I swore loudly in Cheunh and kicked at the side of the shuttle as I got out wondering where I was now and just how the hell I was going to get home because if my uncle had come back and found me not there he’d worry and then after a certain amount of time worrying he would simply come after me and that would be a bad thing.
Once I got over my annoyance and began to look at where exactly I was, my curiosity over came my weariness. This building wasn’t like the last one, dirty and abandoned, and it wasn’t in The Works either. I had come out into a storage facility of some sort and as I walked slowly through the stacks I realised it wasn’t just a storage facility it was more like a catalogue room. Rows upon rows of tagged, covered objects lay neatly arranged on the shelves. This place had remained untouched in many years judging by the amount of dust that lay over everything. It did not seem like a place where the Emperor would visit but I supposed, as I wandered through the stacks, that he had to store some of his treasures someplace.
I stopped and unwrapped one of the smaller pieces. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before but it wasn’t a force artifact it was just an antique work of art. The smattering of memories it gave me had more to do with excited archaeologists than the Emperor’s greed. The next piece I unwrapped was the same only this piece I actually recognised; if I recalled my art history correctly it was a hand carved statue from a dig on Iridonia and it was close to nearly four hundred years old. It too held vague memories and none of them had to do with Palpatine. Now more curious than ever, I uncovered several more pieces and realised that they too were famous, I had studied some of them, seen holo images of them in Thrawn’s collection as well as from some of my mother’s books and had even spoken about one of them at great length with Thrawn. Suddenly I understood, I was in a storage room in the basement of the
I looked around the room and saw two main exits, clearly marked and well lit. It was a safe bet that both of those doors led to populated places or main corridors and the last thing I wanted was to get caught. I swept my eyes around the dimness again and then noticed, off to one side, a small, unobtrusive almost invisible door. It had been designed to be missed and ignored so that was the one I chose to use. The hallway I slipped into was dimly lit by emergency glow-rods and unused. I moved down it carefully and quickly until I came to a narrow stairwell. I sighed. I was getting tired of this endless chase but I had gone too far now to simply give up and go home.
I ended up in what seemed like a dead end but was in fact one in a series of rooms which had not been used in a very long time. I slipped through an open door and wrinkled my nose at the stale smell which permeated the air.
The rooms that I snuck through were filled with crates and shadowy things I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop and look at. There was a subtle pressure here, a malevolence that lingered letting me know that this place was the reason the Emperor had come here. Cobwebs and dust covered most everything but some of them had been disturbed recently. I pulled out my lightsaber but didn’t ignite it and walked cautiously through the eerie storage room, sensing someone nearby long before I heard him. My heart pounded in my chest. For a brief second I wondered if it was Palpatine himself truly come back from the dead but when I shook off the panic and allowed my senses to reach out I understood it wasn’t him at all. Still, who ever it was could be dangerous and I did not need to be caught in this place. I needed a place to wait safely until who ever was in the room beyond this one was gone.
Glancing around I noticed an odd looking ventilation shaft opening on the side of the wall that was adjacent to the next room and with some effort to stay quiet I moved a box to stand on, carefully eased off the grating and hoisted myself up into the opening. It was as I had suspected a ventilation shaft. I could feel the slight push of air as I crossed the main shaft which ran perpendicular to the one that went from this room to the next like the top of a T, then carefully crawled along it to the grate opening at the other side. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light but once they had, I looked down into a room that on first glance seemed to be full of people. For a split second a new wave of fear washed through me then I realised none of the figures were moving. Museum mannequins or statues, I thought, shaking my head in annoyance at my own reaction. I was about to try and back out of the shaft when flicker of movement caught my eye.
I held my breath as I watched the tall, somewhat slender man skulk his way through the statues and dust covered display cases. I nearly jumped out of my skin with fright when all of a sudden a small light from one of the statues blinked to life and a small holo recording announced something too muffled for me to hear. I watched with a mixture of puzzlement and nervousness as the intruder slipped about stopping to look at more of the statues and the display cases. He wasn’t acting like a curator or a worker from the museum, in fact he seemed more like a criminal of some kind and my suspicions that he was a petty thief were confirmed when he smashed one of the display cases, the sound of glass shards hitting the floor reminding me of icicles shattering on Hjal.
I couldn’t see what he had picked up clearly but when a sound that was as familiar to me as my own voice hummed through the stillness I nearly squeaked out loud in surprise. That was a lightsaber, I thought. What would a lightsaber be doing here? In the bottom of the
I watched as the pallid light from the weapon he had ignited danced about the room making shadows leap and flicker. The scent of burnt dust drifted upward tickling my nose. I tried to fight off the oncoming sneeze to no avail but just as I made a muffled sneeze into my hands a loud popping sound came from someplace behind hiding the noise of my sneeze. A breeze lifted the dust in the room and I heard others enter, the brilliance of the lights on the blasters they carried made the dancing dust sparkle as they moved into the large storage room. Who ever they were they were not friendly. They wore some sort of armour and they were hunting someone, probably they were hunting Horn, I thought.
I made myself as small as I could and watched as Corran Horn startled then hid amongst the mannequins. Standing as still as the statues did while the three figures, dressed in black, made their way non too stealthily into the midst of the silent mannequins and display cases. I eased back a little from the grate of the vent I was hiding in; I did not want to be caught by what looked a lot like professional soldiers or mercinaries.
“Nothing here.” Said one of the newcomers.
“Then we wait.” Said another.
There was more conversation and I watched as they idly swept the room then the second man who had spoken commented on how odd it was that one of the mannequins still had a face at which point Corran burst to life and quipped that he would prefer to keep it that way. For a moment there was a stunned silence and then the room burst into action.
I caught only some of the fight, blaster fire and lightsaber blade created dancing shadows in the creepy room. One man died almost instantly as Corran sliced him in half. I had to fight the urge to throw up at the sound the bisected parts of the man’s body made when the pieces hit the ground. The other two took off and there was a chase. I heard nothing for a long time and then bursts of blaster fire rang through the stillness followed by the sizzle of a lightsaber’s touch. I knew when it was over because there was a cold silence. I reached out with my force senses and found Corran’s presence. I could sense his relief and then heard the faint crackle of a comm link giving out the local time. I made a face in the darkness, it was eight hours and forty-five minutes which meant it was well into the morning and I had been away far too long. I waited a bit to see if any more people came tramping through this area and sighed softly when nothing else happened. Whoever the three men had been, they were now dead. I searched for Corran’s presence again but couldn’t find it and guessed that he had found a way out.
I waited for what seemed an eternity before completely backing out of the ventilation shaft and dropping back down onto the floor of the smaller storage room. Taking a chance I slipped into the large room that Corran had been exploring and began to look around as well.
It was a strange place and I could see why Corran Horn had been so fascinated by what he had found. The faces of all the mannequins had been vandalised in some way and it had been deliberate, hateful destruction. I didn’t need to wonder about who could have done such a thing I already knew. His presence was so strong in this room that it was as if he were still alive and standing next to me, his avuncular tone laced with a subtle layer of malice and spite. Palpatine had kept his true feelings for the Jedi well masked behind his benevolent senator face but underneath that façade he had burned with hatred. I shivered, the beam of my small flash light catching the dancing dust, still swirling around the air from the fight that had taken place here earlier.
I stepped around the sliced body parts of the man Corran had killed gingerly. Luckily, I thought, a lightsaber cauterized the wound as it sliced and the floor was not slippery with blood. The air was rife with the stench of burnt flesh and singed dust. It made me gag so I moved away from the body and went to look at the display cases.
This place, aside from recently had not been visited in a long time. For the most part the dust lay thick and undisturbed over everything. The display case that Corran Horn had shattered was empty. I knew he had taken a lightsaber but I wasn’t sure about what else. Shards of glass crunched loudly under my feet as I walked about carefully. After a few moments of nervously touching things and setting off more than one of the annoying holograms which told a little about the now long dead jedi the mannequins represented I understood that this had once been part of a jedi Exhibit to show off Jedi heroes, if there were such a thing.
I searched amongst the damaged mannequins and touched as many holo displays as I dared but I did not find any reference to my birth mother at all. Either she had died too late in the Clone Wars to be given any such honour or the jedi Council did not bestow immortality through statue-ism on jedi who got themselves knocked up by their Arc Clone Commanders.
I dusted off some of the other display cases but mostly what lay under the glass was some sort of commemorative coin and a lightsaber. I needed neither so I left them alone. As I wandered around, forgetting the time and forgetting where I was, I realised that all of this jedi memorabilia made me sad. These displays which had probably once been public were of an era long gone. Despite their odd doctrine and often strange ways of doing things for the most part the Jedi had been keepers of the peace. That much I had learned from the holo-diary my birth mother had kept.
The Clone Wars had broken out because Palpatine had neatly arranged for that to happen and I knew that because Lord Vader had once explained it to me in bitter, angry detail. Not for the first time did I wonder what life would have been like to live in that time, of course, I reasoned I would not have lived at all because it was war that had brought my birth parents together in the first place so when I really thought about it, I actually owed Palpatine my life. The thought made me shiver and I could have sworn I felt a subtle laughter echo softly about me.
I was about to whisper out loud that I hated him but then I realised as I stood amidst the silent, mournful mannequins that I did not hate Palpatine anymore. I pitied him. It was one thing to bring down a government single handed and set ones own self up as supreme ruler of a galactic empire but to come down here and then vandalise these statues but a whole other thing. It made me think of the way bullies will destroy the things they cannot have just so that no one else could have them either. Palpatine hated to lose. He had hated the Jedi even more. While bringing about peace to the Empire he would rule may have been a small part of his agenda in the end it was all about revenge, revenge on the jedi who had shunned him and the Sith ways, who had taught that the Sith were evil and were to be reviled. The thought made me snort. In essence Palpatine had been the outsider who had not been allowed into the cool kid’s club and had taken his revenge for being left out to the extreme.
I glanced around, the sense of being watched made the space between my shoulders itch. Time to go, I thought. Even if I could spend more time here going through all the display cases and storage boxes to find something of interest, what would I do with it? I had no desire to become a Jedi, to learn the jedi ways and follow Luke Skywalker in his quest to restart the whole Jedi order. I had never asked for the strange powers I had been born with and as Thrawn had often pointed out, they didn’t bring me much happiness.
As I stood amidst the ruins of what had once been a proud display of the Galaxy’s heroes I understood I was at a cross roads making my choice. If Lord Vader’s son had taken up the task of rebuilding the Jedi Order then I wished him luck but he’d be doing that without me. I had had enough of both jedi and sith doctrine to last me a life time and I was pretty sure that my talents would be better used elsewhere, elsewhere like on Nirauan with Thrawn and thinking about him made my heart ache with longing. I missed him and all I wanted was to be with him again.
I glanced around one more time, Palpatine’s evil presence lingered, mixed with the melancholy of an era long gone. I was done here and it was time to go. With a sigh, I left the way I had come in heading back to the
“Where the hell have you been? We were just about to go and search for you!” The words that came quietly out of my uncle’s mouth were taut and laced with concern as well as anger.
I shook my head, too tired to think straight. “I went to the palace to get some answers.”
“And did you find what you were looking for?” Uncle Vahlek asked tartly.
I nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted and filthy. “I know you are mad but I need to shower and eat something so can I do these things first before you yell at me?”
There was a moment of quiet then I saw Shiv’s lip twitched in amusement and I could feel my uncle’s anger and worry recede.
“Well, seeing as how we no longer have to go on a Merlyn hunt I guess I can fix us some lunch.” Uncle Vahlek said. “When you are not wearing half the dirt on this planet you can tell us where you were exactly and what you found.”
I nodded, wondering how to even begin to describe the things I had seen in the space of a night and then gratefully went to the ‘fresher.
Showered and dressed in clean clothes I joined the others at the dining room table. My uncle had prepared some sort of stew and I had to bite down on a snigger when Ynyth eyed it dubiously. My uncle was a good cook, but his food was never very fancy. I knew it would taste great but it looked a little like something a bantha had yakked up.
Unlike dining with Thrawn, dining with my uncle mean there was no relief from the conversation about where I had been and what I had been doing while we ate, so in between mouthfuls of stew I recounted as best I could my adventures in the underground of Coruscant. I left out some of the more nauseating details of some of the visions I had seen because Ynyth had a tendency to pale visibly and look as though she would loose the lunch she had just eaten if I got too graphic.
Shiv and Ynyth listened in rapt attention but my uncle’s face was expressionless which usually meant he was not terribly impressed. When I was done with both eating and telling my story the tension at the table was suddenly far higher than before and Ynyth rapidly began to clear the dishes to escape to the safety of the kitchen. She did not like domestic disputes, Shiv had once told me.
“You really are the most reckless, thoughtless idiot of a girl I have ever had the misfortune to know,” Uncle Vahlek began, “If your mate were here now….”
“He’d tie me to a desk under the watchful eye of a stormtrooper battalion, I know.” I finished for him. “But I had to go, I had to!” I said.
Shiv watched the back and forth with a bemused smile on his face. “You always did do things the complicated way, Rim-Girl.” He said and for some reason this seemed to lighten the mood.
I sighed and shook my head. “It was in my mind all along I just couldn’t see it now I have my answer.”
“So what will you do?” Uncle Vahlek asked.
“Tell him what he wants is on Wayland, why?”
“I just want to make sure that you don’t decide to go charging off to this
I made a face. “I have been there once and that was enough. Thrawn’s on his own with that place.”
That answer seemed to placate my uncle and for a moment there was peace.
“So now what happens next?” Ynyth asked me as she rejoined us with desert and began the process of serving it.
I shrugged. “Not sure about you guys but I will head back out to the Unknown Regions and find Thrawn to give him the information, I guess.”
“I don’t think that….” My uncle started his sentence but he never got to finish it. Suddenly the whole apartment began to shake and tremble as though there was a sudden, violent ground quake, except Coruscant did not get ground quakes.
“What the hell is going on?” Shiv asked and we all left the dining table to run to the windows and see if we could find out. Along the way my uncle had the fore thought to turn on the HoloNet and what we saw displayed on the screen stopped us all dead in our tracks.
“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this special news bulletin!” The harried looking news reporter said. “We just received word from an eyewitness that an Imperial Super Star destroyer is breaking its way free from the plant’s surface and heading towards space.”
I looked at the screen which had suddenly switched to a live feed of the scene the reporter had just described but even though I was watching it unfold before my eyes I simply could not believe what I was seeing.
“How the hell did the Empire manage to hide an SSD on the planet’s surface?” I whispered.
“Oh my….” Ynyth whispered in horror.
“As you can see the ship suddenly tore its way out of the ground just a few moments ago. It is destroying everything in its path. The civilian death toll is catastrophic!” The on scene reporter yelled to the recorder as from behind him the unmistakable wedge shaped nose of the SSD shed itself of the cradle that had held it on the ground and smashed everything in its path. People, buildings, vehicles, it did not matter whatever was there in its way was destroyed.
Ice cold fear shivered down my spine. “Isard!” I hissed through clenched teeth. “That has to be the Lusankya.”
“What? No way!” Shiv countered still staring at the screen.
“How do you know that Lei’lei?” My Uncle asked calmly.
“There was a rumour that Isard’s prison was really a ship and I knew they had built two super star destroyers but only one was ever unveiled. How they managed to hide that ship on the planet’s surface and then build over it I will never know but I am betting that who and what that is.”
No one seemed inclined to disagree with me and we watched the rest of the scene unfold in silence until Ynyth realised exactly what part of the city the ship was ripping apart. She turned to Shiv with tears streaming down her face. “That’s where we live.” She whispered. “Our apartment is in the middle of that zone.”
Shiv nodded, he had already figured that out but had not said anything.
Ynyth turned to look at my uncle. “If you had not called us because Merly had gone missing…” she whispered then looked at me, “If you had not vanished, Shiv and I would have been at home right now…we’d be dead….” Her voice trailed off and Shiv put his arm around her protectively. I glanced at my Uncle. The shaking in the flat was bad enough that I could hear glasses fall on the floor and break but we were far enough away that I didn’t think the damage would be bad or permanent.
Huddled in front of the holo screen hoping the rest of the flat would hold together we watched the Lusankya, now officially identified, began to climb through the sky, shooting the planetary shield as it did so. Ships buzzed around her like small flies at a carcass but I was damned sure the tiny fighters would do the SSD no harm at all. When it was all over we sat without speaking in the unnaturally still quiet, the HoloNet still babbling and now showing replays of what had happened.
“I have to go.” I said quietly. “I have to go now.”
This time there was no argument from my Uncle, just a nod of agreement.
“Our home…” Ynyth whispered. “We have no place to stay….”
I turned to her as if seeing her for the first time since this almost surreal incident began. “Stay here. Thrawn won’t be needing it. He won’t be coming back here to live I am almost certain of that and neither will I.”
“Merly….” Shiv began but I shut him up with a wave of my hand.
“I have to leave. I have information Thrawn needs and it can’t wait any more. That woman…” I shook my head because the words to describe what Isard had done, what she was escaped me, “He needs to know and I need to tell him.” I finished. “He made me co owner of this flat so I am telling you as co owner to stay here for as long as you need. I would feel better knowing someone was looking after the place anyway. There’s food and some clothes and everything you will need until you can sort yourselves out. I know it’s not much and it’s not yours but it’s better than nothing and you’d do the same for me if the situation were reversed.”
Ynyth was about to protest I could see it in her eyes but Shiv stopped her with a subtle gentle touch to her arm. I knew that gesture well, it was a gesture that all couples used to communicate without words and for reasons I could not explain it made me long so desperately for Thrawn that had it not been for my Uncle’s presence I probably would have tried to bolt off world in that very second just to be with him again.
“Thanks.” He said giving me a look that said how can I ever repay you?
“You should pack what you need Lei’lei. As soon as they clear off world traffic we should leave.”
I looked at Uncle Vahlek sharply. “We?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I am coming with you. As I recall the last time you went charging off into the Unknown Regions of Space it didn’t end very well for you.”
I went to protest but then realised his presence would be welcome, so instead I simply nodded.
“Well,” Uncle Vahlek said after a very long silence. “I don’t know about anyone else but I think I would like a brandy to go with desert, would anyone else care to join me?”
We all glanced at each other and since no one had any better ideas about what to do next, we joined my uncle at the dining room table. As I sat there toying with the cake with my fork I wondered if I would ever return to this planet again or if this would be the last time I would see Shiv and Ynyth. I hoped not but there was an air of finality to this meal, to this moment in time that I could not seem to shake.
Shiv glanced at me as if reading my mind. “What ever happens we’ll find a way to keep in touch even if I have to hand deliver messages to you all the way out in the backwater edges of space.” He said gripping my hand tightly in his.
I just nodded and grinned despite the tears in my eyes. “I love you too.” I whispered too choked up to speak loudly.
My uncle simply nodded and raised his glass. “To the future.” He said and we all touched our glasses to the one he held outstretched, echoing the phrase he had spoken. As we sipped the brandy there was a long moment of silence and I wondered about what the future would bring because, now, especially now everything and anything were possible. Then as with all melancholy moments it passed as Shiv made a joke and Ynyth punched his arm. The silence was broken by laughter and I understood that out of the sorrow came hope and as long as there was hope nothing else mattered.