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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
    You gave him some Spock like character traits, which also works for me very well.

    Hmmm. So that's why I love him to b.i.t.s. [face_laugh] =P~ They have that eyebrow thingy in common too [face_laugh] (squee!) [face_dancing]
     
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  2. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Yes, the eye brows, the good manners, the sex appeal and the cultural knowledge. :D

    Plus being a bit stupid with the love of their life now and again!
     
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  3. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Proudly announcing that I spent my day off adding endnotes to the first 34 chapters of part III :) There are still a few links to empty fanon posts here and there, but the February word race should take care of filling those too.
     
  4. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Chyntuck - great Rebels news I read earlier today in the Rebels section. Thrawn might be included in some of the episodes. Can I just say booyah already? [face_dancing] [face_dancing] Oh yes. I can. [face_love]
     
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  5. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

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    Jul 11, 2014
    Nyota's Heart You just crushed my hopes of going to bed early. I'm off to read the Thrawn in Rebels thread! [face_laugh]
     
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  6. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Big congratulations to Prashat on his very well-deserved promotion, and kudos to him on his valiant behavior during the ambush—truly went way beyond the call of the orderly. Nice to have that moment of happiness even in the wake of the terrible YV ambush on Viezoth and all the death and destruction that brought about.

    Maybe I'm a hopeless idealist, but I was as shocked as Ayesha to hear Thrawn advocated turning the planet's surface "into a furnace"—which sounded dishearteningly similar to the kind of thing the Vong themselves do to the surfaces of planets! :eek: I'm just glad Fel and co. noticed the weakness of the ships in time to render the orbital bombardment unnecessary, and it's a huge relief that the Viezothans may be saved after all. Good luck to Stent and co. in tracking down one of the alien craft to study—and once that's done, I bet Ayesha's expertise will come in extra handy once again! :cool:
     
  7. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thanks all for reading and reviewing!
    Thanks! After all this romance and drama, I had to write some Thrawn-in-action, otherwise it wouldn't be him at all!
    My idea was that Thrawn would have a different relationship to the crew of the Admonitor than he has later on to the crew of the Chimaera. In TTT, there are several scenes where Pellaeon comments on how Thrawn's actions acquire him the trust and respect of the crew (and there's also a great scene in Tatooine Ghost). On the Admonitor he's already had years to build this relationship, so his crew care about him.
    [face_laugh]

    Aww, Prashat [face_love] I did want him to have his moment in the sun in this story. He's one of these background characters to whom I couldn't give a very big role, but I'm very fond of him and I wanted him to grow up from the blushing, stuttering teenager I introduced in part I. And again, he had to be an orderly who is worthy of Thrawn. He must have picked up a few ideas on tactics and strategy along the way :)
    Well, it was about time we got to see Thrawn's darker side. In the profics he's in many ways a ruthless character. The sentence "they're already dead" is borrowed almost word for word from Outbound Flight, where he says it about the Geroon living shields on the Vagaari ships, and in TTT he tells Pellaeon how he destroyed an entire species whose art he couldn't understand. Ayesha has been quite sheltered from that aspect of his personality so far -- or, to put it bluntly, he's been lying to her (although he admitted as much in part I, chapter 37: Power).

    Thanks again, everyone! Chapter 35 coming right up :)
     
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  8. 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 35: Staying

    Ayesha was having lunch with Prashat and Soontir Fel in the officer’s mess. They were listening to the young lieutenant explain enthusiastically how his newly earned commission was a dream come true – he had failed the entrance exams to the Imperial Academy on Carida for a fraction of a point, and had resorted to joining the Navy as a crewman instead – when her comlink beeped and the deck officer informed her that Thrawn was back on board. “You should go, Ma’am,” Prashat said immediately. “The Grand Admiral will be very tired. I heard the field medics complain that he was overdoing it a bit.”

    The noise of a loud argument reverberated in the hallway as soon as the door to her quarters slid open. “What did you think you were doing?” Cottle thundered. “I cleared you to return to the bridge, not to spend four days on your feet without food or sleep. Which part of ‘convalescence’ is it that you don’t understand?”

    “Doctor Cottle, I spent ten days in a bacta tank,” Thrawn retorted glacially. “I then spent nine more days in bed in your med lab and another two and a half weeks lounging here. That adds up to nearly a month. I would expect to have recovered by now under the care of a half-decent physician.”

    “The speed of your recovery depends first and foremost on the seriousness of your condition,” the doctor snorted. “Don’t they teach you that in Chiss school?”

    Ayesha stepped into the lounge area and took in the scene. Thrawn was half-sitting, half-lying on the sofa, struggling against Irang who was trying to place a breathing mask over his nose and mouth. He was greenish pale and his eyes had taken the same dull orange glow she’d seen when he’d emerged from his induced coma in the sick bay. Cottle dropped the syringe he was fiddling with to turn to her. “There you are. I hope you can talk some sense into this man’s thick skull. He’s worse than a five-year old.”

    “Doctor, leave Ayesha out of this,” Thrawn snapped. “I will not tolerate –”

    “Stop it!” she shouted. “Stop it, both of you.” She took the breathing mask from Irang’s hands, slipped it over Thrawn’s head and tightened the strips. “You look terrible,” she told him. “Do what you need to do, Doctor. I’ll take it from there.”

    Cottle inserted the long needle deep into Thrawn’s shoulder and injected a yellowish liquid straight on the bones. “That was bacta and painkillers,” he grumbled as the Admiral winced in pain. “The discomfort should fade away in the next half-hour or so.” He gestured towards the bottle attached to the mask. “You’re going to keep this on until the oxygen runs out. And then you’ll rest, do you hear me? Your heart is still fragile and can’t take this kind of exertion. You need to give it time.”

    He packed his kit and walked to the door. “Do whatever it takes to keep him in that bed, Ayesha,” he said, dropping discreetly a hypospray in her pocket. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning. If I hear that he walked any further than the sofa, I will be cross.”

    Ayesha locked the door and spun around to look at Thrawn. Concern was written all over her face and she went to speak when his comlink buzzed. “I must take this,” he said. “Captain Niriz awaits my instructions.” He lifted the breathing mask off his face and activated the handheld device. “This is Thrawn,” he said in a passable approximation of his command voice. “Report.”

    “The last of the Viezothan Remnant are boarding the Troukree ships now, Admiral,” Niriz replied. “Shall we proceed with the planetary bombardment?”

    “Yes,” Thrawn answered firmly. “Then jump to lightspeed and return to the rendezvous point to effect repairs and maintenance while we wait for the Grey Wolf and her task force. Parck says that we can expect them in six standard days. Send him the list of any additional supplies we may require, I have ordered him to requisition all available cargo ships and redirect them to this mission.”

    “Aye Sir. How long do we expect this campaign to last before we can receive supplies again?”

    “Three weeks to the edge of the Galaxy if my estimate is correct,” Thrawn said. “And another four to return to Nirauan. Make sure that Cottle gives you a list of his anticipated needs as well. If our first encounter with the Far Outsiders is anything to go by, it should be quite extensive.”

    “Aye Sir. Will there be anything else?”

    Thrawn clutched his heart as a wheeze escaped his chest. “Thank you, Captain. That will be all for –”

    Ayesha grabbed the comlink before he could finish the sentence. “Captain Niriz, this is Ayesha. You should know that the Grand Admiral has been ordered complete bed rest, I repeat, complete bed rest for the next few days, and if you could see him, you’d understand why.” She pushed Thrawn angrily back on the sofa when he tried to take the comlink from her. “This is your show now, Captain. Ayesha out.”

    She flung the small device at the floor, crushed it under her heel and gave Thrawn a furious look. “Why are you doing this?”

    “I command these men, Ayoo’sha,” he said softly through the breathing mask. “I would be a poor leader if I did not share in their danger.”

    “You’d be a poor leader if you killed yourself from exhaustion. Did you even check yourself out in the mirror? You look terrible, you –”

    The rest of her tirade was drowned by a deep rumble that made the hull of the Admonitor tremble. She peered at the viewport to see the bright green flashes of turbolasers hitting the surface of Viezoth. “The planet cannot be saved,” Thrawn explained apologetically. “The Far Outsiders turned it into a breeding ground for those strange spacecraft of theirs and we do not know how to reverse it. But we were able to rescue some five thousand Viezothans who had not been implanted with coral seeds yet. The Talz offered them sanctuary. The equatorial region of New Alzoc consists of similar steppes where they will be able to rebuild their civilization.”

    Ayesha watched in horror as the planet below turned into a ball of flames. She then came to sit at Thrawn’s side and took his hand in hers. There was a long silence. “Thrawn, please, please,” she whispered. “Listen to Doctor Cottle and take care of yourself. Do you have any idea how I feel when I see you like this?”

    Thrawn caressed her face. “I know exactly how you feel, Ayoo’sha. I have watched you teeter on the edge often enough.”

    She blushed with embarrassment but there was a flash of anger in her eyes. “The difference is that I can’t help it when I go nuts, Thrawn. But you have people to rely on. Captain Niriz is a competent officer. He can look after and even lead the fleet while you take some time off.”

    “There is too much to be done,” he countered. “I will rest here today, but I must be back on the bridge tomorrow.”

    She sighed and huddled against him. “Just breathe your oxygen. Tomorrow is another day.”

    They sat on the sofa until Thrawn’s eyes had reverted to their deep red glow and the counter on the oxygen bottle read zero. She then took him to the ‘fresher to help him bathe. “You stink,” she chuckled as she ran the sponge over his wounded shoulder. “Don’t those AT-ATs come with a sonic or something?” The tension in his face was fading away as the pain receded, and he tried to pull her to him while she arranged his pillows. “Not now,” she said firmly, disentangling herself from his grip. “You need to sleep.”

    “Are you not going to kiss me goodnight, Ayoo’sha?” he asked teasingly. “You know how difficult I find it to sleep without your warmth by my side.”

    She fiddled a little with her trousers that were bunched up on a chair and came back to him. “Okay. Just the one.” Her tongue explored his mouth very slowly, and his eyes suddenly widened in surprise when she pressed the hypospray to the side of his neck. “That was your kiss for today. Now sleep.”

    She silenced his incoherent protests with a finger on his lips and caressed his hair until the sedative made his eyelids finally fall over the red glow. “You have so much to look forward to, Qubshi be-khadeeb,” she whispered. “You have your friends and your crew and your command. But me, I have nothing but you. I’d have nothing to live for if you were gone.”

    * * *​

    It was the graze of fingers that pulled her out of her deep sleep. Thrawn was huddled behind her, his lips playing on her shoulder, his hands caressing her belly as he held her close. His touch was warm and tender, but it was not particularly intimate – it was solely an indication that he found comfort in her presence at his side. She turned around to face him and nuzzled her face in his neck. “That was a nice wake-up call,” she whispered. “How are you feeling?”

    “Quite well-rested. And for the record, I do intend to retaliate soon against the clever little trick you pulled on me yesterday.”

    She pulled back a little. “That wasn’t yesterday, Thrawn. It was three and a half days ago.” He chuckled, visibly thinking that she was pulling his leg. “I’m not kidding. You slept for three days. I gave you a shot on Taungsday afternoon, and” – she peered at the wall chrono over his shoulder – “it’s six hundred hours on Primeday now.”

    He looked at her with fire in his eyes. “Three days?” he asked incredulously. “You kept me sedated for three days?”

    “I did not,” she protested. “The shot I gave you was only for a few hours, but then you just continued to sleep. I woke you up a few times so you could eat and drink, and Doctor Cottle came twice to examine you. Don’t you remember?” Thrawn stared at her in disbelief. “You were exhausted, Thrawn. You were in a terrible state. You were wheezing so badly that Doctor Cottle was considering putting you back in the bacta tank. We gave you two bottles of oxygen every day. Please stop playing the heroic leader. Captain Niriz has it all well in hand, and Matt’s been helping him.” She pointed at the viewport, where the Discipline could be seen flying formation above the Admonitor. “They both came over last night. They said to let you know that we’re at the rendezvous point, that the repairs are going well and that Captain Parck will arrive with the supply convoy on Zhellday. And Captain Niriz told me to tell you that you can’t return to the bridge, he invoked Directive Seven-Thirty-Eight until Doctor Cottle says otherwise.” She hesitated. “And he said that you’ve been behaving like an immature laserbrain, although I’m not sure I should be repeating that.”

    Thrawn let out a curse in Cheunh and rolled on his back. “Did he invoke both paragraphs of the directive?”

    Ayesha's eyes sparkled with mischief. “He invoked only paragraph aurek, but I’m not letting you out of here so soon.” She swung a leg over his hips and pulled herself up to straddle his lap. “I had to sleep in here all alone for four whole days,” she said plaintively. “And then I had to share this bed with a hibernating Csillan bear.” She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “You’re my lifemate, you know. You have duties to me, and a quickie so early in the morning won’t even come close to fulfilling them.”

    * * *​

    When Doctor Cottle came in the afternoon, he found Thrawn slouched on the sofa, wearing only his jumpsuit trousers and watching a repeat of the tactical display of the battle against the Far Outsiders above Viezoth. “I guess this qualifies as progress,” the doctor grumbled. “There’s no chance you’d wear that sling again, is there?”

    “I am wearing it when I move around this apartment,” Thrawn answered in an amused tone while the doctor waved a handheld scanner in front of his chest. “Not that Ayesha allows me to move much.”

    “Good girl,” Cottle growled absent-mindedly, staring at the scanner’s small monitor. “Well, you’re a lucky bastard, Admiral. Your heart is healing again. I guess your body told you about its limits.”

    “Does this mean that you are revoking Directive Seven-Thirty-Eight?” Thrawn asked. Behind him, Ayesha grinned at the hint of childish hopefulness in his voice.

    The doctor glared at him. “You wish. The directive stays in place until I’m satisfied that you’re in one piece. And let me be clear here. I didn’t get Niriz to invoke paragraph besh because I don’t want you to throw me in the brig as soon as you’re back on duty, but I will invoke it if I hear that you’re pushing your luck. So pretend that it’s in effect and don’t leave your quarters.” He manipulated Thrawn’s arm to check his range of motion. “How’s the pain?”

    “It is rather a dull ache by now. Those painkillers work miracles.”

    Cottle gave a satisfied grunt and pulled a chair to sit facing Thrawn. “Here’s the verdict. I know that you’re a workaholic, but you’re going to do me a favour. You’re going to switch that off” – he gestured towards the tactical display – “and do what normal people do, just for today. Read a databook. Watch a holodrama. Chat with your lifemate who’s been worried sick, talk about art or do whatever else the two of you do when you’re alone, but for Vader’s sake, get some rest. I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll send a med droid for your physio. If I see that you’re doing better, I’ll revoke the informal paragraph besh and I’ll allow you to leave your quarters. And after that, take it easy. Parck is arriving in a couple of days with enough supplies to last us a lifetime, so you can postpone your bloody campaign a bit more, there’s no risk we’ll starve in interstellar space.” He took a deep breath. “I’m your doctor, Admiral. I’m not doing this for the fun of watching you throw me these furious looks. I’m doing this to keep you alive and healthy.”

    Thrawn held out his hand for Cottle to shake. “I know, Doctor,” he said with one of his rare warm smiles. “And I am grateful.”

    Cottle stood up. “Well, you certainly have a strange way of showing it,” he grumbled. “I’ll have more oxygen brought to you. You don’t really need it anymore, but it can’t hurt.”

    Ayesha was surprised when, after the doctor’s next visit on the following day, Thrawn didn’t spring to his feet to leave their quarters. He plugged instead a fresh oxygen bottle to his breathing mask, activated the tactical display and motioned for her to join him on the sofa. “The black dots are the enemy craft,” he explained. “Our sensors could not pick up their propulsion mode, so they appear as asteroids. The green dots are our ships. I will play the entire battle once. Tell me what you see.”

    She curled up at his side and observed the three-dimensional holo silently, jotting a note on her datapad from time to time. “I’m sure now that this is the species who created the painting you showed me on Coruscant,” she said finally. “They never tried to defend themselves. Not once. They only sought to attack. Their own lives don’t matter to them.” She looked at her datapad. “When you ordered the TIE fighters to disengage, they just regrouped to go for the bigger ships. And when you deployed the fleet around them, they didn’t even try to fight back against the TIEs, they went for the cruisers instead.” She glanced at her notes again. “There’s a moment halfway through the battle when they seem to be in complete disarray. They fly in all directions and then they pick up speed and go for the cruisers and the Star Destroyers again. It just looks like a suicide run.”

    Thrawn nodded. “That is the moment when the clawcraft destroyed the source of the gravitational anomaly on Viezoth. It was a huge creature nestling in a crevice, not unlike a sarlacc.”

    “So Lieutenant Prashat was right,” she said. “They were manipulating gravity to communicate.”

    “They were. And this is good, because we may have the means to disrupt them.” She looked at him curiously but he didn’t elaborate, wrapping instead an arm around her shoulders and resting his head against hers. “Ayoo’sha, I would like you to return to Nirauan.”

    Her entire body jerked. “You’re sending me away?”

    Thrawn sighed. “You saw for yourself the enemy we are facing. I do not want these creatures to come anywhere near you.”

    She looked at him carefully. “Are you giving me a choice?”

    “I will never force you to do something you do not choose yourself, Ayoo’sha. But for my own peace of mind, I am asking you to consider it.”

    She shook her head. “I’m staying with you.”

    He removed his breathing mask and sighed again. “Ayoo’sha, please, listen to me. You –”

    “No,” she shouted, standing up. “I’m staying with you.” There was a thread of despair in her words. He cocked a perplexed eyebrow. “You don’t understand, do you?” she asked with tears in her eyes. “You don’t really believe me when I say you’re everything to me. You’re asking me to leave because there’s a possibility that the Admonitor won’t make it back from this battle. You’re telling me that I should leave and wait to hear if you’re coming back. I can’t do that. You’re all I have, Thrawn. I’ll have nowhere to go and nothing to do if you don’t return from this campaign. If you don’t come back, I don’t want to come back either.”

    He opened his mouth to speak. “Please,” she whispered. “No more of this discussion. I’m staying with you.”

    Thrawn stared at her in silence for a couple of heartbeats. He finally patted the sofa at his side for her to sit. He wrapped his arm around her again to hold her tightly and pressed his lips to her forehead without saying a word.

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

    Notes: The creature nestling in a crevice is a yammosk, but as I said earlier, it can be assumed that Vong biotech in this fic is "archaic" since it all takes place nearly 20 years before the invasion.
     
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    :eek: Very much in character for Thrawn to overdo – as a leader he wants to be in the thick of everything and goes wayyyy too far so that Cottle and Niriz, and especially Ayesha, have to put their feet down.

    Ah so happy that there are solid strategies on combatting the Far Outsiders. [face_relieved] Makes things a bit more balanced – not so one-sided as it might be.

    I was very struck by Ayesha’s assertions at the end. Her commitment and determination are borne out of deep love but also out of much loss. :(
     
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  10. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    “I command these men, Ayoo’sha,” he said softly through the breathing mask. “I would be a poor leader if I did not share in their danger.”

    “You’d be a poor leader if you killed yourself from exhaustion. Did you even check yourself out in the mirror? You look terrible, you –”

    They are both pretty stubborn here. I worried & laughed at the same time. And certain phrases of Ayesha made me blush... [face_blush]

    She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “You’re my lifemate, you know. You have duties to me, and a quickie so early in the morning won’t even come close to fulfilling them.”

    And a yammosk, being mentioned is a very bad thing for that part of the galaxy!
     
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  11. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Once again, Ayesha interprets the design before her and sees right to the heart of it. This is scary business, taking on the Vong. It's strange with the idea that Thrawn is trying to stop the Vong here, yet we know what happens. That makes it more worrisome seeing that the Vong make it all the way to the Core.

    Thrawn is much more injured than he has the patience for, but he has to understand that if he pushes his body too hard, he will break it, and then what help will he be?
     
  12. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing!
    I had several reasons for Thrawn to be overdoing it in these few chapters -- I wanted to show that his campaign against the Vong matters a great deal to him, but also that it is a lesson in how to handle himself against a superior force. And, most importantly, I wanted to highlight the contrast with the way he will behave with the Chimaera's crew. The crew of the Admonitor are people with whom he has worked for years and with whom he has a relationship of mutual respect. When he goes to the Chimaera, he'll have to deal with all the poodoo of the classic, rigid Imperial mentality, and he will consider his subordinates to be expendable as long as they serve his purpose.

    Hehe. You know that there's a competition among them as to who will be the most over-the-top flirt :p
    The funny thing is that I came up with all this story arc about the YV because of the short mention they get at the end of Outbound Flight, when Thrawn tells Kinman Doriana that the Chiss have already met the Vong in battle, more than 50 years before Vector Prime. I'm not really a fan of the Vong (understatement of the century) but I did like the idea that much is happening in the Wild West that are the Unknown Regions with the main body of the Galaxy being blissfully unaware of it all. And, also, I enjoyed the idea that Thrawn is saving the day for the New Republic -- they're certainly in no shape to face an invasion fleet right now in the Legends continuity, so by delaying the Vong for nearly 20 years he's doing them a favour in a sense, but they don't know it [face_mischief]
    Ayesha's world has shrunk dramatically over the past few years. Pretty much everyone from her old life is gone, those people who are still there for her (LaRone, Matt and Valeria, the Fels and even Thrawn) don't have much time for her in this situation, and her private mental space has whittled down to very little, with all the foreign/dark memories that are stored in there. She doesn't have (or she doesn't think she has) much to look forward to in life.

    Thanks again, everybody! Next chapter coming up straight away :)
     
  13. 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.

    Oh, and double tag to Findswoman because this chapter is an alien-fest :p

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

    Chapter 36: The black foal

    The black sky outside the Admonitor was filled with the twinkling lights of hundreds of ships as shuttles of Imperial and alien design landed in the central hangar bay. Ayesha watched in awe as representatives of the diverse species constituting Thrawn’s federation filed in the conference room. She recognized two Stromma, a Gree and a Talz, and saw Vaantaar come to her, followed by a snowy-white Viezothan mare. The Troukree gave her a deep bow. “This is Head Mare Ashi-Dilza of the White Herd,” he said. “She wants to greet you.”

    The equine alien knelt on her front legs before extending an arm to place two furry fingers on Ayesha’s forehead. “The Grand Admiral said that the White Herd owe you their continued existence,” she neighed musically in Minnisiat. “This places you on the level of our Celestial Guardians. May the heavens grant evergreen pastures to you and your offspring in this life and the next.”

    Ayesha gave an embarrassed nod and reached to touch the sole spot of brown fur between the Viezothan leader’s eyes. “The Grand Admiral –” she began, then corrected herself, “my lifemate and I owe our lives to the courageous actions of your people. Were it not for those who stood between harm and us, we would not be meeting today. We are forever in your debt.” She lowered her hand and took Ashi-Dilza’s to pull her up. “I have no words to express my sorrow at the loss of your homeworld. I hope you will find peace and prosperity on your new grazing lands.”

    Captain Parck came behind her and motioned them towards the doors of the conference room. “Let us join the meeting, Head Mare,” he said respectfully. “The time has come for all of us to take our fate in our hands.”

    The hubbub of alien tongues and the clicking of hooves and claws on the durasteel floor died down as they took their places around the table. Thrawn exchanged a few more whispered comments with Niriz, Parck and Matt and sat down. His glowing eyes took in the disparate crowd facing him. “Friends and allies of the Empire of the Hand,” he began in Minnisiat, “after years of working together, our federation will finally face the challenge for which we have been preparing. The Far Outsiders have already entered our Galaxy, and our spy probes have located the precise location where the main body of their fleet is amassing. I do not need to remind you that this is the gravest of threats. The Far Outsiders –”

    “Is this threat so grave that your task force cannot confront it?” one of the two Stromma interrupted insolently.

    “What Council Liaison Bhalka means,” the other Stromma, who was sitting at his side, interjected, “is that the Grey Wolf and her task force had to abandon the campaign against Nuso Esva to answer your call. The Stromma Council have reliable intelligence that his warriors gained a foothold in the Red City of Quethold and are subverting the mind of the Queen of the Red. We wish to be certain that this redirection of our forces will not be detrimental to our Quesoth allies.”

    Thrawn’s lips twitched. “Let me put your mind at ease, Council Liaison. Nuso Esva is insignificant in comparison to the Far Outsiders.”

    “Nuso Esva is a murderer,” Bhalka barked. “We cannot –”

    “What Council Liaison Bhalka means –”

    “Nuso Esva is insignificant in comparison to the Far Outsiders,” Thrawn repeated forcefully. “We know him, we know his resources and we know the technology he has at his disposal. We know that his forces on Quethold are limited to a few dozens of his followers and we know that his forces across the region will fall apart when he dies. Most importantly, we know that he believes that he knows me. The Far Outsiders on the other hand...” He activated the holoprojector. “See for yourselves the destruction they wrought on Viezoth.” His eyes swept over the faces of the assembly as a holoshow of ravaged steppes and meadows intermingled with snapshots from the space battle unfolded above the conference table. He keyed the projector again. “And now, see for yourselves the invasion fleet that we must destroy before it finds its way to our homeworlds.” There were audible gasps, squeals, barks, chirrups and whistles around the room at the sight of an armada of thousands of ships. Twenty-two massive, disk-shaped craft with spiralling arms were surrounded by hundreds of cruiser-sized vessels and swarms of the triangular, rock-like fighters that the Imperial fleet had confronted above Viezoth. “These are images captured by our deep space probes. They are several months old already and it is likely that the number of enemy ships is even larger now.”

    The Talz commander bobbed his head, blinking his four eyes at once. “Grand Admiral, I mean no offense, but we cannot vanquish a fleet of this size,” he chirped in his mother tongue.

    “Success has gone to your head, Admiral,” Bhalka snorted derisively over the frantic whispers of the protocol droids translating the Talzzi sentence in Basic and Minnisiat.

    “What Council Liaison Bhalka means,” the conciliator spluttered, “is that we may want to consider assembling a larger fleet before taking the war to the Far Outsiders.”

    “There is no larger fleet,” Thrawn replied sternly. “All friendly forces in the Unknown Regions are currently assembled here.” He paused and surveyed the room once more. “However, we have been able to identify some key weaknesses of our enemy during the Battle of Viezoth. I am confident that we can use them to our advantage. I will let Wing Commander Fel and Lieutenant Prashat elaborate on their findings.”

    There was a long question-and-answer session as Fel and Prashat explained about the pulsating black heart of the enemy craft and the gravitic manipulation that enabled them to coordinate their action. “A careful analysis of the battle data shows that our tractor beams were able to disrupt their communications for a fraction of a second,” Prashat concluded. “This is why the Grand Admiral ordered four Interdictor Cruisers to join the fleet. We expect that the gravity wells will throw them sufficiently off-balance for our warships to be able to hammer them. We also expect that they will counter the disruptive effect of the Far Outsiders’ gravitic manipulation on our shields while taking theirs down.”

    There were grim nods around the table. “The data and artwork we have collected further show that the Far Outsiders have no concept of defence and self-preservation,” Thrawn added. “Their only strategy is offense. They will seek to take out our capital ships. This will give the smaller craft and fighters the opportunity to conduct their attack runs relatively unimpeded.”

    There was a long silence. A nearly spherical alien stood up and ruffled his spines. “This threat cannot come to pass,” he squeaked through his pointed snout. “The Grorandhim will fight alongside the Grand Admiral. May the twelve moons of the night sky guide our path.”

    The Talz commander placed the flat of his paw on his furry head. “The warriors of New Alzoc will stand with you, Grand Admiral. We will fight to the death if need be, and then we will continue fighting.”

    Vaantaar unsheathed his knife and laid it on the table with the tip pointing towards himself. “As will the Troukree.”

    “As will the Stromma,” Bhalka barked, banging his fist. He gave the conciliator an angry look, as if challenging him to say something.

    More pledges of allegiance came from around the room, and Ayesha saw Matt suppress a wry smile when Thrawn called the assembly to order. A murmur from the end of the table interrupted his explanation of the steps to come. All eyes turned to Vaantaar and Ashi-Dilza, who were apparently having an argument of sorts. “Is there something you would like to say?” Niriz asked with a disapproving look.

    Vaantaar gave the Viezothan mare a prod. “With your permission, Grand Admiral, Head Mare Ashi-Dilza would like to make a request on behalf of the Viezothan Remnant.”

    Ashi-Dilza took a deep breath. “The White Herd do not wish to be present for this battle,” she neighed shyly in her melodious voice. “We are asking to be transferred to the chariots that are offloading fodder and to be carried to the grazing lands of the Talz.”

    “Are the Viezothans cowards?” the Stromma Council Liaison asked in his belligerent tone.

    “What Council Liaison Bhalka means is that the Viezothans were nearly exterminated by the Far Outsiders,” the conciliator interjected hurriedly. “Surely your people want justice for the ills that befell them under the enemy’s subjugation.”

    Ashi-Dilza clicked her hooves nervously on the durasteel floor. “The White Herd want justice and the White Herd will provide assistance to the Grand Admiral to the extent of our ability. We are grateful for your help and we will find a way to repay this debt of honour. But we are not a warrior race and we have no experience travelling in these black skies. Our herd is merely taking up space on the Troukree chariots, with little to offer in return. All we can do is offload your fodder, but your metal beasts of burden are doing it faster and better than us.” Her snowy-white fur rippled in a gesture Ayesha couldn’t decipher. “Our foals must be protected,” she added after an uncomfortable silence. “Those who are with us now, and those who will come to be.”

    “Your request is entirely understandable, Head Mare,” Thrawn replied reassuringly. “The survival of your species is at stake.” He turned to Parck. “Captain, you will assign a member of your crew to deal with the logistics of this evacuation. Miss Dalissis will liaise with the Viezothan leadership to determine which cargo ships are best suited to the White Herd’s needs. I am confident that the Talz will take all necessary measures to facilitate the process,” he added with a nod to the furry, four-eyed alien sitting to his right. His glowing eyes returned to Ashi-Dilza. “Will you allow me to formulate a request as well?”

    The mare’s ears twitched eagerly. “Anything, Grand Admiral. I will be honoured to assist in any way I can.”

    “What we need for our campaign against the Far Outsiders to be successful is information. Your people have the most experience with these beings, and your knowledge and advice would be invaluable. Will you remain on board while our planning and preparations are under way? I would like to be able to consult with you.”

    The Viezothan batted her long eyelashes. “I will remain on your chariot until you return to your pastures.”

    Thrawn felt Ayesha’s hand touch his. “That will not be necessary, Head Mare. The White Herd needs your guidance. It is only fair that –”

    “I will stay,” she interrupted. “I will convince two more head mares to do the same. We will tell you everything we know about the Far Outsiders, we will stand at your side and, should the fire take you, it will burn us too. Your blood was spilled in defence of the White Herd. We will give ours for you.”

    Doctor Cottle patted Thrawn discreetly on the shoulder, signalling that it was time for him to go and rest. “Thank you, Head Mare,” he said. “Thank you all. I will do my best to ensure that you return safely to your homes and your people.” He stood up. “This meeting is adjourned until tomorrow. We will proceed with offloading the supplies while you inform your warriors of the challenge to come. The senior commanders will study the equipment and weaponry of the Far Outsiders in order to fine-tune our plan of attack. Dismissed.”

    Matt and Valeria stayed behind as the assembled commanders filed out of the room and came to greet Ayesha, who was chatting with Cottle. “What are you still doing here?” Matt asked after giving her a hug. “Are you leaving with the cargo ships?”

    She gave him a scandalized look. “I’m not leaving! And I don’t see that Valeria is leaving either.”

    Behind Matt, Valeria pointed her chin at her husband and rolled her eyes. “Valeria and I are still having this discussion, Ayesha, but at least she has a job with the fleet to justify her presence,” Matt countered. “What’s your excuse? I can’t believe the big boss is letting you do this.”

    Ayesha gave him a wicked grin. “I’m the big boss’s lifemate, Matt. That’s a full-time job if there ever was one.”

    The doctor shook his head. “Between the Admiral and you, it’s a toss-up as to who’s the most stubborn. You two really deserve each other, you know.”

    * * *​

    It took three days to offload the fresh supplies brought by Parck’s convoy and to move the Viezothans to the cargo ships. Ayesha helped Valeria with organising the transfer and ensuring that everyone was comfortable. Scout ships had collected bales of hay from a nearby planet, and she used the weeds to weave mats and baskets for the few foals that had survived the battle and the evacuation. The parents were initially hovering protectively around their young, but as they got to know her better, and as they found out from Ashi-Dilza that Thrawn had decided to lead a ground assault at her insistence, the barriers fell and, when a mare went into labour and had to be taken to the Admonitor, they insisted that Ayesha accompany her and be present for the birth.

    The Star Destroyer’s med lab was obviously not designed to accommodate quadrupeds, but most of the wounded from the battle of Viezoth had returned to their quarters and a room was hastily cleared of furniture for the expectant mother. Ayesha spread one of her mats on the floor and sat at the Viezothan’s side to caress her mane and whisper words of comfort in her ear while Doctor Cottle and a Troukree medic who had some experience with equine species from his homeworld busied themselves at the business end of the process. The labour lasted all night, but in the small hours of the morning the newborn was finally heard bleating, and a few minutes later the doctor announced happily, “It’s a male!” He laid the foal against its mother to keep it warm while the medic finished wiping goo and blood off its pure black fur. The little alien immediately got hold of a nipple and started suckling, and Ayesha saw the mother place her hand on his head – with what seemed to be love, but also awe and deep reverence.

    “How are you going to name him?” she asked in Minnisiat.

    The mare looked up sharply, as if baffled by the question. “I will not name him just yet. We must wait.”

    The cargo freighters left the fleet later that day, and when Ayesha woke up in the middle of the afternoon she was told that the two head mares who had initially agreed to stay on board together with Ashi-Dilza had performed a last-minute about-turn and joined their people on the departing ships. She was not displeased by the news – she knew that the battle ahead would be difficult, and she didn’t think that there was much point in the Viezothans risking their lives – but it surprised her nevertheless, as the two mares’ commitment had been unwavering up to that point. Ashi-Dilza herself was reluctant to provide an explanation for her friends’ change of heart, but Ayesha assumed that she might be feeling that they had deserted the cause and did not pursue the matter any further.

    The fleet began the long series of jumps to lightspeed that would take it to the edge of the Galaxy, regrouping every now and then in realspace to allow for the exploration of unknown star systems and strategy meetings among the senior officers. There were limited possibilities for leisure now that every millimetre of floor space on the Admonitor, including the training room where Ayesha used to practice hand-to-hand combat with her stormtrooper friends, had been taken over for military purposes or otherwise converted into a storage area, but she didn’t mind. She spent most of her days in the analysts’ department, listening to Ashi-Dilza describe over and over her memories of life under the rule of the Far Outsiders while Thrawn examined the wreckage of the rock-like fighter and the various pieces of weaponry that Prashat had salvaged from Viezoth.

    They learned from the head mare that the Far Outsiders called themselves the Children of Yun-Yuuzhan, that they were deeply religious and that, as Ayesha had guessed from the painting Thrawn had brought to Coruscant, they glorified pain for themselves as well as for others. They had arrived on Viezoth shortly after the Discipline’s first visit to the planet a year or so earlier, and they had ignored its inhabitants for several months, until a merchant ship from a neighbouring world landed in the trading outpost. The sight of the gleaming metallic freighter had sent them into a fury, and they proceeded to destroy it and slaughter its crew before turning against the Viezothans. From that point onward, the White Herd had been constantly on the run and their life had become a nightmare, although not as much as it had for those who were enslaved. Ashi-Dilza whispered horror stories of entire clans that disappeared in what her people called the Pit, never to be seen again – Thrawn deduced from her description that she was speaking of the crevice where the creature generating the gravitic disturbance around the planet had been buried – and of fellow Viezothans who were implanted with black pebbles, lost their sentience over time and turned into mindless beasts of burden. “But we of the White Herd resisted,” she concluded proudly. “My fellow head mares and I managed to avoid capture for our own, and that is how we could be there for you when you came. For a moment, after you left, we lost hope – but then you came back and rescued us.” She lowered her eyes and her fur rippled in the gesture that Ayesha now knew meant embarrassment. “We will pay this debt of honour,” Ashi-Dilza added. “We will give blood for blood.”

    The conversation was taking place during the three Star Destroyers’ captains’ last meeting with Thrawn before the final hyperspace jump that would take them to battle, and Parck, Niriz and Matt were all present in the room. The mare’s unease didn’t go unnoticed, and Valeria, who was sitting at the end of the table, gave her an inquisitive look. “It is we who are in your debt, Head Mare,” Thrawn said firmly. “Were it not for you and the White Herd, I would not be in this room today.”

    There was a heavy silence. “Ashi-Dilza, you have done more for us than we could ever ask for,” Valeria said. “The man you saved is not only a dear friend, he is also the only military commander who can confront this threat. You owe us nothing – by all rights you should not be here yourself – and you should certainly not feel shame that your friends chose to leave.” She eyed the Viezothan carefully once more and added, “Unless there is something more that you wish to say.”

    The mare bowed her head even deeper and clicked her hooves nervously on the floor. “Tell us, Ashi-Dilza,” Ayesha said softly. “Something has been troubling you for days now. Tell us.”

    The Viezothan finally looked up. “A black foal was born,” she neighed. “This has happened only twice in the history of the White Herd. Every time it happened” – she averted her eyes from Thrawn – “a leader died.”

    Captain Niriz barely suppressed a snort, attracting an angry glare from Ayesha. “I hope that poor little kidlet won’t be rejected for being a harbinger of woe,” Matt muttered.

    Valeria went to reprimand him, but Ashi-Dilza spoke first. “He will not. The White Herd believe that he will carry the soul of the leader, should the omen come to pass. He will be loved and respected.”

    “Is that why you haven’t named him yet?” Ayesha asked. “You intend to name him after...”

    Her voice trailed off. Ashi-Dilza nodded. Matt stepped forward and patted her mane reassuringly. “The omen won’t come to pass this time, Head Mare. With all due respect to your leaders, this is Grand Admiral Thrawn we’re talking about. Besides” – he gave her that boyish grin that made him so endearing – “how could it happen when he has such talented captains at his side?”

    Parck and Ayesha let out a chuckle, and even Thrawn smiled, but Ashi-Dilza was unmoved. “Do not make light of this,” she warned sternly.

    The little assembly composed themselves. “I understand, Head Mare,” Matt said, very seriously. “I understand. But nothing will happen to Grand Admiral Thrawn. You can take my word for it.”

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

    Note: The Stromma's belligerent nature (including the principle of having a conciliator 'translating' the conversation), and the on-going campaign against Nuso Esva on Quethold, are borrowed from Timothy Zahn's short story Crisis of Faith.
     
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Yes, it is an alien fest, and I loved it! Fascinating details without bogging down the narrative. You feel there's a lot of explanations that could be given as to cultural context.

    I was amused by the participatnts from Stromma - one is so rude! and the other one has to retransmit the message in a more tactful frame [face_laugh]

    I especially enjoyed the Viezothans with their belief system about the foal and participation in the coming conflict =D= Very well done indeed! :cool:
     
    AzureAngel2, Findswoman and Chyntuck like this.
  15. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    The equine alien knelt on her front legs before extending an arm to place two furry fingers on Ayesha’s forehead. “The Grand Admiral said that the White Herd owe you their continued existence,” she neighed musically in Minnisiat. “This places you on the level of our Celestial Guardians. May the heavens grant evergreen pastures to you and your offspring in this life and the next.”

    This was a wonderful update. You describe aliens so well. I am glad for Ayesha that she did not only leave an impression, but was able to win new allies. [face_love]

    Behind Matt, Valeria pointed her chin at her husband and rolled her eyes. “Valeria and I are still having this discussion, Ayesha, but at least she has a job with the fleet to justify her presence,” Matt countered. “What’s your excuse? I can’t believe the big boss is letting you do this.”

    Ayesha gave him a wicked grin. “I’m the big boss’s lifemate, Matt. That’s a full-time job if there ever was one.”

    The doctor shook his head. “Between the Admiral and you, it’s a toss-up as to who’s the most stubborn. You two really deserve each other, you know.”

    I am also glad that the theme of stubbornness returned here! ;)
     
    Chyntuck and Nyota's Heart like this.
  16. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    OK, catching up after being clobbered first by a virus (the kind that infects people rather than computers), then by a visit from my mom:

    35: I'm so not surprised to see Thrawn doing absolutely terribly at resting and taking time to heal! Given the circumstances, I don't blame Cottle for playing hardball on him—it takes stubborn to deal with stubborn (and that goes for Ayesha's role in the process too). I wonder if the directive invoked by Cpt. Niriz is a canon phenomenon or not, because I'm now kind of curious about how its two paragraphs do read! Great to see Ayesha getting the chance to apply her mad skillz in art analysis once again, this time treating the Battle of Viezoth itself as the work of art
    on the battle as on a work of art (what a concept!). It's intriguing that she seems to have an idea of how to stymie them by disrupting their gravitational means of communication, and I'm curious to see what form that will take.

    36: Well, you had me at "alien-fest"! :D Definitely wonderful to see all these species of the Unknown Regions joining forces against the menace of the Far Outsiders—even that crusty Bhalka. (Gosh, what a job that conciliator has—even though I smiled every time he opened his mouth, I don't envy him in the least! Though it definitely is a very cool concept.) It's interesting that he brings up Nuso Esva (a name we haven't heard here in a long time... a long time), and I almost wonder if Nuso Esva himself at some point will join up with the Empire of the Hand against the Far Outsiders—he could be a strong ally under the right conditions, I suspect. [face_thinking] Head Mare Ashi-Dilza's reluctance to fight is definitely understandable; not everyone who wants to be an ally of the Empire of the Hand has to do so on the combat side of things.

    The portent of the black foal is certainly ominous, and I too get the feeling that Matt shouldn't be making light of it the way he is; the departure of the two other Head Mares no doubt was in response to it somehow. I have a guess about which leader's death is potentially being foretold here, of course... :eek:
     
  17. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! It's my first day on the new job today and of course I'm late, so I'll post now, reply later [face_blush]

    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 37: Sacrifice

    The blackness of space was unlike anything the crew of the Admonitor had ever seen when Thrawn’s flagship and four Interdictor cruisers dropped out of hyperspace on the very edge of the Galaxy, but there was no time to comment on the eeriness of a sky void of constellations. The Star Destroyer’s viewport was filled with the thousands of alien ships whose image had been captured by the Imperial deep space probes. Thrawn placed a reassuring hand over Ayesha’s on the command chair’s armrest as his glowing eyes took in the scene. “Report.”

    “Twenty-nine capital ships, Sir,” Captain Niriz answered. “Seven hundred and sixty two cruisers, more than twelve hundred fighters.” He paused and scanned the information flow on his monitor. “They’re launching more fighters now. Total three thousand.”

    “Then let us launch ours,” Thrawn intimated. “Commander Fel, you know what to do.” He examined the tactical display, where the pale cones of the Interdictors’ gravity wells were beginning to form. “Helm, take us in. Interdictor cruisers, deploy to cover the largest possible volume over and around the enemy fleet. How long until your gravity wells are operational?”

    “Ninety seconds, Sir,” a voice that Ayesha identified as the Chiss colonel named Sbatkh replied over the loudspeaker. “We’ll be within spitting distance by then.”

    “Excellent. Lieutenant Prashat, map the gravitational anomalies for me.”

    The Admonitor’s entire TIE wing shot out of the hangar bay as the Imperial ships glided towards the alien armada. The clawcraft followed, paired in close formation with a fat cylinder tucked between them. The Far Outsiders’ triangular fighters turned their noses towards the incoming Imperials and expanded to a screen formation in front of the main body of their fleet where the cruisers were grouped haphazardly around the massive, disk-shaped capital ships with spiralling arms. “Ten seconds,” Sbatkh signalled from the bridge of his Interdictor cruiser.

    “Transmitting microjump coordinates now,” a crewman piped up from the starboard pit.

    The clawcraft vanished with a flicker of pseudomotion and the TIE wing engaged the enemy. There was a loud beep as the ghostly cones darkened to a deep green on the tactical display, covering both fleets, and the Chiss fighters reappeared in the midst of the alien armada. They released the cylinders they were ferrying above the capital ships and zoomed away in the nick of time before a blinding explosion illuminated the dark sky. A fraction of a second later, the Discipline, the Grey Wolf and their task forces were yanked out of hyperspace behind the enemy fighter screen by the Interdictor cruisers’ gravity wells, while the Admonitor’s complement of Talz and Troukree war craft materialized on either side of the Imperial flagship. There was another explosion in the distance.

    “Task force Grey Wolf reporting in,” Parck said over the comm. “The Fearless Stromma overshot our exit point and collided with an enemy capital ship. By the looks of it, she took it out.”

    Stent’s clawcraft zigzagged through the debris. “Confirmed. It seems that the explosion destabilized another one as well, plus the seven that were annihilated by our thermal bombs. The nine groups of enemy cruisers between positions two-five-eight and three-nine-one are in disarray.”

    Discipline launching fighter wing,” Matt interjected. “Take ‘em out before they can regroup.”

    A new swarm of TIE fighters joined the fray. “Copy that, Discipline,” Thrawn said. “Lieutenant Prashat?”

    “The three capital ships at the centre of the enemy formation emit the most powerful gravitational anomalies, Sir, but the gravitic field emanating from the cluster as a whole is off the charts. The Interdictor cruisers are pinning them in place, but I’m not sure we’re disrupting their communications at all.”

    “Captain Ruud, Captain Parck,” Thrawn called in the ship-to-ship comm. “How are your shields holding?”

    “Sixty percent, Sir, and that’s before we took a single shot,” Parck replied tightly. “That gravitational field is pumping us dry.”

    Thrawn’s eyes were glittering with concentration as they went from one monitor to another. “Cruisers and fighters with a sublight capacity of class three and above, disable your shields. Rely on speed and manoeuvrability to evade enemy fire. All other ships, direct as much energy as you can to your shields. Clawcraft pilots, did you locate the pulsating black heart on the enemy craft?”

    “Negative, Sir,” Stent answered after a few seconds. “It must be built inside their hull.”

    Thrawn gazed at the scene outside the viewport for a moment. Fel’s TIE wing was engaged in dogfights with the alien fighters to keep them away from the Imperial flagship, while the Grey Wolf, the Discipline and their task forces were engulfed in a chaos of laser bolts and plasma beams amidst the Far Outsiders’ fleet. “All ships, ignore the enemy cruisers. Let the fighters deal with them and focus your fire on the capital ships instead. If turbolasers are pumping too much energy off your shields, use proton torpedoes and concussion missiles to carpet-bomb them.” His hand tightened imperceptibly around Ayesha’s. “Task force Admonitor, deploy in assault pattern krill. We are going in.”

    The Talz and Troukree warships took up their positions around the Admonitor and the TIE wing arced in all directions to rejoin their ranks, while the alien fighters regrouped in the same attack configuration as they had above Viezoth. There were still a good fifteen hundred of them and the sight was wondrous to behold. Behind Ayesha, Ashi-Dilza clicked her hooves nervously on the durasteel floor.

    A smile touched Thrawn’s lips. “So predictable. Helm, full speed, vector one-two-five.”

    The two forces rushed at each other as if they were intending to collide. “Tighten it up,” Niriz snapped. “Overlap shields for the cruisers and TIEs who cannot operate their own.” He took a deep breath as the triangular fighters came within range. “Fire at will.”

    The blackness of space ahead erupted in a fury of light as the task force’s cannons started spitting laser bolts. The rock-like fighters broke formation under the hail of fire, but they kept coming and soon the Admonitor shuddered as their magma beams broke through her deflector shields and reached her heavily armoured hull. Ashi-Dilza quickly stifled a terrified whine. Several smaller cruisers burst into flames under the onslaught while Fel’s TIE fighters zoomed in and out of the battle, expertly taking out the pulsating hearts of the enemy craft.

    “Helm, punch us through this fighter screen,” Thrawn said as calmly as if he were ordering dinner. “Our target is the capital ships.”

    “Sir,” Fel suddenly called. “Three squadrons of enemy fighters broke through our lines. They’re going for the Interdictor cruisers.”

    “Intercept and destroy, Commander,” the Grand Admiral replied coldly. “Colonel Sbatkh, channel any energy you can spare to your turbolasers.”

    A group of TIE Interceptors peeled off and gave chase to the alien fighters while the rest of the task force pressed ahead. The four Interdictor cruisers’ heavy cannons came to life, bombarding the incoming craft. “They are too fast for our turbolasers,” Colonel Sbatkh announced tightly.

    A bright explosion illuminated the sky again, and the entire Imperial fleet rocked under the shock wave that followed. “Good shot, Discipline,” Parck said in a satisfied growl. “You just blast it to smithereens. Several more took heavy damage too.”

    Thrawn glanced at the tactical display. The cluster of giant disk-shaped craft was down to nineteen ships, of which three were apparently disabled, drifting in space. The Stromma cruisers tore off from the Grey Wolf’s side to hammer them. Coordination of the enemy fleet was visibly faltering, and a portion of the triangular fighters was in complete disarray. “Watch your back, Discipline,” Niriz barked. “They’re going to swarm you.”

    “Colonel Sbatkh, take evasive action,” Fel called almost simultaneously. “It looks like the Discipline took out their command ship. They’re going for suicide runs.”

    “Redirect the entire TIE wing if you must, Commander Fel,” Thrawn snapped. “Do whatever it takes to defend the Interdictor cruisers. The gravity wells must remain in place at all costs.”

    Fel’s acknowledgement was drowned by a cry of terror on the loudspeaker. “Too late,” Colonel Sbatkh was heard murmuring in Cheunh.

    All eyes aboard the Admonitor turned to the rear display, that showed a lone alien fighter making straight for the Interdictor’s bridge tower. The heavy Imperial ship was rotating as fast as its mass would allow but could not avoid impact. The tower blossomed into a cloud of fire as the small, rock-like craft smashed through the viewport, explosions burst along the hull in a chain reaction, and the gravity cone covering Thrawn’s task force vanished abruptly from the tactical monitor. The ship-to-ship comm was suddenly flooded with Talz and Troukree voices reporting that their shields were failing as the gravitic disturbance created by the Far Outsiders’ fleet took over. The alien fighters seized the opportunity to hammer the Imperial ships with their magma jets. Two Talz frigates were blown to oblivion before their captains could react, and alarms wailed aboard the Admonitor to signal that the hull was being breached. Someone let out a war cry in the Troukree language, and several cruisers slipped along the length of the Star Destroyer to shelter it from the enemy’s fire.

    “Interdictor cruisers, redeploy,” Niriz shouted. “Give us cover. We’re sitting mynocks here.”

    Three Troukree ships went up in flames. The comm pinged again. “This is Captain Vaantaar of the Pride of Troukruka. We are taking heavy fire. Any help we receive will be welcome. We will fight to the end.”

    An anguished Ayesha surveyed frantically the space battle outside, searching for the Troukree flagship. It burst into a dazzling cloud of dust seconds after her eyes found it. “The Pride of Troukruka is gone, Sir,” Captain Niriz reported grimly.

    “Task force Admonitor, jump to lightspeed on vector one-two-two, repeat one-two-two,” Thrawn ordered. “Do not acknowledge, jump.”

    All there was to see was a flicker of pseudomotion, and the task force reappeared a fraction of a second later in the midst of the main battle, on the edge of the area covered by the remaining three gravity wells. The Admonitor sped forward and positioned herself between the Grey Wolf and the Discipline. The former was shielded by her TIE complement and kept firing relentlessly at the disk-shaped ships that were still clustered at the centre of the enemy formation, while the latter had had to redirect her cannons towards the alien cruisers that were swarming over her. Her task force had shrunk by more than half and her hull was battered and scorched, even lacerated in places. Several fires could be seen through her viewports and hangar bays.

    “Turbolasers fire,” Thrawn commanded. “Take out those capital ships. Task force Admonitor, assist the Discipline. Captain Ruud, do you copy?”

    “You’re bang on time, Sir,” Matt said cockily, and Ayesha could picture the boyish grin on his face. “Our hyperdrive is knocked out and we’re running low on Tibanna gas, but we’re still here.”

    “Begin evacuating non-essential personnel. The Talz frigates will take them in. The Troukree ships are now under your command, Captain.” He glanced at the tactical display, where Fel’s Interceptors could be seen wiping out the last of the fighters that had targeted the Interdictor cruisers, while the rest of the alien craft were pinned in place by saturation fire coming from the Interdictors’ turbolasers and the rest of the Admonitor’s TIE wing. “Commander Fel, rid us of those fighters. The Discipline will be retreating soon, clear a path for her.”

    His eyes returned to the viewport as another of the disk-shaped ships burst into flames. The vast majority of the alien craft were now flying randomly in all directions, enabling Stent and his clawcraft squadron to shoot them to pieces when they least expected it and to send them drifting among the growing mass of debris floating in space. A disabled enemy cruiser spun across the Admonitor’s bow at full velocity and crashed into the Discipline which was now ejecting her escape pods. The Star Destroyer’s port wing exploded in a dazzling flash of light.

    Ayesha was shaking as they waited for Matt to answer Thrawn’s intimation to report. “Still here, Sir,” the younger captain finally croaked. “But the Discipline is out of the battle now.”

    “Not yet,” Thrawn countered. “Fire your modified Caldorf IX interceptor missiles on my mark, then pull back and evacuate. Did you copy that, Grey Wolf?”

    “Aye aye, Sir. Straight at those capital ships?”

    “Indeed.” Explosions erupted on the Discipline’s hull. “Transmitting target coordinates... Mark.”

    Two heavy, long-range missiles shot from the underbelly of each Star Destroyer and sped across the battlefield. One of them hit an alien ship, taking out several cruisers, but the five others zoomed doggedly towards the enemy juggernauts despite the magma beams targeting them. There was a huge explosion and massive chunks of organic matter flew from the cluster of ships gathered at the centre of the Far Outsiders’ formation, throwing their entire fleet in disarray. Matt let out a victory whoop that soon turned into a coughing fit. “We got ‘em, Sir. There’s only four left.”

    Thrawn allowed himself a tight smile. “Good job, Matthias. Now pull back and save your skin.”

    The Discipline started manoeuvring away as Thrawn’s fleet formed up around the two remaining Star Destroyers to screen them from the now-frenzied alien cruisers. “Twenty-five down,” the Grand Admiral muttered. “Shield generator, how are we holding up?”

    “Sixty-five percent, Sir,” Ensign Washeeya replied from the shield monitoring console.

    Thrawn cocked an eyebrow. “Three of the four remaining capital ships are the main source of the gravitic disturbance, Sir,” Prashat interjected. “And it’s getting stronger. I think they were only using a fraction of their energy until now.”

    “Admiral!” Niriz snapped. “They’re coming for us.”

    Ayesha took Ashi-Dilza’s trembling hand as they watched the four disk-shaped craft assemble in a diamond formation and make for the Admonitor, their cannons spitting molten lava to clear their path and disintegrating friendly and enemy craft alike. “Shields down to fifty percent,” Ensign Washeeya announced as the Star Destroyer rocked under the magma beams. The bridge lights were now faltering every time the turbolasers fired a volley. “Forty-five percent. The generator can’t cope.”

    The Grey Wolf was bombarding the incoming ships relentlessly, but her laser bolts seemed to vanish in a black hole. “The gravitic disturbance stabilized, Sir,” Prashat piped up. “They must have reached their maximum strength. It’s... unbelievably powerful. It’s just absorbing our fire.”

    “Thirty percent.”

    Thrawn glanced at the tactical display again. His fingers were clawing into Ayesha’s arm. “Interdictor cruisers, tighten your formation. I want overlapping gravity wells on those ships. Non-essential personnel, get to the escape pods.” He turned to LaRone, who was standing one step behind him, and pointed his chin at Ayesha. “Take her away.”

    She tried to escape his grip, but he tugged her closer. “No,” she whispered just above the ship-to-ship comm embedded in the command chair’s armrest. “I’m staying with you.”

    “Twenty-five percent.”

    A plasma bolt took out the Admonitor’s main cannon. “Twenty percent. A couple more direct hits and we’re space litter.”

    “Admiral, evacuate!” Parck shouted. “All ships, throw everything you’ve got at the enemy. Now!”

    There was a brief silence as the Talz Liberty flew past the Admonitor to intercept an incoming magma shot. The frigate dissolved to dust as if she were made of fragile glass. “Helm, full speed on vector two-one-six,” Matt’s calm voice came over the loudspeaker. “We’re out of weapons, our hyperdrive is dead and we’re on fire, but we still have sublight thrusters. Ram them.”

    It took a few seconds for his words to sink in. “No!” Ayesha screamed.

    Thrawn spun back to the ship-to-ship comm. “Captain Ruud, retreat to our hyperspace exit point and evacuate with your remaining crew. That is an order.” There was no answer. “Matthias, are you there?”

    “Goodbye, Thrawn,” Matt rasped after a silence. “Goodbye, Ayesha.” He coughed violently. “And thank you, Sir. It’s been an honour. Discipline out.”

    The comm went dead. Every man and woman on the Admonitor’s bridge stood up and watched in petrified horror as the giant, flaming dagger that was the Discipline shot past, driving hard towards the alien juggernauts. The helmsman was still adjusting the Star Destroyer’s course to better target the incoming craft. “Turbolasers hold,” Captain Niriz ordered quietly. “Make way for the Imperial Star Destroyer Discipline, commanded by Senior Captain Matthias Ruud.”

    The heavy disk-shaped warships could be seen manoeuvring ponderously to avoid the Star Destroyer, but the Discipline was coming in too fast. She ejected her last escape pods as her bow found its aim, and the explosion that followed was such that many a crewer aboard the Admonitor was thrown off his feet by the shock wave that swept over their ship. “Get back to your stations,” Thrawn said with deadly calm. “We still have a battle to win. Turbolasers, resume fire. Target anything hostile, however small. All ships, report.”

    The stunned silence was finally broken by Voss Parck. “Grey Wolf, standing by. We took some damage to our starboard flank, but we’re mostly here.”

    Thrawn’s glittering eyes swept the chaos of debris outside the viewport as more reports trickled in. There was a single enemy capital ship left standing, heavily damaged and venting its atmosphere in space, but some three hundred alien cruisers were still operational and the surviving triangular fighters had returned to join the battle, pursued by Fel’s TIE wing. His own fleet was nearly decimated, at less than a hundred ships, and the Admonitor herself was barely hobbling along. “All ships, you have fifteen minutes to take out as many enemy craft as you can before we pull out. Jump to the rendezvous point as soon as the Interdictor cruisers deactivate their gravity wells. Hangar bay, prepare to receive the TIE wing and clawcraft squadron. Emergency landings are authorized.”

    He had barely finished speaking when someone shouted “incoming!” from the portside crew pit. An enemy fighter was flying straight at the Star Destroyer, aiming for its bridge tower in a suicide run. A TIE Interceptor shot overhead to meet it. Laser bolts intermingled with magma beams, until the two small ships collided in a ball of flames. The TIE’s solar panel spun across space towards the Admonitor and hit her viewport, shattering it to a million pieces, and a hurricane-like gale swept across the bridge before the emergency blinders slid shut.

    “Interdictor cruisers, kill your gravity well projectors,” Parck commanded. “TIE wing, come home immediately. We’re jumping now. Admiral, do you copy?”

    Thrawn rubbed his eyes as he scrambled to his feet and found his hands covered in a thick, sticky red liquid that was streaming from his brow. Human and Chiss medics were running around with stretchers and med kits to tend to the wounded. Niriz was lying on the floor with Ayesha straddling his thighs, her small hands pressed to his heart. A distraught Ashi-Dilza was kneeling at her side, trying to wipe the blood dripping from her chin before it mixed with the Captain’s that was gushing through her fingers from the gaping hole in his chest. “Grand Admiral Thrawn, do you copy?”

    The tactical display showed the Talz and Grorandhim frigates pulling in the last escape pods while the TIE fighters and clawcraft zoomed into the Star Destroyers’ bellies. The gravity cones disappeared from the monitor and the green dots representing friendly ships started vanishing one after the other, signalling that they were jumping to hyperspace. “This is the Admiral,” Thrawn finally answered. “Grey Wolf, jump. We are right behind you.”

    * * *​

    When an exhausted-looking Thrawn returned to his quarters several hours later, he found Ayesha in the ‘fresher, rubbing her fingers frantically under the running water as if still trying to wash away some invisible blood. Thrawn himself was a mess, his uniform was crumpled and dirty and his head was smudged with a thick brown crust. The hardness of his expression transformed to deep sorrow when she turned around to look at him, revealing the bacta patches studding her face where Irang had removed the shards of transparisteel from the Admonitor’s viewport. Without saying a word, he brought his mouth crashing on hers as he lifted her in his arms, holding her in a brutal, bone-crushing embrace. It was as much an act of despair as an act of love, and, when he heard her moaning in pain even as she hugged him back, he continued cradling her against the sink, her arms and legs wrapped around him, his tears running on her shoulder as he hid his face in her neck to cry.

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

    Notes:

    Thrawn's strategy of using gravity well projectors to pull ships out of hyperspace at the desired exit point without having to calculate coordinates is established in both Outbound Flight and TTT. In OF in particular the strategy is shown to be useful in order to realise very short jumps that would otherwise be nearly impossible.

    The thermal bombs carried by pairs of clawcraft are also borrowed from OF (where they were carried by Trade Federation droid fighters) and the Caldorf IX missiles are adapted from Choices of One.

    As noted earlier in this thread, this story arc takes place nearly 20 years before Vector Prime, and any inaccuracies in the depiction of YV ships and weaponry should be chalked up to the idea that Vong technology evolved during this period.
     
  18. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Wow. That was one intense battle. I'm not even sure there was a winner.

    I kinda knew something like this was going to happen, when the prophetic foal was born. I knew it wasn't going to be Thrawn who died and I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be Parck, so that only left one other leader.

    I loved the alien fest in the last chapter, too, and each species' personalities were so well drawn I swear I could hear the clamor and babble as I read it.

    The recovery from this day's events will be difficult. This s a threat like none other, a people who not only don't care about the preservation of life but actively embrace the possibility of pain and suffering. They will stop at nothing because they fear nothing.
     
  19. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    =D= A very intense battle. I felt I was right there in the thick! A sign of superb writing skill. @};-

    I never made light of the prophecy/trepidation surrounding the foal but I knew the ones at the forefront of the battle had to continue regardless to put up a hard as possible fight because of the on-point observation diva made above.

    That kind of philosophy of your enemy - not valuing anything but suffering - and no moral boundary (we can't go that far) makes any victory of Thrawn's forces now (and the NR later) hard to gain and even harder to know when you've gotten it.

    [face_thinking]

    A personal and professional recovery will be long-in-coming and hard to define but that's when stubborn becomes tenacious. [face_love]
     
  20. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Oh no, dear old Matt! :_| And not just him and the crew of the Discipline (oh gosh, Valeria must be on there too...?), but also Vaantar and the Pride of Troukruka, and the Fearless Stromma. All these valuable allies picked off like flies by this horrible enemy... and we see just how horrible they are by the fact that Thrawn—THRAWN—sees no choice at the end of this battle but to retreat. :(

    It looks like we now know what the black foal will be named, and I'll be curious to see how the li'l fellow will carry on the legacy of this lost leader.

    And Thrawn, Ashi-Dilza, Niriz, and so many others are apparently badly injured (and Thrawn not that long after Cottle released him). The bleeding seems like it has come on spontaneously, which worries me greatly... are we seeing the results of yet another horrible trick by the YV? They really will stop at nothing, won't they? :eek:
     
    AzureAngel2, Chyntuck and divapilot like this.
  21. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! A few quick replies before I post the next chapter...
    I hope you're feeling better now -- although I'm sure your mom's visit worked wonders. Moms do that [:D] [face_love]


    Chapter 35
    Thrawn vs Cottle was just one of those scenes that I had to write even if they're not really necessary for the story. A contest of wills between these two is just too good to miss [face_laugh]

    About Directive 738, it was mentioned already in Part II (together with a bunch of other directives) when Ayesha is brought aboard the Admonitor and Thrawn becomes nearly catatonic. The general idea is that it allows a ship's second-in-command to relieve his superior officer from command when the superior officer isn't in a fit state to run the ship (that's paragraph auresh) and to confine him to his quarters if he's a threat to himself and/or to others (paragraph besh). There's also Directive 737, which Thrawn invokes in Part II to preempt Niriz, which allows the superior officer to remove himself from command voluntarily. The whole lot is stuff that I made up, and I'm kind of tempted to make it into a Fanon post -- although it would probably feel like writing a legal manual :p

    Chapter 36
    The Stromma are one of Timothy Zahn's inventions, and as alien species go I think it's the best one he created, even though it only appears in a short story. I love the concept of a species that is so intrinsically belligerent that they have to train an entire class of professionals in order to be able to talk with other species without going to war. It's not going to happen in this story of course, but one thing that would be fun to write would be a negotiation between the Stromma and the Yuuzhan Vong. There would be lots of body parts in the room at the end :p
    Ha. Stubbornness is such a recurring theme in this story that it could almost be the title. But then, if Thrawn and Ayesha weren't so stubborn, I probably wouldn't have a story at all ;)
    Unfortunately, Nuso Esva is such a megalomaniac that joining forces with anyone is not a concept for him -- which is a shame, since he is the second most brilliant strategist in the SW universe after Thrawn. And he'll be back soon... [face_whistling]

    As for the Viezothans, there really isn't much they can do to help Thrawn at this stage, other than telling him about life and death under the rule of the Far Outsiders. Throwing their hooves in the YV's chests on land is one thing, but there really isn't much they can do in a space battle. To them, an alliance with the EotH means that they get protection while the EotH gets a new outpost -- although all this is moot now that their planet is destroyed.
    Thank you! I put a lot of work in this scene, because I don't usually write about alien characters in so much detail -- I actually read and re-read a lot of Findswoman's stories, because she does such an amazing job at sprinkling the text with details to emphasise the characters' alienness. I'm happy it worked out :)

    Chapter 37
    Oh, there was definitely no real winner -- Thrawn did manage to take out the worldships, but it was really a Pyrrhic victory. He needs years to rebuild his fleet, and he doesn't know how many more YV ships may be coming and how soon. Plus, he lost a lot of very good people in this battle, and training more to replace them will also take a long time.

    As for the prophecy, it does become a self-fulfilling thing when you go into this sort of battle, doesn't it? More than one leader died when you think of it -- Vaantaar for instance, who was the commander of the Troukree task force, or the commanding officer of the Talz Liberty who appeared in chapter 36. And Captain Niriz isn't out of the woods yet either. Ashi-Dilza and her fellow head mares automatically assumed that it would be Thrawn, but they could name an entire generation of foals after all those who died in this battle.
    Oh, this was a battle that Thrawn couldn't not fight -- and the nature of the enemy will kind of convince him that any means are good enough if they help him win. But he knows that for now, he only really gave the YV a bloody nose, so he's already planning how he'll be back.
    On your last point, the bleeding just came from the shards of glass flying around the Admonitor's bridge when the viewport exploded (okay, I know that the laws of physics require that the glass be sucked into vacuum, but bear with me here :p) and from other debris that were carried by the atmosphere venting into space. But Thrawn realised that it took him just a little bit too long to order a retreat, and his crew paid the price. That's a mistake he won't make again if you look at the space battles in TTT -- although of course he will make other mistakes.

    And about what the little black foal will do... Now you gave me a plot bunny. I'm going to have to write that story someday :)

    Thanks again, everyone! Chapter 38 coming up straight away.
     
  22. 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 38: Obsession

    The atmosphere on the Admonitor was subdued as the remainder of the Imperial fleet limped back to Nirauan. Thrawn was particularly sombre, and Ayesha put up a brave face to keep him going. She only broke down once, when Commander Wes Deplat, who had been the Discipline’s second-in-command, came on board at the first rendezvous point and told her with deep emotion how his last image of his superior officer was Matt standing proudly on the Star Destroyer’s devastated bridge, ignoring the suffocating smoke emanating from the smouldering consoles, his chin raised in defiance as he stared at the approaching enemy ships while Valeria held his hand and smiled reassuringly at the helmsman who was taking them to their deaths. “I know it’s no consolation, Miss Eskari, but I can tell you that the Senior Captain won’t be forgotten. I heard one of the Grorandhim leaders, you know, those who look like giant hedgehogs, say that his people decided to rename their flagship the Matthias Ruud. They never met him, they weren’t even part of our task force, but they were already talking about it the moment I stepped out of the escape pod. They said that the name would remind them of the meaning of courage.”

    Ayesha was sobbing so hard that she fell to her knees, and LaRone politely steered Deplat away while Thrawn helped her to her feet and took her back to their quarters. He lay at her side and held her tightly, and even after she had wept herself to sleep, she was still clinging to him so fiercely that he had no choice but to remain there, rocking her back and forth like a small child and wiping away the tears that were still rolling on her cheeks.

    She spent most of her time in the sick bay, helping Doctor Cottle and his assistants relieve the pain and terror of the dozens of wounded that crowded the wards. Cottle was the most experienced physician in Thrawn’s fleet, and the most serious cases had been redirected to him while the lightly injured had been transferred to the Grey Wolf. The most difficult for her was to look after the Discipline’s survivors. They told her horror stories of fellow crewmen who had been blown to bits before being sucked into the vacuum of space, or who were injured so badly that they bled out to death in the escape pod while their friends prayed to whatever deity they believed in that a tractor beam would get hold of them and that they would not be left behind. They spoke of Matt with deep reverence, and the fact that she could never detect even a hint of resentment against Thrawn in what they had to say made her even more uncomfortable.

    “We should have no regrets, Ma’am,” one of the Discipline’s computer technicians told her once. “Captain Ruud made the right decision to scuttle the ship. The Far Outsiders will be back. If we’d abandoned the wreck for them to find, they would’ve studied it and found every weakness until our next battle.”

    She nodded and adjusted the bandages on the deep burns that covered the stump of his amputated arm. “He didn’t really have to remain on board for that, did he?” she whispered. “There’s got to be a self-destruct function somewhere.”

    The technician looked up. “There was a battle to win, Ma’am. And he was our Captain. He wasn’t going to give those orders to the helmsman without sharing his fate.”

    She nodded again and went to walk away. He caught her hand. “Listen to me, Ma’am. He did the right thing. The Grand Admiral is too important to lose. We would all have done the same thing, and many did – in their own capacity. Think of that TIE pilot. What he did was just as important as Captain Ruud. He just had a smaller ship.”

    For the first two weeks, Dagon Niriz’s life hung by a thread. Ashi-Dilza stood guard at the foot of his bacta tank, her eyes constantly fixed on the monitors – she could not understand the messages they conveyed, but she signalled any changes or irregularities to the medics, and when he was transferred to an intensive care cubicle she moved outside his door and resumed her silent vigil. The day finally came when Doctor Cottle allowed for a short visit, and Thrawn and Ayesha stepped inside. The Captain grabbed her fingers and squeezed them tightly as soon as she was within reach. “Thank you for saving my life,” he breathed.

    She shrugged and gave him a small smile. “How are you feeling?”

    He chuckled. “Awful. Cottle pulled about half a datacard filing cabinet out of my chest. But I have a shot at getting better, and I intend to make the most of it.”

    There was a silence. “Captain, I will make arrangements for you to return to the known Galaxy as soon as possible,” Thrawn said. “You have done your time here and –”

    Niriz raised a hand. “That’s not necessary, Sir. I’ll probably never command a ship again, but I can serve in a different capacity. Don’t count this old soldier out just yet. There is work to do.”

    The Admonitor was suffering mechanical failure after mechanical failure, and the journey home took longer than anticipated. Thrawn locked himself in his private study for hours on end, and every time Ayesha came to pick him up and insist that he needed to eat and rest she found him watching the footage of the battle in a loop, muttering to himself in Cheunh. “He needs to come out of there more often,” LaRone told her as they had dinner in the mess. “The crew never see him. It’s like he’s hiding.”

    She sighed. “I think that he is hiding, Daric. He feels that he failed.”

    “He didn't fail!” Quiller protested. “Okay, it wasn’t a neat victory like the ones he got us used to, but it wasn’t a defeat either. It will take the Far Outsiders years to reconstitute their fleet, and by then we’ll be ready to face them again.”

    “He feels that he failed our people,” she corrected. “We lost so many, so many ships, so many sentients – Vaantaar, Matt, the TIE pilot who saved our lives... So many who won’t ever go home. He never lost so many before. He keeps repeating that he went in unprepared and lost. He needed a bigger fleet – and information, more information.”

    LaRone put his hand over hers. “We’ll build a bigger fleet. The Talz are already discussing how to increase the capacity of their shipyards. Our allies aren’t giving up now that they know exactly what’s coming. But he needs to come out and be seen. Right now we have no captain, no admiral and our engines keep failing. The big boss is the chief engineer, and that’s bad for morale.”

    “And he needs to hold a ceremony for the fallen,” Brightwater piped up. “He needs to remind everyone that they didn’t die for nothing before depression settles in.”

    Ayesha sighed again. “I’ll talk to him.”

    She remained pensive for the rest of the meal, but by the time they were done she had made up her mind. When she went to Thrawn’s study later that evening, he was watching the tactical recording once more. She placed a sandwich and a mug of Forvish ale in front of him and, before he could protest, she switched off the holoprojector. “I want your permission to do something,” she said without preamble.

    He arched an eyebrow in question. “I want to make a monument to all those who died. Here, aboard the Admonitor. If only to engrave their names on the wall of the main hangar bay, so that the crew never forget what they’re up against.”

    He lowered his gaze to his desk. “So that I can never forget,” he whispered.

    She placed her fingers under his chin to bring his face back up. “No, you should never forget. You should never forget that these sentients followed you to the gates of Chaos. They don’t deserve a leader who hides to ruminate what could have been, they deserve a leader who looks to the future and makes sure that their sacrifice was worthwhile.”

    “They deserved a leader who did not sacrifice them,” he said softly.

    “You didn’t sacrifice them, Thrawn. They chose that path. They chose to follow you. Don’t belittle what they did. Yes, they should be mourned. But they should also be remembered and honoured.” She pointed at his plate. “Eat your food.”

    They sat in silence as he chewed his sandwich. “You know, you’ll never be able to gather more information about the Far Outsiders than what you already have,” she said after a while. “You can’t send a spy in their midst. But you’ll have a much bigger fleet soon. Daric told me the Talz are already planning for it.”

    He snorted. “Yes, I will have a bigger fleet. In a few decades. And then, unless I mobilise the entire population of the Unknown Regions – males, females, younglings, all sentients with lives and families that I will send to their deaths – I will not be able to crew the ships.”

    “You could install a slave circuit, like they did for the Katana fleet,” she pointed out.

    Thrawn smiled. “Are you aware that this specific task force vanished in a rather untimely fashion, Ayoo’sha?”

    She stuck out her tongue at him. “I’m old enough to remember that, you know. But you could build a fleet with more automated functions – or droids. Droids don’t have families.”

    He shook his head. “Droids are worthless combatants unless you have an unlimited supply of them. I do not even have foundries.”

    “No, you don’t,” she said slowly. “But the Emperor did.” He cocked an eyebrow in question again. She tapped her forehead. “He kept secret installations after the Clone Wars. Anakin knew it. He didn’t know where they are, but maybe that’s in the data you collected from the Listening Post. Or” – she took a deep breath – “maybe you can find it on Wayland. You know, in the place where he took me.”

    He stared at his plate for a moment. “The Clone Wars,” he muttered. “Wayland... Yes, I may be able to find that.” He looked up. “What do you need for that monument?”

    * * *​

    Ayesha spent the remainder of the journey in the hangar bay, engraving on the durasteel wall the names of the tens of thousands of warriors who had lost their lives since the fleet had left Nirauan. At first her insistence that the names should be carved by hand, one by one, attracted some odd looks – the quartermaster in particular was adamant that she would never finish if she didn’t make use of the droids he had put at her disposal – but as word spread across the fleet that she was creating a monument to the fallen, beings of all species came to her to thank her for her thoughtfulness and to offer to help. She showed them how to use the tools, and sometimes they used them to carve a single name, sometimes an entire list – Commander Deplat merely scratched the outline of the word ‘Discipline’ on the smooth surface before he broke down and had to excuse himself – but little by little the memorial began to take shape and it was well on track to be completed before the Admonitor reached its destination.

    “I don’t know what you told Thrawn, but it worked,” LaRone told her when he came to keep her company during lunch break. “He’s going full blast again and he’s even making plans for the future. We’ll drop the injured at Nirauan and we’ll go straight to New Alzoc for repairs. He wants to resume the campaign against Nuso Esva as soon as possible – he said that ‘the time has come to eliminate this thorn in our side’ – and then he wants to go to the known Galaxy. I think he’s going to assemble a larger force to fortify the Unknown Regions.”

    She took a bite from her sandwich and turned back to the wall. “I’m not sure how well it worked,” she mumbled. “Yes, he’s out there now, so that’s got to count for something. But he’s still completely obsessed with the Far Outsiders. The way he’s talking about them, you’d think they’re coming back tomorrow.”

    LaRone shrugged. “They could be. For all we know, thousands more of their ships are on their way in extra-galactic space. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

    She shook her head. “He isn’t just preparing, Daric. It’s on his mind all the time. I don’t know what convoluted schemes he’s hatching for what he’ll do in the known Galaxy, but it’s all about how to go back to where we came from and... I don’t know, wait for them with a couple of Death Stars?”

    “Come to think of it, a couple of Death Stars would be handy,” the stormtrooper chuckled. “Just send a few volleys of laser cannon at them and –”

    “Don’t joke about that,” she snapped. “Some aspects of the Empire that died with the Emperor should remain dead. I don’t want Thrawn to revive them, not even to win this war. Once you start down that path, there’s no going back. You’ve lost your soul.”

    LaRone gave her an uneasy look. “I was really just joking,” he said uncomfortably. “He’s not really planning to build a Death Star... is he?”

    She finished carving a Troukree name on the durasteel before returning to him. “Not a Death Star, no... but I think – no, I’m sure – that he’s planning something I won’t like. He has that look about him.”

    “What look?”

    “The look he has when he’s hiding something from me.” She looked back at the wall. “I need to finish this now, but I’ll talk to him again when we’re home.”

    The name memorial was completed as the Admonitor entered the final leg of its journey, and Ayesha spent the last jump through hyperspace creating the centrepiece of the monument, a panel with embossed palms, hooves, paws and claws that represented the various species that had stood at Thrawn’s side during the battle. Arrangements were made for the ceremony to be held when the fleet regrouped in orbit above Nirauan, and one hundred and twenty days after the fleet had departed on its fateful expedition to the edge of the Galaxy, she followed the flow of sentients that were heading to the hangar bay to attend the unveiling of the wall and listen to the Grand Admiral’s speech.

    She knew that the Admonitor had a crew of tens of thousands, but it was the first time she had the opportunity to see for herself just how many they were. The gigantic hall was packed with row upon row of soldiers and crewers and more were crammed in the adjacent hallways, but she had also noticed on the way down that every space where people could congregate on a Star Destroyer – the mess halls, the training rooms, the bridge and the secondary decks – were just as crowded, and she knew that myriads more sentients were standing to attention on the Grey Wolf and on every other ship of the fleet, waiting for Thrawn to address them. “You know, I’m beginning to understand his single-mindedness,” she whispered to LaRone as they took their places in the back, near the injured who would be loaded on the dropships when the ceremony was over. “We are so many already, and we couldn’t win. It will really take the whole Galaxy to fight back.”

    The stormtrooper placed an armoured arm around her shoulders. “But we will win in the end,” he said. “We’ll win, because there is no other choice.”

    He stiffened to attention again as Thrawn took the stand and began his eulogy. He was speaking in his crisped, clipped military tones, but she could sense the thread of sorrow in his words as he thanked the crews of the surviving ships. He then proceeded to list the craft that had been lost, together with their homeworlds. His voice broke when he reached the Discipline, and Ayesha saw him hesitate before he laid down his datapad and looked at the assembly.

    “Some of you may not know that Matthias Ruud and his wife Valeria Dalissis were not only valued members of this fleet,” he said slowly. “Many years ago, long before we ever encountered the Far Outsiders, they asked my lifemate and me to be the best sentients for their wedding. For the Chiss, bearing witness in this fashion constitutes an unbreakable bond, a bond that is not rescinded even in death. Matthias and Valeria were family, and the Far Outsiders have taken my family from me – as they have for many of you, and for more of your kind who do not know yet that their loved ones are not coming back.” He paused. “Yet their deaths were not in vain. We may not have vanquished the Far Outsiders, but we did deal them a blow that will slow their infiltration of our Galaxy for at least a decade. Now it is for us to train, equip and arm ourselves in such a way that we can confront them again in the future – but also to rebuild the families we have lost and to remember those who gave their lives for us.” He gestured towards the back wall. “Their names are here, all of them. We will see them every time we board this ship, but we should also think of them every time we invoke warrior’s fortune to smile upon our efforts – and in my heart, in my mind, warrior’s fortune has the somewhat irreverent smile of Senior Captain Matthias Ruud.”

    He allowed for a minute’s silence before giving a crisp salute and motioning for the crowd to make way for the wounded. The rows parted neatly to open a passage, and Captain Niriz was seen directing his hoverchair towards the memorial. He laid his hand over one of the embossed paws, muttered a few words to himself and moved on, followed by a long line of crippled crewmen of all species who knew that they would not be able to serve on the Star Destroyer anymore. Rukh closed the march. He placed his fighting sickle on the floor as an offering, plugged the breathing tube that emerged from his throat with a finger and mewled a few irate words in his mother tongue before boarding the dropship that would take him to the Fortress of the Hand.

    It took several hours to transfer to the planet all those who wouldn’t remain on the Star Destroyer, and it was late in the evening when the Baratta finally dropped Thrawn and Ayesha on Nirauan. “I will spend the night here and return to the Admonitor tomorrow,” he told her as they stripped off their clothes and headed for the ‘fresher. “I only want to collect a few items, but there is no point in doing it so late at night.”

    “We will both return to the Admonitor tomorrow,” she corrected. “I’m staying with you.” He opened his mouth to speak. “You’re the only family I have left and I’m the only family you have left, Thrawn. Don’t even try to discuss it. I’m staying with you. Now, tomorrow and forever. I’ll sit in your quarters and I won’t disturb you because I know how much you have to do. But for tonight, just for one night, you’re going to forget about the Far Outsiders and be with your lifemate. Just for tonight, you’re going to remember that you still have one family member who loves you and won’t leave your side.”

    She pulled him to stand with her under the steaming water and held him tightly. Soon the touch of his hands was hungry, his kisses were demanding, almost aggressive, and his entire body was rippling against hers. She was abandoning herself to blissful oblivion when he suddenly interrupted the proceedings and dropped to his knees. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his head on her chest to listen to her heart, as if to verify that she was alive. “They will not hurt you, Ayoo’sha,” she heard him whisper in Cheunh. “They will never hurt you again. I will not allow it.”

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

    Notes: I'm sure everyone already knows about the Katana fleet and Wayland and the role they'll play in TTT, but I'm putting the links here just in case. The idea of what constitutes family for the Chiss is a minor extrapolation of what we know about them from Legends material.
     
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

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

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderful and touching about Matt. [face_love] [face_love] (Still reminding me of Kirk and in a splendiferous way.) ^:)^

    The Name Monument and Thrawn's speech =D= !!!!

    But this:

    “No, you should never forget. You should never forget that these sentients followed you to the gates of Chaos. They don’t deserve a leader who hides to ruminate what could have been, they deserve a leader who looks to the future and makes sure that their sacrifice was worthwhile.” Fantabulous!

    So also something Mara would say to Luke, would have to say. :p [face_love]

    The final paragraph - had me melting! Natch. [:D]
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  24. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Notes: I'm sure everyone already knows about the Katana fleet and Wayland and the role they'll play in TTT, but I'm putting the links here just in case. The idea of what constitutes family for the Chiss is a minor extrapolation of what we know about them from Legends material.

    I always think that you carefully & brilliantly weave EU facts & figures into your story. The links you make are always stunning and seem true to me. @};-
     
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  25. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Okay, this is just a quick note until I have a chance to read this whole thing and all the backstory. I don't know these characters, and that usually stops me from getting into something. Plus, i'm not into romance at all. But this story is great. This is so well-written with just enough psychological insight into the characters to make it a very riveting story. Once I am on a real computer instead of this handheld, I will write a more substantial commentart. But I wanted to say well done for interesting me in a tale that isn't chock full o' clones!