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Your stomach lurches as you leave the ground; you can’t tell if it’s a response to the sudden zero-gravity conditions, or the adrenaline-anxiety that fills you before every battle. You’ve flown nearly as many times on behalf of the Resistance as Dameron, but you don’t think you’ll ever have his cool confidence—every takeoff still feels like your first; every landing feels like your last. Your existence is proof that you’ve survived before, but the uncertainty of whether you’ll survive this time keeps you focused.

You must stay vigilant.

Visual cues locked down. The roar of your engine drowns most sounds out, but radio communication still comes through. Even as you hone your vision on your targets, you monitor the conversation fragments passing over the airwaves. Black Leader here. The air is stuffy and your mouth tastes stale; a sheen of sweat across your brow makes your skin feel sticky. Squadrons, call signs. Your fight-or-flight response is kicking in. You need to be precise in order to control them both, to balance them so you can fight in flight, so you can carry yourself through this deadly dance.

You force yourself to take a deep breath. When you call in, your voice is steady.

“Pava. Jessika Pava. Blue Three.”

*

Some Resistance pilots come from New Republic pilot academies. You can tell who’s who with just a handshake: pilot academy graduates have soft palms, their skin free of calluses. They only need to grip controls—they never work within the machines. They have chosen this life, and every element of their beings radiates with decision.

You did not have the luxury of a formal, structured education; instead, you grew up scavenging X-wing parts with your parents in the Jakkuian desert. You learned how to identify X-wing components as you learned the sounds of Basic: Actuating cylinder. Bearings. Cable assemblies. You reassembled four X-wings before you even left Jakku. By the time you found employment on Bespin, you needed only to feel the shudder of an X-wing and hear its groans to know what ailed it and how to fix it.

On Bespin, though, no one needed your X-wing knowledge; you survived only because of your ability to solve problems. Machines all operate under similar logics; fixing and maintaining cloud cars isn’t so different from coaxing X-wings back to life. So although you longed to fly, you kept your wishes to yourself and worked hard, sending as much money back to your parents as you could. One day of work on Bespin was equivalent to almost four days’ worth of wages back on Jakku. Your parents labored hard to raise you well. Isn’t it only right for you to return the favor in kind?

In the end, though, you still decided to leave Bespin. No one shared your past in precisely the same way; you found it hard to connect to anyone else. Cloud cars brought you steady work, but those vehicles were civilian pieces for pleasure and comfort.

You, on the other hand, were still too much a part of a different world.

*

These are the histories that you can never forget:

You have never been to Coruscant, but your parents’ stories are vivid in your mind. Coruscant, unlike Jakku, is densely populated, layer upon layer of civilization occupying the planet’s surface. Skyscrapers break the horizon into a million myriad levels. It’s nothing like Jakku with its endless desert, where the only interruptions to the flowing horizon are the carcasses of so many machines: AT-ATs, AT-STs, the hulking mass of a Star Dreadnought. No, Coruscant shines with life.

Coruscant is where both pairs of your grandparents met, each from one side of the planet. The Clone Wars enveloped them all. When you were wide-eyed and young, your parents told you that your grandparents were heroes: they beat back the Empire and helped to secure the Republic’s control of Coruscant. When there was nothing but starlight and wind to punctuate the long, Jakkuian nights, these stories brought you warmth and wonder. You dreamed of your grandparents’ dazzling figures dashing into battle, following their hearts to fight for peace and justice. You imagined yourself as part of a grand, galactic narrative, one that crossed expanses that you couldn’t fully comprehend.

You were a teenager when your parents complicated this story: the truth is, only your Ah Ma willingly joined the Rebel Alliance. The rest of your grandparents had no choice. They did some heroic things, yes—but also some terrible things. And you must understand your Ba and Ma, Jessika; we couldn’t bear the ghosts of war on Coruscant. We saw decline and turmoil and chose to flee to another planet. We wanted a different life for you.

This revelation shattered you. You wanted to believe that your parents were lying, that the world was simple, good vs. bad, that all your parents ever had to do was stand up for themselves. You wanted to be angry, but the fathoms you saw in your parents’ eyes made you feel small, so small. If you weren’t part of some majestic history, then who were you? You were not your Ah Ma. You were not the legendary Luke Skywalker who permeated through every story in the galaxy, even yours.

You were just one speck in the grand scope of the universe, one girl on a lonely desert planet.

*

Now that you are older, though, the fact that your grandparents were people just like you brings you comfort instead of hurt. When you made the decision to join the Resistance yourself, you understood that it was not the first time someone in the Pava family had had a heavy heart over joining a war effort. You are gentler to your parents. You are learning to be gentler with yourself, too.

*

You survive again.

Some of your squad mates did not.

Your heart aches for them, just as your heart aches for the Stormtroopers lost in the destruction of the Starkiller: they were people too. How many of them had found themselves wielding weapons only out of necessity? Dameron mentioned a former Stormtrooper named Finn who had helped your efforts—how many more could be liberated?

(That word, “liberated.” As if you yourself didn’t just contribute to their deaths. As if it could ever be as simple as choosing one side or the other.)

You’re quiet when you join Dameron and the others for a meal. Instead of standard Resistance rations, General Organa has arranged for a celebratory meal to boost morale. You keep your suspicion that Resistance rations have run out again to yourself; you attempt a smile, a moment of gratefulness.

Someone volunteers to help dole out bowl after bowl of steaming noodle soup. You get your share and join Dameron, but you can’t focus on what he’s saying. The noodles are delicious, oddly familiar despite the fact that you’re sure this is the first time you’ve tasted them. It’s local fare, but it conjures up a dish you’ve heard of before. Faced with reconstituted bread and thin soup on Jakku, your parents lamented that they couldn’t recreate your Ah Ma’s favorite dish: laksa, spicy and savory, made with shelled animals that they would never have been able to get on oceanless Jakku.

Your mouth tingles with heat. It’s just a tad bit painful, but comforting, too. You don’t know if this is laksa, but it’s complex and wonderful, so many notes mingling together, spices warming you up from the inside out.

Your parents are older now. Perhaps their memories of war have grown less painful.

Perhaps one day you can take them back to Coruscant and treat them to a bowl of laksa yourself.

*

This is your history:

You are a Resistance pilot backed by the New Republic to fight against the First Order. You save lives. You take lives.

You do not know a world without war.

Your parents do not know a world without war.

Your grandparents did not know a world without war.

And as a member of the Resistance, you perpetuate war.

*

This is your story, yes, but perhaps it is only one part of your story.

You still find it in yourself to live and to love.