“That was a stirring speech, Senator,” a young woman said, dark of hair, smiling politely as she approached. Her eyes darted, though, full of discomfort and made her appear just that tiniest bit fearful. Mon Mothma took no pleasure in fear, but even she could admit being somewhat pleased that her words had struck someone enough that they were hesitant to approach. It meant she was being heard. And that, these days, was an accomplishment all its own.
No one else, for example, had thought twice before approaching her at this particular event despite her scathing contribution to the meeting that preceded it. No, no. Everyone danced and glittered around everyone else while they repeated the same platitudes they always did, caring nothing for what anyone else said or did unless it made one or the other of them look bad or malleable or weak. Then, it mattered a great deal. But only then. Never before.
“Thank you.” Her gaze flicked down to the rank squares on the woman’s chest. “Lieutenant…?”
“Erso.” Her mouth pressed into a distasteful, deliberate frown. “Jyn Erso.”
Mon Mothma had learned to never let her emotions show on her face, but she still had to school her features at the pronouncement. “You’re known to me, Lieutenant Erso.”
“Unfortunately, that tends to be the case wherever I go.” A fresh smile spread slowly across her face, droll and self-aware. Charming, too, if Mon Mothma allowed herself to think of it that way. Here was a woman who’d learned to turn the expectations of others against them, who’d ensured she could make people like her despite themselves and what they might have heard about her. There were few skills more powerful. And Mon Mothma could admire that, at least, if she admired nothing else about this woman.
She was fierce and beautiful the way all young women were fierce and beautiful when they believed in something. Padmé… Padmé had had that same beauty. And Leia Organa, recently made an aide to her father in the Imperial Senate, had inherited it from Breha. Though Mon Mothma would not have called herself a beauty at that age, nor would she now, she knew she’d shone with that same determination. So many who would have flourished before the Republic fell were the same, bright and young and full of squandered possibility.
Too bad Jyn Erso, pressed and starched into the harsh, angular lines of an Imperial uniform, found her possibilities within the Empire’s increasingly tyrannical structures. She would have done well even in the Republic Navy and to better purpose if she was still inclined to a life of military service.
“What brings you to the capital?” Mon Mothma asked, the language of small talk awkward on her tongue. She’d engaged in so little of it of late, extricating herself from her fellows before anything more than the most meaningless of pleasantries could be exchanged. A protective measure as much as anything else, she imagined. The more she dedicated herself to the Rebellion, the more isolated she became, the less of a target she was.
Sometimes though… sometimes she just couldn’t help herself. In the Senate Chambers anyway. And, apparently, here and now, with Jyn.
“Director Krennic has requested an update on the Emperor’s affordable energy project. I’m the liaison between the head of the project and his office. It stands to reason that I’d be the one called in to report.”
“I didn’t realize the AWR was interested in affordable energy.” Though that wasn’t true at all. They’d all heard so very much about the Emperor’s vaunted, unassailable interest in cleaner, more affordable energy. It was just Krennic’s involvement she distrusted. Military applications of the Emperor’s pet project were a given and everyone else seemed to take it for granted that the Advanced Weapons Research team would be sniffing around as a result.
But the fact that he was in charge of it? That, she found suspect.
Jyn’s eyes hardened into flint, shards of color glinting and sparking in their very depths as though alit. “He’s a talented project manager,” she replied as though by rote. “An endeavor of this sort requires leadership of a certain caliber regardless of which department he heads up.”
“Director Krennic has certainly proved himself in that regard,” Mon Mothma said, calm and even, as would be expected of any loyal citizen of the Empire. Not least of all when the man in question was actually present, swanning about in that great, white cape of his as he somehow fumbled his way into endearing himself to the right people while slighting the wrong ones, the ones who would one day, Mon Mothma predicted, get theirs back against him. Regardless, it wasn’t true. Mon Mothma had seen no evidence of anything in Krennic that didn’t lead back to bowing and scraping. If that was what made a talented leader for impressionable Imperial officers, no wonder they were all in such dire straits. She tried to think of it as making her own work with the Rebellion easier, but she couldn’t help but mourn the loss a little anyway. “Did he invite you to tonight’s festivities?”
“I asked if I could attend,” Jyn answered, the thick black smudge of her eyelashes fanning against her cheeks as she looked down. A blush gave her skin a pink tinge that Mon Mothma wasn’t above admitting was pleasing. “He did supply the ticket though.”
“How generous of him.”
“He’s a generous man,” Jyn said, her voice a knife’s edge. She held out her hand, a daring move perhaps, but one that Mon Mothma applauded if only for its audacity.
And rewarded, by clasping that hand in her own. “It is an honor to meet you, Senator,” Jyn said, making Mon Mothma feel for all the world like she herself was the reason Jyn wanted to be here.
Ridiculous, of course. If Bail weren’t currently engaged in a rousing conversation on the far side of the hall—he looked half asleep even from here, but his opponent was clearly satisfied, gesturing grandiosely as Bail inclined his head occasionally—he’d have pricked a hole in her vanity.
A piece of flimsy poked at her palm as Jyn squeezed, a contrast to the softness of Jyn’s skin. And then she stepped in and pressed an even more daring kiss against the back of Mon Mothma’s hand. Her perfume tickled at Mon Mothma’s nose, sweet and smoky like burnt sugar and spicy with something only identifiable as green and peppery, as she bent her head. Heat flooded Mon Mothma’s body as a result, a pleasant buzz settling into her stomach that set her aflutter. She could put every credit to her name that now her face blazed red and there was nothing to be done to hide it.
“Perhaps we could meet for caf,” Jyn said, quiet. If Mon Mothma had not strained to hear her, she might not have caught the words at all. In fact, if Jyn didn’t look up at her with so much expectancy in her eyes, she might have thought she’d misheard.
Then, stepping back, she resumed the hard, distanced manner that all Imperial officers tended to mimic.
Mon Mothma nodded and glanced down, her palm curved slightly to hide the piece of flimsy. A gray, broken starbird stared back at her, across which a few numbers were scrawled along with a sector of the city.
A broken starbird.
No doubt there was only one man in the galaxy who might send a message like that: Saw Gerrera. And that meant Jyn was even less what she seemed than Mon Mothma had guessed.
Yes, Mon Mothma had long ago learned how to control her features, but Jyn Erso, it seemed, was determined to test that. A young woman reaching lieutenant and a member of the Rebellion—not your Rebellion, Mon Mothma thought—who hadn’t been caught and questioned? Already remarkable. That she was also the daughter of Galen Erso, a celebrated Imperial scientist?
She had so many questions that she couldn’t ask here and desperately wanted to, the atmosphere growing hot and stifling with the knowledge that one or the both of them were walking a very fine line. And not just the one Mon Mothma had thought they had balanced themselves on.
“Thank you for speaking with me, Senator.” Then, Jyn winked and bowed, and turned away to make a smooth, unobtrusive exit.
They would definitely be meeting for caf, Mon Mothma thought as she watched Jyn stride away. She would make sure of it.
And she would hope that Jyn only caused her the right kind of trouble.