The Tornado was a tub and her captain was anything but pleased to have me on board but I ignored him and acted as though I had every right to be there on the bridge. If everyone was supposed to think I had been one of Palpatine’s super agents then I had to act that way. In my mind I just pictured Mara Jade and how she had acted and went with that. I had been given a small but comfortable cabin on the port side of the ship and as far as I could tell unlimited access to everything.
The frigate which had been slightly converted to carry cargo travelled slower than an ISD making the trip across the galaxy in hyperspace a long one, at least it felt long. I did not have any friends on board this ship and no one wanted to tangle with an Emperor’s hand, the reputation of Palpatine’s spies seemed long lasting and long reaching. The sideways glances and hushed whispers when ever I passed people in the corridors of the ship did not escape my attention. I hoped that when we finally reached our destination, somewhere out in the far edge of the Outer Rim territories close to the Unknown Region borders, Ged Larsen would be a whole lot easier to deal with.
Initially the captain of the Tornado, Captain Daurma had been polite enough to offer me a place at his table for dinner but not quite polite enough to hide his relief when I refused citing work which I had to get done. The truth was his dislike and distrust of me made being near him difficult and it was just easier to spend time alone or in the exercise room practicing. Being able to return to a steady work our regime was a good thing and I had missed it. In some ways it made me melancholy, reminding me of the people who had trained me the people who I had lost but on the other hand it was also a great time for me to simply let go of everything and live in the forms and movements of the combat styles I had been taught. It helped pass the time and when I was not working out my frustrations in the training room I was in my cabin, reading.
Thrawn had given me a substantial amount of books in data-file formats as well as some serious dossiers on Ged Larsen and his command staff. He had wanted me to know everything I could to lend credence to the whole Emperor’s hand story.
“Tekari, it would not be believable other wise. Any Imperial Officer worth his salt will expect an agent of Palpatine to know everything available about them before hand, so learn this information off by heart.” Thrawn had said when I had argued against it. It had felt a lot like spying to me but in the end, since the trip was as dull as Hutt poetry I ended up committing pretty much everything Thrawn had given me to memory. When the trip, which had felt a lot longer than it actually was began to come to an end I could recite Larsen’s bio off by heart along with several of the books I had read as well.
When we began the trip from hyperspace back into real space, I felt it in the engines and decided to head to the bridge to watch for myself. I loved the slide in to real space and I also enjoyed being on the bridge of a ship as well so despite the Captain’s dislike of my presence I went anyway. When I stepped through the door all eyes turned momentarily to me then shifted back to the tasks at hand.
“Evening, Miss Gabriel.” The captain said coolly, “Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, I just wanted to see where we are.” I said, “If that’s okay with you, Captain?”
He hesitated just a moment then replied, “The Grand Admiral said we were to afford you every freedom so I cannot object to your presence on the bridge but it is unusual.”
I nodded my head slightly and smiled. “I appreciate your candour Captain.”
“Sir, we’re about to make the jump into real space.” The Helmsman said.
“Very good, Mr. Enlos, make the ride a smooth one, we wouldn’t want to unsettle our guest.”
The helmsman nodded and the stars began to elongate as we slid back into real space only to find ourselves face to face with a squadron of X-wings. We had jumped out of Hyperspace in to the path of a Rebel escort.
“Evasive action now!” the Captain cried, clearly not expecting this.
The ship spun with surprising ease, throwing me off balance. I grabbed a hold of the side railing and watched as three of the X-wings turned in perfect unison to attack us.
“How well is this ship armed Captain?” I asked.
“She has seven turbolasers, three dual heavy turbolaser turrets, one concussion missile launcher with a standard load of ten missiles but our shields are our weak point.” The Captain replied never taking his eyes off the display.
The ship rocked as several of the X-wings did a strafing run and their laser fire hit the shield. The Tornado returned fire but missed all targets.
“They’re too damned fast!” someone murmured in the background. I nodded inwardly remembering previous space action I had seen. The frigate was sluggish when compared to the smaller rebel fighters so it was a little like watching a bantha trying to fight off a swarm of flesh gnats, maybe one or two would get stomped on in the fight but eventually the gnats would bring the bantha down by numbers and mobility. I watched, biting my bottom lip, as the X-wings swung around for another hit.
“How many of them are there?” I asked, more to myself but the officer nearest me had heard and answered.
I turned to the young man who had answered me. “Is that enough to manage or could we be in trouble?”
The officer glanced at the Captain who, if he had heard us was ignoring the conversation. “It could be if they manage to get through our shields.”
“Is that possible?”
There was a moment’s then he nodded his head.
The last thing I wanted was to get in the captain’s way but the information I carried could not fall into the Rebellion’s hands.
“Captain, are we within broadcast range of Admiral Larsen yet?” I asked, holding onto the rail again as we were rocked by more fire, this time more violent than before.
“Shields dropped to seventy-three percent Captain, they know exactly where to hit us.”
“Lock them in target and fire, for goodness sakes!” the Captain yelled then he turned and looked at me, “Yes, we planned it that way.”
“Get me a secure channel.” I said.
Captain Daurma looked at me as though he had never seen me before. “In case you hadn’t noticed Miss , we’re in the middle of a battle it’s not exactly the right time for making personal calls.”
For the first time since I had stepped on board the ship the captain’s dismissive attitude towards me made me angry. Taking on the mantle that Thrawn had shoved me into and drew strength from the force and projected it through my voice. “Captain, get me a secure channel to Admiral Larsen if you want to survive today.” The order made everyone on the bridge look at me.
Captain Daurma took a deep breath as if to remind himself that killing me would be a bad idea and gave him comm officer a nod. “Do as she asks Mr. Hamilton.” He said tartly then turned to look at me, “Miss Gabriel, I ….” But what ever he was going to say t me was cut off by a blast that did some damage on the port side of the ship.
“Shields at sixty-four percent, Captain and they’re going for the communications array.”
“If you want to talk to Larsen, Miss Gabriel you’d better hurry up.” Snapped Captain Daurma, “Mr. Enlos bring us around, I want to at least take some of these bastards out before they nip away too much of our shielding.”
I made my way over to the comm desk and when the communications officer who didn’t look old enough to be sitting in his chair nodded at me I began the process of hailing Ged Larsen, using the codes that Thrawn had made me memorize. All the while the ship was being blasted at by X-wings buzzing about us.
“This is the Frigate Tornado, we are under attack! Rebel fighters, x-wing class. We need immediate assistance. I repeat is the Frigate Tornado, we are under attack! Rebel fighters, x-wing class. We need immediate assistance from any Imperial forces.”
“The signal is breaking up Miss.” The young man said quietly as sparks showered around us.
“Then boost it,” I told him, “If we can’t get a hold of some reinforcements we’re going to be floating home. X-wings don’t have room for prisoners.”
Mr. Hamilton nodded and after what seemed like an eternity we heard a static filled response. “Frigate Tornado, please send your location….we…unable…locate…position….”
“Send the coordinates and pray.” I whispered clinging to the comm officer’s chair as another series of blasts cut across the ship making her rock like a pregnant eopie.
It seemed to take forever and my heart thumped painfully in my chest as I watched the X-wings dance around us, they shots making the ship buck, our return fire missing more than it hit because the smaller single pilot craft were just so much more manoeuvrable. Seconds felt like hours and all the while it was as if everything had slowed down so that I watched and heard it all in slow motion. Sparks lit up the bridge like glowzees and something electronic blew and the air was suddenly filled with the stench of burnt duraplast, cloying and acrid,
Just as the Tornado’s shields were about to go down two Star Destroyers jumped out of hyperspace almost right on top of us and squadrons of TIEs swarmed out of them like angry gnats.
The fight didn’t last long and I was extremely grateful when the few remaining X-wings that had not been obliterated turned tail and headed back to the ships they were escorting and vanished into hyperspace. There was a palpable, collective sigh of relief all across the bridge.
A few moments later the comm crackled and there was a brief discussion between Captain Daurma and whoever had led the two ISDs.
“Miss Gabriel, Admiral Larsen wishes to speak with you.” The captain said, “He is sending a shuttle over to collect you. I believe this was the arrangement?”
I smiled tightly at the captain and nodded. “Yes, Captain.”
“Then I suggest you make yourself ready, Miss Gabriel, Admiral Larsen is a stickler for punctuality.”
“Thank you for your hospitality Captain.” And with that I left the bridge to collect my belongings, grateful to be getting off the Tornado and away from a captain that absolutely didn’t want me on his ship. Within half an hour I found myself on flight deck of the Imperial Star Destroyer Virulent facing Admiral Larsen and a dozen storm troopers.
“Welcome aboard the Virulent Miss Gabriel.” He said.
“Thank you, Admiral. I have dispatches for you from Grand Admiral Thrawn.”
Ged nodded ever so slightly, “Yes and I will accept them at the appropriate time. In the mean time tell me, how did you like my rescue?”
I couldn’t help but my smile, “Perfectly timed.”
He inclined his head a little. “Yes, I pride myself on that. Now I understand we have some items to discuss, so shall we do so in my ready room? I have asked my chef to prepare some refreshments for you. I don’t know how you are but I get quite hungry after a skirmish. One of my men will take your belongings to your assigned quarters and once we have concluded our briefing I will show you to them.” He said and gestured for me to follow him. Only once we were in the ready room, alone and with the door had closed did he seem to relax ever so slightly and turn to speak to me. “So, Miss Gabriel, before we have a civilised lunch, shall we cut the bantha poodoo and you tell me why Thrawn sent you out here because you and I both know you are not now and never have been an Emperor’s hand.”
I could not help my smile. “I told him you wouldn’t buy this story.”
“So why the cover?” He asked mildly.
“So that everyone else believes it and won’t question my presence here. He needs your help and because I am trusted as well as mostly unnoticed by the rebels, I am his go between but ….”
Ged held up his hand. “He doesn’t want any one to know about me or my fleet and he doesn’t want anyone to know of his plans.”
“Something like that.” I said with a shrug.
Ged sighed slightly. “Thrawn…,” He said with open admiration, “always has plans within plans and I am sure that even you, his trusted confident, do not know all of it.”
“Of course not.” I said, glancing at my nails casually, wondering just how much Ged actually knew about my relationship with Thrawn.
“So what exactly is he looking for?”
I opened my mouth for a second and then closed it again. I had only ever met this man once before and while I had read the file that Thrawn had given me I really didn’t know Ged Larsen at all but some tiny part of me felt that if I lied to him here and now, he would never trust me and I would need him to trust me. He waited, saying nothing, watching me weigh my options, and choose my side.
“Wayland.” I said candidly.
For the first time since I stepped foot on his ship Ged Larsen smiled. “Wayland’s a myth, Miss Gabriel.” His tone was teasing.
“If that is the case then I live in a fairy tale because I was there once Admiral, it wasn’t a pleasant place to be but it was full of the Emperor’s secrets.” I said. “The Grand Admiral believes he will find items of use there.”
“Does he have the location?” Ged asked.
I shook my head. “Not yet, that I am aware of though he was working on several leads when we left Tatooine….”
“Tatooine?” Ged cut me off clearly puzzled.
“There was an art auction, he was in the market for something new to hang on his wardroom wall.”
“Killik Twilight.” I said, “A moss painting.”
“I’ve heard of it. An Alderaan lost treasure.” Ged nodded, “I heard the Grand Admiral is a bit of an art connoisseur. Our late Emperor did warn me Thrawn enjoyed collecting beautiful and unique things.”
I tilted my head to one side wondering if there was an innuendo in his statement. “He has an extensive and unique art collection but I wouldn’t say all of the pieces are beautiful.”
Ged’s smile was slow and reminded me, surprisingly, a little of Thrawn’s when he was toying with me. For a moment we just stared at each other and then he said, “Are you hungry? I’d hate for the chef’s meal to go cold.” He said gesturing for me to sit down at the small table which had already been set. “I think you and I have a lot to discuss, I’d rather do it over a nice meal and something to drink.”