I remember that we were half way through watching a news feed about the destruction of Alderaan. The report had said something about it being caused by the rebellion. A test of some sort of new weapon had gone terribly wrong and caused some sort of chain reaction that had caused the planet to explode. I had almost choked on my wine. Thrawn had given me that one eyebrow higher than the other look and asked if I knew something different.
I had shaken my head and then I had lied to him. I did not know him well enough to judge if I could trust him with such secrets, if it even was a secret. I was certain that he knew as much about it as I did, but neither of us was willing to part with that much trust. Not just yet, so we were playing games, the kind I had always hated.
He had let the matter drop and we had gone back to watching the programme. I was tired. In fact I think the best way to describe how I felt was utterly, drop dead, exhausted. For the first time in what seemed like forever, there was nothing for me to do, nothing for me to worry about and I relaxed.
The couch was deep and comfortable with a high back and large arms. I don’t recall curling up into a small ball and resting my head, just for a moment, against the arm of the couch but I must have. My eyes would just not stay open. When sleep eventually came to whisk me away, there was no fighting it. The last thing I remember was Thrawn chuckling softly and placing a blanket over me.
“Sleep, Miss Gabriel. Nothing will harm you here, not even me.” He whispered in my ear. And that was the last I knew until the dream came and swept me up.
When I was young I used to have the worst nightmares imaginable. While I could never recall them upon waking, the terror of these dreams stayed with me for a very long time, dogging me in my waking world. I never connected them with real events in my life but they often preceded terrible things. They were at their worst several months before my mother was killed and after her death, about three months or so, the dreams stopped as suddenly as they had begun. No one could explain why. Since then, I had not really had a nightmare of such terrifying proportions, until this one.
The dream came down upon me slowly, the way sand- spiders crawl over your body at night. I felt the fear but could do nothing to stop what was going to come. I found myself somehere in the Imperial palace. A place I had never been to before. The room was dark and vast, elegant in a terrible way. The air weighed heavily upon me as I walked slowly towards the ancient and extraordinarily powerful man seated on the Throne. I did not want to go near him. He scared me more than anything else in the world. This was a raw fear, the kind that makes you freeze inside, lose the ability to think and tremble uncontrollably. He looked as old as time itself but it was a dreadful aging, as though something had eaten at him from the inside out. His dark power radiated about his body and seemed to fill the room.
"Come closer, child,” he said. His voice was soft, gentle sounding but it had an edge like cold steel and I felt a wave of fear course through me, it made me feel sick.
I was sure that in my sleep I whimpered. I could no more resist the Emperor, even in my dream, than I could wake up.
I walked up to the throne until I was within arms length of him, close enough to see the yellow and bloodshot eyes that stared out from under the cowl of his cloak. I wanted to step backwards and move away but, as seems to be the way in dreams, Lord Vader was quite suddenly standing directly behind me. I tried to scream but could I could not make a sound. Now I was trapped.
"She is a pretty thing, Vader, why have you been hiding her from me?" the Emperor asked reaching out to caress my face. I shrank back from his touch but was blocked by Lord Vader, who clamped a hand upon my shoulder and pushed me forwards. The Emperor's touch was a caress of ice and the nausea I felt rippled through me making me physically sick. Lord Vader did not answer the Emperor. I shivered.
"You used to dance for the Hutts on Tatooine, did you not, child?" he asked but since he already knew the answer I did not speak. "Perhaps, you will dance for me." he said coming forward in his chair, his face close to mine, his vile yellow eyes glaring into my naked soul. Suddenly my control broke and my fear whirled through me like a howling devil wind and I unleashed all of the powers of the Force that she could. Undisciplined and unpredictable, I heard Vader breathe behind me and felt his displeasure.
I thought he would kill me but instead he laughed and laughed. It was not a nice sound. It was a terrible sound.
"How rare." he hissed. "A little jewel among the stones." he placed his finger tips under my chin and raised her head slightly to look at her much as Lord Vader had done up our first encounter.
"Lord Vader, you should have come to me with this little prize." he said looking over my shoulder.
"Yes, my master.” Vader said,
"But you wanted to train her...." the Emperor said softly.
"She is raw and untrained...she would have made a gift for you..."Vader said coldly.
He was lying and I sensed it and I wondered the Emperor knew it too.
"Old friend, I think you would have her for yourself. Such a pretty toy, though, beauty means little to you Vader. Power is what you desire. But power comes at a price. So does deception and failure." he hissed.
Suddenly, so fast I had not even seen him move, he reached past me to grasp at Lord Vader, snatching his right arm, a light saber ignited and there was a blur of light and then, instead of Lord Vader's arm being held in the Emperor’s vice like grip it was mine. He smiled as he sliced through the flesh and bone. I tried to scream and I tried to pull away from his grip but it was too strong, he pulled me in so close to his face that he could have kissed me if that had been his wish.
"You will be mine, girl, mine. But not yet, Lord Vader may play a while longer. When he is tired of you, I shall take over, then you will know your true master,” he hissed, his breath warm on my skin. Panic overwhelmed me and suddenly, I found my voice and I screamed and screamed and screamed until something broke the spell.
I awoke, frozen with fright and cold sweat and shaking so hard my teeth were chattering. Thrawn was trying his best to calm me down and bring me back to the real world.
"It was a dream, just a dream." he kept saying over and over again. He was seated on the edge of the couch, and he gripped my shoulders so hard that his fingers bit into my flesh. It hurt but in a way that helped bring me back into the same reality he was in. The look on his face told me he was worried. It would not look good on his record if Lord Vader’s favoured assistant died in his home. I had my right hand out in front of me and kept staring at it, chanting over and over in a hushed whisper “Still there, still there.”
It was still attached to my arm, and I kept flexing the fingers to make sure everything worked until Thrawn took my hands in his and held them until I stopped. His hands were warm. As the last remnants of the dream world slowly faded away, I saw there truly was no Emperor here and no Lord Vader. There was only Thrawn, whose hands held mine tightly enough to break through the numbing chill I felt. He spoke to me calmly as though I were a frightened fire-horse. This dream had been so real, so unbelievably real. I could not seem to shake the dread that had followed me up from sleep but the panic receded slowly leaving me bewildered and uncertain of what to do next.
"Better?" Thrawn asked softly, letting go of my hands.
I nodded and looked up at him. The fear in my eyes touched something deep within him and his own eyes asked questions that I wasn’t sure I could answer.
"Do you wish to talk about it?" he asked gently, brushing damp hair from my face.
"Something happened, the Emperor, Lord Vader... something happened, I don't know what but it was awful." I shook my head, the words tumbled out of my mouth but I couldn’t get them to make sense.
"Well, the Emperor was very displeased with the outcome of Yavin. Perhaps your answer lays there." he said quietly.
I looked at his face. “You know what happened?”
“How much?” I asked.
“All of it.” He told me.
I hugged my knees close to my body and just looked at him. He had known all along what had happened to Alderaan and to the Death Star. I sighed, I did not want to play these games. I did not want any part of any of this world any longer.
I shook my head and turned away from him. “I hate all these games, all these deceptions.” I said, tears threatened to come.
He cupped my chin with gentle fingers and drew me back to look at him again.
“Trust is a delicate thing in our business, Merlyn.” He said. “It is not easily given.”
I searched his eyes, his face. There had been a test and I had not picked up on it but I had just passed it somehow. It had been the first time he had ever used my first name.
“Let me get you something to calm you down, something to drink and perhaps you can tell me about it." he said getting up.
I got up off the couch, wrapped the blanket about my shoulders and followed him to the kitchen.
He poured me a generous glass of a deep amber, liquid and handed it to me, I took the glass with both hands. Then poured one for himself. "Three hundred year old Corellian brandy. It's strong but it will help."
I sipped the brandy and felt it burn through my body. I cupped the bowl shaped glass in my hands and began to tell Thrawn about the dream, I told him everything. No more games, I had said to myself. I needed to trust someone and he was the only person I felt I could. He listened intently.