Star Wars: Before the Awakening (14 page)

BOOK: Star Wars: Before the Awakening
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They weren’t heading for the main base, but instead for a collection of prefabs that had been recently
erected on the north side. The storm broke over them as they came to a stop, sheets of cold rain that covered the ground at once, making puddles of water that rippled and spread away from the repulsors as the speeder floated in place. Ematt got out, already soaked, and waited for BB-8 and Poe to follow him. Poe hesitated, trying to read the situation. Something in Ematt’s manner, his bearing,
reminded Poe of his father, and Poe saw it, suddenly: Ematt and Deso may have shared a rank, but Ematt, like Poe’s father, was a veteran. He had seen war, and had seen too much of it.

Poe exited the speeder, BB-8 rolling out behind him and hitting the pavement with a soft thump and a gentle splash. The speeder pulled away. Ematt led them to the farthest of the huts and pressed his palm to the
security plate on the door. There was a beep as his identity was verified, then the sound of locks sliding back, and the door slid open.

“Go on in,” Ematt said. “Your droid and I will wait out here.”

Poe nodded, still unsure. He stepped through the door, and it closed immediately behind him.

He entered a repurposed briefing room, minimalist, with perhaps two dozen chairs and a desk, but on
the far side of the hut someone had placed a cot and a trunk, so it had the appearance of both office and barracks. A holoprojector, used for analysis and planning, glowed in an opposite corner, projecting one of the Republic news feeds, but it had been muted, making it seem as if the reporter were speaking in pantomime. On the far wall, opposite where he’d entered, were two displays showing the galaxy,
similar to the overlay map in Deso’s office. It took Poe another second to realize the difference, that these weren’t political maps but rather operational ones, showing troop and fleet movements.

There was a woman at the desk, her head down, working with a datapad. Poe waited, aware he was dripping water on the floor. He realized he was still holding his flight helmet and felt slightly foolish,
so he set it down on the seat of one of the empty chairs, and when he straightened up again the woman had risen and was looking at him intently, as if she could see not through him but rather
into
him. She was older than Ematt, with braided hair pinned tightly in place. She was short, but that was only her height, not her stature. Something about her didn’t seem just to fill the space but to
command
it. She was in uniform, but it wasn’t Republic, not quite. It looked as if it had started that way and then, at some point, turned in favor of serviceable rather than ceremonial. She was unquestionably beautiful, almost regal.

“Commander Dameron,” the woman said. “Do you know who I am?”

Poe nodded. He was acutely aware, now, that his flight suit was soaked with rain and sweat, that he
likely smelled like the hind end of a bantha, and that he had disobeyed direct orders that had come down not just from Deso but higher. From as high as Command. From as high as the Senate, perhaps.

He came to attention, snapped a salute, and held it.

“General Organa,” he said.

General Leia Organa left her gaze on him for a second more, her expression unchanged, brown eyes seeming sad and weary
and strong all at once. Then she waved a hand, dismissing the salute, as if bored by the need for such things.

“At ease. Have a seat, Poe. I’m going to call you Poe, if that’s all right.”

“Whatever you like, General.”

“I like Poe.” She moved from behind the desk and hooked one of the nearby chairs with the toe of her boot, pulling it into position before taking a seat. She gestured to the empty
chairs, and Poe took one and turned it to face her.

“You should see your expression,” General Organa said. She smiled, and that, too, touched her eyes, gave them a warmth that made Poe feel like he was nine again. “I’m not that frightening, surely.”

“No, ma’am. Not…no, ma’am.”

“The problem with a reputation is that it can become a legend.” General Organa tugged at the shoulder of her uniform,
adjusting it. She shrugged. “Don’t be deceived, Poe. I’m not a legend.”

Poe grinned and shook his head. “You’re not sitting where I’m sitting, General.”

“I’m a soldier, Poe. Like you. A soldier with rank and experience, too much experience, perhaps. But just another soldier.”

“If you say so, ma’am.”

“I do. And stop calling me ma’am.”

“Yes, General.”

She chuckled. “Oh, it’s going to be like
that, is it? All right,
Commander
Dameron. Do you know why you’re here?”

Poe shook his head. Three minutes earlier, he’d have been relatively certain of the answer: that he was, at best, about to be knocked down to private and grounded for life.

“Tell me about the
Yissira Zyde
,” Leia said. “Everything.”

She listened intently, her chin in her hand, her elbow on her knee. Poe couldn’t remember
ever having felt so
heard
by anyone in all his life. When he talked about the encounter at OR-Kappa-2722 she rose, moved to the maps marking fleet and troop movements, and examined them as she asked him to keep on speaking. She made notations on each map before returning to her seat, and when Poe finished she remained silent for almost a minute, staring past his shoulder at nothing, or perhaps
at something only she could see. Memory or the future, Poe didn’t know which. Finally, she focused on him again.

“That was exceptionally foolish of you,” Leia said. “You barely got out of there with your life.”

“In my defense, General, there’s no way I could’ve known I’d find a First Order staging point.”

“But you hoped you would. Or something like it.”

“Yes,” he said.

“The need to do what’s
right, and maybe find a little adventure along the way.”

Poe shifted in his seat.

“You remind me of my brother,” Leia said softly. “Fly like him, too, apparently.”

Poe looked at her, surprised and flattered at once. The question pressed him, begged to be asked, but before he could find the courage to voice it, she went on.

“Have you heard of the Resistance, Poe?”

“Rumors, mostly.”

“Such
as?”

“Such as there’s a splinter of the Republic military that…that feels the Republic isn’t taking certain threats as seriously as they maybe ought to be taking them. Specifically the threat posed by the First Order.”

“That’s a very diplomatic way to put it, but not an entirely inaccurate one.” General Leia Organa exhaled and settled back in her chair, looking him over again. The smile returned,
slighter, perhaps sadder. “You’ve made some people very angry, you know that, Poe? Not letting matters drop when you were told to, disobeying direct orders. Technically, one could argue that you stole a Republic X-wing for personal use.”

“I’m a Republic officer, General. I swore an oath to protect the Republic, to—”

She held up a hand. “No, you misunderstand. I like it. It was rash of you, as
I said, it was foolish. But we could use some rash these days, and foolish and passionate are often confused, and passion is something we desperately need.”

Poe blinked.

“I can whitewash your little trip out to OR-Kappa-2722 for you. I can sweep it under the rug if you like. You can go back to leading Rapier Squadron and having your hands tied by Command, by Major Deso, by politicians who don’t
recognize what’s happening right before their eyes. I can make it all go away, Poe.”

She leaned forward.

“Or you can join the Resistance and help us stop the First Order before it’s too late.”

“Where do I sign up?” Poe asked.

In the end, Karé and Iolo came with him, all that remained of Rapier Squadron taken under the wing of the Resistance, and for the next few months Poe found himself putting
in more cockpit time than he had since training, now behind the stick of an older T-70 X-wing. Aside from the early recruiting efforts to find additional pilots, most of it was confined to scouting missions, long-range reconnaissance, searching for signs of First Order movement and positions—an attempt to, as General Organa put it, “find the head of the dragon.”

Rapier Squadron was transferred
from Mirrin Prime and redeployed aboard a refitted Mon Calamari cruiser called
Echo of Hope
. Poe found himself, while still holding the rank of commander, now in charge of his own fighter wing, with Iolo and Karé both promoted to captain under him, each of them responsible for their own squadrons, Dagger and Stiletto, respectively. Between scouting missions there were briefings, debriefings, and
countless meetings, often with General Organa herself, and Ematt, and twice with Admiral Ackbar, whom Leia herself had convinced to come out of retirement.

The Resistance, Poe learned, was small, but among its personnel were some of the most dedicated and motivated people he had ever met, coming from all over the galaxy. Most of the core command staff surrounding General Organa were veterans
themselves, many with experience dating back to the Galactic Civil War, and more than once he found himself speaking to someone who had known his parents, who had flown alongside his mother, who had been in the trenches with his father. It was, strangely, like coming home, as if this was the place Poe had been meant to be all along.

But there were many who had never seen Endor or Hoth or any
of the countless battles in between. Two of his new squadron—Teffer and Jess, both human—were younger than he and each of them had stories to tell about the First Order that made Poe all the more determined that he had made the right choice. There wasn’t one of them in the Resistance who didn’t see the First Order for what it was, who didn’t believe that its threat was both real and pressing.

Despite that commitment, the Resistance found itself stymied. Republic space and First Order space were separated by a buffer zone of neutral systems, and the peace that had been negotiated—a peace that many, including Poe, believed existed in name only—meant that military action taken by one side upon the other was considered an overt act of war. It didn’t seem to matter that evidence of First Order
incursions into Republic space continued to mount; the Republic refused to take any action outside of the most formal diplomatic protest. Striking directly at the First Order was out of the question. As Leia explained it to Poe, Resistance action had to remain covert, at least until irrefutable evidence of the First Order’s violation of the peace could be presented to Republic Command.

It was
this that led to General Organa’s recruiting Poe for Operation: Sabre Strike.

“This is Senator Erudo Ro-Kiintor,” Leia told Poe. They were alone in her office aboard
Home One
, off of the situation room. “The senior senator from Hevurion to the Republic.”

The holo rotated slowly, showing a tall and thin human, entirely bald, wearing a narrow-slitted visor over his eyes. It was a press image,
taken at some official function, and to Poe’s eyes Senator Ro-Kiintor looked overdressed and self-important, but that may have been more his personal bias than anything else. He wasn’t feeling particularly warm toward members of the Republic Senate these days.

“If you say so, General.”

Leia flicked a control on the display, and the image vanished, to be replaced by a similarly rotating schematic,
this of a ship. It was sleek, short amidships but broadening away from the keel, with what Poe thought was an unnecessarily ostentatious flaring at the wings.

“This is the
Hevurion Grace
, Senator Ro-Kiintor’s personal yacht,” Leia said.

Poe nodded slightly. “It’s a
Pinnacle
-class luxury ship, made by Vekker Corp. I’ve seen
Pinnacles
once or twice before. They’re exclusive ships, everything aboard
handmade, or so Vekker advertises. Only the very wealthy can afford them. They trade luxury for efficiency, practically hang an invitation off the hull for pirates saying, ‘Money in here.’”

The general grinned, and when she did her eyes seemed even livelier than ever, that brown warmth in them almost glowing.

“Could you fly one?”

Poe ran a hand through his hair. “Sure. It’s designed to be flown
by a single pilot, though it crews better with two. Not counting, of course, any servants the owner may want aboard.”

“Good,” Leia said. “I want you to steal it.”

Poe looked from her to the image of the
Hevurion Grace
and back again. He answered her grin with his own. “Sure. Anything else you’d like while I’m at it? Maybe pick you up one of those new Nebulon-Ks?”

“I’m not entirely convinced
the Nebulon-Ks have solved their combustion-shielding problems.” She switched the display off, and her smile faded, the joke at its end.

“What’s this about, General?”

“We’ve suspected Senator Ro-Kiintor of colluding with the First Order for years, Commander. He’s delayed or derailed motions covering everything from sanctions to increased support for the Republic Navy. He’s taken numerous unscheduled
and impromptu vacations to locations in the buffer region, in the neutral territories. There’ve been sightings of the
Hevurion Grace
in First Order space. Large sums transferred to his accounts through shells and third-party corporations via the CSA. He’s not only in with the First Order, but he’s in deep, Poe. He may have access to the top, to General Hux. Perhaps to Snoke.”

Leia rubbed a thumb
against her temple. “But we haven’t been able to prove any of this, Poe. No hard evidence, just circumstantial. And we’ve tried, believe me. Twice in the last year Ematt’s sent his agents aboard the
Hevurion Grace
after one of the senator’s trips, trying to access the logs, the navicomputer, to prove where he’s been. Each time the files had been purged prior to landing.”

“You want me to kidnap
a Republic senator?”

She looked alarmed by the suggestion. “No, no, that’s precisely what I
don’t
want you to do. I want the ship, I want those logs, the navicomputer data, all of it, before anyone’s had a chance to cover their tracks, you understand? But no loss of life, not even a bruise on the senator or any of the crew aboard if it can be possibly helped. And it must be completely deniable.
Ro-Kiintor is a traitor, I’m sure of it, but until we can prove it, he remains a member of the Senate, and the Resistance will honor that. We
must
honor that, or we’re no better than the First Order.”

BOOK: Star Wars: Before the Awakening
2.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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