“Become the stillness, girl… you are not finished yet…”
A voice I knew and trusted coaxed me into the void. I slipped gratefully away from the pain, from the sorrow and the inevitability of death. For the longest time there was nothing, no dreaming, no feelings and no memories. If I was alive I didn’t know it and I suppose I was grateful but such things do not last and eventually I began my journey back into the world of the living.
My first realization that I was probably not dead was the sensation of warmth and a dream so vivid I thought it was real. I found myself standing in a room of some sorts which vaguely reminded me of the great hall in the old Jedi temple. All around me was a soft white light. It was so peaceful and so calm that I didn’t mind not knowing exactly where I was.
I breathed in deeply. There was a scent on the air, spicy, exotic which reminded me of someone I had once known, a man, but he seemed very far away. I struggled to bring his face to memory but all I could conjure up were eyes of glowing red. In the back of my mind there were others, shadowy figures who never fully came into focus. One in particular was dressed from head to toe in black he, too, had meant something but this memory brought sorrow and I was glad to let it go.
I wondered how long I had been here. Time was meaningless. I was not hungry nor was I tired. There was no fear either just a strange sense of calm. I stood with my arms wrapped about my chest, my face lifted upwards and my eyes closed. There was warmth here but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I didn’t jump when someone touched me on the shoulder making me turn around. It was a little like staring into a mirror. The woman who stood slightly behind me looked a lot like I did. Only when I gazed at her face for a few moments did I see the differences and understand who she was.
“You do not belong here, daughter.” She said. Her fingertips touched my cheek.
“Akali L’uanna.” I said, “My birth mother.”
“Yes.” She smiled. “You have grown up well.”
I ignored her comment, “Am I dead?” I asked. It seemed only logical since I knew she was dead.
“No, but you linger in the in-between.”
“You are not dead but you are not fully alive either. You are in between these two states and have been for some time.”
“How did I come to be here?”
“You were injured. Bringing you here was the only way to save you.”
I looked at her in puzzlement. “I don’t understand. You brought me here?”
She shook her head. “No, that was another’s doing.”
A look of pain and distaste marred the prettiness of her face for a moment. “We do not speak of him by that name, but yes.” She said.
I looked around me. “Is he… can I …?” I was a little bewildered.
She gave me a little smile. “He is not here. He has much to atone for, guiding you into a healing state was a start. Do not mourn for him, daughter. He is more at peace now than he has ever been before.”
“I am here to guide you also. I have always been here for you.”
I shivered as a cool breeze rippled across my skin. “And what of Qui-Gon Jinn?”
“You will see him again, I am certain of that but now it is time for you to return to those who love you.”
I went to argue with her but before I could speak she tapped my forehead with two fingers. “Go back to the world you belong to, daughter. Do not fear. You are not alone.”
Before I could protest, everything around me began to spin, the soft light vanished and I was swept away. It was like drowning in reverse, like crawling out of a darkness that never seemed to end. From very far away I began my journey back into the real world, the world of flesh and bone, blood and pain and above all sorrow and loss.
It was the sound of male voices that let me know I was still alive. At first a blurred white-noise, sounds which I could not identify but over time I began to understand as words just as I was able to pick out certain voices. How long this process took I have no idea. I faded in and out of this state of consciousness and time had become irrelevant. I was surfacing but it was a slow and painful process. When I opened my eyes the light was a shock and everything was fuzzy and out of focus.
I sensed him first before I heard him speak to someone else, but I didn’t know who it was or what he had said. Hands examined me. There was a strength and surety to his touch. Doctor, I thought. I blinked trying to get past the blurred vision but I was too tired. I slipped back into the dimness I had come from. Time danced about me once more. How long I drifted in and out of awareness I do not know but each time it got easier until one day I woke up fully awake and aware.
“Fetch the Admiral, quickly.” I heard a voice say. A hand brushed hair from my face and the touch was comforting. “Hang in there this time, just a few minutes, just enough to let him see you awake. Then maybe I can have a moment’s peace.” A voice whispered in my ear.
I tried to open my eyes, they were dry and gritty. My eyelids were not cooperating. Finger tips gently pried them open and cool drops splashed into my eyes, I winced and blinked hard. A few seconds passed and the images which had been distorted and unfocused began to sharpen up a little. I looked up into a familiar face.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, young lady.”
“Dr. Thracer?” I whispered. My voice was rough. My mouth was too dry, my tongue felt thick and useless.
“You have not forgotten my name, I see.” He said, his dry bedside manner still the same.
I opened my mouth to reply but before I could say anything he stopped me. “Don’t try to talk just yet.” He said gently as he slipped a shard of ice between my lips. “This will help.”
The sensation of cold exploded in my mouth. Never in my life had water tasted so good. If I had been able to cry I would have. It was tiring to keep my eyes open so I shut them again and relished the taste of the ice as it lessened the desert like quality of my mouth. The pressure to fall back into the sleep I had woken from was very strong. I felt his hand on my forehead again, gentle and reassuring.
“Merlyn, I need you to stay with me, can you keep your eyes open?”
I nodded and fought against the drowsiness and the desire to just slip away again, to find my birth mother, the dreaming and the quiet place I had been before. No matter how many times I had tried to go back to that place it remained closed and elusive.
Doctor Thracer gave me a little smile and another little lump of ice.
“Thank you.” I managed to croak out. “So thirsty.”
He nodded. “To be expected. Can you follow the light with your eyes?” He asked shining a little torch in my face. I did as he asked. There were a few more questions, some feet and finger wiggling and a general check up. He didn’t say much but he seemed satisfied. He had the bed raised and helped me sip a very small amount of water. “Slowly, we’ve had you on fluids for … well, you’ve been on IV fluids for a while, drink too much too soon and you get sick.”
I nodded, glancing at the IV line in my hand. I hadn’t noticed it until he had mentioned it. I sipped the water gratefully, relishing each molecule. When he took the cup away I made a face but didn’t complain because my stomach was making unhappy gurglings.
“Doctor?” I heard another familiar voice ask. Thrawn’s voice. My heart quickened at the sound.
Doctor Thracer patted my shoulder and turned away from me, blocking my view. “She’s conscious and aware but don’t expect too much.” He said quietly, “She’s still very groggy and very weak. And before you ask, it’s too soon to tell about any permanent damage but so far she is responsive and coherent, which is a good sign. I will give you five minutes. ” and with that he left the small alcove where my bed was.
Thrawn simply looked at me, his expression unreadable and distant as though he was seeing me in a different light and wasn’t certain he liked what he saw. “Why is it, Miss Gabriel, I seem to spend so much time watching you recover in a med lab?” He asked quietly.
“Bad timing?” I whispered. It was an old joke but it didn’t make him smile.
He was silent as he pulled the chair as close to the bed as it would go. I struggled to move, I wanted to sit up a little more. His hands were warm as he helped me, slipping an extra pillow behind my head. I shut my eyes for a moment and a barrage of images flashed through my mind.
“Endor…” I began.
He placed a finger tip on my lips, always his way of keeping me from speaking. “We know all about Endor.” He said. “It is no longer your concern.”
I glanced around me. This med lab was not one I was familiar with. “Where am I?”
“Nirauan.” He answered there was something in his voice that made me look at him.
I asked. “You did not take me back to Coruscant?”
“Your condition was too grave. Doctor Thracer did not want to risk moving you until you were more stable, then it was a question of waiting to see how well you responded to the treatments, mostly it has been about waiting for your body to heal itself.” He was not telling me everything and the lie behind his words was so strong I could taste it but it was too much effort to call him on it.
I glanced at the IV line in my hand. There was no bruising. “How long have I been here?” I asked.
A look of sadness and something else I had no idea how to decipher flashed momentarily in his eyes. He stroked a finger across my forehead, brushing away a strand of hair but he didn’t answer my question.
“How long?” I pressed, catching his hand in mine.
When he hesitated I got agitated. It wasn’t like Thrawn to be evasive or lie but I sensed both in what he wasn’t saying. I asked the question a third time and he sighed.
“You’ve been here for seven months and five weeks.” He finally replied. “But it’s only been in the last few weeks that you have… come back to us.”
My heart seemed to stop. That was just sixteen weeks shy of a year. I had lost almost a year. It didn’t seem possible. I looked away from him feeling the prickle of tears in my dry eyes.
“How? What… how?” There were so many questions and I could not articulate any of them. My words tangled on my tongue. Images of Endor flooded back to me, the exquisite pain of Lord Vader’s death sliced into my belly and now Thrawn was telling me all this had happened nearly a year ago. What had happened to me? The world swam around me and little black spots of light pricked at the edges of my vision, I felt my heart pound in my ears and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.
“Doctor?” Thrawn’s voice held a touch of concern in it.
Doctor Thracer was at my side. “Too much too soon!” he growled at Thrawn, lowering the bed again. “Merlyn, listen to me. Just breathe slowly. Don’t you dare pass out on me now!”
I did as he asked and the dizziness passed. I guess some colour returned to my face because both men suddenly looked relieved.
“She needs to rest, no more agitation.” The doctor’s words were directed at Thrawn and they were sharp. I reached over and grasped Thrawn’s arm.
“No,” I whispered. “Tell me. I need to hear it.” I didn’t want to fall backwards into that terrible abyss that had swallowed so much time and I was afraid if I let go of him I would. He didn’t pull away. I watched the silent communication between the Doctor and Thrawn as they looked at each other for a moment, then when the doctor nodded slightly Thrawn turned his attention back to me.
“The Grey Wolf picked up your signal almost immediately; luckily we were fairly close to your co ordinates at the time. When we reached you, your ship was badly damaged and drifting.” He paused. I watched as the muscles in his jaw clenched. This was not easy for him to speak of. I could feel emotion rolling off him in waves, sorrow, frustration and above all anger.
The doctor broke in, continuing the explanation. “You were found in the cockpit, wrapped in blankets; there was blood on your skull, matted in your hair. You had a severe concussion and a very nasty skull fracture. Your ship’s life support had failed and your battery power had run out. The atmosphere in the ship was …unhealthy but no one was certain for how long the atmo was at toxic levels. At first we thought you were dead but the instruments in the med lab showed that you had slipped into some sort of extraordinarily deep coma.”
I looked from one man to the other. “How…?”
Thrawn pulled his arm out of my grasp and pinched the bridge of his nose. “The doctor thinks it was the cold which saved your life.” He said quietly.
Doctor Thracer nodded. “The cold dropped your metabolic rate right down, all of your body functions had been slowed to nearly nothing. You were in a death like state. To be honest, it isn’t something I have seen in my life time although I have heard tell of Jedi Knights being able to do such things at will in times of physical danger. We had no way of knowing how to pull you back out of it so we treated the physical wounds and let you heal, hoping that you would eventually waken on your own… which you did.”
Thrawn drew a deep breath. “I suppose that some of the training you underwent under Vader and Taisto Kjestyll helped out. In the end it was probably what saved you but for the life of me I cannot figure out what you were doing out there.” He looked away from me then back again when our eyes met I knew he was holding himself in check. His expression had gone from relieved to hard. “I cannot believe you would be so stupid…. ” He began, his voice laced with fury. The concern he had shown just a few minutes earlier was so swiftly replaced by anger that I didn’t have time to think, or to defend my reasons for flying hell bent to find him, luckily I didn’t have to.
“Now is not the time, Admiral.” Doctor Thracer interjected placing a hand on the Admiral’s shoulder. I understood then that something had happened between these two men to create some sort of a bond. They had become more than just Grand Admiral and Doctor, they had become comrades and perhaps even friends. Whatever it was, Thrawn heeded the Doctor’s words and shoved his anger with me back into the place he kept all his emotions in check. He glanced up at Doctor Thracer’s face and nodded. The doctor was right, not matter how angry Thrawn felt I was not ready to be on the receiving end of it. His shoulders heaved as he sighed; sitting back in the chair he pulled away from me from me, folding his arms across his chest.
“I was attacked.” I said defensively. I remembered bits and pieces of it. I remembered being flung against the bulkhead and winced involuntarily at the memory of it.
“Yes. I read the ship’s logs. Your shields were down.” Thrawn said coolly. “We also found debris floating in the same area. One of the local pirate ships we believe.”
I just nodded and sighed. “Endor…?” I asked again.
His reply was firm. “We can discus Endor when you are better. You have a long recovery ahead of you. It is pointless to waste your energy worrying about things that no longer matter, about things you can do nothing about.”
“But what happened?” I pressed, “Coruscant? The fleet? Who is in charge now?” I did not need to have the Emperor’s death confirmed; I had felt it as surely as I had felt Lord Vader’s. Thrawn looked up at the Doctor again, who shook his head.
“When you are well enough, we’ll talk.” Thrawn repeated. “You’ll learn everything you need and want to know but right now all you have to worry about is regaining your strength.”
“Lord Vader….” I started to say but the words choked in my throat. It hurt to say his name.
Thrawn sighed and his expression softened. “I am sorry, tekari.” He said and he meant it.
I just looked up into his face. I didn’t know what to think. For me, what had happened at Endor was crystal clear and far too raw. He must have seen that on my expression. He reached over and caressed my face gently, the anger in his eyes receding.
“What about papa, does he know?” I asked.
Thrawn nodded. “Yes, we have been keeping your family apprised of your condition.” He curled his fingers about my hand. It was a small gesture but it spoke volumes. I could feel tears start to prickle in my eyes.
“Has it really been that long?” I asked Thrawn in a whisper. It just didn’t seem possible. I felt waves of weariness wash over me.
Pain flicked across his features and he opened his mouth to say something but Doctor Thracer spoke first. “She needs to rest.”
Thrawn nodded and went to stand up but I wouldn’t let go of his hand. “Don’t go…” I sounded like a lost little girl, but then again this was exactly how I felt.
He leaned down and brushed his lips against my forehead. “The doctor will take good care of you.” He whispered in my ear as he eased his fingers out of my grasp. “Now please, just get well.”
“You’ll be here when I wake up?”
His fingers caressed my face. “Sleep, A’myshk’a.” was all he said.
He had not answered my question but my brief time awake had worn me out and I was too weary to argue with him. I was grateful to drift back into whatever dimness I had surfaced from, away from the biting sense of loss. The next time I woke up the doctor had the job of telling me that Thrawn had returned to duty on the Grey Wolf shortly after speaking with me and it was not known when he would return. I was not surprised by this news but it hurt all the same. When I didn’t press him for details, Doctor Thracer seemed relieved and began to explain what exactly had happened to me and how he planned to help me recover. It would not be easy but concentrating on the work ahead of me helped me avoid thinking about everything else. The memories of what had happened at Endor left me hollow and empty and not for the first time would I wish that I had just stayed put in the deep oblivion I had come from.