The world became a series of disjointed images and a scramble of voices. I surfaced from the blackness that had swallowed me whole to experience pain and fear. I know I flailed about because a man's voice, one I wasn’t familiar with, kept yelling for someone to hold me down. My heart beat so wildly and erratically that it hurt. There was brilliant white light in my eyes when they opened and I could not focus on any of the faces that peered down at me. I knew I was in trouble but I didn't understand it.
I felt the sting of injections in my arm while the sensation of the world spinning out of control got worse and worse. There was a terrible taste in my mouth I could not get rid of and my chest felt as though someone was ripping it apart from the inside. I could hear someone saying something about losing her and the world of pain, bright lights and anxious voices vanished.
If I was dreaming I didn’t know. I found myself in a place of quiet and ease. There was no one there but me and nothing tangible to see. All around me was a pale glowing sort of light and it seemed to ripple about as if it were alive. It was peaceful. I breathed deeply and watched in wonder as the light around me danced. I wanted to move with this beautiful light and reached out to it but suddenly a great rift opened up in the space where I was. A terrible pain seared through my chest as though lightening were slicing me in two. Inwardly I screamed and as suddenly as I had found myself in this secret place of serenity I was bounced back out of it into the turmoil of what I suspected was the ship's Med-lab.
My eyes opened to a face I didn’t know and could not make out clearly. He was shining a bright light in my eyes and the set of his mouth was grave.
“Welcome back, young lady.” He whispered.
“Will she live?” I heard a familiar voice ask from a distance.
“Captain, I thought I asked you to leave?”
“You did Doctor, I ignored it. Will she live?”
The doctor looked at me. “Yes, Captain she will live, but she's going to be out for a while so get out and leave us to do our jobs in peace.”
I wanted to say something but before I had a chance I felt the jab of a stim in my arm and once again the world swam and went black.
I don’t know how much time had passed between the sedation and the waking. When I came to, it was not a happy thing. It was slow and painful. My eyes fought to open and my head ached. I was unbelievable thirsty and it hurt to move, it hurt to breathe. I must have made a sound because someone was at my side by the time I had managed to get my eyes open. I recognized the doctor but I didn’t know his name.
“How are you feeling?” he asked taking my pulse and looking in my eyes with that awful bright light of his.
“Thirsty.” I managed to croak out.
“Yes.” He vanished for a moment and then came back with a cup of water, helped me sit up slightly so that I could sip at it. “Just a little or you’ll be sick.” He said setting the cup aside.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You had an adverse reaction to something you ate.” He said.
“My head hurts.” I said.
“Yes, to be expected. Sleep will help that. Close your eyes and get some rest.” The doctor said gently. I did as he said and slipped back into oblivion.
As a child I had, for the most part been unusually healthy. Only once was I seriously ill. Ill enough that I don’t actually recall most of the time I was sick. I had caught a rare variant of Tourning’s Fever. Something that comes from being bitten by the little black flies called Mawlgwies. It affects maybe one out of a hundred thousand people and it can kill you. It’s called Tourning’s fever because he was the doctor who not only discovered the disease but also came up with the cure. I was ill for well over a month with fevers and chills, taking a medication that did almost as much harm as the illness but in the end I survived. I remember that time in flashes only. The dreams that came with the fevers still haunt me though, almost as though the dream world was more real than the one I actually lived in. I remember my mother's cool hands on my forehead. I remembered the injections and the maddening itch they caused. I also remembered the sensation of drowning in time, never knowing where or when it was. I would wake from the dreams soaked in fever sweat not knowing if it were night or day. I lost only a month or so but it felt like a year or more.
I was reliving this weird time warp sensation now as I woke again. I felt a whole lot better though, the headache had subsided and the exquisite pain in my chest was now down to a dull ache. It felt late, the lighting in the med lab was very dim and the place was very quiet with the exception of some humming machinery. I let myself come back to the world slowly. I had been dreaming but the memory of what the dreams were about faded as soon as I began to surface.
I sensed him before I turned my head and saw him sitting in the chair by the bed. He sat slouched back, his elbows on the armrests, his fingers steepled together with his fore fingers resting against his chin, he was deep in thought. His face was all shadowy lines and angles. My movement brought him out of his reverie and his eyes caught mine, they seemed to glow in the dim light.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Miss Gabriel.” He said quietly. Before I could ask he had picked up the glass of water for me. He waited for me to sit up a bit and then handed me the glass. I drank a little but my hand shook so much I was afraid I would just drop all the water on me instead. I was glad when he took the glass back and set it on the table again.
“What happened?” I asked lying back down again, trying to sit up took too much effort.
He leaned forward in the chair and stared at me. “How are you feeling now?”
“Like I just went head to head with a Krayt Ancient and lost.” I said. “What happened?”
He took a very slow deep breath. “It appears the Corellian Spice cake that was sent up here with you was laced heavily with glow spice and as glow spice is not a poison for most people it did not register on the poison sweep. Glow spice also doesn’t glow in opaque food stuffs which is why it is normally only used in drinks as a visual additive. It serves no other purpose than to make drinks sparkle. Thus I can only conclude that someone knew about your allergy and tried to poison you.” He said, there was ice in his voice. “You had a severe reaction to the spice, sent you into anaphylactic shock and your heart stopped. Doctor Thracer was able to bring you back but you gave us all a good scare.”
“Poison me? What for?” I asked in complete disbelief.
“Now that is the question, isn’t it?” He said coolly.
I closed my eyes still trying to wrap my head around the fact someone had done this deliberately.
“How do you know this was not just an accident?” I asked.
“There was enough glow spice in that cake to make all the drinks at the Emperor’s grand ball glow for a year. Whoever put it in there made sure there would be enough to bring about a severe reaction. It was not an accident.” He said in a quiet, even voice. “I will find out who is behind this and they will be brought to justice.”
I sighed. This was all too much to digest and it was making my head hurt. “What time is it now?”
He looked at the chronometer at his left wrist. “A little after five in the morning.” He said. “The doctor says you should be well enough in three days.”
“We have work to do, Miss Gabriel.” He reminded me with a slight smile.
“Ah yes, this secret save the world but don’t tell anyone about it mission.” I said.
He shook his head and gave me a real smile. “You have the strangest sense of humour.”
I wanted to reply but was saved by the Doctor.
“Captain, I thought I made it clear the patient was not to be disturbed.” He said, annoyed.
“Doctor, may I remind you that I am Captain of this ship and as such am responsible for all the lives on board her. It is my duty to check up on Miss Gabriel as she, too, is a member of this crew for the time being.” Thrawn said coolly. I got the impression this was an old argument that these two men had rehashed over and over again.
“Then I should not have to remind you that, while you may run this ship Captain, the medical labs are my domain and as such, here, I am god and as god I am telling you to leave. If you insist on dragging this young lady on some off world mission she will need to be well rested and strong enough to survive your pig headed leadership. Now get out of my med-lab before I call in security and have you removed.” The doctor stood in front of Thrawn with his arms folded across his chest, and although he was a good deal shorter than Thrawn was I was pretty certain he would carry out his threat regardless.
I kinda liked this doctor and I got the impression that Thrawn did too but he was never going to admit that. The two men stared at each other for what seemed like ages and I so wanted to tell them to quit the pissing contest, it was boring, but I didn’t think that was a good idea.
“Captain, can you please take this discussion outside? It is very loud and my head hurts.” I said instead.
He gave me an even stare with one eyebrow raised. “Yes of course, Miss Gabriel, my apologies. I shall check on your recovery later, with the good doctor's permission, of course.”
The doctor watched Thrawn’s face intently until the Captain, with a non too happy look, stalked out of the med-lab with a sharp turn of his heel
I couldn’t stop the little giggle that escaped. Men are sometimes very funny. Doctor Thracer gave me a speculative glance and then went about doing a check up. “It is a good job that you have a strong will to live, young lady, I am quite sure had I not been able to save you he would have had me shot on the spot.”
“It would have displeased Lord Vader if I had died.” I said, but I didn't really believe this.
The doctor gave me a knowing look. “Lord Vader, I think, has little to do with the Captain’s desire to see you live.”
“Hmm, well then maybe it is it this mission he has planned.” I countered, ignoring the insinuated meaning in the doctor's words.
The doc shook his head in resignation. “Rest or you will not be going anywhere and I will have to post armed guards at the door.”
“That would be fun to watch.” I said sleepily. “People would pay….”
The doctor sighed. “You are as bad as he is. Go to sleep before I sedate you.” He said and left me to do other things near by. I drifted off to sleep with the sound of him pottering about near by.
For the next two days that was my life, lying in bed, with occasional trips to the bathroom just to keep it interesting. I slept a lot and when I wasn’t asleep then I read the book that a certain someone had left for me by the bed. It was mainly a collection of Galactic myths and legends, quite interesting really. It did not really surprise me that during this time I saw nothing of Thrawn and I was glad of the peace.
By the third morning I had had enough of med-lab, I asked the doc if I could just go back to my own quarters and sleep there and was grateful when he reluctantly agreed. I was glad to be back in a space free of people, beeping machines and the awful antiseptic, clinical scent that seemed to permeate everything in the med-lab.
The nice thing about a VIP suite on an ISD is it has all the comforts of home and this included a bathtub. It was the first thing I did after making myself a nice hot cup of Tatooine mint tea was lounge for over an hour in a bath full of hot bubble covered water, shampoo makes great bubble bath in a pinch. I wanted rid of the med-lab smell and my hair needed washing so badly it was scary. It was a welcome change to the last few days of my life.
After I had gotten out dried off and changed into clothes that actually covered all of me and were a lot less drafty and scratchy I curled up on the couch with the book of myths and began to read. The story I was just about to finish had completely piqued my interest. It was about a planet near the borders of Old Republic space that had been completely avoided, so much so that all reference to it had been lost. It was said to be haunted by creatures that could do strange things with the force such as push it away or even hunt it down. The details were a little sketchy but the stories intrigued me. Even the thought that there might be creatures who could also manipulate the force to their own means was an idea I would never have thought of. If these stories were even remotely true, creatures like that would be a good reason for anyone remotely force sensitive to stay away from this place. It was no wonder all references to this place had been quietly lost. The force worked in the strangest of ways and suddenly the reason for why I was here became a little clearer. I felt the Captain’s presence and before he could knock I used my own small force abilities to open the door. He walked in closing the door behind him before I could show off any more.
He looked at me and then at the door but said nothing. He handed me a small slender box that contained my Zenji Hair sticks. I took them out of the box and put my still damp hair up. I was very glad to have them back.
Thrawn smiled watching me. “I thought you might like to have them returned to you.” He said sitting down across from me.
“The doctor said you had them but what happened to my dress? It was a Cati original” I asked.
“It was cut off you so that the doctor could restart your heart." he said cooly. "Dresses can be replaced, you can not.” He said.
I just nodded. We sat in silence for a moment and then I said. “You found it didn’t you.”
His smile was slow and almost lazy. “Clever girl.”
“You think they exist?” I asked touching the book.
“Myth usually has some sort of basis in truth. There are reasons why Myrkr was avoided by the Jedi, why it is not on any star-chart.” He said.
I looked at him. “This little trip isn’t sanctioned by the Emperor is it?”
An eyebrow arched. “What makes you think that?”
“Creatures that have force powers or the ability to perhaps even repel the force would be a great threat to him. He would destroy that planet rather than even look to see there were any truth to the myths regardless of any argument to the contrary you could give.” I said quietly.
He was quiet for a moment. “I shall be very careful about how I word things, Miss Gabriel, but in the interest of law and order neither the Emperor nor Lord Vader are privy to everything I do. It would not be the first time I have worked behind the lines, so to speak.” He paused. “I do not always agree on our Esteemed Emperor’s way of doing things, that is no secret but I serve the Empire to the best of my abilities, never question that.” There was a glittering edge of steel in his words and I knew then I never wanted to be on the wrong side of him.
“But this little trip you and I are about to take is a secret.” I pressed.
“I informed Lord Vader that I required the use of his force sensitive assistant to help me in some personal matters. Given that my interest in you is not such a great secret to him, he saw fit to give you time away without asking why.” He said a little coldly.
“You are using me, in other words.” I said equally as coldly.
“Yes and no. I require your skills as a force sensitive. I chose you because I do not trust anyone else.” He stressed. “While you remain loyal to Lord Vader, I sense that you also do not agree with everything the Emperor does. I am not asking you to betray any loyalties and if you choose to share any information we should happen to find then that would be your choice.” There was a “but” in that last sentence and he did not have to fill in the blank for me. I knew if I broke his confidence he would vanish from my life as certainly as if he had never been there to begin with. “This trip is merely a fact finding mission. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Oh, so we are just satisfying your curiosity.” I said more snarkily than I had meant to.
He smiled. “You could put it that way, but now we are also satisfying yours as well.” and he was right about that.
“Does everything with you have an ulterior motive?” I asked looking into his eyes. I could read nothing in them. He was a locked door for me.
He was silent for a moment and sat back in the chair, countering my own stare with one of his own. When he finally did speak he chose his words with great care.
“Men in my line of work rarely have time for pleasure, Miss Gabriel, we are married to our careers, to our ships, to our commands. If I were to tell you that I genuinely enjoy your company,that I expect nothing from you when I am with you in an unofficial capacity but that sometimes I wonder if there could be something more, would that answer your question?” Before I could answer he continued. “When you are onboard my ship, you become a part of my responsibility, you are under my command which makes this is about work regardless of whether it is officially sanctioned or not. In the end there is only one truth, that I serve the Empire, not simply the man alone, but the idea. In order to do that sometimes, I will go to extreme measures. Information is the most useful currency we have, my dear."
I nodded slowly because I got what he was talking about and he had known that all along anyway or we would not have even be having this conversation.
“Then we understand each other.” He said standing up.
I stood up as well. “Yes, Captain. I believe we do.”
He nodded. “Tomorrow we will take a small ship and see what we can find out about this mysterious place. I trust you feel well enough.”
“I expect the fresh air will do me good.” I said.
He chuckled. “I will come for you when it is time to leave, some time early in the morning. Be ready, wear something you can travel inconspicuously and move quickly in.” He said turning to leave. I followed him to the door, intending to open it the old fashioned way. He turned to face me just before I could do so. He wanted to say something more, it was written on his face but instead he just searched my eyes looking for an answer to some unasked question. If he found it I never knew. He walked out leaving the wordless question hanging. I stared at the closed door for a moment before going back to the book so I could reread that whole chapter again. Any information was good information and I had the nasty feeling we would need all the help we could get our hands on.