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Saga - ST And Then There Were None - Fifty Titles Challenge - Stormtrooper OC-centric

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Glor, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Title: And Then There Were None
    Author: Glor
    Timeframe: Episode VII
    Characters: Phasma, Zeroes, Nines, OCs
    Genre: Military, Drama, Angst
    Summary: 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."
     
    Kahara, yahiko, Sith-I-5 and 3 others like this.
  2. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    This. Was. Intense.

    I will be back later for a proper review, but for now I'll just leave this note here so you know that I read it and I'm kinda bowled over.
     
    Glor likes this.
  3. Briannakin

    Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic & Costuming/Props Manager star 6 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Feb 25, 2010
    Oh, man! This was packed and gripping! Judging by the title you got (I'm a big Agatha Christie fan... my cat is named after her), I think I have an inkling as to where this will go.

    I'm really liking the female stormtrooper. Lil POV makes it more human, even if her actions still made it seem like she was just another mindless follower. Its a really interesting dynamic.

    And that last line was just the perfect way to end the chapter. I really enjoyed it.
     
    Glor likes this.
  4. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Intense action packed beginning. I like your character Lil and the last line going to kill eight seven
     
    Glor likes this.
  5. mute90

    mute90 Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 18, 2012
    This was awesome! I especially loved how you worked bits of Lil's history into the Decimation. It explained her participation in what was happening and made her sympathetic. I got a little confused about who was who in the confrontation between Lil's, Three-Eight, and Sixer. (I thought Sixer was asking what was wrong at first, and that made me confused about who was reacting.) It made sense when I reread it though. The final image of them all packed into the tent, cold and wounded, was heartbreaking and really captured how Finn's actions can look so different from the other side.
     
    Glor likes this.
  6. mute90

    mute90 Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 18, 2012
    Sorry. Repost
     
  7. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Thanks for the feedback everyone! Y'all is good people. mute90, I revised a few things before posting it up on FF.net earlier today, so I'll apply those edits sometime later so the confrontation is easier to follow. I assume as long as I edit before March 31st I'll still be within the spirit of the rules for the challenge. If not, it will remain a black stain on my soul.
     
  8. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Glor Per the challenge rules on reviews and concrit:
    So your soul is fairly safe, at least as far as this challenge is concerned :p
     
    Glor likes this.
  9. Snokers

    Snokers Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 8, 2015
    Bravo!

    Really enjoyed this and I found myself getting lost in the story, I believed every word. A sign of great writing!
     
    Glor likes this.
  10. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Chapter 2​

    The air felt wrong without El-Tee and Slip there to breathe it with them.

    It had almost been easy to forget the latter was dead in the wake of their Decimation. Now it came barreling back in the form of a cold durasteel capsule, and a part of her knew she should have been ashamed that he'd left their thoughts so quickly. Though she couldn't speak for everyone.

    Three-Eight hadn't liked FN-2003 much. But Three-Eight didn't really like anybody, except maybe Sixer, and even that had reached its limit. All the same, Slip had been apart of their squad and Eight-Seven had always looked out for him, even when the rest of them left him by his own. Lil remembered what El-Tee had promised them back in boot, when the cold had made their feet numb and the mud had practically been a second skin.

    "No one gets left behind," he'd said. "Not ever."

    But orders always outweighed adolescent promises, no matter who made them.

    Today, in the FOS Finalizer's 13th Torpedo Bay, it wasn't any of them being left behind. They stood watching as 18 long metal capsules were loaded into their respective launchers. Lil repressed a shiver as another wave of chilled, recycled air pooled into the bay, as if they were still out in the cold of Starkiller. She was glad at least they were in their dress grays – clean, sharp and decorated. Lil wanted to look her best for El-Tee, even if he couldn't see her anymore.

    They were leaving him and Slip behind.

    The shuddering clangs of the locking mechanisms ripped through her gut, resounding and powerful. She shifted, only just. Back straight, chin up soldier. The bay was already full to bursting, packed tight with most of FN Corps and a dozen other squads from TK and RC.

    Captain Phasma, her uniform black as befitting an Imperial Officer, marched forward to stand before them, assuming parade rest and clasping her hands behind her back. Most of her short blonde hair was held tight beneath her cap, a colorful block of commendations taking up the left side of her jacket, while white tassels looped under her right arm and a ceremonial durasteel sword hung at her hip.

    She was everything a soldier should be.

    Behind her were the Junior and Senior Company Leaders, as well as the wiry, but firm frame of the Chief Battalion Commander, a dozen other commissioned officers at attention by each pod.

    Phasma lifted her chin. "These flags symbolize the honorable service rendered to our noble cause," she began, gaze seeming to linger on each of them in turn. The capsules were wrapped in the blazing red of the First Order colors, the center star emblazoned in black. "With them, we commit these bodies to space, so the light of the stars may harbor them where we could not. They are the beacons of the Old Empire, where the Emperor is our refuge and our strength. He will be our guide."

    "Even unto our last dying breath," they echoed the old rites.

    Phasma let the time breathe. One last moment of silence. Then, she recited the fallen. "Private FN two-zero-zero-three. Corporal RC zero-three-three-five. Private RC zero-two-two-four. Private RC zero-one-one-five. Sergeant RC one-three-one-eight–"

    There shouldn't have been 18 pods. Slip had been one of eight hit down on Jakku. Eight-Seven should have been standing there alongside them as they sent him and the others off, instead of giving them more brothers and sisters to mourn.

    "Private RC zero-three-nine-two. Private RC zero-two-seven-nine. Private RC zero-two-seven-eight. Petty Officer Third Class Fergus Haroi. Private TK three-nine-six-three. Corporal TK five-seven-zero-seven. Lieutenant FN two-one-one-seven."

    The Chief Battalion Commander's square jaw tightened as he made a rigid step forward, snapping his heels together as he bellowed, "Atten-HUT!"

    Along with a hundred others, her black boots clacked together, shoulders back and arms stiff at her sides. The ship's harsh, ear-numbing electric siren blared, all too loud in the expanse of the torpedo bay.

    "Salute!"

    Lil's fist thumped against her chest and she brought her arm out to her periphery, elbow locked at a ninety-degree angle and palm open. The officers turned and did the same, while crewmen armed the launchers. With a muffled thoomp the hollowed containers drifted off the Finalizer's portside. She could see them through the open bulkheads – energy shielding flickering with power fluctuations. A moment later, the ship trembled as its eight, portside triple-barrel turbolaser turrets sent blazing beams of red into the dark – signaling the deep-space angels to gather near the fallen and keep them safe on their journey. Or so Ensign Goring had always said, hocking up spit and muttering an Alsakan prayer.

    But Lil knew the truth. No matter what Sixer said.

    There was no journey. No passage to another life. No Sleeping Star or Manda. El-Tee and Slip would float in those pods for as long as time would allow. Until one of them slipped into a gravity well or met a black hole eons later, lost forever.

    A second volley streaked overhead. Her arm, still held up in salute, felt heavier than it should have. Was she still weary from their night out in the cold? Fatigued from the lack of rest and food? She liked to think so. She would much rather it be that than a weight she couldn't identify. An ache she couldn't explain.

    The third and final volley flew, the capsules now nothing more than specks of red against the dark.

    It was much like the burial they'd held over Csilla for the Stormtroopers lost to IEDs and a handful of suicide bombers. There had been more than just the 343rd lying dead in those streets. The blue-skinned Chiss – with their heavy robes and dark leathers – littered the skyways in the hundreds. She wondered how civilians, even those red-eyed aliens, honored their dead? Lil hadn't cared at the time. Hadn't been thinking about that when she was down in its war torn capital, trying to link up with her squad and the rest of K Company.

    Eight-Seven had been her assigned partner for the deployment, a nasty firefight in Kuvara Sector separating them. Shrapnel had wedged itself into her helmet, burning holes through the inbuilt comlink. In the distance, the fires of the armored personnel carriers from Sevari-1 still burned, spilling black smoke over the lower residential clusters. Sevari-2, her Company's convoy, had been ambushed on the way to give them aid. Now they were clearing houses, door by door, apartment by apartment to weed out the insurrectionists. The sounds of battle rolled through the steel valleys and corridors.

    Glass and wood were scattered over the dust-laden carpets inside sub-level 14, upset by the thermal detonators the Innies had set off earlier in the day. It must have been one of the first sections hit too. Light pooled in from the floors above, broken through by collapsing superstructure. Her boot met uneven terrain, squishing it under foot – accompanied by the shift of clothing and a small gasp. Lil spun, finger poised over the trigger of her blaster rifle, a blue-skinned girl caught down her sights. She cowered behind a desk, little fingers gripping its edges tight. Her red eyes, the kind that all of the alien Chiss had, sent pinpricks down Lil's spine. They were so stark in color one might think they glowed yellow at their center, as if she were looking into the bristling core of a dying star.

    For a time, she held her stance. They'd been given long courses on how to deal with civilians, had the protocols and scenarios drilled into their brains through tests and flash-learning. All of it abandoned her in a single moment. Until now, the blue-skins had just been faceless enemies. A threat to be put down. Even this alien's shadow-gem black hair, disheveled and slick against her skin, couldn't still the quivering sickness in Lil's stomach. It was those eyes without irises. Their faded yellow cores darted down.

    Risking a glance, Lil bent her knees, keeping her rifle up. Under her foot was a small thing of colored fabrics, stuffed with cotton. She gathered it up in one hand, a thumb brushing off the black soot her boot had carried inside. All the while her mind shot neurons rapid fire trying to recall the name of the object. Different words came – person, girl, toy – but she knew those weren't right. Good enough substitutes, without giving voice to its true identity in her language.

    "Mine," the girl mumbled, fidgeting behind the desk and keeping a wary red eye on the blaster.

    Lil turned the thing in her hand. What are you?

    "Doll," the girl said, taking a brave step forward, hands jerking as if she might try and snatch it back. "Mine."

    Doll. Lil thought, relief and frustration coiling as one. She stood straight then, the light shooting through the breach in the ceiling casting the girl in a Stormtrooper's shadow – her shadow. Lil lowered her blaster, remembering when she had been that little and Chief Iona had been the one standing over her. Were dolls common? Did every little Chiss have one?

    Lil's very first possession had been a dagger. They hadn't earned vibro-weapons yet. Every night she would oil it and keep it polished, never satisfied until she could see her reflection in its flawless blade. Every other Stormtrooper had one exactly like it, but that one was hers. How many other things were there in the galaxy that she didn't know the words for? That didn't have meaning or context? Lil couldn't stop the whisper that slithered over her mind, contemplating what it might be like to live among those people back on her homeworld, beyond the thick walls of the garrison base. Where blasters and warfare were something to be feared instead of being second nature.

    No. She could not, did not, want to fathom what such a world would be like. It didn't belong to her. Lil tossed the doll to the girl, only to have it smack one side of the table and fall.

    "No!" the Chiss squealed, making Lil flinch, her blaster up again. Wary eyes on the rifle, the girl snatched her doll close, with a stricken look that said she expected to be shot anyway. Lil wouldn't do that. Not unless she was ordered to. She couldn't imagine why that would happen – not unless the girl was strapped with a bomb or being used as a scout for a terror cell.

    Adrenaline took her then – reminding her where she was and who she was dealing with. The blaster rifle was heavy and present in her hand, each ridge pressing the black underweave into her palm. There weren't any officers in her immediate zone. She didn't have to report the incident to anyone. She could just leave the girl and move to the next sector to link up with K Company. That was when her motion sensors flared, an IFF pinging over her HUD. Foe. Left.

    Lil turned, a shadow peeking around the stairwell – she was too slow. The twang of his blaster rang out, a shot flying wild and punching against the side of her armor. She staggered, wood and glass shattering as her back met with shelving. Reflex ruled her, two shots from her rifle blasting into the Innie's chest and throwing him against the wall in a sizzling heap.

    Lil checked herself, hand grazing the warped plastoid along her side where the bolt had bounced off. She might not be so lucky if it had been a direct hit. That was when she noticed the other body, much smaller than the one she had just bolted down. The girl's back was facing her, a bit of silvery smoke rising languidly above her. Lil stumbled forward, touching the alien's shoulder. Her body sagged, crimson eyes wide open, the doll still clutched in her hands. The wayward bolt had plowed into her chest, blasting away skin and melting the muscle to pulp, while burning it all to a rancid crisp in the same second.

    Lil stood.

    Her hands were shaking and her arteries were wound so tight it was hard to breathe. She told herself it was from the adrenaline. With the crunching of glass beneath her boots, she debated several times over leaving and, eventually, she did. Not without taking the doll with her. It didn't seem right to leave it.

    The memory became distant then, far away like the coffins of her squadmates. There had been fire, desiccated streets, a blaster bolt or two narrowly missing her as she marched on in a daze. Eight-Seven had found her then, and everything was vivid once more. She knew it was him because of that easy gait of his, more broad-shouldered than any of the others.

    He knocked on his helmet. Comms?

    In response she put a fist up next to her visor, fingers flicking out. Busted Transponder.

    Status? He asked, by way of touching two fingers to his neck and tapping.

    She thumped her fist against her chest plate two times. I'm okay.

    That was when he caught sight of the doll wedged into her belt and she could see the hesitance in the way his body jerked ever so slightly and the way his helmet lifted, almost in askance. Carefully, he reached for the doll, tugging it free and setting it down on the rubble-strewn walkway.

    "I won't tell," he said, breaking projector-silence just that once.

    Eight-Seven, more than any of them, had taken El-Tee's words to heart.

    No one gets left behind. Not ever.

    She wondered if they'd buried that girl, or launched her into space. Or if she'd been forgotten, like the doll Eight-Seven had left in that brutalized city block. Why did it bother her so much now?

    Beyond the torpedo bay, the capsules had faded from view completely, her comrades lost in the stars. The assembled were allowed to rest at ease.

    "Stormtrooper is not just a name," Phasma said, a note of pride stirring in her. "It is a lineage. When our ancestors first spread to the stars from Coruscant, it was the Legions of Zhell that fought in the name of human kind. Coruscant was an ash-ridden, volcanic world, creating vast storms of shadow that lasted for days, even weeks. Thus the very first Stormtrooper Legions were born, though they lived by a different name. Since then, we have weathered the storm so that our people, our galaxy, might know peace and prosperity. Weather the storm."

    "Weather the storm," they echoed.

    It hadn't been storming on Csilla. At least not with rain or thunder, but ash carried far and wide by black plumes of smoke, like ancient Coruscant, pushing it into the gray spreads of cloud above. The wisps of snow drifting in from the jagged mountains encircling Csaplar had settled in the gaps of her armor, making the suit work just a little harder as they marched through the Palace District. At the head of their column TK Corps sang of a girl named Arwen and the sweetness of her heart and how she was missing her soldiers marching far, far away.

    Csilla was thrown under martial law that day. Lil remembered she had bolted a man in fine robes, a politician or some such, for grabbing onto an officer. None had offered resistance after that.

    The collection of worlds and systems that called itself the Chiss Ascendancy had fallen victim to infighting and political backstabbing. Now, in the aftermath of their civil war, they were little more than a fragile alien conglomerate, too caught up in their inter-house squabbles. Too weak to offer opposition to the Outlanders.

    Their Cabinet and Parliament was in tatters, their grand keeps little more than smoldering ruins, along with the noble families that had called them home. The very first targets of the Chiss terror cells. Even the backbone of their prided Expansionary Defense Force had been broken by rebellious kin. For the 343rd, the next few weeks were spent on long patrols through the city, rounding up civilians that met criteria for the Labor Force. Algorithms running through their HUDs highlighted the ones the Enforcers wanted.

    The General vowed his forces would remain on Csilla until order was restored, decrying the Republic's attempts at calling the Senate for action against them. Documents and treaties were forged, the old Empire's agreements with the Chiss called upon to offer validation. Diplomats would officially declare that, in an act of desperation, the leading Houses on Csilla had called upon the First Order for aid in their time of crisis.

    The Corps knew that wasn't true. The fleet had been waiting, watching, at the edge of the system for weeks prior. The standby order had been maddening. To the point the lot of them had slept in the hangars with their armor, ready the very second word came down to launch.

    What became of the distant planet now, Lil couldn't say. She had felt only pride when the blue and white citation was pinned to her uniform collar. It didn't shine quite the same on the Finalizer as it had on Csilla. Nor did the mark of the Lightning Legion grip her upper sleeve quite so tight. She was a poor fit for such a grand legacy now.

    The Corps was dismissed and steadily began to file out into the ship's wide corridors. Forty had them wait until they were one of the last squads out. None of them needed to ask why, the hard looks from the rest of FN were enough. Eight-Seven had dishonored the entire Corps and cast the General's Stormtroopers in doubt. Even though the Decimation was meant to absolve them, it would be a long time before the stain of Eight-Seven's betrayal was washed away, if at all.

    Forty, checking her chrono, led them back to quarters, shared with the rest of K Company. A handful of troopers from first squad were there, conversation quieting as soon as they entered. Their eyes followed third squad as they moved to their bunks, shrugging out of their dress grays and into combat fatigues. Silently, first squad took their leave, no longer content to share the same space.

    "Home, sweet home," Zeroes muttered, looking to his squadmates, but no one had anything to say. Not even Three-Eight, who was always ready to offer derision. Sharp, toying with the knife that never left his side, maintained his vow of silence. Lil would have liked to hear his voice.

    The air between them was thin, as if it had been sucked out into the vacuum with those 18 capsules. It didn't feel right without the others there to breathe it with them.

    She wondered if it ever would.


    This is actually only Part I of Chapter 2, the second part being bare bones and all. It's been that way for maybe a month now and it's kind of frustrating me, so I decided to put the first part up and see if that makes the rest easier to roll out. As a result, this segment feels, to me at least, a little too close to the first chapter as far as where it cuts off. Makes it seem a bit repetitive without the second segment of the chapter to break up the pace a bit, I guess. As far as Csilla, I probably could've written a good three chapters on the political situation and the following civil conflicts alone. But that'd be taking the focus way out. I realize the Chiss are vehemently fond of their sovereignty, but things change and I hope the scenario at least came across as believable. I am definitely open to suggestions.
     
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  11. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Okay, I finally came back here to read chapter 2, and I wish I'd come back earlier because this story is amazing.

    First off, I'm going to disagree with you that chapter 1 and chapter 2 end in similar fashions. I found the two chapters as a whole to be extremely different, the first one revolving around a scene of extraordinary intensity while the second one is reflective and introspective. As a result, it feels entirely natural that the first chapter would end on Nines's vow to kill Eight-Seven while the second one ends on Lil wondering if she'll ever feel again like the person she thought she was.

    One aspect I really appreciated is how you expanded on the First Order in these two chapters -- the funeral rites, the Decimation, Phasma's discourse in each context, the hint that "reconditioning" is something far more sinister than that throwaway line in the movie made it seem to be, Hux standing above the scene and watching, like the creep he is :p That we would see all this developed through the point of view of a stormtrooper doubles down on the intensity, and you're managing the dual aspect of Lil's personality extremely well -- she has been so brainwashed in believing in the FO's values that she can't even admit to herself that she's complying out of fear.

    The other aspect I really enjoy in your story is how you handle the flashbacks. It's a delicate balance to insert scenes from the past in a narrative without breaking the pace, in particular in the middle of an action sequence, and you're managing that masterfully. Every flashback scene came at the precise moment when I needed a break -- from the violent killing of El-Tee in chapter 1, from the funeral ceremony in chapter 2 -- and it told me everything I wanted to know and more about Lil's thoughts and emotions in that particular setting. Two chapters in and she's already a very well fleshed-out character. With every word we feel her struggle as a stormtrooper and as a person, which, incidentally, is another major difference between the two chapters: in the first one, we see a stormtrooper who remembers having been a person, in the second one, we see a person who remembers having been a stormtrooper. I'm assuming that the central thread of this story is going to be her attempt to resolve that contradiction, one way or another.

    I hope the second part of chapter 2 is coming along fine now, because I want to know what happens next!
     
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  12. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Thank you for the review Chyntuck! It's a relief to know that chapter two is not as repetitive as I thought. Sometimes, after staring at a piece of writing for a while, it kind of just turns into a blob of ham-fisted words and phrases. I was also worried the flashbacks might be too disruptive, so thank you for expounding on that as well. Delving into the First Order and how it operates has probably been my favorite part of the whole project.

    As for the main thread of the story - ;)

    Unfortunately, part II is still a long way from being finished, or being much of anything, really. Hopefully I'll be able to dedicate some time to it in the near future.
     
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  13. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Very interesting premise. I would not have even thought twice about what the repercussions of Finn's actions would have been, and here you've given us so much more! The scenes with the Decimation were intense and terrifying, especially as the man who was killed was well liked by Lil and her comrades. This shows how deeply their conditioning has gone. Even in the second chapter where Lil remembers deciding to spare the little girl and then feeling some pang of regret as she dies anyway shows us how conflicted she is. The idea that you depend on algorithms that identify the best civilians to capture for labor use, the idea that she feels guilty over not shooting a child - they're dehumanized to such a severe extent. And yet, they cling to funeral rituals, religion, and tradition; their humanity keeps trying to assert itself.

    I'm eager to find out where this goes from here!
     
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  14. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Thank you divapilot for your thoughts and observations. I'm glad these scenes have been effective in conveying all of that and I'm SO sorry it took me this long to actually type a reply. I really appreciate the time you took to read and comment.

    I suppose we'll find out soon enough if Lil's niggling humanity saves her or unravels her.
     
  15. Sith-I-5

    Sith-I-5 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2002
    Read the first chapter only, and have to agree with Chyntuck - That. Was. Intense.

    Good grasp of the sabacc hands, and once I worked out what was going on - I followed some of the shortened squad names and was mostly lost with others - it the pacing and story went along quite well.

    At first it felt like the sabacc hand would decide which trooper would be sacrificed, then that the El-Tee was going to get it all along.

    Great stuff with the five and six-year old girl, especially once she got separated from Chief Iona.

    Interesting concept, asking the kids what their Dads did to serve the Empire, even though the children were removed at birth; so they chose from the historical menu, then somehow remained fiercely proud of what they made up.

    Very rare to see an accurate example of "decimate", so well done there.

    Excellent, well described tale.
     
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  16. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    @Sith-I-5, thanks for the review, trying to make a coherent story with the shortened numbers for names was probably one of the more difficult parts of this, but I'm glad it read somewhat smoothly. I'm not sure what more I could do to give the reader an easier time of following along. The segments with Lil as a young girl were some of my favorite parts, and I may end up elaborating more on her relationship with Chief Iona, even though it may not be entirely necessary.
    Submitting this update now so I'm not knocked out of the challenge, but this is just half of the second half I mentioned in Chapter Two. It's become a chapter of its own, but like I said I've only got half of it done, so it sort of just feels like I'm using Lil as a lens to view Phasma with. I just don't have the time to finish it before the month is up. So this'll do for now.

    Chapter 3

    Lil had witnessed the Captain's temper only once, back in boot when they were just cadets. The woman had taught them much over those seven years, long lessons punctuated with the hardness of her fists and the skin-searing burn of the trainers' electric batons.

    She was hard, but she was fair.

    They always stood just a little taller when she entered the field during exercises, and saluted just a little sharper when she left. Lil had overheard the trainers joking when they were confident she was beyond earshot, calling her the "Mother of the Stormtrooper Corps".

    There were no hidden smirks or stifled chuckles from the trainers while Phasma had the 343rd lined up by their bunks for inspection. Lil had been fourteen, on the cusp of graduation, and brimming with a barely tamed apprehension as the Captain perused their quarters.

    They were not allowed possessions of their own, nothing that did not suit the lifestyle of a soldier. Should anything that did not belong be found among their lockers or in their rucksacks, punishment would be severe. Lil could still remember how her heart had stopped along with the clap of Phasma's boots, right at the bunk next to hers. She saw the girl's throat twitch, but remained at attention, eyes forward as the Captain bent – and plucked something silver from beneath Twenty-Six's pillow.

    "What is this?" she asked, voice somehow soft despite the projector. She held it before the cadet by its leather string, letting the pendant twirl under her fingers.

    Twenty-Six swallowed again. "Izax, the Devourer, ma'am."

    "A god of the Old Way?" Phasma asked, slowly wrapping the string up in her hand.

    "Yes, ma'am."

    It was a few sturdy welds of metal that came together in the shape of a double-edged sword. Lil couldn't fathom where she had gotten it. The Captain's hand wandered down to Twenty-Six's face, gloved fingers gliding absently along her cheek.

    "Tell me, one-nine-two-six," she said, her helm quirking just so. "Was it by the grace of this intangible deity that you are here? Because... if they are a god as you believe, a being of real and true power, then surely they would hold your life in their hands this very moment? Surely, a god could decide on a whim whether or not you live or die?" her fingers lowered, pendant pressing into Twenty-Six's skin as Phasma's hand settled around her throat. "And if that is so, then tell me, who is it that holds your life in their hands now?"

    She did not squeeze. She waited until Twenty-Six's nerves got the better of her, until the cadet couldn't help but look up into the Captain's starless black visor. Her fingers twitched, applying the barest amount of pressure.

    "I am your god, and the Order is your religion," she said, at first no louder than a whisper. "I give you knowledge and shelter and purpose. Where else would you be but whoring in a cantina or slaving in the Republic's city-cores or subject to a thousand other cruelties?! The galaxy – the Stormtrooper Corps – is as I make it."

    Twenty-Six gasped as Phasma's hand withdrew, releasing her airways, which for a moment had been gripped all too tight. The cadet fought to stay standing, sucking bacta-scented air into her lungs, her own much smaller fingers twitching, but never rising to touch the redness around her neck.

    "Am I not merciful?"

    No one had anything to say to the contrary. There were many Majors and Commanders in the First Order, and the ever watchful retainers of the Supreme Leader. All he, or any officer, had to do was ask and they would give their lives for the Order. But from then on it was known to all that the Stormtroopers, in reality, belonged to Phasma.

    She was hard, but she was fair.

    Much like that day, Lil feared she would see the Captain's calm break as they stood at attention in one of the Finalizer's aft corridors. She touched the back of her palm across her mouth to sweep away the blood trickling free and realized, too late, that her knuckles had split open again, smearing red across her cheek. TK-651's lips quirked in the briefest of smirks, gone as the Senior Storm Leader regarded him and his unit, pressed at attention against the corridor wall opposite Lil, Nines, and Three-Eight. They were still breathing hard, falling back on old lessons to dampen the pulse of adrenaline.

    The Storm Leader paced and, despite his slick-back hair and freshly shaven chin, was anything but collected. His fingers, held together behind his back, twitched while a sheen of sweat on his forehead shimmered under the glaring light. The insignia over his heart marked him as belonging to FN Corps, responsible for leading some platoon with a Lieutenant as his Officer Aspirant. Unofficially referred to as Second Storm Leaders, like El-Tee. It was no one she recognized, and his second was absent, leaving the Senior Storm accountable for any perceived bias towards them in the official reports.

    Lil's heart shivered as Captain Phasma marched around the corner, shoulder cape whipping at her side. There was not an urgency to her step, nor was it lax. Each footfall was deliberate, in a measured stride that only seasoned soldiers could manage. That aura filled every edge and plate of her chrome armor, making the woman appear taller than the Storm Leader, even though he stood a full head higher.

    Their heels snapped together, right arms up in salute. The Leader even gave a slight bow, which Phasma waved off, and they stood at ease.

    "Report."

    The Leader puffed his chest out and swallowed. "I intercepted these two squads fighting, Captain, and after questioning," Lil caught his glance at TK-651, "I was unable to determine the instigator. FN two-one-three-eight claims that TK-six-nine-eight initiated physical contact with hostile intent, while he and his squadmates confess that it was the opposite. Two-one-three-eight's record notes previous offenses... but I thought the matter best left to your discretion."

    Phasma's gaze drifted and Lil kept her own forward, imagining her eyes were blasters and 651's head was her target. She was certain even a brain-dead Rancor could put two and two together, and Lil sensed the Captain had already made her decision before the Storm Leader had even spoken. Arms crossed, she strode before the length of the TK squad. Most of them were older than even the Captain herself, but age meant nothing in the Stormtroopers Corps.

    "This is not the Imperial Army – and I do not tolerate petty squabbling between my soldiers... I think a stay with the Sanitation Section will be a better use of your squad's abilities, don't you agree, TK-six-five-one?"

    Lil allowed herself the barest spark of glee, refraining from returning the man's smirk from earlier. Impressively, he didn't scowl. "Yes, Captain."

    "Dismissed," she said the word as though it were something distasteful and they saluted, before turning on their heels and marching in line down the hall. The Storm Leader visibly relaxed. One of the taller TKs passed her, cobalt eyes glinting as they lingered.

    "Be careful out there, Tinny," he said.

    TK Corps was of the old breed, vets of the disbanded 97th Imperial Legion – the last Legion to keep fighting, even after the Empire's disastrous defeat at Jakku. "Victorious" was their motto. Most were in their fifties and played fast and loose with regulation. They didn't talk much to the younger Corps, but deigned to offer them a variety of pet names under the Order's new regime. Tinny was their favorite, supposedly started by some old veteran of the Clone Wars who'd once called the new wave of recruits "Hux's Tin Soldiers".

    That was nothing new. Lil was used to not being liked.

    The Captain regarded them. "Report to your Storm Leader," she said and with a salute, they turned to fall out. "FN-two-five-zero-one. Remain."

    Lil stopped mid-step and put herself at-ease before the Captain. Nines went rigid, his bright, burning eyes set almost imperceptibly wider than usual, his jaw clenching in that way it did when he was anxious. The jerking pause lasted only a moment as he kept in stride behind Three-Eight, though she could hear the reluctance in his slowed footfalls.

    The Captain strode back the way she'd come and Lil followed, down the corridor and up several decks, to TacWar Room 1. Her black-tinted reflection met her in the lone oval table, white light from narrow strips near the base of the obsidian walls pushing shadows over her eyes and shoulders. For the Captain, standing on the opposite side of the table near the ribbed view port, the reflections made her armor glow as if forged of moonlight.

    Lil held herself at attention, before the Captain waved a hand, signaling rest. Tickling tremors rushed through the ship's durasteel frame, and she tried not to think about how she could feel the destroyer ever so subtly adjusting its course beneath her feet.

    "You hesitated," Phasma said, cloak rustling as she shifted away from the view port.

    "Ma'am?"

    She tapped her helmet. "I have reviewed the recordings from the security monitors. You made a number of non-lethal strikes." she leaned forward to touch fingers with her image in the table, armor creaking. "A soldier that cannot kill is as useless as a jammed blaster."

    Lil recalled leaving the living quarters with Nines and Three-Eight. Remembered a TK throwing a shoulder into her as he passed, and how Three-Eight had slugged him for it. There had been seven of them and her mind had raced through training scenarios – where to strike first, where her opponent would suspect it least, where each blow would inflict the most damage. Her body had betrayed her, hesitating to hit pressure points, crush weak cartilage or snap fragile bones.

    Just the memory made her knuckles scream with fire.

    "I'm fine, Captain," she said, the pain quickly turning into a cold, reaching fear – as if someone were pushing carbonite coated fingers into her lungs. They were going to recondition her. She was going to be sent down to the Cages and after they were done Sixer wouldn't talk to her anymore and Nines wouldn't sit close enough so their elbows and knees could touch. She wouldn't even remember their faces.

    A reflection of her, a hazy visage that had only yesterday beaten her squad leader to death, thought that might not be such a bad thing.

    The Captain straightened, grabbing her helmet with both hands and giving it a slight twist. Air hissed as it lifted and she tucked the helm between an arm and hip.

    "Do you know about the Liberation of Chagar Nine?" she asked.

    Lil paused. It was an old conflict, during the Civil War. "Part of a campaign to uproot criminal syndicates from Outer Rim territories."

    "Correct, and do you know what the Rebel Alliance called it?"

    "No, Captain."

    Phasma turned back to the view port, the light shifting. "To them, it was known as the Rape of Chagar, and that is because they never bothered to understand what it was like before the Empire came. To them, we marched on a sovereign world and subjugated its people after tearing down its government and reforming its laws under ours. In reality, it was a world overflowing with suffering. Blistered and bleeding cities bloated with the swelling puss of squalor and death and injustice. It was famous in the underworld for its arenas, where countless people spilled one another's blood for the entertainment of wealthy alien crime lords."

    The Captain's pale blonde hair was disheveled just so on one side, a milky aura bouncing off her cheeks and subduing the fleshy pink of her lips. She was Captain and soldier and woman, garbed in shimmering battle plate, and Lil felt something nameless stir within her. It was something like pride, but twisted with wanting.

    She forced it down, tucked it away under training and discipline, and listened.

    "When the Empire arrived, the arenas were demolished, the crime lords charged and executed, and their legions of slaves set free. The Empire gave the people of Chagar peace, gave them choice. And yet the Rebels had the audacity to call it something so terrible as a rape. That is the great evil of the Republic. They confuse chaos for freedom. They confuse order with oppression. People need order. Without it, they are little better than packs of Rakghouls."

    Lil had grown up learning about the many atrocities committed by the Alliance, who had become so numerous and so merciless that the only way to subdue them was to destroy their planets and the people that harbored them. Just as the First Order did not suffer traitors, neither had the Empire.

    There was power in each of Phasma's carefully chosen words, and each of her subtle movements. Standing there over the black surface of the table and against the view port, even the stars seemed to dim in comparison. If gods had ever been real, then surely this is what they must have looked like. Lil wondered if Phasma really thought of herself as a god, or if she claimed the title to mock those who worshiped them.

    It did not really matter. She was first and foremost, like all of them, a soldier. But Lil noticed her light dimming, though it must have been a trick of the eye. Whatever it was, the Captain's sharp, intelligent gray eyes became unfocused and far away.

    "I was there," she said, standing on a planet Lil could not perceive, in a star system she did not know. "When they signed the peace treaty. When the Empire was splintered and disgraced. I waited ten long years, watched and listened as the people mocked our triumphs and spat on our sacrifices. How they paraded in the streets, tearing down our memorials and desecrating the graves of our fallen."

    Very slowly, the Captain settled her helmet back on, seals squealing as her suit re-pressurized. A planetary weight pressed atop her shoulders and to Lil the cape seemed less a symbol of status and rank, but more a promise. A burden.

    "That must never be allowed to happen again," Phasma said, turning to face her once more and stepping around the table to be within a foot of her. "That is why you are what you are. A Stormtrooper of the First Order. That is why your Decimation was necessary. It is to remind you, to remind your brethren, what will happen to our people if the Republic is allowed to endure... and the price we all must pay to keep that from becoming a reality. Do you understand?"

    Phasma did not dismiss her, nor did she depart, but held her there in the visor of her helmet. Lil saw herself where the Captain's eyes would be, and her nose and her lips, while that feeling of pride and wanting boiled up from her stomach and seared beneath her sternum.

    "Yes, Captain."

    I hope that Phasma's little lecture didn't come off as Empire-****, and instead came across as the ventings of someone who very much believes in the First Order and the Empire that came before it.
     
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  17. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Chapter 3 (Part II)

    Lil navigated the Finalizer's halls on her own after that – and hated every minute of it. Officers passed, hands clasped behind their backs and paces brusque. They did not notice her steadily making her way along with handfuls of others, yet her skin crawled as armored Stormtroopers marched by. Though she couldn't see past their visors, and had no reason to believe they were looking her way, she felt their eyes on her all the same.

    She found third squad where she knew they would be: down in the mess hall, where Nines sat a little straighter upon catching sight of her. Around them were rows and rows of narrow tables, occupied by troopers and crew alike. Still she felt eyes on her.

    Lil thumped her chest twice as she sat across from Forty and beside Nines, their curious looks falling back to their meals. She did not move to get herself food from the dispensers along the wall, nor did anyone offer her anything.

    "We should be on assignment," Nines said to none of them in particular, words nearly lost under the bustle of the mess hall.

    Forty stabbed at her nutrient brick. "Not with the Starkiller's firing slated for twelve-hundred."

    "Thought the egg-heads were still polishing it?" Zeroes asked.

    Forty shrugged. "Command says it's ready."

    "What's the target?"

    "Does this look like a briefing?" she snipped, fixing him with a glower. Zeroes held her stare until she shifted her elbows and went back to her tray. "Key-off and eat."

    Her way of telling them to cut the chatter. "Quit breathing into the mic," El used to say, often after a quip from Sixer. He was farthest from her, down to the right by Sharp, who glared at any trooper that let their attention linger too long. Three-Eight had put herself next to Forty and had not said a word to Sixer since they'd come down from the hills on Starkiller.

    Once, Lil might have thought that Sixer and Three-Eight were born brother and sister. She used to get jealous some times when they'd be off on their own, separated from the squad and whispering to one another. Lil could not put a time or a place to it, but one day they had simply not been so close anymore.

    Nines slid his tray to her, a quarter portion of his nutrient brick left. She poked the spongy, steamed seeds, eating even though her stomach had folded in on itself.

    "So, where to boss?" Sixer asked.

    Three-Eight looked ready to deliver a scathing remark, but Forty only nudged her head to the turbo-lifts. "Training," she said, standing. "Nothing else to do until we reach geosynchronous orbit anyway."

    Lil had never known the training deck to be anything less than a constant hive of activity. The Finalizer housed 8,000 Stormtroopers who had very little to occupy their time as the star destroyer lurched through the dark matter between planets, carrying them from one deployment to the next. Training and exercise, at least, was not something done carelessly or without intent, not for most of them. To train was to hone their craft, to better pay tribute to the First Order with their service. It was sacred.

    A TK battalion drilled at the far end, their cadence and the uniform slapping of their boots on durasteel dominating the deck. Other squads practiced hand-to-hand or fiddled with the gravity settings on the weights, turning the space into a symphony of indistinct shouting and ringing metal.

    Complacency is weakness. You are never strong enough. You are never fast enough. You must always fight to be the best that you can be. Anything less is stagnation, and stagnation is death. Remember.

    That had been her third lesson under Phasma, when her training had truly taken shape.

    Those days had begun with pain tolerance – running uphill for miles while each squad carried a ten foot log on their shoulders bigger around than their heads. Then they would swim across the lake at the top, freezing in the elevated early morning temperatures. Once back at camp, they would fight. Not one another, but the grown, fully realized NCOs of the Stormtrooper Corps. They were not allowed to quit until the trainers said so, no matter how many times they were knocked to the ground or how much their knees wobbled trying to hold them up. The fighting itself served no purpose other than to bruise and bloody them.

    At least until the trainees learned to bloody the trainers back. Lil remembered they'd stopped the exercise entirely after six Sergeants had been critically injured by their cadets.

    Afternoons were spent learning squad tactics and sitting at the flash-learning terminals, studying ten-thousand years worth of warfare. The day went on to close quarters combat, exclusively with melee weapons. The knives they were given were black and dulled at the edges, pumping opponents with a few volts of electricity on contact. They'd go to bed those nights with a myriad of burns, spend a half-hour in the bacta tanks the next morning, and then do it all over again.

    They were instilled with the rigorous Ailon devotion to training, who had earned a place in the Old Empire's grand history for their fearless submission to impossible odds. They were instructed in the ways of the old Imperial Guard and their Echani martial arts, the crimson that marked their clothes and painted their training bracers acting as a reminder of their forebears and their unbending loyalty. A woman without a tongue taught them the eighteen silent ways to kill honed by the Umbaran Assassins, making them commit every slice and jab of their vibro-blades to muscle memory. So too were they imbued with the fallen Sun Guard's ferocity in battle, through their expertise in gladiatorial warfare and urban combat. From a Mandalorian mercenary they adopted the brutal melee techniques of the Death Watch, mastering evisceration with their jagged switchblade gauntlets, and learning how to use the hard bones in their bodies to shatter skulls and crush knee caps.

    "You will learn to kill with your hands before a blaster," he had said while they listened intently, and suddenly she was under the firm guidance of Chief Iona again. The thought made her restless in his presence, and she became determined to master each new skill he imparted. Yet there was one exercise she had looked forward to more than any of the others, where it was her pitted against her squadmates. Pressed against one another in a primal, muscle-fueled struggle for dominance, skin sweat-slick and boiling. Lil had loved fighting Nines. Tackling him, wrestling with him. Touching him. She loved being that close to him, even if she didn't entirely understand why.

    They didn't wrestle anymore – though she suspected that was because he disliked losing. It was the same reason he'd always held a mild resentment towards Eight-Seven, back when they had sparred in full riot gear under the Captain.

    Nines was really just a sore loser. But it was different with Eight-Seven. As they had come to settle into the roles most suited to them in the squad, a distance manifested itself between them, subtler than it was now, occupied only by empty space and betrayal. In every contest of strength they fought, the swing of Nines' arms became more feral and the tension in his face more maddened.

    For years Nines had been trying to fight his way out of Eight-Seven's shadow. It was a rivalry, one their trainers had supported with honest zeal.

    "Here, wash your face." a new voice and an unfamiliar face, perhaps a few years older than her too. She looked past his outstretched arm to the blocky white numbers on his gray shirt: RC-0227. When she didn't respond, his hand was there with a cloth wet with sweat, smelling of salt and damp leather. He rubbed it over her cheek, spreading warmth across her skin as he swiped the dried blood she'd forgotten about away.

    She took a step back and snatched it from him in the same movement, offering a scowl. He remained unfazed, arm lowering to his side. To Lil's right, her squadmates made use of the weights. Not even Zeroes was up for sparring.

    "Your squad was in the hangars," she said, focus back on him, squared jaw and hairless head. There was a stiffness in his posture, like all she had to do was cut through his skin to find the metal underneath. Needles danced on her shoulders.

    "Trigger had only been joking about getting to use the heavy blaster," he said.

    Lil shifted. TK's cadence became louder. She hadn't been in hangar bay 19 when Eight-Seven commandeered that Tie Fighter, but she'd felt the tremors from its laser cannons impacting the deck. She'd watched the corpsmen haul off the singed bodies of this Stormtrooper's squadmates.

    "They'll find the traitor soon," she said, perhaps to offer assurance, or to blanket the guilt third squad carried. It was not something she would normally say. She wished she hadn't.

    "It doesn't matter." Two-Seven walked away, leaving a squirming nausea behind to wrap around her stomach. As though she had in some way been violated by his words and by his stare. She imagined standing on the deck as steel ruptured around her, super-heated energy melting plastoid and flesh together. Lil could still feel the press of his cloth, rough like the ripped skin of her knuckles, and could not decide which was worse.

    It wasn't long before the Finalizer reached geosynchronous orbit. An assembly was called and they were soon standing on the surface of Starkiller amid thousands of others, where she forgot about Two-Seven and how his fingers had brushed her cheek.

    None of them needed to be told what Starkiller's target was. They had spent too many months burrowing down dark canyons and drilling deep into icy caverns, long days standing at the burning heart of the planet, not to know where Starkiller's eye looked today.

    Since the mission on Jakku, her armor had been cleaned and polished, the inner bodysuit hugging every slim contour with its smooth mesh. She saw the massive landing platform through her visor again, blaster rifle resting in her hands. Beneath her boots, the spatters of blood had been washed away and around them the Order's red flags hung over every surface, surging with the ebb and flow of the winds.

    The General stood before them, back straight and eyes to the horizon. "Today is the end of the Republic," he began, filling every canyon and valley with his voice. "The end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder. At this very moment, in a system far from here, the New Republic lies to the galaxy while secretly supporting the treachery of the loathsome Resistance. This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand, will bring an end to the Senate – to their cherished fleet! All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!"

    Their fists thrust skyward and her voice joined the thunderous roar that answered him. As one, they about-faced and the planet rumbled, reverberating with the jittering anticipation felt by its soldiers. A chill ran over her as the General's words faded off the duracrete and mountain rock. This was the day the Captain had promised them. The moment she had been born for.

    The General screamed the command to fire, and Lil nearly gasped as a blazing pillar of light speared into the sky, reaching into the heavens. But this was not the power of dead gods or some unseen force wielded by ignorant monks. This was the power of human kind – this was the power of their Empire.

    Her neck ached as she watched, her heart shaking with pride as the first planet blossomed into a bright, fiery speck in the night.

    This was the heat of a hundred lost worlds, the scream of a million Stormtroopers, of their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. The fruit borne of their Decimation.

    This was their vengeance, and it burned bright still.
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  18. Sith-I-5

    Sith-I-5 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2002
    Chapter Two read.

    Enjoyed this one more, and easier to follow as it mainly dealt with the one named trooper, rather than a smourgasboard(sp?) of them.

    Lil's recollections on Csilla. The attempt to explain the political situation and how the First Order got involved was frankly confusing:

    The Chiss called the First Order for assistance?

    Had it been advertising itself as the sixth Emergency Service? Police, Fire, Ambulance, Coast Guard, Automobile Association, First Order!


    Pardon me if I was reading it wrong, but that does not seem to come across as the F.O.'s calling.

    Good to see Chiss territory being explored, and a well chosen site on your part. A relatively civilised species that the main galaxy would not give a **** about. It was a good campaign to read, with Lil trying to rejoin her unit, encountering the girl, and then more interested in identifying the dolly.
    I missed if you put in what CEDF stands for.

    Bit of a shame for the bolt that ricocheted off her, claimed a victim.

    I did like your use of Lil remembered she had bolted a man in fine robes, a politician or some such, for grabbing onto an officer. Bolted. Blaster bolt. A vocabulary connection that I have not seen before, but I like it.

    I'm a bit unsure why there are twelve caskets. One for the El-Tee; Lil thinks about a trooper dying on Jakku; who're the rest?

    Great descriptions of everything, as before. Very engaging and enjoyable.

    Note to self. Don't call the First Order for help.
     
    Glor likes this.
  19. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    It was a pretty sad attempt to explain things in retrospect, haha. I think I mentioned that I could've written a good three pages alone on the Chiss Ascendancy's political straits. With Lil, I was trying to get across that as a First Order foot soldier, she wouldn't know much about why they were actually there and could only paint the broad strokes. Perhaps it would have been better if I left it mostly unexplained. I'll have to rework it some more.

    I imagined the FO's intervention a bit like Russia's with Ukraine. It would be more accurate to say the Chiss didn't call the FO for aid, but they showed up and gave it whether the Chiss wanted it or not. It certainly wasn't done with the benefit of the Ascendancy in mind.

    Ah, I didn't. I have an edited version of this lying around where I changed that. Will have to apply.

    The rest were the troopers killed in the hangar bay, and I realized later on that more troopers than just Slip had died on Jakku too. I changed the body count to 18 in the edits.

    That's good advice for anyone.

    Thanks for the feedback!
     
    Sith-I-5 likes this.
  20. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Love the action and the details of the training.
    Lil is a great character
     
    Glor likes this.
  21. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Your story is amazing. I love how you have shown the rigid obedience of an entire order through the eyes of one stormtrooper, Lil. She doesn't understand, but she knows how to obey. The juxtaposition of the Devourer with Captain Phasma makes me see Phasma as a revenging Valkyrie works very well. Lil adores her, that's obvious, but because Phasma has the strength and power that Lil covets for herself. She sees herself as someone who aspires to be the woman that Phasma is.

    It seems that Lil has romantic feelings for Nines, but she is so indoctrinated and focused on only living for the military that she doesn't recognize it. Instead she gives all her love and devotion to the First Order.

    Lil's backstory as a cadet tells so much about why she and the others are the way they are.
     
    Glor likes this.
  22. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    divapilot wow, thank you!

    I know there are a few books that sort of go into it, but I'd love to explore the decline of the Empire and the rise of the Order, but I suspect we'll get plenty of that with Episodes 8 and 9. I've seen a few other fics on FFN that look a bit into the First Order from the viewpoint of the Stormtroopers, one of which is called Horror Vacui. It's rather tragic, but fantastically written, and inspired more than a few aspects of this story here.

    Also, on an unrelated note, relevant pic is relevant:
    [​IMG]
     
  23. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Chapter 4

    "Do you know what you are?" Maja asked, bowed vocal cords giving him a scraping rasp. The cloth over his nose and mouth softened his words a bit, his eyes hidden behind the augmented reality faceplate he never removed. What he saw she didn't know, only that he occasionally plucked at the air or swiped his fingers at unseen particles.

    "A soldier," Lil said, kicking her feet while so high up on the medical table. Something wasn't quite right. She didn't remember being this small moments ago. Hadn't she been sleeping?

    Maja shook his head, setting one hand on her knee to stop its bouncing, the other readying the needles. They fit into an injector the shape of a slug-thrower, like the one Chief Iona had strapped to her hip. Except this gun was armed with fourteen pointed tips, each of varying sizes and each for a different purpose.

    "Then you were born a soldier? Just as that?" Maja spun the cylinder at the cap of the injector for the correct point. She stared at it. He would land on the fat one.

    "Yes."

    He pinched the tip and locked in a needle as thick as her veins and as sharp her stomach pains. "No. What you are, first and foremost two-five-zero-one, is human."

    A protest shriveled to dust in her throat as she watched Maja tap the infuser, which slid the needle back and loaded it with all of the appropriate chemicals. "You are not special in this regard. Nothing separates you in class or culture, save for minute things that come about in the mess of our reproduction." He lowered the nozzle to her elbow. As he leaned closer, his white air – combed back and reaching down to his shoulders – shone almost silver. "Because soldiers are not born," Maja said, the tip of the needle teasing her skin. "They are made."

    A decay began to creep over the walls of Maja's lab. Ruddy red cracks split from the welded seams, a putrid corrosion flaking away at the sturdy plates.

    Lil didn't understand. "But that's what I was born to be," she insisted. That's what they always told her – that she was brighter and harder than any crystal off distant Roon. "When the Kuat shipyards need iron," Chief Iona used to say, a glint hiding in the metal patch where there should have been an azurite eye, "they have but to draw Imperial blood."

    The needle punctured deep and spilled cold fluid through her arm , freezing her from the inside stem by stem. "That does not make you one."

    Shatter points began to trickle across the floor.

    "So what does it matter if I'm human?"

    Maja cupped Lil's jaw in his other hand. "It matters because our race is dying. Not in numbers, but in spirit," he said, gently nudging her face from side to side, as though she were an apparition conjured by his AR. "It matters because you have more potential than any mindless clone. Yes, you may have been born to serve a function, to be primed for a purpose – and you must be made resistant to all of our weaknesses – but whether or not you are capable of becoming a well polished piece of our grand machine, whether or not you remain unbroken..." he edged in very close, radiating with the subdued heat of another and wrapping her in the scent of boiled leather. "That is entirely up to you."

    It was then the bulkheads crumbled to ash, dispersing into smothering clouds that floated through a forest of thin white trees, twisted and bent as though writhing in agony. Lil stood, tall and properly nineteen cycles again. She wandered, alone, toes pushing through the gentle cushion that so sweetly asked her to lie down, to sleep in its cool embers. They puffed aside with every step until she could see familiar corridors beneath her. She was both there and not there. A child but not a child. One that didn't know much beyond smooth sheets and flawless transparisteel, or the sheering iridescence of a star cutting in through their windows from light-years away. Maja watched over them from his augmented world. Ever with his needles. Ever with his tests. Lil didn't know much more than eyes like hers and the humming tables overseen by careful automatons.

    That scent of boiled leather brought her back to a place deep and forgotten in her core. A dark space floating in nothingness, small and safe from the twinkling stars that bristled like jagged teeth. Even now she could see them through her warped forest.

    She was not born in metal. Not like the Clones, but she was raised in it, each nerve growing accustomed to the cold, sterile touch. Each wall and bulkhead ringing with clean life and energy. It was from this place that she had her first glimpse of an unforgiving galaxy. An existence where her opposition was an ideology, a way of life that sought to strip her skin and flay her cords. A plague-riddled beast that would swallow her whole if she wasn't strong enough to deny it.

    The weak.

    The alien.

    The thought no longer made her blood tremble. But the cold didn't comfort her anymore either, turning instead to a tingling, festering rot. One that made her want to burrow into the molding heaps of ash at her feet, away from the cold and the snow. She imagined, at least, that there she could still see El-Tee's face, like she remembered it.

    Lil's world changed, shifted focus. She knew it was different – knew what roamed under her cortex was amiss. Or, rather, knew that it wasn't the blackness or teething stars. Here, she saw the doll. Knew every stitch. Could still feel the rough cloth on her thumb through undersuit mesh. Just as suddenly it was swept away as the refuse of battle had been in the aftermath of Csilla's war. El-Tee carried it by one arm. He was younger, smaller, and it dragged in the dirt behind him. Lil turned away, her armor donned, stringent veins warping underneath the plastoid as though carved by greedy maggots.

    She was in Csaplar again as third squad stopped a family passing through Checkpoint Viceroy. A mother asked, in broken basic, why they were taking her son.

    "Suspected compliance with terrorists," Lil answered. Not because they had any real grounds to take him or because she knew where he was going. That was just what they'd been told to say. Their HUDs flagged the ones to be taken. She wasn't the one who decided.

    It wasn't her.

    The mother wailed in her alien tongue as the Chiss boy was dragged off, kicking and cursing, until Slip rammed the butt of his rifle into his gut. As the Chiss doubled over, he cracked him across the head for good measure and they continued off with him half in a daze. There was a scuffle behind her and the woman's shrill screams were cut off by the report of a blaster.

    "Do you ever wonder what's out there?" Eight-Seven asked, standing next to her in the barracks hall and staring into an infinite black expanse peppered with light. Lil pondered this a moment, forgetting how chilling the durasteel was on her bare feet. She never could sleep very well on the ships. They moved too much and twisted her stomach 'round.

    "Like what?" she asked, a sense of unbalance tickling her legs.

    "I dunno." He shrugged. "Like other people."

    It was before she knew him as only Eight-Seven. What had she called him then? He peered at the expanse as one would an enemy, confused by his own question when he realized he didn't know what was in the galaxy any better than she.

    "Do you think we'll ever meet them?" She asked.

    He nodded and tried for a smile. "I hope so."

    Lil saw the little Chiss girl then – the little doll – as she wandered Csaplar's embattled streets, where she found it at her feet, a streak of red left across it. Lil was still small then, frozen stiff despite the heat of war licking her skin. Her unseen bindings broke. She picked it up, but it fell to ash in her hands and before her was the boy thrashing as he was dragged away from his mother. The Stromtroopers holding his arms blurred to flames that swallowed him whole, the duracrete turning to sand that whipped and stung at her in the winds. All around her a village tucked between the dunes burned, bolts streaking in the dark and finding targets with breath-catching accuracy.

    Slip's IFF flared yellow and just as soon flat-lined red. A bolt met the dirt at her feet, super-heated energy impacting the sand and melting it to shards of glass that shot out like a frag burst. Through the fires she saw Eight-Seven, standing over Slip. Red fingertips clawed down the side of his helmet and at his feet was El-Tee, twisted and split open – except she was standing in Eight-Seven's place now.

    "Do you think we'll ever meet them?"

    An armored fist slapped her upper arm.

    "Rise and shine, Little."

    Lil started and snatched Zeroes by the wrist, though the smirk she'd heard in his voice was still there. He yanked his hand back, or she let go, she wasn't sure. The teeth and doll still played in the lights.

    Zeroes never had dreams, or so he said. Lil used to not have them either. He made that gesture all flamers used – miming the wrist twisting motion of easing on their conflagrine, thumb and index fingers out. cool down.

    "An hour out?" she asked, more to speak and assure herself of realness than because she didn't know.

    Zeroes nodded, rifling through something on his bunk, just above hers. "We'll be dropping out of hyperspace soon."

    "Better stim up," Sixer said, already in full battledress, save for his helmet. He crossed the room and offered her an injector. Ships only made her uneasy. Hyperspace jumps made her vomit. To her right, tucked up in his bunk where a set of knives were laid out, Sharp allowed himself the ghost of a smirk. After their first deployment out of system, Lil hadn't been able to get her helmet off all the way before throwing up. One of the few times she could remember Three-Eight ever laughing.

    Lil took the injector, like it was completely harmless and that she couldn't still feel its bite in Maja's hands. The image of the Chiss boy flailing in flame plowed a sickness through her gut, where it sank and settled to gurgle and ache in her intestines. Fiddling with the settings, she loaded it with a mild cocktail of stims and sank the nozzle into her elbow. gray-green liquid slithered into her bloodstream as she pulled the trigger.

    "You know," Sixer said as she handed it back, glancing at Zeroes, "Onderonians say it's bad luck to wake a woman while she's dreaming."

    Tension knotted the space between them. Sharp stared. Zeroes scoffed, sitting down next to her with his data-pad. The Chief Battalion Commander was from Onderon. Some said born of a royal bloodline. El-Tee had preached his phrases as if they were law.

    "Why?" Lil asked.

    Looking from Zeroes to her, Sixer shrugged. "I don't know." He clicked the injector to his belt, right next to the med-kit. All of them had a fresh one before each deployment, but only Sixer was certified to carry and administer stims outside the gen-meds. A corpsman attached within the squad itself instead of the whole company like the others, who could often be seen loitering about the med-bay when not in the field.

    Silence took hold of their thoughts, as was becoming routine. At least it wasn't an uncomfortable one. This was the calm before battle, the ease of folding into the current again.

    Sharp, with expertise and care, methodically slipped each knife into its proper sheath. He couldn't stand daggers. Had once said they didn't let you get close enough. Of the 22 silent ways to kill that Lil knew, Sharp had taught her 4. Next to her, Zeroes went over the operation outlines. They'd received the mission packets at 12:00 Starkiller time and been given a short briefing by Forty. That was eight hours ago. Lil hadn't seen Nines since, but there was only one other place he could be after their orders came down.

    Standing, she thumped Zeroes on the shoulder and earned a grunt in response. At the locker built into the wall beside her bunk, she stripped and fit into the undersuit that vacuum sealed to her as a second skin might. Piecemeal, she began to fit on each armor piece, still smooth and perfect from their standard cleaning the day before. Save, at least, for one area on the inner chest plate, just along the rim where the lining had frayed a bit. She pulled it back to reveal a naked sliver of gray plastoid where, etched in basic, read: dreams full of teeth.

    Armor modifications of any kind were against regulation and, if discovered, could get her flagged for reevaluation. She'd been only fourteen cycles when she had marked it, touching a finger along the grooves. Dreams didn't often come with her sleep, but she couldn't stand it whenever they did. Nothing made sense in those worlds. Everything was out of place – out of her control. And the teeth. The ripping, gnawing teeth. It had been a long time since she'd felt them.

    Lil slipped her knife free and angled her wrist, not caring if the others saw her. Beside it, she wrote another message.

    No teeth now. Only a little doll.

    She finished gearing up, halting when the only thing that remained was her helmet, gripped in both hands. Her thumb moved to wipe away a grease smudge over the right side vents. Two-Seven's flat face flared to memory, along with the warm cloth from fingers she had expected to be cold, like hers. Should she report him? No. Third squad's name was already in poor standing. The last thing they needed to be known for was ratting out one of their own. That wasn't right, was it? His entire squad had been wiped out. Shouldn't he be reconditioned? Wasn't that what was done with broken soldiers? It was her duty to the Order, to the Supreme Leader, to report him and keep the chain strong.

    Motion drew her head up, over to Sixer, who mimed putting a helmet over his head. Lil almost smirked. After the op. She'd file an official report then. She snapped her helmet in place, suit squealing as it pressurized. Auto-diagnostics ran over her HUD and patched her into the ship's local network. A private comm-line opened up.

    "Oh-one, out to corridor B-nine," Forty said, then killed the freq.

    The moment Lil marched out of the barracks she spotted her, sporting a crisp new red shoulder pauldron. Forty's helmet shifted as she stood at attention. Commanding "at ease," Lil set her feet apart and clasped her hands behind her back.

    "I put in a request with the Storm Leader to have you assigned to Prisoner Control for the op," Forty said. She shifted the pauldron, unused to the extra weight. "It was denied, so you're on overwatch."

    Support. Lil nodded. "Yes, ma'am." she shouldn't have been surprised. After the incident with TK, she was off center. The others couldn't trust her and Forty knew it. There was nothing wrong with her decision, but she still resented her for it.

    Forty was always in control, even when El-Tee was still alive. He had bowed to her advice and put so much weight in her voice, which was so fond of barking orders like his. There was a tension that had coiled between them, strung taught when he, on rare occasions, ignored her counsel. Even if she was in the right, if her reasoning was more sound, more efficient. She had to be reminded who was really in command. Forty never allowed herself to be humbled by it, knowing when to ease under his pride, and when to remind him they were on even ground.

    Roving over the red armor, bolted to where El-Tee had once worn it, Lil saw everything she was not. Forty's hand clapped atop Lil's helmet, where it stayed for a time. Then, with a just amount of force, she shoved her away. Enough so she would stagger a few steps back but not fall. She kept her back straight and lifted her chin as if in challenge. Lil understood.

    Marching down the hall and bringing with her a whirlwind of pent up emotion, Lil could feel Three-Eight's animosity through the knotted cords sitting in each shining white plate, imbuing her visor with a smoldering glare it should not have had. As Forty stepped around her, knuckles sliding against hers, Three-Eight fell in step a pace behind.

    Nines was down in the sparring rings, shallow oval depressions spaced evenly in their own corner of the training deck. He moved against an invisible opponent, strikes, steps and blocks. Catching sight of her, he beckoned her over and she hid a huff with a shrug. She entered the ring and assumed a stance. Tradition dictated they spar out of armor, but there was no time for that. As fond as she was of being face to face, muscle to muscle with her opponents, it was different with enemies. She wished they wore masks too.

    The two of them sparred in the old Echani style, adopted by the Imperial Guard. Their rite of passage. It was an art of mastering the body as a weapon. To the Echani, combat was the only way to truly know someone. A pure form of expression that required no words, only muscle and raw emotion. All of the training in the galaxy was worthless unless one understood their enemy. A Commander in the time of the Mandalorian Wars once compared warfare to a game of Dejarik. Because war was about controlling your enemies, altering their perception so that they responded the way you wanted. A careful balance of manipulation and force. The simulations had taught her real combat was different, but the same lessons applied.

    Manipulation and force.

    The bout lasted less than two minutes. Her body didn't stutter this time, like it had against the TK squad the day before. He stepped into a blow and she parried, catching Nines in a grapple. Twisting his wrist to lock the muscles, she pivoted her hips and threw him to the ground. Her other hand pressed against his plate, where she could feel his heaving lungs. She'd played him at his own game, putting him on the defensive with overwhelming force. Nines groaned and grabbed for his shoulder. When she let him up, he sat on the floor and seemed to pout over his injury, setting an odd edge in her. He wouldn't look at her. Maybe she had thrown him a little too hard. What was wrong with her?

    Stepping closer, hand reaching out – he spun and grabbed it, tossing her clear across the ring. Her armor squeaked, a fresh ache flaring up in her shoulder. Manipulation. Nines stepped forward, pleased with himself and all too smugly aware of her fury.

    She gut punched him and together they made their way down to the hangars. Third squad rounded up as they passed through the inspection terminals and were allotted their preassigned weapons. They weren't allowed to carry anything but a standard issue blaster pistol and vibro-knife when off-duty.

    Lined up in their respective zones, painted markers beneath their feet almost worn away from black-heeled traffic, they waited for the AALs to finish pre-flight checklists. Third squad loaded up on Carrier-8 with fifth and sixth squads. Lil felt it the moment they dragged out of hyperspace, where relativity flowed normally again, joining hands with matter and gravitational forces. Everything was put back into place, bit by bit. They sat for minutes. Her internal chrono said 19:37, Starkiller time. A stutter, then: 14:18 local, Takodana relative.

    No one moved, or spoke. Each holding their blasters close to their chest plates, muzzles angled to the floor. All except the Heavies, like Three-Eight. The butt of her rifle rested between her feet, hands gripping the thick barrel like it was the only thing keeping her upright. The strap clicked against her thigh plating, the only sound other than the shift of restless fingers. They stopped when the muffled screams of thrusters slithered through the thick barriers of the AAL, tuning a frequency in their nerves, steadying their minds and bodies.

    At least until they lurched off and the air, to Lil, somehow became colder. Despite being sealed off from the vacuum of space and its biting points of light, her toes and ankles were numb. Was her thermal working right? Diagnostics said yes. It was the stims, then, each artificial molecule soaking her inner fibers, touching and roaming through her to keep her stomach from trembling and the acids from choking.

    The AAL's frame rattled as they passed through atmosphere. A buzzer screamed and they stood, taking hold of the hand rungs above. At last the floor creaked. The door dropped. Lil shut off, and felt warm.

    The old temple complex was half in ruins by the time they hit dirt and third squad lurched down the ramp as one. Lil was at the rear and fanned out with Sixer, trailing right behind Forty and Three-Eight. Her comms flared with traffic, updates from the other squads rolling in one after the other.

    "Sectors outside the drop zone are still hot. Secure an LZ for Lord Ren," K Company LT said, marking waypoints on their targeters. At Forty's signal, Zeroes, Nines and Sharp moved up alongside seventh squad. Blue bolts streaked by, her helmet filters making them little wisps of pale light.

    Earth burst into the air, tossing stone over them and matting the fresh white armor in a layer of grit. Tie-wings howled overhead, washing the ruins in waves of green, the impacts shuddering through the ground and shaking her legs. In a step, she entered chaos, finely honed sensory filters guiding her hand. She drew a bead and bolted an Iridonian bounty hunter, then his Devaronian brother, too slow on the draw.

    Their kind, even the hardened mercenaries, didn't stand a chance. Because they all fought alone, only looking out for themselves. Little more than feral prey lashing out at the wolf packs closing in on them.

    Some managed to rally together. A band of them perched in the tumbling remnants of a tower forced K Company to duck in cover, sprays of blue chipping the edges of the wall and splashing out in the dirt, which was turning to mud under their feet. Even with the audio dampeners, the screech of the Ties nearly shut out their voices over the comms. Forty motioned with her hand. Movements. Then orders.

    Three-Eight lurched off, swaying with the bulk of her heavy blaster as though it weighed nothing at all. Lil stayed under cover with Forty and Sixer, the former counting down from three fingers.

    Sixer pitched forward as Lil and Forty sprang up, dousing the gunner perch in spitfire arcs of red bolts. Sixer snatched a thermal-det from his belt, tossing it high as he slid into cover. The burst rippled through Lil's chest and had the mercs, those not consumed by fire, in a daze. Forty bolted one twice through the head before he could bring his rifle back up. Crashing through a fallen pile of burning cedar, Three-Eight came around their flank, the buzz of her repeater and the rapid bursts of energy plowing into flesh and fluid an elating rhythm.

    Rocket detonations rolled along the left, throwing two of fifth squad's heavy armored to the ground in a heap. Forty snapped her arm forward, twice. Move up.

    That was when Sharp's vitals flat-lined.

    Lil ducked, searching about. His IFF pulsed red on the other side of the complex to their rear.

    "Hostiles, coming up from the sub-levels!"

    Forty made a fist and circled it in the air. "Regroup!"

    Something detonated, too close to Lil's face. Not that close, feet away. A thermal det? No, different kind of heat. A flamer. Someone's bolt had hit the flamer's pack, and for a moment she was blind. Then she was on the ground. Her body moved on its own. She didn't have to tell it what to do. She watched from her visor as the display hardware struggled to update after the amplifiers were overloaded. She watched herself crawl and sit up behind cover, armor scratching against charred stone. Waypoints fizzled to life again, reorienting her.

    Forty was moving. They were under fire. Lil spun up, spared a moment to aim, and squeezed the trigger – her bolts went wild of the enemy, but threw sparks in their faces. When had the mercs plowed through seventh squad? How had they managed to wedge between the first wave and their support units? That was where Lil saw him, on the other side of a haze of red markers. She caught glimpses of Eight-Seven, a blazing beam of light in his hands. A Jedi weapon. Nines railed against it, riot stick flaring with the same energy, each blow against the blue saber hard and calculated. Each arc more powerful and beautifully timed than the last.

    It made her think of Phasma. Primal like the mountains and beyond her ability for words. Things that were stalwart and always there, no matter the snows that covered them or the splinters of rock that tumbled free. Eternal things that would never crumble to ruins.

    Not like here. They were the mountains here. Nines was the winter, his riot stick the landslide that would come down to crush the rogue river, the traitor.

    But mountains didn't fall. Mountains couldn't lie down with a black hole in their breastplate, oozing with rapidly cooling embers. She'd seen the bolt hit from 'cross the complex. Saw his body twist and collapse by a fallen pillar. Nines didn't move after that. Lil thought that odd, despite the red marker flashing LOST in bright letters at the upper corner of her HUD. Nines always moved. If he was still it was because he was deep in thought, sinking into himself as he often did when they weren't fighting or sleeping. He never told her what he was thinking. She already knew.

    Lil remembered she was walking, her blaster confirming kills as she went. The insurgents were surrounded, the traitor was there, arms up in surrender. The others had names, ones she only recognized because of the mission packets. They held the fighters at blaster point and Lil focused on Eight-Seven's eyes, stared into them so she could ignore the blur of white lying on the ground mere feet away. She thought of how easy it would be to pull the trigger. How big of a hole she could burn into his chest. How she could melt his face to the bone so no one would ever recognize him.

    So that no one would ever remember him.

    Forty stepped forward, snatching the lightsaber from his hand.

    Alerts pinged over the comms from the battle net.

    "Fighters inbound!" K Company leader barked. "Third squad: up front. Second and fourth: support!"

    They set up position at the edge of the temple, just outside of the LZ. Out over the lake on a shaking horizon, Resistance fighters – at first nothing but white blurs against green – sharpened as they closed. Soon third squad would be in range of their laser cannons. They could return fire, but there was no point at that distance. The bolts would lose density and splash uselessly over their hulls.

    Sprays of water burst behind the fighters, tidal waves rushing to consume them. Jittering like a hive of angry gnats, the Ties swarmed into the air over the temple, racing to meet the Resistance. They met in a clash of light that painted the sky with swells of orange, twisted metal falling to the waters and ruins below.

    Lil picked targets as third squad tried focusing fire. The fighters were too fast. Auto-tracking couldn't keep up. She saw the laser cannon bolts before they hit. Knew their destination before they were more than a flare on the tip of an X-wing. Light burst and the world spun. The ground was hard against her shoulder and chunks of charred rock trickled atop her.

    Warnings rolled down the side of her visor and somewhere in her mind it was processed. Somewhere, all of it fit and made sense. She didn't need it to understand the cinders flaring inside the black hole in Forty's chest plate, having seared through just to the right of her heart. The lightsaber was gone.

    Eight-Seven was gone.

    The temple they had torn down and taken for their own was now a Banshee pit, the shrieking predators picking them off at their leisure.

    "Corpsman!"

    Three Eight's battle harness was slag, twisted outward as if ripped at by the claws of a Drexl. Smoke poured off her, both from heated armor and burning flesh that'd been turned into cracking black flakes, pieces of it sliding off and dragging chunks of veins and skin boiled to sludge down to swirl in the mud.

    Sixer fell to a knee and Three Eight's peeling hand fished for him. He brushed it away and hauled her over his shoulders. Too weak to shriek, all she could manage was a strangled whimper.

    Again an alert sounded over the battle network and they were ordered to fall back to the dropships at the tree line. Sixer was already off.

    Stragglers from K Company flooded into the birds still on the ground. A trooper waved them in, moving an arm to shield himself as a laser cannon ripped into a pair only a foot from the door. The edge of the blast caught him too.

    There was no time to check for the dead.

    The drop bay door closed as they thundered up, sealing them in the dark for those seven seconds it took for the overheads to kick on. The repulsors thumped with power and she was weightless as they beat into the sky. The lights snapped bright, splashing across every vacant seat and swinging hand rung. A corpsman strapped Three-Eight into the med-pod at the back, her chest seeming to move wrong with each weak breath.

    Sixer's visor wouldn't leave her and the corpsmen faded to background noise, leaving just the two of them in the troop bay.

    Nines hadn't kept his promise.

    *****

    They started by flaying her skin in small sections to make room for the new layers. It would have to be completely regrown. Three-Eight had suffered fourth degree thermal burns on 51% of her body, while 30% had sustained only third degree. Only. As though scorched nerves and warped yellow skin were preferable. But they were. At least then the muscles might still work. At least then Three-Eight's face might not be completely black on one side, cracked on her cheek to reveal red filaments spilling over with boiled fat. From the flaying, caused more by the flames than the surgeons, her skin had crisped off completely over her forearm. Lil could see the caked remnants of sweat glands gathered along her shredded tendons.

    She was floating in a bacta tank now, what few strands of hair that managed to cling to her shriveled scalp listing above her. Sixer's reflection was there with her, his nose almost to the glass. It was a slightly crooked nose from having never healed quite right after he'd– after Lil had broken it.

    The med-droid twitched across the room, arms spinning as it looked down over terminal readouts, then to them. Its blue eyes lingered, as if annoyed by their presence and waiting for them to leave, so it could do whatever droids did when humans weren't looking.

    Lil wanted to rip it to pieces. The thought curled up and faded away. It was just a droid. She wasn't supposed to feel this way, like when she'd broken Sixer's nose.

    They hadn't been older than fourteen cycles, maybe.

    Sixer fell, hocking blood as he struggled to sit up on an elbow. Most of it dribbled down his chin, mixing with the spatters of mud on his face. Lil's chest heaved, fists up at her sides. Sixer had lost. He'd underestimated her body weight and the force she could muster, like he always did, like she had counted on this time. He'd given her plump welts for it, one particularly stinging blow on her left breast. The trainers had once before commended him for making use of such a weakness.

    "Continue." The Captain said.

    They both paused and stared. The fights always ended when one of them lost their feet.

    "Hit him again." Phasma said, freezing Lil's spine solid. Sixer closed his mouth and Lil straightened. A quick breath. Her fist sank into his cheek before he could think to move. The force turned him 'round, a hand slapping the slosh to keep his face from the mud.

    "Again."

    Lil's teeth set on edge. She put all the force she could muster into the blow. The Captain will know. Her thoughts said. She'll know if you're weak. Sixer bit down a shout before it could be much more than a pained grunt, trying to push himself up again.

    "Don't let him get up."

    Lil pitched forward, straddling Sixer and pinning his shoulders to the ground. He struggled, hate burning in his eyes now.

    "What are you waiting for?"

    So Lil hit him again, using the side of her hand instead of her raw knuckles. She felt bone between crushing flesh. Felt the blow like it was her own cheek.

    "Again."

    Sixer did shout this time, squirming and bucking with his hips. Angry. Desperate.

    Pathetic.

    "Again!"

    Lil brought her hand down across his nose, the wet crack and cry splitting through her.

    "Enough."

    Zeroes wouldn't have hesitated. Three-Eight wouldn't have held back. Nines wouldn't have. He'd battered her along with El and Forty and Zeroes in other bouts. That was war, that was combat. That was life and death.
    She had to be better.

    She had to believe that Sixer would crack her nose and color her face. If she could believe that, she wouldn't have to touch the tidal pressure crashing under her ribs. She wouldn't have to wonder at the stirring whisper, the crawling bit of her mind that had reveled in lording over him – in breaking just a little piece of him. For all those moments she had been helpless and beaten. For that flaring instant she was powerful.

    The trainers rounded up the Battalion and had them get on their hands and knees, putting them under the sting of the hoses. "To get you miserable lot clean," they said. It was easy enough to use the showers for that. They just liked to beat them with water since they couldn't use their fists anymore. For once Lil didn't mind.

    Back in barracks they stripped, showered and entered the bacta tanks. She always dreaded the beginning, when she was hitched with a rebreather snug around her nose and mouth. When she was sealed inside the glass tube and the chemical treated liquid trickled under her toes. Rippling, as though hungry, it rose over her ankles and lapped along the backs of her calves, teasing its way up her thighs. It felt too cold just between her legs and she stifled a whimper. The bacta continued to wrap around her, taking all of her in, enjoying every little inch.

    She couldn't breathe. Not until it was over her hair and gurgling to the top of the shaft. She was allowed to float then and let out the shuddering breath she'd been holding in. The rebreather clicked and hissed. This part, she liked. The bacta became warm, a soothing buzz that crawled into yellow-bled pores, soaking every cell and easing their aches. Lil liked to close her eyes so that it was dark, so she could be in that place where time didn't move, and there was only the beat of her heart in the water. Just warmth and no light. It put her to sleep, every time. A deep, heavy sleep that blanketed every inch of her, thick as though her muscles had molded into led.

    That time, Lil hadn't slept.

    The thirty minutes in bacta took a full cycle to creep through. When it was done, she marched to the bunks with the others, rubbing fatigue from her black-ringed eyes. She kept seeing Sixer's face, and how black she'd made his eyes too. Not just the outsides, but the insides. Every second that went by made her throat jerk a little harder, trying to work past a vice. Her pupils burned, but she wouldn't cry. She wouldn't ever cry.

    Entering the refreshers behind the bunk room, she collapsed and threw up. Bile spilled through her lips and splashed into the grate, bits of half processed seeds clinging to her chin and neck as the mess trickled away into a sticky residue.

    "You broke my nose," Sixer said, somewhere behind her.

    "I know," she said.

    There was a high-pitched click that sounded like the primer of a blaster's gas-tank. Sixer held out an injector to her. They weren't supposed to have those. He must've stolen it on the way out of the med-bay.

    "I thought you'd get sick," he said, and she almost wanted to break his nose again. Her gut dropped. "You always get sick if you're really angry."

    Throat hot with vomit, Lil snatched the injector and shoved it into her elbow, the fluids making her clean and cool.

    They finished their training not long after and were able to talk again. He made jokes and let her forget, both of them succumbing to the comfort of knowing they wouldn't be ordered to do those things anymore.

    Lil had let herself become complacent. That was why they were standing in the med-bay wide feet apart, unwilling to go back to a row of empty bunks.

    A chill slithered up her back. Instinct twitched her right arm, though there was no blaster for her to lift. She turned, eyes locking with Two-Seven's silver pair, watching her from the corridor beyond.
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  24. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    WOW. That was so intense. I knew from the title that more deaths were to come, but when they happened I really wasn't prepared for them. Lil's nightmares are her struggling morals, knowing how what they are doing is so casually cruel to the civilians and yet she is retaining their memories - and they torture her at night, as surely as the physical torture she endured.

    Your descriptions are visceral and fantastic. Great, great story.
     
    Glor likes this.
  25. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Thanks for reading! Wish I could've made the challenge deadline (last three months of the year got waaaay busier than I thought they would) but some great finalists made it anyway!

    One more chapter to go.