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Philosophers and Fools

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Relax, Captain. We’ve been in worse cages than this one,”

Chirrut Îmwe

Baze Malbus has a plan.

When the stormtroopers come for them (and they will come, despite what Chirrut says) he’ll take Chirrut and run. They’ll head south, to Ksar. Baze has never been to Ksar. Neither, as far as Baze knows, has Chirrut.  They have no reason to go. The Empire won’t look for them there. Baze will hunt deathwyrms through the red dune-mountains, and nothing will stop Chirrut from preaching the Force however he chooses.  

As dreams go, it’s a good one.

Baze refines his plan while he waits for a clear shot. He imagines the house they’ll share while he cleans his weapons; the its small round windows to keep out the cold, the carpet of thick deathwyrm fur, the courtyard where they’ll train together. He makes lists of what they’ll need to pack and estimates how much cash they’ll need.

But Chirrut has always had a habit of frustrating Baze’s plans. When Baze returns to Jedha, exhausted and covered in someone else’s blood, their Mon Calamari neighbour looks up apprehensively from his cooking and says “He’s gone.”

Baze doesn’t need to ask who. He rips off his gloves and presses his palm against the door-panel. They can’t afford a bigger room, so Baze can see all he needs from his position by the threshold. The quilts are rumpled and the bricks beneath their bed are cold. The air still smells of tea. There is no sign of Chirrut.

Baze snarls and steps back outside. Verruth sits hunched beside the communal fire, ladling oil into a pan with one hand and clutching a hot stone to his chest with another. The stones are said to reduce hunger pangs. Baze feels like there’s one wedged in his throat.  He glares at the Mon Calamari as if Chirrut’s disappearance is his fault.

Verruth bobs his head nervously. “I told you he was gone.”

“What do you mean, he’s gone?”

Verruth blinks. His lids slide sluggishly across bulging, crusted eyes. It’s hard for the amphibious Mon Calamari to keep moist in Jedha’s dry climate. “Got arrested.” He glances at the Star Destroyer hovering high above their heads. “Stormtroopers took him.”

“Why?”

“I heard he did something they didn’t like.”

Baze frowns. Chirrut does stuff people don’t like all the time. “When?”

Verruth tells him.

Baze starts running.

The Imperial prison is built over the ruined Temple of the Whills. It’s a small prison; little more than a holding pen designed to process prisoners quickly. Some are executed. Some are sent to labour camps off-planet. Others are transported to the Star Destroyer for questioning. None of them return.

Baze knows he doesn’t have much time.

He’s panting by the time he reaches the prison walls. The building is obviously alien; too new, too pale, too low. The narrow door is guarded by four stormtroopers, and there’s a coded pressure plate on a panel behind them. The façade is blank as a stormtrooper’s helmet. Baze sees only four small windows.

He adds natural light to the list he’s made of things the Empire considers unnecessary.

The windows are too narrow to admit anyone but a child, and the gaps are barred anyway. The prison walls are marked with the scars of a long-spent resistance; faded graffiti, crumpled protest poems, and a few bullet holes.

Baze has one repeating cannon, two blasters, a knife, a short piece of chain that might be used as a garrotte, a few pieces of repurposed, repainted Imperial armour and his wits. He doesn’t like the odds. He’d walk away if he was wiser, but Chirrut’s presence drags him back to the prison like a magnet to iron filings.

He holsters his repeating cannon with a sigh and heads back to the house. There are some things he’s gonna need.

Baze returns to the prison an hour later. He’s bulked out since he left the temple, and his black robe is too tight around his shoulders and too loose around his waist. Cold air chews his fingertips. Baze feels naked. It’s been a very long time since he walked Jedha’s streets without his guns.

He leaves the twisting alleys and steps out into the square. The stormtroopers stand around the prison entrance. They notice Baze and raise their guns. He holds out his hands, lets them see that he’s unarmed. He falls to his knees.

“Get down!” one shouts, although he already is. They spread out and stalk towards him, blasters aimed at his face. Baze sees bright energy crackle in the barrels.   

He bends forwards and presses his face to the dust, holding his breath as he waits for the hot fire of a blaster bolt to burn through the skin between his shoulder-blades. He’s done everything he can to ensure the stormtroopers won’t kill him. He’s still not sure they won’t. Jedha is a powder keg, a known hotbed of resistance. Any sudden movement might make the troopers open fire.

If he dies, he’s gonna come back as a Force ghost just to kick Chirrut Îmwe’s ass.

He begins to recite Chirrut’s favourite sutra. “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” He hopes that it’s true. “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.”

He hears approaching footsteps, a crackle of conversation over the comms. “What’s this?” Somebody kicks him. A blaster’s warm plastic barrel presses behind his ear. “Peaceful protest? I thought all that was past.”

Baze lies motionless in the dirt. He hopes he cleaned off all the blood. Stormtroopers see that, they’ll shoot him for sure.

“I am one with the Force,” he repeats. “The Force is with me.”

Someone jabs him in the back. “Get up.”

Baze complies. The stormtroopers lock binders round his wrists and drag him inside. 

The prison door opens on a dreary lobby. The walls are painted Imperial white that’s already stained the colour of sand. Fluorescent lights glow in the ceiling. A guard wearing a dark uniform and no helmet sits at a curved desk inlaid with a dozen datapads. Baze sniffs the air. Beneath the scent of disinfectant, he smells something else, something cool and dank and old.    

The scent confirms his suspicions. The Empire built their prison on the ruins of the Temple of the Kyber.  Now they’re using the Temple cellars to hold prisoners.

The guard looks Baze up and down. “Name?” he demands.

Baze decides there is no point lying. “Baze Malbus.”

The guard makes a note on his pad. “Offence?”

“Preaching sedition,” Baze says before the stormtroopers can answer. He sees the blow coming before it lands. The troopers beat him, but not badly. Baze curls his arms around his stomach and wishes he had his armour. When they’re done they haul him up and point him at the guard’s desk.

The guard nods curtly. “Welcome to Security Prison Eleven Thirty-eight. We aim to process you within forty-eight hours. During processing, answer all questions fully and without withholding information. You are under investigation for crimes against the Empire. Do nothing, sit still, and wait for orders. If you disobey, you will be punished. Clear?”

Baze grunts. He wants to resist. He does not. Fighting back would be satisfying, but it would only cause unnecessary delays. The guard makes another note on his datapad and nods to the troopers, who hustle Baze away.

Baze has lost his faith in the Force. He has kept faith in the Empire. Fifteen years living under Imperial occupation has taught him Empire ways. In the Empire, everything has its place. Imperial justice makes sure everyone stays there.

The stormtroopers lead Baze down a hallway past a dozen narrow cells. Eyes gleam from slots in the doors. People shout and plead and curse him. Hands tug at his sleeve, clenched into fists or cupped into bowls, begging for food or release. Baze does not hear Chirrut’s voice in the crowd. He tries not to listen too hard; tries not to stare too much at the faces trapped behind each grille. He can’t save them all.

He can-perhaps-save Chirrut.

The clock in Baze’s mind counts down as the guards hustle him to the top of wide flight of stairs. The steps are carved from sandstone and worn from centuries of passing feet. Baze recognizes the staircase despite himself. Things were different, then. He was younger, for a start.

The cave at the bottom of the stairs is much smaller than he remembers. Crude brick walls partition out the space into four cells. Four white plastic doors, each with a basic lock and a hatch for food or observation, shimmer palely in the semidarkness. Baze hears prayers from inside one cell, cries from another, drumming from the third as the people inside beat on the plastic with their hands. A stormtrooper opens the hatch and shouts into the darkness. Silence descends.

The stormtroopers haul Baze to the very last cell and open the door. Faces turn, blinking in the light.

Baze sees Chirrut.

Chirrut sits cross-legged on the floor like he hasn’t a care in the world. There are seven other people in the cell. There are kids who look like they should be in school instead of prison and a pair of grey-haired women who look older than Baze feels.

The stormtroopers shove Baze inside and leave. Chirrut’s smile is warmer than the sun.

“Baze!”

It’s impossible for Baze not to smile back, though his urge to strangle Chirrut does not fade.  “Chirrut,” he says quietly. “Why you here, huh?”

Chirrut frowns. “Why are you wearing your old robes?”

It’s a habit of Chirrut’s to answer a question with a question, but Baze is not letting him get away with it this time. He jabs his hand at Chirrut. “You answer first.”

Chirrut ignores him. “You swore you’d never wear those robes again.”

Baze grunts. “Things change.”

He checks his mental clock and surveys the assembled prisoners. There are more of them than he expected. No doubt Chirrut will want to bring all of them along. The two kids perch on a cot with their bony shoulders pressing together. The five adults gather in a semicircle around Chirrut like he’s some sort of Jedi master.  

Baze frowns. “What you doing?”

The oldest woman present clears her throat and glares at Baze like he’s a kid again. The top of her head reaches his knees. Red wool is woven through her silver braids. “We’re praying.”

Baze laughs. “What for?”

The old woman glares at Baze suspiciously, as if he’s just stolen her laundry. Her slightly younger companion answers in a voice barely louder than the wind that whistles down Jedha’s canyons. “For the door to open. For the Force to set us free.”

Baze regards the door. Dried cement oozes out between the bricks and the door. The lock looks fragile, but Baze knows from experience that Imperial locks are harder to pick than they seem. “It’s not going to open by itself.”

The old lady snorts. “Tell the ignorant man that it might,” she says to her companion. “We must have hope.”

The other woman looks at Baze. “She says-“

“I heard.” Baze tells her.

Chirrut leans back against the wall like it’s a well-padded cushion. “You should listen to your elders,” he tells Baze reprovingly. “This door will open soon. I can sense it. The Force will provide.”

Baze rolls his eyes and sticks his fingers down his throat.

When he’s done, he wipes his hands on his robe and hunts through the vomit until he finds the flash-bombs he swallowed back at the house. The bombs are small, each the size of Baze’s thumbnail. There are six of them. Baze counts them on his fingers to be sure.  Right number.

He looks up and sees Chirrut smiling. He reaches out and lays a hand on Baze’s shoulder. His eyes fix on thin air a foot away from Baze’s right ear. “You see,” he says. “The Force provides.”

Baze taps his chest. “I provide.”

Chirrut smiles. “The Force is working through you.”

Baze shrugs and goes over to the door. He thrusts his hand out of the hatch and plants the first bomb as close as he can get to the door panels. “Get away from the door,” he tells them, and triggers the bomb.

They have a couple of seconds before the bomb goes off, which is long enough for Baze to kneel and spread his arms around the kids and the old woman. He rolls his shoulders and tenses for the blow, realizing one second before the explosion that he should have shoved his fingers in his ears.

The bomb explodes.

The explosion is silent. The pressure wave hits like a giant’s punch. Baze’s ears ring. He goes deaf for a second. Shrapnel peppers his back. Chirrut kneels beside him, arms spread wide. His sleeves are tattered. He glances round and says something Baze can’t hear. Baze shakes his head. He swallows. Then his ears pop, and he can hear again.

“You have a plan,” Chirrut repeats. He sounds very certain. More certain than Baze, that’s for sure.

Baze nods. Chirrut peers expectantly at him. Baze snorts - sometimes even he still forgets-and says “Yes.”

He looks round. All the prisoners are in one piece, though Baze has fought enough battles to know that they might still be injured. “Come on,” he tells them. “Listen. There’s not much time.”

He leaves without waiting to see if they will follow. By the time the first kid pokes her head through the shattered plastic, he’s blown up the second door. Prisoners rise, bruised and bleeding. The last door pops with a shower of sparks just as Chirrut appears.

Prisoners emerge, blinking, through the smoking doors. They mill around in the corridor, staring at Baze, Chirrut and the children.  A few of them watch the kids in ways Baze does not like. There are all kinds of people in the Imperial prisons. Some of them deserve to be there.

Baze jerks his head at Chirrut. “I’m here for my friend,” he says. “The rest of you, run.”

Chirrut holds up one hand before the last word has left Baze’s mouth. “Wait!” he commands, glaring reprovingly at Baze. “Baze,” he says in an undertone, “we can’t just leave these people here to die.”

Baze shrugs. “They won’t all die.”

“Some of them will. Most of the others will wish they had.”

“We can’t save them,” Baze growls.

Chirrut gazes at Baze through opaque eyes until Baze shifts uncomfortably. “I can’t,” he says. He raps Baze on the chest with his knuckles and grins widely. “But you can.”

Baze protests. “I don’t think-“

But it is too late. “All is well!” Chirrut announces to the suddenly silent room. “My friend here has a plan.”

Baze bats Chirrut’s hand away and glares at the room through tangled hair. The prisoners shuffle uneasily. One small boy bursts into tears. “Wait here,” Baze says gruffly. “And keep quiet.”

The prisoners obey. Baze grabs Chirrut by the collar of his robe. The corridor behind them is empty. He retreats as far as he can. “How do you know I have a plan?” he demands. “Don’t tell me it’s the Force.”

Chirrut smiles beatifically at Baze. “You always have,” he says, smiling. Baze is feeling quite tender towards Chirrut until he grins even more widely and announces “Though of course it is the Force.”

Baze snarls and palms another bomb. “I had a plan,” he corrects.

“We cannot use the prisoners as a diversion.” Chirrut says, divining Baze’s thoughts as usual. “That’s something the Empire would do.”

Baze glances back at the small group of shivering prisoners. “Not all, then.” He remembers the way some of the men watched the kids. “Maybe some?”

“Maybe not,” Chirrut says firmly. He taps at the cheap Imperial brickwork. “Baze, you know it is our duty.”

Baze sighs. “All right.”

Chirrut grins.

“Though if I must choose between them or you,” Baze says, “I will choose you.”

Chirrut makes a sound between a cough and a laugh. “The Force makes all men equal.”

“The Force does not exist.” Baze says.

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do mean that- “Baze pauses as the echo shifts beneath his fingers.

Chirrut nods. “I think it’s here.”

 “Did the Force tell you that?”

Chirrut shakes his head, smiling. “Acoustics.” 

Baze rolls his eyes as he slaps his last bomb onto the bricks. Once Chirrut and the fugitives have retreated to a safe distance, he presses the trigger and lopes along to join them. The bomb explodes with silent force.

The dust clears, leaving behind a hole in the wall big enough for a bantha to pass through. Baze loosens a few bricks, kicks the rest out of the way. Chirrut walks right past him and steps inside the gap without stumbling.

Baze shakes his head and follows. It’s very dark inside. He blinks, feeling foolish. What did he expect? The Empire left nobody alive to tend the Temple’s lamps. Of course it’s dark.

Baze steps back and checks the lights, but they are high above his head and are not removable in any case. He should have brought a torch, though the Force only knows how he’d have smuggled it in.

Chirrut pokes his head out of the gap. “It will be all right,” he says to the prisoners. “We know the way.”

 “He knows the way,” Baze corrects.

The fugitives stare at Baze with wide eyes. Baze organises them into a chain and Chirrut helps them through the tumbled rubble. They set off through the darkness. To Baze’s surprise, the system works well. He holds the old woman’s bony hand and brings up the rear. Her fingers feel like a bundle of sticks.  

She plucks at his robe. “Are you a Guardian?” she asks.

Baze has no intention of answering, but Chirrut answers for him. “Baze Malbus was once the most devoted Guardian of us all.”

“I used to be a Guardian,” Baze corrects.

“There must be a story behind that,” says the old lady.

“If there is,” Baze growls, “I am not telling.”

The granny seems to get the message. She falls silent for a while, then starts up again. “What a sad place.”   

Baze grunts.

Chirrut’s voice drifts from the front of the line. “The Temple of the Whills is just a building.”

Baze recognizes his tone. “Stop preaching,” he cautions. “This is not the time.”

Chirrut ignores Baze and continues. “If the Empire killed the Guardians, but left the temple, the building would still be beautiful, but it would have no purpose. No. This way is better.”

The old woman sighs, as if Chirrut’s said something profound rather than obvious.

Baze can’t see how. This way is better? Better than what?  Better for who?”

They shuffle through the dark for what seems like an eternity. The air is dry and cold. Baze remembers paintings on the walls, though it’s too dark to see them. It was so long ago that his memories have faded. He slides his feet over the floor, searching for something he can use as a weapon, but there is no sign of pursuit. After a while Chirrut coughs. “There’s a wall.”

Baze makes his ways to the head of the little column and runs his fingers over splintered wood. “Stand back,” he says.

He waits for the prisoners to shuffle away before he slams his shoulder into the planks. He’s forgotten he’s not wearing his armour. The blow hurts more than he expected, but the planks splinter satisfactorily. Baze kicks the remnants of the door from the frame and peers out. Cold air slaps his face. He sees a narrow, empty alley. “Come on.”

Chirrut is the only one who does not seem glad to leave the tunnels. A few prisoners flee as soon as they are outside. The old lady drops Baze’s hand and stares up at the Star Destroyer in a way that makes Baze wonder if she’s gone mad before she slaps his hand and tells him that she’s calculating their location by counting the portholes.    

They go from house to house, dropping off the kids with their families. “Leave Jedha,” Baze tells them, and the people nod as if they take his advice seriously. They leave the old lady for last. She shakes Chirrut’s hand and tells Baze that Chirrut is a nice young man. Baze wonders aloud if the old lady is blind as well as ancient, and she asks for his last bomb as a present for her daughter.

Baze gives her the bomb. He does not ask about her daughter.

Chirrut rests one hand on Baze’s shoulder as they retrace their steps through the narrow streets. “You should trust in the Force,” he tells Baze as they walk.

Baze snorts. “Don’t believe. Not anymore.”

“Then how did you find me?” It must be the Force.”

“It was the Empire.” Baze has made his mind up not to protest, but he cannot let this pass. He loves the strength of Chirrut’s convictions, but sometimes-if Baze is honest, all the time-they make life very difficult. “They rank prisoners according to their crimes,” he explains. “They arrested me for preaching the Force. I knew they’d take me to your cell.”

Chirrut smiles. “The troopers didn’t arrest me for preaching.” His grin widens. “It was the Force.”

Baze ignores him. “What did you do?”

“I was begging in the market,” Chirrut explains as they set off along the street. “A stormtrooper asked me to translate.” He shrugs. “So, I did.”

“What did you write?”

Chirrut shrugs again. “I didn’t write anything. I made him repeat the sentence until I was sure he has it right.”

“What sentence?”                        

“He asked me to teach him how to say his name in Jedhan.”

“What did you say?”

Chirrut has the grace to look embarrassed. “I told him ‘Please help me-I have learning difficulties.’”

Baze resists the temptation to smack his head-or Chirrut’s-against the closest wall.  “So, they arrested you.”

“I went quietly,” Chirrut says as if co-operating with the Empire is a virtue. “They said I was a fool.”

Baze scowls. “This is not news to me, foolish man. It was a stupid thing you did. We should leave here.”

Chirrut stops dead. He digs his feet in the gaps between the stones. “I’m not leaving.”

Baze sighs and leans on the alley wall. He peels a protest poem off the bricks and scans it. To his surprise the poem is quite good. “Why not?”

“There is someone here that I must meet.” Chirrut glances along the alley as if he expects someone to suddenly appear. “But I don’t know when.”

“What someone?”

“Just someone.” Chirrut says evasively. “It’s important.”

Baze sighs. “We can stay. But we must move. Tonight. And maybe next time a stormtrooper asks you for a translation, don’t be clever, eh?”

Chirrut nods. “I won’t.”

If Chirrut thinks agreeing will temper Baze’s outrage, then he’s wrong. “Better,” Baze says. “Next time, just tell them what they ask for.”

“Yes, Baze.”

“One more thing. You learn. Don’t do anything as dangerous again.”

Chirrut smiles serenely. “I make no promises. All is –“

Baze holds up one hand. “I know.”

“All is as the Force wills it.”

“It was luck,” Baze snarls.

“Luck is just another word for the Force. Say it with me. The Force is with me and I am one with the Force. Say it.”

“No.”

“At least try.”

Baze shakes his head. He watches Chirrut Îmwe smile, shabby and tired and secure in the knowledge that this, miserable as it is, is the best of all possible worlds, and feels a great surge of love.

Some people say it is a fine thing to die for a cause. Only the living talk that way, and often not for long.

But Chirrut believes in the Force.

Baze believes in Chirrut.