The silence in the place was palpable. I sat with my head in my hands, my elbows resting on my knees taking long, steady, slow deep breaths in and out. He fetched a glass of water and knelt in front of me holding it out. I shook my head. I couldn’t hold it, my hands were still shaking so much and I didn’t want him to see that. He took a sip and put the Glass on the table.
“Mouse, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare yer.” He said trying to look at my face.
I could not believe he was even here. I just sat there shaking my head in disbelief.
“Mouse, say something.”
I looked up then into those brittle blue eyes I had known so well. “What are you doing here?” was the only thing that came out of my mouth. I resisted the urge to reach up and touch his face.
“I came to rescue yer.” He said, and I couldn’t help it I laughed somehow the laughter helped. He just gave me a puzzled look. I got up and walked away from him.
“From what?” I asked finally.
“Yer father said yer had been summoned by the Empire to work, I came to get yer out.” He said.
“Why?” I asked. “Why would you risk your life to do that? I don’t need rescuing.”
He gave me a confused look. “Yer father said yer were working for Darth Vader and the Emperor.” He said as if that explained everything.
“So?” I asked. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I can help yer escape from him.”
“Escape to what?” I asked. “Why do you think I need rescuing? I like my job here.”
It was his turn to stare at me. He shook his head. “What?”
“I like it here. I like my job. I don’t need to be rescued.” I said.
He ran a hand through his hair and paced about the room. “Rys and yer father said yer hadn’t applied for the job, that yer went against yer will.”
“I didn’t apply for it, that’s true but it isn’t that bad. I wrote and told papa that I enjoyed it here. Is that really why you risked your life to come here?” I asked.
He looked at me sharply. “Why in else, the name of Sarlacc, would I break into the Imperial Palace? I heard who yer were working for and I had to come and get yer and now yer tell me yer like it here?”
I shrugged and shook my head. “Yes, that's what I am saying.”
“Yer work for that bastard killer of children and yer like it here?” he hissed coming towards me. I backed up. He was suddenly fierce and frightening.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Yer have no idea who the Emperor really is do yer?” he said softly.
“I have a decent idea.” I said. “What do you mean killer of children?”
Jyrki shook his head. This was making me angry now. It was late and I was tired of having my wits scared out of me. I marched over to him and grabbed his arm. I could feel the Force flicker between us. I don’t know how I could ever have missed it before. It crackled when I touched him and he pulled away from me.
“Why didn’t ever tell me who, what you were?” I asked.
“Because if anyone ever found out it was a death sentence.” He said bitterly. “For all of us.”
“You are speaking in riddles, I don’t understand!”
He swung around and looked me in the eyes. “That man, the one everyone bows to and calls Emperor, the man yer work for, murdered children, the younglings at the Jedi Temple here on Coruscant. He sent his dark apprentice in to butcher and slaughter innocent children who tried to fight him off with what little force powers they had. “
“How do you know this?” I whispered.
“Because I was there when it happened.” He said and his voice broke. He fought to control himself. “The night Anakin Skywalker served the Dark side and did your Emperor’s bidding. Purge the galaxy of all Jedi right down to the children. I was very young and a few of us were out of bed, playing games of hide and seek in the catacombs. We were not supposed to be there. I and five others, we were down there playing when the attack happened. We could hear the screams and the fighting, the sounds of laser fire and light sabers. I wanted to go and help but Salla’amyr, the oldest of us, held us all back, made us hide deep inside one of the storage closets. We stayed there for a very long time, until we heard nothing only a dreadful silence. Then she led us away from the temple, but not before we had passed by some of the less lucky ones. One of them was still alive but only just. She could not do anything for him. He told us what had happened. That Anakin had come with clone troopers to kill all the Jedi, every last one. He died in her arms and she could do nothing about it. We escaped through the underworld to a safe house and were smuggled off world. They separated us and I never saw any of them again. I spent most of my life going from safe house to safe house. Hiding who I am and what I am. I never forgot the teachings though. I even passed some of them on to yer.” He drew a deep breath. “Now don’t yer see? Yer have to come with me, get away from the Emperor.”
“Jyrki, I am so sorry that happened to you.” I said. “But what does this have to do with me, here and now?”
“The information wasn’t easy to come by but I know. Yer need to trust me, that the Emperor is evil and so is the man yer work directly for. I have heard terrible things about this Darth Vader! Yer know I am telling the truth. I know that is one of yer talents.”
“I can’t leave here, I can’t do that.” I shook my head. I wasn’t sure how to digest this information. I could not understand why anyone would want to slaughter children but I knew Jyrki wasn’t lying. I didn’t know what to think.
“Why?” he asked fiercely.
“It’s complicated. And where would I go? What would I do?”
“Anywhere, work as a mech somewhere, free lance plenty of star ports would love to have a talented mechanic like yer around. Or yer could dance like yer did before. Why is it so complicated?”
I sighed. “Because it is and I don’t want to live the rest of my life on the run from the Empire.” I didn’t want to get into all of my reasons for staying. I suspected it would not go over very well.
He shook his head. “Yer’d rather stay here then and work for a man who slaughtered children and countless other innocent people? Who rules the galaxy by creating fear and hate?”
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life running away always looking over my shoulder!” I said getting annoyed.
“What have they done to yer? What hold do they have over yer?” he asked, I could feel the anger welling up in him as it was in me as well, and I wanted to feed off it.
“Nothing at all.” I said “Which is more than I can say about you!”
“What do yer mean by that?”
“You left me without even saying goodbye. You just up and went. You knew how I felt, you knew how much I loved you and you just vanished. Not a note, not one word. I had no idea what I had even done wrong! No one here has ever hurt me the way you have!” I cried at him. Old wounds coming to the surface.
“Mouse I had to leave.”
“It was becoming, as yer so aptly put it, complicated.”
“Why?” I asked louder. “Explain it to me.”
“Jedi are not supposed to fall in love and have relationships.” He said quietly.
I opened my mouth then closed it again. “So he was right, you were running away from me, how you felt.” I whispered. And I shook my head. “I was just a kid, I was in love you could have at least said goodbye!” I spat. “Why did you never tell me you were force sensitive as well? Why did you never let me know that there was someone else like me? ”
“I didn’t tell yer because it would have put yer life in danger.” He said, “And I left because I didn’t want to cause any more pain.”
“For who, me or for you?”
“This isn’t about that.” He said shaking his head and changing the subject. “I am sorry I hurt yer but I had to go. Now I am back and yer need to come with me, before someone catches us.”
I stepped back. “Catches you, you mean.” I said, “I am not on the wrong side of the fence here.”
He gave me a look of disbelief. “Yer would rather stay here than come with me?”
I nodded. “I have a life here, I have a job, I have friends who care about me and won’t break my heart the way you did. I work for the Empire, what difference is that from working for Jabba? As I recall you hated that too.”
“At least on Tatooine I knew yer were safe.” He said.
“Safe is a relative term, Jyrki. I am safe here.”
“Why? Did yer sell yer soul to the evil that sits on the throne?” he asked.
“No, but I gave my loyalty when I took this job.” I said.
“That makes yer a traitor.” He hissed.
“A traitor? According to whom?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. “Doesn’t this depend a little on how you look at it all? I happen to working for the people who are in power, that's all. Whose side are you on? Because the last time I looked being part of the rebellion was being a traitor.”
“The Rebellion didn’t destroy an entire planet full of innocent people.” Jyrki spat.
“There were innocent people on the space station that the rebels blew up! Who is worse? Are we playing who kills the most people now? Is that how you decide whose side you need to be on? The side with the lowest body count wins? What about those of us who don’t even know how to fire a blaster?” I asked him. “If there wasn’t a resistance then Alderaan would still be in one piece! There is blood on everyone’s hands if you want to look at it that way.” I yelled.
“I don’t know yer at all any more.” He said coldly. He gave me a once up and down look taking in the dress, the make-up, the hair. “They’ve turned yer into an Imperial palace doxy that will do whatever the Emperor wishes and yer actually like it.”
I moved so fast he didn't see it coming and I slapped him across the face so hard this sound ricocheted about the room like gunfire.
“Get out.” I hissed between clenched teeth. “Get out of here while you still can.” I could feel the love and sorrow I had for him slowly being replaced with a cold hard anger. It occurred to me then, that love and hate are close cousins. “If that is how you feel about me then you never knew me at all. Get out!”
“Mouse I’m sorry I didn’t mean….” He didn’t finish because there was a soft knock at the door.
“Go hide, in the bedroom, anywhere just hide. If you get caught here you’ll be killed.” I whispered. I was so angry at him but I wasn’t ready to lose him just yet.
He stared at me for a second and then vanished into the bedroom. I took a deep breath and went to open the door but there was no one there. I looked about the hallway and saw nothing and then I looked down. There on the door mat was a crystal glass with a little card in it. I picked it up and read the note.
‘You owe me a dance.’ It said.
It was all I could do not to scream in frustration. The men in my life these days all had impeccable timing. I slammed the door shut and swore up and down. I put the glass on the table by the door and hid the note under a book. Went into the bedroom to tell Jyrki it was all clear and he could come out but the room was empty. I looked under the bed, in the closet everywhere I could think of that a grown man could hide, but he was not there. I bridled my anger enough to be able to reach a little with the force and then I knew for sure he was not in my apartment any more. I don’t know how he had done it, but he had gone. I hoped that he would be safe where ever he was I also hoped I would never see him again.
I picked up the empty glass and went to meet Thrawn. I knew exactly where he'd be and I did not want to be alone in that flat any more tonight.
He was standing with both hands leaning on the balustrade staring out over the city. If he heard me approach he didn’t show it and for a moment I stopped and leaned against the entrance way just to watch him. He had taken off the dress uniform jacket and looked somehow less formidable in the long sleeved undershirt and trousers.
“Are you going to stand there all morning Miss Gabriel or will you join me for a drink?” he asked without turning around.
I sighed, and came to stand at his side. He took the glass from my hands and filled it with something that wasn’t champagne. He topped up his own glass and touched it to mine. The crystal sang a clear beautiful note that seemed to hang in the air. I took a sip and smiled. Corellian brandy.
“I was not certain you would come. I heard raised voices from your apartment. Is everything in order?” he asked.
I drew a very deep breath. “News from home.” I said. It wasn’t exactly a lie.
“Problems?” he asked.
“Nothing I can’t handle.” I was being evasive and he knew it. I could sense he wanted to know more but we were not quite at that point yet. So instead he said.
“It would seem you have had a busy night then.”
“Your ability to understate the obvious is astounding captain.” I remarked dryly.
He laughed. He had a deep rich laugh and it was a pleasure to hear after the argument I had just had. I didn’t know how I felt about what had happened during the course of the evening and night. I especially did not know how to deal with the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of Jyrki. I sighed without thinking about it.
Thrawn regarded me quietly and waited. The silence between us was great and I was at a loss how to start.
“May I ask you something?” I said finally.
“What do you know about the Great Jedi Purge?”
The look on his face told me this was not the question he had been anticipating.
“You are genuinely full of surprises, Miss Gabriel.” He said taking a sip from his glass and looking over the city. I waited for him to answer my question. He drew a deep breath and returned his gaze to me once more.
“I know enough to understand that it is not something which should be discussed.” He said quietly. “What is on your mind?”
“Is it true that the Emperor had the Jedi children killed?” I asked.
Thrawn raised an eyebrow. “I have heard something to that effect, but you are treading dangerous ground here. Why are you asking this?”
“There are people from home who think I am betraying what they believe in by working for the Empire. I learned tonight that it was not just the Jedi who were killed but also younglings, why would they do that? They were just children.”
Thrawn looked at me and turned around so that he leaned with his back to the city against the balustrade. “I do not presume to understand everything the Emperor has done but I can only surmise he saw children with Jedi potential as a threat. The Jedi were declared an enemy of the Republic and that included all who were in training. It happened a longtime ago and you were not a part of that, why does this trouble you now?”
“I have a difficult time with the thought of children being slaughtered because of a what-if.” I said.
“I can understand that.” He nodded. “But does this knowledge change the job you do here? Whose beliefs matter more? The only person you need to worry about betraying is yourself. You have no control over what others think or believe. Does the person that said this to you mean so much to you that you question everything you are now?”
“No, not really.” I shook my head. “But it bothers me never the less.”
“There are all kinds of people in this galaxy, my dear. That is part of what makes it so interesting, but also part of what makes it so full of conflict. It has been my experience that power blinds people into doing terrible things in order to gain more power or maintain that which they already have. It is very seductive and it can be easy to lose sight of one’s ultimate goal when one is consumed by the lust for more of what ever it one wants more of.” He paused. “You work for men who lust for power. Their desire to have this elusive thing comes at a cost which, for many, is too high. You and I, we serve them to the best of our abilities given the parameters we have to move in, and I suspect that like myself, you endevour to do the best job you can while staying true to your conscience. Does this make it wrong? I don’t believe so. At some point in everyone’s life they will serve what they perceive as a corrupt master, to remain true to oneself, one must do this job with honour. Does this then make it right?” he drew a very deep breath. “Who is to say what is right and what is wrong?”
“Why do you serve the Empire?” I asked.
“Because I know I can make a difference. I can add my expertise to bring and maintain order. I may not always agree with the people who are in charge, and make no mistake I will tell them when I feel they are in the wrong, but in the end I do what is asked of me because I believe it makes the difference between order and chaos.”
“Even if that meant slaughtering innocent people, children?” I asked.
“I suppose that would depend on circumstances and in my profession as a member of the Imperial Navy there are things that need to be done which I might not always find tasteful. I will follow orders when they make sense but I do not slaughter innocents just because I am told to, however, if the reason is there…” he didn’t finish his sentence. “Make no mistake, Miss Gabriel, killing is a dreadful thing and should never be done lightly, but in days of chaos and turmoil it will happen. When people fight against each other, no matter what the reasons there will be death. You are not in such a position, this is not something you will ever be asked to do and, “he said softly, “I hope, for the sake of your soul, you never will be”
“Do you think I don’t have it in me to kill?” I asked, wondering what he had meant by that.
He turned to face me. “Everyone has the capacity to kill, some more so than others. It is a choice many must make on a daily basis, whether they wish to or not, those who choose not to often die because of that decision.” He said. “But it changes you and it makes you harder, colder in ways you cannot imagine. I am certain that if it came down to the blade’s edge and you had no other avenue available, you would choose life over death, there is enough steel in you to do that, but I should hate to see that happen. It would strip away that dancing light in your eyes and that touch of innocence you so like to think you hide away where no one will see.” He reached up and stroked the hair that had fallen into my face aside. “Do the job you were asked to. Stay out of harm's way and keep that lovely spirit of yours alive and flickering, just like the ever changing lights in that precious stone you so love.” He said gently.
I could not tear my eyes away from his. I could have sworn he was not Force sensitive and yet he seemed to see right through every block and wall I put up, straight into my soul. He studied my face carefully, I felt my cheeks flush and it was hard to catch my breath.
As he leaned in closer he whispered, “Working for the Empire may not always agree with you, Miss Gabriel, but I get the distinct impression that being with me does.” And then he kissed me with a deep and gentle kiss, so full of wonder and passion that it made my knees weak and watery. If he had not wrapped his arm about my waist I might have just sunk to the ground. This was so bad news and I had so been right about him. I would drown in what he had to give and I wasn’t sure I could handle that, but the touch of his lips against mine was very persuasive and at that exact moment I just didn't care about anything else.
So, when his private comm went off a few seconds later it was as if someone had pulled me out of the deep end of the water and slapped the air back into my lungs. He swore in a language I didn’t understand giving me time to step back from him. I turned to look out over the city, hanging on to the balcony for support. My heart raced so hard in my chest I thought it would burst its way out, it was almost painful.
“I have to leave.” Thrawn said, he did not sound very pleased about it.
I looked up at him and nodded, “Time to save the universe from evil doers once more?”
He smiled. “Something like that.” He said. “I am not certain when I will return, but this is a conversation I’d like to continue.” He said stroking the side of my face with gentle fingers.
I moved my head away, just a bit and swallowed a mouthful of brandy. I gave him a nod, not entirely sure what I was agreeing with.
He regarded me for a moment then and leaned in close to whisper in my ear. “Seduction, Miss Gabriel, is a wonderful art form.” And with that he departed and left me alone to collect my wits and watch the sun rise. I hoped that the day it brought with it would be a whole lot less eventful.