’What I don’t understand, Skipper, is why you’re doing this yourself. Send a probe droid. Send a junior lieutenant; they’re almost as expendable. Why stick your own head into the acklay’s mouth?’ Brenn asked, worried. They were in the day cabin, and Lennart was shuffling through his closet looking for something that could pass for civilian clothes, and finding the situation rather funny.
I go out of my way to cultivate a reputation as a scruffy bastard, Lennart thought, mocking the little things, and do I have a complete set of plain clothes that even vaguely match? No. Bits and pieces and odds and ends, kriff I haven’t worn that since I was a student...what the bloody hell is a feather boa doing there?
In short, this is the wardrobe of a man who has worn uniform for almost all his adult life, and spent a lot of my adolescence before that playing silly buggers. Oh well. At least there isn’t a traffic cone.
‘What are we supposed to do if you get intercepted? Jumped, by the rebs or by the cops, or possibly both?’
‘You want the job yourself, don’t you?’ Lennart said, not looking up from investigating the further reaches of his sock drawer.
‘It is simply not the captain’s job to go and do dangerous, stupid things like lead an away team,’ Brenn said, indignantly.
‘If you’re trying to say that I’m too valuable to risk, then so are you, and you know it,’ Lennart told him.
‘Something this inherently dubious, anyone I could trust enough to get this done the way I need it to be done would be insufficiently expendable to send,’ he said, specifically meaning Brenn. ‘The buck stops with me anyway.’
‘At least,’ Brenn said, ‘Take one of the ATR’s. Better yet, use one of the Customs Corvettes and take a boarding platoon.’
‘I’m supposed to have the power of the Force, you know,’ Lennart pointed out, sounding not remotely sincere.
‘And if it had any sense, it would be telling you to take backup too.’
‘Such disrespect. Anyone would think you’d been paying attention,’ Lennart said. ‘Then again, you weren’t just told that you were “potentially subject to the purge orders.” Who should I bring to protect me from my backup?’
‘You think Adannan would sink that low?’ Brenn asked, thinking; bugger.
‘Partly, by wandering off I’m daring him to. I’m offering him my back and challenging him to have the guts to stick the knife in.’
‘Lousy bet, skipper. Any back alley thug would have to, for his own self-respect if nothing else.’
‘I’m sure he would too, but I don’t think he’s going to react fast enough. He has enough pride in his own intelligence to resent the way I made his brain hurt, and try to win that point back. Should mean he’s not going to resort to open violence in time. Which should mean that if I spin it properly, he’s going to take that hit to his self respect, and be another move behind next time we have to lock horns,’ Lennart said.
‘Tell me, Captain, was it a sad or a happy day when you realised some people really do have levers?’ Brenn said, with mock seriousness.
‘Mostly sad, with overtones of maniacal laughter,’ Lennart deadpanned.
‘I think you’re giving him more respect than he deserves. The ship and the squadron-‘
‘There are at least three other things I should be doing, you don’t think I’d be going to drop them and do this instead if I didn’t think it mattered?’
‘Frankly, captain, I can think of at least three people you could be trying to avoid,’ Brenn said, fairly boldly under the circumstances.
‘Well done; that’s where you come in,’ Lennart said, pulling something that looked like an athletic supporter for a creature with four legs out and looking at it in puzzlement.
'The Chief, Kor Alric, Aleph-3?’ Brenn guessed.
‘Two out of three,’ Lennart told him. ‘Subtractor isn’t worth repairing in the field; she goes back to Damorian and we borrow another one from the sector group. Repair estimates and assets required for Tarazed Meridian and Guillemot. Mirannon will go nuts; tell him not to break anybody.
'Kor Alric, I want to avoid but can’t afford to. We just parted on terms that, well, I reckon turning my back on him is a bigger risk than anything the rebels are likely to throw at me.
'The third person I’m avoiding is Commander Falldess. She is not in a particularly calm mood right now. It was her evidence that kicked this off; that’s what I’m going to go and wave at the Rebels. I expect her to press for immediate action . That’s why Delvran’s handling the debrief and analysis; he’s good at recalling junior officers to their senses.’
‘You’re going off to stick it to them with evidence that your own units are still in the process of analysing?’ Brenn wondered.
‘I’m not legally certain enough to call base delta zero on the strength of it, but I am sufficiently convinced to employ it as a political weapon,’ Lennart admitted. ‘Tell Dordd to narrow-beam me with any conclusions on the way.’
‘Double standard?’ Brenn asked.
‘In politics?’ Lennart said with mock scepticism. ‘She did bend her ship pretty inconveniently badly, so if she starts agitating, point Mirannon at her.’ They both chuckled. ‘In all seriousness, though, that is what you may have to do to Kor Alric.’
‘He’s not an officer; he’s not a professional,’ Brenn stated.
‘If he understood his own limitations, that might be a valid point,’ Lennart said, abandoning the sock drawer - to what, he didn’t want to think about - and looking for something that would do as a civilian undershirt.
‘Do you actually want the job,’ Lennart continued, ‘of staring down a crazed dark acolyte of the Force, half mad with anger and only a hazy sense of the possible, ready to lash out in any direction?’
‘Piett seems to manage it,’ Brenn pointed out.
‘Unless Adannan has very well hidden depths, he’s nowhere near as good a tactician as Lord Vader-‘ Lennart started to say.
‘How do you know he doesn’t have hidden depths?’ Brenn said. ‘He might be pretending to be more of a loon than he actually is.’
‘Point for me and against you if he does,’ Lennart said, adding ‘he can do patience, but only with effort - I think his wits sometimes trip over his temper. Looking over my shoulder, I’d expect him to have reacted fairly vigorously by now, if he had any more than an armchair admiral’s training.
'He’s also nothing like as far up the ladder; he’s a mid-ranking acolyte at best, possibly mid to low. He’s under threat from inferiors, peers and superiors alike, and desperate enough to think that crazy stunts like this might help his career.’
‘Senior Lieutenant equivalent, then,’ Brenn opined. ‘Look, Captain, we’ve dealt with inspectors and auditors before, we’ve faced problems and overcome them - with incident, but overcome. Adannan has the Force, and that may be a fairly worrying proposition, but he’s not the demigod he’s posing as.’
‘No, just a man with no legal accountability and no sense of responsibility to make up the deficiency either. If he starts asking awkward questions, all right, baffle him with bullshit as usual - if he starts acting on them, get the Chief.’ Lennart made it an order.
‘Check. Any other instructions?’
‘Yes. Don’t initiate major offensive operations without me,’ Lennart said. ‘Sift out and interrogate any rRasfenoni among our existing prisoners, and, Dordd’s the ranking officer of the squadron, you have the ship.
'You can probe in the direction of the rRasfenoni, use the sweep line and recon-A, collect data, live prisoners if you can get them without knocking over anything too big and making too much of a fuss. If the dreck hits the fan, come and get me - if it really hits the fan, call 851 for support then come and get me.’
‘Aye, aye, skipper - I still think this is more danger than it’s worth, though,’ Brenn said.
‘Tell you when I get back.’
It was a fairly typical spaceport cantina; low ceiling, dimly lit, traveller-ridden. A distinctly higher share of the odd than the rest of the planet, drinks for dozens of different lifeforms behind the bar, and everybody glaring suspiciously at everyone else.
In one corner, where he could watch it all from, there was a smuggler.
Dark haired, shirt that had maybe been white once, trousers with a prominent, flaring yellow bloodstripe, oversized blaster. There was a howl from the direction of the bar.
‘Yeah, Chewie, get two.’
He noticed a man and a woman threading their way through the tables towards him; she would have caught anybody’s eye, never mind that of a smooth rogue. Long tied-back flaring red hair, dark green gown - about twenty social levels too high for a mynock pit like this, but she could carry it off. She walked with a fluid grace that almost, not quite, hid her physical strength and the repeating pistol she carried low on one hip.
She was a big girl, there was a lot of her and all of it was good. It took Han a couple of seconds for the gunfighter in him to get the better of the lecher and size her up as a potential opponent. She was pretty good there, too.
‘Good afternoon, Captain Solo. I need to talk to you,’ the man said. Han looked him over. Grey dewback-hide leather jacket, faded and patched, Coronet City Crushers sports-fan t-shirt, middle-aged, lean, almost black eyes. Didn’t look that far out of place, but there was something about the way he held himself that made what he was wearing shout ‘mufti.’
A spy or a soldier, Han thought. He didn’t have to move his hand close to his blaster, in a place like this it was already there. Then again, he had dealt with a lot of shady people in a lot of shady places. And he needed the money.
‘Yeah? So, talk,’ he said. They sat down, she instantly pushed her chair back to watch as much of the cantina as possible. Chewie came back with two tall tumblers, foaming slightly blue, looked at them both and growled. He could sense something was wrong. Aleph-3 was tempted to growl back, but decided against it.
‘You’re not exactly a rebel yet, are you? More of a freelance contractor. Which means you have little of the protection being part of an armed movement gives you, you’ve still got all your old enemies as well as some pretty impressive new ones. Is having the fastest ship in the galaxy a matter of pride or necessity?’ the man asked.
Solo looked closely at Lennart; wondering whether or not to shoot him. Lennart looked back.
Then the younger of the two Corellians grinned a wide, confident grin. ‘It has come in useful a few times. I suppose now you’re going to tell me you need something taken somewhere real fast.’
‘And that translates as ‘expensive’, does it? Optimist. I suppose you want me to lay on a blockade for you to crash through as well,’ Lennart said.
‘Your drinks, Sir.’ It was the waitress; she had come over to their table with a silvery duraplast tray, four glasses and a flask of Corellian brandy. Lennart nodded to her, almost a bow; she set them down, darted a venomous glance at the utterly unruffled Aleph-3, and flounced away.
‘How come? I have to send a Wookie to the bar to rip people’s arms off unless he gets served, and you get a tray?’ Han said, indignant.
‘Probably because she’s met too many slick characters, she knows she can’t trust you further than the length of your own shadow. Slainte.’
‘You’re a spacer.’ Meaning, you’re as bad as I am and I want to know how you got away with it. ‘What happened to your ship?’ Solo asked.
If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, Lennart thought. ‘Yeah, I was Old Republic regular fleet, but…’ he let that trail off. ‘Thing is, what I need transported is small enough, just a datacard, but I have no idea where it’s supposed to go.
'Or rather, I don’t know where the place it’s supposed to go is. Alliance theater command.’ He pulled a datacard out of a side pocket - too small to contain a gun - slowly, laid it on the table. ‘Check it over. No viruses, no bugs, just evidence.’
‘Evidence of what?’ Solo said. Chewie picked up the card, trying the I’m-just-a-dumb-wookie act out for size; pretending to sniff it. He looked at Aleph-3 who was not at all convinced, gave it up and pulled a minicomp off his belt.
‘It’s not good news,’ Lennart said. He was about to go into more detail when he noticed Aleph-3 was unusually tense, and looked round following her gaze.
Ah. Five men, four almost nondescript - a little too flash to blend in perfectly. One public face, wearing a tunic with black sleeves, white chest.
Han had noticed them too. ‘Chewie, trouble.’
There were a squad of stormtroopers behind them; Aleph-3 was hand-signalling as demonstratively as she could without giving the game away. Bugger off, we’re on a political gain operation, she gestured.
The response was one of total disbelief, combined with an imperative to identify.
Line 6NL, batch 27c, unit 392, she replied. Warrant Second, special operations.
The stormtroopers looked at each other briefly; she noticed one, the squad comtech, shrug and gesture that it checked out.
Ah…er. Oops. Would you like us to go away now? The squad leader signalled back. For all the apparent frivolity, they both knew that he was expendable in the interests of the mission.
Cover the rear, we might try to escape that way, she replied.
They acknowledged, and started backing out of the cantina, guns still levelled warily at all the lesser scum in there. The ISB thugs had noticed, but the agent hadn’t. He kept closing in on his prey.
He had been chosen for this job, and told the plan was to apprehend a renegade fleet officer. So far, so good, and certainly an objective he could enjoy achieving.
It was the woman that caught his eye first of all. He could hardly keep his eyes off her; she looked back, proud, haughty, more like a duchess than a space bum, and the inevitable line came to mind, hey, baby, what’s a girl like you doing in a dump like this?
Which was actually a good question. He looked at the people she was sitting with; thin man in grey leather flight jacket, vaguely familiar, perhaps he had been on a wanted notice? In fact, it had been on the news.
The other two - a man and a wookie - his eyes passed over them on the way back to the woman, and then his brain did a doubletake. Solo! Han kriffing Solo, Mr. I-shot-Vader, the second largest single bounty in the galaxy!
Aleph-3 looked at Lennart, meaning, how do we handle this?
Lennart glanced down at his hand on the grip of his own service pistol. That was clear enough, then.
The agent quick-drew his gun - respectable but way short of galactic-class - and announced ‘Han Solo, Traitor, I arrest you in the -‘ which was as far as he got.
Han shot him, clean blast, dead centre; follow the movement across to snapshot into the chest of the centre-right gunsel, twitch back onto the left-centre, which would leave two of them, one for him and one for Chewie.
Still acting on reflex, he crouched to kick the table over for cover, then realised there was nobody left to shoot at.
‘-afterlife?’ Lennart finished the agent’s sentence for him. ‘And really, Solo, really. You’d do that to fine Corellian brandy?’
He was largely putting on his calm, Han noticed. In fact, Lennart was reciting to himself a fragment of something he had read as a student; it seems to me - he was remembering how it went - that men are of different value; and there are some who can be knocked on the head without the world being very much poorer for it. The ISB probably counted as such.
‘Would you like to wait here and see if the Marines agree with you?’ Aleph-3 said. Han was almost sure she had nailed the two on the left, she had started with the one who had been his third target, the agent had already been falling when he nailed him.
‘Good point,’ Han said, drained his glass. ‘With me.’ He started heading for the staff door by the bar
‘They’ll be waiting there. Out the front,’ Aleph-3 said, moving the other way. Lennart followed her, Han and Chewie shared a look then decided, what the hell.
There was a vehicle there, an unmanned Ubrikkian ground-skimmer personnel transport. No stormtroopers. ‘What do you think, add grand theft speeder to the charge sheet?’ Lennart suggested.
‘No,’ Aleph-3 said. ‘It’ll have a tracking beacon, and even if we could start to run for it-‘
‘We’d still have to talk our way past whatever they have in place as operational security,’ Lennart finished, looking at Han.
‘I’ve bluffed my way out of trouble a thousand times, and all people remember is one little screwup,’ Han said, rolling his eyes - before getting back to business. ‘Does anyone else think this is weird? No cordon, no support.’
‘Done on the quiet; they didn’t want anyone else to share the glory,’ Lennart suggested.
‘Let’s just stroll away, casual like,’ Han decided.
‘Not too far. I want to see how they react to this,’ Lennart decided, and looked around. Like most provincial starports, it was less than perfectly planned; disused landing pads being used for warehouses, port workers’ housing, markets and cantinas, disused warehouses being converted into landing pads, a constant process of decay and renovation.
Not particularly fast, a generational thing, but there was enough cover nearby to duck into. Han passed by two cantinas and settled on a third, a convenient sprint away from where he had left the Falcon.
They took a window table, this time, where Solo could look down at the street.
‘Well, that was uneventful. I had no idea the life of a hardened galactic criminal could be so relaxing,’ Lennart said, kidding.
‘You’re legit?’ Han said, surprised and trying to place the man’s face. Where had he come across him? A face in the crowd at Smuggler’s Rest, or one of a hundred other shadowports?
‘Quasi-legitimate,’ Aleph-3 couldn’t resist saying.
‘Compared to you and the people you have after you, everybody starts to acquire a thin gloss of respectability,’ Lennart was wondering how far to ride the bluff when Han’s forehead wrinkled in an obvious a-hah moment.
‘Stang, I do recognise you,’ Han realised. ‘The only man ever to turn down a first class-‘ and then he remembered exactly what the circumstances had been.
‘Not the only one, not even the only man in the last century. Never trust a journalist’s memories. I refused the award of a first class bloodstripe, normally posthumous, because for a twenty-five man strike team, it was a suicide job.
'I called for volunteers, told them they were going to die, they still agreed to go and I still sent them anyway.
'The difference between being a good officer and a hero, a good officer rigs the game to give his own side maximum possible advantage, uses every lever to manipulate the odds. The hero is the one who beats the odds, the guy the thin possibility comes up for, and that was what the bloodstripe was supposed to be about. Being a hero - or at least a successful chancer.’
Chewie howled, asking Han what was going on.
‘Our friend here turns out to be true-blue Imperial,’ Han said, bitterly, but not going for his gun, not just yet. Looking around, anyway, he had the unpleasant feeling of being watched.
‘So were you, once,’ Lennart reminded him.
‘The whiteshirt, just a sacrifice for the cause?’ Han was angry - why, he wasn’t even sure. Lennart’s betrayal? Come to think of it, he had been carefully noncommittal - nothing unusual in a place like that.
‘I have no more moral problem shooting at the ISB than I do blowing my nose,’ Lennart said. ‘Every revolution brings out its share of thugs and bullies and little poisoned souls. Some stay freelance, and some work their way into the new establishment. The ISB are the roaches in the ductwork of the Empire, and any excuse I can get to blow them up in the line of duty is a good excuse.’
What was he up to? Han thought. An Imperial Starfleet captain, in plain clothes, bumps into me - high on the Most Wanted list - in a bar, and helps me shoot some whiteshirts. How is that supposed to make sense?
‘So you don’t like the police, is that supposed to make you a good guy?’ He asked.
‘It worked for Airen Cracken,’ Lennart pointed out, before going on. ‘The whole good-guy bad-guy thing, criminal versus law enforcement, terrorist or freedom fighter - that’s just a way to spoil a day out.
'I have a mission requirement that supersedes taking you in, all you’ll get out of trying to shoot me is a head full of blaster bolts from my covering party; when all else fails, why not attempt civilisation?’
‘You’re strange,’ Han said.
‘You’re the one who boasts about having flown from one side of the galaxy to the other and seen a lot of strange stuff. Why let this get you down?’
‘So, you find me, how? And, what, you want me to arrange your defection to the Alliance? I warn you, the pay’s dreck,’ Han said, coolly.
‘About as likely as me offering you a commission again…I’ve enjoyed the last few years. It’s been a relief to have a declared enemy to go up against, and frankly I have enough rebel blood on my hands that I wouldn’t expect them to take me. In fact, I’d be disappointed with their lack of standards if they did,’ Lennart said.
‘A senior Imperial officer with principles? There’s something you don’t see every day,’ Han said.
Lennart refused to get annoyed. ‘That’s why you’ll lose in the end. Lot of ups and downs still to happen, and you may win some tactical victories along the way, but as long as the Alliance continues to believe itself to be the sole possessor of justice and right, you’re doomed to continually misread friends and enemies both.’
A stray notion occurred to Lennart; he grinned and said ‘Are you sure you don’t want your old job back?’
Aleph-3 and Chewbacca both looked at him as if he had finally flipped, then Aleph-3 realised it was not beyond the bounds of possibility for Lennart to actually mean it.
Han was watching them both, and was fascinated by her reaction. ‘She thinks you might be serious.’ That did tug at his gut a bit. The Imperial Starfleet had been a gigantic broken promise, to him; something that had turned to dreck the moment he touched it.
Now this maniac came to him with…what? Some kind of promise to make good after all?
‘The really weird thing is, I think I actually would be able to swing it,’ Lennart said, thinking about the repercussions and enjoying it.
‘I could give you a squadron in the space transport wing, two Gamma assault shuttles, two Beta-3 escort transports, and the Falcon of course, at the substantive rank of Lieutenant-Commander.’
‘And the bounties on my head, or had you forgotten?’ Han asked. His gut reaction had settled down to ‘this is insane’ but he wanted to see how far Lennart was prepared to go with it.
‘Not a problem. Legally we could lease the Falcon from you, there’s some money towards paying it off, pay and prize money of course, shouldn’t take more than two or three years.’
Chewbacca made a noise somewhere between ‘when did they let you out of the asylum, mate?’ and ‘why are we listening to this man?’
Lennart looked at Aleph-3, nodded towards Chewbacca and asked her ‘What do you think, Flight Sargeant, or would I actually have to make him a Midshipman?’
Aleph-3 said, ‘Kor Alric would want you dead after that.’
‘Probably,’ Lennart acknowledged, ‘but if I tell him about this in the right way I might push his blood pressure up so high he actually strokes out. Another fringe benefit.’
‘Half the Personnel Bureau would want you dead,’ she pointed out.
‘Yes, but the other half would be so cock-a-hoop over the propaganda coup that I should be able to get them arguing with each other then slip out the middle. That would probably be the hardest part of the entire operation,’ he said to Han, ‘keeping the journalists and propagandists off your back.’
‘You know, I’m half tempted to go along with this crazy stunt, just to see if you can actually pull it off,’ Han said; Chewbacca glared at him. ‘Who’s Kor Alric?’
‘Special Agent and resident albatross,’ Lennart said, consciously deciding not to bring the Force into this, ‘I’m starting to refer to him as the political operations officer. Which is excessively mild, but calling him the Kor Responsible for Intelligence and Fleet Functions would just be too obvious.’
Aleph-3 had to make a conscious effort to slip out of character and back into a neutral mode of mind, to avoid rolling on the floor laughing, it was so utterly ridiculous. That would spread through the legion and the crew - the entire squadron - like wildfire. Once she told them.
‘You talk about being a successful chancer, ever think your still being in the Starfleet is stang thin odds?’ Han asked him.
‘Sometimes, but they don’t hand out medals for being a deviant looney. Just as well; if they did, can you imagine the awards committee?’
‘I can imagine quite a lot…but not that, no,’ Han said.
‘Probably be the Ubiqtorate anyway, whichever intercept gave them the biggest unintentional comedy moment. In all seriousness,’ he said, changing tone to something far more serious, ‘my survival under Imperial colours is down to two factors; first of all the amount of rebel blood on my hands, and second, something you never were able to get the hang of, playing the system.’
‘Yeah, I joined up with this naïve assumption that the powers of officialdom would be honest about what they expected from me…’ Han’s voice trailed off.
‘I know you intended to be sarcastic there, but that really does sound pretty spectacularly naïve when you put it like that,’ Lennart pointed out.
‘I was at Raithal when some of your instructors were at Carida; they said you were too straight for your own good. Deliberately trying to break with your past and play it that way?’
‘So, what would you have done? If you’d been me,’ Han asked.
‘Made sure I went after Vader and kept shooting until there was nothing left but a cloud of hot gas, but that’s not what you mean, is it? Your court martial,’ Lennart said.
‘And what made it happen,’ Han said. Chewbacca growled.
‘I was done for usurping the lawful chain of command, back in ’17. You’re not the only one who’s been there,’ Lennart said; Aleph-3 visibly perked up her ears.
‘Speaking of which, you got given that detail because of your background. Whoever in personnel put you on to it assumed you were a street-hardened survivor, a morality-free zone who wouldn’t give a stang about anyone or anything else’s suffering. Weren’t you running drugs for Jabba?’
‘Yes, I’ve been around, but what,’ Han said, ‘has that got to do with it?’
‘It makes it look uncomfortably like the personnel office had a point. Anyway, defending yourself at a court martial’s an inherently weak position. Counterattack is much more effective. I would have looked to see what charges I could have made against the arresting officer - start with wasting Imperial time; how long does it actually take to shave a wookie?’
Chewbacca growled menacingly, meaning there was absolutely no way they were going to find out.
‘That would have never have worked; they had the whole business sewn up tighter than-‘ Han said.
‘And there is where you could really have nailed them to the wall. You’re instinctively talking about them as if they were a criminal gang. And you reacted as if you were a low ranking hood rather than an officer of the Empire.’
‘By that point, I felt as if I was a low ranking hood,’ Han replied.
‘The Empire’s a new thing, its traditions aren’t set in stone, and even if it does break its own rules, it couldn’t afford to get caught doing so, not then, not over that. Never understood politics, did you?’
‘A lot of boring talk by a lot of boring people-‘ Han said.
‘How you ever summoned up the attention span to learn to fly I don’t know. Listen; the Empire is touchy on the subject of slavery, and facing in about three different directions, because the formal abolition of most of it was one of the big bones thrown to the ex-Separatists.
'The return of so many of them from one state of servitude or other helped patch up a lot of the demographic damage. The species who got hit by the new regs,’ he said nodding to Chewbacca, ‘were those that had sided particularly closely with the old Republic, especially with the Jedi order. Which is fractionally less important than getting caught gaming the system for personal glory and profit. In the circumstances - wasting Imperial time, using Imperial resources for personal gain, the peculation and corruption - then if you ever did, you could and should have played it by the book.
'Tell me this; did what you did, stunning your commander and letting a shipload of escaped slaves go, make any difference to the overall situation? Any at all?’
‘No,’ Solo admitted. ‘I had to do it, though. You weren’t there, I couldn’t sit back and let a shipful of wookies down.’
‘Just because you have to do something is no excuse for not being clever about it. Admit it; if you’d known then what you know now, you’d do things differently,’ Lennart said.
‘Yeah, I wouldn’t have stunned him, I’d have shot the lot of them, given their guns to the wookies and led an armed revolt.’
Captain Lennart shook his head, and said, ‘You have to think past the merely tactical.’
There was a long pause as the two men looked at each other. ‘I helped blow up a death star. How much more do you want?’
‘That was just adding insult to injury; the military loss was embarrassing, but it was secondary to the political damage caused, by the Empire’s own hand, by choosing to rely on the damn thing. That thing might as well have had a giant “kick me” sign painted on it anyway, it made so many people nervous the Starfleet would have had a go at it sooner or later, if the Alliance didn’t. Far too many moving parts, too,’ Lennart said.
‘So what the rebellion was just, unnecessary? Bit late for everyone on Yavin if we’d left it to you,’ Han said.
‘Don't blame me for your unnecessary risks; should have been more cellular and better divided than that anyway - and I do need you to take a message to Rebel regional command.’
‘I don’t get it,' Han said. ‘Why do you want to be part of something as pompous, stuffy, tight-arsed, hidebound-?’
‘The Starfleet has to let a few Corellians in, just so there’s somebody competent around when they need a job done. Like anything galaxy-sized, there are jobs we need good men for and jobs we need disownable scum for. My point is that by expecting it to be completely full of criminals and extortionists, we do the Empire no favours - help it to become exactly that, in fact. We have to hold it to some kind of standard.’
‘I’ve still got dents in the Falcon’s plating where the bits of Alderaan bounced off - what kind of standard is that?’ Han said.
‘A pretty high standard of applied firepower,’ Lennart said, ‘but that’s not what - actually, when you look at it sideways, that pretty much exactly is what I mean. Leaving aside the utterly low-probability events that admittedly actually happened, what was the logical way, the practical way to attack the Death Star? From the inside.’
‘When I was in there, they weren’t that tough,’ Han said.
The troopers probably mistook you for a Jedi, thought no-one else could be that crazy,’ Aleph-3 said; Chewbacca howled in agreement. ‘They fell back to a rally point, then counterattacked.’
‘So what is it you want to talk to Alliance regional command about?’ Han said, changing back on subject.
‘You know, I could go and do it myself, just give me their address…’ Lennart said, kidding. ‘Your local allies. The little guys with the too many arms. They have some remarkably bad habits - like dropping rocks on their neighbours. Near-C velocity rocks, which is not a neighbourly thing, and does not exactly qualify them to be on the side of truth, justice and right.
'Now we could sweep in, jump all over their heads, and call them a prime example of the real iniquity of the rebellion, or you could clean your own house. Hmm?’
Solo took a couple of moments to take it in. He was more boggle-resistant than Adannan. It was Chewie who howled meaning, ‘I told you there was something weird going on.’
Han’s first thought was that he had been through enough double and triple crosses to recognise one when it tried to bite him.
‘You really can’t afford to walk away from this,’ Lennart said. ‘The evidence is all here.’ He pointed at the datacard.
‘If you can prove it,’ Han said, ‘why don’t you splash it all over the media?’
‘Might yet happen,’ Lennart admitted. ‘This is a Hobson’s choice. The only alternatives are to have the tale of your allies’ deeply dubious past and actively homicidal present spread, indeed, all over the media, and then have them blasted to bits in a righteous and noble act by the Empire, or to move fast, sort them out and do the fighting, and take the losses, yourselves.
'Kriff it, Han, this is the Empire offering you the option; how much of a genuine positive do you expect?’ Lennart said, tacitly admitting quite a lot.
‘How serious were you about offering me a job?’ Han asked.
‘I didn’t expect you to take it, but there were at least three good reasons for making the offer. First of all, the effect on my own political officer - I know there would be problems,’ Lennart said to Aleph-3, ‘but let me enjoy dwelling on the up side, for now.
'Second, the effect on your political superiors. Anything that ruins Mon Mothma’s day is all right with me. Smug, sanctimonious cow. She was always one of our favourite targets,’ Lennart said, remembering his student days, ‘but her security was too good; what a shame the memory-metal whoopee cushion plan never came off…’
Chewbacca made a sound that Lennart guessed translated as, ‘I really don’t want to know.’
‘The third reason,’ Lennart said, ignoring Aleph-3’s horrified fascination and Han trying not to agree with her, ‘is that you are an asset to the Rebellion. Theoretical idealism is all very well, but the Alliance desperately needs filters.
'You know not all the stories of Rebel atrocities are just propaganda; there are more than a few criminals, extortionists, terrorists, and just plain thugs trying to make what they do sound better by hiding behind the banner of the Republic. Your local allies being a spectacularly huge example. Any illegal movement is going to attract some people who are just plain illegal, who would be on the wrong side of any law. The Alliance needs people who can operate in the underbelly, tell the difference between the idealists, the cynics and the bit-of-both.’
‘What about the Imperial atrocities?’ Han counterpointed.
‘Comes back to the same issue - quality of personnel. The higher a standard we can establish and maintain, the fewer blots on the Empire’s honour there’ll be; you tried to do the right thing, in the wrong way. I hope you’ll try to do the right thing now.’
‘Once we work out what it is,’ Han said.
‘Good luck finding that loophole,’ Lennart said.
‘I don’t think I’ll take that job offer after all,’ Han decided. ‘It would involve shooting at too many people I’ve got kinda fond of.’
‘I thought you’d say that,’ Lennart admitted. ‘It was worth a chance. Oh, and don’t get yourself arrested now, it would be deeply embarrassing to have to come and break you out - that’s not an invitation. QX, lads, you can come out now.’
The ‘covering party’ revealed itself; four people at the next table, six came out from the kitchens, three from a table further away, four in off the balcony, five in the front door. All in civilian dress.
‘Was that all right, skipper?’ one of them asked.
‘Han, I’d like you to meet Charge Chief Vilberksohn and his merry pirates - volunteers from among my crew. Bit more discreet than a stormtrooper platoon,’ Lennart introduced them.
Right, outnumbered twelve to one. ‘You’re sure you don’t want me dead? I mean, don’t go changing your mind now.’
‘Remember that run through the iceteroids, with the frigate on your tail?’ Lennart asked; Han nodded. ‘If I’d really wanted you dead, I’d have jumped Black Prince in and simply kept firing from the main guns. Your Falcon’s a tough ship, but not that tough.’
He noticed the smuggler’s hand getting closer to his gun. ‘That’s not an invitation, either. See you around.’
Lennart, Aleph-3 and the covering party filed out, most of them walking backwards to keep Solo covered.
Aleph-3 said the same thing to Lennart that Chewbacca was saying to Han; ‘That was strange.’
‘Pleasant relief,’ Lennart said. ‘After fencing for my life with Adannan, it was wonderfully relaxing to do that for fun and profit. Almost a day out.’
‘Aren’t you worried about being quoted?’ she asked.
‘You can quote me all you like about the whoopee cushion,’ Lennart replied. ‘Come on, back to the shuttle, then back to the squadron; let’s see what’s gone hideously wrong in our absence.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 11:18am, edited 1 time in total.