Uncle Vahlek, on the other hand, had vanished for a couple of days, off scouting, he had said as I had silently watched him ready for this latest excursion into the underbelly of the planet. I had long since given up asking for details and I worried about him despite his great skill and prowess in all things scary and assassin-like. I suspected he was hunting for Jyrki but he had not been forthcoming on any information and I had not wanted to ask. Jyrki was a sore subject between us so I left it alone.
As much as I enjoyed the peace and quiet when Uncle Vahlek wasn’t in the flat I missed his presence as well. Without his quiet company Thrawn’s flat seem empty as well as lonely and because I could not stand the silence the HoloNet babbled quietly in the back ground. I had gotten used to having it on as company when Uncle Vahlek wasn’t around and had gotten hooked on the nightly reports about the trial of Tycho Celchu.
I felt sorry for the poor bastard. He was an Imperial Pilot who had deserted the Empire after the destruction of Alderaan, blaming that event squarely on the shoulders of the Empire. He had turned to the Rebellion seeking retribution for his family’s death only to be captured by Ysanne Isard and incarcerated in her Lusankya facility and then to a lower security prison on Akrit’tar where he would eventually escape to return to the service of the New Republic. His service to the
Holocams were not allowed in the courtroom but the late night news did a featured update on the day’s events every night and it wasn’t looking so good for the hotshot Imperia-turned-rebel pilot. I watched absently as the young reporter wearing far too much lip-shine babbled her way through the latest proceedings, the camera crews trying their best to capture Celchu as he was ushered away form the court room. They had shown stock file images of him and I wondered if I had ever met him at one of the Emperor’s shindigs because his face looked vaguely familiar to me but then again I had met hundreds of men like him during my time as Lord Vader’s Assistant, and after a while one face tended to blend into another.
He was being accused of treason against the
I was half way through my second cup of tea when the door chime rang making me jump. It was too late for visitors and Shiv always called first to let me know he was coming. I was wary as I went to the door and pressed the intercom-cam but after a quick indent scan had been performed and I knew who it was, I grinned. A few moments later a very surprised looking Jarack did his best to untangle himself from my hug and before he even had time to speak I had dragged him into the living room.
“It’s nice to see you too, Miss Gabriel.” He grinned, straightening out his jacket, looking both embarrassed and pleased at the same time. It took me a second to realise he was not wearing his usual Imperial uniform and then another second to notice how tired he was.
“Sit!” I ordered and he did. “What do you want to drink?”
“What do you have?” He asked.
I listed off everything I could think of that was actually in the flat and was more than surprised when he settled for a brandy. I watched as he accepted the glass and sipped the drink slowly as though he were cherishing the very essence of it on his tongue.
“Are you hungry?” I gestured vaguely in the direction of the kitchen, “I could make you something…there are some leftovers…which didn’t cook, I promise.”
“No, thank you, I ate a little while ago, some Zabraki dinner not too far from here; luckily for me they also serve plain Corellian dishes.”
I grinned. I knew that place well. Thrawn and I had often ordered take-out from them. They made excellent food and they were fast.
He sighed and sat back in the chair I had all but shoved him in. “The Admiral will be relieved to hear that you are alive and well.” He said after what seemed like forever. “We got word of Coruscant’s fall and even I didn’t need to be mind-scanner to see his concern.”
I looked at him, deciding what to say about that. “We were here in this flat and the rebels kept orbital bombing to a minimum.” I said. “But I have to admit, it was a tad scary and I don’t want to go through that ever again.”
“Understandable. I heard it could have been much worse, and that casualties were kept to a minimum.”
I gave him a little one shoulder shrug. “People die in war. This is still a war; it’s been going on for so many years that hardly anyone even thinks of it that way any more. What’s worse is this in-between time; no one knows what to do, so it’s chaotic and crazy. At least the Emperor kept law and order while he was around, now….” I let my voice trail off. What was there to say that Jarack didn’t already know?
“Well, Miss, I am certain that when he is ready the Grand Admiral will make his move to restore that order. It is what he excels at, you know.”
I nodded. “So…how is he, really?”
Jarack gave me a one sided wry smile. “As always, Miss. He’s well and doing what he does best. The work in the Unknown Regions is keeping him busy and we make advances comparatively swiftly. The Admiral has a way about him that allows for seemingly effortless campaigns and he never ceases to amaze me with his brilliance.”
It was my turn to let out the breath I had been holding. “Well thank Da’hajn for that.” I murmured. “We could sure use his brilliance here, that’s for sure.”
Jarack gave me a small smile and then dug out his satchel and from it pulled a package. “I apologise for not getting this to you sooner but I thought I was being followed and the last thing I wanted to do was lead anyone to this location.”
“How long have you been on planet then?” I asked motioning him to set the package on the table.
“Over a week doing some Re-Con for the Admiral.” He answered. “It has been an interesting time, I will give it that.” He shook his head. “Listen, if you have anything you want me to take back to Nirauan then you’d better give it to me now, I am not sure when I can get back again. And to be honest, Miss I think you should come back with me.”
I got up and slipped into the bedroom, gathered all the letters I had written and handed them to Jarack. He took them and slid them in to a small plain, single envelope and slid it into his satchel.
“I can’t come back just yet.” I told him.
“May I ask why?” He gave me one of those looks that people give you when they know what you are going to say but they need to hear it anyway.
“Because I have been exposed to people here who had the Krytos virus. It attacks aliens I don’t want to carry it to Nirauan.” It wasn’t the whole truth but I didn’t think that Jarack would accept me saying because I still have unfinished business here as an answer. I got the distinct impression that Thrawn had strongly requested Jarack bring me back with him.
“Oh, I see.” He sighed. “Well I can see how that would complicate things for you but according to his research so far it only affects non humans and while he is not human he is also more human like than not, if I can use that phrase. He doesn’t think it will affect him and if that were to happen he assures me his bacta stores are more than enough to handle an outbreak on the base.”
Typical Thrawn, I thought, ready for any and all eventualities. “Look I know he told you to bring me back to Nirauan but I can take care of myself.” I said plainly, “My uncle is here and things are fine… for the moment.”
“Oh really?” Jarack replied not bothering to hide his scepticism. “I was under the impression that things here are a bloody mess.” He sighed. “And yes he did ask me to escort you home. He doesn’t think it is safe for you here.”
I ignored his use of the word home, Nirauan wasn’t home. I shrugged. “Is any place safe right now?” I asked. “Coruscant is not the only planet that has been experiencing outbreaks of the Krytos illness, or for that matter, riots and dissent. The whole galaxy has gone mad it seems.”
Jarack gave me another one sided smile. “Well, Nirauan and the unknown regions will seem fairly docile by comparison then.”
“I promise,” I said as calmly as I could, “I promise I will come back safe and sound to him when I am finished here.”
“If you have information for him, I can bring it to him you know.”
“I know, it’s just that….”
He held up a hand, “It’s just that you don’t trust what you have with anyone except yourself.” He sighed. “He knew you would feel this way as well.”
“It’s got nothing to do with you.” I said a little defensively.
“I know that and so does the Admiral.” Jarack nodded, “He merely indicated that he was concerned about your well being, said he felt you might wish to return.”
“I doubt very much those were his exact words.”
Jarack smirked, “No his exact words were ‘I want her off that planet alive and in one piece, and if you have to carry her over your shoulder to get her out of there yourself, you have my permission to do so although, to be honest, I doubt that will do any good. When she makes her mind up about something she can be quite stubborn you know.”
I opened my mouth then closed it again, making a face. Jarack’s imitation of Thrawn’s cultured voice was almost perfect and it certainly did sound like Thrawn in one of his more determined moods. The look on my face must have spoken volumes.
“He just wants you safe.” Jarack explained.
Safe… I thought…what meaning did that word even have for me any more? I sighed. I wasn’t finished here yet but I didn’t exactly know why. It was just a gut feeling. “And I promise that will happen, I just need a little more time.” I knew from the expression on Jarack’s face that he did not relish the thought of returning to Nirauan without me. I also knew that he had expected my answer because I was betting Thrawn had also expected it. If there had been no reason for me to remain on Coruscant I would returned to Nirauan ages ago but Thrawn was testing the waters as well as letting me know my time was running out.
“It’s late. Do you have a place to stay?” I asked after a lengthy quiet had settled about us.
He shook his head. “I am heading off world tonight; I didn’t want to stay after making the drop and if I did have to smuggle you out I wanted to do it quickly. Either way, I have arranged for transport in a couple of hours. It’s a bad time to be discovered as an imperial operative and I have no desire to let that happen.” He studied his brandy as it swirled around the glass. “It was good to see you alive and well, I am not joking when I tell you he is worried. He wants you back with him and if you don’t come on your own soon he will to take this matter into his own hands and it won’t be me asking you politely it will be that Noghri body guard of his sneaking in here in the middle of the night and snatching you away in your sleep.”
I grinned. “He and they can try.”
Jarack shook his head. “I would not push him on this point, Miss Gabriel. The Admiral is not a man to make idle threats and, no offence, but you carry vital information about his operations in the Unknown Regions, the exact whereabouts of the base, as well as the knowledge of his very existence. If you were to get caught the implications for him could be drastic.”
I nodded soberly. “I am well aware of the risks but I am not coming back until I am done here and I am not done here.” I said. “Tell him I am well, the Tze’yusha’Jin does his job and when I am finished with this place, found everything I need I will return to Nirauan, alive and in one piece.”
He blew out the breath he had been holding noisily. “This won’t make him happy.”
“I don’t care.” I lied. “The letters I wrote explain things as they are and he needs to trust me a little.” I didn’t like the feeling of pressure even though part me knew Thrawn was right, I was pushing my luck, even with my uncle at my side. “He knew I wouldn’t return with you. He would not have given you letters for me if that had been the case.”
Jarack shook his head. “If you ask me, the two of you deserve each other.” He said as he got to his feet and drained the last of his brandy. “Now I have to go and get back so that I can give him the bad news.”
I walked him to the door. “Be careful out there.”
“You too.” Was all he said as he left quietly.
I sighed as I leaned against the door. Jarack and Thrawn were both right, my being here was a risk, a big risk but only, I reasoned, if I got caught, if the people who caught me even knew who I was and if I actually said anything. I didn’t want to consider these options so I poured myself a brandy and settled down to open my mail. He had sent me a slender book of Chiss myths and stories along with two letters. The first letter was short, mostly cheerful banter about his day to day life at the base. Reading between the lines I understood he was busy and that the advancements made into the Unknown regions were great. Thrawn was pleased with the progress so far. The second letter, however, was of quite a different nature and I knew he had been both angry and worried when he had written it.
What am I to do with you? I allow you to go to Coruscant with the understanding it would be a quick in and out reconnaissance trip and months later you are still there caught in the middle of a war zone.
By now you will have no doubt sent Jarack on his way alone and he will ponder the entire journey here how he will explain what I already know. I should never have allowed you to go to Coruscant but what I want and what you do have, more often than not, always been two entirely different things. Now it is I who must wait for news and worry when it doesn’t come. Believe me when I tell you that this is a position I do not enjoy much and the sooner it comes to an end the better.
I received word of Coruscant’s fall about three days after it had occurred. News footage and other information have since been brought to my attention and I can only hope that for the
I feel much the same way about you still being on Coruscant and I do have to wonder why that is. If it is fear of bringing back this dreadful virus that has been sweeping across that world and subsequently making its way across the galaxy planet by planet then you may rest assured. As it is well known that bacta is the cure I have made certain we do not lack for this invaluable substance despite the apparent rarity given there is only one reliable source. I have also been told that although not being human places me at some risk, I and my kind are ‘near enough’ so that we are not in any immediate danger, so if this is your worry then you can let it go.
My understanding of the virus is limited but Doctor Thracer tells me that due to the speed at which it infects, and its apparent short incubation time in all likelihood it will burn itself quickly rather than slowly by killing the hosts too swiftly to allow enough time for further infection. He also informs me that all the information he has been able to find on it so far suggests that infection methods are limited; suggesting the vectors as being direct bodily fluid contact with an infected person in the end stage or through the water system which means you would not be a carrier. I do not need to ask you if you have discovered the source of this terrible plague, you and I both know who is behind it and it is my hope that at the appropriate time I will be able to deal with her. As I understand it she went to ground shortly before the planet fell and has not been seen or heard from since. These are difficult times for those of us who still maintain loyalty to the ideals the Emperor had. Everything is clouded by uncertainty, even I am unsure at this point on how exactly to proceed.
I do not have the man power necessary to win back the Core right now and even with the recruitment we are currently doing in the Unknown Regions, there would never be enough time to find and train all those we would need in order to retake and reorganise all that has so far been lost. To arrange for such a full scale attack of this nature I would require many more ships, skilled pilots and the ground troops to do so. In short I would need the Emperor’s clone army, just as he had when he was still senator and needed to defend the
I am currently working to build cordial ties with Csilla with regards to an alliance between myself and the Ascendancy. It is an interesting process, long and often tedious especially when a great deal of it is in secret. I sometimes wish you were here for your translation skills alone. I could use another who can speak both basic and Cheunh fluently as well as the myriad of other languages you have been gifted with. Trying to act as both mediator and translator does get wearying at times and, aside from that, I miss your company.
I will not dance around this subject, my dear; I want you to leave Coruscant. You do not need to stay on Nirauan with me; you may go where you please although I would prefer that not be the case. Remaining on Coruscant is tempting fate and I think, like the little jaxes you adore so much, you have used up your nine lives. I am worried about you and it is distracting.
So what will it take to get you off this single minded and dare I say it, misguided mission you have taken on? Shall I write you love letter to tell you that I miss you? I do. Or try to find the words to let you know that my bed seems too large and far too empty without you in it with me? It does. Should I, perhaps, describe to you the longing I find I have in the quiet hours of the night for softness of your skin under the touch of my fingers, or the seductive power that your own caresses have over me? Would it be wise to mention how the scent of your perfume, which lingers in the air like a ghost, creating a need that can only be satisfied by the heat we generate when we mate, makes me restless and edgy? Perhaps this is not enough….
What if I were to say that you offer me insight and a point of view which helps me to see a greater picture? That it is not only your physical presence, or the litheness of your body, naked next to mine, but also your thoughts and your rather unique way of looking at the galaxy that I find myself longing for. These things, these thoughts, so private, so intimate that only you will ever know of them, lie heavy in my heart, a distraction I can ill afford yet would be loath give up. I have to ponder upon the wisdom of getting involved with a wild and unpredictable sprite such as you are and then, having become involved, I wonder about the decision to let you go. Not that I believe for one moment I could keep you safely locked up here if you did not wish it.
My people would say you have bewitched me my dear, but the Dantassi have better words for it than that. Kirja’navaar’inkjerii would lecture that this is what it means to be bound and he would also add, somewhat smugly, that it serves me right for tangling with a desert witch whose beauty, powers and passion have quite intoxicated me.
These are uncertain times and for reasons I cannot fathom and have long given up trying to understand, you anchor me to something I cannot define but most definitely need. Please, leave whatever it is you think you must accomplish on Coruscant and return to me, nothing you could learn there, even for my campaign, is worth risking your life for.
I sighed, read his letter again and sighed some more. Deep within my soul an ache of need and longing had welled up, threatening to drive me mad because there was no release. How he could elicit such emotion, such sensation from mere words was beyond me and a little part of me hated him for this talent. While I had no doubt he had meant ever single thing he had said, he knew exactly the effect it would have on me; the not so subtle manipulation to drive me back to where he felt I would be safe. Even so, Jarack could have badgered me until he was blue in the face and I wouldn’t have budged a centimetre.
Despite the fact that this letter was almost enough to make me pack up my things and leave right now without even saying goodbye to anyone, I wasn’t ready yet. Thrawn could be persuasive in this way and I missed him terribly. His letters, an exquisite form of torture, made me remember why I missed him in excruciatingly painful detail. Now, knowing that the virus probably would not be a huge threat to him made staying here seem all the more ridiculous but a part of me whispered to do just that all the same. I had unfinished business here, I just didn’t know quite what it was yet.
I had not been lying to Jarack when I had said I wasn’t done here and leaving now would be a mistake. Something nagged at me, the way a half remembered name slithered around the back of one’s brain, itching and prickling enough to be annoying, enough to make sitting still impossible. I re-read Thrawn’s letter a third time stopping at this passage… I am truly surprised that he did not keep a store of clones on hand, it seems to me that man of his power and nature would have some set aside to be ready for just such an eventuality as invasion. Unfortunately, I have been backwards and forwards through all the data, files and secret documents I have been able to gather and I can find no clues as to the whereabouts of such a facility, if there ever was one…. I closed my eyes and sat back in the chair. I was missing something but I couldn’t find the thread. It niggled at the back of my mind like a half forgotten dream. I should know the answer to this, I thought, I should know, but the more I thought on it, the more I lost the tiny inkling.
I stopped concentrating and let out the breath I had been holding slowly. There was nothing else to do but go to bed and sleep except I knew that was never going to happen. I was edgy, restless and missing Thrawn more than I ever dared to admit. His letters had stirred me up and sleeping was the very last thing on my mind. It was too late to call Shiv and I had no idea where my uncle was or when he’d be back. Sitting around Thrawn’s flat on my own was difficult enough but coupled with the incessant and annoying sensation that I was missing something important was driving me insane so I decided to head out to the Imperial palace and see if I could sneak in. Maybe, I rationalised as I shoved a few things in my satchel, what ever it was I was trying to find would reveal its self to me there.