At five o’clock in the morning, it was too late to go back to sleep and too early to be social. I sat on the edge of my bed staring at the wall. At this time of the morning the Palace was empty and quiet. The sun was just beginning to start its slow rise in the sky. Some time after four in the morning I had asked if Thrawn would arrange for transportation to take me home. Home, what a strange concept and I hardly thought of this apartment as home, but there was no other word to use in its place. He had said he would take me back to the palace, that he had work there that needed doing so it was of no bother. I had not argued with him, I was far too tired and far too distracted.
We had sat in his kitchen for about three hours talking and after two generous Corellian brandies and a very strong spiced coffee I was about as tired and as wired as a person could get.
I had described my dream and he had listened. I had described my time aboard the Devastator and he had listened. I had asked him about how he had known about everything so quickly and he had told me, without a great deal of detail but enough to let me know I had more of his trust now than I had had much earlier that evening.
Then we had sat in silence for a moment. Then as if the question had been boiling over he asked when I had met the Emperor.
“Never.” I had told him. “I have no idea what he looks like.”
Thrawn had just nodded. “Then how do you know that is who it was in your dream?”
“I don’t, it just felt as though that is who it was.”
He had smiled. “Well, then I shouldn’t worry too much about it. Sometimes a dream is just a dream. You have been through a lot in the last while. I am quite certain you just needed to let it go.”
“Don’t you ever have bad dreams?” I had asked.
“Seldom.” He said. “And when I do, I put them down to bad food.”
And I had actually laughed.
“There, you see, nothing to fret about.” He said.
Easy for him to say, I had thought and then I had asked to go home.
The flight back to the palace was almost surreal. Somehow time managed to stop and speed up all at the same time. At that hour of the morning there is less traffic in the air and the lights from the city are like stars in reverse. We sat in silence, with me staring out of the window. The silence neither awkward nor comfortable, some place in between. I don’t think we said a single word to each other, there was nothing to say.
He had landed on one of the North Face docking pads and walked with me to the door of the apartment. We stood there facing each other and there was that moment where you know that things could go either way. The magic is there for a kiss and the gap that is there might stop it. I didn’t know quite what to do. There was a time and a place for everything and somehow the timing for this was not right. In the breadth of a single moment I had made my decision and without considering any consequences I stepped back from him and turned slightly away.
“Thank you, Captain.” I said. “I really enjoyed our time together yesterday.” And I meant it. It had been a really great day.
Thrawn had regarded me for a moment with his eerie luminous eyes that were so hard to read, then he had taken my right hand in his and placed a gentle kiss on the inside of my wrist, right at the base where the wrist ends and the palm begins. It was intimate and somehow politely distanced all at the same time. He had not taken his eyes off my face.
“Then, Miss Gabriel,” he said. “I suggest you stay alive so that we may do it again sometime.” And with a smile he left. I watched him walk down the dark corridor until I could neither see nor hear him any more. I had unlocked the door and gone in. Too tired to think and too wound to sleep.
I decided that sitting about on this bed would accomplish nothing and dwelling on dreams was, as Thrawn had said, pointless. I showered, got dressed and went to my office. My protocol droid was there and had once again managed to get everything unpacked and sorted out.
“Oh Mistress Gabriel, how very pleasant to see you. Shall I get you your usual Jawa Juice?” he said,
“Please.” And then I asked. “Has there been any word from Lord Vader?”
“No Mistress. I have placed all your messages in the data terminal for your convenience. Lord Vader was not among those who have contacted you.”
I sighed. “I guess Jawa Juice will have to do then”
I sat and sifted through the daily mails and memos, sorting out the important ones from the usual nonsense, but my mind was not on the work. Most people worried themselves stupid when Lord Vader sent word, yet, it bothered me that I had not heard from him. I made a note in Lord Vader’s calendar about a couple of up and coming social events that were important. A couple of promotions for some of the Fleet officers. A rather high end Art exhibition opening and the Emperor’s Grand Ball was coming up soon and that was a requirement for pretty much everyone who was anyone.
The Grand Ball was a huge excuse for all the important people, all the people who thought they were important and all the people who really wished they could be important to get together in their absolute finest clothes and hang out. It would be a gala evening full of snobbery and stupidity. The only things, to my mind , that would make it worth while going, would be the food, the drink, the music and the entertainment. The Emperor spared no expense to see who would fawn over him the most to be in his good graces. I was glad that I didn’t have to attend it.
I made certain that the invitation was first and foremost on Lord Vader’s appointment calendar, highlighted and underlined.
I was surprised at how quickly the day passed and by the time I had finished sorting everything out it was well past midday. I sat and stared at the wall for a bit, thinking about everything that had happened. How did my life suddenly become so complicated? I hadn't bargained for any of this and I felt as though I was out of my league. It was as though I had gone from cruising in normal space to suddenly whizzing around in hyperspace all the time without a moment to think about where it was all heading. It was unnerving to say the least. I started to write a letter to my father but after the fourth attempt I gave up. I would have to find some nice holo-card and send that with the usual, I am fine message. It wasn't as if I could give him details on what was really going on. 'Dear Dad, was on board an ISD, watched a ship being destroyed, then the Empire blew up a planet, then rebels blew up the death star...Oh and by the way my new boss? He's the one people call the Emperor's Iron Fist. He can kill people just by thinking about it'. It wasn't exactly stuff you could really write home about. I waited in the office until three o’clock, kiling time looking through the online news feeds and then told P2B4 I was leaving and if anything important came up he could reach me on the comm.
I went back to my apartment and changed into clothes I could dance in. My body was stiff and sore. I wanted to work out. I took a small music bot, a bottle of water with me and I made my way through the back-ways of the palace to the old part where my favourite room was.
I loved this part of the castle and I especially loved this room. It was large and ornate, with high ceilings and beautiful plaster moldings. The paint was fading and there was dust everywhere. The room with the balcony was sparsely furnished, the remnants of the time from before the renovations. There were a few chairs, an old table and a bookshelf that completely covered one wall. There were still some books in it. I hadn’t looked in any of the books, but I had browsed the titles. I was pretty sure that I was not supposed to be here, although there were no signs anywhere that said it was forbidden to be here, the feeling of forgotten abandonment said otherwise.
I appreciated the space and the quiet of this place. When I went to the recreational area that was in the Palace, it was always full and people stared. I had never liked to work through my exercise and dance routines with others around. I suppose the solitude I had gotten used to when I was with Jyrki had some how stayed. I just liked to be on my own, where it was quiet and without distraction. I had also had the experience a couple of times, when I somehow aligned myself with what Lord Vader called the Force, that things got a little out of hand. When I let go I had no idea what I was doing. I had once destroyed a small workout room at Jabba’s palace, because my dance had gotten a little too enthusiastic.
This room had hand laid wooden flooring. The patterns were starburst and Gianda flowers, intricate and beautiful. It had not been polished in a while and there were dust-dragons in every corner.
I shoved the table out of the way and set the music-bot up. I set it to play loud enough that I could lose myself in the music but not so loud that it would be heard outside. I had left the door open because the door to the hallway was shut. That way the air circulated through the room from the open balcony doors as well.
I began with a long, slow stretching sequence. It was as much ecstasy as it was agony. It felt really good and I made sure I warmed up really well. Then I started to go through Jyrki’s workout. I loved the flow each move next to the other and I could feel the energy shift itself around me to flow with me and not against me. I loved it when the power aligned with me like this. When I finished the sequence of movements that Jyrki had taught me I began to dance.
As a little girl, so my mother had told me, I had danced before I could walk. I doubted that this was true, but my love of dance was something I had known my whole life. My mother had insisted I take lessons and so at a very young age I attended T’naga dance classes. It was a precise form of dance that required discipline and a lot of practice. I wasn’t the type of child who took to being rapped on the legs or hands with a stick so after a year of dragging my heels and complaining about it, I was allowed to stop attending. I danced on my own after that, in the quiet of my own room where no one could see me or point out the faults or whack me with a stick every time my positions were not correct. Even at an early age I was willful and stubborn.
After things went bad with Jyrki I had gone looking for a dance teacher again. I found Kamadi Tza’ad and she was willing to teach me, for a price. Kamadi was one of the best dancers in Mos Eisley. She had a reputation of being a terror to any student she took on and it was said she had broken the spirit of many would be dancers. Jabba the Hutt prized her for her ability to find the best and make them better. She had taught most of the dancers who worked at the Palace and pretty much had the monopoly on who danced where and when. She had told me after I had passed her initiation test that she had been trained in dance at the Academy of Dance on Coruscant. I never knew if this was true or not but I was grateful that she had accepted me as a student. I had needed the distraction.
For two years she trained me every day. I had private classes and group classes and performance classes and so on. It was a long and difficult two years. When I danced at the palace for the first time it went so well that I was hired on the spot. Kamadi was pleased that meant money for her. I was good for her bank account until the day I rebelled and told her where to go.
I still remember that day. I had made everything in the room move about and threatened her with making her hair fall out, not that I could do this, but I wanted to be free of her oppression. I had not lasted long at the Jabba’s Palace, while I liked to dance there and I made good money in tips, I loathed the way I was treated, especially by the bounty hunters, the less than reputable pilots who hung out there and Bib Fortuna. I suppose that in my desire to get away from my feelings for Jyrki, I had not really thought about where I was running too. And while I had loved to dance I was not willing to sell my soul for the ability to do so. Now, here in this room, I thought about my life. Each step I remembered was a step away from my past.
I set the music-bot to play a specific dance and began to run through the choreography. It was a dance I had learned from Rys, my roommate. I loved the intricacy of the patterns of steps, it was difficult dance to peform so I began slowly and walked through the steps one by one. Then I began over again faster. I repeated the whole dance again and again until I no longer knew where I ended and the dance began. I became one with the movements and in doing that I let the Force flow through me, which made the dance better, more powerful. I was in the middle of a full spin when I suddenly noticed the figure standing in the doorway. I stopped so suddenly that I almost twisted my ankle. I had neither noticed the intrusion on my space nor that the sun had set. I tumbled onto the floor.
“Oh, my dear, are you hurt?” the voice was that of an elderly man. He came forward slowly,
I got up and moved my ankle. “No, thank you I am fine.”
“I did not mean to startle you.” He said, looking around the room. I shut the music-bot off. “I heard the music, I wondered who was here. This part of the Palace is no longer used.”
“I apologize if I am trespassing. I am a bit new here.” I said.
The man waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I am sure no one will mind.” He said.
I wiped the sweat off my face and neck. “That’s kind of you. I hopeI wasn't bothering you.”
“No, not at all.” He said walking out on the balcony. “I rather like this part of the palace, it is quiet. No one around to bother me, sometimes I come here to think. I don’t mind sharing it with someone who enjoys it just as much and I won’t tell if you don’t.” He said.
I nodded. “ I Promise.” I said.
I fetched a chair from inside and offered it to him, he chuckled and sat down.
“You are very kind to an old man, my dear.” He pulled his robe about him and sat down. “You said you are new here?” he asked, looking up at me. I could not see his face because it was dark but I felt his eyes studying me.
“Yes. I was assigned to work with Lord Vader, his new Personal Assistant.” I said.
“Ah, yes, Lord Vader’s new girl. I have heard about you.”
I sighed. “The café incident? I know I am sorry I lose my temper and all control goes out the window!”
“I do not recall anything about a café incident, but I have heard Lord Vader mention you, I don’t recall your name though.” He said.
“Merlyn Gabriel.” I said, “Lord Vader speaks of me?”
He chuckled. “He calls you annoyingly efficient.”
“Oh?” I grinned. That sounded almost like a compliment.
“You dance very well, were you classically trained?” he asked changing the subject.
I shook my head. “Goodness no, I mean I have had some lessons and when I was young I studied a little but nothing seriously classical. I just like to dance, I like the energy it gives me.”
“Have you thought about training?” he asked.
I laughed. “Who would train me? I am far too old.” Then I added, “Although, I have always wanted to learn classical dance. I don't have time now, my work for Lord Vader keeps me busy enough. I think I prefer to come here and dance alone.”
“Do you enjoy it?” he asked. “Working for Lord Vader?”
“Yes, actually I do, which seems to surprise everyone.” I said. “He is very demanding but he is also efficient. I find his honesty refreshing.”
“As is yours.” He said.
I looked at him. “I am sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Many have called me Senator Palpatine, why don’t you?” he said getting up to leave.
“Senator, it was a pleasure meeting you.” I said.
“Likewise my dear.” He said. “Oh, will you be attending the Grand Ball? I hear it will be spectacular this year.”
“Good gracious no. I doubt I will be invited, I am quite sure the Emperor doesn’t need an outer rim rat like me cluttering up his wonderful celebration. I would be terribly out of place with my old fashioned clothes.” I said.
He chuckled. “Don’t sell yourself short, my dear. Lord Vader is quite lucky to have you.” He said and he patted my arm. He touched my skin with his papery hand and I could have sworn I felt something, a tremble 0f energy. I pulled my arm away from without thinking about it.
Palpatine chuckled. “I shall enjoy meeting you again. My dear, you are refreshingly different.” And with that he left the room.
I went back to my apartment, showered and went straight to bed. I was woken at 6am the following morning by a comm. Message telling me I was to report to Lord Vader’s office at once. I dressed in a hurry and ran to the office. I knocked and was told to enter. Lord Vader stood at the window, his hands behind his back looking out of the window.
“You called, My Lord?”
“It would appear the Emperor has taken an interest in your work. You will accompany me to the Grand Ball that you have so efficiently reminded me of.” He paused. “It is actually included in your duties to accompany me as I see fit and in my place, should I not be able to attend, to represent me at all official functions.”
I wanted to say “Yes but…” but I knew what that would get me, a pretty colourful necklace I couldn’t take off. I waited because there was more.
“A meeting with the Palace fashion Advisor has been arranged. You will accompany him today. While, it is irrelevant to me what you wear, the Emperor is a man of taste and requires an adherence to appropriate dress and etiquette. The Grand Ball is an event of some prestige. You will listen to what this fashion advisor has to say.”
“Yes, my lord.” I said.
“You may go.” He said, without turning around.
“Yes, my lord.” I said. And I left. Wondering how the hell I had managed to get myself into this mess and how I was going to get out of it.