Before Before the Awakening, stormtrooper FN-2187 is assigned creche duty. The experience is… illuminating.
Typically, FN-2187’s work assignments never take him through the creche. That section of the ship has their own sanitation workers and FN-2187 is not one of them. The hallways look unfamiliar as he walks through them and several times, he has to be nudged in the right direction by the impatient beeping of a sentry droid.
He hasn’t been back in the creche since he was old enough to handle a blaster properly. The creche is purposefully kept on the other side of the ship from recruits his age and the Stormtroopers that work with the children rarely knowingly interact with the children they once took care of. How could they, when everyone above the age of ten cycles wears a uniform?
However, after the creche on the Supremacy receives a larger than normal group of new recruits from a recent stop at Hays Minor, several of its former inhabitants are repurposed in order to help. It’s supposed to be a temporary assignment, especially for FN-2197. While his shifts in sanitation are on hold until other creche minders can be relocated from smaller, lesser ships in the First Order, his training – on Captain Phasma’s orders, no less – is still ongoing.
FN-2187 can’t allow himself to get used to working in the creche.
Not that there’s anything for him to get used to, of course.
He remembers his time in the creche. He remembers the minder for his group of children, a stern-voiced man who was quick with criticism and slow to praise. He remembers the first time that he held a blaster, fingers curling uncertainly against the trigger as the unfamiliar weight in his hands frightened him. He’d been so worried that he would accidentally drop the blaster or pull the trigger and hurt someone badly enough that he would be kicked out of the creche – or, as some of the crueler children in the creche would say when bullying him, ejected from the Supremacy entirely into space. He remembers being anxious and alone.
Returning to the creche is unlikely to be an experience he’ll enjoy.
FN-2187 stops walking, shudders at the memory, and then realizes that he’s finally found the section of the creche that he’s been assigned to for his tenure there. Striding forward towards the control panel next to the door, FN-2187 tries to stay confident. If he’s lucky, Phasma will find a need for him sooner rather than later and will reassign him somewhere less… stressful.
When the door slides open, FN-2187 is greeted by… a woman.
An older woman barely taller than he is in his uniform boots with dark brown eyes and hair, a crooked nose with a sharp curve, and a thin, unsmiling mouth. She isn’t wearing a helmet or the typical Trooper uniform, dressed instead in a long-sleeved white shirt and pants and FN-2187 can see fine wrinkles in the smooth, golden skin of her brow and at the corners of her eyes.
“You’re late,” she says, spitting the words out in a clipped tone so similar to that of Phasma’s voice at its coldest that FN-2187 feels his spine stiffen in a familiar fear. “You were supposed to be here ten minutes ago.”
FN-2187 stammers apologies, thankful for the way that his own helmet hides the sweat dampening his brow or the way that his nostrils just won’t (can’t) stop flaring. At one point, when he tells the woman before him that he got lost in the maze of hallways, she scoffs at him and shakes her head.
“Designation?” She spits the syllables out as though the act of having to ask for it in the first place angers her.
When he tells her his designation, she nods and then turns on her heel, walking into the room as if expecting him to follow.
Of course he does.
Without turning around, she tells him that, “FA-6391. While you’re in my section, you will call me ‘Nurse’. Outside of it, you won’t speak of me at all. Understood?”
FN-2187 nods and then, after realizing that Nurse can’t see him, vocalizes his acquiescence.
Nurse leads FN-2187 to a changing room and hands him a neatly folded pile of fabric topped by a pair of soft-soled shoes.
“Clean yourself and then change,” she says in that sharp voice. “When you are done, you will be working in the room directly opposite this one. Your palm-print has already been coded to the doors.”
Before FN-2187 can open his mouth to voice a question or even to comment, Nurse strides away. She doesn’t look back at him and despite the fact that he’s only been in her presence for a few moments, he isn’t surprised.
FN-2187 cleans himself quickly, but thoroughly. He takes extra time on his hands, making sure that his nails are clean and not ragged. He also, for reasons that he can’t imagine voicing even when alone, takes the time to stare at the dark brown skin of the back of his hands and the paler skin of his palms. Of course, he’s seen his own hands, his own body. (Rarely his own face, however. Oneness and sameness are goals of the First Order and there are no mirrors in their rooms or at cleaning stations. FN-2187 hasn’t seen his own face in months – or maybe years.)
However, he never has the time to simply… look. He allows himself a minute, no more, and then dresses. He feels naked without his uniform, without his helmet, but he forces himself to turn and walk out of the room to his new, temporary assignment.
“You – you want me to work with-with babies?” FN-2187 stammers, staring at Nurse with wide eyes.
Nurse shakes her head, the gesture sharp enough to make the bun atop her head shake from the motion. “These are toddlers,” she says, her voice softer than before though no less cutting. “One to three years old and freshly weaned from their formula.”
The sentence makes FN-2187 wonder if there are younger children in the creche then, younger babies. Torn away from their parents before they can even eat solid food and –
No. He refuses to think of that. Of children stolen from or sold by their families and taken into the First Order’s control. Not now, not with his face bare.
Instead, FN-2187 schools his face into what he hopes appears to be a neutral expression and tries to appear eager to learn. (But not too eager.) When he asks, “what will my duties be,” Nurse’s features briefly soften with what almost looks like a smile.
“At this age, any attempts at physical training are pointless,” she says. “These children are barely capable of staying awake for more than six hours without having to rest in the middle of the day. Instead of training, our duties in this section of the creche are to monitor the young ones and engage their growing minds.”
He blinks several times in rapid succession. “Engage their –“
“Holofilms alone aren’t sufficient enough a mode of engaging these young children and exposing them to the First Order,” Nurse says before FN-2187 can even finish speaking. “We read them holo-prints, play games that introduce physicality to their lives, and nurture their growing language and motor skills.”
The word “games” sticks in FN-2187’s head. The word sounds so innocuous, so innocent. He doesn’t remember being this young in the creche though he must have been young when brought into the First Order. He doesn’t remember being this small, this fragile. This… malleable.
Nurse clears her throat in order to regain his attention. “You’ll shadow me today for a ten-hour shift as we work with eight of the young ones and take a holo-print text of creche rules and regulations back to your dormitory. When I feel as though you can manage on your own, you’ll have four children to work with on your own. Understood?”
All FN-2187 can do is nod in response.
The first time that FN-2187 is allowed to hold a toddler (nearly eight hours into his fourth day working in the creche), he nearly drops them.
Wildly, weirdly, the experience reminds him of that first time holding a blaster even though holding a squirming child is nothing like holding a blaster. But the weight of that small body against his chest is similarly unfamiliar, as is the feeling of trust that appears in the child’s eyes after only a few moments before they press their head underneath his chin and sigh.
“Do they – do the children have names?”
He knows that he’s used the wrong word the moment that it escapes his mouth. Stormtroopers don’t have names. They have designations and, if they’re luckier than he is and liked by their cell as an older child, nicknames. Not real names. Never real names.
Nurse shakes her head. “This group of children is part of group OE. Many of them already recognize and answer to their designations, but that is part of our job here. To make sure that by the time that they leave this section of the creche, they know who they are.”
But, who are they?
FN-2187 can’t help himself. He’s always been too curious for his own good. “Where did these children come from? Are they all from Hays Minor?”
Nurse hesitates on her answer for just long enough for FN-2187 to feel self-conscious for asking.
“The First Order separates children from the same home planet in order to enforce loyalty to our Order,” she says slowly, not as sharply as before. “While two of my charges are from Hays Minor, the others come from around the galaxy. The one you’re holding is from Bakura, an Outer Rim planet the First Order… disciplined in recent years.” She turns away from him then, returning her attention to the child that she’d been changing.
FN-2187 remembers seeing an entry on Bakura in one of the documents he’d had to read a few years before – a report on the effectiveness of new weapons in conflict. Bakura had fought the First Order at first, but after several decisive strikes against its government and infrastructure… They had surrendered in order to take care of their dead and recover after heavy losses.
The child in his arms is most likely an orphan then, FN-2187 realizes. The way that he’s probably an orphan. It isn’t as though troopers have any hope of finding out where their original families were from or if they’re even still alive.
FN-2187 looks around at the roomful of innocent, trusting faces at their little desks and feels… something. An unnamable, indefinable emotion tears through him like a blaster shot to the chest. His grip on the toddler in his arms tightens enough to make the child complain at him and, absently, FN-2187 places the child back in their chair before straightening up and taking in the children around him.
The children come from all over the galaxy, something that shows in the shades of brown across the room and the hair that ranges from fine blond wisps to tightly coiled red hair. The diversity of their appearance is yet another reminder of how the First Order is supposedly better than what came before it. Clones were, in the holovids and texts FN-2187 has access to, unreliable and unskilled.
FN-2187 should feel pleased by the reminder of how he is part of something greater than himself, that he and these children will make the galaxy great again.
However, there’s something these children that brings a usually nascent anger at the First Order – and the melancholy of realizing how alone they all are – rising up within him. These are children who may never see the sky overhead – children who will grow up to be troopers who may die without ever experiencing something as simple as sunlight beyond reading about it in a holo-print.
Children like him.
Phasma sends for FN-2187 halfway through his shift the next day, another trooper conveying her orders for him to change back into his uniform and return to his regular duties on the other side of the Supremacy. The other trooper gives him mere minutes to dress in his uniform, to return to being one of the crowd of troopers that scurries around the underbelly of the Supremacy.
It isn’t enough.
FN-2187 doesn’t get to say goodbye. Not to the children and certainly not to Nurse, who pretends that he’s invisible when he tries to get her attention on his way to the door.
That night, after a grueling training session with Phasma and other members of FN-2187’s cell that leaves him sore and favoring his left leg, FN-2187 finds himself awake long after Slip and the others have fallen asleep.
He keeps thinking about the creche. About Nurse.
He’s been a part of the First Order his entire life. He’s never had reason to doubt them for more than a few moments. However, his time in the creche awakened something inside of him: the hope that one day, there won’t be any children stolen away from their families in order to be raised in the First Order creches.