Foundations and Factions 4
It was just past four in the morning when Thrawn’s comm went off waking us both up. He got up with the ease of those used to being woken up to deal with situations that required instant awareness and answered the comm.
“Grand Admiral, I am sorry to disturb you but the news could not wait.” It was Voss Parck and there was an edge to his voice that suddenly had me also on alert.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Sir, we just got word that Borleias has fallen.”
There was a moment of weighted silence in the bedroom and then Thrawn moved. “On my way.” He said crisply. I sat up, hugging my knees watching him. Light from the low moon filtered into the room illuminating his body as he dressed. “Go back to sleep, sj’iu Tekari, there is nothing you can do.”
“This is sooner than you predicted.” I commented, ignoring his instructions. I was also wide awake now, even if I wanted to I could not return to sleep.
He nodded. “Yes. I am guessing that incompetence on the part of whoever was in charge of the garrison on that planet is in part to blame.”
“What will you do?”
As he fastened his white uniform jacket he glanced at me, the red glow of his eyes seemed brighter, sharper in the dark. “I do not know yet.”
“Coruscant will be next?” I asked although it wasn’t really a question and I already knew the answer I just wanted to hear him confirm it.
“I am certain of it.” He replied, “It is simply a matter of when and how.”
I nodded. Hearing him say this made it real and suddenly I was afraid. “I have friends on Coruscant, people I care about.” I said quietly, thinking of Shiv and Cati.
“If you want me to go to the Core using the Sigiri I still need ….”
He held up his hand. “I know that as well, but even I cannot make space travel any faster.” He said with a touch of impatience. “Go back to sleep. There is nothing you can do to help this situation.”
“I could make you spiced coffee.” I said swinging my legs over the edge of the bed to sit up. I wasn’t even remotely sleepy now.
His gave me one of his rare smiles. “I retract my statement then, that would be a help indeed and I am certain that Voss would not complain either. We will be in the command briefing chamber.” He said giving me a light kiss on the cheek before heading out.
Borleias was considered an important planet in terms of the fight for the Core. Now the New Republic fighters would push for Coruscant, just as Thrawn had predicted and I was scared for my friends. If the battles I had seen had been anything to go by, an invasion of Coruscant would not be pretty. I sighed as I got up and headed for the shower, this was going to get ugly, I could feel it in my bones.
Once I was clean and dressed I made my way to the small kitchen and prepared a large carafe of Spiced coffee. It had become something of a treat for Thrawn and the officers who enjoyed it and I didn’t mind making it since I liked to drink it as well. Once I had delivered the tray to the briefing room, I went to the hanger.
“Morning Miss, you’re up early.” The deck officer on duty said as I walked into the hanger bay.
I smiled. “Couldn’t sleep, figured I’d get some work done here.” I said nodding to where the Sigiri sat.
He grinned back. “No matter how hard you stare at her, Miss, that ship’s hyperdrive will not magically come back to life.”
I returned his grin. It had become a running joke that if I could have created a new hyperdrive just by wishing alone it would have happened a dozen times over. I had known that her engines were shot, it was a wonder that she had made it to Nirauan at all considering the extent of the actual damage. I had hoped I could repair them on my own but as it turned out, while the sublight engine could be fixed with a lot of work, the hyperdrive was completely beyond repair and I needed a new one. There were no spare class one hyperdrive engines to be had on Nirauan so that meant waiting on a supply ship from Bilbringi. The waiting was driving me crazy.
“I know.” I told him. “But miracles sometimes do happen.”
He just shook his head. “If you are looking for something to do there are a couple of TIEs that need attention.” He said breaking into my thoughts. I laughed. TIE fighters always needed attention.
“Well, I guess it is a good thing that I can’t sleep then.” I said and I went to pick up my tool kit. Thrawn had been right about the need for mechanics and the Chief engineer had been more than happy to have me onboard as part of his pit crew.
I had been on Nirauan for almost four weeks and for the most part things had been relatively quiet. Once I knew that I couldn’t fix the Sigiri and that I would not be allowed to rip the hyperdrive out of one of the other shuttles I settled down to a routine of teaching language classes three times and a week and the rest of the time helped out in the pit. As I had feared, teaching basic to a small group of taciturn Chiss was not a lot of fun. At first they had not really wanted to be taught but were there because Thrawn had ordered them to be there, however things changed a little once they found out I could speak their language. I had not let this secret out of the box, hoping to teach Basic by simply speaking it. Sometimes total immersion was the best way to go but the Chiss, as well as being brilliant, were also incredibly stubborn and while they attended the classes they did not go out of their way to learn a language they considered to be beneath them. They were fluent enough in many of the Outer Rim trade languages so learning basic was not high on their list of priorities. They all did just enough work that I could not bitch about them to Thrawn and for the first week we got nowhere fast. During the second week’s classes I got fed up of the whispers in Cheunh, and when one snide comment was made, just loud enough for me to hear it I lost my temper and hurled an insult of equal nastiness right back at the young man who had made the joke. The silence in the room was deafening and then one of the others broke it.
“You speak and understand our language?” He had asked in utter astonishment.
I had nodded.
“Why did you not say this?” Another had asked.
“Why should I have to, I am here to teach you Basic, not chit chat in Cheunh.”
“Why should we learn Basic at all?”
“Because all knowledge is worth having and the more languages you speak the more knowledge you will accumulate.” I replied. “The Admiral believes that by learning the most common language spoken in this Galaxy you will have a distinct advantage. Not learning it because you don’t like it is foolish.” I had told them all tartly. My temper had gotten the better of me and I was too annoyed to consider the fact that by Chiss standards I was being rude.
“Most non Chiss do not even try to speak our tongue, it is too difficult for them but you have learned well.”
“I had a very good teacher and I wanted to learn more about your culture. In order to do that learning the language was tantamount. No language is beneath me, all serve to teach. Your prejudice against Basic does not serve you or Grand Admiral Thrawn well at all.”
The younger one who had made the joke in the first place had nodded. “Well, if you can learn our tongue then I will try to learn yours.”
After that things had gotten easier and I was greatly relieved. Still, I was glad when the class was over and I could head back to my favourite place, the engineering pit, and relax by fixing ships. It was the one thing in my life that felt uncomplicated.
About four hours after I had begun working on one of the TIEs that needed some repair, hunger and the need for stimcaf got the better of me. I had just finished putting my tools away and was about to head to the mess when my comm peeped.
“Miss Gabriel? The Grand Admiral wishes to see you in the briefing room right away.”
“Roger.” I nodded although the person that belonged to the voice could not see it and made my way to the other side of the compound.
Thrawn stood with his back to the door, arms behind his back, staring out of the window reminding me sharply of Lord Vader. For a split second a wave of sorrow flashed through me and I was surprised that after all this time I still felt his loss so keenly. In spite of his temper and his violent nature I missed Lord Vader and his strange force presence in my life. It still felt as though he had yanked a piece of my soul from my body when he had severed the tie between us. Sometimes I dreamed of him but these dreams were mostly incoherent jumbles made up from memories rather than the eerie flashes into the future that I sometimes got.
“The Dark Wing will arrive in twenty seven hours. I have confirmed she is carrying a class one hyperdrive for the Sigiri and some spares as well as two back up engine, class ten. How long will it take you to refit the shuttle?”
“About twelve hours if I have some help.” I said, and then added. “And if there are no complications.”
“This includes a test run?”
“No.” I told him.
“So how long before she would be space worthy?”
“In theory, two days if all went well, longer if there are problems.”
“You’re hedging.” He said coolly.
“Well, that’s because a hyperdrive is a pain in the rear to replace with all the right dock equipment which we don’t have here so it will take longer. I have already been through one ship disaster I don’t think you or I want another.”
He sighed, I watched as his shoulders heaved. “I have the ISD Fearless on standby and as soon as you are ready to go I would like you to leave.” He still had not turned around to face me and I could hear both anger and worry in his voice.
“The news from Borleias is that bad?” I asked.
There was a moment of silence and then he turned around. “I believe it will not be long before the New Republic push to take Coruscant and I am concerned that Isard has not done enough to secure the core planet or the Imperial Palace. If it falls I would prefer to have more information rather than less. You tell me you can help and I believe you.” He was furious. Now that I could see his face I could read just how deep the anger went but that didn’t make sense. The capture of Borleias had been expected so there was something else which had stirred his ire.
I nodded and for a moment we just stared at each other. “What is it?” I finally asked.
He picked up a data pad off the desk and handed it to me. “You should read this.”
I sighed as I sat down in the chair in front of his desk and trigger the data pad. I read through the report puzzled, there was nothing out of the ordinary here to make Thrawn so angry. The planet had fallen surprisingly enough to a small squadron of X-Wings. The now infamous Rogue Squadron. According to the report, they had come at the planet from the moon’s side using one of the system’s meteor showers to hide their approach and then had destroyed the main power supply conduit which allowed the rebels to gain control of the base. I glanced up at Thrawn wondering what it was that had him so riled up but he said nothing instead he gave me a look that said come on find it, you are not so stupid that I need to spell it out for you, so I scanned back to the start of the report and began to read it again.
I found what he wanted me to but I couldn’t believe it. “This report is dated almost two standard weeks ago.”
His jaw clenched in anger.
“How is this possible? You should have been given this information as soon as it this happened. I know that the holonet system is not that reliable out here but a runner could have delivered a message in less than two days.”
“Isard obfuscates the truth at every turn, hoping to keep me from interfering in her pursuit of galactic domination but she is throwing it all away. This information was deliberately withheld long enough to make it of little use to plan any sort of retaliation.” He spat the last few words out and I tried to recall the last time I had seen him this angry, if I recalled correctly it had been shortly before he had sent me away with Navaari.
I looked at him and set the data pad on the desk. Time was running out and we both knew it. Waiting for a hyperdrive seemed pointless to me, especially since any information he received from official channels seemed to be falsified or worse withheld until it was too late. “I can fly the Ahnkeli Su’udelma to Coruscant.” I said. “Go on world as a civilian. Isard doesn’t have to know how I arrived on the planet does she?”
“The HWK is a fine ship but I would much prefer you had some back up in terms of fire power, it is not the best time to by flying solo in the galaxy at this time.” He countered.
I shook my head. “I disagree. Imperial ships are now prime targets, and a lambda shuttle, even one with teeth, is no match for a rebel cruiser or a battle ship. I could probably out run an X-wing, maybe two but not a whole squadron. I’m not a trained combat pilot and I would not want to try and test my skills against those who are. I understand you are worried about me going off alone but I think I’d be safer in a civilian ship, especially one as antique as mine instead of an Imperial ship with an over abundance of fire power. I am, after all, a civilian pilot, I have the papers to prove it.”
He stared at me for a moment then turned back to the window. He knew that I was right and I was certain that this idea had also occurred to him, he just didn’t want to use it, or me. Attachments… they sure had a way of buggering up well laid plans but I knew that Thrawn could set his aside and see the bigger picture at work. The situation had changed significantly since we had devised the original plan for my return to the Core. An Imperial escort would be a hindrance now, not an asset and he knew this. I was just saying out loud what we were both thinking.
“I do not like you going alone.” He said after a long, weighty silence.
“I could get help.” I countered.
“My uncle Vahlek.” I said thoughtfully.
“The Tze’yusha’Jin?” Thrawn’s eyebrow arched in surprise, he had not considered my uncle at all.
“Can you think of anyone better suited?” I asked mirroring the raised eyebrow with one of my own.
When he pursed his lips I knew I had won. “Alright if you think you can convince him to aide you then I suggest we discuss a plan because if I know you, you haven’t exactly thought this through.”
I smiled a little. “What is there to think through? I make it up as I go along.”
“Yes and that is what scares me the most.” He retorted.
I sighed. “Okay, but can we do this over breakfast?”
“Haven’t you eaten anything?” He asked in surprise.
“No, someone got me up at four a.m. which isn’t exactly breakfast time.” I retorted making a face. I wasn’t the biggest breakfast eater anyway and the thought of food at such an early hour was repulsive. I had to work up to the thought of eating first thing in the morning.
“I did tell you to go back to sleep.” Thrawn replied smugly.
“As if that was going to happen! Anyway, I am in dire need of decent stimcaf, the stuff they make in the pit could be used as coolant fluid!”
His lip twitched in an almost smile. “As well as a shower. As usual, you are covered in engine grease.”
I frowned, wiping at my nose, making the grease spot worse. He shook his head in the manner of those who had long given up. “Go and get cleaned up, my dear and we will discuss these matters over breakfast in my private dining room. While I think your ideas have merit I want more than just spur of the moment making it up as you go along. If you are going to do this for me you need to have a well thought out plan and some back ups in case things go wrong because knowing you, things will go wrong.”
I just grinned and nodded. While the idea of heading back to Coruscant for a possible face off with Isard was worrisome, the idea of getting away from frustrating language classes and a planet full of flesh eating insects to seeing my friends again was exciting and if I was brutally honest I could not wait to go. I loved being with Thrawn but Nirauan was not exactly the center of the universe and I could feel the edges of boredom slowly nibbling away at my soul. I suspected he knew this and even understood it and while he tried to give me work to do we both knew it was not what I was used to. Thrawn needed a personal assistant the way Lord Vader had needed bone china dinnerware. I was glad to have the chance to do something that at least felt useful.
As I made my way back to my quarters to get cleaned up I began a mental list of the things I would need to take with me and just exactly how to word a message to my uncle so that he would get the point but no one else would.