Setting aside his torque wrench and peering up from where he was sitting cross-legged on the ground, Han Solo asked, ‘You want me to what?’
‘I’m recruiting you,’ Leia explained, leaning up against the X-wing he was working on in a way that some people might take for casual, ‘for an important job.’
‘It doesn’t sound very important, Your Worship.’
‘It is,’ she insisted, looking him dead in the eye. ‘It involves justice.’
He snorted. ‘It involves theft.’
Leia folded her arms defensively across her chest. ‘We steal all the time; you’ve never questioned it during any other mission.’
‘Well, this ain’t any other mission, now, is it?’ Han asked, getting to his feet and reaching for a cloth to clean his hands with.
‘Han,’ she said, walking fast to keep up with him as he turned away and began to cross the hangar, ‘what good is championing fairness and democracy if we’re not going to stand by those principles among our own ranks?’
He laughed. ‘Great point, sweetheart.’
‘Yes. So you’re on board?’ she asked hopefully.
At the entrance to the hangar, Leia overtook him, turning to block his path, chin turned up toward him. ‘Wes Janson,’ she said, in ringing tones, ‘is a fruit hog, and I won’t allow it to stand.’
‘It sounds like you got it well covered,’ he said, trying to move past her. ‘Now, can I just—’
‘I’d like you to think about something for a moment,’ she said, not budging. In fact, at her penetrating stare, Han found himself taking a step back from her. A full head and then some shorter than him, he thought, and she had no problem with being intimidating. ‘You’ve been working hard on repairing that X-wing, haven’t you?’
‘I guess…’ he replied, feeling a little as though even this admission was signing something away to her.
‘And now I’m sure you’re planning on heading to the mess for a well-earned break,’ Leia continued, ‘where the kitchen will rustle up—oh, I think Q-rations are on the menu today.’ Ignoring Han’s grimace, she rattled on, ‘Perhaps that pudding that looks like durafill? Which I’m sure you’ll enjoy every bit as much as the fresh kavasa you could have had were it not hidden beneath Janson’s bunk.’
‘I’m… not a fan of kavasa?’ he tried.
‘It was a hypothetical,’ Leia said. ‘But as it happens, I do like kavasa.’ She drew herself up a little. ‘Are you saying you believe I’m less deserving of fresh fruit than Wes Janson? Are you saying I should have to settle?’
‘Course not,’ Han said, trying and failing again to edge past her. ‘Look, couldn’t you just ask him to share? You don’t gotta raid the man’s sleeping quarters.’
‘Well, no, I don’t,’ Leia agreed, ‘because you’re going to raid his sleeping quarters.’
She said it with such confidence that for a moment Han faltered. ‘No, I’m—’ he began, and then, with a little more assurance, ‘No, I’m not.’
‘I’ve asked him to share,’ she said, finally allowing him to pass but keeping pace with him down the corridor. ‘He said no.’
‘Can’t you make him?’ he asked. ‘You know, make a rule about it?’
‘That,’ she said sternly, ‘would be an abuse of my power as a member of High Command.’
‘But stealing is fine?’
‘It’s not stealing!’ The entire conversation, Leia’s words had been cut through with mild indignation; now this came fully to the fore. ‘It’s fair redistribution of resources.’
Han laughed again. ‘You did all right in the senate, huh?’
‘I’d have done better if the senate functioned as a legislative body and not as decoration,’ Leia said. ‘But yes. And unlike most of the senate, you’re a reasonable person open to doing what’s right, so I think I can persuade you.’
Han scoffed. ‘Do your worst, Princess.’
Leia sighed, stopping short. ‘Look, I suppose if you don’t think you’d have the ability—’
‘Hey,’ he said, wheeling back to face her. ‘I never said that.’
‘If you don’t have the necessary stealth, for example,’ she suggested, no longer looking at him but very deliberately examining the ties on her jacket, ‘or the challenge is a little too much—’
‘I’ll do it,’ Han found himself saying.
Leia looked up from retying the jacket, expression almost disappointed. ‘You didn’t even make that fun.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said, privately admitting that, had he ever been in the senate, he’d have voted for anything Leia Organa wanted. ‘What’s the plan?’
‘Wait!’ Leia called, hurrying up the Falcon’s ramp just as Han was preparing to depart. ‘I have something to add to your list.’
Huffing, Han took his hand away from the control panel, standing aside to let her come aboard. ‘I ain’t adding anything else; my route’s all planned.’
‘This won’t take you out of your way at all. Nor,’ she added, holding up a hand before he could voice his next objection, ‘will it add any significant time to your journey. I negotiated the deal myself already; all you have to do is turn up, and if the seller tries to move on price you walk away.’
‘So put it down for the next supply run. Dodonna gave me the credits for this list—’ Han brandished a datapad at her, ‘—and this list only, Princess.’
‘Yes,’ Leia said, unperturbed. ‘I’ve added what you’ll need for the extra supplies to your credit chip.’
‘You can’t just treat me like your errand guy,’ Han complained, though he took the flimsi she handed him. ‘Why can’t someone else get your—?’ He stopped short as he read what she’d written, then looked up at her. ‘Really?’
He blinked a couple of times, turning the flimsi slightly. ‘I’m reading this right?’
‘My handwriting is very clear.’
‘This isn’t some kind of joke?’ Han asked.
She rolled her eyes. ‘For someone concerned about time, you sure are wasting a lot of it.’
‘You brought up time,’ he reminded her.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but I was preempting you.’
Han smiled, looking down at her list again. ‘Guessing Dodonna doesn’t know about this, huh?’
Leia shrugged. ‘I suppose it’s possible I haven’t seen him to mention it. Or anybody else who might have objections.’
Han sat down, long legs stretching down the ramp. ‘I thought everyone got offered that shot when they joined up?’ he asked. ‘Hell, not even joined up; they offered it to me. They stop, or something?’
‘No, they still do that,’ Leia said, coming to sit next to him. ‘And for the beings for whom that’s safe, comfortable, and effective, I’m sure it’s fine. But offering only one option for anyone who’s not able to self-regulate is unfair.’
‘And High Command don’t wanna shell out for alternatives so you’re going rogue?’
‘Han, lots of people like sex,’ Leia said baldly.
Han almost dropped the datapad he was holding down the ramp. Recovering himself, he asked, ‘Do they, now?’
‘Make fun all you like. This is about the basic needs of our recruits.’ She pulled herself up straighter in that way she did when she had a speech to give. ‘Physical intimacy is important to a lot of people, and it’s well within our power to prevent unwanted consequences.’
‘Uh huh.’ He bumped his shoulder against hers, amused. ‘Can’t believe Jan Dodonna doesn’t think sex is a basic need.’
She sighed, bracing her hands behind her and leaning back. ‘Yes. I didn’t want to make any assumptions but I did think going in I might not win the argument.’
‘You told him that, huh?’ he asked, momentarily entertaining himself with the image of Leia marching into Dodonna’s office to sound off about the importance of sex.
‘Yes. I did meticulous research; all the evidence backs me up. Lack of access to contraception doesn’t prevent sex, so it’s not as though it will save the Alliance money in the long run if we fail to protect people against illness and unwanted pregnancy. Of course I didn’t need to do meticulous research, because all of this is obvious.’
‘Still didn’t go for it, huh?’
Leia shook her head and gestured to the flimsi. ‘Hence the clandestine last-minute add-on.’
‘Right,’ Han said, nodding. ‘So what happens when I show up back here with half the Galaxy’s contraceptives in the hold?’
Her look was serene, but he thought he caught the faintest hint of a smile. ‘Then I’ll let everyone know how understanding High Command is of the fact that real life doesn’t stop just because there’s a war going on. I’m sure everyone will be very grateful—vocally grateful, in fact—and if High Command want to reverse the decision at that point, they’re welcome to try.’
He stared at her for a moment. ‘You’re so—’
‘What?’ she asked.
‘Sneaky,’ Han said, a little admiring.
‘Oh,’ Leia said. ‘I know.’
Leia slid into the seat opposite Han as he sat in the mess picking over a green blob he thought, or hoped, might be vegetable-based, and slapped something down on the table between them.
Han eyed the small round black thing, putting his fork down slowly. ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s a bug,’ Leia said.
She seemed pissed about something, but he was baffled as to what it could be.
‘Uh,’ he said. ‘Listen, sweetheart; not sure if you’re accusing me of something here, but—’
‘I’m not accusing you of anything,’ she said, cutting across him. ‘I need a favor.’
Han sighed. ‘You know what, Princess? I had a good reputation around here until I started doing you favors.’
For the first time since she sat down, Leia looked amused. ‘And now I’ve ruined it?’
Scowling, he said, ‘I’m saying you seem pretty hell bent on it.’
‘Well,’ Leia said, ‘since you’re already painting it as inevitable, I might as well ask—
‘Do you know High Command is meeting with representatives from Adumar this afternoon?’
He blinked. ‘No?’
‘They are,’ Leia said. Agitated, she drummed her fingers against the tabletop for a minute, before adding, ‘I’m not allowed in the room.’
‘I’m… sorry?’ Han said, brow furrowing. He really wasn’t sure where this was going. As far as he knew, there were plenty of meetings Leia wasn’t part of; she’d never seemed bothered before.
‘Han!’ she exclaimed, evidently sensing his confusion. ‘It’s not because it’s need to know, or because it isn’t relevant to me.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘The problem,’ Leia said stiffly, ‘is that several of the representatives take issue with my gender.’
Han’s lip curled. ‘Right. And what’re they offering that’s so good, anyhow?’
‘I don’t know,’ she bit out.
He nodded. Stupid question.
‘It’s evidently enough that command thinks we should agree to their terms… and there are other people who’ve been kicked out of the room who are willing to trust it’s worth it.’ Leia sighed, turning the bug over in her hand. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive.’
‘Nah, Leia. It’s plain dumb.’ He leaned forward, stabbing a finger against the tabletop to emphasize the point. ‘And I’ve been a whole lotta places with a whole lotta prejudices and it’s never not been plain dumb.’
Leia didn’t look like this made her feel better, exactly, but some of the tension leached out of her shoulders. ‘I’m just—I’m so unused to it,’ she said. ‘I know there are beings who’ve faced this kind of discrimination their whole lives; I should consider myself lucky—but the idea of being shut out for something so—’ She paused, searching for the word. ‘Irrelevant? I just—it’s so…’ She trailed off, shaking her head, then seemed to come back to herself. ‘Anyway,’ she said, tone much more matter of fact, ‘I want you to help me bug the room.’
‘I know you’re thinking I could just ask someone who attends to tell me what they say,’ Leia carried on, ‘and I assume I would hear the details eventually, but you can tell so much by a person’s body language, their tone of voice—I want eyes and ears in the room and I’ll suffer the consequences if I have to.’
‘I said all right,’ Han said, picking up his fork again and spearing the possible vegetable thing.
‘You’ll do it? You’ll help?’
‘Yeah.’ He shrugged. ‘Got nothing better to do.’
Leia eyed him for a moment. Opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. She settled on warning him, ‘It won’t be easy.’
‘Good.’ Deciding now it was at eye level that the thing looked truly inedible, he put his fork down again and pushed his lunch tray aside. ‘It’d be boring if it was.’
She gave a tiny smile. ‘Well, you certainly don’t have a reputation for being boring; perhaps I can help you out after all.’
‘Are you s’posed to be doing that?’
Leia came down off her toes and turned to look at Han where he stood at the other end of the corridor. ‘Oh, good. I need someone taller to reach that bit.’
Sticking his hands in his pockets, Han wandered toward her to look up at the sign she was pointing to. Originally an order to keep out of the storeroom beyond, there’d been some adjustments made, and Leia didn’t seem bothered at all about being caught red-handed.
‘What’re you using?’ he asked her. ‘Slickplast?’
She held out the small ball of white putty. ‘It’s multipurpose.’
‘Lemme guess,’ he said, taking in her handiwork, ‘this is for the greater good somehow?’
‘Oh, no,’ Leia said. ‘This is just for fun.’
‘It ain’t gonna be confusing for people?’ he asked her.
‘You can still tell what it’s meant to say,’ she pointed out. ‘Not that it matters. There’s nothing important in there; they’re just being self-important. And frankly they’ve left it very open to creative embellishments; I’m surprised no one’s taken advantage yet.’
Han stepped closer to the sign. ‘Take it you’re wanting to, uh… cover this bit? And kinda…’ he gestured vaguely, ‘add on here?’
‘I’m glad I’ve found someone who shares my vision, Captain,’ Leia said, and handed the slickplast over.