Lord Vader just stood and stared at me until the door to my quarters closed. I knew from past experience that everyone on the other side of the door was most likely breathing a very large sigh of relief. I was glad in a strange sort of way to see him but he wasn’t the public display of affection sort of man so I refrained from hugging him. Instead I stayed where I was and just watched him pace the room. His cloak swept out dramatically behind him and I got the distinct sense that he was not unhappy to see me.
“This ship’s physician informs me that you were not permanently damaged.” He said coming to stand in front of me. “You should be able to go through the debriefing procedure without too many complications.”
I just stared at him. I had forgotten how tall, how over bearing he was. How eerie the sound of his mechanical breathing was. How unnerving his presence could be. His power writhed about him giving me goose bumps. I had forgotten how frightening he could be even when he wasn’t even trying.
“It is nice to see you again as well. When can I get back to work?” I asked.
“Once Intel has cleared you.” He said and moved away from me to stand at the window.
“What does that mean, exactly?”
He turned his head to regard me for a moment then went back to looking out of the window. “Intel must be satisfied that you are not working for the Rebellion in some manner, that you are not a security risk. That you have not been turned.”
“I told them nothing!” I said hotly. “I managed to escape, no thanks to anyone and came directly here! I’m certainly not about to help people who think kidnapping is a good thing to do! What do you think I am, an idiot?”
For such a large man he moved with an exquisite grace and speed. He had my face between his gloved hands before I could even move. I could feel him brush my mind with his and I shuddered in his grip.
“Show me.” He said. It was not a request I could refuse. I took a deep breath and tried to relax as much as I could, given the circumstances, opened my mind to him and allowed him to touch my thoughts. I showed him the jumble of images I held locked up tightly in my head, shared with him the ordeal in as much as I could remember it. It was an eternity until he released his grip on me. “The Emperor was correct in his appraisal of your inner strength.” He said as he let go of my face.
“The Emperor…?” I felt anger flare from deep within my gut. I was starting to learn to hate that vile old man and his strange ways. “He knew this would happen to me, didn’t he.” I said with gritted teeth. With my arms folded across my chest and my chin raised to look Lord Vader in the face. I knew I was being defiant and that was not overly smart but I didn’t care. I was angrier now than I could ever remember. It burned in my belly with a dark, gnawing heat. I was not backing down but Lord Vader wasn’t taking the bait either, he simply turned away from me to stare out into space once more.
He was silent for a long time, long enough that I didn’t think he would answer me. When he did speak it was with careful deliberation. “My Master sees many things, knows much. If he had foreseen this event, he had his reasons for saying nothing.”
“I‘ll take that as a yes, then.” I retorted reading between the lines.
“I see that captivity has not softened your sharp tongue any or given better manners.”
I bit back the retort that was on the tip of my tongue and smiled. This was familiar territory and I welcomed his sarcasm. Perhaps he had not missed me but he had missed these conversations with someone who did not cower at his every word.
“Did you know?” I asked after a long silence.
“No.” he answered and it was not a lie. He was suddenly very angry. I felt it flow around him and he welcomed the sensation. I understood this, anger was easy to use. He turned to look at me and then with a single hand motion I knew we were leaving the ISD Malignant. We headed to the hanger bay, to his shuttle where we would fly over to the Executor. It seemed a strange scene to me, him striding like some great black giant out of the nightmarish fairy tales I had been told as a child and me running to keep up with him so as not to get lost. I got the distinct impression from his moody silence that what ever awaited me on the Executor was not going to be pleasant.
He had flown the shuttle himself, which was unusual. I sat in the co pilot’s chair and was utterly awestruck at the size of the ship we were heading for.
“This is your new flag ship? This is the Executor?” I asked in a hushed whisper. I had heard the new flag ship was impressive, but words had not done this vessel justice at all.
I sensed his pleasure but was not certain if it was from my question or because of the ship or both.
“Yes.” He said as we drew closer to the largest space ship I had ever seen in my entire life. “Magnificent is she not?”
I nodded. “Magnificent doesn’t even come close to describing her, holy sarlacc she’s huge.” It was so easy to talk to him about ships and machines. It was the one subject he never shied away from and it was easy to forget for a short time who or perhaps what exactly he was.
He chuckled, a sound I didn’t think I would ever get used to. “She is twelve times the length of an ISD. Close to nineteen thousand meters in length. She has a crew and compliment of just under three hundred thousand men, give or take, and over five thousand turbo lasers and ion cannons.”
I whistled slowly. “What about the engines?”
He glanced at me and nodded. “You will appreciate this; she has a class two hyperdrive, thirteen engines in five thruster banks with a mass acceleration rate of twelve hundred and thirty Gs.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of kick.” I said then laughed at the image that suddenly popped into my head. “Bet she steers like a fat, drunken bantha, though.”
He nodded. “She’s no pod racer but she is a beauty and she has a lot of power. There is no other quite like her in the galaxy.” There was a wistfulness in his voice that sometimes came when we spoke like this. I wondered, not for the first time, what he had been like before the mask. In some ways I was sad I would never know that part of him. He had a lot to teach me and I was grateful for the small mounts of time I got to spend with him. Whispers said he was brilliant with machines. That he had almost a magical way with them and was one of the best pilots in the entire Imperial Navy, so quiet times like this were rare and I treasured them. Moments like these hinted at the man behind the mask rather than what the mask represented. I admired the grace and elegance with which he set the shuttle down in the hanger bay. A perfect landing. He was aware of my scrutiny and I felt the pleasure he took from my admiration of his skill. He was extraordinarily good at what he did and he knew it.
“The interrogation you will undergo will be unpleasant.” He said with uncharacteristic openness. “The Intel agent will wish to use standard procedures. You will be strong and not embarrass me.” He added.
“Define unpleasant.” I said as we slipped out of the cockpit.
“It will entail the use of an interrogation droid with certain chemical substances which will make you more pliable and open to questioning.” He said. “This chemical process is known to be painful.”
“Great, more drugs.” I said crossly. “You know, so far, I have not reacted very well to this sort of thing, it usually ends up with me throwing up all over the place, so you might want to stand back when they do this, vomit doesn’t usually go well with black.” Then I added uncertainly. “You will be there as well, won’t you?”
“Yes.” He said. “Intel has a habit of being overly enthusiastic about their work, I wish to supervise. You are of little use to either myself or the Emperor damaged or dead.”
I nodded and accepted that this was his way of reassuring me even though it wasn’t very reassuring.
He continued. “I know you remained loyal to the Empire but Intel will not be fully satisfied until they have come to this conclusion on their own. Since they have no faith in the Force they must achieve this by mechanical and chemical means.” He added. “The experience will be….”
“I know, unpleasant. I understand.” I said. “I won’t let you down.”
We walked down the ramp into the hanger. “See that you don’t.” he said waving an accusing finger at me. He stalked off with me trotting behind him to keep up. There was no more conversation. The interrogation room was small, smelled like a cross between some medical antiseptic and toilet cleaning fluid and was very claustrophobic. Lord Vader’s large physical presence did not help ease this sensation. There was an intimidating looking chair in the center of the room. It looked like a dentist’s chair but there were restraints on the arm rests and for the feet. It was not very comforting.
I tried very hard to calm my nervousness but wasn’t overly successful. I was grateful when the two Intel agents and their interrogation equipment showed up. The sooner this was over with the sooner I could get back to a normal life. There was a sense of heaviness in the air, oppressing and stifling. The two agents were very nondescript men of average weight and height. While one set up the equipment they were going to use the other addressed me directly.
“Good afternoon, Miss Gabriel. My name is Agent Dahn and I will be conducting this hearing today. I understand these proceedings are, perhaps, frightening to some but I assure you we shall do our best to make them as painless and as swift as possible. The Empire values its loyal citizens and prolonging an unpleasant procedure is not in our best interests.” He motioned for me to sit in the chair. I did so without saying a word. I would have remained silent but he went to restrain my feet and arms and I protested.
“You don’t need to do that.” I said. The idea of being tied down was even worse than anything else I could imagine.
“I am afraid it is standard procedure, some people find it difficult to remain still during these procedures. He said in the same flat tone.
“No, you really do not need to do that.” I said a little more firmly. The first sparks of anger growing in my gut.
There was subtle movement from Lord Vader and the Intel agent backed off. I was grateful for that tiny victory. Agent Dahn gave Lord Vader a curt nod and then began to explain what it was they were going to do.
He gestured for me to roll up my sleeve. “The drug we use will allow the interrogation droid to follow your brain wave patterns. This enables us to discern whether or not you are telling the truth. Some people find the initial effects to be painful, I apologise if this is the case however, these effects are short term. Once you are ready, I will ask you questions regarding your experience with regards to your abduction and consequent imprisonment and I want you to answer truthfully. We are looking to determine if you have been somehow influenced by these rebels and are now under their influence. The more truthful you are the swifter we will be done and can evaluate your status with regards to your job. The less you fight against the procedure the less damage will occur to your brain. Do you understand what I have said?” His voice never lost the flat monotone and his eyes, which were a pale silvery grey colour showed absolutely no emotion.
“Yes. I understand.” I said. I did not look at Lord Vader but I reached out with the force and was calmed by his solid presence there.
“Very well, then. Let’s begin.” Agent Dahn said with a nod to his silent partner. The other agent, who remained nameless, fiddled with a switch on the small round droid that hovered in the air. The little droid was a nasty looking piece of work and the syringe that was attached to its arm didn’t give me any comfort. It hummed as it moved closer and I drew a deep steadying breath as it targeted my arm and pierced the skin. I felt the drug it injected into my body burn. It was as if billions of tiny fire spiders had infiltrated the underside of my skin and were slowly searing their way to my head. I reeled when the substance hit my brain. The pain was as exquisite as it was acute. The agony was so severe for a moment I wasn’t sure I wanted to live. It felt for all the world as though thousands of tiny red hot needles had been plunged into my head and I gritted my teeth so hard that I was certain I would break my jaw. I would not give them the satisfaction of screaming in pain but I could not help the groan that escaped. I gripped the arms of the chair, digging my ragged nails into the soft covering. I concentrated on my breathing in and out. Pain is just a moment, let it move through you and around you and beyond you, master Kjestyll had said one day while I was nursing some hurt or another, easy for him to say not so easy to do, though. The agents knew their work well and they knew the moment the pain had subsided and the drug had set to work, opening up my mind to the droid’s sensors.
“Miss Gabriel, can you hear me?” Agent Dahn asked.
“Yes.” I told him but I was having trouble focusing on him.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
I blinked and concentrated on the hand he had in front of my face. “Four.” I told him.
He nodded. “Right then, let us begin.” He consulted a data pad and began to ask me questions. The substance they had pumped me full of gave me a remarkable clarity once the pain had passed. I felt that the whole world was suddenly awash with a light I had never noticed before. I tried to keep my eyes on Agent Dahn but he moved about as he spoke and that was making me dizzy so instead I turned my attention to Lord Vader who was standing behind the two Intel agents, near the wall. He was statue still but I sensed him watching the proceedings with great interest. He did not acknowledge my gaze but he brushed my conscience with a steadying touch. I felt ready to answer what ever it was the Intel agents had to throw at me, I had nothing to hide. Their questions never seemed to end though. It was a circular discussion and I wondered why they kept asking the same thing over and over just with different words. What did I know about my captors? Had I given any information pertaining to my job and the Empire? What sort of interrogation methods had been used? What my relationship with Jyrki had been? How had I managed to escape? The questions came one after the other until they started to repeat, blending one into the other. I started to get fed up with it all and lose my patience.
“Look I told you the answer to that already.” I said leaning forward in the chair. “Yes, I knew him personally. He worked for my father when I was a child. Lots of people worked at the docking bay but I don’t see them trying to kidnap me! Jyrki had an agenda but I don’t know what it was. He wasn’t very forthcoming about his exact reasons for what he did. I think it was mostly personal.”
“Why do you believe that?”
“Because there is no other reason that makes sense.” I said. “He feels strongly that the Empire is evil, he wanted to rescue me from it. His asking for codes and fleet positions was just an excuse to justify getting me away from the thing he sees as his enemy.” I shook my head.
“So there was nothing that led you to believe that Mr. Andando harboured you any ill will?”
“No.” it was the truth. I had not seen it coming. I did not see the point in mentioning anything about the incident on Rothana, and since Agent Dahn did not ask about that I suspected they didn’t know.
Agent Dahn nodded, looked at the readouts on his data pad from the interrogation droid and continued. I was getting tired and my head was beginning to pound. We had been at this for hours.
“Is there anyone you work with at the Imperial Palace whom you would suspect of being a double agent?”
“No.” I said. “But then again I don’t know that many people there and most people don’t really seem to want to know me all that well.”
“What about Captain Thrawn?” I looked at agent Dahn in surprise. That was a new question out of the blue.
“What about him?” I asked carefully.
“Do you suspect him capable of being an agent for the rebellion?”
I laughed. I laughed so hard tears rolled out of my eyes and down my cheeks. It was laughter that bordered on hysteria. He waited until I had stopped and then asked the question again.
“No.” I answered matching his flat, calm tone.
“What is your relationship to him?”
I looked at Lord Vader who remained stone still, then answered remembering to keep it truthful. “I have no idea.” I said.
“What is his relationship to you?”
“That is the same question.” I said.
“Just answer it.”
“This has nothing to do with my kidnapping!”
“He was with you the night it happened. He was the one who alerted the authorities just moments after your disappearance. We are merely looking for connections and answers.”
I was beginning to hate this man and his flat, monotone questions. “Sometimes he requests my presence as an escort for an official Imperial function. The night I was kidnapped, I had been his escort to the Fete Week finale festivities. I assume, before you ask, this is because that most people in the Imperial court will not stoop to taking the arm of a non human in a court that favours humans above anyone else. I don’t have an issue with the colour of his skin or his eyes.”
“So you do not believe there is any connection between your abduction and Captain Thrawn?” Dahn said coolly.
I sighed and touched the anger that how now gone from tiny sparks to a deep burn. It was powerful and I could use it. I could feel the strength it lent me and if I tapped into it I could hurt these two men and their little mechanical toys. I knew that I was being pushed but I didn’t care. I could feel Lord Vader watch me and I could sense his surprise at my rising fury. He simply shook his head. He touched my thoughts with his and the anger slowly dissipated. From that brief contact I knew that he, too, was interested in my answer and me letting lose force powers in blind fury would not help me get back to work any sooner. I could see the room with astonishing clarity. I could see the two agents in front of me as though they were made of transparent glass and I knew what they were thinking. One was bored, wishing this was over so he could get back to the book he had been reading and the other was now hoping to bait me. He had found a button and he was pushing it. I wondered how he would feel if I turned around and pushed at him the same way I had done so long ago with the Rodian spy Lord Vader had been interrogating. It was a very tempting thought.
I got up out of the chair, pushing the small interrogation droid aside. “You really want to know what I think?” I asked as Dahn started to protest and the second agent with no name suddenly became a lot less bored. “I think that you have a lot of nerve to question the integrity of a loyal Imperial Naval officer.” I stood directly in front of Dahn, he was a good foot taller than me but I didn’t care because I was now so very angry. “Asking this question is like asking me the colour of the rebellion’s toilet seats. It is an utter waste of time and does nothing to further the cause at hand, namely catching the bastards who decided to break into the Imperial palace and remove me in order to obtain information to help them. I am happy to say that I did not provide them with any useful information and you have already discovered this during the course of your interrogation so to continue this line of questioning is a pointless waste of Imperial time. If you want to know about Captain Thrawn’s loyalty to the Empire, I suggest you ask him yourself!” I was about to poke him in the chest but Lord Vader intervened.
“I think you have the answers you were looking for Agent Dahn, do you not?” he asked it, but it was not a question.
Agent Dahn and his silent partner did their very best not to show the fear they felt but I could smell it. It was as if the drug they used not only opened my mind to their infernal interrogation droid but it also heightened my own abilities and senses. Their fear smelled rank.
Vader waited for a nod from both men. “Then I can assume this interrogation is finished and you are satisfied with the answers you got?”
Dahn nodded. “Yes, Lord Vader.”
“And Miss Gabriel is free to go?”
“Yes, Lord Vader.”
I was about to add to this conversation but his powerful hand bruised my arm painfully with its grip and I was dragged unceremoniously from the room. He did not let go of me until we were well away from the agents, that room and their nasty little droid. He walked swiftly and I did my best to keep up. It was a large ship and a bit of a maze. The turbo lifts were fast and surprisingly silent. The area he eventually stopped in was very quiet.
“This are of the ship is off limits to all but a select few with the appropriate clearance. You will stay here for the duration of your stay on board. Your quarters have been made ready and you will find everything you need has been provided.”
“So I am a prisoner again?” I asked crossly.
“You are free to wander around this area only. This is for your protection. This is a secure part of the ship and it limits the opportunities for you to get into mischief.”
My mouth opened to say something against this but he shut me up by continuing.
“As soon as those Intel agents clear your access you can go back to work. Everything you need for the time being is here. I will decide when you may return to Coruscant.”
I went to protest but he held up his hand. “Not a word.”
“You simply cannot resist can you?” he growled.
He held up a finger and I felt warning ripples in the force. I opened my mouth then shut it again. It just wasn’t a good thing to argue with the Dark Lord. There was no winning and losing had a tendency to be permanent. He handed me a code card and pointed to the door to my new and latest home. I opened the door and was surprised at the size and comfort of the suit I had been given. It was as large as my flat on Coruscant, a home away from home.
“When there is time I will train with you, you look as though you have lost some of your conditioning. A little reminder to stay fit would not be amiss.” He said, “In the mean time I suggest you meditate and take time to recover your strength.” I watched as he turned to leave.
With a sigh I entered my new quarters. The first thing I looked for was the small kitchenette or galley. I desperately wanted a cup of tea. My head was starting to hurt and my stomach lurched. I suspected that the side effects of what ever mind bending drugs the agents had used were beginning to kick in. For the first time since Jyrki and his friends had taken me away from Coruscant I felt I was more or less free. It was all suddenly a lot to think about.