Authors: Greg Rucka
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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
A shadow has been cast across the galaxy. Where once there were hope and peace, now there are fear and the looming clouds of war. The FIRST ORDER is rising, its power growing, and the NEW REPUBLIC may well be powerless to stop it.
Among the billions upon billions of beings in the galaxy, three individuals will find themselves drawn into the heart
of this conflict. Each of them will play a vital role in what is to come. Each of them will face darkness. Each of them will struggle to reach the light.
FN-2187 is a STORMTROOPER, trained by the First Order. He is plagued by doubt. On Jakku, a young woman who calls herself REY struggles to live in an isolation necessary for her own survival. And among the stars, POE DAMERON strives to serve
a Republic he has always believed in, as sinister powers threaten to break his resolve.
These are their stories in the days, weeks, and months before THE FORCE AWAKENS.
HERE WERE four of them in the fire-team, and because shouting out things like, “FN-twenty-one eighty-seven, watch your back!” was a mouthful, especially when the blaster fire was searing the air around them, they’d defaulted to shorter versions. In front of the officers, in front of Captain Phasma especially, they
used their appropriate designations, of course. But in the barracks and
in combat, they used the names they’d given one another or the names they’d given themselves.
FN-2199, he was Nines, because he liked the sound of it, simple as that. FN-2000 had told everyone to call him Zeroes, because he was proud of the fact that he’d landed such a straightforward number as his designation. He thought it made him special, and either nobody had ever told him that being a “zero”
wasn’t exactly something to be proud of or he didn’t care.
FN-2003 was the only one with an actual nickname. They called him Slip. He always seemed just a little slower, a little clumsier than the rest of the fire-team. It wasn’t simply physical, either. Sometimes—in briefings, during training, during drills—you got the feeling that orders didn’t quite take with him, that he didn’t, or couldn’t,
fully understand what it was he was supposed to be doing or how he was supposed to be doing it.
FN-2187 was simply Eight-Seven whenever one of the team wanted to shorten his designation. They didn’t do it very often. He was, as far as the training cadre and his peers were concerned, one of the best stormtroopers anyone had ever seen. He was everything their instructors wanted—loyal, dutiful,
brave, smart, and strong. Whatever the test, whatever the evaluation, FN-2187 consistently scored in the top 1 percent. So he was FN-2187, well on his way to becoming the ideal First Order stormtrooper. That was what everyone thought, at least.
Except FN-2187 himself.
FN-2003—Slip—had fallen behind.
FN-2187, Zeroes, and Nines had taken cover behind what was left of an exterior perimeter wall,
the section they were sheltering behind still mostly intact but cracked and scored with innumerable blaster hits. The wall marked the edge of the Republic compound, still heavily defended, and the suppressing fire being directed their way was withering. Bolts of bright blue sizzled overhead and smashed into the ground around them. They punched into the wall with enough force that the stormtroopers
could feel the impact even through their armor.
“He did it again,” Zeroes said, elbowing FN-2187 and then pointing up-range, the direction from which they’d advanced.
FN-2187 crouched down and looked in the indicated direction. They were all virtually indistinguishable in their stormtrooper armor, but within his helmet, along with the near-constant stream of data projected across his lenses—telemetry,
firing solutions, atmospheric conditions, everything up to and including the ammo count for his blaster rifle—individual ID tags would pop up whenever he looked directly at another trooper, his in-suit computer reading friendly identifications. According to that same stream of data, 2187 could see that Slip was exactly 29.3 meters back, crouched in cover behind the hulk of a blasted-out
He could also see what Slip couldn’t—a squad of five Republic soldiers advancing on him unseen from the left flank. FN-2187 raised his rifle, sighting, but he knew before his helmet confirmed it that he was out of range. He could open fire, but there was no way he’d score a hit.
“He’s done,” Nines said. “We’ve got to advance.”
“He’s one of us,” 2187 said, lowering his rifle.
“We’ve got an objective,” Zeroes said. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward the base. “It’s that way. We go back for him, we’ll be cut to shreds.”
Face hidden inside his helmet, FN-2187 frowned. Yes, they had an objective, and yes, there were enemies all around them, and yes, Zeroes was right. In the compound was their objective: an enemy position defended by a heavy repeating blaster.
And whichever Republic soldiers were manning that thing, they knew their job. They’d seen two full squads cut down by it during their advance. The only reason 2187 could figure it hadn’t taken out Slip already was that whoever was on the trigger was waiting to see if one of them was going to do exactly what FN-2187 was thinking of doing—go back for him.
“We’re running out of time,” Zeroes said.
FN-2187 checked over his shoulder, back toward the compound. The terrain was uneven, and there was enough cover for a sustained fire-and-move advance. It would thin out the farther they advanced into the compound, approaching the heavy blaster emplacement, but it was doable if it was done smart.
“Zeroes, left. Nines, take right,” FN-2187 said. “On my order. Hold at the inner wall.”
blow the mission,” Nines said.
“Hold at the inner wall,” 2187 said again. “Go!”
Neither Nines nor Zeroes liked it, 2187 could tell, but they were stormtroopers, and that meant once orders were given they would follow them and follow them quickly. They moved at once, and 2187 waited a half-breath’s pause, letting each of them draw enemy fire, before launching forward. The terrain was just as
bad in that direction, cruel, uneven, and strewn with broken rock and battle debris. Thick black clouds from engine fires clung to the ground, rolling across it like an uneven tide. He sprinted the first dozen meters, trying to keep low, zigzagging his way from points of cover and occasionally hurdling obstacles in his way.
He’d closed half the distance when one of the Republic soldiers saw him
and gave a shout of alarm that carried across the battlefield. Just as the soldier opened fire, FN-2187 dove forward, tumbled into a freshly made crater, and lay flat for a second before popping up on his elbows. He fired twice before dropping down again, then rolled to his right and repeated, firing three times. He was pleased to see that he’d taken out two of the enemy.
But that left three
more, and now he had their attention.
FN-2187 keyed his radio. “FN-2003, check right, check left!”
There was static, then Slip’s voice. “I don’t see them!”
Another blast of static, loud enough that it made FN-2187 wince. He rolled back to his initial position and edged his way to the lip of the small crater just in time to see Slip opening fire on the remaining Republic soldiers
closing in on his position. Now 2187 could take his time. He sighted carefully, then stroked the trigger on his blaster rifle three times in succession. The last of the enemy soldiers dropped.
“On me!” he shouted, but he needn’t have bothered, because Slip was already out of cover and running toward him. FN-2187 rolled onto his back, making room in the crater as Slip slid into place next to him
and rapped him on the chest plate hard enough that it sounded like he was knocking on a door.
“Thanks, 2187,” Slip said. “Thank you, man. Thought you were gonna leave me behind.”
“You’re one of us.” He pointed back the direction he’d come. “Stay tight on me.”
“Right behind you.”
FN-2187 took another moment to catch his breath, then vaulted out of the crater, Slip clambering up behind him.
The fire from the Republic base seemed to have diminished, but FN-2187 knew that was an illusion, that it was just as intense as before, only less concentrated. That, of course, had been his plan: by splitting Zeroes and Nines, he’d forced the enemy to divide their attention, and that had given him the opening he needed to reach Slip. The downside was that Zeroes and Nines were now isolated, pinned
down with no way to escape.