Chapter 1: Testing Times
It was getting late. He had spent far too much time staring at the monitor screen, slowly losing the will to live as seemingly endless tracts of gibberish scrolled past while waiting for the program’s final verdict. Mitaka rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, certain that by now the characters had been permanently burnt on to his retinas; already visions of the readouts danced before his eyelids at night before he drifted off to sleep.
Ultimately, it would be one of three possible outcomes: the remote system met the project requirements, the remote system test failed, or the far too often encountered sudden blank screen followed moments later by the terse message of ‘connection has timed out, terminated at source’ which signalled the demise of the remote system; its ancient processors fried beyond use by the barrage of commands that made up the testing suite. There was, technically, a fourth result, wherein the simple act of uploading the test code bricked the remote system, rendering it totally useless. But this was was logged under outcome number three. The powers that be cared little for the cause, just the outcome.
And so he would move on to the next relay, and start the monotonous process all over again. The ages-long upload of the testing suite would be followed by the shorter but no less tedious wait while the program executed, spewing meaningless diagnostic information that would no doubt haunt him to the end of his days.
Mitaka had been at this for nearly a month, conducting an audit of Clone Wars era relay stations scattered across the sector at the edge of the Unknown Regions. Glorious work in furtherance of the First Order’s goal of bring order to a highly disordered galaxy… or something like. He tended to curb such thoughts as quickly as possible, they made him uneasy and unfocused and he had a duty to remain focused on the task at hand, no matter how dull.
And it was dull, interminably so; with still about sixty six more relays remaining to be tested. But the lab was quiet, he was getting on with work and no one could find fault with him for that. Just one more wouldn’t hurt, he thought to himself for the fifth time that day as he logged the results of the previous test (system suboptimal) and opened a connection to the next relay on his list.
He didn’t pay much attention as he typed, working by muscle memory alone; connect to the relay passing the code that neatly sliced the relay’s password protection and uploaded and executed the testing code.
Finalizer Audit-Core [Veers-cluster] (3 users logged in)
V-cluster-1:~ dmitaka$ HYPERNETCONNECT GLD-204 -u t4kt4k -p !pwd-override.xcute -exe
Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (1 user logged in)
Having graduated top of his class one might have been forgiven for thinking that he considered such a menial task beneath him; acting as little more than a glorified babysitter carrying out a job a droid could have done, or another algorithm. But a posting to the Finalizer - so prized among his graduating cohort - was not necessarily the wondrous thing they had all believed. Certainly not with General Hux and Kylo Ren at large.
Mitaka strove to perform any and all tasks to Hux’s approval and, for the most part, succeeded. He had, to date, had mercifully little interaction with Kylo Ren; but along with every other officer he had learnt that when Hux and Ren were in close proximity the atmosphere tended to simmer on the verge of combustion. There were, to his knowledge, at least two pools running as to who would attempt to kill whom first. Mitaka had not paid into either, it wasn’t seemly and might lead to unpleasant ramifications if or when they were discovered, though privately he suspected Hux would try first but Ren would be ultimately successful.
And as for the work, if he did this well, and there really was no way to do it badly, short of not logging results, then he might get a juicier project or assignment. It was probably some kind of a test. Complete this without complaint and you proved yourself worthy of consideration for something marginally better. Besides on a large ship and in a large organisation there were hundreds, if not thousands of small tasks not unlike this on that needed to be completed to ensure the smooth operation of the whole. Something tiny and seemingly inconsequential could be the grit that sent things spiralling out of control.
Mitaka let out a groan, this relay seemed to be far more sluggish than the others. Usually the relay would have fallen over by now, unable to handle the code upload. The data cores of some relays were filled with unread messages: notifications of troop movements from battles well over a half century old, and other communiques and so simply had no room left for the code he was trying to upload. Or their memory cores were stuck in a loop trying to send out data to other relays. He had half a mind to go and have a word with the programmers to suggest that they look into doing a core dump before the test suite was uploaded thereby avoiding the loss of what might otherwise be perfectly serviceable relays. But that might be construed as far too proactive. He hadn’t been assigned the task of designing the test, just carry it out. It hadn’t stopped him from sketching out a better test suite in his off hours though he didn’t have the programming knowledge to implement it.
He found himself rooting for the ancient little system that could, just as he had, after a few dozen tests, mourned for those that had perished so ignominiously, especially having survived the Clone Wars, taken down by a few hundred lines of code.
Come on GLD-204, you can do it!
Finally it hit 100% and the screen flickered and went blank before the testing program kicked in.
relay-audit.xcute loaded hit any key to continue.
Any key indeed he thought to himself as he gave the ‘krill’ key a bored tap, heaved a sigh and leaned back as far as the hard chair would allow. It could be quite soothing, watching the wave like patterns formed as the text scrolled by. Hypnotic even, sometimes he imagined it was rain coursing down a pane of glass. And wondered what it would be like to live on a planet that had real weather. In a building that had windows. And have the time to spare to just watch the rain fall.
Relay-audit.xcute complete - system nominal.
Exiting test suite in 5 seconds.
And there it was, his cue to do something again, and so, like the good little automaton he was, he did; leaning over to enter ‘nominal’ on his datapad along side the entry GLD-204.
He turned his attention back to the terminal weighing up whether he would quit now and head back to his quarters or do just one more, when he noticed it.
New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (2 users logged in)
Who else would be logged on to a busty old relay out in the middle of … well nowhere? As far as he knew he was the only one conducting audits for this sector.
Various options scrolled through his mind - gods he had spent too much time at this task - should he log off, or should he find out who it was. In the end his curiosity got the better of him.
New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (2 users logged in)
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ show users
-xsh: show: command not found
Mitaka pursed his lips, getting the system to list the logged in users shouldn’t be this tricky, this was hardly rarefied slicing but system level operations wasn’t really his area of expertise.
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ list users
-xsh: list: command not found
He decided he’d try once more and if it didn’t work he was going to call it a day, and go and have a decent night’s rest before another morning five K run punctuated by Phasma’s cutting remarks about the stamina of the junior officer corps.
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ users
Bingo! Mitaka punched the air before frowning; who or what was user 1123581321? Was it a relic of the testing process? He quickly flipped through the sparse documentation on the testing but came up short. His attention was arrested by the terminal emitting a dull, almost bored sounding beep. He looked up to see the screen stutter and clear itself.
talk session requested by user 1123581321
Press ‘yirt’ to grant or ‘nern’ to terminate connection.
>>> well hello there! Whatever are you doing in such a clanky janky system!
Mitaka let out an involuntary chuckle. Clanky and janky was an excellent description of the systems he had been trawling through. But he wasn’t about to completely lose his head.
>>> who is this? what is your operating number?
>>> 1133583121 like it says ;-)
>>> what is that?
>>> what is what?
>>> the three punctuation marks.
>>> it’s an emoticon.
>>> what’s an emoticon?
>>> you’re kidding? right?
>>> no, please explain.
>>> ok, right, turn your head to the left... see the winky face.
He did as he was bid and sure enough, if you squinted… it was a winking face with a broad smile. An answering smile crept across his face.
>>> that’s pretty cool.
>>> wow! You are really easily impressed ;-p
It didn’t take him long to decipher the second emoticon.
>>> hey no need to be rude.
>>> all in good fun my dear t4kt4k if that is indeed your real name.
They ended up - for want of a better word - talking for hours, though about nothing much in particular mostly they exchanged increasingly outlandish emoticons before moving on to what 11 - or ‘K’ as he took to calling them in his head because it was the 11th letter - termed word art.
Their conversation had skirted around specifics about roles and locations; sticking to safe topics such as the prevalence of stale or uninspiring rations and the fickle nature of computers. At the back of his mind, a little voice warned Mitaka to tread carefully lest he was communicating with a member of internal First Order security tasked policing any location, from server to commissary, on the lookout for seditious talk or wavering members. Or even perhaps a proactive honeytrap. Or they were someone outside the FO and he had to be just as careful to not divulge any information.
It was only when the shipwide chime went off signaling ersatz midnight did Mitaka realise he had been logged on for nearly fifteen hours straight. And he had to be up in five hours time.
It then dawned on him too, as he sought to explain why he had to suddenly log off, that he had really no idea who ‘K’ was, or with whom they were affiliated.
The First Order were not exactly public with their existence, and he liked K well enough that he didn’t want to discover a reason they shouldn’t be, for want of a better term, friends. All he knew about them was that they (presumably) knew their comms systems and were very funny; his jaw and sides were aching from the laughter he had suppressed over the last few hours.
If they weren’t First Order - and he expected he’d find out pretty damn fast if they were and were not sympathetic to nor a fellow bored compatriot likewise shackled to a terminal - then they could be anyone: a Hutt with an extra large keyboard, a slicer working for Kanjiklub, hell they could even be a member of the Resistance attempting to verify the First Order’s existence by securing remote relays at the edge of the Unknown Regions. But more surprising to him was that he really didn’t want to know; he liked them, alot, and enjoyed talking to them and rather hoped the feeling was mutual.
>>> I’ve got to go it’s late and they are rather strict about curfew.
>>> oh I hear you. Boss lady can be very cranky about bedtimes, can go a bit overboard with the mothering. And I am so off the clock right now and to be honest the chairs we have here are probably older than this relay and my back is killing me. I think my butt lost all sensation about three hours ago.
>>> My crappy lumpy bed calls to me... take care t4k
>>> bye k.
--- user 1123581321 has left talk
As he stared at the blinking prompt he realised he had no idea how to actually exit this damn talk programme. He sat stock still, willing it to time out or something.
--- user 1123581321 has rejoined talk
>>> your saviour has returned! Quick crash course! type talk @ >username< to initiate and type \q to quit and return to the shell. Byeeee!
--- user 1123581321 has left talk
New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (1 user logged in)
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ exit
Finalizer Audit-Core [Veers-cluster] (1 user logged in)
V-cluster-1:~ dmitaka$ exit
He rolled his shoulders and his own lower back protested vehemently at the action. The Finalizer was less than than ten years old, but they clearly didn’t have the comfort of those sitting for long periods of time in mind when they designed the seating.
Mitaka gingerly got to his feet, and as he walked back to his quarters, two thoughts occurred to him. Firstly, that he was glad Rodinson with whom he currently shared quarters was on night shift. He could avoid interacting with him, dodging questions as to his whereabouts for the last few hours - it was bad enough having to pick up after him. Secondly, K had mentioned sitting in a chair and that had to rule out a Hutt.
Chapter 2: Stress Testing
Things are just going from bad to worse and Mitaka begins to wonder if the cycle will ever end?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
When it came right down to it, it had been a hell of a day and a long one at that.
He hadn’t slept particularly well the night before. He was still awake into the small hours listening to the sound of Rodinson’s stuttering, strangled snores. It was torturous; every time it seemed to settle in to a rhythm, it was punctuated by a shrill snort. Mitaka rolled over, clasping his thin pillow to his head, trying and failing to block out the noise. Still, there was one ray of light; Rodinson had been reassigned to operations on Starkiller Base, a fact that had pleased him no end, and all being well he would have a new bunkmate before the week was out.
Mitaka was exceptionally glad of the fact. He had grown tired of Rodinson’s incessant parroting of the base-cum-superweapon’s stats and fanatic idolisation of General Hux. As far as Mitaka was concerned Hux was not a great man. His vision was worrying and the longer Mitaka was out of the Academy and serving with older officers, who had served the Imperial Navy, the more he wondered about the somewhat warped ideals of their instructors.
After what seemed like hours of auditory abuse Mitaka’s thoughts turned to K. He wondered what time it was where they were. Did they have an equally irritating bunkmate? Their conversations had become increasingly intermittent over the last number of weeks; a few hours here and there when their time logged on to the relay had overlapped. He had tried to tease his misgivings with K in such a way that would not be tantamount to him holding up a sign that read ‘Hello There! My name is Dopheld Mitaka. I’m a member of the First Order and I would consider committing treason for the promise of a single moment of emotional connection.’
Going by past remarks K appeared to be bothered by the actions and beliefs of some in their chain of command. But a female superior who looked out for their junior officers didn’t exactly track with the behaviour of someone like, say, Phasma. Phasma didn’t look out for people. Being looked after by her probably meant a laser bolt between the eyes. He found himself breaking out in a cold sweat as the wave of dread hit him again. What if it was all just a long, drawn out honey trap; designed to test him, his loyalties. Eventually the thudding of his heart must have drowned out Rodinson’s nasal assault and he drifted to sleep. It was fitful and he was plagued by dreams he couldn’t quite remember when he woke the next morning.
In spite of the lack of sleep, the day itself started off reasonably enough. The strike team had returned from Jakku with only minimal losses and one Resistance member brought back for questioning. The scuttlebutt in the mess hall was that it was Poe Dameron, lately of the Republic Navy. Which suggested that either the Republic quite whole-heartedly supported the Resistance or that he had defected.
Was it defection, though? Mitaka mused as he sipped his morning caf. The Resistance were loosely, nominally affiliated with the Republic, at least insofar as the Republic apparently made no attempt whatsoever to curb the Resistance’s activities.
In any event it hardly mattered now; Dameron had been captured and subsequently questioned. Further gossip over the morning meal was that Kylo Ren had had to be called in to complete the interrogation. That was not a pleasant thought to dwell on. And this had seemingly annoyed Hux no end. He was somewhat touchy regarding the subject of his troops’ competence. Mitaka was not looking forward to his upcoming shift. If Hux was in a mood, and Ren was hovering around the bridge the atmosphere was not going to be pleasant.
Then things had taken an odd turn.
His diligent work with the relays had led to a promotion and along with it a much coveted assignment to the bridge. Again, not the wonderful thing it was supposed to be.
Diligent… he wondered was code for unimaginative and unlikely to think for himself - at least in a manner that was frowned upon and meant a one way ticket to a far less salubrious posting.
He had been on his way to report to the bridge when he had been briefly held up. A mouse droid had careened into the back of his foot - it happened from time to time - and as he paused to make sure the droid was alright, and to buff out the scuff mark on the back of his boot, he thought he saw a Stormtrooper ducking into a service alcove with what looked like their newly acquired Resistance prisoner.
It seemed so unlikely a thing to happen that he put it down as the effects of staying up far too late talking to an oddly distracted K and not getting enough sleep, and continued on his way to the bridge.
And it had gone downhill from there.
It turned out that it had not been his imagination. Dameron had escaped, aided by a Stormtrooper who had been part of the Jakku landing party. They had stolen a Tie Fighter, destroyed a hanger and fled back to Jakku, armpit of the galaxy.
And now to top it all off he had the dubious honour of delivering a report to Kylo Ren detailing the less than ideal outcome of the search.
Mitaka had not had much interaction with Kylo Ren but he’d always seemed reasonably stable. But in the last twenty-four hours all that had changed. Ren and Hux had been needling each other more than usual and the tension on the bridge was palpable. It struck Mitaka, that Hux seemed more pleased by the fact that the news would annoy Ren than he was upset about the failure of the mission.
Why he, of all the junior officers on the bridge had been singled out, escaped him. Perhaps it was punishment; for his slight hesitation in firing the concussion missiles, or perhaps Hux knew of his unauthorised communications - which was unlikely since he had been using a different terminal, one that didn’t log, an almost certainly illicit setup which the programmers used, for god knows what. But he was the one chosen and so he dutifully departed to deliver the report. Which had not been received at all well.
The initial search of the Goazan badlands had shown that the crashed ship had been swallowed up in the sinking fields. A trail of armor and faint set of wind dusted footprints hinted at a single survivor and had led to a trading outpost, of sorts, where FN-2187 and the droid had been positively identified. Why anyone would place anything vital in such an easily recognisable droid was beyond Mitaka. But that was where their luck had run out. With the help of a local the fugitives had managed to evade capture, as well as destroy four Tie Fighters, all in a freighter that probably belonged in a museum if it didn’t first shake itself apart entering hyperspace.
Ren appeared to be trembling as much as he was. He turned slightly, and, though his voice was taut it betrayed a hint of humour Mitaka hadn’t believed possible of him:
“The droid... stole a freighter?”
Stammering, he expanded on that point. No, the droid had apparently had help. From FN-2187.
Something seemed to snap in Ren, his terrifying saber seared to life and an innocent console bore the brunt of his rage and frustration. Mitaka flinched and squeezed his eyes shut, glad it was not him, but also not entirely certain that he was going to leave the room in one piece. He opened his eyes briefly to witness the long swooping action of blade as it tore into the metal and electronics. But as sparks were flying perilously close to him it was probably best to keep his eyes closed so as to remain harmed. He tightened his grip on his cap and silently wished for Ren to rein himself in.
Eventually the slashing stopped and the sound of the saber was replaced by Ren’s laboured breathing.
“Anything else?” he added almost offhandedly, or as near as he could manage.
Mitaka paused for a moment before responding.
“The two were accompanied by a girl...”
Ren’s head snapped around and Mitaka found himself suddenly hoisted in the air, the toes of his boots skittering and squeaking as they dragged along the polished floor. The unseen grip around his throat was firm as he was pulled towards Ren’s outstretched hand, which tightened as he caught hold of him.
“What girl” Ren choked out through gritted teeth, though it seemed to Mitaka that by rights he should ought to be the one gasping for air. He felt his vision dimming for a moment before various scenes from his life played out before him. Being jostled in the mess hall at the academy. Enduring one of Phasma’s monthly character building marathons around the ship. And lastly one he couldn’t place at all. His ears were filled with the swelling roar of what sounded like waves but was more likely the sound of the blood in his skull and a young woman’s voice calling out, matter of fact but with a suggestion of affection: ‘All set, love? Ready to dive?’
He then felt himself falling, but instead of water, he hit the cold hard deck. He gasped, the sharp, ragged intake of air burning his throat.
Ren was hurrying from the room. Although his ears where still pounding Mitaka could have sworn he had heard the retreating figure utter a muffled sorry.
He lay on the floor a few moments, waiting until Ren’s stomp faded away to nothing and all he could hear was the sound of sparking electrics and the popping and creaking of cooling metal from the ruined console, while yearning for the simpler days back in the lab doing mindless relay audits.
He picked himself up, brushed himself off, screwed his hat back on his head and strode off towards one of the more out of the way labs. His shift was over anyway and he had a strange feeling of invincibility.
Not everyone had been enthralled by the demonstration of Starkiller’s power. Kylo Ren had watched from the bridge before retreating without a word. He seemed to have shrunk, his hands clasped tightly behind his back as he hunched inwards. A number of the older officers looked nervous while a few very young crewmembers were visibly distracted and upset. Mitaka tried to maintain as impassive a facade as possible and as soon as he had the opportunity he, too, slipped away, heading towards the comms lab.
Seeing that he was not alone he busied himself with some legitimate work, cross checking reports and his pet project of improving the relay testing.
The lab slowly emptied, the few techs remained, who had been working on a problem with some new tracking system gave a sudden cheer and slapped each other on the backs before shutting down their workstations. They filed out as they discussed how to repeat the test again the next day leaving Mitaka alone in the dimly lit room.
He followed suit, logging out of his work station before moving to another one at the back of the room and logging in once more, this time under a different login; a supposed backdoor left by a freelance slicer.
Finaliser Dev-Core [Piett-cluster] (3 users logged in)
( W )( A )( R )( N )( I )( N )( G )
This is a development box
Commands are not logged
Changes are not saved
All session data is scrubbed on log out
Proceed with caution
HYPERNETCONNECT GLD-204 -u t4kt4k -p
His fingers flew over the keyboard. An age seemed to pass and then the screen went blank before the all too familiar text scrolled along the top...
Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (2 users logged in)
He thanked whatever deities might exist when he saw that K was logged in. He was ready to, need to, forget everything that had happened today and eager to talk about utter nonsense but it was not to be. Before he had a chance to type even the shortest of greetings a message flashed up, terse and straight to the point.
>>> oh good you are ok. look can’t talk now don’t know when will be back on. stay safe. mtfbwy
Mitaka didn’t even have a chance to reply before K logged off. He frowned. Mtfbwy what did that even mean?
His stomach sank like a rock dropped in a lake as realisation hit, and a wave of nausea passed over him. K was certainly not a member of the First Order. And any relationship he had hoped they might have was doomed. They would never meet in any circumstances than on opposite sides in the war that Hux just declared. He would never see their face. It struck him that they never really saw the faces of the people they were drilled were the enemy.
Out of uniform, would they look any different? Certainly when blasted to pieces or returned to their constituent elements they were wholly indistinguishable.
He quickly logged out. His hand lingering for a moment on the screen after he stood, as if it was somehow connecting him to K.
Godspeed, he murmured.
Lost in thought, he made his way back to his quarters to find a smug Rodinson packing up his uniforms and few other possessions.
Mitaka shrugged out of his jacket and hung it up before laying down on his bunk in his shirt sleeves. He closed his eyes and let Rodinson’s sycophantic chatter wash over him like so much white noise.
“I don’t know why Hux tolerates him. He didn’t even manage to get the droid. Just came back with some filthy girl. I’m told he carried her on to the ship. Actually carried her! Like she was.. I don’t know… an honoured guest or something.”
In his minds’ eye Mitaka saw it; Ren with a girl in his arms… bridal style, since it would look better than slung over his shoulder like someone lugging home a new rug. A mirthless laugh escaped from him lips. Lucky bastard, Mitaka found himself thinking.
The base was gone, the fleet was… in pieces, literally. The Resistance, too, was… gone or as good as?
No one had questioned why any of them had been in that section at the time the Raddus had torn through the ship. He suspected Peavey was just relieved they had survived.
He had even received a commendation for saving the lives of the rag-tag group of troopers and other officers who had been in the section he had sealed off before they were sucked/blown out into the cold vacuum of space.
None of them had spoken much of what had passed between them in the eighteen hours they had spent together while waiting to be rescued. At the time it might have been considered treason, now he wasn’t so sure. They were all tired and jaded. An older officer, a man with pinched features, who had served in the Imperial Navy during the Galactic Civil war, eventually spoke up around hour five and declared that remaining with the Imperial Remnant had been a poor choice on his part, had he the chance again he’d disappear into a simple civilian life.
The others had shifted uneasily; they didn’t really know the meaning of ‘civilian life’. Nor was it one they necessarily had aspired to; they had grown up hearing that civilians were easily led fools, content to let a far away government speak for them, lie and dictate to them. What they possibly did day to day was a mystery to them. All they knew was the routine of the Academy or on ship: drills, simulated combat, meals in the mess hall, other chores. Actually living; making choices, providing for themselves, that was terrifying. For so long life aboard ship or landside on the Starkiller base had really been an extension of their early years training.
But their superior had allowed the flood gates to open. And they had all to some degree began to question the status quo as far as they knew and understood it.
Only now the stakes were real. No more war-games of little red and green blinking lights that were wiped clear at the end of the day for a fresh go around tomorrow. This was real, and once one of those little lights was snuffed out, that was it… game over.
Did he really wanted to participate now that he knew what it really was. Just perpetuating a cycle; if they survived today they were likely just cannon fodder for tomorrow.
“But it’s exciting,” one trooper offered, his helmet pushed back high on his forehead, emboldened perhaps by certain death to speak his mind.
Mitaka gawped at him, his mind still a whirl. This pointless conflict was exciting?
“I’d like to have some say for once.” The trooper added.
Oh, no, they were discussing there possibly being a future...
There was a low grumble of assent that slowly tailed away and they each returned to contemplating their feet.
A moment passed and the trooper spoke up again, “what about you sir? What will you do when it’s all over?”
Mitaka looked up, he wasn’t used to being called ‘sir’.
When it’s all over? What would be left? Starkiller was gone, so presumably Hux’s tactic of blasting intransigent worlds into rubble meant there would actually be someplace to go, assuming they didn’t suffocate or starve to death in this cramped section first.
He paused for a moment. Still, happy thoughts, maybe it was the onset of hypoxia… He found himself thinking about ‘K’, their parting words and the idealised image he had built of the two of them. A dream, really, but one now that he had the time to consider it was rapidly solidifying; no longer a nebulous figure but a girl, he did have his preferences after all, a human girl perhaps, but really in the end if he had someone who cared for him, and after all he had been party to...then that would be enough.
“I… don’t… Maybe look for someone.”
“Yeah, it’s important to have someone, don’t want to embark upon the great unknown alone.”
Eventually they had limped away from Crait. The tension between Hux and their new Supreme Leader was worse than ever; but the task of quickly making space-worthy the few ships they had mostly intact proved a welcome distraction.
Working in close quarters with whoever was still alive proved illuminating. He had never had much occasion to mix closely with the trooper corps, but the handful assigned to him proved to be an astute and friendly group and not at all the blindly devoted followers of First Order Hux would like them to be.
There were a myriad of simmering threads of discontent that people seemed to be more at liberty to voice. Rumour coursed through the remaining ships almost as quickly and divisive as the Raddus.
They ranged from the frankly amazing tale that Ren’s girl, who had beaten him within an inch of his life on Starkiller , had later actually shipped herself to the Supremacy in a escape-pod.
‘Looking like a kriffing angel from some Spacer’s drunken vision’, according to one trooper, as he helped Mitaka repatch the wiring from a comms relay, his face dripping with sweat from the heat of the small welding tool.
And that wasn’t the end of it, she had somehow killed Supreme Leader Snoke and the fearsome Praetorian guards, but had left Ren alive. He would have dismissed this tale as pure escapist fantasy had he not seen the pod for himself. It had somehow survived, with only minimal damage, Property of Han Solo scrawled across it. That had given him pause as well. Orders were that the pod was not to be jettisoned but hauled into storage. He couldn’t imagine why they’d hold on to it, but the order had come from higher up, much higher up, the command chain.
The hitherto indestructible Phasma had vanished, escaped from a bacta tank. Consensus was split as to whether she had defected or just decided to take advantage of the general confusion and remove herself from the scene entirely. Some said it was good riddance; she had lowered the shields on the Starkiller base one person claimed, and had murdered to cover it up. Others said she was as much a victim of the First Order as they had been and hoped she could find some peace. This struck Mitaka as an odd sentiment to express, he was a member of the First Order, not a victim of it. But the troopers... they had been removed from their families or otherwise… acquired and trained for two things, to kill and be killed for the furtherance of the First Order’s agenda. They hadn’t chosen this. But one thing was true, they were all trapped.
Deeply troubled, he found himself unable to sleep much in the weeks that followed as his whole world view was turned upside down and given a vigorous shake out. Was it possible, for him, given his past, to ever make a moral choice that would actually make a scintilla of difference? Or would it just be canceled out by someone else’s actions that were in likelihood based on their own moral convictions?
Regardless of how he felt, battle lines were being drawn, not just between what remained of the First Order and the Resistance, but internally. Events were slowly plunging onwards, unstoppable and inevitable. It would come to a head eventually and he was going to have to choose a side at some point. Or be caught in the crossfire.
Many thanks to LoveThemFiercely for beta-reading.
Chapter 3: Testing the Waters
About a year has passed and there have been a great many changes, but there is one constant: Dopheld is on his own.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Testing the Waters
“Loosen up, Dopheld, it’s supposed to be a party, not a wake.”
One of the other junior bridge officers approached him and gave him a speculative smile which he did not feel at all like returning.
He didn’t feel like celebrating or ‘mingling’ as per Peavey’s quasi-order of: ‘use this as an opportunity to get to know your new colleagues before the hard work of the day to day kicks in’. It wasn’t that he particularly mourned the demise of the First Order - far from it - it was just he felt he had nothing to look forward to in this brave new world they were all pitching in to realise, other than a lot of hard work. But that would be good; work had always been his refuge but then there was that adage about consistency and the unimaginative. A lack of imagination seem to tally with a lack of empathy, something that had kept them blind to what was going on around them. Now he was plagued with visions of what he had seen in the last few years and he now readily believed the rumours of far worse; such as miners who had not been relocated or evacuated prior to tests.
He was looking forward to being able to get stuck in, head down and being too busy to think about anything else, and in time he’d just forget. And he really did at that moment, just want to forget what had once seemed just within his reach. It was always too good, too sweet to ever really be.
Someone must have mentioned his work with the deep space communication relays since he had been assigned to help head up a new comms team. Partnered with a former Resistance Officer, their first project was to work get the remaining relays online as well as travelling out to see which of the overloaded relays could be salvaged or retrieved for parts. That part filled him with trepidation, a tour of the outer rim could mean weeks out in deep space, just the two of them and a small team of technicians, assuming they could be spared. He didn’t expect they would become bosom buddies but hoped, that at the very least, his new partner didn’t hold grudges.
Mitaka sighed and blew out his cheeks as he looked around the cavernous room. He was standing at the leading edge of one of a number of small groups of former First Order members, mostly made up of junior officers. What remained of their senior leadership was nowhere to be seen, having blended almost seamlessly, perhaps too seamlessly, with their peers in the former Resistance, only identifiable by their darker uniform jackets. Dopheld supposed it was because they had known something of life outside and before the First Order; they were better equipped for such things as peace or detente or stalemate or whatever one might call the situation in which they now found themselves.
The Stormtrooper corps too, had merged with the Resistance troops. A not insignificant number had rallied around the Resistance leader formerly known FN-2187 at a key moment, and they had since welcomed their comrades in arms, briefly turned foes, with open arms. Out of uniform they were utterly indistinguishable from their new troop mates, and were cheerfully swapping tales of skirmishes, training regimes and ration based woes.
It seemed that it didn’t matter from which side they originally hailed; all around him former foes were finding a middle ground and shared experiences on which friendships and possibly more were being founded.
“Would you rather… be stationed on Hoth for a month or… Mimban for a week.”
There was a chorus of groans and guffaws.
“Ooooh tricky… is the heating working?”
“Is it the rainy season?”
“When is it not the rainy season?”
“Really good mud for face masks on Mimban.”
The ground crews had found common ground complaining about pilots and ships alike:
“Have you ever managed to do maintenance on a Tie Fighter without getting an electric shock? Who designed those things? The wing configuration may look great, but they are an utter gundark to ground properly.”
“Hot shot pilots, they throw those A and X-wings around like we don’t need sleep and love nothing better than to put their ships back together. No, they blow it half to pieces, throw us a cocky grin and then expect it to be ready again if not better than ever in five kriffing minutes. No wonder we drink...”
“Yeah, well we didn’t get very far with our still… some snot nosed deck officer, I swear he was about twelve, reported us. ”
“It’s all in the past mate, here have a swig of this…”
“Wow that’s the good stuff! You know what, I’m going to go and biff the head designer at Kuat in the nose…”
“Get in line!”
“Now, the B wing…”
“Oh those are a thing of beauty… Tie Silencer isn’t bad though.”
Which left them, the bridge officers; excluded by the troopers because they were seen as soft and unable to ‘hack it’ and the ground and tech crews for similar reasons: “wouldn’t know a harris wrench from an alluvial damper.”
Somewhere off to the left a hearty roar of laughter went up and echoed around the marble room, lilting high over the various conversations and sounds of good natured mingling.
Was Connix, his new workmate, who he was to meet with the next day, out there in the buoyant throng? What working with them would be like? Hopefully not too awkward, maybe they too would be able to find some common ground as well.
“All I said was that as mixers go this one is staying rather more homogenous than I’d hoped for.”
“I know my troops, they don’t do ‘at ease’ very well but they have loosed up nicely. But it’s the younger officers who need a push really.”
“But was it absolutely necessary to spike the punch?”
Dopheld did a double take - serving on a busy starship bridge had trained him to be very good at picking out and zoning in on conversations and voices - and he knew that voice. He hadn’t heard it in a great many months though; and never outside the confines of a helmet. And never sounding like that; warm and amused, always cold and clipped and, at times, harsh.
Filled with curiosity, tinged with a little dread, he looked around the room, eyes peeled for anyone of the right height. Who ever had put credits on defection was probably very pleased.
In a far corner, he saw the former Supreme Leader, who now went by Ben Solo - that explained why they kept that escape-pod he supposed - smiling - always a surprising sight - his cheeks flushed crimson as he looked down at presumably whoever currently had their hands in his hair.
Dopheld felt his own cheeks flush, and he quickly moved his search onwards. Further towards the centre of the room there were one or two others of the right height, men and women who were either far too old or the wrong species to be the owner of the voice.
He shrugged in defeat and took another swig of his drink, it stung the back of his throat - definitely spiked. As he lowered his glass, he detected some movement out of the corner of his eye; standing a few feet away by one of the pillars that lined the room was a tall woman. She was stunningly beautiful, her pale face framed by soft waves of hair that shone like sunlight and skimmed her shoulders. She wore an utterly nondescript outfit of muddy brown and was looking down at a man with dark curly hair who was extremely well known to all on both sides. And she was smiling in a way that could only be described as rueful.
Her companion braced himself with one hand against the pillar, tipped up on his toes and gave the vision in a boiler suit a quick kiss which earned him a swat on the shoulder. Lightning fast he caught up her hand and kissed each knuckle, while fixing her gaze with his. Dopheld felt his cheeks flame up, uneasy at having witnessed such an intimate display, and not a little jealous either. Not of the man, no, gods, the idea of wooing Phasma frankly terrified him, but that seemed very much in keeping with the reputation of Captain Poe Dameron. But… at the loss of that opportunity for intimacy that he felt he had come so close to… once.
Not for the first time did his mind wander to ‘K’; wondering where they might be. Blasted to smithereens at Hux’s orders as the Resistance fled towards Crait, or killed during the short, brutal and useless offensive on the planet’s surface. Or any number of other times between then and now in skirmishes that only prolonged the inevitable; that they all had to learn to get along. That nothing was to be gained from fighting. Mitaka frowned inwardly, wondering when he’d lost all patience with his fellow sentients and had become so cynical. When had he become so jaded, and his pragmatism given way to world weariness. Probably back on the Finalizer while sitting waiting to die, slowly. He wondered if Connix would feel the same or if they would manage to muster the energy to display - to be honest, understandable - animosity since expecting to be welcomed with open arms was really too much.
Dameron freed Phasma’s hand and she drifted behind the pillar as he turned away from her and back into the room, his eyes met Mitaka’s. His soft smile widened into a cocky grin and he advanced towards Dopheld and the hesitant gaggle of junior officers crowded behind him.
As he approached the group, awed murmurs of ‘Dameron’ rippled around Mitaka. He acknowledged them with a conspiratorial wink.
“Phas added a little something the X-Wing techs have had brewing for Force knows how long to the punch.” He said by way of both introduction and explanation as he reached Dopheld’s side.
“Go on, they won’t bite,” he cocked his head towards a group of young Resistance officers who were likewise standing apart from the main throng, trying to not be so obvious about sizing up their former First Order counterparts.
“Unless, that is, you ask,” he added, flashing a dazzling grin. In twos and threes the group began to disperse; a few elbowing each other in a joculour fashion, emboldened by drink, as they made their way over to the other officers, and hesitantly trying out what might charitably called a pick up line or two.
Dopheld, however, stayed where he was. He didn’t much feel like making small talk. Too much still weighed on him. Dameron however was nothing if not dogged in his mission to foster amity between the two sides.
“You must be Mitaka, come on, shape up. Don’t worry about the scar, I have it on very good authority that Resistance girls are very partial to scars. Boys too..”
At the mention of the ragged scar that ran along the edge of left side of his face, and along his jaw he winced, recalling how the force of the Raddus’ impact had thrown around like a rag doll. He really wasn’t all that interested in the gaggle of young, admittedly pretty females he was being steered towards like lunch to a rancor.
He felt he ought to say something to the man.
“I’m sorry about before,” he said with more force than he had intended.
Poe turned to him with a look of confusion. “What’s that?”
“I was the one fired the ventral cannons.”
The other man’s brows drew together as his bafflement continued.
“When you and Finn were escaping the Finalizer.”
Poe gave him a wide grin, and laughed heartily as he clapped him on the back.
“Oh…that! That’s all in the past. Besides, I’m on pretty good terms with most of the people in this room who have tried to kill me at some point in time. In fact it’s proved the basis of some rather strong relationships. Hopefully I can count you among them.”
Dopheld couldn’t help but smile at the man’s attitude. It was true. All around them were people who had actively been trying to kill each other and now… weren’t. True, tomorrow they’d wake up to jobs and hangovers but they’d be doing it together.
Maybe he should just forget about K or at least not dwell on them so much, and start afresh like everyone else was doing; from the Supreme Leader right down to the pimply tech who maintained the laundry droids and was right now in a rather impressive embrace with a lithe Twi’lek girl and sturdy Duros… boy?…
“I’m going to go back to my uncle’s farm. There is quite the market now for artisanal cheeses.”
There was a snigger. “You… are going to be a moof-milker?”
“Ugh, so childish… but yes. The whole process is by hand, absolutely no automation. Ok, he does have an absolutely ancient protocol droid who does the accounting. How about you Kay?”
“I’m staying on, though I have booked some time off in a few months time once the new comms team is settled. I’ll probably need it, force only knows what this new guy is going to be like to work with, probably argue every little thing with me. I’m going to go diving on Camino. They have some of the most impressive examples of fossilized sea life. Possibly the largest undamaged spiral shell fossils in the galaxy.”
“Oh great, here we go. Counting down to Kay mentioning mathematics and spirals in five… You know maybe if you talk to him about that your new guy might request a transfer, get him out of your hair.”
“It’s fascinating!” The girl’s voice grew in volume whether through a combination of drink or eagerness he didn’t care. He had to know. His heart was pounding.
“It was the first time, Connix. But you mention it every. Single. Time. 18.104.22.168…”
Dopheld’s whipped around. The name of his future partner mentioned in conjunction with the otherwise meaningless sequence of numbers had that danced around in his skull night after as he tried to sleep, teasing, taunting; he knew he had seen them somewhere before.
In that instant it just clicked. The memory of a long ago pure mathematics course, pushed to the back of his mind by an onslaught of drills and at the time more important information, and the sequence that had shown how nature and mathematics were strangely and inexplicably linked. Visible in the whorls of flowers and shells they never saw for themselves nor expected too. Nature and beauty weren’t things given much time or consideration by the First Order.
He quickly extracted himself from Dameron’s hold on his arm and veered off, zeroing in on the small group.
“Now technically that was you starting it.” The girl huffed. Her name was Kaydel... K? Was it too much to hope, or just a coincidence?
“5.8.13” He continued, as he neared them, hoping it didn’t sound as loud, slurred, or downright creepy as he feared.
The girl, whose hair he noted with amusement was pinned up in a pair of spirals, turned slowly. Her expression, at first one of annoyance, quickly softened and her mouth fell open in a small ‘o’ of surprise, before morphing into a smile. He found himself struck dumb, his brain grinding to a halt; she was perfect, her honey coloured hair and dark eyes and slightly upturned nose. She raised her eyes in silent supplication to continue.
“21” They finally said in unison.