The day of the auction arrived along with crappy weather. Uncle Vahlek has insisted on walking out to Wayfar as it wasn’t that far from the house much to my annoyance. Fine sand-grit whipped up by strong winds stung any surface of skin not protected and somehow managed to find its way underneath all protective clothing to scratch and irritate. I hated it most of all when it got in my mouth. Fine grit that crunched on my teeth when ever I bit down or spoke sent unpleasant shivers up and down my spine so that by the time we had reached the shuttle-port at Wayfar I was more than ready to turn around and go home. I was happy when the shuttle arrived and we could get out of the misery of the sandstorm.
“You’ve gotten spoiled, Lei’lei.” Uncle Vahlek said with a grin. “Living away from Tatooine has made you soft.”
I just glowered at him as I tried to discretely brush sand off myself.
The shuttle ride was bumpy and unpleasantly full. The air smelled of sweat and sand mingled with all the other odours from all the various beings which permeated the air. Usually I enjoyed shuttle runs but this was an exception and by the time we landed in Mos Espa I was quite nauseous. I had to cup my hand over my mouth and practically ran off the shuttle.
“What’s wrong?” my uncle asked. “You look positively green; you don’t usually get travel sick. You’re not pregnant are you?”
I gave him another fifthly look. “No.” I said shaking my head, trying to breathe slowly, willing the queasiness in my stomach to settle down.
“Yes, I am quite sure.” I snapped, grateful when the waves of nausea passed. “I just don’t do well in crowded spaces, especially when they stink like that.” I explained. “It reminds me of Mattri and of Nar Shadda too much.”
“I see.” Said my uncle sadly. “Even though he’s dead Jyrki’s actions still have their effect.”
I nodded. “So, where are we going?” I asked, changing the subject, “And will we have time to stop for something to drink? I could use a cup of tea, my mouth is full of grit.”
My uncle slung his arm around my shoulders and we headed in the direction of auction following a group of laughing Rodians who seemed to be headed the same way.
Mawbro’s Performance Hall was not nearly as glamorous on the inside as it’s name made it sound. Once we had been allowed to pass by the Weequay who was guarding the door, making sure people checked their sand covered wraps and weapons we wandered into a large spacious hall.
Scattered throughout the huge room were several stages where I assumed dancers generally performed on while customers sat and drank, enjoying their evening. Clean circles on the dark floor gave away that usually the place was littered with tables and chairs surrounding the stages. Currently these stages were occupied by food and beverage stalls selling all manner of things to eat and drink, filling the air with an assortment of aromas.
“How’s your stomach?” My uncle asked as we rounded on a stall that was selling pastries and cha’rae, a sort of milky spiced tea.
“Hungry.” I answered, “When does this stupid auction start anyway?”
“Probably after everyone has had a chance to view the painting and validate it. Do you want to see it?”
I nodded. That was one of the reasons Thrawn had wanted me to come, he had felt I should look at this work of art seeing as how the method and materials to make more were long gone and never coming back. It was considered a priceless one of a kind and seeing in person was a chance that might not come around again. He had other reasons for me getting a first hand viewing as well but I didn’t want to think about them at the moment.
“Food first and we can see what else if up for auction then go stand in line.” Uncle Vahlek said as he ordered two zucca fruit pastries and two cups of cha’rae, one of each he handed to me.
We wandered around the hall looking at the booths that were situated along the walls. I was surprised at the variety of stuff people were auctioning off, most of it was junk. We idled past a stall selling glitter-glass panes that were supposed to have been owned by Jabba the Hutt. I giggled. “Usually Jabba likes his art a tad more realistic, by realistic I mean way more uhm….crude and erotic.” I told my uncle, “This is a bit more abstract than he would understand. He has a thing for twi’leks not this.”
Uncle Vahlek just made a face. “I won’t ask how you know these things.”
I just grinned and we continued to look at the wares up for auction. I stopped briefly to look at some sort of sand-sculpts cast in abstract shapes which reminded me a lot of some of the eerie rock formations that could be found in the North West of Beggar’s Canyon. Next to the stall with the sand sculpts was a stall being run by squibs, small furry beings who were as annoying as they were persistent. My uncle tugged at my arm making sure I didn’t go near them. I looked over my shoulder and watched as they sucked in a Devaronian and a twi’lek to look at their stuff, making them pay to do so.
“Oh Lei’lei, you will want to see these!” With his hand around my wrist, my uncle led me over to a stall run by a Barabel. What he was showing took my breath away. Colourful bowls made from some sort of material so delicate that light showed through them.
“Alasl bowls found in the Judland wastes, made by Tuskens.” The Barabel said. “Very rare.” They were beautiful and they took my breath away.
“If you really want one I can bid for you.” My uncle said quietly.
I nodded, “I would love at least one, and I am certain that Za’ar would also like one as well. It’s the sort of thing he likes to collect.”
“No one will bid against the Tze’yusha’Jin if they are being smart.” A voice said from behind me.
I turned around to come face to chest with Baraq, the Ithorian archivist from Mos Espa. Without thinking about it I threw my arms around him and much to his surprise gave him a hug which made my uncle laugh.
“Baraq what are you doing here?” My uncle asked, “I thought you could not come.”
The Ithorian shrugged, “And be missing a chance to see a galactic treasure as well as my good friend, Akosh, here? For today the archives can be closed.”
“We were about to go and view it, want to join us?” I asked.
Baraq shook his head. “I have already seen it. It is a thing of wonder. You would be liking it I think.” He said. “But you should be lining up now, already it is taking almost an hour for a viewing.”
At Baraq’s advice we set off, meandering around the rest of the auction stalls before standing in line to view Killik Twilight. Halfway around the hall I spotted the Imperial officer that Thrawn had sent, quite literally, to do his bidding. I didn’t recognize the man’s face but the air of contempt he had for us as we passed him was unmistakable. I smirked a little knowing that he would have been more than polite had he known who I was, who I had worked for and who my mate was but wisely I kept my thoughts to my self.
“Where there’s one there are more.” Uncle Vahlek said softly making me look around to play spot the Imperials in disguise. It was pretty straightforward. They were the people who looked very obvious because they were trying so hard not to look obvious.
“Guess he’s expecting things to get interesting.” I mumbled as we waited in line for our turn to view the painting.
It took over forty minutes before we were allowed to step through the mirrfield straight into a gaggle of Mawbro’s thugs dressed in the ugliest clothes I had ever seen all pointing blasters at us.
“Security.” Said a Rodian as blindfolds were placed over our eyes and we were led on a somewhat convoluted trip to a room that stank from thaq smoke which made me sneeze. Once our blindfolds were removed we were directed to the wall where the painting hung, flanked by two Gamorreans. It was smaller than I had imagined it would be but also more vibrant.
“You can verify it if you want, but only brush samples. No clipping. You got two minutes, don’t waste ‘em.” A voice said from out of the dimness.
The technique of moss painting creation had been lost when Alderaan had been destroyed. There weren’t many of these paintings left in the galaxy and as far as I knew the ones that had survived were mainly in private collections. It was eerie and beautiful but it left me feeling cold with a slight sense of dread for no good reason at all. The strange stormy sky and the insectoids turning to stare into the storm was melancholy.
Killiks had been the inhabitants of Alderaan but had vanished long before humans had colonized for no reason anyone could ever figure out. They were one of the great unsolved mysteries of the galaxy
I glanced at my uncle who nodded slightly, this was what I was here for, and then I reached up and brushed my fingertips ever so lightly over the mossy surface of the painting. It felt like a lifetime as the images from the painting’s memories shot through me even though it was only seconds. Images like that of the artist painstakingly creating the image, the memory of his hands lovingly cultivating each piece of moss in exactly the right place. There were lingering images of the many people who had touched the painting’s frame while it hung in the palace in Alderaan including the princess as a small girl and much to my surprise my mother as well. But the images that stunned me the most had nothing to do with the painting and everything to do with the Rebellion. I sucked in a breath involuntarily and staggered back slightly. My uncle stood behind me placing his hand on my shoulder, an anchor back into reality.
“I know….” I began in an urgent whisper.
“Shhhh.” Uncle Vahlek put a finger to his lips and shook his head ever so slightly. “Not here.”
A sense of urgency washed through me. “I have to tell….” I pressed.
My uncle gave me a tight smile and repeated his previous statement.
I was about to argue when the same gruff voice told us our two minutes were up and that we were holding up the ever growing queue.
“Let’s go and get something to drink shall we?” Uncle Vahlek said, taking my arm and leading me out of the room.
The main hall was more crowded when we stepped back into it and the line up to see Killik Twilight had more than doubled since we had stood in it. We left the performance hall and I trailed behind my uncle as led me to a small café which was far enough away from the main strip that it wasn’t hopelessly crowded. A tired looking waitress took our order and then returned a few moments later with drinks.
“Do you want to hear or not?” I asked crossly after a long silence had passed.
He shook his head. “Yes but not here, not in any language, too many people around and there is no telling who can speak what. Besides if our friend wins the auction you can tell him then. It will be an added bonus to the prize.”
I scowled. “And if he doesn’t win it?”
“Do you think that is likely with all the resources he has at his hand?”
I shrugged. “No one thought the Emperor would be killed or that the death star battle station would be destroyed but the rebellion has had remarkable luck in turning disadvantages to their advantage. At this point I would say anything is possible and I never take anything for granted any more, not when it comes to the rebels anyway.”
My uncle nodded and conceded the point. “Well the auction is supposed to start in an hour so I guess we’ll see how it all turns out then, won’t we?” He sighed and looked at his chrono, “Do you still want those bowls you were looking at earlier?”
I nodded remembering the eerie beauty of the delicate bowls the barabel was displaying.
“I’ll bid for you, just let me know your limit. Most of what was on display is junk, but you know that anyway. The main attraction is the moss painting. I wonder is actually auctioning it off.”
I replied without thinking, “Some guy named Threkin Horm.”
My uncle blinked at me in surprise and then made a face, remembering my talent. “That guy happens to be the president of the Alderaanian Council.”
I raised my eyebrows, “And he’s auctioning off this priceless work of Alderaan art here?”
Uncle Vahlek nodded over his drink.
“Bet that will go over well with the New Republic types.” I said quietly.
I just shook my head. “Guess he better hope that no one finds out.” I said as I finished my drink.
“It’s not something I would advertise out loud Lei’lei. The last thing you need is to make a new enemy; your mate would never forgive me if that happened while I was supposed to be keeping an eye on you.”
I made a face even though he was right and in the end it wasn’t any of my concern anyway.
“Come on, we should be headed back. If you want me to bid on some of those bowls the barabel was auctioning for you then we need to get a decent spot on the floor.”
I finished my drink and nodded, lost in thought about how I would get a hold of Thrawn to tell him what I now knew. He wasn’t going to like it much.