The galaxy stood still and held its breath. So did I.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Navaari appear from the kitchen with a tray which he quietly and quickly set down on the nearest table before taking a step closer to me. I looked at him helplessly and shook my head ever so slightly believing, foolishly, that were he to touch me this spell would break. I turned back to stare at the ghost I was seeing.
“Za’ar?” I whispered, frowning.
He nodded ever so slightly.
I wondered if I had died because I was completely and utterly numb. Even my heart felt as though it had stopped beating. Then sensation and feeling returned in a rush, blood pounded in my ears and my legs buckled. Had Navaari not moved swiftly and caught me I would have landed ungracefully on the floor.
“It is okay little pup.” His gentle voice reassured. “I have you.”
I clung to him tightly because he was solid and I had no bones. I looked at him as though I had never seen him before in my life and then looked back at the dead man whose body I was certain I had transported to Csilla to be cremated so that his ashes could be spread amongst the stars. None of this could possibly be real but apparently it was.
Of all the emotions that coursed through my body the one that clawed its way to the top first was anger and it hit me like a wall of white hot rage. I let it have its way. It made me solid and whole again, giving me strength. I tore out of Navaari’s grip and before anyone could think to stop me I hauled off and hit Thrawn across the face so hard he stepped back from the force of it.
Still nobody moved or said a word and then, finally, Navaari broke the silence. “This was not what we had agreed to. I do not understand why you think that doing things in this way is clever.” He glared at Thrawn, “She does not like to be surprised in this manner, you are knowing this but still you insist. Now you have only yourself to blame for the aftermath”
I whirled about to stare at Navaari, “You knew?” I could not keep the incredulity from my voice. “You knew he was alive and you didn’t tell me?”
“No, Kycsi’i I did not.” Navaari said. It was the truth. “We heard word of his death a week ago. I expected you would come here sooner or later so I waited for you instead of leading the spring hunt.” He sighed and shot a look of disgust at Thrawn, “He arrived on the planet earlier today although the first I knew of this was shortly before I set out to fetch you. The discussion we had about how best to inform you of what he had done, that he was not dead as you had been led to believe was not productive.”
I just shook my head in disbelief.
Navaari continued, “There was no time to talk about these matters by the landing, you were in no condition for such discussions in such cold, bad weather. I saw in your eyes that haunted look, when I hugged you I knew you were nothing but skin and bones. You look now the same way you did the very first time you were here, a ghost. ” He said sounding terribly unimpressed. “I would not have kept this from you and I wanted to be the one to break the news gently but the journey here was an inappropriate place for such a conversation. I wanted you to be somewhere warm and safe.” And I understood that he had been afraid I might do something stupid again, like run off into the storm. He was never ever going to let me forget about that. I scowled but he ignored me and continued. “I did not wish for you to be shocked in this manner but it seems that what I wanted for you played no role in any of this. I am sorry.”
I went to speak but discovered I didn’t know what to say. I made hard fists with my hands, the pain from my nails digging into my palms kept me sane for the moment.
Navaari sighed, shook his head and then he kissed the top of my head lightly. “Try to forgive him, little pup, he had his reasons although I was not agreeing with any of them.”
I clutched Navaari’s hand tightly pulling him to me. “Is this even real?” I asked him in a whisper.
He clasped my face between his hands nodded. “Yes.”
“Merlyn...” The dead man spoke gently but a hand gesture from Navaari shut him down immediately.
“You have done more than enough damage with your ways here, do not make it worse.” Navaari shot a look at Thrawn that would have wilted a lesser man. “This was very poorly played.” And with that, before I could stop him, he was gone.
The silence that settled about us was deafening. Thrawn rubbed his jaw slowly all the while never taking his eyes off me. He didn’t say a word and it angered me even more so I went to hit him again but he caught my wrist mid strike.
“Once was enough.” He said gently.
I just stared at him. My head was so full of white noise that I couldn’t think straight and it blinded me to the fact that I was standing in front of the man I loved and thought I had lost to death forever. For a moment everything stopped while he waited watching me and then all the anger I had been holding inside exploded.
“You bastard! Do you have any idea of what I went through, what you put me through?” I yelled at him, “Do you have any idea at all?” Still holding my wrist, he waited silently and suddenly the rest of my fury unleashed. “You died!” I shouted, and to punctuate my anger I beat him on the chest with my free hand, curled up in a tight fist. “You were murdered! I saw you in the morgue, stabbed through the heart. Your body was cold and lifeless and I was the one who had to drag it back to your home world, me all alone with your corpse in a box on my ship for weeks. I had hoped it wasn’t really you but they confirmed it with DNA, undeniable proof! I sat through your memorial service, the only human there and it was awful! Do you have any idea what that was like? DO YOU?”
When I finally stopped to take a breath he just stood there letting me hit him and still he said nothing. His strange silence infuriated me more. “I thought you were dead! You let me believe you were dead! How could you do this to me? How Could You?” I would have kept on hitting him but finally he caught this wrist as well. Trapped, hysterical, I struggled and flailed against him, screaming at him. He just held me until my rage ran its course and something else, something less violent and less full of anguish took its place.
I stopped dead and stared into his eyes trying to put all the pieces of this irrational puzzle together but I couldn’t. Then, bereft of anger, I sagged against him and gasped, trying to recall how to breathe, how to stand, how to even think straight only to discover I couldn’t do any of these things well. He let go of my wrists to wrap his arms tightly around me all the while remaining silent, letting me cry. At some point he had managed to pull me back so that we sat on the couch together and when the crying had given way to hiccuping breaths he just held me.
“Are you calm now?” He asked, brushing still damp hair from my face.
I nodded but it was a lie I wasn’t calm at all I was confused, exhausted and numb. If I had been thinking properly I would have smacked him again for asking me that question.
“I’m sorry.” He said. “I know that what you experienced must have been difficult and I’m sorry.”
“Difficult?” I jerked my head up to star at him in disbelief, beetling my eyebrows together, trying to unravel this new logic. “You were dead and I have been living with this for weeks dead but now you’re not and you think it must have been difficult?”
He shook his head and a slight smile graced the corners of his mouth. “I am not dead but Grand Admiral Thrawn is.”
I drew a deep raggedy breath and pulled out of his hold to hug my knees tightly to my chest. “But you are Grand Admiral Thrawn.” I said slowly wondering if had suddenly started to speak a foreign language neither us had in common.
“Not any longer.”
I rested my head on my knees. He stroked my back with the tips of his fingers while he waited for me to catch up. When I finally raised my head to look at him he smiled.
“Then who are you?” I asked.
“I don’t understand.” I shook my head. I was too tired to try and unravel this new turn of events.
He got up and poured two cups of tea from the pot on the tray and handed me one. I welcomed the warmth of the cup and the tea which was heady and sweet. He sat back down at my side and regarded me for what seemed an eternity. When he caressed the side of my face with the back of his hand I didn’t respond to it and just watched him warily without moving. He withdrew and sipped from his own cup.
“You pack quite a punch, you know that?” He said instead of answering me right away.
“I should have hit you harder.” I growled, the anger was still there lurking beneath the surface.
“I am grateful that you didn’t.” He replied evenly.
“How is this possible? You’re dead, I saw you dead. I carted your corpse halfway across the galaxy.”
He nodded, “Well, that was a version of me.”
“A version? What do you mean by a ver....” and then the penny dropped. “A clone? The body I took to Csilla was a clone? I’ve just spent these past many weeks grieving for a clone? You put me through hell for a clone?” I could feel my anger resurfacing again.
“It was the only way.”
“The only way?” I asked slowly. I had absolutely no idea how to react to this.
“I always told you that I would do whatever it takes to serve and protect my people. This included dying if necessary.”
“You can’t take care of anything if you are dead.” I told him crossly, slithers of anger resurfacing.
He caressed my face gently. “No, I can’t.” He agreed. “But you made it possible so that I could perhaps use the possibility of death to my advantage. You gave me enough information that I was able to extrapolate a probable where and how and possibly when my death might happen. This made it possible to take precautions against it.” He paused for a moment then said, “When I showed you the cloning facility on Nirauan I was showing you the future, my future. The clone in that tank, the one you asked about was me.”
“You lied to me?”
He shrugged ever so slightly, “I omitted certain facts.”
“That is the same as lying.” I growled.
“I suppose it is.” He replied offhandedly, “It was necessary and the ysalamiri made it possible, given your lovely little gift in that area. You couldn’t know what I was doing, what I was planning, because there was a possibility that none of it would work and given the strange truth your dreams seem to hold I didn’t want to give you false hope based on an experiment that, as far as I am aware, had never been done before.”
I suddenly remembered something Ged had mentioned in passing. “You were transferring your consciousness to your clone? And it worked?”
“Partially.” He arched one eyebrow slightly and smiled. “I wanted to create clones that would not only follow orders but think strategically, logically and be able to lead without the issues that clones seem to have. I wanted to take the best aspects of the donor’s personality and infuse a clone with them to make a better leader. ” He studied me for a moment then continued. “I used myself as the first template, I could not ask anyone else to take part in such an experiment if I first did not know what the risks were or even if it was possible. There were other men I wished to use as possible templates for clone leaders, good men with great minds but first I needed to make sure I could transfer specific parts of a conscious mind, the useful parts, the knowledge and the ability to think in many directions first to see if it worked at all.”
“And did it?”
He smiled, “You tell me, you met my clone on several occasions.”
I frowned trying to remember when this could have been and then it suddenly occurred to me. I grabbed his arm and pushed up his sleeve, choking back on a sob when I saw the bond-bracelet around his wrist glinting in the candlelight.
I traced the wound metal with a trembling fingertip, “I looked for this but it wasn’t on your...his...its... body and the Chimaera’s doctor told me that all his...your... things had been destroyed as per your wishes. I thought maybe it had also been destroyed, lost or taken somehow....” my voice trailed off and tears welled up in my eyes again. “He never wore it, he said it was against regulations and duty forbade it but you...you never took it off.” I wondered how I could have missed this.
“No one but I can wear this, no one, not even a clone of me. You know this I’ve explained how the bio-linking works before, it’s based on complete body chemistry not just DNA alone. It should have been your first clue.”
His arrogant words infuriated me but I restrained myself from slapping him again. “So when you, he, that man was on base and didn’t want to touch me, seemed so cold and unyielding and wasn’t wearing this that really wasn’t you?”
“No. It wasn’t. When have I ever refused you?” He asked.
I gave him a look that could have killed a hutt. “You used me.” I stated flatly, “You used me as an experiment?” I shook my head, “A test? You wanted to find out if I could guess which was real and which one wasn’t? If he could pass by me then he could pass by the rest of the galaxy is that it?” I would have said more but I found myself bereft of words as my anger at him grew. I could have killed him for what he had done but luckily for him I had learned some self control over the years.
to be continued...