First Thrawn’s little trip to Myrkr and all that we found there, now this little gem of Lord Vader's.
I had not planned on this, but then again I had not really planned on working for the Empire either.
Even at a young age, I knew I was different. I could see things happen before they actually took place, I sense things and knew things about people, no one else knew. I could touch objects and sometimes know who had owned them last and the stories that went along with them. Lord Vader had been right about that. I wondered if he was ever wrong.
People do not like precocious children who know too much and while at first, my strange talents and gifts were considered cute after a while they began to make people nervous. At a very young age I was aware I was not quite normal. So, I learned to hide what I picked up from others, their stray thoughts and feelings. I learned not to gasp when I touched things, especially old and well used things.
‘Keep it dark, keep it hidden.’ My father had often whispered to me. It was a hard lesson to learn and the emotions and the visions and the knowledge I picked up from those around me sometimes seemed to take over who I was. I learned to avoid physical contact and I learned to shut the sensations out. This little gift of mine was not something to be proud of and use, it was something to fear and shut away. Secrets, I had learned, are terrible heart wrenching things. While knowing other people’s secrets was a burden, keeping them to myself was just a big pain in the ass.
In the days that passed after returning to Naboo, I tried to spend as much of my free time as possible studying and practicing all I could. Master Kjestyll never questioned my sudden dedication or quiet determination but he sensed the need in me and the lessons became more intense.
I kept up with the office work and managed Lord Vader’s calendar with as much efficiency as possible. His communications were kept to the absolute minimum, as though the very act of speaking with me was painful. I must admit, I was not unhappy to be away from him. His presence was overwhelming. I had so many questions I wanted to ask him and dared not. I did not want to rouse his wrath and I did not want to have to test my small abilities to block him out again either.
He was busy hunting the rebels who had brought an end to the Death Star. It was his primary focus in and around everything else he was doing. I suppose, due to my unique position in his life, I knew more than most about his comings and goings but even I was a little surprised at the whispered gossip which said he was becoming obsessed with finding a certain rebel pilot, the one who had actually been responsible for the Death Star’s destruction. I wondered what it was about this particular pilot that was so important, but I dared not ask or even bring up the subject with him during our infrequent holo transmissions. Mostly I tried to stay out of his way and enjoy the rest of my time on Naboo. I should have known that would not last.
In the middle of a fairly gruelling lesson I was suddenly summoned to the Emperor’s private audience chamber. The messenger waited calmly, not even my surprise and hesitation seemed to concern him.
Master Kjestyll sensed my worry. “Child, undoubtedly the Emperor knows where you are at this moment and exactly what you have been doing. How you are dressed does not concern him. If he has summoned you now then he wishes to see you now. We will continue another time, as always.” And with that he bowed, our customary end to a lesson.
Silently, I followed the messenger. The Emperor’s apartments and audience chambers were all in the upper part of the retreat compound specially built and accessible only by heavily guarded elevators. As with the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, I was almost certain that behind these official ways in and out lay a dozen or more secret passages.
The elevator door slid open with an almost imperceptible hum and I followed the messenger into the small, dimly lit audience chamber. He announced my name and then with a smart, sharp bow left me alone in the room. On either side of the elevator door stood two Royal Guards. Directly opposite the elevator door, upon a dais, sat the Emperor on a chair that had been specially designed for him.
My heart pounded at the sight of him. The aura of power that flowed about this room was palpable. I walked a little closer and then as protocol dictated, genuflected with my head bowed. I allowed my senses to reach out and feel the room. This was one of his lesser audience chambers, small and more intimate. I felt the presence of his Royal Guards and knew that aside from the two by the elevator, there were four more in the room standing in the shadows. I also sensed another presence, a person I did not know hidden by the darkness.
“You my rise and come forward.” The Emperor’s voice broke the eerie silence and I did as he bid stopping a respectable distance before the dais began. I stood with my head down and my hands clasped in front of me, dancer style.
“How delightful to see you again, my dear.” He said and I looked up at him and smiled.
“I am sorry to have taken you away from your lessons but this could not wait and time is of the essence today.” He paused and I waited silently. He had not asked me a direct question nor given me leave to speak. He nodded to himself and leaned forward in his chair.
“Come closer, child, so that I might get a better look at you.” I did as he asked and stopped at the point where the raised platform began.
“How do you enjoy your lessons?” he asked.
I was not sure which lesson or which teacher he was referring to so I answered as best I could given the vagueness of the question. “I am learning much, Your Excellency, thank you.”
“Good, good.” He grinned. “I have heard good reports of your work from both your mentor and your master. I also hear that you are a competent pilot and that your skills as a dancer have indeed found a use.” He said, pausing to let his words sink in. I wondered exactly what Captain Thrawn had told him and who exactly was my mentor and who was the master. I concentrated on breathing in and out. The Emperor scared the sand jiggers out of me especially in this formal place.
After what seemed an eternity of scrutiny he sat back again, once more shrouded by the shadows. “I have need of your skills, child, and I trust you feel up to the task at hand.”
I gazed up at him unable to answer truthfully since I had no idea what task it was he was talking about. Our eyes met for a moment and for that split second I was convinced this man knew every tiny little secret hidden in my soul. It was difficult to breathe. I clung to all I had been taught and worked to maintain my own mental blocks. As fragile as they were, it made me feel better.
He chuckled to himself and then turned to look to his right, his hand beckoning for the person I had sensed there to come forward into the light.
“This is one of my most favoured dancers, Lianna.” The Emperor said as the girl that Shiv’s group of friends often referred to as the Princess walked to the foot of his chair and sat, like a jax, curled up at his feet. He reached out and stroked her beautiful hair which was the colour of red gold. She looked up into his face with such adoration and even love that I wondered if she were not something more than just his favourite dancer. She was elegant and beautiful. Her hair was perfect and her make up tastefully and artfully done. Even the clothes she wore screamed of designer opulence. She was everything I felt I was not. Now, standing next to her in my training clothes, still damp with sweat I felt like something the jawas had dragged in.
I nodded my head in greeting to her and she regarded me with her green eyes as though I were trash. It did not surprise me much and it was how I felt.
“Lianna, you recall Merlyn Gabriel, Lord Vader’s … personal assistant?” the Emperor said looking directly into the young woman’s eyes. Lianna nodded. “It would appear that young Miss Gabriel has some talent as a pilot among ... other things. She will be taking you to your next job.” I listened and she frowned. Neither of us said a word. The silence spoke volumes for us.
The Emperor turned once again to look at me. “How long will it take to get from here to Rothana?” he asked.
I quickly tried to remember where that was and then did the rough calculations in my head, wondering what on earth she could be doing all the way out on that forsaken planet. “Approximately eighteen hours if nothing goes wrong, at top engine speed, “ I said. “One way, of course.” I didn’t mention I had calculated a couple of hours extra in case something did go wrong. It never hurt to have more time.
“Then you will leave here tomorrow at 18:00 hours. Lianna has an important performance at, when was it my dear?” He turned and asked her.
“I need to be there to perform at four pm in two day’s time.” She said.
“Good, then it is settled.” The Emperor said. “Now, Lianna you may leave, I know you have things to do before this evening.”
She gave me another glance that was anything but friendly and, with an elegant curtsey, moved gracefully out of the room. I had not been given permission to leave so I remained exactly as I had been. Wondering what exactly was going on. The Emperor waited until Lianna had left the chamber and the doors to the elevators had once again hissed shut.
“She is lovely, is she not?” he said. I wasn’t certain he actually wanted an answer so I simply nodded.
He continued, “She is very dear to me and I do worry about her when she has a performance away from the confines of the court. I would not let her go but she does have her heart set on it.”
The Emperor got up. “Walk with me a little, child.” He said and I fell into step beside him as he walked towards the elevator door. “I have it on good authority that you have become proficient in the art of, how shall I say it, self preservation and that your skills in hand to hand combat are improving. Lianna will need someone to watch out for her on this trip and I would appreciate it if you would do that for me.” He said.
I wanted to ask if that were not a task better suited to one of the many and varied sorts of body guards and soldiers that were in his employ. He must have read that thought because he chuckled. We stopped in front of the door, and I was more than aware of the Royal Guards who stood there unmoving and silent.
“As a human female you would not be seen as a threat.” He explained. “A male, especially one who is a soldier or a trained body guard, would antagonise an already difficult situation. They would be seen as a challenge and more than likely create more problems than they were sent there to prevent. She is to dance for a well known business associate of mine, let us say, it is a way of appeasing him for services rendered. I do not wish my dancer to be associated with unpleasant behaviour.” He said. “If you are not up to this task I can find another but I should hate to think that your training with one of my best teachers has not been paying off.” He chided slightly.
“No, Your Excellency, of course not. I am honoured you feel I am capable of this task.” I lied through my teeth. I had no idea why he wanted me to do this I was most likely the very last person capable of what he was asking but I was not going to argue with him. He smiled and patted me on the cheek. The touch of his papery hand sent a cold shiver down my spine.
“Good girl, I knew I could count on you. Now, you should run along home before you are late.” He said.
Before I could even consider it being a terrible breech of protocol I blurted out. “Late? Late for what?”
But the Emperor did not seem to mind my lack of courtesy. He simply gave me a smile that was not all together pleasant. “Now, now I would not want to spoil the surprise. Off you go, child.” He said and turned his back on me, dismissing me abruptly. I stood there for a few seconds and watched him, waiting for the lift door to open. I was more than aware of the close and careful scrutiny by the two Royal Guardsmen. The rumours and whispers said that almost all the Guardsmen were force sensitive but I knew now that these were not rumours.
Only once I was out of the small audience chamber and out of the claustrophobic little elevator did I breathe a deep and heavy sigh of relief. This was, of course, shattered by someone tapping me on the shoulder and asking me my name.
“Miss Gabriel?” the young messenger asked. I nodded trying not to jump out of my skin. He thrust a slender envelope into my hand.
For a moment I just looked at it in bewilderment until the young man cleared his throat and said. “I was asked to wait for an answer.”
I nodded and opened the letter. I knew the hand writing instantly and could not help but smile.
My Dear Miss Gabriel,
I have two tickets to the opening season of the Opera House in Theed tonight, thanks to the generosity of His Excellency the Emperor, and would like to know if you would do me the honour of gracing me with your company for this event. I understand that it is short notice but I assure you such gala evenings are rare and this one promises to be spectacular. Should you say yes then I request that you be ready at your living quarters by no later than 17:00 hrs as we must be at the Opera House in Theed by 20:00 hrs at the latest and I would very much like to take you to dinner first.
With kind regards,
I read the letter twice and asked the messenger what time it was. I had exactly an hour to get home and get ready. The young man looked at me and I smiled.
“You may tell the Captain that the answer is yes.” I said and as quickly as I could I made my way home, along the way trying to work out what the heck I was going to wear to this spectacular gala event. I didn’t even know what was being performed as the opening show of the season but in the end it did not matter. I was nervous at the thought of being in Thrawn’s presence again. I would have to work at getting that under control but in a way I didn’t want to. In difference to being close to the Emperor, I liked how being near the Captain made me feel.