I loved the view we were treated to as the ship lifted off from the retreat. It was beautiful and I never got tired of it. I chattered on the comm with the Air traffic control, who was getting to know my voice pretty well and set our flight plan. Lianna watched me and did not seem in the least uncomfortable being in the air. Once we were free of the atmosphere I set the nav computer and punched in the co ordinates for Rothana. It didn’t take long to get into the hyperspace lane and once we made the jump I hoped it would be one long and quiet trip. I could not keep from smiling when the stars swirled and elongated as we passed from normal space into the hyperspace lane. I never tired of seeing that. Once the autopilot was on and everything was normal I got out of my harness and went to make tea. I offered a cup to Lianna who accepted. We sat in the cockpit in silence until she spoke.
“I saw you at the ballet.” She said. “Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes.” I said. “I didn’t see you there. What did you think of it?”
She shrugged. “Not their best performance but not their worst either.” She paused. “I noticed that you were with the alien captain.”
“Captain Thrawn?” I nodded. “Yes, he invited me to …accompany him.” I said keeping my voice neutral.
“The Emperor’s pet alien.” She said with distaste. “What is he like?
I shrugged. “Arrogant.” I said and it was true. “And very intelligent, very knowledgeable about the arts and art.”
“Do you like him?” she pressed.
“I don’t dislike him if that’s what you mean. I don’t really know him all that well.” Which was also true, from a certain point of view although I’d be willing to bet I knew Thrawn a whole lot better than a great many people in the Imperial court did.
She sipped her tea. “The Emperor seems to have taken a great interest in him, says that he’s quite talented.”
“Really?” I said lightly. “In what way?”
“He is supposed to be a brilliant tactician or something.” She said. “Do you know much about his past?” she then asked.
I wondered why she was so interested in Thrawn or more to the point, interested in what I knew about him. “Not really, we didn’t discuss personal things. He seems to be a very private person and we mostly talked about art when we talked at all.”
“He was found on a planet all alone, exiled from his people.”
I looked at her. “Oh?”
She nodded. “That's the story. A Captain Parck found him. Said this alien single handedly outsmarted his men while they were looking for some smugglers or something. They thought he was a simple savage turned out he was not.” She paused. “Parck brought him back to the Emperor and then helped to train him, or so I heard.”
“Why was he exiled?” I asked.
“Something about going against some core belief of his people.” She said.
I nodded. None of this information was really new to me and I didn’t know what to add. I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going.
“He seems to favour you at official events.” She commented. “It has been noticed and people talk about it.”
I smiled. “I have seen him, what three, maybe four times at some official function or another, the last one I was his …what is that charming expression the courtesans use, decorative eye-candy. If that constitutes favouring then I guess they are right.” I shrugged. “People talk about anything and everything. I am quite sure there are a billion rumours about me and Lord Vader as well. It makes me laugh.”
“Don't you care what people think?” she asked.
“Not about stuff like that I don’t. People believe what they want to no matter what the truth. Gossip runs rampant in the Emperor’s court.” I looked at her. “I have no idea why Captain Thrawn chooses to speak with me, but I can tell you this, I am one of the few people who sees past the colour of his skin.” I said. “I grew up on a planet where being human means being out numbered sometimes. Aliens don't bother me, in fact sometimes I think I prefer their company.”
“It’s his eyes that weird me out, they seem to bore right through a person. Cannot tell what he is thinking. ” she said with a shiver. “He seems so distant and cold.”
I smiled at that statement. “I don’t imagine for a moment it must be easy for him in this cliquish human oriented Empire we have.” I shrugged. “Besides I am happy at least someone wants to speak with me, most of the time I am the one shunned because of who I work for.”
She nodded. “What is Lord Vader like to work for?”
I laughed. “Abrupt.” I said and got up to get more tea. I was getting tired of the questions that went nowhere.
When I sat back down she looked at me carefully, the way you do when you suddenly see a person for the first time, although you’ve looked at them many times before.
“You’re not what I imagined.” She said.
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“No, you actually have a personality and you can hold a conversation. I thought the Emperor had taken a liking to you because you were another piece of pretty fluff for him to have around but that’s not the case is it, you are actually dangerous.” her voice had an edge to it I didn’t know how to decipher, but she had dropped the haughty dancer face for a second and what lay behind her eyes was calculating and clever. I had no idea how to answer her question so I stayed silent and just matched her gaze.
“I had heard that you were under the protection of Lord Vader, I had thought that it was because you were actually good at being an office girl, but you are more than that aren’t you.” She wasn’t asking a question. “What is it about you that the Emperor sees?” she asked.
“You know, I have absolutely no idea at all.” I told her, then asked. “Why do you care?”
“I like to know who my enemies are.” She said point blank.
I gave her a confused look. “Enemy?”
“Are you working for Isard?” she asked suddenly.
“The Intel leader?” I looked at her and then I just laughed. “Oh, you are funny.” I shook my head. “I am just Lord Vader’s personal assistant. If you think I work for Intel then you give me far too much credit.” I said.
“You know, I will find out if you are lying to me and when I do, I will make sure you are not a threat to me.” She said coolly.
“How in the name of the holy sarlacc can I be a threat to you? I don’t even know you.” I said with a sigh, this was getting tedious.
She smiled. “That’s a good thing.” She told me getting up. “I’m tired and I wish to rest before we arrive on Rothana, so if you don’t mind I will take my leave of you.”
“Right.” I nodded and watched her leave. The force moved about her but it wasn’t strong. She had been looking for something from me with all her questions but she had not gotten the answer she had wanted. She had not been able to sense the force around me or else she would have known what it was in me the Emperor had seen. She didn’t like uncertainties and I made her nervous but I wasn’t exactly sure why. I knew that while maybe she was a dancer and probably a very good one, that was not who she really was. I didn’t want to think about it. The less I knew the better, I was certain of that.
I finished my tea, and did my hourly ship check. Everything was fine. I picked up the book I was half way through from my satchel and went back to the cockpit to sit and read. If I managed to nap a little along the way well, that was fine too. I knew from experience that the ship alarms were loud enough to wake the dead.
I was grateful that Lianna stayed away from me rest of the trip. She only appeared when I announced via the comm that we would be landing in a few moments. She was dressed in a beautiful dance costume and had her travel bag with her, probably she would change costumes several times. I remembered having to do that a few times when I was a dancer.
“I will be several hours.” She informed me as I styled the ship down onto the landing pad we had been assigned.
“I need to know where you will be in case I have to get a hold of you.” I said.
“The offices are above the cantina.” She said, “but I would prefer not to be disturbed unless it is the Emperor.”
I nodded. “As you wish.”
The ship landed with a soft bump and I shut down the systems while she waited for me to open the door and the landing ramp.
“It’s cold out there, we landed outside not in. You might want to put a coat on.” I told her as I walked with her to the door and opened it.
She scowled at me. “How far away are we from the Cantina?”
“A few meters I think, I requested a landing space as close to it as possible.”
“Then I am fine.” She said but she slipped the shawl she had been carrying over her shoulders.
Rothana is an arctic world, so it is cold. I had requested an outside landing pad because they were a hell of a lot easier to take off from than an internal one, especially if you are wanting to leave in a great big hurry. It is awfully hard to fly through closed landing bay doors.
When the door opened I was greeted by the initial wuff of air exchange. The air that left the ship was warm and for me smelled of hydraulic fluids and ship mechanics, the air that came into the ship was bitterly cold and smelled like oily pepper and burnt metal.
The night sky was crystal clear, and I could see the Cantina just across the quad. We had indeed landed very close to it. I could see beyond the gantries and the buildings up to the stars which shone with a brilliance I had only ever seen in the desert of Tatooine before. Without even thinking about it I reached out to Lianna and touched her on the arm, wanting to wish her good luck. In the flash of an instant I knew that something very bad was going to happen to her. In that split second I felt rather than saw pain, confusion, fear and death. I was given an image of a room full of people all fighting, someone masked and darkly dressed was shooting at her and the last image was of her being hit in the back by blaster fire. I shivered.
She shrugged off my touch and gave me a filthy look. “I don’t need luck.” She told me tartly, “I am very good at what I do. Just be ready to take off when I am done.”
“Right.” I said still shaken from the sensations reeling through my body. I watched her leave with a chill in my bones that had nothing to do with the cold out side.