It was the same dream over and over again.
I knew I was dreaming but I couldn’t stop it from unfolding. I found myself in the facility in Mount Tantiss in the waiting room where the painting called Palpatine Triumphant hung. The sand jiggers in the pit of my belly were worse than ever and I was scared but I didn’t know why. The Emperor was dead, Lord Vader had killed him, thrown him down a shaft on the second death star. I didn’t know how I had come to this place or why I was here. Suddenly, out of nowhere one of the Emperor’s advisors appeared, sour faced and sallow skinned. I jumped when he spoke.
“Come with me Miss.” He said in a voice that was like sandpaper on metal.
Without word or protest I followed the man and marvelled at how his feet made no sound on the polished stone floor. We walked for what seemed like forever through a maze of hallways and winding stairwells. I knew this could not be right because the Emperor would never have bothered with stairs, he only ever used turbo lifts. We descended further and further going deeper and deeper into the belly of the mountain until I was sure we would reach the core. I could feel the pressure change on my ears and my heart pounded in my chest. I was frightened but also curious.
We reached our destination, a set of doors at he end of a long dim corridor, the advisor whose name I didn’t know stopped and pulled open the great set of double doors, gesturing for me to walk through them. I stepped hesitantly out on to the large platform and gasped. I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting but what I saw was not it. As far as my eye could see the walls were lined with large tubes of transparasteel, each one held a body, a clone. The sight made my stomach turn. I closed my eyes because the images that flooded through my head were painful and made me dizzy. When I turned around to tell the person who brought me to this place that I wanted to return home I came face to face with the Emperor. His face was a wrinkled wreck and his laughter felt like claws down my back.
“I told you if you wanted to learn more you would have to come to me.” He said reaching out to caress my face with gnarled fingertips. “And here you are, too curious to stay away. I knew you would return to me. It is your destiny.”
I took a step back from him. “You’re dead.” I whispered, shaking my head in denial at what I saw.
He laughed. “I am never dead, child.” He said and for a moment he seemed to blur out of existence and then shifted back, changing his appearance from that of decrepit and old to that of a handsome, virulent man. He was powerful and young but in his eyes I saw him as he really was, malevolent and ancient.”
“How is this possible?” I whispered taking another step back.
“The dark side is a path to many abilities, child. You have no idea but I could show you. I could teach you so much. You have talents that could be of use.” He said. “I told you that you cannot escape me.”
“Why are you doing this?” I asked gesturing to the clones below me.
“I want my Empire back.” He hissed.
“Grand Admiral Thrawn is working on that.” I burst out.
His smile was cruel and terrifying. “Yes, he does my bidding well, does he not?”
“Do you think, child, that he starts this war on a whim? Nothing in this galaxy happens without my knowing about it.”
I shook my head. “No. He never does anything on a whim.” I murmured softly. Wondering if Thrawn really did know about that the Emperor was alive.
The Emperor cackled, “Except for you, child.” He said snidely. “You were unexpected. His attachment to you was very unexpected, but useful.” He took a step towards me. His face kept shifting from old to youthful and back again as though he could not decide which phase he should stay in.
I stepped back one more step and felt the railing of the platform at my back. “Unexpected?”
Palpatine’s grin was full of teeth and malice. “Such a pretty distraction, no wonder he doesn’t want you to come here. My guardian would have such fun with you.”
“What guardian? Why are you hiding here anyway, why are you not helping him win back your empire?”
“I will return when the time is right and Mitth’raw’nuruodo will pave the way.” He snarled. “You will be the incentive to make sure he succeeds!” He added and reached to grab me but I pushed him away. “You cannot hide, little one, I can feel you through the force, did you think I could not?” He snickered.
“No.” I said shaking my head, suddenly terrified. I thought that I was free of him; I thought that with his death I no longer had to worry about the Emperor and his terrible plans. I took one more step away before he could touch me. The railing at my back gave way and I fell backwards into the abyss of cloning tubes, screaming as I went.
My screams echoed about the room as I woke, soaked from sweat shivering from fear. I wept then, something I hadn’t done because of a nightmare in a very long time but these dreams scared me even more than the ones in which I saw Thrawn die. For three days the tension in the house had been uncomfortable and the dreams had been far more vivid than normal. My uncle had been distant and I had been cranky. The subject of Wayland lay between us, a rift that made being in the same room difficult because I wanted to ask and he refused to speak of it. Since our late night conversation I had woken each night from the same terrible dream stifling my screams with my fists. I sighed and got out of bed and went to shower. By the time I was dressed my uncle was awake and making ‘caf. It was just past five in the morning.
“You’re up early.” I mumbled.
“You are a hell of an alarm clock, child.” He said looking at me with worry.
I sighed as stood leaning against the wall in the archway between the kitchen and the living room, “I’m going to Mos Eisley today.” I said after an uncomfortable silence.
He nodded. “Bedi will be glad to see you and it will be good for you to stop putting off dealing with the task at hand. The sooner you get all of Kit’s things sorted out the better I think. Maybe your nightmares will stop then.”
“I’ve told you, my nightmares have nothing to do with going through papa’s things.” I said sulkily.
“I hear you screaming, Lei’lei.” He said softly, “If the dreams are not about what happened to Kit or what took place on Ando Prime then just what are they about? Are you dreaming of Palpatine again?” He poured the ‘caf, and placed two cups on the kitchen table. He fed the jaxes and sliced some fruit which he set in a bowl on the table. I remained silent and sulky, my resentment and anger exacerbated by the terrible images that haunted me in my sleep.
“Sit, eat and listen to me.” He said in a tone of voice he rarely used. He was fed up with my moods and a little worried although he didn’t come out and say it.
Too tired to argue I did as he asked and picked a piece of fruit out of the bowl to nibble on.
“I know you are cross with me but my business with Admiral Thrawn has nothing to do with you. You are his bond mate not his second in command, no matter how much you might like to think so. He keeps his work separate from his private life and that is exactly how it should be. He told me you would get yourself all worked up if I told you what I was contracted to do for him so I didn’t but you are getting better at putting the pieces together and I wonder if even he’s figured that out yet.” He said as he sat down and pushed a cup of stim’caf towards me. “What is it about this place, Wayland that has you looking like death warmed over every time the name gets mentioned?”
I eyed him with a scowl and sipped the ‘caf. It was very strong and unusually bitter. “It’s a bad place.” I mumbled as if that explained everything.
He gave me a small smile. “Yes, I gathered that, which is why you have been asked to stay away from it. Now tell me everything you know about it and why you are so obsessed with it.”
I chewed my piece of fruit slowly, trying to organise my thoughts. “It was the Emperor’s private store house, his personal fortress for all the things he wanted kept private. I only saw a very small part of it.”
“It was obviously enough to make you go a little crazy.” He retorted.
“I see it in my dreams sometimes.” I replied carefully.
“The ones that have you screaming awake in the early hours of the morning?”
“I thought you did not recall what they were about?”
I made a face. “I lied; sometimes I do remember although I wish that wasn’t the case.”
“Ah.” He said happy to finally be getting to the heart of the matter. “And that’s reason enough for you to want to go tearing across the galaxy into almost certain danger in spite of being asked not to?”
I shrugged. “It’s a terrible place. Being there was like having bees burning in my brain but these dreams, they mean something; they are trying to tell me something, and whatever that is, it’s important.”
He shook his head, puzzled. “What exactly do you mean?”
“I feel as though I am forgetting something, a detail that is part of a larger picture, like the last piece of a puzzle.” I said with a sigh, “It’s always this way with these types of dreams. It’s a message but this time I don’t understand it. He’s dead, the Emperor, he’s dead. The empire fell apart, it’s been over eight years and the New Republic has control over nearly two thirds of the Empire so if he has the ability to clone himself with all his power and all of his memories intact then why would he wait so long to come back and re-establish his right as ruler? Why?”
Uncle Vahlek looked at me for a second as though he were trying to decipher a new code. “Honestly, Lei’lei I’m making allowances because it’s so early but you’re really not making much sense. Tell me everything you remember about the facility, everything and do not leave a single detail out.” He said.
“Wayland’s in the Ojsoster Sector but I don’t know exactly where. Lord Vader punched in the coordinates himself. The actual fortress is deep in a mountain and it’s some sort of a store house, I think, for all of his treasures that he didn’t have at the Imperial palace.” I said evasively.
“Treasures?” He asked.
I shrugged. “I was stuck in a waiting room and it was full of rare and precious arts works. I got the impression this place was where he kept all the things he coveted and didn’t want to share with anyone else. I was forbidden to move outside the room under pain of death and when I was called before the Emperor, I was taken directly to his audience chamber. I didn’t see much else. But I can tell you this even Lord Vader was afraid of that place. He would never say it or even show it but I felt it. We were tied by something, a bond, which allowed me to know things about him occasionally and I could sense his fear. Wayland held secrets that worried him, made him nervous. I haven’t thought about the place I a long time but now it’s the only thing on my mind and I don’t know why.” I was rambling.
For a long moment my uncle just regarded me and then he said, “Stop avoiding the real issue. Tell me about these dreams.”
I took a large gulp of ‘caf and thought about how to unravel the weirdness of the nightmares which had been plaguing me. Even bringing the memory of them back made my stomach turn. It must have shown on my face because Uncle Vahlek’s expression softened as he reached over and placed his hand over mine, saying; “Lei’lei, you’re sitting my kitchen and you’re perfectly safe. What do you see in these night terrors?”
I drew a deep breath and began to describe my nightmares as best I could. He sat, listening without interrupting and frowned when I finished.
“What do you think it all means?” He asked.
I shook my head. “Nothing, maybe everything. I don’t know.” It was the truth. I was missing something and it was driving me crazy.
“You’ve mentioned this idea of him cloning before. Do you think that the cloning facility is real?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know that either, Zte’sa, maybe. There was a rumour around the palace that the Emperor had the ability to clone, but I don’t know if it’s real. I told Thrawn about it because he was searching for answers, for ways to increase his numbers. It was just a possibility; I saw something when I was running around Coruscant, you know before all hell broke loose, and I thought it may be what he was looking for, but it is all just bits and pieces and what-ifs, nothing concrete. Whatever it is that is there is bad and I am dreaming about it, drawn to it. The answer to something is there I just don’t know what exactly.”
“Maybe the place is not the key, maybe it is something else. You just dream of this particular place because you associate it with Palpatine, you associate it with a bad experience.”
“Maybe. It was the first time he used my talent for reading the memories off objects.” I shuddered.
“Then step away from it for a while and maybe the answer will come to you sideways.”
“I am so tired of this. I thought the emperor was gone for good and now I can’t get him out of my head.” I spat. “He died at Endor, I felt it and now he haunts me in my dreams as though nothing ever happened.” I shook my head. “What the hell does this ghost want from me?” I yelled, thumping the table crossly with my fist.
Uncle Vahlek stared at me and then at his cup for a very long time. “How much time do you think you will spend in Mos Eisley?” He asked abruptly changing the subject.
“I don’t want to overnight at the docking bay if that’s what you are asking.” I said quietly. “There are too many memories, I don’t want to shock the hell out of Bedi by waking the entire house up with my screams, and…,” I shrugged, “…and I don’t feel at home there any more.”
“So just for the day?”
I nodded. “If we can get what has to be done in that time frame yeah.”
“I will let Bedi know to expect us then.”
“Yes, us. Given your current state of mind I don’t think I am letting you out of my sight. I, too, made a promise.” He said with a sigh, getting up to refill our cups. “I intend to keep it. So there will be no arguments about this from you, besides Bedi has been wanting us both to come to dinner ever since she heard I returned home safe and sound.”
I just nodded. I had been dreading going back to the docking bay because it meant having to help Bedi go through my father’s things and his papers. I didn’t want to deal with it; I didn’t want to deal with any of it.
“If you hurry up and get ready we can catch the early shuttle out and be in Mos Eisley by eight.” He said, a not so subtle hint to get up off my behind and get moving.
The trip to Mos Eisley was quiet and uneventful. The shuttle was full of the usual commuters but we had arrived early enough to get a seat. The walk from the shuttle port to the docking bay was a painful reminder every step of the way that I was going back to a home that no longer had my father. The sudden ache of loss was painful. I sighed and Uncle Vahlek wrapped his arm around my shoulder as we jostled our way through the morning crowds. It felt as though I had not been in Mos Eisley for centuries, as though everything had changed even though it was exactly the same as it had been a few days ago.
Bedi was waiting for us and her hug was warm and loving. “Bel will be so sorry she missed you all, she went to visit her sister for the week.” She said. “She needed to get out of the house and …well…you know how it is.”
I nodded. I knew and understood. Bel had been a part of the family for almost as long as I could remember, in many ways she was like a sister to me. She had loved and looked up to my father and his death had torn her apart. Though she would never voice it I got the feeling that a little part of her blamed me for what had happened and I wasn’t sure that she was wrong either. I turned down Bedi’s offer of tea in favour of getting straight to work and headed to papa’s office. I had not reckoned on the flood of memories which assaulted me when I walked into his room, nor had I been ready for the sudden tears which sprang to my eyes unwanted and unstoppable. I was grateful that Uncle Vahlek and Bedi were still in the kitchen, giving me some time alone. Grief had a terrible way of slapping me in the face and I never got used to it. Once I got over the crying jag I went to work and began the task of dismantling my father’s life.
When Bedi knocked on the door to tell me lunch was ready I was a little surprised that so much time had passed and even more surprised to find out that I was hungry. Over lunch we all spoke of inconsequential things and then once there was no more to eat and no more small talk to make I went back to sorting out the paperwork in my father’s office, this time Bedi came with me to help and I was grateful.
“Why did papa keep all of this junk?” I asked looking at the piles we had sorted out.
Bedi sat back against the desk and smiled sadly. “He was such a pack-rat. He never threw anything out.” She said. “He kept receipts for things that were destroyed or lost ages ago.”
“Well most of this rubbish can get thrown out or taken to the recycle plant.” I said gesturing around the room. “I found the deeds and I’ll get the changes done so the properties are all in yours and Bel’s names.”
“I’ll agree with this only if your name stays on the leases as well.” She said with a sigh. “You will not shut us out. I know you want to, I know you think if you do it will help heal the hole in your heart but trust me it won’t. I need you and so does Bel.”
I stared at her for a second and then nodded. “I think I’d like a cup of tea.” I said quietly. “I’ll send the additions to the paperwork tomorrow. I can do that from Uncle Vahlek’s house. ”
“You won’t stay here? I’ve kept fresh linens on the bed for you.”
I shook my head. “It’s too soon, Bedi.”
“I understand.” She said quietly but she was disappointed and sad.
“I will, I promise, but…” I stopped as more tears welled up in my eyes. I sighed angrily as I brushed them away.
“But it’s too soon, I understand.” She nodded. “When you are ready, it will be waiting for you.” She said. “You can always return here, it’s your home Merly, no matter what you think.” She patted my knee and got up from the floor. “I’ll go make tea shall I?”
“Please, I’ll be there in a moment.” I said and watched as she left the office quietly.
I stood up and walked around my father’s desk, brushing my fingers across its smooth surface. Memories of my father bubbling into my head, making me miss him all the more, images of him sitting at his desk, sorting through papers, reading, and doing ordinary every day things. These memories hurt and I sat down hard in the chair. If I closed me eyes I could almost see him, bring his presence into focus but he ache of loss overrode my desire to remember and I opened my eyes again quickly. I had loved this room as a child; the walls were lined with shelves full of books and strange souvenirs from all over the galaxy. Each item had a story to tell and my father had loved to tell them. I didn’t need to touch them to remember. I sighed as I stared at the shelves, my thoughts drifting to the small library that the Emperor had given me access to in the palace on Coruscant. He had emptied the room out so that when I had returned only a few items had remained including the memory of him. Unwanted, his voice whispered in my mind;
“If you wish to further your education about the force and its intricacies you must come to me little one.”
I shivered at the echo of his voice. He had known I would come back to Coruscant, come back to the library and he had planted this memory for me to find. You must come to find me… he had said but where? Coruscant was in the hands of the New Republic now and I had promised I would not go to Wayland. Thrawn’s insistence and the fear underneath his words scared me enough to want to honour my promise, for now, which meant that if I wanted an answer to my question then I had to find another way, another place to look, but where?
“Merly, tea’s ready!” Bedi called, breaking my train of thought.
I sighed as I got up and went to leave but as I did a small, holo capture tucked between two books in the bookshelf by the door caught my eye. I picked it up and stared at it. It was of my parents sitting by water on a beach but I had never seen it before. I took it with me to the kitchen and showed it to Bedi as I sat down to join both her and my uncle at the table. She smiled as she took the picture from my hands.
“They went to Naboo for their honeymoon.” She said, “This picture was taken by the beach at the resort, she taught your father to swim there.”
“Swim?” I asked.
Bedi nodded, “Your father was Tatooine born and bred and he couldn’t swim so she taught him on their honeymoon.”
Uncle Vahlek chuckled, “I remember her talking about that, she said that teaching Kit to swim was a little like trying to teach a bantha to fly.”
I laughed but my mind was buzzing. I had been so focused on Wayland that I had forgotten about one of the Emperor’s most important retreats. It was a place that I knew well enough but that had most likely been forgotten by almost everyone else, the Imperial retreat on Naboo. Palpatine had left a trail for me to follow, he had enjoyed games and he was playing one with me now. Even after his death at Endor his touch, cold and cruel remained. As I sat in the kitchen drinking tea with what was left of my family I realized that if I wanted some answers to the questions flying around my head then I would have to go and look for them. I had promised Thrawn I would stay away from Wayland and I would honour that promise if I could, but I had not given my word to stay away from Coruscant or Naboo.