"Do you think I'll meet Commander Dameron?" Rose Tico asked, a little breathlessly, as she ignored her plate of food.
Paige Tico reached out and pressed her finger against her younger sister's lips. "No talking before caff is done. You know the rule."
"Right. Sorry," replied Rose, not sounding sorry at all. "I'm just so excited!"
Paige downed the dregs of her cup and suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "You'll be cursing me for getting you the job in about six hours. Being the apprentice sucks, Rose. Are you gonna eat that?" she asked, pointing at the untouched piece of toast balanced atop a mountain of reconstituted powdered eggs.
" X-wings , Pai-Pai. They're gonna let me fix X-wings!"
Paige could not stop her sarcastic snort. "X-wings suck. Bombers are where it's at."
"You're just saying that because that's what you work on."
"Of course. That's how it works, apprentice, " drawled Paige, making grabby motions with her fingers in the vicinity of Rose's plate.
Rose glared at her but tossed the toast at her sister, who caught it with cat-like reflexes. "Besides, they're not gonna let you touch anything for like a month. Maybe two. You'll be lucky if they let you hold the torque wrench."
Never one to be put down for long, Rose looked evenly at Paige and stuck out her tongue. "Maintenance technicians are the lifeblood of the Resistance," she said.
"You just keep telling yourself that," replied Paige slyly, "you meat mech."
Early for the morning briefing, Rose slipped into the large room off the main X-wing hangar with a barely-suppressed smile twitching her cheeks. The tired technicians from the other shift were huddled around the caff machine, waiting impatiently for the handover to finish so they could go to bed. She took a seat in the front row and drummed her fingers on her knees. Today was going to be a great day—finally, she would be making a difference, contributing to the Resistance in a tangible, important way!
A man in an orange flight suit base layer sat down next to her, and Rose turned her smile on him. "Hi, I'm R—" Her name died in her mouth as she recognized the pilot, and her voice became a squeak. "Commander Dameron, sir!"
The dark-haired man shot her a perfectly-toothed smile. "I don't think we've met," he said, holding out his hand.
"I-I'm new, sir," she stammered, slowly reaching up to take his hand.
When she did not elaborate further, his brows drew together slightly. "You're New?"
Rose nodded enthusiastically, unable to form words, when a heavy hand clapped against her shoulder. Behind her, a skinny, middle-aged man with a thick moustache was staring at her pointedly. "You're the new apprentice, right?"
Her head just kept nodding. "Uh-huh."
"Come sit with us, then," he said, jerking his chin over his shoulder at a knot of people milling at the back of the room. All of them were shooting surreptitious glances in her direction.
As she rose from her seat, Dameron said, "It was nice to meet you."
Still unable to form words in his presence, she made a garbled noise in her throat and wiggled her fingers at him until the moustachioed man poked her in the shoulder. "I'm Section Corporal Bobost Persal. I'll be your supervisor. Rule number one: do not humour Dameron under any circumstances. You do not speak to him unless spoken to. You do not smile at him. You do not wave at him. You do not give his droid belly rubs. You do not acknowledge his existence."
"Dameron’s a menace on the maintenance floor, and talking to him just encourages him to stick around and when he sticks around, he tries to fix shit and makes more work for us," Bobost continued. "If he's poking around, I will handle him."
Rose furrowed her brow in confusion but nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Don't call me 'sir'; I work for a living. Call me Bob," he replied mildly as he stopped in front of the bored-looking group. "Listen up, folks, this is the new apprentice, Rose Tico."
A Duros jerked his head up with a frown. "Tico? Like Lieutenant Tico from the Cobalt Hammer ?"
Proudly, Rose smiled and nodded enthusiastically. "She's my sister."
Next to him, a Devaronian's mouth gaped open. "Holy shit, there's two of 'em."
"Come sit next to me, Twoco," called a fifty-something woman with tight iron-grey curls above her dark face. She patted the empty seat beside her. Hesitantly, Rose shuffled forward and lowered herself down, never taking her eyes off the motley crew all peering at her with interest.
"No, it's Tico," corrected Rose, but the woman's smile widened.
"Not anymore it's not. Welcome to 1 Maintenance Squadron, Twoco."
Before Rose could argue, a scarred Cerean wearing an eyepatch hobbled to the front of the room and glared at all of them with his single, terrifying eye. His voice, however, was quiet. "Good morning." Instantly, the room fell into expectant silence. "Besh shift, anything to report?"
One of the technicians at the back of the room, blearily holding their caff under their nose replied, "Left you a nice snag in the ionization chamber on Blue Two, Aurek shift."
The techs around Rose began to grumble, and the Devaronian went so far as to heckle, "You suck."
The Cerean snorted but otherwise ignored the outburst. "There are no missions scheduled for today, which means we can delve right into the annual safety briefing on petroleums, oils, and lubricants."
A collective groan rose from the assembled masses. Someone in the middle of the room called, "We just did that three months ago!"
The Cerean stabbed his hand towards them. Only his thumb and pinkie remained attached to his palm. "Stop leaving unsealed POL containers in the cabinet, then, nerfherders," he snapped. "I swear I will karking space the next person I catch improperly storing injector grease."
Rose tensed at the casual hostility, but her new friend elbowed her gently and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "You've never met Flight Sergeant Lirr?"
"No," she whispered back. "He's terrifying."
"See his hand? Legend has it that back in Clone Wars he saved his section by tossing back a live droid popper a little too late. Still qualifies on the range every year, but he refuses to switch to an adapted blaster." The older woman crooked her little finger as if pulling a trigger.
"Seriously?" breathed Rose.
"Who the kriff is talking back there?" Lirr's voice cut through the room like a whip, and Rose jerked her attention to the front to find the Cerean glaring at her. "Stand up."
Trembling with nerves and the feeling of dozens of eyes on her, Rose slowly got to her feet. Lirr roved his remaining eyeball over her features. "Please share with the crew what you and Corporal Brull were discussing, since anything's more interesting than POL and we could all use a distraction."
"I, uh, I mean, she was telling me about, uh, your pinkie," Rose said, too high-pitched and a little strangled, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her.
Brull, however, held up her arm and crooked her pinkie again with a sparkling grin. "Strongest pinkie in the Resistance, right boss?"
Lirr narrowed his eye at them for another moment, then shrugged. "Whatever she told you, it's all true. Now sit down and shut up, because we have to chat about flammables."
Rose had never been more relieved to sit down in her life.
"I never did get your name." Startled out of her intent concentration on lockwire, Rose whirled and banged the side of her head against the ship's wing.
" Kriffing hells, " she hissed.
Poe Dameron winced and helplessly raised his hands towards her. "Oh, oh, gods, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, are you okay?"
"Yeah," breathed Rose, rubbing her head with her hand, scratched and cut by the sharp threads of wire. "I'll live."
"You sure?" The pilot looked so pathetically apologetic that she had to wave him off.
"Yes, sir. What can I do for you, sir?" Even as she said it, she could hear Bob's litany of rule number one. Inwardly, she grimaced.
"I just brought BB-8 for a connection check. Flight Sergeant Lirr ordered all astromechs to you folks in preparation for an upcoming mission, so here we are." Dameron gestured to his orange and white droid, who wriggled slightly and chirped at her in greeting.
[Hello, Rose Tico! I am BB-8.]
Surprised at the droid's friendly greeting, Rose gave him a little wave. "You know my name!"
[I referred to the personnel database. There were two humanoids listed under Tico. Paige Tico is assigned to the Cobalt Hammer . Rose Tico is assigned to 1 Maintenance Wing. Therefore, you are Rose Tico. It was not confusing.]
Bewildered by the chattiness of the droid, she exhaled and replied, "Nice to meet you, BB-8." She hesitated, unsure what she could say to the pilot now. "I, uh, I'm not qualified on that procedure yet, sir."
Dameron grinned, a high-wattage expression that Rose had to harden her heart against just to stay on her feet. "That's okay. I'll show you! It's just a matter of …" He trailed off as he wandered under the fuselage of the ship, muttering to himself. The droid peeked around Rose to watch his master and beeped questioningly.
"Major Dameron!" Bob appeared from around a stack of crated X-wing parts with a cup of caff in his hand. At the sharp sound of his name, Dameron jerked up and slammed his skull against the bottom of the ship. Rose winced in sympathy and absently rubbed her head. BB-8 squawked and rolled behind Rose's open toolbox, pretending to be just another part of the maintenance floor.
"Yes, Section Corporal Persal, hi. Good morning," Dameron said, grimacing as he ducked out from beneath his fighter. "Just brought BB-8 for the connection check."
Bob nodded firmly. "Very good, sir. Your astromech is in very capable hands. Technician Second Class Tico and I will do the procedure ourselves." Dameron opened his mouth to say something, but Bob ploughed on. "We should be done within the hour, sir; there's no need for you to stay. I'll send the droid to find you as soon as we're finished."
There was no way Dameron could argue with such even, reasonable—Rose stilled and realized that at no time had Bob given the pilot an actual choice in the matter. Awed, she watched the two men stare at each other for half a heartbeat before Dameron nodded. "Of course, Section Corporal. Thank you. It was nice to finally learn your name," he added to Rose with another smile.
"We'll see you later, Major," said Bob with a brief wave. Dameron wandered away, and once he was out of earshot, Bob heaved a deep sigh. "See what I meant about not talking to him?"
"Major Dameron is an unintentional flirt whose singular goal in life is to break ships that I have to fix," retorted Bob, annoyed. "That man has crashed this X-wing to the point of needing complete rebuilds five times. See?" He pointed to five markings on the underside of the ship's wing, black on black, each outlining an X-wing in flight. A black bolt of lightning was painted next to the ships.
"What's that one for?"
"Lightning strike." Bob rubbed his palm over his face. "In twenty years, I had never actually heard of an X-wing getting struck by lightning, but he managed it."
"He's still alive," she breathed, more than a little impressed.
"Yeah, because we keep his ship spaceworthy and his own godsdamned luck," grumbled Bob.
Something tickled Rose's mind, and she turned a quizzical eyebrow on him. "You called him Major Dameron. I thought he was a Commander."
Bob snorted like flimsi ripping. "Two things: He holds the position of Wing Commander, but it's not his rank, and 'Commander' is his personal call sign. People around here don't understand how the kriff rank structure works. This militia is a veritable kriffing mish mash."
"Wait, what? How is his position a call sign?"
He sipped his caff and smirked. "Commander is an old Jedi rank from the Clone Wars that they gave to their Padawans." At her confused head shake, he elaborated, "Their apprentices. Young. Rash. Not quite ready for life outside of adult supervision."
"Major Dameron also famously commandeered a garbage scow to finish a mission in his early days with the Resistance. Someone in air traffic control started calling him 'Commandeer,' but it got garbled over a transmission one day, and 'Commander' stuck." He drained his cup and frowned at the empty vessel. "I need more caff. Get that droid into the cradle and I'll show you the rest of the procedure."
"Sure thing, Bob."
He spun on his heel, paused, then threw a glare over his shoulder past Rose at BB-8, who was still pretending to be a piece of furniture. "No belly rubs," he ordered, then disappeared back behind the crates.
Rose folded her arms across her chest at the astromech. "What was that all about?"
[Section Corporal Persal does not like me,] BB-8 replied with a sad whine.
"Aw," replied Rose, kneeling down in front of the droid. "I'm sure that's not true."
[I failed to ensure the ship's safety, and Section Corporal Persal had to work hard to fix it.] The droid's dome head drooped in disappointment.
"You're not responsible for everything that happens to the ship," she reassured him gently. "You can only do what you can."
[You are friend-shaped, Rose Tico,] chirped BB-8, perking up.
With a laugh, Rose replied, "What does that mean?"
[I am not entirely certain. My own schematics indicate that I am designed to be friend-shaped. This is intended as a positive attribute to instil trusting and productive human-droid relations. I believe I can trust you, Rose Tico, therefore, you are friend-shaped.]
"I'll be working here for a while, so it's good for us to be friends," she said, chuckling. "Let's get you into your cradle before Bob gets back."
The droid chirruped in agreement, and rolled himself into position beneath the belly of the ship. Before Rose could activate the cradle mechanism, BB-8 roved his single ocular lens towards her. [Do you know what makes a good friend, Rose Tico?]
Droids should not sound sly, and yet, this one managed it. [Belly rubs.]
Rose glanced around her, and when the coast was clear, she ducked under the ship and rubbed the droid's round, stainless inoxium casing with enthusiastic hands. To hell with rule one.
The large red chrono above the hangar door announced midday, and Brull tapped Rose on the shoulder. "Come on, it's food time," Brull announced cheerfully.
Rose set down the hyperspanner she was recalibrating and, at Bob's nod, let the older woman guide her through the bowels of the Raddus to the mess hall. "This is everyone. Everyone, this is Twoco, our new meat mech," Brull announced as they joined an already-occupied table.
"Rose," she corrected with a tiny frown. She settled her meal tray on the table and unfolded the napkin wrapped around the utensils. "Aviation technician on the X-wing."
"You should have come to bang dents out of the fuselage with us over in aircraft structures," Brull said with a grin. "It's good stress relief, and the way the Commander flies, we're always busy."
"Ty Colbernik," replied a young, human male wearing a taupe uniform. His blond hair was shorn on the sides, leaving a mop of tight curls on top. He pointed with his fork to the Iktotchi hunched over a tray. "That's Gerrus."
Gerrus growled something around his mouthful of food. Brull ripped open her roll and slathered some butter inside. "So, what's the good word?"
"My life is a karking shambles thanks to Poe karking Dameron," retorted Ty darkly. "He returned a bunch of kit this morning to exchange and somehow none of it actually belongs to him."
"Ty's a supply tech," Brull told Rose helpfully.
"So I spent my entire morning trying to figure out where the karking hells all this stuff came from, and he insists he signed his yellow kit card for everything, but half this stuff isn't listed on the card! We don't issue karking leather jackets! I can't give him a new one because his old one has a hole in the elbow, because I have no idea where it came from !" Ty's voice became higher and shriller, until Gerrus patted his hand absently.
"Relax, before you have an aneurysm. At least he didn't lose your torque wrench." Gerrus glanced up and narrowed his eyes at Rose and Brull. "Thanks for that, by the way."
"What did we do?" protested Rose, her fork half-way to her mouth.
"You unleashed a bored Dameron on the rest of the maintenance wing this morning," he grumbled. "The man never leaves the floor if his droid is there, so he found something to do."
"What's wrong with being helpful?" asked Rose. "All hands to the pump, and all that. Personnel's stretched pretty thin as it is."
Gerrus squinted at her as though she was being particularly dense. "He lost a torque wrench in less than fifteen minutes then got called away to a briefing. I have an entire crew combing the hangar to find it so I can close my tool board."
Rose offered him a sympathetic shrug. "I'm sure it will turn up?"
"Let's hope it turns up before our next unexpected run in with those First Order pricks, or someone's engine might eat a torque wrench." Both Rose and Brull grimaced.
"FOD kills," quoted Rose under her breath, remembering the graphic, colourful posters around the maintenance bay proclaiming the dangers of foreign object debris. She ate the rest of her meal without tasting it.
After midmeal, Bob handed her a datapad and pointed across the hangar. "Now's the part where you get to meet Sixes," he said with a suspiciously wry little smile. "Take this paperwork to that office and submit it so we can get the C-release on the ship."
Rose took the datapad and nodded. "C-release is the paperwork check, right?"
"Yep. Sixes makes sure we've crossed and dotted everything. Get that signed off and you can go join the great torque wrench search of 34 ABY."
Swallowing a sigh, Rose marched across the hangar, passing several groups of low-ranking technicians tearing apart crates and portable equipment in search of the elusive torque wrench. The C-release office had no actual door, so she knocked on the wall and cleared her throat. An RA-7 protocol droid with "R-6666" etched carefully on her chestplate glanced up at her. "What?" snapped the droid.
"What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I didn't know we had a Death Star droid on board," breathed Rose, mind whirling about the possibilities of asking it about disguising elements behind soldering welds, something that seemed to have died out with the Empire and was ripe for renewal by the Resistance.
The droid silently turned her unblinking optical scanners on the technician. "Back in my day, apprentices were seen and not heard."
Somehow she had offended the droid already—she groaned inwardly. "I'm sorry, I forgot that's, uh, considered derogatory. I apologize. I've never met an RA-7 before. Your low-light photoreceptors are a marvel of modern sensor technology!"
Placated slightly, Sixes grunted irritably and held out her hand. "The paperwork."
Rose placed the datapad in the droid's hand; the droid seemed to glare at her for another second before handing the paperwork back. "Release granted. Now get out of my office."
"Uh, thanks," muttered Rose.
As she walked away, she could hear Sixes muttering to herself. "I never had to deal with apprentices on the Death Star. What I wouldn't give for a little Imperial discipline around here once in a while. Bloody meat mechs."
The rest of Rose's first day as an apprentice technician was spent, flashlight in hand, searching the hell hole of each X-wing on the hangar floor for the missing torque wrench. Squished into the smallest access port on the bottom of the fighter, she had to hold the light between her teeth because only one of her shoulders fit inside. Sweaty and filthy, she wriggled out of the tight space and glared at the group of other apprentices on the other side of the floor. She had joined their search and been quickly pronounced the KNG—kriffing new guy—and given the worst job of the lot.
"'They're gonna let me fix X-wings,'" Rose groused, annoyed at her own words. "'Maintenance technicians are the lifeblood of the Resistance.' Yeah, right. When fathiers fly, maybe."
As she wiped the spit off her flashlight with her pant leg, the slight movement of orange and white next to a lonely crate caught her attention. She stashed the light in her pocket and hurried over, only to find BB-8 snugged between the crate and the wall. "Are you stuck?" she asked softly.
[I am not,] replied BB-8, but he whirled his ocular sensor around to check behind him.
"So what are you doing back here? Shouldn't you go find"—she paused, suddenly torn as to what she should call Poe Dameron now that she knew his actual rank—"your pilot?"
"Maybe you could help me? We're looking for a torque wrench that's gone missing. Gerrus needs it, or he can't close the tool board and the entire hangar is grounded."
The little round droid whistled despondently, his head drooping, but said nothing. Keeping her annoyance in check, Rose knelt down and asked quietly, "BB-8, do you know where the torque wrench is?"
The droid bobbed his head. [Poe had it in his hand. He was torquing bolts on the gravity-assist plating. Bob was coming. I told Poe to give me the wrench.]
"And then what happened?"
[Poe gave me the wrench. I tried to hide from Bob.] BB-8 lowered his volume, as if to whisper. [A power line was on the floor. I completed an open circuit. The current activated my pincer retraction servos.]
This was not going where she thought it was, was it? Had the droid destroyed the torque wrench and created a whole handful of FOD? "Okaaayyy. And then?"
[I swallowed the torque wrench.]
Stunned, Rose scrunched her nose at him. "Wait, what?!"
The droid rolled forward and backwards several times. The clanking sound inside him was muffled but audible. [I cannot remove it.]
"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked him plaintively. "Everyone's been looking for that tool all day!"
[I am sorry, Rose Tico. I did not want Poe to be in trouble.] He paused and added, [Again.]
With a deep sigh, Rose patted the little droid. "Will you let me help get it out?"
[Only if you promise to not implicate Poe,] retorted the astromech with surprising fierceness.
"Okay, okay, I promise!" she told him, showing her palms in surrender. "It'll be our secret. But you have to come with me. I can't fix you here."
BB-8 beeped acquiescence, and together they made their way around the edge of the hangar, avoiding contact with anyone. The clanking inside the droid seemed to get louder as he moved faster; a few technicians working on a dismantled wing eyed them suspiciously, and Rose just smiled and waved as she passed. "Hurry up," she told the droid through the clenched teeth of her smile. The clanking just got worse.
The basic droid repair station was blessedly empty, with its usual occupants engaged in the search for the torque wrench. Rose squinted critically at BB-8. "Can you get up on the table?"
[Poe just picks me up,] replied the droid innocently. [I am not that heavy.]
"Okay." Rose squatted down and wrapped her arms around his spherical body, then attempted to lift him off the ground. Muscles straining, she slipped and landed on her bottom with a surprised grunt. "Not heavy? Are you kidding me? You're at least one-fifty!"
[Poe picks me up all the time,] huffed the droid.
"Well, I won't be," retorted Rose. "Come here, let me have a better look at that panel."
The panel that hid BB-8's pincer extension had been fused shut by the electrical current, like an accidental weld. She ran her fingers over the messy seam and sighed. "I'll have to cut this open, and you might need a new panel." The droid squawked in alarm. "It's okay, I've done it before. If you hold really still, I can make a clean cut and no one will be the wiser."
BB-8 stared at her for a moment, considering, then beeped. [You are friend-shaped, Rose Tico.]
"Poe Dameron doesn't deserve you," she muttered, reaching for a precision cutting torch and a face mask.
Twenty minutes later, with BB-8 safely out of the hangar, Rose Tico marched up to Gerrus and held out a torque wrench. "Found it," she announced without preamble.
The Iktotchi whirled, his curved horns flapping against his shoulders, and gaped at her. "No shit," he replied, grabbing the tool and checking the ident number etched on the handle. He barked a laugh. "Good work, Tico. Where'd you find it?"
"I just stumbled across it," she lied with a little shrug. "But that means we can all go home now, right?"
"Sure as shit does," said Gerrus as he carefully placed the tool back in its foam cradle and shut the drawer. He wrapped his large, fleshy hands around his mouth and shouted, " Go home, assholes !"
A ragged cheer mixed with heckling rose over the maintenance floor. Another voice, sharp and familiar, retorted, "Not until the handover briefing! Get moving!" Flight Sergeant Lirr roved his glaring eyeball over the hangar, making shooing motions at nearby techs.
Rose followed the tide of people cramming themselves into the briefing room and yawned as she sat down. The chrono read an hour past shift change. Exhausted and desperate for a shower, she rested her head against the wall. She drowsed through the handover briefing, barely registering Brull's elbow in her ribs. Lirr called the shift change, and Rose rubbed her face sleepily as everyone else piled out of the room.
Blinking wearily, all she could see in front of her was a pair of dark brown civilian trousers. She glanced up to find Poe Dameron, wearing a leather jacket with a hole in the elbow and smiling that ridiculously handsome smile—at her. In his hands, he held two boxes. The top box's lid was flipped open. "You get first dibs," he said in a low voice. Next to him, BB-8 trilled with happiness.
"Sir?" she asked, rising from her seat. The room was empty.
"BB-8 told me you helped us," replied Dameron, nudging the open box towards her. "Plus it's your first day, so you get to pick one first before the vultures swoop in."
The box contained a baker's dozen of fresh crumblebuns, complete with warm icing. The sweet smell of pastry filled Rose's nostrils, and she picked a treat with a grin. "Thanks, sir."
"Now go get your shower," he said with a laugh. "I have to get these to the rest of the crew."
She looked at him quizzically, unable to stop her raised eyebrow. "Why?"
Dameron's grin turned sheepish as he walked out the door, his droid at his heels. "Apology pastry. Works every time."
Rose smiled around a mouthful of crumblebun and wondered how to drop hints that she liked iced donuts with dark matter sprinkles best. She had the distinct feeling that was going to be eating apology pastry on a regular basis.