The detention area was large and complex and, in theory, full of security but nothing showed up on the scanners to indicate where any of the guards were, just there were life forms in what appeared to be cell blocks. We were in one of the small maintenance tunnels that lead to the detention area but from where we were hiding it was impossible to see anything clearly.
“There should be a main control console near the entrance to the cell blocks.” Ged said quietly studying the layout from the datapad.
“It may be guarded.”
He nodded, “Yes, probably, but they don’t expect anyone to come barging in so we have an advantage. Looking at this there is probably only one life form guarding the area, though this won’t tell us how many sentry droids there are.”
“So what are you suggesting? We just storm the area like a couple of mad banthas?” I said crossly.
Ged smiled. “You’re very cute when you’re annoyed, you know that?”
I made a face. “I get annoyed when there’s no solid plan with no solid backup. Look, something here feels off.”
“Can you be more specific because I don’t sense any danger and usually my instincts are spot on.”
“No, I can’t. It just doesn’t feel right.” I shook my head. Wondering, not for the first time, what the exact nature of Ged’s own force talents were, because while we both knew we were force users our exact abilities were something we had never directly discussed.
He sighed, “We’re breaking into a detention area so of course it doesn’t feel right. Look, I’m happy to listen to any suggestions you have but just having a bad feeling doesn’t count as a suggestion.”
“So then what, do you have a plan or are we just winging it?”
“If we can hone in on Behl’s tracking chip then we could bypass all need for logging in to the system. The less invasive we are the less likely we are to trip any alarms but you know the risks as well as I do.”
I waited with a nagging sense of annoyance and unease.
He fiddled with his datapad for far too long and then cursed softly.
“What.” I demanded.
“I can’t seem to find him. They must have disabled his tracking chip.”
I frowned at him. “Ged, did you not check that before we left?”
He just shrugged. “I was rather hoping it was a proximity issue. My contact assured me that Behl was being held here.”
“So we’re doing this the hard way.” I made a face. I pulled off my satchel and gave it to him. “Take this, keep it safe.” It held my lightsaber and I didn’t want to run the risk of getting caught with it in case I was right and this mission went south.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“To find out where Jarack is. The main console should be here,” I said tapping the data-pad, “I think I can slice it, maybe, if they are using the existing mainframe or I can get into it through a backdoor using one of Lord Vader’s codes. I’m happy to hang back here though if you think you can do this better. Can you do this?”
“Slice the data? No. I can do a great many things but slicing is not one of my big skill sets.” He replied. “How is it that you can?”
“Well I had some help and it’s a long story but let’s just say that working for Lord Vader had its advantages.” I nodded. “So I go, you stay.”
“Don’t get caught.” He chided.
“That’s not my plan but my plans don’t ever tend to go the way I hope they will so if I’m not back in about five minutes then it’s your turn. Just don’t leave me here because Thrawn will kill you if you do.”
“I’m not joking you know.”
“Merlyn....” Ged started but then stopped because I had already slipped away from him into the shadows.
Isard’s palace detention complex, while not as huge as the Lusankya facility had been, was still big enough to get lost in if one wasn’t careful. Luckily for me the design had been based on the same sort of layout used on an ISD. One had to admire the Imperials for their streamlining of things. This meant a main room with a central computer to control all the cells, locks and live security camera feeds.
I moved quietly, the way I had been taught by Master Kjestyll, stretching out with the force to feel for danger but there was nothing. Whatever was happening here it was being done on the quiet by a pretty nonexistent skeleton crew. I drew a deep breath, finding my center, and then stepped into the main room. I had a rough idea where the spy-cams were and tried to stay in the shadows. I was hoping that if I actually ran into a real person I could manipulate them with the force power Lord Vader had called mind trick. It wasn’t my best ability since I so rarely used it but it would do in a pinch.
The entire detention area was shaped like a fan. The main processing area, a large semi circular room which housed the computers and the offices had three long corridors branching off it with detention cells, interrogation rooms and other facilities lining them. I stood for a moment in the shadows trying to sense if there was anyone around at all, it all felt strangely devoid of life and I began to wonder if Ged hadn’t made some huge miscalculation. Against my better judgment I stepped out into the main room and made my way to the central control panel. This was all way too easy.
I glanced around to make certain I was alone and started to tap into the computer system. The database was there but it was empty. There were no prisoners listed, in fact there was nothing listed at all. Puzzled I dug deeper using all of the tools I had been taught to slice. The coding was clever and I wasn’t nearly good enough to wade through it all but what I did find was enough to know we had made a terrible mistake. I swore under my breath as I backed away from the console. Alarms suddenly sounded loud enough to make me jump. Two seconds later I stood face to face with a rather grim faced man holding a blaster aimed at my chest.
“This is a restricted area.” He said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“I was looking for the fresher.” I said slowly, reaching out with the force, sensing his mind and giving it a shove.
He frowned slightly. “This is a restricted area.” He said again slowly, looking puzzled.
“I work here and I was looking for the ‘fresher.” I said again re-enforcing the force push.
The man shook his head ever so slightly as though he were fighting off a drug and I knew that he was fighting me so I did the next best thing I knew how and I kicked him as hard as I could in the groin. The blaster in his hand clattered to the floor as he sank to his knees in agony. I used the force to bring the blaster to my hand.
“Are there more of you?” I hissed shakily pointing the blaster at him but the guard remained silent and grim faced. I should have been more concerned that he didn’t seem too worried.
“Ged! We’re going to have company!” I yelled.
“No need to shout, I’m right here.” Ged swore yanking the blaster out of my hand to shoot the man who was kneeling in pain on the floor in the chest. The blaster had not been set on stun.
“This is a trap.” I hissed as Ged did a quick search of the dead man’s pockets, pulling out a card key. “There’s no one here. No prisoners, no people, no one. Wherever Jarack is being held it’s not in this place.”
“Your ability to state the obvious is brilliant.” He snapped. He turned and blasted the lock at the main door. “That won’t hold for long. Can you get anything useful out of that?” He nodded at the console I had been using.
“The program is too sophisticated for me. Someone really good set that up. The minute I sliced into it they knew we were here.”
“So it’s useless then?”
I nodded. He shot it sending sparks showering everywhere. I glanced as the entrance to the detention center began to open.
“Come on.” He tugged my hand to lead us back into the maintenance tunnels. “We need to get out of here right now. And then we need to find a place to hide and rethink our strategy.”
I was about to argue when the sound of a blaster fired very close by. They had found the service tunnel entrance. Ged shoved me ahead of him and turned to fire back. The smell of scorched metal and flesh filled the small service tunnel making me sick. He was an extraordinarily good shot and when it seemed he had managed to kill everyone who had entered the tunnel to follow us he yelled at me to run.
“Go!” He yelled. “There will be more on the way and they will have better scanning equipment!”
I wasn’t going to disagree. Using my memories of being here before I led Ged through an impressive maze of small maintenance tunnels and secret passageways. It took longer than it should have. The entire palace was now on alert so there were many more open or easily accessed tunnels and areas we had to work hard to avoid. Eventually we found ourselves at a place I was all too familiar with. I pushed Ged through the force shielding and we slipped into the secret room which had once housed the Emperor’s treasures. No one had been here since my last visit, touching the door panel had told me that. Once the door had shut behind us I let out a sigh of relief and sank down to the floor.
“Well that didn’t go quite as planned did it?” I said trying to catch my breath. “What the hell happened?”
He looked at me angrily as he paced the room. “I do not know. This was not how things were supposed to go.”
I shook my head. “They knew we were coming. How is that possible? I didn’t tell anyone so who did you tell, who knew?”
Ged stopped and looked at me. “My informant was the only person apprised that I was here, who knew anything about this mission. No one else was told the exact nature of what I was planning. I didn’t trust anyone else.”
I nodded, sighing with heavy resignation, “And there’s your double agent. Did he know about me, did he know I was with you?”
“No. I never mentioned you but if they caught your face on the security holos they know you are here now. If there is any record of you at all, they'll know who you are.”
I didn't need him to tell me what that would mean if we were to get caught.
“Is Jarack even still alive?” I asked after a lengthy silence. “Or was that all a lie as well?”
Ged shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“This agent of yours, you trusted him?”
“Yes. Absolutely, I’ve known him for years, we were in the Academy together and, “He added angrily, “we were friends.”
“Who is he?”
“Admiral Kel Vander’s son?” I could not keep the astonishment out of my voice. “The ace pilot? I had heard that he had been killed at the Battle of Yavin.” Jorae had talked about it a lot, Lee Vander had been one of his heroes.
He nodded. “Yes. That was the story fabricated so that he could move into the black ops service.”
I sighed and scrubbed at my face with my hands. I could still hear alarms wailing away in the distance. I really hoped this room was safe. Only a force user would ever be able to get past the Emperor’s strange force block and as far as I knew there were not so many of us around anymore but a lot of things had changed since I had last been here. I wasn’t that secure about how secret this room was any more but it had been the only place I could think of to go. I looked at Ged and motioned for him to pass me my satchel. I dug out the water bottle I had and took a sip then handed it to Ged who shook his head.
The silence in the room grew heavy so I broke it. “Forty eight hours you said.” I drew a deep breath. “What happens in forty eight hours?”
“It was the amount of time I gave us to get in and out.” He said evasively.
He sighed. “Because in seventy two hours, give or take, this planet will be under attack if all goes according to the Grand Admiral’s plan. I wanted to be well away before that happened.”
“Well, this is just great.” I said. “Can I say I told you this was a bad idea now?”
“If it will make you feel better.” He replied, “So where exactly are we now? I don’t recall this room at all and I thought I knew a great deal about the palace.”
“This is one of the Emperor’s secret collection rooms. His private treasury.” I said and then before he could ask I told him the entire story of how I knew this place was here.
“Wow.” Ged breathed. “You do lead a charmed life. I thought you didn’t like the Emperor.”
“I didn’t. He scared the hell out of me.” I retorted, “But he seemed to like me.”
“He took you under his wing.” Ged said. “He must have seen something remarkable in you.”
I stared at Ged for a long while and then realised what I was hearing in his voice was sadness. “I’m sorry. You were close to him and I am being insensitive.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“I have some talents he felt would be of use to him. I was of the opinion that I did not want to be used. I was Lord Vader’s girl not the Emperor’s.”
“What sort of talents?”
I stared at him for a moment and then using the force I pushed at him, invading his mind, showering him with a taste of the anger I was feeling at him for getting me into this situation.
He stiffened and then in a move so fast I did not see it coming he whirled around to come at me, grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet pulling me close to his body. “Get out of my head!” He snarled in my ear.
I just stared at him reinforcing the link until he slammed it shut with a brutality that reminded me of Lord Vader. It hurt.
“Ow!” I pushed him away from me and rubbed at my temples to try and ease the sharpness of the pain I had felt.
“Vader used to try that trick with me, trying to dig out information and while you have some talent you are nowhere near as good or as strong as he was!” Ged said angrily. “Palpatine taught me how to counter attacks like that easily. Do not ever do that again.”
“So you were his student?” I asked sliding back down the wall to sit on the floor again.
He glanced about the empty room as if trying to decide how much to tell me. “He felt there was some merit in teaching me to use my talents wisely.”
“You never speak of it in any great detail.” I said, "I mean I know we're chatted about this stuff but we always skirt around the details."
He shrugged slightly. “What is there to speak about? Palpatine is dead and the force has been usurped back into the domain of the jedi.” He spat that last word as though it burned his tongue just to utter it.
“So what can you do aside from shutting me out and hurting me?” I asked.
“The usual, move things, get a sense of feelings and so on.” He replied. “And this...” he smirked a little as he held up his hands and for a brief second blue electricity seemed to writhe and dance about his fingers.
I gasped. “Force lightening?”
“Why didn’t you use that in the tunnels?”
“It’s very draining and I need all my energy to keep you in line.”
“Ha very ha.”
He looked at me for a moment and then asked, “So aside from what you just showed me what was it that made Palpatine so intrigued by you because I know it wasn’t just the usual list of force powers that had you on his watch list.”
I studied my nails for a long moment listening as the klaxons continued. “I can tell when someone is lying to me.” I said.
I sighed. “I can read the memories off objects.”
Ged regarded me for a very long moment. “Well that might have been useful to know a few hours ago.” He said digging into a pouch on his utility belt. He pulled out a small data chip and tossed it to me before I could say anything. I caught it out of reflex.
I sucked in my breath as I was bombarded with everything the datachip had to tell me. Once it was over I let out a gasp and swore in cheunh loudly.
“I take it that means you saw something interesting?”
I nodded trying to sort out everything I had been shown. “Jarack is dead.” I said not bothering to fight back the tears in my eyes. “Your friend killed him.”
Ged stared at me for a second and then his temper exploded as he hurled the data-pad he had been holding across the room where it shattered against the far wall.
“What else did you see?” He demanded.
I shook my head. “It’s too hard to try and put into words, it’s all images and a lot of them I don’t understand.”
He drew a deep breath. “Share them with me then, with your mind, through the force.”
“You told me not to ever do that again.”
“I’m making an exception. Just do it.” He said squatting down in front of me.
He opened his mind up to me and felt it as though the sun had suddenly come out from under a cloud. I gasped at the sensation and he hissed. “Hurry up.”
I reached out, cupped his face with both hands pressing the datachip against his cheek, and drew him to me so that our foreheads touched and did as he asked and while holding onto the small data-chip I flooded everything it showed me to him in real time. He grunted with the weight of it and this time when I was done he severed the connection between us far more gently. When I handed him the datachip back he just slipped it into his pocket without looking at it.
“Oh Merly,” He whispered, his voice husky with sorrow, “I do not envy you this talent.”
I looked up at Ged. “He set you up and you walked right into his trap.”
“He was my friend.” He said simply as if that explained it all.
I just sighed, closed my eyes and leaned my head against the wall. “I know, I'm sorry.”
He nodded and stood up slowly. “Speaking of traps, Merly how do we get out of here? I get the impression that this place may not be as secure as it might have once been.”
I got up and pressed the panel on the wall which opened the secret entrance to a turbo lift.
“I don’t have the codes to make the lift go anywhere but all the way down.” I said as we stepped into it. “At the bottom is a shuttle line that goes under much of the city. There are two stops still in the palace, one where Xizor’s palace used to be, one at the museum and the one at the end, in The Works district, is the medical facility that the Emperor once used to ...fix...Lord Vader.”
The door closed silently and we stood across from each other, leaning against the walls. He studied my face intently making me self conscious and shy all at the same time.
“Anything else at the bottom I should know about?” He asked eventually breaking the awkward silence.
I shrugged, “Last time I was here it was just the shuttle car and the tunnel.”
“So we could be headed down into another trap?”
“We could be, if anyone knows about this room and all its secrets, though I doubt it.”
“Are you certain of that?” He asked checking that the blaster he had taken off the guard still held a charge.
“No.” I fished my lightsaber out of my satchel. He looked at it with a smile.
“Do you actually know how to use that thing without hurting yourself?” He teased.
“I can hold my own.” I retorted crossly.
“Alright then, shall we see if there’s a party waiting for us?”
I sighed and brushed my fingers against the control panel and the turbo lift moved down with a soft jolt.
“You know, I wasn’t joking.” I said, “If anything happens to me Thrawn will kill you.”
Ged gave me a look I couldn't read and reached out to stroke my face. “Then I shall not let anything happen to you, shall I.” His touch was oddly comforting but I moved away from his hand anyway.
He just grinned, “Once we get back to the Virulent, you and I are going to have a long discussion about your force talents and I want to see just how good you are with that thing.” He smirked as he showed me his own lightsaber that had been hidden beneath his jacket.
I just shook my head. “How can you be so calm after all that’s happened?”
“I’m not calm, Merly. I’m angry but I’m saving the fury up for when we find Vander so that I can kill him with a minimum of fuss.”
“Wait, we’re getting off this planet! We are not going after anyone.”
Ged’s only answer was a feral smile and then the lift stopped.