A Matter of Commitment
Story and Art by Dani
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
Princess Leia Organa knew the only sure thing about Han Solo was that nothing was sure about Han Solo. Just when you thought you could read the wayward Corellian, he would do something to render all your assumptions invalid. And worse yet, he could then invariably support his actions with reasoning that was totally compatible with all your shattered conclusions.
Ord Mantell was both the capital and the largest planet of twenty in the Triordian System. It was located on the edge of the galactic "heart," deep in Imperial territory, and marked the convergence of several major intergalactic shipping routes. This made it a focal trade point for planets fifty parsecs in any direction and a considerable source of income for its regional governor. In fact, the whole sector prospered because of the long-range traffic that Triordian attracted.
One of the Rebel Alliance's most valuable assets was its network of undercover agents stationed on the capital and its neighbor planets. So far, they had been most productive. Operating unnoticed among the wide variety of sentient life forms inhabiting the Trade Lanes, they preyed successfully upon the transmissions of Imperial ships frequenting the spaceways and the transgressions of Imperial officers frequenting the spaceports. These anonymous operatives boasted more stolen secrets and appropriated shipments than any other rebel source in the galaxy. The possibility of these men and women paving the way for future infiltration of Alliance personnel into the powerful inner systems looked very promising. That is, until Emil Sonel stopped transmitting.
All the agents on the Triordian planets were natives, and therefore unlikely to attract suspicion. They all reported to the senior resident, who, in turn, reported to Emil Sonel on Ord Mantell. He was the only off-system plant. Emil then sent a regular coded message to a relay station where a rebel drone picked it up. The last transmission indicated a marked increase in Imperial traffic and that Emil himself was on the verge of discovering the true importance of this new development. He reported that it was of a military nature and hinted that it may have Command priority. But that was the last time he had made contact and now the rebels were cut off from the rest of their people there. It was decided quickly thereafter that Leia Organa, having approximately the same amount of training in espionage as Emil, would go to Ord Mantell and investigate Sonel's silence. If he had been discovered, and it was considered likely that he had, Leia's task would be to reassess the Alliance's options and perhaps to function as Emil's replacement until other arrangements could be made.
Leia Organa was finishing with an in-depth briefing on the mission and the network on Ord Mantell. General Ho and Admiral Stocker were leaving the conference room, but General Rieekan stayed. Leia looked up from her study of Emil Sonel's profile when he addressed her in a lowered voice.
"Your Highness," he spoke gravely. "I have the utmost confidence in you and your ability to accomplish this task. I think you know that." Leia nodded. "But I want to make sure that you consider one other possibility." He paused, a small smile upon his lips, his eyes sober. "It may be that I have become paranoid from too many years, too much pressure...too much war...whatever, but do not rule out the possibility of a trap. Emil was good, yet he could've been set up. You must be prepared to get off-system in a hurry."
Leia smiled back reassuringly. There had been nothing in Emil's profile to suggest that he would've broken under interrogation had he been captured. He was at least as well-conditioned against it as Leia herself was. And she didn't resent Rieekan's insinuation that she might've overlooked that possibility. Leia accepted his concern and felt grateful for it. Besides the personal affection between them, both the general and the princess knew that her capture must be avoided mainly because of the reputation her name had acquired. She was now an elusive symbol of the Alliance's growth and the Empire's inability to stop it. As long as she remained abroad, the revolution was an itch the Emperor couldn't scratch.
"I'll be cautious," she replied gently. "Thank you. But I don't intend to be thwarted. Success or a hasty retreat, both call for a fast ship and a good pilot. What have you arranged in the way of transportation and a crew?"
"Well," Rieekan's smile widened a bit. "First of all, you'll need a droid with data storage capabilities. Skywalker's taking his Artoo unit on the probe mission to Hoth, so we've modified See-Threepio for the job. I believe that you are familiar with him?" He hesitated; seeming to take great care in choosing his next words, he took a deep breath and continued, "And we were lucky enough to obtain the perfect ship..."
"Oh?" Leia asked. Was General Rieekan being evasive? "What ship is that?"
"The Millennium Falcon,"he replied. "Captain Solo volunteered."
Leia's face held no hint of any surprise she may have felt. "Han Solo? Seriously?"
"Yes, Princess. I checked with him and confirmed lift-off at dawn," Rieekan, whom Leia suspected was almost fond of the arrogant Corellian, confided good-naturedly. "Perhaps your efforts to enlist him are paying off."
"Honestly, General, despite my efforts, I am still puzzled by this sudden change of...strategy."
"Strategy?" Rieekan chuckled.
"I hardly think we could call it a change of heart, do you? You say that he volunteered?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, he seemed almost...eager."
"Eager?!" Leia frowned. This did not sound at all like the Han Solo shehad come to know. Aha! She narrowed her lovely brown eyes in suspicion. "Just how much are we paying Captain Solo thistime?" She was alarmed when General Rieekan again hesitated. Could it be that bad? Just what was that greedy Corellian mercenary demanding of them? "Well?" she prompted.
"He won't accept a fee this time."
"He won't...!" There was no hiding her astonishment this time. General Rieekan was grinning smugly, almost as if it had been hewho had won the reluctant freighter captain over to their cause.
"Solo said, and I'm quoting, 'Catch me next time, General, Ord Mantell is on me.' And the captain seems to be fairly well acquainted with the system already, not to mention the fact that his ship will blend in better with the existing traffic there than any civilian craft we have now." He noticed that the princess was having a hard time ingesting this. "You have an objection?" he asked.
Leia shook her head. "No. Of course not. I may have underestimated him, that's all."
"I would like to think that it isa change of heart, Princess," Rieekan added with a knowing grin.
Leia pondered that the next morning as she prepared for her departure. Maybe, General,she thought, but I doubt it.It was as likely in Leia's mind that there was a Han Solo imposter running around their base. It was certainly an amusing idea. She could imagine the "real" Solo tied, gagged, and stuffed into one of his own smuggling compartments, while his clone wandered the galaxy, ruining his "look out for number one" reputation. Oh, Han Solo did have his good side, and it was probably Luke who had talked him into the mission. Actually, Luke was becoming quite adept at that. But a "free ride"? That alone was enough to strengthen Leia's hope that he was coming around. Finally,she thought. Leia slung her bag over her shoulder and left her quarters.
Waiting outside in the corridor was See-Threepio. "Good morning, Mistress Leia!" he greeted her. "I was informed that you had some need of my services. Are you on your way to the hangars now?"
"Yes, I am, Threepio," she replied as he fell into step alongside of her. "You will be accompanying me to Ord Mantell, where I may have need of an interpreter. I also understand that you have been modified for data storage. A new RAM unit?"
"Yes, Your Highness!" Threepio almost sounded proud. "The Alliance techs have installed a Level Ten data referral and retrieval bank. Needless to say, I was quite honored. That is, until I learned about the self-destruct mechanism I am now required to carry. It seems," he continued dismally, "that the privilege also entails a considerable amount of risk and danger. Artoo seems to think that now I shall be qualified for only the most difficult and perilous of assignments...of course, he finds that very amusing." Threepio's logic circuits prompted a new line of thought. "Ah...what sort of mission is this, if you don't mind my asking?"
Leia had to smile at what could only be programmed cowardice. Or could it be more than that? "I hope that it will be a very quiet one," she answered.
"Quiet? Oh my, that doessound like you're trying to avoid my question and spare me the awful truth about this trip," the droid accused politely. "May I ask what ship we shall be boarding?"
"Certainly. We are going to go with Captain Solo and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon."
Threepio's photoreceptors brightened momentarily in his distress. "Oh dear," he whined. "Artoo was right! Not only must I subject myself to the hazards of a mission I know nothing about, but I must try to function capably under the stern, uncaring eyes of Captain Solo, who I don't believe likes me at all!"
"Don't worry." Leia soothed him as they entered the hangar. "I do believe that the good captain has had a change of heart."
"Really!" Threepio exclaimed. "I hardly think that an organ transplant could affect the way Captain Solo feels about droids!"
Luke Skywalker had positioned himself so that he could keep an eye on the hangar entrance while he worked. As soon as he glimpsed the petite figure in white fatigues, he abandoned his own preflight check to intercept her. Leia was accompanied by the protocol droid, See-Threepio, and she appeared to be entertained by something he'd said. "Leia!"
She stopped and smiled warmly at his approach. "Good morning, Luke." A trace of a chuckle was still evident in her voice. She slipped an arm through his, and they continued on toward the bay where the Falconwas warming up. Threepio followed.
"What's so funny?" Luke asked. He nodded back at the droid. "Is he bragging about his new status?"
"Luke!" Leia admonished with mock seriousness. "Show some respect! A Level Ten droid wouldn't brag!" They both looked back at Threepio. He returned their gaze with almost pitiable dismay.
"I heartily agree with you, Mistress Leia," he said. To himself he thought, This calculates! After all, Artoo was always touting his Level Ten capabilities and had encouraged me to accept an advance in my security rating. That cold-circuited little droid never mentioned the self-destruct mechanism at all. He's probably hoping I'll initiate the sequence accidentally and blow myself to bits!Threepio straightened and marched forward with almost human-like determination. Well, I shall show you, Artoo, just what a Level Ten droid is truly made of!
As they followed Threepio, Luke turned his attention back to the young woman at his side. "You will be careful now, won't you?" he cautioned. "Talk around here is that you can't be sure of anyone on Ord Mantell now, and I have a bad feeling about this silence."
"I will," Leia assured him as they approached the Falcon'sboarding ramp. She didn't know why, but there was something very special about Luke. It was comforting, some kind of familiarity or...a common bond...something not easily put into words. At times, Leia could almost put a finger on it, and then it was gone. Someday, when there was time, she would tell him about it.
"Please don't worry," Leia told him. "After all, you have your own concerns. The probe mission into the Hoth system...that could be very dangerous."
"Frostbite?" Luke grinned, thinking of his crash course on sub-zero survival techniques.
"No...snowballs!" Leia winked and returned his grin. She was aware that this would be Luke's first experience with snow.
"Snowballs?" Luke asked. "What are snowballs?"
This is too good to be true,Leia realized impishly. "Ahh..." she hedged, "Why don't you ask Wedge when you get there?"
"Uh, all right," Luke agreed uncertainly, taking in the mischievous glint in her eye. Ask Wedge? What was this, some sort of off-color joke or something? Leia? Nah!Luke became serious once again. "But remember, be careful, huh?"
"Don't worry, kid! I'll take good care of her and see that she stays out of trouble." Han Solo was halfway down the ramp. He was leaning against the Falcon'slower hull, pulling on his gloves. Luke waved up at his friend.
"Now kiss her good-bye before our lift purge asphyxiates the bay crew!" To Threepio, he ordered, "C'mon, tin-britches!"
Threepio ascended the ramp, complaining sorrowfully about the respect due an L-Ten droid. He paused before the disdainful Corellian. "I hope you are well on your way to recovery, Captain Solo. I really had no idea!"
"What?" Han wondered aloud as he watched the droid shuffle on into his ship. Droids! Who could figure them?Solo followed the mechanic inside.
Leia reached up to brush her lips against Luke's cheek. She started up the ramp and then turned back to Luke. "By the way, how did you talk Han into this one?" The ramp began to rise.
"I didn't have to."
Leia saw Luke wave as the ramp closed. She glanced speculatively towards the cockpit. So, Han hadvolunteered on his own. Leia tried not to gloat, but victories were few and far between these days and she was pleased that she could count on Han being around for a while. The Alliance could use someone like him.
The same thought occurred to Luke as he watched the old freighter lift off. At one time, it had been he who had been after Han to abandon his carefree life style and devote his talents to the revolution. But not anymore. Maybe it was the Force that helped Luke see beyond the flippant facade that Han used to mask his true self, or perhaps their friendship had deepened enough to allow the aspiring Jedi a glimpse of Solo's latent idealism. Either way, Luke and Han had reached a comfortable compromise. Luke wouldn't ask for a commitment and Han wouldn't make one. And Solo was still with them.
Leia was a different matter altogether, regarding the Corellian as a challenge now.
She is in for a surprise,Luke thought with a smile. He was sure that the captain viewed her in much the same manner.
He walked back toward his X-wing, wondering why neither of his friends could see things as clearly as he. Luke also wondered what in the Blankin' Inferno was a snowball. A ball of snow? Nah! That was too obvious.
Leia utilized the time during take-off to brief Threepio on the details of their mission, and what she hoped to accomplish. Once they were in hyperspace, Solo came back to tell her that it would be four timeparts until they reached Ord Mantell. Chewbacca followed Han into the makeshift lounge. He reported that the ship was on auto-alert. Han Solo nodded approval and fell into the chair at auxiliary control. He grinned agreeably at Leia.
"With any luck at all," he said, "we'll be able to skip ship's rations and have lunch on Ord Mantell."
Chewbacca bared his teeth and emitted a low rumble of anticipation. Leia savored a little enthusiasm of her own. She turned away from Threepio and leaned back against the gaming table.
"Captain Solo," she began, giving him a small smile, "you never cease to amaze me."
"Is that so?" Han braced himself. He recognized the light of patriotic righteousness in her eyes.
"Yes," she continued. "It must occur to you that some people might consider your volunteering for this mission an overt commitment to our cause."
Han raised his eyebrows, still smiling. "Some people?"
"Yes, indeed," Leia paced slowly, artfully, to the center of the floor. Moves practiced during the Senate Debates returned to her with ease. "Like General Rieekan, for instance." She turned to face Solo once more.
"What about you, Your Worship?"
"Oh, no, not me. I feel I know you well enough now to discern something of your true motives." Leia paused, knowing that he would not be able to resist proving her wrong one last time. "So, tell me, Captain, why did you volunteer? At risk to life, limb, and ship, I might add..."
"Maybe, Princess," Solo countered, "I just wanted to get you alone."
Leia shook her head. He had tried this tack before. At first it had been effective, causing her to blush and sputter, but now she barely hesitated before retorting. "And since we obviously are not...?" She nodded meaningfully to Threepio and Chewbacca. Her smile became a bit more predatory.
"C'mon, you know that droids don't count!"
"Really!" Threepio fussed.
Leia moved a step closer to Chewbacca. "But Wookiees do! I can't believe that's the best you can do, Captain! Maybe you'd like me to swear you in right now? How does 'General Solo' sound to you?" She hadn't intended that to sound like a threat, but she couldn't contain her enthusiasm.
Han became defensive. "Listen, Your Royalness, save the recruiting spiel for the kids with stars in their eyes and barma beans for brains! I'm just making a living."
"Not on this run, you're not!" Leia zeroed in for the kill. "Volunteering is one thing, but a free ride practically puts you on the payroll."
Chewie barked an agreement and caught a dirty look from his partner.
"She has a point there, Captain Solo, sir," added Threepio.
Ah! Cornered!thought Solo. And when cornered, you hit 'em with the last thing they expect--in this case, the truth. He affected an insulted expression. "Hey, give me a little credit! How could I charge the Alliance for a trip I was going to make sooner or later, anyway?"
Leia blinked. "You were? Why?"
"Didn't your briefing include any information about the convention?"
"Convention?" Leia glanced up at Chewbacca, who nodded in confirmation. "You mean the system's Trade Show?"
"Well, what has that got to do with you?"
Han looked smug. "Chewie and I go every year."
"Isn't that a little out of your league, flyboy?"
"Let's just say that it's got something for everybody." He looked to his copilot. "We had a great time last year, eh, Chewie?"
The large hirsute Wookiee growled in apparent concurrence. Chewbacca could sense Leia's deflation before she spoke. He hoped that Han could as well.
"I see," Leia said in a less enthusiastic voice. "Of course. I was right about you."
"Were you?" Han and Leia exchanged searching looks. Leia ended the moment by going back to her work.
"Something for everyone," she mumbled, as she adjusted the new input monitors upon Threepio's back.
"Yeah," Han said, not knowing where she would take this conversation now that he had dropped his bomb. "There are demos, displays, lots of new technical stuff...and entertainment, the arts, y'know? There are things that I'm sure you'll like. You just might have some fun," he finished tentatively.
Leia frowned at him over her shoulder. "I'll be working, remember?" she pointed out irritably. "I hope that won't inconvenience you, Captain?"
"Not at all," Han responded to her tone in kind. "I'll stay out of your way."
"General Rieekan, poor deluded fellow that he is, must have told you that we may have to leave in a hurry?" Leia forced her voice to calm.
"I can handle that." Han grumbled.
"Mistress Leia?" Threepio interjected, "Do you think it is wise to upset the captain? After all, I understand that an organ transplant can be quite an ordeal for a human, despite all the latest breakthroughs in--"
Han had stood up and advanced on the droid. "Just what are you talking about, metal-head? What transplant?"
"Why, Mistress Leia told me you have had a change of heart."
Suddenly embarrassed, Leia cut him off. "Forget it, Threepio." She looked up at Han. "Captain Solo hasn't a heart to change."
Threepio's eye cells brightened in shock and Chewie looked on with his usual silent aplomb. Han scowled at the realization that Leia had not been baiting him into one of their usual arguments. She had actually believed that there had been more to his offer of transport to Ord Mantell than simply a ride. Now, Han was at a loss for words. Angrily, he stalked out of the lounge. He didn't know why, but Leia's erroneous assumptions about him were irritating. Almost...humiliating. Who cares what she thinks,he thought sullenly, and pushed the matter from his mind.
The rest of the jump was spent in relative peace. Han stayed in the cockpit and Chewbacca played holo-chess with Threepio. Leia looked on with very little interest.