Choose a path 8

At three am the morning someone had banged so loud on my door that I thought the world was ending. An Imperial Messenger with news. I was so starting to hate these guys. I was informed in the usual brusque Imperial that I was to pack what I would need, alert my ‘staff’ (what staff?? I had a cranky complainy protocol droid called P2B4) and accompany Lord Vader. He did not say where I was accompanying Lord Vader to, just gave me a landing pad number, E12-B and time, 06:00 am, CST.
I guessed I was not being handed to the Emperor just yet, it looked as though I was being sent to hell in a space-ship.

It took me about ten minutes to pack everything I own and the protocol droid did the rest of the work packing everything I would need for the office work. After packing, I sat on my bed for about ten minutes before I decided to get out and get some air, I would not call it fresh, because it wasn’t. I had dressed in my usual Tatooine fashion, all long traveling skirts and robe, and my hair hastily tied up with a set of well used Zenjji sticks, I did not own any fine Coruscant traveling clothes, and left to find some peace and quiet.

The palace at night in this quarter was usually quiet. Unlike myself, not many of those who worked here also lived here, but then I had not been here long enough to want to leave. I walked along the quiet places, relying on my weirding way to help me navigate. I have always called it my weirding gift, this thing my father had called the Force, and it has always served me well when it came to finding things, finding places, my sense of direction. Now, it helped me find my way to my favourite place.

The palace was vast and extraordinary with lots of secrets and deserted spaces. Not even the Emperor knew them all. No-one did. There was a place on the other side of the secondary library, down the hall and through the door at the very end into the old corridor. This was a much older part of the Palace and it lead to old rooms long left unused. Unfashionable, people said. If you were to go down this short little hallway through the really beautifully carved doors at the end you would end up in this beautiful room.

I did not know what it had been used for, but it had a stunning, bow shaped balcony that you could go out on and the view the city. That view was worth it. This was where I went when I wanted complete peace. I would often bring a bottle of my father’s moonglow, a really pretty glass and I would sit and I would watch the city move.

So, there I was, sitting on my balcony, up on the wide stone wall that stopped you from falling into oblivion below, with my feet dangling over the edge, a crystal glass in one hand thinking about the next step when I sensed him come. I felt him hesitate when he saw me but it was a fleeting thing. I was invading his space but he was gracious about it because before I even looked up to see who it was I offered to share my drink.

The hand that took my glass from mine was blue.

“I am not accustomed to other people in this place.” He said taking a sip of the moonglow. I thought he handled the liquor’s kick very gracefully.

“Neither am I.” I told him. “But I am willing to share it if you are.” And then I looked up into his face to see who it was I was talking to.

He was tall, very regal, stern and somewhat serious looking, I suppose even handsome after a fashion. He had hair blacker than night and skin that was a shade of blue I had never seen but it was his eyes that drew me in and shut me out all at the same time, red, just red and the seemed to glow with their own eerie light. He had an aura of power and self assurance that wrapped itself around him in the same manner that the Force wrapped itself about Lord Vader, and when he smiled and I felt a ghost walk over my grave.

“What is this we are drinking?” He asked.

I laughed, “I’d have thought you be more interested in who you were drinking

He looked at me that one of a kind stare Imperial men seem to have perfected.“Miss Gabriel, I am well aware of who it is I am drinking with.”

Something in his voice made my heart skip a beat. He was cool and reserved but his voice had a touch of honey in it. It made me shiver slightly.

“Well, you seem to have me at a disadvantage, sir.” I said.

He smiled, executed a perfect military style bow and said. “Captain Thrawn, at your service.”

“So, how is it that you know my name and most of the people who work on the same floor as me don’t even know I exist?” I asked.

“I make it my business to know, Miss Gabriel. When the Dark Lord actually chooses to keep the new office girl around, rumours abound.”

I was speechless, rumours? About me? Oops, that could not be a good thing. I didn’t say anything to his statement because I just could not think of anything to say. I went back to staring at the city and sipping my drink. He took the glass when I offered it.

“So, “he said after a short silence which I was pleased to see he didn’t mind too much, “What are we drinking?”

My laughter was genuine. “My father’s self made moonglow. I have been frequently told it is good for the soul.”

“I thought this was illegal here.”

I shrugged, “Maybe on Coruscant, but this stuff comes from Tatooine, not many rules about what you can brew in your home there. Fine thirty year old Corellian brandy is hard to come by, you know.”

He regarded me with a curious look. “You are from Tatooine? That is most interesting.”

“Oh, something about me you did not know?” I said sarcastically. “And why should that be of interest?”

“I never said I knew everything about you, Miss Gabriel, just that I know who you were.” He gave me a thoughtful look. “I find it an interesting coincidence that you should be from the home planet of the man you now work for.” There was an edge to his voice.

I nodded. “Ah. I had not known that.” I said. “Why is it an interesting coincidence? Many people are from Tatooine.”

“Yes, but not many work for the Empire and of those that do, there are only two I know who are force sensitive. I find it interesting that it should be you who ends up working for Vader. Who knew that Tatooine was such a breeding ground for the Force sensitive?” he said carefully.

“Mmmm who knew.” I said wondering just how he knew that about me and then remembered that what had happened at the cafĂ© had probably made the rumour mill many times over. I wanted to change the topic. “What about you? Where are you from?” I asked.

“A planet called Csilla.” He said in a tone of voice that told me he did not like to be asked anything personal and that this was all he would say on the matter, so I asked him something else that was personal. I liked to live dangerously.

“Do you miss it?”

He regarded me for a moment and I didn’t think he would answer but he did. “No.” he said. “Do you miss Tatooine?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “Yes I do. I hate it here.”

That surprised him. “Why?”It never ceased to astound me that everyone automatically assumed that I would love being here. Why did everyone think you should absolutely adore the center of the galaxy?

“Because, it is too loud, too full of people who are too full of themselves. There is no room to breath and when you do breathe it all smells, used, the air here is bad.” I said, having to take a deep breath. Left to my own devices I could have talked about how much I disliked Coruscant and why for hours, but I got the feeling this would bore him, it bored me. I took a good sip of my drink to shut up.

"Yes,” He nodded as if he understood. “You are refreshingly honest, Miss Gabriel.” He said.

“I have discovered in life that lying about things doesn’t always get you very far.” I told him.

“Really? Most people, I fear, would argue that.” He said.

“Well, I am not ‘most people’.” I said.

“Perhaps that is what is keeping you alive?” he suggested with a slightly annoying, know it all look.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I shot back.

He smiled coolly. “Most people have a tendency to displease Lord Vader and they seem to have a short life span.”

“Well, I guess we shall see then, I am to accompany him on his next trip.”

“Really?” Thrawn said, genuinely surprised, and then added. “Well, wonders will never cease.”

Sarcasm, I hated it from other people as much as I used it myself. I swung around and jumped off the balcony ledge, the fabric of my skirts swirling about me like dust as I did so. “I have to go.” I said tersely. I was annoyed but I didn’t know why. This man made me uneasy and I could not put my finger on the reason. He was dangerous to me in some way but not in any manner I understood.

He grasped my arm as I was about to go and pulled me to him, whispering close to my ear “Stay alive, Miss Gabriel. I should think the next time we meet you will have interesting tales to tell.” The warmth of his breath upon my skin was electrifying, his smile was unnerving.

I shook my arm free and looked him in the eyes. “If you touch me again, I shall kill you.” I said as coldly as I could. I was shaking, not because he had scared me but because he had stirred up feelings I had hoped would lost and that was even more unsettling than working for Lord Vader.
He just smiled at me. “You are either incredibly bold or just very stupid.” He said.

That made me really angry and anger I could deal with. I shook my head and moved away from him. “I am neither,” I said, “what I am is tired and I am fed up of being bullied here. Every time I turn around someone is telling me how I will probably die some horrible death at the hands of my new employer, or making snide remarks about my clothing or home.” I took a deep breath and went on “Men, like you, and believe me I know your kind, you think you can grab a girl and she’s yours. You think we are all slaves to your will because you own a blaster or fly a ship. That, we will swoon at your feet because you wear a uniform or command a few thugs!” I poked him in the chest with my finger, suddenly really annoyed. “So, why don’t you just go back to where ever it was you came from and I shall go back to my nice, life-threatening job and we can call it even?”

He captured my hand to prevent a third poke at his chest and kissed the back of it. I snatched my hand away and he smiled a decidedly feral smile. “My apologies, Miss Gabriel, you are correct and I should not have touched you without permission. Blame it on this strange brew of your father’s and leave it at that. It was not my intention to offend. This has been a very pleasant surprise, meeting you, I should hate to taint it.”

It was my turn to back down. I stepped a few paces away from him and nodded, not because I agreed with his last statement but because he had had the good grace to apologize. I took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes and said. “Okay. If I survive and live a little longer, then perhaps we shall meet again

“I shall look forward to it,” he said and then added with a wicked grin, “, although next time, Miss Gabriel I shall bring the refreshments.”I nodded and left. I felt his eyes follow me all the way into the shadows. I was not at all certain what was more worrying, the traveling with Lord Vader or another meeting with this man. Neither put me at ease.

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