Hoth was cold.
It wasn't the kind of cold he was used to; this was a permeating, biting chill that he felt could freeze the flesh off his bones, the kind that seeped through whatever layers you wore like ice water. It numbed his fingertips, despite the thick, woollen gloves, and stuck to the side of his weather-beaten face in small crystals that he could scrape off with his hand. They didn't melt in his palm.
He carried on his path, trudging through thick snow and huddling against the harsh wind that he knew never ceased here, whether it carried snow with it or not. He heard it howling at night, an eerie and haunting sound that gave him chills. It made the night feel long.
It made him feel alone.
He stopped again, and looked around at the desolate whiteness. Nothing but snow and ice, perfect white from having never seen sentient presence here. He would not have been surprised to know his footsteps in the snow were the first the planet had ever seen. It was all lonely here.
The wind picked up, almost managing to whip his scarf away with it. He caught it, tied it more firmly around his face, and glanced at the sky. That was white, too. A sea of white. Despite the stab of pain in his gut as he thought this, he couldn't help but smile. The last time he had described anything as a sea of white, he'd been in a very different place with a very different outlook on the future.
He'd been a very different man. Yes, it was bittersweet. But so was life.
Not really seeing the way he was travelling, but trusting his feet to take him to the right place, he carried on ahead, his mind in places he hadn't let it wander into for years now. He didn't mind letting it go there now. There was no one here to see him crumble, should he get too tired of fighting it off.
His breath swirled before him before being stolen by the wind, like a spirit departing this realm and leaving only the lasting presence of its memory. He'd known many fine men in his past, and they were all likely gone now. All but a lucky few, no doubt. Though how lucky they actually were was a matter of opinion. And he was nothing if not opinionated. That's how he'd made it.
Yes, he'd rubbed some people up the wrong way, but he didn't regret anything he'd said. If he'd made people question the things they lived for, then good. He'd learned early on that some questions didn't have answers. Not when you were a part of a system that had everything to lose without you.
He'd been a soldier. And a damn good one.
He'd met good people and other good soldiers, and fought in wars people had probably long forgotten in the current ones. He was nothing but a distant memory to some people, like his breath on the wind. To others, he was just a man. Those who had known who he really was were long gone, stolen from life. And yes, he missed them.
But it had been a lifetime ago.
His legs stopped walking, and he looked up from his feet to face himself – or a reflection of himself, at least, in the smooth ice of a wall. His face was lined and his skin tanned; his once shiny black hair now grey, and white in places. He'd managed to keep his strong, athletic figure from his days as a soldier, but he couldn't deny that the years had taken their toll – twice the toll they took on a normal man, too. But he was no normal man. His honey-brown eyes stared back at him, the only part of him unchanged by time.
No, he lied. His eyes had changed, too. They had seen grief and carnage and the horrors of a war that had stolen all his brothers, and they were not the same eyes that had left that gods-forsaken ocean planet twenty years ago. Twenty years to time, forty to him. Forty years that left him sixty years of age. He smiled, and his reflection smiled back.
At least he didn't look sixty.
He turned and looked back out at the cold desert before him. Everything here was shiny, new and fresh, like he and his brothers had been twenty years ago.
He smiled at how easily the term came to mind. Some things never left you. Soon, he knew, this planet would be far from deserted, and a war would be fought here, leaving it wasted and destroyed. No matter how hidden you were, the enemy would always find you. You had to assume that, or risk complacency.
And that killed you, one way or another.
It had happened to him, and his brothers. They'd been shinies, and had seen war, and had been wrung out and exhausted by it, and had never been the same.
This new base, it would bring bad things with it, eventually. Nothing good ever came of war. It was like a dark handprint on the sea of white snow.
A chest plate, familiar to him as his own, flashed across his vision. It was white, yes, but a dirty white, no longer shiny and innocent of battle. Over the heart lay a dark blue handprint, in what he knew was Rishi eel blood. He'd seen a man just like him, just like his brothers, mark it. His brother, the one person he missed the most from that gods-forsaken war, from his previous life, was the one who wore this chest plate.
Had worn. He was gone now.
Yes, this planet, this base, was everything his brother had been. Shiny and new, and ready for battle. It would also mark the white planet with the blood of the men that would die here. It was going to be everything to him in the lifetime it lived, just like his brother too. He would mourn its loss, as its loss would most likely mean his own, too.
He had died a little bit inside with each death, but the one of his brother had torn a hole inside him that no female company, no killings in blind rages, no amount of crying could heal. This planet would not heal after this war. This base would just leave echoes of the past in its loss, and even its foundations would eventually wear away to be forgotten by time. Like him and his brother.
Just two others in a sea of white.
A rush of warm air greeted the back of his neck as the door encased in the ice slid open. He didn't have to turn to see who it was; there were only two men this side of the base, and they'd been there with him since they'd landed here weeks ago. The nights were sleepless from the echoes of painful memories, ones this planet seemed to bring back without even trying, but the company wasn't all bad. They didn't try and talk to him. The three of them just stood in a line, and watched as the approaching snowstorm whipped up loose crystals of snow and swirled gracefully across the landscape. He flexed his fingers to get some feeling back into them.
Hoth was cold.
"It's official, then," one of the other men said.
"Hmm," The man to his right scratched his chin thoughtfully. "We're going to need a name, though. Before everyone arrives."
"Any ideas, Rieekan?"
"None, Jamiro. And it's 'sir', to you."
They stood in silence for a while, and he could sense that both men were waiting for him to contribute to the conversation. He didn't want to. And they knew he did what he wanted. He always had, regardless of rank. His brother had always been more of a rule-follower, of course.
Perhaps it was his death that had sparked his rebelliousness. It most likely was. He'd stopped analysing everything anyway. What did it matter to him now? It wasn't like he could change the past; it was all around him these days, begging to be relived.
"It needs to be something relevant, I think. Morale-inspiring. What does this new base stand for, Jamiro?"
"You know, what's it mean to you, and all that?"
Jamiro shrugged. "New starts? Cold nights? Numb fingers?" Rieekan tut-tutted.
"If that's the best you can come up with, we'd better stick to letters of the alphabet."
It stood for the past. And the future. And something that would both house and haunt him for the rest of his life, no doubt. It was about a war, yes, but it was about the intelligence behind the war. About the past coming alive again; coming back around its circle.
An echo. And it was painful to remember, like a punch that had rebounded, but it felt right. He knew.
And he smiled.
Rieekan nudged him gently, the howling wind almost stealing his words. "Ideas, Fives?"
He took a couple of steps forward, out of the shelter of the doorway and into the cold, icy, biting wind of Hoth. It was refreshing. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could get used to the cold. The sea of white stretched before him, and in the distance somewhere he could see something small and dark in the snow.
It looked like a handprint. Tears fell warm on his numb face.
"Echo." He said.
The other men had heard, he knew. Jamiro shrugged.
"I like it, if it makes any difference, sir." Rieekan nodded slowly.
"Echo Base it is," he said softly.
Rieekan placed a red-cold hand on his shoulder, and squeezed. Then the weight of his hand left, and he knew from the gust of warm air again that the two men had gone back inside. After a stretch of time that could have been minutes or hours to him, he turned to go back inside himself, his tears frozen on his face.
His hand touched the door controls, and just for a moment he turned back. Why, he didn't know. To make sure he wasn't hallucinating, perhaps, or even to make sure he was, to justify the excited beating if his heart in his chest that felt like fate.
The handprint in that sea of white was gone.
But not forgotten, now.
I heard an idea that Fives deserts the army and joins the Rebel Alliance, and then names the base on Hoth after his fallen brother. I liked that idea. :) Hence, the above vignette.
Piece of trivia – Carlist Rieekan and Tigran Jamiro are the Commander and Senior Logistics Officer at Echo Base, and both appear in ESB. Jamiro is, in fact, the man who tells Han Solo "Your tauntaun'll freeze before you reach the first marker!", to which Han replies…come on, you all know this one. ;)
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