I swung the blaster I had a death grip on upwards but before I could pull the trigger Ged grabbed a hold of the barrel with one hand and gently pushed it back down. “Oh no you don’t.” He said, “You’re not so skilled with that thing and I would hate to see you hurt someone who is actually on our side.”
The man who had been standing by the large row of databank and computer system stepped forward and saluted Ged smartly. “Sir, it is good to see you again.”
Ged returned the salute and nodded, “You too Morrish.”
“Morrish? The Virulent’s captain?”
The man stepped forward and shook my hand. “Yes, although I’m no longer the captain of the Virulent, she’s in Captain Wulfman’s capable hands now. It’s nice to see you again Miss Gabriel.” He politely ignored the blaster in my hand and the fact that I had just aimed it at him.
Ged turned to me and smiled slightly at my shock. “You see you should learn to trust me a little bit more.” He said then turned back to Morrish, “It’s Vander and he’s tracking us, how much time do we have?”
“About ten minutes unless they’ve changed how their tracking equipment works.”
“Right then let’s get started....” Ged began.
“Tracking? Tracking how?” I interrupted, feeling as though the world had just shifted sideways and I had been bounced into another universe with no road map.
“In the satchel you’re carrying.” Ged replied as he went to the computer consoles to study something Morrish was showing him. “You don’t think they’d really leave our things so easily accessible without a reason do you? They put a tracking device in your bag.”
I began a frantic search of my satchel but Ged’s sharp command to stop halted me in my tracks. “Leave it! I’ll need it to find Vander. They can’t locate us here it’s protected by a scrambling shield so they’ll think we’re in a service tunnel. We’ll have about ten minutes before they will get suspicious.”
“Your orders sir?” Morrish asked bringing us back to the problems at hand.
Ged didn’t answer him directly. “Is the Lightning in orbit?” He asked.
“Yes sir, cloaked and waiting.”
“Merlyn come here.” Ged said. I did as he commanded. He had become someone I didn’t recognise. Someone I didn’t argue with.
“Put your palm on this will you?” He gestured to a number pad. I looked at him and he made a face which said just do it we don’t have time for games.
I did as he asked and sucked in my breath. “Wow.”
“You know?” He asked.
I nodded. “I do.”
Ged sighed. “Damn it.” He swore and took a deep breath, “Morrish, change of plans. We’ll need a secure uplink to the Lightning and then I want the entire database uploaded as quickly as possible. Forget copying it. After that, wipe and destroy the mainframe completely and spider mine this place.”
“Yes Sir.” Morrish nodded as he started to work on the computer system, “Sir, if may ask did you find Behl?”
Ged glanced at me and then shook his head. “He is believed dead.”
Ged glanced at me and then said, “Lee Vander executed him and should you or your men see Vander you are to use extreme prejudice. He must not escape.”
“Understood sir.” Morrish nodded but there was sadness in his eyes. “I’m sorry about Behl sir, he was a good man.”
“Yes, he was so do me a huge favour and get yourself and your team the hell off this planet in one piece on schedule. I do not want to lose any more of good people.”
Morrish grinned. “Yes sir,” he repeated, “The rendezvous point?”
“Remains as planned.”
“And you sir?”
“The Grand Admiral has ordered that I escort Miss Gabriel home safely back to the Virulent. We have an alternate way off the planet. We will meet with the fleet at the rendezvous as planned.”
I rolled my eyes.
Morrish gave me a grin this time. “Understood sir.”
Ged looked at his chrono, checking the time “Okay, we need to go now.” He said dragging me by the arm, across the floor to the wall opposite the turbo lift. He touched an invisible panel and a narrow opening appeared. “Come on.” And before I could protest he pulled me into the narrow, dimly lit passageway.
“What the hell was that all about?” I hissed wriggling my palm at him.
He sighed slightly, “I would like to assume that Vander doesn’t know what you can do, that he believes you’re this Amyshka Pavjaska, which was a nice touch by the way, and that he doesn’t know who you really are but I cannot take that risk. You saw the access code when you touched the panel right? You know how to get into the mainframe?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“If he had known, if he thought for a second you could get him what he wanted this would be a very different scenario right now and if there are more people who can do what you can then I am not taking any risks. The information on that mainframe is far too important for that.”
“Why was it still here? I mean the rebels could have found it at any time.”
Ged shook his head. “No, that room is not in any blueprints or plans. Unless you know what to look for and have the right access codes it is virtually impossible to find. Vander knew of the mainframe’s existence but not its exact location or how to get there. This place is built like a maze for a reason. He was hoping I would lead him to it by letting us escape and tracking us.”
“He let us escape just so you would lead him to a computer?”
“Didn’t you think that our get away was just a little too easy?” Ged asked giving me a look.
“You had to kill two men and what was that whole suck face with Merly make out session all about if it was so easy?”
“Well if it had been too easy...” He started to explain but I flapped a hand at him shutting him up.
I glared at him. “I really hate all of this spy stuff.”
“You have so many wonderful talents Merly but being a covert agent is definitely not one of them.” His chuckle annoyed me even more.
I ignored his insult. “Did you plan for all of this?”
“Plan is not exactly the word I would use, but I worked around some of the given eventualities. No plan is set in stone but probabilities can be calculated when one knows all the players involved, unless of course you happen to be with the party. I would not have found out about Vander until it was perhaps too late had it not been for you. You, my dear, are a wild card.”
“You sound like Thrawn.” I grumbled.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, the man is a genius although how he manages to keep you in line is beyond me.”
I wanted to argue with him but thought the better of it; this wasn’t the right place or time, “So now what?” I asked with a sigh.
“Now I get you out of here and I go and wait for Vander to find me.”
“Not on your life!” I said standing still. I suddenly had a very bad feeling about all of this and knew that whatever was going to happen it did not involve leaving Ged on his own, that was not an option.
“Merlyn come on!” Ged hissed. But I didn’t budge.
I folded my arms across my chest and stared at him defiantly, “No, either I come with you or I stay right here take your pick but I’m not leaving you alone and nothing you do or say will make me. You brought me along for a reason and I don’t walk away in the middle of a job.”
Ged weighed his options and then shook his head. “Come on then but you have to do exactly what I tell you, no deviations. Are we clear?”
“No! I want to hear you say it. Our lives depend on it.”
Ged made a face.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Yes sir. I will do exactly as you tell me.”
“Alright then, now maybe we can get out of this alive. Let’s go.”
The small passage came out into a quiet hallway that looked as though it had not been used in some time. We walked quickly until we reached a set of stairs and another turbo lift. I didn’t argue with Ged when he chose the stairs. We moved up them quietly, leaving through the exit door like ghosts. He led me through a maze of hallways until he found a room he felt was suitable and once we were there he dug the tracking chip out of my satchel and tossed across the floor.
“If you have to you use this.” He said showing me again how to fire the blaster. “No messing around. Okay? Aim, pull the trigger just like I showed you just... try not to shoot me, okay?”
I held the weapon like he had shown me and nodded. I didn’t like how it felt in my hands but I wasn’t going to argue with him about it. I watched as he moved the table and chairs that were sitting in the middle of what appeared to be a small meeting room to one side. He picked up one of the chairs and placed in the corner on the same wall as the door. “Sit there and don’t move until you have to. Watch for my signal or use your head but wait until the right moment.” He instructed, setting the blaster he had carried on the floor beside my chair.
“How will I know?”
“You’ll know, you’ve been well trained but you need to trust that I also am very well trained. Do not give your position away too soon.”
“This is going to be messy right?”
“Hopefully not, I hate messy but it does feel that way.” He said cracking the first grin I had seen since we had entered the mainframe room. “I just need them to not see you when they enter the room. There’s a better chance of being noticed if you stand, when people scan a room they do so on a single plane first and they’ll be distracted by looking at me. I am hoping they won’t turn around to see you behind them.”
“How many do you think there will be?”
Ged thought about it for a moment, “If he followed training he’d have had a nine man team with himself included, we’ve taken out four so that leaves four more and Vander. They will come in first protecting him so that he gets a better idea of our defences and where the enemy fire is coming from. He must not know you are there, he will suspect but he won’t know for sure and I hope to keep him distracted enough that he’ll be too busy to wonder, so please trust me when I say I can handle this. I’m very good.”
I swallowed and took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Now let’s make this place more comfy shall we?”
I nodded, sitting down on the chair in corner watching as he used the force to blow out all of the lights except the centre one leaving the corners of the room dimly lit. Once that was done he took out his lightsaber and stood in the middle of the room, directly in line with the door. I watched as he seemed to almost transform. He drew a deep breath and, just like I had been taught, he started the process of finding his centre. It seemed like a good idea so I did the same, tapping into the force which swirled around us like invisible fire. It made the waiting easier and it helped that we didn’t have to wait for long.
They came in hard. I suppose they thought rushing us would be better than being picked off one by one but they were wrong. Ged was right there were five of them in total. It was like watching a blurry dance on fast forward. As soon as the door opened Ged ignited his lightsaber and the brilliance lit up the room in a blaze of purple. The light from his weapon and the fact that he was right in front of them meant no one had time to look around, no one saw me at all as I sat in the darkened corner, my heart beating so fast I thought it would burst free from my chest and fly away.
Ged had not been joking when he had said he was good at what he did. He moved incredibly fast to deflect the blaster shots back against the first two shooters who went down very quickly creating obstacles right at the entrance. Two more armed men came into the room, shooting and managed to create a certain amount of chaos by ducking low and avoiding the initial reflected blaster bolts. I started to stand up but Ged, glancing my way, shook his head. ‘No, wait.’ I heard him push into my mind so I did the hardest thing in the universe to do, I waited.
He moved with a fluidity that was beautiful, reminding me of water in slow motion. The violet blade of his lightsaber and the brilliant white-blue of the blaster bolts mixed to create a stunning yet deadly dance of colourful fire that reflected all around the room. The air filled with the scent of burning ozone, dust and seared flesh. My stomach churned as I fought to get past the horror of it all. There were four armed men in total and when they were all dead Lee Vander stepped past the mess of bodies into the room to face Ged. He looked pissed.
“You always did like to show off.” He said as he walked up to where Ged stood calmly.
Ged, who did not even seem winded, just stood with his lightsaber at the ready looking strangely relaxed and calm but I knew that was not the case. Lee Vander had been his friend, a close ally and confident and I understood from personal experience what a betrayal on that level could feel like. This fight would be anything but easy no matter how it appeared.
“You should have walked away from this Lee.” Ged said breaking the silence between them.
“I can’t. The Empire is dead, it died with Palpatine. You and that alien purporting himself to be a Grand Admiral cannot save it; I don’t even know why you are trying, yet here you are, Ged Larsen the idealist.” Vander spat.
“I am here because the alternative is so much worse.” Ged replied softly sending a shudder down my spine.
“There is no phantom enemy coming to get us from far away!” Lee snarled, “That is a lie Palpatine fabricated to keep his power to himself and everyone else in the galaxy scared.”
“You are an idiot if you believe that.” Ged shook his head. “So now what, you want me dead? Will that make it all better? Will killing me help you find a place with your new friends?”
“You just don’t get it do you? After all this time how is it that you still do not understand?” There was such anguish in Lee Vander’s voice that it almost broke my heart to hear it.
“Then enlighten me.” Ged hissed through gritted teeth. I could feel his ire and anger rising, stirring the force around him and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
“I should have been informed before you made the decision to slaughter hundreds of people. You should have given me access to the mainframe. I could have stopped them, I could have prevented their deaths. You should have trusted me to do what was right. You should have listened to me!” Lee yelled.
I saw sorrow flicker across Ged’s face. “Is that what all of this is about?” He shook his head in disbelief. “All this time and you still carry the weight of a command decision that was never yours to make.”
“I was right! You should have listened to me! Because of you hundreds of good men and women died. People I cared about, people who trusted you.”
“You think the rebels you now serve were any better? They blew up two manned space stations and killed thousands. For people trying to assassinate one person they went a bit overboard don’t you think?”
“They did what they had to do to get the job done. You had a choice, if you had only listened....”
“I did listen, Lee. I read the reports and I understood everything.” Ged replied softly “I had all the information I needed but it wouldn’t have mattered I could do nothing but let events take place as planned. And I’d do exactly the same thing again if I had to.”
“Which is why I can’t let you live or lead anymore.” Lee said as they began to circle each other, looking for weaknesses and mistakes. Jyrki and I had done exactly the same thing but we had both been force users this was very different.
I listened to the conversation without context or understanding, hearing the undertones of regret, sadness and hatred in the words of both men. Suddenly I understood what Ged had known all along, there was no going backwards and every moment led us closer to whatever it was that destiny had in mind for us. It was unavoidable and suddenly my heart ached for Thrawn.
“I suppose you tried to turn Jarack Behl into betraying me as well?”
“He was there! He barely made it out alive. He had every reason to hate you but instead he chose not to. He simply could not see reason. He was blinded by his loyalty to you.”
“So you executed him?” Ged said flatly.
Lee’s answer sent chills down my spine. “He made his choice. It was the wrong one.”
“So you decide who gets to live or die based on whether or not they agree with you? How does this make you any better than me?” Ged asked masking the sadness in his voice with anger.
Lee didn’t have an answer instead he went for his weapon and I saw the surprise in Ged’s eyes as Lee pulled out a lightsaber from an inside pocket of his long jacket and turned it on. It was a brilliant white-blue in colour and from the way he swung it around he had been well taught to use it. “You think just because you use the force you have exclusive right to this kind of weapon?” he asked. “You think you are special? You are nothing!”
Ged didn’t answer. He just took a breath, using his fury and anger, drawing the force and readying himself. He let the fight began as Lee Vander made the first move mistaking Ged’s calm for hesitation.