The Ashes and the Fire 8

I mostly enjoy my job. It is interesting and challenging. I get to meet people I would never normally meet and do things I would not under most circumstances ever dream of doing. I get to travel and go to elegant social functions at which I am encouraged to converse with courtiers, important officials and guests of the Emperor himself. I work with the second most powerful man in the known galaxy and he is, for the most part, satisfied with my work, I think, it’s a little hard to tell with Lord Vader sometimes. It was not in my job description, however, that I would also be loaned out to other members of the Imperial navy for unexplained missions to which I am not privy to any information about.

I received a transmission from Lord Vader early in the afternoon informing me and I quote, ‘Be ready to embark on board the ILC shuttle FuryII at the retreat landing pad at 04:00hrs CST. Pack enough for at least two weeks including semi formal wear as you will be expected to dine with the captain. More information given will be at Captain Thrawn’s discretion.” End transmission.

I was a little puzzled by this I must admit and replied to the transmission with a bunch of question about the work that would need to be done, who would be taking care of the office, what about my work here and so on. The answer I received was this. “I survived without the aid of an office assistant before you arrived, I shall do so for two weeks. You can catch up when you return. Anything important will be transmitted to you. Do not bother me with stupid questions again.

I sat at my desk staring at the message with my head in my hands. Two weeks in space with that man. What annoyed me the most was no one was telling me what all this was about or why me. It was not as if I was a trained operative or even remotely related to the military in any way shape or form. I was a little unsure of what I could add to what I was fairly certain was a large list of more qualified highly trained people for some sort of a mission somewhere deep in space with one of the most talked about captains in the Imperial navy. I was damned sure this had nothing at all to do with what appeared to me to be a blossoming affair of some sort. Thrawn did not strike me as the type who would cart his mistress, lover, girl friend or what ever label you could stick on this thing we had embarked on, off into space with him. In fact I was pretty sure that would be the very last thing he would want. I could not for the life of me figure any of this out.

In the end I went home early and packed what I thought I would need and a few more things besides and tried to sleep because the 3am wakeup call did not sit all that well with my normal routine. Instead I lay in my bed thinking about the morning's adventure in the water and what the hell this mission could be about. Being forthcoming about information was something lacking in the Imperial world, this seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.

Then of course there had been this morning which had been mostly about me trying not to swallow the entire lake in one go. I would never have imagined that trying not to sink would be such a chore.

I was not awake when Thrawn had shown up and had greeted him with a growl and a scowl when he handed me a very neatly wrapped box. Inside was a swimsuit, a one piece racer he had said. Something modest. I had laughed. Modest…. He had never seen what the dancers at Jabba’s had worn then, me included…. This swimsuit was a ball gown compared to those outfits. I had changed in the bathroom and wrapped a robe around me because at 6am it was still cold, grabbed a towel and followed him down to the water.

He undressed and I have to say he was in mighty fine shape. I guessed swimming was a good sport. I just stood there and watched him until he got impatient with me. Then I slipped the robe off and his face gave me the answer I had been afraid of. Of course the thing about wearing a swimsuit is while it covers the torso it doesn’t cover shoulders, arms, legs, hips and so on and so the exquisite bruises I had received from Lord Vader’s charming little training session were not just in full view they were also in full bloom.

He had walked over and taken a good look at me especially the massive deeply dark purple bruise on my arm.

“I don’t have to ask who is responsible for these, do I?” he said coldly. He was really angry but I wasn’t sure why or at whom.

“Sparring.” I said by way of explanation.

He had simply clenched his jaw and taken a deep breath. “Did he break your arm?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” I said. “I can still move it and the pain is not as … intense any more.” I wasn't about to explain the whole story, it was just too complicated.

“Hard to learn how to swim with a broken arm.” He said tersely.

“You are angry.”

“I disagree with brutality for the sake of being brutal. Was there a lesson involved in this?”

“That was part of the objective, I think, mostly he was angry and in a bad mood.” I shrugged. “Sometimes that happens.”

“Did you learn the lesson he was trying to get across?”

I had to think about it. “Yes.” I said after a moment. “I suppose I did.”

“Well then, you can learn this one too and I promise it will not leave you looking like a refugee from the slavers.” He said.

And that was all that was said about the awful bruises but he was angered by it.

Thrawn was a good teacher. He was patient and gentle and at the same time firm about me getting on with it. No messing about, no fear, no hesitation. Before I even had time to consider the consequences I was in the water and learning. It took a little while and many attempts to self drown but eventually I got the idea. By the time an hour had passed I could swim, not very well and certainly not very elegantly but I would no longer drown instantly if I were ever to fall in the water. At the end of it all when he was satisfied I would not die in some catastrophic water incident we called it a morning. I sat on the shore wrapped in my towel and robe and watched as he swam laps. It was as though he became part of the water and wondered if he excelled at absolutely everything he did. When he was done we went up to the house, changed, and dried off then I made tea.

I dressed in work clothes, a long skirt and long sleeved shirt and wrapped a towel around my hair and sat with him drinking the tea, its warmth was wonderful after the coolness of the water.

“What, no towel dress?” he asked with a smirk.

“I think you saw enough today.” I said and then instantly regretted it. That look had come back on his face again.

“It is not my place to say anything, however…” he began.

“No, it is not so don’t.” I cut him off. I just did not want to get into this conversation. I would get cross.

“You would defend him no matter what wouldn’t you.” He said.

“It would depend. If I thought he was wrong, no. I have a tendancy to say what I think and knowing me I would probably not defend him, but in this case I choose to let him spar with me.”

“You have a choice?” he asked arching an eyebrow in disbelief.

I thought about it for a moment. “With regards to this particular aspect of my relationship with him, yes, I think I do. And I choose to be trained by him. I don't always enjoy the method much but I learn from it. If he had wanted me dead I would be dead.” I rubbed the shoulder Lord Vader had almost broken absently. “Usually, he is not as angry as he was this particular time, usually he is not as ….” I searched for the right word.

“Abrupt?” Thrawn asked.

I smiled a little. “That is one way of putting it.” I nodded. “Usually, he has more self control when it comes to sparring with me and venting his anger, at least that has been the limited experience so far.”

He steepled his fingers together and stared at me for a moment. “Lord Vader and self control, interesting choice of words. You really do have a unique way of looking at the world.” He said.

I could not think of how to reply to that so I just said nothing, sipped at my tea and watched as he watched me. When we had finished the tea he got up to leave. I still had some things to do before I went into the retreat office, like my hair.

I saw him to the door. “Thank you, for teaching how not to inadvertently drink half the lake.”

He smiled. “You are welcome, but don’t go swimming alone for a while, you are not that good yet. It would be a shame if you drowned.” He said.

“Well, drowning isn’t on my plan for the day, so I guess maybe some other time.” I shrugged.

“When there is time.” He answered. “Tomorrow, neither of us will be here.”

I nodded. “Ah, yes, this top secret mission.”

“Something like that. In the meantime, Miss Gabriel, do try to stay alive.” He said as he left.

Fifteen minutes later I too, was on my way to work. Wondering what surprises the day had in store for me. It occurred to me that I still had the carved Japor snippet to deal with and had to find this memorial in Theed. I wondered if when there would ever be time for a side trip into the capitol city. There were too many things to think about, too many side lines and distractions. My life, working for the Empire was complicated. I had made a mental note to send word to master Kjestyll that I would be gone, although for how long I was not sure. …

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