In the days that passed after Thrawn’s return to his ship life on the base felt quiet, almost still. It was as if the entire population were holding their breath, waiting for something to happen but nothing did.
I knew from Voss that Thrawn had gone to Wayland to retrieve equipment. That he was also planning war games as training with Ged’s fleet, getting ready for the next big push which was rumoured to be Coruscant. There was a terrible sense of urgency under the calm reports Voss gave me and I wondered what was really going on but left it alone. It would do me no good to dig at him about a topic I was certain Thrawn had forbidden him to talk about in any detail. I found it surreal to think of Coruscant once more becoming a battle ground. I had lived through such a thing once and was grateful I would not have to do so again.
Thrawn had not spoken to me about his plans in this particular matter and I had not asked because when the subject of Coruscant had been brought up he had become distant and brooding. He had spent many hours sequestered in his meditation room pondering strategies and tactics but I often had the sense that he was troubled by some of the outcomes he predicted.
“Nothing is ever set in stone, Tekari.” He had said once when I had brought the subject up one night as we lay in bed, restless and unable to sleep. “For every move I make there are hundreds of possible outcomes, not all of them in my favour. I must think carefully before I set any theory into motion.”
“It sounds like you are playing Dejarik.”
His eyebrow had arched. “Except that instead of game pieces being at risk, it’s millions of lives that hang in the balance including yours and mine. I must consider all possible permeations and consequences with infinite care which, for me, requires quiet time and thought.”
I had only nodded because there had been nothing more I could add and one of those lives hanging in the balance was growing within me. The galaxy suddenly seemed far more fragile than it had a few months prior to discovering that I was pregnant. As we had lain in bed talking there were a mass of unspoken question boiling in my brain but I had long learned that no amount of pushing on my part would gain me the answers I wanted if Thrawn was unwilling to give them. Instead I had left him alone when he required it and given him what solace I could when he had asked. After his departure I tried to keep myself busy but it was difficult. I had never enjoyed waiting and now, confined to the base with no real purpose, it was harder than ever.
Every day brought with it new discoveries about the tiny life I was carrying. I could feel him move, I could sense his being within me and even though it was pure fantasy I believed he could sense me too. I had asked Syal about this one day, feeling foolish but she had just smiled, telling me this was perfectly normal.
“Of course he is aware of you, he is listening to your heartbeat isn’t he?” She had asked when I had spoken of it shyly.
I had smiled. “Were you this jittery with your first?” I had asked.
A sliver of sorrow had crossed her face for a second but it was gone before I could make sense of it, I wasn’t sure she even knew it had been there. Before I could ask what I had said to upset her, she had nodded and answered me. “Oh worse, I think.” She had said. “Davin was born small and too early. He was quiet in the womb, much like he is now, quiet and thoughtful. In fact he was so quiet sometimes I used to wonder if he was there at all. I ran to the medlab on many an occasion to see if everything was still alright. Chak on the other hand arrived late and through most of the pregnancy he was restless and kicked like a mura almost all the time.”
“How do you get past the uncertainty?”
She had shrugged, “You don’t, not really. But with each pregnancy it gets easier because you learn what to expect, mostly. With Jagged I didn’t worry so much about the anomalies. He kicked, he moved, he punched with his fists and when he was born he came out backwards. It was as if he wanted to come into the word already standing on his own two feet and he’s been fiercely independent ever since.” She had smiled.
“Yeah, I noticed that. He’s pretty amazing. All of your boys are amazing and I love them dearly.”
“And they adore you right back.” She had replied, placing her hand over mine. “You’re going to be a wonderful mother so stop worrying so much.”
I had never been more grateful to have another woman to talk to than at that moment; she was a fountain of knowledge as well as a comfort to me in what was a very uncertain time. It was no wonder that she was the one to see when I was having a bad day and help me through it.
I had not been sleeping well and the nightmares which had been plaguing me had gotten worse leaving me with a feeling of dread I could not seem to shake. I would wake up shaking and in tears but without any real memory of what the dreams had been about which was unusual and disturbing. As the day wore on the sensation became more pressing until exasperated I ended up in the small cantina drinking something I had hoped would sooth me. Sometimes it was good just to be near other people even if they mostly ignored me. Not having anything specific to do was starting to drive me a little stir crazy, baby or not.
I was staring off into space while nursing an already cold cup of tea when Syal found me.
“Here you are.” She said sitting down across from me with a cup of tea in her hand. “You know for a small base you sure can be hard to find.”
I grinned. “It’s not that hard, just go to where there’s food.”
“Where are the boys?” I asked. “You usually don’t fly solo at this hour of the day.”
“Davin is with his tutor for another hour and Mar’sa is taking care of Chak and Jagged. I needed to get away. I don’t know what’s gotten into them today but it’s a mad house in our quarters. I swear there must be a full moon or three going on.”
I smiled but didn’t say anything.
“Is everything okay, you seem sort of distant?” She asked after a few moments.
I nodded. “Yes, I am just having one of those days, you know? I can’t settle. Everything hurts and every time I try to take a nap or go to sleep I have nightmares that make Kessel look like a holiday resort. It’s as if I took a restless pill or something, like I am expecting something bad to happen only there’s nothing going on. I think I am creating stress where there isn’t any because I am bored.”
She studied my face carefully. “Is the baby is alright?”
“According to the doc two days ago everything was fine.” I nodded. “I have my next check-up in three days. Why?”
“That’s good to know.” She sat back against her chair, “You just look a bit pale is all.”
“That’s probably due to a great lack of sleep.” I sighed, hating how I sounded. My entire universe now revolved around the tiny alien life in my belly. “I’m not used to sharing my body is all. It’s as if he’s doing everything possible to make me uncomfortable today. My back is killing me.”
She looked at me thoughtfully and then asked, “Your back? You don’t have any cramps do you?”
I looked at her as though I were seeing her for the very first time. “No, nothing like that at all. It’s just an ache. I’m not used to so much lying around. I think my muscles are rebelling against the inactivity. Plus I never seem to sleep well when Thrawn is away.”
“You’d go see the doc if you thought something was up?”
“Yes, of course.” I nodded, “Do you think there’s something wrong, should I be worried about a back ache?”
In that moment I watched her face carefully, she had something on her mind but she made the decision not to tell me anything more. Instead she just shook her head, “No of course not though maybe you should requisition a new bed. You just look tired and I am being overly protective.” She answered. It was a lie but I was too tired to press her. “We are just looking out for you is all.” She added.
I smiled. “I know. It’s as if this baby belongs to the whole base.”
“Well in a way he does you know. I mean I thought Tir and I had the perfect fairy tale romance but it’s nothing compared to you and Thrawn. You’re the perfect couple and after everything you have been through you are still together, still in love and now you will have a baby. It’s perfect and let me tell you, as an actress I should know, that’s what people want, the happy ending to a story filled with all sorts of adventure and adversity. Your life would have made a really great holo-drama you know.”
“Perfect?” I asked softly, “You think we’re the perfect couple?”
“Well it looks that way on the outside.”
I sighed. “I think Thrawn would argue on that assessment because I am probably the least perfect person I know and I must admit in the perfect world my baby’s father would not be the warlord he is, challenging the current rulers in place to bring back Imperial might.”
“Well that may be so but isn’t it nice to know people think what you have is idyllic?”
I shook my head morosely, “No.” I replied honestly. “Things that are perfect in my life have a very bad habit of going belly up in a really big bad way.”
She cocked her head to one side, “You really are having an off day aren’t you.”
“Sorry, I woke up feeling all gloom and doom and it just hasn’t gone away.”
“You think something is happening with the campaign?” Syal asked. “Have you heard anything from Thrawn?”
“No, no news good or bad.” I shrugged. “Really, I think I am just going stir crazy being here is what.” I said trying to lighten the mood a little.
She laughed and suddenly the tension that had been building dissipated. “Well, that I can understand.”
“I never thought I would say this but I actually miss Coruscant. I think I would almost give anything to be able to head out to the coco district and do some shopping, something to distract me.” Suddenly I missed Shiv and Cati more than I could say.
“Yeah. I do miss that, being able to go out for ‘caf and cake, or to the theatre. I mean I don’t regret coming here with Tir but it is hard to be so isolated and hemmed in. It’s not even as if we can really go exploring outside the perimeter either for fear of being eaten by some unknown beast.”
“Or worse, some flesh eating worm bug thing.” I nodded. “My uncle once told me it was my heart ache to be with an Imperial Navy lifer, I never really understood what he meant until I was already in too deep and it was too late. I mean Thrawn has been at war for a long time and it never worried me the way it does now. I am so scared for him, for us and for the future. This baby isn’t even born yet and I am terrified of all the awful things that could happen. Nothing I have ever done in my life has prepared me for this, nothing and it’s kind of making me go a little crazy, you know?”
“First baby jitters.” Syal said gently. “It’s normal. You are bringing a new life into the world, you worry about everything. Trust me that doesn’t go away but you learn to get over some of the what-ifs.”
I sighed. “I don’t know I have so many of those ‘what ifs’ in my head right now I think my brain will explode.”
“I’d love to tell you that once this war is over things will get better, but I’ve been saying that for most of my married life now. That’s the trouble with soldiers, pilots and warriors, there is always more to fight about.” She nodded.
There was nothing else I could add to that statement, she was absolutely right. For as long as I had known Thrawn there had been some conflict going on somewhere that he had needed to deal with. He thrived on such adversity, I was sure of it. Military problems gave his brilliant mind something to do. I was quite sure he would go crazy if he were cut off from space and strategic planning and all things in between. I remembered what he had been like when we had lived together on Coruscant while he was at the court. It had been a relief when he had been able to return to space.
I spent the rest of the day in Syal’s company ending up back in her quarters so that she could relieve her babysitter. It was a pleasant enough distraction but I was grateful when I found myself back in my own quarters which were blissfully quiet by comparison. She had not been joking when she had said it was a mad house at her place. The boys ran us both ragged with their enthusiasm and rambunctiousness.
“I hope that you aren’t quite so wild, little man.” I whispered to my belly as I walked slowly back to my own quarters. If the boy I was carrying had any opinions on this matter he kept it to himself.
I ordered supper to eat in my quarters but once it arrived I found myself playing with the food rather than eating it. I was not hungry and the mild indigestion I had been battling on and off all day wasn’t really helping much either. After pushing the vegetables about for the umpteenth time I set the plate aside and tried to watch some holo-dramas but that also proved to be futile. I simply could not settle down and eventually decided to go for a walk, taking my unfinished dinner to the dirty dish drop off in the cantina along the way.
I ended up walking through the base to end up in the main hanger bay along the high gantry where I stood for a long time just watching everyone go about their routines. I missed space, if the truth were to be told, and had I not been with child I would have requested leave to go and take my ship for a joy ride. A subtle pressure deep in my abdomen made me place my hands over the small bulge that was getting harder to disguise.
“You be quiet.” I whispered to my son, “You’ll get your shot at space soon enough, I promise.” And as I spoke the words I realised I was excited at the prospect of teaching my child how to fly.
“You know they say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.”
I turned around and found myself looking at Voss who was grinning from ear to ear. “I was told you were up here by the deck officer.”
I looked over the railing and waved to the deck officer on watch, Martim VanKamt. He smiled and waved back. I liked Martim, he was an old hand at the business of dock operations and he knew me almost better than I knew myself. I enjoyed working with him and we had often swapped stories about our lives and adventures while I was tinkering with or repairing a ship.
“So what’s brought you all the way up here to find me?”
“Your comm. is off.” He replied as if that explained everything.
I made a noise of exasperation. “It’s not off; it’s sitting on the table by my bed. I keep forgetting it. Seriously, I’m on the base what the hell is going to happen to me that a dozen people at any given time won’t notice? There is no where safer except for maybe the Chimaera.”
Voss made a face. “You know better than that, if Thrawn finds out you wander about here with no comm-unit he’ll not be very happy.”
“Yeah well what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve. I won’t tell him if you don’t.”
“So what’s up?”
“I thought you might want to know, the Chimaera is due to return to base in the next two or three days.”
“Oh, why?” I asked, feeling my heart skip a beat out of fear, “Is everything alright? I expected them to be gone for longer than just three weeks. Has something happened?”
“Everything is fine, as far as I know.” He nodded, “The Admiral intimated that it has to do with some work on his cloning projects which can only be completed here, he’s bringing equipment from Wayland for installation.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”
Voss waved his hand in a don’t ask me manner. “I really am not privy to all his secrets but apparently time is of the essence.” He said, “Anyway I thought you would like to know, he’ll be here for about two days if the installation he wishes to do goes well, maybe longer if it doesn’t.”
I sighed with a relief that was almost overwhelming, “Thank you. That’s the best news I have heard all day.” I said.
“How are you feeling?”
“Honestly, I’m terribly bored.” I said after a few seconds.
“Bored?” He was surprised. This was not the answer he had been expecting.
“Feeling a bit trapped you know.” I explained, “I’m used to being able to come and go but with this pregnancy I need stay on base and because it’s high risk I can’t do anything that might be dangerous which includes ship repair or sports of any kind so yeah, I’m bored.”
He smiled. “You know, I haven’t said anything because you didn’t seem to want to talk about it but on behalf of everyone here who’s asked me, I want to say congratulations.”
I looked at my belly. “Thank you.”
“If you need anything, you know, you only have to ask.” He said shyly as we walked down the stairs to the exit. “We are all very excited for you both.”
I smiled, “You are?”
He chuckled, “Of course we are. Your baby gives everyone hope.”
“Hope?” I swallowed down the retort that was on the tip of my tongue in favour of giving him a smile hoping he did not see beneath it to the fear and uncertainty I felt.
“Yes,” He said without explaining it further. “If you don’t mind me asking, have you picked out names yet?”
“No, not officially. According to Thrawn the Chiss don’t do the naming thing until after the baby is born and I am just superstitious.”
“Why?” Voss’s ask puzzled. “Everything is fine isn’t it?”
“Yes, everything is fine.” I said.
“So you’ve thought about names then, haven’t you?”
I grinned at his curiosity, “Yes. I have. I’ve thought about naming him after my father or maybe Thrawn’s brother but really I don’t know, I think it will have to wait until he’s born. It’s hard to name a little person I haven’t met yet and names are important.”
Voss nodded. “I can understand that. One of my cousins took nearly a week to name their first born. She also said it was a difficult matter.”
“What name did they eventually decide on?”
He chuckled, “They named him Jarren, after my great, great grandfather.” He answered.
“I suppose he will follow in your family’s illustrious footsteps?”
“I believe he will if his desire for Imperial toys is anything to go by, though my cousin Yelena would argue against it.”
“I am starting to understand why mothers do not want their sons to grow up to be soldiers.” I replied wryly.
Voss smiled. “I cannot even imagine what mothers must endure. Boys are hell, you know, but think about it this way. You carry the heir to the empire in your womb. He’ll have the whole base watching over him.”
His words sent a terrible shiver of fear through me and I gasped at a sudden pain I suspected was a kick from my son reacting to the adrenaline surge.
“Are you alright? You’ve gone as white as a Hoth snow field.”
I swallowed the fear down and nodded. “I’m fine but I should probably eat something and get some sleep.”
“You had me worried for a second, come on I’ll walk you to your quarters so you can get some rest. The Admiral would have my hide if I let anything happen to you.”
I smiled and then out of pure whim I gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. “I hope Thrawn knows what an amazing man and even more amazing friend you really are.”
“I’m sure he does.” Voss said half embarrassed by my sudden display of affection. He untangled himself from me and continued to see me to my quarters.
Once I was alone I made myself a cup of tea down settled down to watch one of my Holloway holo-dramas feeling humbled by the kindness of everyone around me. I was only half aware of what was playing on the screen because my mind was racing with all manner of thoughts. It had been troubling to hear Voss refer to my unborn child as the heir to the Empire; I found the very idea unsettling. I rubbed my belly gently wondering how people could make such grand assumptions about a child that had not yet even been born.
“You have no idea little man. If you were smart you’d stay put where it’s warm and safe.” I murmured softly. I waited to see if he would kick me in response but he was quiet, as if he were agreeing with my advice. Suddenly I realised I was exhausted and decided to go to bed instead of dozing in the chair in front of the holonet screen.
It took me a long time to fall asleep. In spite of being tired I was restless and could not stop my brain from buzzing at a million parsecs a second. I was glad that Thrawn would be returning to the base in a few days, his presence calmed me down. Being able to see and touch him made all the difference. He would tell me my fears were unfounded, his physical presence more soothing than any reassurances ever could be. I focused on these thoughts, trying to imagine that he was with me instead of light years away working out how best to bring the galaxy back under Imperial rile. Sleep, when it eventually came to me, did not bring any peace.
I knew I was dreaming but I was powerless to stop it. The floor beneath my bare feet was cold, black stone and the room I was in was horribly familiar to me. I walked out of the darkened turbo lift into the Emperor’s observation chamber.
“Welcome back young Merlyn.” A soft voice whispered. “I have been waiting for you.”
I shivered and wrapped my arms around my body. The long night dress was tight over my very swollen belly, the baby was due any day and I was feeling slow, heavy and swollen. “Why am I here?” I asked wearily.
“You bring me my new protégé.” The shadowed figure sitting on the throne said smugly.
I shook my head. “No.” I placed my hands protectively over my belly.
The figure moved so that the sliver of light from outside shone on his face and I gasped. It wasn’t the emperor that I had known but someone much younger, much stronger and far more virile. This was no weak old man devastated by his constant use of dark side power this man was a predator in the prime of his life.
“You carry that child for me.” He said arrogantly.
I shook my head but remained frozen to the spot I stood on. I could not move for fear. As if he sensed this, my baby kicked hard enough to hurt and I gasped at the pain of it. “No, this child is not yours, not now not ever.”
The young version of the Emperor got up from his throne like a hunting tiger who just spotted the perfect prey. “I beg to differ, my dear. You, the daughter of a Kaffir jedi and a clone warrior, have powers unattainable by normal force users that are of great value. Now this child, a cross between your genetic code and one of the brightest minds in the galaxy, will be a force to be reckoned with. I will have him as my own apprentice and train him and he will rule this galaxy with me, and help accomplish what your alien lover’s pathetic attempts cannot. Your child will be the heir to this empire that I have so long searched for and as of yet not yet been able to attain.”
“You know what Thrawn is trying to do, you know but you just sit here and watch?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “And now you want my baby to help you? You are a selfish, power hungry bastard and you always were. You should be working with Thrawn instead of sitting here planning these ridiculous schemes.”
“He is a fool.” The Emperor spat. “He cannot grasp what it takes to rule this galaxy, he cannot replace me.”
I stepped back from the jealousy I heard in the man’s voice. “Then why not help him?”
“I do not need his help.” He spat, “I have all I need right here.” He stepped off the podium and walked towards me.
I wanted to move but fear rooted me to the spot. He was taller than I ever remembered and his features would have been considered handsome had it not been for the cruelty etched on them. He walked around me as though I were a prized possession in one of his private art collections and then he placed a hand on my belly. I felt the child kick again and it hurt.
“Don’t touch me.” I pushed his hand away from me and mentally tried to calm the baby down.
He chuckled then grasped my chin between his thumb and forefinger. “You are so lovely.” He said softly, “I always regretted that I did not make you one of my concubines instead of allowing you to tryst with that blue skinned alien who thought he was better than everyone around him. And,” He added, “It was a great mistake to allow your talents go to waste under that half mechanical monster you seemed to adore for no good reason and now you are mine. That you kept your talents from me for as long you did was the only thing that saved you from being brought to me sooner.” He smiled but it never made it to his eyes, “You should have been mine then and now you are.”
“Yours?” I tried to move away from him but he held my arms tightly. “No, never. My heart does not belong to you and neither does my body or my baby.”
“Your lover is dead, the galaxy is mine for the taking and you will stand by my side.”
I shook my head, trying to make sense of it all. “No, you’re wrong! Thrawn lives and you are the one who is dead, this is not happening. This is not real!”
I wasn’t expecting what came next. I wasn’t expecting him to grab me or kiss me brutally. I wasn’t expecting to feel the terrible power of the dark-side emotions which flowed over me like water threaten to drown me. I did not know how to handle the sudden rush of heat and lust that rolled over me in waves. I writhed to get out of his grasp.
“No!” I began to struggle and scream at the same time. I could feel the baby kicking violently and the pain it was causing was almost unbearable. “No, no, no, no!” I kept saying over and over.
The emperor pulled at me so that I faced him and gave me a terrible grin, “Very well if you will not comply then I will take the child and you will die leaving him without a mother.”
I stopped struggling to stare at him in horror. “No! You can’t do that!”
“You foolish little girl you have no idea of the power of the dark side!” He growled and with that he drew back his hand and before I could stop him he pushed me hard enough to make me lose my balance.
I screamed as I fell backwards to the ground trying to ward off the Emperor’s attack. He knelt at my side, pinning me to the floor with one hand pressed on my shoulder. “It’s a pity you were spoiled by Thrawn’s touch and Vader’s stupidity. You would have made the perfect mate to stand at my side.” He said softly, caressing my face with tenderly, “But now your child alone will have to suffice.” And with that he plunged his other hand deep into my belly and began to rip my baby out of my womb.
I woke up screaming, clutching my belly in terror. For the first few moments I struggled to be free of the nightmare’s grip, gasping for breath. The pain and the fear I had known were still too fresh for me to understand that I had not left it behind in the dream world. Slowly it dawned on me that the pain in my abdomen was real.
“No….” I whispered in disbelief as a new cramp shot through me, vice like and agonizing. It took my addled brain a few seconds more to realise that something was terribly, terribly wrong.