Time passed, days became weeks and weeks become months. I buried myself in my work and my training. It kept me from thinking too much. Master Kjestyll had returned and resumed his teaching with me. He had known what had happened and over time he drew the whole story out of me, piece by piece. Although the process of healing had begun with Thrawn and Navaari on Hjal, it was my Master’s quiet attention and gentle words that helped me to face my own fears and slowly find myself again. I looked forward to my lessons with this gracious, subtle man. These times were among the few when I knew a sort of peace and calm that in my day to day life had become elusive.
I felt as though my life had been put on hold, as though I were waiting for something big to happen, almost as if I were on the cusp of some great indefinable turning point or adventure. The sensation nagged at me but like a flicker of motion one sees from the corner of one’s eye, it was always out of reach. Even my dreams remained cryptic and fragmented. While the dreadful nightmares slowly subsided and left me some measure of peace my normal dreams were addled, devoid of sense filled with images and voices just beyond my reach to see or hear properly. These were restless times and I felt them keenly. So to keep myself busy, I did my work, attended the official functions I was required to attend and tried to stay out of trouble. I avoided thinking about Jyrki or my time on Hjal too much, both these things made me sad but for very different reasons.
The anniversary of the destruction of Alderaan was marked by a large and ornate memorial and an official day of mourning. The destruction of the Imperial Battle Station, which had also seen the deaths of thousands, was never mentioned. The Emperor was rarely seen during these times and there were many rumours that he was not well. At first I had paid these whispers of ill health no mind, the palace was rife with such gossip but it seemed to me strange that he appeared to address the crowd for the Alderaan memorial only via holo projector and his speech had been very short and abrupt. It had also surprised me a little that he had not wished to speak with me after I have returned to the palace. For weeks I sat almost on pins and needles half expecting to be called to his chambers but the summons never came. I began to wonder if there was not some truth to the whispers.
My social life was busy. Shiv and his friends saw to it that I was not often left alone. I was never quite sure if this was because he was afraid that if he didn’t have me in his sight I might be suddenly snatched away again or if he just felt a bit guilty over what had happened, even though there was nothing he could have done. He, too, had wanted to know, to understand what I had gone through and while I told him the jist of events I left many details out. He accepted this although I know it hurt him a little. It wasn’t even a question of trust. I just didn’t want to talk about it any more. I had not really thought about what a good friend he had become but I could no longer imagine my life without his cheerful presence.
Thrawn, true to his word wrote to me regularly. I treasured his lovely, long letters describing everything from the most mundane aspects of life in deep space to in depth discussions on art and literature. I was constantly amazed at how articulate he was and how interesting he could make even the most ordinary things sound. He had not come to see me before he had departed to begin his service on board the Grey Wolf and I was glad of this. I hated goodbyes. What can you say in the few remaining minutes that tick by that you have not already said a thousand times before? Farewells always struck me as stilted and uncomfortable affairs filled with half murmured promises that would never be kept. I suspected he understood this only too well and was, perhaps, even grateful that I made no such demands of him. Two days after his deployment a sealed box had been delivered to me containing not only a beautiful letter but data pads full of information on Cheunh and a couple of other linguistic surprises.
…I raided my own personal data base and downloaded everything I could think of to help you with your studies of Cheunh. I feel that with your astounding abilities to learn this difficult language, you should be encouraged. I have also added two of the more prominent trade languages from that area of space. I have no doubt these will be easy for you to pick up and I recommend you do so. One never knows when something will be of use or when a translator will be required. There are very few outsiders to our world who speak Cheunh fluently, to do so would give you a great advantage. I shall enjoy testing your knowledge when I return and see how well you have mastered these challenges. Stay alive and well, my dear, so that we may continue our delightful, ongoing conversation when we next meet…
The language data bases that he had sent were incredibly detailed and extensive. It made me wonder if he had not tried to teach his mother tongue to a non Chiss before. I knew that he had set the bar quite high for me. I also understood that he knew he was pushing buttons and I would respond accordingly. I had never backed down from a challenge and I wasn’t about to start now, especially with one that was actually fun.
Lord Vader, on the other hand, stayed distant. I had heard through the rumour mill that he was training several force sensitive people he had discovered. Strangely enough this didn’t really bother me. I was not jealous by nature and as I slowly began to understand my own abilities and talents and I knew that I would never be what he had wanted. I was good at my job and someone he trusted in so far as he trusted anyone and for me, at this point in my life, that was enough. Our moments of contact were brief and business like. He was busy and as long as I did what I was supposed to there was no reason for him to expand our contact or virtual meetings into anything more. I got the sense he was troubled by something he could not or would not discuss. He was moody and foul tempered most of the time and something weighed heavily on his mind. I put most of that down to the issues he had with the local seats of government and the constant power struggles that never seemed to end within the Imperial Court. He was busy with his command and his own affairs, busy with the ongoing search for the elusive rebels and I was an afterthought so I was surprised when I received a summons from him to rendezvous with the Executor.
I had taken to packing pretty much everything I valued, which was not much, on my ship. Although I had an apartment in the Palace, it never felt like home the way the Ahnkeli’ Su’udelma did and I knew no one other than myself or Thrawn could get into my ship, my apartment was a different story. I was happy to be in space and flying. The repair crew Thrawn had organized had done an excellent job and had even replaced the foot braces in the engine room. I had made sure to stock up on spare parts and anything else I could think of that I might need. The good thing about being in the employ of the Empire was that requisitioning things for ships was not an issue. It was late afternoon standard time when I landed onboard the Executor. There was no waiting. I was ushered directly to Lord Vader’s private chamber by two nervous young Storm Troopers who left a tad faster than decorum allowed.
There were no pleasantries and no questions about my health. He launched into the heart of the matter in his usual abrupt way. “You know that I have been searching for the individual responsible for the destruction of the Imperial Battle station.” He said.
“You are also aware that I believe he was from the same planet as you.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Then you will go to Tatooine and investigate his past.”
“My lord, would not an intel investigator be better suited for this?” I asked a bit surprised by this request.
He regarded me for a long deadly moment then said. “I wish this kept off the official records. You are from Tatooine. You know its customs, ways and languages far better than any Intel spy could hope to. You have all manner of connections and you are unafraid to use them. You have my leave to use all and any means at your disposal to get this information. You will be given an office to work from at the outpost in Bestine, access to finances and a means to contact me on secure channels. You can attend to your regular duties as you see fit, I am certain that droid of yours will help out. But make no mistake this task I set for you has priority. I want to know everything about this boy’s life.” He said and handed me a data pad with all the information I would need and dismissed me. Just like that, instead of heading off to Naboo with the rest of the Imperial Court, I was going home.
Tatooine never changed. I touched down late afternoon at my father’s docking bay and was assaulted by the heat when I stepped from my ship. I didn’t have time to think before I was tackled by Belkin in as huge a hug as the small Rodian could manage. She filled me in on all the gossip and by the time my father returned from errands I was more or less up to date with everything that had been going on pretty much planet wide. Supper that evening was a loud, joyous affair. It was good to be back.
Much later in the evening I crept away, up to the flat part of the rooftop. I sat staring up at the sky, wondering where Thrawn was now. I missed him and that both surprised me and annoyed me. His lack of presence was an ache I didn’t want or need. This is what it means to be bound…Navaari had said and he hadn’t been joking. I was glad when my father joined me, a bottle of moonglow and two shot glasses in hand. He and everyone else had carefully avoided all mention of Jyrki and what he had done to me at dinner. I knew that he needed answers and this was a good, quiet place to talk.
I sipped the gut rot slowly and before my father felt obligated to open up the conversation I told him what had happened. I left some things out and did not tell him about my trip to Hjal or my strange connection with the Dantassi. I wasn’t sure he would understand that. I wasn’t sure I understood it either. He stayed very quiet until I was finished my story and only after a few moments of silence did he pull me to him and hold me tightly.
“Why?” was all he could ask. I knew he was fighting back emotions and I pretended I didn’t see the tears in his eyes.
“I don’t know, papa.” I told him with a sigh. “I really, really do not know. He would say one thing but mean another. His pretense was he wanted Imperial codes but it wasn’t really the truth. He didn’t know why either.”
“I hope that he never shows up here, pet.” He replied. “Because if he does, I will kill him.”
“You’ll need to stand in line.”
He refilled my glass and we sat in silence for a while and I realized that it was, for the first time in forever, a comfortable silence.
“So, why exactly are you here? You were very vague at dinner.” He asked.
I weighed telling him the absolute truth and finding some sort of white lie and in the end decided on the truth.
“Lord Vader has asked me to find out about someone named Skywalker.” I said. “The information I have says he was from Tatooine so here I am.”
“I know that name.” My father said rubbing his stubbled chin. “I’ll have to look some things up but I am sure I know that name.” he sipped his drink. “How long are you here for?”
“I don’t know, weeks, months, as long as it takes. Lord Vader wasn’t specific about the amount of time I had and I got the impression he didn’t really care as long as he got the information he wanted. I will have an office out in Bestine but that’s for appearances only. I thought about maybe opening up the house out there but I’d rather base here and be near you and everyone if that’s okay?”
He smiled. “I could not be more delighted. There’s a shuttle that goes between Bestine and here pretty regularly every day. I know Bel and Bedi will be happy to have another female around, most of the pit crew and pilots are male right now which is driving the two women a bit nuts. Be nice to have everyone together again for a while, we might even convince your uncle Vahl to come out for supper.” He paused the added, “And we can always use another good mechanic.”
I leaned my head on my father’s shoulder and stared up at the sky. He wrapped his arm around me and squeezed tightly. Yep, it was good to be home and far away from the reach of the Emperor and all the intrigues of the Imperial Court.