Thrawn had extended his stay on the base due to work on his super secret project in the subbasement along with many other things he would not discuss with me. I didn’t try to press him. I had too much on my own mind to worry about his plans and machinations. We had spoken at length about how his campaign was going but mainly the discussion had centered on Mara Jade’s unexpected visit to the Chimaera and what had happened after that.
“She appears to be quite taken with Karrde.” Thrawn had remarked after he had finished telling me about how she and Luke Skywalker had managed to rescue Karrde form the Chimaera.
“I had heard that Talon Karrde was charismatic but I never met him. He was one of those smugglers who did not love the spot light and he deals more in information than in actual goods. He began as a small timer under a guy named Car’das.”
“Car’das?” Thrawn had interrupted. “Jorj Car’das?”
“You know of him?”
Thrawn’s smile had been enigmatic, “In a manner of speaking. I met him a very long time ago when I was still a young man. It was from him that I learned to speak basic fluently and indirectly he is responsible for the death of my brother. I lost touch of his whereabouts until I joined the Empire and then of course it was easy to obtain some information about the man although after the battle of Yavin he vanished off the scanners. I did not manage to learn much about his organisation and certainly did not know that Karrde had been a part of it. Had that been the case I would have handled the situation with him far differently.” He had said thoughtfully. “I underestimated Jade’s desire to please her new employer.”
“I’m not surprised she didn’t really want to come back and work for you.” I had said softly.
Thrawn’s eyebrow had arched significantly. “Oh?”
“She probably felt incredibly lost after the Emperor’s death and then she found Karrde. I’m betting she imprinted on him somehow, sees him as some sort of father figure or protector though she’d never ever admit that. She probably went out of her way to please him without actually realising what she was doing. She needs a powerful authority figure in her life; it’s all she’s ever known, in fact you told me that years ago. You betrayed her so that makes you the enemy now.”
“She was not planning on being a loyal member of my team.” Thrawn had replied coldly. “She was merely playing for time.”
“Whatever her reasons, you only made her hate you more. She already felt betrayed by Palpatine’s death and now you have only confirmed that feeling. She never liked you that much anyway and you gave her reason to despise you further by not honouring the bargain that was made.” I had told him. “She killed for Palpatine, she would have died for him too but he never asked her for that outright, she was valuable enough to him that he had not been ready to lose his investment.”
“I underestimated her determination.” He had said quietly. “I also did not calculate that she would go to Luke Skywalker for help or that they would manage to get to the Millennium Falcon which was in storage on the Chimaera. They killed good men to get off my ship.”
“You know, you can’t control everything or everyone. Nor can you see the future.”
He had looked at me with a smile. “I am aware of that my dear. You show me this error of my ways all the time.”
“So what was the problem with the Noghri?” I had asked.
“Some minor dissention and I had reason to believe that Leia Organa Solo was hiding on their world.”
“They gave her up?”
“No.” Thrawn had answered thoughtfully. “I believe they lied about it.”
He had nodded. “It would appear that their loyalties no longer lie solely with the Empire. I will have to monitor that situation more carefully.”
“Why didn’t you do anything about it while you were there?”
“I set some parameters in place but I have no absolute proof and the surest way to lose the respect of a people is to accuse them of a crime without proof even if they are guilty. All I have is some suspicious behaviour by a few Noghri and a feeling.” He replied, “However issues with the Noghri are the least of my concerns. I lost a ship during our last battle which means training an entire new crew from scratch.”
“I heard about the Peremptory and the Katana.”
Thrawn’s eyebrows had risen. “Really?”
“Base gossip.” I had said lightly. “There was some word about how the battle for the Katana fleet went but not a whole lot of details. We heard a ship had been lost and I pressed Voss for details. Don’t be angry with him I just needed to know it wasn’t you and now you know why.” I had taken his hand in mine and placed it on my belly.
Thrawn had just smiled. “Suffice to say my dear that I managed to achieve enough of my goal to make the next stage of my plan possible.”
I had nodded and then for no other reason than sheer meanness my stomach had rebelled and I had managed to make it to the fresher in time to vomit up lunch which had effectively ended our afternoon together.
I woke up with a gasp, my fists clenching the bed clothes, sweat soaked and my heart pounding violently in my chest. It took a few moments for the last remnants of the nightmare to recede and when it did I realised I was in the bed alone. For a few seconds I knew a sliver of fear and then a small light from the other room switched on.
“I’m here,” Thrawn’s voice said from the shadows.
I slid out of the bed and slipped on my favourite robe to join him in the sitting room.
“I did not wish to wake you.” He told me as he put down the data pad he was holding.
“You didn’t.” I said with a sigh, “It’s past three, what are you doing sitting in the dark?”
“I was thinking.” He said enigmatically and patted the space on the sofa next to him.
“Thinking about what? Plans for the future or baby names?”
He smiled. “Names? No that had not yet crossed my mind. The Chiss do not name their children until a week after they are born and planning the name is not an arduous process since our children’s names are mainly pre determined by our family name. Worrying about names is not something Chiss parents spend a lot of time concerning themselves about especially as sometimes the names will change depending on a chosen career. As for plans for the future, well they are always on my mind.”
“Then what has you sitting alone in the dark at this hour of the morning?”
He sighed. “I finally received word from Admiral Larsen.”
“Well, it is classified information tekari.” He said evasively confirming my worst fears.
“It’s Jarack isn’t it?”
The muscle in his jaw clenched. I just stared at him until he drew another deep breath. He placed steepled fingers against his lips, regarded me with his glowing red eyes and then said. “Very well, as you know Jarack was on assignment to the Virulent to uncover a possible rebel informant onboard, the information he found there led him to an infiltration cell based on Coruscant and that’s where Larsen believes Behl is being held.”
“It was an undercover assignment even Larsen doesn’t know everything about it. Behl had specific times he was supposed to check in but he’s missed his last three. Larsen sent an agent who was already on the planet to investigate but there was no trace of Jarack to be found. There are unsubstantiated rumours about the capture of an important imperial but Larsen cannot confirm any of it.” He paused, drew a deep breath and then continued, “Larsen told me he wanted you because it would be easy for you to slip in and out of Coruscant, you have friends there, you know things that most people don’t about the palace and information should be a simple thing for you to obtain. He was right when he said you were the best possible person for this job because you are.”
“The best person for the job.” I repeated flatly.
Thrawn nodded. “Yes but….”
I didn’t let him finish, “Best person for this job? May I remind you that I’m carrying your child? In case you hadn’t noticed, I throw up at the slightest provocation and I can’t just go running off to….”
Thrawn held up his hand, “Tekari, stop.” He commanded and I shut up. “I told him you were unavailable which produced the obvious and expected arguments however once I explained the reason he backed off.”
“What?” I was surprised. “You told Ged I was pregnant?”
“I did not see any reason to lie to him about it.” Thrawn said, “Now he understands the risks to you and he will not request it again. Did you not wish him to know? I thought that you and he were… friends?” He gestured vaguely.
“We are, at least I think so, but I just didn’t want anyone to know before you did. It just seems odd, that’s all, you telling him and it’s still too early to be telling people. You heard what Doctor Thracer said.”
“According to the doctor you are doing well in spite of all the odds against you.”
I shrugged. “It’s still early and I’d prefer the whole galaxy didn’t know.” I didn’t want to tempt fate.
He looked at me, “I wanted to be clear that you were off limits, I wanted to make sure he would not try to somehow coerce you into doing something you have no business doing right now. One of the things I admire about Admiral Larsen is his power of persuasion and I’ve seen him use it on you so I wanted there to be absolutely no misunderstandings between him and I.”
I shook my head in wonderment. “The two of you… it’s like watching two alpha male banthas fight for the rights to the herd sometimes.”
Thrawn’s eyebrow arched but he ignored the comment. “I am very surprised he was so secretive about who it was you were being asked to rescue. It would have been to his advantage to play on your attachment to Jarack. Now he is aware that the risk to your health and the health of our child out weighs his need for your skills.” He said with a thread of steel and ice running under his words. “So there will be no running off to Coruscant to launch a one woman rescue. I have arranged for people to go in and retrieve our man. It is not your worry, only the baby and your health are.”
I sat back against the couch with a sigh and pulled my robe closer around my shoulders.
“Go back to bed tekari, it’s late, you should be asleep.”
“I can’t get back to sleep after one of these dreams.” I explained. “And I have the feeling you are preparing to leave soon.”
“I was supposed to head back yesterday but there are some things which need my attention.”
“Anything I can help with?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Does this have to do with your project in the subbasement?”
The moment of silence before he answered let me know I was right, “That project is strictly off limits.”
I made a face. “I know that and I don’t go down there ever because those furry little critters you have in the sub basements make me head blind and give me a headache but you did tell me about it so I have to assume that this part of why you come back to base and not just to see me.” I sighed.
His lips tightened slightly. “Yes, I needed to check on the progress of the prototypes but I told you when I showed you what was going on that I would not discuss it further or outside of that area and I meant what I said.”
“You complain about me having too many secrets but you’re so full of them it’s a wonder your brain doesn’t explode.”
He shrugged with one shoulder ever so slightly. “Secrets are part of the trade, my dear. You of all people should know this.”
I just gave him a look. “So when are you planning to depart?”
“If all goes well I will depart for the Chimaera at twenty hundred hours tonight. We will be headed to Wayland for a progress report and after that we will continue the campaign. The next step will be to procure shield generators and more equipment as well as take back more sectors. I hope to combine this with more training for our newest clones while manning the recent ship acquisitions, if all goes well.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
He smiled. “That is part of my job, my dear. If I do not have confidence in what I am planning how then shall the people who serve under me have confidence?”
“Will you let me know if you hear any more about Jarack?”
Thrawn looked at me and smiled. “I will do my very best to keep you informed, that much I can promise but no more.”
That was good enough for me. I sighed. “I know you don’t want to hear this so I will only say it once, I wish you didn’t have to go, I wish you could stay here.”
He placed the flat of his hand on my belly. “Given the current circumstances so do I but even for this miracle I cannot abandon all that we have worked so hard to achieve, not even to watch the development and birth of my son.”
I placed my hand over his. “This changes everything doesn’t it.”
His eyes glowed as he replied quietly. “In more ways than you could ever possibly imagine tekari.”
I looked into his face trying to read the underlying emotion I felt in his voice and sighed. “We don’t seem to have much luck with our timing do we?”
“Well I don’t know if I would agree with that,” He said, “but what I do know is that while the circumstances may not have been idea the outcome was. Now we are expecting our first child and I could not be more in awe of you, of this,” He patted my belly gently, “this miracle growing within you. You will be an amazing mother and this is a complication I am happy to accommodate my life to. Once I secure the Empire’s place once more as leader in this galaxy then I am quite sure we will have more time for family matters.”
I rested my head against his shoulder. “In order to do that you have to be here because this child will need a father and I will need you, so please stay alive at all costs.”
“I will do my utmost to accommodate that request and have taken as many precautions as I can to ensure the safety of everyone under my command as well as my own.” He caressed my face, “But we are at war and not even I can control everything that happens.” He withdrew his hand from my belly.
I nodded. “I would suggest that maybe you could clone yourself,” I joked, “but I don’t quite know how to take just one of you, never mind two.”
His smile was slight as he returned his attention to the small data pad on the table. “A clone? Of me? Now there’s an idea.” He said absently, as though he were actually considering it.
“It would be a really bad idea. Knowing you, you’d probably fight with each other over me and no one would survive.”
His lip twitched in amusement.
“Don’t you dare even think about it!” I told him.
He turned to look at me, crooked his finger under my chin and raised my face so that he could kiss me gently. “As my lady wishes.” He murmured before keeping my mouth occupied and me unable to talk any more which was okay, I was done with words.
Thrawn left the base quietly. We had never been fans of big, sentimental, messy goodbyes but this time it was hard not to feel that terrible pang of separation and the dreadful uncertainty which lay before us both. In the quiet of our quarters he kissed me passionately, whispering for me to be well, to keep the baby safe, telling me that he would be careful and that everything would be alright; all the lies couples told each other when they were parting into dangerous, uncertain times.
“I will try to keep you apprised of what is happening when I can but I cannot guarantee regular updates although I do expect them from you along with images of the scans of our child. If I cannot be there in person I wish to be there in spirit.” He said as he caressed my belly gently.
I nodded. “I will make sure you get them and I will tell our son about his father as often as I can.”
“If people see you talking to your abdomen without knowing you are with child you know what they will think.”
“They already think I am a bit weird so this will just add to the crazy Merly myth but I am sure that by the end of this week most of the base will have learned the truth, it’s hard to keep secrets here.” I answered.
“So I have noticed.” He replied with a wry smile.
Suddenly there were so many things I wanted to tell him but all the words stuck in my throat and all I could do was look into his eyes and hope that he understood until the silence became too much to bear.
“Be safe.” I whispered.
His hands were warm as he cupped my face and kissed me one last time before turning sharply on his heel leaving me alone in the sudden quiet which engulfed the room in his wake.
For a moment I just stood there holding his scent in memory, my hands wrapped over my belly quite of their own accord and for the first time I knew a fear for Thrawn that was new and entirely unwelcome.
“Okay kiddo,” I whispered to my unborn child, “It’s just you and me now.” And before I could wallow in the self pity that threatened to engulf me I turned my attention to the data pad Thrawn had conveniently left on the table for me. It held all the relevant information pertaining to Jarack Behl’s disappearance and possible capture. I had no intention of leaving the base to find Jarack but at least I could familiarize myself with the details.