The rest of the journey was relaxed, nothing blew up, no one tried to kill us and nothing went wrong with my ship. In the quiet of the galley Ged taught me how to play seven card comet, a complicated and annoying game. After losing to him about a billion times finally I turned the tables around and taught him how to play Hutts and Scoundrels which was even funnier because the rules allowed for cheating and Ged was not nearly as good at that as he would have liked to believe.
“This is a crazy game, are you sure you’re not making it up?” Ged laughed as he finally won a round.
“Nope it’s real. I used to play it at Jabba’s palace sometimes with Boba Fett. Actually I learned it from him.” I smiled at the memory.
“Isn’t that one of the bounty hunters Vader used to hire?”
“Yeah.” I grinned grateful he didn’t get all weird about me knowing Fett the way so many people had. “I knew him from before that though; he’d show up at the docking bay my father owned from time to time to get his ship fixed and then sometimes we’d meet up at Jabba’s.”
“Do you miss it?” He asked suddenly, peering at me from over his cards.
“Tatooine, Jabba’s Palace and all that stuff?”
I shook my head. “Tatooine sometimes but not Jabba’s palace, I don’t miss that at all. It was another life in another time and when I think about it I wonder who that girl was because she’s long gone. What I miss more is Coruscant and how it used to be, before Endor, when there was still some sort of normal.” I smiled, “I miss my friends, the clothes, the excitement and a bunch of other things I never thought would matter to me. I know it’s not the same now, and I couldn’t go back there to live but for a while it was home and I loved it.”
“Well it was a glamorous life, even if it did mean putting up with Darth Vader.”
I smiled as I discarded one card and picked up another, “He wasn’t so bad once you got to know him.”
“Is that so?” He said with a teasing smirk.
I nodded. “He was brilliant. Did you know he built his own protocol droid when he was just a kid?”
Ged stared at the cards in his hand for a second and then took another card from the deck, “No I did not know that.”
“Or that he had a wife who had once been the Queen of Naboo? That they got married in secret because the Jedi didn’t allow love and that she died in childbirth but everyone who knew that lied about it to keep him away from his kids. I mean no wonder he went bonkers.”
This time Ged stopped looking at his cards to look at me. “I didn’t know that either. I mean I guessed there had to be a woman involved somewhere; he had a son, but a queen of Naboo? That’s news even to me and I thought I knew a lot about that man.”
I nodded, “My point is that most people never really saw him as a man. They saw him as some sort of evil monster and he wasn’t, well okay he could be but he was more than that.” I sighed returning my focus to my own hand of cards. “I hope that when this is all said and done people won’t see Thrawn the same way.”
“Well the Grand Admiral isn’t dressed from head to toe in scary black armour and he doesn’t force choke those who displease him, I’d say he’s off to a much better start, wouldn’t you?” Ged asked and then laid down a hand of cards that trumped mine winning a round.
I watched as he gleefully removed a couple of cards from his sleeve and tossed them on the table. “I’m a quick study and you are easily distracted.”
I laughed. “I suppose a secret agent should be good at slipping cards up his sleeve though I never did learn the trick of it.”
“Make some tea and maybe I’ll reveal some of my secrets.”
I got up to put the kettle on and stood with my back leaning against the small counter while he reshuffled the cards.
“So what about you?” I asked.
“Oh there’s not that much to tell.” He gave me a one shoulder shrug.
At that comment, I grinned. “Which means there is lots to tell, so give it up fly-boy.”
“Well let’s see, my family has called Coruscant home since the dawn of the Old Republic. I grew up there when I wasn’t trailing around with my father in space. We have an estate out in the Sah’c Town area, two apartments in the coco district, and one not so far from the flat where your friends live. I used to call that home when I was on planet.”
“So we were actually neighbours of a sort.”
“Yes, I suppose so, though I wasn’t there very often.” He replied.
The kettle boiled and I busied myself making a pot of tea. “Do you miss it?”
“I used to but then, when I would be back on Coruscant, I would miss being onboard an ISD and it turned out that I missed space more in the end. I still have the properties though, I rent them out.”
“Nice.” I said with a nod. “Thrawn is like that you know, happier in space than on world.”
He nodded, “The navy is my life. The intelligence stuff came later. But for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a pilot, I wanted to fly.”
“I heard you got started young.” I said sipping my tea. “They called you the Emperor’s Boy Wonder, did you know that?”
“I did. I used to find it annoying now I just shake my head at the fuss.” He said with a grin, “I can remember pretending to be a TIE pilot as a little kid, playing make believe with toys and then later I graduated to simulators which I had access to when I travelled with my father.” He smiled at the memory, “I was good too, I even managed to outscore some of my father’s best pilots in the simulator. It was only natural that I end up at the Academy. I know a lot of people thought that I was given a free hand because of who my father was but that wasn’t the case. My father would never have had a man serving under him who had not pulled his weight at the Academy. I passed with more than flying colours because I worked at it. It was my passion.”
“You’re force sensitive that must have helped.”
“Perhaps it did but I never used it intentionally.” He said thoughtfully.
“Did they know about your talents? Your family, did they know?”
“The majority of my force abilities manifested much later in life and the small talents I did show we didn’t speak of it much.” His reply was quiet. “My parents lived through the Clone Wars, the Jedi purge. I had gifts that should have gotten me killed so we kept it ....”
“...dark.” I finished for him.
He nodded, “Yes, well you would know that wouldn’t you.”
“So if you kept it a secret then how did Palpatine find out?”
He drew a long slow breath and folded his hands around the cup of tea. He stared at the contents of his cup as though it held all the answers to the universe and then he looked at me and smiled slightly in that beguilingly boyish manner that I was sure made teenage girls weak in the knees. “Because I lost it.” He said with a shake of his head. “I just lost it.”
I frowned, not following. He swallowed and I suddenly understood that I wasn’t the only one carrying around battle scars. “If you don’t want to talk about it I understand.” I said.
He gave me another smile but this one was softer, held a hint of sadness and was far more intimate. “After all those terrible secrets you’ve shared with me, I think you deserve to hear at least one of mine.”
“Well then tea just won’t do it.” I stood up and dug two glasses and the emergency brandy out of the cupboard, then sat back down. Without asking him, I poured a generous shot and we touched glasses.
“Impressive! This is really good stuff.” He said savouring the taste.
“It should be I steal it from Thrawn and he’s a snob when it comes to this stuff.” I said with a tentative grin.
He nodded and then became serious. “It was unusual but not unheard of for members of the same family to be assigned on the same ship. When I graduated from Carida I was lucky. I got to work under my father on board the ISD Thunderer as a Commander and a flight leader. It was great, the Old man was cool about it and I pulled my weight, did well and got promoted. Things were good. Things were really, really good.” He studied the glass in his hand, “I’m guessing you know all too well that just when the world seems perfect things tend to go very wrong.”
“That’s generally been my experience.” I nodded.
“We had a good crew, a great ship. We had a decent sector to patrol in and my father was a well respected man. We had all heard about the rebellion, that there was unrest and fighting but it hadn’t really touched our lives in any great way. Then one day we were patrolling a non hostile sector, just a routine patrol, and suddenly things weren’t so routine anymore.” He stopped to down the rest of the brandy in his glass and didn’t refuse when I refilled the glass.
For a long moment he studied his glass thoughtfully. “I thought we were the good guys. I thought that the galactic worlds loved us. We kept space safe; we kept a lid on the smugglers and the war lords and made life easier for everyone. We did our jobs and we risked our lives every single day and for what? So a small group of ungrateful haters could swoop in and rewrite history?” He shook his head and sipped his drink. “I liked history so I read all about the Clone Wars, about the jedi and what happened. I read about how the Old Republic Senate had become so corrupt that they would not even help planets being blackmailed by thugs like the banking clan unless it was in someone’s best interest and the credits were high enough. Did people just forget all of that?”
“Yes.” I nodded, “They did.”
He shook his head and continued, “I also read reports that some people thought that Palpatine had engineered the entire thing, the war, the breakdown of the senate, his rise to power just so he could destroy the Jedi but you know what? That’s garbage. People are corrupt and all Palpatine did was show it. He didn’t start the war, he ended it. My mother was in the senate the day he declared us a galactic empire. She told me it was one of the most glorious things she had ever seen, that everyone cheered because they wanted Palpatine to lead. He was a good leader.” He looked at me. “I know things were not perfect but nothing ever is but these rebels, they came in thinking they were going to save the universe and in the process they destroyed so many lives and they called themselves heroes for doing it.” He stopped to consider his next words carefully. I could feel his anger and his sadness all around him and it made me ache with an all too familiar sorrow. This memory was painful.
“It was just another ordinary patrol. They came out of nowhere, a fleet of 5 MC-90 Heavy Calamari Cruisers and seven corvettes all carrying full compliments of squadrons. They jumped out of hyperspace practically on top of us. Oh how they must have congratulated themselves, a lone Imperial Star Destroyer with no reinforcements within a hundred light years, it was a gift, even armed to the teeth as we were, we were no match for their numbers.”
“My father didn’t waste any time. We launched the TIEs and we fought back with everything we could, we gave them a damned good fight. My father was brilliant, he used every trick in the book plus a few more that hadn’t been written and he held them off for a long time but in the end he was out numbered, we were outnumbered. The Thunderer’s shields eventually failed leading to a catastrophic hull breech.” He clenched his teeth against the bitterness of the memory which he could still see clearly in his mind. “When she exploded it was the most extraordinary and the most horrific thing I had ever seen. This huge, beautiful ship so full of people, so full of promise was suddenly gone in a brilliant flash of light and a shower of sparks. I watched it from the cockpit of my TIE, too far away to do anything else. That explosion took out three quarters of the rebel fleet along with my father and a good many of my friends.” He stopped and swallowed hard. “A part of me died that day and another part of me woke up.”
I sat with my hand covering my mouth and tears welled up in my eyes, I blinked them away to roll down my cheeks without me even realising it. “Oh Ged, I am so sorry. I had no idea.”
He reached over and touched my face, his fingers tracing the tracks my tears had made. “Tears for a man you never even knew, you really are extraordinary.” He spoke softly, as though he were talking more to himself than to me.
I brushed my tears and his hand away roughly, I was angry but I didn’t know why. We stared at each other for a very long moment and then he remembered he was telling a story, gathered himself and sat back against the back of the chair, distancing himself from me with a shake of his head. I understood then that, even with his pretty words and fine intentions of just being friends with me, it wasn’t quite so easy to completely shut off the feelings that lay beneath the surface. I wanted to reach out, take his hand to somehow give him comfort but I didn’t. He drew a breath and continued.
“They told me, after it was all over, that it was like watching a man gone mad but I don’t recall it much to be honest. I remember the explosion and that bizarre sense of disassociation. It wasn’t real, how could such a thing be real? My father, one moment he was there giving orders, the next he was stardust. How was that even possible? So I did the only thing I could, I stuck with my training and we went after the rest of the rebels with a vengeance. We shot them down like animals, every last one of them. By the time the battle was done the first of the reinforcements had begun to arrive. The next thing I know I’m back on Coruscant being awarded a bloody medal for my valiant effort.” He spat the last words with distaste and shook his head, “They said the Empire needed to see its heroes, but I didn’t understand. How could I be a hero when so many good people had died? Later, after the ceremony, the Emperor sent word he wished to speak with me alone in his private audience chamber, the small one, you know the one I mean right?”
I nodded. I knew it all too well and the memory made me shudder.
“He seemed so benevolent, like a kindly old uncle and not at all like the powerful man I had been used to seeing give speeches and so on. He told me he had heard about what had happened and he was curious as to how a mere boy could have done so much damage. I told him that I could barely remember what had occurred after my father’s death but he managed to get it out of me in that strange way of his. It was painful when it all came flooding back.”
I sighed loudly and drank a large gulp of the brandy. I had been on the receiving end of the Emperor’s ability to pull information out of thin air and I hadn’t enjoyed it very much.
“It turned out I had an aptitude for the darker side of the force. I had fed off my fury and hatred and let the force take over. I had been guided by it and because of this power we had managed to destroy our enemy or what was left of them.” Ged said with a slight shrug, “I resigned my commission after that meeting and I took some time to figure things out. I travelled, met people, studied and when I returned, well let’s just say the Emperor saw to it that my education did not get left by the wayside.”
“He trained you personally?”
“He had a hand in it.” Ged replied evasively. I didn’t push instead I let him continue; “He promoted me, gave me my own commission and sent me to take care of business in the Ryloth system, at least officially. Unofficially I began my work with the Bureau and followed in my mother’s footsteps.”
“Your mother?” I asked in surprise.
He nodded, “I thought for the longest time that she was some low level bureaucrat but it turned out she was working with intelligence as a signals expert. I used the front of being an Admiral and having an ISD at my command for missions and that was that until Endor. I should have been there but we had been delayed on another mission, perhaps if we had been there things might have gone a different way.”
“Everything changed at Endor.” I whispered.
He nodded. “I felt it you know, Palpatine’s death. I was on the bridge of my ship and it felt as though someone had suddenly sucked all the air out and I was suffocating. It was painful and bitter and I knew, in that moment, I knew that he was dead.”
“I think the whole galaxy felt it.” I shivered.
“Probably they did.” He nodded and we both sipped our drinks in silence.
“So, you studied the dark side of the force.”
He nodded, “As I said, I had an aptitude for it. Once I had broken through that barrier I was able to tap into it whenever I wanted and once I got the training I needed I could control it.” He studied me for a second, “You know, I don’t understand, why Palpatine didn’t just take you into his fold as soon as he found you what you were? He took many young force users and helped them to discover their full potential, so why not you? You would have made a perfect agent, one of his Emperor’s hands, with that gift that you have.”
“I grew up on Tatooine thinking I was the daughter of Docking Bay owner and an Alderaanian art historian. Who the hell comes to Tatooine looking for force sensitive children? Certainly not anyone from the Core. I kept my talents hidden and so did my family. It wasn’t until I got drafted to be Lord Vader’s office girl that it came to the forefront and by then I suppose I was too old and it was too late for the Emperor to find me of use.”
Ged shook his head. “No, I don’t buy that. You’re too good at what you do and you have too much talent for him not to want to put it to use.”
I thought about it all for a long moment. “I don’t know, to tell you the truth, really I don’t. It was Lord Vader who figured out what I was and he didn’t tell his master. Palpatine probably knew anyway but he liked to play games with Lord Vader and somehow I was caught up in the middle of that.” I shrugged. “The first time I met Lord Vader there was a connection, I don’t know how else to describe it. We connected. I wasn’t terrified of him, more curious at first. The fear of his temper came later and even then I didn’t mind so much. I suppose I imprinted on him the way a baby bantha will on the first being they see after birth, he was the first person not to treat my talents like some awful dirty secret. He embraced it, he nurtured it, he taught me and I guess I saw myself as his. He used to try and teach me the dark side, push me into anger, get me all riled up but it didn’t quite work the way he wanted to. I wasn’t interested in being powerful. It used to piss him off, eventually he got fed up and Palpatine saw that as well. After that it was the Emperor who guided me, nudged me in a different direction but it was done so subtly that at first I had no idea it was even happening. He didn’t even try, he knew couldn’t safely break whatever bond it was between Lord Vader and myself, and yes I know how ridiculous that sounds but it’s true. I suppose looking back now the truth of the matter was that I liked Lord Vader. I didn’t like Palpatine and when I don’t like someone I can be pretty stubborn about it.”
Ged laughed. “Stubborn is putting mildly.”
“I think that Palpatine figured he could wait it out, whatever it was. He even told me once that to try and break this connection I had forged with his apprentice would damage me and he was right. It took a long time to recover from Lord Vader‘s death and sometimes it still hurts. I know I came very close to madness on the Death Star at Endor. I’m sure that Palpatine’s methods eventually would have broken me completely but that didn’t happen and in the end it was my connection to Lord Vader that saved my life.” I stopped for a moment remembering the exact second Lord Vader had died. “It still hurts, you know, I still feel it the moment when he severed the mental link between us with the force, letting me go, it felt as though someone sliced through my brain with a rusty knife. I suppose that given enough time Palpatine would have bent my mind to his will but I’m glad he didn’t get the chance. I might not have been a good dark side adept but I am sure he would have found other ways to twist me. I know he used me and my relationships in a subtle sneaky way to get to Thrawn and even to needle Lord Vader on occasion. I’m not sorry he’s dead, I hated him.”
“Funny how we can see the same person in such different ways.”
I nodded thoughtfully then after a lengthy silence I said. “I am really sorry about your father.”
“Thank you.” He replied and I suddenly found myself wondering, just for a moment, what a life with Ged would have been like.
We had so much in common, and were alike in so many ways that in spite of our differences I felt sometimes as though I had known him all of my life. He was both handsome and intelligent, not to mention interesting and perhaps if I had met him before Thrawn things would have been radically different. My life would have changed and maybe he would have been able to deal with Jyrki better and less people I loved would have died but then I shook the thought out of my head. You cannot live a life on what ifs, my father would have said. And if I had thought tying my heart to that of a navy admiral was difficult then what would life be like with someone who ran an entire intelligence and black ops division. Being with Ged like that would be fun for a while but eventually all the secrets and the lying would drive me crazy. As if he could sense my thoughts he looked up at me questioningly.
“I’m sure he’s fine, you know.” He said and I was grateful he had misread my expression, or at least pretended to.
I took a deep breath and nodded. “I hope so as well because so much is riding on it.”
“Do you have reason to believe otherwise?”
I paused for a moment and swirled the brandy in my glass around and around. “Sometimes I have dreams where I see him dead.”
Ged snorted and set the cards in his hand down on the table. “I would think that this is normal given the job he does.”
“Probably.” I agreed. “But sometimes my dreams come true.”
That caught his attention. “Force visions?”
I poured two cups of tea and then sat down across from him again. “Maybe, I’ve had them for years. Thrawn brushes them off as nonsense.”
“Really? Describe them to me.”
I opened my mouth to refuse but the look on Ged’s face told me that would not work and he wanted to hear these dreams described. So I told him about the vision I had seen while in the Nona Shyr Gallery. Ged listened and when I was done he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Are they all like that?”
“And the Admiral brushes them off? Really?”
“Well not so much brush them off, he keeps telling me he has it all well in hand.”
Ged rolled his eyes at me, “So you’re being a drama queen.”
I couldn’t think of a suitable retort fast enough so I resorted to sticking my tongue out at him.
“Seriously, you should trust him a whole lot more than you do. I’ve never known him to ignore good advice or stay a course that would get him or his people killed. That's part of what makes him such a brilliant leader.”
“Me either but there is always a first time.” I was feeling particularly gloomy after this conversation.
“Don’t suppose you dream about me do you?” He teased to lighten the mood.
“You wish!” I gave him a grin and hoped it came out mysterious. He just laughed and picked up the forgotten deck of cards.
“Pour me another shot lady and I’ll teach you how to play Aces High, one of the TIE pilots favourite games.”
He made it easy to forget about everything that had happened and by the time we rendezvoused with the Virulent I no longer felt as though the world would end. I was no longer laden down with guilt and although I would probably still tell Thrawn about what had taken place on Coruscant, because he definitely would want to know about what happened to Jarack, I no longer feared the consequences, after all he didn’t need all the details. I was just really looking forward to seeing him again.