My uncle was right. I worried too much about things I could do nothing about and the days passed one after the other without me doing much at all. I supposed that the time I had spent working so closely with Lord Vader and under the Emperor’s piercing gaze had made me a little paranoid. It was a hard habit to break. I had gotten used to being wary, always getting a sense for Lord Vader’s current mood in order to dodge when necessary. I remembered the ever increasing sense of doom when the Emperor showed up or requested my presence, although I could hardly be blamed for feeling that way especially after my very last meeting with him. I still shuddered involuntarily when I thought about what he had planned to do. However, these two men were no longer alive and the galaxy had moved onwards for almost three years. I wondered why I could not seem to let go of some of my past. When I had voiced these thoughts to my uncle had had nodded and then suggested I stop avoiding the job I had come here to do and simply get on with it. I had explained that my biggest issue was that I did not really want to go into Lord Vader’s home on my own. Uncle Vahlek’s solution had been simple. “Well Lei'lei, if that’s all that’s stopping you then I will come with you.”
The truth was that I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that was holding me back but I couldn’t exactly argue with my uncle’s logic and accepted his offer of help. He had also wanted to return to the old Jedi temple and had been genuinely surprised when I had explained to him that Palpatine had removed everything of use from the building shortly before heading off to Endor and I had no idea where he had hidden it all.
“He didn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands, he had told me.” I had said.
My uncle had made a face. “What about your little library?”
I’d shrugged. “I haven’t been there yet, either. There are just too many memories here and I don’t know what to do with them all.” As I said this, I realised it was a terribly lame excuse for not actually wanting to get on with the task of cleaning out my life here so that I could really move to Nirauan. I had discovered that I liked being back on the Core world, I liked being with my friends who knew me almost too well and accepted me anyway. I liked the constant availability of shops and culture and everything else that went along with being on a highly populated planet with huge cities. I had stopped mid sentence as I had explained all this to my uncle realising that the place I had always thought of as too loud and busy had now become a place I felt I had missed terribly. When had that happened?
My uncle had simply laughed then. “Lei'lei you know what you are?” he had asked with a grin.
“A jax who is always on the wrong side of the door.”
I could not argue with him because it was sort of true. I had lived in so many places now that none of them really felt like home, yet at the same time, all of them felt like home. It was strange. No matter where I was I now missed being some place else.
It was decided after this conversation that we would go into the library together and then to Lord Vader’s home and get the tasks at hand done. Then, my uncle had told me, I could decide what I really wanted to do.
The Imperial palace was quiet when we ventured in through the mostly disused south entrance. Isard, Shiv had told me, was away at the moment. Not that I thought she cared a Jawa’s damn about what I was doing. I was, on the scale of people she thought of as important or dangerous, somewhere around a minus one hundred, which was fine by me.
We walked in silence through the vast and empty corridors, our footsteps echoing around us in a manner I found almost melancholy. Once upon a time this building had been full of people, working and living here. Now it seemed more like a shell full of ghosts who couldn’t let go. It was interesting that both the Emperor and Isard had terrible reputations for being cruel and strict but the Emperor’s charisma had some how counteracted his mean side. He had brought a sense of majesty and glamour to the Imperial court which had carried out into the rest of the palace daily life. Isard on the other was like a black hole that sucked away anything that smacked of frivolity. Under her rule the Imperial palace had become a place of quiet fear and drudgery, Shiv had told me. Most of the extraneous jobs had been eliminated and over half the staff fired or moved to different, more useful jobs. The sparkle of the court had gone along with the courtesans and courtiers as well as the rest of the hangers-on. I could not blame her for wanting to shake up the place but the atmosphere her changes left was one of quiet impending gloom and it made me a little sad.
“That is the difference between a military leader and a political leader, Lei'lei.” My uncle had explained when I had voiced these thoughts. “The one sees only the bare essentials, paring down to nothing to get the job done. The court finery and all the trappings that go along with it are distractions and are therefore removed. Strong military rule and obedience keeps the workers in line not the promise of more wealth and a better life. The politician, on the other hand, dresses his will up in glamour and glitter to bespell the public into towing the line. He makes you want the better things and more things and promises you will have this life if you do as he asks.”
“People loved Palpatine’s court.” I said.
“Of course they did, it was stunning but underneath all the twinkle and glitz, people were lobbying, manoeuvring themselves into better positions through the currying of many favours and buying their way to the top. Did you never notice these intrigues going on while you were here?”
I nodded. “Yes, Thrawn often pointed it all out to me but I thought it was stupid.”
My uncle grinned. “Well, you never did like playing games. You always were rather direct in things.”
When I opened the door to the little library the Emperor had long ago given to me I was not very surprised to see that it too had mostly been cleared out. I wandered around the now empty room and sighed. Brushing my fingertips along the various dust filled shelves I sighed with a resigned sense of loss I could not explain. When the sudden and short image of the Emperor flashed into my mind I was unprepared for it. He had known about my talent and I suppose he had known I would return here. Once I got over the shock of seeing and hearing him again I was just angry.
“What is it?” My uncle asked as I sat down hard on the ground to catch my breath.
“He took everything away.” I said. “He didn’t think it was safe here any more.” Which was partly the truth. I had seen him, standing almost exactly where I sat now, and as if he were actually speaking to me and not to thin air he had said. “If you wish to further your education about the force and its intricacies you must come to me little one.” My hatred for this man knew no bounds and I had to fight to get my heart rate back down to normal.
The books that were left I gathered up and put in the large pack I had brought with me. There were not that many but I wanted them anyway. My uncle took the heavy back from my hands and slung it over his shoulder. With one last glance around the now empty and abandoned room we left and I wasn’t sorry to say goodbye to this part of my life.
As we made our way back through the palace it suddenly occurred to me that part of the reason I found the place so gloomy now was that many of the really beautiful works of art and precious sculptures were gone. I found this very odd and wondered if the Emperor had foreseen something that everyone else was over looking. I had been going to suggest heading to the small private room he had once shown me to see if the little statue of the dancer was still there but I knew it would not be. He had coveted that sculpture, and his glee in learning its little mysteries convinced me that he would no more leave that behind than he would his soul if he even had one of those. Instead I urged my uncle to leave with me and we headed over to Lord Vader’s home. Once I was done here there would be no more real reasons to stay on Coruscant and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that but I couldn’t put this off any more.
Getting into his home was effortless. I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting, after all I had a key and the security code passes, but still the ease of it all surprised me. Perhaps it was because I was very used to seeing the Dark Trooper guards he had stationed there and the many other people he had employed to keep unwanted people out. Now the place was deserted.
The silence around me was deafening and the sadness which engulfed me felt a little like drowning. Surprisingly enough, while getting into Lord Vader’s home had been effortless, actually standing in it was more difficult that I could have imagined. I had not really been prepared for the sudden ache of loss that I experienced and it caught me completely off guard.
“Lei'lei, are you alright?” my uncle’s voice was surprisingly gentle.
I nodded as I wiped away my tears, now grateful he had insisted on coming with me. I wondered if this dreadful sensation of missing someone ever truly went away. I took a deep breath and swallowed the rest of the sadness down. I had not come here to mourn. I had come here to do a job and crying would not help me at all. We walked through the lonely halls to my old office, the sense of gloom dissipated when I turned on the lights and I was grateful I had my own space to return to. I went over to my desk and sat down. I let out the breath I didn’t even realise I had been holding noisily and switched the computer system on.
It did not surprise me that all access from this particular terminal was denied. I stared at the annoying words on the screen and then typed in the set of codes which I knew would get around the security lockout without letting the system watchers know. I had not used this ability I had been granted all that often while Lord Vader was still alive but occasionally he had wanted some information retrieved which had required bypassing the standard security protocols. I had never dreamed that I would be using it after his death to spy on the Empire for another Imperial. While it was one thing to log into the system it was quite another to find what I wanted to and my annoyance grew exponentially as I was stonewalled at every turn.
“What exactly is it that you are looking for?” Uncle Vahlek asked after about an hour of listening to me sigh in frustration.
“That’s the trouble, I don’t really know and the system is huge.” I replied staring at the screen. “I suppose I am trying to find a listing of spy-ware that transmits long range or something that would help Thrawn get a handle on what is going on here but I have no idea where to even start looking.”
My uncle shooed me out of the chair. “Here, let me.” He said.
I got up and let him sit down, then stared in surprise as he waltzed through the system as though he had used it his entire life. What had taken me the better part of an hour took him no more than fifteen minutes. A complete listing of all the listening devices and their transmitter codes in the palace.
“How did you know how to do that?” I whispered in amazement.
“Evidence of a misspent youth.” He replied cryptically. “Do you have a data-disk to download this onto?”
I nodded and gave it to him, watching as he initiated the information transfer like a pro. He asked for a second one to make a backup copy, something I might not have thought about doing.
“Shall I encrypt them?” He asked.
“Might be a good idea.” I nodded.
I watched as he began the encryption process. “How with Thrawn know how to decode this?” I asked.
“I am using a Dantassi cypher he’ll recognise it as soon as he sees it but it is insanely difficult for someone who does not know it to slice.” He said.
There was a moment of silence while I digested this information and then I asked, “How do you know so much about the Dantassi, Zte’sa?”
He glanced up at me. “There was a time in my life when I wanted to join them.” He replied.
“They don’t let outsiders in.” I said.
“I know that but at the time I had hope to prove my worth and become the exception to the rule, seems that you have that honour instead.” He said and there was no mistaking the odd mixture of sorrow and pride in his voice. “But that did not stop me from learning all I could while I was allowed to. The Admiral will know how to decrypt this when he gets it.” And with that I knew he would not talk any more about his past. He was too full of secrets and mysteries. When I was a child he had both scared and fascinated me now I just found his mysteriousness vaguely annoying.
The downloading seemed to take forever even though it was no more than a minute. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to reach out with my force sense, looking for danger, looking for the mass army of Stormtroopers coming to shoot us as infiltrators for slicing into the main frame but there was nothing. The place was quiet and as far as I could tell no one had discovered what we were up to. It surprised me that these back door pass codes were still good but then again if even Isard had not known about them who would have ever changed them. While no one knew I was rummaging around the system if they actually bothered checked the logs they’d know that this terminal had been accessed recently but they wouldn’t know who had done so or for what reason.
“I’m done, is there anything else you need from here?” Uncle Vahlek asked breaking into my thoughts.
“I don’t think so.” I replied with a shrug, then a sudden thought came to me and before I had even thought about why I would ask for such a thing I said, “Wait, can you wipe all traces of me from the system?”
He glanced up at me. “What do you mean?”
“I want to disappear from official records the same way Thrawn has.”
“If Coruscant falls and the palace is taken over then I don’t want my name on any lists that people can call up. I don’t want the fact that I worked here to come back and haunt me or my family.” I said. “It seems to me that getting labelled with a faction that isn’t the one in power could be a death sentence for us all.”
“What makes you think that the New Republic will be able to take Coruscant?” He asked stopping to stare at me.
I swallowed. “I don’t know, Zte’sa it’s just a nagging feeling that something big and bad is coming. I’ve had it ever since we landed and I can’t seem to shake it.”
“Does this have to do with these dreams you are having?”
I shrugged slightly. “They may be part of it but there are other things going on here. The rebels took Borleias even though that world was supposed to have been well protected by the Imperials and from the report I just read it fell far too easily.” This was not a very plausible reason but the truth of the matter was I had no concrete answers except the Emperor had removed everything of beauty, importance and wealth. He had taken away anything that could be used as teachings for people who were force sensitive and I knew that Lord Vader’s son considered himself a jedi. What was more valuable to a would-be Jedi than a room full of information about the history and the use of the force? It felt to me as though the Emperor had prepared for an invasion and now, more than ever I was sure Coruscant would fall it was a question of when not if. I wondered if Isard suspected or knew this as well and if she did then why was she not doing more to protect the planet.
For a moment Uncle Vahlek regarded me and then he nodded. “I can probably set that up so that your name is impossible to find, make you obscure and invisible but this will take a little time. If I erase you completely from the system you’ll lose all access, among other things, and I don’t think you want that do you?”
“No, losing access would be bad. I just want to vanish from all the records.” I said quietly.
He nodded. He understood the need for anonymity and secrets. “Okay, but keep an ear out, this might raise a few flags if I touch the wrong thing.”
I nodded and as he began the process of making me disappear I wandered around my office, restless and bored. Then because I had nothing else to do I vanished into the little kitchen area that Lord Vader had ordered built just for me and rooted around to see if there was anything left I could maybe make something to drink with.
My uncle accepted the cup of tea I had made him with an absent nod. I sipped from my own cup, watching the computer screen through the steam that curled into the air. My uncle worked the system with a slicer’s ease that puzzled me. I knew that as Tze’yusha’Jin he was essentially a well trained assassin but slicing was a smuggler’s tool.
“The Emperor once told me that papa was a smuggler. Is this true?” I asked suddenly, remembering Palpatine’s biting statement as he had once tried to coerce me into doing his will.
Uncle Vahlek glanced up at me, his pale green eyes boring into mine. “Do you believe him?”
“Why would he lie about that?”
His shoulders heaved as he looked at me. “Your father has done many things in his life, Lei'lei.” He said evasively.
I rolled my eyes at his non answer. “Oh for goodness sakes Zte’sa!” I hissed in exasperation.
“Yes, he was a smuggler.” He admitted after a moment’s stare down. “He was actually very good at it and for a while we worked together in this area but if you are asking if this is when and how I learned to slice the answer is no it isn’t.”
“Why did he stop?”
That made my uncle smile. “That answer is easy, your mother.” He said. “He met her and his world changed. Her one condition for marrying him was that he find work that was legitimate. It took him longer than expected but eventually he bought the docking bay in Mos Eisley fulfilling his promise to her.”
“So were you all on a smuggling run when you found me?”
“No, that was a legitimate transport run, unless you call moving people from one star system to another, smuggling.” He smiled at the memory.
“What do he smuggle?” I asked suddenly curious about this part of my father’s life I had never known before.
“What ever was in demand and what ever he was paid to move. Smugglers don’t generally choose their cargo unless they want to get blacklisted as picky and difficult to work with.” He explained. “He didn’t ask too many questions, he just did his job.”
“Did he ever get caught?”
“No. Your father was very good at that job just as he is good at the one he does now.”
I nodded feeling a sense of pride, wondering why no one ever told me any of this before. As if he had read my thoughts my uncle continued.
“Once he left that life behind it was in the past. He never saw any reason to talk about it because it wasn’t relevant and he did not feel you needed to know and perhaps he was worried you would think less of him.”
I shook my head. “That’s not likely to happen Zte’sa.”
“I know but maybe you should write home more and let him know that yourself?”
I grimaced at his suggestion but nodded anyway then, sipping my tea, allowed the quiet to slip back into the room so when my seldom used, private comm went off shattering the silence I jumped slopping tea on the floor. It was Shiv.
“Merly?” He asked, “Where are you? I’ve been trying to reach you at the flat for hours! I couldn’t remember this comm’s blasted code!”
“What’s up?” I asked ignoring his question because something in his voice put me on alert.
“It’s Cati.” He said, “I think you’d better come.”
“We’re at the Naberrie Medical facility in the Co-co district.” He said and his voice wavered.
“Shiv, what is going on?” I asked.
“Just get here.” He replied flatly. “Now.” And then he shut the comm off.
I looked at my uncle who nodded that he was finished with what he was doing. He shut the system down and wordlessly we left as ghost like as we had come. Worry and fear gnawed at my gut as he drove us to the medical center.