Foundations and Factions 1
How often, I wondered as I quietly wiped tears off my face, would I be saying goodbye to the people I cared deeply for. This parting was especially bittersweet. I had come to love Navaari and Hjal in a way I had never known possible and it was heart wrenching to leave. Thrawn, after having said his own goodbyes to Navaari had left us alone so that I might say mine. I had watched miserably as he vanished inside of the Ahnkeli Su’udelma and begun the start up sequence. I hated this and I wasn’t making it any easier when I flung my arms around Navaari and clung to him, half sobbing in to the fur of his hood.
“I love you.” I told him, “I love you so much….” These words, which were so powerful, which I could not seem to say to Thrawn but came so easily to my lips for Navaari to hear, sounded small and child like.
He just held me tighter. “I know that Kycsi’i. Don’t cry, it isn’t forever and you will always have a home here, always.” The last vestiges of the wind from the storm made the powdery snow on the ground drift around us, hissing as it snaked across the flats. It was bitterly cold, freezing my tears on my cheeks and eyelashes. My breath decorated the air in lacy white puffs
I didn’t fight when he pushed me back. “Now, you should go, best not to keep him waiting. You know how to find me if you need me.” He said.
He smiled at me. “Go, and don’t look back. It’s…”
“…bad luck.” I had said finishing the sentence for him. He had placed the tips of three fingers on the middle of my forehead. I understood this gesture now. My life, your life, by the will of Da’hajn are forever joined. I slipped on my mask which was now decorated in even more carvings, the story of my life as a member of this enclave.
He nodded, letting me go. I had just stared at his face, committing it to memory, too choked up to speak and then because there was just no other way I turned abruptly around and walked into my ship without looking back. I made my way to the cockpit to find Thrawn was seated in the Pilot’s seat. I was grateful that he had decided to take charge and let him know this with a small smile as I sat in the co-pilot’s seat and strapped myself in.
Once we had broken free of the planet’s atmosphere the trip to where the Grey Wolf lay waiting would be less than twenty minutes, barely enough time to sit back and enjoy the flight. I watched with detached interest as we approached the ISD and manoeuvred into the landing bay situated in the ship’s underbelly. Thrawn put her down with a soft touch. Underneath the heavy Dantassi over coat he had now removed he wore his uniform and now, as he shut the engines down, he seemed an entirely different man, shedding the role of my Dantassi bond mate to that of Imperial Grand Admiral. I wondered, as I glanced out of the cockpit window, what these men who all stood to attention on the deck of the landing bay would think if they had seen him as I had seen him the night before, carefree and laughing. I could not help but smile at the memory of what had come after he had taken me by the hand after many hours of dancing and whispered in my ear, ‘I believe this counts as later.’
I followed Thrawn silently as we exited the ship, mindful of the surreptitious looks I was receiving from the men on the deck. Clad from head to toe in Dantassi clothing, my face hidden by my mask, my hair hidden by my hood I was an unknown, a primitive. Hiding behind my mask had been my idea but he had not argued against it. I watched as Thrawn returned the salute he was given and then spoke with the officers who were waiting there. A few more salutes and everyone scurried off to fulfill their duties and do what ever jobs it was he had asked of them.
When he was satisfied with his men Thrawn turned to me. “Come, Akiana’myshk’apavjäska I will show you to your quarters.” He said in his native tongue. I nodded compliance. He issued orders in basic and my bags were picked up and brought by a stormtrooper whose face was just as hidden as mine but I could feel the curiosity and slight sense of superiority that came from him. That would have changed fast, I thought, if the young man in the white armour had known who I had worked side by side with two years previously. I stayed silent and followed Thrawn to the quarters that would be my home for the next few days while we travelled to Nirauan.
I did not think it was a coincidence that I had been placed in the VIP quarters and that once my bags had been dropped on the floor Thrawn waved the stormtrooper to wait outside. Once the door closed I removed my mask and looked around. The stark contrast of the Dantassi home I had been in to the cool Imperial design was almost night and day but there was a familiarity to it that made the transition easier.
“I thought you would appreciate a spacious cabin and some privacy.” Thrawn said watching as I discarded my coat. He understood that sometimes it took a little time to adjust from one world to the next. I had been away from the Imperial one for a very long time now.
I nodded. “Thank you.” I said. The words came out sounding cool and formal. I hated these transitions. On Hjal he was relaxed and more open. Here he was reserved and distant. No one would have even dreamed to think of the two of us together in bed let alone the dancing. It seemed so far away, yet the memories of the night before were still very fresh in my mind. Perhaps he read these thoughts on my face because he lost some of the stiffness in his posture and reached out to brush stray hair from my eyes.
“You should get some rest, you must be very tired.” He said gently.
“No more so than you.” I answered glancing up at his face. For a moment our eyes met and that familiar flash of heat seared through my gut.
His hand lingered to cup my jaw, his thumb stroking my cheek. “Hmmm.” He replied with a smile that vanished when he added, “I shall be busy this evening I am afraid. There is much I need to catch up on. Shall I arrange for you to eat here or will you find your way to the guest mess hall?”
“I’d rather eat here.” I said. The last thing I wanted was to be the topic of conversation and sitting eating alone in the small guest dining hall was never fun.
“Very well, I will have that taken care of. I also thought you might like this.” He said handing me a data pad. I took it from his hand with a questioning frown. “It is essentially a run down of everything that has happened since Endor. I thought you would like to catch up on recent history. There is a fair amount of classified information on that so try not to lose it, my dear.”
“As if.” I snorted setting it on the nearest table. “I’d like to speak with my father if that is possible.”
Thrawn nodded as if he had expected it. “I have arranged for you to have access from here. Operating it will not be hard, you know how the system works and nothing has changed. Your clearance codes should still be active, if not let me know.” He paused and then said. “There is a training room available for you and Rukh was asking if you would wish a sparring partner when you returned. I think he rather missed you.”
“Good. It took me a long time to get my conditioning back I’d like to keep it. I am betting Rukh will enjoy some of the moves the Dantassi taught me.”
“No doubt. I am afraid I do not provide him with much of a challenge in that particular arena.” Thrawn smiled.
For a moment we just stood facing each other and then his comm went off.
“I have to go. There are things which require my immediate attention.” He said.
I just nodded. All the things I wanted to say to him I had already said the night before. It seemed sort of pointless to create dialogue for the sake of it. He smiled and pulled my chin upwards with the crook of his finger. “It will not always be this way, this much I can promise you.” He said as he leaned in and kissed me gently.
“Better not be or else there might be a war between us.” I told him, and then stepped back to let him go and solve what ever issue it was that needed to be solved.
“Well, when there is some quiet time we can discuss your terms and demands for a peaceful settlement but for now I am afraid I …”
“…Must go to save the galaxy from evil, I know.” I said finishing for him, flapping my hand in that go away manner that Lord Vader used to do to me. “I’ll be fine. I am, as you pointed out, tired. I am going to have a bath, then I am going to order supper and then I will go to bed.”
He smiled, planted a kiss on my forehead and then without any further comment he left me on my own. In truth I was grateful, I was exhausted and even if he had forsaken all of his duties to sit and chat with me he would have been talking to himself because I would have fallen asleep instantly. So I did exactly what I told him I was going to do and I ran a bath.
Navaari had slipped, among other things, several bottles of Crackerberry liqueur in my bag. “So you have something that reminds you of us.” He had said. I dug a bottle out and poured myself a drink; I wasn’t prepared for the sudden wave of homesickness that washed over me as the scent of the liqueur drifted into the room. I grabbed my glass, picked up the data pad Thrawn had given me and went to soak in the bath. It took me all of five minutes to realise that reading about what had happened in the last two years would only put me to sleep even faster than lying in a tub full of hot bubbly water and drinking Crackerberry liqueur would so I set it aside on the little table, lay back in the tub and closed my eyes, my thoughts drifting to the night before.
We had danced. It had been a blur of motion and laughter, the music every bit as captivating as the first time I had ever heard it. I could not recall the last time I had felt so free. Many hours later Thrawn had tugged at my hand and we had slipped through the crowds only stopping once while he spoke to one of the Elders talking to Navaari. In the quiet of the apartment we had initiated another kind of dance, to music that only we could hear and to which only we knew the steps. We had woven our bodies together the way Da’hajn wove her threads and with each caress, ripple and thrust we had twined ourselves together in a tangle of limbs until it felt as though we had become one. In the languid aftermath we had lain in the bed settled and drowsy curled around each other and as we so often did, we had talked.
I had traced my fingers along the winding metal threads of the bracelet he wore, the silver and gold contrasted brightly against the pale blue of his skin. For such a simple design it was beautiful. Navaari’s hand work was always stunning, he was not just one of the best of the Jhal’kai he was also an extremely talented artisan.
Thrawn had watched my face and ran his fingers through my hair. “Why did he choose gold and silver, usually such a piece would be silver and blue?”
I had grinned, I knew the answer to that. “Well, we didn’t get officially married under Dantassi laws, did we?” I asked although it was more statement than question.
“No. That would have meant too many complications that neither of us can afford at the moment.”
I nodded my understanding. I had always been more about ship's engines and flying rather than I do and happily ever after. “Well, then Navaari was free to use what ever colours he wanted when he made this, and gold and silver are the male and female. You told him once that your thread and mine were bound together, so this is you and me, “I said as I traced my finger along the twist of the metal strands, “But this isn’t a marriage band just a pledge bracelet so Da’hajn’s thread is not required. He made it different so that it was special. Do you not like it?”
“It is beautiful.” He agreed. “I was simply curious.” He had said with a smile that told me he had been deeply touched by the thought that had gone into the bracelet.
“Well then, make sure you don’t lose it!” I had told him.
He had chuckled. “No fear of that happening.”
“You never know, it isn’t closed it could slip off, and then someone else might decide to wear it.”
He had shaken his head. “You live with the Dantassi for over a year and you still do not unravel all of their secrets.” He’d chuckled. “It is designed not to come off and even if I should remove it no one else could wear it, it is bio-linked to me alone, much in the same way as your bone mask.”
He had smiled then had slipped the bracelet off his wrist handing it to me. “Try to put it on.”
I had taken it from his fingers and had done as he had asked trying to slide my wrist through the space between the two ends. I was surprised to discover I could not do it. Much in the same way a magnet repelled the like pole, the bracelet was pushed back from my wrist, making my fingers tingle a little to hold it. “How do they do this?”
“Nano technology embedded in the molecular structure of the metal, another Dantassi mystery. No one but I can wear this now. I knew that as soon as it was slipped on to my wrist. I felt the recognition as it made my skin tingle as the bio link process began.”
“So you are bound to my bracelet.” I had laughed, it sounded funny. “Does it code just to a person’s DNA?”
“Mostly, but also to a person’s particular cellular structure, recognition through all the chemical patterns in the individual’s cells the unique bio entity it has been linked to. It is a clever and intricate process, one the Dantassi keep quiet about. They do not use it for many things because the process is complex but bonding jewellery and the bone masks are good examples of places where it is used.”
“So do you think he put a tracer chip in it as well?” I had asked with a grin.
Thrawn had laughed. “I very much doubt it. Unlike you, my dear, I do not get lost and therefore do not need to be found.”
I had just given him a look as I handed him back the bracelet, watching him slid it back on his wrist. I liked how the white-gold metal contrasted with his skin and it was small enough, slender enough to be mostly unobtrusive. Navaari had designed it that way, designed it to be worn under the sleeve of his Imperial Uniform so that no one would see it. Jewellery was considered non regulation and with one or two exceptions was not allowed to be worn while on duty, but many people still wore things like pendants that could be hidden underneath the clothing and for the most part no one said anything.
Thinking about uniforms and regulations made me think about Jorae. I knew that he had worn a necklace his mother had given him, a Corellian good luck charm. He had shown it to me once, telling me its history of having been passed down through the family for several generations. Thinking about Jorae made me realise that I did not know what had happened to him. I heaved myself out of the bath before I fell asleep in it. Drowning would have been a bad move on my part anyway. Wrapped in my favourite robe I sat at the desk in the small living area and accessed the computer. I was relieved to see that all my access codes still allowed me to get into some of the classified areas and with a deep breath I called up the reports on the Battle of Endor, specifically the casualty list.
There were thousands of names on this list. So many people had died at Endor that it seemed almost surreal. I went down the ship by ship listing until I found the Executor. For a brief moment my gut knotted but this was an old wound known and although it still hurt it was a dull ache rather than a sharp one. I was not surprised when I found Jorae’s name amongst the listed dead. He had been on board the flagship at the time it had plunged into the Emperor’s Battle station probably on duty at his listening post in the communications room. He had loved his job and had been so proud when he had been posted on board the Executor. Sorrow at reading his name there flooded through me. He had been my first friend after I began working for the Empire and although we had rarely seen each other once I was no longer working on board the Flag ship he had still kept in touch. He had been a kind likable young man with a sweet smile and a good heart and now, like so many others he was dead.
I sat reading through the names, almost all of them I did not know scanning for ones that were familiar to me and feeling a sense of loss and pain each time I found one that I could put a face to. I was grateful to realise that I had not seen C.J.’s name but when I did a data base search on him, nothing came up. I wondered where he was now and how he was doing and how he had felt about the Emperor’s death, after all he had been a part of the Royal Guard. Thrawn had told me that after the death of the Emperor, the Guardsmen had added a strip of black to the bottom of the red cloaks as a sign of mourning and respect. Isard had tried to make them take it off but they had simply ignored her. The Emperor’s Royal Guard were not easily intimidated and who could blame them, after all next to the Emperor, Isard was a pale imitation of a ruler despite her cruelty and deviousness. While we were on Hjal, still stuck indoors due to the storm, Thrawn had talked about her taking over and the slow downward spiral that the Empire had taken under her command.
“She does not see the bigger picture.” He had said as we lay awake in bed talking. “She looks for ways to gain revenge on an event that has irreversibly changed the course of history without realising this is like battling the wind. She would be much better off trying to work out a plan to consolidate the Imperial powers and gain better control over all the various factions out there now gearing up to fight for a piece of the Empire than trying to get back at the rebels for winning at Endor.”
“Why does she not recall you to the Core?” I simply did not understand this at all.
He had given me a small laugh. “The short answer is that she fears I will wish to step in and take over, become the next ruler of the galaxy and claim the title of Emperor for myself.” He had explained. “Personally that is not really a job I would wish to take on, I am more a war lord if anything and even that is a stretch. I have started to work on a plan that would hopefully bring the separate factions back in line and restore law and order to this very chaotic galaxy but I do not have the man power to execute it yet. We lost too many good men at Endor, and there have not been enough new recruits to fill the spaces left by the dead.”
“I suppose this is where a clone army comes in handy.” I had said as a joke but the sudden arching of his eyebrow told me that he had considered this idea and he wasn’t laughing about it.
“Indeed.” He had said. “The trouble with this idea is the amount of time it would take to grow a fully battle ready cloned army and the other problem is where to find the cloning equipment to do this. The Kaminoans could grow a clone to maturity in ten years but Kamino’s cloning facility is no longer available. The Empire used Spaarti technology, cutting this growth time down to a year but where the Emperor placed the spaarti facilities is still unknown. He and a few trusted aides who are now all dead were the only ones who knew the locations of these facilities. The Emperor did not trust anyone lightly with his cloning information. I am still searching for locations but until then, our military numbers are too small to do much about the rising attacks of the various factions that want a piece of the Galactic pie. If things stay as they are I can foresee Coruscant falling, if not to the rebellion then to one of the other larger factions out there and that would be most undesirable.”
I could not imagine Coruscant under the rule of someone else. It would forever be linked to the Emperor in my mind. He had imposed his will, his personality on that planet the way a sandstorm shapes the desert and undoing all that he had achieved would be a monumental task. Our conversation had drifted on to other things and sleep eventually over took us both, but the thought of clones and where the Emperor would have created them nagged at me and, like the title of a half forgotten song, the answer was on the tip of my tongue.
Now as I sat staring absently at the computer screen I wondered about the idea of clones and where the Emperor might have hidden such facilities. The Emperor had been full of secrets and lies. I was certain that there were answers to be found on Coruscant, but exactly where and how to find them would be a whole other story, one I would have to think carefully about.