anghraine: jyn meditating/praying before the scarif mission (jyn (praying))
[personal profile] anghraine
...who does not appear in this chapter, except in spirit. I like to imagine that he represents/spawns a strain of reason among certain contingents, though.

Unrelatedly, this chapter was really the first to provoke the apparently inevitable "well, in the EU" preaching. If you knew me in the lj days, I'm sure you can imagine how low my tolerance has ground at this point, so I might have been a bit brusque. But most people were nice and thoughtful—Rogue One fandom is probably my favourite of the SW subfandoms, now that the Migratory Discourse Fandom has mostly abandoned us.

title: per ardua ad astra (7/?)
verse: Death Star
characters: Jyn Erso, Bodhi Rook, and (very briefly) Cassian Andor; OCs—Bain Efrah, Mihal Zekheret; Jyn/Cassian (muddled What Are These Feelings + Inexplicable Preoccupation flavour; it's mostly focused on Jyn's undercover adventures).
stuff that happens: Jyn pseudo-bonds with the two Imperial NCOs she met earlier, particularly the hard-harded Efrah; she finds a way, though not the obvious one, to blame Cassian for her disinterest in flirtation; Zekheret and Efrah drop some ANH bombshells; not all Imperials approve of current tactics; Bodhi staves off nervous breakdown.
previous chapters: one, two, three, four, five, six

Hard to figure out what a woman like Efrah would see in an amiable ass like Zekheret, but then, she’d never had much success figuring out what other people ever saw in each other.

Not that she’d much bothered herself over it. And she didn’t want to bother herself with Efrah and Zekheret’s relationship, either, despite the flicker of curiosity. She didn’t want to know them, or anyone. Even at the best of times. Certainly, these were far from those. Soon, she or they would be dead, and it’d be good riddance for whoever lived. Hell, they’d kill her in a moment if they knew who she was. No point in cozying up for that, except—

Except she needed information.

“Lyr!”

Jyn halted so abruptly that she rocked back on her heels, panic sprouting once more. She’d almost made it to the mess hall, too, the smell of oil and seven-syllable ingredients infiltrating the corridor. But—

But the voice sounded friendly. Altogether bewildered, she turned towards the person who’d called her. A tall man in uniform, like most men around here. As he drew near, she could see the face beneath the cap: fine-boned, angular, handsome. And familiar?

“We meet again,” he said grandly.

The corporal, she realized. From … yesterday. It had only been yesterday.

“Zekheret, isn’t it?” said Jyn.

He gestured for her to lead the way into the hall, and easily matched his steps to hers. “That’s right. Zek to the ladies.”

Dryly, she replied, “Zekheret it is, then.”

He just chuckled, joining her in one of the lines. To Jyn, he seemed very young, though he had to be several years her senior. Cassian’s age, maybe—an even stranger thought, all the more as he resembled him a little.

“Not a lady?” Zekheret asked, with an easy smile. “Or just not interested?”

Jyn couldn’t calculate odds like Kaytoo, but she did her best, thoughts racing. In general, she preferred to avoid flirtation. She wasn’t good at it—too harsh, too withdrawn. No matter what her name, she struggled to pretend to a trust she didn’t feel, to patience (much less liking) for nonsense and games. But it served her well, now and then. Jyn had never been one to throw away an advantage, and being young and attractive could go a long way in certain situations. Some people dropped their guard.

Zekheret seemed likely to be one of them. But it would complicate everything, particularly given whatever restrictions the quartermaster had talked about. And she didn’t know how long they’d be here, but—probably not long enough.

Also, the idea made her skin crawl.

“Not allowed to be interested,” Jyn said, trying to sound regretful. She thought of Brakas. “My captain takes a dim view of fraternization. And he’s very, uh, observant.”

“Ah,” he said, with a look of understanding. “Keeps a close eye?”

Sighing, she said, “I’m his aide. We’re in the same quarters.”

Zekheret’s brows rose. “Maybe he just wants you for himself.”

“No, no,” she said instantly, and tried to banish memories of Cassian’s eyes intent on her, hers on him. Suspicion and respect, fury and trust, and—oh hell, who knew? They both ran so hot and cold that Jyn rarely knew all she felt at any given moment, much less Cassian. “Captain Willix is … I think he sleeps with a copy of Starfleet regulations under his pillow.”

“Oh, one of those,” said Zekheret, still friendly. “You have my sympathies, then. My commander wouldn’t notice a code violation if it danced naked in front of him.”

“I hate you,” she grumbled.

He laughed. And rather to her surprise, he stuck with her, even after they received their food at the front of the line and she started searching for a table. Apparently he still held out hope, or at least preferred to remain with her. As Jyn was one of only a half-dozen women in the entire hall, and the only one under about forty, she couldn’t feel that flattered. Nevertheless, she recognized the opportunity for what it was. An easier one than she’d expected, really. He might have been a bastard. Or she might have had to actually strike up conversation with someone on her own.

As they made their way to a table near the door—“the fumes aren’t as bad,” said Zekheret—Jyn noticed that the pitch of the hall’s hubbub seemed peculiarly low. Not that she had many memories for comparison, but at least yesterday, there’d been a loud clamour. Now, it sounded more like a general murmur, a buzz of noise that did nothing for her already strained nerves.

“Is it usually like this?” she asked Zekheret. “Not quiet, but …”

“No,” he replied, poking at the chunks of maybe-former-lifeform in the stew. “It’s because of Vader.”

Jyn’s spine stiffened before she could help it. To go by the behaviour around the room, though, even Lyr would react; she let herself stare at him.

“Darth Vader? He’s here?”

“Got in this morning,” said Zekheret readily, “with that Rebel whore.”

Jyn stabbed her meat with unnecessary force. “The—excuse me, who?”

As pleasant as ever, he replied, “Leia Organa. You haven’t heard? She’s a traitor.”

“I heard … something,” she said. “I don’t pay attention to politics, honestly. Captain Willix points me and I do what I’m told.”

It might be the biggest lie she’d told in the whole time here. Maybe her life.

“Anyway, she was fucking Tarkin,” he went on. “They say that’s how the Rebels got our plans.”

Jyn considered her stew. It hadn’t hurt her yet, but she didn’t think it would mix well with the fury and disgust roiling in her stomach. She took a gulp of water instead.

“The plans were transmitted from Scarif,” she said, at last. “I was there.”

“Oh,” said Zekheret, looking a little sheepish. “Right.”

Maybe, Jyn thought, she should have picked someone with a few more brains. Not that she had picked him, as such.

“But they had clearances and such, right?” he was saying. “She must have gotten those from him.”

“Uh, sure,” she said. To their left, she could see salvation coming. Or as good as it got in this place. “I mean, I’d have thought Tarkin would be more careful. But I’ve never seen Princess Leia. I guess she must be something else.”

Indifferently, he said, “If you like them small and shouty.”

Jyn’s opinion of Leia Organa rose still higher.

“You’ve seen her in person?”

He snorted. “An Imperial senator? Are you kidding me?”

Walking up behind him, Efrah smacked the back of his head.

“It’s those lady-hands you’ve got,” she said. “Anyone would think you were some governor’s brat.”

“I’d be an officer, then,” replied Zekheret.

“True enough. I should have thought of that,” Jyn admitted. She shifted to make a place for Efrah, though half the table was clear. “Oh, you haven’t got your food yet, have you?”

“I did an hour ago.” Efrah climbed onto the bench beside her. “And I’m still alive, so you can stop having vapours over the soup, Zekheret. What were you pestering her about, anyway?”

“Don’t you know about it?” he demanded, just as Jyn said,

“Have you heard the news?”

“Well, of course.” Efrah snagged Zekheret’s cup and took a gulp. “Just gone, can you believe it? They’d better have a replacement in mind, or we’ll be putting out fires all over the galaxy.”

Jyn didn’t even have to feign her stare now. “A … replacement?”

“We’ve killed her already?” said Zekheret. “Well, I guess they will need a replacement, then. But trouble all over the galaxy?”

“Killed—” Efrah’s gaze darted between the two of them, her face blank. “What are you talking about?”

“What were you talking about?” Jyn asked.

Efrah had let her hands rest on the table, loose and relaxed. Now they tightened into fists as she leaned forward, her eyes wide.

“The Imperial Senate,” she said. “It’s gone.”

Gone? Jyn’s thoughts jerked back to her desperate speech to the Alliance leadership, the senators declaiming or muttering about their constituencies, about risks and responsibilities. She’d thought it useless cowardice even then, shrugging off the sacrifices the real resistance had made over the last twenty years. The sacrifices both her fathers had made: Saw in bits and pieces, a wreck of a man in the end, Galen tormented by the grinding work of subterfuge. Like Cassian. Maybe the real reason he couldn’t make himself pull the trigger—but, too, it was every Partisan or Rebel who gave up all they had, or could have had, to resist the Empire. Saw and Galen gave the Alliance the chance for it all to mean something. And they threw it away for politics, for that worthless Senate.

“What do you mean, gone?” she said.

“The Emperor ordered it dissolved,” said Efrah. “I just heard from Commander Noalakkai.”

The senators might not have known this was coming. Obviously they hadn’t. But they had to know something. You didn’t get three days from total dissolution without any signs of danger.

Zekheret, who had managed several spoonfuls of soup, wiped his mouth. “Huh. What’s he going to do with the senators?”

“Send them home, I imagine,” Efrah replied.

Jyn couldn’t help but say, “Except Princess Leia.”

“That’s what we were talking about,” added Zekheret. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear. Darth Vader is on the Death Star, right now. He captured the princess and brought her here.”

Efrah dismissed this with a wave of her hand. “Oh, that was hours ago. I’m sure he’s already questioned her.”

Probably, Jyn thought, she should do something to divert any possible suspicion. Eat, make a fuss over the taste, drink, adjust her cap. Anything. She’d known what fate awaited Princess Leia here. But her fingers felt like lead.

“Then it’s over.” Zekheret brightened, despite just managing dainty sips from his spoon. “We’ll have the right locations if we don’t already, go pulverize them, done.”

Even Efrah looked disgusted.

“That’s what got us into this mess,” she snapped.

“The Rebellion is my fault?” said Zekheret. He rolled his eyes. “Really? I know you always have to blame me for everything, but even you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

Efrah didn’t crack a hint of a smile. “That kind of thinking!”

“What—”

One of her fingers stabbed the table. “It doesn’t matter what the fuck you think, or me, or Lyr, or any of us. But that shit goes all the way up. Oh, there’s no real threat, the Rebellion is just pitiful hold-outs on the fringes of civilization. We could wipe the whole thing out if we really tried.”

“Well,” he said, “we could.”

Jyn tried to think of a response that would sound appropriately Imperial. But she wasn’t really sure; taking Efrah’s side could be suspicious, but taking Zekheret’s might freeze her out. And while Zekheret made for an easy source, she felt sure that Efrah would be a better one.

She kept her mouth shut.

Efrah all but snarled, “It’s been twenty years.

Uncomfortably, something about her voice reminded Jyn of Cassian. Her eyes did, too, though they were blue—it was just the expression, hard and intense.

“Twenty? No, that’s not right,” Zekheret protested. “They’ve only been around for a few years. If you’re going to count every gang of terrorists as the Rebellion, you’ll have to go back a lot further than the Empire. They’re just one more, only a little bigger and better-organized. Everyone says so. We’ll take them down, no problem.”

“Like at Scarif?” Efrah jerked her head at Jyn. “She could tell you all about that.”

“I’d rather not, thanks,” said Jyn.

“Maybe,” she went on, “we could have wiped them out a thousand times over if we’d taken them seriously. Probably, even. But we haven’t. It’s all rah-rah-rah, we’ll swat them aside any day now, and meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people are dead.”

A lot more than that, Jyn thought, remembering Jedha. But they wouldn’t count those ones, would they?

“Let me know when your everyone can explain how the hell they got a fucking fleet,” said Efrah, her voice still pitched low and furious. “We only saw what didn’t escape, and even that much was more than the cobbled garbage and scrapmetal it’s supposed to be. Those were built to be Rebel warships.”

“They were?” said Jyn, dredging up a sympathetic smile for Zekheret. “How do you know?”

“The design’s all wrong.” Efrah knit her brows, and Jyn didn’t need the sudden chill on her skin to recognize danger. “You were at the battle, weren’t you?”

“Technically,” she said. “Rebels knocked me out pretty early. I spent most of it running around the Citadel trying to find my commander.” Jyn gave a short laugh. “Very heroic, I know.”

“Oh, so you didn’t see much,” said Efrah.

Jyn dared not move a muscle, certain that anything would betray the relief that swept through her.

“Not battle-wise. We had the spies and saboteurs to deal with.”

“Anyway,” Zekheret said, apparently bored with a conversation that drifted too far from him, “you’re sure about the ships?”

Efrah nodded. “The commander’s sure. He’s been ranting to anyone in earshot for hours. A good portion of that fleet must have been built from scratch. Do you know the kind of resources that would take? The kind of money? And now it turns out they have people in the Senate.”

“Not any more,” he said smugly. “And if Commander Noalakkai’s talking about it, the admiralty is paying attention now.”

“Right,” said Efrah. “They won’t listen to Tagge, but the officers who answer to him start complaining and it’s a sure thing.”

Jyn wondered if she dared ask who the hell Tagge was. Her face must have asked it for her.

“He’s one of the generals keeping this place running while the directors and moffs go around fucking things up,” Efrah said, but she sounded calmer. “Noalakkai is our commander. He’s pretty mellow, for an officer, but he idolizes General Tagge.”

Zekheret eyed her with the air of an engineer who’d discovered instant travel. “So that’s why you’re in a snit! Commander N’s going around infecting people.”

“It’s not a disease.

“Pity,” remarked Jyn. “An epidemic of good sense might have saved a lot of our men on Scarif. As far as we heard, there were maybe thirty Rebels in the initial attack. They slipped right in and lit the Citadel up like Empire Day.”

Efrah smacked the table. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

“Exactly what Commander N is talking about, you mean.” But much of the assurance had drained out of Zekheret’s voice and face. He frowned as he picked his way through the rest of his stew.

At his wrist, his comlink buzzed. He scowled, then switched it on.

“Zekheret here—yes, sir. No, no difficulty—I’ll be there, sir.” With a deep sigh, he flipped it off.

Jyn glanced at her own wrist, and nearly sprang right up.

It wasn’t a call. It was nothing. She’d forgotten the comlink altogether. If Bodhi tried to contact her—if Cassian did—if either of these paid attention—

“Top secret mission?” she asked, dropping her hands in her lap.

Zekheret came as near to pouting as a grown man could. “I wish. My shift’s been moved up. Prison duty.”

“You can thank Vader,” Efrah told him, much more lightly. “He brought a shipful of prisoners to our quadrant, I guess. They’ll want extra security.”

“From what? The Dianogas growing legs and taking off with them?” Shaking his head, Zekheret rose to his feet. With a rueful smile, he saluted them. “Sergeants. Until later.”

Jyn and Efrah watched him march off, his dignity somewhat marred by the dishes he dutifully carried to the cleaning droids. After the first seconds, Jyn’s skin prickled. She’d thought Efrah only there for Zekheret, whatever they were to each other. Not lovers, from their conversation yesterday, though it was difficult to think them anything else. Evidently they knew each other well—very well. Hard to figure out what a woman like Efrah would see in an amiable ass like Zekheret, but then, she’d never had much success figuring out what other people ever saw in each other.

Not that she’d much bothered herself over it. And she didn’t want to bother herself with Efrah and Zekheret’s relationship, either, despite the flicker of curiosity. She didn’t want to know them, or anyone. Even at the best of times. Certainly, these were far from those. Soon, she or they would be dead, and it’d be good riddance for whoever lived. Hell, they’d kill her in a moment if they knew who she was. No point in cozying up for that, except—

Except she needed information.

“So how’d you end up here?” Efrah asked her. Hands relaxed on the table again, her stiff spine slumping, she didn’t look particularly threatening.

Jyn knew better than to trust it.

“Scarif,” she said, blinking.

“No, I mean—Starfleet.” Efrah nodded at the other women scattered through the mess hall. All six of them. “Hard enough to get approved at my size, and you’re a twig.”

“Nepotism,” said Jyn blandly. In some indistinct recess of her mind, she wondered about the woman she’d stolen her black gear from, back on Scarif. From what she’d seen after they knocked the real Imperials out, that woman had been little taller than Jyn, and the uniform fit easily. How had she—

It didn’t matter, she reminded herself. And with any luck, the hapless pair had still been unconscious when they got vapourized. She pushed the thought out of her mind.

“But you couldn’t get a commission out of it?”

“My father’s an NCO,” said Jyn, “so, no.” The my-father-served-his-father idea wouldn’t work with what she’d discovered of Willix’s history, though. In a second, she jettisoned the story she’d invented for Brakas. “He did Captain Willix a favour, about ten years ago. So, the captain did us one. He’s never had reason to regret it.”

“Lucky,” Efrah said.

Jyn shrugged. “Could be worse. Could be better. It’s a living, and the captain’s a reasonable man. At least I get to see more of the galaxy than cement on Coruscant.”

If Efrah doubted her, she gave no sign, just nodding thoughtfully. “All expenses-paid trip around the stars?”

“Pretty much, if you don’t get killed,” said Jyn. “We ended up earthbound in Scarif, but it was practically a paradise, and safe as anyone could get. Seemed like it, anyway.”

Efrah snorted a laugh. “That’s what we all thought.”

A month ago, Jyn would have left the already-tense discussion at that, found some way to escape. But now she couldn’t stop at get out alive. She wasn’t a thief any more, but a spy, or the next thing to it. She just needed to find some way to get things moving the other way.

With scarcely a pause, Efrah added, “Sorry about Zekheret. He means well.”

Jyn saw her chance, and went for one of Cassian’s tricks. Turn the tables. “Oh, is he your—?”

“Gods, no,” said Efrah, appalled. “We were in basic training together. I don’t know about yours, but ours was … rough. We teamed up. He needed someone with brains, and I, well, women in Starfleet can always use someone watching our backs. You know.”

You didn’t have to be in Starfleet to learn that. The problem was finding people to watch your back who wouldn’t shoot you in the back.

Jyn thought of Baze and Chirrut, faithful without a home to protect. Kaytoo with his blaster, sealing off the blast-shield. Cassian urging her to keep going while he stopped to cover her, a moment before his body broke on beam after beam. Bodhi escaping with the shuttle, waiting those few precious minutes when she ran off to seize what she could of Kaytoo—he couldn’t have known what she was doing. It must have seemed insane. Yet he stayed.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “He’s trustworthy, then?”

“Definitely,” Efrah replied. “I mean, he’d fuck a droid if it stood still long enough, so I had to drum not interested into his head a few dozen times. But he’s not a problem once he does figure it out. He’s got a weird streak of chivalry.”

Rebel whore, she remembered.

“Seems like it,” said Jyn, in her best approximation of Cassian’s neutral tones.

“And he’s a good friend,” Efrah said, with what seemed peculiar force. She cast a sideways glance at Jyn. “I can tell him—how old are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” she lied. A good friend? A compliant one, probably.

“You’re a few years younger than me, then.” Efrah’s fingers drummed a quick beat against the table again. “And good-looking, which is worse.”

Jyn stared at her. “Sorry?”

Whatever ambivalence had beset her passed. In her usual decided manner, Efrah said,

“I don’t know how much time you’ve spent on bases like this, Lyr, but younger women sometimes have … difficulties here. I’m in administration, so I can’t be any help, but I could try and get your schedule coordinated with Zekheret’s, if you want.”

“I’ve never been anywhere like the Death Star,” said Jyn, frankly enough. It bought her a moment’s consideration, along with a moment’s discomfort. “I hope that’s not necessary.”

Efrah shook her head. “I wouldn’t bet on hope, if I were you.”

I should bet on trust, instead? In fairness, she had no particular reason to believe this motivated by anything beyond solidarity. If Efrah did suspect her, counter-infiltration seemed involved and unnecessary—she could just inform someone. Jyn would be captured and interrogated, like Princess Leia.

She suppressed a shudder. “I’m mostly shut up with my captain right now; he’s convalescing, and requires … supervision. But if I need someone once I have real duties, I’ll let you know.” Jyn hesitated, then added, “Thanks.”

Shrugging, Efrah said, “No problem. I figure we’ve got to stick together.”

I hate spying, Jyn thought.



I hate spying, Bodhi thought.

Somehow, he’d never imagined that it would involve quite so much time in the fresher. But regularly chatting with an NCO over his comlink had to appear suspicious. He might not be a hardened double-crosser like Galen or Cassian, or even tough and savvy like Jyn, who’d gotten them all this far. But he knew all about escaping notice in the Empire, and that would not be it.

Even going to the fresher too much would be dangerous, when he was allowed at all. At best, it’d look medical, and stormtroopers didn’t get the royal treatment officers did. So, most often, he waited until he had something he really needed to say, and stuck around as long as he dared until the call went through.

He had something now. He needed to tell her about Princess Leia, and he’d been waiting an hour. His unit had the night shift, so at least he wasn’t on duty now—in theory, he should be sleeping—but that didn’t make it less nerve-wracking that she didn’t respond. A few minutes, sure. Half an hour, forty minutes? All right. But it had never been this long. Anything could have happened to her. And to Cassian, as helpless as he could ever be.

In the shuttle, Bodhi’s heart had nearly stopped when the captain screamed. Then Cassian needed Jyn to walk, his wound absolutely coating her hand in blood—it’d been simple to smear that jacket with his blood because there was just so much of it. Despite the horrible battle, it made Bodhi feel sick whenever he thought about it, even with Jyn assuring him that they were doing better on that end.

Jyn herself, at least, had been in good shape when Bodhi last saw her. Last spoke to her, even. But he wouldn’t know if something happened to her! Though brave as Galen, she was not anywhere near as subtle. If she tripped up in her lies, or if she didn’t and still got caught—Force.

Other troopers passed in and out of the fresher now and then, but he hardly heard them. Just the thready dadadadada of his pulse, beating inside his skull like the galaxy’s creepiest drumsticks. Bodhi tried again, his throat and chest and stomach all burning and tight and awful.

Seconds ticked by. Nothing, then nothing, then nothing, then—

The channel clicked on. She was there!

“Sergeant?” he said.

But she didn’t say anything. He couldn’t hear anything but an odd sort of crackle, as if the comlink were being pressed against something. Bodhi’s heartbeat ticked up again.

“Sergeant, is that—”

“Identify yourself,” someone said coolly. A man. Then not Jyn sprang into Bodhi’s mind, but before the thought could panic him further, another stumbled right after it.

“Captain?”





Note:
Needless to say, it's extremely unlikely that Leia slept with Tarkin (ew). But I have always thought there was a nasty sexual undertone to his treatment of her, while Leia is even more repulsed by him than Vader, who literally just tortured her. He also seems genuinely betrayed that Leia lied (lied!!!!) to him, while Vader is pretty much "duh?" So I do tend to assume that Tarkin was creeping on her and Leia, as a spy, pretended not to be revolted, and the whole deal spawned some rumours about them.

(This was my AO3 note, but LOL, checked and my old liveblog of (most of) ANH does mention it!)
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anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (Default)
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