A/N: Thanks for sticking with me on strange story. :) As always, I welcome reviews and comments and private messages. I respond to every one of them that I can. I promise that Mary is going to catch up with the rest of ANH soon. In fact, I have the next two chapters plotted and pretty much written. Humor is soon to take center point again. This one is for all the Thrass and Thrawn requests.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Please do not sue. This is purely for fun.
The good doctor Uli was true to his word. Not fifteen minutes after he left, I got my food and water. It wasn't much, mind you, and it came in the form of a ration bar about the size of my open palm and a four ounce bottle of water. You weren't about to find me arguing about it. What was the phrase about looking a gift horse in the mouth? Never understood that one to be honest, but if it meant be thankful for what was in front of you, I was all over it.
My repast was delivered by one of those tiny little RC radio-car looking droids, like the one that Chewie yelled at in A New Hope before it ran away really fast. Except this one looked as if it had a tray welded to its back like some kind of giant flat turtle shell. Secretly I named him Michelangelo. You know, from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The little fella actually scooted in from a teeny-weenie slice that opened at the bottom of my cell door. I had to admit it was cute. Even in my scared-and-hungry delirium, I still wanted to pick it up and squeeze it like a puppy.
That was until I noticed the tasty vittles it had on its back.
The ration bar was the color of uncooked oatmeal and sported about the same taste and texture, like unprocessed cardboard. But as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers. I all but leapt on the bar like a wild blonde wookie, probably making that yowly-gargling sound, too. It scared the hell out of Michelangelo, though, and sent him scurrying back through the doggy door with an electronic wail of terror. Later, I would feel really bad about that. I mean, how I would I feel if some giant psycho nearly pounced me to pieces when all I was doing was my job?
Come to think of it, I sorta dealt with that on a daily basis. Every time I went to work tending bar. Yeah, I know, it sounds redic, what with me having a BS degree and junk (and no, that didn't stand for Bull Shit, thank you very much). My degree was in cultural anthropology. No, not like the TV show "Bones." That's forensic anthropology, which was the degree I should have gone after if I wanted to do things like, I don't know, eat and survive after graduation. That's what I got for going after a degree in what I loved versus what actually paid.
Poverty was pretty much what my degree qualified me for in a major city like New York. And career placement at my college had found me a job as a museum assistant. That translated into "hey, get me some coffee" or "dude, some kid just hoarked chucks all over 'X' exhibit. Go clean it up, will ya? Janitors aren't allowed to touch the exhibits, so someone with skill has to clean that part."
Yeah, skill. Riiigggghhhttt. I had a forty-thousand dollar piece of paper that said I was allowed to spray Windex across the faux grass and rocks that was the base of the exhibits. Because I needed to spend another forty-thousand to get a second piece of paper (re: master's degree) to be allowed to spray Windex on the actual exhibits, themselves. Oh, and the recompense I was paid for these 'mad skillz' of mine? Minimum wage.
I kid you not. The freaking janitors, thanks to their Union, made triple what I made. And half of them didn't even possess an 8th grade reading level. Did I also mention the fact that, since I was working as an assistant to the actual doctorate-level people that studied these exhibits, I had to perform my duties in heels, hose, business skirt and professional blouse?
It was at a wonderful glorious moment six months after graduation, when cleaning what looked like partially digested pea green soup from a plastic banana leaf for what felt like the millionth time, that I realized I didn't want to do this anymore. So I gassed up the short bus, made sure I had my permission slip signed, and trundled myself off to bartending school. I figured that if I was going to be cleaning up barf for the rest of my life, I might as well get paid decent for it. Plus, I got the added bonus of wearing whatever I wanted to work, and when some grabby douche got too "hands on with my display," I got the thrill of signaling a walking brick wall to bounce his sorry patootie out of my bar with no questions asked.
Yup, me and my youtube hero Jenna Marbles. Both crying over our degrees to pump ourselves up before going to work to be pounced by deadbeats and drunks. We were living the American Dream, baby.
I'd finished my ration bar about the time my mental rant about my (lack of) career options ran down, the water going down just as fast. Try as I might, I couldn't bring my self-control in line to pace myself, even with my brain screaming that I hadn't had anything for three days almost, and flooding my tummy with half-masticated chunks of bar was probably going to make me give it right back again. My ravenous hunger won, and I was licking the wrapper before I knew what I was doing.
Don't judge about the wrapper licking. Okay, do judge. I was embarrassed about that, but more so with the disappointment that welled in me when I realized I couldn't eat the wrapper, too. Seriously. Hunger does weird crap to your brain. And yes, before you ask, if there had been unprocessed card board in my cell, I'd have tried to eat that, too.
Man, I was such a wuss. No wonder Leia had looked at me like I was scum beneath her boots when Praji had captured us.
The fact that I was thinking about Leia—about anything other than my own misery, really—was a sign that I was returning back to my pre-stunbolt-appearing-on-the-Tantive-IV self. Not one hundred percent yet, but I was getting close. Even managed to lie down on the shelf after my meal and catch some uninterrupted sleep. It was when I woke up that I realized the folly of my predicament. I had no idea how much time had passed from the moment I was on the Tantive IV to now. Did I sleep through Had Luke and Han rescuing Leia? Was the attack on the Death Star already taking place?
Was I about to be cremated before my time when this bloated testicle of a space station went KA-BOOM?
Calm down, I told myself, pacing the length of my cell. It couldn't have been more than three days, right? I mean, a person died from dehydration in three days, didn't they? Part of my mind whispered that I would have known the answer to that question if I had gone for forensic instead of cultural anthropology. I gave my ego the mental finger and went back to my pacing. Enough A-holes on this boat were trying to tear me down physically and mentally. I didn't need to help them do it.
I wasn't dead, I reasoned, so it couldn't have been more than a day or two. If my memory of A New Hope was accurate, and I liked to pride myself on the fact that it was, then Luke was just now meeting Ben Kenobi in the deserts of Tatooine. Which meant I had about four days to get off this monstrosity and out of the blast radius.
I could work with four days, I rationalized. And my cell was right next to Leia's according to Praji. I remembered him saying cell number 2188. Leia was in 2187. The walls were thick here, but I was fairly confident that I would hear a blaster fight going off right behind my door. I had time.
Time to plan to… do what? That was the magic question.
I paced as the minutes crawled by. Did jumping jacks to keep myself entertained, well as much as I could with cuffed hands. I tried push-ups, too, but after three, I gave up on that crap. I was here to be tortured by Imp-dicks. See my previous statement on not helping them tear me down. Yeeesh!
In one of my more bored moments, I clicked my heels together three times. I mean, maybe it would work? My beautiful shoes were fire engine red Converse sneakers after all, and when I'd found them in a vintage store it had felt like magic. Like fate had drawn us together. And if I could believe that I was in the Star Wars universe, why shouldn't I believe in the slim chance that I had magic shoes, too?
It's amazing what you could rationalize when boredom and fear threatened your morale.
"There's no place like home," I whispered in my best Dorothy Gale imitation, clicking my heels together three times. "There's no place like home."
I opened my eyes. Nope, still in Suck-Land. I tried again. Maybe something a little closer would work? Maybe the magic had a range?
"There's no place like off the Death Star…"
Failure number two greeted my vision. One more and I had a hat trick.
"There's no place like outside of this cell, kicking Praji's ass…"
After disappointment number three, I gave up on the magic shoe theory and went back to pacing. Then jumping jacks again. And when the jumping jacks got old, I simply lay down on the floor with my legs propped up against my shelf/bed/torture thingy, hands behind my head for a pillow, and started to make up my own songs to amuse myself. Why not? What else was I going to do, sit and sob? Bleh. Been there, done that. Wasn't looking forward to the repeat performance. I'll take a pass, thanks.
"A is for asshat, which fits Vader the most," I crooned aloud, smirking. "B is for battle station that is soon to be toast."
Hey, how about that? Apparently torture and anguish is good for my poetry skills. Maybe all those emo kids had it right. You needed to know deep emotional pain to be able to rhyme like a small god. I should probably apologize to all those kids in high school that I called whiny freaks, too.
No, that would take too long. And frankly who had the energy to hunt down that many people? I'd make it up to them by buying every CD that My Chemical Romance had out and listen to them faithfully… until I came to my senses or slit my wrists from the emo overload. Whichever came first.
Anywho back to my rhyming.
"C is for Commander Praji who's soon to be dead meat," When I get out of here, I amended silently. "Ch is for… hrm… umm…"
Is there a word that begins with Ch that fits here? And why had I chosen the Spanish Alphabet anyway? Maybe the four extra letters meant more time with this distraction? That must have been it. My stomach rumbled painfully reminding me that the ration bar hadn't lasted very long. AH! That was it!
"CH is for Churros that I'd dearly love to eat!"
Hah! Take that English teachers who thought I wasn't paying attention. I could do iambic pentameter with the best of 'em. Provided that that's just a fancy word for rhyming, right? Hrm, probably should look that up when I get home too.
"D is for ... uh … dumbass? No, we used 'ass' before in the letter A. D is for… dickwads who lock up innocent girls! E is for…" Execution? I shuddered. No, not ready to go down that road yet. "E is for… Emperor who should wear his hair in curls!"
I giggled at that. Did the Emperor even have hair? Did he wear that hood to cover male pattern baldness? You would think that in a dimension with bacta, they'd have a cure for losing your locks. Still, the idea of seeing the Emperor in golden Shirley Temple curls turned my giggles into snorts of laughter. Give the old boy a giant lollypop instead of a light saber and a caption that read "What Uncle Palpy does in his spare time" and I had an internet sensation waiting to happen.
"F is for… uh… for…" I kept snerking so hard the thought of Palpatine singing "Good ship lollypop" that I could barely get the words out—
—until the door to my cage popped open. And I found myself staring wide-eyed at an upside down pair of Chiss Wonder Twins.
"F is for 'fucked' which surely I am…" I gulped. "Oh, shit, son…"
Thrawn somehow managed to stare down his nose at me, which was feat in and of itself considering his head was pointed downward. Normally you had to have your head tilted upwards in an arrogant kinda way before you could pull that off. Yet he managed it just fine, tossing in a goodly amount of annoyance to round out his displeased expression.
Probably because I'd stolen the intimidating thunder from his grand entrance. He'd pulled to a rather abrupt halt instead of stepping on my face, Thrass nearly colliding into his back. Remember, my cell was tiny and I wasn't exactly a petite woman. Lying down on that floor like I was took up a good portion of the standing space.
Heh. Maybe he should have checked the monitors before strolling into my cage like he owned the place.
Thrass, on the other hand, tried to hide a smirk behind his fingers. "Undoubtedly this startling conversationalist is the mastermind behind my eminent demise," he commented dryly.
Hey, was that a dig on my poetry? I was rather proud of my work, given my situation.
"Indeed," came Thrawn's smooth reply.
Goodness gracious, the man could make a dirty word sound like velvet. Thrass's speech patterns were exactly the same as his brothers, all smoothly modulated suaveness. I almost asked them if Cheunh and French were the same language. Like the Matrix had taught me, cursing in French was like wiping your butt with silk. Bet saying that in Cheunh sounded smooth, too.
"… extracting information from her will present a unique difficulty without the interrogation droid. I'm afraid a conversation will have to suffice in the meantime. Much more civilized but much less effective."
Crap, pay attention! I zeroed in on only one thing in that conversation. He'd just said PeeWee Herman's Negative Word of the Day: Interrogation. I let out the obligatory shriek and somehow managed to leap onto the shelf and wedge myself into the farthest corner of my cell that I could, heart doing its imitation of a crack-addict with a kettle drum.
"No interrogations!" I shrieked again, pointing at my face. Well, at the medical doohickie welded to it. "Vader said no! It's all coded on my medical thingamagiggy here. You can't!"
Thrawn's eyebrows lifted slightly. "Miss Vasquez, I only want to chat."
"You never just want to chat. It's never just a chat with you."
Those eyebrows rose higher. "And how would you know that? If memory serves, you and I have never had a conversation."
Oh, screw me sideways. You'd think with how much Thrawn fiction I've read over the years, (yes, I was a card carrying member of the Thrawn fanclub) I'd have figured out that telling him one single solitary word would give him enough information to know where I was from, what my mother had for breakfast the day I was born, and when I was going to sneeze next. I'd just said thirteen words to him in that last sentence alone. Might as well have handed him my autobiography.
"Miss Vasquez, I do not have a lot of time to devote to this," Mr. Know-It-All said, some of the polish chipping away from his voice. "Allow me to be blunt. In our brief meeting in the hangar, you insinuated that you knew of two specific events. I want to know what you know. More to the point, I will know what you know. And I will know it swiftly."
Somehow I got the feeling that Leia's comforting thought technique wasn't going to help me this time. It was mindboggling to admit, but I was more afraid of what I would say to these two men than I was of Vader's Hentai mind-rapey-tentacle or Praji's make-you-scream drugs. Vader and Praji were only after certain things, certain pieces of information before they would be done with me. Thrawn would wring me dry of everything, perform a complete mind-shifting on me and still come after me for more.
I stared up into those glowing red eyes and knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he'd make me sing like a canary without the use of drugs or Force powers. Without even laying a finger on me. The Godfather had nothing on him.
"You're frightening the girl, Thrawn," Thrass put in, shouldering past his brother and taking a seat on my shelf. "Allow me to try things my way."
That didn't sound good. I shrunk back as far as I could, until I thought my shoulders were going to snap in half so my spine could meld with the forty-five degree angle of my corner.
Thrass's lip twitched in an almost smile at that and he held out his hand to me. "Come here, Miss Vasquez. I will not lie to you and tell you that you have nothing to fear from me. But neither do you have anything to gain with your silence. Our questions will be answered. My question to you, personally, is this: what do you want in exchange for your answers?"
"To go home," I blurted honestly, staring at his hand like it was a blue skinned five headed hydra. "To wake up from this nightmare."
"Both of these things are in my power to grant you," Thrass replied easily. "Now that I know what you want, will you at least listen to what I want in return?"
Trap Trap trap trap trap TRAP! A chorus of Admiral Ackbars sang that across my brain space, dancing in a little conga line and trampling Alvin and his brothers. He knew it was a trap. I knew it was a trap. But what choice did I have? Like with Praji, I had to give them something if I wanted something in return. And right now the Mitth Brothers were calling the shots.
And, like with Praji, I instantly wracked my brain for everything I knew on the two of them. Both seemed to value the same things. Things like honesty, loyalty, and competency. Both were tactical geniuses, though one chose to take his skills to the actual battlefield while the other chose the political arena for his fights. Thrawn had once implied that lying to him was the fastest way to die. So, guess the plan of attack was truth, or as close as I could come to it without seeming totally mental.
I extended my cuffed hands to Thrass, slowly reaching to clasp his fingers. He frowned harshly, and I nearly jerked back in horror. Didn't he want me to touch him? Did I just break some unknown Chiss custom or something? Holy hell, what had I misinterpreted this time?
Slender blue fingers caught my arm above my wrist, halting my retreat. "This was absolutely uncalled for," he said darkly, staring at my cuffed hands and the mass of bruises that were pretending to be my wrists. Binders and jumping jacks weren't friends, as I had found out recently. "Thrawn, give me your code."
Thrawn did as was requested and the binders fell away. Thrass's fingers closed over mine, the soft skin somehow more restraining than the cuffs had been. I was sitting next to him before I knew it, Thrawn shifting to stand against the wall by the shelf, ensuring I couldn't retreat into my happy little corner place. His eyes weren't exactly glaring down at me, but they weren't happy, either. And Thrass was staring at me with intense honesty.
It reminded me of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in those Lethal Weapon movies.
Wonder Twin Powers Activate: Form of good cop/bad cop!?
If I wasn't so scared, I would have rolled my eyes. Really, this was the best they could come up with? This was what I was so afraid of?
"Lord Vader has left orders that you are to remain unharmed at the moment," Thrawn remarked casually into the silence, as if sensing my fear of them had faded. "I would remind you, Miss Vasquez, of my previous statement. My time is limited and it does come with a price. You may not pay it immediately, but I will collect payment eventually."
A tremor went through me at that, Alvin and his brothers waving manically at me as they kicked Ackbar out of my head and began again with the singing. This song was entitled "Heeeeyyyyy stupid Lady!" and was sung to the tune of Gangnam style. Sheeesh! Even a galaxy far, far away wasn't far enough to escape that song.
"So in other words, talk now, sweetheart, or talk later when you'd rather hear screams than words?"
Bad Cop (aka Thrawn) inclined his head fractionally, a slight smile on his lips. "Precisely."
Thrass tugged on my hand, and I felt his fingers entwine with mine, drawing my attention back his way. "Let's begin with something simple," Good Cop said. "Who are you, really?"
I blinked at that. "Mary Vasquez," I said, confused. "You already know my name. I told Commander Praji everything he wanted to hear."
"Yes, I've reviewed your first and second interrogations in detail, Miss Vasquez," Bad Cop added.
It took me a moment to realize the second interrogation must have been Vader's tap dance across my head. Praji had been right: his questions had only been round one. Did that make this round three? Or was this "conversation" a whole new game?
"Intelligence has also determined the validity of your claims," Bad Cop was saying. "The rebel Bria Theran trasmitted the stolen plans and lost her life for it some thirty-six hours ago. Your knowledge of Commander Praji was also verified. The Correllian Han Solo was indeed a cadet at the time Command Praji was assigned as a teacher. Princess Leia also admitted that you must have been a stowaway on board her ship, as she has no knowledge of you at all. Lord Vader is satisfied to a certain degree," his tone turned frosty. "But I am not."
"I do not believe you are from a small town on Abregado-Rae, Mary Vasquez," Bad Cop continued, eyes narrowing dangerously. "Even a town on such a planet that does not keep detailed records would have some recording of education or medical history. You could not gain passage on any ship without that. Yet it appears the very first record of Mary Vasquez began right here on board the Death Star."
Oh, son of a… Really? Effing really? He'd taken the time to research my story that deeply? I jerked away, trying to pull my hand from Thrass's. Dammit! Once again my big mouth got me into more trouble than I could handle. If I'd let Commander Dilhole gag me on the shuttle, I never would have screamed at Thrawn or Thrass. And then I'd be free of this crap, because Vader was satisfied! Son of a ….
Thrass wasn't having any of my resistance, and he was stronger than he appeared. A lot stronger. He dropped the Good Cop routine and yanked me forward by our interlocked fingers, twisting my arm behind my back sharply and upward. I ended up practically sitting in his lap, back rigid straight and my arm feeling like it would snap in half if I so much as breathed wrong.
"Jesus!" I hissed between gritted teeth. "At least buy me dinner and a movie first, pal!"
Jackhole (my new name for Thrass) twisted his hand just minutely and I swore to all that was holy I felt my joints creak like a freaking old hardwood floor. "Your juvenile attempts at humor are not appreciated right now, Miss Vasquez," he said softly into my ear. "Insinuate anything of a sexual nature between you and I once more, and I will break this arm."
"Vader will break you in return," I shot back just as softly, just as pissy.
"It may very well be worth it," Jackhole replied, but I noticed the pressure eased up on my joints… slightly.
He wove his other arm around my waist until I was nestled as much as possible against him. Even then, it wasn't comforting or suggestive. It was just so his brother could get a better angle in which to loom over me.
This time I did roll my eyes. "You guys need to get a new playbook," I hissed between clenched teeth. "Both Vader and Praji have done the whole loom-and-leer over me all day. You're the freaking Chiss Wonder Twins. At the very least you could be more creative."
It was the wrong thing to say. I knew that the second the words left my lips. Because Thrawn smiled. He actually smiled, and that expression had nothing to do with amusement. If anything, it was an anti-amusement smile, like a Disney Villain smile. Maleficent's smile right before she turned into a dragon and tried to eat Prince Phillip!
Maleficent bent down, capturing my chin with strong fingers. "I can be very creative, Miss Vasquez. You will learn that in good time."
Jesus, what, did they teach a freaking class at the Academy on Heart-Freezing-Smiles? Praji did it to me, and now Thrawn? I was willing to bet good money that Vader would have used one on me, too, if he wasn't all burnt bacon under that suit of his. But while Praji promised pain with his smile, Thrawn promised something worse. I didn't know in that moment what that 'worse' would be, but my dumbass mouth had just challenged him to find out.
Challenge accepted, that smile seemed to say. And oh, did Thrawn love a challenge.
I hated myself in that moment.
"Too late to take that back?" I tried, feeling the breath freezing in my lungs.
His soft laugh chilled me more than his smile. "Far too late. Now, who are you working for, Miss Vasquez? While you may not be a rebel, you are certainly employed by someone. You will tell me who that is and the real reason you were on board the Tantive IV."
It took me a moment to catch on to what he was saying. And when it hit me, I thought I was going to throw up my ration bar. Great. Just freaking perfect! In typical Thrawn fashion, he'd ignored the forest for the trees.
He'd put together the events of my appearance in a way that was near perfect, save for the conclusion he'd drawn. Though it made sense in his universe, I hated to admit. He wouldn't believe that I'd just magically teleported onto that ship anymore than I wanted to believe it. So his overly brilliant brain had concocted the assumption that there was a third player in the race for stealing the Death Star plans, and I was that person's courier.
I could work with that, I surprised myself by thinking. Just as I could work with the slight tension that appeared in Jackhole whenever Vader's name was mentioned. He didn't like the big robotic dickwad anymore than I did. C'mon, Mary, I screamed at myself. Everyone's called you a freak for eating, drinking, and breathing Star Wars for years. Put that knowledge to use!
I didn't have to fake the fear coursing through me, or the fact I could barely breathe. Not with Maleficent staring down at me like he was trying to decide which piece of me tasted best. Stupid man-eating dragons!
"Car'das," I whispered, the name so faintly and breathy as to be almost inaudible.
Dragon-boy let go of my chin. "Jorj Car'das," he repeated.
I nodded, hanging my head. Here came the delicate balance between lie and truth. If he caught me lying to him, I was going to wish I had died when he finally got his hands on me again. And I'd be an idiot to think he wouldn't. He'd pursue me to the ends of the galaxy, all because he thought I had something to do with an attack on Thrass's life, all because I had to have blurted that Thrass was supposed to be dead.
"He told you about Outbound Flight, didn't he?" Jackhole added, voice like a comforting purr in my ear.
Again, I nodded. It was sort of the truth! I mean, Outbound Flight was written from Jorj's perspective…
"And why would he tell you about that?" Male Maleficent asked.
"I don't know," I shrugged… or tried to with Jackhole twisting my arm. "Because he likes to play mind games with his people? I mean, he's obviously still loyal to you guys. He told me that Ja—Thrass died with some Jedi named Lorana Jinzler, that they crash-landed with what was left of Outbound Flight onto some planet. Guess that was a big fat lie."
Thrass looked up at Thrawn, and the two exchanged a series of words in a language I would never be able to repeat. Like French. Man, I sucked at French.
"And your knowledge of my mission in the Unknown Regions?" the Chiss-dragon asked at last.
I wanted to say rumor and idle speculation, but that would have been seen for the crap sandwich that it was. "Car'das knows many things."
Lame, I know. But it was the best that I could come up with. How was I to justify that I knew the truth, that Thrawn and the Emperor had created the whole scandal that had supposedly sent him into the Unknown Regions as a punishment. In reality… well in this reality, I should say… it was nothing more than a clever way to send Uncle Palpy's favorite rabid war dog out to conquer systems without having to deal with the tree hugging hippies in the Senate whining about conquest and sentient rights and all that mumbo-jumbo.
And if we were calling a spade a spade, it would be fair to mention that Thrawn had his own separate agenda for wanting to leave anyway, but that was between Thrawn and… uh now I guess Thrass. No way in creation I could have known any of that. At all.
So for once I kept my damn mouth shut. Again, they exchanged words. And Thrawn's hand slipped under my chin, two fingers tapping to tell me to raise my eyes.
"You now owe me a debt, Mary Vasquez," he said quietly, too quietly. "You have lied to me at least once in this conversation. If I learn that it was more than once, you will owe me your life instead. And no amount of commands from Lord Vader will alter that."
He glanced over at his brother. "We have enough to go on for now."
Jackhole nodded, releasing me as the two of them headed for the door. It opened.
"Lord Vader's commands are to be carried out," Thrawn said to someone outside the door. "Have her needs tended to, and have a note placed on her record. After the Lord Vader is finished with her, provided there is anything left of her at that point, her custody reverts to me."
"I hate you," I blurted.
He never turned. Neither did his jackhole of a brother. But they laughed, and to me it sounded like a promise of bad things to come.