There had been rumors of Stormtroopers thinking of abandoning their posts. They wanted to leave, flee from the First Order. But why? Why would they leave?
Having been tasked by Snoke to find the source of the treasonous rumblings, Kylo Ren came up with the idea of going undercover as Matt the Radar Technician. If he could gain their trust, he could discover who was considering treason and the reasoning behind it. It was foolproof, really.
“Sir,” Captain Phasma started, leaning into Ren’s quarters.
“What?” Kylo asked, fidgeting with the blonde wig.
“May I just say…that costume isn’t going to fool anyone.”
Phasma adjusted her hold on her blaster, apprehensive. “You look absolutely ridiculous. No one will believe this disguise if they’ve seen your face before.”
Kylo rolled his shoulders, trying very hard to not lash out at the silver-coated Captain. “I can count on one hand the number of people who have seen me without my mask. I will be fine.”
Phasma just nodded and watched as the now-bespectacled man trudged down the hallway and disappeared from sight.
EC-2191 adjusted her hold on her RT-97C heavy blaster rifle with a sigh. The shift was almost over. She just needed to make it through another fifteen minutes, one more lap around her assigned area, and then she could go to her small but private barrack and wash her hair. Ever since she had been promoted to sergeant and given her own quarters, she took extra time washing her hair. It was a weird little obsession, she knew that.
EC rounded another corner and almost ran right into a tall, blond man with large glasses.
“Sorry,” she muttered, her voice slightly altered by the helmet.
The blond man just glared down at her then his focus turned to the large electrical circuit in the wall. A panel had been removed to reveal the sparking wires and diodes. He scratched the back of his head then kneeled next to the open panel. As soon as he put his hand into the panel, he retracted it and EC could’ve sworn she saw smoke.
But that wasn’t her job. She continued down the hall, once again counting down the minutes until her shower. Perhaps it was a little depressing to just be looking forward to her shower day after day, but what else was she supposed to look forward to? The monotony on Starkiller Base was nearly, well, killer. She was a damn Stormsniper—an elite soldier with over two decades of advanced training under her belt and she was bored. While Captain Phasma saw potential in her—hence the promotion after a particularly bloody battle—General Hux, on the other hand, seemed to find every opportunity to keep her on base. It wasn’t that she enjoyed killing people—she didn’t and actually made a point to shoot right over people’s shoulders or, if needed, get them in the stomach. They would bleed, probably lose consciousness but would likely pull through if treated quickly enough. (Every once in a while, EC would actually feel threatened by the gangs who claimed no leadership from the First Order, New Republic, or Resistance, and she would actually kill someone. But those were usually few and far between.) No, she just wanted something other than walking in circles for a “patrol” day in and day out.
“EC-2191,” a voice rang out over the intercom, “report to Command Center.”
Well, there went her scheduled shower. EC briskly walked to the Command Center, knowing she only had a few minutes before she would be considered late. When she arrived, she was greeted with the sight of Hux talking to Captain Phasma as other officers mulled about, doing their duties. A steady beeping from one of the machines instantly started to grate on EC’s nerves.
“General? Captain? You requested me?”
“Ah, there you are, EC-2191,” Hux gave a curt nod. “Prompt as always.” He dismissed Phasma with a wave of his hand then silently instructed EC to follow him. Hux’s personal office off the side of the Command Center was a familiar sight. She’d been called here several times to report on her squadron’s progress before she’d been transferred to Base Patrol. It was a cold, sleek room, much like the rest of the Base. Hux settled himself behind his black desk and flipped through a few files on his tablet before turning it to show EC. “Explain this.”
EC looked closer at the tablet to see one of her own Stormtroopers, HL-4581, leaning against a wall, sleeping.
“Did you know of this?”
“Of course not, sir. I would have reprimanded him myself if I had witnessed it. I don’t condone laziness in any form.”
Hux smirked again and EC felt her stomach knot. She had never liked his smirks. “I know. You are a valuable asset to the First Order. That’s why I had you transferred to Base Patrol.” He pocketed the tablet and tabled his leather-covered fingers in front of him. “You may take off your helmet, EC.”
She hesitated for a moment before setting her weapon down in the chair in front of her and reaching up to remove her helmet. “Thank you, sir.” EC resisted touching her hair to see if it was frizzy. She placed the bulky white object next to her blaster on the chair.
Hux’s eyes did a slow, almost meandering look from her face to the tips of her boots. “Do you enjoy working here, EC-2191?”
“It’s the only life I’ve ever known, sir.”
“That’s not an answer, EC.”
“I am grateful for the opportunities the First Order has given me. I doubt that I would be this well-taken care of anywhere else.” It was another evasive answer but she hoped it was all she could think of saying without lying.
Hux hummed and leaned forward a bit, seemingly pleased with the answer for the moment. “Have you heard any of the others speaking out against the First Order?”
“Not in my squadron, sir.”
“But in others?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have much contact with other troops.”
Hux was quiet for a moment before he stood again and walked so he stood in front of EC. He was a bit taller than her and he looked down the bridge of his thin nose into her eyes. She dared not move. Weakness wasn’t tolerated, especially from Hux. She couldn’t squirm, not even when his long fingers started to pluck at the gaps in her armor. “Would you tell me, Sergeant, if you heard anything?”
“Of course, sir.” Right now, she’d say anything to get away from him. Anything.
He was quiet for a moment and his thumbs pressed into the juncture of her elbows, simultaneously holding her still and allowing himself to get closer. “You know I’m fond of you, EC.”
“Thank you, sir.” EC wasn’t entirely sure if ‘fond’ was the right word. She had always felt Hux’s eyes on her, even back when she was a teenager and freshly selected to go into the Stormsniper program out of the pool of other candidates. He’d always been there, watching.
“It would be a shame if I had to kill you for disobedience.” He looked down at her, blue eyes still cold and calculating. “You know I’d find out, right?”
“I know nothing escapes you, sir.”
Hux smirked and he softly moved an errant strand of her hair away from her eye. Again, she couldn’t move. This wasn’t the first time he had touched her. And she knew it wouldn’t be the last.
“You are correct.” He finally stepped back, his hands sliding away from her skin slowly. “You will report directly to me if you hear anything, understood?”
Hux nodded once then walked back around his desk and settled back into his chair. “Dismissed.”
It took every ounce of strength EC had to not bolt from the office. She pushed her head back into the helmet and grabbed her rifle before quickly walking out.
Her skin was nearly scrubbed raw by the time she stepped out of the shower. After drying herself off, EC pulled on the standard-issue “leisure time” black trousers and matching tunic. She slipped her feet into the soft black shoes and shuffled out into the hallway again, in search of food. It was the one few blessings of being stationed on Starkiller Base. Her shift allowed her to get to the mess hall before most others for dinner.
The mess hall was largely empty when she arrived and the usual droid and cook pair was behind the glass, ready to serve.
“Hey, Sarge,” chirped the cook. The droid followed suit, waving one of its mechanical arms.
“Hey. What did you guys cook for us today?”
The cook quickly rambled off the options and EC chose the one that looked the most edible before settling into her usual spot in the corner. It allowed her watch over the entire mess hall and be left alone, for the most part. Call it self-preservation but she had enough contact with other people for the day.
Groups of other Troopers and officers eventually filtered in, some in their armor or uniforms and others in their leisure clothes. They joked and talked and EC just watched, periodically nodding to those who acknowledged her presence. But her small peace was interrupted by a familiar face suddenly standing in front of her. It was the technician she had run into earlier.
“Can I sit with you?” He asked, through nearly gritted teeth.
EC moved her head just slightly to see some of the other troopers and officers looking at her, as if waiting for an answer. “Um, sure.” He plopped down into the chair opposite her and just stared at her. EC tried not to grimace before smiling. “Are you new here?”
“Yes. Just started a week ago.”
“What’s your name?”
“Matt. I’m a radar technician.”
EC nodded. She had memories of a radar technician going “missing” about a week ago. The First Order was efficient in finding replacements.
“What’s your name?”
Matt’s brown eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard of you.”
EC arched an eyebrow before taking another bite of food. “You’ve heard what?”
“Just of your promotion after the Geonosis debacle.”
EC smiled lightly. Her squadron, under the direction of their former sergeant, had been surrounded by a Geonosian gang after they had escorted a First Order ambassador to meet with the Geonosian Archduke. The gang opposed the First Order’s presence on the planet and assumed that by taking out the ambassador, they would get them to leave. The sergeant, largely incompetent, managed to get them backed up against a cliffside, with no chance of escape. The ambassador had been shot and was bleeding out. EC had made the decision to sacrifice the sergeant to get them out of there. She shoved the other trooper out in front after activating his Baradium-core code key thermal detonator. The explosion took out enough of the gang’s forces that the small group of Troopers and the ambassador were able to escape to their starship. Out of the twenty-five who went out on the mission, four came back. EC was promoted the next day. “Oh. I didn’t know people were still talking about that.”
Matt nodded. “Yeah. Some people call you a hero.”
EC sighed. “No. I was just doing my job. It was better to sacrifice one than to have everyone die.” She paused. “I thought you just started here a week ago. How’d you hear about that?”
Matt was quiet for a moment. “They’re still talking about it. I heard even Kylo Ren was impressed.”
“Kylo Ren?” Of course EC had heard of the feared Force-user. She’d be an idiot if she hadn’t heard of him. She’d never actually seen him except for at obligatory gatherings to listen to Hux’s speeches but that was it. He was the mysterious solid-black figure, pulling strings behind the scenes and destroying expensive equipment in fits of rage. “I’m sure he has better things to do than to listen to idle gossip. Especially about someone as lowly as me.”
“No, I heard…the others talking about it. Ren was deeply impressed by your commitment to the First Order. And I’ve been told Kylo Ren is a great judge of character.”
EC felt her palms go slick. She’d never done well with someone complimenting her. “Good. I’m glad he was pleased.”
“What do you think of him, of Kylo Ren?”
EC’s eyebrows furrowed at the question. Was this man a one-man Kylo Ren praise machine? “I don’t know him, personally. But I know he’s respected, at least in my squadron.” She sighed, avoiding eye contact. “Considering the fact that I’ve never personally had contact with him and I know to be scared of him should say something.”
Matt tilted his head to the side and EC was instantly reminded of a puppy for some reason. “You’re scared of him?”
“Anyone with that amount of power should be feared.” She paused. “But I think I’d rather be stuck in a trash compactor with Kylo Ren than in a resort with General Hux.” As the last syllable left her lips she knew she was going to get in trouble. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I won’t tell,” Matt said, shoveling a few bites into his mouth. He seemed happier, almost peppy as he looked at her. “I promise.”
EC avoided Matt in the halls, afraid he would try to blackmail her about what she had said. Honestly, yes, she knew she could kill him and be done with it but she really didn’t feel like killing anyone. And the paperwork after a “work incident” really was a hassle.
Once again, EC found herself patrolling the corridor she was assigned to as the rest of her squadron went about their own patrolling duties. And there was Matt—again—fixing another electrical panel—again. EC turned and decided possibly getting yelled at for taking a slow patrol was worth it. She’d do her entire patrol backwards if she had to.
“Hey! Hey, EC!” Matt called.
EC sucked down a groan and turned back around, subconsciously tightening her grip on her rifle. “Yes?”
He stood up and pushed his glasses up his tall nose with his thumb. “Could you come here for a second?”
She sighed and walked closer to him, careful to keep a bit of distance. “What do you need?”
“I’m almost done with this calcinator. Want to go to the mess hall afterward?”
EC nearly balked at the idea but Matt stood there, nearly impossibly still with his big brown eyes just staring at her. “Sure. I have to finish my patrol then shower…but after that…”
Matt just nodded then about faced and went back to work, dismissing her.
EC looked at him, head and shoulders into the electrical panel (which she was sure was the incorrect way of approaching a calcinator), for a moment. Honestly, what was going on in that blond head of his? She shook her head, helmet wobbling a bit, before she continued on her patrol.
EC found herself rushing through her shower and only towel drying her hair before changing and walking to the mess hall. She wasn’t entirely sure if she should have been surprised to see Matt already sitting at the table they sat at last time, his food in front of him, untouched. EC got her own portion and cautiously sat down in her usual spot. “I’m going to assume you needed something.”
Matt didn’t move. He seemed to have the innate ability to look completely still. It was unnerving. “What makes you say that?”
“I’m not someone people ask to share meals with.”
“I find you fascinating.”
EC’s grip on her fork started to bend it. “Why?” She had never liked being fascinating or something to be ogled. Thoughts of Hux briefly crossed her mind.
“Your squadron fears you but respects you. They want to impress you, it’s almost like they have this desperate need to please you. I want to know the secret behind the power you wield,” Matt said as if was plain as day.
EC sighed, stabbing her food with her now-bent fork. “I don’t think you’ll get very many chances—because you’re a radar tech and all—but if you just kill your superior officer you’ll be feared in no time.” It was a terrible joke.
“Do you regret it?”
EC narrowed her eyes at him. “You have an awfully curious mind, Matt.”
He shrugged but it seemed forced, as if he weren’t used to the gesture. “I like talking to people. I like finding out what makes people, uh, tick.”
“Then why’d you become a radar technician? Why not, like, a therapist or something? People would pay to spill their leadership skills or whatever you’re looking for to you and then you’d profit.”
Matt was quiet again. “I like being unnoticed. People are who they truly are when they think they’re alone.”
A rueful smile pushed up EC’s lips. “Well, that makes two of us.” She pushed a bit of food into her mouth. “I like being unnoticed.”
“But…I heard even General Hux frequently asks after you. He likes to get your opinion on-”
“Please stop talking about him,” EC said, her voice strained. “Please.”
“Why? Did he do something to you-”
EC stood up, glaring down at Matt. “Goodnight, Matt.”
Ben looked at her. She was finally where she was supposed to be: high above everyone else.