GS-0128 paced down the hall of Starkiller Base. This was hardly an unusual occurrence. GS-0128 patrolled there frequently.
It was slightly less usual for RC-0343 to grasp her arm and pull her aside, but there was certainly precedent. RC-0343 was a large Stormtrooper with a powerful grip, who was unafraid of yanking her comrades out of the way of danger. Usually, danger took the form of Resistance blasters.
Occasionally, danger took the form of an extremely infuriated Kylo Ren.
“Why is the radar out?” he thundered from down the hall.
“Electrical storm?” GS-0128 ventured. “Bad precipitation? I mean, when you build on a snowy planet...”
“It's a rhetorical question,” hissed RC-0343.
“The resistance has been here, I know it!” Ren yelled again.
“Well, yes,” said GS-0128. “Just recently, in fact, that pilot broke out, with—”
“Ssh,” said RC-0343. Resistance pilots broke out of custody; that was disappointing, but they were Resistance pilots, and they were in a war. It was just their job. Stormtroopers breaking ranks, now that was galling. Better not to dwell on such things.
There was a too-familiar buzzing from down the hall, the sound of Ren's lightsaber coming to life. A blur of wires whined and crackled, then came a thud that could only be the sound of a panel hitting the floor.
“Do you really think that helps him fix the panel?” GS-0128 mused. “It must be so much easier with the Force.”
“C'mere.” RC-0343 waved her towards a supply closet, double-checking the hallway and leading her inside.
“Ooh. What's in here?”
“Not Kylo Ren, that is for sure.”
“Take off your helmet.” RC-0343 doffed hers, setting it on a rack alongside several stored ration packs and electronics schematics.
“Wow!” GS-0128 blinked. “You have really short hair! I, uh, kind of like it, but why—”
“Until Ren grows up, we need a more efficient way of managing unscheduled breaks.” RC-0343 leaned down to kiss her friend, who wasn't sure whether she was going for the lip or cheek approach and compromised by sticking the corner of her mouth forward. “Yeah?”
“I'm not sure Phasma will approve of this on our time cards.”
“Then we don't tell her. Now you try, and aim for the lips. Slowly.”
“There's no sign of them!” Ren yelled. Oh yes, they were going to have plenty of time to practice.
RC-0343 was just trying to get to the Stormtroopers' barracks. These were identical-looking quarters, with no notion of personal heirlooms or sentiment. Troops were interchangeable, particularly after battles had been fierce, and could be rotated in and out with little consequence. Officers, of course, had more distinctive chambers, but passing by their rooms was just a necessary duty. Nothing that should have been noteworthy.
“But I can't go in there!” Ren was demanding. “It's—it's haunted! There's a ghost in there, an alien!”
“Go to sleep, Ren,” Hux demanded.
“Turn around,” muttered RC-0343, as GS-0128 approached, “it's gonna be another long night.”
“What?” GS-0128 asked.
RC-0343 attempted to jab a finger in front of her mouth, which, much like whispering, was not easy in Stormtrooper garb.
“We can go to my barracks?” suggested GS-0128.
This detour proved feasible, since GS-0128's barracks were on the opposite side of the mess hall. The strains of “I can't use the Force against something that's dead, it's just looking at me, it doesn't even talk right” faded into the distance as they crossed the way. Hardly anyone noticed RC-0343 when she stepped in; the Stormtroopers were more-or-less indistinguishable anyway. Those who'd formed close friendships with their comrades were engrossed in conversation, or scheduled for the night shift so they'd be too tired to mutiny by day.
“RC?” asked GS-0128.
“What's a 'ghost'?”
“I don't know,” RC-0343 admitted. “It's like—after someone dies, some people believe they can still talk to others who are living.”
“How would that work?”
“The Force?” she shrugged.
“There are millions and billions of people who have lived and died. You think we'd have seen...”
“Not here.” RC-0343 waved her towards a barracks washroom. “Okay, so maybe it only works if the dead person used the Force, right? Or if the person they're talking to does? Either way, don't go questioning Kylo Ren about his visions.”
“That village on Jakku?”
RC-0343 tensed. “What about it?”
“Did any of them use the Force?”
“No,” she said, “course not, they'd have fought back. Here—” And setting her helmet on one of the narrow counters, RC-0343 leaned forward for another kiss. Moments later, GS-0128 was similarly arrayed, and RC-0343 fixed one eye on her and one eye on the door. The kiss was only broken by a clatter that made RC-0343 leap—what could Ren have broken that time?—before realizing it was her own helmet hitting the floor. She picked it up and tapped on it experimentally.
“That okay?” asked GS-0128.
“Sure is,” said RC-0343. “Been through worse.” Her fighter had been shot in a descent the previous year; while she'd survived, she'd been recuperating with a stint in noncombat duty, and wasn't slated to acquisition another for a few more weeks.
“All right. Well—maybe you should get to bed.”
“Can't,” she said, “not cutting past His Hauntedness.”
“Oh. Stay with me, then?”
“It seems a little tight of a fit.”
“We'll manage,” said GS-0128. “Trust me.”
“There will be more battles,” Ren was yelling, “more chances for losses. We need to be prepared!”
“We will be,” Phasma said. “You concentrate on readying yourself. I'm sure the Supreme Commander wouldn't want you distracted by the affairs of common soldiers.”
“I am ready!” Ren screamed. “Do you underestimate me?” He seized his lightsaber. “With the Force at my control, I can handle enemies mighty and mundane alike!”
That was enough for GS-0128, who reversed course and strode down the hall. “RC-0343, did you hear that?”
“Ssh,” said RC-0343, “it's all right.”
“No, c'mon.” GS-0128 hustled towards the shipyard, RC-0343 rushing in her wake. They crouched under the damaged wings of a transit craft which had been designed for three-legged aliens and never repaired to hyperspace capacity after its most recent fight. “You heard what he said?”
“The battles will—escalate. But you'll be okay, you're a good shot. And I'll look after you.”
“Oh, I'm not worried about the war,” GS-0128 said breezily, yanking off her helmet. “So stop worrying about me.”
RC-0343 wasted no time in taking off hers in response, stowing it under the shadow of the shattered helm. They kissed with the breached wings dangling above them, confident they would not be seen.
“What's the problem, then?” RC-0343 asked, more out of curiosity than fear. It was still easy enough to imagine Kylo Ren threatening his fellow officers over something trivial.
“More confrontations means—there could be more—defectives.”
“Like bolt parts?” RC-0343 squinted. “You mean defections.”
“What if he comes after me? Makes me prove I'm loyal?”
“Well, you are loyal, aren't you?”
“Sure I am!”
“So there's nothing to worry about.”
“A seventh what?”
“My designation, 0128. I heard Phasma saying I was a seventh power, like...FN-2187. I don't know what that means, just that it's a bad sign, numerologically. What if they think I'm disloyal?”
“Kylo Ren doesn't know how to count to two thousand. You're fine.”
“Yeah, but I think he might know how to count to oh one...this many. If he uses the Force, anyway.”
“You're being a silly goose. You are a great stormtrooper, one of the best, and—Phasma's a good leader. She'll see it too.”
GS-0128 nodded warily. “And Ren?”
“He'll focus on his own battles. With the Force.” In lieu of a quick hand squeeze, RC-0343 settled for awkwardly patting GS-0128 on the back of her armor. “We'll be fine.”
She herself was certainly not a traitor, she thought as she replaced her helmet. She did not consort with Resistance operatives or disobey orders or go absent without leave, unless one was to count those short detours as absences rather than instances of self-preservation.
And if Ren remained out of control, to the point where staying loyal to the First Order would put GS-0128's life at risk...
It couldn't be possible. She secured her helmet and went back to work.
“I thought someone was going to fix the radar!” Kylo Ren demanded.
“Yes,” said Phasma, “so did we.”
“Matt, the technician?” Hux asked. “He seemed very proud to serve a warrior as mighty as yourself. I can't imagine why he wouldn't have gotten it done already.”
“Pah!” said Ren. “If my incompetent underlings can't fix a simple mechanical malfunction, I suppose I will be compelled to do it myself. But be warned, I am sure the Supreme Commander does not approve of delays in the process.” He grabbed his lightsaber once again, seemingly just for good measure.
With a sigh, RC-0343 backed away from the conversation, waving GS-0128 aside.
“What's happening?” the latter asked.
“Uh, request detail in monitor sector.”
“Roger that,” she said, falling into line as they paced towards the small room. A row of screens displayed various rooms of the base and views of the outside, but nobody could see them there. There was no such thing as a camera looping in on itself forever, and as importantly, nobody to watch RC-0343 set her helmet in front of the blanked-out feed that was supposed to be displaying the trash compactor and embark on their newfound ritual.
“This wouldn't even be that difficult to make up for,” said GS-0128. “If they just dispatched a couple of us to patrol the grounds, we'd have the base covered, we wouldn't need this room, and we could redirect sensors and scanning implements to long-range warnings.”
“It's not that easy,” RC-0343 explained. “I'm not entirely sure Ren trusts us.”
“You and I? Or—the Stormtroopers as a whole?”
“As a whole,” she added. “You're trustworthy. So am I. But the Resistance are savvy, and some of their hackers could easily destabilize the remote sensors.”
“Do you...hmm,” GS-0128 smiled as RC-0343 kissed her again. “The Stormtrooper who left, he didn't have any high-level clearance? They can't be accessing our data from their base, can they?”
RC-0343 couldn't help but glance at the stream from the mess hall, an unbroken line of thousands of troops with their helmets still on making their way for rations. So many faceless targets, and she had to fall for someone who wouldn't always be deterred from speaking her haphazard thoughts. “FN-2187 joined the Resistance? That can't be right.” Leaving Starkiller Base was treasonous and unacceptable, of course, but she supposed an overloaded instinct for self-defense could naturally lead one farther away from Kylo Ren's base of operations than expected. But then, better to go anywhere else into the galaxy than straight into the nest of rebels who were losing the fight.
“That's just what I heard at mess hall,” GS-0128 protested, “stories get around.”
“Oh, now there's stories too. Great. Wonders will never cease. Listen, FN-2187 was a nobody, and if the resistance were gonna hack us, they'd have done it by now.”
“Huh. Okay. Thank you. Then what did happen to the radar?”
“Shut up, because now you sound like Kylo Ren. And that is not a voice I want to hear coming out of your mouth.”
“I,” said Kylo Ren, “am going to finish what Darth Vader started!”
“Oh,” said Hux. “What would that be?”
“A true command of the Force, untainted by hesitation or weakness. And an ancient weapon, fit for a master of the dark side.”
“How about an organized army? Accurate, loyal, obedient, glorious?”
“Vader was a visionary,” Ren explained, “not a madman.”
“I told you he'd take it poorly,” Phasma sighed.
“Think I have any need for petty hand gestures and colorful sigils? The garb of my forefathers will serve me better than all your pomp!” Ren yelled, and the omnipresent lightsaber buzzed yet again. Several wall panels gave way (the ceiling being somewhat more important to secure in the wintry climate).
GS-0128's ensuing hand gestures were silent; a turnabout from the hallway she was pacing, beckoning RC-0343 to a stairwell, the careful helmet-setting in the shaft below the stairs, and a brief, nervous kiss in the hopes that anyone who needed to access the second story would be lazy enough to take the elevator.
“Are we any better?” GS-0128 asked. “Than the Stormtroopers from the other war?”
“What?” RC-0343 blurted. “Better how?”
“At...you know. Fighting and stuff.”
“Oh!” She laughed. “Well, sure we are. Think of it this way, your survival rate is 100%.”
“So's yours,” GS-0128 grinned. “And you've been shot at more.”
“From what I hear, the Imperial soldiers were less likely to...fraternize on the job. But then, they probably had more efficient leaders, so they were able to stay more productive.”
“Ooh, I didn't know that. Where'd you hear that?”
Blast. The last thing RC-0343 needed was GS-0128 seeking out more old stories. “A while back, with my old unit. Not sure how reliable they were. I mean—as information sources. They're plenty reliable in the field. Just like you.”
“All right!” GS-0128 lit up. “Let's go see if it's safe to go back.”
Replacing their helmets, they slowly climbed the stairs and started wandering the second floor. Turning another corner, they came across Phasma. “Everything all right?” she asked.
“Yes, ma'am,” said RC-0343.
“You two both wander off into the stairwell, come back a few minutes later with your helmets all jostled...this isn't some completely unsubtle Resistance trap, is it? I'm not falling for those.”
“Absolutely not, ma'am!” GS-0128 declared. “You know us!”
“Or maybe if these opaque masks weren't standard policy, you could get into the habit of being a little more familiar—”
“That's enough, GS-0128,” RC-0343 snapped. “Good afternoon, ma'am.”
Phasma just shook her head as she walked away.
“Good news!” RC-0343 smiled. The smile was irrelevant to GS-0128, of course, since it was behind her helmet, but she was smiling anyway. “I finally got medical clearance, and my fighter's in! I'm a pilot again!”
“Congratulations!” said GS-0128. “Can I see?”
“I think so,” said RC-0343, walking towards the shipyard. GS-0128 fell into step behind her.
It was a small fighter, more durable than the model that had crashed, but with less maneuverability. “Are they going to start sending you out on missions?”
“I think maybe transfer work. Long-distance droid repair, that kind of thing. Who knows, maybe I'll even get to patrol the radar outposts.”
“But then who will I wander the halls with?”
It was a question RC-0343 hadn't given much serious thought to. Mostly she tried to plan for one day at a time; any day Ren wasn't ordering GS-0128 into battle or having her investigated for disloyalty was a passable day. “There shouldn't be any shortage of infantry. But if you wanted to back up weaponry here, I think you could put in a request to transfer.”
“Phasma's been cracking down pretty hard on requests. She says they smack of initiative.”
“Oh.” RC-0343 busied herself by powering on the ship's small monitor and glancing at the preset coordinates. Sure enough, there was a droid-powered signaling station on the fringes of their solar system that she could manually repair.
But before GS-0128 could make reply, they heard the sound of screaming from the weapons station. “We're running behind schedule!” Kylo Ren announced. “How can you expect to obliterate planets if you can't even staff a simple control room?”
“Please,” Hux replied, “stay out of this, it doesn't concern you—”
“The whole business of this base concerns me! These Stormtroopers have grown lax, their inadequacy will no longer be tolerated.”
By then, RC-0343 wasn't sure if she heard her colleagues whimpering from across the base or just assumed it was the natural next step. “Hide,” she said, nodding at the hatch.
GS-0128 took the co-pilot's seat, stowing her helmet underneath the monitor. RC-0343 climbed in after her, closing the doors. GS-0128 turned toward her, a hopeful expression on her face, but RC-0343 didn't acknowledge her, and continued to type at the computer.
“What's going on?” GS-0128 finally asked.
“You tell me, you can hear them better. Is Ren having another meltdown?”
“This one sounds worse than usual. Maybe he's setting the project back, I don't know. It sounds like this is in even worse shape than the radar.”
“Okay. Then we—wait here until it blows over, I guess. But...look, once I'm out flying, you're in charge, okay? You'll have to keep your fellow Stormtroopers safe.”
“By kissing them? That feels a little unfaithful to you.”
“However you think best.”
“All the same, I'd rather be with you.”
“Wherever I go? It could be dangerous.”
“It's dangerous here, Ren gets worse every day!”
“GS-0128,” RC-0343 finally looked up from the console, “I love you more than I fear Kylo Ren. Do you understand what I'm saying?”
“I think so. Do you measure that in, like, designation numbers?”
Sighing, RC-0343 reached for her blaster. “GS-0128, I think we should leave Starkiller Base for the long-term future. If you don't want to come with me, I can stun you and make it look like we fought. But please don't take up arms against me.”
“Er...I'd rather just take your arms...up. To cuddle with. If that's okay?”
“That's great.” RC-0343 punched at the console yet again, and the fighter rose off the ground, appearing for all the world like it was on its way to the signal station as scheduled. Nervously gripping GS-0128's hand, she maneuvered it to the edge of the field, then slowly rose into orbit. Below them, the sounds of Starkiller Base had died away, the weapon's purpose unknowable, and all the logistics required to train, feed, and lodge countless troops were buried out of sight.
“Get familiar with the weapons station; we shouldn't need them, but just in case,” said RC-0343. “I'll see whether this thing can get to hyperspace.”
“Hey,” said GS-0128. “Did we just defect?”
“Oh. Huh. Can we get name-names now?”
“I heard FN-2187 got a name-name. Like 'Kylo Ren' or 'Phasma,'” explained GS-0128. “And if you weren't doing it because you believed in something silly, like the Resistance, maybe that would be worth it.”
“Oh. Well—sure, absolutely, you can if you want. I think there might be other, self-interested reasons for defecting, but get your own.”
“R-C. Roc, I heard, a big ol' flyin' thing that snatches little ones to safety. That's you.”
“Oh, no, come on...”
“You've already answered to it, it's you! Or would you rather be another Cubic? Maybe if you're really great, you can have a second name.”
“Let's not get ahead of ourselves.”
“And who am I?”
“I just said, get your own, I don't care.”
“No, it'll mean more coming from you.”
“You are still a very silly goose.”
“G-S. Good enough. A little flier!”
“That's us! Goose and roc.”
Hyperspace, decided Roc, couldn't come soon enough.