“I like comparing different planets' traditional astrological charts to see if they agree on the influences exercised by various stars. The parallels are uncanny!” - Amilyn Holdo, introducing herself to the Apprentice Legislature
2 weeks after the Battle at Endor
On Ca’pos’tano, the orchard-workers had collectively opted for jubilance in theory and skepticism in practice. In other words, they continued harvesting the delicate pos’ta fruits until shift-end, but they took daringly frequent breaks to suck the fermenting nectar dry from a barely bruised specimen.
The foreman should have been apoplectic, but he was passed out cold atop the jumble of roots. Pos’ta nectar had that effect on offworlders.
“I heard it exploded,” someone called from the next row over. “The Death Star — another one. Boom!” The velvety leaves rustled in response, and a few precious pos’tas quivered dangerously.
“Pipe down!” Faral’ley pitched his voice low. It carried, but the vocal vibrations didn’t disturb the trees. “You’ll start a fruitfall, you pricklepate. Besides, everyone know there’s no sound in space.” Nevertheless, the quills running down his spine undulated in a shiver at the thought. A second Death Star, a second major defeat for the Empire. Could it really be the beginning of the end?
His mate chirped from the other side of the tree trunk. “They say He-Himself is dead,” she whispered. Her expressive nose twitched, and Faral’ley caught the conflicted musk of her scent. She didn’t believe the news, but she wanted to.
“They repeat what they hear like a diminishing wave, Minnit’sei,” he warned, “an inaccurate echo of what really happened.” But his own nose twitched, belying his words.
Minnit’sei’s quills rippled in amusement. “For a skeptic, you spent much of last off-shift filling your ears with inaccurate echoes. Just remember, dearheart, that a single thunderclap can start a fruitfall — but that does not mean the storm is over.”
They camped on Endor. Han thought it was foolish to stay so long at the site of their victory —the war wasn’t won yet— but maybe that was just his old smuggler instincts talking. Leia seemed convinced the surviving Imperials would hunker down, trying to consolidate their power, rather than launch an attack at the very site of their greatest defeat. Luke too seemed eerily calm about it... about everything, really. Not even Chewie seemed worried; the Wookiee spent most of his time helping the Ewoks repair their village in the treetops and was more relaxed than Han had seen him in years. So Han tried to dismiss the niggling sense of impending disaster. It wasn’t like he didn’t have enough to worry about. But he couldn’t help glancing up at the sky, waiting for a Star Destroyer’s shadow to eclipse the sun.
“It’s hard to stop running when you’re standing still.” The offhand comment drifted down from the trees. Han nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded, hand on his blaster.
In answer, a lanky woman fell out of the sky. Han ducked reflexively, but she swung in a graceful arc in front of Han’s face, all blue hair and silken curls of fabric that looped back up to wrap around a sturdy branch. “I am a friend of Leia’s,” came the uninformative answer in a singsong voice. "And so are you, so that must make us friends. Hello!” From that angle, he couldn’t tell whether her upside-down smile was mischievous or downright manic. “You’re Corellian, right? I can tell by your aura. It makes sense that Leia fell in love with you; your stars are beautifully counterpointed, you know.”
Han’s blaster dangled loosely from his fingertips. “Um. Sure, yeah. Hi. Who are you?”
"Do you ascribe to the linguistic theories of Ad Asperaba?"
Still suspended from the branch, the woman lifted her leg overhead in a maneuver Han was sure would pop his hip right out of his socket if he tried it. "Ad Asperaba believes names define the nature of the named. You are Solo, aren't you? Did you find it went against your nature to fall in love?"
"Yeah, that's me." Han had no intention of answering her second question, but he was sure of that much. Although if he talked with the madwoman much longer, he doubted he'd be sure of anything. "Listen, sister, I don't care how you take your Asperaba, but I like to put a name to a face. And I like the faces I talk with to be right-side-up."
She tilted her head to the side. "That seems fair." And just like that, she somehow righted herself and spiraled down to earth in a single languid motion. The ribbon drifted down out of the treetops after her. Han wasn't going to ask how she did it.
"I'm Amilyn Holdo." She beamed at him. "And I'm so glad you're thawed. What was it like being a statue? I've always thought it would be fascinating to watch the world go by, but I think even I would get bored after a while."
"Um." Han scratched his head. "I don't remember much, actually. Probably for the best. Jabba wasn't exactly a shining example of a human being."
Holdo hummed thoughtfully. "So I've heard. Perhaps it's because he was a Hutt."
Sarcasm was clearly wasted on her, so Han swallowed his retort. "What were you doing up there anyway?" As conversational gambits went, it was probably a bad move; he doubted he'd like the answer. But anything was better than remembering the bone-chilling cold of carbonite, a cold not even Tatooine's twin suns could sear away.
"I was meditating."
Han nodded. That was about as tame an answer as he could have hoped for.
What? Han felt like a malfunctioning droid, repeating the same word over and over. "Spying on who?" he asked instead, warily and fully expecting another nonsensical answer.
Instead, the dreamy look on Holdo's face fell away. She looked almost angry. "The prisoners are being put to work."
Han nodded slowly. "Rebuilding the Ewok village. Yeah, I know. Seems pretty fair to me—their walkers smashed a lot of huts."
"Then why are they welding arcs of durasteel bands?" Holdo folded her arms. "And permacite plating?"
Han frowned. "That sounds like a shell for an ion cannon. Either we're giving the Ewoks a pretty big upgrade, or…" He could only come up with one other conclusion, and he didn't like it. Not one bit. "Or they're being put to work on our own equipment. It's no better than slave labor," he finished in distaste. A lump settled in his stomach. The Empire tolerated slavery. Hell, Chewie's whole planet was enslaved. Most Wookiees toiled their lives away, guarded by stormtroopers. For the Rebellion to turn the tables… that wasn't justice. It was just worse.
Oddly, Holdo smiled. "So do you want to go spying with me?"
Han's idea had been more along the lines of storming up to whoever was in charge, yelling and waving his arms, and threatening to rip a few limbs off. Maybe Chewie was rubbing off on him. "Sure," he said instead. "I haven't got anything else to do."
From the way Holdo's smile broadened, he didn't think she believed him. "We'll need a good excuse. What do you know about fireflies?"
Myrta worried about her son. True, he was hardly a cub anymore. But he was acting like one, neglecting his duties in order to tinker with things that should not concern him. Skeear was too enamored of the Rebels and their machines, especially the zip-zooming ones that sounded like the kira-kira-karii in its midflight mating dance. The jungle was so noisy nowadays with the speeders whoop-whooping and the walkers thump-thumping that game had become scarce. And while Myrta traveled farther and farther with the other hunter-gatherers, her son went about sticking his paws into every engine he could find.
He positively stank of metal. He would need to bathe for a week under the falls before he could go hunting again, and Myrta knew how that suggestion would be met. Instead, she greeted her wayward son every morning with a pat on the head and a plea: "Help me with the berrying?"
Every morning, Skeear promised he would. By midday, Myrta inevitably found him prowling around the speeders and the walkers and talking with the shining-ones-with-glowing-eyes-who-nonetheless-were-not-gods. By evening, inevitably found him encamped with the Rebels. She despaired to see his own eyes alight with the fire of the humans' tales from the stars.
Then the big hairy one (who was also not a god, despite his size) came to help with the rebuilding, and Myrta prepared to despair again. But Chewbacca the Wookiee merely grunted and growled and set to work—with machines, yes, but also with proper tools of wood and stone and braided vine. God or not, Myrta praised him, for her son now remained in the village from dawn until dusk, hoisting wooden planks and braiding lupa-lit vines and behaving like a proper son again.
Even if he still did not help with the berrying.
"Nice desk," Han said as he slung his feet up on top of it. The mud of Endor dripped onto a stack of datapads.
Leia smiled weakly. Their victory at Endor had opened the floodgates: new worlds joining the Alliance, new materiel pouring in, new battle plans and governing charters and more datawork than she could have ever believed possible. Han was a welcome distraction.
"Luke made it for me," she said in answer to his unasked question. Her makeshift desk was actually an enormous stump more than two meters wide. Luke had leveled it and burned away the splinters with his lightsaber, carefully carving ridges for datapad supports at strategic intervals. Leia had protested something about an appropriate use of a lightsaber but Luke claimed sibling privileges and promptly disappeared back into the forest before she could object. "You haven't seen him lately, have you?" She tried not to sound as lonely as she felt. Even in the middle of the encampment, under siege by every passing Rebel with an idea or a problem, she felt isolated.
Somewhere on the moon, Vader's remains were probably still smoldering. And Luke was spending more time with them than with her. It should have made her angry, but instead she just felt tired.
On the plus side, Luke did make her a nice desk.
"I haven't seen Luke in days," said Han, "but I did run into a pal of yours. Mad scientist. I like her." Han leaned back in his chair, which was really only a crate lashed to a slab of surprisingly unyielding bark. Luke had made that too. "Did you know you can power a portable generator with nothing but fireflies?” He grinned and crossed his legs, dislodging more mud from his boots. “Something about bioluminescence. Couldn’t follow it, I think she skipped every other word of her explanation.”
Leia couldn’t help but smile at the look on Han’s face: faintly dazed but admiring. “You must have met Amilyn Holdo.”
“Good guess. You know what’ll happen if she meets Lando,” Han warned. “He’ll try to mass-produce and merchandise the whole thing, and corner the bioluminescent power market.”
“How?” asked Leia innocently. “Amilyn only explains every other word, right?”
Han grinned appreciatively. “Maybe I should arrange a double date for us four.”
“Dinner and a show?”
“Something like that.” He paused. "In the meantime, where should we install the power generators?"
Something in his tone made Leia frown. He sounded too casual, like he always did when he was up to something he didn't want her to know about. "We? You and Amilyn?"
Han smirked. "Jealous, Princess?"
She rolled her eyes and relaxed. "No, just surprised. I didn't think you'd get along so well. Amilyn is…"
This time Leia glared at him. "She has a corkscrew mind and talks in metaphors. You're about as straightforward and as subtle as a blaster bolt. I'm just surprised, is all."
Han shrugged. "There's a lot of that going around lately."
Leia knew he meant Luke. It had been almost comical, how relieved Han was to find out Luke was her brother.
She hadn't had the heart (or, she admitted to herself, the nerve) to tell him the other half of the family news yet. "Best see to the prisoners first. We can't exactly allow them back on board the captured Imperial ships, so they don't have much in the way of amenities down here. I've been meaning to inspect their living conditions—"
"I'll do it," interrupted Han. "Looks like you're pretty busy here."
Leia smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Han."
Was it just her imagination, or did he look guilty as he walked away?
"We're here on behalf of Princess Leia Organa," Han announced when first challenged. "Inspection tour." The guard had taken one look at his general's bars, done a double-take at the name drop, and turned him over to a ruddy-cheeked lieutenant who looked more like a nerf-herder than anyone Han had ever seen. Holdo stood in the background and hummed off-key.
He had a feeling Holdo was cataloguing everything she saw, and that her batty demeanor let her wander where anyone else would be stopped and questioned. Leia didn't exactly pick her friends for their entertainment value.
Han tried to keep his face sabaac-straight while Lieutenant Rigeld escorted him through the encampment. It was all there, right in plain sight: stormtroopers in their body stockings, assembling laser housings with military precision and almost tangible hostility. Shell-shocked fleeters, still cringing with distaste at the primitive facilities, pouring liquid duracrete into large, curved molds. Regular infantry, digging a new bunker under armed supervision by the Rebellion's finest.
"We haven't enough men," Rigeld was saying, "and women, of course," he added hastily with a glance at Holdo. She was looking up at the sky. Rigeld looked back at Han, who gestured impatiently. "Not enough to fortify our position and conduct repairs to our capital ships. So we've outsourced the ground labor."
"Outsourced," Han repeated.
They walked past a trio of Ewoks jabbering in their own tongue. All three carried spears, and Han was momentarily afraid one of them would reach out and jab one of the prisoners. Ridiculous, he scoffed at himself. It was far more likely one of the stormtroopers would try to grab the weapon and make his escape.
Not that he'd get far. Han had learned not to underestimate the little furballs, and he bet most of the Imps had learned the same lesson by now.
"The most impenetrable barriers are in our own minds," commented Holdo. She ran her hand up the trunk of a fallen tree, tracing the scorch-patterns left by laser blasts.
"Do you have any security measures?" Han translated. "Or did you just tell all the prisoners the Ewoks would eat them if they escaped?"
Rigeld laughed nervously. "We're patrolling the area, of course. On foot, on speeders and in walkers. We captured several intact, you see, and—"
"I know. My pal Chewie did that."
The lieutenant swallowed. "Yes, sir. I mean, of course, sir."
"What are you building?" Holdo wiggled a splinter in the tree trunk.
"Mostly housing, ma'am," Rigeld replied promptly. "For the prisoners, until they can be properly processed and prosecuted. And we'll be repurposing the shield generator, although of course our own people will be working on that."
"In addition to the ion cannons, you mean." Holdo's voice was mild, but Han heard the steel underneath it.
Rigeld tugged at his collar. "Ion cannons?"
"Please, Lieutenant." Holdo's smile invited confidence. "We saw the dispersal tubes, the permacite plating, the compression bands. It's an unmistakable configuration. You're making the prisoners build our weapons for us, aren't you?"
Rigeld looked back and forth between them in alarm. "We're taking every precaution," he stammered, "and our people conduct multi-point inspections of every component. There's no chance of sabotage, I assure you!"
Han took a deep breath, ready to finally vent his anger at the hapless lieutenant, but Holdo put a restraining hand on his elbow. "That's nice," she said. "Now, I'd like to see the latrines."
"Latrines?" Rigeld echoed weakly.
Han clapped him on the shoulder. "Like the lady said. Latrines."
The ice harvesters of the comet cluster CL-5117 rarely heard galactic news. Something about the solar wind, refraction and other technical things the workers rarely cared to understand made comm systems spotty at best, and the Holonet was nothing but expensive static. In ice harvesting, on the job meant out of the loop, so no one worried much about radio silence. Only when their supply ship failed to show up for its biannual run did they start to wonder. And to worry. Had the galaxy dissolved into chaos? Had the Imperial fleet grounded all space travel not its own in an effort to stamp out the Rebellion? Rumor and speculation were rife.
Good thing Grb Hrnfd never paid attention to rumors.
Grb squeezed and wheezed his way into the canteen. No one paid him any mind; he was BrNai. Blubber and heavy breathing came standard.
“Hey, Grub!” One of the humans called out from the crowd. Grb squinted. He always had a hard time telling humans apart at any distance over two meters. “I’m over here with Deela and Sam,” said the human, and Grb grunted with pleasure. That meant the speaker was Cor, and that a jug of synth-sludge would be waiting for him at his favorite table. Cor was a good friend. So good that Grb didn’t mind being called Grub, even if the vowel did make his name sound like a female’s. BrNai were normally sticklers about gender, maybe because they had so many, but Grb had learned to be forgiving of other sentients’ limited vocal chords. Besides, there were no other BrNai males, females, hembres, mulyers or falles within a hundred parsecs, so there was no one to make him feel ashamed and make embarrassment bloom purple across his thick skin.
“Cor!” Grb boomed. The glands at his throat pulsated. “Grb is here for grub!”
The humans laughed as they always did when Grb made the joke, which he did at every meal. It was a ritual, and he knew humans were very fond of their rituals. Grb would not want to disappoint them.
Grb was disappointed himself, however. The ritual jug of synth-sludge was only half the usual volume. Before he could express his puzzlement, Deela tapped her own half-empty mug.
“Supply ship’s late,” she explained shortly. Deela did everything shortly. She was fast at her work, curt in conversation, and quite small compared to Grb. Of course, most humanoids were quite small compared to Grb.
“No supplies?” Grb looked forlornly into his jug. It would be hard work emptying the ice-haulers without synth-sludge to warm him at the end of the day.
“Not yet.” Sam was the optimistic one. “It’ll come. Must be something real big out there to delay the shipment by this long.”
“How late?” Grb’s prehensile tongue lapped the inside of the jug.
Deela scowled. “Coupla weeks. Where you been, Grb? Everyone’s talking.”
Grb saw no need to respond to this, especially as Cor was already talking. Besides, the sludge was old enough that it was getting sticky, and he had to work his tongue in new contortions to extract the treacle-like substance.
“The Empire must be having a rough go of it,” said Cor confidently. “For things to break down this much, there must be Rebels everywhere.”
“Shame,” grunted Deela.
Grb’s tongue retracted in surprise, slapping a bit of sludge onto his face.
“What?” she demanded. “At least with the Empire running things, the ships got through safe and on time. Now our cargo’s probably been hijacked by Rebels or pirates or whatever. Face it, not much crime under the Empire.”
It was Sam’s turn to scowl, which surprised Grb. The sandy-haired human was normally so friendly. “Maybe not on your planet, sister, but the Empire never bothered cleaning up the backwater worlds. You got ice crystals in your brain?”
“Not to mention state-sanctioned crime.” Cor looked uncommonly serious. “I heard—“
Deela slammed her mug on the table. “If you louts are so full-afterburners for the Rebellion, why don’t you go join it, huh?”
Cor put his hands up. “Hey, wait, all I said is that the Empire isn’t squeaky clean. Only a nerf-herder would think so anyway. It’s made up of people, innit? Take any group and some people are good and some are rotten. Right, Grb?”
Normally Grb agreed with everything Cor said. But this made him think. Without the Empire, his homeworld of BrNai would lose the protection they’d enjoyed because of its rich earth, suitable for growing delectables humans enjoyed. Without the Empire, his people would also no longer be indentured into hard labor to build the Star Destroyers that always loomed in orbit.
With the Empire, the supply ships arrived on time. They were also always filled with listening devices and transmitters and inspectors who checked Grb’s thick hide for indenture-marks. Without the Empire, the ice harvesters would either starve or be forced to shut down operations.
Grb did not like either-or decisions. He was not built for them. “Bad choices,” he finally rumbled. He was going to add something about false binaries, about two being too few, about the missing third, fourth and fifth choices, how there were always more options than humans could see — but Grb’s mouth couldn't work through the words fast enough.
Before Grb could finish his thought, Cor slapped him on the back and declared “I’ll drink to that,” and Grb had to complete his part of the ritual.
After he belched his usual belch and Deela yelped her usual yelp in response, Grb figured the moment for philosophical conversations was likely over.
The next time Han saw Amilyn Holdo, she was sitting with her eyes closed, nodding in time to the arguments of the Provisional Council. Her fingers tapped a delicate pattern on the hastily welded S-foil scraps that comprised the makeshift conference table. Pre-fab walls and curtains of vines reminded Han of their old base on Yavin IV. Everything was different now, of course — new tactical strength, new optimism, new Rebel ships and soldiers flocking in every day and a fledgling new government to go with them.
And new arguments to go with it.
“We should begin a Monument Reclamation Project,” said an earnest Bimmisaari. “Topple the idols of the Emperor.” The fuzzy, round little figure — a former governor or senator of some sort — slapped the table with his fist and jumped a little when it reverberated. Han tried not to smirk, he really did, but Leia elbowed him anyway.
“A commendable goal,” she began, but was interrupted. Again.
“But we should have something to put in their place, should we not?” A Kuati woman spread her arms wide. “A symbol of freedom from the past, of leadership in the present, of a common future—”
“Don’t forget the names!” The Mining Guild representative rapped his knuckles on the table. The Bimmisaari senator jumped again. “The spaceports, the roads, the agencies. My people are tired of walking down Imperialis Avenue. I bet lots of folks are.”
The Kuati woman, Emrys-something or other, shook her head and smiled sadly. “I applaud your enthusiasm, Representative Maelori, but again — replace them with what? Would you restore the Old Republic names?” A murmur of agreement ran around the table until Emrys shook her head. “And what of the old Separatist worlds? Or those neglected by the Old Republic?”
“Scrap history.” Maelori shrugged. “Wipe the slate clean.”
A pale green Twi’lek crossed his arms. “Then you dishonor the sacrifices made by those gone before us. Let us name our streets and ships and monuments after the glorious dead.” His lekku twitched with emotion.
“And alienate those innocents who suffered in the war?” Emrys clasped her hands. “Reject those who might yet join our cause as unworthy of recognition?”
Leia stood, and silence fell. “We dare not wipe the past from our cities and our memories,” she said. Her voice rang out clear and strong. “If we try, we do so at our peril. We ignore the lessons and the warnings of the past and in so doing put our future generations in danger of another emperor, another Alderaan, another war.”
Everyone stilled at the mention of the dead planet.
“At the same time, we must support individual planets in their efforts to move beyond the darkness of our recent past.” Leia raised her head and challenged Emrys with a look. “Symbols are important—and necessary—but are they the right place to start? Should we not begin with ensuring basic freedom from oppression first? After all, symbols are only powerful so long as they mean something. Otherwise they are as empty as the words we waste debating them while beings across the galaxy suffer under a regime that is still all too real.”
With that, Leia sat, and the murmurs around the table swelled in agitation.
Han’s eyebrows rose. “Don’t hold back now, tell us what you really think.” He pitched his voice low, for her ears only, and was rewarded with a tired smile.
At the other end of the table, Mon Mothma inclined her head. Ever serene, that woman. But was that a wrinkle of concern on her forehead?
Han was probably projecting his own feelings. And the fact that he thought so meant he’d been spending entirely too much time listening to Luke talk about Jedi mumbo-jumbo.
“Very well, gentlebeings.” A light-furred Bothan rose to his feet in the wake of Leia’s statement. “Let us set aside grand visions of symbols and the future to concentrate on the present. And the concrete. Like the prisoners.” He smoothed the already impeccably slicked fur on his head. “An entire legion of the best stormtroopers the Empire could muster, not to mention innumerable Imperial Navy officers, cadets and grunts. And we valiant few, spread thin on guard and on duty. Whatever shall we do with them all?”
Han tensed. In his experience, Bothans never did anything without an ulterior motive.
Across the table, Holdo stretched, rotating her wrists high over her head like a va-iven dancer. Nobody else seemed to pay attention to her, except Leia. But Han was pretty sure no one else there recognized the hint of a smile in her eyes.
Whatever he was up to, the Bothan wouldn’t know what hit him.
“I am Councillor Borsk Fey’lya.” His voice was solemn, resonant. “You may not know me, but you know my name and my clan. You know our sacrifice.” Many around the table nodded, including the Twi’lek.
Han swallowed. Many Bothans died, Mon Mothma had said. Clan Fey’lya was now synonymous with sacrifice, which meant significant political capital—and a potentially dangerous amount of emotional influence over the rest of the council.
Damn, but he was spending too much time in these meetings.
The squat Bimmisaari shot to his feet. It didn't make much of a difference in his height, noted Han. "I know what you're thinking!" he accused Fey'lya. "Pardons. You'd just send them all back to their homes—back to the battlefield, more like!" He sat back down with a huff.
"I have no intention of pardoning Imperial criminals," said Fey'lya, sounding so reasonable that it made Han all the more suspicious. "Just as I'm sure you have no intention of punishing the innocent."
The Twi'lek bared his pointed teeth. "No Imperial is innocent," he hissed.
“If you’re going to arrest and try every Imp," drawled Han, "we’re going to be here a long time. Why not start with me? I was in the Navy, you know.”
“But you left,” the Kuati woman objected. “Surely that cancels out any crimes you may have committed in uniform.”
“Any crimes I—!” Han reined in his temper. “Look, you people are supposed to want reunification, not revenge. You need to send a message to help end the war, not escalate it.”
Emrys's eyes widened. “Surely the war is over, General Solo.”
Han stabbed a finger at the galactic map projected across the table surface. “Not out there it isn’t.” He scowled. “How can you say the war is over when half the galaxy doesn't even know the Emperor is dead? For that matter, how can you have a New Republic when people are still running around blowing things up in the name of the Rebellion?”
He heard a sharp intake of breath from Leia and feared he'd gone too far. He was rescued, however, by none other than Fey'lya.
"All meritorious lines of reasoning," he said smoothly, "but we are deviating from the point. Until such a time as those guilty of heinous crimes can be distinguished from those misguided soldiers who merely followed orders, how shall we deal with a legion of Imperial prisoners?" Fey'lya answered his own question before anyone else could jump in. "Instead of a burden, I propose we look upon them as a resource."
Leia's eyes narrowed. "Meaning what?"
Han took a deep breath and hoped Leia wouldn't kill him for this. "I think I know," he said, trying to ignore the combined stares from all the various eyes, eyestalks and other sensory organs. He could feel Mon Mothma sizing him up—did everyone feel small when she did that, or was it just him? He wished Luke were here. He could use someone to back him up—and someone to laugh with later, when he could recall the looks on everyone's faces without feeling like he was going to throw up. He'd rather face down another pair of Star Destroyers than a room full of politicians.
Across the table, Holdo winked at him. "What is it, General Solo?" she asked innocently, not-so-subtly emphasizing his rank. Han had a feeling that, despite what Leia had said, Holdo didn't really do subtle.
That was fine by him. "Just a little matter of forced labor." His words fell like a concussion grenade: startled breaths all around, and then…
"Outrageous!" shouted the Twi'lek. Emrys feigned a murmur of shock and dismay, while the Bimm senator shrugged wearily. Mon Mothma looked pained. Han wondered if she'd known. He didn't like to think so, but the woman was an enigma. Fey'lya sat patiently. No surprise there. And Leia… Han had plenty of practice at seeing Leia angry. So he knew by the set of her chin and the tightness around her eyes that she was furious.
Hopefully not with him. Not for the first time, he wondered whether he should have run this little gambit by her first. Then again, as Holdo had pointed out, the element of surprise had its advantages. If nothing else, he'd spared Leia the need to measure and rehearse her words. And he'd spared her the extra time to dwell on the memory of Jabba's chains.
There was nothing measured about Leia's response. "You want to use forced labor?"
Han took note of the various council members who refused to meet her eyes. Fey'lya had no shame, and met his own gaze squarely. "Not want," Han corrected reluctantly. "Councilor Fey'lya's proposal is already in force."
"The Empire forces their prisoners to work. Have you forgotten the Wookiees?" Leia demanded. "The political prisoners sentenced to Kessel? Our own captured pilots forced to haul radioactive waste out of the Durren's Blight? Tell me we have not struck a mortal blow against the Empire only to become that which we defeated!"
"If I may," Fey'lya interposed, undercutting Leia's passionate speech. "While I agree we cannot squander our moral authority, Your Highness, I do believe the parallels you have drawn are an oversimplification of the true issues at hand." The Bothan spared Han a glance and a few barbed words. "Perhaps it may seem black and white to some of the more simple-minded among us, but come now. You and I know better, do we not? War calls for more expedient measures."
“Sounds like the Empire to me." For the first time, Holdo's singsong voice drifted across the table. “Security before liberty, useful prisoners and expedient measures." She stood and raised her arms high overhead. "This is not what victory looks like," she declared. She swayed in place, her face turned up towards the canopy and distant sun.
Fey'lya snorted. "Because this is not a fantasy world," he said scornfully.
"No," agreed Holdo, startling the Bothan. "If it were, we would not be having a debate over what rights to accord to sentient beings."
Point to Holdo. For the first time, Han was starting to enjoy himself. He'd never understand what satisfaction Leia got out of politics, aside from the fact that if you wanted a thing done right, you had to do it yourself. But watching Amilyn Holdo, of all people, put Fey'lya in his place… now that was satisfying.
"Forget the weight of history. Forget the demands of the present. Think of the future." Holdo's bangle bracelets sparkled as she lowered her arms. "Think of your children, and your children's children. What will they think of what we do here today? What legacy do we leave them?"
It was the most coherent Han had ever heard her. And as hard as it was to imagine having kids (with a funny jolt, Han realized it wasn't as hard to imagine as it should have been), it was all too easy to picture a bright-eyed, naive kid—someone kind of like Luke when they first met, but even younger—and trying to explain how the good guys could ever look like the bad guys, from a certain point of view.
Hours after the council meeting came to a contentious end, Han was unsurprised to find Holdo dangling from another tree. "Meditating or spying?" he asked.
"Meditating," she answered promptly. "My inner energies were turbulent."
"I hate it when that happens."
"Skyfaring helps me realign my thoughts and emotions. It also helps me think." Holdo blew a lock of blue hair out of her eyes. "I've spent a lot of time studying the skies over many worlds," she said, "and it never fails to amaze me."
"What's that?" asked Han.
"How similar they are, despite the vast distances between them in both time and space." She sighed. "The same struggles, the same triumphs, the same lessons learned and forgotten."
Han shook his head with a wry smile. "I used to think no mystical energy field could control my destiny. Not the stars, not the Force. Just goes to show you."
Even upside-down, Holdo looked puzzled. "What?"
That if one thing controls my destiny, it's irony. Han wished he could be having this conversation with Leia, but she had been whisked away by Mon Mothma. Hopefully they'd figure a way to salvage the shambles they'd all made of the council meeting. "The more you try to run away from something," Han found himself answering, "the more likely you are to run headlong into it." Even as he said it, he wasn't sure that made much sense, but that didn't seem to matter with Holdo.
She hummed agreement. "Yes, gravity is the same way." She twisted, tugged a scarf loose, and descended gently to the ground. Her bare toes wiggled in the loamy soil. "Do you think she'll be able to stop it?"
Holdo spoke like Han flew: in corkscrews, spirals and intuitive dives. Once he made that connection, it was easy enough to follow. "Leia will always do what's right," he said firmly. "And she's strong enough to get everyone else to do the same. Like she has her own gravity, and people just fall into orbit," he finished, feeling vaguely embarrassed. Mumbo-jumbo, he thought to himself half-heartedly. Leia would laugh in my face if she heard me.
"People always associate gravity with falling," said Holdo with a wistful smile. "But without it, we would never have learned to fly."
2 hours after the Battle at Crait
"Is it always like this?" Rey asked quietly.
"Like what?" Leia resisted the urge to smooth her hair. The girl wasn't that young. Nobody from Jakku could be that young.
Rey blinked hard. "Like… everything we do is too little, too late. I mean, we got away—but we lost so much. And before, when we destroyed Starkiller Base… it was already too late. The First Order destroyed the New Republic first. Like every victory comes with defeat."
Once, Leia would have argued with her. She had lost her home, her parents, her son, her husband and her brother, but Leia had never entirely lost hope. Still, sometimes it was hard to find.
And it was even harder to articulate.
"There are losses with every victory," she admitted. She squeezed Rey's hand. The girl's fingers were calloused, so unlike Leia's own at that age. "That's part of war. Amilyn… Vice Admiral Holdo used to say that it's to keep us from being too fond of war."
Rey looked at her, incredulous. "How can anyone be fond of war?"
Leia's smile came out crooked, but at least it came. "You'd be surprised."
"There have been a lot of surprises lately." Rey's gaze strayed back to Finn, who was still bent over the unconscious Rose Tico, staring at her as if he'd never seen her before.
Leia wasn't sure who was in love with whom, if any of them knew each other well enough for that yet. But she knew it would work out in the end. Rey was strong in the Force, and Rose at least had some sense in her head. Poor Finn was still learning how to be an individual, but he could do worse than learn it from two strong-minded young women. And from Poe, who was finally turning into the leader she knew he could be.
I'm getting saccharine in my old age, thought Leia. Han would laugh his head off.
"So what do you do?" asked Rey. "When you start building something and it all falls down around you?"
"Something?" Leia repeated wryly.
Rey lifted her chin. "A Republic, or a Rebellion, an… alliance... just, something."
Leia stood, hoping no one else could hear her joints creaking. "Han used to say that if no one ever fell, we'd never have learned to fly." She finally gave into the urge and stroked Rey's hair, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. "When it all falls down, you pick up the pieces and start again."