I stifled a groan as the alarm klaxon shrieked through the air of my quarters waking me up from a deep and dreamless sleep. With a curse that would have made Thrawn blush I glanced at the chronometer and then grabbed my pillow bunching it around my head, trying to block out the noise. It was four am, Coruscant standard time. Even with my pillow shoved as hard as I could around my head the alarm still made its way into my brain, shredding any hope I had of getting back to sleep to bits. For the past six weeks Admiral Ged Larsen had been running battle drills on his ISD, to keep his men in top form he had told me. This was fine if one were a crew member on board and had a specific job to jump up and run to, all pumped up on adrenalin, but for me it was just an annoyance that kept waking me up at inopportune times. I was starting to hate him for his perfectionism and Thrawn for sending me here in the first place.
Ged ran a tight ship and his crew both respected and feared him, there was tension here that reminded a little of the tension on any ship that Lord Vader showed up on. I didn’t think that Ged ran around force choking any one who disobeyed him but I was betting the punishment for not following orders and screwing up were both swift and severe. This was the Imperial navy and failure was not an option, especially now with the stakes so high. He ran drills constantly, at odd hours for unpredictable events and attacks. I couldn’t decide if the man was trying to impress Thrawn or if he was really just nuts either way it didn’t make my time here fun.
Just as the klaxon stopped wailing a banging on the door of my quarters coaxed me out of bed. I grabbed my robe and had it wrapped around me as I opened the door.
“What?” I growled. I had long since given up being polite, especially as no one expected it of me anyway.
“Admiral Larsen requests your presence on the command deck in his briefing room.” Replied the young man without giving any thoughts away.
I rolled my eyes and stepped back, “Fine, I’ll be there as soon as I’ve dressed.”
“I was told that you were to come immediately, ma’am.” He said calmly.
I made an impatient gesture with my hand. “Very well then, lead on.” I sighed.
If anyone found it utterly unusual to see me having to trot, barefoot and in my night clothes, after the swiftly moving young officer they wisely kept their mouths shut. It was not the first time this had happened. By the time we arrived at Ged’s briefing room, my feet were cold and my mood was about as foul as it could possibly be. I slipped into the dimly lit room and barely waited for the door to shut behind me before giving Ged a piece of my mind.
“Ged, what the hell is so important that it couldn’t wait five minutes for me to get dressed?”
“I see the last few weeks have not curbed your temper any.” A voice that was like dark brushed velvet, which always made my heart speed, up spoke from the dark corner of the room. “I did tell you she does not like to be woken up or summoned in this manner.” Thrawn said to Ged, who was watching my reaction with a smirk.
I looked from one man to the other then back again and shook my head and went to the side board to pour myself some stimcaf from the carafe that Ged always kept there. I was thrilled to see Thrawn but I didn’t dare show it, at least not how I really wanted to so I kept up the pretence of being annoyed even though really I was more delighted, as well as curious. I leaned back against the sideboard and sipped at the ‘caf slowly.
“So,” I said glancing at each man in turn over the rim of my cup, “I’ll ask again what was so important that it couldn’t wait for me to get dressed?”
“I think I will let the Grand Admiral brief you Miss Gabriel. In the meant time I’ll be on the bridge if either of you require anything.” He said, giving Thrawn a salute which was promptly returned. He brushed past me as he left the room and whispered in my ear, “Don’t be too hard on him, Merlyn, it was actually my idea to get you up, I know how much you enjoy surprises.” I just rolled my eyes and Ged chuckled as he went out of the room leaving silence in his wake.
The silence in the room settled into something both familiar and tense all at the same time. In the last six weeks I had come to think of Ged Larsen as a friend, despite the mutual mistrust we had held for each other at the start of my time on board his ship. I suppose part of it was the force gifts we each had. It wasn’t easy to meet people who truly understood what being a force user meant, especially someone who understood what life must have been like working under the Emperor and for Lord Vader. I had found a sort of solace in Ged’s friendship much to my surprise but due to the current non communication circumstances, I assumed Thrawn knew nothing about this. I sipped at the caf without tasting it and watched his face carefully.
An eyebrow arched as he walked towards me, “I see you’ve settled in well.”
I smiled and shrugged. “I adapt to the circumstances handed me. You wanted me out of the way and safe which I am but you never said I had to be alone and miserable.” I replied, “Besides, it makes my job easier when I actually get along with my superiors.”
Thrawn smiled and stopped a few centimetres shy of where I was standing, stroking the side of my face with his fingertips. “Is he aware of the exact nature of our relationship?”
I followed the motion of his hand with my face, closing my eyes at the tenderness of his touch. “Not in so many words but he’s not stupid. Outside of official business we don’t actually discuss you all that much but I am certain he sees my reaction to your name. He’s a force user who was trained by the Emperor. I don’t need to tell him what is probably very obvious to his eyes.”
“I see.” He said shifting away from me slightly.
“If you’re concerned about…” I started but an abrupt gesture from his hand quelled any more words from my mouth.
“I do not worry on that account, Tekari.” He said.
I nodded slowly then after a moment’s silence said, “I did not expect you for another two weeks.”
“Yes, I know but something came up that required I speak to Larsen face to face.”
“I see.” I sighed and sipped the remains of the now cool ‘caf. “Well that explains the battle drill then, but it doesn’t explain why I got hauled out of bed at four am.”
Thrawn smiled slowly. “Perhaps I just wished to see you. My time here is quite short, I requested your presence but it was a misinterpretation of the young man sent to fetch you which led to you running around in your night clothes, though, my dear, you should be used to that by now from your time working under Lord Vader.”
“Well, you’ve seen me.” I said far more tartly than I meant to. There was something he wasn’t telling me. “How long are you here for?”
“No more than forty-eight hours, I have … issues of my own to deal with onboard the Chimera.”
He nodded slightly and suddenly I saw the weariness on his face which he had worked very hard to hide from both Ged and myself. “The Chimera has a young, fairly untried crew and I am having certain renovations done to parts of the ship. There are not many experienced officers on board to help teach the somewhat green crew how to do things in the appropriate Imperial manner. We run simulations and battle drills as well as some real engagements but training a crew of this magnitude in so short a time is a difficult process. Most of the bridge crew are younger than you and many have never seen real combat before. Pellaeon works them as hard as he can but it takes time and experience to make a seasoned crew. I, unfortunately, have neither.”
I digested this bit of news and nodded. “So you and Ged are running simulations then, one fleet against the other.”
He nodded. “It seemed a viable solution to one of the issues at hand.”
“Ged’s big on battle simulation drills.” I said making a face. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been woken up at some hellishly early hour of the day this week.”
Thrawn laughed and the sound warmed my soul. I had missed him much more than I ever dared to allow myself to admit. I guess it showed on my face because he gathered me in his arms and just held me close. “Forgive me for getting you up then but I wanted to see you.” He said quietly into my hair, “I wanted to make sure you were well.”
I just nodded in to his chest. “You’re forgiven.” I said with a yawn.
“I have some work for you if you would be interested but we can discuss that later.” He said, pushing back from me.
The moment between us passed and I nodded. “I figured as much. I will be happy to do something that doesn’t involve office work.”
“Ged thought I should make myself useful while I was here and he asked if I would act as his personal assistant, so I’ve been doing office work for him. It’s a lot less exciting here than it was with Lord Vader but it does keep me busy.”
“It’s also probably a lot less dangerous than working for Vader was.” He said.
“So far no one has died.” I retorted. “Are you planning on any more battle drills tonight or can I go back to bed?”
Thrawn arched his eyebrow and smirked. “As far as I know that was it for the evening but Admiral Larsen and I are running these drills concurrent to each other and we don’t divulge when they take place so….” He gave me a slight shrug.
“So in other words chances are good that because both fleets are here there will be more than two a night?”
“He’s done two in one night?”
“Seven is the record.” I said. “He runs a tight ship.”
Thrawn arched an eyebrow, “Indeed, seven?”
“Yes.” I said.
“And did these drills accomplish anything?”
“You mean aside from making everyone tired and not boosting moral, yes the efficiency rate went up on the battle ready times. Ged made his point and achieved his goal.” I said with a shrug, remembering the very heated discussion I had had with him about it all. “He’s a perfectionist and his people both respect and fear him, but they love him too and they’d die for him is he asked.”
“As it should be.” He replied.
I glanced up at him, wondering how it was on the Chimaera, if the men and women serving on board that ship would lay down their lives for Thrawn or if there was still the issue of his being an alien to make things difficult. “So what is on your agenda for the rest of what’s left of this watch?” I asked glancing at the chrono on the wall, it was nearly five in the morning.
“I have a debriefing session with Captains Pellaeon and Morrish about the Virulent’s and the Chimaera’s performance on this last drill and then I should get some rest, why?”
“When did you wish to discuss this job you have for me then?” I asked.
His smile was slow. “If you wish I can discuss it with you later, perhaps over an early breakfast?”
“Is that allowed?”
“I outrank Larsen and I am sure he won’t object. After all, my dear, you are here at my discretion.” He replied airily.
I sighed. “Fine, I will talk to you later then. I need to get some sleep.”
He nodded. “Let Larsen know we’re done in here. I should be finished in a few hours so expect me at around oh-seven hundred hours.”
I left the ready room and made sure that Ged knew then headed back to my own quarters. I lay down hoping to get at least an hour or so sleep but it wasn’t happening so instead I had a bath, got dressed and made a cup of tea. I was in the middle of reading a book when the door chime rang, making my heart leap as well as me nearly spilling what was left of my tea.
Thrawn smiled as he walked into my quarters, looked at the cup in my hand and said, “Is there any more of that?” Then he sat down on the small sofa and watched as I busied myself with making a new pot of tea.
Only after I had finished, brought over tea things to the table, poured him a cup and then sat down beside him did he break his silence.
“I want you to go to Obroa-Skai.” He said quietly.
I just blinked at him for a second, digesting this and then said. “When and why?”
“As soon as possible. I need you to obtain access codes for the main frame so that we can sweep their data banks.”
I sighed into my tea. “This is a make work project, you have slicers far more capable of this than I am.”
“I do but I need them on board my ship and you, my dear, have a talent for slipping in and out of places without attracting too much attention. All I need is an access code into the system, after that the rest of the job will be easy.”
“Still can’t find Wayland, huh.” I shot.
A flicker of annoyance danced briefly across his features. “No and you are not to go looking for it either.”
“Why not?” I asked crossly, this argument now so familiar to me that I could dance it in my sleep.
Thrawn sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was tired and for the first time he did not give me the standard keeping me safe answer. “I have been led to believe that the facility is protected by a Dark Jedi Master.”
“How did you…?” Thrawn raised his hand slightly and I shut up.
“I have been doing an inordinate amount of research on this mythical place, Tekari. Everything I have discovered so far, which isn’t as much as I would like, has led me to believe that the Emperor had the place guarded by force users specifically trained in the darker nature of this power. You would be no match for such a creature would you?”
I bit my lip wanting to bravado through the answer and say yes but my experiences with the Emperor and Lord Vader had left me with enough wits to know Thrawn was right. “No, I couldn’t beat a dark jedi master, an apprentice maybe but not a master.”
He reached over and caressed the side of my face with the backs of his fingers. “So now do you understand why I would very much like you to stay away from Wayland? If a dark jedi master found you….”
“I get the picture.” I said softly. “I have no wish to be trained in the dark arts, especially not by one of the Emperor’s minions. How exactly are you planning on getting past such a creature? You don’t have any defences against a force user.”
Thrawn gave me a wry smile. “You have already long ago provided the answer to that, my dear.”
I raised both eyebrows at him, “I have?”
“Yes.” He said setting his cup down on the table.
“How am I supposed to go to Obroa-Skai? Ged doesn’t have a civilian ship in his fleet and the Obroans did not side with the Empire, they will not trust someone arriving in an Imperial ship.”
“I had your ship brought here. I brought it on board when I arrived.” He said smugly. “It was part of the training event Ged and I planned.”
“You used my ship in a training mission?”
“I did, she was unharmed I assure you. I am quite a decent pilot when I need to be.” He teased. “it was necessary to get your ship on board without raising too many questions.”
“And once I get there I am just supposed to ask for access codes to the mainframe?”
“No, just access to the archives, once we have one access code, even if it is a public one we’ll be able to do the rest. It is a simple plan, Tekari. You are a civilian and there will be no reason to refuse you access especially if you are searching for something innocuous. A’myshk’a, you’re a smart woman, you’ll figure something out.”
I made a face and went to pour more tea but he placed his hand over mine, stopping me. “My time here with you is limited; I think we have better things to do than sip tea.”
I arched an eyebrow. “You’re getting risqué in your old age.” I teased, a little surprised. “You usually do not like to mix pleasure with work.”
“True enough, but perhaps, my dear, I just miss you and chances such as this will be extremely far and few between.” He said. “Admiral Larsen, it seems, is aware of the nature of your relationship with me and commented that perhaps it might make you a little less, how did he put it, difficult to work with if I spent some time with you.”
“Ged doesn’t really miss much.”
“He likes you.”
“Everybody likes me I’m harmless.” I retorted, pinching his arm.
He smirked. “Only to those who do not share your bed or incur your wrath.”
He was right and our time together, private like this was precious. As he removed his jacket and shirt I stroked the skin of his arm, my fingers tracing the fine wound metal of the binding bracelet he never took off. “So, for a few stolen moments you’re mine?”
“Yes,” He murmured in my ear, starting the process of undressing me.
“And we’ll have time to discuss this little trip of mine afterwards?”
“Good.” I said, satisfied with this answer I let the rest go and allowed him to remind me why I missed him so much as well as make sure he knew why he should miss me.