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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. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Findswoman - as always your reviews are umphy!!! That is a fascinating spin that Thrawn memorialized Uumana just to woo Ayesha /win points with her. [face_thinking] That is definitely a plausible motive, although at the time he probably didn't know (probably didn't think either) that it would work, she was shutting him out so thoroughly. And the oxen stand at a mountain - a wonderful image and expression! It perfectly describes the entrenched factions of the Jedi in the NJO for too long and the stance of way too many governments in RL. :rolleyes:
     
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  2. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! It's the day-before-Christmas-reply time!

    [​IMG]

    Thank you! I got the the idea that they all choose to stay despite knowing what is coming from RL conversations with refugees. They tell me all these horrible stories of things they saw, and when I ask, "why didn't you leave earlier?", they reply as if it were obvious, "we didn't want to leave."

    Thank you :) The number of chapters of part III is something of a painful subject -- when I started posting it with the first draft in hand, it was going to be 33 chapters, but I'm still editing it as I go along. Between tying up some loose ends and altering the breakdown a bit (I realised that I had some exceedingly long chapters that needed to be split in two) I think the total will more likely be around 45, so tentatively this story should be completed by late February/early March.
    The situation between Simon, Ayesha and Thrawn is very much an oxen on the mountain situation, as you said below for Onion. Simon is rejecting everything Imperial, so for him that's that, and he doesn't know that Thrawn himself has fallen victim to the Emperor's schemes at exactly the same time as him. On the other hand, Thrawn isn't the sort of person who is willing to release much information about himself, especially about his failures, so there's no way Simon could know anyway. As for Ayesha, she knows about both, and of course if she's going to give someone the benefit of the doubt it will be to Thrawn, because she's overcompensating for having been so nasty to him and blaming him for everything. In a way, it's still Palpatine getting to them -- the Sheevster created a situation to make communication impossible for all of them, and in their oxen mindset they're not even trying to break the spell.
    There is of course a multitude of reasons Thrawn went to bury Uumana, some more noble and some a lot less -- but to me the main reason was that he did it for himself. I think I mentioned in an earlier reply that in burying Uumana, he was paying respect to his relationship with Ayesha, which he thought was over. But then of course he did set up the Centre's door to open only for Ayesha, so it goes a little bit that way too. Lastly, my idea of Thrawn is that he was never truly attached to any of Ayesha's friends. They mattered to him only insofar as they were her friends, not on a personal level.
    Ayesha is stuck between a rock and a hard place with the memories she has been keeping aside for years. Letting them out threatens to destroy her every time she has an episode, shutting them out could destroy her too. There's no easy solution here [face_whistling]
    The thing here is that Onion is overestimating Thrawn's ability to actually do something about the situation (there's more of that in the upcoming chapter) but of course this is also caused by Thrawn's infinite arrogance, that has led many people, including Ayesha, Onion and Simon to believe that he can pull off pretty much anything. The oxen on the mountain metaphor is very appropriate here, because neither is talking about what the other *can* actually do -- they're only talking about their *perception* of the other, and they haven't got past that yet.
    The answer to all that is in chapter 24, so I'll just post and let you read it [face_devil]

    Thanks again! Next chapter up straight away.
     
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  3. 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.

    Warning: violence and gore in this chapter

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

    Chapter 24: The plague

    The first reports of a mysterious illness killing Gamorreans and Quarrens were scattered and incoherent, but it didn’t take Thrawn long to understand that they were a sign of things to come. Within weeks, his worst fears came true. The Underlevels became a cesspit of disease and death, and despite his best efforts to slice into Isard’s private records, he couldn’t pinpoint the exact source of the disease, or its nature, or a possible cure. The Director of Intelligence had set up a system of archives that was apparently entirely disconnected from the main grid for this particular project, and he was reduced to double and triple-checking what fragments of information his agents within the Palace could gather, and to listening to Delta Source all day long, in the hope of figuring out a clue that would enable him to counteract the Empire’s latest monstrosity.

    The disease began to spread to other species, and he was only beginning to unravel Isard’s true intentions when he suffered another setback. Halber Prashat’s cover as one of the non-coms appointed to Isard’s office was blown. The young man was so horrified by the disaster he saw unfolding on Coruscant that he tried to connect his datapad to her private holocomm and download the information remotely, triggering all sorts of security alerts in the process. It took a fair bit of luck for him to escape after a wild speeder chase across the city, and Thrawn was convinced that Isard was using him as bait to unearth the rest of his network. But a team loyal to him was finally able to spirit the young sergeant off-planet, and a sharp increase in the transfer of ISB staff to Lusankya as detainees seemed to indicate that it had only been a close call – far too close for the Chiss Grand Admiral’s taste. After briefing all his agents, he returned home and told Ayesha and Rumpy that they were not to leave the building until Coruscant had fallen to the New Republic.

    “They are already here,” he said when Ayesha went to protest. “They have their network of agents, as I have mine, and they successfully inserted some of their most... reputable people a few days ago. The end is nigh.”

    “How do you know that?” Ayesha asked.

    Thrawn shrugged. “What Ysanne Isard knows, I know – unless it has to do with the disease. She has allowed – almost facilitated – the arrival of Rogue Squadron on Coruscant. She intends to hand over to them a world that is dying.”

    She sank into a meditative silence. “So we’re counting on Rogue Squadron to outwit her and take this planet before the non-Human population has been wiped out?”

    “She actually intends for them to do exactly that. To take the planet while non-Humans are still dying, and to shoulder the cost of the extermination of the non-Human population.”

    She clapped both hands on her mouth. “How can you be so calm?” she finally stammered. “Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”

    Thrawn gave her a stern look and began speaking very coldly. “I could go charging into the Imperial Palace, which would most likely result in my quick and untimely death without contributing a solution to this problem. I could send one of my agents in the Palace to blow up Ysanne Isard’s research facility – which would be dangerous not only for himself but also for the rest of us, as none of my crew has any medical experience, or the knowledge of how to contain the virus strains that are undoubtedly stored there. I could also recruit a medical expert to infiltrate the Palace, which would take months.” Ayesha went to interrupt him, but he raised a hand to demand that she let him finish. “My other option is to warn the Rebellion. This could result in them attacking this world earlier than planned – which may, in turn, result in their defeat, or a bloody battle that would kill even more residents of Coruscant than this terrible disease. Or, who knows, a warning may cause them to pull back cynically and leave the fate of Coruscant in Isard’s hands. Lastly, I could summon my fleet from the Unknown Regions and seek to take the planet by myself, thus becoming a player in this civil war, and aggravating it across the Galaxy. I could cause untold death and suffering to billions of sentients. No, Ayoo’sha, I will do nothing – because there is nothing I can do that does not have far worse implications than the current situation.”

    Ayesha was now on the verge of tears. “Is this how you always think? Calculating the odds instead of wondering what is right?”

    Thrawn gave her a pained look. “Yes, Ayoo’sha, this is how I think. But I do believe that I am doing the right thing, in this case at least.” He paused to look at her. “Please have a word with Tashi again. Mabalsa is still spending more time than he should in the Underlevels. There have been no cases of contaminated Dugs so far, but it is bound to happen sooner or later. He must understand that he is not safe. None of us are.”

    * * *​

    A few weeks into the epidemic, the word spread that bacta could cure the fatal illness that kept proliferating among Coruscant’s aliens. Despite the medical community’s repeated messages that only a full immersion in a carefully controlled hospital setting would be efficient, panicked citizens started hoarding the life-saving medicine in any shape or form – salve, ointment, injections and bandages. Its price climbed higher and higher, thus depriving of it the residents of the poorest areas of the Imperial capital who could only access treatment in resource-poor public hospitals and medical centres. The virus was constantly mutating and jumping from one species to another, and Tashi turned up one morning on Ayesha’s landing pad, asking if she could stay over.

    “Onion won’t listen to me,” she explained as Ayesha made caf. “He goes out every day, meets people, and not in the safest areas. I don’t want to fall sick, you know? He told me this morning that no Dugs or Sullustans ever got this, that we must be immune. That’s when I decided to leave. I love him, I love him dearly, he’s my best friend, but I don’t want to take any chances. We’re staying in the same flat, we eat in the same dishes, we use the same ‘fresher. I find it incredibly selfish of him that he thinks he can take this risk for the both of us.”

    Despite her deep concern for Onion, who had all but cut them off, Ayesha was overjoyed to have her friend at home to keep her company. She and Rumpy had been confined to the skyscraper for a whole week, and as much as she understood Thrawn’s reasons for imposing this on them, she was bored out of her wits. She helped Tashi settle down in the spare room and made space for her in the workshop. There was such tension and excitement in the air that they didn’t manage to produce much artistically, but they spent their days chatting and making projects for the future, and they discussed at length how they would keep in touch after Ayesha’s impending return to the Unknown Regions.

    Tashi’s presence made things a little more complicated for Thrawn – he had decided, and Ayesha agreed, that the less she knew, the better, and they couldn’t discuss his activities in front of her – but he could see that Ayesha was infinitely happier with her friend around and he shifted his schedule to accommodate her needs. “This must be what they call pillow talk,” Ayesha noted as he finished whispering his appraisal of the day’s findings as they lay in bed one night.

    He chuckled. “You have a bright future ahead of you as a spy, Ayoo’sha. Please report to the Grand Admiral as soon as the victim that you so successfully lured into a wily trap is gone.”

    A few days into her stay, Tashi took off one morning to collect some of her belongings from the apartment she shared with Onion. “I won’t be long,” she said when Ayesha argued that it wasn’t safe to leave the flat. “I’ll just hop over there and come back. I want to fetch some old sketchbooks to show you an idea I had way back, just after you left. I think we could work on it together.” She refused categorically that Rukh escort her, and all Ayesha could do was to insist that she accept credits for an aircab instead of taking public transportation.

    Ayesha returned to the works she had stored in the back of her workshop – she had been cataloguing them carefully in preparation for their departure to Nirauan, and although she didn’t know how soon that would be, she didn’t want to be caught unaware if they had to leave Coruscant hastily. She organised them by category and began wrapping them in protective material and packing them in crates. It was a tedious process, and she didn’t see the time pass until the sun lowered on the horizon and she realised that it was already late afternoon.

    Tashi hadn’t come home.

    She went to the comm desk and dialled her friend’s number, ready to berate her for not warning that she would be late. “No doubt she got into one of her endless arguments with Onion,” she muttered as she waited for the connection. “I hope she got the message across this time at least.”

    Tashi’s comlink was apparently switched off.

    This made her outright angry. The Sullustan could at least have dropped her a line, couldn’t she? She returned to the workshop and resumed her wrapping and packing with a vengeance.

    Tashi’s comlink was still inoperative two hours later. She tried to call Onion, who wasn’t answering either, and once she expressed her worries to Rumpy she decided to take his advice and to contact Thrawn, who was at the Listening Post.

    Forty-five minutes later, the turbolift doors slid open to allow him into their home. Concern was written all over his face. “This is not good,” he said, pondering his words as if seeking a way to break the news to her. “The aircab dropped Tashi off at 10:16. But her comm is not merely switched off. The HoloNet Communications Service records show that the line was deactivated altogether at 11:02 this morning.”

    By now Ayesha was sick with worry. She tried again to contact Onion, to no avail, after which Thrawn sent Rukh to seek him in his usual haunts in the Underlevels, and, not knowing what else to do, she called Kal and Mira, who hadn’t heard from their friends either. They got into their speeder and came over from the Manarai Mountains as fast as Coruscant traffic allowed.

    * * *​

    It was a sombre evening as they sat on the conversation circle, waiting for Tashi and Onion to give a sign of life or for Rukh to return. Rumpy was doing his best to keep Tam busy and cheerful, but the little boy clearly understood that the stakes were high and he sat quietly near his mother, holding her hand tightly without emitting a sound. Ayesha brought some drinks and snacks to the low table, but they remained untouched, save for the bottle of Cortyg brandy that had to be replaced less than an hour after she uncorked it. It was almost midnight when a distant rumble signalled that the turbolift was moving, and minutes later Rukh followed Onion into the apartment.

    The Dug waddled straight to Thrawn and asked accusingly, “Where did they take her?”

    Thrawn gazed at him carefully. Onion looked tired and worn out, and his jacket was even more threadbare and stained than usual, as if he hadn’t washed or changed in days. “I was hoping that you would be able to help us find Tashi, Mabalsa. Ayesha spent the best part of her afternoon trying to get in touch with the both of you. Did you see her at all today?”

    Ayesha pulled out Onion’s favourite cushion and set it on the floor, and Tam came to sit at his side, taking his paw in his little hand. The Dug shook him off. “I don’t report to Ayesha, Capt’. Or to you, for that matter. Don’t get your pet alien to spy on me again, you got that?”

    “Onion, Rukh has just been keeping an eye on you to make sure that you’re safe,” Ayesha interrupted. “He’s been doing that with all of us. He was just getting ready to intervene in case you fell victim to a kidnapping.”

    Onion snorted. “Oh, really? How come he wasn’t keeping an eye on Tashi today then?”

    Ayesha blushed. “That’s my fault. She insisted to go on her own, and I booked an aircab for her. I didn’t think she’d need a bodyguard just to go home and come back.”

    “How convenient.” The words hung heavy in the air. “Tashi goes out unaccompanied on the day the Empire is taking Sullustans, and you expect me to believe that it’s a coincidence.” He shook his head. “How could you do that?”

    Ayesha was lost for words. “Onion, you’re talking nonsense,” Kal snapped. “Ayesha would rather be kidnapped herself than let Tashi be taken.”

    The Dug gave him a long, hard stare and pointed a finger at Thrawn. “He’s an Imperial,” he spat. “She lives with an Imperial. She shares the secrets of an Imperial. The Empire created a virus to kill aliens. You really think they’re not part of it?”

    “You’re being paranoid now,” Mira countered. “I know that the Empire is bad, but there’s no evidence that they created anything, and Ayesha and Thrawn –”

    Onion suddenly winced in pain. Ayesha took a step towards him. “Are you feeling alright?”

    He pushed her back brutally. “I don’t need your help. I don’t want your help.”

    There was a long silence as they all watched him settle on his cushion. He was visibly trying to find a position that reduced his discomfort. “The Empire took three dozen Sullustans today,” he said in a low, slightly slurry voice. “Twenty from the Alien Combine hideout in Invisec, and another fifteen or so from the upper levels. The disease hasn’t affected Sullustans yet, you see.” His voice began to rise as he continued speaking. “If a few days, we’ll start seeing Sullustans and other near-Humans falling sick and dying, like it happened after mass kidnappings of other species. They’re going to use Tashi as a lab rat. And all this will happen because our dear Capt’ and his girlfriend handed her over to them.”

    “Stop saying that,” Mira interjected, but he continued speaking as if she weren’t there.

    “She’ll develop a fever first, then she’ll start vomiting. Then she’ll start having black sores all over her body, and in the end she’ll disintegrate into a puddle of goo. Like all of us.” He paused. “All of us, that is, except you Humans. You’ll never be affected by this, because you think of yourselves as superior. At best, you don’t give a womp rat’s fart about us. At worst, you think you can exterminate us.” Tam was staring at him in incomprehension. His snout curved into an unpleasant smile. “Of course, you have access to bacta, as much bacta as you want, and you think it will cure you. You don’t care. But if this virus is going to kill me, it’ll kill you too.”

    He broke out into a violent coughing fit and unclasped his collar as if to breathe better. Ayesha inhaled sharply at the sight of a black spot on his neck, and before he shoved her away she had managed to unbutton his jacket, revealing an emaciated torso crisscrossed with lines that interconnected more blisters to one another. They were oozing a slimy, dark pus. “Onion, you need to see a doctor,” she said as she picked herself up from the floor. “We have to go, now! You –”

    “I can’t afford to see a doctor, cheeka,” the Dug barked harshly. “I can’t afford bacta, even in a hospital that can spare some for me.”

    “We’ll pay for the bacta,” Ayesha said soothingly. “Or we’ll find some if the hospital doesn’t have any. Actually –” She interrupted herself and glanced at Thrawn, as if remembering something.

    “Actually, you have a vat of bacta or two stashed somewhere,” Onion finished for her. “Can’t say I’m surprised. You’d want it for yourselves, just in case, wouldn’t you?” He gave her a look of pure loathing. “It’s too late for me anyway, but if someone is going to use that bacta I’ll make sure it’s not you.” And with surprising strength, he grabbed Tam’s arm and pulled the child closer.

    “Onion, what are you doing?” Mira yelled.

    It all happened too fast for anyone to understand it. The Dug held Tam in a brutal headlock while he scratched one of the sores on his chest. The child was screaming, Ayesha was begging incoherently and Onion let out a mad cackle of laughter as he raised a pus-stained finger towards Tam’s mouth. Rumpy roared angrily, and Kal was launching himself from the couch when the Dug’s entire body suddenly slackened. He lost his grip on Tam, who leapt on his father’s knees for protection, and they all saw the tip of Rukh’s assassin knife poking through Onion’s chest.

    The hatred was gone from Onion’s expression as he stared at Ayesha, who was already crouching in front of him. “Cheeka... it hurts,” he whispered in Huttese. The last glimmer of life went out in his eyes when Rukh pulled out the blade, and he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

    The silence that followed was broken only by Tam’s sniffles as his father held him tightly in his arms. A distraught Ayesha looked around. Mira was petrified in her seat, her lips frozen as she mouthed the word ‘why’, Rumpy was already bringing the med kit to disinfect Rukh’s hands, and Thrawn was staring at them impassively, the dull, sad glow of his eyes being the only sign that he had witnessed the scene. She finally turned to Rukh angrily. “Why did you have to kill him?”

    “He tried to kill my son, Ayesha,” Kal said behind her with a cold edge to his voice she had never heard before.

    She spun on her heel to give him a furious glare. “He was our friend. He was sick. He –”

    Kal met her gaze unwaveringly and tightened his embrace around Tam. “He tried to kill my son.”

    “Then Onion was right,” she said scathingly. “Some lives matter to us more than others.”

    Mira sprang to her feet as if stung. Before Ayesha knew it, a fist had made contact with her chin. Rumpy let out a deafening roar as he pushed the two women apart. [Come to your senses, all of you,] he barked. [The sentient who was killed was not Mabalsa. Mabalsa would never have hurt the youngling. This sentient was what the Empire, this heinous plague and insanity made of him.] He pulled the tablecloth off the table to cover the corpse, and lifted Onion’s body in his arms, cradling him against his furry chest. His expression softened. [But the sentient who is now dead in front of us is Mabalsa, and we will pay him the respect he deserves.]

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

    Notes: As of this chapter, we are in 7 ABY. The events described here take place during the first part of X-Wing: Wedge's Gamble, and the mysterious illness is of course the Krytos Virus.
     
  4. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Woot, late february/early March for the finish. Yay, that and all the TFA fics that are springing up, I am one happy, happy camper!

    Whew, intense and shocking twisty there with Onion. :( :( Definitely something you would expect during an epidemic/pandemic. Worried about Tashi although there was no way Ayesha could've known she was going to get nabbed on the way home. :eek:
     
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  5. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Wow - intense scene! There whole support network is fast disintegrating. What a horrible thing Isard has done. The genius of it - to hand over a planet that is so ravaged that fixing it will economically cripple the New Republic. But the careless misery and suffering that she inflicts is beyond comprehension.

    Well, yeah, when that life is your child's. That doesn't mean Kal didn't care about Onion. But I bet any parent would feel the same way if his or her child were endangered.
     
  6. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I'm running late and I have a few fics to review still, so I'll let chapter 25 be the reply to your very kind comments.

    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.

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

    Chapter 25: The fall of Coruscant

    Ayesha was devastated by Onion’s death and Tashi’s abduction, and she spent the next few days in a state of dazed stupor while Thrawn took care of organising the cremation, all the while searching desperately for Tashi. It took several days to find an undertaker who did not ask too many questions and accepted to cremate a being who had died from the Krytos virus, as the disease had come to be known, and who, at the same time, did not demand an outrageous amount of credits – alien deaths had become a roaring business on Coruscant. What saddened Ayesha even more was that Kal and Mira refused categorically to come to the funeral, and that, for their own safety, Thrawn, Rumpy and Rukh could not accompany her to the ceremony. She had to stand alone outside the crematorium until Onion’s remains were reduced to ashes, and after she had dispersed them above the city-planet, she took public transportation to her friends’ flat near the Manarai mountains.

    The encounter with Kal and Mira was difficult, and the fact that Tam insisted to sit at Ayesha’s side made it even more complicated, as there was a number of points that they were not willing to discuss in front of the child and therefore had to refer to in veiled terms. She waited until the little boy could be convinced to go and fetch a few toys from his bedroom and started speaking very fast.

    “Onion was right, you know. The virus was engineered by Isard to kill aliens, only aliens. Don’t ask me how I know that,” she added hurriedly when Mira gave her a stunned look. “I know it, we – Thrawn – knows it. What Onion did was horrible, but Tam was never truly in danger and you don’t need to run to medical facilities and pay a ton of credits for bacta. He doesn’t need it, but there are other sentients who do. If you go looking for bacta now, Isard wins. It’s exactly what she wants – people panicking and not caring about each other anymore, grabbing whatever they can to feel safe.” She paused and listened for the patter of feet in the hallway, then continued. “Rukh could have knocked him out instead of killing him. We could have saved him, we could have proved to him that his life was still worth living, that he didn’t have to die that horrible death. We could have shown to him that, even in sickness and insanity, he was still a person. He died thinking that we didn’t care for him. We let him die alone.”

    Tam returned before she could finish, and she spent the rest of her visit playing with him. “I have to go,” she said finally. “Thrawn doesn’t want me to stay out too long.” She pulled Mira into a hug and whispered, “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, Mira. I didn’t want Tam to be hurt or scared. I’m so sorry. But we can’t let Isard win. Every time we think that someone doesn’t deserve to live, she wins. The Empire wins.”

    “Any news from Tashi?” Kal asked as she lifted Tam in her arms.

    “Thrawn is still looking for her.” She set the child back on the floor, lowered her voice and added, “It’s been twelve days already. It takes three weeks for the virus to...”

    Kal nodded his understanding when she didn’t finish the sentence. She seemed utterly distraught. “I’ll fly you home. I’d rather you don’t take the maglev. You never know.”

    The skylanes were half deserted as they crossed the city. The whole of Coruscant seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation of an event it could not foresee. “Be careful,” Kal said as he dropped her on the landing pad. “I know that the Capt’ doesn’t really need it, but tell him to be careful too.”

    She gave him a weak smile. “You too.”

    The apartment was empty. She dug into the med kit for a sedative and drowned into the blissful forgetfulness of a dreamless sleep. Thrawn was waiting for her in the kitchen when she woke up a few hours later. The sun was now low on the horizon. “Anything?” she asked as soon as she saw him.

    He sighed. “I have deduced by elimination that there are only three levels of the Palace where the research facility could be located. It is far too large an area for me to insert a rescue team for Tashi, but it does qualify as a breakthrough of sorts. I will return to the Listening Post tomorrow.” He pulled her to him and held her tightly, burying his face in her belly. “I am so sorry, Ayoo’sha,” she heard him whisper in Cheunh. “I am so sorry.”

    They were interrupted by the sound of a heated argument in the hallway, and they rushed to the turbolift to see Rumpy struggling against Rukh. The Wookiee was sweating profusely, with droplets of transparent, salty liquid dripping from his water-shedding fur as if he had fallen into the ocean. “Ayesha clan Vos,” the Noghri mewled as soon as he saw her. “Your brother must see a doctor immediately. He has a fever.”

    Ayesha started trembling all over. “No,” she whispered. “No, no, no!”

    * * *​

    None of the nearby hospitals had any bacta to spare, all their tanks were occupied by ailing aliens, and Ayesha was wringing her hands in despair when Thrawn decided to throw all caution to the winds. “We will collect the Emperor’s vats of bacta from the Listening Post and take them to the Centre,” he said as they flew away after being turned back at a local medical centre. “We have bacta, we have a bacta tank and we have a doctor. Your brother will be fine, Ayoo’sha. This I promise you, and it is a promise I intend to keep.”

    Ayesha was sitting at Rumpy’s side in the back of the speeder, wiping the sweat from his brow. He was moaning softly. She barely took in Thrawn’s words, focused as she was on keeping herself together, when a bright bolt of light pierced the evening twilight, followed by a deafening thunderclap that caused her to jolt in her seat. “What’s happening?” she asked. “What is this?”

    Thrawn took in the scene as he slid the speeder out of the skylane to bring it to a halt. A massive cloud of steam had formed out of nowhere over the Senate district and coalesced into a storm unlike anything Coruscant had seen in decades. A dozen or so fighter craft were flying in the skies and there was a commotion caused by one of the city’s gigantic construction droids that had strayed out of its programmed path. “This,” he murmured, “is the New Republic taking Imperial Centre.” And without another word, he angled the speeder towards the Works and flew there in a straight line.

    An ancient binary loadlifter loaded the two vats of bacta into the trunk, and they sped away again to the Centre. The upper levels were in full mayhem by now. The authorities had scrambled TIE fighters, a battle was unfolding overhead and the speeder’s console indicated that the planetary shields were down. Thrawn had to slow his pace in order to avoid the accidents that were multiplying as people fled for their lives, but there was no need this time to follow a convoluted itinerary to the Underlevels. Soon they were in the dark alleys where traffic was scarce. He pointed the vehicle’s nose downwards and dove into the depths of the city until they reached the small platform in front of the Centre’s door.

    Ayesha leapt out of the speeder and palmed the release panel to deactivate the force field. She had barely taken a step inside when a cane hit her violently across the chest, causing her to fall over as air fled her lungs. “Who allowed you to come here?” a raspy voice asked in a growl that could have belonged to an animal.

    A dishevelled Simon towered above her, his eyes blazing with anger. His hair was an unruly mop and his beard reached his collarbone – he had visibly not shaven in months. She scrambled to her feet. “Simon, we need the bacta tank,” she blurted. “Rumpy is sick, he –”

    The doctor crossed his arms. “No.”

    She gave him a baffled look. “No?”

    “No. My deal with Eighty-Seven was to look at your brain. I did it. I don’t owe you anything else.”

    She stared at him, dumbstruck. “Simon, we need a doctor,” she argued when she found her voice. “Not only us, a lot of people out there need a doctor. There’s this terrible disease –”

    “Go away.”

    Fury bubbled up under her apparently calm demeanour. “I’m here to use the bacta tank, and I’m going to use it,” she said very coldly. “I’m going to use it for Rumpy, and I’m going to use it for other sentients too after Rumpy is okay, whether you like it or not. I suggest that you stay out of my way.”

    The doctor took a step forward to stand between her and the door to the medical ward. “I said, go away.”

    A punch to the face threw him off-balance and a kick to the legs threw him to the floor. “And I said, I’m going to use the bacta tank,” she snarled. She sent his walking stick waltzing to the other end of the platform and disappeared for a moment inside the Centre to return with a hoverstretcher and a floatpad. She helped Rumpy onto the gurney while Thrawn and Rukh offloaded the bacta vats, then she spun around to face Simon again. “Last time I saw you, you said Uumana would want you to be a doctor. Act like one.” She crinkled her nose to sniff the air and added, “Oh, and take a shower. Uumana wasn’t married to a tramp.”

    Thrawn watched her steer Rumpy’s stretcher towards the bacta room and motioned for Rukh to take over the floatpad. He then turned to Simon and went to help him off the ground. The doctor pushed him away. “I don’t want your help.”

    “No,” Thrawn said mildly. “You do not want it, but you need it, unless you intend to remain in a heap on the floor for the foreseeable future.”

    He stood there until the doctor accepted his outstretched hand. He lifted him to his feet and guided him to the ‘fresher, then brought a plastoid chair from what had been the bedroom and placed it in the sanisteam cubicle. The bed was untouched, but ration bar wrappings littered the floor of Uumana’s shrine. “I will give you some privacy now,” he said in his even voice.

    By the time Simon hobbled out of the ‘fresher, Thrawn was waiting for him with an old-fashioned razor in hand and a scuttle of lather on the bedside table. He gestured for him to sit and proceeded to shave him carefully, then led the way to the small kitchen and placed a steaming plate of food in front of him. The doctor ate without saying a word while Thrawn watched him from the other side of the table.

    Simon finally pushed his plate away and looked up. “You expect me to say thanks now, don’t you?”

    Thrawn shrugged imperceptibly. “No. I only expect you to listen to what I have to say.”

    The doctor sat back in his chair and looked at him defiantly. Thrawn took it for acquiescence and rested his elbows on the table. “First of all, you should know that you are correct about me. I am a selfish man, and it is true that I did not come looking for you when you were arrested. In my defence, I will say that I did not have access then to the sources of information that I have now. But I am fully aware that it is a rather lame excuse. The truth is that my thoughts at the time were entirely focused on Ayesha, and it made me, yes, selfish. It is also true that I came looking for you only when I needed you. I did not concern myself with Dexter, because my information stated that he had already left Gesaril to join the Rebel Alliance.”

    “Is that supposed to be an apology?”

    “Not at all. I am merely stating a fact. If you will let me continue however, I will explain to you why your hostility towards Ayesha is misplaced.”

    “Are you going to serve me some drivel about how the loss of your child affected her? And you? How you wallowed in your sorrow and forgot about those who ought to be your friends?”

    Thrawn sighed. “When it comes to myself, no. There was, of course, a time when my life was easier. There was a time when concern for the well-being of a loved one was nothing to me, because I loved no one. And as much as I hate the unspeakable anguish I experience every time I think that I am losing Ayesha, I hate the idea that I might have spent my life without knowing her even more. She has brought out the best and the worst in me – and my selfishness when it comes to her is but one aspect of that. But I will not compare my pain to yours, because it is not pain. It is love.” He paused and stared at the doctor. “But I will tell you about her pain, and you will tell me if it is worthy of your consideration. You know about her childhood and the fact that she was born a slave. You know that, at the age of seven, she had to live on her own in the alleys just outside this facility, and you know that, in your own words, something dark and terrible happened to her on Kiffu. What you do not know is what happened to her after our last visit to you here, four years ago, when she was on her way to spend the remainder of her pregnancy with her family on Kashyyyk until I could arrange adequate medical care for her and our child.”

    He paused again, as if to collect his thoughts. “She already told me that the Emperor killed your baby,” Simon said gruffly.

    Thrawn arched an eyebrow. “Is that all she said?” The doctor nodded. “Well, you will allow me to elaborate. Mere days after our last visit here four years ago, on the morning of New Year Fete, the Royal Guards came for her as she was about to leave to the spaceport. The official pretext was that she would be held hostage to prevent the Wookiees from siding with the Rebellion. They took her to an undisclosed location where the Emperor himself subjected her to several days of mental torture through the Force, and, while she did not go into specifics, she did say that he made her relive her deepest fears, no doubt that dark and terrible thing that was done to her in her childhood. He weakened her mind so as to sift through her memories, which, I may add, is not unrelated to the fact that she has been losing control over her thoughts. Once he had found the piece of information he was looking for, and some other random items which were of some use to him – among which the existence of your Centre – he took a pike from one of his guards and stabbed her in the belly to kill her child. He projected every image of the baby’s death in her mind. My understanding is that he took his time, and that she had to experience it all in excruciating detail.”

    Simon went to speak, but Thrawn raised a hand and continued. “There is more, and I am asking you to listen to me until the end. She did not receive medical care for her wound. Instead, the Emperor shipped her off to a space station run by one of my political enemies. There she was raped, repeatedly as I understand it, and once that beast became tired of her, he handed her over to a group of his thugs with orders to ferry her to my ship. She was raped again – gang-raped – and beaten to a pulp. By the time she arrived aboard the Admonitor, she was a human wreck. It is a testament to her generosity and strength of character that she could ultimately see past the seeds of suspicion that the Emperor planted in her mind against me, and that she could find it within herself to forgive me for putting her through that ordeal – because, in my immeasurable arrogance, I had thought that my preparations for her to leave Coruscant would protect not only her, but also those she loves. As you can see, I failed miserably on all counts. She was taken away, you were arrested, your wife was murdered, the ISB went after Ayesha’s Jedi uncle, and her adoptive father was killed when the Galaxy descended into chaos. And now, in this month alone, she lost one of her closest friends to the Empire, another one to a gruesome death, and her brother – the only family she has left – is suffering from the same illness that took her friends.”

    There was a long silence. Thrawn finally stood up and placed Simon’s walking stick by the table. “That is all I have to say. I will leave it to you now to decide if she should be forgiven for being a little self-centred. Self-centred, as you are yourself right now. Perhaps you could understand that you are not alone, and that may even help you cope with your grief.”

    He took a step towards the door. “Why do you serve the Empire?” Simon asked behind him.

    Thrawn spun on his heel to look at him. “I do not serve the Empire anymore. I serve only the goals I have set for myself, and this is not something I can share with you. But I acknowledge that I served the Empire for far too long. By the time I understood what the Empire was, who the Emperor was, it was too late. I arrived in the Endor system and he was already dead.” His eyes flashed with molten lava. “You will never know how much I regret it. I genuinely wish that I could have killed him myself, although, all things considered... let us simply say that there was a form of poetic justice in the way he met his end.”

    Simon stared at him for a moment. “What does she see in you?” Thrawn raised his hands, palms upwards, in a gesture of ignorance and surrender. “You don’t know, do you?” the doctor said bitterly. “Well, neither do I. I’m convinced that she doesn’t actually see you. You love her, sure. But you’re not a good man.”

    There was another, heavy silence. “No,” the Chiss said. “I am not.”

    * * *​

    Ayesha could see that Rumpy was declining fast, and she was struggling to keep calm as she finished reading the bacta tank’s user manual, trying to figure out the appropriate dosage for her brother, when a hand flipped a few switches on the console in front of her. She looked up to see that Simon was now adjusting the breathing mask on Rumpy’s face and motioning for Rukh to help him support the Wookiee’s hulking frame into the tank. He closed the door panel and activated a lever, and a faint gurgle broke the silence as the tubes began pumping bacta into the transparisteel cylinder.

    Simon gave a quick look to the monitors, and, once he was confident everything was in place, he went to one of the cabinets lining the room and extracted a tube of salve. His eyes moved back to Ayesha as he began applying the balm on the dark bruise that was spreading on his cheekbone. She gave him an embarrassed look. “I’m sorry for hitting you,” she mumbled.

    He waved a hand to dismiss her apology. “So am I, but we’ll have time for that later. Tell me what’s happening out there.”

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

    Note: This chapter takes place concurrently with the second half of X-Wing: Wedge's Gamble.
     
  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Scene with Ayesha and Kal and Mira - she is so right about how to neutralize Isard's divisive tactics!

    Bravo on the conquest details and :eek: [face_nail_biting] about Rumpy! Major edge of seatness!

    ~~

    Scenes with Simon - [face_dancing] Ayesha kicks butt and takes names with her insistence about getting Rumpy treatment, and others too. Not surprised at all! =D=
    Then Simon's talk with Thrawn - very candid and holding-nothing-back as to who is to blame for what. [face_thinking]
    I particularly love Thrawn's voice in this. He never skirts around or minimizes his role in things, which he could do if he were inclined. A person who can admit their flaws can more readily move on and learn from them. @};-

    ~~

    Ayesha's large-heartedness and generosity of spirit - now that that in particular is what resonates with me in a Luke-style fashion where she is concerned. He also has that loving giving nature. [face_love]
    Her bold I'll tell you what I really think - that's Leia all over. [face_laugh]
    Rey - that particular piece comes from their rough childhoods. Rey as well has the capacity to find friendships and little joys. :)
     
    AzureAngel2, Kahara and Chyntuck like this.
  8. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    All right, catching up yet again (it's getting embarrassing how often this is happening [face_blush])...

    24: I have to say, this one was hard to read (but I did appreciate the warning). The situation that Isard has set up on Coruscant is arguably worse than any wartime situation during the Imperial-Rebel conflict of the Saga. First there's thewhole insidiousness of saddling the New Republic with an absolutely gruesome public-health-crisis-cum-borderline-genocide: it seems very significant that this mysterious epidemic is the one thing Thrawn's not able to find out anything about during his (I guess one call them) intelligence excursions.

    Then Tashi's mysterious disappearance, and especially her friends' reactions to it, leads to the second crux of the situation set up by Isard: the ruthless pitting of friends and loved ones against each other. We have seen that brewing in the chapters leading up to this and here it comes to what one might call the ultimate head. The fact that Tashi's disappearance seems so perfectly "convenient" to Onion is already significant, and it's probably just exactly the kind of result Isard might hope her tactics to have. But the real climax, of course, was the part I really found hard to read—Onion's (seeming) attempt on Tam's life, Rukh's (and Kal's) retaliation, and the fight that very nearly breaks out. I have a child who's close in age to Tam, and I really can't say how I would react if his life were threatened in that manner—but I have a feeling that here, too, this is just the kind of thing Isard would love to know her schemes are causing...

    25: ...and given the situation, I'm almost not sure whether to be relieved to find out that the virus wouldn't have been fatal to Tam after all —which I hope makes sense (it doesn't mean I want Tam dead, just that I wish there was less uncertainty about everything). I'm glad to see that Ayesha is getting wise to the fact that division, discord, and disrespect for life is precisely what Isard aims to sow here. Though between the continued absence of Tashi and this horrifying development with Rumpy's fever (oh no oh no oh no!), methinks her resolve is going to be sorely tested.

    And in this second tense scene with Simon it very much is. This, in a way, was hard to read too; the oxen are still standing at the mountain. Even now that Simon knows what really happened to Ayesha and her child, it's not clear that that's caused any progress to be made toward real reconciliation, at least not between the two of them. Which isn't a criticism of the story—quite the contrary, perfectly true to the character of both these men, and it goes to show how well you've nailed the characterization of both of them. (Simon's question about what Ayesha sees in Thrawn is, in some ways, a very valid one, and in many ways it's a central question of this entire work. Again, in a good way.)

    But even if Thrawn and Simon's reconciliation still needs more time to become complete, it's encouraging to see Rumpy starting to get some treatment. My fingers and toes are crossed for him. [face_good_luck]
     
  9. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Excellent update as always!

    I'm so concerned about Rumpy. Ayesha just cannot take another loss at this point. Hopefully the bacta will heal him, especially now that Simon got the wake up call he desperately needed. This will actually work out for both of them; Simon will now have a reason to get up in the morning and do something more than simply grieve.

    Now this:
    Very interesting observation...
     
  10. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I'm postponing replies, because I'm ending 2015 with a bang and a busy day, but answers will be coming in 2016.

    Oh, and happy new year!

    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.

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

    Chapter 26: Observations

    By the time Rumpy came out of the bacta tank three days later and Simon installed him in a private room to allow him to rest and complete his recovery, it was Rukh’s turn to have a fever. “I’m confident that you will be cured much faster,” the doctor said as he adjusted the breathing mask to the Noghri’s snout. “These seem to be only the very early symptoms. I don’t expect you to need more than a day in there, two at most.”

    Rukh stood straight and proud, and he stepped on his own into the transparisteel cylinder, but Ayesha could see the fear in his eyes. “Don’t worry, Rukh,” she said reassuringly as she prepared to close the tank’s door panel. “We’ll take good care of you.”

    “I worry for Overlord Thrawn,” the Noghri muffled mewl came through the mask. “It is my duty to be at his side while he conducts his investigations. I am failing in my assigned task.”

    Ayesha smiled. “Thrawn will be fine. If Isard couldn’t find him in the year we spent here, I doubt the New Republic will just days after taking over – unless, of course, he wants to be found.”

    Thrawn had left the Centre as soon as it became clear that Simon would look after Rumpy, claiming that he wanted to resume his search for Tashi, but Ayesha suspected – and Simon too, from the snide comments that escaped him every now and then – that his curiosity about the New Republic’s biggest victory so far had gotten the better of him, and that he was considerably frustrated by the fact that he hadn’t been able to witness the fall of Coruscant. He returned twenty-four hours later and began loading crates onto the floatpad. “This is the medical equipment I was able to salvage from the Listening Post so far,” he explained to Ayesha. “Please have Doctor Simon look through it and take what he needs. I will bring more tomorrow.”

    “Any news from Tashi?” she asked.

    “The New Republic have taken control of the Imperial Palace. Delta Source indicates that locating the research facility is their top priority; I am confident that they will find it soon. How is your brother?”

    “He’s fine,” Simon interjected from the doorway. “He’s doing a lot better already. Bacta is the cure.”

    Thrawn sighed. “Yes. Unfortunately, bacta is the cure.”

    The doctor arched a disparaging eyebrow. “Unfortunately?”

    “This is a war, Doctor Simon,” the Chiss replied harshly. “Where you see patients and medication, I see a war where the civilian population itself is the weapon, and bacta is the counter-weapon. Unfortunately, the New Republic have adopted your mindset. They took Coruscant less than a day ago, and they are already arguing among themselves about the best medical approach to this issue. The medical approach has never won a war. They are falling head-on into Ysanne Isard’s Krytos trap, and it will be their undoing.”

    “What would you have them do?” Simon said heatedly. “Let the alien population die?”

    Thrawn’s voice became glacial. “I would have them take radical measures to minimise the spread of the virus. I would have them cut off the water supply to the planet and sweep the non-Human neighbourhoods to quarantine the ill, while requisitioning all available supplies of bottled water and bacta and procuring more from every world they control. I would have them treat this as a military issue, not as a medical emergency. Millions will die from this disease. It is best they die without transmitting it to millions more.”

    There was a silence. “I doubt the New Republic are strong enough a government to enforce this type of policy,” Simon finally said.

    “They are not, but they are also not willing to be strong. Their wish to save every infected sentient stems from a generous sentiment. But it is a sentiment that some representatives to the Provisional Council are already exploiting as they vie for power. I hate to think of the consequences this will have in the current war, and in wars to come.”

    There was another silence. “You think Isard contaminated the water supply?” Ayesha asked.

    “I would be surprised if she did not.” He pointed at one of the crates he had brought. “This is bottled water. Humans, and apparently near-Humans such as you and I, are immune to this disease, and so far Rukh has shown no symptoms, but I would rather you drink this nevertheless. I will bring more on my next trip.”

    He left again to return two days later, moments after Rukh had stepped into the bacta tank. “I have deleted all records of our existence from the Imperial databases,” he explained as he carried more crates. “As far as the New Republic is concerned, Ayesha Eskari was never born. I did keep a backdoor into the archives, should you wish to re-establish your file.”

    Ayesha nodded and took the box of meat and spices that Thrawn had brought for Rumpy to prepare a meal for her brother. Simon stepped closer to Thrawn as soon as she disappeared into the kitchen. “I imagine that Captain or Commander or whatever-rank-you-hold Thrawn was never an Imperial officer either,” he said questioningly as they offloaded the fresh supplies.

    Thrawn merely shrugged. “Indeed.” He gestured towards the crates. “These are mostly food and water, but I was able to find some more medical equipment for you. This here” – he patted the largest box – “is a transparisteel tube that Ayesha believes to be a Spaarti cloning cylinder. I would be grateful if you could confirm.”

    Simon gave him a puzzled look. “Are you planning to clone anyone?”

    “I am planning to find out if anyone else has been cloning sentients,” Thrawn answered. “Namely, if the Emperor has been cloning sentients – or himself.”

    The doctor blinked. “Are you serious?”

    “Perfectly serious. How is Rukh?”

    “I believe he will be fine. I could not find details of his species in my database, but he was confident that he knew the correct dosage of bacta for beings of his kind.”

    Thrawn nodded and pointed at another crate. “This is more bacta. I believe the total quantity will be sufficient to operate the tank and your smaller capsule at once.” He sighed. “Given the New Republic’s lack of efficiency at taking decisions, you will have to do what you can to cure those you can find, one patient at a time.”

    In the days that followed, Rumpy and Rukh moved back to Ayesha’s apartment, but she stayed with Simon to help him identify, among the tramps and vagrants that populated the Underlevels, those sentients who had been contaminated by the Krytos virus but could be saved by the meagre facilities the Centre had to offer. “I lost two friends to this disease,” she argued when Thrawn protested that one of his agents could take her place alongside the doctor. “I lost Onion, and I lost Tashi. Yes, I know that I lost Tashi – if you haven’t found her after all this time, it means she’s dead. You said this is a war. I can fight it in my own little way while you look at the bigger holo and try to influence the future of the Galaxy.”

    They soon settled into a routine where Simon remained in the Centre to monitor the two beings who, at any given time, were floating in the bacta tanks, while she explored the neighbouring alleys in search for more patients. Thrawn procured for her a standard comlink tuned to the official frequencies, and more often than not all she could do was to communicate coordinates to the Health and Hygiene Department’s hotline when she found an ailing alien who was dying or already dead, and whose decomposing remains were an incubator for the virus strains to fester and multiply. The fact of being surrounded by disease and death soon began to take its toll on her nerves, but what pushed her over the edge every time, and sent her running back to the Centre in tears, was those aliens who refused her help, or who outright accused her of seeking to take them in as lab rats, because she appeared to be Human. “I can’t really blame them,” she told Simon after one such occurrence. “I wouldn’t trust Humans either after what happened. But they don’t realise that it’s exactly what Isard wants. Those who can still hope to recover on their own will reject me, and by the time they’re desperate they’re too far along and we can’t help them anymore. And then they contaminate others.”

    “You’re doing everything you possibly could, Ayesha,” the doctor said soothingly. “We don’t have the resources to help everyone, but we are managing to help at least a few of those society has forgotten. I know that it’s not much, but it’s already something.”

    The news that Thrawn brought on his daily visits was hardly more reassuring. “The Provisional Council are bogged down in endless negotiations with Zaltin and Xucphra. The price of bacta has, predictably enough, reached the stratosphere, and the distribution problems they are facing are immense. If their plans for a more potent form of medicine do not come to fruition very, very soon, they will be bankrupt.” He sighed. “Or, I should rather say, they will not be able to hide their bankruptcy anymore. I truly hope that calmer heads will prevail before the situation descends into chaos.”

    “Is there no way you could intervene to give them the information they need?” Simon asked.

    Thrawn suppressed a snort. “I have little information they could use, but I also know when to keep my distance. The Provisional Council consists of three Humans and eight aliens, each of whom must serve the interests of his or her own constituency. I do not believe that adding a rogue Imperial officer to the mix would create a less explosive situation.” He sighed again. “Although I must say that ridding them of the Bothan representative would be doing a great service to the Galaxy. Between the role that his species played in obtaining the Death Star plans and the fact that he has positioned himself as a spokesbeing for all non-Humans – and this despite the fact that his species is immune to the virus so far – he is making a grab for power, milking his standing for all it is worth.”

    “What about this big trial they have going?” Ayesha asked. “The HoloNet says this Tycho Celchu is a spy, that he’s responsible for the death of one of the pilots who flew in the Liberation of Coruscant.”

    The faintest of smiles touched Thrawn’s lips. “It is an interesting operation. General Cracken deserves his reputation as someone who can manipulate public opinion to smoke out a spy, I will hand him that.”

    A soft chime indicated that one of the recovering patients lying in the ward required assistance, and Ayesha left the little kitchen where they were sitting to attend to his needs. Simon turned to Thrawn as soon as she was gone. “You’re testing them, aren’t you? The New Republic. You’re testing them. That’s why you’re not intervening.”

    Thrawn gave him a long stare. “Yes, I am. It is one of many reasons why I am not intervening.”

    “Drop the ‘many’,” Simon said scathingly. “The real reason you’re here is to see their strengths and weaknesses, in order to take Coruscant back from them when you have the chance.”

    The Chiss’s expression hardened. “The real reason I am here is to determine if I should ally myself with them in view of things to come. I know the future, Doctor. I know the threat it holds. I know that the Galaxy needs a strong, united government to face it, and from what I have seen so far, the New Republic is not that government. As a matter of fact, the New Republic is not a government at all. It is still only a rebellion.”

    “The New Republic only had a few years of war to establish themselves,” Simon protested. “They will improve as time goes by, they will –”

    Thrawn raised a hand to stop him. “Which is why I am not deliberately seeking to undermine them at this point. That is all I can say for now.” He stood up. “I must go. Is there anything I should bring tomorrow?”

    “I need more bacta,” the doctor said gruffly. “I’ve been filtering and recycling what we have, but by tomorrow I’ll be able to use only one tank at a time, and in a few days none at all.”

    “You might as well ask me to get you a Death Star for Transland Day.”

    “I need it,” Simon pressed. “My patients need it.”

    “So do the patients of the hospital I could steal it from,” Thrawn replied coldly. “Should I go ahead and steal it?”

    The two men stared at each other for a moment. Thrawn finally sighed once more. “I will see what I can do. My agents tell me that Black Sun has been stockpiling bacta, I will hit one of their depots. Be warned however, it will take a few days.”

    Simon nodded. “Ayesha will be grateful.”

    Thrawn stared at him a moment longer. “How is she doing?”

    “She’s tired. She’s working too much and she worries too much. She –”

    “You do not understand,” the Chiss interrupted. “How is she doing?” He tapped a finger to his forehead.

    Simon lowered his voice. “She’s not well. I found her hiding in a corner one morning, she said that she had nightmares. And she blanked out a couple of times.”

    “Did you examine her again?”

    It was Simon’s turn to sigh. “There was no time. Not that she’d let me.”

    Thrawn sank into a meditative silence. “I will arrange for those of your patients who have already undergone bacta treatment to be transferred somewhere else,” he finally said. “It will give you the break you need to ascertain that her situation is not deteriorating. Is this acceptable to you?”

    Simon nodded again. “And I’ll have a look at your cloning cylinder too. I haven’t been able to do that yet.”

    “Thank you.”

    Thrawn had barely taken a step towards the door when Simon spoke again. “I can feel that you’re up to more than what you’re telling me, and I don’t like it. Oh, and I still don’t like you either, you know.”

    The Chiss spun around. His lips were twitching into a smile. “I know. If it is any consolation, I cannot say that I like myself very much either. But I will do what has to be done.”

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

    Note: The events of this chapter take place concurrently with the events of X-Wing: The Krytos Trap. The Bothan representative on the Provisional Council is of course Borsk Fey'lya.
     
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    So happy Rumpy recovered and Rukh seems to have gotten only a slight exposure. Enjoyed all the discussions and helping out - you can really feel Simon getting a much-needed sense of purpose through all that. I especially was intrigued by the observations surrounding the "correct" and/or "best" way to handle the Krytos virus. And I am 100% behind Thrawn's remark about what to do with one member of the Provisionary Council [face_laugh]

    Did not miss the mention of Ayesha still having blackouts. [face_worried] At least they're not becoming more problematic, at least. Once the current crisis is dealt with, perhaps they can tackle that situation more overtly. [face_thinking]
     
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  12. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    It indeed is a relief that Rumpy is better and that it didn't take him long to recover completely. Though I do hope that Ayesha's wrong about losing Tashi for good, and I wonder if at some point in the story, whether she's dead or alive, we will find out more about what happened to her. [face_thinking]

    Meanwhile, Simon and Thrawn's "discussion" continues, and once again I have to say Simon's got real cojones for calling out Thrawn for this whole business of "testing" the New Republic. Maybe Thrawn's right about the New Republic, maybe he's wrong, and undoubtedly they have their share of problems at this early stage of their existence. But whatever the case may be, I too am a bit troubled by the way he's so wrapped up in his strategic conjectures when there's this very pressing humanitarian (sentientarian?) issue going on at the same time. But who knows, maybe whatever plan he is cooking up (and I imagine he has one) will lead to some tangible results on both fronts.

    In any case, Ayesha's "own little way" of fighting this war alongside Simon is absolutely having tangible results, and is a huge testament to her generous spirit—a spirit that never was totally quashed despite all she's been through. Of course, the continued blackouts are definitely a cause for concern. [face_thinking] It's of course good that Thrawn can arrange things so Simon has the time to treat her more thoroughly and take a closer look at that mysterious cloning cylinder—but once again, Thrawn is making Simon prioritize his (Thrawn's) requests, and this time seems to be making Simon do so at the expense of his basic responsibilities as a medical man—healing everyone who needs it. It's all very "honey-do," in a way. Thrawn's idea of tapping into Black Sun's bacta stockpiles is definitely ambitious, and I am curious to see where that will go—I imagine we'll be reading more about that soon? [face_batting]
     
  13. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Rumpy is better but I ask myself if Ayesha will continue to be played by the Force like an instrument. You succeed to give your stories the traces of a Greek drama here and there. I hope there is still enough happiness for our heroine left in the updates to come.

    [face_praying]
     
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  14. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Thrawn's militaristic solution to the plague makes sense for the population at large - the needs of the many > the needs of the few- but enforcing it is another matter. It would have to be draconian for it to work. How can you turn away a sick person who begs you for a cure you know you have? I can see the conflict here and there is no easy solution.

    I'm glad Rumpy and Rukh are better. Ayesha needs the stability her brother offers her. Simon seems to have calmed down and found a purpose again. It's weird in a way - he calls Thrawn out for prioritizing Ayesha's health before everyone else's, but let's face it, had it not been for Thrawn's concern over Ayesha, Simon would not have gotten any of the materials or chances he got. He has the bacta to treat his patients not because of Thrawn's generous heart but because this crisis gives Ayesha a purpose and direction in her life.m
     
  15. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    All righty doo, between the constant power cuts at home these last few days and the fact that I messed up with the calendar and thought that 06 January was today instead of tomorrow, I'm running late AGAIN -- and I'm going to be The Fail for this first update of the year and not reply to your very kind reviews once more. Oh, and I'm posting one day late. Anyway... [face_blush] Thanks so much for reading and reviewing, and I'll catch up on replies tomorrow, which actually is a public holiday, so I'll be at home.

    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.

    Oh, one more thing: there's a little nugget that I added to this chapter, just for divapilot [:D]

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

    Chapter 27: The tremor

    Thrawn was able to procure some more bacta for Simon and Ayesha to continue their work – “it does not come from official sources,” was the only answer he gave when Ayesha asked if she really wanted to know where he’d found it – but the additional supply lasted only for two weeks, and thirty-eight days after the Liberation of Coruscant the Centre had to close its doors. Simon found Ayesha sitting sadly in the ward as they took a break from packing, and he came near her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

    “We did everything that could be done with what we had, li’l one,” he told her. “Thrawn doesn’t want to steal from the hospitals, and I wouldn’t want him to either. And he says that the New Republic are close to finding a better, more efficient cure too.”

    “I know,” she mumbled. “I just keep wondering if I could have done more – for Onion, for Tashi.”

    Mira had been able to use some of her grandmother’s connections to approach Captain Aril Nunb, a member of Rogue Squadron who had been among the Sullustans abducted and used as test subjects by Isard’s accomplice Evir Derricote. The pilot confirmed that Tashi had been with her in the secret medical facility in the Imperial Palace, and that, of all the Sullustans who were there, only two had survived, herself and a child she had taken under her wing. The news was not unexpected – Ayesha knew that after so much time Tashi could not be found, and she had told Thrawn as much – but it was a blow nevertheless. That evening, she and Simon performed Gyysharria for Tashi on Uumana’s coffin, then they sat in the kitchen to work their way through Ayesha’s supply of cortyg brandy. The patients they used to host in the ward had now moved to Kal and Mira’s old flat, where Onion and Tashi had been staying before the epidemic, and they only had two sedated Rodians floating in bacta to look after for the night. Simon filled two glasses and handed one to Ayesha.

    “To the friends we lost,” she said.

    Simon touched her glass with his and looked at her intently. “And to those we found again.”

    Ayesha could remember little of the evening’s conversation when she woke up the next morning with a throbbing headache, but she knew that, if nothing else, the doctor was her friend again.

    They finished packing in silence and waited for Thrawn to come. Ayesha thought for a moment that they would need two trips – Uumana’s coffin, the statue and the cloning tank were exceedingly bulky – but Thrawn somehow managed to load all three in the speeder, and they flew back to the Senate district.

    It was obvious, from the appearance of the apartment, that Thrawn was planning to leave Coruscant soon, and once they installed Simon in the guest room and made caf, he asked the doctor if he had made up his mind on a destination.

    “I was hoping you and Ayesha could help me choose one,” Simon said. “I would like a world that is peaceful now, but that will also stay peaceful for the years to come. Uumana suffered enough in her lifetime. I do not wish for her remains to be desecrated once more.”

    Thrawn looked at Ayesha. “What do you suggest, Ayoo’sha? You know Doctor Simon’s tastes far better than I do. I will do what is necessary to ensure that the world you choose remains safe for the foreseeable future.”

    Ayesha sank deep in meditation, only to be interrupted by a brief huff from Rumpy. “Yes, I’m sure Simon would love Kashyyyk,” she said. “But he wants a grave for Uumana, and he can’t have that there, he can’t reach the surface. I need to think of something else.”

    She fiddled a little with her cup and stood up, saying that she would find inspiration in her workshop. Thrawn turned back to Simon as soon as she had left the atrium. “Were you able to examine her again, Doctor?” he murmured.

    Simon nodded. “I was, but I have nothing new to say. There is this host of turbulent memories that she has stored in the back of her mind. She cannot eliminate them, she cannot process them and I cannot remove them. I am only a physician. If this situation truly stems from an encounter with a Dark Side Force user, as you seem to believe, there is nothing I can do. What you need is a Jedi, and, as far as I know, there is only one.”

    Thrawn arched an ironic eyebrow. “If you are referring to Luke Skywalker, Ayesha meeting him would entail an untold number of... complications.”

    “It’s her health and well-being we’re talking about here,” Simon said with a snort. “Surely your Imperial plots come second to that?”

    “I was not thinking of Imperial plots, Doctor,” the Chiss retorted glacially. “There are other issues pertaining to Skywalker. I do not believe that Ayesha is ready to meet him just yet, and I deem it safe to assume that he may not be ready for what she has to say either.”

    The two men were glaring laser bolts at each other when an angry voice suddenly said, “Will you two ever stop arguing about me?”

    Ayesha was standing in the workshop doorway, holding a small, square object in her hand. “I hear you talking about me behind my back, you know. And I don’t like it.” She returned to her seat on the couch and added, “I’ll decide later if and when I want to meet Luke Skywalker, but for now, I think I found a planet for Simon.” She held up the object she was carrying, and Thrawn saw that it was the holo of Anakin and Padmé. “Naboo. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, it has large cities and quiet rural areas. The people were very nice when we went there, there are many different species, native and non-native, and” – she grinned – “the food was fantastic. And most importantly for Simon, it’s been at the centre of the Refugee Relief Movement since the Clone Wars – which means that there are also lots of sentients there who need the sort of help only you can give.” She pulled him into a hug and whispered in his ear, “You can get an apartment with a view on the lake, like the one you had near the Western Sea here. You’ll love it, and Uumana would love it too.”

    Simon took a datapad from the low table and looked up the details of the planet. “It also has several teaching hospitals and a university,” he said after a moment. “That sounds like the perfect place for me, Ayesha.” He looked at Thrawn. “I need one more thing from you, however. I was in Imperial custody for three years, but it seems no one noticed that, according to the civil registry, I have been dead for ten. I need to be alive again.”

    * * *​

    The following day was dedicated to more packing. There was a lot Ayesha wanted to take back to Nirauan, and she finished wrapping the pieces of her art she would take along, and putting away those that would remain stored in her workshop until their next trip to Coruscant, whenever that would happen. Simon offered to help her sort through her books and archives, but she declined – “you know how it is with these things,” she said, “if I don’t do it myself I won’t know what I put in which box,” – and he sat on the couch again to follow Tycho Celchu’s trial. The proceedings were being broadcast live on the HoloNet, and Simon clearly found it fascinating.

    “This Captain Celchu must be an extraordinary person,” he said when Ayesha and Thrawn joined him on the conversation circle late in the afternoon. “Everything about him screams that he is innocent, yet the evidence is irrefutable. I am amazed that he did not fall victim to an ‘accident’ yet. It is truly to the credit of the New Republic that they are doing what they can to protect him and give him a fair trial.”

    A faint smile touched Thrawn’s lips. “As surprising as it may seem to you, Doctor, this is a mock trial – only not in the way you might think. I expect it to come to its conclusion very soon, although what General Cracken has precisely in mind I have no idea.” Ayesha and Simon both gave him a curious look. “The main charge against Captain Celchu is not only a crime he did not commit, it is an event that never happened – but I am not certain that Cracken himself knows this. I am most eager to find out how he intends to resolve this situation.”

    Ayesha gave him a mock angry look. “Will you stop speaking in riddles?”

    His smile widened. “That is all I will say for today, Ayoo’sha. I do not wish to spoil the final surprise of this public drama for you.”

    The next morning, Rumpy left to go to Kal and Mira’s old apartment, which still operated as an inn of sorts, while Thrawn and Simon, escorted by Rukh, flew to the Listening Post to update the details of his identity documents. Ayesha stayed at home alone, and, after a quick comm call to Mira, who had taken the day off and agreed to come to visit in the afternoon, together with Tam, she copied the holo of Anakin and Padmé to a datacard, slipped it in her satchel and took a maglev to the Senate.

    The Provisional Council had announced its intention to re-establish the Senate as soon as possible now that they were in control of the Galactic capital, but the Krytos crisis had taken most of their time and energy. For the time being, the building had merely been reopened for visits by the public. Ayesha went quietly through the security checks at the entrance – it was clear that the Coruscant constabulary was taking the threat of attacks by the Palpatine Counterinsurgency Front very seriously, and access to those public buildings where the New Republic had installed its base of operations, such as the former Imperial Palace, was all but impossible – and, after wandering a little through the stately halls, she found on the map the room she was looking for and boarded a turbolift.

    The subcommittee room was exactly as it had been the first and only time she had seen it, dark and dusty, and the sign reading ‘Senator Gabrial Atanna of Esseles’ was untouched. The entire area was deserted, but she locked the door behind her anyway and stepped towards the back wall. The Emperor’s secret passageway opened in front of her, and she slipped into the tunnel.

    The shuttle was not there, but she didn’t want to attract attention to herself by summoning it – Thrawn had been adamant that they should not reveal its existence to the new government until they left the planet, lest the Listening Post be found as well – so she settled for walking along the magnetic rails. It was a short distance, and soon she stood on the little platform where she and Thrawn had very nearly been found by Ysanne Isard on their first exploration of the tunnel complex. She climbed into the one-man lift cabin and found herself in a sumptuous foyer of the Imperial Palace. It took her only a moment to orient herself and understand that she was in the residential area, and she smiled – this would make the task she had assigned to herself easier.

    But even the residential area of the Palace was impossibly huge, and she got lost more than once in her quest, until she found a wooden door with a tiny sign that read ‘Luke Skywalker’. She lay down on the floor briefly to verify if there was any light in the quarters, and, just to be sure, she pressed her finger to the old-fashioned chime while digging into her satchel for the datacard. She gave a start when, a few second later, the door unexpectedly swung on its hinges and a white-and-blue astromech beeped questioningly.

    She stood there for a moment, staring at the little droid, hesitating to tell him the lie she had prepared in case she was found, but something clicked in the back of her mind, and she reached out to touch the top of its dome. “You’re Artoo,” she whispered.

    The astromech beeped again something that was part confirmation, part question. “I have something for Luke,” she said, suddenly making up her mind. “I was doing to just leave it here, or slip it under the door, but I think it’s better if I leave it with you.” She pulled out the datacard and went to insert it into the droid’s slot.

    An appendage emerged from the barrel-shaped torso and Artoo emitted a furious whistle as he zapped her with electricity, causing her to jump back. “Cut it out!” she exclaimed, rubbing her forearm. “I’m not going to harm you. I just want to leave a message for Luke about his father. About Anakin. You remember Anakin, right?”

    The droid rolled back a little and let out a series of chirps while his eye flashed several times. Ayesha smiled. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand binary,” she said. “But it looks like you know what I’m talking about, so can you please let me in? I just want to record my message, and I’ll be gone.”

    The dome rotated from left to right and from right to left, then Artoo extended a clawed arm, grabbed a piece of her tunic and pulled her inside. He led her to the desk and plugged into the data terminal. The words >> What do you know about Anakin?<< materialised on the monitor.

    “I know everything,” she said with a sigh. “I shared his mind for a while.”

    Artoo let out an incredulous whistle. >>Prove it.<<

    She pondered the challenge for a moment. “You were there when he got married to Padmé,” she said finally. “It was on a terrace overlooking the lake in Padmé’s estate on Naboo. You were there, so was his protocol droid, and the only other person present was a holy man.”

    >>Anything else?<<

    “Padmé wore a white gown with a lace veil. And Anakin... Anakin had just had a mechanical hand fitted after he lost his arm in a duel. He didn’t like it, he thought the contact would be unpleasant for Padmé, but he didn’t say anything, and she didn’t say anything either. Later on, he chose to wear a glove so as to hide it.”

    >>Where did the protocol droid come from?<<

    “Anakin built him when he was a little boy. He salvaged the parts little by little from Watto’s shop, and then he left him with his mother when the Jedi took him to Coruscant. He took him back when he went looking for his mother ten years later.”

    >>Who else was there when we found him in Watto’s shop?<<

    “There was you, and the Jedi – Qui-Gon Jinn – and Padmé, who was posing as a handmaiden. Oh, and there was that funny character, Jar-Jar Binks. He got in trouble with one of the pit droids, Anakin had to tell him how to deactivate it.”

    Artoo beeped approvingly and switched on his holoprojector. A three-dimensional scene materialised in front of them, showing a Gungan struggling against a frenzied pit droid. The voice of a child could be heard saying, “Hit the nose!” and as Jar-Jar’s fist made contact with what the droid had for a face, the mechanical menace fell to the ground. Ayesha laughed and Artoo let out something that sounded like a chuckle before returning to the terminal.

    >>What is the message you want to leave for Master Luke?<<

    “I want to tell him about his father. He knows how Anakin came back to the Light, but he should also know who he was before he was seduced by the Dark. He should know how much Anakin loved his mother, and how much he was looking forward to having a child.” She held out the datacard. “I also have a holo of his parents shortly after they got married, but that’s not really necessary anymore. You must have far more in your memory banks.”

    The droid rotated his dome again, in the astromech equivalent of a nod. >>You can leave your message with me. I will give it to Master Luke when the time is right.<<

    “I was going to leave it in his computer terminal.”

    >>He is not ready to see it yet. I will show it to him when the time is right.<<

    Ayesha looked at Artoo for a moment. “I guess you know him best,” she finally said. “All right, let’s do this.”

    She sat on a chair while the droid settled in position and activated his camera, and she began to speak.

    * * *​

    Thrawn and Simon were finishing lunch in the kitchen when Ayesha came home, but she answered their questions about where she had been with monosyllables and fetched a plate for herself. Simon stood up to make space for her, but Thrawn remained seated to keep her company while she ate. She seemed distracted, and as soon as Simon had left the kitchen Thrawn asked if she was feeling alright.

    “I’m okay,” she said absently. “It’s just that... I spoke a lot about Anakin today. It was something I had to do, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

    Thrawn arched an eyebrow. “Who did you speak to?”

    “Artoo. Anakin’s droid. Luke’s droid.”

    There was a flash of anger in the Chiss’s red eyes. “What did you tell him?”

    She shrugged. “Things that matter only to Luke. Who Anakin was as a little boy, how he became a Jedi, how –”

    She interrupted herself mid-sentence and remained immobile, her fork half-way to her mouth. It took a fraction of a second for Thrawn to understand what was happening, and he shouted for Simon to return. The doctor had hardly made it back to the kitchen and was patting her cheeks when a slight tremor shook the walls, but neither man noticed – mild earthquakes were not unheard of on Coruscant, and they were too concerned with Ayesha to pay attention.

    A minute passed, then two, then three. Ayesha was still as a statue, her eyes dim and glassy, her entire body in the exact position where she had been when she blanked out, Simon kneeling in front of her and Thrawn frozen on his stool with tears in his eyes. The doctor went to stand up and fetch his medical kit when a second, more potent tremor threw him off-balance.

    The building began to shake violently as the distant roar of crashes and explosions rumbled by. Simon glanced out of the window when he was finally able to scramble to his feet, and what he saw caused him to gasp. “There is... there is something out there,” he stammered.

    Thrawn leapt up to catch Ayesha before the earthquake threw her to the floor, but the scene unfolding on the horizon was so stunning that he very nearly let her go. The bow of a Super Star Destroyer was emerging from between the buildings at the foot of the Manarai Mountains, its turbolasers shooting continuously towards the skies. The green bolts splashed against the planetary shields until the invisible dome protecting Coruscant began to weaken, and the cloud of smoke, dust and debris the enormous ship generated in its wake spread over the city as more skyscrapers collapsed.

    The Chiss let out a string of curses in Cheunh, and Simon looked at him to see that his cool, calculating expression was gone to be replaced by sheer awe. “Lusankya...” he finally muttered in Basic. “It is a ship.”

    A massive explosion rattled the city again when the Star Destroyer jettisoned its repulsorlift cradle, annihilating what was left of the neighbourhood under which it had been buried, and a sudden scream of despair pierced the air. Both men looked at Ayesha, who had come to her senses and was pointing at the devastation that could be seen on the horizon. “Tam!” she shouted. “Kal! Mira! Tam!”

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

    Note: The events of this chapter take place concurrently with the second half of X-Wing: The Krytos Trap. Simon's cane and his move to Naboo were titbits I retconned based on the future divapilot gave him in The God of Second Chances.
     
  16. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    :eek: about Kal, Mira, and Tam! Whew! Great cliffie there! But Ayesha, Thrawn, and Simon left just in time!

    Speaking of Simon, so happy he and Ayesha are friends again and woot on picking Naboo. :cool: That is a perfect spot to settle.

    But the absolute highlight [face_dancing] was the scene with R2! That is so, so part of my heart canon! [face_love]
     
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  17. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Wow, you've packed a lot into this chapter: the news of Tashi's death, the reconciliation with Simon, preparations for Simon's relocation, and the trip to Nirauan, the bizarre kangaroo-court trial of Tycho Celchu, and Ayesha's continued exploration of the shuttle corridor, culminating in the centerpiece of this chapter—her conversation with Artoo. Some very intriguing stuff there: I wonder what Artoo considers "the right time" for Luke to hear what Ayesha has to tell him? But this is Artoo, of course, so I trust him completely on that.

    I like how, every time in this story our main characters finally manage to have a two-way conversation with someone speaking a language they don't know—Thrawn with Yakooboo speaking Shyriiwook, Ayesha with Artoo speaking Binary—it's been a major step forward for the story that uncovers (or has the potential to uncover) very interesting new information. Cool to see that pattern continuing here! :cool:

    And of course now I'm looking forward to the future chapter where we'll find out just what Ayesha said to Luke. It would be very interesting to see them meet, and, as Simon hints, he may be the one to bring some peace to Ayesha's mind. Though I wonder why Thrawn is so angry about the fact that Ayesha talked to Artoo—does it disrupt some immaculately laid strategic plan of his? It also is most concerning that she seizes up right at that particular point in her narrative about Anakin, and that the Lusankya suddenly appears and starts taking out the city just at that same moment. My first guess was that her episode was triggered by whatever she was about to say about Anakin—but maybe it was a combination of the two? Or even just the appearance of the Lusankya that she somehow perceived before the others? At least it didn't last long.... but yes, Kal! Mira! Tam! Will they be all right? Oh my, what a heartrending cliffhanger—to think anything might have happened to that dear child! Don't keep us hanging for long, please! :eek:
     
  18. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    >>What is the message you want to leave for Master Luke?<<

    “I want to tell him about his father. He knows how Anakin came back to the Light, but he should also know who he was before he was seduced by the Dark. He should know how much Anakin loved his mother, and how much he was looking forward to having a child.” She held out the datacard. “I also have a holo of his parents shortly after they got married, but that’s not really necessary anymore. You must have far more in your memory banks.”

    The droid rotated his dome again, in the astromech equivalent of a nod. >>You can leave your message with me. I will give it to Master Luke when the time is right.<<

    “I was going to leave it in his computer terminal.”

    >>He is not ready to see it yet. I will show it to him when the time is right.<<

    Ayesha looked at Artoo for a moment. “I guess you know him best,” she finally said. “All right, let’s do this.”

    She sat on a chair while the droid settled in position and activated his camera, and she began to speak.

    I sincerely hope Artoo proves a better timing for news to be told to Luke. Obi-Wan & Master Yoda made some grave mistakes in that particular case. [face_sigh]
     
  19. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I am doing replies today, because this is getting completely out of control and I'm feeling double [face_blush] for failing to do so three chapters in a row.

    Chapter 24
    The story of the Krytos virus in the profic reminded me (intentionally or not) of some aspects of the early years of the HIV pandemic. People were throwing blame around for all sorts of things, who became ill, if they deserved it, how the virus had come about, etc. In Greece we still have a lot of conspiracy theorists who believe HIV was manufactured, and that leads to unbelievably violent arguments. I wanted to reflect some of that here.
    But that's also part of Isard's plan, isn't it? She wants people to believe that they are at risk, and they can't know if they are or not. Ayesha sees it already, because she knows more than Kal and Mira. But they have no idea what she's talking about, and it's a typical oxen on the mountain situation, as Findswoman would say.
    IMO the Krytos story arc is the most violent thing that was written in the entire EU, and not only because of the gruesomeness of the descriptions, which were pretty disturbing. It was also because Isard was depicted as having planned this very calmly, very carefully and with absolute secrecy -- very few people were in the know, there were no official records, and therefore (to return to the topic of this fic) there was no easy way to find out what she was up to. Thrawn thought he had access to pretty much everything when he found the Listening Post, but he realised that he had access only to what the Emperor had put there. For the rest, he had to piece it together from the tidbits he could find -- and that was too little, too late.

    Chapter 25
    Poor Simon never stood a chance. He spent all those months down there in that half-demented state, he didn't eat properly, he didn't sleep... All he had to keep himself going was his anger and sorrow, and she just proved to him, in a rather brutal way, that it's not enough.
    I'd put a question mark on that last statement of yours. Does Thrawn really want to learn and change? My opinion is that he's already sold his soul to the devil, and will do what needs to be done as distasteful as it may be.
    Thank you :) Simon may have been losing his marbles all alone in the Centre for all this time, but he also has a level of lucidity that other people around Ayesha don't. Kal, Mira and Tashi just see Thrawn as Ayesha's lifemate, Onion has gone so paranoid that he wouldn't even try to see Thrawn's side of the story, and Rumpy is still in life-debt mode, so he keeps his thoughts to himself. Simon sees Thrawn for what he is, and that entails seeing the bad as well as the good. Given what he's been through because of the Empire, he tends to be acutely aware of the bad.

    Chapter 26
    Oh, me too. Both Zahn and Stackpole did an amazing job at depicting Fey'lya as an absolutely obnoxious character, and as events proved later on he's definitely not the sort of Chief of State you want when the Vong come knocking on your door.
    Well, the real difference between Thrawn and the heroes of the New Republic is that Thrawn is a pragmatist. He knows that there really isn't anything he can do, because as he told Ayesha a few chapters ago anything he does will come with its own set of problems. The New Republic (and in particular Rogue Squadron) tend to try to do things even if they're deemed impossible, or even if they have unforeseen consequences, and they pull it off -- until their luck runs out. Of course, the New Republic have the will of the Force (otherwise known as Ἀνάγκη) on their side, and Thrawn doesn't :p
    Thrawn is always getting two, or three, or four results from everything he does. He just milks situations for all they're worth, and that's why he often wins. Though he can't really be blamed for wanting something good for Ayesha -- but that cloning business is a different story.
    Not in this fic, but I've written parts of it at the time when this story had a gazillion subplots, so you'll probably see that bit of text popping up as an extra at some point :)

    Well, it's Ἀνάγκη... [face_whistling]

    To implement a plan like Thrawn's you need to 1) be willing to have people die on your watch and under your responsibility, 2) have a very strong public administration system and security forces that won't shy away from being brutal if needed, 3) curtail democratic freedoms and rights to the point where they won't exist. Of course the New Republic don't want to be all that, and that Thrawn perceives it as a sign of weakness on their behalf says a lot about his understanding of politics.
    Yes, they both depend on each other now, and they're both aware of it -- which leads to them compromising and finding common ground. But that doesn't mean they have to like each other -- although deep down, Thrawn doesn't like or dislike Simon. He just sees him as Ayesha's friend, other than that he doesn't really care.

    Chapter 27
    Hehe. You know me, I had to get Artoo somewhere in there :p [face_love]


    The moment when Artoo will finally tell Luke about his family is in the far future (I think he shows him the wedding holo at some point in the Legacy series), so "the right time" isn't now for sure. The thing is that Artoo probably realises that Ayesha is doing this for herself as much as she's doing it for Luke -- because he's smart, you know :r2h:
    Thanks! I'm having a lot of fun with this aspect, and there's more of it coming in the very near future.
    [face_whistling] What do you think? It's Thrawn we're talking about here ;)
    Okay, full disclosure here, I went for the Lusankya appearing at that specific moment just for dramatic effect [face_blush] but also because I wanted something to show that Ayesha's moments of blanking out don't really affect her mental processes -- for now, she disconnects and reconnects instantly, and she isn't confused or lost when she comes to her senses. She sees the neighbourhood that is being destroyed, and she connects the dots instantly.

    And that was two weeks worth of replies [face_relieved] I think I'm all caught up now. Thanks again to all of you, and the next chapter is coming up straight away.
     
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  20. 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.

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

    Chapter 28: Flight

    “I told you that you should take her to Skywalker,” Simon whispered.

    “I proposed it to her, Doctor. She refused categorically.”

    “She can’t accept or refuse now.”

    Thrawn gave him a glacial look. “Doctor, we have arrived to the conclusion that her condition is due to repeated, unwanted intrusions into her mind. Do you really believe that anyone can help her if she is not willing to let them in?” He shook his head. “It is a mistake I made once already, with unforeseen consequences. I will not make it again.”

    The doctor’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “You have a point. But something needs to be done, she’s been blanking out – wait.” He angled his chin towards Ayesha, whose eyes were reverting to normal. “She’s back.”

    She let her gaze wander around the ship’s common area for a moment, and quickly returned it to the sketch pad she was holding. “Ayoo’sha, how are you feeling?”

    She shrugged. “I’m okay.”

    Simon came to sit at her side. “No, Ayesha, you’re not okay. You –”

    “Fine, I’m not okay,” she snapped. “I want to wake up and realise that all this trip to Coruscant was a bad dream, that Uumana is here, Onion is here, that Tashi is here, that Kal and Mira and Tam are here. And I know that it wasn’t a dream, that they’re not coming back. So no, obviously, I’m not okay.”

    “That wasn’t what I was referring to, Ayesha,” the doctor said. “You’ve been –”

    “Losing it. Yes. I’m grieving for my friends, and there’s only so much grief I can process at a time. I thought you, of all people, would understand that.”

    “I do understand it,” he answered soothingly. “But I don’t have a bunch of parasitic memories eating away at my –”

    She looked at Thrawn. “How long until we reach Naboo?”

    “Two more days, Ayoo’sha. Would you like to stay there and rest a little before we continue our trip?”

    She shrugged and stood up. “Whatever you want. I’m going to help Rumpy.”

    She took a few steps towards the back of the ship but Simon caught up with her. “Hey, don’t shut me out. You know it’s a stupid thing to do.”

    She gave him a pained look and hugged him. “I don’t want to shut you out, Simon. But you’re seeing me as a patient. I don’t need a doctor right now, I need a friend.” And with that, she spun on her heel and left to join her brother.

    Rumpy was in the cargo hold, trying to sort through the dozens of crates that had been piled up randomly and fastened to the walls and floor with security netting when they had made their escape from Coruscant. She had demanded that they leave the capital world as soon as possible after the Lusankya disaster – “this planet claimed too many of the people I love,” she said, “there’s nothing left for me here,” – and Thrawn, Rumpy and Rukh had packed as many as possible of their possessions to load in the ship. There were boxes with her art and tools, the furniture she had made for Thrawn’s study and his books, the paintings and holos that decorated their apartment, and even traveller’s chests with her formal wear – “I have no idea what I’ll do with that on Nirauan,” she said, but Thrawn insisted that they take them and she had given in. There were crates of material and equipment that he had recovered from the Listening Post before blowing up the facility, including the Spaarti cylinder, and he had also brought along the two potted Olbio trees and the ysalamiri they carried. She heard Thrawn and Simon sometimes discuss the cloning tank in hushed tones while they sat with her in the ship’s lounge, but she didn’t pay much attention, absorbed as she was in drawing on her little pad. Her sketches were as incomprehensible as ever, a random jumble of lines that didn’t satisfy her either, if the way she tore out pages and crumpled them was any indication, but it was obvious from her expression and the tears that regularly welled up in her eyes that she was trying to channel her sorrow into this activity.

    Rumpy had set aside Simon’s belongings in the back of the speeder – it had been agreed that the doctor would keep the vehicle when they dropped him off on Naboo – and he was reorganising the rest of the cargo, opening boxes to verify their content, label them and sort them into neat stacks along the walls. The young Wookiee had been deeply attached to Tam since the little boy had come to Kashyyyk with his parents on holiday nearly six years earlier, and engaging in manual labour was a way for him to isolate himself and mourn. He acknowledged Ayesha’s presence with a nod when she walked in, and they worked together in silence for a while. But when he saw a droplet fall on the crate he was about to shift aside, he sat on the floor and took his sister on his lap, and they stayed there crying together until Thrawn came to tell them that dinner was ready.

    They ended up deciding to spend a few days on Naboo to help Simon settle in. They found him an apartment and secured a burial plot for Uumana in the Theed cemetery, and Ayesha created a new stand for the Twi’lek Dancer as a tombstone, copying the epitaph that Thrawn had written on the coffin in Cheunh, Basic and Twi’leki. Thrawn expected that she would want to return to Padmé’s mausoleum and to the lakeside estate with the holosculpture, but she declined without further explanation, and they gathered around the table for a final meal together before resuming their trip to Nirauan the next morning.

    It was a quiet evening – Thrawn, Rumpy and Rukh realised that Ayesha and Simon didn’t know when they’d see each other again, and they sought to give them space. The Noghri left early, claiming to have work to do on the ship, and Thrawn and Rumpy stood up to clear the table so as to give Ayesha and Simon an opportunity to talk with a modicum of privacy.

    “Do you have an idea when you’ll be coming back?” the doctor asked.

    She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever come back, actually.”

    Simon winked. “You’ll have to – when Thrawn finally decides to conquer the Galaxy.”

    “Yeah, maybe,” she said with a weak smile. “I don’t know if that’ll happen though. He seems to want to focus on his work in the Unknown Regions for now.”

    There was a silence. “Ayesha, can I ask you a question? A question as a friend, not a question as a doctor.” She nodded. “Why did you refuse to see Skywalker? Thrawn said he offered to take you to him.”

    Thrawn came to stand behind her in the kitchen doorway to listen. “Because I feared another disaster might happen if I did,” she said with a sigh. “That morning – the morning when... when the Lusankya broke away, I had been to the Palace to see him. I spoke to his droid, I had things to tell him, private things that he needs to learn about some day.” She paused and looked up. “And because I was focused on seeing him, I arranged for Mira and Tam to come and visit with us in the afternoon instead. I knew that she had taken the whole day off and that she would be at home, but I told her to come in the afternoon.”

    There was another silence as Simon and Thrawn pondered the implications of her answer. “Ayoo’sha, it was not your fault,” the Chiss said. “You could not have known what would happen. You could not even have known that Lusankya was a ship. ”

    “You cannot and should not blame yourself,” Simon added forcefully. “A chain of events was in motion. You couldn’t have foreseen it at all.”

    She gave him a sad smile. “It was the will of the Force, wasn’t it?” She suddenly banged her fist on the table. “Well, I’ve had enough of the Force. The Force has been messing around with my life, with my head and with the Galaxy for far too long. I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore, I don’t want to ever hear about it again, and I don’t want to go near any Force users for the rest of my days. I want out, you know? I want out.” She burst into tears. “I can blame the Sith, or the Empire, or Isard, for all the horrible things that happened to me and to people around me. But in the end, it’s all the will of the Force, and there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s no escape.”

    * * *​

    The Fortress of the Hand felt deserted when they arrived there. Nirauan was an awfully quiet world after the hustle and bustle of Coruscant, and Ayesha’s friends were all on missions aboard the three Star Destroyers that patrolled the Unknown Regions. Matt and Valeria were on an exploration mission on the Discipline, Soontir Fel was advising Captain Parck for his campaign against Nuso Esva on the Grey Wolf, and the Hand of Judgement were training stormtroopers on some remote world, while the Admonitor and the Troukree task force pacified the rest of the sector. Only Syal was on the base, and she was in the last month of her third pregnancy. Doctor Cottle had ordered complete bed rest and she kept mostly to herself.

    Thrawn was immediately sucked back into the frenzy of military life. What had initially been intended as a short, fact-finding trip to Imperial Centre had stretched to more than one year, and Sergeant Prashat, who had returned to Nirauan after fleeing Coruscant a few months earlier, was waiting for him with a long list of items that demanded his immediate attention. There were a myriad issues to sort out, decisions about the reorganisation of the task forces that had been pending for months, and strategic debates to be held with his senior officers. It was clear that the Empire as they had known it no longer existed, split as it was between the various warlords who had carved up territory for themselves, and while the New Republic was slowly making progress against them the Galaxy was still in utter chaos. The base’s technicians had been able to boost the signal of the receiver device he had collected from the Listening Post, and the mysterious Delta Source was still feeding him information from the heart of the Palace. “This so-called New Republic is truly nothing but a Rebellion, even now,” he said scornfully one night when he came home and slipped into bed. “An alliance of such diverse species, with such different interests, was bound to fail. They are all jostling for power in their own way. The only difference between them and the Imperial warlords is that they are not setting up their own little army to grab it – although it seems that Rogue Squadron has now truly gone rogue, and are fighting against Isard on their own.”

    “Then the New Republic will fail,” Ayesha replied indifferently.

    “That would not be an acceptable outcome, Ayoo’sha. The Galaxy needs to be united in order to confront the Far Outsiders when they finally decide to make their move.”

    She shrugged. “If the Far Outsiders are meant to invade the Galaxy, it will happen. If they’re not meant to, it won’t.”

    He pulled back a little. “I never knew you for being such a fatalist, Ayoo’sha. Do I get some credit at least for trying to influence events, big or small?”

    She huddled against him. “Of course you do.”

    “Good,” he murmured, tightening his grip around her. “I would hate to think that your presence in this bed is solely due to the will of some obscure Force, and not to my irresistible charm.”

    She let out a small chuckle, but such moments of joy were few and ephemeral, and she soon reverted to her despondent mood. She spent her days unpacking their belongings, but she was often distracted and clumsy, and more often than not the sight of an object that had ornamented their flat on Coruscant caused her to burst into tears. She regularly had mini-episodes where nightmares sent her hiding in the corner of the kitchen, and she was still blanking out at the oddest moments. An accident was bound to happen soon, and it inevitably happened when she froze in the middle of carrying a heavy piece of wood for the bookcase she was building in Thrawn’s study. The plank fell on her toes, and she came back to her senses to find a puddle of blood on the floor. Fortunately Rumpy was coming up to her quarters and found her in the corridor as she tried to hop her way to the medical wing, and he carried her to Doctor Cottle.

    The doctor was his usual, grumpy self, and he kept grumbling as he examined her and announced that she would have to spend a few days in a bacta tank. “And then when you’re sedated I’ll have a look at your brain, young lady. The Grand Admiral told me a few things I didn’t like at all, and I want to see for myself what I can do about them.”

    “There’s nothing you can do, Doctor,” she said with a tired sigh. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

    “Tsk. There’s always something that can be done, we just have to look for it.” She went to speak again, but he raised a hand to stop her. “No objections. Now be a good girl and get into that tank.” He adjusted the breathing mask to her face and added, “And next time you’re away for a year, don’t wait until you have an accident to come and visit me. It never hurts to say hi to the doctor, you don’t know when you might need him.”

    Thrawn was there waiting for her to wake up when she came out of bacta immersion and the sedative wore off. She felt the narrow metal headband of the brain scanner on her brow when he reached to caress her hair. “Did Doctor Cottle find anything?” she asked once she was fully awake.

    He sighed. “Nothing that Doctor Simon had not found before him. But he insists that you avoid any accident-prone activities when you are alone, and I must say that I agree with him.”

    She nodded. “Yes, sir. Will do, sir.”

    He kept her company while she ate the dinner the medics brought for her, then observed Cottle who came by to remove the drips and tubes and switch off the monitors. “I’m going to keep Ayesha here tonight, just in case,” he said in his gruff manner. “You can come and pick her up tomorrow morning, Admiral. We’ll schedule some check-ups, and she can go home. Now she needs to rest.”

    * * *​

    The footage captured by the holocamera in her cubicle showed that Ayesha slept peacefully until approximately four hundred hours, then began to thrash in her bed, as if in the grip of a violent nightmare. She could be seen sitting up abruptly and staring blankly ahead of her for a moment, then climbing down from her bed and taking off in the hallways, walking hurriedly and even sometimes running, as if looking for something. She stepped outside the medical wing at 04:20 precisely, and security recordings showed her wandering in the hallways for another twenty minutes or so. She then reached a shaft that led to the basements, an area of the fortress that Thrawn’s garrison had not used or even fully mapped yet. She stepped into the shaft and disappeared as the mobile ramp carried her away, and the trail went cold.
     
  21. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh, simply! Simply! [face_nail_biting] Edge of seat permanently! =D= =D= But going back to the overall tone, whew! Not surprised that Ayesha is sounding beyond cynical and fed up with the whole Will of the Force thingy. :p :rolleyes: You feel pushed around and shoved around by things you cannot predict, prevent, or control. Yeah, you sure want your power back, somehow. Some way.

    [face_thinking]

    Her art is, and will always be, the key to healing, but naturally with her emotions and mind in a jumble, nothing cogent comes out, but it really needs to. @};-

    Yay for Dr. Cottle! :) Grumpy curmudgeonly docs, [face_laugh] all squishy underneath - despite the facade! [face_laugh]
     
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  22. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Ayesha seems like a robot again. Driven by somebody else´s will. I keep wondering who is doing that to her when Anakin is redeemed & one with the Force. :emperor:
     
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  23. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for reading and reviewing!
    The only question is, is it even possible to get your power back? And, well, especially when all sorts of stuff has been planted in your mind...
    Hehe. Yes, Doctor Cottle missed her. Not that he's ever going to admit it of course :p

    Does that "someone" really have to be an individual? [face_devil]

    Thanks again! Next chapter up straight away :)
     
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  24. 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.

    Content warning again for this chapter: nothing particularly graphic, but general unpleasantness.

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

    Chapter 29: The swarm

    She was shivering. It was cold and dark, the stone floor under her was jagged and damp and the water from the little stream was icy. She was so hungry that it made her feel faint, and she couldn’t stand up to look for food – not that she would know where to find any in the blackness of the cave. Sometimes something pointed and sharp nibbled gently at her skin, sometimes something small and round pressed against her head and warmth flooded her mind, but she was too weak to even reach out and touch the beings that surrounded her. She was simply thankful for their presence. They weren’t hostile to her, and she found comfort in the idea that, wherever she was, she wasn’t completely alone.

    She couldn’t quite recall how she had arrived here. She remembered going to sleep in the medical wing after Thrawn left for the night, and then she had woken up in a corridor somewhere in the depths of the Fortress of the Hand. She thought she might have been there before, at the time when she had taken to exploring the basements while Thrawn was away fighting a war against Nuso Esva, but she couldn’t be sure – the dim light that came from the far end of the hallway wasn’t enough to ascertain her surroundings. She remembered walking towards the illuminated room in the hope of finding a turbolift that could take her back to Doctor Cottle, but what she discovered there caused her to recoil in fear. There was a creature floating in a transparisteel cylinder, so odd and deformed that the familiar sight of her pet ysalamiri on their Olbio trees wasn’t enough to reassure her, and she ran away. The patter of her bare feet on the stone floor disturbed a colony of leathery avians roosting in the craggy ceiling of the tunnel, and she ducked into a crack in the wall as they left their perches and took flight. Beyond that, the only thing she could remember with certainty was the darkness.

    She might have been wandering in these galleries for hours, or days, or maybe just minutes. Images and feelings flashed through her mind as she sought to collect her thoughts: the sharp rock under her feet, the concern on Thrawn’s face, the intense pain of surgical tools on a charred body, the cloud of dust over the city, the sight of Onion grabbing Tam – and then the Dug’s eyes turned yellow and it was Paraseel Malki handing her an infant. She couldn’t tell if they were real. She vaguely recalled flying across a cave, but she knew that wasn’t possible – yet she also remembered being thirsty, as if she had taken a long, exhausting trek, and she knew that someone had brought her to the little river that flowed centimetres away from her head. Her entire body ached, and she wondered if she had taken a fall – but it was too difficult to think, and blissful oblivion claimed her once more.

    She was awoken by the rustle of wings, and terror washed over her when she realised that the mysterious beings watching over her were gone. Her ear was pressed to the ground, and she heard the stomp of heavy steps coming closer. She began shaking in panic and sorrow – she knew that she was going to die, and she wished that she could push away the dark thoughts crowding her mind to remember the softness of Thrawn’s lips one last time – but the hands that lifted her were surprisingly gentle, and she found herself in a tender embrace. She opened her eyes briefly to see the flickering light of a glowrod, and chestnut fur and a warm blanket. There was a smile on her lips when she passed out again.

    She wasn’t in the cave anymore when she came to. The red star of Nirauan was rising in the sky, bathing her in its light as she huddled against her brother’s chest while he rumbled softly a lullaby from their childhood and caressed her hair. She sat up in his lap to see that they were on a small stone platform that overlooked a ravine, at the end of which she could make out the walls of the Fortress and the five towers that reached for the sky like fingers, giving it its name. Her eyes wandered around a little and came to a stop on the hospital gown she had been wearing when Rumpy found her. It was spread out on a dead tree at the mouth of the tunnel that led into the mountain, as if hung out in the sun to dry.

    [I washed your dress,] Rumpy grunted when he caught her staring. [It was very dirty, with dust and mud and blood.] He pulled the blanket in which he had wrapped her and brushed the tip of his paw on her shoulder. [Did a predator attack you?]

    She looked down to see that there were dark bruises around a set of deep claw marks. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, I think they carried me.”

    [Who?]

    “I don’t know.”

    There was a silence as she looked around again, visibly struggling to find her bearings. “Do you have something to eat?”

    He dug in his survival pack and extracted a sachet of nutritional paste. She tore off the corner eagerly. [Eat it slowly, Rryi-Bashhi. I know that you are starving, but you haven’t had any food for four days. Do not make yourself ill.]

    She swallowed a mouthful nevertheless. “Four days?”

    [A little more,] he corrected. [You left the med centre on Taungsday at dawn, and it is now Centaxday morning.]

    “Is Thrawn very angry at me?” she mumbled.

    [My Kker-Bashha is worried,] he replied forcefully. [As I was, until I found you. Unfortunately, I cannot contact him to inform him that you are safe. My comlink fell out of my satchel somewhere in the tunnels.]

    “How did you find me?”

    The Wookiee tightened his hug and inhaled her hair deeply. [I am a hunter, and you are my Rryi-Bashhi. I followed your trail.] He huffed. [Rukh will be upset. We split up in a cave where we lost your tracks, and he was convinced he was taking the right gallery. He will no doubt feel that the honour of the Noghri people is at stake.]

    It made her smile. She finished sucking the paste out of the sachet and drank from the bottle he was proffering for her, then relaxed in his embrace. “Thanks for coming for me, Rumpy.”

    He huffed again. [Of course I came.] He patted her head and asked cautiously, [Rryi-Bashhi, why did you leave?]

    She sighed. “I don’t know.” The Wookiee gave her a dubious look. “One moment I was in my bed in Doctor Cottle’s lab, and the next I was in the basements.” She held out her wrist, showing the bacta patch the Wookiee had applied on her scar. “I think I had an episode, but I can’t remember. And then, I saw things... but I don’t think they were real.”

    She was shivering again. [You need to rest now, Rryi-Bashhi,] Rumpy said firmly. [We cannot call for a transport, so we will have to walk back to the Fortress. I will carry you, but I need you to be able to climb over the most difficult passages. I did not find you to let you fall into a chasm.]

    “Will we go back through the caves?” she asked fearfully.

    He shook his head. [We will walk along this ravine. Now sleep.]

    It was mid-afternoon by the time they got moving. Ayesha slipped her hospital gown back on, and Rumpy helped her climb down to the bottom of the gully before lifting her in his arms and beginning his trek. [I do not expect this to take more than a few hours,] he explained. [There do not seem to be too many hurdles here, far less than in the caves at any rate. We will be there before nightfall.]

    The thorny bushes that covered the ground and the sides of the canyon were no obstacle to him, and Ayesha observed the landscape in-between dozing on and off as his long strides rocked her. She saw several flocks of avians roosting on the outcroppings that dotted the rocky walls, often near black spots that indicated more tunnel entrances. The leathery animals sometimes flew by them, as if to check them out, then seemingly decided that they weren’t a threat and left. “You know, I think this gorge is artificial,” she told him as they took a break to rest and eat another sachet of paste. “It almost looks as if it were gouged out by the same strike that broke the tower we can see from here. That must have been an incredibly powerful weapon, almost as powerful as the Death Star.”

    Rumpy looked around carefully. [You may be right,] he said thoughtfully. [I see no traces of water on the ground. One would expect to find a riverbed here.] He stood up and lifted her in his arms again. [Hopefully this was the feat of some ancient, extinct civilisation and not a threat that is still lurking in the Unknown Regions.]

    She chuckled. “I don’t think a civilisation with this kind of firepower would go unnoticed, even in the Unknown Regions, you know?”

    They had covered about half the distance to the fortress when a murmur began to echo ahead of them in the ravine. “Maybe there’s a river after all,” Ayesha said. “I think there was a stream where you found me, did you see where it went?”

    [No,] he said thoughtfully. [It could be feeding the lake that is near the Fortress through the cave system. My Kker-Bashha needs to have this area mapped properly, there are too many unknowns for a secure base here.]

    She chuckled again. “Rumpy, we’re on a planet in the middle of nowhere. No one is coming to the Fortress, especially not through the caves.” She paused and added under her breath, “Unless they’re crazy like me.”

    The Wookiee slowed down and rubbed his furry forehead against hers. [You are not crazy, Rryi-Bashhi. You are struggling with foreign thoughts in your mind. If you will allow me, after you are safely at home, I will travel to Kashyyyk again to try and find Quinlan Vos. He can help you.]

    She sighed. “I don’t think that even Uncle Quin could help me now, Rumpy. It’s become part of me.”

    [He can help you,] he repeated stubbornly. [And I will find him.]

    The murmur became louder as he resumed his march, and it lulled Ayesha to sleep once more. “Do you think we’re close to that river now?” she whispered when she emerged. She saw that her brother’s beady eyes had narrowed, in the Wookiee equivalent of a frown. “What’s wrong?” she asked, suddenly alert. “What’s happening?”

    Rumpy slowed his pace again. They were standing in a particularly narrow section of the ravine, and the walls rose almost vertically on either side. The sound of the water had now grown to a powerful roar and reverberated in the canyon. Then he stopped abruptly, turned around and started running. “What’s happening?” she asked again.

    His voice was a far cry from his usual, serene rumble. [This is no river.]

    He was sprinting back the way they had come now, examining the rocky walls for a foothold. Ayesha hung on for dear life as his frenzied steps shook her like a sack of chyntuck. A jolt raised her head just above his shoulder, and what she saw caused her to let out a shriek of terror.

    A black wave was pouring out of one of the cave entrances, a wave of millions of tiny little black insects that filled the ravine like a single, living thing. It ebbed and flowed and rippled in the distance, and she could see it rising up the walls as it came to the narrower section they had just left. The thorny bushes and the dead tree branches that jutted from the crevices were swallowed in the flood and disappeared, and more of the beetle-like creatures kept falling out of the tunnel, raining on the rising tide and causing it to swell even further.

    Rumpy was breathing heavily now, his heart was thumping in his chest and she knew that he couldn’t keep going at this speed for long – Wookiees were fast runners only in small bursts, but their massive frames seemed to have been designed by nature for long, slow, silent treks. She looked around frantically and pointed at a craggy slope ahead of them. “There.”

    The Wookiee merely nodded and rushed to the point she had indicated to start pushing her up the cliff. The soft stone broke under her foot and sent him back in his arms. He lifted her again, higher this time, and she grabbed a handful of one of the shrubs, ignoring the thorns that were biting into her skin to pull herself up. Her brother followed her, catching a protruding rock above her head with one paw and hauling her with the other. The black wave was only metres away from them now, and they were climbing frantically to escape it – it had somewhat evened out in the wider passage, but there were insects only centimetres away from their feet.

    Her hands caught the top of the wall. With a final shove, Rumpy pushed her over the edge and steadied his footing as he sought a better handhold. He was pulling himself over the top when the stone gave way and caused him to fall halfway down the cliff, releasing a rain of pebbles on the beetles below. She let out a cry of despair as she leaned over, trying to catch his paw, and she saw a column of the black creatures hastening towards him.

    [Stay up there, Rryi-Bashhi,] he panted as he tried to lift himself up again. [Stay back.]

    She stretched further down regardless. She could see that there were insects crawling in his fur already, and he let out a roar of pain. [Stay back, Rryi-Bashhi,] he said again. He looked up at her with an expression of deep serenity, as if he had made up his mind. The black column now covered his legs. [Listen to me, Rryi-Bashhi. It is a life-debt. You accepted it. Stay up there.]

    And with that, he let go of the cliff wall and fell into the swarm.

    Ayesha watched petrified as her brother disappeared under the tide. The din was deafening, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of tiny feet rustling and shuffling inside the ravine, and the stream of insects kept coming, flooding the gorge in a powerful current. She watched for what felt like hours and hours and hours, searching the flow desperately for a sign of Rumpy’s chestnut fur among the blackness and finding none. Nirauan’s sun had just sunk under the horizon when the end of the swarm finally passed below her, revealing the floor of the gully, which was now stripped of every shred of vegetation. All she could see were the shiny white bones and glimmering ryyk blades in the evening twilight.

    Tears poured down her cheeks. She screamed and screamed and screamed her despair to the world, wringing her hands so furiously that she tore her gown, and then everything went black.

    * * *​

    She had been staring into the night for hours when an oblique ray of light told her that it was morning. She dragged herself back to the edge of the ravine to check that it hadn’t all been an unspeakable nightmare.

    It hadn’t.

    A flock of the avians she had seen yesterday nesting on the cliffs were hopping from one stone to another, and some were pecking at Rumpy’s bones. She let out a hysterical cry and slid down the wall, oblivious to the jagged rocks and thorns tearing into her flesh, flapping her arms wildly to scare them away. The leathery creatures took flight, but they merely retreated to perch on higher ground and remained there, gazing at her as if waiting for her next move. She looked around frantically for a tree branch – something, anything – to chase them away, but there was nothing. The swarm had devoured everything in its wake, even the wroshyr wood handles of Rumpy’s ryyk blades. Her eyes kept returning to his bones, and, for lack of a better idea, she pulled her hospital gown over her head, spread it on the ground to collect his remains, and lay face down over it to protect it from the animals.

    A pointed beak nibbled gently at her skin and a small, round shape pressed against her hair, flooding her mind with warmth. She looked up to see that one of the larger avians was standing in front of her, its forehead touching hers, its sad, black eyes focused on her face. It seemed to be expecting something from her, and it appeared to be – was it surprised? – that she didn’t respond. It let out a few chirps and cackles to summon the rest of its flock, and nodded towards the Fortress.

    She didn’t know how to react. The avian gestured towards the Fortress again and tugged at a corner of the cloth in its beak, then came to nestle against her and nudged her up.

    It was a dream, she thought, it had to be a dream. She would wake up any moment now, and she would be in her bed with Thrawn, and nothing of it would be true.

    She staggered to her feet and picked up the bundle, hugging it tightly to her chest. She looked at the broken tower in the distance and she began to walk. It was a dream. She would get back to the Fortress, and she would be in her bed.

    The avians were fluttering around her as she made her way down the ravine, stumbling on the boulders and tripping on the pebbles. It was a dream, Rumpy had walked this without any difficulty yesterday. It was only a dream.

    The bundle fell out of her arms and spilled its contents on the ground. She started crying as she spread out the torn hospital gown again and started collecting her brother’s scattered remains. She was about to place the ryyk blades on top, point upwards to make sure they didn’t tear the cloth, when the avian landed at her side and dropped a tiny piece of bone into the package. A finger, perhaps a toe. She looked at him and whispered, “Are you sentient?”

    The sad, black eyes stared at her again, and the beak tugged at the cloth. She tied it up more carefully this time to make sure that nothing would fall out, and at the avian’s suggestion she wrapped the sleeves around it to secure it together. She stood up once more and lifted it in her arms, and she went to resume her trek, but this time her new friend came to land on her shoulder and chirped something that definitely sounded like an order. Another avian came to land on her other shoulder, she felt sharp claws dig into her skin, and they lifted her off the ground.

    She was flying, gliding in the air towards the highest tower, the bundle with Rumpy’s remains in her embrace. It was a dream. Her brother was waiting for her in the Fortress, Thrawn was waiting for her. They would laugh when she told them that she had been flying. It was all just that, a dream, a terrible dream.

    Her carriers shifted towards the terrace and came to land smoothly in the middle of the rooftop gardens where she used to come for picnics with Daric. The large avian rubbed its head against hers once more, then led its flock out into the skies. She heard the shuffle of feet behind the flowery bushes, and she found herself in the presence of Soontir Fel. He was wearing the full worker’s outfit he favoured when coming to tend to the garden in the morning, and she was suddenly acutely aware that she was naked.

    The Corellian pilot stared at her for a moment, utterly flabbergasted, then extracted a comlink from the breast pocket of his coveralls. “This is Fel,” he murmured. “Tell the Admiral that she is here.”

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

    Note: The Qom Jha and the Qom Qae are two Force-sensitive species of avians native to Nirauan, as are the Fire Creepers. Both are borrowed from Vision of the Future, as is the room in the basement of the fortress where Thrawn has began experimenting with cloning himself.
     
  25. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    :_| !!!! Brilliant and poignant. Those icky insects! And now Rumpy is gone. I have no words - except it would be hard not to feel overwhelmed and crushed to smitherines by just one more loss. @};-
     
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