She had the look of a honeypot, and don't think I didn't know it.
It wasn't exactly an open secret that the Mon Calamari tended to be more sympathetic to the Rebellion than most xenos. And anyone who'd been to RK's Floater more than once or twice could tell you that its target clientele were Imperials who kept odd hours, holoconferencing with colleagues on Eadu or Coruscant without regard for what time it was on the quickly-rotating gas giant of Tchie Gele.
But I wasn't stupid. I was in no mood to chitchat, or to share classified information--I pushed away the thought that loose lips were not a particular security risk, as we were doing a good enough job of sinking our own fleet. Nor did I want to drink until I forgot my own name. I wanted to drink till I slept, then wake up and remember: through pain, yes, and maybe even self-loathing. But memory, clear and brilliant, nonetheless.
"One Mandalorian Maelstrom, please," I asked. The conical droid taking orders lit up a silver light in acknowledgement.
I was an asset, I told myself. It wasn't just anybody in the Empire who could do my job. Especially not with Jonah--
I suppressed thoughts of Jonah. The Maelstrom was there, and cold down my throat.
The honeypot, if that's what she was, was sipping some fruity mix near the viewport in the floor. We didn't have a lot of interaction with xenos as part of our job, and depending on the project, sometimes not much with women either. So perhaps I had the look of a lonely workaholic, desperate for friendly conversation. But I don't really think so; I'd been in more sociable moods before, and had rarely had much success when I'd tried to make the first move. Some would say it was the Force at work. I'm skeptical, and even if there was a Force I don't think I'm the sort it would take an interest in. But I haven't come up with a better theory.
"Another Tendril for me," the Mon Calamari told the droid, "and refill this fellow's, if you'd be so kind." She glanced over. "Mandalorian Maelstrom? You must be a glutton for punishment."
"I'm allergic to plix-adds," I lied.
"Do you come here often?"
"Is that how you start all your conversations?" I snapped.
"No," she said. "But most people seem a little more intrigued by the viewport. Seen it all?"
I resisted the urge to tilt my head and give her the satisfaction of directing my gaze. I knew what I would see: the same swirling clouds, blurred by the glare from the artificial lights within RK's. Even during the day, the sun Lkora was too distant to give much light to the surface of Tchie Gele. By night we were all at the mercy of the technology that kept us illuminated, oxygenated, in suspended gravity. "I've seen enough."
She nodded. "Miern Callis."
"Ruo Div-lar," I said. This, in fact, was my name. I wasn't important enough for anyone to impersonate, and even if some bored partisan wanted to steal my identity, they wouldn't send a female Mon Calamari to do it. I didn't particularly believe Callis was being truthful, however. It had been a long day by any star's reckoning, and my mind was more prone to paranoia than usual. I returned to the Maelstrom, which was as sour as ever.
"Is it true what they say about Mon Calamari?" I finally asked. Most of the bar was human; there were a few dour Wookiees under guard, and of course the usual droid rabble. Miern, if that was really her name, was probably the only being present who could last long underwater.
"Oh yes." She smiled broadly. "We may have legs, but our lower organs are very marine."
I choked back a gulp of Maelstrom. "That's none of my business! What--I mean to say--do you always travel in packs? Schools? I heard your vessels are the size of asteroids."
I'd intercepted schematics of an enormous Mon Calamari cruiser, once. It was too difficult to reverse-engineer the entire ship, and impractical--of course our transports were better-designed, more human-scale. But I'd been praised for the intelligence triumph. With data like that, we could perhaps learn how to sabotage rebellion engines and hyperdrives. Could have.
"Myself, I don't like voyaging alone," said Miern. "But I find one's species matters less than having a good maw."
"Uh...a good heart, I suppose you mammals would say. I've flown with Drabatans, Jervali, even some humans."
I tried to remember what I knew about Drabatans. Little, and Jervali less. Had they been Separatist allies? Slave traders? Xenophobes? If she was making some allusion, it was lost. "I'd apologize for the dreadful companions some humans must be, but we're a very numerous species. Some of us are bound to be worthwhile."
"That's very true." Miern sounded amused. "Best not to take the blame for misdeeds that aren't your own, you'll never get anywhere."
"You'll never get anywhere if you take the magrail from this place either," I said. "For a supposedly autonomous local government, they sure can't estimate transit needs."
Miern laughed, a quiet hu-hu-hu that would probably have sounded more impressive underwater. So help me, I didn't care.
I bought her next Tendril, and the one after that.
I had not forgotten my own name when I woke up the next morning, nor had I forgotten the surprising discoveries I had made about Mon Calamari erogenous zones. All in all, I was quite pleased with my powers of memory.
That rapidly changed, however, when I discovered Miern had awakened before me. "Mmm," she said drowsily. "Thank you again, Lieutenant."
"Eh?" I stiffened. "What was I calling myself last night?"
"You weren't calling yourself much of anything, as I recall," said Miern. "Mostly it was addressing me. A bit flattering at times, but accurate on the whole."
"That's good," I said, frantically trying to recall if she'd asked any questions. "I mean, if I were trying to brag about myself to get you in bed, I'd call myself a Commodore at the least."
"Your conversation at RK's mostly consisted of gripes about your bosses. I got the feeling there were many ranks above you."
Would I need to start racking my brains for my attempts at pick-up lines, too? If the galaxy had wanted us to have perfect memories, we wouldn't have evolved with the ability to build--Don't think about archival systems, Div-lar. "How drunk was I?"
"I assure you, Lieutenant, we were both very capable of giving consent. Enthusiastic consent, in fact. When you asked me to touch your--"
"I remember that part," I said. "I'm not sure why you're calling me Lieutenant, though."
"Oh!" Miern walked over to where I'd unceremoniously deposited my shirt the previous night. "Your cuffs."
"I'm not really into being tied up."
"Your uniform cuffs," she said, picking up the shirt. "The red chevron, that's what a lieutenant usually wears. Right?"
I'd kept silent about everything important, and she'd seen through my sleeves? "I didn't figure you for an expert on military insignia. What, are you trying to collect an officer at every grade?"
Miern snorted. "If I hadn't seen how earnest you were last night, Div-lar, I'd take offense to that."
"Sorry. I'm, uh, just a desk officer, that's all. Not used to being saluted."
"No one's ever just a desk officer."
She seemed to mean it as kindness, not a probe, but I couldn't help but prickle. Not because of the risk she was spying on me, but because of the last forty-eight hours. "Apparently I am."
"It must be nice being safe. Not in the line of fire."
How dare she. How dare she. I was so infuriated I almost forgot to consider the security implications of an outburst. But I controlled myself, briefly, before realizing that even if she was a rebel I was telling her nothing they didn't already know well. "My best friend was just murdered by Alliance terrorists. I'd rather have died with honor like him than have my bosses destroy everything I've put my life into for my own safety."
I'd only been to Scarif twice. Most of my work could be accomplished remotely; it was droids and shuttle pilots with nothing better to do who made sure the archives were secure. They'd stood for years, safe against rebel intrusion--hyperspace engines and anti-grav modifications and planet-killers and fleet scramblers, trackers and translators and AI modules and simulators, blasters and bikes and provisions and explosives. Everything we'd created, tinkered with, improved from Republic-era drafts. And it had been annihilated, not by any Alliance scum, but by our superior officers.
Miern was pensive as she looked at me. Later I would realize what a risk she was taking, but in the moment it seemed natural. She must have seen the anger, the pain in my face, and realized I was too upset to be faking. Or perhaps, having recently seen me in a state of undress, she knew I wasn't armed at the moment. "Your friend," she said. "Was he from Eadu? An engineer?"
How did she know about Jonah? "What's it to you?"
"I've been--informed, by very reliable sources--about the incident there. Just a couple days ago, right?"
"What if it is?"
"Galen Erso's team weren't killed by the Alliance."
Oh, so she wasn't just a sympathizer, she dealt in implausible conspiracy theories too. "Give me my shirt back."
She handed it to me. "They were killed, I'm not trying to cover that up. But they were killed by a squadron of Death troopers to punish Erso for his betrayal."
Two days before, I would have laughed, and probably have spared Miern but told her to come up with some more plausible story the next time. After Scarif--even without the evidence I would witness later--a terrible knot in my stomach told me it could be true. Who were we, to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty? To wipe out the brilliance of hundreds to spite a few doomed rebels?
I sat on the bed and sniffed into the chevron of my shirt. Miern held me close, and for a moment I thought she wanted to kill me point-blank. I was ready to let her, too tired to run and with no place to go anyway. Instead she waited until my tears came and went.
"There are places you can go," she said. "It won't be easy, but you clearly know your trade. You'll find somewhere to put it to work."
"And it'll be valued? Even in danger?"
"I can't promise you safety. But I can say, if you're craving death with honor, there are places where that's a lot more likely than getting thwarted by command."
"That's a terrible recruitment pitch."
"Well," said Miern, "if you're willing to trust me, I can think of a few more perks."
In defense of my honor, I should say that getting to spend more time with Miern wasn't the primary reason I wound up enlisting in the Alliance a few days later, in the chaotic evacuation from Yavin IV. But it certainly didn't hurt.