Foundations and Factions 6
Coruscant never changed, I thought, as I guided my ship down through the thick fog to land on the private landing pad that belonged to Thrawn’s apartment. It was as full and busy as ever, even in the early morning. The spires of the tall buildings poked through the fog looking a little like long nailed fingertips reaching to the sky, the hands of the condemned raised up looking for rescue. It felt odd to be back here, and the weight of the past which crept its way into my gut made me sullen and quiet. I guess Uncle Vahlek understood this because he didn’t say anything as I shut the ship down and gathered my things. In many ways this was a homecoming for me because I had been happy in this flat with Thrawn for a while. It had been a place of safe refuge and love. As I entered the lock code opening the door I felt a terrible wave of sorrow and of loss but I didn’t understand why, it made me hesitate at the entrance of the flat.
“Are you alright Lei'lei?” My uncle placed his hand on my shoulder, his concern was genuine and palpable. I had to fight the urge to turn around and burrow myself in his arms and cry like I had done as a small child. Instead I just drew a deep steadying breath.
“Old ghosts, Zte’sa.” I said with a shrug and we stepped over the threshold.
The flat smelled unused but clean. The faint scent of Thrawn’s soap lingered in the air reminding me sharply of him but his presence was no longer here and the flat felt empty, despite the furniture and décor. I suppose I understood in that moment that no matter what happened in the future I would not live here again with him as I had done before Endor. I think that Thrawn had known this too when he, exiled and publicly shamed, had removed his most treasured possessions and art work, many of which now adorned his private quarters on Nirauan.
I sighed as I dumped my bag on the floor, ignoring my uncle, and went to the kitchen to look in the cupboards and cold-box to see what I would need to buy. I had no idea how long we’d be staying here but I didn’t plan to starve or order out. I was surprised to find a note on the kitchen counter and even more surprised to read it was from Shiv.
Hey Rim Girl, I heard you might be paying us a visit so I stocked up on the essentials for you. Word came that you needed to tie up loose ends here. I have looked in on the place from time to time as the Admiral requested so there should not be any nasty surprises, like Dathomir spiders hiding in the bathroom. Buzz me when you get in, we have a lot to talk about. Missed you tons. Love Shiv.
My uncle vanished into the spare room and dropped off his small pack. His ability to travel so light never ceased to amaze me. I set the water cooker on to make tea and searched the freezer for something we could use for breakfast. When I had left this flat to go with Lord Vader to Endor it had never occurred to me that I would not be coming back for well over two years so there had been food in the fridge and things left about. I looked around and knew that Shiv had taken care of everything. That Thrawn had trusted him enough to give him the access codes made me grateful. I found some pre-made breakfast scones, heated the oven and shoved them in to cook.
I needed to wrap my head around the fact that I was actually back on this crazy world and that a huge chunk of time had passed since I was last here, because for me it felt as though I had only been gone for a couple of months not a couple of years. I wasn’t sure I understood how this was even possible, but I guessed as I set breakfast things on the counter it was to be expected when one slips into a coma and then vanishes to a planet on the edge of the galaxy where time just moves differently. While my Uncle showered and changed I made stimcaf and reacquainted myself with the place I had once called home. I knew that the very first person I should probably try to see was Ysanne Isard but she could wait instead I decided to see if Shiv was awake.
“Merly?” said a sleepy looking holo of Shiv.
He yawned and ran a hand through his tousled blond hair. “Surprise? Where are you?”
I nodded. “Just got in, wanted to say thank you for taking care of the flat.”
He was still half asleep and I could see him trying to wake up. “Wait, you’re here on Coruscant in your flat?”
I nodded again. “Listen, you feel like having breakfast with us?”
“My uncle is with me and yes now, though if you could pick up some cream and some butter on the way that would be good. I’m baking scones.”
“Uh…okay…be there in about fifteen minutes.” He said. He was still not quite awake. I signed off and went back to taking care of breakfast, waiting for my uncle to finish so that I could take a quick shower. Shiv arrived twenty minutes later to the scent of freshly backed scones and stimcaf. I heard him come in and went to greet him, unable to say even one word before he had swept me up in a huge hug.
“We thought you were dead.” He whispered in my ear holding me so tightly I thought I heard ribs crack.
I just hugged him back and nodded. What was there to say? When he finally let me go to look at me I could see that he had aged a little and that worry and stress had eaten into his boyish good looks.
“Siavaan, it is good to meet you.” My uncle said from behind me.
Shiv grinned and shook my uncle’s offered hand. Then he handed me a bag of groceries. “I bought cream, jam, butter and some fresh fruits.”
“Well breakfast is done, so let’s eat. I’m hungry.” I said.
As we sat and ate I told Shiv my story before he could bug me about it, this time I did not leave much out so there were a lot of things that my Uncle had not heard before as well. When I was done both he and my Uncle just looked at me in stunned silence.
Shiv sighed. “We heard about Endor but the news was censored. The backlash from Lord Vader’s and the Emperor’s death was pretty awful. Coruscant was in total martial law and people were being shot if they were out after curfew. Of course, that all settled down after the memorial service and once Pestage was recognised as the official leader. It was chaos, internally but from the outside things seemed to carry on as usual. When Pestage was killed and Isard took over things began to get a little odd but even that settled down into some sort of normal routine. She doesn’t interact much with people like me so it isn’t as if I have much contact to the inner circle any more. All the Emperor’s concubines and consorts were given severance packages and told to go home, most of the palace is quiet as the work force has been cut down by nearly a half. Isard tends to run things on a tight military style schedule, she doesn’t have time for civilian bureaucracy.”
“I need to see her.” I said. “I have updates from Thrawn for her.”
“Well if you are lucky she’s here but most of the time she’s not on Coruscant that much these days. Theory is she spends most of her time at some secret base of operations, though I don’t know much about that. If there is a hidden base some where it is really a well kept secret. I do hear a lot of whispers about the Lusankya Facility, which she heads up. People go in but they never come out. She had a lot of her own staff members taken to that detention center and no one and I do mean no one knows where it is. The latest theory is she has some ISD in space but no one really knows for sure.” He said with a sigh. “I don’t do much work at the moment, it seems she has little use for the fineries that the Emperor did, but they haven’t actually fired me yet either.”
“What about this sickness I’ve been reading about?” I asked.
Shiv shrugged. “No one is really certain about that either. It breaks out in pockets, mostly in the alien sectors and it is pretty deadly but because no humans have contracted it yet and it isn’t wide spread there has been very little said or done about it as far as I know. At first they thought that it was an issue with the water purification system but that checked out all right now they think it is some bacterial thing brought in on imported fruits. The word around the palace is that the rebellion has been testing some biological weapon but personally I don’t buy that. They wouldn’t target aliens for a start and I don’t think they have the facilities to create weapons like that.” He sighed. “So really no one knows, but I can tell you this, bacta apparently cures it so as long as there is enough bacta to go around, no one seems too worried.”
I blew out the breath I had been holding and sipped at my stimcaf. “I need to get into the palace.”
Shiv shrugged one shoulder. “Well that won’t be difficult, you have active clearance, you still work for the Empire and you carry official documents from a Grand Admiral.”
“How easily will I be able to move about in the palace?” I asked.
“Depends on where you want to go.”
“My old flat, Lord Vader’s office, the Emperor’s inner sanctum.”
Shiv made a face. “Hmm, your old flat won’t be an issue. That part of the palace is hardly ever used any more. Not sure if Lord Vader’s office will be accessible or not and the Emperor’s inner sanctum won’t be accessible at all. Isard had all his rooms restricted and shut off, but left untouched, which was odd. It was as if she expected him to come back. There are armed guards posted at all entrances to his quarters and offices and the whole area is under constant surveillance, you’d never get by any of that without being detected.”
I nodded. I didn’t tell Shiv that there were ways of bypassing the security and I had alternative routes to gain access to some of the rooms I wanted to go to.
“Well, my first order of business is to see Isard or at least get Thrawn’s dispatches to her. After that, my time is my own.”
Shiv looked at me and then at my uncle who had remained very quiet through out most of the conversation. “Why are you really here?”
I stared back at him for a long moment then said. “I need to set up a reliable information network for Thrawn.”
Much to my surprise instead of being shocked Shiv just nodded, “I thought it might be something like that.”
“No one, absolutely no one, seems to know that there is a surviving Grand Admiral out there, it’s weird. I mean Thrawn was sort of a secret to begin with but Isard squashes all talk or mention of him. The rumour is that he is dead or was a myth to begin with. He was exiled and he vanished, remember? But even weirder is all holo news or gossip mention of him has been erased, you too for that matter. It is as if the pair of you never really existed.” He said. “I thought this was very strange given how good your Admiral is with strategy and planning so I did some quiet digging. Seems Isard is scared to death that he will come back and remove her from power to take over as galactic emperor. So she has essentially wiped all traces and information about him off the system. As far as the outside galaxy goes he does not exist.”
I nodded slowly. “She’s been lying to him about how things have been going between the Empire and the rebellion. He needs a way to gain information that hasn’t been censored or altered by her and her people.”
“Spying is considered treason and is punishable by death, if you get caught you’ll be shot.” Shiv warned.
“I know that, I don’t plan on getting caught.”
“No one ever does.” Shiv said with a snort. My uncle laughed.
“Well I don’t plan to rush in and rummage around her drawers!” I replied. “I have other possibilities.”
They both nodded and the three of us lapsed into silence as I poured more stimcaf.
“So, give me the gossip!” I demanded after a few moments. “How is everyone, Master Kjestyll, Cati, Bobbyn, Maxxi and Ynyth?”
Shiv drew a deep breath. “The Bunduki masters vanished shortly after the Emperor’s death. In fact the entire school seemed to disappear. No one knows where they went but I can tell you they were not killed.” He said.
My uncle nodded. “They would have relocated the school to a planet that was remote and outside the reach of the Empire and the rebellion. It is possible that they went to Anzat.” He said. “I had heard that all the Bunduki schools had suddenly vanished after the Emperor’s death. The news that a new Jedi had returned to the galaxy may have been enough for them to wish to return to their underground ways of teaching. The Bunduki form was founded on the premise of beating force users without having to be force sensitive or a trained jedi.”
“Why Anzat?” Shiv asked looking at Uncle Vahlek.
“People fear the Anzati but some of the best assassins come from there. It is a good place to have an underground Bunduki school, though I suspect that there are many worlds the masters would have gone to. They spread their training out and they are mobile. Anzat is just difficult to explore or invade. The Anzati can be quite deadly, you know.”
“You don’t think they were killed do you? I mean, that is possible.” I asked.
Shiv shook his head. “No, they vanished. One day there were classes and teachings and all the equipment was still there, the next it was as if they had never existed and Isard was not happy about it, I can tell you that for nothing. No, they were not suddenly wiped out or secretly eliminated, they left of their own accord right under her nose without her knowing.”
I felt a small amount of peace knowing that Master Kjestyll was safe and teaching some place else but also a certain amount of sadness that in all probability I would never see him again. “What about Cati and the others?”
“Well, I told you in the last letter that Bobbyn went home. I haven’t heard form him since. Personally I think he was glad to get out of Coruscant while he could. His family owns a hotel so he could just go and work there. Maxxi vanished. I think he joined the rebellion if you want my honest opinion but who can really say for sure. One day he just didn’t show up for work any more. I know that Antygra’s death really changed how he felt about the Empire so it makes sense he would want to fight back. Ynyth and I are still together. It is a lot easier now that she got a job in the civilian sector but our schedules clash more than they used to, she’s at work right now but she’ll be thrilled to hear you are back safe and alive. Cati is still the same. I know she’d love to see you. She asks about you when ever I get the chance to talk with her. Her work keeps her busy. It doesn’t seem to matter to the rich and bored that the Emperor is dead and Isard is in charge, they still live as though nothing bad had happened. So the demand for fine clothes has never gone out of style. Cati is as busy as ever.”
I smiled and looked at the Chrono. “I should get ready and go see if Isard is home. The sooner I get this over with the sooner I will be able to do what I came for.” I said.
“I’ll come with you. They know me so it will help you with security, even with your clearance they’ll ask questions. You are unknown to most of the guards now.” Shiv said, helping to clear away the breakfast dishes.
“What about you?” I asked my uncle.
He just smiled. “I have some friends to look up and need to buy some things for your father. You have your comm, when you need me use it or else I will see you when you return here for lunch or supper, unless there are other plans?”
“No plans, at least not yet.” I said. “First I need to reacquaint myself with the Palace and make sure Isard doesn’t think I am anything other than a dumb assistant.”
My uncle laughed. “I do not think she even cares about you, Lei'lei. I am certain that the only reason she will even blink your way is because of the disks from Thrawn that you carry. If you had been on her mind she would have had you hunted down and murdered a long time ago.”
“That’s very comforting, Zte’sa.”
“He speaks the truth though.” Shiv agreed.
“She had an arrest warrant out for me!”
Shiv nodded. “Yes, you and dozens of others because she thought you might come back and try to somehow contest or threaten her position but as soon as that idea was squashed you became no more important to her than I am. It was only because the Admiral actually requested it that the arrest warrant was rescinded, mostly I think she just forgot about it. In the few months after the Emperor’s death, Isard went nuts trying to get rid of any would be threat. One of the few people she was truly worried about was Mara Jade. She had her arrested but in the end Jade escaped and Isard hasn’t seen or heard from her since.”
“You both make me feel very unimportant.” I said half pouting, half relieved.
“Good, be thankful that you are unimportant in the eyes of this new regime. It will make the job you plan to do a lot easier.” My Uncle said gruffly.
I sighed, knowing they were right. In the over all scope of things, as far as the Empire was concerned, I was an office girl whose boss had died. It was long enough ago that most people would not really remember me if at all. I glanced at Shiv who just nodded and smiled. It was time to go and test this theory out.
“Be careful Lei'lei.” My uncle said as I slipped on my long coat.
“We will. “ Shiv replied with a grin, making my uncle smile.
I checked my satchel to make sure the data disks with Thrawn’s messages to Isard were still there then slung it over my head and followed Shiv out. I hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come that the weather grid had somehow decided to anoint my homecoming with a deluge of rain.