Han waved the breathing tube strapped to the airmask over his nose and mouth to the side, peering down. The Bacta fluid had done its work: the ‘saber wound under his ribs had healed to a dull, ridged burn scar, patched over synth-flesh. Han looked around warily. Against the curved part-reflection of the glass, Han could see that he was wearing a bolted airmask over his face, his narrowed, worn eyes blinking back at him over the black plastic, wrinkles etching in everywhere. His beard and silver hair had grown out, feathering awkwardly around his face in the Bacta gel, and most of what was left of his muscle tone was gone, leaving just a skinny frame that was, at some bits, more scar tissue than flesh. Story of Han Solo, right there. Not so much a misspent youth but a misspent everything, maybe.
He was in some sort of… of shelf, holding tube after Bacta tube, lined up neatly against a gunmetal gray wall, with filter tubes caught at the top and bottom of each tank. Against the opposite wall were more tubes, three deep, and Han was on the second level of tubes on his side. The lights were banked low, and but Han could see that only about half of the tubes were full, their contents inert, dead or sleeping he couldn’t quite tell. He wasn’t the only human, but most of the others were Rodians, with a scattering of other bipedal species here and there.
Propping his shoulders up against the back of the tube and his feet against the front, Han managed to inch his way firmly up to the lid. Determined shoves only made his palms ache, and when he kicked angrily at the smooth metal lid, Han only managed to nearly tear the breathing mask off his face. Bracing himself as best he could with arms and shoulders, Han tried kicking at the glass instead, frowning with the effort, and yelped into the mask as the whole tube abruptly shuddered, then started to detach smoothly away from the wall, corkscrewing to the centre of the narrow room before stopping abruptly in the middle of the chamber, then floating down the room to Han’s right, serving Han’s head a smart whack on the glass as he lost his balance, knocked about in the tube like a pinball. Above and below him, the filter grilles shuttered up, and there was a faint pneumatic hiss as the tubes detached, coiling themselves up neatly against the slot in the gunmetal shelf where Han’s tube had been.
Dazed, rubbing his head gingerly, Han let himself float. Above, he could hear the hydraulic purr of whatever machinery had a grip on his tank, and as they reached a set of blast doors at the end of the room, Han blinked away spots from his eyes as the doors unlocked and peeled open, letting in a bright slat of light that fell full over his eyes. Beyond the Bacta tank room was a smaller, cube-like room, clinically white, with a dotted grille for a floor and nozzles set at waist height. Han spent only a second or so taking it all in before the world abruptly skewed sideways - he barked his elbow against the glass with a yelp, then gasped as the airmask unwound away from his face, and before he knew it he had been decanted unceremoniously onto the cold grille, wheezing in surprise. The air smelled sterile, of hot water and heated plastic. Han’s tank withdrew smoothly through a large slot in the wall, carried by a mechanical arm winched to the lid, and just as Han tried to get to his feet, he was abruptly blasted on all sides by steaming hot water and disinfectant.
“Fuck!” Han croaked, his voice oddly rusty - hell, how long had he been out? Sputtering and staggering, he nearly slipped and fell flat on his face, but managed to back off instead, flattening himself against the wall next to one of the nozzles, wide-eyed, spitting water and raising his hands to shield his face. The nozzles dried up after a few minutes of roaring heat and steam, just as Han was beginning to think that he would be braised into a human prune, then a door opened, to Han’s right, and he hastily ducked through, only to let out a yelp as he was ruthlessly air-dried from all sides by cyclonic funnels.
Utterly disoriented and now more than a little shell-shocked, Han tumbled out of that particular horror on shaky feet, into another gunmetal narrow corridor, dizzily wondering whether he was, in fact, dead after all, and in some kinda special hell for grizzled old smugglers. As he leaned against one of the steel walls to catch his breath, a hatch whirred open, opposite him, and a drawer slid out. It held only a bright yellow jumpsuit and a pair of synth-leather boots, both of which fit Han perfectly. Emblazoned on the back of the jumpsuit in blocky type was a number: 51395-0, and sewn onto both shoulders were ID bars.
As he took another step, the light bars on the ceiling grew brighter. “Good afternoon, Sector Citizen Miles Bird,” said a smoothly unemotional ‘droid voice. “Welcome to Star’s Reach. I am Sector Warden Reach, and will be overseeing your overall stay. Your med-stay comprised of sixty-eight days five hours two seconds, a debt that has been added to your Sector Debt tally.”
“Star’s Reach… Sector Debt…” Han groaned, his steam-addled brain managing to cobble two and two together. “I’m in the Corporate Sector? How the hell?” And a Sector Citizen? A long time ago, Han had once managed to wrangle himself a Waiver after a long series of illegal adventures, allowing the Falcon free access to Sector space, but he’d never managed to forge Citizen-level ID.
“I understand that you may be disoriented by your long Bacta stay,” added Warden Reach, unemotionally. “And you may take a few minutes to reorient yourself. Please note however that your total Sector Debt tally now stands at one hundred eighty-five days thirteen hours’ Rehabilitation Labour.”
“Wait a minute,” Han said suspiciously. “Star’s Reach. That a prison?” Part of said illegal adventures had involved the destruction of Star’s End, a high security Sector prison, in ways that were not entirely Han’s fault.
“Star’s Reach is a Rehabilitation Facility,” replied Warden Reach reproachfully. “For Citizens who have engaged in Unbecoming Behaviour. You have tallied two counts of Drunken Disorderly Behaviour and one count of Cheating At Grift Cards.”
“Now listen here,” Han began, then hastily swallowed the rest of his retort. A Rehabilitation Facility? Sounded like a low security prison to Han. And whoever had retrieved him from Starkiller Base and dumped him here had even gone to all the trouble to forge him a Citizen ID. “Sure,” Han added quickly. “Yeah. I’ve uh. Copped to all that. My bad. Sorry?”
“Your remorse is duly noted and encouraged, Citizen Bird. Please proceed along the corridor to your Designated Cell. We hope that you enjoy your stay in Star’s Reach and become a Fully Contributing Citizen yet again in due course.”
“Don’t have a choice there, do I,” Han growled, but the ‘droid was silent, and he shuffled along the gunmetal corridor, keeping an eye out. If this was a minimum security joint, slipping out hopefully would just be a matter of memorising some guard patrols, some light splicing, and finding a ship with a stardrive. And then-
And then. Assuming that Chewbacca had survived, or anyone, or that they’d managed to blow up that base on time, or-
Han shook off the brief uptick of panic, and breathed out, clenching his fists. No point worrying about things that he couldn’t change. First things first. He had to find a way to jet out of here.
Finn lowered his vibroblade, turning on his heel, and he grinned as Poe ambled over in his measured flyboy swagger. Damn but Finn sometimes wished that he could walk like that, like he could take any punches that the ‘verse wanted to throw and still come up tops. Finn had tried practicing once, in the room that the Resistance had given him after he’d woken up in the med-bay, but he had only managed to awkwardly trip over his own feet and had bruised his hip against his desk.
His desk. His room. Finn had never owned anything before - even his Stormtrooper gear had really belonged to the First Order, to be racked up for sterilisation just before lights out. Owning property was a surreal experience. Where did it stop? What about air? Why were some things counted as ‘mine’ but actually belonged to the Resistance, like Poe’s new X-Wing? Sometimes it felt like it was possible to own things just by sitting your ass down on it and not budging. Life outside the First Order was chaos at the best of times.
“Hey,” Poe had gotten close, and he looked concerned, his open, expressive face scrunched up in a frown. Poe was out of his flightsuit today, dressed in a gray shirt over a typical spacer rig - breeches with ample pockets, grav boots, blaster tucked over a hip.
“Nothing. Just checking in. How’s the back?”
“Synth-flesh finally did its work.” Finn twisted, carefully. “Still can’t turn the whole way, but at least it missed my spine and all that. Meaning,” Finn added dryly, “Nothing’s changed since yesterday, not that much. Everyone can stop freaking out.”
Poe’s jaw tightened, and at Finn’s curious stare, he sighed. “I can’t believe you’re still taking all that so lightly. Bit more to the right and all the synth-flesh and bacta in the galaxy wouldn’t have saved you.”
“People get injured in battle,” Finn pointed out, having never understood why Poe had been so relieved when Finn had woken up, and then angry when Finn hadn’t been able to sit up, not at first. Angry at the First Order, anyway. Personally, Finn thought that he was crazy lucky to have even survived going toe to toe with a Sith Lord in the first place, in a lightsaber duel. He had survived. Han Solo hadn’t been nearly as lucky.
“That’s not the point,” Poe sounded a little frustrated. “Maybe life was cheap in the First Order,” he said finally, as Finn said nothing, bewildered again. “But that’s not the case everywhere else. Well. Not here anyway,” Poe corrected.
Normally, Finn would just nod warily and clumsily change the subject when Poe got earnest like this. After a few false starts in the early weeks, Finn had learned quickly that sometimes speaking whatever was forefront on his mind occasionally upset non-First Order people. Learning to recognise conversational land mines with so-called ‘normal people’ had taken a great deal of trial and error.
Today, the practice room was quiet, and Finn had been getting a little tired of the Resistance patting themselves on the back all these months. “Life’s cheap everywhere when it’s a war,” Finn pointed out. “First Order snuffed out those New Republic planets. Killed billions. We blew up Starkiller base. Killed millions. When you get to that kind of calculus? Millions, billions, it all becomes one big statistic.”
“The New Republic planets were mostly full of civilians,” Poe had taken on what Finn mentally termed the Now-We-Are-Explaning-Things-To-The-Stormtrooper tone, which had been funny at first, but which was starting to wear on him. “Starkiller base wasn’t.”
“It was full of people like me, you mean.”
Poe grimaced. “Finn-“
“We weren’t really that much different,” Finn said quietly. “I told you FN-2187 was my name and you thought that was weird, sure. But I did have a name. The other troopers, those who bunked with me, they called me Eight-Seven. There were four of us who were pretty tight, ‘cos we were always stuck doing simulations together. Nines, Zeroes and Slip. Phasma’s legion, so I guess like Phasma, they were all on the base when it went.”
“I’m not saying that I would’ve done things differently,” Finn added, as Poe seemed suddenly frozen. “But, you guys. Going on about how it’s OK to wipe out everyone in the base because they weren’t ‘civilians’? I don’t know. Most of us troopers, we were either cloned or taken early from our families. Life down there’s all we ever knew.”
“You walked away from it,” Poe pointed out, uncomfortably.
“‘Cos I had an opportunity to,” Finn shot back. “You saw it yourself. You never believed me when I told you trying to save your ass was the right thing to do. You knew I did it 'cos I needed a pilot.”
“I’m sorry about your friends.”
“Why? They were stormtroopers. Knew what they were in for. Or just ‘cos they were my friends?” Finn shook his head. “What about everyone else? They were people too, right? The thing is,” he added quickly, as Poe opened his mouth. “I get killing people in war, all right? And how much more messed up it is to kill civilians. I mean. Refusing to kill civilians was what caused the, uh, break, in my conditioning. But I think you guys still don’t understand why the First Order hates all of you so much. The Resistance, the New Republic, all of it.”
“And why’s that?” Poe’s tone had gone quiet, with none of his usual easy humour, but loud as the warning signs were, Finn was in a reckless mood now, and the words were on the tip of his tongue.
“‘Cos for you guys, it’s us versus them, right? Us. Them. You guys are the ‘good guys’, everyone else against you are the bad guys. Evil. And you know what? Scary as the First Order is, sometimes, you guys here scare me just as much. Guerilla tactics here, a skirmish there, a million here, a billion there… the ‘good guys’ won over the bad guys, that’s how you guys swing it. ‘Good’ always wins out in the end, right? And everyone else, hell, they ain’t even people anymore.”
“That’s not how it is,” Poe said tightly, “And not what everyone here’s fighting for.”
“Sometimes it seems like everyone’s fighting just ‘cos that’s the only thing they know how to do.” Finn waved up at the sky. “It’s crazy to me sometimes. We’ve got stardrives. We can go anywhere in the universe. There’s so many planets out there, so much left to see. But we’re all still fighting and killing each other.”
Poe glanced up at the sky, still in the pale blue of a warm afternoon, and to Finn’s relief, he smiled, if ruefully. “That’s right. If you look at it that way, it’s all crazy.” He hooked his thumbs into his gunbelt, and exhaled. “Why are you still here, then? You’ve been discharged from med-bay for close to a week now. We do skip runs out to Moft II for supplies once a week. You could probably catch a jump out deeper into the Outer Rim. Maybe even out to Wild Space.”
“‘Cos there’s no point. Rey showed me that.”
Poe’s smile faded in careful degrees, until he was sober all over again. “You’re waiting for her to come back.”
“She’ll be back here eventually,” Finn agreed confidently. “I mean. Luke Skywalker is the General’s brother, right? Sure they’re coming back here. After they find that temple.”
“All this time and you still haven’t given up, huh?”
“The General hasn’t given up,” Finn said, puzzled now. “Got to trust high command.” Most of the time. “Don’t worry,” he added, when Poe didn’t smile. “Rey’s pretty special.”
“That she is,” Poe said neutrally, his jaw set, and stalked off. Finn watched him go, now completely bewildered.
Maybe he’d just stepped on another conversational land mine, but thinking back, Finn couldn’t quite for the life of him imagine what the land mine could’ve been. Mentioning Luke Skywalker, maybe? Some of the people in the Resistance clearly either thought he was dead or wouldn’t come back. After all, Luke had wandered off somewhere in search of some sort of magic temple and hadn’t come back, not even when his own sister had needed his help.
And sure. Finn was a little worried. They’d had Luke’s exact coordinates, after all. The Millennium Falcon had a stardrive, and that patch of the Outer Rim was uninhabited space. There shouldn’t have been any trouble getting to Luke, scooping him up, and coming back. But it had been months, with no word, as though the Millennium Falcon itself had disappeared, and all right, so Rey had Woken Up In the Force, or whatever General Organa had called it, but space was huge, and filled with all sorts of terrors.
Which was why Finn was training with a vibroblade, following records of lightsaber katas from Republic records. It was the only thing he could really think of doing right now to help, insignificant as it might be in the greater scheme of things. He hadn’t risen to the top ranks of cadet school without being competitive, and Finn didn’t like being beat. If he ever had to get down and dirty with ‘sabers again, Finn was going to make sure that he was the one to come up tops, rather than pass out and let everyone down. He didn’t ever wan’t to wake up convinced that maybe everyone important to him was dead, ever again. Rey was going to come back to all of them sometime. And if they were going to go up against the First Order again, this time, Finn wanted to be as ready as he’d ever be.