After he had dropped his bomb about sending me back to work on the Virulent under Ged the conversation had been cut short when a comm call had come through which required his immediate attention. He had left me to lie in bed and consider all the reasons for his decision, especially given what had happened the last time I had been on board Ged’s ship but I fell asleep before he returned. When I awoke the next morning he was already up and had breakfast ready. I ignored him to go and shower first to clear the sleep from my brain. After I had dressed and then joined him at the table we ate in our customary quiet. Mornings were never big conversation times for us. He preferred his quiet and I was usually still waking up. Only after we had finished with food and were sipping our caf did the conversation begin.
“Where’s Rukh these days?” I asked. “Usually he’s trailing you around like a creepy shadow.”
It was not the first question he had expected from me and it irritated him. His eyebrow arched slightly and the almost imperceptible tick at the corner of his mouth let me know Rukh was not a topic he really wished to speak about so I was surprised when he answered.
“He has remained on board the Chimaera. It did not seem appropriate to have him follow me here unless of course you wish to have an observer to our nocturnal activities.”
I gave him a tight smile. “No. I rather like to keep that private.” I replied then before he could move on to a different subject, “But you’re unhappy with him.”
The slight twitch at the corner of his mouth turned into a slight smile. “I do so often forget about your rather remarkable talents for observation. No, it is not that I am displeased or unhappy with him but shall we say I am finding the loyalty of his people questionable. He and the Noghri are great warriors but I do not need his talents here, after all my dear, I have you.”
I sipped my caf and regarded him from over the brim of my cup. “Not for much longer, you’re sending me away remember?”
“You do not have to go but I do think it would be better if you did.” He countered.
“The last time you, Ged and I were on the same ship I do believe you had what the Doc would call a major meltdown. What is to stop that from happening again?”
“As you are so fond of pointing out I have nothing to be jealous about and Admiral Larsen has requested your presence. He feels you can be of use to him.”
"Doing what exactly?"
"That, my dear, you will have to ask him when you see him."
I made a face and poured more caf in both our cups trying to decipher what it was he was not telling me then, after a lengthy silence, said. “You’re not coming back to the base once you leave this time, are you? That’s why you want me somewhere else, somewhere safe and kept busy.”
“The campaign has reached its critical point. My work here, for the time being, is done and yes, you are right, I do not plan on returning until after Coruscant has been retaken.”
“Were you going to tell me this or were you just going to ship me off and leave it at that?”
He drew a deep breath. “Yes, I would have told you but now I do not need to.” Then he added, “I have learned that it is unwise to try and hide such things from you. It tends to lead to you going off and doing something foolish.”
His answer felt wrong somehow but I just nodded. Sometimes pressing the point got me answers but more often than not it just led to an argument and I wasn’t up to arguing so instead I asked again. “So what is it that I am going to the Virulent to do?”
“That is entirely up to you and Admiral Larsen although he did mention that he would not be unhappy to have another capable mechanic on the ship. I am quite sure you will not be bored but you are also free to refuse and remain here, as I have said.”
I gave him a withering look. “The fact that you keep giving me this option means it would be better that I don’t.”
“Besides,” I added, “I would drive everyone here crazy.”
His smile turned into a slight smirk. "Yes, you would."
“I do have to wonder why being on board the Virulent would be safer than being here. Won’t Ged and his fleet joining your campaign?” I asked.
“No.” He said. “Larsen has different orders and I would take it as a kindness if you would not ask me anything further on this topic.”
“Okay.” I said. I figured I could ask Ged about that later, he was far more likely to give me an answer anyway. “When am I supposed to meet him? Is he coming here?”
“I’ve arranged for you to rendezvous with him at Bastion. I’d like you to take the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma. I think it would be better for you to travel in a civilian ship rather than an Imperial one. I know you like the lambda class shuttle but right now is not a good time to by flying around in one of them. Given the options I'd prefer you take that rattletrap of yours instead.” He teased.
“I like my civilian rattletrap ship. It was a gift and I’m rather fond of its quirks” I retorted.
Thrawn smiled. “Then it’s settled. You leave early tomorrow morning which will give you enough time to sort out what you need to here and make the rendezvous with some time to spare should you run into trouble.”
“Then I guess I had better get my day started then.” I said getting up from the table. “Will we have some time together later on?”
“Of course my dear. Barring any unforeseen complications I should be done by twenty-hundred-hours. I had hoped we could share an evening meal and then....” he shrugged ever so slightly and smiled.
“Then I shall see you here later.” I said as I kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Now I have to get my ship ready!”
“Try not to pester my Quartermaster too much.” He replied lightly. “He has quite enough on his to do list as it is.”
“As you wish.” I grinned and left, heading to the hanger bay to make sure the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma was in good flying shape.
I spent most of my day crawling around the ship’s engines making sure all the systems were in perfect condition. In spite of Thrawn’s request I did drive the quartermaster to distraction with my requests and questions but he was more than used to this from me. I wanted to be certain that I was ready for every and all eventualities that may occur. I had been caught out once before and it had almost cost me my life. By the time I made it back to the quarters I shared with Thrawn I was covered in engine grime which meant that by the time Thrawn was done for the day I was soaking in the bath.
Our time together was short but full of passion and tenderness. This time he made certain to remind me of what I would be missing once we went our separate ways and it was bitter sweet. When we had finally fallen asleep I had been plagued by terrible dreams which left me sad and uneasy when I awoke.
In the quiet of predawn I threaded my fingers through his as we said our goodbyes in private. Deep down inside of my soul I had a terrible feeling of finality. Suddenly I didn’t want to leave him or to have him leave me but I knew nothing I could do or say would change the inevitable so I said nothing but that did not mean he could not see what I felt written all over my face.
“I am quite certain that Larsen will keep you apprised of the campaign advancements and I promise to send word when I am able to do so.” He said gently.
All I could do was nod and look away. My eyes filled with unwanted tears and as much as I did not want to cry I couldn’t help it. This parting had such a feeling of finality to it that it terrified me.
He lifted my chin upward with the crook of his finger. “I promise. I have taken every precaution. We will not fail.”
He brushed the tears off my face. “You worry too much. You place far too much faith in these dreams of yours and far too little in me. Once this final push is over we will have time together but until then you need to trust that I know what I am doing and I promise to trust that you won’t run off with Admiral Larsen.” He said with a teasing smile and before I could find any sort of suitable answer he kissed me long and hard pushing any retort far out of my brain.
“Now go and stay out of trouble.” He said giving me a little shove away from him.
I did as he asked. I walked toward my ship with a heavy heart and, although it was considered bad luck by the Dantassi, I looked back over my shoulder to see him watching me with an expression I couldn’t decipher but definitely didn’t like. This all felt horribly wrong final somehow and suddenly all I wanted to do was turn around to run back to him to never leave his side again. Instead I boarded my ship and began the obligatory pre flight check. If Thrawn stayed to watch me leave I never knew and once I was on my way I tried as hard as hell to exorcize the feeling of dread in my heart. If I was going to work with Ged Larsen I was going to need my wits about me. He was charming and intelligent and I had almost fallen for that once. That wasn’t going to happen a second time. I had a two day trip to ready myself, plenty of time I hoped, to shake off the terrible feeling that something awful was going to happen to Thrawn and that I would never see him again. I was certain that all women who had stupidly attached themselves to military men felt the same way every time their loved one left to fight on some war but somehow this thought didn’t make me feel any better. The trip to rendezvous with the Virulent felt like one of the longest I had ever experienced and I was very glad when I landed on board in one of the the smaller docking bays to be met by a sour faced officer and a rather nervous looking ensign.
“Welcome on board the Virulent Miss Gabriel. Admiral Larsen apologises for not meeting you in person but has asked me to extend every courtesy to you and to show you to your quarters. So if you will follow me.” The officer said tartly. The young ensign simply gathered my bags in silence.
I wanted to tell him to go away and that I needed to sort out my ship first but the look on his face said that even if I had tried to argue with him it would be in vain. I nodded and let him lead me through the vast ship to the quarters that Ged had chosen for me. At least this time they were more spacious and pleasant than the last time I had been stationed on board this ship.
“The Admiral requests that you remain in your quarters until such time as he can debrief you.” The officer whose name I didn’t know or care about said.
Again I nodded. I was too tired to argue. Seeing that I wasn’t going to give him any grief the officer left curtly and the ensign who had carried my luggage did the same. Once the door had closed I went over to the viewport and stared out at the planet below. Bastion, one of the Empire’s secret places, spun beneath us like a coloured jewel. I felt rather than heard the destroyers engines rev up and marveled as we left the planet’s orbit. Once we were out of the gravity well we jumped into hyperspace . I had no idea where we were going nor did I much care, suddenly I was exhausted so rather than sit and wait for Ged to show up I decided to take a nap not really expecting to sleep but I did. Hours later the chiming of the door woke me up and looking like something a jax had dragged in I answered it to find Ged standing there with a grin on his face and a protocol droid at his side bearing a covered tray.
“Welcome back Merlyn.” He said as he walked in uninvited to my quarters motioning for the droid to set the tray down on the table and then leave. “I thought you might be hungry and I brought some tea. We have much to discuss and not a lot of time.”
Still trying to blink sleep out of my eyes I stared at him. “Did you cut your hair?” I asked stupidly.
He just grinned. “See I knew you couldn’t resist my charms for long and yes, I did.” And with that he motioned for me to sit down on the small couch while he poured tea.
“I’ll just skip the small talk okay?” He said. “I have a job for you, for us both actually and I need you to listen carefully.”
“I’m listening.” I said accepting the steaming cup he handed me carefully.
“How well do you know your way around Coruscant’s Imperial Palace?”
I frowned. “Well enough I guess. Why?”
“Well enough to get in without anyone knowing?”
“I think so but it’s been a long time and who knows what the rebels have changed.” I said as the dopiness of the nap left me to be replaced by a slow feeling of dread. “Why?” I asked again.
“Because I need you to help me break into the palace grounds without being caught or seen.”
“What? Why would you even consider doing that?”
“I’m mounting a rescue mission and since no one else seems to be able to get the job done properly I am doing it myself, with your help.”
“Rescue? Who are we going to rescue?”
He grinned. “Your friend Jarack Behl.”
And that was when I choked on my tea.