The Book of Rahl – Chapter 35
I winced slightly at Lord Hethrir’s outburst – so loud was it that I was sure that I heard echoes if it bouncing about the halls of the Emperor’s Retreat – a suspicion that was confirmed when a stormtrooper peeked around the corner to make sure I wasn’t throttling one of Palpatine’s chief lieutenants.
“I said,” repeating myself as softly and calmly as I could, “that we’ve abandoned our position on Talus.”
I could see the older man across the desk from me vibrating with rage under his robes of office, but when he spoke his voice came across deadly calm.
“That, Captain, is not your decision to make…you are employees…I am your employer. You left valuable assets behind on that moon…”
“Assets, you’ll note, that we’ve had to pay for with our own blood instead of their being provided us by our most gracious employers.”
“Why you…” he stuttered, “you…we have a contract!”
“YES!” I retorted, letting my voice rise slightly, “We have a contract – that the Society will provide the Empire with manpower services and expertise in exchange for galactic credits and military hardware…”
“Where’re the guns Hethrir?!? Where’re the ships? Where’s the money?!?!”
“How DARE you come into this place and speak to me like a common criminal! I am not the scum you’re used to dealing with!”
It was then that I discovered I’d made a tactical error. The man…the very, very powerful man I’d just enraged, gritted his teeth and stared at me with a new level of intensity, and I began to feel my throat constricting. The pain came in small stutters, as if one man was trying to strangle the life out me and another was fighting a desperate struggle to keep the first at bay. And yet I stood ten feet from the man, and we were the only ones in the room. Hethrir was sweating, a new sparkle of fury and madness in his eyes.
Forgive me, brothers, for at that moment I realized that I’d sworn our lives to a madman.
A madman who could feel the Force.
Just as the constricting worsened to the point where I truly began to contemplate the possibility that I was going to be killed in that dark little room, a strange calm came over me – but instead of warmth, I felt cooled – almost to the point of being chilled. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt since shortly after I had joined the Society during the Clone Wars.
“You…belong…to…me….” Hethrir muttered between his gritted teeth.
“No,” I said, my voice cooled to nearly a whisper, “I work for you. I *belong* to another.”
When the strange chill faded, I found myself able to breathe and Hethrir staring at me with a pale face and a look of mild shock.
“I didn’t think…” he said haltingly, with the tone of a curious child, “…I mean…none of your people…”
“I’m the last brother living who has been Touched,” I responded, because I was. “And you, Lord Hethrir, have been getting lessons….”
Hethrir took a deep breath and settled back down into his chair. He ran his hands over the polished surface of his desk as he took several deep breaths before he spoke again.
“Nevertheless, Captain, your company has stepped outside-”
“We have done no such thing,” I interrupted, “we will continue to serve your interests, as we are contracted to do – but where we hang our hat is ours and ours alone. You want a closer relationship, then you better come through with some tangible goods and payment – a shopping trip to the Sinear yards would be a good start.”
“To the yards?!!?” he exclaimed, his voice beginning to rise again.
“I think, Lord Hethrir,” came the deep, modulated voice from the doorway, “that the Captain’s current relationship with our Master is acceptable.”
And there he was, a terrifying black statue standing in the doorway to Hethrir’s office, his mechanically-assisted breathing barely audible over the sounds of the terminals and people in the entry hall beyond. We both bowed…deeply.
“It is in our best interests,” he continued, “to allow the Society to collect payment for services rendered and allow them access to our materiel to purchase with those funds – and we will allow the Captain to run and locate his company as he sees fit.”
“Yes, Lord Vader,” responded Hethrir, still bowing. I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t rise until I heard the mechanical breathing sound fade into silence.
“Well…” said Hethrir smoothing his robes.
“Well…” I echoed.
“Is there anything else I can do for you today, Captain?”
“No Lord Hethrir, I believe that’s all I had.”