The farmer’s name was Delolath. He wasn’t the friendliest sort and his face was a single downward turn of mouth and brows and eye-crinkles; but he’d been passing them food for months, a little of this or a little of that, whatever he had. It might mean fresh nath-corn one week or a whole tray of seedless melons, or a basket of small loaves. Sometimes when he’d killed a dozen nuna for market, an unlucky thirteenth would also have been quietly slaughtered and plucked and set in the back store for the Partisans.
Jyn didn’t mind his grumpy face anyway, and not just because of the fresh food. Delolath didn’t call her cute things, he didn’t pretend to be chummy or fun, didn’t pretend he wanted to be friends. It was reassuring. She found it restful to be able to trust someone, to be able to let go of the idea of maybe killing them tomorrow, and just know them. She could even stop awhile at the farm sometimes, when she was sent to collect whatever Delolath had put aside for the cadre. Sometimes she would sit in the sun and watch the animals, chew a bit of fruit, kicking her heels, doing nothing, while the farmer got on with his work. Just ten minutes, just that, no more; just the time it took to eat an apple, listen to the nuna squawking as they scratched for grain, feel the warm air and be quiet in herself, and breathe.
Of course, she didn’t like him; Saw didn’t like you liking contacts. Far too risky, unprofessional, letting emotions take precedence over the Cause. She would never let herself like him. Not even if she did.
Which was why she was lying here on her belly now, motionless and silent on the roof of the frame barn, watching as a party of ‘troopers questioned him. Watching as they pulled his collar and slapped him upside the head, as they emptied the seed trays he’d been weeding and trampled the cabbage seedlings into the grassy yard. Watching, and doing nothing.
Delolath wasn’t talking. He shook his head, denied, cried, protested. And Jyn followed orders. Her contact was compromised. She kept her head down, her mouth shut, and she observed. Professional.
One of the Imps hauled open the door of the barn and laughed; went in, and came out again herding the smallholding’s old droid. DT2 was already rigged up for the next job on the day’s schedule, stake-laying round the cabbage beds, a fence to keep off the pikobis and the hop-rats. He had a whole unit of stake-and-web fencing on his back, ready to unroll and fix.
“Look at this piece of junk,” the ‘trooper said. “Be a shame if something happened to it, eh, reb?”
“Good afternoon, Master Delolath,” said Deety in courteous binary. “Ready to begin work.”
“Bleepy little kriffer,” the ‘trooper said, and shot him.
It wasn’t a kill shot. Jyn tried really hard not to flinch. It was a shot to the portside impulse converter. Deety made a weird strangled noise, a damage signal she supposed, and vibrated for a moment. Then beeped out again “Re-dy-to-be-gin-work.”
“Please don’t smash up my droid, sir.” Delolath’s hands were outstretched, a placatory gesture. “He’s just an old machine, bit out of date, not harming anyone. Please.”
A second ‘trooper swung Deety out into the open space of the main farmyard. “Off you go then, old timer, show us what you can do.” He pressed a button and Deety unhooked his stake-layer tool and trundled off.
The damaged converter meant he couldn’t run in a straight line, and he began to veer slowly to the left, planting the fence neatly and steadily as he did so, a long arc of posts.
Every fifth stake, he would bleep “Steering malfunction, assistance available? Assistance available?” and pause for a beat before continuing. The arc curved round, almost into a circle but not quite, and he began a second circuit, inside the first.
“So what was it you were telling us, about those excess supplies, then, dirt-buster?”
“Excess supplies? No, no, I don’t have any excess, officer. This is just a smallholding, I grow enough for my family, any surplus goes to market in Malgan. All up-front and fair and square, sir.”
“That’s not what we’ve heard.”
The lead ‘trooper gave the one who’d shot Deety a nod, and they took a pair of stun-cuffs from their utility belt and clapped them on Delolath’s wrists.
“I don’t understand,” the farmer said weakly. Fresh tears had begun to track down his lined face at the sound of the droid quietly asking for assistance again behind him. “I pay my taxes, I – I’m a law-abiding citizen. Officers, please –“
“Steering malfunction,” said Deety, still spiralling slowly inwards on his own path, fence-laying as he went. “Assistance available?”
Another ‘trooper came out of the farmhouse, carrying a tray of nuna-eggs. “Found these hidden in back. Not in the cool room with the rest. Looks like our informant was right, Farmer No-no here was keeping stuff back.”
“No - no!”
“Just like we thought.”
They dragged Delolath away, still protesting and denying till he was out of earshot.
They took the eggs. No supplies for Jyn to bring in. Saw would be pissed at that. Eggs were protein, not easy to get. And Delolath was gone. No supplies at all today and their contact lost, that was how she had to report it. How she had to think of it. Not a grumpy-faced human who’d done his best, and given her an apple now and then, and let her watch the nuna-chicks. Just a contact.
Her face felt rough, hard as rock. She was holding every feature tight, grimacing with the effort of silence. But tears dripped onto the tiles below her.
She hung on, flat on the barn roof, until the evening light faded. That was protocol for a failed supply run. Wait until dark, then report.
One day, one day it’ll be different, she promised herself. One day I’ll be able to act. One day I’ll be big enough. I’ll have a proper blaster and a proper set of truncheons and I’ll be able to fight them and I will. I’ll do something that helps people like Delolath and Deety. I will.
The old droid was still spiralling inwards, fencing himself in and politely asking for assistance, as she slipped away.