The Hand of Thrawn reached up into the night sky, surrounded by the lush world of Nirauan on which the base was situated. The hand was actually a nickname for the five towers that made up the base where Thrawn had set up command for his campaign into the Unknown Regions of Space in order to extend the reach of the Empire. All of this had begun years prior to the Emperor’s death and had continued well after as well. The base was extensive and had been built long before Thrawn had ever explored this world by beings unknown and long gone so he had taken it over and adapted it for his use and his people. My first experience with this place had not left me with happy memories but this time around things were different, the situation was different and after almost a year I had come to think of it as a home of sorts.
The strangeness of the planet itself never entirely vanished and the night was full of eerie sounds, animal and avian calls which were still to be identified and catalogued. The air had a slightly sweet scent on it, which I suspected was carried from a certain flowering tree that grew near the compound and occasionally mingled with the smell of lush, wet undergrowth, rich and loamy; utterly foreign to someone who had spent most of their life on a desert planet.
In the solitude of the early evening, after the sun had vanished but before the chill of the night descended leaving everything damp with dew I had made my way up to this place to be alone. While the base was large sometimes it felt as though it were tiny and far too crowded. Like most people who had grown up on desolate worlds filled with vast wastelands which stretched out in never ending vistas, I was unused to being confined and it made me restless, edgy and occasionally melancholy. Today had been a particularly bad day for a myriad of reasons and the sorrow I had felt had put me on the verge of tears for most of it but I had bitten them back in favour of trying to get my jobs done. The Chiss were not fond of messy human emotions and they considered them a sign of weakness. Once my work day had finished I had needed to find a quiet place to remember and mourn.
Leaving the compound had not been forbidden but there were enough known and unknown dangers out beyond the base that it meant if one wanted to go out one took an armed guard with them. It sort of defeated the purpose of getting away from it all to be alone so I had found a compromise everyone could live with. The key people on the base knew enough to leave me be when I disappeared because they knew I had made a promise to Thrawn that I would not endanger my life or those of his people by buggering off and just to get away from it all. There were a few places on the base which were generally considered of little use and those, by default, had become mine.
“I thought I might find you up here.” Thrawn’s voice broke the quiet silence which made me smile. I wiped the tears on my face away because I didn’t really want to let him see that I had been crying even though he would know anyway. When I didn’t turn to face him he walked up to stand at my back and wrapped his arms around me. I had not seen him four months so this reunion was sweet.
“Did Park tell you where I was or did you just use deductive reasoning?” I asked leaning into his body, welcoming his warmth. The nights on Nirauan were chilly and the observation deck was open to the outside.
“No, he did not tell me where to find you. He did mention you received mail from Siavaan this morning and that you seemed very sad today but that you would not speak about it.”
I sighed and turned around to face him without breaking the circle of his arms and rested my head against his chest. The letters which had arrived from Shiv, despite being full of good and cheerful news, had only served to remind me of everything that had happened in the last year and of how much I missed my friends, how much had been lost.
The terrible things that Ysanne Isard had done in her attempt to break the power of the New Republic had left their mark on my soul but it was the terrible death of my friend Cati which hurt the most. Isard had vanished, and the last I had heard of her she had taken up residence on Thyferra, becoming the leader of that planet and overseeing the production and distribution of Bacta in order to further ruin the
At first, after I had arrived on Nirauan I had tried to follow the news of what was going on in the Core but after a few months even I lost interest. It had seemed to me that Isard’s plans to destroy the
“For such an intelligent woman, she did some remarkably stupid things.” He had said. “But she has more lives than you do. Do not count her gone yet, not until a body is found.” He had warned and while I had not disagreed, I had not been happy either.
Now, as I stood on the darkness on the observation platform, I found it hard to believe that I had been on Nirauan for almost a year and some days it seemed like only yesterday that I had arrived here with my uncle to bring Thrawn the information he sought and the news of Isard’s treachery.
“It’s the anniversary of Cati’s death.” I told him simply, explaining my mood and the reason I was up here.
Thrawn stroked idle fingers through my hair gently. “I know.” He replied, “Which is why I thought I might find you up here.”
I nodded and sighed. For a long moment we stood there in silence until I broke it by asking, “When did you get back? I wasn’t expecting you for another week.”
“About three hours ago, we finished the set missions early and I saw no reason to remain in space when I did not have to.” He said casually then he glanced at me, “Given what day it is I felt I needed to be here today. I would have sought you out sooner but the debriefing was extensive so it took longer than usual.”
I nodded my understanding. While duty came first and even though sometimes I wasn’t always happy about it I understood it but in this case, because it was possible to do so, he had returned early for me. He had known today marked the first anniversary of Cati’s gruesome death and the effect it would have on me. When it mattered the most, he was there for me. I took one of his hands in mine and brought it to my lips to kiss, letting him know I was grateful. “How long is the turn around this time?”
“I am not sure. I have some things to do here and some details to work out. As much as I can do from the Chimaera sometimes I also need to be on the base. Thanks to the information you were able to provide we are a lot further ahead now than we were this time last year but there is still much to plan out before I begin the major campaign which includes obtaining more information about the
“Is Delta Source not as useful as you had hoped?” I asked.
I felt his smile. “It is indeed of great use but the information retrieved from that spy network is sporadic and it takes time to disseminate the useful from the nonsense. I owe you and your uncle a great debt for finding it and for keeping it a secret.” He said, “But there is more to this campaign than simply using pieces of information gathered from an Imperial listening device in the Palace. Retaking the galaxy will not happen over night and without proper organisation it will not happen at all.” He sounded tired.
“Are there problems?”
“Nothing insurmountable but of course along the way to victory there are always hurdles one must overcome. Currently mine have to do with equipment shortages and lack of fully trained personnel. The Imperial ship yards cannot supply me with the number of vessels I have requested and reunifying the fleet is a tedious process, more so than I had previously imagined. It would appear that not every Imperial out there wishes to return to the fold, especially under my command. Many of the new recruits under my command are too green to take into any sort of conflict and there needs to be extensive training still. This isn’t a process that will happen over night although many seem to think it should. Bad planning, over confidence and greed is what cause this current situation, believe me, I will not make the same mistakes that Palpatine did.”
I just sighed and rested the flat of my cheek against the rough fabric of his white uniform jacket. I had heard this speech many times before. “What about
Thrawn shrugged ever so slightly. “It will keep.” He replied vaguely. He did not like this question and I asked it often.
“Don’t you worry that someone else might discover it?” I pressed.
“No.” He replied, stroking my hair absently. “The
“I do trust you and you know this!” I said poking him in the chest. “I would not be here if I did not.”
“And I am grateful for this fact.” He replied, catching my hand in his before I could poke him again. “But you push on this particular matter and I do not know why. You said so yourself it was one of Palpatine’s best kept secrets and that there was no overt evidence of the facility in the Imperial database or palace system. The rebels will not go half cocked on some mad search looking for Palpatine’s mythical storehouse of treasures even if they do know about it, which I think is highly unlikely. I am quite certain they find more than enough to keep them occupied on Coruscant as well as the rest of the inner Core and the outer worlds, all of which are jockeying for a position of power within the new government. With each system they bring into the new republic so too do they increase their political problems. They have enough to worry about right now.”
I sighed crossly which made him chuckle. “Tekari, I understand that you want to find out exactly what he hid there but you need to learn some patience. I had told you before, when the time is right and that is exactly what I mean. Curb that overly inquisitive nature of yours; it’s what gets you into so much trouble. T o be honest, I am still astounded that you stayed put here and did not try to go rushing off to Wayland on your own when you and your uncle first arrived and I suppose I have the Tze’yusha’Jin to thank for that.”
I made a face but he was right. When I had arrived on Nirauan with my uncle, Thrawn had not been here. He had been continuing the work he had started out in the Unknown Regions and that work had been impressive. I had seen the star map which showed the areas of this part of space which were now under Thrawn’s control. The Empire of the Hand, his people had secretly called it behind his back until the name had become so ingrained in every day usage that with a wry smile he had started to use it himself while referring to the vast area of space he and his people controlled which stretched out over nearly two hundred and fifty sectors.
My arrival had been met with a huge sense of relief that I had found almost amusing and Voss Parck had all but hugged me as I had stepped of the Ahnkeli Su’udelma. What was even more amusing had been his almost panicky statement that he was under orders to not let me out of his sight until the Grand Admiral had returned from his current mission. No matter how often I had tried to tell him that I had learned that particular lesson and would not be dashing hell bent after Thrawn alone in a ship again, Parck still kept a watchful eye on my whereabouts on the base. Most people would have probably found it annoying but I was touched by the concern and did what I could to try and alleviate it.
My uncle, who had all but threatened me with death should I try to bugger off and explore Wayland on my own, had stayed on the base until a few days after Thrawn’s return, stating there were things he needed to discuss with the Grand Admiral. The day after Thrawn’s return, nearly two weeks after we had arrived on the base, Thrawn and my uncle had spent almost the entire evening talking alone. Neither of them would tell me what they had spoken about but after Thrawn’s ever so slight smirk when I had asked if any of it had to do with me had told me all I needed to know.
Uncle Vahlek left the day after that with one of the Imperial transport ships headed back into the Core Regions for supplies. I had been sad to see him go but at the same time a little relieved. We had spent too much time in too close quarters together and as much as I loved him he had driven me crazy.
“Give my love to papa, Bel and Bedi when you see them.” I had asked him as we had said our goodbyes.
“Will do. Stay out of trouble Lei’lei! You know how to contact me if you need anything.” He had said giving me an avuncular kiss on the forehead before leaving.
Thrawn had returned to the base in the middle of the night and I had been in bed when his shuttle had landed. He had arrived in his quarters sometime in the early morning. He had tried to not disturb me up but after such a long time of sleeping alone his presence rather than his absence was a disruption in my normal routine.
Still half asleep I had yawned and stretched in jax like satisfaction. “What time is it?” I had asked.
“Just after three in the morning. I did not mean to wake you, tekari.” He had murmured. I had watched as he had undressed and before he could get into his night clothes, had stopped him.
“Well now I am awake.” I had grasped his hand and had pulled him to me, rolling him so he lay on his back and before he could protest or counter my attack I had moved to straddle his lap. The look on my face had challenged him and for a moment he had considered it then he had smiled as he had surrendered.
“So I see, “He had replied arching that eyebrow in that smug, annoying manner of his, “And just what did you have in mind from this position, my dear, because right now you have the advantage?”
My fingers had traced down the centerline of his chest, past his navel and the line of dark hair that led to magical things. “I thought I would see if you had missed me at all.”
His unspoken reply had been swiftly obvious and he had smirked at my reaction to his arousal. “I would say that you have your answer, the question is now what do you plan to do about it?”
“I thought I would welcome you back properly.” I had breathed in his ear, delighting in feeling him shiver for me.
“Well then, my dear, I am all yours.” He said just before I could shut him up by engaging him in a different sort of combative conversation.
In spite of the length of time apart our passion for each other had not changed, if anything it had only increased. His talent and skill in conversing with me using nothing but his hands, his mouth and his body never ceased to astonish me. It was exquisite torture to once again be on the receiving end of his tactile genius and I know he enjoyed being reminded of just how well I could apply my own gifts and skills. We knew each other so well but time and distance always seemed to make this exploration of territories known a whole new adventure.
I had delighted in hearing the sounds of his pleasure as I plied my own tricks of the bedroom trade. We had rippled together like wind over water, stirring each other up until the storm within, reaching its desired crescendo, crashed down upon us both leaving us stunned and breathless. In the aftermath of the madness of lust and passion, tenderness took over and his gentle touch had said far more than words ever could.
After a lingering, comfortable silence he had spoken first. “When I got word you had returned I cannot tell you how relieved I was. I was even more so to hear you had decided to do as you were asked and stay put.”
“Well Uncle Vahlek did threaten me with serious bodily harm if I were to go tearing off so I felt it wise to just hang out here and not risk his ire… or yours. The last time that happened you sent me away so it seemed safer just to wait and be, as my uncle put it, a good girl.”
That last remark had made him smile. In spite of the fact that I was a grown woman, my uncle still usually treated me as though I were still a child of six. Most of the time I tried to ignore it but Thrawn, for some strange reason, found this very amusing much to my annoyance. “I would have been up here sooner but I had business to take care of that could not be put off, not even for you, sj’iu tekari, no matter how much I might have liked to do just that.”
I had stroked the smooth skin of his chest with my fingertips. “I know that. It wasn’t so bad in the end. I have been kept occupied well enough.” This was quite an understatement because in actual fact I had been kept remarkably busy.
His eyebrow had arched. “So I have heard. And just how are the Basic classes going this time around?”
I had smiled. A few days after my return, much to my great surprise, one of his Chiss warriors had approached me somewhat shyly and requested that I continue the language classes for Basic that I had started before I had left for Coruscant. I had not thought anyone had cared about the language learning but the need to communicate had turned out to be greater than the need to remain closed off from the humans. I ended up teaching both Basic to the Chiss and as much as I was able to Cheunh to some of the humans.
“Better now than before. They actually want to learn to speak basic and it seems that now they all know that I speak Cheunh fluently I gained a measure of respect with your people, or did you have something to do with this?” I asked as the thought just occurred to me.
Thrawn had shaken his head slightly. “While I command these men and women I cannot and will not order them to give their respect to anyone. Respect must be earned, my dear, so if they offer you theirs now then it is entirely of your own doing not mine.”
“Well my students are doing well, much better than I had expected actually, though I think the extra material you provided them with helped a lot.” I had nodded. “The Cheunh classes are quite another matter but at least the humans will be able to understand the Chiss language even if they cannot seem to speak it.”
“You have achieved much and I am proud of the work you have done.” He had said.
This was high praise from him and I had glowed under it. “I’m not sure what the difference is now, but I feel more at home here and that helps.”
He nodded. “The time you spent on Coruscant has tempered you.” He ran his fingers through my hair, untangling the knots we had created with our bedroom antics. “You have experienced some of the most terrible things this galaxy has to offer and yet you have somehow managed to retain that sweetness of nature and delightful optimism that never ceases to amaze me but you have also changed and I sense it.” He had traced a line with the tip of his finger, starting from my lips to the hollow of my throat, then down across to my left breast which he had cupped with his hand, pressing my chest, feeling the beat of my heart beneath the pale skin. “Do you know how very precious you are?” He whispered.
The moment had been so suddenly poignant that tears had welled up in my eyes. I opened my mouth to speak but suddenly I didn’t want to break the moment so I simply kissed gently him instead. For a second time hung like a drop poised to fall and then it moved forward as he had broken back from my kiss, stroked my cheek tenderly and then he had rolled onto his back, pulling me onto my side to curl around him, with arms and legs pressing close.
I had rested my head in the hollow where his shoulder met his chest and sighed in contentment. I had opened my mouth to say something else but he had stopped me with two fingers laid gently on my lips. “Sleep, sj’iu tekari. I am not going anywhere for a little while so we have plenty of time to catch up in the days and nights to come but now I need to rest and so do you.”
I had not argued with him because I, too, had been tired. I had just been so grateful to have him back, his warm body next to me, and the familiar scent of his skin filling my lungs. The aftermath of spent desire had made me drowsy and his physical presence was comforting.
Home, I had thought, to be in his arms, wrapped about his body, and satiated by his touch was home. And in that moment I had known that I never wanted to be parted from him for such a long time, through such a vast distance again even though I knew that, inevitably, this would be the case. Some of these thoughts must have leaked out because he had reiterated his previous statement, brushing sleep into my hair with the tips of his fingers. He had been true to his word and had stayed on Nirauan for nearly four weeks before heading back out into space again.