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Beyond - Legends Saga - Legends Ἀνάγκη – Necessity beyond Sway | Thrawn, OC, drama/tragedy, pre-ANH to TTT | Epic, e-book available

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Chyntuck, Oct 6, 2014.

  1. Csillan_girl

    Csillan_girl Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 6, 2003
    ...and a typical Ayesha again.
    I want, I want, I want.
    No matter if everyone going to Coruscant with her will be endangered, her feelings tell her so, so she has to go, and her feelings stand, of course and without doubt, above everything and everyone.
    And everyone, again, confirms her in that assumption and caters to her whims.
    Not that long ago, she barely survived being in the hands of Palpatine, and now it has to be Isard's lair.
    "All she’ll do is ask me a few questions and let me go". But of course. Because that's just how our nice little Ysanne is, she'll just invite her for a tea party, and she'll be on her way, Thrawn's surely just being overprotective again, which is inherently evil.
    Aaah, that woman is driving me crazy!!! 8-}

    If I'm not mistaken, we're at at that point in the timeline where the X-wing novels take place, right?
    And Ayesha arrived on Coruscant with two nonhumans - oooh, I fear I know where this may lead... [face_nail_biting]

    Chyntuck, you did it again - you got me from "oooh, love the nice mushy stuff" to "I think I'm gonna hit my head on the desk at what the characters do" to "can't - stand - the - tension" in mere seconds! ^:)^
     
  2. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Much "you can't go home again here." Although they certainly come close. Seeing Ayesha's old apartment, just the same as it was three years ago, with the Koch painting and the Fijisi wood sculpture in their places, the ysalamir nibbling its plant, elicits nostalgic feelings of earlier chapters when everything was (seemingly more) hunky-dory, as well as intensifies the feeling that some equally catastrophic crisis is just around the corner—especially in light of Ayesha's proclation that "he's [still] here," inside her head. I imagine that part of the point of coming to Coruscant was to continue that healing process, but here too it's going to be a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing.

    Especially with Mme Isard looming on the horizon. I imagine that Ayesha will soon be meeting up with her, under some circumstances or another, and I sure hope she's right that all Isard will do is "ask me a few questions and let me go." And once again there's the old tension between her pluck and Thrawn's overprotectiveness—that's one way, perhaps, that they're coming "home," though part of me asks, with Pete Seeger, "when will they ever learn?"

    The opening from the hung-over flight controller was a fun touch, as was the "Mandalorian plus Miralukan [?] companion" ruse, which I know dovetails with canon appearances of Thrawn in beskar'gam.

    Can't wait to see what more comes of their time in Coruscant, and of the frightening revelation that elements of Sheev are still lurking in Ayesha's head.

    EDITS: You asked about update schedules—I personally am not bothered if this story continues past TFA and into 2016, and I like the current Monday and Thursday schedule (anything more frequent might be harder for me to keep up with), but of course you should do what will work best for your own schedule.

    You asked too about the Czech opera I mentioned in the previous chapter's comment. It's Vina (Guilt), composed by Otakar Zich (1879–1934) and based on an Ibsen-like play by Jaroslav Hilbert. :)
     
  3. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing!
    Thanks! It figures that Syal was a useful source of information for Thrawn, after all the time she spent with the New Republic. But of course, he knows better than to ask direct questions :p
    To me your (readers') reactions are the best part of writing this [:D] I love the contrast between different people on how to interpret what she does -- it tells me that I'm doing something right.

    And yes, Ayesha and Thrawn are still kilometres apart here on how to proceed with rebuilding their relationship -- actually it was about time they realised how far apart they are in terms of personality and managing their emotions. But they're getting there, slowly...
    Hehehe. She's a piece of work, ins't she? But then so is Thrawn. I'd hate it if my husband kept making decisions for me behind my back :p One would hope that instead of clashing and twisting each other's arm, they would finally start laying the problems on the table and discussing them, and yes, some of that is beginning to happen.
    Indeed, as of this chapter we are in 6 ABY. As for the rest... [face_whistling] [face_mischief]
    Thank you! I got a lot of nice compliments from you already, but this has got to be one of the nicest I ever heard [face_blush]

    Indeed, the coming chapters (well, all of them until the end of this story, really) will be this back-and-forth between crisis and healing. But coming to Coruscant was something they both needed to do, especially Ayesha -- but also Thrawn, even though of course he has a separate set of motives that have nothing to do with their relationship.
    Errr, never? ;) [face_laugh]
    Thanks! That bit was fun to write, which is the main reason I came up with it, because it wasn't really necessary in the first place :p I've been wanting to write something about the seedier aspects of the GFFA, and while that's not going to happen until next year, I thought I could play around with it a bit now.

    Thanks for the opera reference. I'm going to confess again my musical ignorance by admitting that I'd never heard of it, but I'm going to check it out asap.

    As for updates, I gave it some more thought and I'm going to stick to the Monday-Thursday schedule. I'm still tweaking details in future chapters, and I don't want to rush and then have to retcon half of what I wrote.

    Thanks again, everyone! Next chapter coming up straight away.
     
  4. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading [:D]

    -----------------------------------------------------

    Chapter 17: Homecomings

    There was a warm presence at Ayesha’s side when she emerged from her deep slumber, but from the scent alone she knew that it wasn’t Thrawn. She opened her eyes to see a mop of soft brown hair resting against her shoulder and a small arm thrown across her waist. A worn-out Wookiee doll was wedged between her and the sleeping child.

    Tam.

    It took her a moment to remember that she was in her Coruscant apartment, and she wondered vaguely how Tam had found himself in her bed, but she soon told herself that it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he was there, that he was all grown up and healthy, and that, despite the fact that she hadn’t given a sign of life in years, he remembered her and he loved her.

    She wrapped her arm around the little boy and held him tightly to press her lips to the top of his head. He was sleeping serenely, and she didn’t dare move anymore for fear of waking him up. She simply lay there quietly until a discreet shuffle of feet was heard in the hallway, and Mira stepped into her room. The two women stared at each other for a moment and broke into wide smiles.

    “Hey there,” Mira whispered as she came to sit on the edge of the bed. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”

    “Good as new,” Ayesha whispered back. “Though I was hoping to see you earlier, I was on my way to comm you when... whatever. How long did I sleep?”

    Mira caressed her hair. “Two days. Don’t worry though. If you’d called we would have missed all the cloak and sabre.” Ayesha looked at her curiously. “Let’s just say that an alien of a kind I’d never seen before hijacked my speeder and took me to a Mandalorian bounty hunter who claimed to be Tam’s best friend. It was an experience to remember.”

    Ayesha suppressed a bout of laughter. “That’s very much like Thrawn these days. Where is he?”

    “Down stairs, with your brother and his friend. We installed sensor jammers already and we’ll fit frosted film on your windows today, so he can move in.”

    “He brought you here and he put you straight to work?”

    Mira smiled again. “He asked nicely. Meaning, after he took off his helmet, but before he re-holstered his blaster.” She paused. “He’s very worried, you know. He wanted to take you back to where you came from as soon as you were okay. Your brother talked him out of it.”

    Ayesha sighed. “Rumpy understands that healing isn’t something that just comes to you. You have to go looking for it, even if you don’t know if you’ll find it. Thrawn... he seems to believe that everything will sort itself out and fall in place on its own with time.”

    There was a silence. “He said it’s been difficult for you,” Mira said. “That you were really in bad shape and –”

    “It was difficult for both of us. And, well, you know... he didn’t make it easy for me and I didn’t make it easy for him. But I’ll do what it takes to make it right.” She looked at Mira straight in the eye. “I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch. There are many stupid reasons for it, but basically I felt so dirty after... Anyway, I felt tainted. I –”

    Mira took her hand. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.” She pulled her up. “Come on. Let’s go and make breakfast while Tam sleeps, because we’re expecting visitors soon.”

    She helped Ayesha to the kitchen and set about preparing caf and spice buns as they chatted away. “Tam really missed you. He has an incredible memory, he recalls details from back when we came to visit you on Kashyyyk. He was happy to see Rumpy too.”

    A pair of bloodshot eyes buried between a shaggy beard and a dishevelled mane appeared above the counter. “Did you make it strong?” Kal asked as he took the mug proffered by his wife.

    Ayesha laughed. “Some things never change. Kal Stramnig not seeing straight before nine hundred hours is one of them.”

    She went to stand up, but her legs gave way under her. Kal caught her in the nick of time and held her in a bear hug. “You take it easy, young lady,” he said in his best approximation of Nazmat Koch’s snappy tone. “We came here to look after you, but extra bruises are your own responsibility.”

    By the time the spice buns were ready and they sat at the dining room table, Onion and Tashi had arrived. The Sullustan was grinning from ear to ear and chattered throughout breakfast, while Onion simply settled at Ayesha’s side and held her hand tightly. They filled her in on the state of the Coruscant art scene. The news wasn’t good. Isard’s policies had proven to be even more human-centric and speciesist than the Emperor’s, and Onion hadn’t been able to sell a piece in more than a year. “We should have a Plebeian Exhibition again,” Ayesha said. “Let’s show her what we’ve got.”

    The Dug shook his head, a gesture he had adopted from Humans over time. “No way. I don’t ever want to see the inside of Lusankya.”

    Ayesha gave him a puzzled look. “It’s Isard’s secret prison,” Tashi whispered. “The place where they take dissidents. Nobody knows where it is. People are just taken off the streets and they disappear forever.”

    “In fairness we don’t know if it really exists,” Kal interjected. “But we do know that people have gone missing, especially aliens.”

    There was an ominous pause. “We believe that they took Makh,” Mira said cautiously. “He wrote a pamphlet in praise of the New Republic and published it under his real name. You know how he is, he’s... rash, and it became worse because he was drinking far too much. Next thing we knew, his flat was torn to shreds and he vanished off the face of the planet.”

    “I think he’s in hiding,” Onion grumbled. “He may be rash, but he’s not stupid. Or actually, yes, he is stupid. He probably went and joined the Alien Combine or some other anti-Human group and they hid him in the Underlevels. Either way, we won’t be seeing him again anytime soon.”

    Ayesha looked around the table. “And... Lamtee and Dacco?” she asked hesitantly.

    “They left to go to Zeltros,” Tashi said. “They came one day and said they couldn’t stand this planet anymore, and they left. Then Zeltros joined the New Republic and we haven’t been able to keep in touch, but I’m sure they’re okay. Probably partying like there’s no tomorrow.”

    Ayesha sank into a meditative silence. “Thrawn expects Isard to call me in for... a friendly chat. Did he tell you that before he brought you here?”

    Kal shrugged. “He did, and we said we don’t care. We put our names together on the Plebeian Exhibition, remember? It’s not like she doesn’t know we’re friends.”

    “And we’ve all had problems since she came to power,” Tashi added. “Not as bad as Onion, but still... we haven’t had a lot of work. If it weren’t for Kal and Mira, Onion and I wouldn’t have a place to live. We can’t afford to pay rent anymore.”

    “We moved to my grandmother’s apartment in Manarai and let the guys have our old flat,” Mira explained. “I still have my job, so we didn’t need the money. Then Lamtee and Dacco moved out, so now Tashi and Onion have a lot of space. You’ll see Tam’s old playroom, they turned it into a workshop.”

    The Dug slid off his chair. “Let’s get to work. There’s lots of windows here, and the Capt’ wants to move in with his berluved.” His satisfied smile indicated that Ayesha’s mock angry look was exactly the reaction he was hoping for, and he led her to the conversation’s circle armchair.

    “Isn’t there something I can do?” she protested. “I’m not going to sit there like a princess and watch you work.”

    “Yes you will. Orders from the Capt’ and you’re in no shape to do anything anyway. Besides, that name-child of yours is going to wake up soon and listening to him will keep you busy, trust me.”

    They had barely started unrolling the translucent film and applying it to the transparisteel dome above the atrium when a very sleepy Tam came out of the hallway and leapt on Ayesha’s lap, hugging her tightly. “You’re going to stay with us now?” he asked.

    Ayesha hugged him back. “Yes.”

    “Forever?”

    She chuckled. “Maybe not forever, but I won’t go away for so long again.” She pushed him off gently. “Come on. Let’s go and make you breakfast.” Mira started climbing off the ladder as she stood up. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. Seeing you guys is doing me a world of good.”

    By the time Tam’s breakfast was over – after he told Ayesha everything there was to say, and possibly more, about his parents, his friends, the school he was going to and the drawing competition he had won “and Papa didn’t even help me” – the little team had finished applying frosting film to the atrium, and Kal and Tashi had moved on to Thrawn’s study while Onion and Mira got started on the workshop. Ayesha and Tam joined them and sat at the table, and Tam started filling piece of flimsi after piece of flimsi, babbling incessantly all the while. “You could let Ayesha get in a word from time to time,” his mother chided gently.

    Ayesha smiled. “It’s okay. We have a lot of catching up to do.” She picked one of Tam’s drawings from the table to show it to her. “He’s very talented, you know.”

    Onion muttered something about gaga namegivers in Huttese and they all burst out laughing. It was so easy being here, Ayesha thought. When Thrawn and Rumpy came up at lunchtime – there were only the bedroom windows left to cover, and she had double-clicked her comlink to give them the all clear – all traces of her recent episode were gone, she was positively radiant. They had a quick bite all together before getting back to work. Rumpy dismantled the comm device embedded in Thrawn’s desk and Ayesha helped him replace its transmission board with one they had brought from Nirauan – his paws were too large to fit in the small opening – while Tam took a nap on the couch. There was a little bit of drama in the evening when the time to go home arrived – Tam had played all afternoon with Rumpy and Ayesha, and he was exhausted and overexcited at once – but a promise to meet up again tomorrow calmed him down, and Rumpy slipped into the turbolift to return to his twenty-second floor studio while Ayesha closed the door behind her friends.

    Without saying a word she took Thrawn’s hand and led him to the ‘fresher. They took off their clothes and stayed together under the steaming water, like they had done every evening for the past five months, but when he finally closed the taps she surprised him by wrapping her arms around him and pressing her lips hesitantly to his. He felt her shudder when the kiss deepened, and he went to step back, but she held him closer and buried her face in his neck. “He won’t win. The Emperor, Isard... they can’t win.”

    * * *​

    The rest of New Year Fete Week went by in a blur. Thrawn was busy meeting with his agents on planet and disappeared every morning to the twenty-second floor, where he donned his Mandalorian armour before leaving to run errands across the city, often accompanied by Rumpy and Rukh. Ayesha, meanwhile, wanted to spend as much time as possible with Tam before he returned to school, and she took him every day to a different place – the Imperial Gardens, the Holographic Zoo, the Great Western Sea – together with Kal and Mira. She had explained to them that she wanted to be seen, because it would give Isard’s services the impression that she had nothing to hide. “I told you, we don’t care,” Kal said. “We’re happy to see you, and we don’t have anything to hide either. She can come and ask us as many questions as she wants, it’s not like we have anything to say anyway.”

    The days were too short, and by the last evening of the holiday Ayesha felt like she had merely scratched the surface of what she had taken to calling ‘my life in my absence’, but she didn’t object when Mira insisted that they turn in early – she could see that Tam needed to rest, and she also needed some time for herself. She declined her friends’ offer to fly her home, saying that she would take public transportation – Thrawn would be out until late and she was in no rush to return to an empty apartment. Once their speeder had flown away, she took a moment to collect her thoughts and walked to the maglev stop.

    She pulled a hoodie out of her satchel as she boarded the car and slipped it on. She got off at the first transport hub and boarded a shuttle that took her to a stop near her skyscraper, but once she arrived there she took advantage of a blind spot between surveillance cameras and got back onto the shuttle. A few stops further, she got off again, pulled up her hood and walked quietly to a turbolift that took her to the depths of the city. She looked around carefully as she stepped out. There were more cameras than three years ago, but they were still few and far between. She pulled on a balaclava and allowed herself a small smile. Isard may have tightened her grip on Coruscant, but the sprawling city was simply too big to control. She took another transport, then another, walked across a seedy neighbourhood as if she owned the place, and she finally reached the secret door to the Alien Protection Zone.

    She was a little disoriented as she pushed the duracrete plug back into its hole. The alleys, passageways and staircases of Invisec had changed – the entire neighbourhood was naught but a giant work in progress, and fluctuations in its population meant that new makeshift structures appeared every day – but she soon found her bearings and resumed walking, hugging the walls and hiding in the shadows to remain unnoticed. She paused briefly by a little alcove, as if to salute it, and, a few twists and turns later, she found the small platform she was looking for.

    The door to the Centre had been replaced and was now protected by a force field. Whoever the new occupants were, they were keen on security, Ayesha thought, although she was surprised when a closer examination did not reveal any sensors other than a palm-activated opening panel. She stepped back into a dark corner– apparently she would not be able to pay tribute to her friends in the very place where Palpatine’s men had captured them – but as she knelt her eyes fell on a series of symbols painted on the ground, still visible through the grime that covered them. She wiped them clean to reveal a line of Cheunh script that read, ‘respect her sleep’.

    She sprang to her feet and pressed her hand to the panel. It lit up twice as it scanned her fingerprints. The force field vanished and the door slid open. The glowpanels came on automatically when she stepped inside.

    There were still signs of the struggle that had taken place when the Emperor’s men had come to arrest Simon and Uumana and Dex – there were scorch marks on the walls and some of the furniture was broken – but it was obvious that the place had been tidied up. Simon’s desk was in its place, his chair carefully pushed against it as if waiting for him to come, the beds were organised in neat rows in the ward and the smashed cupboards were propped up against the walls, their doors tied closed with bits of wire. Ayesha walked to her locker to inspect it – her equipment was gone, but her old white blouse was hanging from the hook where she had left it the last time she’d come. She took off her balaclava. She was alone in the Centre today, along with her ghosts.

    She continued her exploration of the various rooms. Simon’s operating theatre was untouched, the bacta tank Thrawn had diverted from the Navy stood alone and empty in the small room where Dex had set it up and the blast room where Qumawarat had died was still equipped with its computer system. The standby lights shone softly in the penumbra, as if inviting her to inspect that everything was operational. The Imperial Security Bureau had apparently left all the medical equipment behind; the only thing she could see was missing were the improvised devices the Centre’s slicer had built to detect and deactivate slave chips. She brushed her finger on the console and walked back to the small lounge where she used to sit with her friends during the quiet moments of her shift.

    The door to the lounge had been replaced as well. The ISB must have blast it open to reach Simon and Dex – and Uumana, she thought bitterly, Uumana who sat blankly throughout the assault, blissfully unaware of the chaos that was unfolding around her, her lekku perfectly immobile on her shoulders as the Imperials stormed in. Uumana, who was not even worth arresting and taking to a penal colony.

    The threadbare sofas and Dex’s reinforced armchair were gone, as was the low table, and there were dark spots on the walls that did not result from blaster bolts, Ayesha was certain of it. She walked to the large, oblong box that occupied the centre of the room and dropped to her knees. Her finger traced the Cheunh markings on the cover. ‘Uumana Kerević. Gone too long, taken too early. May you be forever at peace.’

    * * *​

    Thrawn was pacing up and down the hallway when she arrived home. He leapt to meet her when the turbolift doors slid open, and he opened his mouth to berate her for her lateness, but something indefinable in her expression held him back. He merely raised an eyebrow in question and waited for her explanation, but none came. She led him to the ‘fresher. Tears shone in her eyes as he bathed her, and he arched an eyebrow again.

    “Uumana,” she hiccupped before bursting into sobs.

    Understanding suddenly washed over his features. “I should have known,” he muttered. He opened his arms to invite her to come closer.

    She took a step back and wiped her cheeks. “He won’t win,” she said defiantly. “He won’t win.”
     
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    [face_dancing] One of the best meeting up again with friends scenes I've ever read! Tam is just the best - and so is Mira. I felt Ayesha being open and candid with her about what went wrong and who is accountable. It is a very positive thing that she admits it took both she and Thrawn to make things hard between them and it'll take both to fix/mend. I liked seeing Onion and the rest again. :) More grieving - this is good! It's like clearing the toxins. [face_thinking] Then one can move on and have memories that are more sweet than bitter, eventually. @};-
     
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  6. divapilot

    divapilot Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Wow. Amazing updates! She is back home and all her friends have come to see her, but it's so different for her too. The pure love from Tam, the support of his parents and her other friends, and the return to her own place. And yet, the people who are missing... Either by choice like Lamtee and Dracco, or taken by force like Simon and Dex. And sweet Uumana, left behind to die. How horrible for Simon - he must have fought with everything he had to try to save her. I'm thinking that since the memorial was written in Cheunh, it was Thrawn who discovered her body and cleaned up the center. What a sad burden to bear: of course he couldn't tell anyone what he found. But now, at last, they can share the burden of their loss.
     
  7. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    In case this helps, it's from Part 2, chapter 22:

     
  8. divapilot

    divapilot Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    True, and good call there. I had forgotten about the probe droid. Thank you for clarifying!

    I remembered that Thrawn knew about her death; the memorial (crypt?) to her, written in Cheunh, implies to me that Thrawn actually went there himself at some point.
     
  9. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Ewok Poet Come on, admit it. You've been taking notes. *walks away wondering what other details EP remembers that she has forgotten [face_worried]*
     
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  10. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    I'm really glad Ewok Poet reminded us of that passage from part 2, because it reminded me that, in fact, Uumana's fate was one part of the Centre's destruction that Ayesha did not find out about beforehand. And that, of course, makes the moment of discovering her tomb (as I guess I can call it) all the more emotional for Ayesha. Indeed, I now get the feeling that her desire to return to Coruscant stemmed a lot from the feeling that she didn't know the whole story of what happened at the Centre (in addition to checking on her living friends, of course).

    The epitaph was a very fitting one: Uumana was, alas, definitely "gone" for a lot longer than she's actually been dead. What an image, of her just sitting there in her catatonia in the midst of all those horrors... (shudder)

    And Thrawn, of course, was the one who put everything in order and turned the place into a proper memorial. Thrawn, who once visited there under great risk to his life and career. Wow. In many ways.

    I do love seeing this early-elementary-school aged Tam. His chattiness reminds me of a kid I know about the same age. :D At this age, I bet he's also starting to pick up on the serious situation surrounding everything and everyone on Isardian Coruscant. I'm thrilled but of course not surprised that he's showing talent in art, and I look forward to seeing where that will go. :cool:
     
  11. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Monday morning reply time! Thank you all for reading and reviewing [:D]
    Ayesha knew what she was talking about when she demanded to go and see her friends. She had been planning with Thrawn to move away, but not to be cut off from them, and suddenly she found herself uprooted from her life and the people she held dear. She needed to reconnect with them :)
    "Clearing the toxins" is a good comparison, I think. My experience is that grieving and mourning are necessary processes if one is to purge the pain of loss, so I openly admit that I put a lot of myself in Ayesha in this passage.
    Thank you! As you pointed out, returning to Coruscant is a bittersweet experience for Ayesha. She wasn't expecting to find the place exactly as she left it, but she wasn't expecting to find more loss either. As for Simon's capture and Uumana's death, it's a scene that I considered writing as a companion piece to this fic, but I just can't bring myself to do it. To me it's the saddest thing I put in this story.
    Indeed, Thrawn couldn't tell Ayesha about it in part II when he found out, because she wasn't in a fit state to hear that sort of news, and she wasn't letting him talk to her anyway. And of course, he couldn't tell anyone else either, since the only people who knew he had ever been in the Centre had been arrested. That he can share the burden with Ayesha, as you said, is an important step for both of them -- they're piecing their lives back together, bit by bit.
    Thank you! I don't know how successful I was at it, but I tried in earlier chapters to indicate that, in the same way Uumana matters a great deal to Ayesha, she also matters a great deal to Thrawn. They both fear that Ayesha may become like Uumana (hence for instance the long conversation that Thrawn has 'off-screen' with Simon in part II, chapter 5) and for Thrawn, when Ayesha rejected him after her arrival on the Admonitor, there was an element of her becoming someone else -- so in a way by burying Uumana he was burying his own relationship.
    Oh yes, six-year-old extroverts... I carefully studied my nephew for this chapter. Or, well, not carefully. He just slams his personality traits in your face [face_laugh] As for where that will go... you'll find out in Thursday's chapter.

    Thanks again, everyone! Next chapter up straight away.
     
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  12. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading [:D]

    --------------------

    Chapter 18: Petty and pathetic

    The anticipated comm message from Imperial Intelligence came a few weeks into Ayesha’s stay on Coruscant, and to Thrawn’s surprise it was phrased as a polite invitation rather than a summons. “This is highly unusual for Ysanne Isard,” he said. “I thought it more likely that she would send a squad of stormtroopers to pick you up without notice.”

    Ayesha shrugged. “I told you, she’s not really interested in me. She has no reason to be. What do I have to offer than she may want? Besides, the fact that she didn’t call me before today proves that she doesn’t really care. This is just a routine exercise for her, to cover her bases.”

    “Perhaps she has been monitoring you since the day we arrived, Ayoo’sha. We cannot exclude that possibility.”

    “Our sensor jammers didn’t ever trigger,” she countered. “We’d know it if she were keeping an eye on me.”

    “Do not underestimate her,” he said sternly. “She has more means of obtaining information than you will ever fathom. She might have had you followed, or she might have an informant among those close to you.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped. “My friends would sooner join the Alien Combine than Isard, you know that, otherwise you wouldn’t have allowed them to come here.”

    Thrawn sighed and patted the couch for her to come and sit at his side. “All I am trying to say is that Ysanne Isard is a devious woman, and you would do well to heed my warnings against her. Even the best-kept secrets are eventually uncovered. The Centre was found despite all your precautions. After many years, admittedly, but the ISB eventually succeeded in getting a mole in the system.”

    Ayesha shuddered. “It wasn’t a mole, Thrawn. It was me.” Thrawn arched an eyebrow in question. “The Emperor took it from my mind,” she said bitterly. “Just like that. That’s also how he found out about Uncle Quin.” She took a deep breath to steady her voice. “But he’s gone now, so we don’t need to think about him anymore.”

    Thrawn wrapped an arm around her when she rested her head on his shoulder and held her tightly. She was trembling. “Ayoo’sha, are you certain that you can handle a visit to the Imperial Palace?”

    She shrugged again. “Of course. Why couldn’t I?”

    Thrawn rubbed the nape of her neck. “I fear that it might bring back memories of your... interrogation and trigger another episode. Of course” – he forced a self-deprecating smile – “I may merely be acting the mother avian once more.”

    There was a long silence. “I don’t think you’re acting mother avian,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s pretty obvious that I’m more damaged than I thought, and I keep wondering if the Emperor put any other booby traps inside my head. But I don’t think the Palace would do anything to me. Your spies said that Isard isn’t using the throne room, right?”

    “As far as we know, she is not.” He hesitated. “I will admit that I am surprised to hear that the Emperor interrogated you in the throne room itself.”

    She shook her head. “It wasn’t in the throne room. It wasn’t even in the Palace, it was somewhere else. But he had a replica of the throne room there.”

    Thrawn pulled back a little to look at her. “Are you telling me that there is a secondary palace on Coruscant that I know nothing about?”

    She shook her head once more. “Not on Coruscant. They took me somewhere else, to a place called Wayland.”

    “Wayland?”

    She nodded. “I think so. I overheard that on the comm in the shuttle, and I assumed it was the planet’s name.”

    “Wayland,” he repeated after a moment, his eyes glittering with concentration. “This is interesting. Would you remember who piloted the craft that took you there?”

    She gave him a curious look. “The Emperor himself,” she answered when he didn’t elaborate. “The Royal Guards took me to Obroa-skai, and he was waiting for me there.”

    There was another silence. “Ayoo’sha, I will ask one thing of you. Please do not ever mention this planet to anyone but me. Not even to your brother.”

    “I won’t. I hate talking about this anyway.” She stood up. “Which is our cue to stop talking about it now. Let’s rehearse my interrogation once more. I’m meeting Isard tomorrow, remember?”

    * * *​

    When Ayesha arrived for her appointment in the Imperial Palace the next morning, the stormtroopers guarding the entrance of the Grand Corridor had obviously been warned of her visit. She was politely asked to wait a little until a member of Isard’s staff would come and fetch her, and within a few minutes she found herself gazing at a youthful face she was all too familiar with.

    “If you will please follow me, Ma’am,” Halber Prashat said with a crisp bow.

    She suppressed a smile and fell in step at his side. Leave it to Thrawn to place his own people in the enemy’s den, she thought. The irony of the fact that he thought of the current leader of the Empire as an enemy didn’t escape her. She was burning to ask Prashat how he had found himself there, but she restrained herself. No doubt dozens, if not more, of the sentients milling about the Grand Corridor were informants, and she didn’t want to blow his cover. Well, she would get Thrawn to tell her the tale when she got home.

    The young sergeant led her along the ch’hala trees lining the walls to a bank of turbolifts at the far end of the majestic hallway and keyed for one of the uppermost floors. Ayesha took advantage of the short ride to run through the calming exercises her adoptive mother and Reis Azada had taught her, collecting her thoughts and ensuring that her mind was at ease. The doors slid open with a whisper when they reached their destination.

    She expected that Royal Guards would be standing by Isard’s office, but despite her readiness the sight caused her to recoil in fear. She wondered if the men behind the crimson masks were the same who had come to arrest her all those years ago, but she shook off the thought. She noticed in the corner of her eye that their robes were hemmed with black – a sign that they were still mourning the Emperor nearly two years after his passing. The reminder that he was dead and gone gave her courage, and she stepped forward bravely.

    Isard’s suite was located on one of the highest levels of the Palace, and the view from the picture window was simply breathtaking. The room appeared to be empty when Ayesha walked in, and she noted the elegant but sparse furnishings as she came to stand in front of the Intelligence Director’s desk. The only discordant note was a small statue of Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber, a cheap trinket that could be purchased a credit a dozen from the Galactic Museum’s souvenir shop. She smiled inwardly. That artist was really an amateur, she thought. The movement was wrong.

    She focused her eyes on the cityscape outside until the discreet shuffle of feet told her that someone had entered the room, and moments later a tall woman in a scarlet uniform was standing at her side. “Stunning, isn’t it?” Isard asked in a voice so icy that it sent a shiver down her spine.

    Ayesha nodded. “Coruscant truly deserves its appellation ‘the Jewel of the Core’. It is from views like these that I understand my old master’s fascination with it.”

    The Intelligence Director angled her face ever so slightly towards her. “Ah, yes. Nazmat Koch. A talented artist with a deplorable taste for controversy. I seem to recall that her funeral caused quite a buzz.”

    “She was well-loved,” Ayesha said a little defensively. “Many of her former students, and even more of her admirers wanted to bid her a last farewell.”

    This time Isard turned to look at her properly. “I was referring to the oration delivered by your lover.”

    “My former lover,” Ayesha corrected.

    A delicate eyebrow rose towards Isard’s white forelocks. “Should I assume that you two had some sort of falling out?”

    “You could say that, Madam Director. Being kept hostage for nearly three years is indeed a form of ‘falling out’.” She looked at the other woman defiantly. “However, I doubt that you asked me to come here to question me about my love life.”

    Isard circled her desk slowly and sat, setting her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her fists. Her mismatched eyes bored into Ayesha’s. “You do not fear me.”

    “You rescinded the arrest warrant against me where others had not, Madam Director. I took it to mean that I had nothing to fear if I were to return to Coruscant.”

    “A reasonable assumption, but perhaps a hasty one. Did it cross your mind that I might be seeking to lure you into a false sense of security?”

    Ayesha raised her hands palms upwards in a gesture of surrender. “Security seems to be a rare commodity as far as I am concerned. I have renounced my adoptive tribe on Kashyyyk and cannot return there. My birth father’s family on Corellia reject me for having a Kiffar mother, and I am not welcome on Kiffu because of clan feuds that date back to the Clone Wars – all of which I am certain that you are already aware of. If you are telling me that I walked into an elaborate trap that you set up for some reason I cannot fathom, I will answer that you wasted your time, Madam Director. I would have come to Coruscant anyway, because I have nowhere else to go.”

    The mismatched eyes narrowed. “You could have gone to one of the worlds that are now under the control of the Rebellion.”

    Ayesha snorted. “I was the Emperor Palpatine Fellow for the Arts. I doubt that the Rebellion would care to have me around.”

    Isard’s lips curved into an unpleasant smile. “Your appraisal of your situation is more accurate than I thought. I am beginning to understand what Admiral Thrawn saw in you. He is quite intelligent, despite his being an alien.” She gestured towards the chair across from her. “Have a seat.”

    The rest of the conversation revolved, as expected, around Ayesha’s time aboard the Admonitor. She did her best to answer Isard’s questions without sounding like she knew the replies by rote, and she put the appropriate amount of bitterness in her voice to give the impression that the experience had left her disillusioned with life as a whole. The Intelligence Director’s interrogation was relentless, and more than once she was tempted to invent a detail that she could claim to have noticed while on the Star Destroyer, but Thrawn’s men had prepared her well. She made a show of scrunching her face in concentration to end up saying a variant of ‘I don’t know’, repeating ad nauseam that she had spent three years confined to a luxurious suite with precious little in terms of company.

    Isard finally sat back in her chair. “What are your projects now that you are back on Coruscant?”

    Ayesha shrugged. “I don’t have any projects in particular, other than renovating my apartment.”

    “Is anything in your apartment Imperial property that Admiral Thrawn would have left behind?”

    “I don’t think so. He took his personal belongings last time he was here. There was his desktop holocomm, but I already returned that to High Command when I dismantled his study a couple of weeks ago.”

    Isard made a note on her datapad. “Thank you, Miss Eskari. You may leave.” Ayesha stood up. “You have lost quite some weight since the last time I caught a glimpse of you at one of the Emperor’s functions.”

    Ayesha smiled. “Should I take that as a compliment, Madam Director?”

    The mismatched eyes narrowed again. “Take it as you will. Bear in mind that the ISB may be checking in with you from time to time.”

    Ayesha gave the Intelligence Director a bow. She had almost reached the door when the icy voice spoke again behind her. “Oh, Miss Eskari. Emperor Palpatine had your works removed from the exhibits of the Galactic Museum after your arrest. He agreed with me that the art of a half-breed alien-lover did not belong there. You may go and collect them anytime, they are taking up space in the storage areas.”

    Ayesha turned around and gave her another bow, with an adequately contrite expression on her face. “Thank you, Madam Director.” She spun around quickly to conceal the sparkle of amusement in her eyes, pressed her palm to the electronic panel and let herself out.

    * * *​

    Ayesha remained silent as she entered her apartment, as had been agreed with Thrawn, but she stunned him by giving him a radiant smile, cupping his face in her hands and planting a passionate kiss on his lips. His comm clicked twice, then once – the signal from Rukh to let them know that she hadn’t been followed. They went to the bedroom without saying a word and she took off her clothes. He waved a handheld sensor wand carefully above them until the little device indicated that it detected no tracking chip or any other electronics. “Clear,” he said finally. “Once again, you were right and I was wrong, Ayoo’sha’nek. It seems that Ysanne Isard has truly no use for you.”

    She dug into the closet for towels. “I think she found me very disappointing,” she said cheerfully. “She even said that it would be the ISB, not Intelligence, keeping tabs on me in the future. The only moment she took notes was when I talked about your holocomm. I’m sure she’s collecting it from High Command as we speak.” She turned around to look at him. “She really hates you, you know. And she doesn’t like me either. She called me a ‘half-breed alien-lover’ before I left.” And with that, she burst out laughing and tugged his hand towards the ‘fresher.

    Thrawn raised a perplexed eyebrow. “Ayoo’sha, are you feeling alright?”

    “Of course I’m alright. I’m better than I have been in years right now.” She gave his hand another tug and wrapped her arms around him suggestively.

    His perplexity shifted to concern. “Ayoo’sha, did you accept a drink or a snack while in Ysanne Isard’s office? You seem to be... well, nearly drunk, or... drugged.”

    It made her laugh even harder. “Uninhibited, you mean? Yes, I am. As strange as it seems, my conversation with her was therapeutic.” At this, Thrawn was utterly bewildered. “You know what Palpatine did? You want to know how petty and pathetic he was? He took my works out of the Galactic Museum when he arrested me. It wasn’t enough for him to destroy my mind, he wanted to erase the fact that I ever existed.” She shook her head in dismay and pulled Thrawn closer to kiss him. “Petty, pathetic Emperor Palpatine,” she squeaked gleefully. “How could I ever be afraid of that man?”

    ---------------------------

    Notes: If you haven't heard of the Emperor's storehouse on Wayland, or of ch'hala trees, you really need to read the Thrawn Trilogy. The description of Isard's office, including the Vader statuette, is borrowed from the comic book Mara Jade: By the Emperor's Hand.
     
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Ayesha is correct about Isard's professional interest, what the nature and degree would be, based on the timing of the interview.

    Cool segue into mentioning Wayland there.

    Not surprised that Thrawn took the precaution of having faithful loyal officers in the mix of Ayesha's escort.
    Got tickled by Ayesha's conclusion "the artist was an amature." [face_laugh]
    She was totally poised and answered every question superbly! =D= =D= In content and the bitter disaffected tone.

    But the final scene - yes, that is what we call a breakthrough! When the power of the invisible victimizer changes and becomes something to thumb your nose at!

    [face_dancing] !!!!!!

    My admiration for her just went into orbit somewhere beyond the blue horizon. ^:)^



    SQUEE! Eternally.
    [:D] [:D]

    Csillan_girl will unabashedly love this chapter as much as I did.
     
  14. Kahara

    Kahara Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 3, 2001
    It's definitely been a mixed-up homecoming. Ayesha's first reaction to the apartment, while not exactly a surprise by now, is still heartbreaking to see.

    I'm glad that at least some of her old friends apparently managed to avoid any terrible fates -- after Uumana, I was worried about all of them. Speaking of whom, Ayesha finding her memorial in that way was another very moving scene. That Thrawn found a way to do that for Uumana, and for Ayesha, is a really wonderful and heartfelt gift. @};- (Though she did just have to wander in on her own without any advance warning... which both she and Thrawn could have averted by communicating. ;) The more things change, the more some stay the same.)

    Though I'm glad that Ayesha wasn't too disturbed by her questioning at the Palace, I'm still concerned. She's right about Palpatine being a petty little sheev though. [face_laugh] He totally was.
     
  15. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    Isard just gave her precisely what she said she would. A false sense of reassurance. The "Tell my mom, but don't tell yours." kind of a thing.
     
  16. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    I've been waiting for the meeting between these two for a long time, and it didn't disappoint. Part of me is relieved at how well Ayesha's apparently well-planned-out ruses and fake answers went of. Besides her own natural resourcefulness, it's of course inevitable that she picked up a lot of the fine points of intrigue and plotting in her long association (in one form and another) with Thrawn.

    Maybe this is silly of me, but I just think it's so cool to see this kind of tense, Imperial conversation happening between two women—it's usually such a sausage-factory type of interaction (and I've been guilty of that too).

    But part of me, though, is worried, because it almost seems to have been too easy. There is indeed very much a "false sense of security" vibe hanging around this whole interaction, as Ewok Poet says. I highly suspect Ayesha's troubles are far from over, especially since, as Isard herself says, the ISB will be checking in on her periodically. :eek:

    And yet... if one of the things that came out of it is that Ayesha views the Emperor no longer as a serious menace still dwelling inside her mind but as someone "petty and pathetic" of whom she's no longer afraid, then that is a major step in a major right direction. Always two forward, one back, it seems! I hope that feeling, at least, is something that will remain with Ayesha. And I bet the process of going to the museum and picking up her artworks will, like the return to her apartment and the visit from her old friends, be a bittersweet and thought-provoking experience for her, so I'm curious to see how that will go, too. :)
     
  17. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    I do always love catching up on this story, and apparently I have had some gems to read up on - not limited to Darric's rescue, Ayesha's role in helping figure things out with the Vagaari, and the arrival of Soontir Fel, which I was all in a happy fit over. [face_love][face_dancing] But it also seems that we have finally had some progress where our lovers are concerned, and that just did my heart all sorts of good to see. The build-up to their reconciliation was perfect, with their talking past each other with Ayesha's departure and Thrawn's misunderstandings about her and Darric leading to his finally 'flipping his lid', so to speak; as a result of your careful construction, the resulting confrontation was really everything I wanted it to be and more.

    But, this:

    Tears welled up in Thrawn’s eyes. He fell to his knees and held out a hand, and when she didn’t shy away from his touch he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her belly. The missing piece of their puzzle fell in its place, and they were finally able to break down and cry as they began to mourn together the life they had lost.

    I was in honest to goodness tears to read that passage. For all of the healing Ayesha has done, this really was the biggest thing that was missing, and I adore how they are both trying to find a new path together now. They can't go back to how they were, and it's going to be a long road towards what recovery can be had - even with the both of them fully working together to help each other through - but there is a light at the end of the tunnel now, and it is beautiful to see.

    Then, I especially liked Ayesha's going through and finally reading his letters - of course she made her own paper to do so [face_love] - and now, on Coruscant:

    It made her laugh even harder. “Uninhibited, you mean? Yes, I am. As strange as it seems, my conversation with her was therapeutic.” At this, Thrawn was utterly bewildered. “You know what Palpatine did? You want to know how petty and pathetic he was? He took my works out of the Galactic Museum when he arrested me. It wasn’t enough for him to destroy my mind, he wanted to erase the fact that I ever existed.” She shook her head in dismay and pulled Thrawn closer to kiss him. “Petty, pathetic Emperor Palpatine,” she squeaked gleefully. “How could I ever be afraid of that man?”

    [face_love][face_love]

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. I'm glad that this trip is as therapeutic for her, so far, as she had first intended for it to be.

    Though, that said, I too have to express my doubts over the conversation with Isard going as smoothly as it did. It was just . . . easy, and though I really wouldn't mind if life gave these two a break, things are seldom that simple. But, I look forward to your next update and seeing where your plot spins from here. [face_thinking]

    As always, lovely work, and I cannot wait for more.

    [:D]=D=
     
  18. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I am greatly enjoying the Isard/not Isard debate here [face_mischief]

    A few replies.
    Thanks! I was re-reading HttE the other day and I realised that Thrawn had never been to Wayland before, so I needed an explanation as to how he found out about it.
    It's just like him, isn't it? There again, I wanted him to have agents on Coruscant before we reach the beginning of TTT. As brilliant as he is, he couldn't come up with a whole network of spies from the depths of the Unknown Regions ;)
    [face_laugh] The little Vader statue actually appears in the By the Emperor's Hand comics when Mara infiltrates Isard's office. It felt so out of place that I had to mention it.
    Confession time: after eighty-something chapters, I felt that I needed a new spin on Ayesha's healing-through-art process. So I still associated it with her art, but I thought that healing-through-laughter would help too.
    Thanks!
    You could say that ;) On the other hand, it was also something Ayesha needed to do on her own. She didn't expect to find anything there, and she hadn't realised that Uumana meant so much to Thrawn as well.
    [face_rofl] After using 'sheev' so often as an epithet for Palps, I'm going to find it very difficult when the name pops up for real in fics. There will be unexpected bouts of laughter in the middle of the most dramatic scenes.
    Maybe... or maybe not [face_whistling]
    Thank you! This scene was a blast to write, and it's true that I can't think of one where both speakers are women. The scene I used as a model here is a passage from The Three Musketeers where Milady has a long, polite and very unpleasant conversation with her brother-in-law, and now that I think of it, I probably picked that one because there was a female character [face_thinking]
    Hehe. Going to the museum is going to be an interesting moment of Ayesha's life. Just scroll down to the next chapter...
    Thank you! You went on a binge-reading session there. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
    Thanks again! I had some readers (on FFN) who were complaining that the reconciliation between Thrawn and Ayesha took too long, but my theory is that 1) it should take long and 2) it shouldn't be easy. As you know I can do unabashedly romantic from time to time, but if the reconciliation were to happen overnight I really didn't need to put them through all this drama...
    :) I thought of this as the moment where Ayesha redefines her personality for herself. Her art is an integral part of her (even pieces she's not particularly fond of, like the ones she has in the museum) whereas she realises that Palpatine is just an external addition that sneaked into her mind, and that she can -- or can try to -- purge. And, well, overcoming her fear of him is a necessary first step, even if she doesn't know if he'll never be completely gone.

    Thanks again, everyone! Next chapter up straight away. It's a bit of an information dump, but bear with me.
     
    AzureAngel2, Kahara and Findswoman like this.
  19. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: @AzureAngel2 @Findswoman @Gemma @K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku @Mando-Man @Mira_Jade @Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to @Nyota's Heart for beta-reading [:D]

    --------------------

    Chapter 19: The shuttle

    “How long are we going to continue this?” Ayesha asked as Thrawn put away the sensor wand in the hidden compartment of the bedroom closet.

    Thrawn suppressed a smile at her impatience. “We shall continue doing this until I am convinced that Ysanne Isard is through with you, Ayoo’sha. We know that she has had you stalked a few times, Rukh spotted a tail at least twice. Prashat is following your file; he will let us know if and when the ISB are told to let go of you.”

    She sighed emphatically. “That woman really has nothing better to do, does she?”

    This time he let out a chuckle. “You are underestimating the importance of your lifemate in Imperial politics, Ayoo’sha. Ysanne Isard deems me dangerous enough to warrant keeping an eye on your movements for the foreseeable future. So dangerous, in fact, that I was informed this morning that she transferred the Star Destroyer Inexorable to my command – she clearly believes that planting her own people on my staff outweighs the risks associated with expanding my fleet.”

    She rolled her eyes. “That doesn’t make sense at all.”

    “It only makes sense in the framework of the game she and I are currently playing. She is seeking to obtain more information about me, as I seek to obtain more information about her.”

    “You think she doesn’t have any spies in your fleet?”

    Thrawn sat on the edge of the bed and started pulling off his left boot. “If she does, they have not communicated with her in many years. Comm calls from Nirauan and from my ships are few enough to allow for constant monitoring. She, on the other hand, cannot keep track of every communication that leaves Coruscant. In this sense, I have a distinct advantage.” He pulled off his other boot and sighed. “Sadly, this has not been much help. I have several agents in her entourage, but she is playing the sabacc cards very close to her chest. Ideally I should find a way to infiltrate the Palace myself, but as things are I would be content to merely find more sources –”

    “... without attracting attention to yourself,” Ayesha completed. She came to stand in front of him as he took off his jacket and ran a finger on his chest. “I never knew that my lifemate is such an interplanetary man of mystery.”

    He caressed her cheek. “Your lifemate never intended to be such a man of mystery, Ayoo’sha’nek. I much prefer the straightforwardness of my work in the Unknown Regions to sleuthing around Imperial Centre, trying to gather information about the plans of someone who should be my commanding officer and ally. However, given the situation –”

    “You cannot trust her, yada, yada. She thinks that you’re going to pull a Zsinj and carve out a piece of territory for yourself.”

    “She fears that I might overthrow her and sit myself on the Imperial throne in the future,” he corrected. “And I must say that, given her understanding of government, the thought is quite tempting.”

    Ayesha’s face brightened. “You’ll get me an Empire for Life Day?”

    They both burst out laughing. “I was referring to the idea of overthrowing her,” Thrawn said when he managed to catch his breath. “Crowning myself Emperor has never been part of my projects, but if you insist...” He pulled his undershirt over his head. “Unfortunately, I do not currently have the manpower and influence to overthrow her. I will therefore let the Rebellion deal with this little issue for me.”

    “You want to join forces with the New Republic?” she blurted.

    “Not quite, Ayoo’sha, not quite. The Rebellion is now a Republic in name only, and they have yet to demonstrate the ability to provide the sort of strong government that the Galaxy needs to confront the Far Outsiders. But they are well on their way to conquering Coruscant, and if they prove themselves capable, I will consider aligning myself with them.”

    By now Ayesha’s eyes were wide as saucers. “Well, what do you know,” she said finally. “I never expected to hear this from you, but then I guess stranger things have happened.” She sank into a meditative silence as he stripped his trousers. “How soon do you think the New Republic will be here?”

    “Within a year, give or take a few months. They are coming ever closer to the Core, whereas the preparations for the defence of Coruscant are wholly inadequate. It is almost as if Ysanne Isard actually wants to hand this world over to them.” He folded his trousers on a chair. “Which reminds me, have you removed your works from the Galactic Museum?”

    She grimaced. “I don’t really want those sculpts back. It’s that horrible stuff I made for my end-of-fellowship exhibition, the Empire can keep them.”

    Thrawn came to stand in front of her. “As we just discussed, Ayoo’sha, the Empire – this Empire – might not be around for much longer. Best recover them, we do not need to attract attention to ourselves when the Rebellion take over.”

    She nodded, then flashed him her mischievous grin. “I’ll take care of it. But I have a question.” He arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure this is the right conversation to have when we’re both standing in our underwear?”

    * * *​

    A quick HoloNet inquiry told Ayesha that the current Master Curator of the Galactic Museum was Danya Jayo, who had been her professor in the Academy of Fine Arts and a friend of Nazmat Koch, and her comm call was swiftly returned when she left a message asking for an appointment. The next morning, she slipped on a pair of nondescript trousers and a tunic – despite her impatience, she was following Thrawn’s instructions to remain as inconspicuous as possible – took her satchel and boarded a maglev. In the corner of her eye, she glimpsed Rukh standing in the back of the car. He was wearing Jawa robes with a black sash around his waist and his face was hidden in the depths of the hood. She twisted one of her braids around her finger to let him know that she had seen him.

    Half an hour later, she was standing in the Master Curator’s office. She gave Master Jayo a wide smile and stepped forward to shake her hand, or even to hug her – they had had an excellent relationship during her student years, and they had continued seeing each other after Ayesha left the Academy – but the elderly woman nodded sternly and gestured for her to sit down, stopping her dead in her tracks. She blushed and lowered herself on the straight-backed chair, feeling suddenly very shy. Apparently Master Jayo was among the people she had offended by not keeping in touch.

    The conversation was short. Master Jayo inquired briefly about her health, and told her that her sculpts had been stored in an unused room adjacent to the Jedi Hall. “I will show you the way,” she said. “Will you collect your works today?”

    “I don’t have a transport,” Ayesha answered apologetically. “I just wanted to check how they were packed, and I’ll hire a vehicle to take them away in the coming days.”

    The Curator extracted a piece of hard flimsi from a box on her desk and scribbled something on it. “Here is my personal comm. You can contact me to inform me of the arrangements you will make.” Ayesha took it shyly – she was feeling distinctly awkward by now – and went to slip it in her satchel. “You want to check that you can decipher my handwriting, Miss Eskari. It has not improved with age.”

    Ayesha glanced at the card. It read: ‘I am being watched’. She looked up in understanding. “Your handwriting is perfectly clear, Master Jayo, thank you. Shall we go?”

    The elderly master led her out of her office and across the monumental halls of the Galactic Museum. An entire floor had been renovated and was now dedicated to the Emperor, and Ayesha had to suppress a snort when a hologram of Darth Vader materialised in front of them, explaining that his master had lost his life in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the superweapon that the Rebellion had been building above Endor. Danya Jayo gave her the faintest of winks before moving one level down to the Jedi Hall. It was a relatively small exhibit. The focus was on the Jedi Masters of old, and it went to great lengths to emphasise that the admission of alien learners among their ranks was the root of their treason towards the Old Republic. Ayesha would have liked to linger some more – she was beginning to find this visit very entertaining – but Master Jayo steered her firmly towards one of the doors at the far end of the gallery, opened it with a keycard she carried on a chain around her neck and pushed her inside.

    The lights in this room were dim and the air was stale – it was clear that it hadn’t been used for months, if not years – but the elderly woman didn’t seem to mind. Her wrinkled face finally broke into a warm smile and she gave Ayesha a hug. “At last I can greet you properly, my dear. How have you been? Kal Stramnig told me that you had some... misfortunes, but I haven’t seen the dear heart in two years and I haven’t heard any news of you since.”

    “I’m okay, Master,” Ayesha said, returning her hug. “I had some problems, but now I’m okay. What happened to you?”

    “Ysanne Isard decided that she didn’t need any foolish old ladies perverting young minds with their teachings about alien art, so she moved me here shortly after the Emperor’s death. That magnificent exhibit that you saw up stairs is my work; I was ordered to do it myself, or else. How did you like it?”

    Ayesha laughed. “Frankly, Master, I think you went a bit over the top there. I’m not too sure who can take it seriously.”

    The old woman’s face darkened. “You would be surprised, my dear. Some people will believe anything.” She patted Ayesha’s cheek. “Unfortunately, I cannot stay without arousing suspicion. You’ll have to look around a little for your sculpts, I believe they are in that pile of crates over there. Also” – she activated the glowpanels – “you may want to explore the rooms beyond this one and have a look at their windows. If the shutters can still be activated – as you see, this area has fallen in disrepair – the easiest way to collect your works may be to bring a speeder truck outside.” And with that, she gave Ayesha another hug and left.

    * * *​

    It took Ayesha several hours to find her sculpts and flats. They had been packaged in crates that were dispersed around the storage area and the labelling was poor – it must have been done by the ISB rather than museum staff, she thought. The binary loadlifter available to her was ancient and took time to react to her commands, which she had to repeat several times, as if it were a little hard of hearing. Once she had all her crates neatly stacked in the middle of the room, she deactivated the droid and set off finding the windows Master Jayo had mentioned.

    The two rooms beyond the storage area seemed to have been abandoned for even longer than the storage area itself. There were strands of spider web hanging from the ceiling, and the objects that were there – obviously old exhibits that had been moved without anyone bothering to package them – were covered in dust. The glowpanels didn’t work, and she had to return to the first room to collect one of the glowrods that were stored in a compartment near the door. She tied her scarf around her face to protect her nose and mouth and went back in.

    The furthermost hall was eerie. The light of her glowrod projected shadows from the statues – or were they mannequins? – that were disposed haphazardly around it, and a sense of foreboding crept over her as she hastened towards the windows. The shutter activation switch was rusty, but she managed to activate it, and the durasteel rolls rose with a crash, letting daylight flood the musty room.

    Ayesha turned around to have a better look at the statues and her heart sank. They were – had been – portraits of Jedi Knights and Masters, that much she could tell from the rough-spun robes they wore, but they had been disfigured beyond recognition. One of the mannequins lay dismembered on the floor, another, representing a woman, was missing its arms, yet another had had its eyes gouged out, and the face of a white stone statue had been melted away. And suddenly, a long-forgotten memory surfaced. She had been here before, when she was a child, when she was staying with Old Dex – Hermione Bagwa, one of the waitresses at Dex’s Diner, had brought her here on her day off, and had told her how the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice, and seven-year-old Ayesha had nodded knowingly and spoken of her uncle, and Hermione had grimaced and said that, as Jedi came, Quinlan Vos was a bit peculiar... What was in front of her was the old Jedi exhibit of the Galactic Museum. Palpatine had not only put it away, he had also come back and destroyed the artefacts.

    Without thinking, she pulled her sketchpad out of her satchel and started drawing the statues to restore them as they had been. She worked fast and furiously, anger was bubbling inside her, but she pushed it back to a dark recess of her mind and focused on the matter at hand. Palpatine would not win, she thought. He could not win. As a matter of fact, he had already lost.

    She went from statue to statue, then had a look at the exhibits in the glass cases that dotted the room. Most of them were so covered in grime that she couldn’t distinguish their contents, but in one or two she thought that she saw a lightsaber handle. The spoils of war. And then he would call aliens uncivilised. He was no better than the Vagaari.

    She reached the far side of the hall and was about to put her pad back in her satchel when a tiny light caught her attention behind the curtain of spider webs. She tore the sticky muslin open to reveal a narrow door encased in the wall. The light came from a low-grade spotting laser and would have been invisible had it not been flashing on the webs, and as she came within its range, the door slid open to reveal a cabin panelled in glossy greel wood. Without hesitation, she stepped inside.

    The lift started moving of its own accord, and seconds later the door opened to reveal a small platform in a tunnel. A shuttle was stationed there, its side panel wide open, as if waiting for her. She peered inside cautiously to see plush furnishings – a heavy wooden table, a luxurious bantha-hide couch, and what appeared to be a small fresher station at the far end, all of it in the expensive, neo-Sith style that the Emperor had favoured. She smiled inwardly. He had locked up the Jedi artefacts in a corner of the museum, and he even had a private transport to bring him here so that he could torment them at his leisure. “Petty and pathetic indeed,” she muttered. “Childish and spiteful, too.”

    She stepped back into the lift, returned to the storage room, closed the shutters, made sure that the binary loadlifter was deactivated, and left. Rukh was waiting for her outside the Museum, and they boarded a maglev together, carefully ignoring each other until they reached her skyscraper. It was only when she pulled her clothes off that she understood Thrawn’s surprise at the sight of her – she was beyond filthy. She waited for him to give her the all-clear, and spoke before he could even deactivate the sensor wand. “You need to get into the Palace? I think I found a way for you.”

    ------------------------------

    Note: The description of the Galactic Museum in this chapter, including the propaganda exhibit and the old Jedi hall, are all borrowed from the novel X-Wing: Wedge's Gamble. The shuttle is borrowed from its sequel, X-Wing: The Krytos Trap.
     
  20. leiamoody

    leiamoody Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2005
    This is my first time coming in with a comment...I need to read this whole darned thing, and I apologize for not doing so sooner. So I'll just respond to the latest post for now...

    The biggest thing that stands out for me is how you portray the use of art in the GFFA to push various agendas. Particularly in this latest installment with the exhibit that exalts the Emperor while blaming alien Jedi for the downfall of the Republic. This kind of installation seems so utterly over-the-top that it almost doesn't seem likely anyone coming into the Galactic Museum would believe it...and yet, one immediately realizes totalitarian regimes in our world always used art as propaganda, and the amount of people who believed that propaganda was frightening. (Do you have a real-life inspiration for this particular exhibit?).

    The image of the ruined Jedi statues is...grotesque, like a wax museum...and then I get this image of Palpatine going in there with a lightsaber and randomly hacking away at these statues with his lightsaber in some demented rage. That's probably not how you intended him to destroy these, but you still allow the reader to have their own impression of the destruction, and it's pathetic no matter how you envision it.

    I will catch up with the other chapters and try to leave something comprehensive at some point...for right now, this is an amazing story. :D
     
  21. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Loved their talk at the beginning. They feel like partners - working at something together instead of cross-purposes. :) Enjoyed very much the investigating of the exhibits & the shuttle. Awwww. That will definitely suit!
     
  22. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    leiamoody Thank you and welcome to this story! I'll write up a detailed reply later (yes, I had RL sources of inspiration!), but for now I just wanted to tell you that if you want to read this behemoth a little bit more comfortably, you can find a link to downloadable formats in the opening post of this thread. This fic completely ran away from me, and honestly I wouldn't read it either on the boards, it's just too long to read on a forum :p
     
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Totally right. I recommended the pdf thingy to Azure - because. [face_dancing] ^:)^
     
  24. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for reading and reviewing! A quick Monday morning reply...
    Welcome once again to this story [:D] and you have really nothing to apologise for! As you probably noticed from my comments on your fics, I'm a mega-fan of your writing and I'm really looking forward to your opinion about this story.
    Thanks! The exhibits about the Emperor's death and the Jedi are actually described in great detail in X-Wing: Wedge's Gamble, but one RL museum that I have visited, and another one of which I unfortunately only saw pictures, made it real for me. The first is the Royal Museum for Central Africa near Brussels which, when I visited it in the early 1990s, was not only unapologetic about Belgian crimes in the Congo, but still displayed a main exhibit that dated back to colonial times and that basically argued that the Belgians brought civilisation to those African primitives. I haven't returned there since, but I read in the newspaper some ten years ago that, after Adam Hochschild's amazing book King Leopold's Ghost was published, the Belgians came up with a temporary exhibit to "correct" his "mistakes" (talk about colonial-minded historical revisionism in the 21st century) and now the entire museum is under renovation -- which is almost a shame, because that type of colonial mentality itself belongs in a museum.

    The other one, for which I only saw pictures my friend brought back in 1996, is the National Museum of Tripoli, Libya. At the time when she visited, the lower floors had this extraordinary exhibit of pre-historical, Greco-Roman and Islamic era artefacts, but the top floor was dedicated to Qaddhafi, and from what I could judge from her pictures as well as her description, it was so completely, totally, absolutely over-the-top that I can't even begin to imagine what it was like. There were endless portraits of the great leader, the desk where he studied as a child, the lounge where he negotiated XYZ, and entire bookcases with his complete works (apparently he was a prolific writer), including a single, wall-length shelf with every possible edition of the Green Book. The Green Book is a tiny publication, perhaps 80 pages long, so you can imagine how many editions one needs to fill a shelf [face_laugh] I'm quite curious to find out what happened to all that stuff after 2011; somehow I suspect that the top floor now hosts an anti-Qaddhafi exhibit.
    Actually, "demented rage" describes what I had in mind quite well. I'm not going to elaborate now, because I have plans for a vignette or a short story for this and I don't want to spoil it just yet, but the bottom line is that my respect for Palps dropped several notches when I read this scene in X-Wing: The Krytos Trap. I thought that coming to destroy harmless representations of Jedi while his enforcer(s) were out in the field hunting down real people was beyond the pale and fit his personality really well.
    Thanks again! I hope you'll enjoy it, and as I said I'm looking forward to your comments (actually, I'm hoping you'll throw everything you have at me in terms of criticism :D)
    Thanks! Yes, they're (finally!) growing up. Who knows, maybe Thrawn will stop being over-protective of Ayesha some day... or maybe not. [face_whistling] [face_mischief]

    Thanks again! Next chapter up in a few minutes.
     
    Kahara, AzureAngel2 and Findswoman like this.
  25. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading [:D]

    --------------------

    Chapter 20: Underground

    Rumpy followed Ayesha’s waved instructions to manoeuvre the speeder truck closer to the wall. Once she was satisfied that it blocked the window from view, he opened the door to the cargo hold. Thrawn leapt out in his Mandalorian armour and dropped into a crouch before scurrying off to the far corner of the room where he would be out of sight. The Wookiee activated the stationary repulsors and joined his sister in the Museum’s storage area. He carried the heavy crates to the transport, ignoring her snarky comment about how astral he looked in his livery from the Senate District Moving Company. He then gave her a long stare, extracted her miniature ryyk blade from his satchel and tossed it at her. [Just in case,] he rumbled. And he was gone before she could answer.

    She joined Thrawn in the dark corner where he was hiding and keyed her comlink. “Master Jayo? We’re leaving now, will you send someone to switch off the lights?”

    They waited patiently until the shuffle of feet signalled the arrival of a museum employee, and soon they were alone again in the penumbra. Without a sound, Ayesha took Thrawn’s hand and led him to the hidden lift. The door closed whisper-like behind them, and within moments they were standing on the small platform in the tunnel.

    There was no shuttle.

    “That wasn’t part of the plan,” Ayesha muttered.

    “No,” Thrawn said dryly. “It was not.”

    He raised a hand to his helmet to adjust the sensor settings, found the spotting lasers on the side of the doorframe and waved a hand to activate them. A swoosh of air from their right signalled that something was moving, and it took only minutes for the shuttle to come to a smooth halt in front of them.

    Thrawn held out his arm to prevent Ayesha from boarding until he had scanned the cabin and concluded that there were no hidden passengers or surveillance devices. He then led the way to the forward compartment. The commands were unlabeled, save for a single red button that read ‘return’. He looked at Ayesha. “Frankly, Ayoo’sha, I would rather you go back to the Museum and wait for me. This is not –”

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” she interrupted. “We’re going ahead with our plan.”

    They had had a long discussion with Rumpy and Rukh about how to proceed for this mission. Ayesha had been adamant that, given the fact that Thrawn didn’t want to reveal the existence of the shuttle to any of his men, she was best placed to accompany him. If they were found, she could distract their opponents while he took them out or escaped – they would be thrown off balance by the mere fact that she was a woman, and they would seek to capture her alive, whereas Rumpy and Rukh were all too likely to be shot without further ado due to their being ostensibly alien. Furthermore, were she caught, Thrawn would activate his network of agents to break her out of detention, while she, Rumpy or Rukh had no means to even find him if he were arrested. Her opinion had finally prevailed, but she had expected that both Thrawn and Rumpy would continue raising objections after the decision was made, and she was proven right at every step of the way. Only Rukh seemed confident that she would fulfil her role adequately. “I have trust in Ayesha clan Eskari,” he mewled invariably when Rumpy appealed to him for support. “I have seen her read an enemy, and her analysis was right. I believe that she will do the same here if needed.”

    She stepped forward and punched the red button before Thrawn could reply, then returned to the passenger compartment to settle on the comfortable couch. “We’re not going in the direction it came from,” she commented as the shuttle started moving. “I think we’re going to discover all of Palpatine’s hidey-holes today.”

    Thrawn examined every detail of the cabin during their hour-long trip, first through his helmet, then with his bare eyes. “This was definitely built for the Emperor,” he concluded. “However, the shuttle did not leave the Museum on its own. Someone else knows about it. I would assume that this is Ysanne Isard, but it could as well be someone tasked with watching her. Finding out would be an excellent indication of the balance of power on Coruscant.”

    The car finally slowed down. Ayesha extracted her ryyk blade from her half-boot and Thrawn affixed his helmet in place once more. The door slid open to reveal a vertical durasteel tube. They stepped inside together and the platform under their feet rose of its own accord. Seconds later, they were standing in the middle of what appeared to be a very nice library. Three of the walls were covered in bookcases, whereas the fourth was occupied by an exotic xenoscape that provided the only light in the room. Thrawn looked around carefully. “Two desks, two chairs, two datapads. The Emperor intended to share this space with someone.”

    The light shifted to pale blue as they got off the platform onto the inlaid wood floor, and they turned around to see a three-metre tall hologram of the Emperor towering above them. Ayesha shook her head in dismay and stuck out her tongue at the projection. “What a cheap trick,” she whispered.

    “It could also be a diversion, Ayoo’sha,” Thrawn said sternly. “Please stay put while I verify that we did not trigger any alarms.”

    She stood there quietly while he explored every corner of the room and half-opened the doors to peek outside. “Clear,” he finally muttered. “This is definitely an Imperial facility. I would have thought that it is some sort of ship, were I not certain that we are underground.” He sat at one of the desks. “Let me see what I can find. Can you please have a look at the bookcases? Anything that would give us an indication as to the purpose of this place.”

    She had barely started scanning the shelves when he grabbed her arm and dragged her through the hologram to the lift. The platform lowered itself slowly, the ceiling closed up above them, and he pushed her into the shuttle before punching the ‘return’ button. She gave him a bewildered look. “Was that it?”

    He took off his helmet and let out a deep breath. “Yes, that was it, and we will never return there of our own free will. We were in Lusankya.”

    Her eyes widened. “Isard’s prison?”

    “That is what the datapad indicated. Given the secrecy that surrounds it, we must be currently using the only way out. I thought it wise to leave before she noticed our presence and called the shuttle away.”

    “Fair point.” She sank into a meditative silence. “We can’t get off at the Museum though. If we leave the shuttle there, Isard will ask who last used the storage room. That would cause a lot of trouble for Master Jayo.”

    Thrawn came to sit at her side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “It would also cause a fair bit of trouble for you, Ayoo’sha.”

    She shrugged. “I signed up for trouble, or rather trouble signed up for me on the day I was born. Master Jayo didn’t.” She scratched her head. “Why was the shuttle in the Museum the other day?”

    “It is said that a new generation of Jedi has appeared with this Luke Skywalker,” Thrawn said. “Were I Ysanne Isard, I would seek to find out everything I can about them.”

    She shook her head. “Wouldn’t I have noticed her if she had been hiding in the Jedi Hall? I was there for a good four or five hours. Besides, the spider webs in front of the lift were untouched. I’m sure of that, I tore them open myself to access the door. She didn’t get to the Museum this way.” She patted the couch for emphasis.

    Thrawn’s eyes were now glittering in concentration. “It could be that she intended for you to find this shuttle, in order to lure you into a trap.”

    “It could be,” she repeated. “But that’s a bit far-fetched, don’t you think? I could easily have walked past the lift door without noticing anything. My guess is that Isard came to the Museum last week for one reason or another, and she probably sent the shuttle ahead of her just in case.” Thrawn went to object, but she shrugged him off. “You shouldn’t think so highly of her, you know. She’s nowhere near as smart and subtle as you think. In the end, she’s just a blunt predator. And paranoid.”

    There was another, very long silence as the car travelled underground towards its destination. “You understand that being captured is no longer an option, do you, Ayoo’sha? Ysanne Isard finding out that you discovered her secret means a certain death – if she is not aware of it already.”

    She shrugged again. “Then we’ll make sure that she doesn’t find out.” She held a finger up. “We’re slowing down.”

    She went to rise but Thrawn pulled her back to her seat. “Stay where you are. If I understand this shuttle correctly, it will be programmed to continue its journey as long as there is a passenger inside.”

    The transport stopped indeed briefly at the Museum and resumed its trip at a somewhat lesser pace, if the impact of acceleration and deceleration on its passengers was any indication. Minutes later, it came to a halt once more and the door slid open to reveal a windowless, dusty room. A circular table occupied the middle, while a wide desk and three chairs stood on a podium of sorts. Thrawn stepped forward to read the nameplate before the central chair.

    “Senator Gabrial Atanna of Esseles. We must be in the Imperial Senate. This may be useful in the future, but for now we should seek to reach the Palace.”

    A quick hop later, they were standing on a small platform at what appeared to be the end of the tunnel. A short flight of steps led down to the magnetic tracks, and a man-sized door stood closed in front of them. Thrawn reached for his helmet again to enhance the audio and visual settings. “The spotting laser is right there,” Ayesha said. “These doors were all built the same way, they –”

    He caught her hand before she could call the lift and pulled her none too gently down the stairs to the tunnel floor. He shoved her into a maintenance recess by the vehicle’s nose and squeezed in behind her. An imperceptible whirr indicated that the lift was moving, and they barely caught a glimpse of black boots and crimson trousers before the shuttle took off in the direction it had come from.

    Thrawn waited for several minutes before he spoke. “You may breathe now.”

    She let go of the breath she didn’t know she was holding and tried to suppress the uncontrollable shivers that ran across her body. “That was way, way too close for comfort,” she finally whispered.

    “Indeed,” he said coldly. “I am beginning to think that this entire escapade was a rather foolish idea on my behalf.” He climbed back to the platform to examine the lift, and turned back to her. “There is no way to send this back down once we are up. We will have to wait here until she returns and sneak in behind her. Unless...” He tilted his head to the side, as if noticing something. “Ayoo’sha, will you scrub the grime off that protuberance to your left?”

    She gave him a puzzled look and spun around to inspect the back wall of the maintenance recess. It was made of a smooth durasteel plate lined with two vertical series of bolts, one of which was placed exactly where a doorknob would be. She wiped it clean of the dust that covered it, and watched the panel swing open at the contact, revealing another tunnel – and another shuttle.

    Thrawn dashed down the stairs to join her and took off his helmet, as if needing to see it with his own eyes. He shut the hatch behind them and gave her one of his rare open smiles. “As you said, we will discover all of the Emperor’s hidey-holes today, Ayoo’sha. Those he shared with Ysanne Isard, and those he did not.”

    * * *​

    The second shuttle’s antistatic systems were still operational and the interior was spotless, but the staleness of the air was evidence enough that it had not been used in a long time. There was no passenger compartment in this one, merely a cockpit of sorts with a single seat and a dashboard with a simple set of commands. Thrawn invited Ayesha to sit and gestured towards the controls. “I believe that you should do the honours, Ayoo’sha. You must be the last person that the Emperor expected to discover this.” She punched the red button, setting the car in motion, and he rubbed her shoulder with one hand as he held on to the back of her seat with the other. “Ysanne Isard is blunt indeed. She never thought of verifying if there was more to the tunnels than what the Emperor showed her. Her trust in him – and her overblown idea of her own importance – will be her undoing.”

    The bullet-shaped vehicle sped along its way, twisting and turning smoothly in the tunnels. “Do you have the slightest idea where we’re going?” Ayesha asked.

    “Not in the least, but I have no doubt that what we will find at our destination will make the journey worth it. An entirely secret facility, known only to the Emperor, is bound to be a true treasure trove.”

    She looked up at him. “What if it’s guarded?”

    He patted the blaster rifle he was carrying. “That will be taken care of. However, I doubt that it will. Admitting that there ever were any guards, they will have left a long time ago.”

    The shuttle finally slowed down and came out of the tunnel into what appeared to be a hangar bay. Ayesha paused for a moment to look around as she climbed out of the cramped compartment, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding that crept on her. “I have a bad feeling about this place,” she said absently. “Something unspeakably evil happened here.”

    Thrawn arched an eyebrow. “How do you know that, Ayoo’sha?”

    She shrugged. “I don’t know. I can just feel it.” She gestured towards the open blast doors behind the landing pad. “Let’s go. We’ll find out soon enough.”

    The compound was entirely deserted, just as Thrawn had predicted. Gone was the luxury of the Palace, or even of the library they had briefly seen in Lusankya. Here the walls and floors were made of plain durasteel, although not without a touch of elegance in their austere, geometrical lines. “This was originally an industrial building,” she commented as they made their way through a dimly lit corridor. “Fourth or fifth century before the Great Resynchronisation. Palpatine had it refitted to suit his needs, there are architectural elements that date back to the last decade or so before the Clone Wars.”

    The door at the far end of the hallway was closed, and an examination with Thrawn’s helmet sensors came up empty. “I detect a heavy latch to lock it from the inside, but no electronic system,” he said perplexedly. “There must be another way into –”

    Ayesha snorted. “Show off.” She couldn’t see him arch an eyebrow, but the tilt of his head clearly showed his displeasure at being spoken to in this way. “I wasn’t talking about you, I was talking about the Emperor. He was using the Force to lift the latch from here.”

    The helmet tilted in the other direction. “Then we will have to go in the old-fashioned way, Ayoo’sha. If you will please step back, I will take care of it.”

    He extracted a molecular stiletto from his utility belt and inserted the blade carefully into the slit between the door and the frame, working his way upwards to slice cleanly through the latch. The thin blade finally came free and the door swung on its hinges, revealing a bank of monitors behind a single table with a desktop datapad. A small receiver device was placed beside it. He took off his helmet again and gave Ayesha another smile, and without hesitation, he sat down and activated the datapad.

    “Wait,” she said. “Are you certain that using this equipment won’t trigger any alarms somewhere else?”

    His smile widened. “I am absolutely certain. As a matter of fact, I am certain that using equipment anywhere else in the Empire will trigger alarms here.” He keyed a few commands and let out a small victory whoop in Cheunh. “This must be the most comprehensive surveillance system in the Galaxy – and the beauty of it is that it keeps watch on every other surveillance system, including that available to our dear friend Ysanne Isard.”

    Ayesha laughed. “I don’t think I ever saw you so excited.”

    “I do not think I ever had a reason to be, at least on the professional level.” He gestured towards the hologram that was hovering before him. “Data, schematics, feeds, individual files... And hard-wired access codes.” He typed in ‘Ayesha Eskari’. “Here you are, Ayoo’sha. ‘Useless if not for her former association with Thrawn. Limited potential with alien communities. Surveillance level esk-5.’ You are surely disappointed to find out that you rank so low on Ysanne Isard’s list of persons of interest.”

    She laughed again before reverting to a more serious mood. “We should check out the rest of this place before you dive in and start mining information.”

    He looked at her curiously. “Is there something wrong?”

    “Yes. I told you, I have a weird feeling about this place. Almost as if I’ve already been here.” At this Thrawn stood up and held her by the shoulders, scrutinising her face. “No, I’m not going crazy, Thrawn. I know that I never came here before, but somehow I feel like I was meant to see this, to bear witness.” She shrugged. “Anyway, there’s something strange, and –” she looked at him straight in the eye – “I’d rather not be alone when I find it, whatever it is.”

    He stared at her a moment longer, then turned around to switch off the datapad and collect his helmet. “Let us go then. I will come back here in the future at any rate, there is certainly more information than what I can gather in a single day.”

    They resumed their exploration of the compound. They found a library whose shelves were laden with peculiar pyramidal objects etched in rune-like script, a training room whose walls bore the scorch marks of aggressive duels, and finally a suite of spartan living quarters. “These were not meant for Palpatine,” Ayesha said absent-mindedly as she brushed her fingertips on the back of a chair. “He had other people staying here – lesser people. Maybe the people he trained.”

    She suddenly sucked in a breath, as if realising something, and took Thrawn’s hand to pull him back into the hallway. She was almost running now, opening one door after the other until they stepped into what appeared to be a medical centre. There were two vats of bacta stored in a corner, miscellaneous jars and tools in the cabinets and a tall transparisteel cylinder whose function they could not identify, but she ignored them and pushed forward until they reached the operating theatre.

    Every single object was smashed, as if a furious battle had taken place. Broken glass littered the floor, the furniture and equipment were shattered to pieces, and two crushed medical droids of an older model stood like ghostly reminders of the long-gone scene on either side of the operating table, which had been raised to stand vertically in the middle of the room. The ankle and wrist straps intended to keep the patient in place were torn off, and the mangled metal bands hung limply where the only man who had undergone surgery here had freed himself from their grip – and thought that he had left behind forever the person he used to be.

    Ayesha let go of Thrawn’s hand and took a few steps into the room. She reached to collect a chunk of obsidian from the debris under her feet. It had been a piece of a mask, an eye and part of a cheek, slightly different from the one she knew. She bowed her head, as if to salute it, and turned back to Thrawn. “When we go back to the Unknown Regions, we should go to Matta Thryne. I have a sculpt there, but here is where it belongs.”

    -----------------------

    Note: As stated in the previous chapter, the itinerary of the first shuttle (Lusankya - Museum - Senate - Palace) is borrowed from The Krytos Trap. The second shuttle is my own invention, and if you haven't guessed yet where it took Thrawn and Ayesha to, you'll have to read the next chapter.