I sat alone in the darkness of my unlit living room sipping my tea, ignoring the mess of expensive gift bags and tissue paper. I had unpacked and put away the new clothes and shoes wondering with a touch of guilt how anyone could say that the amount of credits I had spent was ‘just a drop in the bucket.’ The cost of one dress alone would have bought a Tatooian slave’s freedom for sure, maybe even two. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it but Shiv had brushed off my concerns.
“You think this is a lot?” he had asked. “HR will probably look at the bills and wonder why you didn’t spend more, look into it all to see if you are somehow hoodwinking them and stealing from the expense account.”
In the end I had bought three exquisite formal dresses with shoes to match and some more casual clothing that looked as Shiv put it, less sand-rat and more imperial. I also bought a new pair of boots because after the jaunt to Myrkr my old ones didn’t look so hot any more. Perhaps I hadn’t been extravagant but I still felt it wasn’t quite right some how. People in the galaxy were starving and I knew that for a fact. Under the surface of the shining Empire was a darkness that wasn’t good and I knew that too. It was somehow difficult to justify, even though, I knew I worked hard for the credits I earned and if Lord Vader chose to supplement that with an expense account because in the end when I was obligated to attend the stupid Imperial function I needed to look my best and looking my best meant spending a lot of money… but I wasn’t sure I liked it all the same.
This, however, was not what had me sitting in my living room at three am unable to sleep.
After the two and a half hours of manic shopping, Shiv had decided a stop at a small quiet café was in order for spiced coffee and desert. Over the most amazing Nubian cheese torte I had ever tasted Shiv had surprised the sandjiggers out of me by asking how I had enjoyed not only my visit on board the ISD Vengeance but the Corellian Spice cake as well.
“How did you know I was on board Vengeance?” I had asked hoping to keep the shock out of my voice.
“Bobbyn told me.” Shiv had said with a shrug. “He’s in charge of all planet to ship special catering requests. One came through with your name on it as a VIP. He mentioned it in passing, laughed actually because he said you must have done some pretty nifty filing to get such special treatment.”
“Special treatment?” I’d asked.
Shiv had nodded. “Corellian Spice cake is a very expensive desert. Bobbyn thought it was a bit strange because normally such requests will come from the Captain of the ship but this one came from higher up. He told me he figured someone wanted to impress your boss by impressing you, or maybe the ship’s captain or something.”
“Why would they do that?” I had asked. “I mean really, Shiv I am no VIP.”
“Yeah, well someone thought you were. Bobbyn said they even took care to ask about allergies?”
My heart skipped a beat. “Allergies?”
“Yep, he said that was unusual because most people don’t think about stuff like that, usually he has to do all that sort of research himself. He told them that the only thing he knew of in your case was Glow spice...” He paused. “Hey are you okay, you look like you’re going to be sick.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine, really.” I had concentrated on breathing as I’d asked the next question. “Who ordered it?”
Shiv had shaken his head. “Don’t know, the request just had the official seal but no specific name, why?”
“Just curious. I could have sent who ever it was a thank-you.” I smiled. “What about who made it?”
“I’d have to ask Bobbyn. Corellian Spice Cakes are made to order and there are only one or two specialized bakeries that will make it on Naboo. It’s very expensive due to some of the ingredients and apparently very tricky to make just right. Only certified bakery chefs are allowed to make it.”
“Can you find out for me?” I had asked.
“Sure, but I have to warn you, if you are thinking about ordering one, they are really, really expensive. That’s why it’s VIP treatment only.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So was the cake good?”
I’d shrugged. “I actually don’t like Corellian Spice cake.”
“Oh, well I guess the Captain and his officers must have loved you then, most people would kill for a slice of spice cake.”
I had grimaced at his choice of words and I had been evasive when he had asked why I was on board the Vengeance and down right curious about Captain Thrawn.
“He seems to have taken a liking to you. I heard that you accompanied him to the ballet at the Grand Opera house opening.” Shiv had said casually but with a look in his eyes that said “come one tell me…”
I had shrugged, why was it everyone wanted to know about this? “What do you want to hear? I was sent to the Vengeance on some consulting work, they needed me to sort out some office stuff. It appears I have a reputation for being efficient. He requested my services and Lord Vader told me to go. I do what I am told.”
“And the ballet?”
I’d shaken my head. “This place seems to run on gossip. I was asked at the last minute. I suspect that either no one else would attend with him because he is not human or his original date backed out. Either way it was not a big deal. The ballet was wonderful though, were you there? I didn’t see you.”
Shiv had shaken his head. “Nope, I had to deal with some emergency on Coruscant. Antygra was there though, said he had seen you together with Captain Thrawn.”
“You have spies all over the place!” I had laughed. “I don’t get asked out often and I have not been to the theatre in a long time. I wasn’t going to say no, besides he’s not so bad. I have heard there are worse sharks out there in the Imperial pool. He has always been the perfect gentleman to me.”
Shiv had nodded. “It is true that some of the officers who like to be with the courtesans and girls that work for the Empire are not so nice. I hear things, get comm calls in the middle of the night and have to sort out messes, arrange for medical treatment. It isn’t very pretty and it gets covered up. You’d tell me if something wasn’t right?”
“Honestly, you don’t have to worry; I was just decorative fluff at the Opera. It was a last minute thing. He is very fixated on his career not palace pretties.”
He had nodded. “That’s what I thought; the rumours say he is very ambitious, that's why he volunteered for the job of ferrying Lord Jerec around when no one else wanted to do it.” Then he had grinned at me. “And you, little keeper of secrets, I know there's more you’re not saying about this but I won’t push.”
“Good.” I said.
Shiv had laughed. “You do so remind me of my little sister, though.”
I had only nodded and after we had finished our coffee he had taken me home.
Now I sat in turmoil. After thinking about it and pacing about the room until I was sure I’d worn holes in the carpet I decided to talk to the only person I felt I could trust. I grabbed my coat and ran out of the house to the office. I didn’t have a holo terminal in my home and the only secure one I knew of was in the office where I worked and Lord Vader sometimes visited. I followed the instructions I had been given to the letter and then waited.
When the holo image of Thrawn appeared I knew instantly I had woken him up.
“You were asleep, I’m sorry.” I said before he’d even had a chance to ask what was wrong.
He smiled. “And you were not sleeping at all. What is on your mind?”
I took a deep breath, unlike when we were together in person, I knew that time was important and wasting it was bad. I got to the point and told him everything Shiv had told me about the spice cake order. When I was done and he said nothing it suddenly dawned on me this was not news to him.
“You already knew this, didn’t you?” I asked, running my hand through my hair which for once was not knotted up with Zenji sticks.
He gave me that infuriating raised eyebrow look. “I would not be very good at my job if my people could not at least discover this.”
“Why did you not tell me?” I was a bit surprised.
“Would it have made a difference?” he asked, frowning. “You are already stressed enough over all the things that have happened to you, would this piece of information help settle you or would it just make it worse? I think judging by the look on your face and the tone of your voice the answer to that is perfectly clear. No, knowing this small thing would not have helped. The information in itself does not give concrete answers.”
“But it’s a place to start.” I said.
“Yes and it will lead us to more information. Unfortunately, someone decided that it should be very difficult to discover the source and most of the paper trail has been destroyed. I would be most interested in hearing if your friend can discover more, although I would caution you that so far anyone who has been officially connected with this particular cake order has also conveniently disappeared.”
A sudden horrible thought struck me. “You don’t think Shiv or Bobbyn are involved do you?”
He shook his head. “No. Siavaan Rimanata has been with the Empire for a very long time. While he can appear a bit scattered and fluffy, he is anything but. If he has chosen to take you under his wing and befriend you then I am comforted by that. As for Bobbyn Mattikarae, all reports indicate he was just doing his job. He has been questioned about this, although in a manner that would lead him to think it was nothing more than standard follow up.” He paused. “If this did come from higher up, and I suspect it did, then the person responsible has the means and the power to erase all evidence that would lead to directly them. This is the reason that this particular investigation is being done quietly and to a certain extent, very slowly. Sometimes slow and quiet can lull one’s opponent into thinking he is safe, maybe he will get sloppy and make a mistake. In the mean time we keep digging.”
I sighed. I suspected that he also had an idea in which direction to look but I was betting if I asked him he would not tell me anything further.
“You should go home and rest, my dear, especially if you are to look your best at the gala.” He said with a smile.
I made a face.
“You do not wish to attend? It should be a fun evening, it usually is. The Nubian’s pride themselves on such festivities. You could use some fun.”
“I’d rather play with Krayt juveniles in the Dune Sea than go socializing with the likes of certain Grand Admirals that have been pestering me.” I said crossly. Thrawn gave me a look that said ‘explain, now!’
“Why is it that men of rank seem to think they can have anything they want at the snap of their fingers? I think he was shocked that I would turn down his invitation to be his escort for the evening. ”
Thrawn’s face hardened a little but before he could say anything I continued.
“I told him I already had a date, funny enough he assumed it was you. Guess, he will be a bit surprised when I show up with Shiv, who offered to play chaperone when he heard the story.”
“I do not doubt it.” Thrawn nodded thoughtfully. “Heed my words; do not provoke this man. While you have a great deal of protection from Lord Vader, if this GA chose to he could make life very difficult for you. My guess is he wants something from you and he can be very single minded until he obtains it.”
“What in the name of Sarlacc could he possibly want from me?”
Thrawn gave me a look.
It took me a few seconds. “You have got to be joking. He can have anyone he wants! There must be a dozen girls in the Court who would die to hang off his arm.”
“It is amazing how desirable something becomes when one is told that one cannot have it.” He said carefully.
I sighed and nodded. “You know, it’s not my intention to make enemies.” I said.
“Well, that just means you are interesting.” He said with a smile “Try to enjoy the gala, my dear. If there is one thing the Empire knows well, it is how to throw a party.”
“It’s a shame you will not be attending, I will be wearing a new dress.” I told him a little more coyly than I had meant to.
His smile turned feral. “Yes, that is a shame, but I am sure there will be other opportunities for me to see you in pretty dresses.”
I swallowed back a smart retort and nodded. “Well, then captain I will let you get back to bed. I am sure you have a busy day ahead of you saving the galaxy from evil doers.”
“No more so than usual.” He replied airily.
I went to sever the holo connection but he made a gesture with his hand and I stopped.
“I do have one question for you. What does Kaniwaturiki kinkin mean?” he asked.
It was my turn to smile. “You will have to learn Huttese to find that out, Captain.”
He raised his eyebrow, cocked his head slightly and purred. “Why, Miss Gabriel, I thought you didn’t enjoy these games.”
“You seem to bring out my sense of play.” I told him with a little grin. “Besides you started it.”
His smile made me shiver and my heart skipped a beat. “I look forward to our joint language lessons then. A foreign tongue can be an interesting thing to master.” He said with a perfectly straight face.
Okay, I was so out of my depth with him sometimes it was scary. I opened my mouth to say something but thought the better of it and shut it again.
His expression softened. “Go home and get some sleep. Do not worry about things you have no control over. This investigation is ongoing and when I know something concrete and useful I promise I will keep you informed. I trust, should you learn more, you will do the same.”
I nodded. “I shall, thank you. I’m sorry I woke you for nothing.”
“My dear, if it was of concern to you then it was not for nothing. I did not give you the ability to contact me in this manner so that it could be saved for a rainy day.” His expression softened slightly. “And, I can’t think of more pleasant wake up call than the sound of your voice.”
I blushed and was thankful that the blue glow nature of the holo transmitter would not show this. “Good night, Captain.” I said and severed the connection before I could get myself into more trouble. I stood in the quiet darkness of Lord Vader’s office. Thrawn was right and I was tired. I left for my house as quietly as I had come in, locking the door behind me.