Title: And Then There Were NoneAuthor: GlorTimeframe: Episode VIICharacters: Phasma, Zeroes, Nines, OCsGenre: Military, Drama, AngstSummary: FN-2187 has betrayed the First Order, putting over a dozen Stormtroopers to the casket in his bid to escape. Now the squadmates he left behind will have to pay for his crimes.Notes: Apart of the Fifty Titles Challenge, concrit is more than welcome. And Then There Were None Chapter 1 There were eight of them now, soon to be seven. Captain Phasma stepped around their tight ring at a meandering pace, a Kath hound stalking its prey. "One weak link," she said, casting her gaze over FN Corps, her finest Stormtroopers. "Is all it takes for the chain to break." Her audio projectors were linked to the loudspeakers, booming her voice over the landing platform being used for that morning's assembly. The other Corps were at attention on their flanks, armed and armored, while FN was made to stand in their gray training fatigues as frigid winds tumbled over them. However, there was only one squad from the 343rd Battalion gathered in the middle of it all. FN-2501 risked a glance at El-Tee, who handed the small, shuffled stack of sabacc cards to Three-Eight. "Other imperfections must be purged," the Captain continued, black visor scanning over them, "if FN Corps is to remain taut." 2501's entire life weighed in the balance of eight flimsy pieces of castplast. She didn't believe in the Force or any of the old Empire gods, but she found herself praying to them now, or whatever one did to appease their whims. Three-Eight drew the Queen, a -2. Clear. Next was Sixer, a 9 of Sabers. That was good, she liked him. He always knew how to get a smile out of her. Called her Lil when everyone else gave her a number. She liked that better than the numbers, even if it was born of teasing. "Honor, strength, loyalty. These are the bonds that make us superior." Prowling again, passing behind Lil and yanking her mind back to the weighted cards. Palpitations skyrocketed beneath her sternum, thumping hard and fast. She turned to the Captain's words for comfort. Fear in large doses is poison. Embrace it, but do not let it control you. Remember. "That does not mean we are incorruptible. The pull of weak-minded ideals is an inherent flaw in our humble composition." Zeroes drew the 4 of Flasks. He passed the rest to Forty, her fingers hesitating as she slid a card free. Relief spilled down her shoulders and she turned the card for the squad to see, just as the others had done. The 6 of Sabers. Then it was on to Nines. Lil couldn't manage a happy thought for Forty, not now. In this moment, out under the eyes of their brothers and sisters, they weren't friends. They weren't even comrades. None of them could afford to think of each other that way – not until all of this was over. Each of them had to be considered an enemy – and you couldn't feel bad for enemies. "We can – we must – resist. At times, we must be reminded of what happens when we allow ourselves to yield." Something nudged Lil's shoulder, bringing her focus back. Nines held the remaining three cards out to her. It was hard to swallow past the thorns in her throat. She turned the top card over, fighting to keep her expression in check. She'd drawn the Idiot – a 0. She'd passed. Showing her card, she offered Sharp the last two. For a moment, she thought a grimace touched the corners of his mouth. He'd looked like that since Slip had been hit on Jakku. Hadn't spoken, either. Maybe he never would again. Maybe he would be the one to serve Eight-Seven's sentence. "One weak link is all it takes." Lil's gut dropped as he showed his card and her left hand tightened. She wasn't ready for this. Don't think don't think don't think. Sharp held out the last card to El-Tee, their squad leader. He took it, each movement measured and deliberate as he bent to place it on the snow peppered durasteel flooring. It was face out, revealing a tall black tower. The Evil One, -1. Chance's chosen. Nines moved first, a fist cracking against El's jaw. He fell, half turned to a knee, hand bracing himself against the floor – before Sharp's boot crunched hard into the side of his face. El thumped onto his back, blood spurting from his mouth. The squad converged on him, striking wild and without restraint, all training and discipline abandoned. The Captain would know if they held back. El didn't defend himself, even though they all knew he could – knew how easy it would be for him. All he could do was writhe and twist under the whirlwind of fists and feet. Lil wished she'd had a blaster, so she could've sent a bolt boiling through his skull. Her hand longed for the hilt of a vibro-dagger, so she could've severed the nerve clusters at his neck. Anything so he wouldn't have to suffer so much. But this was the way it had to be. Their bare fists rupturing blood vessels and fracturing bones. An example had to be made and a price had to be paid. Presiding over the Decimation on the landing platform's elevated deck was the General and his command staff. He watched with a stiff jaw and eyes the color of frozen water, callous, even bored. The other Stormtroopers, garbed in their thermal weave and white plastoid, didn't flinch, didn't turn their heads away. El's stifled shouts and the crunch of skin meeting skin were the only sounds. Lil's right hand cracked one of his ribs, driving it into a lung – he started to choke. That was okay. She wasn't actually doing this to him. She was just watching another visor-cam, like in training. This was another soldier's fists making welts and bruises. This wasn't her. It wasn't her. Lil had seen Decimations when she was younger. The smooth, cold walls of fortified duracrete protecting the Order garrison on her homeworld were the tallest things in the galaxy to her. It was her fifth year and she was packed into the courtyard with the three-hundred other trainees of the 343rd Battalion, stiff at attention. "Today is a special day," Chief Iona, regarding them with her one good eye, had said. "Today you will see what happens to soldiers who fail to uphold the Order's standards." Ten squads of Imperial troopers stood out of armor, each aligned in rings. Some of them wore brave faces, while others fidgeted and threw about nervous glances. These are Stormtroopers? She had wondered, never once seeing them without their gleaming battle plate, many marred with the scars and scorches of combat. Only a year ago she had been convinced they were droids, the sound of their helmet-filtered voices only adding credence to this childish view. She saw ten of them bleed and break and scream that day. Lil couldn't recall what they had done to warrant such a sentence, teeth the size of a space slug's ripping at her innards at the sight of their listless eyes and busted faces. Chief Iona thought it was only fair, so she did too. If those troopers didn't want to be decimated, they should have done better, right? They should have done better. At least they'd been given stones to bludgeon their comrades with. This time, Third Squad of K Company, 343rd Battalion, was given nothing. Lil's knuckles split open, raw sinew tearing to reveal the rolling joints beneath, warm blood spattering her arms. She was actually glad the cold was there to numb her pain receptors. It was a small mercy. A hand snatched her arm in an iron grip, where Nines stood beside her, jaw set. El wasn't moving anymore, an unrecognizable heap of bloated skin – splotched with wet, seeping masses of hemorrhaging tissue, which had already started to clot and ooze with red. This broken thing wasn't El. He didn't have a skull that caved in just over his right eye, or split lips, or cheekbones bulging with yellow-green bruises. El didn't look like that at all. Back at the garrison on her homeworld, the officers had looked upon their nascent recruits fondly, taking great pleasure in asking, "What did your daddy do for the war?" A conversational sort of thing, done by a people whose way of life had been swept out from under them, clinging to what little remained of their shattered culture. Lil was four when they had all been taught about the Old Empire's grand Legions and the roles their families had played in the Galactic War, told to take pride in this heritage. For they held the future of a generation on their shoulders. "He was in the Navy!" "Mine was in the two-hundred and seventy-third Infantry Division!" "My daddy was a Tie Fighter Mechanic!" she would shout, so very proud, big toothy grin and all. None of them ever knew their parents, of course. The Order took them right from the medcenter they were born in, housing them and raising them in the garrison base. Lil wanted to imagine her blood-father would be proud of her, like she was of him, wishing not for the first time she knew what his face looked like. She didn't feel so proud right now, standing over El and trying to remember what he had looked like just a moment ago. She could still see the remnants of his hemorrhaging green eyes, subdued and once thoughtful. His oaken hair was sticky and matted with gore that turned it into a muddy brownish-red. His pointed nose was a lump of crushed cartilage and his square jaw had been broken in three places, pushing the bone against the skin. Lil looked up as every scrape and cut began to weld itself to memory, burning themselves into her senses. She didn't want to remember him that way. The other Corps were as statues, the rest of FN down range. How she wished she could be in their position, unable to bring those thoughts to heel. She would give anything to be standing where they stood. To be a soldier is to be strong. To be strong is to abandon empathy. Remember. Lil understood why this was right, why they deserved this. So why did she feel so heavy? Why did it sting so much? She yearned for the hard edges of her blaster rifle. To be enclosed within the thick, familiar weight of her armor, where she was safe. Where no one could see her. A burlap bag scuffed at their feet, thrown by Phasma. Her shoulder cape floated in the light winds, while her head turned to gaze towards the thin, leafless trees beyond the staging area. Forty tugged at the band holding her hair up in regulation order, letting amber locks tumble down her neck. She reached down and slung the burlap sack over her shoulder, steely eyes gliding over the Captain's chrome helm before forging a path ahead. The troopers parted, giving them a wide birth, a disease following them now – a black, stained aura threatening to infect them if they got too close. Nines touched a hand to Lil's arm, following behind the others as they made for the treeline. Lil risked a glance at the General, a shadow with a mask lurking somewhere behind him – a shadow she'd heard whispers about in the barracks. A shadow she feared more than any nightmare. If El were here, she wouldn't be so afraid. He'd made everything warm and right when it was unfocused and gray. "Back straight, chin up soldier," he'd say, a warmth he never shared with the others pouring through his grizzly voice. It was hers. Lil kept her back straight as they marched on, following Nines' waypoint of red hair. He looked back to where Zeroes, dark against a phalanx of white, bent down and slid something from El's upper left arm. He rose with a red band clutched in his fingers, the same one all of them wore. The whole Battalion had been bestowed the honor after putting down an insurrection on Csilla. Stitched in black was a jagged bolt of light, spearing through the body of a planet. The old mark of 24th Imperial Legion. The Lightning Legion. In the scuffle, the band had been torn down the middle where the bolt cracked. They left El there on the cold durasteel, the floor beneath him painted with swathes of crimson. The Stormtroopers watched them go, banished for the night out in the wilderness beyond the warm bunkers. They did not march in rank and file or exchange salutes, allowed to be shattered as they trudged through the snow, the cold seeping into their calves and splintering like icehooks through their skin. They would return in the morning, hardened and ready to return to duty. The assembly was soon left behind, the comforting rigidity of Starkiller base and its ordered halls lost beyond a forest of brittle pines. "What do you mean I can't ever go back home?" Lil had asked her first night on the black recruitment ships, a stumbling six year old taken from the stark, echoing confines of Garrison Base 3817. The only home she had ever known. "Why can't I see Chief Iona anymore?" She didn't cry. Even though the heat was building behind her eyes and it felt like the air was crushing her lungs. Chief Iona always told her Imperial children never cried. That was why she had been born. Her parents were Imperials – so she was better than other children. That was why she couldn't shed any tears in front of this woman with gray eyes thicker than star destroyer hulls. She bent her knees to be level with 2501. "We are your home now," the woman said, red lips angling kindly. "We are your family. That life was to prepare you for what is to come. You are a soldier of the Order and you will be the best that we can make you." Lil looked at the other kids in the amphitheater waiting to be addressed by their new COs. None of them cried either. "Is it going to hurt?" A patient nod. "Yes." Lil saw the broken bodies from the garrison base again, gaze falling to her feet as she tried her hardest to think of something else. Maybe if Iona was here she wouldn't feel so sick. "I miss her," she said. The woman's smile grew a touch wider, one of her hands moving to slide a blonde lock of hair from Lil's face. "Such wanting is a natural thing. But you must leave it all behind now. You must be strong. The galaxy is only as we make it, little one. Remember." Forty stopped them on a small rise, watched over by a jagged boulder jutting free from the white earth. They began to stomp on the snow, packing it down so it wouldn't give under the tent and their weight. The flimsy thing wasn't even a proper prefab shelter they could've bolted together in twenty minutes. Driving the anchoring stakes into the ground, they prepared for the windy night ahead. Aside from the tent, they were given a heat generator and a handful of rations, just enough for nutrients. Lil's belly grumbled for more. No medical supplies either. Her busted knuckles would remain blistered until tomorrow. It was only fair. At least she hadn't ripped off two finger nails like Sharp. No one talked, gathering in their small synthetic prison to preserve warmth. Lil didn't want to sit just yet. She wanted the cold. Wished it would eat away at her and become one with the gnawing nothingness in her stomach. Sixer was by the boulder, scraping at the stone. She trudged to stand next to him, arms wrapped over her chest. With his knees plunged into the snow, sitting on his feet, he seemed to have given up on trying to stay warm as well. His eyes were intent as the pointed rock in his hand gouged shallow, scratchy lines into the boulder's rust colored surface. "What is that?" she asked, bending her knees. "A symbol for Manda," he said and she quirked her head. Maybe it would look like something from a different angle. The stone made jagged arcs, forcing a small oval to take shape within a large circle, triangles poking out from its center. It made her think of a star. "Some Clones used to believe it was where they went after they died." Clones. The perfect soldiers, bred from the DNA of nomads famous for their expertise in the art of war. The foundations that had formed the basis for the Imperial Legions. Day after day they had been made to watch the combat footage scavenged from visor-cams of the 501st, shown what real soldiers were capable of out on the field. What was expected of them. No one ever said anything about Manda. Had they really believed that? Why? Was it anything like the Sleeping Star Chief Iona had used to talk about? Those places weren't for soldiers, they couldn't be. Instead, she asked, "What's it like?" Sixer cast her a glance, even summoned a weak smile. "I'll let you know when I get there." Lil fought a grimace. "Do you think that's where El-Tee is?" "I don't know." Then where was he? Only an hour ago he had been warm and alive and right. He's gone, her brain said, the part that had witnessed a decade's worth of death. The part that had watched her fellow trainees writhe in a heap on the floor under the merciless tutelage of their trainers. The part that had been made to beat her squadmates senseless at only seven years old during their CQC lessons. Blood was just a bodily fluid that transported nutrients and oxygen to the cells. Muscles were just bundles of fibrous tissue that allowed the body to maintain form. She was no more disturbed to see them spill or twist than she was to breathe. So why did the galaxy feel so warped now? Death was her art and her profession. She reveled in that skill, the ease at which she moved with the tempo of combat. How right it felt. The snow crunched behind them, followed by a familiar woman's voice. "What's the matter with you?" Before either of them could wonder, Three-Eight's large hands grabbed Sixer, turning him around and pinning him against the rock. "It's just a drawing Three," he said, hands touching her wrists, more in placation than an attempt to free himself. Three's round features scrunched, slanted eyes narrowing. "That's the kind of dreg that made Eight-Seven fracked in the head. You thinking of skipping out on us too, Six? Maybe it was you we should've beat down out there instead?" Lil moved to grab her, one of Three's fists swinging out to smash into her cheek. She stumbled, keeping herself upright, hands curling. "Corporal Three-Eight," Forty barked, standing at the open flaps of the tent, trying to hold herself tall, but too weary to dole out reprimands. Three winced, muscles writhing for control and eyes flashing with resentment. "It was Eight-Seven's fault... El-Tee died because of him," Lil said, not knowing where the strength in her voice had gone, searching desperately for the real Three-Eight. This wasn't her. This trooper was on edge, wounded... frightened. Had she died out on the platform with El? Three-Eight let Sixer go, her glare pinning him to the pillar instead. "Lock it down, Six," she said, the fight gone from her voice. "Next time they'll be coming to get you for reconditioning... and I won't let you run away." His eyes widened. Just the mention was enough to make him shiver – and not from the cold. Lil didn't know what they did to the Stormtroopers sent down to the Cages. Rumors traveled through the Corps, uttered in hushed tones. Troopers coming back with a glassy look in their eyes, staring at their squadmates like they didn't recognize them. Lil didn't want to imagine what could turn troopers into little more than walking corpses. Three stalked off towards the tent, Sixer touching his throat and staring after her. Lil wasn't paying much attention as Forty ordered them in, stuck on the mark of Manda fresh in the stone. Beneath it, he'd carved something else – LT 2117. "Come on, Little," he said, brushing her bare shoulder with his. She had always been the shortest one in their squad, also the youngest by a year, right behind Eight-Seven. He'd never called her Lil. Said Oh-One like everybody else. It sounded like no-one. She hadn't minded. Sergeants weren't supposed to give other troopers names. Let the squad do what it wanted, they had to be the example, like El-Tee. Lil shuffled inside the tent with Sixer, the others huddled around the heater. It didn't produce nearly enough for seven bodies. She folded up inbetween Nines and Sharp, Zeroes on the other side of him. Knees hugged against her chest, she could see El's dried blood still on her knuckles. Some of it was hers, too, she knew. Their life cells intermingled to become one, intimately joined together in his moment of death. The moment she had helped deliver. "I'm going to kill him, Lil," Nines said, the subdued quiver in his voice calling her attention. He stared down at the heater, stealing its warmth to fuel the fire in his blue eyes, alive and frenzied with an intensity that made her want to shrink. "I swear... I'm going to kill Eight-Seven."