Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Chyntuck, Oct 6, 2014.
Findswoman, I like your Rebellion theory...
Oh my, can't wait to see what happens next!
And your theory will be confirmed if you scroll down a bit
I'm happy this story could keep you company these days
I actually like quite a few Imperials -- like Piett, Voss Parck, Soontir Fel etc. The two that really give me the creeps are Palps (of course) and Tarkin.
Argh, I saw that I just missed your JCF birthday! Never mind, I'll write another mushy chapter for you.
The nice thing about being on the same side of the Atlantic is that you don't have to wait too long
So here we go. Chapter 26.
Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma Mando-Man Raissa Baiard
Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the tag list.
And as usual, thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.
Chapter 26: Qumawarat
They got off the turbolift on a floor towards the middle of her skyscraper and took a public shuttle, then a maglev, then pulled up the hoods of their jackets and took another turbolift into the depths of Coruscant. They were now in the lower Mid-Levels of a majority-alien district and the atmosphere had become distinctly seedy. Ayesha headed for a deserted alley where a hole in the wall had been plugged with duracrete. She swung the plug, revealing nearly invisible hinges, and pushed Thrawn through the opening before closing it carefully again. They soon reached yet another, smaller turbolift tucked away between two buildings. It stank of the urine, sweat and excrement of a dozen different alien species. Ayesha extracted her balaclava from her pocket and pulled it over her face as they rode down. She gestured for Thrawn to do the same, and for good measure drew his hood over his head to hide the glow of his eyes in its folds. When the door slid open, they were in the bowels of the city. The stench of rotting garbage, toxic refuse and what may well have been putrescent corpses was suffocating, the alleys were narrow and dark with only the occasional light of a half-broken glow panel, and there were shadows lurking in every corner.
Ayesha took a cautious look around and led Thrawn through a complex system of stairs, ramps and passageways. She was moving swiftly and silently like a hunter in the wild, making use of every nook and cranny to remain unnoticed. She glanced a few times over her shoulder and at one point dragged him hastily in a side alley, standing with her back flat against the wall. A silhouette that was very human in shape and size passed by quickly, as if in a hurry. She peered around the corner to make sure that the man was gone, then led Thrawn to another passageway and pulled a bundle of monofilament from her satchel. “Are you okay with a bit of rappelling?” she whispered. “It’s better if we go this way.” He nodded in a curt, military gesture. She tied the monofilament to the railing in a complicated knot and dropped one level down. Thrawn followed and she gave the rope a few well-placed tugs until it fell in her hand. She put it away carefully, then started walking again, and, a few twists and turns later, they reached a door on a small platform. She punched a code in the key panel and it slid open.
A middle-aged man who appeared far more tired and troubled than his years was sitting at a desk, absorbed in his datapad. Behind him was a Twi’lek woman in an armchair. She had clearly been very beautiful, but her face was entirely blank, as if her personality had been wiped out. Ayesha took a step inside, pulling Thrawn behind her, and said, “Hi, Simon.”
The man named Simon stood up. He was wearing the white blouse of a doctor. He pointed his chin at Thrawn. “Who’s this?”
“He’s with me,” Ayesha said. The doctor gave her an inquisitive look. “He’s with me,” she repeated. “Is anyone else here?”
“Just Uumana and Dex.”
Ayesha pulled her balaclava off her head and Thrawn went to do the same, but she held his hand. “Not you. We don’t show faces or use names here, except Simon, Uumana, Old Dex and me because we already know each other.” She looked at the Twi’lek woman and asked, “Still nothing?”
Simon’s jaw tightened. “Nothing. Those drugs don’t work for her.”
Ayesha crouched in front of the Twi’lek and caressed her face and lekku, whispering gently as if hoping for a reaction. The Twi’lek didn’t even bat an eyelid. Ayesha sighed, turned to the desk and picked up the datapad. “What do we have?”
“Not much,” the doctor said. “A bunch of Twi’leks, a Mon Calamari, three Gamorreans and two Wookiees. We just got the new sedatives so everyone is asleep or at least very drowsy, except the Wookiees. Dex is working on them. I’m going to operate on the Rodian kid with the broken leg, so you two are on your own for the next hour.”
Ayesha scanned the datapad. “It’s okay, I think we can handle it. The Gamorreans don’t even have chips. I’ll see you later. With a bit of luck you can even get some sleep.”
She took Thrawn’s hand and led him through a corridor to a large room that looked like a hospital ward. There were rows of beds along the walls and, on every bed, there was an alien. A Besalisk was towering over a sleeping Twi’lek girl, his four massive arms handling a variety of medical and computer equipment. He gave Ayesha a wide, toothy grin. “Hi there, lil’ one,” he said in a cheerful bass voice. “I see you brought us company, that’s a first.”
She smiled back. “Just for tonight, Old Dex.”
The Besalisk laughed. “I toldja not to call me old in front o’ people.”
“That’ll happen when Hutts ride swoops,” she said with a grin, “or when you stop calling me lil’ one, which is the same.” Her face suddenly became serious. “Old Dex, the guy who’s been sneaking on us is still out there. And he was much closer today.”
Dex frowned. “This ain’t good. I sent my people after ‘im but they always come up dry. But we’ll get ‘im in the end.” He gestured towards the aliens in the beds. “You ready to get started? The Mon Cal’s taken care of ‘n’ I got the Twi’leks under control, but I’m havin’ trouble understandin’ the Wookiees ‘n’ I ain’t got no clue where they escaped from.”
She nodded and went to a locker to drop her satchel and jacket and take a handheld scanner and a datapad similar to those Dex was holding. Thrawn followed her. “What is this place, Ayoo’sha?” he asked in a whisper. “Who are these people?”
She saw bewilderment in his eyes when she looked up at him. “They’re runaway slaves. We bring them here so Simon can look after them and we deactivate their chip. Then another group takes them home.”
His eyebrow arched under the balaclava. “Chip?”
“Some slavers embed an explosive chip in the sentients they capture to prevent them from escaping,” she explained. “You should know that, the Empire does it. But we usually manage to slice the code before they activate. I can tell you more later, I need to work.”
Thrawn watched silently as she took her equipment to the nearest Wookiee, an adult female by the looks of it. The bed next to hers was occupied by a pup perhaps nine or ten years old, but he was already taller and larger than a grown man. Both were in a pitiful state; their hide was sagging on their bones and their fur was dirty and matted, with tufts missing in places. Ayesha pulled a stool between the two beds and started speaking softly to the mother. The female Wookiee growled a long response and Ayesha said, “I understand, Qumawarat. We’ll find a way.” She picked her handheld scanner. “Do you know where your chip is?” Qumawarat hit a paw to her chest. “I’m going to look for it, okay?”
The Wookiee let out a long howl and waved her paw at the bed behind Ayesha, who nodded in assent. She asked a few more questions and spun on her stool to face the pup. “Hey, little guy,” she said with a kind smile. “Don’t be afraid. You’re safe now and I’m going to take good care of you, and then I’ll look after your Ata’.” She caressed his head until the glitter of terror disappeared from his beady eyes, then started moving the scanner above him until it beeped. She took a small device from the bedside table, clasped it to a vertical bar hanging from the ceiling and activated it. A thin laser beam appeared. She focused it on a spot on the side of the Wookiee’s chest, all the while looking at her datapad, and began reading the flow of symbols on the screen while Dex worked his way through the last of the sleeping Twi’leks.
“Old Dex, can you have a look?” she asked after a while. “This is Imperial code but I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Besalisk came and glanced at the datapad over her shoulder. “This one’s gonna be a tough nut to crack,” he grumbled. “Did she say where they escaped from?”
“They were being transferred from one of the orbital platforms when they managed to slip away. She doesn’t know which one,” Ayesha replied. She then stood on the tip of her toes to whisper in his ear, “It’s a miracle they didn’t activate yet. They were running for hours before our guys found them. And whoever came up with this is a real son of a Sith. The chip is embedded under his ribs.”
Dex growled something in his mother tongue that Ayesha and Thrawn didn’t understand but it definitely sounded very rude. “I s’pose I better get started on the mother then. We’ll figure it out, lil’ one, dontcha worry.”
He repeated the same procedure as Ayesha with the female Wookiee, joking with her in his deep voice to reassure her, and he and Ayesha worked in silence on their datapads for a long while. Ayesha was becoming a little nervous as she keyed commands to no avail, until her datapad suddenly froze. “I got it,” she blurted, “I think I got it.” She stared at the screen for a few seconds with a cautious smile, but the flow of symbols resumed and her shoulders sagged. “Where’s that slicer when you need him?” she muttered under her breath. “This is like cupping water, the code’s changing all the time and he’s not even around.”
“The man just spent three days in ‘ere with us,” Dex chided. “Three days with ‘is mask on. Give ‘im a break.” A wailing alarm interrupted him and red lights started flashing above both Wookiees. “They activated. Blast room, now!”
Ayesha sprang to her feet and they wheeled the two beds hurriedly down a corridor to a room with thick walls. There was a waist-high, hollow duracrete cube in a corner, and a blast-proof transparisteel panel on one side, behind which sophisticated computers were blinking. She re-set the laser beams over the Wookiees’ chests while Dex left and reappeared behind the control room window. “How long do we have?” she called.
“Twenty minutes, give or take,” Dex’s voice came over the intercom. “I need to calibrate.” He turned his gaze to the monitors and started busying himself with the keyboards.
Ayesha looked at Thrawn, her face contorted in despair. “Do you know how to slice this code?”
“I wish I did, Ayoo’sha,” he breathed. “I truly wish I did.”
She sighed, then straightened her posture as if making up her mind. “I’ll go in manually then.”
“Ayesha, you can’t do that,” Dex barked, his eyes still on the computers. “The sedatives we got don’t work on Wookiees.”
She turned to Thrawn. “Did you bring your blaster?” He nodded. “Stun them. Three shots to the head should do.” He hesitated. “Stun them,” she ordered again. “You promised.”
Thrawn pulled his blaster from the back of his belt, checked the setting and shot the pup three times. He then turned to the female. She let out a series of angry grunts and waved at her son. He looked at Ayesha questioningly. “Forget it,” she said. “She wants to know that her son is safe. I’ll take care of her afterwards. Help me with this instead.”
She pulled a set of light, flexible armour from a locker and slipped it on with quick, practiced moves. Thrawn was clasping the helmet in place when Dex looked up. “There ain’t time, lil’ one,” he growled over the comm. “Get outta there.”
She swiftly pushed Thrawn out of the room and slammed her hand on the blast door lever before turning to the transparisteel panel. “I can do this, Old Dex. You know I can. I’m not losing another one.” Thrawn had found his way to the control room and appeared at Dex’s side. “You keep an eye on the monitors for any surges and Qubshi be-khadeeb will tell me the time.”
Dex punched a few keys on the console and sighed. “Crazy kid locked the door from the inside,” he grumbled. “All we can do now is sit ‘n’ wait.” He flipped a switch and a countdown timer appeared, reading nine minutes. “You watch this,” he told Thrawn. “You give ‘er the time every minute. Got it?”
Thrawn watched as Ayesha brought a tray of surgical tools to a table near the pup and shaved the fur off his ribcage before opening him up. She pulled the skin apart and started exploring the underside of his ribs with cautious fingers. The deafening silence was broken only by Thrawn’s voice as he announced the minutes ticking by. There were less than three minutes left now and a string of curses was flowing through her lips when Simon barged into the control room. “What in the blue blazes do you think you’re doing?” he thundered. “I go to fix the Rodian’s leg and you let her in there?”
The Besalisk held his four hands palms upwards in a gesture of surrender. “You know the kid. Crazy ‘n’ stubborn like ‘er uncle.”
The doctor shot him a furious look. “Two minutes,” Thrawn said.
Simon banged on the transparisteel window. “Ayesha, listen to me. You have to come out now.”
“Shut up,” she snapped without raising her head. “Just shut up. I can do this.” Her small hands were moving frantically now inside the Wookiee pup’s chest.
Simon gazed at her for a while and turned to Thrawn. “You! Say something!”
Thrawn didn’t even look at him, his eyes glowing intensely as he stared at Ayesha. His jaw was trembling. “One minute,” he called tightly, then breathed, in a barely audible whisper, “Ayoo’sha, please...”
She suddenly shouted in triumph and inserted surgical tweezers under the Wookiee’s rib, extracting a tiny chip. “I got it,” she said. “I got it!” She dumped the chip inside the duracrete cube.
Ayesha turned to the Wookiee mother. “I’m so sorry,” she said, but Qumawarat smiled and gave her a grateful growl.
Qumawarat curled up on her side after a last glance at her son. Ayesha lay down on the pup’s open chest, wrapping herself protectively around him with arms and legs, and the room exploded in a pandemonium of gore, one chip scorching the duracrete cube and the other tearing the Wookiee mother apart.
There was a long silence. “Open the door now, Ayesha,” Simon finally said. “Open the door. I’ll take it from here.”
She staggered to her feet and the two men and the Besalisk rushed in. Simon started busying himself with the Wookiee pup immediately while Dex set about cleaning the room after handing Thrawn a pair of heavy-duty gloves. He helped Ayesha out of the bloodstained armour without saying a word. They then followed Simon back to the corridor as he wheeled the bed to a small room, and waited outside while the doctor hooked his patient to a series of monitors.
Dex had joined them by the time Simon came out. “Will he be alright?” Ayesha asked anxiously.
The doctor sighed. “I can’t tell yet. He’s very weak and he lost a lot of blood. I don’t have painkillers that’ll work on him and our bacta capsule is way too small. We’d need a full-size tank for him. But you did a good job, all things considered.” He gestured towards the room. “The stun blast is wearing off and he’ll be awake any time now. You should go in, at least you understand what he says. Be warned, he’ll be in terrible pain.”
Ayesha sat at the Wookiee’s side and waited in silence. A few minutes later, the pup stirred. “Hey, little guy, welcome back,” she said softly, stroking his head. “How are you feeling?” The Wookiee grunted in pain. “I know, it hurts. But we’re going to take care of you and you’ll be okay.” The Wookiee suddenly looked around and tried to sit up. She pushed him back gently and he growled a question. “I’m sorry. There wasn’t enough time for your Ata’. I’m so, so sorry,” she repeated as the pup let out a howl of bereavement. “But we’ll make sure you’re okay, and then we’ll take you back to Kashyyyk, and you can take your Trials and hunt and play in the trees. Do you remember the trees?” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she continued whispering in the pup’s ear while the two men and the Besalisk looked on from the hallway.
Dex turned to Thrawn. “You’re ‘er man,” he said without preamble. Thrawn looked at him questioningly, tilting his head slightly to the side. “She changed, ‘bout a year ‘n’ a half ago. Became happier. I knew there’s a man involved. I known ‘er since she was a tiny lil’ thing like this” – he held the hand of his lower arm to the height of his hip – “‘n’ I never saw ‘er shine that way before.”
“You were the owner of the diner,” Thrawn said.
“She toldja that, didn’t she? Crazy Quin brought ‘er over, she was in a right state, I can tellya. Ate like there was no tomorrow.”
Simon interrupted him to give Thrawn an angry look. “Can’t you stop her from pulling these stunts?”
Thrawn sighed as if he were carrying a massive weight on his shoulders. “She made me swear a life-oath. To keep the secret, to obey her instructions tonight and not to interfere in the future.”
Dex looked at him for a long moment. “She gotcha cornered real good.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. “Dontcha worry, though,” he added reassuringly. “It ain’t like this every day. It’s been months since it last happened, but it was a Wookiee again ‘n’ that kinda gets ‘er in a tizzy.”
Simon shrugged in disgust. “Take her home. The Wookiee pup needs to rest, and she won’t be doing anything else tonight. I’d normally force her in a bed here, but you can manage that at least.”
Wonderful, wonderful!! The fast pacing and the attempts at recovering and deactivating chips for slaves. Ayesha is a true marvel, but I know that loss hit doubly hard. Tragic tales of struggle, as exemplified by the Twi'lek who is still not responding to stimuli.
Oh wow... you left me speechless, and not many manage to do that... just wonderful!
Wow, what a powerful chapter! I feel so sorry for Ayesha and the poor Wookiee pup.
I wonder if this group had anything to do with the earlier slave raid and not-so-unfortunate death of the Zygerrian owner?
Nice to see our old friend Dex. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan would surely approve of their friend's sideline
Thank you all for reading and reviewing and sorry for the lack of individual replies. This is a crazy busy day and if I don't post now, I won't post at all.
Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma Mando-Man Raissa Baiard
Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the tag list.
And warm thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.
Chapter 27: The bacta tank
Thrawn’s warm hands gently pulled Ayesha up by the shoulders and she left the Wookiee’s side to follow him to the corridor. “His name is Chemayyano,” she told Simon and Dex. “Chemayyano, of the tribe of the High Clouds of Palsaang.” She fetched her satchel and jacket from her locker and, after a long, lingering look at the expressionless Twi’lek sitting in the entrance, she led Thrawn out of the facility and into the darkness of the Underlevels.
They took a different route to leave, hugging the walls as they walked for a few minutes on the same level before she ushered Thrawn up a spiral staircase. She went to follow him but a hand grabbed her wrist and pulled her back brutally. A durasteel-strong arm wrapped around her chest, immobilizing her, and a voice hissed in her ear, “I got you now, schutta.”
Her heel slammed the man’s toes viciously. He gasped in pain and slightly loosened his grip. She contorted her body like a snake, escaping him in one fluid, gracious move, then pirouetted and circled around him, landing with her feet solidly planted apart. Her hand reached for the ryyk blade in her boot, but he had already spun around and was pointing a nasty-looking blaster at her. She’d barely caught a glimpse of the bony spurs protruding from his chin when his head abruptly twisted to the side with a loud crack and he crumpled to a heap on the ground, revealing two glowing spots of molten lava hovering in the shadows. “Are you alright?” Thrawn asked.
“Thanks,” she whispered shakily. She unclasped the dead Zygerrian’s utility belt and folded it in her satchel, then dragged the corpse to the edge of the passageway and pushed it into the gaping abyss of the Underlevels. A dull thud echoed between the buildings. She took Thrawn’s hand and started moving again up the stairs, through the ramps and turbolifts until they slipped through a crack in a wall and reached a commuter hub. They removed their balaclavas before boarding a first shuttle, then got off to walk to another hub. She darted briefly in a side alley and discarded the utility belt in a garbage bin after shredding its contents, and they made their way back to her apartment without any further incident.
She went straight to the kitchen counter, poured herself a glass of cortyg brandy and downed it in a single gulp. She then poured another one for herself and one for Thrawn, and they sat on the bar stools, back in the exact same place where they had been a few hours earlier, but Thrawn’s eyes, which had then been inquisitive, were now swirling with more questions than he had words for. She waited patiently as he stared at her. His gaze finally wandered to the statue of the Twi’lek Dancer and he began uncertainly.
“The Twi’lek woman,” he said, “the one with the blank face. She was your model.”
She smiled with infinite sadness. “Yes, Uumana. She was a magnificent dancer. She’s Simon’s wife.”
“What happened to her?”
“We don’t know. She went missing for a few months four years ago and when Simon found her again, her mind was broken,” she said. She hesitated and added nervously, “I think a Dark Side Force user did it to her, but please don’t ask me why.” She paused. “Simon is trying to treat her, but he hasn’t found a way yet. But I’m sure he’ll figure it out, he’s a very good doctor and he loves her very much.”
Thrawn nodded. “Is she the one who introduced you to him?”
“Yes. It was my second year in the Academy. They had this advocacy group against slavery and I joined them. When we saw that advocacy was getting us nowhere, Old Dex helped us set up the Centre. He’d been hiding in the Underlevels for many years already and he had all the connections we needed.”
“Why was he hiding?”
“He was close to many Jedi and he opposed the fall of the Old Republic. When Chancellor Palpatine proclaimed himself Emperor, Old Dex erased himself from all the records and went in hiding. He never leaves the Centre now. After Uumana was... was broken, Simon faked his own death and moved there with her. It’s hard for them to be cooped up all the time, but at least they can keep each other company and they’re safe.”
“Is that why they do not hide their faces?”
“Yes. Everyone else remains anonymous, even me when other volunteers are there. I don’t like it because it’s scary for the...” – she searched for the right word – “... for the runaways when we’re wearing masks, but Old Dex is right. It’s safer that way. If someone gets caught we can’t betray each other, and if the Centre is found we’ll be able to go and set up another one elsewhere.”
There was a long silence. “You were very nearly found tonight,” Thrawn said.
“Yes,” she breathed. “The Zygerrians have been on our tail since we helped with the mass breakout of their slaves last year before the festival. Well, not really with the breakout, we just tipped off the Inter-Species Equality Network and we took in a group of dancers until they could go home. Zygerrian slavers brand sentients instead of using chips, like me” – she pointed at her shoulder – “so there wasn’t much to do. We had a good time, actually, they danced for us,” she added with a small smile before becoming serious again. “We saw the end of our Zygerrian trouble tonight,” she said in an uncharacteristically hard tone. “Thank you.”
Thrawn merely nodded again and stared at her intensely for a long moment, then shook his head. “What?” she asked a little impatiently.
To her great surprise, he smiled. “I met an entirely different person tonight, Ayoo’sha. You will forgive me if I need some time to process this information. I always knew that there is more to you than meets the eye – you are so fragile yet so strong – but this?” He shook his head again in disbelief. “I do not even know where to begin. I was simply in awe when I saw you weave your way with such ease through those dark alleys. I was not aware that you know rappelling or hand-to-hand combat, I was not aware that you are a slicer, I was not aware that you are a medic. You came across as better trained than many an Imperial stormtrooper.”
She gave a short bark of a laugh. “No I’m not. It’s all just bits and pieces. I used to live in Invisec, you know.” He cocked an eyebrow. “The Invisible Sector, or the Alien Protection Zone, as the Empire likes to call it,” she explained disdainfully. “I’d been in that area for several months when Khaleen found me, and I can tell you things weren’t any different under the Old Republic. It wasn’t walled off at the time, but I was really lucky I never got into serious trouble and sometimes I had to do things that... that weren’t very pretty to survive. But in a way, I can handle it better now because moving around the Underlevels isn’t that different from hunting on Kashyyyk. Rabarruk would take me along when I was a kid, so I learned from him. He also taught me some wrestling techniques and how to fight with a ryyk blade.” She stopped to take a breath. “As for slicing, I really don’t know much at all, I’m actually embarrassingly useless with a computer. We have an expert slicer who set up a series of protocols and we just run through them. All slave chips tend to be similar in design, so one or another of his methods will usually work.” Her face darkened. “But Imperial code is difficult. Our slicer is trying hard, but keeping on top of things isn’t easy.”
“What of your medic skills?” Thrawn prompted.
She shrugged. “I watched Simon do it and I did the same. I can’t tell a lung from a liver, but I learned basic muscle and skeletal anatomy for sculpture and the chips are usually embedded in a bone, so once you spot them with the scanner, it’s not so difficult. But what they did to those Wookiees...” Her voice trailed off. “Some people take a perverse pleasure in hurting others,” she breathed, visibly struggling to keep herself together.
There was another silence. “It was a brave thing you did, Ayoo’sha,” Thrawn finally said. “It was foolhardy and I cannot say that I like it. Your friend the doctor does not like it either. But it was generous and brave.”
She looked at him with tears in her eyes, suddenly seeming very vulnerable. “I have to do it, Thrawn. I have to. I can’t just let them live that horrible life or die that horrible death, you saw Qumawarat...”
He held up his hand. “I understand, Ayoo’sha. I understand better than you seem to believe.” He paused for a moment, then continued cautiously. “I swore not to interfere and I will keep my word, but for my own peace of mind, will you promise me to... to be very careful when you go there?”
Tears were now rolling down her cheeks but she took his hand and placed her palm over his. “I promise,” she said as firmly as she could. “Can we go to bed now? I’m tired. This really was a rough night.”
Thrawn held her back. “I have one more question, then I will let you rest.” There was a hesitation in his tone that made her look at him curiously. He took a deep breath, as if making up his mind. “Is your Centre affiliated with the Rebellion?”
She stared at him, stunned, and laughed bitterly. “Next time you put on the big ‘you’re not telling me something’ show, remind me first that you’re an Imperial officer,” she spat, and she went to walk away.
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. “Ayoo’sha, I gave you my word. I swore a life-oath. If that is not enough, please tell me how I can at long last earn your trust.”
Pain was palpable in his voice and plainly written on his face. Ayesha’s eyes suddenly filled with a whirlwind of fear, remorse and self-loathing, and she burst into sobs. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest. “Calm yourself, Ayoo’sha. Calm yourself. As you said, you had a rough night. You saw a sentient being, a mother, die a gruesome death and you nearly lost your life yourself, not once but twice. You are afraid and you are exhausted.” He pulled back a little and lifted her chin, silencing her mumbled apologies with a finger on her lips. “Do not blame yourself and listen to me. I am not as rigid an Imperial as I may appear. There are some things that I find utterly repugnant in my work for the Empire and I have bent and even broken the rules more than once when they were, shall we say, distasteful. I understand now the many reasons why you did not want to tell me about this activity of yours, and in a sense you were right. But you were also underestimating me.” He wiped the tears off her cheeks and continued. “I know that you do not want me to be overprotective of you, and you know that I will do everything within my ability to protect you nevertheless. However, you must understand that, unless I am very well prepared, there is precious little I will be able to do if you are found to be connected with the Rebellion.”
“We’re not,” she finally croaked. “Not that I know at least – maybe some people are, I don’t know everything. But I don’t think it would make a difference if we’re caught.”
“You will not be caught,” Thrawn said firmly. “Come with me now.” He took her to the ‘fresher, removed her clothes, stripped off his own and pulled her under the shower. She remained perfectly still as he bathed her. He caressed her body with the soft sponge as if she were a statue of precious crystal, lingering ever so slightly on the Zygerrian brand on her shoulder as if to wash away a stain. He then wrapped her in a towel and laid her carefully on the bed before entwining himself around her and lulling her to sleep.
* * *
When Ayesha returned from her next shift at the Centre in the small hours of the morning the following week, she found Thrawn sleeping in her room. She had given him a key card to her apartment – “I have nothing else to hide from you, Qubshi be-khadeeb,” she told him, “the Centre was the only reason I hadn’t given you a key yet” – and she had convinced him to let himself in without ringing the doorbell, at least when he arrived in the middle of the night. Thrawn stirred drowsily when she stepped in and she thought that she heard him breathe a sigh of relief. He was fast asleep again when she finally slipped under the covers. She never took her eyes off him until he got up to leave to the Palace. She watched him with silent gratitude as he dressed, and once he was gone, she summoned the mental image of Chemayyano the Wookiee pup floating in the Imperial-issue bacta tank that had somehow materialized one morning on the small platform in front of the Centre’s door.
A/N: The story of how Dexter Jettster joined the Erased can be found in the novel The Last of the Jedi: Underworld.
Chyntuck - I love - love this chapter. Thrawn's giftt of the bacta tank and his words to her. Liked reading more of how the center started and wow! Simon and the dancer ... now we know where the inspiration for that sculpt came from.
Cushy would adore just flat out adore your Thrawn. Has the multilayered complexity. (I know I do!)
*starting this, at last, quietly posting to subscribe - expect A LOT of derailing comments to earler chapters *
W. O. W. In both these chapters we really see some amazing new sides of Ayesha—color me just as awed as her qubshi be-khadeeb.
26: Love how this chapter takes us to a setting different from any other in the whole story so far—the underground clinic and lab where Simon and co. do their heroic work. So so sad about Qumawarat—that part just about had me in tears. Ayesha was so brave to go to the lengths that she did for both Wookiees, even to the point of risking her own life. At least it paid off in the case of her son, but I can only imagine how he must feel with the prospect of going back to his homeworld without his beloved Ata’; no doubt even the trees will no longer be the same. You really captured the bittersweet realism inherent in all heroic efforts of this type.
27: What a close call with the Zygerrian! Quick thinking by both Ayesha and Thrawn there. Like I said, I'm as amazed as Thrawn is to see Ayesha's array of talents at work here. Uumana's case is very sad too; I hope there will be hope for the lovely lady who served as Ayesha's model, and I admit I'm curious as to which Dark Side adept might have been the one to put her in her current state... The connection to the Rebellion was a point of curiosity for me too, and I can only imagine what effect it might have on Ayesha and Thrawn's relationship if it turns out there's even the most tenuous connection. I'm glad at least that there will be hope for Chemayyano, thanks to Thrawn's generosity.
I am glad she has shared her secret with him - but Wow - what a secret. I was not surprised about the large bacta tank -- Thrawn's generosity when it comes to her is without measure. Their relationship is so very special --- I look forward to seeing them having a nice relaxing and romantic day after all of this -- and mushy added in.
I was concerned that Ayesha had gotten involved with some aspect of the rebellion, and that would have been an enormous conflict of loyalties for Thrawn, but now I see that she is trying to make a difference in the lives of at least some of the millions of damaged souls left discarded by the Empire. She is a study in passion. Nothing she does is ever less that her entire heart.
Two gorgeous AND breathtaking updates. Ayesha makes Thrawns life interesting and special. There is NO boredom in it what so ever!
So Thrawn sees clearly that the Empire has its flaws - I guess Ayesha will start asking questions why he is working for them at all, and how he can do it?
Time for her to get to know about some of his secrets, I think?
Great depiction of how both Ayesha and Thrawn respond to his jealousy in the earlier chapter (I'm too lazy to check back and find the number .) I liked how it felt like a genuine argument with hurt feelings on both sides, but they did find their way through to a resolution of sorts. Though I can't help thinking that we haven't seen the last of the crimson edition of the green-eyed monster. Ruud isn't likely to vanish and Thrawn isn't likely to get comfortable with his presence in Ayesha's life. (Other note: the Zeltron restaurant was wonderfully described. Really liked the details of the atmosphere and how Ayesha's buddies put their own spin into the design of the place, making their own variation on the traditional color scheme and so on. Too bad she and Thrawn were too busy with their spat to properly enjoy it.)
About the last couple of chapters: wow. I expected something, but I'm amazed at the revelation of Ayesha's secret activities and the way you showed the goings-on at the Center. (Umm, okay. Honesty time. Fanfic made me cry. That is some powerful stuff.) She's awe-inspiring and so are her allies. And I like how Thrawn takes it all into consideration, worrying about possible Alliance links but foremost both loving Ayesha for her courage and fearing for her well-being. She's right about the fact that they'll all be in trouble no matter what if they get caught. The Emperor is so invested in seeing her taken down one way or another -- or that's my impression -- that I have a nasty feeling this is all going to come back to bite her someday. The revelation that the model for the dancer is Uumana is both touching and worrying. Somebody who did that to her is after them, and I will say the inevitable: I have a bad feeling about this.
Wow you make me like Thrawn as a person which is hard to do. What a secret. The interactions between characters feel real.
Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing!
Welcome to this story I hope you enjoy it. I went back over the weekend and added some footnotes to older chapters to explain references to EU literature -- since you're not so big on EU stuff, I think it will be helpful
You got part of the answer in chapter 27. The other part is coming in another chapter down the line
Thanks! There will be more about Simon and Uumana in the not-too-distant future
This is something I struggled with, because I don't want to turn Ayesha into a warrior woman, but given her background she can't just be an ethereal artist and she should have some, shall we say, survival skills. I'm counting on you guys and gals to tell me if I'm overdoing it -- I can always go back and rewrite if you feel that I'm taking it too far.
Mush alert: the next chapter was slightly mushified as a late present for your JCF birthday. Happy birthday
That is so well-phrased! I might borrow the wording in some future chapter, if that's okay with you
Well, here you go. Just scroll down
And you would be right There's obviously a moment when all this will come to bite them in the butt, but that won't be for a while yet. Besides, I still need to tell you all who is really after Ayesha and why
Thanks again. All these nice reviews just make my day every time I check on this thread
Okay, new chapter up.
Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma Mando-Man Raissa Baiard
Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the tag list.
And the usual thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading
Chapter 28: Nuso Esva
Ayesha interrupted her comm call and glanced over her shoulder when the doorbell rang. It was mid-morning and Thrawn was standing outside the open transparisteel panel on the landing pad. He’d had the key card to her apartment for more than a month, but he still adhered to his ritual of waiting for her to allow him in, unless it was the middle of the night. “I enjoy watching you gambolling towards me like a Tarchalian gazelle, Ayoo’sha,” he told her when she protested, “and I must never let myself forget how grateful I should be.” When she replied tersely that he should stop speaking in riddles and invoked the giant weaver and various other predators of the Kashyyyk Shadowlands, he cocked a bemused eyebrow and, as usual, ended the conversation with a kiss.
This time however, Ayesha did not leave the desk in the corner of the dining area. She simply waved at Thrawn to come to her, held his hand as he stood just outside the transmitter’s range, and turned back to the holocomm, which displayed the head of a Wookiee. Her smile had become sweeter and the Wookiee huffed with amusement before growling a brief sentence. “Old Dex has a big mouth,” she replied with the grin of a schoolgirl caught in the middle of some mischief, “not only literally but also figuratively, it seems.” The Wookiee huffed again, then grumbled something that sounded halfway between a joke and a grievance. Her face softened. “Of course I still love you, Ada’. No one can take your place in my heart, you know that.” The Wookiee tilted his head to the side and let out a moan. “I’m happy and it made me selfish, but I promise I’ll be in touch more often. And of course I’ll come for Rumpy’s Trials.” The Wookiee barked and huffed again. Ayesha laughed. “All right, I’ll tell him. And I’ll comm you as soon as I book passage on a transport.” The Wookiee held a paw to his forehead in a mock salute, and the holocomm went blank.
Thrawn pulled Ayesha to her feet as she shut down the transmitter and cupped her face in his hands. His eyebrows were reaching up to his hairline. “What?” she asked.
“It is one thing to hear you speak of your adoptive father,” Thrawn said. “It is an entirely different thing to see you speak to him, and this is the first time I have the honour.” She grimaced but he kissed her lightly before she could answer. “Please do keep in touch with him regularly, Ayoo’sha, I would hate to take the blame for your negligence. I am certain your father would not see me with the same kind eyes he looks at you and I imagine that he can be quite fierce.”
Ayesha laughed. “As a matter of fact, Ada’ Yakooboo just told me to let you know that he won’t come after you as long as you make me happy. So the grav-ball is in your court now.”
“I see that I will have to put on my best behaviour then,” he murmured.
She looked up at him. “You’re unusually cheerful today. What’s happening?”
He straightened himself. “I have come to deliver two items of good news. The first one is that the Admonitor left this morning for the Unknown Regions.”
“You’re not going then?” she asked hopefully.
“I will be catching up with her next week.”
She pouted her lips in disappointment. “Then what’s the good news?”
Thrawn smiled. “The good news is that I will be planetside all week. I still need to finalize my plans and will be spending quite some time in my quarters in the Palace, but I do intend to liberate myself as often as possible for you. If you are free, of course.”
“Gee, I don’t know. I’m invited to three dinner parties tonight and then I have this really tight deadline for the Coruscant Public Transportation Authority at the end of the year and...” Thrawn’s tongue invaded her mouth. She returned the favour in kind. “I think you have your answer,” she added with a chuckle when he pulled back. “What’s the second thing?” He arched an eyebrow. “You said you had two items of good news to deliver.”
His eyes twinkled. “Foolish me,” he said. “I almost forgot.” His fingers slid under the straps of her tank top to slip them off her shoulders. “The second item is not so much a piece of news as a reminder of what we shall both miss when I am gone.”
* * *
They finally settled back against the pillows, Ayesha flat on her back and Thrawn on his side, his fingertips wandering on the soft bulge of her tummy. “What have you been doing these last ten days while I was on the Admonitor? Are you still working on this secret project you will tell me nothing about?”
She grinned. “My secret project is completed, but it’s still a secret.” She looked at Thrawn and saw that he was staring at her inquisitively. It made her laugh and she turned on her side to kiss him. “You’re so curious, Qubshi be-khadeeb. It’s very un-Chiss-like, you know. You’ll find out about it soon enough, now change the subject.”
Thrawn stared at her a little longer but she rolled on her back again to rest her head on his shoulder. “Did I understand correctly that you will be visiting your family in the near future?” he asked when it became clear she wouldn’t say anything more about her project.
“I didn’t know you speak Shyriiwook,” she said with a wry smile.
“I am still learning. However, that particular sentence was uttered in perfectly good Basic by the most unlikely Wookiee I have ever had the privilege to meet.”
She laughed. “Okay. Well, yes, I’ll be going home next month and I think I’ll stay for six or seven standard weeks. Rumpy is taking his Adulthood Trials, so I need to be there to cheer him on. After that, I’ll be the only child left in the family.” The eyebrow crawled up in question. “The Way of the Wookiee has no specific provisions for adopted half-Human half-Kiffar daughters, so I should take the Trials too if I want to be considered an adult, but that’s not going to happen,” she explained. “I don’t mind though, I like being Ada’ Yakooboo’s little girl,” she added happily.
Thrawn lifted himself on his elbow to look at her. She was simply radiant. “Your father must be an exceptional sentient for you to love him so much.”
“He loves me even more,” she answered. “I haven’t been a very good daughter to him, but he doesn’t care, he gives all his heart. It’s a blessing to be loved like that, especially for someone like me. I’d be like Uumana if it weren’t for him.” Thrawn frowned, but she smiled and reached to caress his face. “I’ll introduce you to him some day. He occasionally comes here to visit, or we could arrange to go to Rwookrrorro together, if the Navy ever gives you time off.”
Thrawn bit back the question that was burning his lips and rested his head next to hers. “I would like that very much. In the meantime however, I will introduce you to an old friend of mine who will be on Coruscant at the end of this week.”
Ayesha gave him a sideways look. “Are you volunteering personal information, Captain?”
“I believe I am,” he said with a twitch of his lips. “It must be the influence of some unique multi-species creature I happen to be holding.” She laughed again. “The man you will meet had an unwilling yet rather decisive impact on my life. He is the first human I met when I was still a Force Commander in the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet and he was the one who taught me Basic. His name is Jorj Car’das.”
Her eyes widened in astonishment. “The smuggler boss?”
“Have you heard of him?”
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the Galaxy who hasn’t,” she replied. “He was said to have this vast criminal empire within the Empire, and then he disappeared. I thought he was dead.”
“I assure you he is very much alive. He will be piloting me on my upcoming mission.” Ayesha was eyeing him curiously. “What is it, Ayoo’sha? Why are you so surprised?”
“You certainly keep strange company, for an Imperial Captain,” she said finally. “I doubt there are many of you who have underworld kings ferrying them around.”
He pulled her closer. “After all this time, you do still not know that I like to run my affairs in a, shall we say, unorthodox way,” he murmured in her ear.
“How could I know that?” she sighed. “You hardly ever tell me anything about yourself.”
He pushed himself up again and studied her face carefully. “I see that I will have to remedy that if I am to make you happy, as per your father’s instructions. However, that may have to wait a little longer.” His thumb wandered to the side of her chest, and he whispered, “I have work to do in the Palace this afternoon and I have just remembered that, before I go, there is another reminder I must urgently deliver.”
* * *
Ayesha started clearing the lunch dishes from the kitchen table. “So you’re going to your office this afternoon?”
“I am going to my quarters,” Thrawn corrected. “The work I have to do in the coming days does not require my presence in High Command.”
“Why don’t you stay and work here?” she offered. “I could make some space in the workshop for you.”
“The idea is not without appeal, but it is unfortunately not possible. I need the peace of my private study to reflect and meditate. Not to mention the documents and displays I have there.” She nodded and turned back to the sink, letting out a small sigh. “What upsets you, Ayoo’sha?”
“I’m not upset. It’s just that... I’ve never even seen your place.” She tried to sound casual but there was a mixture of longing and frustration in her voice.
Both eyebrows shot up. “You would like to visit my quarters?”
“Of course,” she said with a puzzled look. “What, you think I don’t care?”
Thrawn stared at her for a long moment. “Are you meeting Tashi this afternoon?” he finally asked. She shook her head. “Then I suggest that you come with me.”
The speeder landed in the Imperial Palace and Thrawn led Ayesha through the turbolifts and hallways to a door identical to every other door in a remote part of the South Wing. His gait became crisp and military as they walked deeper into the corridors, and Ayesha felt him revert to his Navy Captain persona. “This area is residential quarters for Navy officers who choose not to make their home on Coruscant,” he explained curtly as he inserted the key card in its slot. The door slid open and he ushered her in.
He showed her around the lounge and dining area, took her to the kitchen and then guided her through a small hallway to the bedroom. The flat was spacious but sparsely furnished, austere even. The furniture was standard Imperial issue and everything was impeccably tidy as if no one lived there. There was something deeply impersonal about the place that reminded Ayesha of Thrawn’s expressionless face when he had erected barriers around himself after Matt Ruud had turned up in Old Zeltros during her birthday dinner. Her eyes wandered around the bedroom and she finally said, very timidly, “This isn’t how I imagined your home.”
The hardness and arrogance suddenly vanished from his features. “This is not my home, Ayoo’sha. I have not had a home in many years. I joined the Empire for a number of very specific reasons and I have been working relentlessly towards achieving these goals. I did not seek to settle down or make friends. A home is a place where one loves and is loved, and fortunately for the both of us, that is not within the confines of this Palace.” He placed an arm around her shoulders to hold her close, then added, “Come with me. There is something I want to share with you.”
He led her across the small hallway to his study. Here too, the furniture was standard issue, with the exception of a comfortable-looking nerf hide armchair near the window. The durasteel bookcases lining the walls were stacked with flimsibooks, databooks and datacards. Ayesha’s Fijisi wood self-portrait was prominently displayed on the desk and several other pieces of art were stored on the bottom shelf. Thrawn keyed a few commands and the room transformed into a holographic gallery. “This is where I carry out the most important aspect of my work. As I remember telling you, I believe that the study of art can give valuable insights into the psyche of a species or an individual. Present company excluded, of course,” he added with a twitch of his lips. “What you see is what I have been using to plan for my upcoming campaign.”
Ayesha looked carefully at the holograms. “I recognize the style of some of the pieces you brought back before New Year Fete, but I’ve never seen anything like this.” She pointed at a group of sculpts shimmering in a corner.
“These pieces were created by artists from Nuso Esva’s homeworld.” She looked at him questioningly. “Nuso Esva is the warlord against whom I will be waging war in the Unknown Regions. Can you determine their characteristics from their work?”
Ayesha observed the holos for a moment. “They’re built like humans, possibly a little taller and more slender on average,” she said uncertainly. “But they’re not related to humans at all. I mean, the similarities in appearance are purely coincidental. The structure of their eyes but also their mind must be different for them to perceive the world in such a way. And they’re proud, even domineering. They feel superior to other sentients.”
Thrawn gave her an approving nod and pointed at another part of the room, where holos of delicate carvings, mostly knives with elaborate handles, could be seen. “What of those, Ayoo’sha?”
This time she didn’t hesitate. “This is a different species. Humanoid in shape, with a torso, arms and legs, but reptilian in physiology. Not very tall. They’re dedicated and loyal. They would put their lives on the line if necessary to protect their young and their elderly.” She smiled. “They also come across as very eager to learn, but a little shy to ask unless they can prove themselves first.”
“I had not noticed this last point,” Thrawn said thoughtfully. He gazed at the carvings, his eyes glittering with concentration. “It seems that I will have to put the question to them.” He looked back at Ayesha. “These are my allies. They call themselves the Troukree. Nuso Esva has devastated their homeworld, and it is my firm intention to return it to them.”
She smiled again. “Since they’re your allies, you can tell them that there’s someone out there who took a liking to them.” She gestured towards another group of holos. “Where does Alderaan come in the picture?”
“Unfortunately, this is an aspect of my plan that I am not at liberty to discuss with you,” Thrawn said sternly. “That information is highly classified.”
Ayesha blushed. “Sorry. I got a bit carried away.”
“Not at all, Ayoo’sha, not at all. You already pointed out for me something I had not seen.” He wavered for a second. “If this is not too boring for you, would you mind if I showed you another set of pieces?” She nodded so eagerly that it made him chuckle. He gestured towards the armchair for her to sit, left the room for a moment and returned with two tankards that exuded a distinct odour. He handed her one. “Forvish ale. It is not cortyg brandy, but I believe it is an acceptable substitute.” He keyed a new command on the desk and came to crouch at her side. The display now showed a wide variety of paintings, sculpts and flats. “This is art created by various species and collected by Nuso Esva himself. What does it tell you about him?”
Ayesha stared at the holograms for a long moment, biting the tip of her tongue as she grimaced in concentration. “His roots are in a part of space where there are no humans, but he’s had contact with humans and he despises them,” she said finally. “No, wait. He doesn’t just despise them, he uses them. He also manipulates every species he’s in contact with, unless he can enslave them outright. He seeks absolute submission. He finds ways to exploit other sentients, even those of his own kind. He has no respect for life. He’s cunning and ruthless.” She paused and took another careful look. “He must be a very good dejarik player but not a good sabacc player. He seeks to annihilate his opponent, either literally or figuratively, or both if he can manage it. He’s very intelligent and he thinks strategically, but he cannot adapt his tactics to unforeseen situations. He doesn’t know how to gamble and when he does, he always goes all in because he’s arrogant. But for that precise reason, he can’t bluff. His arrogance gets the better of him and he starts boasting.”
Thrawn's eyes shot up to her at these words. “Are you certain?” he asked sharply.
“Of course,” she replied as if it were obvious. “Look at the glitzy bits in each piece and all the flourishes in the frames and stands. He likes to show off.”
Thrawn sprang to his feet, almost spilling his tankard of ale, pulled her up and kissed her deeply. “What took you?” she asked in bewilderment when he finally let her go.
“You gave me the last piece of the puzzle, Ayoo’sha. I am sorry that I cannot elaborate, but I will tell you one thing with absolute certainty. The end of Nuso Esva’s campaign of terror in the Unknown Regions started with you.” She gave him a puzzled look but he simply kissed her again. “My workload suddenly became much lighter, therefore, unless you insist that we stay here longer, I suggest we go. I believe that I still owe you a pleasant evening in Old Zeltros, and I might even remember further urgent reminders that need to be delivered.”
A/N: The story of how Thrawn met Car'das can be found in Outbound Flight. Thrawn's plan against Nuso Esva is the key to the plot in Choices of One. The plot summary on the Wook doesn't have the details, so I'm summarizing it below for those who haven't read it (but you should read it, because it's a great little book!)
The background to the story is the enmity between Thrawn and Nuso Esva. Nuso Esva is an alien warlord who has been subjugating various worlds in the Unknown Regions by force but also by forging alliances with species there. Thrawn has been fighting him in the framework of his mission to "pacify" the Unknown Regions.
Eight months after the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion is in desperate need of a new base. So when Governor Ferrouz of Candoras sector proposes an alliance, offering the Rebels sanctuary in return for protection against Nuso Esva, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are sent to evaluate the deal.
Mara Jade, the Emperor's Hand, is also heading for Candoras, along with the five renegade stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment. Their mission: to punish Ferrouz's treason and smash the Rebels for good.
Meanwhile, Lord Odo, a mysterious masked character who claims to be a high-ranking member of the Imperial court, is aboard the Chimaera and heading to Candoras as well. It turns out that Lord Odo is Nuso Esva, and that he blackmailed Ferrouz into seeking out the Rebels. His purpose however is not to support the Rebellion, but to put Thrawn in a lose-lose situation where he will either lose the battle and thus his reputation and position in the Imperial Navy, or his life.
But of course (drumroll) Thrawn is smarter and better informed than Nuso Esva could have ever expected, and he's been manipulating Ferrouz, Nuso Esva and the Rebels all along. The key plot element here is that Thrawn manages to get Nuso Esva to express publicly his true, disparaging opinion of his "allies" in the Unknown Regions, and to broadcast the speech live to the Unknown Regions. So by the end of the book, Nuso Esva has failed to obtain what he wanted from Candoras, he has lost his allies in the Unknown Region and his Eastern Fleet has been torn to ribbons. As a bonus, Thrawn gets to recruit the Hand of Judgement for his activities in the Unknown Regions.
Does all this remotely make sense?
Woot, loved the tie-ins to Choices and Outbound Flight. Detail guru, like Kahara LOL Liked also how Ayesha's artistic intuition and gifts helps Thrawn with his strategizing!
I was waiting for the tie-in between Thrawn's psychological analysis of art and Ayesha's ability to create it, and whoop. There it is.
The description of Thrawn's quarters was so reflective of him: serious, professional and militaristic at first observation, but if you know where to look, everything becomes so much deeper and more complex. Your portrayal of him is a fitting complement to the original.
And yes, permission granted to use my words ;-)
Yes, finally! I was waiting for that moment, too! Ayesha and Thrawn analyzing art together...
I'm so looking forward to Ayesha and Jorj Car'das meeting - what a great idea! I always liked Car'das a lot.
Hmmm... now that you mentioned Esva, I wonder if Ayesha will soon take a trip to the Unknown Regions?
Fantastic and virtuosic to see our two protagonists' complementary skills working so beautifully in tandem here; they really do make a great team in so many ways. Now we get to see what Thrawn was talking about in those early chapters about understanding psychology and strategy through art. And how you've made art and the act of artistic creation so much more than mere aesthetic fluff throughout this story, giving it vital importance on a galactic scale... just. loving. it.
Also a fantastic treat to meet Ayesha's beloved Ada’ Yakooboo—been looking forward to that.
I loved all of the kisses especially the one at the beginning. I thought maybe they were going to make it to Thrawn's bedroom actually. Thank you for the mush.
Going to do my best to catch up on this Chyntuck!
Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I'm happy you liked Thrawn and Ayesha joining forces to analyse art, because there's more of that in future chapters.
That's flattery! Kahara manages to dig up details so obscure that no one can even cite the book she found them in
Thanks for both
For Car'das, just scroll down I hope I got his "voice" right. You'll have to wait a few weeks for the Unknown Regions, but yes, obviously, that's going to happen.
Thanks You'll also get to meet him in person soon.
Welcome to this story I hope you'll like it. I was co-authoring a two-character radio drama when I started working on this fic, and I realised as I went back to add footnotes to earlier posts how much that influenced my writing in the first few chapters, so the tone in the beginning is quite different. I might re-edit that at some point, but if that ever happens, it's going to be in the distant future.
On to chapter 29.
Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma Mando-Man Raissa Baiard
Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the tag list.
And thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading
Chapter 29: The flame miniature
The week went by in a blur. Ayesha went to the Centre on Centaxday as usual, but she swapped her shift with another volunteer on Taungsday to spend the evening with Thrawn, and her friends came over for a going-away party. They brought food and drinks and plotted at length how they would revolutionize the Coruscant art scene with a collective exhibition dedicated to the use of unconventional materials, until Tam fell asleep on the couch between Ayesha and Thrawn. “I hope this fascinating project of yours will materialize,” Thrawn told Kal as they walked to the landing pad. “I will be back in the new year if all goes well and I would very much like to attend.”
Kal laid his son in the baby seat of the speeder. “Your timing sounds good, Capt’. Now you go and save the Galaxy, and don’t worry, we’ll take good care of our girl here.”
On Zhellday, Thrawn returned early from the Palace and prepared an exotic dinner for Jorj Car’das while Ayesha cooked chyntuck-and-topato mash. “You’ll see, it’s delicious,” she said, “and it’s great comfort food. Ata’ Messiri used to prepare it for me when I was sad.” She had insisted that they invite the smuggler for dinner at her place, but she was a little apprehensive as they waited because of his reputation for ruthlessness. She was surprised when he turned up. He was a kind-looking man in his early fifties, roughly the same age as Thrawn, but his hair and goatee were silvery white, his face sagged in tired lines and there was a haunted look in his eyes. The two men grabbed each other’s elbow in their right hand in a traditional Chiss gesture Thrawn had described to her and exchanged the greetings of old friends who haven’t met in a long time.
Car’das finally took a step back and gave Thrawn the once-over. “Every time I see you, I can’t believe it,” he said with a strong Corellian accent. “I’ve known you for almost thirty years and you hardly aged thirty days.”
Thrawn gave him a warm smile. “I could say the same about you, Jorj.”
“I know far too well that it’s not true,” Car’das replied with a sigh. The haunted expression in his eyes briefly became more intense before he forced a smile. “I taught you the word ‘flattery’, remember? So I know it when I see it.” Thrawn smiled again and Car’das said, “Now, instead of exchanging cryptic jokes, will you remember your impeccable manners and introduce me to this charming woman who is doing her best not to stare at us?”
Thrawn turned around and introduced Ayesha. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister Car’das,” she said.
The smuggler gave a mirthless laugh. “I take it that Thrawn hasn’t told you our story about first names. Please call me Jorj.” He laughed again at her puzzled look. “Well, then, I guess I’ll have to tell you everything about the good old times, but first you need to tell me everything about yourself.”
“There’s not much to say,” she said shyly. “I’m an artist.”
Car’das looked at Thrawn before sitting on the conversation circle. “Why am I not surprised?”
Thrawn disappeared to the kitchen to fetch Forvish ale – Ayesha had taken a liking to the drink and had purchased an abundant supply for the evening – and Car’das started telling Ayesha how he had found himself in the Crustai asteroid base. He was narrating the story with great gusto but she could plainly see that he was faking it. After a first drink they moved to the dinner table, and Car’das continued talking, until he uttered the words “... and as if all this weren’t enough, Thrawn convinced me to pull a crazy stunt with this nomadic race called the Vagaari and...”
Thrawn raised a hand to interrupt him. “I do not think that the Vagaari are appropriate dinner conversation, Jorj,” he said with the briefest of glances at Ayesha.
“Why? I want to know,” she interjected.
Car’das looked from one to the other, trying to decipher the situation. There was undisguised curiosity in Ayesha’s expression, while Thrawn was giving him a stern look. Thrawn won. “Don’t get me wrong, Ayesha,” the smuggler said when she shot him a frustrated glare, “I’m going to spend several weeks with Thrawn on the Lost Reef, and the blaze in his eyes right now would wither one of those giant wroshyr trees from your homeworld. I’m not taking that risk,” he said with another forced laugh.
The conversation turned to other topics – news of Maris Ferasi who had been with Car’das on Crustai, art, smuggling, technicalities of the two men’s upcoming trip – and Ayesha started clearing the dessert dishes from the table. Thrawn sat back in his chair and looked at Car’das. “You have changed, Jorj. Something happened to you many years ago already, but now it seems to be catching up with you. You have changed.”
“So have you,” Car’das countered as Ayesha left to fetch the brandy. “You look... relaxed, one might even think emotional, if such a thing can be said of a Chiss. What happened to you?”
A smile touched Thrawn’s lips. “What happened to me has been sitting across the table from you all evening. Do not get used to my being emotional, however. I will be all business again as soon as we are aboard the Lost Reef.” His glittering eyes seemed to bore for answers in the other man’s head. “I am very much afraid that what happened to you was not quite as pleasant.”
“You could say that,” Car’das mumbled, his fake cheerfulness gone. Ayesha returned with the bottle of cortyg brandy and three snifters, and poured a glass for each one of them. Car’das accepted it gratefully, then looked at Thrawn. “I had a close encounter with a Dark Jedi on Bpfassh sometime after the Clone Wars. He took me and my crewmen hostage. One of them he shredded to ribbons, and he took control of the others’ minds until there was nothing left of them inside their heads.” Ayesha took her glass from the table and downed her brandy in a single gulp, but the two men were so absorbed in the smuggler’s tale that they didn’t notice. “The only reason I survived,” Car’das continued, “is that he needed a pilot. And also, I think, that he enjoyed having someone who was properly terrified of him.”
“He did,” she breathed in a hoarse whisper. “They feed on your fear, it keeps them alive. They learned it from the Anzati.”
Both men turned their gaze at her. She was deathly pale and trembling, and her eyes were rolling back and forth in their sockets of their own accord. “Ayoo’sha, look at me,” Thrawn said. “Look at me,” he repeated forcefully, cupping her head in his hands and pulling her to face him. “Focus. You are here and you are looking at me.”
The physical contact made her shudder at first but she suddenly snapped out of the trance and stared at Thrawn as if she were seeing him for the first time. “What happened?” she whispered. Her eyes travelled to Car’das and she stood up abruptly. “Excuse me for a minute,” she mumbled, and she disappeared to the kitchen.
Car’das gave Thrawn a quizzical look as he got up to follow her. She retched violently over the sink, then hugged the bowl of chyntuck-and-topato mash and shovelled the leftovers in her mouth as if she hadn’t eaten in days. She finally composed herself, wiped her face clean and took Thrawn’s hand to go back to the dining table. “Sorry for that,” she stammered, lowering herself in her chair.
Car’das studied her face. “I should get going. It’s late and you need to rest.”
“Not at all,” she replied as casually as she could. “I want to know more about you. Tell me about Corellia. My father was from Coronet City and I’ve never been there.”
Car’das gave her a curious look but he complied with her request. Colours slowly returned to her cheeks as he told her about his childhood and youth and described the main attractions of the Five Brothers. She nodded knowingly when he spoke of Corellians as family-oriented daredevils who enjoyed defying all odds. “And you would love the Museum of Fine Art in Coronet City. It holds most of Venthan Chassu’s works, including nearly all of his Selonian nudes, as well as his last painting, Palpatine Triumphant, and it has the largest collection of Corellian flame miniatures in the Galaxy. I don’t know about art nearly as much as you and Thrawn of course, but flame miniatures were always my favourite. I find there’s something reassuring about their twinkle, it cheers me up,” he added a little sadly.
At these words, her face broke into a radiant smile. “I like them too. I’ve actually been studying them recently. Wait for me, I have something to show you.”
“Is this where I finally find out about this secret project of yours?” Thrawn asked as she vanished to the workshop. She didn’t answer and returned with a small box that she pushed across the table.
“Open it,” she told Car’das. The wrapping tissue fell apart to reveal an exquisite crystal carved in the shape of a flame, together with a small diamond-shaped one. Ayesha showed him an indent on the base of the flame. It was the perfect fit for the multifaceted lozenge, and when the two pieces were assembled, the crystal flashed brightly before settling in the warm glow of a candle, with tiny sparkles flaring up and down its grooves. For the first time since he arrived on the landing pad, Car’das lost his haunted expression and gave a smile that actually reached his eyes.
“This is amazing,” he said. “It looks like a flame miniature and it feels like a flame miniature. It’s actually even more cheerful than a flame miniature. But the material is different.”
“It is,” Ayesha said. “Corellian flame miniatures are made of transoptical fibres, pseudoluminescent plant material and Goorlish lights. I used a Rathalayan firestone instead; Thrawn got it for me last year. I was lucky; there were two crystals inside the stone, so it glows when you fit them into each other. Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful,” Car’das said. He was still staring at the little flame with a smile.
“Good. I made it for Thrawn, but I’d like you to have it instead.”
Car’das looked at her with the expression of a Corellian child who has been offered a mound of ryshcate. “You’re serious? I can keep this?” Ayesha nodded happily and Thrawn chuckled. “Awww, thanks. This is the nicest present anyone gave me in years.”
They finished their brandy and Car’das left after thanking Ayesha again for her gift. She activated the housekeeping droid and, suddenly looking very tired, she went straight to the bedroom and switched on the neuro-lamp before stripping off her clothes and slipping under the covers. Thrawn soon joined her and entwined himself around her.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he murmured. There was no need to specify, he hadn’t taken his eyes off her since her reaction to Car’das’s tale about the Dark Jedi.
There was a long silence. “I can’t, Qubshi be-khadeeb,” she finally breathed. “I just can’t.”
She was shivering. Thrawn rubbed her chest with the flat of his hand to steady her heartbeat. “Calm yourself, Ayoo’sha, calm yourself. Barring that, I may have to resort to drastic measures to calm you down.” It made her smile, and she snuggled against him. “Why did you give the firestone to Jorj?” he asked after a while.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have asked you. It was your present to me and I shouldn’t have given it away like that. I hope you’re not too upset.”
“I am not upset at all, Ayoo’sha. Jorj is one of the few people I have the privilege to call friends. I am happy I could contribute to a gift that pleased him so much. I was merely being curious as to why you made that choice.”
There was another silence. “There’s darkness all around him,” she sighed. “He’s in the dark and he needs a light.”
A/N: The obligatory references for this chapter include of course Outbound Flight for how Thrawn met Car'das and what the Vagaari are about. The story of Car'das's encounter with the Dark Jedi is borrowed from Vision of the Future (for which the Wook summary is surprisingly incomplete). The Lost Reef is the ship on which Car'das and Thrawn travel in Choices of One. Lastly, the neuro-lamp is not from Zahn's universe, but a creation of our very own Viridian-Maiden.
Cool piece of artwork, the name itself sounds gorgeous "flame miniature" - much less the effect it has when you look at it and touch it. I love Ayesha's spontaneous and compassionate gesture in gifting Car'das with the miniature. The Vagaari showed up in Survivor's Quest by Zahn too and they are vicious with a capital V!
Sounds like sweet Ayesha has more shocking skeletons figuratively - best forgotten. Makes me marvel all the more... she is a triumphant soul. Beautiful and inspiring. Her experiences just serve to make her stronger and more loving.
(Am I gushing?)
Nice, I like how the "canon" storylines are meshing with the OC. It all comes together so naturally!