It was a familiar scene. Me, standing with my hands balled up into fists on my hips, angry and stubborn, while Thrawn, his arms folded across his chest, regarded me in his cool, reserved manner as we argued or rather I argued …loudly. People avoided the area of the corridor where we were standing as though their lives depended on it.
“Why must you always be so difficult?” He asked calmly. “It is a simple thing I am asking and yet you feel the need to complicate it.”
“I am not complicating anything; you’re the one forbidding me to do something I have done millions of times before! It’s the lower levels of the base for sarlacc’s sake not the creepy flesh eating bug infested caverns! My workout room is in the basement and I used to go down there all the time! What the hell are you hiding from me?”
I was trying his patience but I didn’t care. I was tired, cranky and beyond reason. I had wanted to go down to the room I used as a gym but now, all of a sudden, the area was now off limits and I didn’t like this much. He had reasoned there were other rooms I could set up and use as a private work out area if I had wanted but that was not really the point. The discussion had gone from civil to angry when he had outright forbidden me to go into the sublevels and then would not give me any real good reason.
“Merlyn, the area we are discussing is now off limits to all but a very select few due to the delicate nature of the project being undertaken and you are not on that list.”
I took a deep breath to begin my own tirade in response but before I could even get a word out he calmly but firmly grasped my upper arm and led me into one of the offices and shut the door.
“What are doing?” I hissed.
“I would prefer we do this in private. It is not good when you undermine my authority in public. While I know that giving you an order is rather like waving a red flag at a raging bantha the rest of this base does not need to see it in action.”
“Well there wouldn’t be any argument if you wouldn’t forbid me to do things I have already been doing since the first week I have lived here. “
He sighed. “Just because you were allowed space to use does not make that particular space yours for all of time. The sub-levels are now in use for a very large and very secret project which demands the utmost in security and while I know you can keep your mouth shut I simply cannot take the risk.”
“Risk of what?” I demanded. “I’m not going any where because you’ve made it pretty clear you’d prefer to keep me close and besides there is no where else for me to go anyway and if anyone invaded the base they’d discover your secrets all by themselves with no help from me what so ever.”
“How difficult are you going to be about this?” He asked after a very lengthy silence in which we just stared at each other.
“Very.” I replied. “That was MY room, you said I could have it and now I can’t for no real good reason! You’ve no right to keep secrets from me all the time.”
His eyebrow shot up. “No right?” He asked. I could swear I saw the faintest hint of a smile on his lips but it vanished as soon as it came. “I am the leader of this base, the leader of the Imperial Navy and I have all the rights in the galaxy to keep what ever secrets I see fit to do so from you. Just because you share my bed and my heart does not mean you are automatically privy to everything going on in the universe, especially if it has to do with my current and future campaigns.” He said. “You are my mate not my first in command and the sooner you get that through your lovely head the better.”
I couldn’t really come up with a suitable reply to his logic so I did the next best thing and made a face that said I don’t care and we were at an impasse. The moment stretched into a too long silence that I wasn’t going to back down from.
He drew a deep long breath and then shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what I say does it. As soon as I have left the base you will find a way to bypass the security and go down there.”
I made another face because he was right. I really didn’t take being told no very well.
“If I take you down, explain and show you the project myself will you promise to leave things alone afterwards?” He asked carefully, “Because I really don’t want to have to lock you up for the duration of this campaign.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
His glare said Try me and I didn’t need to be force sensitive to know who would lose this fight. He was willing to compromise but that only went so far.
I sighed loudly and nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay what? Okay you allow me to give you a guided tour through this project and then you leave it alone or okay I incarcerate you for the next millennia and let everyone think we have a very kinky relationship?”
“Think I’ll take choice number one, if that’s okay with you.”
“Smart girl.” He said.
I sighed and moved away from him. After nearly four months away, he had been on the base for just two days and almost all of it had been spent in meetings with his staff. I had seen him briefly once when he first got back because he had come into the quarters to change into fresh clothes but that had more or less been it. He was due to ship out again sooner than I would have liked and I was not really happy about it. I felt as though I never got to see him anymore and I wasn’t sure how to cope with the sensation of being a bystander in what looked to be a very complicated game of dejarik. He understood that most of my being difficult came from not wanting to admit I was scared and that it was just easier to pick a fight with him than deal with my fear of losing him. I kept telling myself I should never ever have gotten involved with him in the first place but it was a bit too late for that now. I had my back turned to him and stifled a yawn. I was exhausted.
“Tekari…” He started but I shook my head and made a please don’t motion with my hand.
I didn’t know what to do or think any more. After we had made up from the terrible fight which had taken place on board of the Virulent we had talked about where I should go, and what I should do. His suggestion had been to return to working with Ged Larsen on board of his ship but I had outright refused, citing his jealousy of Ged and my need to be on the base to help Syal with the children and teach Cheunh but really I was scared to leave. For the first time in my life I felt as though I had no place, no real purpose and no useful job and I wasn’t handling this very well.
“Merlyn, look at me.”
I did as he commanded. He reached out and caressed the side of my face with his hand, this time I didn’t flinch or move away. “Perhaps you should talk to the doctor about giving you something to help you sleep, something to maybe counter these nightmares you’ve been having.” His voice had softened now that we had brokered a deal.
“No.” I said. I didn’t want drugs to help me sleep, what I wanted was to understand the terrible dreams that had started up again. He watched me for a moment, trying to puzzle out what I wouldn’t tell him. I guess when it came to secrets I also had my own fair share.
“Sj’iu tekari….” He started but I shook my head again. I didn’t want to hear what he was going to say, however this time he ignored me and continued, “You wake up half the base at the moment with your screams. Tir tells me that Syal is worried about you. I have not seen you in this state in a long time and not opening up about it is not going to help.” He lectured. I wondered how many time he had said these words to me. When I said nothing he continued, “Are these the dreams in which you see me die?”
I gave him the one shoulder shrug. “I really don’t want to talk about it.” I said and I meant it.
“Fine, but sooner or later you will need to deal with these nightmares and find a way to get some sleep.”
“I don’t know why you’re so worried about it,” I snapped. “It’s not as if I keep you up.” It was a low shot because I was over tired and angry as well as scared and frustrated. We stared at one another and I wondered if I had gone too far. The moment between us wavered and then the expression on his face gentled.
“I know the past four months have been difficult for you and I appreciate that you are unhappy with this situation, however when the commanding officer of this base gives me reports which include concerns about your well being I am afraid I do worry about it.”
I exhaled slowly. “Guess that will teach me for confiding in people.”
“Do not blame Voss or even Syal; it was the doctor who expressed concerns, Voss merely mentioned it to me.” He said.
I just stared at him wondering when this discussion had suddenly become all about my bad sleeping habits rather than his secrets in the basement.
“Talk to me tekari,” He said quietly, “Please?”
I bit at my bottom lip and turned away from him, wrapping my arms around my body. “Do you recall that awful painting you once had in your dining room on Coruscant?”
“Well that’s what some of these dreams are like.” I said. “I can’t explain it but they’re bad. I wake up terrified because something terrible is coming, is going to happen and I don’t know what because I can’t see it clearly enough.”
“Do you not think it is just a manifestation of your worry for me, for what is happening now?”
I made a face, “You sound like Doctor Thracer.”
“Be that as it may, you did not answer my question.”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged, “But it feels different from the dreams I have about you, about the campaign even about the Emperor. In these dreams everything just feels wrong, as though the universe becomes twisted somehow.” I struggled for more words and then gave up exasperated. “What do you care anyway? You are too busy fighting your own war!” I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth but it was too late. I flapped my hand at him and fought back tears of frustration. “I’m sorry. I’m so….”
He cut me off. “I understand, I don’t take it personally when you lash out because you are so tired you cannot think straight but I will march you to the medlab if you don’t get some rest.”
“Not advisable.” I growled. “You may be leader of this base but I can still hurt you.” As I said those words I wondered if Rukh would suddenly appear and put his knife to my throat. Where ever Thrawn was Rukh was not that far away.
For a long heavy moment Thrawn watched me and then he just sighed letting some of the tension he had been holding in go.
“I don’t know how to help you. I arrive back on this base to find you pale and drawn. You’ve lost weight and everyone who cares about you has come to me expressing concerns.” He eventually said. “I see you in turmoil and I don’t know how to fix that. Even if I could tell you right now this campaign was a complete success that all was well and you and I could settle down somewhere and start a family that would not help would it? You would still wake up screaming from something I can neither see nor do anything about. Would my constant presence at your side alleviate these nightmares?”
I shook my head. “I doubt it. These dreams, these visions, they’re not like the ones I have about you and yes I still have those as well. Hell, I even still dream about Jyrki for sarlacc’s sake. But these new ones, they are vague and utterly terrifying.” I wasn’t telling him the whole truth about how much detail I could recall from these new sets of dreams and I was pretty sure he knew that but he let it go for now.
He glanced at his chrono and said, “I will be free of meetings in about four hours then I am all yours.”
I nodded not trusting myself to speak.
He came up to stand behind me and with his hands on my shoulders turned me to face him again. “Why don’t you go and see if you can get some sleep so we can talk without it turning into an argument?”
I saw genuine worry in his eyes and I felt a pang of guilt. He had enough on his shoulders as it was without me adding to it.
“I will come for you when I am done and we can talk then, I promise.”
“And this super secret project that’s stolen away my training room?” I asked with a little smile.
“That was part of the deal.” He stroked the side of my face with the backs of his fingers, kissed me on the forehead, “Go and get some rest, please? I truly do not want to spend the precious amount of time I have with you arguing, we’ve done enough of that to last a lifetime and I am quite tired of it.” he said, waited for me to nod and then he left.
I stood still for a few moments and then headed to our quarters. It was late afternoon and Thrawn was right I was exhausted. I stripped off and slid into one of his shirts because it held his scent which that was comforting and drifted into sleep. I didn’t dream and nearly five hours later Thrawn kept his word.
It was the touch and warmth of his hand as he ran his fingers through my hair that woke me up. He sat next to me on the bed, fully dressed, leaning back against the headboard and smiled at me when I focused on his face. “Do you have any idea how truly lovely you are?” He asked.
I made a face and got up, not bothering to hide the blush that rose to my cheeks. He did not say things like this all that often and I was always at a loss for words when he did. I never thought of myself in that way and somehow it surprised me that he did. In my head I would always be the plain Outer rim girl who never quite fit in anywhere but he saw past all of that. I stumbled to the fresher to wake up. Once I had cleaned my teeth and washed the sleep from my face I felt a whole lot better. When I returned to the bedroom Thrawn had not moved but he had taken off his uniform jacket. He patted the side of the bed I had just come from and motioned for me to rejoin him there.
“I want stim’caf.” I told him.
He shook his head, “No you don’t.” he countered. “You want me, now come here.”
I was surprised at the sudden shot of desire his words created and it made me blush as well as smile. “You are so arrogant.” I told him as I sat on the bed beside him.
His smile was smug. “I am simply very good at what I do, my dear.” And to prove his point he began to trace his fingers lightly across the skin of my thigh.
I shivered at his touch, watching the blue of his hand against the white of my own flesh and wondered if he was deliberately tracing along the scar there or not.
As if he could read my mind he said almost absently. “I should have made you heal in a bacta tank.”
The scar on my thigh was the first of many I had gathered over the years since I had begun working for the Empire but unlike most of them this one had a meaning and memory that was not altogether unkind. “I’m glad you didn’t. It serves as a reminder.” I said softly.
“A reminder of what?” He asked, sliding his hand further up my leg, under the shirt to my belly.
I swallowed as what he was doing with his hand was starting to make thinking difficult. “That nothing is ever what it seems to be and when I let my guard down I tend to get hurt.”
“Even when you are with me?” He asked as he watched my reaction while he brushed the tip of my breast with his thumb.
I gasped. “Especially when I am with you.”
“I don’t think that’s what you really mean tekari.” He murmured.
“No, I think you mean it reminds you that everything is dangerous.”
“Everything is.” I nodded wordlessly as he unbuttoned the shirt I was wearing and brushed it aside.
“Perhaps,” He smiled that beautiful yet feral smile I had come to think as his hunter’s smile. “But you rather like danger unfortunately.” He said.
I pulled his shirt off and ran my hands down his chest, tracing the line of blue black hair that went from his navel to his trousers. I didn’t need to be a jedi to see that he too was aroused and in need. I traced the form of him through the fabric of his pants and gave him a feral look of my own. When he growled from the back of his throat, I laughed. Two could play at this particular dangerous game and at least here we were, more or less, evenly matched. For a moment we stopped and stared at each other and I that single second the rest of the galaxy slid away, there was only him and me. This passion which sparked between us never ceased to astonish me and sometimes I wondered if there was enough space in the universe for such a powerful thing.
Four months apart had done its damage and suddenly a desperate sort of need made me hungry for more than just caresses so when he brought his head down close to mine to kiss me I threaded my fingers through his hair, gripped hard enough to surprise him and whispered in his ear “Don’t be gentle this time.” I figured there would be time enough afterward to unravel the secrets he had in the basements but right now there were more pressing things at hand. I released my hold and he pushed himself up.
His eyebrow arched and for a moment he paused, braced above me with a smile that was unreadable to consider what I had just said to him. “As you wish, my dear.” He replied and with that the games began in earnest.
Several hours later, satiated and a lot less tense, I followed him quietly down to the door to the now forbidden basement area. As we stood at the door he looked at me. “What you will see is a secret. I expect you to respect this absolutely and I also expect you to not come down here again unless I give you permission to do so. If you disobey this order then I will have you locked up. Do you understand?”
I didn’t like being spoken to this way but since we were standing in front of a matched set of Chiss guards I didn’t argue. I nodded. “Yes, Admiral.”
He nodded at the guards who moved slightly to allow us to unlock the door. As we walked down the small corridor to the turbo lift I felt my head buzz but shook it off as a reaction to too much physical exercise and not enough to food. He was silent in the lift but I could feel him watch me carefully.
“What?” I asked.
He shook his head as the lift stopped. “Come let me show you the project.” And without anything further he stepped out of the turbo lift into another dimly lit hallway. I shook my head to clear away the dizzy sensation I was feeling. This wasn’t how I remembered it. He had changed things down here. I followed him, having to trot to keep up with his long legged strides. He keyed in a code on the door-pad and the security door slid open. He walked through into the room and I followed. I immediately doubled over, clutching at my head and sinking to my knees with a gasp.
“Ysalamiri.” He said as if that explained everything and then grasped my arm and helped me to my feet.
I was completely and utterly head blind and the effect was hellishly disorienting. Stepping through the door into the room had been like stepping into the vacuum of space with no suit on. It was as if everything I knew and felt had suddenly been sucked out leaving me cold and blind in the process. The only other time I had ever experienced this was on Myrkr. Slowly I got my bearings and adjusted to a world without the force. I had not truly realised how much of a part of my life it was until it was suddenly no longer there.
The room was dimly lit and fairly quiet with the exception of the humming machinery and a quiet bubbling noise. I looked around and saw, built into the walls and ceiling of the room branches of Myrkr trees and on these branches were the strange, furry serpent like creatures Thrawn had named Ysalamiri. The room was full of them. It was no wonder I had reacted the way I had, these creatures somehow managed to repel the force away. I drew a deep breath and began to take note of the machinery until I came to the large tanks, the source of the faint bubbling sound. At first I thought they were empty but then I noticed one was not and went to take a closer look.
“Cloning tanks from Mount Tantis.” Thrawn explained walking beside me.
I glanced at him then to the growing being inside the one tank that was being used. “Is that a…human?” I asked, it was hard to tell because the clone was still in very early stages.”
“A Chiss actually.”
I glanced up at him in surprise.
“Humans make excellent soldiers and we are already making use of the large cloning facility left to us in Mount Tantiss for them but I wish to see if I can breed a better class of soldier and the Chiss make for better soldiers.”
“Who is it a clone of?” I asked.
He regarded me for a moment and then said, “No one you know and the one who volunteered wished to remain anonymous.”
I nodded. I could certainly understand wanting to not be known but eventually that truth would be all too evident when the clone matured. “Why all these creatures?” I waved my hand atthe menagerie around the room.
“They repel the force as you well know but unbeknown to most it is the force that also greatly interferes with how fast we can mature a clone. When the force aspect is removed the clone maturation process is sped up greatly, allowing us to create more clones faster. It by passes the cloning sickness that was sometimes prevalent in clones who were matured too quickly.”
“Did the Emperor know this?” I asked now curious.
Thrawn shook his head. “I do not think so. He was aware of Myrkr and its unusual fauna but he avoided the planet and removed it from all the databases. He would not have instituted the use of a force repelling creature in a place where he thought he was a god.”
I nodded rubbing absently at my temples.
“Are you alright?” Thrawn asked.
I nodded. “It’s just difficult to get used to. It would be like you suddenly losing your ability to see.” I smiled wanly, “Right now I am just an ordinary girl with no special abilities.”
“Well, perhaps your special abilities have been temporarily removed however, my dear, you are anything but ordinary.”
“I can’t even tell if you are telling me the truth or just pulling my leg when you say that.” I sighed and looked around again at the room.
He didn’t dignify that statement with an answer. Instead he said, “Any questions you have about this project ask them now because once we leave this room there will be absolutely no further discussion about it and you will not be allowed entry again.”
I nodded. I was pretty certain I would not ever want to come back here. I did not like the eerie sensation of being cut off from the force and the clone growing in the tank made me very uneasy. I sighed and thought about it but in the end there were no more questions to ask. He was planning an army of Chiss clones. I really didn’t need to know more than that nor did I really want to.
“I will be installing more of the Ysalamiri in the hallways, just to that you are aware.” He said.
I nodded and turned to him. “Thank you.”
He tilted his head to one side, “For what?”
“Sharing this with me.”
His smile reached his eyes and he almost laughed. “That was pure self preservation tekari. If your curiosity had not been satisfied you would have found a way to venture down here on your own and I don’t wish to think of the conclusions you might have come to or what the effects of these creatures would have done to you. Better that you know what is going on and I know what happens when you are in the same room as the ysalamiri because they will be a part of my life for a while, or at least until the clone making process is done and the Jedi Master is off my ship and out of my presence.”
“If these creatures nullify the force won’t it be impossible for your jedi master to detect me?” I asked suddenly wondering.
“I dare say you are right but do you really want to take that risk? I know I do not.” He said as we left the cloning room as quietly as we came.
Only once we were back up in the main floor of the base did the force return to me. It was as if someone had suddenly turned on all the lights. We walked in silence back to our quarters and once there he poured two brandies and motioned for me to sit beside him on the small couch. He touched his glass to mine and sipped slowly. I did the same and relished the warmth that slid down my throat.
“I will be leaving the day after tomorrow and I want you to return to the Virulent.” He said suddenly with no preamble.
I just glanced at him over the rim of my glass. “Why?” I asked.
“Because I think you will be safe there and I want you to work as a liaison with Ged Larsen for me.”
“After everything that happened?”
“The only thing that occurred was my inability to control my own emotions and that will not happen again. Larsen has assured me you will be safe and I trust you.”
He smiled. “Yes.” He said and it was not a lie. “You are not happy here, even though you try to be and you need a job that is more than just something to while away time. I need you on board the Virulent and Larsen says that he has use of someone with your abilities in the area of ships mechanics as well as your, for lack of a better description, office skills.”
I gulped the rest of my brandy down and toyed with my glass. “And will I get to see you?” I asked quietly.
“When and if I have time during the next stages of this campaign then there will be time for you. I cannot promise any more than that.” He said looking at the remnants of his own drink, “But I will keep you better informed.”
He regarded me for a long moment, his glowing red eyes bored into mine and then he said, “Yes. I promise.”
I nodded, “Okay then I will go back to the Virulent but if you ever and I do mean ever pull a stunt like you did the last time I was there I will put you on your ass so fast even Rukh won’t know what hit you.”
He smirked and put aside his glass. “Is that a threat or a promise Miss Gabriel?”
I narrowed my eyes at him as he removed the glass from my hand just in case I decided to use it as a projectile and before I could come up with a suitable retort he shut me up with a kiss. It was hard to argue with this ability of his to quell any discussions and instead of fighting him I played along and kissed him back. We didn’t have so much time together that I wanted to waste it talking about trivial things.