It began as a normal day. Up for third shift, first meal with his cohort, small talk, and so on. A half hour of strenuous exercise, then suiting up with the other stormtroopers and cycling through security posts on the station. He’d been on hangar duty for about an hour with the tractor technicians dragged in a beat-up old ship. “TK-421,” came the order, “accompany the inspectors into the vessel.” So he did.
It came as a complete surprise when someone pulled off his helmet and punched him in the face. Not that he had time to be surprised before he woke up, tied and gagged in some tight, dark space, probably a smuggler’s compartment. He kicked and struggled, but nothing came of it. After another five minutes of useless rolling, twisting, and wriggling, he gave up and waited. Eventually, he fell asleep.
The ship was vibrating. It woke him slowly, returning him to primal memories of when he was young, vague senses of security from the rapid-growth capsules the Empire had put him in to make him a better soldier. For the first time in months—maybe years, time on the station blurred—TK-421 felt like he was in a transition, a period of change. It was nonsense, of course.
He struggled and tried to yell again, but wherever the reclamation crew was taking the ship, they’d forgotten to search it thoroughly. So he waited. It felt like days—but was probably hours—when the ship shuddered to a stop. Ship gravity crossfaded into a lighter gravity. Hearing movement almost directly overhead, he strained to kick a wall or hatch but only got himself more tangled.
The footsteps receded and the ship went silent. TK-421 wondered about the gravity. Reclamation was simply another part of the station, and should still be at standard gravity. For that matter, it would never have taken this long to arrive unless something strange were going on. He couldn’t imagine what.
Another bout of struggling and blindly feeling his way around the compartment revealed his way out: a jagged edge in one corner, no doubt where the smugglers had forced this compartment into a heap like this. It took the better part of half an hour, but he contorted himself around until he could scrape through his bindings and let himself out of the compartment.
Cramps took him. He stretched them out, kneaded his muscles, and weathered the pain as best he could, and then looked through the ship. No marks for contraband, or restricted technology, or even any receipts for collected evidence. Looking for the bathroom, he turned instead into the cockpit, looking out over a hangar full of people out of uniform. No, he corrected himself, in the wrong uniforms. Rebel uniforms.
Need to use the toilet forgotten, TK-421 hid, breathing heavily. He took a deep breath. With a tremble he couldn’t still, he stripped off his Imperial undersuit and put it back in the hidden compartment. He couldn’t wander naked, though. Digging through the messy, cluttered cabins on the ship, he found enough clothes that almost kind of fit him. Washing quickly, he walked out of the ship wearing clothes stolen from thieves to meet the Rebel Alliance.
It didn’t go at all as he’d expected. They were friendly. They assumed that if he was there, he belonged there. No one asked him where he was supposed to be or requested confirmation that he was about an assigned task. He found his way into the kitchens, where it smelled so good he didn’t want to leave. Someone handed him a bowl of something he couldn’t describe or even name, but it was delicious and he ate until he thought he’d be full for a year. Even full, he didn’t want to leave the welcoming smells behind. So he asked if he could help.
Washing dishes was relaxing, almost meditative. It reminded him of field stripping and cleaning his E-11 blaster rifle, or adjusting the fit on his armor. He could almost slip into a trance with the bubbles high, sweaty from scrubbing, handing off another pot to the chef who was making enough of something delicious to feed the small army living on this moon. Someone asked him his name and he said Jak, a name he’d heard someone call out earlier. So he was Jak.
When someone told him to take a break, he did, sitting with a dozen others all jawing about places they’d been, people they’d known, or how the Empire done them wrong. Someone asked about him and TK-421 froze. After a few seconds, someone said he didn’t have to answer, a lot of people were private, and conversation moved on. Just like that. Someone was showing him where he could bunk down when the fighters launched, and moments later the general quarters alarm sounded. He stood rooted to the ground, no clue where to go, until one of his new friends from the kitchens grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the non-combatants’ shelter.
He stood with them all in quiet, impatient waiting. He smelled their fear and added his to the rank odor. He bit his lip with them as they heard snatches of reports from a radio someone had snuck in. He cheered with them when they reported the enemy station destroyed.
When the all clear sounded, he rushed back to the kitchens. Someone needed to prepare food for returning heroes, for wakes for those that had gone, to sustain everyone as the evacuated the base for someplace more secure. That order came down after Jak had been back at the sink for an hour.
He went with them as they evacuated. Some of the shuttles were on their way to inhabited worlds. From there, he could get a lift anywhere. The Rebellion wasn’t his rebellion. Just as it was no longer his Empire. He wondered if he should want vengeance for all the people he’d known who had died on the Death Star, but they were only people, had never really been friends. He couldn’t bring himself to feel rage at their deaths, especially a death in self defense.
Jak ended up on a small station. He’d tried settling on a handful of different planets, but they never felt right. He opened his own restaurant, first a small window on a busy, rusty spaceway, and after some success his own little space with seating for five. He cowered with everyone else when the Stormtroopers stomped by, and he cheered with everyone else when the Rebellion declared victory, even though day-to-day life didn’t change much for him.
His prospects grew as he earned a reputation for openness. His food wasn’t the best anywhere, but if you wanted something, he’d try to make it, whatever it was. If he didn’t have the ingredients, he’d have them tomorrow, and if it didn’t taste good on the first try, it might on the seventeenth.
When they found out Jak was not just the cook, but the owner, guests always asked why he called his place 421. He’d just shrug and say, “I had to call it something.”