My debriefing with Thrawn had taken place the day after my uncle had left. In his private office he had listened without much interruption as I spoke. The news of all that had occurred on Coruscant had made his jaw clench and his eyes turn hard. Even though I had mentioned some stuff in the few letters I had been able to send, he had not known the half of what had been really going on. Isard had lied to him about so many things so that when he had finally learned the truth he had been furious, more furious than I had seen him since the day he had shipped me off to Hjal with Navaari. When I had described Cati’s death and what the terribly Krytos Virus did he gotten up out of his chair to pace the room, a sure sign that what he was hearing from me upset him and for a long moment after I had finished this part of my story an awful silence had hung in the air.
“Your letter on this matter did not even come close to describing the horror of the situation. I am so very sorry I was not there for you.” He had said simply after the silence had gone on for too long.
Brushing the tears from my face I had merely nodded. “I don’t think there are any words in the galaxy to describe adequately what that was like.” I had replied. “And it is a good thing you were not there because you might have contracted the virus yourself.”
He had only nodded in response and I had continued telling him all that I had learned, all that had happened right up until my last minute on Coruscant. The entire story sounded absurd even to my ears and I had been there to witness the things that had happened, including the Lusankya’s escape from its planetary cradle which had wrecked havoc on the planet. He had not spoken after I was done recounting my time on the Core world and the terrible stillness that had settled around him had been more frightening that any fury the Emperor or Lord Vader could have unleashed when they were alive. I had sat in the chair which faced his desk in nervous silence and had wondered how to read him because I had been unable to gauge his reaction to what he had been told at all.
“What will you do?” I had asked as I watched him toy with the data chip I had given him, the one that held the information my uncle had pulled off the computer in Lord Vader’s palace on Coruscant.
For a very long time I had not thought he would answer me, then he had drawn a deep breath. “I need time to consider my next move but first I need to sift through all the information you have given me.” He had said. “It is a great deal to digest and much of this information is new to me.”
I had sighed then, letting out the breath I had been holding. “I don’t understand why she lied to you.”
His smile had been cynical. “She feared I would charge in and take over.”
“And that would have been a bad thing how?”
“She was reluctant to give up the power of being the Emperor’s supreme ruler, tekari, and it has been my observation that people who have power will go to great lengths to retain this power.”
“Billions of beings died just so she could maintain her precious power and even then in the end she lost Coruscant.”
He had drawn deep breath as though to steady against the anger he himself also felt. “Indeed. Well, now have something to work towards and I have much to prepare. I must assign a flag ship and get a fleet battle ready.”
“Will I get to go with you?” I had asked.
“No.” His reply had been decisive and without hesitation. His answer not surprised me but the hurt I had felt did. It had showed on my face so he explained coolly, “I cannot have any distractions that might interfere and you, my dear, are the biggest distraction I know of. I need you here, there will be things I will require you to do, jobs that you are uniquely qualified to carry out and I also want to know you are safe. If this is not a suitable place for you then we can discuss alternatives but you will not accompany me on board my flag ship during this campaign. It would be extremely unprofessional.”
I had only nodded, swallowing down my disappointment. As usual he had been absolutely right.
He had looked at me for a moment then had turned away, his hands clasped behind his back in a stance that had reminded me sharply of Lord Vader. He stared out of the window in his office that looked out over the forest. “The Imperial Fleet is spread all over the galaxy. It is in pieces. First I will need to reunify the Navy and then devise the best plan of attack on the core to retake Coruscant, if that is even possible now.”
“I thought that you had already been planning for this?” I asked puzzled by his manner.
He had turned his head to glance at me then had gone back to staring out of the window. “I have but while I could speculate and make educated guesses about what they would do next without concrete information making specific plans has not been possible. I did not wish to tip my hand that I exist by rushing into the Core and allow the
My sigh had seemed to fill the room. I had not known how he was able to remain so patient in light of everything had happened. According to the news nets and numbers being bandied about the
He had nodded. “I understand that but this war will not be about numbers it will be about strategy and wits.”
This had made me smile. I had yet to meet anyone who could outwit Thrawn. He really was brilliant. “Then they are sure to lose.”
“Your confidence in me is touching but make no mistake this will not be an easy campaign.” He had replied. “I have been running through various simulations but now I have more facts to better base these simulations on and a reliable source of information that will invaluable.” He had paused then went on, “The New Republic is no longer a rag tag fleet of lucky rebel misfits. They have proven themselves to be a formidable enemy and I will not make Palpatine’s mistake of underestimating them.”
“I’m sorry.” I had said after a length silence.
This had surprised him. “Why?” He had asked glancing over his shoulder at me.
“I should have come back earlier, brought you this information sooner.”
He had shaken his head. “The few months’ time difference would have changed nothing, tekari. You had valid reasons for staying; do not second guess yourself now. If you had returned earlier then perhaps Siavaan and his mate would not be alive. Everything has its place in time and you played your part accordingly.”
My sigh had told him that I did not think the same way as he did. For a moment he had stayed silent and still then, after turning back to face me, had said, “I need you here. Believe me, you will have more than enough to do and I do not mean simply teaching language classes either.” His expression had softened and then he had filled me in on all that had taken place at the base while I had been away. A lot of things had changed including some new additions to the base that I had not known about until I had arrived, children being among the most surprising of all which had taken some getting used to.
Since receiving my news and information Thrawn had worked swiftly to gather his existing fleet and get them battle ready so more often than not he was on board the Chimaera, his new flag ship, running training simulations. There was new blood at the base and I had been very surprised at the increase in the numbers of both humans and Chiss up on my arrival but for what he now planned he would need far more than what he had here. Isard’s treachery had handicapped him but that in no way diminished his capabilities to get things going. If there was one thing Thrawn could do and do well it was to win in games of strategy and if anyone could out-think and outsmart the rebels it was him, but planning for this offensive now took up much of his life, making our time together rare and precious.
Thrawn’s touch broke into my thoughts and I looked up into his face. His eyes glowed in the relative darkness of the observation platform on the top of the second highest tower. He smiled at me and it was a smile that reached those strange eyes, making the light in them almost seem to dance. He didn’t need to say how he felt because he showed me through his actions. It was a small, sweet moment and I was just happy to have him back for a while, safe and in one piece and that he had come back on this particular day just for me meant even more.
I always knew a strange sense of relief when he returned to Nirauan because in spite of the fact that he was a brilliant tactician and not reckless in the way Lord Vader and the Emperor had been with either his men’s’ lives or his own, I still worried. It was, I supposed, a natural aspect of caring for someone but sometimes that was hard to deal with, especially on a base mainly full of human men and male Chiss, where showing such emotion was not a good thing.
On Coruscant or when I had been with Lord Vader I had often been too busy to worry or at least had been with friends, like Shiv, who listened and placated my fears but here…in this place was an entirely different matter. I was quite happy that now there was another woman on the base to commiserate with and thinking about her reminded me of news which I had to share.
“Did you hear? Syal is pregnant.” I asked, breaking the silence.
He cupped a hand about my cheek and stroked my face with his thumb. “Is she now? Soontir did not mention that to me when I saw him last.”
I smiled slightly. “He might not have known, he’s been away for a good while now. She is just past her first trimester. I only found out yesterday and only then because I caught her almost passing out in the mess hall around last night. When I insisted she go see Doctor Thracer she just laughed and told me there wasn’t any cure for what she had except time.”
Syal Antilles was Baron Soontir Fel’s wife. She, her children and her husband had been relocated to the Unknown Regions of Space when under mysterious circumstances Fel who had defected to the rebels suddenly came back top work for the Imperials, particularly to work with Thrawn. Fel had not been on Nirauan when I had woken from my death sleep, he had been someplace deep in Unknown Space and his presence and whereabouts kept a secret but once he had settled on the base, he and Thrawn had arranged that his family should join them. By the time that this had taken place I was already on Hjal. The rest of the Galaxy assumed that Fel had been killed in battle and that his wife, Wynssa Starflare, Syal’s stage name, was dead as well.
Thrawn chuckled. “Well, this will make life interesting around here and they will need larger quarters if they keep this up. Their two boys already create enough mischief to cause great consternation to everyone stationed here. How human children survive their first ten years of life is beyond me.”
“Well, good that you missed last week’s drama which had them trying to climb the pwazch trees outside. Chak was almost two thirds of the way up the tallest one when he got stuck, part of his clothing snagged on a branch and when he realised he couldn’t get down well you should have heard the racket. I’ve never seen anything funnier in my life than your men trying to figure out how to get a small boy from a tree without them going up it to unhitch his clothes first. When they began to suggest shooting at him I thought Syal was going to have kittens. All the brilliant minds that reside in this place and not one of them could come up with a better plan than trying to aim a blaster at the branch which had snagged Chak’s clothes.”
“So how did they manage to get him down?” Thrawn asked.
“They didn’t, “I said smugly, “I did. I climbed up, unhitched him and then helped him get back down.” I smiled. That had been an adventure well worth the effort. Both Syal’s boys thought I was very cool and had taken, at Syal’s insistence to calling me Aunty Merly which I found to be very weird and Thrawn found very funny.
Thrawn kissed the top of my head gently. “Fearless.” He said with a mixture of pride and bemusement.
“More like idiotic.” I answered. “But the tree’s branches wouldn’t support the weight of a full grown man and Syal wasn’t going to climb after the boy so the only way he was going to come down was if someone went up to unhook his tangled clothes.”
“So tell me, when did you learn to climb trees, tekari?” Thrawn asked with a smirk. “I have yet to see trees on Tatooine.”
I just smiled at him. “You’ll find I am just full of surprises.”
His answer had been to nibble on my neck. “Yes, indeed, you are.”
I shivered and grinned. “If you keep that up it will be desert before dinner and you won’t have time for a shower first.”
That remark earned me the trademark raised eyebrow, “Always in a hurry to get to the main event. How many times must I remind you, my dear, it is the journey that counts not the destination.”
I smiled sweetly and closed my eyes for a moment allowing my powers to build up and sweep over him. I heard his sharp intake of breath and raised my eyes to meet his without moving my head.
“Temptress.” He whispered, tucking a curled finger under my chin to raise my head. The brush of lips across mine was subtle and seductive. “But we both know that my self-control far outweighs yours, so if you want this little skirmish to escalate, forcing me to show you just how well I can out manoeuvre you and leave you in a state of …need, then please continue your current plan of attack.” He whispered in my ear.
I shivered as the warmth of his breath tickled the sensitive skin of my neck, considered his threat for a moment and then backed off a little. He won at this game for the same reasons he always beat me at Dejarik, almost infinite patience.
“I see you have learned when to retreat.” He smiled all the while his fingers danced across the line of my clavicle, leaving me breathless. He wasn’t playing fair and when I had nothing to add or say he continued the earlier conversation, “So once again the Fel boys managed to keep you busy. I am indebted to them; they keep you from charging off and doing silly things.”
“So the truth comes out and you really wanted me back to help baby-sit.” I finally found my voice.
“Not true, I wanted you back so that I might have my wicked way with you in the small hours of the night. If I thought I could get away with it I might consider chaining you to the bed for safe keeping” He punctuated that statement with a small kiss but then added, thoughtfully, before I could retort to his comment. “You are good around those children, though. I am quite certain that Syal is grateful for your assistance with them, especially while Soontir is away.” He countered.
I had just given him a small shrug and the sudden, subtle shift in my mood had not gone unnoticed.
“Some day you will make an excellent mother for our children, tekari. And some day we will have children, if that is your wish. It is not an impossibility, simply a challenge.” His words were meant to sooth but they made me a little melancholy.
The topic of children was a little touchy, mostly because I knew that the chances of us ever producing offspring to be nearly impossible and it seemed that there would never even come a right time to try for a family. I had never been more aware of this than when I was with Syal and her two boys. I had never really given having a family much thought before but now, here in this place so far away from the Empire that we had once served, it was something that could be within reach. It was a nice dream but the reality was something utterly different. Even Doctor Thracer had not been very optimistic when I had asked him about it one day. Although Chiss and human physiology were similar we were also vastly different, different enough to make a child a virtual impossibility. Mostly I didn’t think about it but because we now had kids on the base it was a topic that came up every now and then and it made me a little sad.
I shook off the moment and smiled. “So, now you are home and we have some time, what did you have planned for this evening or do you still have work to do?”
He smiled, “I always have work to do but I set aside time for us tonight. I thought we would have dinner together and then perhaps… converse.”
“So we’re not eating with the officers tonight then?” I asked a little surprised.
Thrawn shook his head. “Voss strongly suggested I give him and the officers a night off from our standard dining ritual in favour of allowing them some down time. Then he mentioned something about me spending some time with my…how did he put it… incredibly patient and long suffering mate.”
I laughed. “Was he talking about me or you?”
The raised eyebrow was my only answer and then Thrawn changed the subject. “So how are Siavaan and Ynyth doing?”
“Surprisingly well.” I said. “Shiv changed jobs though, about three months ago. So he’s not working at the palace any more.”
“Oh? What prompted that change?”
“He said the level of bureaucracy was too insane. He said that at least working under the Emperor’s rules one knew more or less where one stood but the
Thrawn’s smile was sunlight warm. “That would be a good thing considering we no longer have a place to live there.”
“Do you regret that now?” I asked.
“Not at all, tekari, do you?”
I shook my head. After I had come back and Thrawn had returned I had told him what had happened to Shiv and Ynyth’s home because of the Lusankya. He had been suitably horrified at what Isard had done and pleased at my reaction in letting Shiv and Ynyth use of our flat. After a short discussion we both decided to give it to them and be done with it because we both knew that no matter what happened in the future we most likely would not live on Coruscant again and if so we could always buy another place. So three months after leaving Coruscant I had gone back with all the paperwork needed to sign the flat over to Shiv and have the furniture and belongings which Thrawn and I wanted to keep moved out to the base or placed in storage.
The situation on Coruscant after the Lusankya’s disastrous exit had left a planet wide housing shortage and the rebuilding wasn’t happening quickly enough. The gaping maw in the Coruscanti landscape was still ugly and fresh as we had flown over the area. Millions of beings had died that day, most of their bodies had never been recovered. Through Shiv’s correspondence I had learned that reconstruction was slower than usual because of the number of people lobbying to have at least one section of the decimated area turned into a memorial. The
Shiv and Ynyth had been furiously trying to find a place they could afford but due to so many people all looking for housing at the same time there was nothing decent to be had at the price they were willing and able to spend. Since neither of them would accept the flat as an outright gift Thrawn sold it to them for a token amount and the matter was resolved.
My trip out and back had been quiet and uneventful. I had taken one of the older cargo ships which had been disguised as a civilian ship along with a small crew of Thrawn’s finest, including Jarack, who had been made to travel in civilian clothes. We had managed to do all that needed to be done quickly without fuss. It seemed that the
Running around the galaxy pretending to be someone else was usually Thrawn’s game not mine but I had enjoyed the role of spoiled rich girl despite my misgivings that it wouldn’t work. Customs and immigration had not blinked twice at my forged papers and the moving company had been paid handsomely so they had dealt with the off world permissions paperwork without blinking an eye.
It had been so great to see Shiv and Ynyth again but at the same time Coruscant held too many bad memories for me to ever want to come back and live here. I was mostly glad when I said my goodbyes and left the planet behind. The government might have changed but the planet itself had not and it remained a glittering, single sun, ball of light filled with beings who felt superior by virtue of living on the Jewel of the Core. As I had headed back with Jarack and the crew of the small transport ship to the Unknown Regions I had realised that my upbringing on Tatooine had never prepared me for the savagery that I had found on Coruscant. The endless one-up-man-ship and the constant need for wealth and power wore me down. Coruscant never stopped moving but it was all artificial, even the weather was pretty much always controlled. It had occurred to me that what I had loved about the Core was pretty much all gone and I had been happy to leave it all behind.
I turned around again, leaning with my back against Thrawn’s chest and stared up into the sky. The constellations in this part of space were unfamiliar to me but that did not diminish their beauty, especially on a night such as this, crystal clear and cold enough that I could see my breath. These intimate moments were so rare outside the confines of our quarters that I tried to make them last as long as possible, treasuring them when they occurred.
The night wind picked up and rustled through the forests that surrounded the base. If I closed my eyes it almost sounded a little like the hiss of sands shifting in the desert but the smells the breeze carried with it reminded me constantly I was very far away from my home world. I shivered a little as the temperature dropped slightly and Thrawn picked up on that quickly.
“Are you chilled enough to want to come inside with me? I would like to shower and change clothes before we have dinner.” Thrawn asked, brushing the side of my neck with the backs of his fingers.
“So what’s on the menu tonight?”
“I thought I would surprise you.”
“That would also be a surprise.” He murmured in my ear sending chills down my spine and warmth flooding up through me from within. This was an old game we played but I enjoyed each variation of it never the less.
“And after desert?”
“Oh I am quite certain there will some very interesting conversation going on. You and I have a great deal to catch up on.”
I smiled to myself and then allowed him to lead me to the stairs which led back inside of the tower out of the cold, away from the dark of the night and into the warmth he provided.