Note: This work is dedicated to the secretaries in the office I worked in this summer. I’m amazed by their patience and by the grace with which they accept the daily trials that accompany being a very important but under-appreciated part of a corporation.
The galaxy would fall into chaos if it weren’t for secretaries.
I realized this as I stuffed yet another invitation into a carefully addressed envelope and tossed it into the ever-growing pile beside me.
Gods, how I hate stuffing envelopes.
Yep, I thought. Secretaries had to be a different species than the rest of the sentient creatures in the Galaxy. There must be some special combination of genetics that allow them to tolerate conditions that would send any other being into fits of insanity. Something had to keep them from going mental while stuffing envelopes, doing mountains of filing, and putting up with lecherous bosses who thought being able to have a secretary entitled them to HAVING a secretary.
I would have went crazy a few weeks ago and vaporized Karyl Golkon if it weren’t for the pay I would receive for my hours of tedious, supposedly faithful service.
And I wasn’t thinking about the minuscule wage that my employer thought was an extravagance on his part. Golkon would have a coronary if he knew what he was REALLY paying me.
I had to hide the grin that threatened to break through. It would be unseemly to be grinning like a demented ewok while stuffing envelopes. Golkon might be stupid but even a man with the brains of a nerf would realize something was going on.
Schooling my face into the properly "defeated but thankful for a job" expression Golkon adored, I considered my real pay for doing the nasty little chores that allowed the Acalwen Museum of Fine Arts to run smoothly.
The art museum housed one of the greatest collections of works by the jeweler Fabirgi. Some called the man a craftsman, but anyone who had seen the elaborate, decadent treasures he had meticulously created knew that the title of "craftsman" was like calling a drop of water an ocean. Jeweler for the royal house of Estillo, Fabirgi had transformed metal and jewels into art the defied comprehension.
Every holiday on Eiattu was marked by the creation of treasures that were of a quality seen nowhere else in the galaxy. Tiny mechanical starships made from platinum with sheets of diamond for viewports and markings made from the rarest of gems. Figures cast in gold recreating ancient gods and goddesses, each dressed in silk and velvet, with tiny pendants and bracelets adorning their metal bodies. Such objects would have been the breathtaking just as sculpture. But Fabirgi took his art to another level.
The sculptures actually moved. Spaceships flew, figures danced. One tiny sand tiger growled and snarled like a living beast. They were absolutely priceless and the royal family never let them leave the planet of Eiattu. The only way outsiders ever viewed these artworks was through holos taken and distributed throughout the Galaxy.
They were part of a monarchy that had shown with a diamond-bright brilliance. But such radiance could not last. Even stars burn into nothingness. And the great light that was the court of Eiattu was no different.
Such wealth and beauty could not go unnoticed by the Empire. And with notice, came jealousy and hatred. The Emperor set in motion a chain of rebellion and murder that ended with the slaughter of the royal family.
For years a Moff dictated the planet, but the people had not forgotten their past. Had not let the memory of their royal family die after the graves had been filled. No, they had covertly searched for any surviving member of the royal line. Quietly, almost invisibly searching through every lead, every rumor, until the Force had led them to the most unlikely of places….
Who would have thought a band of rebel pilots would have included a princess? But it had. Princess Isplourrdacartha Estillo, known as Plourr to her squad mates, was the last of the royal line and now ruler of Eiattu.
Rogue Squadron had helped her rout out the traces of the Empire from the planet, but scars still remained. One of those scars was the theft of the royal family’s greatest treasures, the fabled works of Fabirgi. Plourr and her advisers had decided that with the return of freedom, there should also be a return of Eiattu’s greatest artworks.
Her advisors had counseled for peaceful negotiation for the return of the works, but Plourr had never been known for her patience. While leading her councilors through dozens of arguments over etiquette and protocol, her agents had searched for someone with certain…Ahem…skills…to assist the Empress with the acquisition of her family’s possessions.
Their search led them to me.
After a bit of negotiations of our own, the Empress and I struck a deal. I would steal back her homeworld’s treasures if she would pay me with a few of the trinkets I lifted. At first, she begrudged the choice of payment, but when I listed the objects I wanted, she was willing to accept my terms.
None of the works had been owned by close relations. Actually they were lesser pieces created for minor nobles that she could not even remember from her childhood in Eiattu’s court. When compared to the almost-living sculptures Fabirgi had created, what I desired was of no consequence.
But to me, they were absolutely beautiful…
A set of four exquisitely crafted filigree butterflies that had been mounted onto platinum hair combs. Their wings were created from sapphire and emerald, carefully faceted to capture the light. As their surfaces reflected whatever illumination was available, the wings seemed to erupt with gem-bright flame. Tiny springs hidden in the body of each butterfly allowed the wings to move slightly whenever the wearer tilted her head, making it seem that the creatures were about to take flight.
As I stuffed another one of those damn invitations into another Sith-infested envelope, I pictured the dress I would buy to accompany those lovely baubles. Teal shimmer-silk perhaps, or a deep blue velvet. Something that would set off the colors of those stunning butterflies. Usually I never wore a piece that I had stolen, finding it a tad too incriminating for my taste, but the Empress had guaranteed to create documents stating that I had purchased the objects legally. Which meant I would be free to wear them, despite what anyone said about how I obtained them.
I never told anyone that I would have done the job for free. That the idea of harrying the Imps, even in such a minor way, gave me a vicious little thrill. Those bastards had ruined my life years ago and any micrometer of pain I could inflict on them and their precious Empire was a joy.
Remembered anguish almost caused me to clench my hand around the invitation I held…Almost. If I ruined the thing, I would just have to address another one of those obnoxious pastel green envelopes.
Instead, I viciously threw the thing into the pile with its mates and returned to the task that Golkon had assigned me. As I went through the motions, I swallowed my rage, telling myself that now was not the time to deal with past wounds. Instead, I focused on how close I was to finishing the job Eiattu’s ruler was paying me for.
I had retrieved all of the objects on the list the Empress’ agents had transmitted to me, except the works housed in the Acalwen Museum. And to be able to get those remaining treasures, I had to get inside information about the museum. Information I could only get by being an employee.
But soon I would be free of place. An event that would make me ecstatic, and not just for the treasures I would receive for a job well done. I found the place offensive, an Imperial showplace of murder and broken lives. No work in the museum had been purchased with credits, instead they had been bought with blood and pain. Each time I walked down those decadent halls, I wondered how many lives had paid for the beauty that surrounded me.
Knowing such a terrible truth, how could I not return Fabirgi’s works to their homeworld?
Perhaps it was mercenary to take pay for such an eagerly desired heist, but I had my professional standards. If I agreed to help one beleaguered planet return its artwork to its people, then I would have to help every being that asked for assistance. And such an undertaking was well beyond the capabilities on a single woman. Hells, it was beyond the skills of the newly formed Republic.
The harsh buzz of the intercom interrupted my thoughts. Golkon’s voice caused me to wince. Gods, the man sounded like a dying wampa. His words were phrased for politeness, a sure sign that there was someone in the office. Usually he barked out orders, expecting me to follow them with unwavering loyalty. I did follow them, but only for my own mercenary reasons. "Sala, would you please come to my office?"
He said please, someone important had to be there.
I acknowledged his order with the proper, subservient attitude and hurried to his office, curiosity driving me more than a desire to please Golkon.
Curiosity that drove me right into the arms of the most gorgeous man I had ever met…
Continued in Part Two