He drove a small sleek two seater with an ease that told me he was a very good pilot in his own right. I was enthralled by the sights and sounds of the city, and I had not imagined that flying through it in the heart of the traffic would be so interesting. Thrawn pointed out many of the buildings that had some significance or meaning, he seemed very knowledgeable about the city. I think my fascination and astonishment at the utter vastness of the city amused him greatly but he was polite enough not to joke about it.
We flew to a small landing pad down near the lower levels in the commerce part of the city, Coco town, Jorae had called it. There we walked via an intricate series of stair ways and moving ramps to a small, somewhat suspect looking diner. I looked at my guide but he just gave me a grin as he opened the door for me, and we went inside.
The first thing that hit was the smell of fresh Jawa juice and the second thing that hit was how clean it looked from the inside. Everything was in a retro look, deep red booth seats and chrome edged tables of some sort dull grey polylaminate surface. The waitress was a droid and she greeted Captain Thrawn by name. He said nothing, just gave her a friendly smile and a wave while leading me to, what I guessed was his usual place. She came over and asked if he wanted his usual, he nodded and then she asked me what I wanted to drink.
“Jawa juice?” I asked.
“Comin’ right up.” She said, dropping a couple of menu pads on the table for us to look at then vanishing to back to the kitchen.
I looked around, taking in the décor and the feel for the place. It was not really what I had expected from him. He had struck more as a snob and this didn’t seem to be the kind of place someone who had snobbish tastes would come. He must have read my thoughts.
“Not what you expected?” he asked, leaning his elbows on the table, his fingers steepled at his chin.
I smiled. “No, not really.”
“This place has some of the best food around and it is out of the way from the palace. Most people who work up there would not dream of being caught here, I don’t get pestered here.” He said. “And they make the best Jawa Juice.”
I nodded and went back to looking at the menu. There were a lot of things to choose from and I could not even begin to decide. Thrawn must have seen the indecision on my face.
“I can make some suggestions, if you wish.”
“Please do, I have not had this much choice since. Well... since well I don’t think I have ever seen such a vast menu.” I said. It was a bit over whelming.
He glanced through his menupad and made some recommendations. I decided to try the Nubian salad and the Diner special, something called Old Dex’s surprise.
The waitress came back with our Jawa juice and Thrawn placed the orders for us both.
I warmed my hands around the cup and sipped it slowly. It was the best Jawa juice I had ever tasted. Over the rim of my cup I watched the man who sat across from me and he, in turn, watched me. Finally, it was he who broke the silence.
“How do you enjoy working for Lord Vader?” he asked.
“Well, it is a demanding job.” I answered.
He shook his head. “That was not the question. There is much talk of you whispers and gossip mainly, most of it, I suspect untrue. You appear to have been given a unique place in Lord Vader’s life. That arouses curiosity.”
“Including yours?” I asked.
I took a deep breath. “I actually enjoy it a great deal. It is very challenging, more so than anything else I have ever done. Of course, days like these area rare gift, normally I am never off duty so to speak. He is very demanding but once you get past that, it’s okay.” I said.
“You do not seem to have developed the absolute terror most of his crews and personal have for him.”
I shrugged. “He’s just a man.” I said. “Albeit a powerful man with an ability no one seems to really understand. He can kill a man with a thought, but never the less, he is just a man.” I wasn’t telling him everything and I suspected he knew it but he did not press.
“An interesting way of looking at it.” He said.
“I would not be very good at my job if I was too terrified to talk to him, would I?” I said. “Don’t get me wrong, I have dunes of respect for him and I have learnt well enough, when to stay the hell away from him. Just because I am not petrified of him doesn’t mean I am stupid.”
“His methods are a bit…” he searched for the right word. I found it.
Thrawn nodded. “That is one word to describe it, I suppose.”
“You have to admit, he does get things done.” I said not liking the sensation of talking about Lord Vader behind his back.
Thrawn smiled. “I can see that loyalty is not something you lack. “
I didn’t know how to reply to that and was very glad when our food arrived. He had certainly been right about one thing, the food was amazing. Throughout the meal we kept the conversation light, only after we had both finished eating did we return to more personal subjects.
“Tell me about your home world.” I said as the Corellian spiced coffee arrived.
Thrawn sat back and took a deep breath. “There is not much to tell, it is a planet very far from here, completely covered in ice. I have little contact with it, my work keeps me occupied.” He said.
“I cannot even imagine that, a planet of ice. I find it cold here most of the time.” I said.
Thrawn nodded. “You come from a place as opposite to my own home as could possibly be. Csilla is a very hostile environment but so too is Tatooine. I often wonder if such environments do not produce a certain amount of greatness or at the very least a powerful survival instinct.”
“Maybe, I don’t really know. You are right about the hostile though, it wasn’t always so.” I said. “Once Tatooine used to have oceans and jungles, but the biosphere was obliterated, or so the legends say. I cannot imagine it without the sands. There are so many extraordinary things about it I wouldn’t know where to begin, but then again what I love about Tatooine most people hate.”
“You seem to miss it a great deal.” He said.
I thought about it and nodded. “I suppose I do, things seemed simpler there, I had my life. I knew what I was doing and I enjoyed it and that was that. Here, things are more complex, although I suppose, when you think about it, it is just a bigger sandbox.” I shrugged.
“What exactly did you do on Tatooine?” he asked.
“I was a part time mechanic and pilot at my father’s docking bay. I also worked as an office temp for Hutt Imports and Exports Inc and when I had time I danced at a couple of night clubs. I used to dance at the Palace but that was a bit too rough for me.”
Thrawn looked at me steadily for a moment, trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. “So, how, if you don’t mind me asking, did you end up being assigned to Lord Vader as his personal assistant?”
“That is a long story.” I said.
“Well, to make it short, a Twi’lek called Bib Fortuna had the forethought and malice to send in a somewhat glorified resume for a job application on my behalf.”
“Why would he do that?”
“He wanted me out of the way so that his brother could have my job in the office. It was quite clever really, when you think about it. I think he suspected I would probably end up dead, but so far that hasn’t happened. I think he did me a favour really.”
“You seem to have a remarkable ability to see the positive in all things.”
I smiled. “My father says the same thing.”
Thrawn shook his head. “I hope I do not remind you of your father.” He said and our eyes locked for a moment.
I swallowed and looked away. “Far from it.” I said coolly and finished my coffee.
Thrawn checked his chronometer and decided that if we were going to visit the art gallery we should probably go. He called for and paid the check and we left.
The drive to the art gallery was quick with out much time for conversation. We got there only to discover it had been closed early due to a problem with the surveillance system. Thrawn was very annoyed but instead of letting it show he suggested an alternative. I shrugged. It was not as if I had anything better to do.
The drive through the city to a quiet more residential area was a little more interesting, it was now rush hour traffic and Thrawn had to concentrate just a little more on what he was doing. I was just glad not to be the one piloting. The traffic here was pure madness. It was a wonder more people didn’t die. We arrived at a very elegant style building that reached far up into the sky and I was grateful to get the hell out of Coruscant air space.
I began to get the idea that perhaps this might not have been such a good idea when Thrawn produced a keycard and unlocked the door to an apartment. He let me in first and then followed closing the door behind him. I knew without asking that this was his home here on Coruscant.
I gasped. I couldn’t help it. The apartment’s main room was stunningly beautiful and very large, quite airy and bright, modern style architecture with old world charm. One had the illusion of almost floating in the sky at first. It was sparsely furnished, but what was there was elegant and expensive. I walked over to the window and looked out. The immediate sense of vertigo was dizzying and I had to step back and hold onto something. I turned around to find that some how the room had been transformed into a small but exquisite art gallery of sorts.
“Holograms?” I asked, because most of what was now visible had not been there a second ago.
Thrawn nodded. “Mainly, there are some real pieces as well, small treasures of mine.” He said. “I promised you art, Miss Gabriel. I hope this will satisfy your appetite for now.”
“It’s amazing.” I said and wandered through the display. Most of the pieces he had selected to show were things I had never seen before, not in books or holograms or anything, and they were all remarkable. There were sculptures and paintings that were from all over the galaxy. As I stopped by a piece so he would explain about it. His knowledge was vast and his stories about each work delightful. I had, it seemed not only found something he would actually open up and talk about but something that he was quite passionate about.
“Which ones are real?” I asked and hoped that wasn’t a rude question. He said nothing, merely touched a button and most of the holograms vanished. Of the art that remained, there were three gorgeous paintings one of which was by my favourite artist, Isone Medeglia, and a small sculpture carved from a green-grey looking stone. My heart skipped a beat as I went over to it and studied it closely. Without thinking about it, my fingers went to the Zenjji sticks in my hair touching the milky stone that decorated the tops of them.
“Is this..?” I never got to finish my sentence.
“Yes. A Mandalorian carving, it is over a thousand standard years old. The stone is the brother-stone to the milky stone you wear in your hair.” There was tone in his voice that let me know it had pleased him to see me wearing his gift.
I so longed to touch the carving, it was shaped like flames from a fire, twisting and turning so that no matter which way one stepped or looked always the weirding green and blue lights from deep in the heart of the stone could be seen. It had been polished until it was flawless.
I was so enthralled in the heart light from the sculpture that I did not notice how close Thrawn suddenly was to me.
“Touch it, if you wish.” He said. I was startled by the nearness of him, by the warmth of his breath on my neck. “I know you ache to touch it, it will not break.” He spoke softly.
So I did. I reached out and I caressed the sculpture with the tips of my trembling fingers. The stone was cold to the touch and hard as stone should be, but the silkiness of the polish was like touching nothing I had ever experienced. I wondered if ice was as smooth as this. Thrawn did not take his eyes off me. I wondered how many other women he had brought up here and lured in with his exquisite art. I stepped away from the sculpture and from him and went back to the window. He placed a hand on the small of my back and guided me through to another room which was not a room at all, but rather a large balcony with a magnetic seal. He released the seal lock so that the balcony was suddenly free, and open to the air. The view was dizzying. The sun was beginning to set very slowly and the sky started to blaze with colours that ranged from blood red to deepest purple. I had not realized it had gotten so late.
“I am impressed, Miss Gabriel, not many people would recognize Ma’arilite if it jumped up and bit them.” He said coming to stand next to me.
“It was my mother’s favourite. You know there is a legend about it?”
He did not say yes or no, but waited to be told the story.
I could hear my mother’s voice telling me my favourite bed time tale. "It is said that before hyper drive was discovered Mandalore was ruled by a race of warriors and great sorcerers. The sorcerers wanted to show their power and boasted that they could harness the lights of the stars and the suns. They spent many years and many days working their magic and finally the day came and they wove their spell. It worked and the entire world of Mandalore was plunged into darkness. The next day the people awoke to find two great stones standing side by side, one white and pale as morning mists and the other dark grey and green as deepest ocean or forests. Within each huge stone were trapped the lights of the sun and the stars. Only those who lived near the stone saw any light at all. The planet was plunged into a terrible dark, cold silence. For many months it was said that people could hear the crying of the lights of the sun and the stars, begging for their freedom until one day a great warrior came along and without hesitation he struck the stones with his fists, shattering them into a billion pieces and freed the lights of the sun and the stars.
Thus light was restored to the world, but people noticed that from that day onward the sun never shone as brightly as it had before and there were stars missing in the sky. They say that the lights we now see in each tiny piece of the shattered stones is that of a star or a shard of the sunlight trapped forever. Some even believe that you can still hear these remnants of what was weeping if you listen closely enough.” I finished as the sun shed her final rays of light, painting the sky in glorious colours.
“A beautiful tale to describe something so rare.” Thrawn said softly. Something in his voice made me look at him. The wind had picked up a little and blew at my hair. He brushed a stray strand from my face and the touch of his finger tips made my stomach drop. I just stood there bewildered by the desire I suddenly felt. Not since I had known Jyrki had I felt this ache, this awful, physical need. I didn’t need this, I knew this feeling and it was not good, this led to hurt and heart break, sleepless nights and restless days. No, this was not at all what I needed. I moved my head away from his hand and stepped back from him. The moment passed and I could breathe again. I knew I should leave, request that he call for transport so that I could return to the palace, but I didn’t want to go back there.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked, his voice had a husky edge to it and for the first time I wondered if these feelings I had were not just one sided.
I nodded. “Please.” I said and followed him back inside. I sat on the beautiful couch and watched as he poured to glasses of what looked to be expensive wine.
He handed me a glass and then touched his against mine so that the crystal rang one single clear note.
“To rare and beautiful things.” He said.
I nodded and drank the wine carefully. It had a lovely light, clear flavour that I could never hope to describe, nor would I have ever been able to describe the pale blue hue of it.
“Ice wine, from my home world.” He said. “I do not get to share this often most people find it too light of a taste but I had the feeling you might appreciate it.”
I nodded. “It’s lovely.”
He looked at me in a way that said far more than I am certain he had intended to and the air between us electrified once more. This time it was his turn to take a deep breath.
“Would you think it terribly rude if we watched the news feeds of the day? I am a bit behind the times.” He asked as he sat on the couch beside me.
I was so relieved that I almost giggled. “No not at all, it would be nice to catch up.” I said. Glad to have something more or less normal to deal with.
He picked up the remote controller and turned on the view screen I had not even noticed before, tuned into one of the many news feeds and we sat together watching what had happened in the Galaxy according to the Empire