I dreamt of walking in the desert, the Dune Sea. I followed the footsteps of the man with the long hair and the poncho. He was always one step ahead of me but I needed to talk to him so I kept on going.
“Help me!” I cried out to him after what seemed an eternity. “Please.”
He stopped and turned to face me. He was very tall and his eyes were as blue as the clear Tatooine sky. His long hair danced around his face with the wind. It was the first time I had gotten to see his face clearly. He was covered in a sorrow which he wore like the poncho. I reached out to touch his face but he brushed my hand away with a slow, languid motion.
“You are not the Skywalker child, you are not Anakin.” He said quietly. “You are not the chosen one.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“Yes, you do.” He answered simply. “Do not follow in his footsteps, do not stumble and fall.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
“You see past the lies into the truth. Do not follow the darkness, follow the light.” He said.
“You are not making any sense!”
He looked at me the way my father sometimes had when I was small and was struggling to learn some lesson or another. He reached out and touched my face gently. “One day you will understand. Remember all you have been taught, it will serve you well. Remember, do no harm.”
“Who are you?” I was crying now, soundlessly. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I didn’t wipe them away.
“A shadow of the past, a fragment of the future.” He said and he started to fade from sight. “You are stronger than you think. Be ready for your moment.” He whispered and disappeared.
I woke clear headed and for the first time in a long time with hope. I could still feel the touch of the strange man’s hand on my face. I got up and washed my body and my hair, brushed my teeth and with the comb that Valdia had found for me managed to scrape my hair back into a more or less tidy braid. Once I had finished that I could feel anticipation begin to turn to nervousness and that was not good. Waiting for an event was the most difficult time. Fear is a weapon your enemy will use to still your action …Master Kjestyll’s words echoed in my head. Become the stillness… so I did the only thing I knew how to quell the beast within, I meditated.
I knelt in the classic pose and I allowed my breathing to slow down. I let my mind drift as it always did at the beginning of the process but then the focus came. The Mandalore journal my father had given me had spoken of this energy, this force. It was all around us, it had said, binding each and every living thing together. As I sat in the quiet of that small dark room I could feel this energy gather within me. I could feel it in my own center and it was powerful and peaceful at the same time. I don’t know how long I stayed like that. When I got it right, when the meditation worked, time became meaningless.
I sensed her coming long before she got to the door so that by the time she walked in I was sitting on the cot, as usual. I hoped that she would not notice that something was different. I smiled at her as I always did, and watched her set the tray down on the chair.
“Morning.” She said. She sounded tired.
“Is everything alright?” I asked getting up from the cot and going to the sink to wash my hands. “You sound as if something is wrong.”
She sighed and then as she had done so often before she sat down on the floor. “No it’s nothing really. I just worry about my brother.” She had brought her cup of tea with her and she took a sip from it. “I don’t sleep well when he, when everyone is out on a mission.” She said.
“I can understand that, you must be exhausted then.” I told her as I dried my hands.
She nodded. “It has been a really rough few weeks.” She said and I bit back the angry retort that wanted to spring out of my mouth. Instead I sat across from her and put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Through that simple act of touch I knew that she was at ease with me and that she felt very alone.
“You are a kind person.” She said patting my hand. I sighed. I thought about apologising to her for what was about to happen but didn’t. Instead I withdrew my hand from her shoulder and picked up the cup of tea she had laid in front of me, took a sip and set the cup down. I drew a slow deep steadying breath and focused my energy.
She never saw it coming. The heel of my fist connected with her jaw in a swift sharp crack and sent her reeling backwards. For a split second I thought it hadn’t worked but when her eyes rolled back into her head and she crumpled into a little pile on the floor I felt relief flood through me. I checked her pulse. She was still alive. I struggled to get her up onto the cot. I took the strips of silk I had readied the night before I bound her hands and feet then gagged her. I searched through her pockets and took her ID badge, her weapon and anything that she could use to free herself when she woke. I turned her to face the wall and then I covered her with the blanket. Anyone just looking in would think it was me sleeping.
The ID badge opened the door via a tiny sensor and I slipped out of the room. That was the easy part, now the tricky bit began.
Look as though you belong. Master Kjestyll had told me on one of the exercises I had undergone at the Center. When in doubt act with authority, less people will question you if you look like you not only belong but are in charge than if you slink around trying to hide.
I gathered myself and projected confidence as I walked down the empty corridors. Valdia had not been kidding when she had said they were running on a skeleton crew. The compound was deserted.
Use all of your senses to find your direction. Listen to sounds for clues, smell the air for people, for fuel for food, look for use and disuse.
I listened and heard laughter and voices coming from the direction I was heading, I could also smell food. I figured that the mess hall lay ahead so I slipped into a side corridor. While I didn’t think that many people were actually aware of who I was in this place I was not about to tempt fate either. I took a second to slow my heart rate and steady my breathing. As I did so I touched the force and tried to get a feel of where I was. It was faint but in the air I caught a whiff of a familiar scent and smiled.
The complex was not that large and the layout followed basic base design. The hanger bay was at the center. I stayed close to the wall, in the shadows. The hanger was not in use with so many of the fighters gone so the lights were dimmer than usual. It was standard procedure to save energy. The lack of light was my friend. I made my way over to a place that hid me from plain sight but allowed me the ability to survey the hanger in total. There were three ships. One X-wing and two freighter transports, YV-666’s. I sighed with relief because this was a ship type I could fly; the X-wing would have presented no end of problems.
I waited and watched but nothing moved in the hanger. I guessed that with most of the fighters out the ground crews were eating breakfast or lunch or what ever and relaxing. Down time was precious so they would enjoy it while they had it. Slowly but with purpose I made my way to the nearest transport hoping against hope that Jyrki had not done some serious jury rigging to secure the ships. I hit the door open button and for a few precious seconds my heart was in my throat then much to my relief the door opened. I walked up the ramp like I belonged there, closing the door behind me.
It took a few seconds, sitting quietly to see if I had attracted any unwanted attention but no one came after me. I had guessed that from the sounds I had heard in the hallway, and the time of day it was according to the ship’s chrono, it was lunch time for most of the staff here and they were not expecting a prison break, because they were unaware that there even was a prisoner. I made my way to the cockpit and began the pre-flight warm up. I did not turn on any internal lights, darkness was good cover and the consol had light enough to see by. Valdia had been right and the codes to allow the ships through the force field were hard wired into the ship and with no interruption and no one stopping me, I piloted the ship out of the hanger and into space. My heart raced and I was almost certain I would be caught and shot out of the sky or worse taken back to the prison I had been held in. but nothing happened. It was so anti climactic I was almost disappointed. I remembered Master Kjestyll saying that escaping was not like a holo story, full of flash and fire; the very best escapes were quiet and went unnoticed. Escape was about the lack of attention rather than attracting it.
I took a moment to get my bearings and took note of where the base was. The Mattri asteroid belt was in the Churba sector in the Mid Rim. I began to programme the nav computer to make a series of small hyperspace jumps to get me as far away as possible from both this place and the Sullust system because I didn’t want to run into Jyrki and his crew. I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until the stars spun and I slipped into hyperspace. Once in hyperspace I explored the small ship, checked out the status of the engine, went over the ship’s ID and got familiar with her controls.
She was a long ship almost twenty three meters in length, bulky in the ass end with a small cockpit. There ware a small crew area with a little galley, sleeping berths and a small head but the majority of the spare room in this ship was cargo hold and engines. There wasn’t much onboard her in the way of personal effects which made sense to me. She was a general use ship and I supposed that most of the rebels who could pilot would have flown her at one time or another, bringing what they needed with them rather than leaving their stuff on board. The galley was equipped with the basic supplies and long lasting emergency rations. I boiled water and made tea, something fruity and sweet smelling. I didn’t care because it was hot and I had made it in freedom.
I made my way back up to the ship’s cock pit and took my place in the pilot’s seat. As I cradled the cup in my hands I started thinking about where the best place to find Imperial help. I had toyed with the idea of heading to Tatooine, going home to my father but I decided against this because I did not want to worry my father. I also did not want to give Jyrki a reason to go after my family. I wanted to get back to some sort of normalcy. I wanted to get back to work. I wanted my life back. I wanted to feel safe but I wondered given the circumstances if that was possible ever again.
I knew there was an Imperial Outpost in Bestine but Tatooine was far away from the center of things and I had no idea how the Imperials there would react to me suddenly showing up in a rebel ship, looking like death warmed over proclaiming to be Lord Vader’s Personal assistant. I sat and studied the star charts while the ship travelled through hyperspace. I had no idea where Darth Vader was and there was no way to contact him personally from this ship as it had no holo transmitter and the comm system was not that powerful. I could have headed to Coruscant but a gut feeling more than anything else told me that might not be the very best idea. Restless, I went back to the galley and made another cup of tea and sat thinking about this for a long time.
As the ship dropped out of the first hyperspace jump and geared up for the second I decided to head out to the Carida system because I knew there was a permanent Imperial presence there, the training academy was placed on that planet and that meant a permanent naval presence in the system. I set new co-ordinates into the nav computer and then sat back because until I reached the system there was nothing else for me to do but wait for time to pass. Oddly enough it was among the longest five hours in my life. And even though I was physically exhausted, I could not sleep.
I came out of hyperspace close to Andra a planet in the same system and slowed the sublight engines to minimal. I figured the best way to get attention was to shout so I set a distress call on the only Imperial channel I knew off the top of my head. I didn’t have to wait long. The comm came to life as the ISD Malignant hailed me.
I answered their request for information by giving my personal Imperial ID number and the clearance code that I would use when travelling on official Imperial business. There was a palpable silence on the other end of the comm for what seemed to me to last forever. Then I was told to stand down engines and allow for a tractor beam to latch on and draw the freighter into the docking hanger. I did exactly as I was asked to do and waited while the process completed. I shut the ship down completely and went to the hatchway. As the doorway opened I took a deep breath. Facing me was a group of trigger ready storm troopers and two fairly nervous deck officers. I walked down the ramp with my hands in front of to show I was unarmed and I stood very still at the foot of the ramp while one of the deck officers patted me down. The air was charged with anxiety and apprehension. It wasn’t until the man in the captain’s uniform joined the group and waved at the troopers to drop lower their weapons.
“Miss Merlyn Gabriel?” he asked. I nodded.
“Welcome back to the Empire. I am captain Broggi of the Imperial Star Destroyer Malignant. If you will follow me.” He said and without further ado he turned heel and began to walk away from me. I took a deep breath and followed him. I tried to ignore the two storm troopers that followed me.
“Captain…” I began but he stopped, turned around and cut me off before I could say anything else.
“Miss Gabriel, I must respectfully request that you remain silent until I can escort you to a secure area where, after your debriefing, I will be happy to answer your questions as best I can.” And he turned away from me once more walking very fast. I had to trot to keep up.
The small office room was plain but non threatening. The debriefing was swift. I gave them a quick run down of what had happened to me. I told the captain and the two officers who were with him everything that I knew about the base I had escaped from. Told them that the ship’s nav computer had the co ordinates for the asteroid base and I told them about the hit and run mission I had learned of in the Sullust system. They were not so concerned with the details of my captivity but took interest at the information on the Rebel base. I had asked the captain how he had known my name.
“The fleet has been on alert for your possible return ever since you were reported missing. It would appear that you are more important than the rebellion realises.” The captain said snidely, “other wise they would not have let you slip through their fingers so easily.”
I was genuinely surprised. “You were looking for me?”
“We were not given orders to carry out an active search but we were told to be aware of your Ident codes should you manage to escape.” The captain said. “The fleet was aware of your existence and abduction.”
“Lord Vader ordered this?”
“The word is the actual command came from the Emperor himself.” He said in a voice that betrayed his fear and awe of the man he spoke of.
“The Emperor?” I whispered but instead of fear I felt a sudden flash of anger.
The captain nodded. “Yes, Miss Gabriel. Now please, I cannot say more than this. I am to escort you to suitable quarters and see that you are treated as our guest.” He escorted me without further word to my new home for the next while and I was very aware that the two storm troopers stationed themselves on either side of the door after the captain had ushered me through it.
“Miss Gabriel, Lord Vader has been made aware of your return and we will rendezvous with the Executor in two days. Due to the circumstances surrounding your recent experience I must respectfully request that you remain confined to these quarters until your transfer to the Executor. This is standard Imperial protocol when dealing with this sort of situation. You must be sequestered until you can be properly debriefed by Intel. Lord Vader has requested that take place on board the Executor under his supervision.” The captain could not hide the shudder of fear when he said those words.
I sighed. I suddenly it dawned on me that I was now an unknown, not to be trusted, tainted by the enemy. “I understand.” How could the captain of this fine ship know that I would rather face Lord Vader any day than go up against Jyrki again.
He nodded and visibly relaxed. “Is there anything you need? I have been ordered to make certain that you treated well and are comfortable.”
“I need clean clothes, some decent food, and the ability to make tea when I want it. A long hot shower and I should probably get checked out by the ship’s doctor.” I told him bluntly, no point in messing around.
“Of course, I’ll have the quartermaster send up supplies and clothing for you.” He said. He pointed out the small kitchenette and the menu plan. “You can fill that out and meals will be delivered to you, someone will be by later to pick it up. The troopers stationed outside the door can escort you to sick bay when you are ready.
“Thank you, captain Broggi.” I said. There was nothing else to say. Lord Vader knew where I was and I took comfort in that. I was safe now and I was weary. Captain Broggi had done his job. He gave me a curt nod and left me alone to sort myself out.
Compared to the tiny room I had been kept in by Jyrki the ISD’s guest quarters were palatial. I had forgotten how huge a star destroyer was. I was deep in thought staring out the large window when the door opened. One of the troopers laid a large pile of clothes, towels and toiletry supplies on the nearest chair. I thanked him but if he heard he made no acknowledgement. I laughed out loud. It would seem that for the time being I had swapped one kind of prison for another, one kind of silence for another. With nothing else to do, I took the towels, the toiletries and went into the fresher to shower. I stood under the hot water for a very, very, very long time. It was as if I scrubbed my skin hard enough, washed my hair roughly enough, let the water pound on me for long enough I could erase the last few weeks of my life away. It didn’t work but when I finally emerged from the fresher I did feel a whole lot better. I dressed in the clothes provided; they were men’s PE clothes and far too large but I didn’t care as they were clean and comfortable. I stood and watched the stars from the window. It was difficult to grasp that I was safe. It felt utterly surreal to me and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I turned away from the view port and turned my attention to the menu planner I was supposed to fill out. I was done by the time someone came to pick it up but if he had asked me to tell him what I had chosen I couldn’t have. With a sigh I decided that before I got too settled I should probably pay the ship’s doctor a visit. Goodness knows what the drugs that had been pumped into my system had done to me. The doctor had been expecting me and I was taken to a secluded exam room. He was gruff and the examination was thorough.
“We’ll know if there is any lasting damage when the test results come back.” He told me. He had been horrified when I had told him about what Jyrki had done to me and named the drugs that I knew had been used. “You need to eat, drink lots of fluids and rest.” He told me when he was done. “You need to recover from everything that was done to you, both physically and mentally.” He had sighed. “I won’t lie to you, Miss Gabriel, it will not be easy.”
I had nodded but I had no idea how I would deal with everything that had happened. It had not really sunk in yet.
“It’s like a very bad dream.” I said.
The Doctor had nodded but had not said anything else except to reiterate that I needed to eat, drink lots of fluids and rest.
I had two days to do that and only that. I was grateful to be back in the quiet of the quarters assigned to me. I had grown used to solitude and the short trip to the med bay had exhausted me. I wondered if it was normal to feel so numb and then decided I was too tired to really care. I made myself a cup of tea and sat on the closest comfy chair. There were datapad books to read and an entertainment holo with a varied selection of things to watch, including the latest news net feed but I could not concentrate on any one thing.
How was it that so much time had passed and yet I felt as though it had all happened in the wink of an eye? I had been gone just over a month but somehow I could not grasp this fully and it felt as though it were only yesterday I had been dancing with Thrawn on the last day of Fete week. I had to struggle to try and place everything that had happened in some sort of chronological order. My ordeal was a blur of fractured images and strangely disassociated memories, as though it had happened to someone else and not me. In hindsight, escape had seemed too simple, too uneventful somehow. I felt hollow inside, gutted. When my meal came I ate slowly but without tasting it. Not long after that I went to bed. Exhaustion, it seemed, was merciful and for the first time in a long time without I slept without dream or interruption.