“I’ll be back before you leave so I can look after the jaxes. I need to be here before the art auction anyway, I promised Za’ar I’d have information ready for him about it before he makes planet side.” I had said as I had packed.
Uncle Vahlek had nodded. “Where will you be staying so I can reach you if I need to?”
“I booked a room in the main hotel in Dee’ja Peak. I’m told the waterfall there is something everyone should see at least once in their lives. Bedi said it’s where my parents spent the first week of their honeymoon.”
He had smiled. “Yes it is worth seeing and it was something your mother was bound and determined to show your father. She loved Naboo a lot, I think she spent a fair amount of time there as a child with her own family.”
“I’ll have my comm with me.” I had added as I finished my packing. “I just need to get away for a while and Bedi put the idea in my head to go to Naboo. I liked the planet the last time I was there; I felt a sense of peace. I need to get away and think and I can’t do that here.” I had said as if that explained it all and had hoped that he would accept this without digging further.
He had walked with me to the shuttle port in Wayfar and had kissed me on the forehead as I had hugged him before departing.
“Whatever it is you are looking for,” He had said softly in my ear, “I hope you find it with the minimum of bloodshed.”
“Me too.” Had been my reply and I had boarded the small shuttle to the Mos Espa Space Port without looking back.
The transport to Naboo was quiet. This did not surprise me because it was, I had been told by the travel agent I had booked the flights through, the off season for holidaying on Naboo. It felt odd to be using a public transport but my ship was on Nirauan and I had not wanted to take my father’s old cargo runner even though Bedi had offered it. It was easier to blend in and be anonymous by taking public transportation and I had wanted to attract as little attention as possible. I had booked a small cabin for the trip which would take longer on the transport ship than had I flown in my own but I didn’t mind, it gave me time to think. I had not really been joking when I had told Uncle Vahlek I needed to get away, that part had been true and surprisingly enough my first night on board the Narmle Pearl II I slept all the way through with no nightmares at all. When we landed at the Theed spaceport, several days later, I felt better rested than I had in ages. It was early morning and raining when I disembarked.
The shuttle to Dee’ja peak was busy with people commuting to work. It felt surreal to be on this world after so many years away from it. I had forgotten how lush and how green it was, especially when compared to the barren deserts of the planet I had just left. I was surprised to find myself shivering because I felt so cold and was glad I had brought along a long, warm coat. It was too easy for me to get used to Tatooine's shimmering heat.
The town of Dee’ja Peak was stunningly beautiful and I gasped at the sight of it when I stepped off the shuttle stopping mid stride to stand in awe at what I was looking at. My awe was short lived as the person behind me shoved into me cursing while trying to get past. Early morning rush traffic and I was in the way, holding things up. With a sigh I moved forward with the rest of the people pouring into the town from the small shuttle port and went in search of the hotel. It wasn’t hard to find and it was not busy. The droid who was working at the check in counter gave me a package with tourist information as well as my key card once I had signed in.
“I’m afraid the official tours only run once every two days Miss Gabriel, this is the off season and it is quite quiet this year.” He explained almost apologetically.
I smiled. “That’s fine, I’d rather explore on my own. Is there anywhere to rent a speeder around here?” I asked.
“Oh yes, you may rent one from the hotel if you like. We have a nice selection of vehicles for you to choose from, if you would… and I can charge that to the room bill.”
“Great.” I said and picked out the smallest, least expensive two seat vehicle, an AB-one land-speeder. It would do for what I wanted even though it wasn’t the fastest one offered. I thanked the droid again as he handed me the key to the vehicle and wished me a pleasant stay. I took my bags and went in search of my room. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the room I had been given was not only airy and spacious but also had a stunning view of the Dee’ja Peak waterfall.
Dee’ja Peak was nestled in the Gallo Mountains of Naboo which mean the town had great views and incredibly beautiful scenery surrounding it. The main attraction was the waterfall which was considered a very large point of interest for visitors. It was impressive to look at although not quite as impressive as the waterfall in Theed. Dee'ja Peak had been one of the earliest human settled places on the planet but unlike Theed or Kaadara it had never managed to obtain the growth or stature and had remained small and unobtrusive. During the Emperor’s rule it was the center of all things imperial and most of the civilians who worked at the retreat but who did not want to live there had found apartments in Dee’ja Peak.
I sat on one of the small comfortable chairs in the room and sighed noisily. I was tired from the long trip although I had slept well on board the transport. After a small one sided debate with myself I decided on having a bath, a luxury I had sorely missed on Tatooine and then maybe some breakfast that didn’t all taste the same, after that I would start the real reason I came out here. By mid after noon it was sufficiently warm for me not to be huddled in a thick sweater. I had eaten lunch in my room while browsing the HoloNet but I didn’t find anything of use and if Thrawn was out there creating havoc for the New Republic the HoloNews nets were not talking about it. I changed into traveling clothes and packed a small satchel with things I might need then went down stairs to go and find my speeder. It had been many years since I was here and I hoped that my memory of the location for the Imperial Retreat was accurate other wise I’d be driving around the planet for no good reason at all.
I wasn’t sure what I would find out at the Retreat, I wasn’t sure if it was even still there so I was very grateful when I came up over the hill to see the main building still standing. I slowed the speeder and manoeuvred it around the trails which had over grown until I came to the small house that I had once stayed in. La’yalla creeper had taken over one of the walls completely and I didn’t have to use any force sense to know it was deserted. When I tried the front door it was locked so I left it alone. My memories of this place were happy ones; I didn’t feel the need to see the decay which had set in. I sighed as I started the speeder’s engine up and headed towards the main Retreat building. At the height of the Emperor’s reign this had been a busy place but towards the latter years he had frequented it less and less leaving the bulk of the imperial administrative work to his advisers especially Sate Pestage. When I had last been here the compound had been full of workers and navy personnel now the place was deserted and ghost like.
I parked the speeder a little ways away, half hidden by trees and scrub bushes which had long been left to over grow the once cultivated gardens and made my way around to the back of the building to the lake side where I knew of a small set of stairs which would lead me to the balcony and hopefully a way in. I stopped on the wide sweeping balcony and stared out over the lake. It was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it to be and a wash of memories, mostly concerning Thrawn, made me smile. If I closed my eyes I could picture him standing next to me, whispering his seductive words in my ear, a thought which sent a wave of warmth shoot through my body. It seemed like an age since that moment and I sighed as I turned away from the view of the lake to try and find a way into the building without setting off any alarms. I considered using the lightsaber, the one that had once belonged to my mother, that I had brought with me on a whim but then I decided to try one of my imperial personal codes instead and much to my shock this actually worked. The side door snicked opened softly and I slipped in quietly like one of my uncle’s jaxes.
The retreat was dark, silent and smelled of disuse. It seemed strange that the building was completely intact and abandoned but then again maybe it had been overlooked and forgotten by the New Republic who had better things to do than look after an old Imperial hideaway. I made my way through the quiet hall until I reached the main foyer. The building had been built in Old Nubian style, with high, ornate ceilings and polished stone floors had been beautiful but now signs of neglect were creeping in. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust and decorated with lacy cobwebs. No one had been here in a very long time.
First I made my way to the library; it seemed the best place to begin a search especially since I wasn’t even sure what it was I was looking for exactly. The large door slid open silently for me and I stepped through it cautiously. The huge room was full of shadows and floor to ceiling stacks which had once been full of data-books and chips but which now stood empty. The scent of decay was stronger in here than anywhere else I had been so far, probably due to the damaged electronics which lay strewn about carelessly. I looked at the shelves which had been stripped bare, this had once been one of the best information centers in the Empire, now, the data-files which had been left behind had been destroyed beyond repair and everything else was gone, wiped clean. I bit my lip as I found an access terminal, hoping that the main computer system was still online even though I doubted the databanks would be intact. It would have been fool hardy for any imperial to leave a place such as this accessible to the Rebels, especially the data. I tapped into the computer and was not surprised to find nothing remained on the public data core. No matter what code I typed I got the same response, <
The turbo lift doors opened onto darkness and for a moment I felt a wave of panic sweep through me but I squashed it quickly. There was nothing here and no one had been here in a long time. I dug out the small hand held light from my satchel and made my way to the small set of doors at the end of the corridor. The door was locked but I had access codes which Lord Vader himself had given me and they overrode the universal lock out. I stepped into the dark room holding my breath and only let it out when the door closed behind me. I fumbled for the light switch and was pleasantly surprised when one of the small side lights flickered on. Using the keypad I locked the door so that even if someone else was here they couldn’t get in.
It felt odd to be in his rooms because even though he had never spent much time here a sliver of his presence remained and suddenly I missed him sharply. That terrible sense of loss rode up and made me sad in a way I could never seem to quite understand. Lord Vader had never liked being on Naboo, it reminded him too sharply of his long dead wife, Padmé Amidala. These memories made his already legendary temper even more volatile and violent so he had usually sequestered himself down in these isolated rooms when he was here, it was the safest thing for all concerened. The Emperor had taken a perverse delight in making sure that Lord Vader had spent time on the planet, knowing it made him edgy and peevish. Palpatine liked to unbalance people and this had been a sure fire way to rattle Lord Vader’s cage. I went to the desk on the far side of the wall which had once been mine to use and sat down. I probably should not have been surprised when the screen came up blank regardless of what access code I typed in but I was. I sat back in the chair and sighed because this meant there was only one more place to go to find information here and it was the last place I wanted to visit.
I made my way back through the hallway to the narrow corridor at the end and stepped into the turbo lift. The Emperor’s private chambers were on the highest floor as usual. He had had a penchant for being above everyone else and here at the retreat had been no different. I half expected the lift to be on lock-down but it responded to my touch, my fingers tingling as I brushed against the control panel. There were no real memories but an after image of Sate Pestage came to mind and absently my fingers retraced the pattern his had made over the keypad. When the turbo lift lurched upward my stomach lurched with it.
I stepped out of the lift when the doors opened, half expecting to be challenged by members of the Royal guard but the hall was as empty as the rest of the building. It was eerie and disorienting. I walked silently down the dark empty hall, unsure of where I was headed exactly. Unlike the Imperial palace, I did not know the lay out of the Retreat that well and I didn’t have a set of blue prints to help me along. I tried each and every door I came across but either the door was locked or the rooms were empty. It seemed that while the retreat had been left standing intact who ever had been in charge of it last had not been asleep and had made sure the place had been stripped of all that was important. I suspected that Sate Pestage had taken care of this. If this were the case, it would not have surprised me; he had been Palpatine’s right hand, Palpatine’s shadow he had been called, taking care of all the day to day aspects of running the empire and essentially acting as Palpatine personal assistant. Everyone thought that Pestage would take over leadership of the Empire after the Emperor's death but Isard had not allowed that to happen. If Pestage had been a force user I had never felt it but he had been clever and the Emperor had trusted him. I sighed loudly out of frustration because I felt as though I was getting nowhere.
Palpatine’s audience chamber was on the top floor of the complex. The aura of power that had surrounded him in life had not diminished any in this place and I shuddered as I stepped out of the turbo lift. The chamber was vast, darkly lit and sparsely furnished, designed this way to instill a sense of awe and fear. I walked to the throne and stared at it for a moment before laying my hand on one of the arm rests. If I had been expecting a barrage of images and memoirs of the man who had once sat in this chair I was sadly disappointed. All I felt was a cold caress of a papery hand across the back of my neck. “Not here, child.” I shivered and sat down on the cold stone floor in frustration. I had been here for hours and found nothing, yet I had felt pulled to the Retreat and usually these feelings held some truth so the fact that there was nothing here puzzled and annoyed me. I looked at my chrono, it was late and the last thing I wanted to do was take the speeder back to Dee’ja Peak in the dark, driving oalong unfamiliar paths through wooded areas of Naboo but I didn’t particularly want to spend the rest of the night in this complex either. I made my way back down to the main rotunda and slipped behind the concierge’s counter. I smiled when I found what I was looking for, the entrance key for the small house I had once lived in tucked at the very back of the drawer where no one could find it.
The small residence was dark and still as I opened the door. No one had been here in a long time, in fact I doubted anyone had used this place since I had been here. No one liked this particular building because they believed it was haunted and because it was so far away from the main Retreat complex. I had been given it as a place to stay while working here because there had been no other housing available but I had not been unhappy about it. It had been a blessing to live so far away from the main complex and the little house which had been designed for two people had been completely mine, I had not had to share it. It was in a quiet area, surrounded by trees with a nice view of the lake.
Without turning on the lights, and being as quiet as I could I moved through the place quickly. Once I had done a cursory sweep through to make sure I was really alone and not sharing the house with any creatures that might have found a way in I breathed a small sigh of relief. Everything was exactly as I had left it, at least that is what my cursory first glance told me and touching furniture confirmed that no one else had come here since I had lived in it, at least not to stay for any extended period of time. Once I felt secure that there really was no one else here, I turned on the lights and began to dig through the kitchen cupboards hoping to find the half bottle of brandy I had left behind by mistake. I was not disappointed. Grabbing it and a glass I made my way to the living room and plunked down on the small couch. It was only then that I noticed a book on the small table in front of the couch and it sent a shiver down my spine. The book was old, ancient in fact and I had not left it here which meant someone else had. I knew without touching who that person had been and the knowledge turned my stomach. Let’s get this over with shall we, I thought to myself and reached over to pick the heavy book up. The memory was short and to the point. Palpatine’s voice shot through my mind like a slap and it was painful.
I have not forgotten you child. I have not forgotten any of those who have served me. You came here too seek out knowledge but nothing remains. There are no vast libraries of information save that which I choose to create and in order to find them you will have to come to me. When the time is right you will know where and then you will be ready to begin your internship under my guiding hand.
I shuddered as I let the book fall back on the table. Even from beyond the grave he could still scare the hell out of me. I sighed as I poured a generous glass of brandy and sat back against the couch. The drink’s bite and burn was a welcome distraction against the internal cold that Palpatine’s touch created. Is this why I had come here, to find this book with its cryptic message from a man now eight years dead? As I rested my head on the back of the couch and closed my eyes Thrawn’s words about ascribing Palpatine too much credit came back to haunt me. Was I, I wondered. Palpatine had been the most powerful force user in the Galaxy for as long as I had been alive and for as long as he had known of me he had been a subtle and occasionally a not so subtle guiding hand, pushing me towards a place in his coterie of force users but that had been interrupted when Lord Vader and his son, Luke, had destroyed Palpatine at the battle of Endor. How much had Palpatine really foreseen? I was certain the Emperor had taken steps to protect himself and his empire but had he really been able to come back from the grave?
I took a large gulp of brandy and let out the breath I had been holding noisily. Exhaustion was slowly creeping over my body the way the brandy’s warmth crept down my insides. What would Palpatine want with me anyway? My talents, such as they were, were limited and small. Even the gift of reading memory from objects would have been a parlour trick in comparison to his skills and abilities. If he had managed to somehow survive and now lived then why had he not returned to claim his empire? Why had he not at least shown himself to Thrawn and sent him aid on the task which now lay ahead of the last of his Grand Admirals? I was certain that if Palpatine had made plans to come back from the dead he would not be doing so without military might to back him up, so where was it? None of this made sense to me, least of all these not so subtle clues left behind for me to find, suggesting I go off on some mad search across the galaxy so I could find and be trained by the man I feared the most, a man who was dead or supposed to be. Yet, he had removed all the libraries, his libraries of knowledge. Every place I went in search of answers had been stripped of them, only a single memory left behind for me to find. It was jarring and annoying.
I kicked at the book on the table with my foot, sending it flying to the floor where it landed opened paged, like a wounded bird. Something small and shiny tumbled out of the spine, which had cracked, and rolled under the table. Curious, I picked it up examining it carefully. It was an identity chip, something often used to tag and bind objects to a particular place, person or building. Somewhere in the chip was a code which gave the location of the origin of the object so that it could be returned to the owner but this one was old, a lot older than I had ever seen used within the Imperial Palace and it lacked the typical palace markings. I clutched it in my fist and willed it to give me a clue, give up some memory of where it had come from and when it did I was beyond surprised because it had nothing to do with the Emperor at all and everything to do with finding information. This book had been stolen by the Imperials from the great library on Obroa Skai, a world I had forgotten about but one my mother had mentioned often enough because it was purported to be the largest and most complete repository of knowledge in the entire galaxy.
I picked up the book, an old copy of fantastic takes about force users in the time before the Empire, and set it back on the table. I flipped through it carefully looking for other clues but found nothing of interest, not even the stories it contained held any sway. Whatever he had been thinking Palpatine had underestimated my hatred of him as well as my own disinterest in becoming one of his dark adepts. I smiled at this thought, because Palpatine had underestimated many things including Lord Vader’s love for his son and that had been the Emperor’s undoing.
I finished my brandy and lay down on the couch. When sleep came it was dreamless and when I woke up in the morning with the sunlight streaming through the windows making the dust in the air sparkle and dance I smiled. In a backwards way the Emperor’s attempt to sway me had actually helped me find a part of what I was looking for and now all I had to do was get the information to my uncle and Thrawn because, while it wasn’t an exact pinpointing of Wayland's location, I was sure that somewhere in the vast data collection of the galaxy’s largest library of information the co-ordinates where there, somewhere, and all one had to do was find them. I was pretty certain that this would be an easy task.
I left the house as quietly as I had come, taking the speeder back to the Dee’ja Peak hotel. After I showered and packed I was anxious to leave I had no reason to stay here any more. The desk droid was annoyed when I checked out two days early but didn’t complain when I paid in full. I managed to make it to Theed in time to book a passage on a fast shuttle to Tatooine and was grateful to be leaving Naboo and its memories behind. The Retreat and the small house had been places I had enjoyed while I had been there but, like the Empire I had once known, they were now just shadows of memory and I was tired of memories haunting me. It was time to move forward and look to the future, which for now meant preparing for the up and coming art auction, because if Thrawn had been right and the major attraction, a moss painting was really going to be on the auction block then things were going to get interesting.