The droid has been sighted on the Millenium Falcon in the hands of the former general Han Solo.’ Hux reported to the hologram that was the Supreme leader. ‘their current location is unknown. It is probable they are still traveling through hyperspace and on their way to the resistance. Do you wish for me to continue prioritising the search for Ren or is recovering the map of more urgency?’
‘Are you sure that Ren was not aboard the Millenium Falcon?’ Snoke asked.
Hux had already stated more than clearly that that scenario was precluded. How the presence of some old-time general was supposed to change that, was beyond him. He did, however, know better than to voice that thought.
‘He has not been sighted in the outpost and we’ve been able to confirm that the other route was followed by two individuals,’ he said instead. ‘It must’ve been him and the prisoner. By all accounts, he has to still be on Jakku.’
‘Fascinating how everything tends to come together,’ Supreme leader mused, ‘you’ll have no trouble doing both. On the contrary, this will work in our favour.’
‘Supreme leader, I’m afraid I don’t understand.’ How could this possibly work in their favour? Retrieving the droid from a deserter and some girl would’ve been easy enough. Retrieving it from a veteran would take more effort
‘You must’ve heard the rumours, General.’
‘Rumours, yes,’ Hux admitted, ‘unlikely as they are.’ He heard plenty and he had suppressed each and every one of them by the Snoke’s orders. Yet one kept rearing its head no matter how many times he had squashed it.
‘Unlikely, perhaps. But that does not make it untrue,’ Snoke leaned back in his throne. ‘tell me what you’ve heard.’
‘Ben Solo, the missing son of Leia Organa and Han Solo,’ he scoffed. ‘Surely, this can’t be true.’
‘It is,’ Hux said. ‘It’s a weakness he has never been able to rid himself off. He will eventually seek out his parents.’
‘Both are with the resistance,’ Hux was perplexed. What was the son of the leader of the resistance doing in their ranks? Why had Supreme leader allowed such entanglements? Whatever the case, the identity of Ren’s parents would do the man no good. ‘they won’t have him, especially General Organa. She won’t risk her precious resistance.’
‘Perhaps,’ Snoke looked down at him. ‘But the droid will lead you to Ren.’
‘It might’ve fallen into the hands of the enemy by then,’ Hux said. It was too great of a risk. If they allowed anymore delay, Ren and Skywalker might join forces. Uncle and nephew apparently. The contingency plan might not suffice any longer.
‘See to it that it does not happen, General,’ Snoke said as the hologram flickered and disappeared.
Hux let out a sigh when Snoke was gone. The task he had been given was an impossible one.
Face it,’ Kina dumped a pile of clothes she’d pulled from a box, on his lap, ‘Either that or you’re an idiot or a complete psychopath. Possibly both.’
Kylo looked at the pile of grey fabric then scanned the cargo space. Several boxes and crates were scattered around, both none would provide enough cover.
‘No privacy in here,’ Kina bit at him. Her nose was crooked in two different directions, bent in the middle. Like it had been broken once or twice, at least. Her knuckles were scarred as well. Best not to pick another fight with her.
He shrugged and pulled the light grey tunic over his head and secured the belt that came with it. The skin on his back stretched painfully with the movement, but it was nowhere near what it had been. He subtly took the gold dice from his pocket and placed them underneath the tunic, using the belt to hold them in their place.
The trousers were made of the same, but slightly darker than the tunic. He quickly switched them with his own, glad that underwear was a thing in space.
‘Those are my brother’s,’ Kina threw him a dirty look, ‘he’s with the resistance.’
‘Good for you,’ he snapped back at her. Not provoking her was one thing, but he wasn’t about to let her taunt him the entire ride to whatever town she said she was taking them.
‘Well, at least you’re not that Hux general,’ she scoffed, ‘my brother would come all the way here just to complain.’ Kylo didn’t respond to that. He also thought it fortunate he wasn’t Hux.
Kina scowled at the lack of response and jumped up, picking up his discarded clothing. Something clanked on the floor when she grabbed the belt.
‘I still need that,’ he reached for his light saber, silently cursing himself. Kina frowned at him, but tossed the saber, probably unaware of what it was. She didn’t seem to like him enough to be knowingly had him a weapon. He secured it under his belt, like he had the dice.
‘You almost look normal now,’ Dameron joked, leaning against a stack of crates.
‘I hope you’re not still planning on finding your droid,’ Kylo cut to the chase.
‘There’s no way to know where that freighter went,’ Poe admitted, ‘the resistance should’ve better luck tracking them than I would.’ Finally, the man made some sense.
‘The First Order will be looking for me by now,’ Kylo said, ‘we need to move quickly.’
‘Are you sure they noticed already?’ Dameron asked, ‘It has only been a couple of hours since we crashed and they didn’t know you were on board, did they?’
‘No, of course they didn’t know, but remember that cannon I blew up?’
‘Yeah,’ Poe nodded. ‘we blew up a lot of stuff.’
‘Yes, with cannon fire. I blew that one up without cannons,’ Kylo pointed out. ‘unless they wrote that off as a convenient technical error, they’ll know. If not, they’ll have found the tracker and they’ll still know.’
‘Tracker?’ Dameron asked.
‘There was one in my belt. I hid it under my mattress,’ Kylo explained.
‘That should keep them busy for a while,’ Poe laughed.
‘No, it won’t,’ Kylo said, ‘Hux might be a rigid moron, but he’ll notice whether a bed is empty or not.’
‘There’s a hole in here,’ Kin interrupted, holding up his belt. A bunch of wires hung from where he had torn out the tracker. He hadn’t had the time or the interest to do it carefully. ‘By the way, how did you blow up a cannon without another cannon?’
‘With willpower,’ Kylo said. He wasn’t lying, in a sense.
‘Did you knock your head on the way down or are you always like this?’
‘Always like that,’ Dameron said, not minding his own business enough.
‘Alright, I know it’s difficult, but try to answer the next one normally,’ Kina threw his old clothes into a crate. ‘Why did you have a tracker on you?’
‘Because they couldn’t keep up with me and they wanted to know where I was,’ Kylo shrugged. Hux had given some long, boring speech about accountability and protocol. He hadn’t really listened. He had been too busy trying to pick poison darts out of his cloak. It wasn’t his fault Hux’s troops had shown up twenty minutes late and the natives had attacked while he had gone ahead to explore the temple. He hadn’t even found anything besides the poison darts. The poison hadn’t been anything special either. It just came from a local snake.
‘I’m going to stop trying,’ Kina said. She looked up when the truck slowed down. Fear broke through her expression when the truck stopped completely.
‘Exit the vehicle,’ a voice called from the front of the vehicle.
‘Nothing in there, officer,’ a man, Kina’s father probably, called back, ‘just bringing my children and nephew home.’
Kylo understood the lie; Dameron could pass for Kina’s sister, he did not. Still, he felt a pang of anger, and even if he would never say it out loud, fear when Luke crossed his mind.
Kina gestured for them to be quiet. Kylo hunched over, hiding his face as much as possible. It wasn’t much.
Even within the Order, few had seen his face, he hoped these soldiers hadn’t, or at least not good enough to recognise him at a glance.
‘I don’t understand the fuss,’ Kina’s father complained loudly, ‘you think I’ve got an army of resistance fighters in the back?’
‘We’re just following orders,’ the other voice said. The tarp at the back was torn aside, a stormtrooper appeared in the opening.
‘Is something wrong?’ Kina asked innocently.
‘Everyone, exit the vehicle. We’re monitoring everyone passing through.’
Of course they were, they likely had the entire planet covered. There had been no escaping it. Kylo turned his face away as much as possible without seeming suspicious. He assured himself his lightsaber was still in place.
None of them moved at first as if it would make the trooper go away.
‘Get out of this vehicle,’ the trooper repeated, aiming his blaster. Kylo and Dameron both got up, keeping their heads down. Kina glared straight at the trooper on her way out. The trooper pretended to not see it and climbed into the cargo space as soon as Kylo jumped back into the sand.
The trooper shoved aside the boxes and crates, throwing some over in the process. Kylo’s old shirt fell unto the floor. The trooper didn’t even look at it. When he didn’t find somewhere large enough to plausibly hide a human being or Poe’s droid, he jumped back out of the truck and aimed his blaster at them with no discernible reason.
‘Move it,’ he ordered, gesturing with his blaster. Kylo looked over at the direction the soldier indicated. A group of civilians were gathered beside the road, herded together like animals by armed guards. Vehicles cluttered the road, making any passage impossible. This was a set-up.
The trooper shoved Kylo towards the group.
‘What is this?’ Kina demanded, storming at the trooper.
‘Silence,’ the trooper snapped, waving his blaster again. Kina threw him a dirty look but walked to the group. Her eyes went wide as she turned. She rushed away, supporting an old man when she reached the group of prisoners. Kylo vaguely remembered him from the cargo space. It must be been her father.
He and Dameron slowly followed after her. Pulling attraction at themselves wouldn’t end well.
‘Have I seen you before?’ a trooper asked Poe when they joined the prisoners.
‘First time on Jakku?’
‘Then you haven’t seen me before,’ Poe grinned, ‘I wouldn’t leave a planet as beautiful as this in my life.’
Kylo looked at him from the corner of his eyes. This wasn’t the time to crack jokes. The soldier shrugged and went back to duty. Kylo looked around. The guard’s formation was flawless. No way for them to sneak away.
‘Listen up,’ the squad captain announced loudly after a few minutes, ‘Several fugitives are passing through this area. We know they couldn’t have remained hidden without assistance. We have given the authorities an ultimatum. If they do not turn over the fugitives by nightfall, you will all be exterminated.
Frightened mutters rose up, escalating into desperate screams, pleading for mercy.
Kylo knew of this tactic, the old empire had created it. It was effective, even if it didn’t have the intended effect, it would set an example. He wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but he might have enforced it himself, had the need ever been there.
The sun was already setting; the time frame had been short. They must’ve been more desperate than he had realised.
He could compel the soldiers to let him and his companions go. It was a simple mind trick if you just got out of sight quickly enough. He looked around for an opening.
A little boy was sobbing into his mother’s side. A young girl clutched unto her brother, who was trying to calm her. Kina let her father lean on her. Kylo recalled her story. This situation was little different than the one she had spoken of. It might even end the same if he remained hidden for long enough. The First Order wouldn’t just stop after a single failure. The thoughts of just escaping ebbed away.
‘We need to do something,’ Poe whispered.
‘I’m working on it.’
Kylo remained silent as he considered all options. He wouldn’t get out of here without revealing himself, but getting away was still a possibility. He could turn himself in, wait until the hostages were released and fight his way out. The weight of his saber pressed against his skin.
Then he remembered a second part of the strategy. If they really wanted to set an example, and they would. They hostages would be eliminated, whether they found him or not. Still, the only other way would be to take out every single stormtrooper with the hostages still present. Confusion would be certain, the hostages may join the fight and everything would be out if his hands. It would, without doubt, be a repeat of Kina’s story.
‘Ready your blasters,’ the leader ordered his troopers. It wasn’t nightfall yet, this went faster than he had calculated for. Of course, they didn’t actually expect for him to turn up this way. It was all about setting an example.
‘whatever you’re going to do, do it now,’ Poe urged. The troopers were already in position, aiming at the screaming crowd. Kylo’s mind raced, but his plan fell apart.
Completely on instinct, he stopped the blasts, freezing them in mid-air. The troopers and their hostages gaped at the sight.
‘Here I am,’ he called, taking out his saber and activating it. The troopers flinched back at the sudden emergence of Kylo Ren.
‘what are you doing?’ Poe whisper snapped.
‘You will let these people go,’ he stated matter-of-factly, reaching into the outer layers of the mind of each Stormtrooper.
‘We will let these people go,’ they echoed like zombies.
‘Go, quick, go’ he heard Poe and Kina yell at the prisoners. People scrambled for their vehicles. The sounds of engines roared through the desert as they fled the scene.
‘Run to Snoke and tell him you’ve found me,’ he commanded the troopers, ‘tell him I’ve bested his forces, now leave.’
The soldiers walked away, towards the ships in the distance.
Dameron appeared besides him as the stormtroopers disappeared from sight, the ships ascending. Kylo put his saber away.
‘But finding Finn was too much?’ Dameron asked in awe.
‘It doesn’t work like that,’ Kylo reminded him as his vision went black. Poe stopped his fall. Kina appeared at his other side, steadying him further.
‘Dad, the truck,’ she called, dragging Kylo towards the cargo space. They helped him in. Poe pulled back the tarp and the vehicle tore off.
Chapter 8: Revelations
‘Hey, where are you going?’ Han looked up from the navicomputer when the girl shot past him, making herself comfortable in the copilot’s seat.
‘Unkar Plutt installed a fuel pump too,’ the girl began messing with some switches he didn’t remember being there. ‘If we don’t prime that, we’re not going anywhere.’
‘I hate that guy,’ Han went for the pilot’s chair, having entered all coordinates. To Takodana it was. Maz would have something up her sleeve.
‘And you could use a co-pilot?’ the girl didn’t look up from the panel.
‘I’ve got one. He’s over there,’ Han pointed back to Chewie growling on a bench and not looking too good. Alright, the girl could do her thing.‘Watch the trust. We’re going out of here at lightspeed,’ he said while setting the navicomputer up and tugging at the switches, hoping that the new compressor wasn’t going to mess with his plan.
‘From inside the Hangar?’ the girl asked. ‘Is that even possible?’
‘I never ask that question until after I’ve done it,’ He said. A rathar smashing itself into the windshields prevented any further complaints from the girl. ‘This is not how I thought this day was going to go.’ He muttered to himself. He should’ve known something would turn up and ruin everything. It always did. ‘Angle the shields.’ The girl leaned back over the control panels and smashed buttons. The right ones as far as Han could see.The shields weren’t even up before blast rocked the Falcon. Whatever remained of the gangs had come out to play and were doing the Force knows what kind of damage. The Rathar was still chewing on the windshields in the meantime. ‘Come on, Baby,’ Han activated the engines and the hyperdrive simultaneously. ‘Don’t let me down.’ the Falcon shuddered, the engines roaring before falling still completely.
‘Compresser,’ the girl stated, flipping a switch. Han’s contempt for the being called Unkat Plutt knew no bounds.
The Falcon came to live again. He steered the ship of the floor before the hyperdrive could warm up. Going into hyperspace from inside the hangar was tricky enough. Doing so while still on the ground was plainly impossible.
The view behind the glass stretched out. Han was pressed into the back of his chair. The Rathar flew from the windshield, probably torn to pieces. The resistance behind the yoke fell away and the autopilot took over. They were in hyperspace. But that was not the end of it. Every single alarm on the control panel blinked red. All systems were overloading, including the hyperdrive, which they did need right now.
After surviving the Death gang, Kanjiclub and a bunch of hungry Rathars, they were going to be done in by the incompetence of the moof-milker Unkar Plutt. Who the hell puts a compressor on a hyperdrive?
Electrical overload,’ he announced the worst of the problems to his temporary co-pilot.
‘I can fix that,’ she bounced off her seat and pulled a slab of grating from the wall, reaching into the maintenance hatch.
‘Coolant’s leaking,’ he looked at the next worst problem. Combine that with overheating engines and half the Falcon would melt into a blob.
‘Try transferring the auxiliary to the-,’
‘Secondary tank,’ Han finished. ‘got it.’ he hated to admit it, but right now this girl now more about the Falcon’s engines than he did. Who knew what more surprises Plutt had left for him.
Chewie cried out in pain in the back, still hurting from his wound. If that wasn’t bad enough, the other kid was insulting him again.
‘If you hurt Chewie, you’re going to deal with me,’ Han shouted. The kid whined a bit, but went quiet within a few seconds, right after Chewie growled at him incoherently. He did that sometimes when people annoyed him. The results were hilarious every time. In the meantime, only one of the alarms had stopped blinking. All the other went on unbothered. The hyperdrive was still close to melting, which would’ve been a small inconvenience they could fix, had they not been in the middle of hyperspace. He had heard what happened when you went from lightspeed to complete power-down. It wasn’t pretty. ‘If this hyperdrive blows, there are going to be pieces of us in three different systems,’ he summarised to the girl. All alarms ceased before he had finished his sentence. The girl dropped back in her chair with a wide, satisfied grin. ‘What did you do?’ he asked, going over what she could’ve possibly done to get all systems to cool down at once. Not a single thing came to mind.
‘I bypassed the compressor,’ she said, holding up a piece of machinery, still smiling. He took a closer look and leaned back into his chair, managing a grin himself. That was the compressor. She had just torn out the damned thing in its entirety. It had been so simple and he hadn’t even thought of it.Shaking his head he pushed himself out of his chair and went to check up on Chewie.
‘Move it, ball,’ he nearly tripped over the little droid beeping around the place. Somehow it had managed to not to get blasted, eaten or caught. Time to get the little bleeper to Leia.
Don’t say that, you did great. Just rest,’ Han patted his copilot on the shoulder when Rey walked out of the cockpit. Chewie grumbled something about being shot by tiny amateurs. Finn sat on a bench nearby, leaning unto the game table.
‘Good job, kid,’ Han turned to Finn after inspecting the bandages. ‘And thanks.’ The last part came out a bit stiff, but it seemed genuine. The old guy was a piece of work.
‘You’re welcome,’ Finn leaned further unto the table, hitting a button in the process. Colourful holograms of small creatures emerged, all looking up at Finn questioningly. He nervously fidgeted with the controls, trying to shut it off again. He pushed every button except the one he needed. Rey watched in suppressed amusement as she let him struggle.
‘Fugitives, uh?’ Han began, looking at them carefully. He had not forgotten that little part. Maybe now was not the best time to tell him how she had almost rammed his ship into a wall. He didn’t really need to know she was the one who had set the Rathars free. It had been an accident.
‘The First Order want the map,’ she said instead. ‘Finn’s with the resistance. I’m just a scavenger.’
Han looked at Finn, taking him in from top to toe. He gave him a glance Rey couldn’t quite place. ‘Alright, let’s see what you got,’ he finally said.
‘Go ahead,’ she crouched down to BB-8 and urged him on. He rolled to the middle of the room and opened a hatch on his belly. A beam of light came out and covered the entire room in soft blue light. Stars and planets jumped around them. Rey let the beauty of it come over her. The galaxy was even better than she’d ever imagined it.
‘The map’s incomplete,’ Han said, studying it closely and frowning in concentration. ‘It’s just a piece.’
‘What,’ Finn exclaimed, finally having turned off the holograms. ‘All these near-death experiences and heart attacks and all for nothing.’ He jumped up. ‘If Ren’s hiding in the gunner’s position again, I’m going to throw a fit he would’ve been impressed by.’ Han jerked his head towards Finn, who fell silent and slunk back in his seat. ‘Never mind.’
‘What was that?’ Han asked, narrowing his eyes.
‘Nothing. It was nothing,’ Finn looked down at the game table. ‘It’s just been a long day.’
‘But what about Luke? Doesn’t anyone know where he is?’ Rey asked. She didn’t get the entire picture here. A few hours ago, he had been a myth to her. Now, everyone was looking for him. But someone had to know where he was. People didn’t just disappear without a trace. Especially someone as widely known as Luke Skywalker.
‘People have been looking for Luke ever since has gone missing,’ Han said, throwing suspicious looks at Finn every other second. ‘But no one has seen him.’
‘Why did he leave,’ she asked.
‘He was training a new generation of Jedi. One boy, an apprentice turned against him, destroyed everything,’ Han said, something indefinable flashing over his face. ‘Luke felt responsible. He walked away from it all.’
‘What happened to him?’ Finn asked, looking up again.
‘Lots of rumours. Stories. The people who knew him best think he went looking for the first Jedi temple,’ Han said, still narrowing his eyes at Finn. Chewie had sat up and was now also closely studying Finn. Finn motioned as if to crawl under the table.
‘The Jedi were real,’ Rey called, too thrilled to care about the strange scene. She heard the stories growing up, but she always thought they were fairy tales, too good to be true.
‘I didn’t use to believe it myself,’ Han said, briefly looking away from Finn. ‘All that mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good, evil, the dark and the light side. But the crazy thing is, it’s all true.’ he turned back to Finn. ‘What do you know about Ren?’
‘What? Nothing,’ Finn slunk further into his chair. ‘no more than anyone else.’
‘Who’s Ren?’ Rey asked. ‘Was he one of the people that were on the ship with you and Poe Dameron?’ Finn had said there had been more people aboard than he and BB-8’s master.
‘No, no. Poe and I were the ones on that TIE fighter,’ Finn shook his head.
‘But you said "them",’ Rey reminded him. ‘When you told us what happened, you said you tried to help them.’
Finn’s jaw dropped, surprising her. She hadn’t thought it important. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about it. Everyone on that ship except Finn had died. Ren could’ve been a friend of his. Although, he just said he didn’t know him. But he had also said that Ren had been in the same gunner’s position he had been in at some point.
‘So, he wasn’t on your ship?’ she tried to get the situation straight.
‘Your pal wouldn’t be sitting here if he had been,’ Han said with a sigh.
‘You know him?’ This was getting really confusing.
‘He probably knows of him,’ Finn interrupted. He looked away again went Han glared at him.
‘I don’t,’ Rey said. ‘Can someone fill me in?’
Finn hesitated but answered, ‘Ren was something of Snoke’s personal Jedi. There are others, but they are far away, looking for old Jedi artefacts and lore. He was the main one, enforcing Snoke’s will, stuff like that.’
‘What do you mean “was”?’ Han strode over to Finn. Even Rey flinched back at the intensity in his eyes.
‘Wow, easy,’ Finn scrambled off the couch and stumbled away.
‘Wouldn’t play dumb if I were you,’ Chewie looked at the scene.
‘It really doesn’t matter,’ Finn said, not having understood a word of it.
‘It does to me,’ Han shouted. Finn shot to the other side of the room.
‘Alright, alright,’ he threw up his hands. ‘It’s like I said. “was”. He’s not a threat to the resistance anymore. He’s is dead.’
‘What?’ Han whispered. His face fell. He turned white as a sheet. Without another word he turned around and left.
Chapter 9: Shattered dreams
Kina glared at Kylo from the corners of her eyes. His little stunt must’ve raised some questions.
‘So you are Kylo Ren,’ she stated. There was an edge to her voice, but not a single sign of surprise showed through either her words or her expression.
‘Wait,’ Poe intervened from the other side of the cargo space, dropping the rations he had been gnawing on. ‘He got away from the First Order. He’s not on their side anymore.’
‘Don’t bother,’ Kylo stopped him. ‘She has seen everything. She can come to her own conclusions.’ She was more likely to shoot him than to just shrug it off, but words wouldn’t stop her from doing so.
‘He can’t crawl back to them now,’ Kina did actually shrug. ‘Not after what he just pulled. “Tell Snoke I’ve bested his forces.”’ She did a poor impression of his voice. ‘Like seriously? Subtle much.’
‘I had to improvise,’ Kylo protested. All things considered, it had turned out better than could’ve been expected.
‘You said you had a plan,’ Poe exclaimed, throwing up his hands.
‘I said I was working on one,’ Kylo said. ‘there’s a small difference.’
Kina shook her head, grinning. ‘This is ridiculous.’
‘What is?’ Kylo asked. The humour of the situation evaded him.
‘You,’ she snickered. ‘You’re ridiculous.’
‘At least my nose goes in one direction,’ he muttered. It was the best he could come up with. The exertion of manipulating three dozen minds at once had left him a bit foggy.
‘I can fix that for you,’ she raised an eyebrow. It didn’t sound like a joke.
‘I’ll give you a hand,’ Poe said with a smile.
‘Don’t need one,’ Kina snickered some more. ‘I thought he’d be taller anyway. They told me he was some sort of boogeyman, but he’s just an idiot. Although in hindsight, it makes sense.’
Kylo took a deep breath. This could be a lot worse. No one had shot him yet. ‘You do realise they’ve seen you with me? You’re a target now,’ he reminded her. ‘your father as well.’
‘What’s new?’ she shrugged. ‘We’ll just have to relocate again.’ What was that supposed to mean? Did she just do that every time she got in trouble? Judging from her behaviour so far, she’d be moving a lot.
‘What are you looking at? You haven’t figured that out yet?’ she turned from Kylo to Poe and back. ‘What are the chances of anyone driving around the crash site of a TIE fighter in the middle of nowhere?’
‘Not a lot,’ Poe said. ‘we got really lucky you found us, I guess.’
‘No, we didn’t,’ Kylo tried to get all the pieces to fit together. She knew too much to be a random passer-by.
‘Stop being rude,’ Poe bit. He was denser than Kylo remembered and that was saying something.
‘No, no,’ Kina waved at Poe to shut up. ‘He’s getting somewhere.’
‘You’re with the resistance,’ Kylo concluded. ‘Not just your brother. An intelligence officer, I presume.’
‘Yup,’ she nodded. ‘It’s the family business, really.’
‘Why didn’t you say so?’ Poe dropped his head. ‘would’ve saved me some grey hairs.’
‘Kylo Ren was here the entire time,’ she feigned surprise.
‘I still am.’
‘What are you going to do about it?’ she challenged. ‘Run back to those lunatics and tell on me? So they can fry the rest of you? I’ve treated your injuries. I can tell you that would be a terrible idea.’
‘Good point,’ Poe agreed. Kylo didn’t argue. He hadn’t been planning anything of the sort.
‘You’d still help me? Knowing who I am?’ he asked instead. ‘You must know the things I’ve done.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’ she raised an eyebrow. ‘You ditching the Order is a huge boost to the resistance. You getting away from them in one piece would be even better. A few more of these stunts and the Order can’t even take themselves seriously anymore.’
Kylo hadn’t even considered it. The war had been the least of his concerns when he had snuck unto the TIE fighter. Aiding the resistance hadn’t been his intention, but she was right. He inevitably had. And although he couldn’t get behind the chaos and disorder the resistance caused, Kina’s story echoed through his mind. What had just happened only strengthened her message. What would’ve done the harm if not for the First Order?
‘I’ll get you on a ship and send you on your way,’ she continued. ‘I can get word to General Organa in the meantime, but it’ll take a few days and you shouldn’t linger.’
‘Just like that?’ Kylo asked, suppressing the thought of his mother. ‘Why would you take the risk? You can just dispose of me and leave my body in the desert. No one will ever know.’
‘I’d know,’ Poe said. Apparently, he was in the delusion that intelligence officers had a habit of leaving witnesses.
‘What makes you so sure I won’t turn on you the first chance I get?’ Kylo demanded, wondering the same about her. She wouldn’t be the first to think she would prove the universe a service by taking him out of it. The memory of waking up to dimmed, green light shining in his eyes flashed in his mind. He shook it off.
‘Because I’m an idiot too,’ Kina plucked at her shawl. ‘Or that’s what my brother used to say. Maybe he’s right, but if there’s a chance to get anyone away from the Order, then I’ll take it.’
‘Why?’ Kylo blinked. He had to keep his jaw from dropping. ‘I was your enemy mere hours ago.’
‘because I’m really not one to judge,’ she smiled at the floor. ‘The story I just told you. It’s well, uhm.’
‘The spy and the stormtrooper,’ Kylo recalled. ‘What about it?’ He understood that those two had served the Order before joining the resistance, but that had nothing od to with her personally.
‘Well, you see,’ she hesitated. ‘That stormtrooper is currently driving this truck. Mom’s elsewhere though.’
‘They’re your parents,’ Kylo chewed on his lip. That’s why she had taken it so personally. He had practically called her parents weak and dumb.
‘If you tell anyone that, you’re toast though,’ she jabbed a finger at him. ‘more than you are already.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Kylo said. ‘I already gave you my word. I’m not going back on that.’
‘Good,’ she nodded. ‘We’ve got a deal then? If you’re not going to stab me in the back, I’ll get you off this planet.’
‘Deal,’ Poe interrupted, raising his hand. Kylo glared at him. He could speak for himself. ‘What? It’s a win-win. It’s the best option you’ve got.’
‘That’s true,’ Kina said. ‘It’s also your only option. Besides I’ve seen your underwear. I’ve got blackmail material.’
Poe snorted. ‘You were an intelligence officer, right?’ he asked when he recovered himself.
‘I’d say “spy”,’ she shrugged. ‘But yeah, I am.’
‘So you can spread intel? False rumours?’ Poe grinned. ‘I’ve got a good idea.’ That would be a first.
‘You bet,’ Kina said. ‘I won’t even have to wait until we’re in Backblow town. I can do it from right here.’
‘Perfect,’ Poe’s grin grew wider. ‘This is what I want you to do. Spread some rumours about what happened with “Kylo” here.’ He scoffed at the name. ‘Keep it as inconsistent as possible. Make up some places where he could be hiding. Spread some confusion whether he’s alive or not.’
‘That should keep those trigger-happy clowns busy,’ Kina nodded, grinning even harder than Poe. ‘Can I just make something up?’
‘Go crazy,’ Poe spread his hands.
Kylo bit his lip to fight down a smirk. Knowing the way words could travel, he expected no one the near systems would not know something was amiss with the master of the Knights of Ren. Little rumours would be blown and twisted out of proportion. It would be no surprise if by the end of the week people would believe he had single-handedly taken out an entire fleet and fled into a volcano while Moofs and Nerfs danced in the background. It would give Snoke and Hux a run for their money. The idea of Hux having to search every volcano in the system made a small grin break out on his face.
‘Can you add something about Hux screaming like a little girl when I dumped him in a garbage chute on the way out?’ he chuckled. The other two stared at him with open mouths, then they both burst out into laughter.
‘How about you sabotaged the gravity generators?’ Poe suggested after catching his breath. ‘And then programmed the cruiser to do barrel rolls?’
‘Or that you released a pack of wild Hive Rats in the officers’ quarters,’ Kina added. ‘Imagine the chaos.’ It took little effort. Hive Rats were huge and officers tended to be squeamish.
‘I’ve could’ve written profanities all over the command bridge,’ Kylo said. He had some specific things he would’ve liked to write.
‘I can say you pissed in the engines,’ Kina snickered. ‘Or on Snoke’s throne.’
‘Oh, I’ve got a good one,’ Poe raised his hand. ‘He could’ve had an affair with Hux’s
‘I don’t think Hux has a mother,’ Kylo said. At least, he had never heard of one.
‘Does that matter?’ Kina asked.
‘No, not at all,’ Kylo shook his head, already imagining Hux’s face when he heard. ‘You know what; definitely spread it that one.’
‘Oh, oh,’ Poe demanded more attention. ‘I’ve got a better one. Have him join a freak circus in the Outer Rim.’
‘You want them to raid your home, Dameron?’ Kylo asked, crossing his arms.
‘Shut it,’ Poe hurled the wrapper of his rations at him. it missed by half a yard. Kylo picked it up and threw it back with as much force as his injuries allowed. Poe sputtered as it hit him full in the face. The wrapper skidded to the floor. Kylo cracked up at the offended face Poe made at him. For the first time in years, he laughed.
Han steadied himself against the wall as he walked away, to somewhere quiet. To somewhere where he could be alone. The kids called after him, but he couldn’t bring himself to answer.
He’s dead. The words rang through his head. Again and again. Tears filled his eyes. He blinked them away. he had known for years that he had lost his boy and he was never coming back. Still, those words tore the old wound open deeper than ever, leaving a gaping, bleeding hole. He turned into the first door he could find and sunk down against the nearest wall. It was permanent now. There was no turning back. The last sliver of hope he didn’t know he had crumbled to dust. Ben was dead.
Han had never really understood the Force. Even after being surrounded by it for decades, it was all still one big mystery to him. Blaster, engines and all that, he understood. But a magical, intangible power holding the universe together? That went over his head every time. His kid, however, had been born holding an excess of that power within him. Even Leia hadn’t known what do with it when Ben’s powers had grown more unstable, more uncontrollable, as the boy had grown older. Han could no longer hold back his tears when he thought of what could have been. If he had just fought a little harder to keep Ben at home. At the time sending him to Luke had seemed like the right thing. Maybe it had been. Maybe it had always been inevitable. Still, a small part of him wondered if he could’ve kept Ben from falling to the dark side, but he knew better. If Luke hadn’t been able to then he most definitely couldn’t either. The universe had played a cruel joke by ever letting him be a father. Whatever he did, he had always made it worse. Ben had drifted away from him years before he had fallen to the dark side and destroyed Luke’s temple. It hadn’t been long after that when they found Ben fighting the First Order’s battles. Snoke had wasted no time getting Ben under his control. Any chance they could’ve still reached Ben had been crushed in an instance. Even in the end, Ben had died under Snoke’s control. Hell, the monster had no doubt arranged for it. If Ben had become too powerful for him to control.
Han fought down the memory of teary, dark brown eyes. He had always remembered that one time he had screwed up the most. The time he had realised he should keep his distance. He didn’t even remember what had upset Ben to begin with, but kitchen equipment had been flying through the air. A knife had embedded itself into a wall above them with frightening force. More knives, forks and every other sharp object that had been close by, danced circles over their heads. Ben just kept screaming and kicking. No matter what Han tried, the kid had refused to move a muscle, rigidly holding on to the table while the whirlwind of metal closed in on them. Before he knew what he was doing, he had slapped the kid, harder than he even intended in his panic. The whirlwind came to an abrupt stop and the utensil had skittered harmlessly to the ground, but Ben had burst out in tears. Han had apologised over and over, but the kid had kept crying for hours. He was still sniffling back tears when Han tucked him in hours past bedtime.
Leia hadn’t judged him out loud when he had told her. She hadn’t needed to. He had gone away for a couple of days to get his act together. Ben had been so much calmer when he got back. The outbursts had disappeared nearly completely. It just served to prove Han’s presence had done no good to the situation.
He hoisted himself off the floor. This wasn’t how he wanted to remember his son. He wanted to remember what Ben had been like before everything went to hell. Before the Force had awakened in him. Who he could’ve been if it never had to begin with. Who he might still have become if Snoke hadn’t crushed what little hope had been left.
He went for the hidden vaults he had installed decades ago. With any luck, no one had found them. He crouched down to lift the cover out of the floor. Everything was where he had left it. What he was looking for lay in plain sight. He took the projector and turned it on. A hologram of his princess holding their little boy in her arms lit up. The sight of his kid contently nuzzling up to his mother caused a pit in his stomach. He made a promise to Ben’s memory. Snoke would pay for this.
‘You two should sleep,’ Kina said when the laughter died down. Ben opened his mouth to protest. ‘It’s still two hours from Blowback town,’ she cut him off. ‘At the very least.’
‘They’ll expand the search now,’ Kylo pointed out. The Order had confirmation he was alive and he did a terrific job of provoking them. If they didn’t have all available units on this search already, they would now.
‘Exactly why you should sleep,’ Kina argued. ‘You’re not going to win from anyone in the state you’re in. You look like you haven’t slept in days.’ She wasn’t far from the truth but that wasn’t her concern.
‘Wake me up when the Order’s shooting at us again,’ Poe said, crawling around to find a comfortable place to lay down. he had the choice between bare metal and metal covered in sand. He chose a spot without sand.
‘I’m good,’ Kylo said. If his suspicions were right, the dream from earlier had been rather tame. Falling asleep now might not end well and not because of any stormtroopers. He would’ve actually preferred those.
‘No, you’re not,’ Kina frowned. ‘What you did back there, using the Force, does that always leave you like that?’
‘It’s nothing,’ Ben said. Given his injuries, it had been a miracle had been able to pull it off at all. It had only left him tired instead of dead. A bit of sleep would solve that easily, but it wasn’t worth it.
‘Yes, it is,’ Kina crossed her arms. ‘We’re dependent on each other. If something’s wrong we all need to know. Just ask Poe. I’m sure he had a great time dragging you through the desert.’
‘It sucked,’ Poe mumbled, still tossing around to try and make himself comfortable. Ben shrugged. His health hadn’t been Poe’s business.
‘I’m not tired,’ he forced down a yawn. He didn’t feel like explaining that Snoke would be waiting for the moment he fell asleep either.
‘Ben,’ Poe rolled over and covered his ears. ‘Sleep, now.’
‘I don’t need to sleep,’ he snapped. It was an obvious lie. He did need sleep and they could see it. Still, he couldn’t risk it. It had only been a few times since Luke tried to kill him that Snoke had evaded his dreams so blatantly as he had earlier that day. Whether he had done so more subtly, Kylo didn’t know. It would explain a lot, but he had no way to be sure. His night terrors had been there since before Snoke had ever shown his face. Still, they had become much less frequent after he joined the First Order and had become worse every time he had failed to live up to expectations. But whatever the case, he made no illusions that Snoke wasn’t going to use any means available to terrorise him into crawling back to the Order. So no sleep it was.
‘If it eases your mind,’ Kina said. ‘We’ve had a ship ready ever since we knew about the possibility of a stranded resistance fighter.’
‘Would’ve been nice to know,’ Poe looked up. Kylo nodded. He hadn’t agreed with him a lot, but he did on this.
‘I needed to know what you were up to first,’ Kina shrugged. ‘Now, sleep. Both of you.’
‘Fine,’ Kylo said, knowing they wouldn’t shut up otherwise. He lay down with his back towards them so they wouldn’t see that his eyes would remain open.
It was harder to stay awake this way, but he didn’t have the energy to keep up the argument.
‘Back already?’ Snoke’s disembodied voice mocked. Rage ebbed through the void.
‘Leave,’ Ben commanded, searching for Grandfather’s presence. His courage faded when he found nothing.
‘Now, now, don’t be like that,’ Snoke emerged from the darkness. ‘I only wish to talk.’
‘What else could you do,’ Ben dared, forcing himself to stand his ground. Snoke’s expression turned from soft and warm to hard and ice cold.
‘Just wait,’ his eyes studied Ben. ‘You’ll see what I can do.’ Ben flinched away, trying to get away from the piercing gaze. ‘But it doesn’t have to be that way,’ Snoke continued. ‘Turn back and all will be forgotten.’ It seemed he hadn’t heard about the little incident on the road earlier.
‘Get out of my head,’ Ben straightened his back, looking straight ahead.
‘I’ve told you many times,’ Snoke shook his head. ‘Your father doesn’t want you. Yet you let the mere memory of him influence you like this. He’s a weakness you’ll have to crush.’
‘No,’ ben snapped.
‘It’s quite a test, I know,’ Snoke ignored him. ‘But turn back and I’ll guide you. I’ll make you strong enough to right all that’s wrong with the universe.’
‘You’re what’s wrong with the universe,’ Ben said. those words went against all he thought he had known, but he knew they were true.
‘I had hoped to resolve this peacefully,’ Snoke looked down on him. ‘But you give me no other choice.’ He faded into the darkness. Ben let out a sigh of relief, allowing himself a smile of victory, but he had celebrated too early. Grey, red and white sprung into existence around him, forming solid shapes. The face of his father appeared between it, bathed in red light. The light of Ben’s saber. He looked down at his hand. His arm moved up against his will, raising the weapon and running it forwards. His father dissolved into smoke, leaving him like he had every time. His resentment ran deep, still Ben screamed each time the vision repeated itself.
Chapter 10: unravelling secrets
‘Hey, where are you going?’ Rey watched as Han disappeared into the hallway, holding onto the wall.
‘What was that?’ Finn asked, looking from her to Chewie and back to her with his mouth wide open. ‘What’s going on?’ Rey moved to follow Han, to ask exactly that. Had he known this ‘Ren’?
‘Don’t,’ Chewie stopped her, slowly sitting up on the bench. ‘He needs time.’ She blinked but nodded. He’d know what was happening with Han. She, on the other hand, had no clue.
‘What did he say?’ Finn asked her. The confusion in his face equaled her own.
‘That Han needs time,’ Rey translated and turned back to Chewie. ‘Why? What’s wrong?’
Chewie sighed and shook his head. ‘Just tell him we need to know what happened.’ He gestured at Finn. ‘With Ren. How did he die?’
‘I don’t get it. Did you know him?’ Rey asked. ‘Did Han know him?’
‘Someone, please fill me in,’ Finn said. ‘I don’t understand growl.’ Chewie threw him a dirty look. ‘Sorry, I don’t know what it’s called,’ he added.
‘He wants you to tell him what happened,’ Rey explained before things escalated. They both seemed on edge.
‘With Ren?’ Finn asked Chewie directly. Chewie relaxed the slightest bit and nodded, moving his hand in a ‘hurry up’ gesture. ‘Alright,’ Finn took a deep breath. ‘It’s complicated, but when I freed Poe and took him to the TIE fighter, Ren was already there. Just sitting there, waiting for us. That was not entirely surprising, but men, I nearly had a heart attack. But what happened is, the ship went down and I was the only one to make it out alive.’
‘I see, he crashed your ship and went down with it,’ Chewie looked at the floor, resting his elbows on his knees. He shook his head slowly.
‘Uh? Rey?’ Finn said. ‘Help?’ BB-8 rolled out from behind the couch and beeped a translation. Finn’s face fell. He looked completely lost.
‘So Ren crashed your ship?’ Rey saved him from the language barrier. It was impressive enough that he had tried to save the person that had attacked him.
‘What? No,’ he shook his head. ‘That’s just the thing. He wasn’t there to stop us. He wanted away from the First Order to.’
‘What?’ Chewie jumped up, flinching at the pain that must’ve shot through his wounds. ‘Han need to know,’ he hurried off without further explanation.
‘Oh, what now?’ Finn threw his hands up. ‘Anyone else going to run out on me? What’s even going on here?’
‘Let’s find out,’ Rey said, following after Chewie. BB-8 whirred and rolled after her.
‘Of course,’ Finn groaned. His trudging footsteps sounded after her.
‘What are you doing?’ Poe rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. Kina was fidgeting with some beat-up, hand-held device. It seemed to have come straight out of Treepio’s era.
‘What you asked me,’ she looked up from the screen. ‘Plus some other stuff.’
‘Does that thing even work?’ he asked, nodding at the miniature rust bucket.
‘It only looks old,’ she said, returning her attention to her gadget. ‘It seems my network has caught wind of our little adventure back there.’
‘How long have I been asleep?’ Poe looked around the cargo space. Ben was laying completely still near the opposite wall, right next to Kina. So much for not needing sleep.
‘About 40 minutes,’ Kina squinted at the screen before typing something and smirking.
‘So it’s been less than an hour since then,’ Poe estimated.
‘Word travels fast,’ Kina shrugged. ‘Especially about things like these. It’s not every day you see Kylo Ren pulling a fast one on the First Order.’
‘Is he actually asleep over there?’ he gestured at ‘Kylo Ren’. Ben’s back was turned to them and Poe wouldn’t put it above him to pretend to be sleeping just to get everyone off his back.
‘I think so,’ Kina leaned over to see. ‘Just wondering, but how did you stay calm when this sunshine popped up unannounced? Most people would’ve been screaming.’
‘Finn actually did,’ Poe recalled, silently wondering whether he was still alive somewhere. He didn’t get his hopes up. ‘But to answer your question, our parents knew each other. We went to the same piloting classes when we were kids. He went away at some point. I never knew what happened, but everyone said he had died years after that.’
‘Well, he obviously didn’t,’ Kina poked Ben in the head a few times. He didn’t even stir. That was proof enough he was actually asleep. If he had been awake, he would’ve jumped up by now and whined. ‘He’s breathing too much for that.’
‘Anyway,’ Poe continued. ‘By the time I realised he was Kylo Ren, I had already figured he wasn’t trying anything. He had already helped us get away. Not a lot though.’
‘Was he always like this?’ Kina asked, poking Ben another time.
‘A raging fanatic, you mean?’ Poe shook his head. ‘Not that I know of.’ Sure, everyone had known Leia’s son had some issues. The fact that glass tended to shatter whenever he was around had left no doubt about it, but that didn’t make someone a radical nutcase.
‘Childish,’ Kina corrected.
‘Definitely,’ Poe said. ‘One time he crashed the simulator because the teacher told him to do something over.’
Kina snickered and stopped poking Ben. She put her hand over his head and rolled it back and forth instead. ‘And a reckless dunce?’
‘Now you mention it, he probably was,’ Poe nodded. ‘But really, it’s been a long time and I know his mother better than I knew him, so I wouldn’t actually know.’
‘Whatever the case, as far as the scavengers form Carbon Ridge are concerned, he’s now a juggler,’ she waved her gadget around with an enormous grin on her face. ‘I liked your idea. I had Hux’s mom join him as an acrobat.’
‘Anything else?’ Poe laughed.
‘Ask anyone in Niima outpost and he died battling TIE fighters by throwing boulders at them,’ Kina said. ‘He can do that with that Force stuff, right?’
‘He can definitely throw stuff around,’ Poe confirmed. Their old piloting teacher would’ve confirmed it as well.
‘Good,’ Kina pushed a few buttons, still moving Ben’s head around with one hand. ‘I’ll put something about him getting away along with those people with your droid in there too. You wanted inconsistent, right?’
‘The more the better,’ he nodded. ‘Did you already get that message out to General Organa?’
‘I got the ball rolling, but I can’t say when it will reach, or if it will reach at all.’ she answered. ‘You think she’ll risk letting Kylo take refuge with the resistance?’
‘Oh, she will, believe me,’ Poe said. There was no doubt about it. It might be best not to tell Kina the details, but if anything was going to come out of this situation, it was that Leia would get her son back. Complications aside.
‘She’s an impressive woman, I’ve heard,’ Kina cocked her head without breaking her eyes away from the screen. She stopped tossing Ben’s head around. ‘You know her?’
‘Yeah, I know her,’ Poe smiled. ‘She’s impressive, alright.’ If there was one thing he knew, it was that.
‘So, you’re a big shot,’ she looked up from the screen. ‘What’s up with that droid anyway?’
‘Sorry, classified,’ Poe held up his hands, palm forwards. If she didn’t know already, she wasn’t supposed to.
‘Too bad,’ she shrugged and stuffed her device away in a pocket on her utility belt. ‘But you should probably know, Blowback town is packed with stormtroopers. It’ll be a challenge getting in without being spotted.’
‘We can find a way in without involving you and your father any further,’ Poe said. ‘You don’t have to risk this all.’
‘We know what we’re getting ourselves into. It’s our job after all,’ Kina crossed her arms and leaned back. ‘Preparations have been made. Besides, we’ll jus toss a tarp over sleeping beauty here.’
‘That’ll fool them,’ Poe chuckled. Ben began muttered incoherently and hissing half a second later. ‘Just kidding.’
‘This again?’ Kina raised an eyebrow when Ben turned around, only to toss himself back towards the wall, making noises as if he were choking. ‘He’s a handful,’ she had to dodge a swinging arm.
‘Wakey, wakey,’ Poe extended his leg and poked Ben in the shoulder with the nose of his boot. Ben shot up, rapidly turning his head from left to right. He said something under his breath, probably something rude.
‘Good, you’re awake,’ Kina looked in Ben’s direction with an unimpressed look on her face. ‘Get ready for an actual fight.’
Finn had given up hope of keeping up with Rey, who was chasing after the Wookie. BB-8 had made a similar decision and was leisurely rolling at Finn’s side. The entire situation made zero sense. Of course, the resistance would be interested in what had happened to Ren, but Solo’s reaction had been something else. Finn also felt bad about what happened to Poe and Kylo, but he wasn’t chasing anyone through a room about it. This had been personal for Solo.
Rey skidded to a halt halfway through a bend in the hallway. Finn strolled to her side. Solo was standing a few feet away, looking at a hologram of a woman and a child. He turned it off and stuffed it in his pockets while kicking at the floor when he caught sight of them. Something made a thunking sound, but Finn couldn’t see what it was. Nothing was on the floor when he checked.
‘What?’ Solo bit at them. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen. Definitely personal. The Wookie began a lengthy explanation in his own language. Finn didn’t understand a word, or growl, of it. ‘Alright then, speak up.’ Solo turned to Finn. ‘Fast.’ The anger in his voice wasn’t even subtle.
‘About what exactly?’ Finn asked. ‘I can’t follow anymore.’ The Wookie growled loudly. ‘Translation, please?’
‘Ben,’ Solo demanded, ‘What happened to Ben?’
‘Ren,’ Finn corrected. Solo was making a hell of a fuss about someone whose name he couldn’t even get right. What was everyone’s deal with getting Ren’s name wrong in the same specific way? Had Hux made a typo in his propaganda?
‘His name is Ben,’ Solo snapped, grabbing Finn by the collar instead of telling anyone what his deal was.
‘No, I’m pretty sure it was Ren,’ Finn shook his head, running on the last of his patience. Was actual communication really that hard?
‘Hey, stop that,’ Rey intervened. ‘Just tell us what’s going on. How did you know him?’ You know it was bad when this girl lectured you on calming down and talking, instead of, you know, hitting people with a stick!
Solo took a deep breath, but didn’t answer. He didn’t let go off Finn’s collar either. The Wookie growled a few times, probably another explanation. Finn couldn’t tell and he had given up on trying.
‘Your son?’ Rey exclaimed. Her jaw dropped to the ground. Finn’s did as well when he processed the new information. That’s why Solo was so pissed. He had just heard his son had died and Finn had been dodging giving him any real answers about it.
‘He died on Jakku,’ he said carefully, realising how serious this was. ‘I tried to help. I swear I did, but there was nothing anyone could’ve done.’
‘How?’ Han asked, turning white as snow. He let go off Finn’s collar and reached for the wall. ‘How did he die? Did he suffer?’
Finn hesitated. ‘He died in the crash. He was on the ship with Poe and me when we went down.’ He only answered the first question, not having the heart to tell Solo just how much his son had suffered in the hours before his death. ‘It was quick,’ he lied. Solo pressed his eyes shut and covered his mouth.
‘He was leaving the First Order,’ Rey blurted before Finn could get on with his story. It had been the part that had made the Wookie jump. He now understood why.
‘What?’ Solo asked weakly, moving his hand away from his mouth. ‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s true,’ Finn hurried to confirm. ‘He was on that ship because he wanted to get out. He helped us escape.’ Helping was a big word, but Kylo, or Ben apparently, had tried and that was would matter to Solo.
‘Did he say anything?’ Solo asked with desperation in his voice. ‘About where he was going? Why was he leaving?’
Finn looked away and bit his lip. He couldn’t keep this from Solo. He had the right to know. ‘I don’t know where he was planning on going, but I know why he was leaving. I don’t know the details and I don’t know what he did to Piss Snoke off but,’ he stopped when his stomach twisted itself in a knot again when he recalled the state Han’s son had been in.
‘What?’ Han pushed. ‘What happened?’
‘They burned him,’ Finn finally managed. ‘It was terrible. The skin was scorched off his back.’
Solo’s face went blank, but his eyes flashed with cold rage. ‘Snoke’s dead,’ he declared and stormed away.
‘Dad,’ Kylo shot up as the scene in front of him finally dissolved. He looked around. He was back in the cargo space.
‘Get ready for an actual fight,’ Kina said. He reached for his light saber. ‘Not right now. I mean, just be ready.’
‘Oh,’ Kylo drew his hand back and sat straight up. ‘I’m always ready.’
‘Sure you are,’ Poe mocked. ‘I’m not though. Anyone got a spare blaster?’
‘You’re sitting on one,’ Kina pointed at the floor. ‘There’s a hidden hatch.’. Poe began scratching and pulling at the floor below him. Considering the trooper earlier hadn’t found it either, he would’ve to try harder.
Kylo patted at the spot where he had hidden his light saber. It was still secured under the belt along with the dice. Kina fished a blaster out of a crate and began cleaning out the mechanisms, leaving Poe to claw at the floor.
‘I guess you already have a weapon,’ she said, turning to him. Poe yelped as the floor he had been pulling on came loose. He reached down and produced a blaster, grinning the entire time.
‘I don’t need one of those,’ Kylo confirmed.
‘Okay,’ he shrugged and pulled something else from a crate. ‘Put this on,’ she held it to him.
‘This is a piece of tarp,’ Kylo took a closer look and made a face. He wasn’t going to put that thing on.
‘We don’t want anyone recognising that nasty mug of yours,’ she said, rather content with herself.
‘Most won’t,’ he shrugged.
‘They will after today,’ she pushed the tarp in his hands. ‘Hurry up. We haven’t got all day. There’s a control point coming up.’
‘You said we had two hours until Blowback town,’ Poe looked up from inspecting his new blaster. ‘It hasn’t been that long.’
‘It’s not Blowback town,’ Kina said. ‘It’s a checkpoint at a crossroads. We can’t go around. The locked off the perimeter. I just heard about it myself.’ She waved some sort of device she pulled from her belt around and shoved it back.
‘More hostage situation?’ Poe asked.
‘Nope,’ Kina shook her head. ‘They seem to be changing tactics. Everyone’s getting questioned, but no one’s being excessively threatened.’
‘Excessively?’ Kylo raised an eyebrow.
‘No more than usual,’ Kina said. ‘Now, put that thing on.’ She pointed at the tarp in Kylo’s hand. He had been trying to deny its existence, but wrapped it around his head anyway. Kina had a point. He had made quite a spectacle of himself back there. The tarp brushed over his face. It was a bit like his mask, if you disregarded the itching. Poe snorted like a pig.
‘Not like that. You look ridiculous. Come here,’ Kina pulled the tarp back off. She twisted and folded, then wrapped it back around his head, covering everything, but his eyes. ‘If you tell people you’re from the equatorial regions, they’ll believe you.’ She seemed content with her work, although he couldn’t discern any difference.
‘They might recognise me too,’ Poe interrupted, shoving his blaster on his belt.
‘Funnily enough, no one’s been looking for you,’ Kina shrugged. ‘The Order has doubled up the search for your droid, but you don’t seem to be that interesting yourself.’
‘Good to know.’ Poe crossed his arms. You’d think he had accepted that fact a long time ago.
A knock sounded from the driver’s cabin. ‘Get ready, here we go again,’ Kina’s father called. The truck slowed down. Kylo reached for his saber.
‘No,’ Kina stopped him. ‘Go back to pretending to be asleep. Poe and I will do the talking, but try to not actually fall asleep this time.’ He took a deep breath and did as she said, facing the wall. He had messed with enough stormtroopers for the day. More of them had seen his face today than would’ve in a normal year.
Kina’s and Poe’s footsteps led away, followed by some muffled arguing outside the truck. Another presence emerged inside the cargo space.
‘Where were you?’ Kylo asked when he recognised it.
‘I was too late,’ Grandfather said. If Kylo had turned around he could’ve probably seen him, but he didn’t risk it. The arguing outside had become louder.
‘He came back,’ Kylo said in a low voice.
‘I know,’ Grandfather sighed. ‘He took care to hide his presence from me this time.’
‘He isn’t going to stop.’ Kylo bit on his lip. ‘He’s going to keep coming back.’
‘I know,’ Grandfather said. ‘But you can’t give into it. You’ll have to resist him.’
‘How?’ Kylo asked.
‘Trust what you know to be true, not what he wants you to believe,’ Grandfather said. ‘In the end, your mind will always be your own.’ Noises interrupted them before Kylo could ask for anything more specific. Trusting his guts wasn’t going to get Snoke to back off.
‘Don’t you bloody wake him up,’ Kina shouted. The tarp at the entrance rustled. Kylo moved to dislodge his saber from its hiding spot. A hand on his arm stopped him.
‘Stay still,’ Grandfather said. ‘I’ll handle this.’ His presence moved away.
‘Nothing here,’ an unknown voice called. Footsteps led away, the tarp rustled again and more footsteps came back in. The truck came back to life.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. ‘You’re one lucky fellow,’ Poe said.
Chapter 11: Making plans
fixed:) This one did turn out a bit longer than I expected
‘The reports are quite inconsistent,’ Hux informed the Supreme leader. Snoke looked down on him from his colossal throne with a disdainful expression. ‘Several witnesses have begun to claim they saw him in Niima outpost during the airstrike. A few claimed he escaped on the freighter with the droid, something we’ve already deemed unlikely. The far majority, however, claimed he perished in the attack.’ Hux hesitated. Snoke’s glare had already been growing dark. He would not take the rest of the briefing well. ‘Yet, we have reason to believe Ren is alive and on Jakku. I must say the source of this information is quite reliable, coming from one of my own platoons.’
‘Why not start there’ Snoke frowned mockingly. ‘Why bother me with this pointless gossip first? Small minds are prone to grand tales. Even the most unlikely pieces of fiction will readily spread among them. I had expected an officer of your standing would be above such mindless gossip. Now, what have your men reported?’
‘It makes little sense, I fear,’ Hux swallowed, letting the hidden critique pass. The next part would be difficult to explain. He could scarcely comprehend it himself. Ren’s powers were as unpredictable as the man himself.
‘Go on,’ Snoke urged, cocking his head on interest.
‘They reported in claiming they had captured Ren after applying the necessary pressure on the local populace,’ Hux said. ‘He emerged from a group of hostages and announced his presence, laser sword drawn.’
‘So, where is he now? Sure, you would have informed me if your men had already retrieved Ren.’ Snoke spread out his hand and laughed.
‘Of course, Supreme leader. I must admit the story seems rather unlikely, but each soldier was interrogated separately and they all reported the same facts,’ Hux countered. ‘When they fired, their blasts were frozen midair. I’ve only seen such a thing once, by Ren’s doing.’
‘You are hardly the only one who witnessed Ren’s abilities before this day. It proves nothing but the fact that your men are just as prone to grand tales as any other,’ Snoke sneered. ‘Now, do you have anything of actual value or do you intend on wasting time? Valuable time that should be used to ensure the survival of the First Order.’
‘That’s not all, Supreme leader,’ Hux said. His men were trained according to the highest standards. They could hardly be called weak minds. Besides, their accounts checked out and the smallest details. Their report had withstood every test to verify.
‘Do tell, General,’ Snoke scoffed. ‘You seem to be quite invested in this.’
‘We are both well aware of the care Ren takes in hiding his appearance from the crew,’ Hux said. Ren’s habit of doing so had puzzled him since the beginning. Wearing a helmet in a battle was no more than common sense, but keeping it on at all times was excessive. Nothing about Ren’s appearance had been remarkable enough to even warrant it. The first time Hux had seen his face, it had occurred to him that he could’ve run into Ren in a lowly back alley and he would’ve been none the wiser. Perhaps, The man had simply wished to hide his problematic lineage.
‘What of it?’ Snoke swiped his hand in a dismissive gesture. ‘Get to the point before I lose my patience.’
‘Each soldier was capable of picking Ren’s image out of a line-up at first try and with fail,’ Hux hurried to continue. Snoke losing his patience was rarely a favourable turn of events. ‘I believe their reports hold a core of truth.’
‘Yet again, General,’ Snoke looked around in feigned wonder. ‘Where is Ren? I do not see him.’
‘None of the men were able to tell me,’ Hux took a deep breath. ‘All they could tell me is that Ren emerged from among the hostages. They faced him, but lost consciousness. They all awoke already back on the cruiser. I know little of the Force, but I do recall it to be capable of twisting perception and controlling one’s mind. I must believe this is what Ren has done. There can be no other explanation.’
Snoke leaned back on his throne and furrowed his brow in concentration. ‘That might be the case. It is within Ren’s abilities,’ He finally spoke. ‘Whether these reports hold true or not, precautions should be taken against such events.’
‘I assure you, Supreme leader,’ Hux straightened his back. ‘My men are quite capable of dealing with such situations.’
‘I believe it is already clear they are not,’ Snoke shook his head slowly. ‘Fortunate for you, Ren was not the only one talented with the Force under our command. It time to call them here. They might succeed where you have failed.’
‘It will be quite difficult to reach them on such short notice,’ Hux said. The very idea made his skin crawl. Having one creature like Ren roaming his ship had been enough of a hindrance as it was. Having six of them aboard would cause the chain of command to collapse in a matter of days. ‘It might not be possible at all. Their locations are unknown to us.’ Sending them a message was a possibility. Their commlink should be able to pick it up eventually, but that might take too long and the knights were as unpredictable as their master. They came and went whenever they pleased with no regard for the interests of the First Order. There was no way of verifying whether they truly hadn’t received ta message or whether they had simply chosen to ignore it. It would be little of a surprise if they wouldn’t show up simply because they refused to raise their weapons against their traitorous master. Relying on their cooperation would be a mistake.
‘I’m sure it is within your capabilities,’ Snoke swiped his hand in a dismissive gesture. ‘They should succeed where you have failed.’
‘As you wish,’ Hux conceded. Snoke’s trust in him had already dwindled due to his failure to capture Ren. He shouldn’t risk it any further by impeding what Snoke was in the disillusion of thinking was the progress of the mission. It might matter very little, to begin with. By the time any of the knights showed up, Ren was likely already dead or captured. Nonetheless, it seemed Snoke needed a reminder who had been responsible for their troubles and Ren had given him the perfect tool for it. ‘But I do feel I must inform you. Ren seemed to have left a message. It was one of the few things my soldiers were able to recall.’
‘Oh?’ Snoke raised an eyebrow. ‘Which would that be?’
‘I do believe the exact wording was “tell Snoke I have bested his forces”,’ Hux shook his head, faking a disapproving expression. ‘I’ve always suspected Ren had no respect for anyone. It seems I was right.’ Snoke’s face contorted for a second before returning to its former calmness. Yet, rage was clear underneath the facade. Hux bowed his head to hide his smile. As he had hoped, Ren was digging his own grave.
‘Anything else, General?’ Snoke bit.
‘A handful of empty rumours,’ Hux said. ‘As you said, nothing that warrants your time, Supreme leader.’ Countless rumours had gone around Jakku and ultimately, around the ship, ranging from petty sabotage to the wildest tales about Ren’s whereabouts. Even a circus had been mentioned and that had not even been the most ludicrous one of them. The vileness ascribed to his own late mother was revolting and preposterous. Yet, the insidious fabrication had already taken root among the crew.
‘Any trace of the Millennium Falcon or Han Solo?’ Snoke asked.
‘None so far,’ Hux said. ‘It is quite possible they are still traveling through hyperspace. There is nothing we can do as long as they still are. We will have to wait for any intel to show up. I have my men on standby and prepared to deal with all possible scenarios.’ They would have to be. If the father was anything like the son, he was capable of anything.
‘So you have no idea where the map is?’ Snoke asked. ‘Ren has evaded you with ease and his father has had little difficulty either. Is there anything you succeeded in?’
‘This is a delicate situation,’ Hux tried to salvage the situation. ‘Patience is of the essence. It might not be realistic to expect results quite this quickly.’
‘Concluding, you’ve got nothing but failure to report,’ Snoke shouted. ‘What assurance do you that the resistance is not already on their way to Skywalker? What can you give me to prove that Ren has not already joined forces with his treacherous parents? If either happens the Jedi will rise again. Hope will rise in the universe.’
‘No resistance movements have been detected,’ Hux forced himself to keep composure. The chance to prove his worth was right in front of him. he had to chose his words carefully. ‘But I share your concern. If you’d allow, I’d like to make a suggestion to solve all our problems at once.’
‘Well then, tell me, what can you possibly do to salvage this situation?’ Snoke demanded.
‘The weapon’s ready,’ Hux looked up at Snoke. His expression shifted from ire to interest. He leaned back in his throne as if to consider. Time to strike the iron will it was still hot. ‘I believe it’s time to use it. We shall crush the government that supports the resistance, leaving them vulnerable before either Ren or the map reach them.’ Snoke studied him closely. Hux reminded himself to stay still, to net reveal anything in his expression.
‘Very well,’ Snoke dismissed him with a gesture. ‘Go. Oversee preparations.
‘Should we do something?’ Rey wondered out loud while Han stormed away towards the cockpit. Tears pricked behind her own eyes. The thought of her parents going through something like this was unbearable. She was going back to Jakku as soon as BB-8 was safe.
‘Nothing we can do,’ Chewie shook his head. ‘After everything that happened, he still loved that kid.’
‘I don’t get it,’ Finn said, his eyes wide. ‘Ren had been with the Order for years. How could he have been Han’s son?’
‘He disappeared six years ago,’ Chewie sighed. ‘He resurfaced shortly after in the Order’s ranks. We never knew where it went wrong. Maybe he just always had it in him.’
‘What do you mean?’ Rey asked. It made no sense. What reason could Han’s son have to join the First Order?
‘He was always-,’ Chewie took a deep breath. ‘I don’t know, angry. At everything, the entire universe.’ He shook his head, sighing. ‘I never understood it myself. It just happened.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Rey put a hand on his arm. ‘Did you know him well?’
‘Since he was born,’ he sighed. ‘Every time I saw him he had grown more distant, but never cruel. I just don’t understand.’ He paused for a second. ‘I miss that kid. We knew he wasn’t coming back, but still.’
‘I wish I could do something,’ Rey looked down and bit her lip, pulling her hand back. ‘it just sounds so terrible. Of course, you would miss him’
‘When he was six, he tried to speak Shyriiwook and butchered it,’ he smiled sadly. ‘It was hilarious.’ BB-8 leaned his head against Chewie’s leg and beeped a few words of consolation. Chewie reached down and rubbed him on the head.
‘uh, Rey?’ Finn whispered in her ear. He had just been standing there, looking lost but not interrupting the exchange. ‘What did he say?’ Rey pushed him through the hallway, away from Chewie. He deserved the time to mourn without the situation getting in the way. She told Finn a shortened version of what Chewie had told her, toning down the personal parts. It wasn’t her business to go around and tell.
‘Six years,’ Finn nodded when she was done. ‘That sounds about right.’
‘By the way. Who’s Snoke?’ Rey asked. The name sounded vaguely familiar. She had probably heard in a scrapyard or marketplace sometime. Whoever he was, Han had a bone to pick with this guy. No wonder too if he had hurt Han’s son like that. Burning him, Finn had said. Who would do something like that?
‘You don’t know?’ Finn’s mouth fell open. ‘Under what rock have you been living?’ he stopped to look at her. ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. Jakku.’ She threw him an annoyed look and gestured for him to continue. ‘Anyway, that’s the Supreme leader. The big bad of the First Order. The guy pulling all the strings,’ Finn pulled up his nose. ‘That guy’s a creep. Bathrobe and all.’
‘I gathered as much,’ Rey said, blinking at the bathrobe part. Anyone going around burning people would have to be a monster. ‘How does Han plan on fighting him?’
‘He can’t,’ Finn shook his head. ‘It’s impossible. I’m sure he was just, uhm, well, he’s mourning. We shouldn’t take it too seriously.’
‘What if he does mean it?’ Rey asked. Han had seemed to mean it. Besides, who wouldn’t after what Snoke had done to his son?
‘No,’ Finn said. ‘Snoke has the entire First Order around him. If Solo goes up against that, he’s a dead man.’
‘We’ve had worse odds,’ Chewie came storming around the corner. ‘And you can bet he meant it. Snoke’s going down.’
‘What?’ Finn frowned. Rey translated it for him. His eyebrows shot up towards the ceiling.
‘What?’ he repeated. ‘Worse odds? Where? Where did you find worse odds? Worse than Snoke? Han does realise that even if he somehow gets past the entire First Order, he still has to go up against Snoke himself? That guy is seriously bad news.’
‘He a wrinkly piece of shit that someone forgot to flush,’ Chewie growled. Rey translated, slightly flustered, but more amused at the wording.
‘Well, yes. Definitely,’ Finn agreed. ‘a piece of shit that can fry someone within minutes. Someone like Ren.’ He stopped himself as his face fell in realisation. He continued in a low voice. ‘I’m sorry, but if you had been there-.’
‘Then Snoke could’ve been picking all his limbs off the floor,’ Chewie interrupted him, roaring. Although she was beginning to appreciate his way with words, she jumped back at the thundering sound. Despite the weight of the situation, she wondered how anyone would be picking anything up when all their limbs were on the floor. The image of a torso with only head hopping around, trying to pick an arm up with his teeth popped up in her head.
‘I don’t know what that means,’ Finn said. ‘But I’m not going to let Solo drag us into this.’ He turned and stalked away, towards the cockpit. This wasn’t going to end well.
‘All the entrances are blocked. They’re checking anyone going through.’ Kina held up a holoprojector. A small map of Blowback town lit up above it. She indicated a line enclosing the town. ‘So, we’re going over here. We’ll have to go on foot for about a mile to avoid being seen. I’ve arranged for the guards at that part to be “on holiday”.’
‘What’s that?’ Poe asked, squinting at the enclosure.
‘A fence,’ Kina said. ‘We’ll have to climb it. Are you both up for it?’
‘I was born ready,’ Poe threw her his best smile. Ben, who was sitting next to him, just nodded absently.
‘No magic tricks this time, please,’ she turned to Ben. ‘We’re going for subtle, if that’s at all possible for you. So keep that shiny stick hidden if you can help it.’
‘It’s a light saber,’ Ben huffed. His face was hidden behind that ridiculous tarp, but Poe assumed it looked offended. Jedi and their toys. Or was Ben a Sith now? All so confusing. Poe went with ‘Reckless dunce’. Kina had summed that up rather nicely.
‘fascinating,’ Kina said dryly. ‘Keep it out of sight. How’s your back?’
‘it’s not your concern,’ Ben brushed her off. He had always had an attitude, but now he was just being plain rude.
‘Remember what I said about being dependent on each other?’ Kina raised an eyebrow.
‘It’s nothing,’ Ben shrugged. Who did he even think he was fooling? He had literally gone out cold and stayed that way for over an hour. They had also both seen the wounds and neither of them was stupid.
‘Want me to describe the stuff that was oozing from it a couple of hours ago?’ Kina cocked her head. ‘It was yellowish.’
‘It was disgusting,’ Poe grimaced. ‘There was blood inside the blisters. Inside of it.’
‘It’s fine now,’ Ben shrugged again, avoiding eye contact.
‘Oh really?’ Poe leaned over an poked him in the back a little. The bandages should hold. Ben shrunk back at the touch and threw him a death glare. Poe did an exaggerated imitation of Ben’s shrug. Ben rolled his eyes at him.
‘Careful,’ Kina said. ‘The bandages won’t stop blisters from popping if you start poking them and we don’t want that. It would make a mess.’
‘I don’t need you to babysit me,’ Ben whined. From what Poe had seen, Ben did indeed need a babysitter. Some critical thinking skills would also do him some good.
‘I need to know all the details if we’re going to pull this off,’ Kina said. ‘I don’t care how you feel about it. We’re not going to get very far if you collapse again.’
‘I won’t,’ Ben pouted.
‘Whatever,’ Kina gave up with a sigh. ‘But seriously, What did you do? Flip off Snoke?’ Poe had wondered the same thing, Knowing Ben, it had probably been overdramatic and completely unnecessary. Still, burning someone like that was excessive no matter what they’d done. The First Order was a special kind of crazy.
‘I told you,’ Ben renewed his interest in the floor. ‘I was weak.’ His murmuring was hardly audible.
‘What does that even mean?’ Kina asked. ‘Did you refuse to kick a puppy? Were you accidentally polite to someone?’
Ben chewed on his lip, heatedly studying a pile of sand on the floor. ‘It’s of no importance to you.’
‘Just answer the question,’ Poe interrupted Ben’s crap. ‘Why did they do that to you?’
‘Well, uh,’ Ben stammered. ‘I let my judgment be clouded. Can we get back to the plan?’
‘You’re making no sense,’ Kina said. ‘Did you screw up a mission? What happened? What could you’ve possibly done to have them do this to you?’
‘Nothing,’ Ben snapped. His face fell when he was done. He crossed his arms over his knees and bit his lip hard enough that a drop of blood appeared, all the while taking deep, slow breaths.
‘Nothing?’ Poe asked carefully. ‘What do you mean “nothing”? You’re telling me they did that for funsies?’
‘It wasn’t like that,’ Ben muttered, then he furrowed his brow in concentration. ‘Or maybe it was.’ His mouth fell open as he moved his eyes from left to right and back. He buried his face in his arms, remaining like that for over a minute.
‘What’s going on?’ Kina mouthed. Poe shook his head and held his hands up.
‘I don’t know,’ Ben finally said when he looked up again. He shook his head and his eyes became somewhat clear again, but still distant. ‘So the plan? Are we going to do this or not?’ he asked as if nothing had happened. This was messed up. What the hell had they been doing with him over there? Whatever it was, they were getting him to Leia. She’d know what to do with him.
‘Yeah,’ Kina said, staring in confusion. ‘Are you sure you’re up for it?’ Ben nodded with a completely straight face. You’d never guess he’d just had a mental breakdown. ‘Alright then,’ Kina said unconvinced but went ahead anyway. ‘One of my guys has managed to secure a ship in the town’s docking bay. The First Order commandeered the place though, but we should be able to walk right in.’
‘How?’ Poe asked. Stormtroopers wouldn’t be waiting at the door to let them in.
‘Everything’s been taken care of,’ Kina said. ‘As long as we don’t pull any attention to ourselves, we should be fine.’ A knock sounded from the front of the truck. ‘This is our stop, it seems. Dad will keep driving from here. He will be on standby in case anything goes wrong.’ The vehicle stirred, screeched and then came to a halt. ‘It’s still a bit of a walk for us.’
Han looked out over the outer layers of Takodana’s atmosphere. All the green on the planet’s surface shone through. He had set course for this place to help the kids get that map to Leia. However small the chance, he had hoped they could actually find Luke. Now that barely even mattered. He had a different goal in mind and Takodana was the best place to start. Han sighed when footsteps clattered behind him. Company was the last thing he needed right now.
‘Whatever you’re planning on doing, we need to get to the resistance first,’ the stormtrooper pretending to be a resistance fighter came barging in, ranting the entire time. ‘If you want to go up against Snoke, be my guest, but don’t drag us into this. We’d like to live. We have to get as far away from the First Order as possible.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Han put the ship back on autopilot and got off his chair. ‘I’ll drop you off here and get you on a ship. We’ll be rid of each other after that.’
‘You’re not coming with us?’ the girl came running in completely out of breath. The droid rolled in after her, not beeping for a change.
‘Only up until here,’ Han explained. ‘We’ll be going our separate ways after that. I’ve got some business to take care of.’
‘Business to take care of,’ the fake resistance agent snapped, repeating each word slowly. ‘This isn’t about running some errand. This is fighting Snoke, and the entire Order while you’re at it. It’s a suicide run.’
‘It’s also none of your business,’ Han shook his head. In any other case, he might’ve stuck around, but now he couldn’t. He was going to make Snoke regret ever even setting eyes on his kid and he couldn’t do that hauling two stragglers and a droid around. ‘Listen, I can’t help you anymore, but I’m bringing you to someone who can.’
‘But we need your help. We have to get the map to the resistance,’ the girl dropped her shoulders and looked at the floor.
‘Sorry, kid,’ Han chewed on his lip. ‘Family business. That comes first.’
‘Yeah,’ the girl sighed and bit her lip. ‘I know.’ He racked his brain for something to tell her, something to assure her it would all turn out fine. She’d hold her own more than fine up until now, but the First Order wouldn’t be far behind. Tracking the Falcon had been a piece of cake for their beat-up collection of equipment. They had known where to look for, but still, the Order and all their equipment would make short work of it in no time. False hope could get these kids killed.
A beeping alarm on the control panel broke Han away from his thoughts. They had just broken through the atmosphere and The Falcon needed manual piloting to make their landing.
‘This is our stop,’ he sat back down and turned off the autopilot. A sheet of bright green grass and tree tops stretched out in the windshield. The girl slowly came forwards, staring ahead in with wide eyes. How old could she possibly be? Not much older than Ben had been when Han had last seen him. Maybe a few years. Han hadn’t even known what Ben looked like after he was grown. It was his own bloody fault to. If he had just gotten over his damn pride and visited every once in a while, he would’ve known. Instead, he had just pretended the entire situation hadn’t existed, that he hadn’t sent his kid lightyears away because Leia had told him it was for the best. He had ignored Ben along with it. It was a regret he would’ve to live with for thee rest of his life.
‘I didn’t know there was this much green in the entire galaxy,’ the girl gasped with tears gleaming in her eyes. For a moment, just a moment, she looked just like Ben. The wonder and curiosity in her eyes. The vulnerability in her expression. Even the way her chin trembled reminded him of Ben.
Tears filled his own eyes.
‘Hey,’ Poe grabbed Kylo’s arm again. ‘You got a minute?’
‘It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do,’ he pulled his arm away and trudged ahead through the sand. The tarp held the worst of the burning sun rays from his face. Still, the heat was unrelenting, beating down at them at every step. He began having some respect for Poe for dragging him through this burning sandpit.
‘You don’t have to worry about a thing,’ Poe said without explaining what he should’ve been worried about in the first place.
‘Worry about what?’ Kylo clicked the canteen of his belt and shoved the tarp aside to drink. Kina had forced them both to bring water from the truck. Something about the first rule of the desert. ‘Always bring water’ it had been. ‘Stay as far away as possible’ would’ve made a better first rule. Sand had even gotten into his boots. How was that even possible?
‘We’ll get you to your mother,’ Poe announced like it was a good thing. She would see him coming. Aiding the enemy she had dedicated her life to destroying and then showing up at her doorstep, asking for help. No, she wouldn’t be jumping to see him. That little fact hadn’t seemed to have gone through Poe’s thick skull. ‘You can take refuge at the resistance base,’ he added with a smile.
‘I’m not going to the resistance,’ Kylo said. ‘You can drop me off at the first inhabited planet we pass, but I’m not coming with you.’
‘Oh, come on,’ Poe threw his hands up. ‘Where would you go? The First Order’s everywhere. The resistance can keep you safe.’
‘Of course, they will,’ Kylo mocked. ‘Tell me, do they have a policy of helping their sworn enemies? Unless they do, you can just drop me off somewhere along the way.’
‘We have a policy of not abandoning those in need,’ Poe said. ‘Besides, Leia won’t let anything happen to you.’
‘I guess you’ve never actually met her,’ Kylo said. His mother had been a politician, and later a General, before she was anything else, even a parent. She wouldn’t risk the resistance for him.
‘What’s that supposed to mean,’ Poe asked in indignation. ‘I’ll will have you know-.’ The rest was lost in Kina’s shouting. She had gone ahead to scout the area, instructing them to follow a few yards behind. Now she was waving her hands above her head, barely visible against the sand. Her sand-coloured shawl hid the dark brown of her hair. The rest of her gear, having the same colour allowed her to nearly completely merge with her surroundings. That was no fortunate fashion choice. It had to be a conscious choice. Dressing him up in clearly visible grey clothing was unlikely to be a coincidence either.
‘I’ll get back to this later,’ Poe jabbed a finger at him and made way for Kina.
‘Please, don’t,’ Kylo said and followed him. Kina was waiting for them with another device pulled from her belt, which had enough pockets to hold a small armory. Still, her blaster hung from the side for quick access.
‘That’s it, the fence,’ she pointed at a tall, metal structure at the distance. The roofs of a number of building poked out above it, all of them square and the same dull sand colour that was everywhere. ‘Blowback town is on the other side.’
‘Quaint,’ Poe remarked. ‘What I always imagined my retirement home to be like. All those colours, just wonderful.’ If he didn’t learn to shut up anytime soon, he would never even have to worry about retiring. Someone would shoot him through the head long before that.
‘It’s a hellhole,’ Kina shrugged.
‘Why build a fence around a hellhole?’ Poe squinted at the distance. They had come close enough to make out the details. The lower part of the fence consisted of tightly woven metal wires. The higher part, just above the reach of most people, was woven more openly. That would provide some nice handholds to climb unto. The barbs on the top would still be a problem though.
‘Mostly to protect the cargo passing through,’ Kina shrugged. ‘The town’s packed with traders. It was built around the docking bay and rich people love defending their income.’
‘Makes sense,’ Poe stopped dead in his tracks a few feet away from the fence. ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ He pointed at the fence. Kylo caught up to see what he meant. The entire thing was crackling with static.
‘They’re not taking any chances with it either,’ Kina smiled. ‘That thing is the best you’re going to see on this planet. Electricity goes through the entirety of it. Pretty impressive, for Jakku I mean.’ Kylo picked up a piece of rock laying among the sand and threw it at the fence. Sparks shot up at contact. The rock landed back at his feet, cracked in half. Smoke rose up from it. No, not climbing that. He had had enough of electricity for one day.
‘Wait here and keep quiet,’ Kina gestured them to stay put. ‘There should be no controls around. Still, you can never be too careful.’ She pulled her shawl further over her head and crouched over a bit, slowly creeping towards the fence. When she was half a feet away from it, she hurled the device in her hand at the fence. Somewhere halfway mechanic claws must’ve come out, because when it made impact, it wasn’t deflected and destroyed like the rock. It attached to the structure by digging those claws into the metal. A single light on the device t lit up once and a shockwave went through the fence. It went dead silent in a blink of an eye. That solved the problem.
‘Three minutes,’ Kina yanked the device off the wall and stuffed it away while he and Poe approached. ‘Give me a boost.’ She gestured at Poe who crouched down and made a platform with his hands. Kina stepped on it, reaching high enough to take hold of the more open part of the fence and easily climbing to the top. When she got there, she pulled a knife from her boot and cut the barbs wounded around the upper shaft and pushing it aside before straddling the fence. She looked over and gestured at them to follow. Kylo hesitated. There was only a small space, about half a yard, between the fence and the buildings on the other side to land on.
‘Little kids first,’ Poe shoved him towards the fence. Kylo threw him a sideways glance and put his fingers through the looser part of the fence. No time to waste on details. He pulled himself up and set his feet against the lower part of the fence. It gave enough resistance to not glide right off. Poe, however, not having the benefit of height was left to jump and scratch at the fence.
‘Old ladies next,’ Kylo reached down, doing his best to make his amusement show. Poe glared at him but took his hand anyway. The skin on his back popped when he pulled Poe up. That was at least one mess they would have to deal with later.
‘Hurry up, you absolute toddlers,’ Kina hissed and snatched Kylo by the collar, hoisting him up. He grabbed the upper shaft and lifted himself over it. Before he could’ve have gotten halfway down, Kina kicked his arm away, causing him to lose grip in his other hand as well and speeding up the process by quite a bit. He landed sideways into a pile of sand between the fence and the wall which was now just behind his head. Sand crept into his shirt. That stuff got everywhere.
He had barely gotten up when Poe landed in the same manner, but then face first and a lot less dignified. The three minutes must’ve almost have passed. To prove his suspicion, Kina leaped off the top of the fence and landed with a controlled roll along the side of the fence, far enough away from the wall. He could’ve done that too if she’d just given him a heads-up. Although, considering the state of his back, falling like that had probably been more pleasant. The fence cackled back to life the moment Kina got to her feet.
‘Was that really necessary?’ Kylo asked, pulling his shirt back into place and dusting that hell powder off him. He had encountered poison darts less irritating.
‘Yup,’ Kina said, unceremoniously lifting Poe back to his feet. ‘Quick, this way.’ She ran off, dragging Poe with her and disappearing into the nearest alley. Kylo looked around. The buildings had kept them from sight and no one had come barging at them with blasters. He sprinted after them. The shadow cast by the walls finally sheltered him from the bright, unnecessarily hot sun.
‘Over here,’ Kina whispered, already trying to pick a manual lock in the door of the building to the left. The door consisted of metal and poor maintenance. The rusty, deformed hinges barely seemed capable of holding up a feather, let alone a slab of metal.
‘Allow me,’ Kylo pushed past her and gave it a good shove. Logically speaking, it should’ve fallen right over. In reality, it stayed perfectly in place. He tried again with the same results.
‘Got you there,’ Kina smirked. ‘How about you let me get back to it? I actually know what I’m doing.’
‘Let me guess,’ Poe said, sharing her smirk. ‘It only looks old?’
‘You’re catching up,’ Kina poked a bent piece of wire into the lock’s mechanisms. ‘No key exists of it either. You just have to know the sequence.’ She turned the wire twice to the left, once to the right and back to the left, then pushed it upwards. The sound of crunching gears came from the other side, followed by the sound of retreating bolts.
‘That’s not a manual lock,’ Kylo concluded. Manual locks were noisy, but not that noisy.
‘Not at all,’ Kina pushed the door open. ‘Make yourself at home.’ She held the door open while Poe slipped inside. Kylo threw a look inside. The room was nearly completely empty, except for a bunch of closed crates, a table and two chairs and nothing that indicated an ambush. ‘We haven’t got all day. Move it or I’m leaving you outside.’
‘What is this place?’ Kylo asked while he stepped inside. Kina shut the door behind him. The only light came from an old lamp Poe was playing around with while sitting cross-legged on one of the chairs. Not a single window was built into any of the walls. If it hadn’t been easier for her to shoot him back in the truck, he might’ve started to question her motives right about now.
‘Somewhere to lay low. Or to meet up,’ she shoved her hand into the nearest crate and pulled out a piece of rations. ‘Or to stock up on supplies. Whatever it is you need.’ She pulled off the wrapper, threw it on the floor and took a bite.
‘Convenient all this,’ Poe left the lamp alone and looked around the room. Kylo let the last of his suspicious of Kina’s motives go. If she wanted either one of them dead, Poe wouldn’t have lasted this long. He had just run in here without looking around. For all he knew that lamp could’ve been a bomb or something. ‘Who put it here?’
‘People much smarter than you,’ Kina lifted a crate unto the table. ‘I could’ve led you right into a trap. You didn’t even look around before barging in. You’ll have to be more careful.’ Kylo nodded in agreement. Good to know he wasn’t the only one to think so.
‘What could I have done about if you planned on doing that?’ Poe shrugged, sticking his hand into the crate. ‘What’s this?’
‘Luckily for you, not explosives,’ Kina grabbed his wrist and moved it aside. ‘You have to get better at this, or even I can’t help you anymore.’ Poe muttered incoherently under his breath. It sounded a bit like ‘numnumnumnum’.
‘So what now? Kylo asked, pulling the tarp off his head. The thing was full of sand. ‘How are we getting into the docking bay? If the Order has commandeered it, security will be airtight. Especially now I’m on the loose around here.’ He shook the tarp. An impressive amount of sand came falling out.
‘Hey, don’t make a mess,’ Kina said while piling the contents of the crate unto the table. Kylo pointed at the wrapper she had just tossed, then at the table. She stopped to glare at him. ‘That’s different. That’s my mess.’ Poe rummaged through her mess and pulled something from the pile.
‘What’s this?’ he held up a jacket of a First Order officer.
‘Your new outfit,’ Kina smiled deceptively sweetly at him. ‘And our ticket in. Dress up. You’re an officer now.’
‘I’m not putting this on,’ Poe protested. ‘It’s ugly.’
‘Suits you well then,’ Kylo said. Poe looked him dead in the eye and slowly raised his hand in the air. Then at the last second, he turned it around and bend all fingers inwards. All but one. Kylo bit his lip and looked away to hide his grin. Some things would never change.
‘Put that thing back on your face, Duncy,’ Kina pulled another uniform, one for a technician from the pile. Poe threw him a smug grin. ‘Like I showed you. You’re going to have to pass as a native guide.’
‘Duncy?’ Kylo blinked. Where had that come from?
‘Calling it as I see,’ Kina shrugged, putting her belt unto the table next to the pile and unzipping the technician’s uniform. ‘Now hurry up, we’ve got a bay to infiltrate.’
‘We’ll need the right documents,’ Kylo pointed out while putting the tarp over his head and tossing the ends over his shoulders. He stopped. How had she done this again? Poe completely lost it and hit the table, nearly choking in his amusement.
‘You mean these,’ Kina pulled a datapad out from under the pile while stepping into the uniform. She was just putting it on over her own clothes. ‘Poe, get a move on.’ Poe glared at the jacket one last time before pulling off his shirt and putting on the jacket. Kina zipped up her own disguise and pulled a pair of pants from the pile, tossing it in Poe’s lap. His face was priceless.
‘Not so fun now, is it?’ Kylo asked. Poe didn’t lower himself to answering and stood up, shoving some of the crates around to build a small wall. He ducked behind it.
‘Didn’t take him for a prude,’ Kina frowned at the spectacle Poe made of himself. Kylo shrugged. ‘and what are you doing?’ she pulled the tarp off and did the same thing as earlier before tying it around his head. ‘That’s better.’
‘So now we just walk in?’ he asked, checking the datapad. It seemed genuine, cleared by Captain Nodha Palloyu. That name was unfortunate, but it was a real officer, Hux’s adjutant. He had risen up to that position quickly by crawling up Hux’s ass. A bit risky to use that guy’s name, but as far as he could recall the Palloyu was on the other side of the galaxy running Hux’s errands, unable to contradict the documentation. Not that just any intelligence officer could’ve known that.
‘And now we just walk in,’ she stuffed her blaster in her boot and clasped her belt back on. No one would question a technician having a utility belt. This lady was up to a lot more than she was letting on.
Chapter 12: talking a way out of it
'When you get to the base,’ Han said, absently staring at the endless mass of green up ahead. ‘There’s someone. I want you to tell her everything you told me.’
‘Who?’ Rey asked carefully, tearing her gaze away from the windshield and all the wonders on the other side of it. Han’s eyes were still red and swollen. Just for a moment, she had forgotten all that he had gone through, completely taking in by the novelty of what was in front of her.
‘My wife, Ben’s mother,’ Han sighed and pressed his eyes shut. ‘She has to know about this. I’d rather she didn’t know about the details, but she’ll find out eventually. Better she hears it like this.’ When he opened his eyes again, tears gleamed in them.
‘We will,’ Rey promised, looking down. An entire family torn apart by the First Order. She tried to find the right words, something to comfort him. Nothing that felt right came to her. The situation was just too much. Nothing anyone would say could change that.
‘Shouldn’t you tell her yourself,’ Finn interrupted, leaning against the nearest wall. ‘I mean, I can give her a first-hand account, but that just doesn’t seem right. It was pretty bad.’ Rey gestured at him to cut it out. Han didn’t need a reminder. Finn’s mouth fell open and he closed after a minute, looking anxiously at Han, who just calmly shook his head. All the rage had left his face, replaced by grief and sorrow.
‘She wouldn’t want to see me,’ he said. ‘But you should find her easily. Her name’s Leia. You’ll know where to find her when you get to the resistance.’
‘I know who you mean. General Organa, right?’ Finn pushed himself off the wall. ‘That’s common knowledge. I just think you should at least check on her. I’m just saying, I’ll tell her if you really want me too, but it’s just, it’s-.’ Finn sighed and shook his head. ‘It’s better if you do it yourself.’
‘No,’ Han chewed his lip. ‘She can’t have me around when she hears this. It’ll only make things worse.’ He would know better than either of them. They never met his wife, but Finn was right. It was bad enough to hear something like this. Let alone hearing it from complete strangers, like Han had. Still, she couldn’t tell him what to do. He had to deal with his grief in his own way.
‘What is this about?’ Chewie growled, storming into the cockpit. Finn wisely took a step back. Chewie was hardly in a calmer state than Han. Any more clever comments and Finn might be the one picking his limbs off the floor.
‘Just passing in the news to Leia,’ Han muttered, leaning over the control panel and avoiding looking Chewie in the eye.
‘What?’ Chewie roared. The cry banged though the cockpit, making the glass of the windshield shudder. Rey froze in her spot. Finn jumped a feet into the air and sprinted out of the cockpit, closely followed b BB-8. Even Han clasped the back of his chair and turned around in shock. ‘You’re sending her a message?’ Chewie strode into the cockpit. Rey got out of his way, but stayed in case it got out of hand. Both were in a state to lash out. ‘You will tell her yourself, even if I have to tie you up and drag you to her.’ That was an idea she could get behind. Maybe the supply room still had some rope or wire in it.
‘For the last time, she doesn’t want to see me. With good reason,’ Han pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘I’ll just keep reminding her that we lost Ben if I stick around. You know that.’ She looked down at the floor, her eyes burning. This was heart-breaking. The last that remained of Han’s family crumbled in front of her eyes. She couldn’t just watch and do nothing.
‘Chewie’s right,’ she dropped down in the co-pilot’s seat, looking Han in the eye. ‘Finn too. You should come with us and tell her yourself. She lost her son. Don’t make her deal with it on her own.’
‘Leia and I drifted apart a long time ago, kid,’ Han sighed. ‘She wouldn’t want me around when she hears. Besides, I’ve got some scores to settle.’
‘You want revenge for your son,’ Rey nodded. ‘I get that. What they did to him was horrible. You’ve got all the right to hate Snoke. All parents would.’
‘Snoke will pay for this,’ Han said, clenching his fists.
‘Yeah, he should,’ Rey said. ‘But he’s the leader of the First Order. How are you going to get to him? Do you have a plan?’ There was no doubt he could, but not at this moment. Finn was right, it would be dangerous and Han was rushing into this.
‘The person I’m bringing you to, she’ll know something I can use,’ Han chewed his lip. ‘I’ll think of something after that. I always do.’ She had heard that phrase earlier that day. It hadn’t turned out very well
‘You’ve got no plan,’ Chewie said. ‘And we can’t do this on our own. If killing Snoke was that easy someone would’ve done it by now.’
‘That does make sense,’ Rey agreed. ‘You might want to take your time thinking of a plan because you’re going to need a good one.’
‘Go to Leia,’ Chewie said, putting a hand on Han’s shoulder. ‘She has as much right to this as you do. Besides, she’ll have a plan ready, and five backup plans at that.’
‘Luke could help take down the Order, right?’ Rey added. The Jedi were legendary warriors, keepers of the peace. ‘That’s what this map is all about, isn’t it. Getting BB-8 to the resistance is as good a start as any, but we can’t do it without you.’
‘She right,’ Chewie said. ‘Luke will at least want to know too. Ben was his nephew.’
‘Wait, what,’ Rey blinked. ‘His nephew?’
‘Luke is Leia’s brother,’ Han said. ‘He trained Ben since he was a boy.’
‘Then he’ll definitely help,’ Rey said. Snoke had gone after the wrong family, it seemed. He had gotten Han Solo, the leader of the resistance and a Jedi knight against him.
‘I don’t know,’ Han sighed. ‘He might, he might not. You never know with Luke.’
‘Listen,’ Chewie said. ‘Leia lost Ben, then Luke and then you. Now she’s going to lose Ben all over again. I don’t know whether we’re going to find Luke, but you’re right here and she needs someone. She never wanted to forget Ben. She needs you.’
‘You don’t have to rush into it,’ Rey added. ‘Just come with us and see your wife. You can do whatever you have to after that. The First Order isn’t going anywhere.’
‘Fine,’ threw his hands up. ‘I’ll come with you, but if this does go wrong, I’m holding you responsible, Chewie.’
‘Fine by me,’ Chewie patted him on the shoulder a few times. ‘You’re making the right decision, you know.’
‘You better be right about this, fuzzball,’ Han jabbed his finger at him. Chewie patted him on the shoulder. Rey slipped from her chair and out of the cockpit. Those two needed some space. Finn sat on the couch, his arms crossed on the table and his face pressed into them. She was about to wake him up from his nap when she the sensation of being looked at crept up on her.
She turned on her heels, ready to throw a punch. However it was, it wasn’t Han or Chewie, she would’ve heard them coming and Finn had been right in front of her. She lowered her fists when a pair of deep, dark brown eyes locked unto hers. The shape of a face appeared, only to vanish in a flash. Her mouth fell open. She knew that face, even if it had been years since she last saw that boy and it wasn’t a boy anymore. It had been the face of a grown man. She had only ever seen him in her dreams on the rocky shores. He had always been surrounded by claws grasping at him, reaching for him from the darkness and trying to pull him in. At first, she could simply shoo the claws away, but one day they had just taken hold off the boy and dragged him into the darkness. He never came back no matter how much she had searched every dream she had. His presence here calmed her. He was reaching out to her.
She shook her head. It had all been a figment of her imagination. She was just tired. It had been a long day and Han’s loss had moved something in her. Her mind was just trying to somehow ease itself through her dreams by conjuring up a soothing image. She shook her head again. She really needed to take a nap if she was dreaming while standing up.
‘Is everything in order?’ Poe asked, holding his back excessively straight and deepening his voice to an improbable pitch, slurring out his every word. His face was tight with the attempt of remaining expressionless, but he succeeded more in resembling a fish. Altogether, it was a rather convincing imitation of Hux.
Kylo was glad of the tarp. His face would’ve betrayed them. His mask had often saved him the trouble of keeping a straight face in public situations as long as Snoke was not present.
‘Don’t make that face,’ Kina hissed while driving her elbow in his ribs.
‘I’m not making a face,’ he whispered back. That wasn’t true, but she couldn’t know that unless she had some sort of X-ray device hidden on her as well.
‘Yes, you are. Stop it,’ she said. The guards at the entrance looked up at the exchange. One of them had been frowning at the datapad. There hadn’t been a single fault in the forgery when he had checked. The name of Hux’s upsucking adjutant probably just raised some eyebrows every time it came up. It had been one of the instances his mask had come in handy.
‘Silence,’ Poe bellowed. It lwas ridiculously exaggerated. No doubt the soldiers were just as thankful for their helmets at the moment as he had been. The only thing stopping him from bursting out in laughter was Kina pinching his arm. It was still a close call. ‘Now, is everything in order?’ Poe repeated. ‘We’re in a hurry.’
‘It appears to be, Sir,’ the guard handed back the datapad. ‘Good luck on your travels.’ He gestured at his colleagues. The gates slid open, revealing the open-air docking base behind it. It wasn’t very impressive, or even of substantial size. Still, it was heavily guarded. Everyone going in and out was being monitored. No civilians were allowed. The Order didn’t want anyone leaving this planet unauthorised and they spared no effort ensuring it. It would be an advantage in the long run. They would’ve no idea he had already scrammed. He wished them good luck scouring this oversized sandbox.
‘Finally,’ Poe scoffed, perfectly copying the attitude of plenty of officers. He glanced back for a second. ‘Come on, you two. We’ve had enough delay as it is.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Kina said politely. It was obviously sarcastic coming from her, but it fooled the troopers. They indeed just walked in.
Countless stormtroopers, technicians and a handful of officers crowded the place, running around as if their lives depended on it. An unusual number of ships were jammed together throughout the bay.
‘There should be a ship prepared for us halfway the east wall,’ Kina said in a low voice. ‘An orange cloth will be tied to one of the engines. It will be unguarded and ready to go.’
‘This is too easy,’ Poe whispered. ‘Things are never this easy. Something’s bound to come up.’ Kylo looked around. Not a single person paid attention to them, except to get out of the way of Poe’s excessive imitation of an officer. Still, something was off. The search for him and Poe’s droid might warrant this much personnel, but that couldn’t be it. No ships were coming in to land, but plenty were rising up to leave. Something else was happening.
‘That’s because we came prepared,’ Kina said. ‘You should try that once in a while. It will save you a heap of trouble. As long as you don’t stick your hand in anything, we’ll be fine.’
‘Do you know why everyone’s leaving?’ Kylo asked. Kina obviously had ways of knowing more than she should, so she might just know what was going on here. ‘Did they find Poe’s droid?’
‘No, I would’ve told you,’ Kina shook her head. ‘It’s something about a rally all available units have to attend. They were really vague about what it was all about. I don’t think anyone here knows either.’ That was odd. All these units wouldn’t be pulled out for no reason whatsoever. It had to be important, but what? Only Hux or Snoke had the authority for something like this. What were they doing? He went over anything he could think of. He stopped dead in his tracks.
‘Come on,’ Kina pulled him along. ‘You need to get on that ship. Give me about ten minutes before you leave to get out myself.’
‘No, wait,’ Kylo stepped in front of her. The details of Hux’s pet project flooded his mind. Energy from the sun. Death star level. Capable of destroying an entire system.
‘I have to get back to Dad,’ she pushed past him. ‘You’ll be fine. Poe can bring you to the resistance. Just can take refuge there.’ Why did everyone keep assuming that would solve his problems?
‘That’s not what I meant,’ he hissed. ‘Starkiller base. They’re firing it. At the Hosnian system.’
‘They’re firing what now?’ Poe frowned. ‘What’s that?’
‘Deathstar like technology, but far stronger,’ Kylo explained. ‘They’ll destroy the Hosnian system.’
‘All of it?’ Poe asked. His face fell in desperation. ‘That can’t be right.’
‘It is,’ Kylo continued. ‘Hux has been working on it for years. I never thought they would actually use it. The Hosnian system will be reduced to dust within minutes.’
‘Are you sure of this?’ Kina asked. ‘I’ve never heard of anything like this.’
‘All information was need-to-know,’ Kylo said. ‘I only know about it because I was stationed there.’
‘And you’re sure they’re activating it now?’ Kina fished one of her devices from her belt and typed unto the screen.
‘It’s the only reason I can think of for a rally this scale during a time like this,’ Kylo looked around. Many ships were rising up already. They would’ve little time. Hux would want his moment of glory to be the spectacle of his rally.
‘Tell me all you know,’ Kina said while turning around and pushing past people. Some offended huffs rose up. ‘Is there any way to stop it?’
‘Not from here,’ Kylo raced after her, Poe on his heels. Several heads turned at the scene of an officer running after his crew. ‘It’s built into a planet and drains the energy from the sun. It will release beams strong enough to decimate planets. You’d need at least an entire fleet to stand a serious chance.’
‘Well then,’ Kina nodded at the control building at the center of the docking bay. ‘Right this way. We’re going to give the resistance a fighting chance.’
‘It won’t be long anymore,’ Kylo said.
‘Then we better hurry up,’ Kina said, taking his wrist and sprinting away. Poe had noticed the turning heads and was running another route. They came to a stop right in front of the control building, Poe reaching last.
‘They wasted no time making themselves at home,’ Kina scoffed. ‘They put a new lock on the door. We’ll need the code and I can’t hack this thing while everyone’s looking at it.’
‘Poe, put this in,’ Kylo said. Anyone else than a trooper of an officer doing this would pull too much attraction. ‘Nine-sigma-eight-two-eleven-Delta-six-seven. Got it?’ It was his personal clearance code. Despite Hux’s incessant protests about Protocol, he had been given complete access to all the Order’s bases and resources. The code would open all doors.
‘Yeah,’ Poe entered the digits. A handprint popped up on the lock’s control panel. ‘So, what now?’
‘Move it,’ Kylo pressed his hand against the scanner. The screen whirred and blinked. A few seconds later, it flashed green and the doors slid open. Hux should really take that code out of the system.
‘Handy,’ Poe grinned, then frowned. ‘How did you know that wouldn’t trigger an alarm? You’re a fugitive. They should’ve taken your code out of the system.’
‘Lucky break,’ Kylo shrugged. Hux never prepared for things like this. He expected everyone to be as overcautious as he was. It made him too predictable.
‘Lives depend on it, you duncy,’ Kina hissed. ‘Stop playing around.’
‘I know that,’ Kylo countered. ‘Like I said, Hux is a rigid moron. He’d never even imagine anyone would try something like this.’
‘Don’t make it sound like you thought it through,’ Poe said. ‘You never think things through.’
‘How would you know that?’ Kylo asked. ‘We haven’t met since we were children.’
‘Because I saw you in action the last day,’ Poe said.
‘Stop arguing like an old, married couple and get your asses inside,’ Kina interrupted. ‘We've got a system to save and people are staring.’ She slipped past them and hurried inside. Poe followed immediately behind. Kylo threw a glance over his shoulder. People were indeed staring. A few too many for his taste. He calmly stepped inside, as not to draw more attention to himself and closed the door behind him. It was a rather small building. Not strange considering the docking bay’s initial purpose, but only a single technical officer sat by the control panel. The officer wasn’t even armed. They must’ve trusted their technology to keep intruders out, which it usually did. Too bad he had a code.
Kina stepped forwards and tossed the officer from his chair unto the floor. In a pile of sand, of course. That stuff was everywhere. She took the chair for herself and began jamming buttons.
‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’ the officer scrambled off the floor.
‘Wait,’ Kylo said, holding up his hand. ‘We can explain.’ They couldn’t, but the officer looked up and blinked, not reacting any further. People tended to freeze when they got confused. It was one of the few useful things his father had taught him.
‘You’re intruders,’ the officer regained himself. Too bad confusion never lasted long.
‘No, this is just a misunderstanding,’ Kylo shook his head, pulling it out a bit longer. A fight would leave to much evidence. ‘We’re in a hurry and she is not good with communication.’
‘I’m calling the guards,’ the officer frowned and pressed the commlink in his ear. Poe blasted him without another word. So much for subtlety
‘No time for conversation, and stop messing around,’ Poe shoved his weapon back on his belt and went to Kina’s side. The central screen was opened on archive mode. ‘What have you got? Anything we can use?’
‘Plenty,’ she said. ‘As I hoped, they are still synchronising the systems. I can hack into their main database from here.’ She fished a new device from her belt and put it unto the control panel. Mechanic hooks unfolded from the side and jammed themselves into the panel. About half a dozen notifications popped up, all indicating external data breaches or unauthorised access. The computers hadn’t even registered the breach came from within.
‘Get ready to run,’ Kina stepped from her chair and held her hand above her device. ‘We’re not getting away from her unnoticed.
‘Dameron already made sure of that,’ Kylo gestured at the officer on the floor.
‘What were you going to do?’ Poe asked. ‘Talk him into letting us borrow the control panel for a minute?’
‘That was the idea,’ Kylo said.
‘Shut up,’ Kina said looking up to the screen. A loading bar covered all other notifications, already 62% done. It was not nearly far enough, considering alarms started blaring through the building. ‘We’re in trouble. Any magic tricks are welcome now.’
‘How about a disappearance act?’ Poe grabbed the blaster from his belt and looked around. Kylo reached for his saber but stopped himself. He couldn’t use it. People would see it and he might as well have worn a plate around his neck with his name on it.
‘Not yet,’ Kina held up her hand and looked up to the screen, 97%. She reached her for the device. The doors behind them slid open. 98%. Her hand hovered over the device. Footsteps sounded behind them. 99%. Kylo turned on his heels. A dozen stormtroopers flooded in, weapons raised. Poe raised his own blaster. ‘Now!’
Poe opened fire. Kina joined the fray, taking cover behind the chair. Kylo pressed himself against the wall. Blasts razed right in front of his face, going for Poe and Kina. He mustn’t have looked very threatening with that thing in front of his face. He stopped some blasts from hitting target, but it took for more effort than usual. Despite the pain being mostly gone, his wounds still slowed him down. They needed to get this fight over with quickly or they would indeed have to drag him out of here. He swiped his hand, sending ripples through the Force. The nearest three stormtroopers flew backward into their colleagues. Four more went to the ground. Another three were shot down, too dazed by their allies bowling over more of their allies to dodge the fire. That left two standing, plus seven more helpless on the ground. Poe and Kina could take care of that lot.
Kylo leaped forwards, kicking the nearest standing stormtrooper over and body slamming the other into a wall. No shiny sticks required. When he turned around, the rest of the stormtrooper lay motionless on the floor. If they were lucky, Kina and Poe had their blasters on stunrays. Probably not.
‘She’s good,’ Poe put the blaster back in his belt and stared at Kina in awe. ‘She got like eight of them.’
‘And you got like two,’ Kina jumped out from behind the chair. ‘Step your game up, Dameron. Now, move it.’ she ran to Kylo and checked whether the guys he had knocked out where actually knocked out by throwing off their helmets and poking them in the face. Completely unnecessarily. He was perfectly capable of knocking people out.
‘That’s not fair, you had cover. I didn’t,’ Poe complained while catching up with them. Kina hushed him. He made a face at her. She took one of the stormtroopers’ helmets off the floor and got up, stamping at Poe. For a second, it looked like she was going to throw it in his face. It would’ve been a nice sight, but she handed it to him instead.
‘Listen to that,’ she said when he frowned. ‘We’re going to have company. I’d suggest we leave before they arrive.’
‘Security breach. All units on high alert,’ Poe said, holding the helmet to his ear. ‘That doesn’t sound good.’
‘Indeed,’ Kina nodded. ‘Let’s go.’
‘No argument there,’ Kylo said, pressing the button to open the door and hoping he wouldn’t get shot the moment he stepped outside.
‘That’s a first,’ Kina said, putting her blaster back in her boot.
‘Is that ship still ready?’ Kylo asked.
‘Yup,’ Kina said. ‘We’re just going to calmly walk out of here like nothing happened. Chances are they don’t know where or who we are.’
‘That sounds like a horrible idea,’ Kylo said when the doors slid open. ‘Got a back-up plan?’
‘And he’s arguing again,’ Poe muttered, stepping over the pile of stormtroopers.
‘Back-up plan’s we run,’ Kina said, taking a deep breath and walking out of the door.
‘Reassuring,’ Kylo whispered and followed her, Poe right behind him. There was no time to discuss strategy. They indeed calmly walked out of the door. The airfield was in complete chaos. Stormtroopers stamped around, shoving everyone out of the way. Officers were either shouting orders or retreating to a safer location. Kylo bowed his head and hurried after Kina. Poe popped up next to him, grabbing his arm again and dragging him along.
‘Stop doing that,’ Kylo bit in a low voice. Saying that aloud to an officer was not a good idea if you planned on staying under the radar.
‘Just in case you pass out again,’ Poe said. ‘Or in case you feel like jumping out there and announcing your presence again.’
‘Good idea,’ Kina glanced over her shoulder. ‘Keep that duncy under control.’
‘I’ll try, but I can make no promises,’ Poe muttered, putting his other hand in Kylo’s neck for some reason and pushing him forwards.
‘Stop calling me that and let go off me,’ Kylo whispered. ‘I can walk by myself.’
‘I know,’ Poe said. ‘That’s the entire problem. Did Leia ever put a leash on you?’
‘Excuse me?’ Kylo stopped to glare at him.
‘Stop bickering and get a move on,’ Kina hissed. ‘Those guys are looking at us.’ Poe shoved him forwards without warning. Kylo took a deep breath and allowed it. Having an argument with someone looking like an officer in the middle of an emergency situation would get normal personnel sent to reconditioning. A bunch of intruders would just get killed. He looked at who Kina had been referring to instead. A couple of troopers were talking to an officer, indeed pointing in their direction. One of them caught him looking.
‘Don’t look,’ Poe gave him another shove. Kylo turned his head back forwards and took a large step forward, tearing himself loose. Poe had had his fun.
‘Stop right there,’ a voice bellowed with the authority of an officer.
‘Well done,’ Kina mocked and stopped walking. ‘Don’t try anything else. I mean it.’ Kylo touched the tarp in front of his face and stepped aside, making way for Poe who would have to do the talking. Personnel was supposed to keep their mouths shut while officers were talking. Kina grabbed his wrist and dragged him farther away, looking meekly at the ground the whole time. Her acting skills bordered on legendary.
‘Can I see your documentation?’ the officer, a corporal, asked, backed up by the troopers.
‘Of course,’ Poe said with that same ridiculous voice as earlier, pulling the datapad from his jacket and handing it over. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘Yes, there is,’ the corporal said, scanning the datapad. ‘The base is on high alert. Surely, you have been informed?’
‘Yes, yes,’ Poe nodded. ‘Of course, I have been. I do not see how that has any bearing on me. I’m simply passing through.’
‘On the authority of Captain Palloyu, signed yesterday,’ the corporal said. ‘Interesting.’ The look on his face indicated amusement rather than interest. ‘Must be of importance. I’ll let you be then, but I have to inform you the base is on lockdown. No one will be leaving.’
‘We’re in quite the hurry,’ Poe bluffed and overstepped his bounds by a mile. ‘We will be leaving at once. What was your name again?’
‘Corporal Ganmate,’ the corporal frowned, glancing once at the stormtroopers behind him. ‘I do not believe we had the pleasure of meeting.’
‘We did not,’ Poe nodded. ‘I’m Captain, uh, Flint. Captain Zacken Flint.’ The insignia on Poe’s jacket indicated the rank of sergeant, but if Ganmate was bothered by it, he didn’t let it on. Kina’s grip on his wrist tightened.
‘Well met, Captain Flint,’ Ganmate saluted. ‘Gessa Ganmate at your service.’ This guy had no right to have been laughing at Palloyu’s name. Kylo looked away. The tarp wasn’t going to save him this time. Kina pinched his wrist and bit her lip. She was having as much trouble not to snort as he did.
‘Well met,’ Poe nodded, jabbing his nose in the air. ‘We’ll be going then. You two,’ he turned around and gestured at Kina and Kylo. ‘Hurry up, we haven’t got all day.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Kina said and moved away. Kylo hesitated a moment. This was too easy. No officer would let this pass as easily as Ganmate had. This had to be a trap.
‘Uh, Sir, if I may,’ One of the stormtroopers stepped forward and spoke.
‘Let’s go,’ Kina hissed in his ear and dragged him away. Poe strolled leisurely after them.
‘You may not,’ Ganmate said. ‘Get back to the search. We’ve wasted enough time on your suspicions.’
‘But Captain Palloyu has been injured on the battlefield a week ago. He has been relieved from duty while he recovers,’ the trooper said anyway. Speaking out of turn would normally not have been worth the trouble for a stormtrooper. A reprimand would have been the least they could’ve expected. This information however, would have been worth it. They were screwed. Kina cursed under her breath and nearly cut off the blood flow in his wrist.
‘Strange,’ Ganmate rubbed his chin. ‘I’m sure there is an explanation for this, Captain.’
‘Of course, there is,’ Poe turned around with an annoyed expression on his face, but with sweat dripping down his face. Definitely screwed.
‘Here’s your explanation,’ Kina crouched down and grabbed her blaster from her boot, shooting at Ganmate. It missed him by a hair width. He stared at Kina with open mouth. Who lacked subtlety now? At least his plan had worked. Kylo pushed the Force under his feet forwards, causing a wave of it to rush through the ground, knocking over the stormtroopers.
‘Okay,’ Poe pressed his lips together. ‘There goes the plan.’ He recoiled his arm and punched Ganmate in the face. The poor corporal fell to the ground, among his troopers. ‘Back-up plan?’ he yelled over the distance
‘Yup,’ Kina said. ‘Now we run.’ Kylo didn’t wait for anyone to take his arm and ran. Right on time too, a blast razed past his back. Kina rolled past him and returned to her feet, barely having dodged the blast herself.
‘They saw us,’ Poe yelled helpfully. Being shot at implied as much.
‘Don’t shoot back,’ Kina shouted back. ‘Just run.’ Kylo looked around. Poe was still standing at the same spot, blaster drawn. Ganmate’s soldiers were recovering themselves. Ganmate himself stayed perfectly still in the ground. A handful of soldiers came flooding out from between the ships. Poe lowered his blaster and turned on his heels, racing after them. he didn’t get very far. A small ball landed in front of him, just a foot away. Poe stopped dead in his tracks and stared. Kylo moved to do something, that damn thing was a grenade, but before he could contain the blast, it went off. He and Kina were blown backward by what must’ve been several yards.
When he recovered himself, Kina was already dragging him to his feet. He struggled up. Smoke and dust blocked his view. There was no way to know where he was.
‘This way,’ Kina yelled over the commotion, pulling him towards their left.
‘How do you know?’ Kylo asked while following her. It was as good an option as any.
‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘But there are ships in all directions. We just have to choose one.’
‘So, we’re going with just any ship now?’ he asked. ‘What if it’s locked?’
‘I’ll hack it,’ she answered. ‘But leave that to me. Did you see where Poe went?’
‘No, but I can try to find him with the Force, but we’ll need to slow down,’ Kylo said. ‘I can’t concentrate like this.’
‘Alright, but hurry up. The dust’s clearing,’ Kina said, coming to an abrupt halt.
‘Got it,’ Kylo pressed his eyes shut and imagined the Force like a grid. The squares were as clear as a hologram in his mind. He reached out and moved ripples through the Force until he found the presence he was looking for. Poe was slowly, but steadily moving away from them. He was confused and unsteady but didn’t seem to experience any pain or fear. A wave of relief rolled through his presence. He must’ve had better luck finding a way out than they had. ‘He’s fine. He’s finding a way out by himself.’ If the piloting classes they had gone to together were anything to go on, Poe was perfectly capable of commandeering a ship himself.
‘Good,’ Kina said. ‘Get ready. I’m beginning to see our surroundings, which means they can see us. I’ll count to three, then we run straight ahead. We’ll pick the first ship we see, no arguing about it. We can’t afford that.’
‘Got it,’ Kylo opened his eyes and looked ahead. The shapes of ships were already discernible beyond the dust. The ground shifted under him. It had still taken him far more energy than it should have.
‘One, two,’ Kina counted. Kylo braced himself to start running. ‘Three.’ They sprinted both straight forward. The first ship was a small transport, not meant for battle. The weaponry would be next to nothing. The shields, however, should be of at least standard quality. It would have to do. His legs could barely support his weight. The ground was still unsteady under his feet. Kina raced ahead of him unto the ramp and began abusing the control panel at the entrance.
‘It’s them,’ a voice shouted. Kylo turned on his heels. A blast shot over his head. Another one followed immediately behind. He barely managed to dodge it. A third flew by a good bit away from him. He followed it with his eyes. It hit less than a feet away from Kina. She ducked away as far as she could while still being able to reach the control panel. Kylo slowly stepped back towards the ship. A squad of stormtroopers gathered in front of them. Another blast hit at his feet. The next went for Kina. He couldn’t see whether it would’ve actually hit, but he stopped it anyway. Kina needed all cover she could get. No further shots followed, even though the number of soldiers steadily increased. A handful of officers entered the scene as well. Even a few technicians came to see what was going on. Every single one of them had eyes for just one thing. They all pointed at something behind him. Kylo turned to see, still slowly backing away. The blast he had stopped was still hanging mid-air. Not an everyday sight. Such a little trick and everyone had been frozen in their place about it.
‘Don’t be distracted,’ an officer ordered, screeching through the silence. ‘Keep shooting. Don’t let them get away.’ The soldiers and the officers were broken out of their trance and came back into motion. Kylo threw one more glance over his shoulder. The ship was locked. Kina needed more time.
He did the only thing he could think of. These people had been stupefied by a single frozen blaster shot. He’d give them something to be impressed about. Their chances of being subtle had stopped the moment they broke into the registration building. He summoned his saber to his hand. It slipped out from under his belt and flew into his hand. The army in front of him froze all over again before they had recovered themselves enough to resume fire. He waved it around above his head for extra effect. A gasp went through the crowd.
‘It’s just one man,’ the same officer yelled. ‘fire!’ he took the initiative himself this time. Kylo roughly calculated the trajectory of the blast. Having Snoke Force-throwing things at your head gave you quite a sense for it. Anyway, the blast went a few inches from his head. He bowed his head a little to the side to give the impression he had dodged it. The soldiers who had been aiming their weapons put them down again for a second.
‘Fire!’ the heated officer shouted. The soldiers recovered themselves once again. This asked for a new approach. He ripped the tarp aside, revealing his face. With any luck, Hux had issued a bulletin with his face on it by now.
‘Looking for me?’ he shouted, making sure they could all hear him.
‘Cease fire!’ the officer backpedaled. ‘take him alive. Orders form Supreme leader himself.’ So, Snoke intended on capturing him alive. Good to know. Let’s give him a run for his money. He couldn’t pull off a fight in his current condition, but he would never even need to. Confusion would do the trick.
‘Well done, quite impressive,’ Kylo took another stepbackwards. A handful of stormtroopers approached slowly, holding out riot control batons. Amusing enough, they thought it fitting. The rest formed a circle around them, blocking all ways out. He quickly glanced over his shoulder. Kina was hacking the ship completely unbothered.
‘Put down your weapon, Sir,’ a squad commander said. ‘You are under arrest.’
‘Am I now?’ Kylo frowned in feigned surprise. ‘Ah, yes. You’ve captured me. I guess the game is over now. I’ve had my fun. Time to all go home, isn’t it?’
‘Sir?’ the stormtrooper lowered his baton. ‘Please, put your weapon down.’
‘Of course. You’ve won,’ Kylo lowered his blade but didn’t put it away. ‘Truly excellent work. You should all be proud of yourselves.’
‘Sir?’ the trooper expressed confusion through voice and body language alone. Still, if helmets could’ve blinked, his would have. ‘Do you surrender?’
‘Yes, yes,’ Kylo nodded. ‘Just a minute. I just wanted to say you your work is admirable. You should all go to Snoke and tell him about, uhm, about-.’ Kina had better hurry up. He was running out of things to say.
‘Now, Duncy,’ Kina shouted as if on cue.
‘Go to Snoke and tell him to piss off,’ Kylo concluded and turned on his heels, sprinting to the ships’ now open entrance. An offended gasp rose up behind him while he jumped up the ramp. Kina had already taken cover inside.
‘What the hell?’ she asked while closing the door.
‘I had to improvise,’ he ran for the cockpit.
‘You suck at improvising,’ she bit, right behind him.
‘You got everything you needed. About Starkiller base?’ he opened the door to the cockpit.
‘All I could get. It’s up to them now,’ she looked around the cockpit.
‘Good, because we’re getting out of here,’ he dropped into the pilot’s seat and started the engines. The ship rocked up and down all the while. They were trying to ram down the door. For some reason, the buttons didn’t suffice. ‘What did you do to that door?’
‘Put a new password on it,’ Kina grinned as she sat down in the copilot’s seat and activated the shields. ‘They’re not getting in here.’
‘Especially not now,’ Kylo pulled the yoke back, sending the ship straight up. The banging at the door ceased immediately. No doubt they were about to get some ships to shoot down theirs. He disabled the safety protocols.
‘And I thought you were a dunce,’ Kina burst out in laughter. ‘You were completely messing with them the entire time and they had no clue.’
‘People are easily confused,’ Kylo activated the navicomputer and picked the safest route. What he was going to do was considered to be near impossible. Near impossible was still better than nothing.
‘They are,’ Kina agreed, leaning over the control panel and frowning. ‘Why are you prepping for lightspeed?’
‘Because we’re in a hurry,’ he looked out through the windshield. Plenty of ships were moving down there.
‘We’re also still in the atmosphere,’ Kina bit. ‘Ever heard of gravity?’
‘Plenty of it,’ Kylo steered the ship in the right direction. ‘Experienced it earlier today. Someone kicked me off a fence.’ He verified the route to the navicomputer.
‘Stop that,’ Kina said. ‘You’re going to kill us both.’
‘No time to mind the details,’ he turned the hyperdrive on. ‘Hold on, here we go.’
Chapter 13: family
Fixed:). This one is split in two because it got too long.
Finn pushed himself off the couch when Solo came stomping out of the cockpit. Chewie was pulling wires and gears from a hatch in the wall of the cockpit and shoving them back. He flinched a few times when his movements had been too rash. His wounds must’ve still hurt but he seemed too frenzied to sit still. The news had hit him almost as hard as it had Han. Even Rey had been shaken by it all and she had the least connection with it out of all of them. He quickly glanced at her. She was curled up into a ball right next to where he had been sitting, snoring softly. She had simply lied down beside him and fell asleep while he was pretending to be. It had something endearing. Solo had gone to rummaging about in a storage unit. Finn took a deep breath and approached. Best to just get it over with.
‘Hey, Solo,’ Finn called hesitantly. ‘I don’t know what we’re walking into, but-.’
‘Did you just call me “Solo”?’ he looked around with an incredulous expression on his face. His eyes were still bloodshot and puffy. Now might not be the best time, but there wasn’t exactly another time to bring up the issue.
‘Han, Uhm, Mister Solo,’ he corrected himself. ‘You should know I’m a big deal in the resistance which puts a real target in my back. Are there any conspirators here? First Order sympathisers?’ Alright, that target had come from elsewhere, but Han didn’t need to know that. He was in a state to blast anything and anyone to do with the First Order on the spot, without question. Han looked at him for a second then turned back to the storage unit.
‘You’ve got another problem, Big Deal,’ he pulled out a blaster from the shelves. Finn took a step back. Had he slipped up? Had Solo figured it out? He moved to run.
‘Women always figure out the truth,’ Solo pushed the blaster in his hands. ‘Always.’ He repeated the word loudly and clearly before storming off. Relieved to not have a hole between his eyes, Finn let him go. He shoved the blaster on his belt. He might have to use it if Han insisted on going ahead with his revenge plans. Kylo, uhm, Ben, What was he supposed to call him now? Surely, he would have had a reason to take on a new name. Finn was the last to deny anyone that right. If he did, he might as well go back to calling himself FN-2187. Kylo it was.
Whatever the case, Kylo would’ve benefitted nothing from Solo throwing himself at the First Order, still Solo was determined to do so. That’s where Kylo had gotten his disregard for safety from. It had caused hilarious scenarios.
One time when he had been a cadet, he had been sent along with a squad on their way to provide backup for Kylo, but they had gotten stuck at a shoddy bridge tied above a mile deep canyon. Kylo had apparently just run over it and gone ahead instead of waiting for the backup to arrive. It had taken way too long to find him. Things had gotten messy. Hux had to be involved. It had all rather been a drag. There had been some sort of struggle with the locals. Turned out Kylo had strutted unto their sacred ground without asking permission. Not that he knew for sure, he had been left in the camp during the action. Ren popped up sometime later, about the same time Hux arrived. The other troopers had told him to sit down and enjoy the show. He hadn’t understood what they meant at first, but it became more than clear after a few moments. Hux had pulled out an entire speech while Kylo picked poison darts from his cloak and tossed them at Hux’s feet. Hux had turned various shades of red and purple before he had given up on trying to talk common sense into Kylo. It had damned little effect too. Kylo had just disappeared the next day to ask the locals what poison they had used. That was supposedly the last incident before Snoke ordered Kylo to keep a tracker on him at all times. Even after that, the guy had managed to disappear plenty of times.
Maybe he should tell Solo a few of those stories after things cleared up a bit. It might cheer him up at least a bit. It would be difficult to explain how he knew them, but he’d think of something. His thoughts were interrupted by Rey letting out a ridiculously loud snore. Even Chewie looked up a second before resuming his work. Finn bit his lip to hold down his laughter. He shouldn’t wake her up. She rolled over in her sleep, somehow not tumbling off the couch. His laughter died in his throat. She had trusted him completely and he had lied to her without a second thought. It had seemed so obvious a thing at the time, but now it caused a pit in his stomach.
‘Hi, Rey? Are you awake?’ Finn tapped her shoulder. ‘We’re there.’ She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The face of the boy had haunted her dreams. It had been nearly six years since he was dragged away from her. Han’s loss must’ve awoken the memory.
She looked around. Chewie was in the cockpit, repairing the damage she had done when she had bypassed the compressor. Han was nowhere to be seen.
‘Where’s Han?’ Rey asked. ‘Is he alright?’
‘He’s, well, still shaken,’ Finn bit his lip. ‘He went outside. I think he needs some space. I wanted to say something, about his kid, but it would be too fast.’
‘Yeah, it would be,’ Rey agreed. ‘It’s all so terrible. So you were there when he died?’
‘Yes,’ Finn shook his head. ‘I feel like I should’ve been able to do something about it, but it all happened so fast. He and Poe were gone before I knew it.’
‘Don’t blame yourself,’ Rey put a hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m sure you did all you could. Sometimes things are just beyond your control.’
‘I know,’ Finn said. ‘But Solo isn’t going to help Kylo by throwing himself at the First Order. I really hope he calms down.’
‘He already did,’ Rey told him. ‘He going to see his wife first.’ She blinked for a moment. ‘Kylo? I thought Han said his name was Ben?’
‘Well yes,’ Finn sighed. ‘But he must’ve chosen to be called that for a reason. I feel I should respect that. Names are important.’
‘I guess they are,’ Rey nodded, although she didn’t agree. You couldn’t just abandon the name your parents gave you. ‘I just can’t imagine what it must be like for Han.’
‘Me neither,’ Finn leaned down on the game table. ‘You know, I never knew my parents. We were separated right after I was born.’
‘What happened?’ Rey asked.
‘I’d rather not talk about it,’ he shook his head. ‘I’d just like to think they’re still thinking about me, wherever they are.’
‘I’m sure they are,’ Rey said. ‘Parents will never forget about you. No matter how far away you are.’
‘How about you?’ Finn looked up. ‘Where are your parents?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Rey bit her lip. ‘But they’ll be back.’
‘Back?’ Finn blinked. ‘They’re gone?’
‘It’s a long story, really,’ Rey pushed herself from the couch. She was not going to have this conversation now. ‘I’ll go outside and check on Han.’
‘You do that,’ Finn stared with open mouth while she walked away. The moment she got out of sight, she ran.
There was more green on the square foot she was standing on than she’d ever seen in her life. More grass grew under just her feet than she would’ve normally have seen in a year. Just how many things grew on this planet? How many trees were there? Did the grass grow on the entire surface? Did it grew inside that castle on the hill over there? Did they even need floors if there was no sand?
‘Hey kid,’ Han interrupted her train of thoughts. She had completely forgotten about trying to find him the moment she had stepped outside. Instead, he had just come to her. He still didn’t look too good, but at least not as frantic as he had been inside the cockpit. ‘You might need this,’ he held out a blaster.
‘I think I can handle myself,’ Rey said. She had gotten herself through plenty of fights without one.
‘I know you do,’ Han smiled for just a second. It was at least improvement. They might be able to talk him out of rushing in headfirst by the time they got to Leia. ‘That’s why I’m giving it to you. Just take it. It’ll be safer.’ Rey hesitated a second but took the blaster. People out here were a lot more trigger-happy than anyone on Jakku. She tested the weight in her hand. It was lighter than any blaster she’d ever taken apart. The design wasn’t standard issue either.
‘Do you know how to use it?’ Han asked. A flash of sadness went over his face. Had he thought his son how to use one of these?
‘You pull the trigger,’ she lifted the blaster into position to test the aim. It seemed pretty straight forward.
‘There’s a little more to it than that,’ Han pushed the blaster back down. ‘You’ve got a lot to learn. You’ve got a name?’
‘Rey,’ she looked down at the blaster. Many of the ones she had salvaged had all kinds of strange and excessive adjustments to it. This one only had the basics. Perfect to start with. Han had taken into consideration that she had no experience with these things. He would’ve to have been a great father. Just what had happened for his son to join the Order?
‘Rey,’ Han chewed on his lip. ‘You know, I’ve been thinking. Chewie and I could use an extra hand. Someone who appreciates the Falcon. Who can keep up. A second mate. Things are going to get messy from now on, but when that’s all over. We could use the extra hands.’
‘Are you offering me a job?’ Rey asked, her jaw dropping. Han Solo, the best smuggler in the galaxy was offering her a job.
‘I’m thinking about it,’ Han said. ‘It wouldn’t pay much. I wouldn’t be very nice to you. I’m not even sure how things are going to play out from now on, but what do you say?’
Rey was about to take the offer when she recalled the state Han had been when he heard about Ben. She couldn’t so that to her parents. ‘I’d be flattered, but I have to get home. Family business.’
‘I see,’ Han sighed. ‘That comes first.’
‘My parents,’ Rey looked at the ground. ‘They’ll get worried if I stay away any longer.’
‘I understand,’ Han nodded. ‘We wouldn’t want that. You should go home then.’
‘Yeah, I will,’ Rey assured him. ‘As soon as BB-8 gets to the resistance. I’ll go see where he is. I haven’t seen him in a while.’ She turned to leave.
‘Rey,’ Han called. She glanced back. ‘If you ever change your mind, let me know. Chewie really likes you.’
Poe crawled away under the massive curtain of dust. He couldn’t see a damn thing. Not even Ben or Kina, but he couldn’t just keep laying around. He had to get a move on. Blood pooled on his hand, but he felt no pain. Either adrenaline was a hell of a drug or his nerves were damaged. Either way, his arm still moved and that was what mattered. He pushed himself forward over the debris the explosion had tossed around. There had to be an end to this. A hand grabbed his collar and hoisted him to his feet. That had better be Kina. He had no patience left to deal with Ben’s whining.
He blinked the dust from his eyes and looked at his saviour. On second thought, Ben’s whining wouldn’t be too bad. Ganmate’s good eye looked straight at him, the other was swollen shut. He didn’t look like he had appreciated the punch in his face and he had a good grip on Poe’s collar. Poe swallowed. If he ever got out if this on he would have a good story to tell around the bonfire.
‘You nearly blew my cover, idiot,’ Ganmate hissed, not at all shoving a blaster in his face.
‘Huh?’ Poe squinted. What damn cover? Had he knocked this guy’s brain a little too hard?
‘This way, you fuck,’ Ganmate dragged him ahead through the dust cloud. Poe nearly tripped on something. He looked down to check. A stormtrooper arm apparently. He had just crawled straight to the pile of First Order nuts. One of the stormtroopers stirred and looked up.
‘Sir,’ the trooper called. ‘The enemy, he’s right behind you.’ He grabbed the nearest blaster from the ground.
‘I know,’ Ganmate took his own blaster from his belt and shot the trooper back down. What was going on?
‘What are you doing?’ Poe asked, scanning his surroundings. The dust began to clear. ‘Where are you taking me?’
‘Out of here,’ Ganmate shoved his blaster back in his belt. ‘If you want to live, I’d suggest you shut up and look dazed. We’re going out of this dust cloud.’ He put his other hand on Poe’s back and shoved him forwards, right out through the dust and into full sight of everyone in the docking bay.
‘What? Don’t,’ Poe protested as Ganmate pushed him straight through a squad of troopers.
‘Make way,’ Ganmate bellowed. ‘Officer down. I repeat, officer down.’ By some miracle, the squad parted to let them through. Acting dazed took little effort.
‘Who are you? Are you an actual officer?’ Poe whispered. Probably not, an actual officer would’ve shot him, not saved his life by messing with a bunch of troopers.
‘Gessa Ganmate,’ Ganmate hissed in his ear while he led him through the opening the troopers had made.
‘You said that, but that’s not your real name, is it?’ Poe said in a low voice. Ganmate grinned a second before putting his face back into a neutral expression. Poe tried to grasp what was so funny, then it hit him. ‘Guess again, mate?’
‘Exactly,’ Ganmate, or whatever his name was, nodded. ‘Now, shut up. We have to look convincing.’ That was a lot harder now. This guy had just used a complete joke as an alias and the Order had fallen for it. Poe had to bite his lip to keep an obvious grin from spreading on his face. This was too good.
‘Where are Kina and Ben?’ he asked while fighting down the grin. ‘Are they still out there?’
‘You mean Kylo Ren?’ Not-Ganmate asked. Poe scoffed. No bloody way he was going to say that dumbass name. Leia would smack him and she’d be right about it. ‘Ah, we have a situation.’ Not-Ganmate stopped shoving him around for a second. Poe looked up. A mass of white armour had gathered around a transport ship. A few officers stood back, probably dishing out orders. The troopers were forming a circle around the ship’s entrance.
‘What’s going on there?’ Poe asked. Surely, Kina would’ve stopped Ben from pulling that much attention to himself. Although, she had almost shot Not-Ganmate. Did she even know Not-Ganmate was on their side?
‘We’re going to have to see,’ Not-Ganmate pushed him forwards again. ‘Your way out is behind that circus.’ Some stormtroopers glanced over their soldiers when they passed. One motioned to help. ‘Make way,’ Not-Ganmate repeated with the same unnecessary volume. ‘Officer down. I’m transporting him to the medbay.’
‘Is there a medbay around here? Poe asked when the troopers turned back towards the commotion.
‘Yeah, in the other direction,’ Not-Ganmate whispered in his ear. ‘The morons. They see an officer talking and all independent thought is out of the window. Hux made sure of that.’
‘I knew a guy,’ Poe said. ‘He got out of this all by himself, just because he knew it was the right thing to do. Also a stormtrooper. They’re not all like that.’ Finn had done plenty of independent thinking when he had saved his life.
‘I know,’ Not-Ganmate said. ‘Some manage to stay relatively decent. Those guys are welcome with us. The rest is beyond our help.’
‘Cease fire!’ a voice ordered. ‘Take him alive. Orders from Supreme leader himself.’
‘That ain’t good,’ Poe tiptoed to see over the crowd. There was exactly one target in here that Snoke would be interested in capturing alive. Dammit, Ben.
The red glow of Ben’s light saber emerged above the masses. Poe dug his heels into the ground and took a deep breath. Just how many times did Leia drop him on the head? Was he planning on fighting every person in here?
‘Pretend to take a breather,’ Not-Ganmate said. ‘I want to see what’s going on here.’ Poe let his eyes roll back in his head and swayed around a bit. Not-Ganmate held him up by the shoulders.
‘Over there, by the entrance,’ Not-Ganmate hissed. ‘She’s hacking the lock.’ Poe glanced through the corners of his eyes. Kina was crouching by the ship’s outside control panel and shoving on of her toys unto it.
‘We have to do something,’ Poe whispered, trying to move his mouth as little as possible. He was supposed to be ‘officer down’.
‘Nothing we can do,’ Not-Ganmate said. ‘We won’t even have too. She’s the best we’ve got.’
‘She’s pretty good, yeah,’ Poe agreed, then furrowed his brow. ‘You know her?’
‘Yes,’ Not-Ganmate whispered. ‘We’ve worked together every now and then.’
‘She tried to shoot you,’ Poe reminded him.
‘Because you were about to blow my cover, Dipshit,’ Not-Ganmate hissed. ‘What was that all about? I couldn’t actually have pretended to fall for that.’
‘I panicked,’ Poe admitted. The crowd had gone completely silent, except for a few mutters from the middle. One of those voices sounded damn familiar. ‘Ssssht, I think I’m hearing Ben.’
‘Just a minute,’ Ben’s voice rose over the crowd. ‘I just wanted to say you your work is admirable. You should all go to Snoke and tell him about, uhm, about, uh.’ What was he even trying now? Did he honestly think he was going to talk his way out of this?
‘This is going wrong,’ Poe hissed.
‘Give it a second,’ Not-Ganmate chuckled. ‘It’s working. They haven’t shot him yet.’ Miracles were piling up today. Not-Ganmate was right. Ben was talking too much to be in immediate danger. The door of the ship slid open and Kina jumped to her feet, shouting something and running inside.
‘Go to Snoke and tell him to piss off,’ Ben’s voice echoed over the field. If Ben was thinking about running back to the First Order, he could, well, guess again, mate. Shocked gasps went through the crowd. Snoke wasn’t going to be thanking him for that.
‘Let’s get a move on,’ Not-Ganmate shoved him ahead.
‘Kina will knock his skull for that,’ Poe grinned.
‘That’s what she calls herself now, is it?’ Not-Ganmate chuckled. ‘That’s the fourth in the last three months.’
Poe sighed. Unsurprisingly, Kina had not been her real name. She had been way ahead of them the entire time.
‘Right this way, Sir,’ Not-Ganmate whispered mockingly. ‘Your ship is all set. Just walk in and wait for the worst of the commotion to pass. When other ships start rising up, so can you. Might want to get that arm checked out, though.’ Poe blinked and looked down at his arm. Blood had not only pooled on his hand but throughout his entire sleeve. No wonder everyone had just let him be. He stretched his finger and then clenched his fists. His muscles worked, but he still felt nothing. That could use some bacta. Time to go home.
‘I don’t know your name,’ Poe stepped to the ship in front of him. An orange cloth was tied to one of the engines. Kina’s initial escape plan. Although, Ben’s improvised plan seemed to have worked as well. The ship they had snatched was already a good bit away from the planet’s surface.
‘And neither should you,’ Not-Ganmate said and nodded at the distance. ‘That’s your cue. See you around, maybe.’ Fighters took off to pursue the stolen ship. The rest of the transport seemed to resume as well. Smaller, non-combatant ships rose up as well, although moving the other way than the fighters.
‘Alright,’ Poe walked onto the ramp. ‘Thanks for everything and sorry about punching you.’
‘Move it,’ Not-Ganmate said. ‘You’re going to blow my cover all over again.’
‘I won’t forget this,’ Poe said and hurried inside, closing the door behind him and making way for the cockpit. He dropped down into the Pilot’s seat just into to see Ben’s and Not-Kina’s ship to jump to lightspeed, leaving the fighters to fly around in confusion. The docking bay below was complete and utter chaos. Stormtroopers were stomping around like disorganised ants. Officers were shouting and pointing in all directions, confusing the poor troopers. Poe burst out in laughter. Go to Snoke and tell him to piss off. Just wait until he told Leia about this. She’d be damn proud of that dunce of a son of hers.
Chapter 14: A new beginning
All fixed now. I rewrote all existing chapters and added some new elements to it. Lesson learned, don't rush through writing. If any of the chapters still came out as rather flat, please let me know. I'll upload the next chapters when they're ready.
‘Are we still alive?’ Kina clasped the sides off her chair when a shudder went through the ship, signaling they had left hyperspace. Kylo had purposely chosen the shortest route. Gravitational pull was indeed a bit of a problem. No need to push their luck.
‘We seem to be,’ Kylo said, checking the remaining fuel levels. There was still plenty left to make another jump, which was nice considering the shortest route had led them in the middle of space. Jakku still being the closest inhabited planet and he wasn’t going back there, stormtroopers or not. The sand was bad enough on its own.
‘Don’t do that again, Duncy,’ she let go of her chair and relaxed. It seemed that nickname was going to stick. ‘Where are we?’
‘Nowhere,’ Kylo said. ‘I couldn’t exactly be picky about destinations. Did you get the intel to the resistance?’
‘I did,’ she nodded. ‘It was a bit risky. I had to open up a two-way connection between the Order’s main database and the computers on a resistance base. Mom’s going to kill me for risking it, but it worked. The intel should reach General Organa within a day.’
‘I doubt they can stop it,’ Kylo crossed his arms. ‘It’s just too powerful.’
‘Have some faith in your mother,’ Kina said. ‘She has pulled off bigger victories. Your parents helped blew a death star, twice.’
‘Oh, I have no doubt she will try. She always does,’ Kylo shook his head. ‘But this is much bigger than the Deathstar. I’m afraid they won’t stand a chance.’
‘We did all we could,’ Kina sighed. ‘It’s up to your mother and the resistance now.’
‘Yeah, it is,’ Kylo said. They could do not with just the two of them and a stolen transport ship. The resistance was the only thing standing between Starkiller base and the Hosnian system. Hux and his damn project. Then he realised something else. ‘Wait? My mother? You know? How?’ Snoke had taken more than a few precautions to erase any trace from his past, both external as in his own mind. One of those precautions currently decorated the skin on his back.
‘My brother told me about the rumours. I didn’t believe them at first. Plenty of rumours had been going around, anyway,’ Kina shrugged. ‘Some people thought you were Darth vader’s clone. Some even thought you were his ghost reincarnated. Turns out your just his grandson. Makes a lot more sense.’ The existence of ghosts aside, those rumours were just ridiculous.
‘What convinced you?’ Kylo asked.
‘Poe spilled it, about six times,’ Kina made a face. ‘I hope he makes a better pilot than he would make a spy.’
‘He has that going for him, at least,’ Kylo admitted. They had both been at the top of their class as kids. Kina remained silent, closely studying him. He had to suppress the urge to put the tarp back in front of his face. It was still full of sand.
‘Ben Solo, I assume,’ she finally spoke. ‘Let’s get you to your mother. Welcome back to the right side.’
‘No,’ Ben said immediately. ‘I’m not going to the resistance. I can drop you off wherever you want, or you can drop me off wherever is convenient, but I’m not going there.’
‘Okay, then,’ Kina blinked. ‘Can’t make you, I guess. But why? You’ll be safe.’
‘No, I won’t,’ Kylo shook his head. ‘I’m the First Order’s secret weapon. They won’t have me, not even my mother.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ Kina cocked her head. ‘Mothers usually don’t throw their kids out.’
‘Mine will. She has done so before and she’ll do it again if it means keeping her resistance safe,’ Kylo took a deep breath. It still stung, even after all these years. They had just discarded him when he had become too much trouble. Left him for Luke to deal with. Luke had also made it quite clear he had feared him more than he had loved him. The image of the green saber raised above his head invaded his mind. He pushed it down. Luke was too far away to hurt him.
‘I’d guess you’d know her better than me,’ Kina said, even though her voice clearly betrayed her doubt. ‘Where will you go?’
‘I don’t know,’ Kylo shrugged. ‘I’ll see where I’ll end up.’ Not a solid plan, but it was his only option. He had nowhere to go. Snoke had been right about that much. Kina threw him an unreadable look and closed her eyes as if she was concentrating.
‘Ben?’ she said after a solid five minutes of silence. Ben, his name. He hadn’t heard it in years. Not even his knights had used since the struggle at the temple. Snoke had forbidden its very use. Yet, she had said it so carelessly, like it didn’t even make a difference. Poe had called him that too, but that had been normal. It had also given away his identity, but alright. Poe would have laughed in his face if he had asked him to call him Kylo. ‘Will you come with me?’
‘What other options do I have?’ he let out a laugh. ‘We’re on the same ship, remember? You expect me to float somewhere?’
‘Hilarious, Duncy,’ she rolled her eyes. ‘I mean, after that. You can come with me. There’s a place, my home. You’ll be safe there. It’s still with the resistance, but at least it won’t be like the First Order. It’s also not under your mother’s control.’
‘What do you mean?’ Kylo blinked. All the resistance was under his mother’s control. She had built it up from the ground.
‘My network is independent,’ Kina bit her lip. ‘We’ve always opposed the First Order, even before the resistance popped up. We support your mother’s cause, but we are not under her command.’ Kylo chewed his lip. She was offering a safe place to lay low. In the middle of a resistance base. She was taking quite a leap of faith in offering to bring him there. But even if he took her up on it, her allies wouldn’t want Snoke’s attack dog under their roof. It was more of the same problem. She saw his hesitation. ‘You know, I can also arrange for someone to bring you farther into the Outer Rim. I know you don’t care for the resistance. Escaping the First Order is one thing, fighting them is another. I completely understand if you choose to go your own way.’
‘I’m not running and I’m not hiding,’ Kylo stopped her. He was going to fight. Burning him had been one thing, destroying an entire system, his home planet among them, had gone too far. Snoke had crossed the line. Nothing he bloody said would convince him it was all for the greater good.
‘It doesn’t seem to be your style,’ Kina laughed. ‘You know, my mother will be glad to have someone like you on our side. You’ve got guts and we can appreciate that. Actually, you would fit right in with the rest of us.’
‘Would I get to piss off Snoke?’ Kylo asked.
‘It’s our main objective,’ she snickered. ‘Why? Planning on joining after all?’
‘Yes,’ Kylo said. ‘I’m in.’
‘That’s unexpected,’ Kina leaned back in her chair, laughing. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Completely,’ Kylo nodded. He would make Snoke regret ever messing with him.
‘Alright then,’ Kina smiled. ‘You do realise it’s all intelligence work? Got any experience with that? Besides today?’
‘Not a lot,’ he admitted. ‘But I’ll catch up. Is that going to be a problem?’
‘Not at all,’ she shook her head, still smiling. ‘We’ll walk you through it. You wouldn’t be the first.’
‘First of what?’ Kylo raised an eyebrow.
‘Nothing,’ she waved it off. ‘You’ll see.’
‘Okay,’ he shrugged. ‘Where do we go from here? We can’t just float around like this.’
‘Ever heard of Takodana?’ Kina asked.
‘That’s not what you meant with an independent base, right?’ Kylo made a face. He had heard plenty about the place. His mother had told him to stay away from it. ‘That place is a dump.’
‘It’s also neutral ground and no, that’s not the base, Duncy,’ Kina shook her head with a smile. ‘That’s where we meet up when we get separated on mission. Dad will go there. We’ll have to pick him up first.’
‘okay,’ Kylo turned on the navicomputer and selected a route. Unlike his mother, his father had made him memorise the coordinates when he was a kid. He had told him to go there whenever things got out of hand. The local leader, Maz Kanata, apparently had a policy against fighting. Not even the republic would make a move there.
‘The First Order usually doesn’t go there,’ Kina continued. ‘And if they do, there’s nothing they can do about it. Maz’ll have them out on their asses before they can even think about any funny business.’
‘Got it,’ he turned on the hyperdrive and let the autopilot take over, suppressing a yawn. His eyelids became heavy. Using the Force at all during their escape had taken it out of him. Far more than it should’ve and it was catching up to him. He leaned back in his chairs and dug his fingernails into the skin under his sleeve. He couldn’t afford to fall asleep. Snoke had a far greater influence on his dreams than he had let on. His last dream made it more than clear that Snoke was indeed able to twist his dreams beyond just speaking to him. Just how many times he had over the years was left to the imagination. Kylo’s imagination told him every damn time, all the time.
‘What are you doing?’ Kina asked, reaching for his hands.
‘We’re in hyperspace. They can’t track us and the autopilot’s on,’ he said. ‘No need to hog the controls.’
‘I meant this,’ she pulled his hand away from his arm. ‘Like you said, nothing can happen here. You can sleep for a bit.’
‘No, I can’t,’ he hesitated. Maybe he should tell her. She had been right about one thing. They were dependent on each other and they should know what was up with the other. Still, it would just scare her off. The dreams Snoke had no doubt planted there had been enough for Luke to try end put an end to him.
‘Nightmares, uh?’ she laughed. ‘Who would’ve thought the big, bad Kylo Ren has nightmares.’
‘How do you know about that?’ he turned on his chair. No one knew, not even his parents had known. Only Luke.
‘You talk in your sleep,’ she shrugged. ‘You toss around a lot too. I had to dodge an arm back in the truck.’
‘Oh,’ he said. The tension left his body. He had no idea he did that, but it made sense. He leaned back in his chair and furrowed his brow. The images his mind had conjured whenever he slept had terrified even him, so he had kept it to himself. Always, even after he joined the First Order and started to suspect Snoke’s involvement behind them. ‘It’s not just that,’ he decided to just risk it. If he was going to stick around, he would have to explain himself eventually. Besides, she had seen most of the things he had been capable of and she hadn’t run away screaming as most had in the past. Running away screaming wouldn’t be her style, but she hadn’t shot him either, despite having plenty of opportunities and knowing who he was. Really, what else could he possibly do to scare her off? ‘Snoke infiltrates my mind whenever I sleep, makes me see whatever he wants me to.’
She whistled between her teeth, not at all intimidated. ‘No wonder you don’t want to sleep. If I saw Snoke every time I snoozed, I’d never even blink.’ Kylo chewed his lip, studying her for any signs of the fear and disgust that had always been there. If anything, he saw concern behind her nonchalance. ‘So what does he show you? Does he talk to you?’
‘Yeah, he started talking to me years ago,’ Kylo took a deep breath. ‘But I suspect he has been messing with my dreams long before that. Last time, in the truck, he began talking to me, but when I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear, he made the dream merge into something else. An actual nightmare.’
‘That is messed up,’ Kina leaned back in her chair and bit her lip. ‘What was the nightmare about?’
Kylo hesitated. Snoke had told him to do it so many times. Never with many words, but the message was clear. Kill your weakness, kill your father. He had tried to stall as long as he could, but a part of him had already suggested it was inevitable. If he didn’t kill his father, Snoke would find a way to make him pay for it until he did. Pure hatred raged through his chest. That old creep would’ve done anything to make sure he would have nothing if he ever turned his back on the Order.
‘You can tell me,’ Kina urged. ‘I won’t tattle.’
‘He made me see how I killed my father,’ he shook his head. ‘he’s been telling me to do so for years. He might’ve actually gotten me to do it too.’ He shook his head. How could he have ever gotten in this deep? He had bloody well believed it would’ve been for the greater good.
‘Holy shit.’ Her eyes went wide. There it was. All the shock, fear and disgust. he should’ve known. No one could hear a thing like that and not believe they were talking to a monster. She jumped off her chair and paced around the cockpit. Kylo braced himself for what she was going to say next. ‘That’s it. You’re never going back there.’
He turned around in his chair to look at her. Her face betrayed no fear, disgust, or even shock. Concern was the only thing apparent. Knowing better than to take anything at face value, he sent a ripple through the Force. It went through the energy of her presence. It was steady, unshaken and deeply concerned. All about her was just as it appeared. ‘What part of telling Snoke to piss off and joining his enemies made you think I would?’ he managed.
‘Snoke has his way of getting under people’s skin. My brother told me so,’ she sat back down in front of him. ‘Brainwashing’s the Order’s specialty. Not all have the strength to withstand it, but promise me, you never will go back.’
‘Believe me, I won’t,’ Kylo said, still processing the turn of events.
‘Fear and pain is a hell of a thing,’ Kina bit her lip. ‘And they know how to exploit it. Snoke will come down on you with all he has and he has access to your mind. People would break under less.’
‘I know he is going to try,’ Kylo nodded. ‘I betrayed him. He’s not going to let that slide.’
‘You didn’t betray him,’ Kina said. ‘You owed him nothing. He burned you.’
‘He had his reasons,’ Kylo rolled his shoulders. The bandages had gotten moist. Plenty of blisters had popped, but it didn’t hurt too much. Now he thought about it, she had probably put an anesthetic on it while Grandfather was getting Snoke to back off.
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘Nothing you could’ve done can justify that. When someone hurts you like that, that’s on them, not you.’ Kylo chewed his lip. Technically, he got her point. Snoke had done this for his own benefit. You can’t have your secret weapon have feelings and that was all he was to Snoke. He had denied the truth, told himself that Snoke’s lies were true, but he had always known. ‘You’re afraid,’ Kina’s eyes bored into him. ‘You should be. We have to do something. Is there any way to stop him?’
‘I’m not afraid,’ he countered. Snoke wasn’t going to break him. Not anymore.
‘You’re terrified,’ Kina stated, looking him straight into the eyes. ‘I can see it and you’re right to be. Is there anything we can do?’
‘No,’ Kylo shook his head. ‘I told him to get lost and he made me see that. Not even my grandfather could stop him that time.’
‘Your grandfather,’ Kina frowned. ‘I thought you were kidding when you said that. You don’t mean Darth Vader, do you?’
‘Actually, I do,’ Kylo chewed his lip. It would be quite a trick explaining that one. Yeah, the ghost of my grandpa just showed up and told Snoke to get lost. He wasn’t going to score any points there. ‘He helped me get away from Snoke. Without his help, I would’ve never made it.’
‘Some great influences you got there,’ she blew air out from between her teeth. ‘How does that even work? Does he also pop up in your dreams?’
‘He could,’ Kylo nodded. ‘But he mostly talks to me when I’m awake. I have to say, that’s a lot better.’
‘I can imagine,’ Kina said. ‘Not really, but alright. If helps you with your ‘Snoke’ problem, I’m fine with it. We might need a Darth Vader to go up against Snoke, but seriously, how does that work? He’s very much dead, the last I heard.’
‘He is,’ Kylo nodded. ‘But it’s a Force thing. I would’ve to get pretty deep into it to explain.’
‘Miss me with that,’ Kina sighed. ‘I’m going to write that up as “It’s magic”. And what about your uncle? Luke Skywalker? He should be able to do something.’
‘No one knows where he is,’ Kylo deflected the suggestion. He’d prefer if Luke stayed as far away as possible.
‘Poe’s droid’s supposed to have a map to find him,’ Kina said. ‘Someone should tell Poe that isn’t a secret anymore, but that should be a good start.
‘He knows about it,’ Kylo stopped her. It wasn’t clear just how much Luke knew, but that didn’t matter. ‘He tried to kill me when he found out. He already feared what I could do. That was the last straw for him.’
‘Lovely,’ Kina dropped her shoulder and made a face. ‘So, any other ideas?’
‘No,’ Kylo said. ‘I’ll just have to deal.’ Kina bit her lip and frowned in concentration, then she shook her head. ‘I’ll be fine,’ he assured her. ‘There’s nothing you can do.’ She looked up, once again looking him straight in the eyes.
‘Brynda,’ she said.
‘Excuse me,’ Kylo blinked. What was that supposed to mean?
‘If I know your real name, you should know mine,’ she grinned. ‘Brynda.’
‘Of course,’ he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. She’d given them a fake name. It wasn’t even surprising.
‘Can you promise me one more thing?’ she put her hand on his wrist. ‘If it ever gets too bad, with Snoke rummaging around under your brainpan, you’ll tell me.’
‘I will,’ he promised. She’d done nothing but help him so far, even risking herself while doing so. If anything came up, she deserved to know.
‘Good,’ she nodded. ‘I’ll be checking the rest of this rust bucket. Maybe they have something useful stashed away. You take it easy.’ She got up and walked from the cockpit. Kylo checked the navicomputer. It would still be a good bit before they reached Takodana. He took a deep breath and pressed his eyes closed. They had escaped Jakku, but the real fight was just beginning.
When he opened his eyes again, he was standing in an open field. The grass underneath his feet was unnaturally green and the sky above his head was surrealistically bright.
‘You’re making the right choice,’ Grandfather spoke, appearing at his side. ‘Turning your back on Snoke took bravery and you were strong to have done it.’
‘He won’t give up,’ Ben said. ‘You were right. He’s trying to break me. He will keep trying.’
‘Let him try,’ Grandfather said. ‘You’re much stronger than he gives you credit for. Underestimating you is a mistake. It might very well be his last.’
‘I can’t win this,’ Ben argued. ‘He’ll tear me apart if that is what it takes. I don’t stand a chance.’
‘Perhaps not on you own, but you’re not alone,’ Grandfather smiled encouragingly. ‘Go and find your mother. Even if you don’t believe it, she will help you.’
‘No,’ Ben shook his head. ‘She won’t trust me, not after everything that happened.’
‘You underestimate a mother’s love,’ Grandfather raised a hand when he opened his mouth to speak. ‘But that’s a concern for another time. Now, you must rest. I’ll try to keep Snoke from invading your mind while you do.’ The green under his feet and the blue above him shifted away, making place for the rocky ground and cloudy skies from an old dream. One he had last had sleeping in Mom’s lap, before she sent him away. The memory of the girl that had always been waiting for him there had nearly faded away, but now she was as clear as she had always been, reaching out her hand as she always had.
‘Come with me,’ she smiled. ‘I’ll show you how to get away from him. It’s just a few steps.’ He reached for her. In the beginning, she had always driven the darkness away with her light and driven the terrors away, but it hadn’t lasted. The darkness had grown and grown, drowning out her light more every time. Whenever he reached for her the shadows came with him, making her vanish. The darkness engulfed him whenever she left. Something sharp would dig into his mind. One time she had left, never to come back. His only relief from the terrors was gone.
Now, she was just there like she had never left. Their hands touched and pure, white light filled his vision. Calm washed over him. She had come back for him. She had always been looking for him whenever she dreamt. She had missed him.
The blinding light washed away, leaving only her. She was older now, not a child anymore. Her face more defined, hardened. She frowned at him and turned away, blocking out his presence. Her face blurred while she turned away from him. It wasn’t an act of rejection, just confusion. She didn’t know what was happening and she was shaken. Her mind raging with heartbreak and worry. He reached out through the Force, trying to ease her pain. She pushed him away. She was denying the power that surged through her. It scared her. While her presence distances itself from him, another warm, but distant presence emerged. Dad.
He turned to find him. His surroundings flashed by him, but it was undeniable. This was the Falcon. Dad was in the cockpit, where he had always been. He was crying. Why was he crying? He reached out but the dreams dissolved at his touch.
‘Oh, you’re awake,’ Brynda said while leaning over the control panel. She had dumped the disguise and was wearing her own clothes again. ‘You weren’t trashing about or muttering or anything like that, so I thought it’d be fine.’
‘It was,’ Ben yawned and rubbed the last of the sleep from his eyes. They were still on hyperspace, but not for much longer. The navicomputer indicated fifteen minutes left. ‘No nightmares this time, just…’ He stopped and chewed his lip. His dream had seemed so real, but they always did. Sometimes those strong with the Force saw premonitions while sleeping or meditating. Sometimes symbolistic, sometimes literal. What could it have meant? Who was that girl?
‘Your grandfather again?’ Brynda looked up. ‘I get he’s helping you, but I have to ask. Is he going to be a problem? They say he turned on the empire, but what side is he on now? If there’s any chance he’s going to magically choke me over political differences, I’d like to know.’
‘He just told me I did a good job turning against Snoke,’ Ben furrowed his brow, trying to remember the first part of the dream. ‘So I guess he’s on the side of the resistance in this. Also, he told me to go to my mother.’
‘At least he gives good advice,’ Brynda leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. ‘You’re sure you aren’t going to go to your mother after all? I can drop you right off? Well, not directly, I don’t know where the base is, but I can send another message.’
‘What was in the first?’ Ben asked. ‘It’s better if they don’t know where I am.’
‘I’ll take that as a no,’ Brynda threw him a sideways, slightly disapproving glance. ‘I sent word that you defected and were on the run. I sent no coordinates. We never do that when one of our agents is still in the area. Like I said, we support your mother’s cause, but we do not report to her.’
‘Even if you had needed reinforcements?’ Ben asked. ‘I mean, you could’ve used the help. You had me in the back of your truck.’
‘My network is quite proud of their independence,’ Brynda chuckled. ‘If we had needed reinforcements, we would’ve called some of our own.’
‘Why didn’t you?’ Ben asked. ‘Pick-up would’ve been more convenient than walking into a First Order base.’
‘We had it under control,’ Brynda shrugged. ‘Everything went according to plan until the last minute. The entire network depends on staying under the radar, which you’re going to have to work on, Duncy.’
‘You just shot that Gessa Ganmate guy,’ Ben reminded her. ‘How’s that staying under the radar?’
‘You’ll see,’ Brynda threw her head back in laughter. Once again, the humour evaded him. ‘You might want to know Poe escaped in one piece. He is probably on his way to the resistance.’ She frowned for a second. ‘Guess your mom’s going to find out about the details of your little trip after all.’
‘Can’t be helped,’ Ben sighed. No one could keep Poe from talking. ‘So, what exactly are we going to do on Takodana? Wait for your father, then go to your base?’
‘Yup,’ Brynda tapped the screen of the navicomputer. ‘Also, we’re going to dump this ship over there. It’s too obvious. Also, I want to try and gauge what people know. Maz’s patrons are from all over the galaxy and they just love to gossip.’
‘How are you going to do that? You just ask them what they know?’ Ben frowned.
‘There’s a little more to it, but yeah. I mostly just ask them,’ Brynda admitted.
‘Is this spy-thing really that easy?’ Ben asked. ‘You just do things and hope no one notices?’ Transporting fugitives, climbing a fence, infiltrating an airbase. If not for their change of plans, it would’ve all been like a walk in the park, or the desert.
‘I’ll show you what I mean with ‘there’s more to it’ when we reach Takodana,’ Brynda sighed and shook her head. ‘But first, go take a shower. You’re filthy and for some reason, there’s a shower on this rustbucket.’ Now she mentioned it, she seemed to be a lot less dusty than before. Not much though.
‘They’re a requirement on all ships,’ Ben pulled his nose up. ‘Have you ever tried to keep an entire army in one place? It smells.’
‘You’re the one smelling now,’ she threw him a smirk. ‘Third room, the corridor on the left. Now move it.’ He threw up his hands and took the hint. So possibly, more sand fell out while he got up to find the showers. Jakku would be haunting him for a while.
‘So, uh, Solo?’ Finn tried again while they were already approaching the castle. Better late than never. ‘Why are we here again?’
‘Getting us a clean ship,’ Solo said without looking back.
‘Clean ship?’ Rey echoed Finn’s thoughts. Sure, the Falcon good use a scrub, maybe two or three, but it wasn’t that bad and they needed to get to the resistance as soon as physically possible. It was about the only place the Order hadn’t infested.
‘Chewie and I didn’t find the Falcon by chance. If we can find it on our sensors, the Order isn’t far behind,’ Solo explained a bit on the late side. ‘Maz Kanata is our best bet at getting to the resistance.’ Finn looked up at the castle. The architecture was ancient. It was a surprise it was still standing.
‘We can trust her, right?’ Finn asked. One can never be too sure. The First Order had spies everywhere and they might be running straight at them.
‘Don’t worry,’ Solo said. ‘She has been running this watering hole for a thousand years. Just let me do the talking and don’t stare.’ The thousand-year part sounded about right, but what was up with the ‘not staring’ part? Did Kanata look her age?
‘At what?’ he asked at the same time Rey did.
‘Any of it,’ Solo said while jumping up some stairs leading to the entrance, so possibly getting vaguer. Communication, people. Try it.
BB-8 bumped against the first step, barely getting over it. Finn and Rey tried to help him up, but the little guy was just too heavy. As soon as they all got to the top, the doors slid open, revealing a stew of all kinds of beings and droids. The stench was nearly unbearable. The music wasn’t any better.
‘Han Solo,’ a small orange woman bellowed, breaking loose from the crowd and coming their way. Every single head in this place turned in their direction. If there were any spies in here, they were now running to the Order to rat them out. Thanks, Solo.
‘Hey, Maz,’ Solo waved with a poorly faked smile. This orange lady was the person they were going to for help? She looked like she’d blew away if you breathed too hard in her direction. Then again, anyone who could make Solo uncomfortable must have something going for them.
Kanata made her way towards them, adjusting her goggles while staring Solo down. Solo, in the meantime, looked around as if looking for an escape route.
‘Where’s my boyfriend?’ Maz asked when she reached.
‘Chewie’s working on the Falcon,’ Han said. Finn didn’t bother asking about the relationship there. He didn’t want to know. Rey seemed to share the sentiment.
‘I like that Wookie,’ Kanata said with a straight face. ‘I assume you need something. Desperately. Let’s get to it.’ she turned around and gestured for them to follow.
Ben was just done shaking the last of the sand out of his boots when the ship stirred. He had washed enough sand down the drain to clog the pipes, but that was not his problem. They were dumping this rust bucket.
He threw the tarp around his neck. The thing was a pain, but he couldn’t go around showing his face anymore. Too many people would recognise it by now. Waving around a light saber in front of a bunch of troopers, twice, would do that for you.
He walked back to the cockpit and dropped in the free chair. Brynda was already positioning the ship for landing. He crossed his arms and looked. She seemed to have it down. Piloting skills could go on the list from things she had been hiding.
‘Good thing Maz has banned politics,’ Brynda said. ‘We’d have First Order lackeys all over us in any other place. This ship screams ‘stolen’. I’m still going to land it all the way over there though. It’s no one’s business anyway.’
‘The official term is ‘commandeering’,’ Ben pointed out. She glanced at him for a second and elected to ignore it.
‘Anyway, I want to get some things clear here first,’ she said instead. ‘How many people know your face?’
‘You mean before today?’ he raised an eyebrow.
‘I mean besides the entirety of Jakku,’ she countered, rolling her eyes at him.
‘Let’s see,’ he chewed on his lips. ‘Snoke, Hux, some of the higher up officers, people who I passed in the corridors when I didn’t have my mask on, people who knew me as a child would also-.’
‘I’m going to stop you right there,’ she held up a hand. ‘Just put that thing back on your face.’
‘Sure,’ Ben sighed, having figured as much, and took the ends of the tarp. How did they go again?
‘Come here, Duncy,’ Brynda pulled the tarp from his hands and did her thing. He checked it when she was done. Somehow, there was still sand in the damn thing.
‘Stop calling me that,’ he tried, fully expecting the request to be denied.
‘Nope,’ she indeed denied it. ‘Which brings me to the second point. I can’t call you Ben or Kylo when anyone else is listening. So I am just going to call you that.’
‘Please don’t,’ Ben took a deep breath.
‘Oh? What else should I call you?’ she mockingly raised an eyebrow. ‘Mister Fancy hair? Like seriously, how did you even do that? I couldn’t even see what colour it was a few minutes ago.’
‘Water and soap,’ he countered. ‘You should try it sometime.’
‘Hilarious,’ she said dryly. ‘I’ll get to the last point. We want to stay under the radar, for real this time. So don’t do anything dramatic. Better yet, don’t do anything at all. No talking, no magic tricks, and no light sticks either, please.’
‘I never do anything dramatic,’ Ben protested. ‘Also, it’s a light saber.’
‘I don’t care what it is called,’ Brynda said. ‘Also, everything you did so far was dramatic. Just keep it down as long as we're in there.’
‘Yes, Ma’am,’ Ben crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
‘Good,’ she reiterated while the ship touched down with a loud thud. That landing was rather shoddy. ‘We’re there.’
‘How is your shoulder?’ Hux asked his adjutant while on their way to report to Snoke. He began to doubt his decision to bring the man. His recent carelessness was becoming a problem, but Palloyu had taken a large portion of processing incoming intel of his hands and thus his presence was required ‘I do believe you have not been cleared for duty yet.’
‘Not for the battlefield, no,’ Captain Palloyu answered, looking down at his datapad. ‘But administrative task should be no problem, General. The medical team has done its work quite well. Besides, these are challenging times. I feel obligated to assist.’
‘Challenging times, indeed,’ Hux agreed as they turned into the corridor housing the conference room.
‘How long until the weapon will fire, Sir?’ Palloya inquired. ‘Quite a feat of engineering. I regret not having heard of it sooner. The technology behind it is of quite some interest. Is there anything you could tell me about it?’
‘The operation is classified,’ Hux rebuffed him. ‘Unless you are directly involved, your interest is not appreciated. But if you must know, the weapon will fire during the rally later today.’
‘From what distance?’ Palloyu asked. ‘I’m sure its reach will be as impressive as the rest of it. You never do disappoint.’
‘You would do well to follow that example,’ Hux said, pressing the button to open the door. ‘I hope you are well prepared. Supreme leader will have no time to waste.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Palloyu put the datapad away and straightened himself. Hux threw him a quick glance. At first, he had seemed full of potential. His adherence to the principles of the First Order and swiftness in carrying out each order, both the important and banal, accurately and without fail along with his rather large physique, had caused him to bring countless missions to a successful end. Even he himself had seen some merit in the man. But as of late, now his position seemed secure, Palloyu had become lax. Not only had the delay caused by his injury allowed a group of insurgents to escape, but his personal codes had also somehow ended up in Ren’s hands as well. His failures were beginning to reflect badly on Hux.
‘Welcome, General, Captain,’ Maura Ren, one of the two knights that had answered his calls, came to meet them halfway. For some reason, this one wore a veil instead of a mask. It wouldn’t even serve a purpose in battle. What were the knights getting at with their incomprehensible habit of hiding their faces? ‘We were about to start without you.’
‘Apologies, My lady,’ Palluyo made a show of bowing before her and kissing her gloved hand. ‘Keeping you waiting was not the intention. It is good to finally see you again.’ The knight seemed to find it all rather amusing. Snoke watched on in interest, looming over them from his throne, a hologram as usual.
‘We shall not delay you any longer,’ Hux marched past them and went to face Snoke. ‘We must move swiftly if we are to succeed.’
‘Very well,’ Snoke said. ‘Begin your report.’ Palloyu stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak. Snoke stopped him with a gesture. ‘I do not believe we’ve met in person before.’
‘Supreme leader, I’m Nodha Palloyu, Captain of the 21st battalion, at your service,’ Palloyu saluted. The corners of his mouth twitched as always when he introduced himself. It was one of his stranger habits. ‘I’ll get right to the reports. We’ve ascertained that Han Solo is indeed on the planet known as Takodana, along with the droid and the individuals that aided in its escape. However, the location of Kylo Ren is yet unknown. It seems he has left Jakku’s atmosphere while already in hyperspace. This has made tracking him impossible.’ That mere feat was considered impossible, but Hux didn’t put it above Ren to try. With any luck, Ren had saved them all the trouble and had blown himself up along with the ship he had stolen.
‘Shyam is already preparing the troops for an attack,’ the knight interrupted. ‘We will strike as soon as given the order, Supreme leader.’
‘You may proceed,’ Snoke said. ‘But I trust both of you know the importance of capturing Han Solo. We cannot allow him to corrupt your master any further.’
‘I understand the situation, Supreme leader,’ the knight bowed her head. ‘I understand the influence that smuggler scum can have on Kylo and I shall not allow it.’
‘Good,’ Snoke nodded in satisfaction. The intention behind the façade went over Hux’s head. Everyone in this room knew capturing Solo only served to get Ren to come out of hiding. ‘Tell me, Captain Palloyu. Has there been any word from the other knights?’
‘Lord Kiar and Lady Tamas sent their regrets,’ Palloyu reported. ‘Their current mission was of too much urgency to abandon.’
‘I can send a second transmission stating their presence is not optional,’ Hux suggested. It seemed to be all a rather poor excuse to refuse direct orders. Although it had more grace than the actions of the two knights still unaccounted for. They had ignored the call altogether while there was little chance they hadn’t received the message. It had reached the others without issue. There was, of course, no way to be sure and the knights must’ve known that.
‘No,’ Snoke held up a hand. ‘I know of their mission. It may very well be of the urgency they claim it to be.
‘As you wish,’ Hux bowed his head, although he didn’t see how hunting ancient relics could be more urgent than stopping Ren from wreaking havoc upon their troops. The knights' refusal to comply would become a problem soon enough. ‘But if I may address the point. I do not believe the knights will be impartial when it comes to their master. I request to oversee their attempts at retrieving him.’
‘That will not be necessary,’ Snoke frowned. ‘They understand the importance of retrieving Ren quickly and making him see the error in his ways. Isn’t that so, Maura?’
‘Of course, Supreme leader,’ the knight kneeled and bowed her head. ‘But I must bring up a point of doubt. Given my own past, I can’t help but feel a sense of unease. Forgive me for asking, but are the chains truly necessary?’ Hux stared at her in disbelief. She felt unease at chaining a traitor and deserter? She was all but proving his point.
‘I fear they are, but I assure you, dear child,’ Snoke’s expression softened. Why was he even humouring this girl? ‘This has nothing in common with the chains they put on you. None of you are my slaves. The chains are necessary to bring your master back to us and resolve this unfortunate situation.’ Hux listened closely. This conversation might yet turn interesting. Had this girl been a slave before she became a knight?
‘I understand, Supreme leader,’ the knight looked up. ‘But I believe this is not as serious as it may appear. Knowing Kylo, he acted impulsively and out of petulance. Inexcusable all the same, but perhaps forgivable.’
‘Yes, I fear I may have been too harsh about his lapse in conviction,’ Snoke shook his head. ‘But I had to prevent him from meeting the same fate as his grandfather. I feared his attachment to his parents may have been the death of him.’
‘I believe so as well. Organa and Solo have long ago turned on him, but he refuses to believe it against all common sense,’ Maura said. ‘You were right to do as you did, Supreme leader. Kylo will come to understand. He has always been rash and prone to overreacting, but loyal nonetheless.’
‘I know, my child,’ Snoke smiled at her. ‘Shyam has already spoken to me and convinced me of that much. Now, go and prepare the strike.’ Hux had to stop himself from shaking his head in disapproval. The freedom Snoke gave the knights had always been questionable, but now they were talking about letting a traitor and deserter off the hook on the grounds that his motives may not have been that bad. They might as well send FN-2187 an invitation to talk it all out.
‘As you wish,’ the knight stood up and turned to leave, but stopped when she passed Palloyu and held out her hand. ‘Would you walk with me, Captain? I’d like to discuss some points of strategy.’
‘If my presence is no longer required, it would be my honour,’ Palloyu bowed his head at her before turning to address Snoke. ‘By your leave, Supreme leader.’
‘Go,’ Snoke waved the two off. ‘I have a few details to review with the General.’ Palloyu took the knight’s hand and together, they walked out. Hux had to keep himself from retching. It would’ve been of ill taste in front of the supreme leader.
‘I can sense you have something on your mind, General,’ Snoke watched as the odd couple left the room. ‘Do speak up so I might ease your concern.’
‘All due respect,’ Hux took a deep breath. ‘We cannot allow Ren to rejoin our ranks after the crimes he has committed. We have evidence he passed vital information unto the enemy. Had it not been discovered, the weapon might have failed. We cannot let this go unpunished. By all means, he must be executed or more will follow his lead.’
‘I would agree, but I need Ren alive,’ Snoke leaned back in his chair. ‘As you might have just noticed, the knights’ loyalty lies with their master before it lies with the Order. If they feel he is treated unfairly, they will turn against me.’
‘I see,’ Hux considered, taking in the new information. The charade made sense now. That girl truly believed Ren would face no consequences for his crimes. ‘We’ll have to tread carefully then. Perhaps it is best to have Ren meet an unfortunate fate at the hands of our enemies. Their anger will be aimed at the republic and the resistance instead.’ Evidence was easily faked. Staging a brutal murder would be little trouble.
‘You seem to have grasped the situation quite quickly, General,’ a twisted smile appeared on Snoke’s face. ‘But no. Having Ren turn back to our cause would be more to our advantage. There is a reason I’ve trained him so far. He will have to be the one to face Skywalker. He is the only one who could.’
‘Surely, six knights are enough to take down one man,’ Hux argued. ‘What could Ren do on his own that they could not?’
‘No one can stop Skywalker in a straightforward confrontation,’ Snoke shook his head. ‘Regardless of number or skill. He will defeat any opponent, but Ren has always had one advantage over him. Skywalker cares for him. He will refuse to raise arms against his nephew. Like his father before him, Skywalker’s sentimentality will be his undoing. The only reason I took Ren as my apprentice was because he is a valuable hostage.’
‘A wise decision, no doubt,’ Hux said. ‘But I have been wondering about one thing. Why was Ren so adamant in finding Skywalker? Had he not intended to double-cross you from the beginning, Supreme leader?’
‘Good questions, General,’ Snoke laughed. ‘But no. Ren fears Skywalker to the deepest of his being. I made sure of it. It was quite easy. I just showed Skywalker what he already suspected to find and he simply drove Ren to my side. Turning him further against his despicable family was mere child’s play.’
‘I understand the reasoning,’ Hux nodded. ‘But we are close to retrieving the map. If we destroy it, we would not need Ren. Disposing of him might still be the most secure course of action.’
‘Don’t be so hasty, General,’ Snoke held up a hand. ‘Destroying the map does nothing to ensure Skywalker will not return on his own volition. Besides, Ren is not just a hostage against Skywalker, but against his parents as well. If nothing else, we can use him against Organa. I doubt she would still oppose me when her son’s life hangs in the balance.’
‘I see,’ Hux considered once more. Snoke had plenty of reasons to want Ren returned alive. He was a useful pawn. Nonetheless, a major objection remained. ‘Still, we cannot allow Ren’s crimes to go unpunished. It would be seen as a sign of weakness. A display of strength is necessary.’
‘You’re right,’ Snoke nodded in approval. ‘A trial should appease the knights. I will leave the preparations to you, but remember, it must appear fair lest they rebel.’
‘A trial?’ Hux blinked but recovered himself. ‘May I ask what exactly you have in mind?’
‘The sentence will be to have Ren reconditioned, under my supervision, of course,’ Snoke sneered. ‘It will seem merciful compared to execution and it will contradict nothing I’ve told the knights, but be sure the actual trial will send the right message. Preferably by the use of the necessary force. We don’t want any doubt about what happens to traitors. Have the reconditioning start during the trial if so necessary.’
‘As you wish,’ Hux bowed his head, very well aware execution might have been the merciful option. ‘Reconditioning’ had always been more of a euphemism to ease the minds of the more squeamish officers. ‘But I fear the knights will protest it all the same.’
‘Leave that to me,’ Snoke said. ‘They are easily manipulated. Convincing them of the necessity of it will be rather easy, but do keep it quiet for now.’
‘I shall start preparations immediately,’ Hux turned to leave. There were plenty of details to be considered.
‘One more thing, General,’ Snoke stopped him. ‘I want no permanent damage. Ren’s power will be of more benefit to us if left intact.’
‘So, remember, no drama, no shiny sticks,’ Brynda reminded him once more while they entered the courtyard. ‘And most importantly, no blabbing. Just stand there and shut your yapper.’
‘Ay-ay, Captain,’ Ben joked, looking around the place. The bricks making up the walls were eroded and worn by time. He had to suppress the urge to kick it to see if the entire castle would collapse.
‘As long as you get it,’ Brynda narrowed her eyes. ‘Ever met Maz?’
‘I’ve heard of her,’ Ben said. ‘Never met her though.’
‘Small, loud, orange,’ Brynda listed while hopping up the stairs to the entrance. ‘And will see right through you. Stay out of her way.’
‘Yeah, got it,’ Ben followed her unto the stairs. ‘Can we go in now?’
‘Watch and learn,’ she opened the doors and they went in. Music fit for torture banged through the room inside. The countless patrons inside were either deaf or too drunk to mind. They were all happily going around their questionable business. Not that he was one to judge. He had come here to learn how to spy on people.
‘See that droid over there?’ Brynda nodded at the distance. A droid was standing in a corner at the far end of the room. ‘He’s a snitch. I’m going to feed him some crap. How do you feel about living in the wreck of a destroyed cruiser?’
‘That should keep Hux busy,’ Ben nodded. He was beginning to like his new job. Brynda ran off, said something to the droid and came running back. ‘Seems easy enough. Are you sure I can’t try anything? I’ve got an idea.’ Hux had better bring his swimming gear because he was going to have to check every ocean in the system.
‘How did you know that droid was a snitch?’ she cocked her head.
‘Because you told me,’ Ben reminded her, frowning.
‘How did I know?’ she cocked her head a little more.
‘Someone told you?’ he tried.
‘I paid attention and asked the right people,’ she said, urging him to follow her. ‘It only looks easy because you can’t see the preparations that had to be made. You will have to think of everything. If you start saying the wrong things to the wrong people, you’ll blow your cover in a minute. This only worked because that droid’s dumb and desperate for a come-up.’
‘How do you recognise the wrong people?’ Ben looked around, checking the patrons as they walked. They all looked rather dumb and desperate.
‘I’ll give you an easy example,’ Brynda looked him in the eye. She didn’t say it out loud this time, but her expression spelled ‘Duncy’. ‘Had you tried something like that with Maz, your father would be here to pick you up in a minute.’
‘My father?’ Ben blinked.
‘Maz loves messing with Solo,’ Brynda shook her head and chuckled. ‘It’s a spectacle every time, but yeah, she’d tell him right away if you popped up here.’
‘Do you know my father?’ Ben asked.
‘I saw him a few times in here, laughed at him the same amount of times,’ Brynda shrugged. ‘Would you go with him if we know where he is? Because that can be arranged.’
‘No,’ Ben shook his head. ‘I’d rather not.’
‘Why’ she asked. ‘What would he kick you out for? He ain’t one for politics.’
‘He never needed a reason,’ Ben chewed his lip. ‘I don’t think he ever wanted to have a child, especially not one like me.’
‘Like you?’ Brynda frowned. ‘What the hell does that mean?’
‘Strong with the Force,’ he said in a low voice, glancing around for anyone listening in on them. ‘It terrified him and he just got away whenever he could. Sent me to Luke when he couldn’t deal with it anymore. It won’t be any different this time.’
‘You know your family sucks when Darth Vader’s the supportive one,’ Brynda shook her head. ‘I knew Solo was a scammer, but I didn’t take him for someone who would dump their kid like that.’
‘Do you have any idea whether he still comes around here?’ Ben checked the tarp.
‘I don’t think so,’ Brynda said. ‘He’s gotten himself in a mess again. I doubt he’ll have time to drop by, but if he does, you can be sure Maz will announce his presence to anyone in here. She does that every time.’ She chuckled some more. He couldn’t help a grin himself. It must’ve indeed been a spectacle to behold.
‘Good to know,’ Ben took a deep breath. ‘What’s next?’
‘This way. You should really start taking notes of this one,’ she took him by the sleeve and led him away. ‘It requires politeness. You don’t have any of that. So again, keep your mouth shut and listen.’
‘As you wish, my lady,’ he countered. She ignored him and pulled him towards a table at the wall. Three individuals, all hiding their appearances to varying degrees, sat around it and were sipping their drinks.
‘Back already?’ a man wearing a hood asked when Brynda dropped herself into the nearest chair without as much as a greeting. Her idea of manners was terrible.
‘As you can see,’ she gestured for Ben to sit down. He mumbled a greeting and took the last free chair.
‘Made a friend?’ a woman with tinted goggles and a scarf covering her lower face asked while running a hand down his arm. He moved it out of her reach.
‘Don’t tease him,’ Brynda laughed at him. ‘He’s sensitive.’ The other three burst out in laughter as well. If it wasn’t for the fact he took her warning seriously, he would’ve had some things to add to this exchange.
‘Adorable,’ the goggle-woman said. ‘Where did you find him?’
‘Along the way,’ Brynda snickered. ‘But never mind that, how are things going? Kaitor, how’s your sister?’
‘Terrible,’ the third one, a veiled man said. ‘The First Order’s going crazy. Took over her workplace. Thrashed half our home planet looking for some droid and a bunch of deserters. They didn’t even find anything.’ Now, this was going somewhere. That’s why she’d chosen this table. Unless the Order had a similar predicament elsewhere, this man was from Jakku.
‘Horrible business,’ Brynda shook her head. ‘She was a technician, right? On an airfield?’
‘Yeah,’ Kaitor nodded. ‘Those sniffers just came in and chased everyone out. That’s not even the worst of it. Those deserters thrashed half of Niima outpost. One of them was throwing boulders somehow.’
‘I heard that was Kylo Ren,’ the goggle-woman said behind her hand. ‘He threw those boulders with the Jedi power. They said he took the droid and escaped. They also say he had an affair with the mother of that Hux fellow.’ Ben bit his lip to stop himself from snickering. It seemed he had been busy. Throwing boulders did sound fun. He noted it down for later use.
‘that’s quite a tale,’ Brynda batted her eyelids as if she hadn’t created said tale and spread it.
‘Would explain how that droid ended up here,’ the hooded man pointed at the distance. ‘Maz is up to something again. No politics, my backside.’ Ben turned to see. An orange and white BB-unit was rolling around a chair. Poe’s droid and he wasn’t alone.
Poe’s stormtrooper, FN-2187 or Finn as he wanted to be called now, was sitting on the chair, looking at the droid and apparently not being dead. Poe would be delighted. Brynda could pull out one of her gadgets and someone would show up to pick up Finn and the droid, map and all. Problem solved. If Luke ever felt like showing up and stabbing Snoke, he wouldn’t get in the way.
‘That old rebellion general is nothing but trouble,’ the goggle-woman shook her head. ‘Bringing that thing in here. He might as well have sent the Order an invitation.’ Ben froze, slowly moving his head to look at the man sitting next to Finn. How had he not noticed this before? The man sat with his back turned, but his presence was painfully familiar and, now he knew, impossible to ignore. He moved to leave, but Brynda pinned his arm down on the table.
‘Stay here you all,’ she smiled while getting up. ‘I’ve got some talking to do with that guy. He almost scammed my dad last time.’
‘Sounds about right,’ Kaitor laughed. ‘Good luck. He’s a piece of work, that geezer.’ Ben followed Brynda with his eyes while she pushed past some people on her way to the table. The man turned around when she reached. Ben’s breath caught in his throat. He looked decades older now, but it was undeniably him.
Hardly anything was said about the Knights of Ren in the movies or elsewhere, so I improvised.