Foundations and Factions 7
The palace had not changed much, though it did seem a little run down, darker, gloomier somehow and there were not nearly as many people wandering around as there had been during the Emperor’s reign. I guessed Isard had slashed departments and staff to save credits. It was strange to be back, as though nothing had ever changed but the atmosphere was definitely different. During the Emperor’s reign, while he had been a powerful leader, people who worked at the palace on a day to day basis did not fear him, it was more like they were in awe of him. Now as I walked along the corridors with Shiv I sensed fear and lots of it. Isard terrified people and she both knew this and used it. With every step that brought me closer to her office I considered just how risky and how stupid what I wanted to do here in this building really was. If I got caught I would most likely be condemned to death for treason or something along those lines. Thrawn’s advice to me as I had mentioned this possibility had been to tell me dryly “Well then, my dear, don’t get caught.”
We were stopped three times and asked for ident cards and clearance codes. All three times nothing happened except some off hand conversation between Shiv and the one guard he knew by name. For the most part everyone seemed a little bored. What ever Thrawn had done with my security clearance had worked, there were no raised flags or cause for alarm and the only comment that I did get from one of the guards on duty was ‘Welcome back, Miss Gabriel.”
“It would appear you are either lucky or unlucky.” Shiv told me after speaking with the receptionist droid, in the waiting area outside of Isard’s Palace offices.
“She’s actually here today so you will get to see her when she has a few minutes, but it will mean waiting.” He explained.
I rolled my eyes, made a face and nodded. While I didn’t like sitting around much, at least I knew the data disks Thrawn had given me would be placed directly into her hands and not those of some lackey who may or may not give them to her. Shiv walked with me to the austere waiting area.
“I’m not sure how long this will take and I have some things to do so I’ll be in my office, comm me when you’re done.” He said.
“Okay.” I replied. “Thanks Shiv.”
He gave me a smile and a nod and then left. The waiting area was designed to appear comfortable and welcoming but as I sat there I noticed that in fact it did just the opposite. It was clever really, how the chairs were just uncomfortable enough that one could not relax while sitting on them, that the lighting was somehow irritating and the room after a few moments began to feel oppressive and claustrophobic despite its spaciousness.. As I studied my surroundings I was surprised that the lessons I had learned in the past began to come in to play. Thrawn, Master Kjestyll and Lord Vader had indeed taught me well. This room was created in such a way to make the person waiting ill at ease so that by the time Isard called them in for their meeting she had the advantage and they were completely off balance without ever even knowing why. It made me shake my head, this subtle art of power play and in some ways it diminished Isard’s aura for me. Lord Vader had never needed parlour tricks to make people uncomfortable or ill at ease nor had the Emperor or even Thrawn for that matter.
I smiled to myself as I sat in the quiet and it did not go unnoticed by the young guard standing by the main office door. I had not forgotten the calming techniques I had been taught and I used them now as I sat, fining my center, becoming the stillness. I had nothing to fear from this woman. The worst she could do was to kill me, although unless I gave her reason to I didn’t think that she would and I had already met death a few times in my life anyway so this possibility didn’t scare me all that much any more. I watched with feigned disinterest at the people who came and left her office. Primarily military officers bringing reports, I assumed. Eventually she found time for me and after what seemed hours a young man, an aide, told me my waiting had come to an end.
“The Director will see you know, Miss Gabriel.” He spoke crisply and gestured for me to go into the office through the door that had just opened silently. I nodded my thanks, and walked in to my first face to face meeting with Isard since the fall of the Emperor. I would have been lying to say I was not a little nervous but I worked at not showing it.
She was standing, her hands clasped behind her back, staring out of the large window into the morning fog. Her posture, this scene were so reminiscent of how Lord Vader often stood that I wondered if it had been a deliberate move on her part to put me off balance. Then I wondered with a rueful smile if I was not giving her too much credit. She was smart and she was cruel but in the end I was unimportant. I stood a polite distance away from her and said nothing. I was used to this manner of treatment, meant to discomfort and intimidate, it actually had the opposite effect. Lord Vader had done this with me for years, I was used to it. I waited until she turned around to look at me before speaking.
“Miss Gabriel, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” She asked. Her voice was rich and deeper than I remembered.
“Grand Admiral Thrawn sends his greetings, Madam Director and has asked me to personally deliver this into your hands.” I said retrieving the data disc from my satchel and holding it out to her.
She stared at me for a moment and then after too long a pause had passed she gingerly took it from my hand and glanced at it disdainfully before setting it on her desk. “Thank you.” She replied.
I did not back down from her stare but I didn’t challenge her either. She had aged since I had last seen her and the tell tale signs of stress from holding what was left of he Empire together showed on her face. She was still beautiful in a strange, austere sort of way, wearing her long hair loose so that it framed her face and fell over her shoulders to contrast starkly with the blood red uniform she had on. Her eyes, which bored into mine were mismatched. One was an icy blue, reminding me sharply of Jyrki, the other was blood red, like that of an albino animal. It was said they were exact mirrors for the two aspects of her personality, cold and unforgiving, fiery and unpredictably violent. None of which were exactly comforting. For a moment in time it seemed as though she were trying to delve into my very soul to unravel any duplicity I might have locked away in there but she was not a force user and in the end all she could do was read my expression which I hoped said I am just doing my job, as I have always done. After what seemed forever she gave a small nod and then turned to look at her desk and the data disk that lay there.
“I see you have fully recovered.” She said. “I was informed that you very nearly lost your life at Endor.”
I nodded slowly. “Yes.” I said. I wasn’t sure how much of the details she knew but she hadn’t asked so I didn’t feel like giving her more information.
She paused to draw a deep breath. “I am curious as to how you ended up in the Unknown Regions and not with the rest of the fleet when they jumped to hyperspace.”
“My shuttle was damaged in the explosion from the space station. I had no time to plan a course or try to find the rest of the fleet I jumped blindly in to hyperspace. I did not realise at the time that there had been significant damage to the hyperdrive and when I came out of hyperspace, Nirauan was the closest known Imperial base to my current location.”
She paused for a second, digesting what I had told her then gave another curt little nod. Thrawn shown me the report he had sent her concerning this so she already knew what I was telling her. “You served Lord Vader well, Miss Gabriel, he spoke highly of your work for him. I trust you have returned to full active status and are now ready to continue serving the Empire?”
I nodded. “Yes, Madam Director.”
“Grand Admiral Thrawn has asked that you be allowed to remain on Nirauan to assist him in …various duties. I see no reason to deny this request; I have no need of a civilian such as your self working here for me.” She spoke coolly and as she did so picked up another data disk that had been sitting on her desk. “You may take this to the Grand Admiral, confirmation of your transfer to his office.”
I took the disk from her hand and slipped it into the small pocket in my satchel made for exactly this purpose. There was a sudden flash of memory from the disk which caused me to suck in my breath hard. I hid my surprise at the disjointed and frightening images which smashed their way into my head for a split second with a half feigned coughing fit.
“Is everything under control, Miss Gabriel?” She asked with disdain but I heard something else underneath her words that I could not quite read.
I nodded and stopped coughing. “Yes, thank you, I will see that the Grand Admiral gets this.” I patted the side of my satchel which now held the little disk.
“Be sure that you do.” She bit back sharply and for a second I saw the creature that everyone feared underneath the polished veneer of civility. She stared at me, her eyes moving up and down over my body. While I could not read her thoughts but I sensed the question she was about to ask, in her position I would have asked it as well.
“What happened at Endor, Miss Gabriel?”
“Ma’am?” I asked.
“You were there, an eyewitness. You were one of the people closest to Lord Vader in all things. I want to know what happened.”
“Are you asking me if the rumours are true? That it was Lord Vader who betrayed the Empire and murdered the Emperor?”
“I am asking you to give me your version of what went on at the Empire’s biggest military disaster.”
“Well, there isn’t much to tell from my version.” I said carefully wondering if the two officers the Emperor had sent to baby-sit me had actually told the truth of what happened.
“Tell me what you do know.” Her voice had gone ice cold and the expression in her eyes reminded me of some bounty hunters I had met, empty and soulless. She gestured for me to sit and I did without thinking.
I closed my eyes for a moment, calling up from memory images of that moment in time. Then with a sigh I told her what had happened. I told her how the Emperor had revealed to me his plan to capture Luke Skywalker and destroy the Rebellion once and for all. I did not tell her how the Emperor had dumped this information on me, she did not need to know this. I told her the little I knew about the Emperor’s plans to use the deception of a half completed battle station to lure the Rebels out into an all out space battle that they could not possibly win. I was certain that she knew most of this but I had some details to give her that would satisfy her curiosity.
“So they actually captured Skywalker?” She asked.
“It was my understanding that he gave himself up to save his friends. He was on the battle station at the time the space battle began.” I replied.
“How did he defeat the Emperor?” She asked.
I couldn’t help the shrug I gave and I sense the wave of annoyance it created from her. “In truth, ma’am, I don’t know. By the time that occurred I was no longer on the battle station. The Emperor had sent me on an errand and I was in the middle of my run when, if you will forgive the term, all nine Corellian Hells broke loose.” In my mind’s eye I watched the sequence of events unfold like a flower to the sun. I described to her the fall of the Executor as it crashed into the battle station, the warning cries over the comm about the explosion that was to come only moment later. I described as best I could what happened in the minutes that followed up until the part where I got the hell out of Endor space. My words were calm and cool but it did not escape her notice that my fingers trembled and I suppose this added credibility to my tale, after all I was recounting the death of the Emperor of the galaxy.
“How did Skywalker escape?” she asked after a very long silence.
I looked up at her in surprise. “I have no idea. I only know that he was with Lord Vader and the Emperor just as I left the Battle station. In order to know what really happened in that room you would have to ask Luke Skywalker.”
She snorted and I guessed that this had already crossed her mind. “I am surprised that you do not know more.” She said a little too casually.
“Why is that?”
“I was led to believe that you were force sensitive. Is it not the nature of your kind to be able to sense more?” She asked. She was digging, she didn’t know for sure and I was surprised by this. I guess Lord Vader had kept my abilities more to himself than I had thought. I suppose it made sense he hadn’t told the Emperor about so why would he tell Isard?
“My talents are small and limited and my ability to sense things of that nature is non existent. I don’t read minds or see the future.” I said blending truth with lie. “Lord Vader often commented on how useless I was in this area. He called me disappointing.” My uncle had once told me that a touch of truth will add credence to more lies than straightforward lying.
“Yet he kept you at his side.” She said snidely.
“While I may not have much use in other areas of service to the Empire, I am a very good personal assistant.” I said coolly. “I always assumed this was why Lord Vader kept me on.”
“That and you had the favour of the Emperor.”
I glanced up into her mismatched eyes. “The Emperor favoured many young women he considered pretty and decorative, he also let me know that I was useful because I kept his pet alien amused.” I retorted.
She smiled and it was cruel. “As you still do, I see.”
I played along and sighed, bowing my head as if I carried shame in my heart for my liaison with Thrawn. She underestimated him in all things just as she also underestimated me. “There was no where else for me to go, Madam Director.” I said in a quiet voice.
“Just so.” She nodded. I could feel the sense of smug satisfaction coming from her in waves. She did not like or trust Thrawn and she feared him. She also thought that he had bought her lies and was securely tucked away in the Unknown Regions doing his thing far away from her. She had wanted to see me to get a sense of whether or not he was planning to return, my demeanour and remarks allowed her to believe she was, for the time being, safe to continue her own way. She was hiding something terrible but I could get no real sense of it at all.
“I am sure that Grand Admiral Thrawn will find suitable work for you and being in the Unknown Regions will offer you a unique perspective on the Empire.” She said coldly.
I merely nodded unable to reply because at that second the inter office comm buzzed.
“What is it?” Isard asked.
“Kirtan Loor is here to see you Madam Director.” The droid said.
Her whole body posture changed. “Here?”
“He requested to tell you that he has urgent news about progress with the ….”
“Tell him I’m busy, he’ll have to wait a moment.” She snapped cutting the droid off. She was angry at this Loor person and she had not expected his visit either. I watched her in silence, pretending to be bored, and wondered what it was about this man that had rattled her cage.
“Is there anything else?” She asked me after a moment, as if she had momentarily forgotten I was there.
“I would like to request permission to spend some time to pack up my belongings from when I lived here and to sort out the mess in my previous office before I return to Nirauan, the Grand Admiral gave me leave time so that I might set my affairs in order, he wished there be no reason for me to have to return here and deal with any unexpected issues that might occur in the future.”
The expression on her face was peculiar and I couldn’t decipher it yet it sent shivers up and down my spine. “Yes, getting your affairs in order is a wise move all things considered. Take all the time you need. You are Thrawn’s responsibility not mine, if he allows you to slack off in this manner then that is his choice.”
“Thank you.” I said ignoring her barb about Thrawn. She feared him, I could taste that in her words every time she spoke his name. Me, she thought of as nothing more than office fluff. I had been known as Vader’s Handmaid and most people had assumed that he had kept me around because I was simply good at my job as his assistant, among other things. The rumours that the Emperor had taken a liking to me had not hurt this any either. If Isard had hoped to glean new information from me about what had happened at Endor she had been disappointed. I offered nothing new, just a different spin on the story she had already heard a dozen or more times. She knew that I was force sensitive, just not how deep my talents went or exactly what I could do and she did not really place any faith in something she considered a dead religion. Her worries were about Thrawn and about something else I could not figure out. I had come here expecting to be challenged or worse, instead it was as my Uncle had said, I was nobody and Thrawn was not coming to overthrow her from her place of power. Once she had confirmed these two things I was of no more interest to her, if anything I bored her and my visit to her office was a mild inconvenience in her otherwise busy day. She had other things on her mind.
I waited for a few seconds then asked. “Will there be anything else, Madam Director?”
She flapped her hand dismissively at me. “No, you may leave.”
And just like that my meeting with her was over. I stood up and gave her a small polite nod then left her office. On the way out I brushed past a harried, gaunt officer who for a split second reminded me a little of Grand Moff Tarkin. As I stared at him for a moment our eyes met then the reception droid told him he could go in to Isard’s office. He stomped in as though the entire galaxy owed him everything and before the door had even closed he had started the conversation with a terse “Derricote is complaining! You are rushing this project….” He began.
She cut him off. “Is it ready yet?”
“No. He says it will take time to ….”
I watched as the door closed shutting out anymore conversation wondering what they had been talking about. I waited until her door closed then asked the droid about the man who had an eerie resemblance to a long dead Moff.
“That was Kirtan Loor, Miss.” The droid answered not really telling me more than I already knew.
“What does he do?”
“Oh he works for the Director.” The droid said promptly then added in a quiet voice, “He hunts down rebels.”
“Oh.” Was all I could think to say. “What about Derricote?”
I nodded assuming there was only one.
“He is doing biological research for the Director.” The droid answered. I guessed that so far I had not asked any questions that would be considered classified because usually protocol droids were easy to programme against giving out such information.
“If I needed to see him where would I find him?” I asked.
“At the biological and chemical research facility but I believe he is very busy Miss, I could try to make an appointment for you?”
I shook my head. “No thank you I was just wondering why his name seemed so familiar to me.”
“Perhaps because he was once the commander of the one-eighty-first and then in charge of Borleias before it fell.” The droid answered.
“Ah of course. Thank you.” I said, more confused than ever. If he had been in charge of Borleias when it fell why wasn’t he dead? It made me wonder what he did that was so important that Isard save his life. I wondered where the research facility was but didn’t dare ask. If Isard caught wind that I had been pestering her reception droid for information that was considered classified she might be less inclined to think of me as harmless. I walked out of the reception area feeling as though I had overlooked something important or forgotten something but I could not for the life of me figure out what it was so I shrugged it off. If it was important sooner or later it would come to me. In the mean time I had things to do.