I’d joined the Resistance, albeit unknowingly, at the tender age of sixteen. I was cocky, sure of myself and my existence, but in reality I was stumbling through the galaxy on my own, feeling like a fish out of water. Never could catch my breath, never could stay in one place too long.
See, I’d started running errands for these old smugglers, and the whole lot of ‘em turned out to be Rebellion era fighters. Could’ve fooled me, but when the First Order descended on the galaxy like a duck on a June bug, those old smugglers answered General Organa’s call with a fervor that bordered on blind fanaticism and spoke of an inner turmoil to return to an old existence.
My friggin’ luck that I happened to be on board when they took off, but after a couple days of tip toeing past the bridge and eavesdroppin’ on anyone I was quiet enough to catch, they’d started giving me odd jobs around the ship to ‘earn my keep’, so to speak. It dawned on me in between hyper jumps, when we were passing planets that I could’ve been easily dropped off on, that these stupid idiots had just accepted my existence. I wasn’t questioned anymore than a loaf of stale bread left on the counter, unless I was caught not doing anything.
There was one old guy, named Dex, horrible chain smoker, who seemed to make it his sole mission on this journey to teach me every single lick of info he had rattling around in his head. It was a nightmare. He talked circles around my head so fast I got sick. Finally, though, he just shoved me in a room full of wires and beeping buttons, tossed a wrench on my head like an afterthought and snipped, “don’t blow us up, kid.”
It was heaven after that. Whenever I got a chance from then on, I was up to my elbows in wires and machine guts. You see, veins are like wires and ships are like organisms. I think. At least that’s what Dex kept tellin’ me, over and over as he checked my work. It was like a fuckin’ mantra by the end of the first week. Taking everything apart was easy, but putting it back together exactly how Dex wanted it? That was the challenge.
I started thinking this shit wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When we got to base, I left the ships behind with barely a glance, cocky and arrogant once more, pretty darn sure that if I strutted around the base like I owned it for long enough, it would start to be true.
It’s not like running errands between star pilots and generals was any different from running them between smugglers and drug lords. They all talked the same lingo, cussed up a storm (I made sure to catalog every new word for future practice) and they all demanded answers yesterday. The only downside to working with a group with a reputation for militarization was everybody in the whole damn place wanted to know my name, and my shrug and half smirk didn’t quite work the same was it had on the streets of Coruscant.
Eventually though, after several years of scamping around underfoot and learning the ropes, people learned to quit asking. I had finally learned how to stand still for more than five seconds, and was even sleeping decently most nights. Course, that’s when it all just had to change. I hate new things.
When Dex grabbed me after I’d completed an errand one day, hauling me up by the back of my jacket like a wet cat in the rain, I never thought that my life would change so much in one day. I didn’t know it at the time, or even months after, but that action was the moment my destiny was laid out before me.
I’d hate to admit it, but I missed the smoke from the death stick he always had clenched between his teeth, and even managed a grin for the matching one he wore that day. Looking back at it, I don’t know if I should’ve just said flat out no before he could get a word in edgewise.
“Woah, kid, slow down. Where you off to?”
“Gonna get food.”
Dex nodded, as if scarfin’ rations at 2300 standard time was perfectly normal. “Well, listen here, kid, I got you a gig, k.” It wasn’t really a question, but Dex had been coming through for me for a while. I trusted him about as far as I could throw him, which was pretty far since those death sticks had turned him into a visual walking skeleton.
“I kinda like the gig I got goin’ already.” I crossed my arms and waited; giving him the look he’d taught me to give droids when they were misbehaving. It made him laugh, and he set me down with a thud that caused me to stumble.
“You’ll be fine, kid, just keep your head down.” He handed me a piece of paper, as if I could fucking read. Wasn’t too big of a deal, there was this girl in the bunker that liked to read people’s mail out loud for ‘em. She’d tell me. I started to scamper off again, but skipped sideways to hear Dex’s words as he yelled them after me.
“And think up of a kriffin’ name, kid!”
Later, when I’d finally persuaded the girl, with a kiss on the cheek, to read my letter, I swore so loud I woke up the officer stationed in the bunker to watch the bunks and spent the rest of the night scrubbing the inside of a toilet out. Kriffin idiot had stationed me with the gunners, bogged me down with a team and sent me out into the firefight. I was gonna piss on his death stick stash the first kriffin’ chance I got.
The squad I was bogged down with was the biggest outfit of misfits and weirdos I had ever seen, with tempers like volcanoes and fuses so short you could sneeze the wrong way and they’d light up like a firecracker. First day of training was a kriffin’ joke, everyone standing in a circle and telling our names like we were in the goddamn first grade again. And of course, when it was my turn, a shrug wasn’t gonna cut it.
“What the hell we suppose to call you, kid?” The kid had a lotta nerve; he wasn’t much older than me to begin with. He had eyes like a glacier though; the look would give lesser people the shivers. Didn’t bother me one fucking bit.
“Not kid, ass,” I snipped, and you would’ve thought a galactic war broke out, with how fast he had jumped the circle and socked me upside the head.
I lashed out as I went down though and managed to kick him in the stomach, sending him crashing backwards. I got caught up in the strap for the gun tied around my neck, though, and by the time I had wrapped myself up like a pretzel, he had his hands on his knees, laughing his fucking face off.
I snarled something that caused the whole group to go off, and soon we were all busting a gut from the sheer stupidity of it.
“Gunny.” The kid said, and I gave him a weird look, still pulling on the gun strap to extract my head so I could just friggin’ breathe.
“Well, you fuckin answered to it, so it’s your name now.” He had a shit-eating grin.
“Funny, I had a dog name Gu-” it was his turn to be socked upside the head, but I settled for throwing the boot that had slipped off my foot at his face.
They were assholes, every single last one of ‘em. But they were also the closest thing to brothers I had ever known. We came to rely on each other in the fight, communicating with whistles, kicking ass, and never letting someone forget about all the times we pulled them out of a sticky situation.
I had a name now, Gunny, for better or for worse. It wasn’t like I was a bad shot, pretty good one in fact if I do say so myself. Everyone else ended up with nicknames along the way. The kid with the glacier eyes ended up being Sumabitch. I came up with that one after a sticky situation involving a card game and alcohol. Gunny was all I had though, and I couldn’t seem to not answer to it, no matter what mixture of sarcasm, anger or downright rage it was spoken with. There was only one time someone from the squad said it softly, but I was so out of it I couldn’t tell you if it was a dream or not.
It was after my first firefight, really all of ours’ first fight, and I was huddled against the side of the cargo ship we were stashed in, shaking like a leaf and trying not to slide down and break down crying.
“Gunny?” It was so soft I almost missed it, but then someone touched my shoulder and my secret was out, because instead of attacking Sumabitch, I had shrunk away, and that was all the confirmation he needed that something was wrong. It was painful when he forced my arm away from the side of my body, but nothing prepared me for his fingers grazing the blaster wound on my side.
“Great balls of fire, you fucking asshole,” it was hissed between clenched teeth, but all he did was smile, and cuff me upside the back of the head with enough force that I stumbled forward into him.
“Dammit, Doc! Get back here and treat stupid Gunny before I put ‘em outa all our miseries!”
Took that bitch two more firefights before he quit checking on me afterwards, but I think the final kick to the shin put a permanent dint in the bone and cooled off the internal need to mother hen me.
Something kept happening over those fights, we would all get so shit faced drunk and end up passed out in the weirdest places. Unfortunately, since our motto was the original “no one left behind”, we had to round everyone up in the morning before we could go back to training. One time, I don’t even know how, but they had to pull me out from inside the dismantled engine of a y-wing. I never lived that down.
I didn’t get years in this gig like I had running errands. Maybe I’d proved too useful, maybe I’d fixed one too many things instead of breaking them like gunners are suppose to. Hell, maybe Dex finally took pity on me and spoke up. Only problem was, I felt like I belonged with these stupid homicidal idiots. They scratched a primitive urge to do untold violence that I didn’t even know how to hide anymore with polite society. I learned how to be loud, crass, and violent, but with an intent that was borderline surgical. To an outsider, it might look like we were just a bunch of wild hellions, but there was a dance, a verse, that had to be followed to the letter.
Affection was shown with violence, threats were met with laughter, and jokes switched places with linguistic rants with ease. Family was family, hell almost everyone had bled on or into everyone else by that point. We were stuck like glue, or so we thought.
Then the call came down the line from one of those superior officers that had a dime a dozen names to go with their face: lil’ ole Gunny was suppose to go work on starships. I’m not kidding when I say the shit almost literally hit the fan. Forget the fact that we were all on the same side; the uppers could have just sentenced me to live on Hoth for the remainder of my years for all the squad was concerned. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t end in violence or treason, so the next morning saw me up early, cranky and pissed, heading towards the silhouette of x-wings out on the tarmac
Waiting for me, shivering in the chilly air like she’d never been outside before, was a girl with green skin and large, liquid eyes. She seemed nice enough, barely curling her lip when I refused the hand she offered. I really didn’t want the softness that clung to her like a cloud to rub off on me. When it was clear I was more than ready to sit in the light and blink at her in silence like an owl, she huffed and looked down.
“What’s with the boombox?”
Cheez, even her voice was soft. I glanced down at the gift, feeling my ears heat up unexpectantly. The player had been pressed into my hand this morning by Sumabitch, his whispered, “something to remember us, Gunny,” had hit my cold ear something bad. What was worse is then the idiot just had to hug me, and I could still feel the press of the blaster he kept under his arm indented into my ribs.
“”Tunes,” my voice sounded more like a croak escaping into the predawn air.
Her nose scrunched up in distaste, and I decided right there and then that she was a lost cause, unredeemable in my eyes. Who the fuck doesn’t like music? Eventually though, she seemed to shake herself and almost offered her hand again.
“I’m Neva,” she blinked, and I realized that this was her version of an introduction.
“Oh, Gunny,” she’d been practicing her disgusted look all right, but it just made my lips twitch with how her mind seemed to literally trip over my name.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
“Never needed to.”
Neva sighed, like it was coming from the roots of her toes, and I flashed her a trademarked grin of canines and gunner humor, harsh and sharp. She snorted, and then turned. “C’mon, Gunny, you got a lot to learn. Keep your head down around the pilots though, they can smell weakness.”
I snorted, but when she looked at me questioningly I just cocked an eyebrow. Gunny hadn’t been weak since before the smugglers.
Fixin’ starships wasn’t really that hard. It was like a flashback to a simpler era, and I couldn’t even approach an engine without catching a whiff of Dex’s smoke curling around me. Nostalgia. Wasn’t even really dangerous, didn’t hold a frickin’ candle to being a gunner. The thing that pissed me off though, to the point that I threw a astrowrench at Neva’s head one day, was the common occurrence of ‘oh, Gunny was a gunner’. Apparently gunner equaled dumber than shit around here. Which is pretty funny, considering half of them walked around covered in shit in the first place.
After a month of wasting my time, I was finally unleashed into the pit with the rest of the hooligans. It was stupidly safe. Warning stickers everywhere, safety lines you weren’t supposed to cross, the whole shebang. I avoided the continuous shrieking of every mechanic around me and ignored every flashing doodad I came across.
Well, to be honest, after a while everyone just started scuttling outta my way. It could have something to do with the orange jacket Neva and four of the mechanics had wrestled me into after the second day. I didn’t take it off cause they were so damn proud of themselves, seemed a shame to undo their self-approved superiority.
For some god-forsaken reason though, every single mechanic acted like the pilots raised and set the two giant gassy suns that orbited the planet, and to just look sideways at one was to in effect flip a deity the bird. A pilot would waltz out of the woodwork, and the kriffin mechanics would scuttle like cockroaches after a light was turned on. It made no sense. Sure, they were rough around the edges, to be sure, crass and brash and in your face, but they were candy sucking little snot rags next to the manic lunacy that ruled the gunners. Undereducated, I’d say, in the finer things such as keeping alcohol down or cussing. But, hell, they sure got the ladies.
My unofficial tests from the pilots started out small, like we were both testing the waters before diving into the deep end. I like to think they were trying to figure out if I was as insane as the other mechanics seemed to think I was. I was just trying to see if any of em’ had a goddamn backbone. So I’d walk by them, ceremonial clipboard in hand since everyone seemed to think I’d need help remembering faces and types of ships, and as a unit their heads would turn from wherever they were lounging around like alley cats in between gigs, before the leader would twitch and their gaze would slide away. Damn spooky almost.
I’ll tell ya one thing though, no matter how scared the mechanics were of ‘em, I never saw a pilot even give one a mean look that wasn’t earned from breaking a ship. Everything else was forgivable, but touch a man’s baby, and he’d light up.
After a couple of days, the silence was the thing that broke me. I was so goddamn tired of working without music. We were in a kriffin’ rebellion, and it was time to rebel. So, after zipping up my orange caution jumper and grabbing my lucky hat, I made a detour and picked up my boombox. It was about time I had listened to that tape. Sumabitch had promised it was pure fuckin’ gold, some punk band from his pop’s youth when he as a podracer out on the fringes of the galaxy, running drugs for the Hutts and rakin’ in the dough. Shame it was all imperial credits.
Seemed I’d picked a good day for music though, because it wasn’t hard to tell that peace in the hanger was over. The pilots were lounging in their usual space, but as soon as I rounded the x-wing classed as Blue-3, the chatter stopped and all eyes fixed on me as I stopped in front of them.
I eyed them for a minute, and I could practically feel Neva’s stare boring into the back of my head as I jerked my chin in the direction of a pilot. I knew his name, Snap, but I hadn’t had the chance to work with his ship or be properly introduced. “You got a problem with your ship?”
Now all eyes flicked to Snap, and I felt my lip twitch upwards as he rose slowly from his perch and took a step away from the relative safety of the pack. Hell, this was more fun any day than baiting Neva.
“Uh, yea, thanks, but I didn’t realize they’d send the trainee.” His comeback earned a chuckle from the girl behind him, but the sound died off as I kept my eyes trained on him.
He was clearly comfortable in his home turf and truly confident he would get a rise outta me. Fighters, everywhere, had the tendency to be assholes like a bull had the tendency to piss on the competition, and I’d seen my hellion squad do this to countless people before they had earned respect. Hell, it had been done to me. The pack could decimate someone, and would. So you had to be an asshole back. It was a universal language. It was comical, this ageless dance of dominance, but as long as everyone followed the steps, no one would get hurt.
So I copied his slouch and let the arrogance of a shit gunner bleed into my eyes before I answered. “I didn’t realize pilots were blind.”
It was like an ion cannon had gone of in the ranks, backs ramrod straight and a crackle in the air, but they still let Snap take the lead.
He scoffed, “If I’m so blind, tell me why I’m up in the air and you’re stuck down here.” The pilots marked that as a point scored, I could tell. Not that I could blame them. To a pilot, nothing was more important to them then being up in the air. Anyone not in a cockpit was lower on the food chain. Simple fact.
“I’m chicken with heights.” I drawled, scratching the back of my neck and pushing my hat back, “but if you’d be able to see that Tie you smashed your bird into, you wouldn’t need chickens like me to fix your shit.” The gunner smile was teeth, canines, lips pulled back only for a moment.
Snap cocked his head to the side as if he was surprised at the comeback, but it was the rangy looking pilot with curly black hair seated on a crate behind him that laughed. When he unfurled himself, tucking his hands into the white straps on his iconic flightsuit, the rest of the group looked at him like dogs looking at their master. The Leader.
“I think you tied with this one, Snap.” He patted Snap on the back with a skin snapping force as he came up beside him, leaning forward to grin. “So, you got teeth?”
“32 of em,” I shoot back, staring slightly up into his face as he stepped up a tad bit too close for comfort. There was a slight itch between my shoulder blades, a tic left over from being a gunner. Usually it was not a good thing when someone got this close.
Luckily this guy was good at reading language queues, or maybe it was my knives for teeth smile, but he leaned back a little bit, giving me space under the pretext of shooting a look at Snap.
“Oh, damn,” he grinned again as he turned back, head cocked as though pondering something. “You were a gunner, yah?”
“Far as I’m concerned, I still am.”
“How come you’ve decided to join the betters?” I reared back, not expecting the pilot to cross that line. It seemed he realized he had though, and was waiting for something from me. The game had changed, and I was left without a player’s manual. Unless he was as stupid as that question made him sound though, and he was itchin to be punched in the face.
I narrowed my eyes, fist curling inwards, taking in his eyes, stance, and then the pips on his flightsuit. I registered from the corner of my stare that Snap’s eyes tracked downwards from my hands and then back to my face.
“I don’t see any ‘betters’, commander.”
Something keen passed in his eyes, like acceptance, and I somehow knew I had passed the test. I’d pull out every single one of my teeth before I admitted it, but with that look he passed his own test. I decided I wouldn’t punch him in his face… yet.
He gave that weird shoulder twitch again, and the pilots broke from their lounging like the sea on a beach, cracking jokes and hollering at each other like kids as they disappeared to god knows where. When I cocked a brow at the rangy kid still standing in front of me though, all I got was a shrug and a shit eatin’ grin.
“Names Poe Dameron, and this lump is Snap”, he snipped, ruffling up his curls like he had helmet hair and nudging the pilot beside him. A hand was offered, “what about you, gunner?”
I looked at his hand for a moment, then thought ‘fuck it’ and did the unthinkable. I grasped it, feeling his callouses as sure as he was feeling the ones lining mine, and shook it.
A look was shared between the two, but obviously they didn’t have shit for brains like Neva, and their mouths only curled upwards a little as Snap waved me over to his bird, Poe trailing a little behind like a guard of honor. When we rounded the x-wing however, I couldn’t stop the cuss word that flew out at the mass of wires sticking out from the blackened hole on the starboard side. The viewport canopy was shot, cracked in at least three places, and the top gun on the wing was hanging on by a few threads.
“Kriff, you really did lose your fuckin’ eyesight, eh?”
Snap huffed back, his hands wedged so far down in his pockets he looked like a schoolboy. “Can you fix her, Gunny?”
“Depends,” I eyed the mess, setting down my boombox and opening my toolkit.
“On?” That sounded like Poe, and, glancing under my arm, I saw they had parked themselves on crates and were watching me like a dog watches their human open a cookie packet as I dug around for my tools.
“On whether or not you shits actually fry mechanics for listening to music.” Gunner smile met their laughter as it roared out of Poe and Snap doubled over.
“They really are that terrified of everything, huh?” Snap asked, to which I was gestured at my orange safety jacket and they set off again.
Poe reached down, contorting so he didn’t have to leave his crate, and turned on the boom box. I found myself grinning as he leaned back again, the pulsing beat of guitar and lyrics drowning out the various beeps and voices from the hanger. I grabbed out my gloves and pulled them on before leveling a wrench at them.
“Watch and learn, flyboys. I ain’t got all day to babysit your worthless hides.”
Judging from the indulging smirks that I got, I’d already been adopted. From the way that they hardly moved from the crates all day only proved the point. When Poe had nudged me, dodged the elbow I had thrown from being nudged, and handed over a sandwich several hours later, it was cemented in my mind. My family hadn’t been left behind; I had just gotten some extended branches. It made a warm bubble in my gut, down right sickening.