Thrawn returned the salute that the deck officer gave him as we disembarked from the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma. The rest of our journey to the rendezvous with the Vengeance had been uneventful. The farewell on Tatooine had been brief but not painless. I wondered if it ever got easier to say goodbye to people you loved and cared for. These thoughts had made me melancholy and pensive which in turn made me moody and withdrawn.
Thrawn too, had stayed distant and quiet for much of the return trip, as though he also had much to think about and distractions from me would be most unwelcome. He had left me mostly alone and I had been oddly happy with the breathing room.
“Lt. Wulfman, please escort Miss Gabriel to the Medical Bay. Inform Doctor Thracer he is to do a complete check up.” Thrawn commanded after the pleasantries were over with. This was an order, given in a tone of voice that even I dared not argue with but I wasn’t happy about it.
The Lieutenant was about to touch me on the arm, indicating the way but I pulled away from him. I gave Thrawn a glare and said tersely. “I know the way, Captain.”
The Lieutenant looked to Thrawn for help. The captain just shrugged slightly. “As she says, she knows the way, Lieutenant. Just make sure she goes there and does not deviate.” He said.
The lieutenant saluted and with an escort I went to the med lab.
The Doctor was not pleased to see the mess I was in. He was even less pleased with my lack of information about how I came by all the various wounds, cuts and even more bruises. I just sat in silence while he took care of me. It was such a relief just to be someplace safe, quiet, familiar and in the hands of someone not playing head games with me. I owed this Doctor my life and I was thankful to be in his care. I didn’t have to pretend that everything was alright as I had on Tatooine because I had not wanted to worry my family. I suppose it was only natural that all the stress, fear and everything else I was keeping tightly locked inside bubbled over, or maybe it was his gruff kindness whatever the reason, I sat there and wept silently. Doctor Thracer just handed me a handkerchief and continued to do his work.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked after a few minutes.
I shook my head. He made a face that told me he was neither impressed nor surprised.
“I’d like to keep you here for rest and observation, you are somewhat dehydrated and quite anaemic but you will argue with me, won’t you?” he said with a sigh.
I shook my head. “No, I am too tired to disagree with you, Doc.” I was just very grateful he had not suggested a bacta immersion.
He nodded. “Very well, young lady. I will give you something for the pain that will knock you out.” He led me to one of the beds in a quiet corner, handed me a gown and let me get out of my clothes. I was so grateful just to lie in a real bed with clean sheets that I didn’t even flinch when he shot me full of nutrients, pain killers and a powerful sedative.
“Doc?” I grasped his arm.
He looked at me. “What is it?”
“Keep him out of my hair for a while will you, please?” I asked as I felt the sedative start to kick in.
The doctor smiled grimly, he knew exactly who I was talking about. “With great pleasure, now rest.” And that was the last thing I knew.
The doctor was as good as his word and Thrawn did not come near me for two days. When I was finally allowed to go back to my own quarters, I felt much better, at least physically and was glad to hear when we were finally in orbit around Naboo. I was relieved to be returning to the retreat soon. I wanted to get back to my normal work and back to my training. I was packed and ready when Lt. Wulfman came to fetch me. He took my bag and walked with me to the docking bay and did not say a word the whole time. I expected to see an Imperial shuttle waiting for me but there was only the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma and the Captain.
“Thank you Lieutenant, you may return to your duties.” Thrawn said. The Lieutenant saluted and left.
“Doctor Thracer assures me that you are fully recovered and well enough to return to work.” Thrawn said picking up my bag and carrying it on board the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma. I followed him a little confused.
“You are flying me back to Naboo?” I asked.
“No, Miss Gabriel, you are quite capable of flying your ship yourself.” He said handing me a data pad.
“My ship?” I asked, looking at the data pad he handed me. Ownership rights for the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma , all in my name.
“It was discussed that you might have need of a vessel to carry out some of the work you may be asked to do. You seemed comfortable with this ship so it is yours.” He told me.
I stared at him for a moment. “You are giving me this ship?” I asked, and then I added. “What do you mean by, work I may be asked to do?”
He smiled. “Yes, this ship is yours. All the paperwork is in your name.” he said and then to answer my second question he said. “That is not my place to tell you about that, you must discuss that with Lord Vader.”
I opened my mouth and then closed it again. “My ship?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, ‘thank you’ usually works well enough.” He told me, adding. “And your first job is to take me to Naboo. I have a meeting with the Emperor and Lord Vader and I am quite sure you wish to get back to work.”
“Thank you.” I said quietly and just stared at him for a moment then asked. “You want to leave now?”
“You are cleared for departure.” He told me as he sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. “So anytime you are ready.”
I sat in the pilot’s seat and put on the headset. My ship, I was not sure I believed it. As I took us out of the Vengeance’s docking bay I asked Thrawn about the ship.
“I found her in one of the Imperial impound yards.” He said. “When I learned that you might need a ship of your own I suggested this one. She was refitted to Lord Vader’s specifications for you and then rechristened.”
“You…, Lord Vader planned for this?” I asked. I was having trouble getting my head around this.
“He informed me that you would need to be mobile. We discussed it, talking about a lambda class shuttle because you seem to love them so much, but that would draw far too much attention to you and,” he added, “you will get enough flying time in the shuttles as it is. The HWK series is less likely to be noticed especially if you need to be discreet. It seemed a fitting ship for you and the trip we took was a good test run of both ship and your abilities.”
“A test?” I asked giving him a filthy look. “This whole thing was just some sort of a test?” I was about to launch into a tirade when he cut me off.
“Do not start that argument again.” He growled.
We stared at each other for a moment then I, backing down, went back to staring out of the cockpit. the air between us fairly crackled because I was angry and he was annoyed. I thought about it for a few seconds and then decided I wasn’t letting this go.
“What exactly do you mean by discuss? I am a bit confused. You and Lord Vader talk about me? Why? What in the name of Sarlacc about?” I was a personal assistant and it bothered me that this man, who had seemingly taken a fairly deep personal interest in me, also talked about me with the man I worked for. It made me more than just a little nervous.
Thrawn sighed. “Briefly, it was discussed how best to utilize your various talents.” He looked at me and must have read something in my face because he added. “Do not make more of it than it is.” He chided.
“How can I make more of something when I don’t even know what that something is?” I said sharply.
Thrawn frowned. “I have seen you deal with situations that for most untrained civilians would have been a disaster, yet you handled everything that was thrown at you with a calm and a grace that struck me as almost elegant. You are an excellent mechanic and a good pilot in your own right. You have many hidden talents that could serve the Empire well if directed properly. As a mere personal assistant, you are wasting these talents, no matter how good you may be at that job. I had suspected that you would be resourceful as well as clever and this time that we have spent working together has shown me I was right, but you also have an inner strength and resilience that, for one so young, quite frankly, surprised me.”
I just stared at him because for once he had rendered me speechless, so he continued.
“Lord Vader mentioned that he was also somewhat surprised by your various abilities and, how did he put it… your impudent fearlessness. I merely asked if he had thought about extending your job range to more than just his personal office assistant. That you have come under the watchful eye of the Emperor has also not gone unnoticed. That he has talked to you about perhaps being a courier is known to Vader, which is partly why you were given this ship.”
“And this has to do with you, how?” I asked.
“He asked if I would observe you while on the mission with me. Evaluate your work outside of the normal environment. While he did not know the details of our trip, he knew it would be unusual.” Thrawn continued ignoring my tone of voice.
“And…that is all, nothing more, nothing less. If he has other plans I do not know of them, nor do I wish to. That has nothing to do with me. I do, however, hate to see talents and potential wasted. As for my evaluation, Lord Vader will receive that all in good time.” He said coolly. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life as a mere personal assistant or do you wish to expand your horizons and be more?”
“I had not really thought about it, to be honest but I can tell you this, Captain. I am more than just a mere personal assistant, I am a very good personal assistant.” He was making me cross. I didn’t like this plotting and scheming about me behind my back.
Thrawn arched an eyebrow. “Indeed, however, should you choose to, my dear, you could be so much more. I merely pointed that out to Lord Vader when he commented upon your ability to deal with him. As I have said, it is a shame if the Empire wastes the talents of good people. With some training and care you could be even more valuable than you currently are. Being valuable to the Empire is also vital for one's survival within the Empire.”
I gave him a look. “I was under the impression, after this trip, that doing a good job in the Empire not only creates enemies but is also very bad for one’s health.”
He chuckled slightly. “It is a delicate balance, Miss Gabriel, but you have a naiveté and a touch of sweetness that can be most disarming, I do not think you need worry about such things just yet.”
That sounded almost like an insult and I made a face but before I could say anything he continued with a sigh.
“Business and pleasure, it has been my experience, do not generally mix well. I have some difficulty with this in your case as you are a pleasure I wish to have in my life, however my business of serving the Empire comes first and foremost. If that includes giving Lord Vader or, for that matter, the Emperor my opinion on your work then I shall do so as honestly and as unbiased as possible. I have no doubt that your life will take you very far from home and that this journey has only just begun. Do not look for insult and injury where there are none.”
“So, you speak to the Emperor about me as well?”
I was trying his patience. “Your name has come up in passing.” He said and the tone of voice let me know that was all he would say.
I sighed. “How long will you be on Naboo this time?” I asked changing the subject.
“Long enough.” He answered with a shrug.
I shook my head. “Fine, be all mysterious then!”
“Your curiosity will be the death of you one of these days.” He admonished.
“Yes, maybe it will, but the satisfaction I will get from knowing will be my resurrection.” I said smartly and resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him.
He just smiled and shook his head then said something to me in what I could only assume was his native language.
“What did you just say?” I asked, narrowing my eyes and giving him my best spitey face.
He must have thought he was being funny because he was struggling to keep the laughter out of his voice but he could not keep his amusement out of his eyes. “Maybe you should learn Cheunh to find out.” He replied, arching an eyebrow in that smug way of his that made me want to smack him.
“Now, just how am I supposed to do that? Fly on over to Csilla and knock on someone’s door and say, ‘Hi Captain Thrawn sent me over to learn your language…how about it?’ You think that would work? Or are you planning on tutoring me after a hard day’s work running around saving the galaxy?”
“Giving you private lessons in my native language does have a certain charm and appeal.” He gave me a smile that sent a shiver down my spine. “And the thought of you showing up on someone’s door on my home planet demanding to learn the language is a very amusing mental image.”
I just gave him a really hard stare. “You could start by teaching me how to say ‘you really annoy the sandjiggers out of me and I don’t want to talk to you any more’.”
He just laughed.
Then something else occurred to me. “Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma, what does it mean, that’s in your language isn’t it?”
“It is Dantassi Cheunh, it means Desert Angel’s Kiss.”
I made a face. “Oh, that’s very cute.” I said sarcastically. “And even translated it is still an awfully big name for a little ship.”
He shrugged ever so slightly. “You can always rename her.” He said. “But the name was a partial suggestion from Lord Vader.”
“Bad luck to rename a ship.” I told him thoughtfully, wondering why Lord Vader would call a ship that and just what part of the name he had been responsible for. It was just more and more mysteries and questions laid one on top of the other. I knew that Thrawn would not answer any more questions. He would just talk in circles now, so with a sigh I changed the topic. “We’ll be on the ground in ten minutes, Captain.”
“Excellent, Miss Gabriel.” He smiled.
I just shook my head and slipped the head-set on so I could talk to the landing control. The sooner we were on the ground and I was away from Thrawn, the better. I was pretty certain that one of these days I would simply forget about protocol and just shoot him. He drove me crazy in nearly every way it was humanly possible to do so but I could not imagine my life without him in it anymore and somehow that annoyed me even more.
The landing was text book, and with out more than two words to each other we disembarked. He was met by several officers and was immediately spirited away while I was ignored and left to my own devices, which was fine with me. I went to take a look at my ship. My ship, just being able to say that was a pretty sweet feeling. I gave her a good check over and then, grabbing my stuff, I headed to my small home here on Naboo.
It was mid afternoon. The sky was clouding over and the day’s warmth had turned humid and oppressive. I was tired and needed a shower. After that I made tea and sat out on the small balcony to watch the oncoming storm. It seemed impossibly unreal to be back here, as if nothing at all had ever happened. Yet things had happened and I felt it all slipping out of control. I decided I was not going into the office today because if I did and I happened to see Lord Vader I would have to fight with him about all this secret plotting behind my back. I didn’t want to get into it with him just yet, that would happen soon enough.
I sipped at my tea and marvelled at the way lightening scored the sky and the loudness of the thunder that followed. It seemed fitting we would come home to a dirty great thunderstorm. It went with my mood perfectly. I would deal with all the office stuff tomorrow, I was quite sure there was a mountain of crap to wade through. For the time being it felt awfully good to be alone, in my own space with a nice cup of tea and some time to sort out my thoughts. I had the feeling things in my life were only going to get more and more complicated.