Three straight days of practicing with Lord Vader had not helped my sleeping habits any. I still woke up at strange hours soaked in sweat in full fledged panic. I knew from experience that it was impossible for me to get back to sleep so I just got up and spent time in the sitting area of my quarters. I watched the stars through the large window in my quarters cradling a cup of tea in my hands. It was late, although that was a relative term while in space, time was artificial when there was no real day or night. Even though there were lots of people about and working on the ship this part I had been sequestered in was terminally quiet. Lord Vader had private chambers in this secure area and I felt his presence on and off but he never came to visit so I just about jumped out of my skin when the door chime sounded late one evening. The bland faced young man at my door said nothing. He simply handed me a package and then left, quickly. You could say what you liked about the Empire but the Imperial mail service was efficient. I sat back down and opened my mail. A letter from home, a card from Shiv, a letter from Jorae and the last two items made my hands tremble. I opened the slender one first. The small package was beautifully wrapped in a hand painted piece of iridescent silk and the handwriting on the envelope that held the precious letter was, as always, lovely.
Words cannot express the emotion I experienced when I heard that you had been found safe and sound. It seems strange to me that I should even have trouble writing this down to let you know how worried I was but such expression of feeling is, for even the most renegade of Chiss, difficult at best.
So I sit here on board the Vengeance sipping this Tatooine mint tea which some young lady has managed to addict me to trying to formulate sentences that do not sound like ridiculous florid prose from some besotted teenager. Suffice to say, my dear, I was deeply relieved to hear that you are well and safe again in the hands of the Empire under the watchful eye of Lord Vader.
When you did not join me on the balcony the night of the Winter Fete party I made good on my threat and came looking for you. I was not expecting the unpleasant surprise that awaited me in your flat, signs of a struggle, blood on the floor and you were nowhere to be seen. I am quite certain I missed you only by five minutes but it was enough for who ever had taken you, and I have my suspicions on this, to get you out of the palace. Knowing you and your indomitable spirit I can safely assume they drugged you with something to make you docile.
Who ever it was, entered and left through a secret passage that led directly to your bedroom. I am certain you had no idea of this and to be honest the only way I knew was that you left us a clue. Your necklace was caught in between the wood panels that led to this passage without this, chances are no one would have discovered it because it was remarkably well hidden and even harder to open. The Imperial Palace is very old in some parts and full of secrets as you have mentioned before. This was one I wish you had discovered earlier rather than later. It does, however, answer the question of how your mechanic friend managed to enter and escape unseen the last time he visited you.
I do not know what you have gone through in the weeks you were abducted and held prisoner but I dearly hope that it has not crushed your beautiful spirit. I am so sorry that I was not there in time to stop this from happening, and I deeply regret letting you out of my sight that night. I imagine that chaining you to your desk under the watchful eye of an Imperial storm trooper would probably not be the best solution although the thought had occurred to me. Lord Vader has informed me that you will remain on board the Executor for a couple of weeks until your security clearance has been reinstated by Intel and you have recovered your strength. I trust that their debriefing methods were not as brutal as usual and that you will not have to experience such a thing ever again. Knowing you as I do, I imagine the agents sent to deal with you got more than they bargained for. I have to tell you this thought makes me smile.
By the time you will be returned to Coruscant I should be able to arrange some leave. I do have business that I need to take care of which will require a visit to the Imperial City and I hope to be able to see you there at the same time. For the time being I remain as captain of the Vengeance under the command of the Emperor’s agent, Jerec. We are currently heading towards Ithor, there is something of interest to Lord Jerec in the asteroid field near by. Ithor is a place of some interest as its native peoples; the Ithorians have long taken an interest in conservation of their home world. They have built what they call Herd ships above the surface of the planet where they live their day to day lives. It is forbidden to enter the surface of the planet to all but a chosen few. One of the more peculiar aspects of Ithor would be the bafforr tree which is said to have telepathic abilities. I imagine for someone with force sensitivity this might be an intriguing thing to investigate. Certainly this helps to explain the strong bond between the Ithorians and their planet. I shall know more about our plans in a few hours and perhaps see if there is an opportunity to explore this world further. I will let you know if anything interesting comes up.
In the meantime, I hope that you are recovering quickly from your ordeal and that the people responsible for your abduction are caught swiftly and punished as Imperial Law dictates. I have taken the liberty of returning to you your necklace, its chain repaired. It is a small thing but I do hope it brightens your day.
I look forward to being with you in person again and seeing with my own eyes that you are alive and well. Do try to stay out of trouble until then.
I unwrapped the little box and struggled against the strange surge of emotion that welled up in my chest. There, nestled in more of the same silk, was the tiny ma’arilite pendant Thrawn had given me the night of the Winter Fete party. With shaky fingers I fastened it around my neck. I fought back the tears that had welled up in my eyes. I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to even think about crying because I was afraid that if I started I would not stop. This was hurt was raw and painful. I choked it back and tucked his letter back into its envelope. I got up and made myself some tea before sitting down to go through the rest of my correspondence. My father’s letter was short and full of worry.
I have tried to get in touch with you several times over the last two weeks only to be told that you are unavailable. I am not usually given to panic but something about the person’s manner led me to believe that all is not well with you. So when you can, drop me a line or get in touch via holo net.
I wanted to tell you that Jyrki recently contacted me asking if you were still working on Coruscant and how you were doing. He seemed very agitated but he denied that there was anything wrong. He said that I was not to worry about you and that you would be safe soon enough. I have no idea what he was talking about but something about his manner bothered me.
Anyway, honey, we are fine here. It is business as usual really, despite the strong Imperial presence here. No one seems to really care much actually, you know what Mos Eisley is like and that is not likely to change any time soon.
Everyone here sends their love and hopes that you are well. Please get in touch so your old man can stop worrying about you and get on with the business of running a docking bay.
I didn’t know how I was going to answer this letter. I set it aside and picked up the card from Shiv.
Word around the Palace is you have been found, no details though. What happened anyway? You get bored of your dashing Captain and run away to some distant planet with a secret admirer we don’t know about? You haven’t missed much in the last month or so. Life around here never changes that much, the courtesans still cause me no end of headaches, the themes for the up coming events have been sorted out and I can tell you this much, you will laugh because someone decided that one of the lesser events should have an ‘outer rim’ feel to it. Be prepared to give me lots of tips on what to do, you are after all my outer rim expert. Anyway, when you do get dumped back on the Coruscant let me know, we need to talk. You have a ton to tell me and you know you want to go out to lunch with me and spill the gossip!
Shiv loved being cryptic. I know he was dying to learn about the exact nature of my relationship with Captain Thrawn but how could I tell him that when even I did not know the answer. It had been the thoughts of Thrawn and his way with me that had helped to keep my hope up while I was a prisoner. I had worked for the Empire for a year now and I had known him for almost as long, but I could no more describe what I felt for him or how he fit into my life than I could count the stars in the sky. My hand went to the pendant at my throat and holding it steadied me a little. The last letter as from Jorae, true to form it was short and sweet.
I am hoping this gets delivered to you sooner rather than later. I hope that you are well now, (yes, I know some of what happened) I work now as a communications officer on board the Avenger and when we got the notification of your disappearance I nearly choked on my coffee. I was really glad to hear that you were found in one piece. You know how it goes, no secrets in the Empire.
We are part of the Death Squadron, you know, and maybe I might get to see you at some point. The rumour mill has it that you are being sequestered on board the Executor. I heard it was an impressive ship. You’ll have to tell me sometime, but at least now you know how to get in touch with me. I’ll probably be on board this ship for a while though I hope eventually to work onboard the Flag ship. You always seem to be one step ahead of where I want to be.
Anyway, back to work for me
I sat back and sipped my tea. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep. I hoped that Intel would give me my clearance back soon because I was going stir crazy. I picked up the second package which bore Thrawn’s hand writing and opened it. The little note was said;
Waiting can be a tedious thing even when one is not a prisoner. I thought you might enjoy this book. It was written almost two hundred years ago by a young soldier who found himself a prisoner of war. He was a captive for almost seventeen years and how he survived is extraordinary. After his eventual release he turned to poetry and became very well known for his works. I realise this may not seem the most appropriate of tales for you at this time, but read it. I think you will find it most enlightening in many ways.
I unwrapped the book and marvelled at its beauty. Books made from paper were rare and this one was beautiful. I wondered where in the Galaxy he found these treasures. It had a slightly musty scent to it and I was a little scared to open it in case it fell apart. I knew when I read the title that Thrawn had been, once again, right. This was a book I had to read. The Dark Stripped Bare. Carefully, I opened it, nosey, in spite of myself. After the first page I knew that this book would be painful to get through. I set it back on the table and gathered my knees to my chest and hugged them close. I had wanted to get back to work, get back to a normal life but I honestly wondered if that was even possible. I knew a strange sense of fear now that I had never known before and I didn’t like it. There had been moments in that small room on Mattri where I had thought about death. There had been moments where I had even wished for it. In the darkest of these moments I had longed for that release because I had given up on hope. To look back on it now in the relative comfort and safety of the Star Destroyer I was on, it was now embarrassing, shameful. I wondered if I could have handled it any better, done things any differently.
I picked up the book again and looked at the first page. As I re read the poem that started off this book I wondered how it was that Thrawn always seemed to know exactly what it was I needed. I stroked the words with my fingertips.
In the darkness I do not exist
Light is a weapon.
Filth is the cloth which covers me
I wrap my misery in it
And know shame.
My soul vanishing, is the wind
Pain is a caress
A lost memory saves me
In the dark stripped bare
I find hope.
I sat quietly and alone but I was not lonely. I only had to look at the table, at the letters and well wishes from the people in my life who had missed me, who cared for me. I knew that although he had surrounded himself with people, Jyrki was desperately lonely and for the first time since my return I felt sorry for him. I curled up on the little couch and pulled the blanket that was there over my shoulders. I had the book clutched in one hand and my other hand held onto my necklace. As I drifted off to sleep it occurred to me that despite everything which had happened, how lucky I really was.