They walked two by two in gleaming white armor, boots sounding in exact synchrony. The citizens of Lothal parted before them, gazes scanning over the squad without understanding. Civilians never saw anything. They didn't know how to meet a trooper's eyes through the helmet. They didn't know who they had or had not talked to. And when they watched the patrol pass, they couldn't see anything but indistinguishable soldiers.
Everyone in the First Order kept their eyes open. There was nothing Captain Phasma didn't see. The barefaced officers, too. Even the Sith. No uniforms could make the stormtroopers exactly the same.
FN-4192 was patrolling with three other troopers, two of whom she knew only by sight and the briefest of interactions in the landing craft. She knew that the squad was one unit and part of a larger single cause. When the locals looked on, they should have seen an extension of the First Order. But she hated that civilians couldn't tell that the trooper ahead of her was the one setting the pace or that the one beside her had the broadest shoulders of all of them.
They marched in time through the paved streets, grit crunching under their steps. And they kept their eyes open. That much the locals could see, and in return they kept their distance and kept their heads down. FN-4192 had been to planets where the civilians had complained or made trouble. She liked it better this way.
It was falling dark when they rounded the last corner of the route and started back toward the First Order's temporary outpost. Another squad was already waiting to replace them. FN-4192 wouldn't have minded stepping it up a little to meet them, but FC-1010 kept the pace steady, and the rest had to follow her. She even nodded to the other squad as they passed, as if giving them permission to start marching. Whether they meant to or not, they moved forward on her cue. FN-4192's squad came to a halt just outside the appropriated building, in line with the trooper on perimeter post. They kept their blasters at ready position.
"Nothing to report, sir," FC-1010 recited smartly.
The trooper on perimeter marked his holopad. "Good. All right, you're off duty." FC-1010 nodded and pulled them forward again. "Double-check the roster for tomorrow," he called after them. "They're rearranging shifts to free up some units."
Patrol didn't end until the blaster was put away, and it was only once her weapon was in its proper place that FN-4192 relaxed. The two troopers she didn't know took off, and she walked slowly after them into the main room of the complex.
The outpost was badly laid out and smelled awful, but for now it belonged to the First Order. A side room near the front door served as the armory; a maze of back rooms had been made into makeshift barracks. They had picked out the cleanest of the rooms—what had probably been a kitchen in some capacity—to be the on-site med facility. That left the main room and two large alcoves for briefings, storage, and standing room. Sitting room, too, if you were careful with the storage crates.
Right now the place was scattered with troopers. Some were eating, but most sat in small groups. They talked quietly, only for the two or three people around them. FN-4192 was never going to get used to the cacophony of a civilian crowd. That kind of noise should only happen during a battle.
The troopers in the outpost played loose with armor regulations. Since standard patrol came regularly and required no real debriefing, there wasn't any one event to mark off-duty protocol. FN-4192 was debating how to approach this when someone stepped up beside her. It was FC-1010, and she was already pulling her helmet off, revealing almost buzzed blonde hair and hawkish eyes. "Come on, Click," she said, and strode to an open space off to the side.
With a last glance around, Click took off her helmet and followed her.
Tenzie was scanning the room sharply when Click joined her. Looking for Leven, Click could guess. That was the first thing Tenzie did after a shift. Leven wasn't as direct about it, but he always managed to find her, too. They had been in the same class growing up some of the time. Click could only assume that their class had been suffering a shortage of imagination, since both their names came from their numeric designations. At least Click had been named for something.
"How much longer do you think we'll be here?" Click asked.
"Not long," Tenzie replied without looking at her, "if they're already calling people back."
"I hate it here," Click confided.
"You hate it everywhere."
Click exhaled and leaned back, armor clacking against the wall. That wasn't true. She could work a standard day without tiring aboard one of the destroyers or on the Starkiller. She just hated being planetside, where aliens stared at her without seeing. But even that didn't explain the resentment that had been simmering away for the past several days. She didn't want to patrol this grimy planet while the top officers and local leaders sorted things out.
She wanted to—
"Look up," Tenzie snorted.
Click followed her gaze to the entrance, where a familiar figure was standing in full armor, helmet and all, head swiveling around as if he were lost.
"FN-4501," Click called.
Rook started and jogged over. Click brushed her thumb by her jaw line twice in quick succession, and he removed his helmet accordingly. He looked just as dazed without it. Click hadn't been assigned alongside him much, and even she could see why he had gotten low marks in training. Rook was as skilled as anybody else, but the impression he gave off wasn't encouraging.
Rookie, she'd called him the first time she saw him stare at a blaster like it was an alien bowcaster.
The others in the landing craft had taken up the term, laughing among themselves. By the end of that battle—a long one in brutal, rocky terrain—it had been shortened to Rook, and it had stuck. Click didn't see him for nearly a year after that, but when she finally did, he remembered her. You never forgot who named you.
Rook turned his helmet over with both hands. "When is command sending someone after FN-2187?"
Click's agitation boiled, and she suddenly understood why she didn't care for patrol.
"We all wanna go after him," Tenzie reassured him, "but those decisions are for the top."
"But when?" Rook insisted.
"Fall in, Rook." Tenzie narrowed her eyes at him. "Do I look like the top?"
Rook's gaze fell.
Click's jaw worked. "I met him," she said at last.
Tenzie stared. "Who?"
"FN-2187. The traitor."
"And?" Now Rook was watching her, too.
Click shrugged. "He helped me move munitions. He seemed clear." He'd been eager to lend a hand, like they were friends. She could still hear the brightness in his voice and see the slight roll to his movements. Nothing to suggest he would later turn against the Order. "We talked. I asked if he had a name. He said no. I said too bad."
Tenzie's stare hadn't wavered. "That all?"
Click nodded. "Yeah. The next time I saw him, he was burning through troopers on his way out of the hangar." FN-3662, FN-4009, Safety. The only ones out of the dead she'd recognized.
Tenzie's gaze flicked to something over her shoulder.
"We'll burn him back," said a tenor voice behind Click.
A pale trooper with short reddish-brown hair stood with his helmet tucked under his arm. Even among people who lived by rules, FN-4011 was a stickler, teeth gritted and corrections manual-even. He frequently sneered at the idea of names, so he didn't have one. And if he looked anything at all like General Hux, no one said anything about it.
"The traitor will die with anyone else who goes against the First Order," FN-4011 ground out. "We'll get him."
Click jerked her head at Rook. "But FN-4501 wants to know when."
"Not soon enough," he bit out.
It was the kind of anger Click knew. "How many?" she asked. "How many did you know in the hangar?"
FN-4011 stared at her flatly. "Five."
Tenzie held up a fist to get their attention. "We'll find out more when reassignments come," she told them. There was a sharp kind of patience in her voice, her most effective command tone. "The Order will take care of it. Meantime: food, rest, and patrols."
"You were the one saying this assignment is almost over," Click retorted.
"It's not over 'til debrief," Tenzie recited. She gave FN-4011 a hard look and strode off. Click spotted Leven sitting across the room, signing food with a few taps of his forefinger against his thumb, and knew exactly where Tenzie was going.
Click stormed toward the ration packs, glancing over her shoulder to see whether Rook was coming. He understood. This wasn't just about missions and military victories. When you were a stormtrooper, you were the First Order, and all you had was the First Order.
FN-2187 wasn't one of them anymore.