The days without war were so long ago that Bodhi remembered them with the milky translucence of pre-verbal memory. There was the sound of his mother’s voice, the texture of the paint of his crib, the wooden toy that his sister carved for him that spun in painted circles. And most of all there was the night sky from the view-port of his father’s ship, the great wide embrace of the universe.
And then the war began. His mother was a practical woman and she folded her youngest child up against her side as she waded into the factory to churn out parts for the Empire’s war machine. Even once he was old enough to go to school, he’d leave as soon as the day’s lessons were over to help. He ran empty bins between pounding machinery and brought the line workers water all through the hot evening shift.
His whole family worked hard together at first, surviving as a unit. But little by little, time ate away at them. His sister married and went off-world. His father went off to fight and never came back. Cousins were recruited left and right. The cabal of aunties grew old and weak and sick.
“You must find a career,” his mother told him between bouts of a bad cough. She’d had it for over a year and the medic could only shrug and give her syrups. “Something to keep you alive and safe.”
His father had taught him how to fly a little and the belly of trade was ever hungry. He started with local flights, but eventually got a job on a freighter that would bounce between systems. He sent messages home to his mother every month and she sent him back gossipy missives and her hopes and dreams.
“Hi Mama,” he wrote back early in what would be spring back home, “I’ve been promoted. I’m piloting an Imperial cargo ship starting next week. The pay raise has already come through. I’ve transmitted it to you. Please buy Sonny’s new baby something for me and spend the rest on yourself.”
Six days later, he met Galen Erso. Technically. In that, he’d handed Galen a manifest that the man had distractedly signed off on it and then turned away to deal with something else. It wasn’t particularly auspicious and Bodhi spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if he’d get off in time to find food that hadn’t come vacuum packed.
A month after that, Bodhi sent a message to his mother and didn’t get one back. He waited a few days and then reached out to a neighbor.
The neighbor didn’t respond either.
Four days after that, the news finally came through. The manufacturing plant, the lifeblood of his hometown, had been incorrectly built over a pocket of unstable gas. When it finally reached the surface, a single spark and been enough to cause a catastrophic explosion.
“We regret to inform you, citizen, that Line Worker Pele Rook did not survive. We are sorry for your loss.” A faceless trooper told him via hologram. “A death token will be paid to the oldest surviving heir.”
Bodhi clenched and unclenched his hands as he sat there on his stiff cot.
Then he went back to work. To earn money. To survive. That’s what she would’ve wanted.
He kept his head down, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t see. Didn’t hear.
The second time he met Galen, the man was sitting ramrod straight in the second pilot’s seat. Their cargo came in slick black boxes with no labels. The manifest had been encoded.
“What do you believe?” Galen asked him, late into the flight.
They couldn’t go the hyperspace with their load. Another gas pocket, Bodhi thought. That thought alone worked into him, made him open to Galen’s steady barrage of questions. Crammed together, they had reached an accord in the velvet darkness, hushed conversation over the glow of the console.
“I don’t know,” Bodhi adjusted meters that needed no adjusting.
“A man with no convictions is a man who does not know himself,” Galen spoke like that all the time. Crisp pronouncements that encompassed Bodhi and set his mind spinning wildly. “Do you know what the future holds if the Empire wipes out the rebellion?”
“When,” Bodhi corrected. “When they do.”
Galen stared out into that vast unfeeling infinity.
Bodhi tried to see what someone like Galen saw. To Bodhi it was a navigator’s maze, the intricate guidance system of pinpoint light.
“I believe in that,” he gestured to it all. “That it will all still be here. Forever.”
“The light of those stars may already be dead,” Galen turned to him, hooded eyes burning cold. “What about civilizations? What about all of us? What will the Empire make of us?”
He sucked in a breath, the factory crumbled and a faceless entity never even apologized. Three thousands souls that breathed in and never breathed out again with no more fanfare than a tiny broken piston.
“I don’t know,” he said again, but this time he met Galen’s eyes. “But I don’t want to help make it happen anymore.”
“Good,” Galen took Bodhi’s hand between his own. The man’s skin was waxy and dry. “That’s the first step. Now tell me what you’ve done.”
The confession took forever and five minutes more. He told him about witnessing bombing runs, taking orders that carried him to towns like open sores. The dozens of times he’d stood by and done nothing, said nothing. The handful of others where he’d helped.
When he was empty of words, Galen only held his hands tighter,
“And what if I told you that you could make amends?”
By then Bodhi would have given Galen anything. That dead star gaze laying heavy and certain as steel against his own quivering will. The details of the conversation were lost. There was only a name, a location, a strip of priceless information pressed into his palm like a benediction.
When he sat in the foul cell, his mind scattered in a thousand directions, he could see a small sliver of the sky. He could feel Galen’s gaze even then, though he had forgotten the man’s name.
He remembered he was a messenger before he remembered that he was a pilot.
A wooden top spun brightly through his muddled thoughts.
Then there was running and no time for a breath to catch in his throat. His heart pounded so loudly for so long, that he wondered if it might just explode at an inconvenient moment, leaving behind a broken shell to be quietly shuffled aside.
Instead, he maneuvered and weaved. Galen’s death drifted past him on his long flight between realities. There was no time or need to mourn. How could he say goodbye to someone that lived so presently in his head? He could hear the steady, ceaseless goading to do something. To make it all count. To protect Jyn at all costs. It drove Bodhi ever forward, pounding heart and all.
“Thank you,” Jyn said, taking his hand for the briefest breath as they left behind a rebel base in confusion.
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled. Her fingers left a warm imprint behind.
When they finally land on Scarif, Bodhi could not see a single star.
But he believed in them all.