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Saga - OT Reluctant Allies (Ahsoka, Sabine, Ezra, Eli Vanto, Thrawn)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by MissKitsune08, Oct 13, 2020.

  1. MissKitsune08

    MissKitsune08 Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 3, 2018
    Title: Reluctant Allies

    Summary: Five years after the Battle of Yavin, at the end of the Galactic Civil War, Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren embark on a mission to search for Ezra Bridger. Soon they find themselves in the middle of an unfamiliar conflict and they are given a choice that could potentially shape the future of the Galaxy.

    Characters: Ahsoka Tano, Sabine Wren, Ezra Bridger, Eli Vanto, Thrawn, Original Characters

    Spoiler Warning: No spoilers for Chaos Rising. Contains spoilers for Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, Thrawn: Treason.

    Author's note:

    For Rebels fans who didn’t read the Thrawn novels:

    While most Chiss names consist of three parts, eg. Mitth’raw’nuruodo in Thrawn’s case, names of members of the Defense Hierarchy Council (Chiss high command) consist only of two parts, eg. Admiral Ar’alani or General Ba’kif, as they no longer belong into any family but serve the Chiss Ascendancy as a whole.

    The same name pattern applies to Chiss navigators.

    The Chiss government (Syndicure) consists of head Syndics of the Ruling families. Technically, they shouldn’t be able to influence military affairs as the Defense Hierarchy Council doesn’t answer to them. Still, the Chiss politicians can stall and plant obstacles to the high command indirectly as junior members of the fleet answer to their families. And ultimately, the Syndicure’s approval is needed for decisions that affect everyone, such as the declaration of war.

    Imperial Eli Vanto, Thrawn’s aide-de-camp in the novels, who was later sent as a liaison to the Chiss Ascendancy became known as Eli’van’to, or Ivant, among the Chiss. He doesn’t like it in the novels but I do :p

    Also, I suspect that Ahsoka and Sabine would have done their research and come across Eli Vanto’s name. However, there are no records of anyone named Ivant. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    In Legends, Chiss addressed each other by their full names most of the time with “core names” (eg. Thrawn, Ivant) being reserved for friends or family members. Thrawn made an exception for non-Chiss as he didn’t like his name constantly mispronounced.

    In Canon, and especially in Chaos Rising, this seems no longer strictly true, as Chiss address each other by their core names even in military settings. I suspect it’s for the readers’ sake as the names are too long and hard to remember but still, I think it’s a pity. :p

    However, I decided to follow that suit.


    *****************



    Fear.

    Pain.

    Death.

    Ahsoka took a deep breath as she tried to shield herself from the maelstrom of emotions that lingered around the crash site of a long-lost star destroyer. ISD Chimaera, Grand Admiral Thrawn’s flagship that had been seized by a pack of purrgils five years ago and never found.

    Until now.

    Ahsoka slowly opened her eyes as she fought back tears. It was hard to think of Imperials as people, after all the evil the Galactic Empire had caused to the Galaxy, but sitting here, surrounded by the scorched, corroded remains of the ship’s hull, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for the more than thirty thousands souls that fell to their death.

    Some died instantly, hitting their heads as the ship shook, while others were sucked into the vacuum as the hull broke, but there were still thousands of unfortunate soldiers who ducked and hid, only to die a slow, painful deaths moments later as the ship caught fire in the atmosphere.

    With their last moments preserved for eternity in a disturbance of the Force that could be sensed entire star systems away from the crash site.

    The disturbance, which ultimately led them here after nearly three months since Ahsoka met with Sabine Wren and took on their search for Ezra Bridger.

    “There are no bodies.”

    Sabine’s muffled voice broke her train of thoughts. The Mandalorian was clad in her full armor, a blaster in one hand, with the other hand pressed against a side of her helmet as she scanned her surroundings.

    No bodies, meaning someone must have found the wreckage and took the bodies away, or buried them.

    Ahsoka shook her head. “They died, Sabine.”

    The Mandalorian went unnaturally still. Ahsoka didn’t need to use the Force or to see her face to hear the unspoken question.

    “I… don’t know.” Ahsoka admitted painfully, wiping away a stray tear on her cheek. “It’s impossible to say. The voices of the dead are too loud. Overwhelming. I can’t hear--I can’t sense him at all.”

    The Mandalorian lowered her helmet, staring down at the ground for a minute that felt like an hour. Then finally, slowly, she sagged down to the grass, drawing her knees up to her chest protectively.

    “So that’s it?” Sabine muttered, almost too faintly to hear. “We came all this way for nothing?”

    Ahsoka bit her lip. No one could possibly survive exposure to the vacuum of space or the flames which engulfed the ship in the atmosphere. Not even a Jedi.

    Could Ezra have made it to an escape pod in time?

    “Let’s search the ship’s log.”





    Given Sabine’s vast experience with slicing, Ahsoka had little reason to doubt that the data files in the ship’s flight recorder, colloquially known as the black box, had been damaged beyond repair. Frustrated, the Mandalorian smashed the recorder against the remains of a corridor wall and then threw it into the fire which Ahsoka started as the twilight descended upon the planet.

    They both watched as the data disc slowly disintegrated in flames and then ate dinner in silence. Neither of them were in a talkative mood.

    The scan of the planet’s surface didn’t help, either. There were no settlements, no sentient life forms. No escape pods buried underground.

    Still, someone must have survived or visited the crash site as the bodies didn’t bury themselves.

    But who? And when?

    And most importantly, where did they go?

    Ahsoka suggested they should try to locate the other star destroyers abducted by the purrgils. Using the disturbance in the Force caused by Chimaera’s crash for reference, it wasn’t difficult to locate similar disturbances in the neighboring systems, leading them to other crash sites.

    Each time, they found an empty wreck with bodies orderly buried behind the premises.

    Other ships’ logs were nearly as corrupted as the Chimaera’s, with the only messages Sabine managed to play consisting of frantic calls for help and reinforcements that got forever lost in hyperspace as they were beyond any Imperial communication tower’s range.

    After the second star destroyer, the Mandalorian lost interest in destroying the flight recorders, taking them back into their T-6 shuttle for further investigation. It was useless, Ahsoka knew, but at least it’d give Sabine something to do.

    They had just re-entered real space in the search of the last remaining wreck when Sabine suddenly jerked in her seat.

    “Uh oh, we have company.”

    Ahsoka’s hands immediately went after the sub-light engine’s throttle just as Sabine’s hands activated the weapon controls.

    Stationed high in the planet’s orbit was a small ship of sleek, unfamiliar design and of similar size to a Lambda shuttle. Their T-6 shuttle scanners didn’t pick any known weapons or targeting systems but here, so deep in the Unknown Regions it could have belonged to a civilization whose technology was not part of any database.

    “It’s hailing us,” Sabine said, her thumbs hovering above trigger buttons, waiting for the unfamiliar ship to make the slightest threatening move. It could be space pirates.

    “Let’s see what they want.” Ahsoka decided and opened a channel on the same frequency.

    A small holo of a human showed up, a man dressed in a dark military uniform of unfamiliar cut with an insignia that suggested a senior officer. It was hard to judge the man’s age as the holo kept flickering and breaking into static due to interference from the system’s unstable star but to Ahsoka it seemed the man looked in his forties.

    A human, so far away from any known human settlement?

    Must be an Imperial, a survivor of the shipwreck accident, Ahsoka speculated. A quick glance at Sabine told her the Mandalorian reached the same conclusion.

    “Unidentified ship,” the flickering hologram said, “this is Senior Captain Ivant from the Chiss Ascendancy. Please respond. I repeat, this is Senior Captain Ivant from the Chiss Ascendancy. Please respond.”

    Chiss Ascendancy?

    Ahsoka cleared her throat, pressing a button on the comm console. “Captain Ivant, this is Captain Kana of the Corporate Alliance.” She made up the name on the spot, unwilling to reveal her true name and intentions to a likely Imperial.

    “We are independent traders from the Outer Rim who lost their way in a maelstrom and somehow ended up in this uncharted space. We would be grateful if you could provide navigational charts of the area in our search of a way home.”

    The man in the hologram smiled. It wasn’t a smug or mean smile, rather an amused, heartfelt smile.

    “I understand your reluctance to reveal your identity, Jedi Ahsoka Tano,” the man replied casually with a small shrug, “and I’ll more than happily provide the navigational charts of the area. However, something tells me that you aren’t in a search of way home just yet. Aren’t you still looking for Ezra Bridger?”

    There was no point in denying it, not since the man had known. However, there was the question of the man’s allegiance and true intentions.

    “And you’d happen to know where he is?” Sabine joined the conversation, not bothering to hide her suspicion.

    The man chuckled. “Indeed I would.”

    “Well then,” Sabine said sarcastically, “please happily provide us with the navigational charts and a safe hyperspace route to Ezra so we can go our separate ways.”

    “I can do more than that, Miss Wren,” the man suggested. So he knew the Mandalorian’s identity as well. “I can take you to him. In fact, he should be aboard my commanding officer’s flagship.”

    “Should be?” Mandalorian threw back, narrowing her eyes.

    “Should be. I’m sorry but I’ve been out of contact with the flagship for several weeks, ever since I left once we picked up the transmission from ISD Harbinger’s flight recorder. As we haven’t heard a word from Chimaera’s, we assumed that the ship was looted by scavengers. It wasn’t until I found that nothing was missing that--.”

    “Wait.” Sabine interrupted him sharply. “Transmission? What transmission? We didn’t send anything.”

    The man gave them a guilty look. “You did, albeit unknowingly. The Chiss planted a tracking device into the data cards that would activate once the device was accessed. It would broadcast a code to the ship’s computer terminal, transmitting your position once your ship entered the hyperspace.”

    “Impossible!” Sabine called. “I’d have noticed.”

    The man shrugged. “If you knew what to look for, I’m sure you would. However, the device is of a Chiss origin. I am transmitting the verification code now.”

    A series of numbers and letters appeared next to Captain Ivant.

    Sabine ran a quick diagnostic scan, trying to find the same sequence in the ship’s computer.

    “Karabast,” the Mandalorian cursed. “It’s true. We are bugged. I should have smashed the discs when I had the chance.”

    “If you did, I wouldn’t be there,” the man countered.

    No, he wouldn’t. And it could take months, if not years to find Ezra by any other means. If the shipwreck below them was as useless as the rest, they would have to rethink their strategy and start from scratch.

    What would they do then? Print posters of Ezra with ‘Have you seen this human?’ text attached to it and a holocomm number?

    No.

    They had to this man up on his offer. Even if was a trap.

    Ahsoka knew it, and Sabine knew it, too. It didn’t mean they had to like it.

    “Okay then, send us the star charts and hyperspace route to your flagship. We’ll follow you.” Sabine raised a finger in warning. “We are not coming over.”

    The man didn’t protest. “Understood. However, you have nothing to fear from me, Miss Wren. I give you my word.”

    Sabine snorted. “I don’t trust the word of an Imperial. How did you even survive?”

    “You’re lucky then as I am no longer an Imperial. I serve the Chiss Ascendancy, and a Chiss warrior never breaks his word.” His face contorted in pain. “And as for your other question, it’s simple. I wasn’t aboard. I left for the Chiss Ascendancy before the Seventh Fleet got assigned to Lothal.”

    “You’re a deserter?” Ahsoka asked in surprise.

    The man winced. “Technically, no. However, I suspect the Galactic Empire would think otherwise.”

    Sabine barked a laugh. “There is no Galactic Empire, Captain. After the battle of Jakku, the Imperial Remnant finally realized they’re done for and surrendered.”

    The expression on the man’s face didn’t change.

    “It is true, then,” he said quietly after a while. “The Jedi claimed to have … felt the Emperor’s passing. Just as he claimed you would come one day and find him. Though he expected that Hera Syndulla and Garazeb Orellios would be aboard as well.”

    “Why are you helping us, Captain?” Ahsoka wondered. “What’s it in for you and for the Chiss … Ascendancy? They are Grand Admiral Thrawn’s people, right?”

    While Thrawn’s species was officially listed as “unknown” in the Imperial databanks, with a help of the former ISB Agent Kallus they discovered that the Grand Admiral belonged to a mysterious species called the Chiss originating somewhere from the Unknown Regions. Later they found out that several planets in the Wild Space had legends of the strange blue-skinned aliens with glowing red eyes.

    ‘Legends.’

    More like campfire stories. The Chiss children were said to have magical abilities and their glowing red eyes could steal a person’s soul.

    Another dead end.

    “I’m helping you because Ezra Bridger proved to be a worthy ally to the Chiss Ascendancy and because I gave him my word that I’d find you.”

    “You buried the bodies.” Ahsoka realized.

    “Not alone, obviously,” the man revealed. “But yes, I did. It was the least I could do as delivering them back to their families wasn’t an option.”

    Sabine regarded the captain speculatively, still suspicious.

    “I don’t know, Ahsoka, to me it sounds just like one of Thrawn’s schemes. He’s probably keeping Ezra prisoner and he sent one of his lackeys to fetch us. If Hera and Zeb were here, he’d have us all on a silver plate. The Chiss is cunning like a vulptex.”

    “Grand Admiral Thrawn…” The man took a deep breath before continuing. “Grand Admiral Thrawn is no more.”

    Sabine grunted, but at least she had the decency to press the mute button. “My condolences, Captain,” she said instead. “Lead us in.”


    ******************


    The Chiss commanding officer’s flagship was large, shimmering with muted running lights, bristling with weaponry, and crewed by thousands, if not tens of thousands unfamiliar alien minds. As Sabine followed the landing path assigned by Captain Ivant, Ahsoka reached out to the Force in an attempt to sense Ezra’s presence.

    Ezra? Ezra can you hear me? She called, awaiting the young Jedi’s reply.

    None came.

    She tried harder, repeating the words, and she could swear she felt … something, a presence, unfamiliar and alien presence, muted as if sleeping.

    She bit her lip. No, it wasn’t Ezra.

    Still, she could feel no trap or ill will from the alien minds. Perhaps Ezra simply wasn’t aboard. Ivant said that Ezra ‘should’ be aboard, not that he ‘would’ be aboard.

    True to his word, the human captain stood alone at the landing platform, waiting stiffly at attention as they descended from the ramp.

    Forgoing military salute, Ivant reached out with his right hand in a universal gesture of greeting. Ahsoka returned it warmly, Sabine waved him off.

    “Master Tano, Miss Wren, welcome aboard my ship, The Blue Flame,” Ivant said with a bout of pride in his voice.

    “Tano is fine, Captain, or Ahsoka,” she corrected, looking at the sheer size of the hangar bay. It was impressive, with hundreds of unfamiliar, claw-like fighters hanging from the ceiling. “I’ve never reached the rank of a Jedi Knight, let alone of a Master.”

    “As you wish, Mas—Miss Tano,” Ivant corrected himself right away. “Please follow me, the Admiral will see us immediately.”

    “You didn’t mention it’s your ship,” Sabine mentioned, her eyes lingering on the fighters, airlocks, blast doors and other possible escape routes. “Seems like you made a pretty good name for yourself, Senior Captain.”

    Ivant’s cheeks reddened a little. “Thank you. It wasn’t easy, you know. The Chiss aren’t exactly fond of outsiders. It took a while before I gained their trust and my own command.”

    He cleared his throat.

    “Ummm… I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to surrender your weapons, Miss Tano, Miss Wren.” He said nervously, his eyes darting between Ahsoka’s lightsabers and Sabine’s blasters and vibroblades. “Outsiders aren’t permitted to carry weapons aboard Chiss military vessels.”

    Sabine crossed her arms. “And I am afraid it won’t be possible, Captain. Surely you can make an exception aboard your own ship.”

    “I could…” Ivant said sheepishly, “however, it would be immensely disrespectful towards my commanding officer. Please, I’ve shown you the courtesy of coming alone aboard an unarmed vessel. I’ve given you my word that you have nothing to fear from me, and now I’m giving you my word that you have nothing to fear from my commanding officer or the Chiss Ascendancy.”

    “No.”

    “Pretty please?”

    Sabine snickered. “That won’t work on me, Captain. Ahsoka?”

    Ahsoka regarded the man. There was nothing in his voice or posture that indicated duplicity. Reaching into the Force, she could tell the man was nervous, nervous to be in a presence of a Jedi and a Mandalorian, the Empire’s sworn enemies, but he was also concerned, concerned for the lives of his crew and his commanding officer.

    He desperately wanted to avoid any hostilities and genuinely believed that coming unarmed was the best possible option. There was no deceit.

    Ahsoka reached for her lightsabers and reluctantly handed them over to the human captain who felt as if a great burden fell from his chest. She had to suppress a smile.

    “Let’s see how much your word is worth, Captain,” Sabine said darkly as she handed her blasters and vibroblades to the man. And, after a moment, a couple of thermal detonators.

    “Show us the way.”


    ***************


    Captain Ivant pressed a chime at the side of a door marked with an ornate calligraphy script. The name of the commanding officer, Ahsoka assumed. Not a standard practice aboard Imperial or Republic vessels but she encountered a similar custom of assigning name plates to the crew’s quarters in multiple alien cultures in the Outer Rim.

    As the door opened, she could see a spacious room lit only dimly from the viewports at either side. There were multiple abstract paintings hanging on the walls and marble sculptures positioned in each corner.

    And in the far end of the room, seated behind a desk made from white wash wood, waited an all too familiar Chiss male dressed in a white uniform of the same cut as Ivant’s.

    “Grand Admiral Thrawn.” Sabine hissed, her hand instinctively reaching to her side, clenching her fist in frustration. Had they been allowed to keep their weapons, Ahsoka had no doubt that the blaster would currently be drawn and pointed right at the face of the room’s single occupant.

    A blue-black eyebrow cocked up nonchalantly. “It’s High Admiral now, actually.”

    Ahsoka didn’t need the Force to know that now the blaster would have been discharged. Anger radiated from the Mandalorian in waves. She stepped closer, looking at the room warily. The sculptures could be used as weapons in case of need but being an artist herself, Sabine didn’t want to smash someone’s cultural heritage.

    “I hope that’s a demotion.” Sabine spat out acerbically, her piercing gaze shifting to the human captain. If the looks could kill, there would be two dead bodies by now.

    “You lied to us.”

    Ivant winced. He opened his mouth to speak but the Chiss admiral shook his head, a very human gesture, signaling the man to stay out of the argument.

    “Technically, Captain Ivant told you the truth,” Thrawn stated in a manner of fact tone, slowly rising from his chair, careful to keep his hands where they could see them. “The person you knew as Grand Admiral Thrawn no longer exists. I renounced the name and title soon after my return to the Chiss Ascendancy.”

    The Mandalorian snickered, crossing her arms. She didn’t step away from the sculptures.

    “You changed your name, great,” Sabine said, sarcasm dripping from each word. “But you’re still the same cold-blooded, sneaky son of a Sith as before. What did you do to Ezra?”

    Ahsoka stared as Thrawn’s other eyebrow cocked up.

    Outwardly, Thrawn’s face remained calm, impassive but in the Force, Ahsoka got a faint sense of amusement coming from the Chiss admiral.

    “I assure you, Miss Wren,” Thrawn replied flatly, letting none of the amusement show, “that Ezra Bridger is alive and well.” He shrugged noncommittally. “He is merely otherwise engaged at the moment.”

    Ahsoka frowned. “You haven’t told him.”

    It was extremely hard to read the subtle Chiss body language, and even the Force was of a little use this time. She could sense the admiral was thinking, calculating, going through different scenarios before deciding on what to tell them. However, what exactly was going behind the red glowing eyes remained a mystery.

    “No,” Thrawn admitted without shame. “I thought it best to refrain from telling Bridger about your approach as he had been assigned to an important mission by the Defense Hierarchy Council. Despite his oath to the Chiss Ascendancy, he is still a rebel at heart, and his actions are rash, impulsive. It was imperative that he remained fully focused on the task in hand.”

    “And of course,” he added unapologetically, “Captain Ivant couldn’t have been informed of the young Jedi’s absence as you would no doubt sense duplicity behind his words and refuse to surrender your weapons.”

    Now that it was clear that Thrawn was aware that he would be probed with the Force, Ahsoka decided she might as well give him her undivided attention. She reached out, trying to sense a lie, looking out for even the slightest trace of pretense.

    She could find none. Even if it made little sense, Ezra was working with Thrawn for the Chiss Ascendancy. And Ivant truly had no idea that Ezra wouldn’t be aboard Thrawn’s flagship.

    Sabine, of course, couldn’t use the Force like Ahsoka. “Krayt spit. Why should we believe anything you say?”

    Thrawn didn’t react to the insult. Confident that the Mandalorian wouldn’t attack him now, he put his arms behind his back, straightening to his full height, looking like a commanding officer ready to give them orders.

    “I do not expect you to believe me, Miss Wren, certainly not at the moment,” the Chiss admiral acknowledged.

    Thrawn’s presence in the Force emanated confidence. He was still thinking, calculating, carefully considering his words, but Ahsoka felt he was pretty much certain that now that Sabine suppressed her urge to throw a sculpture at him, he would sway her to his side. Even if it didn’t happen immediately.

    Huh. I wish I had the guy’s self-confidence. Ahsoka thought, listening to their exchange, suppressing a snort as Thrawn invited them to stay as his honored guests, which Sabine immediately corrected to prisoners, gradually becoming aware of a ripple in the Force. It was faint, as if far away, but it grew on an intensity.

    As if someone called.

    As if someone called for help.

    Ahsoka closed her eyes and opened herself fully to the living Force. She stopped her mental probe of the Chiss and focused on their surroundings instead, trying to touch the minds of the crew. Nothing. There were no prisoners aboard, no one calling for help.

    She could only feel the strange, muted presence aboard, the same she had felt upon their arrival. Yet the call didn’t come from it either.

    She took a deep breath, letting her mind wander further. No, the call for help didn’t come from the system they were located in either. It was too faint.

    Yet … it felt strangely familiar, otherwise she wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place.

    Could it be … ?

    Ezra?

    Ezra? Can you hear me?

    Ahsoka jerked awake as she felt a gloved hand touching her shoulder. She blinked, suddenly disoriented, until she realized she was still in Thrawn’s dimly lit office, with all pairs of eyes staring intently at her.

    “Ahsoka?” Sabine asked worriedly, letting go of her shoulder. The Mandalorian was on edge, ready to leap into fight if necessary. “Are you alright? You…phased out. What happened?”

    Ahsoka motioned Sabine to stand down before addressing Thrawn. “It’s Ezra,” she said with inner conviction. “His life is in danger.”

    Thrawn kept staring at her with the glowing red eyes, his Chiss mind racing. She was aware how ridiculous it must sound to the former Imperial, especially to someone with a mind so logical, so analytical as his.

    “A warrior’s life is always in danger.”

    Ahsoka shook her head furiously, her head-tails wringing. “This is different. He’s calling for help.”

    “Is he calling you for help?” A shadow crossed Thrawn’s face. “That would be quite a coincidence.”

    “No,” Ahsoka supposed. Clearly the Chiss admiral didn’t believe her. “At least I don’t think he’s aware of my presence. He’s trying to reach out to anyone who can hear him. Anyone nearby.”

    Ahsoka sighed in frustration, trying to appeal to Thrawn’s military rank. “I’m sorry it doesn’t make sense, admiral.”

    Thrawn exchanged a meaningful look with Ivant.

    “Could you please try and … sense,” the Chiss hesitated, uttering the last word with obvious distaste, “Bridger’s surroundings? His location, perhaps? The type of danger he is facing?”

    “That’s not how the Force works, Thrawn!” Sabine interjected, challenging the Chiss. “She is no sensor array!”

    Ahsoka stroked her head-tail. She tried to reach out once more, searching for Ezra’s position. He was systems away, that much she could tell, but she couldn’t pinpoint his exact location due to the maelstroms that made the Unknown Regions a navigational nightmare. They weren’t just obstacles for the nav computers, they were disturbances in the Force.

    “I’m sorry, admiral,” Ahsoka lowered her eyes. “I only know we must act now. And it is no coincidence. It’s the will of the Force. We are meant to find him.”

    The room fell silent.

    Thrawn exchanged another long, meaningful look with Ivant.

    The Chiss became completely unreadable even with the Force, however, the human captain emanated exasperation, frustration, and disbelief. Ahsoka couldn’t blame him, even back in the days of the Old Republic, local militia and security forces dismissed the will of the Force as mere superstition.

    The only armed forces that listened to the Jedi’s fears and concerns were the Clone Troopers, but then the troopers were genetically modified for obedience and implanted with a brain chip as a safeguard.

    “Very well,” Thrawn said grimly, coming to a difficult decision. He took out a device that served as the comm link and spoke in a strange, fluid language. Ivant gave him a curt nod and left the room in advance, leaving the door open.

    “As much as I personally dislike relying on unfounded claims and empty messages of impending doom, I must admit that the Jedi devilry has repeatedly been proven true.”


    ******************


    While the bridge layout of a Chiss ship was very different from any Imperial or Republic vessel, there was the same buzz of activity Ahsoka came to associate with admiralty inspections and diplomatic visits, with everyone fully committed to the task as their actions would be reviewed and thoroughly evaluated later.

    Yet no one gave them as much as a curious glance as they walked past the junior officer’s section, behaving as if a Togruta and a Mandalorian aboard was an everyday occurrence.

    No, Ahsoka realized slowly, Captain Ivant didn’t leave earlier to inform the crew of their arrival in an attempt to make sure the crew’s performance made an impression at the foreign emissaries, this was simply how the Chiss warship operated even under normal conditions.

    “Status report,” Thrawn asked in Basic as they approached the human captain who was in a deep discussion, presumably with his Chiss first officer.

    Ivant’s tanned, brown complexion stood out among the dozen pale blue faces yet his stance and manners blended well with the rest of the crew. Calm, reserved, professional, at least on the outside. Ahsoka knew Ivant had his doubts and reservations about the rescue attempt but none of them showed in his voice or facial features.

    She only half-listened as the captain formally replied that all stations were operational and the ship was combat-ready when suddenly a word caught her attention.

    “–sky-walker Na’rii and her caretaker will be with us momentarily.”

    Skywalker?

    “Skywalker?” Ahsoka interrupted them sharply, a dull pain rising in her chest upon hearing the familiar name.

    “A sky-walker,” Thrawn stated in a calm, detached manner, annoyed at the interruption, “or ‘ozyly-esehembo’ is a Cheunh term for Force-sensitive Chiss navigators which translates back to Galactic Basic as a sky-walker. The resemblance with the name of your former Master Anakin Skywalker is purely coincidental.”

    As if on cue, the main door opened, revealing two Chiss females, a mother and a daughter judging by the age difference, who looked at the Togruta and Mandalorian with open confusion.

    “It’s you,” Ahsoka breathed, pointing at the young girl, not older than ten years by human or Togrutan standards. “You’re the one I sensed upon arrival.”

    The girl jerked in shock, quickly hiding behind the Chiss woman who threw Ahsoka a disapproving glare.

    “I see,” Thrawn said in Basic before switching to the Chiss language, Cheunh, presumably explaining the situation.

    Ahsoka suppressed a grimace, feeling stupid. Of course they wouldn’t understand Basic.

    The young girl seemed to relax then, at least fractionally. She stepped forward, letting go of her mother’s skirt. “You are Master Ah’soka?” She said in heavily accented Basic. “Master Ez’ra told me about you.”

    Ahsoka felt her jaw dropping, and a quick glance at Sabine told her she wasn’t the only one taken aback. Not only the girl could speak Basic but she met with Ezra!

    “Umm, yes,” she stammered. “I am Ahsoka Tano. And this is Sabine Wren. We are Ezra’s friends.”

    The girl’s eyes shone with excitement, her face breaking into a wide grin. She behaved as if she met with hero characters from a holovision series. It was funny, really, how expressive the child was compared to the adult Chiss.

    “I am Na’rii, the ship’s navigator,” the girl introduced herself with pride in her voice. “And this is my caretaker, Kres’ani’vadia.”

    Oh, so the woman wasn’t her mother.

    “Navigator Na’rii,” Thrawn cut her off, crouching down on one knee so he would be on an eye level with the child. It wasn’t a rebuke, if anything his tone was kind, encouraging. So strange coming from a man who had bombed Lothal’s cities and massacred civilians at Batonn according to the historical records.

    “We are in a need of your assistance. According to Master Ah’soka, Master Ez’ra’s life is in danger. Apparently, he is trying to connect with other sky-walkers using the Sight. Do you think it would be possible to join souls with Master Ah’soka here and try to ascertain his location?”

    Na’rii chewed her lip worriedly, falling silent for a moment. “I dunno,” she whispered. There was a clear worry in her face, also fear, self-doubt, and a weight of responsibility that a child of her age should not bear. “Can we jump to hyperspace?”

    “Of course, Na’rii,” Captain Ivant assured her, coming over to the girl to give her a supportive pat on the head. “I can give the general order to prepare for a hyperspace jump if you think it’ll help you to focus.”

    “Ummm.” Na’rii mumbled softly in resignation. She didn’t want to do it, Ahsoka realized. She wanted to go back to sleep or play with her favorite toys. Yet she didn’t want anything bad happen to Ezra either.

    “No wonder you allied with the Empire, Thrawn,” Sabine spat out in open disgust, her voice cold as durasteel. She looked as if she was ready to spit the Chiss in the face. “If the Chiss Ascendancy has the habit of using child labor on warships.”

    Thrawn sighed, and slowly, almost painfully drew himself up to face the Mandalorian. He looked tired, weary from deflecting Sabine’s verbal attacks, but with the Force, Ahsoka got a glimpse of personal, well-hidden pain as if her words finally pierced through the impassive mask.

    “This is not the time nor place to lead such discussion, Miss Wren. According to Miss Tano, time is of the essence. For now, it suffices to say that the Chiss ability to use the Force is limited to one skill only, the one of precognition. It allows us to safely guide our ships through the navigational anomalies of the Unknown Regions which greatly reduces the time needed to travel from one planet to another. Unfortunately, the ability fades with time which leaves the Chiss Ascendancy with no other option than as you crudely but amply put it, using child labor on warships.”

    The words didn’t alleviate Sabine’s anger or disgust but at least made her swallow a couple of well earned Mandalorian curses.

    Ahsoka didn’t like it one bit either, but then the old Jedi Order had the habit of separating children from their parents, raising them in the Temple since infancy. Technically, Ahsoka was no longer a Jedi but still, she felt she shouldn’t be the one throwing stones in Thrawn’s direction.

    “Alright, admiral, take me to the navigational console,” Ahsoka conceded, drawing on the living Force to give her strength. Joining minds with another Jedi was a delicate procedure, one that could have potentially catastrophic results if the two individuals couldn’t hold their emotions in check.

    Joining mind with an alien child full of worry and fear was a feat that would require all strength Ahsoka could muster.


    *****************


    After several awkward and unsuccessful attempts at joint meditation, they decided it would be best if Ahsoka sat down into the navigator’s chair with Na’rii sitting on her lap, submersed into the deep trance that Chiss Force-sensitives used for hyperspace navigation.

    She put her hands to the girl’s temples, the physical sense of skin-to-skin touch facilitating the flow of thoughts as Na’rii traveled blindly through hyperspace.

    She could feel the girl’s worry as they approached a star or a comet which would tear through the ship’s hull like a lightsaber, followed by a profound sense of relief as the ship flew past the imminent danger without alerting the proximity sensors.

    Neither of them had any idea how long they were flying, projecting their thoughts in all directions.

    Ezra?

    Ez’ra? Na’rii’s mind echoed.

    Can you hear me?

    Ohyun-ne vodamavrun? Na’rii’s mind shouted in Cheunh.

    Where are you?

    Hanmzen kephu’drane?

    Na’rii? Finally came an answer from behind them. And… Ahsoka? Ahsoka is that you?!

    Ahsoka squeezed her eyes shut as the raw sense of relief and happiness coming from the girl overwhelmed her, threatening to cut the mental connection.

    Ezra, hold on, we are coming! She shouted as she felt Na’rii turning the ship about, heading in Ezra’s direction at full speed.

    “We have him,” Ahsoka breathed out, opening her eyes just in time to see the star trails slow down into star dots as they re-entered real space.

    Ahsoka gently pulled away from the still sleeping child, giving her into the hands of the caretaker who started whispering to the girl softly in Cheunh, presumably telling Na’rii to wake up. Now that their mental connection was gone, Ahsoka could no longer understand the language.

    With Sabine’s support, she made it to the command section, feeling dizzy from the surreal experience. Never once in her life had she imagined it’d be possible to guide a ship through hyperspace, especially in the part of the galaxy which was infamous for space anomalies and gravitational wells. There were only of a handful ships that made it to the Unknown Regions and back to tell the tale.

    Thrawn and Ivant were already discussing their findings with the ship’s senior officers, speaking quietly but urgently in Cheunh. Ahsoka took a look out of the viewports, her knees almost giving up on her once she realized she was looking at the aftermath of a battle, with space debris scattered all around a dull, lifeless planet.

    What in the blazes was going on?

    She silently prayed they didn’t come too late.

    “Captain Ivant,” Thrawn switched to Galactic Basic when he noticed their presence. “Send out two squadrons of clawcrafts with instructions not to engage enemy fighters unless fired upon first. It is possible the Jedi may be hiding aboard one of the surviving vessels.”

    Vessels? What vessels? There were only … rocks. And debris.

    “Admiral?” She asked in confusion as she tried to mentally connect with Ezra once more.

    Ahsoka? Came back a relieved reply. Ahsoka, I’m here! Look!

    “Over there, admiral.” She pointed at one of the rocks, the Force guiding her hand. “He is there. And … he is not alone?” She frowned as she felt another presence in the Force, similar to Na’rii’s but much fainter.

    “It is no rock,” Thrawn corrected her in a tone which betrayed that he wished he was wrong. “And the Chiss Ascendancy never lets sky-walkers travel without protection. There was a picket force accompanying Bridger and sky-walker Em’ryn into the enemy territory. I did not say this since you mentioned feeling only the young Jedi’s presence.”

    His glowing eyes flickered over to yawning Na’rii.

    “I didn’t want to place the Navigator under unnecessary stress. As you couldn’t feel sky-walker Em’ryn’s presence, there was a distinct possibility that the Chiss was already dead. Having personally selected their entourage, it was clear to me that the picket force commander would have fought until the last warrior to protect Em’ryn. The survival of a sky-walker is of the utmost priority to the Chiss Ascendency.”

    Ahsoka nodded in agreement with the admiral’s reasoning. Telling Na’rii would cloud the girl’s judgment, jeopardizing the rescue mission and possibly endangering their lives as well.

    “What are they?” Ahsoka made a wide gesture in the general direction of the rock-like enemy ships and the scorched planet.

    Thrawn’s impassive face hardened. “All will be revealed in time, Miss Tano. Now we must rescue the two and secure the perimeter.”

    His glowing eyes scanned the wreckage which was all that left of the Chiss picket force.

    “And,” Thrawn added in a tone which sent a shiver up her spine, “plan a swift, crushing retaliation.”


    *****************


    Ahsoka stared in awe at the strange creature that was being pulled into the main hangar using Chiss version of a tractor beam. From the distance it resembled a rock but now as the vessel approached it reminded her of underwater corals living in the seas of Mon Cala.

    How in the blazes had Ezra managed to pilot this … thing?

    She knew from Kanan that the young Jedi had an ability to connect with the flora and fauna of Lothal, so perhaps he joined minds with the creature and convinced it to let them escape?

    She raised her hand, trying to reach out with the Force but nothing came out of it. As if it was … dead, empty, or devoid of a mind she could touch. She’d have to ask Ezra later.

    Slowly, carefully, the coral was being transported inside by an invisible beam, until finally, a yellow light flashed above the transparent air-lock door that opened with a loud hiss as the oxygen atmosphere in the hangar bay restored to breathable levels.

    Ahsoka and Sabine stepped aside to let in a squad of Chiss warriors and medics as per Thrawn’s orders. Now was not the time to undermine the admiral’s authority or argue who was more competent to subdue possible enemy soldiers aboard.

    The creature seemed truly dead as it did not move or open its ‘mouth’ to let out the passengers. Then Ahsoka heard a distinctive snap-hiss of a lightsaber and smiled as she saw the familiar green glow cutting its way through the coral’s hard shell.

    He must have created a new one, Ahsoka realized, as Ezra’s old lightsaber remained at Lothal.

    They all waited in silence until Ezra was finished with the makeshift entrance and threw the coral wall aside using Force push.

    “Krai naramaz!” Ezra shouted in Cheunh as he exited the vessel, carrying a limp Chiss in his hands. It must have meant ‘medic’ or ‘emergency’ as the Chiss medics immediately rushed forward, taking the Chiss male and placing him on a stretcher.

    The Chiss warriors pulled back, lowering their weapons, and stepped aside to give them some privacy. Even Thrawn, who was barely holding himself back from demanding a full report from the young Jedi, walked away begrudgingly, pretending to examine the lifeless coral.

    “Ezra!” Sabine shouted, tears in her eyes, as she ran towards the young Jedi and pulled him into a crashing hug. “Ezra, you’re alive. I’ve missed you so much!”

    “Sabine!” Ezra hissed in pain, breaking into a coughing fit. “You’re killing me! I can’t breathe!”

    The Mandalorian released her iron grip on the young Jedi. She wiped her tears with one hand, punching him in the chest with the other.

    “You idiot!” She snapped, unleashing her anger. “When you disappeared with the purrgils we all thought you died! The Lothal government held your funeral!”

    The hand which punched Ezra now pointed at Thrawn in an accusatory manner.

    “And here you are,” she continued, throwing proverbial daggers in the direction of the said Chiss who was pretending to study the coral, “working with him of all people! After everything he did at Lothal. I just… I can’t believe it!”

    “Sabine,” Ezra said softly, hugging her back gently. “Sabine, calm down. I can explain.”

    “And you stink!” She finished, withdrawing from the embrace with a grimace, covering her nose.

    Ahsoka had to admit the Mandalorian was right. The stench coming from the young Jedi was terrible.

    “Of course I stink!” Ezra defended himself vigorously, his pride hurt. “I was stuck in the thing’s mouth for kriff’s sake!”

    A cough interrupted them.

    “If you are quite finished with the theatrics…” Thrawn began but the two humans threw him a death glare.

    “We are not!” They shouted in unison.

    Thrawn wisely retreated without a word, resuming his study of the alien vessel. He motioned to the Chiss warriors to disperse and judging from the stunned, completely baffled Chiss minds, Ahsoka reasoned that such raw, open displays of emotions in public were not common in the Ascendancy.

    “It is good to see you, Ezra,” Ahsoka smiled, interrupting their quarrel.

    The young Jedi returned the smile sheepishly, his cheeks reddening in embarrassment. “Um, it’s good to see you too, Ahsoka. I’d give you a hug,” he hesitated, looking at the condition he was in, his clothes stained with the creature’s saliva and other body fluids. “but I don’t want to smear your white cape. You look so regal now.”

    Ahsoka chuckled.

    “And you look like Kanan now,” Sabine threw in, looking the young Jedi up and down. It was true. The once little boy has grown into a tall, handsome man with broad shoulders and long blue-black hair pulled into a ponytail. He grew a beard on his chin, too, a similar to the one that Kanan Jarrus wore in his earlier days before the Jedi Knight lost his sight.

    Ezra laughed awkwardly, scratching his head. “I don’t think Kanan ever looked as if he fell into a sarlacc pit, though.”

    “Thanks for the rescue, by the way,” Ezra added, his tone serious. He gave her a small bow in thanks. “It’s possible that another sky-walker would have picked it up but who knew how long it’d take and Em’ryn certainly wouldn’t make it.”

    “Em’ryn?” Ahsoka repeated the Chiss name. “Is he your padawan?”

    “Yes and no.” Ezra paused. “It’s kinda complicated. The Chiss Ascendancy wouldn’t let me train their sky-walkers due to ‘religious and philosophical differences with the Jedi Order’ and even though I still tried I couldn’t find a way for the Chiss children to unlock other Force skills. So what I’ve been doing was trying to find a way to stop their abilities from deteriorating with time.”

    Ahsoka rubbed her chin in thought. “I have never heard of a species whose Force-sensitives lose their ability in adulthood. If you succeeded, though, it would mean that the children wouldn’t have to bear the burden of war.”

    “Yeah,” Ezra muttered, his tone weary. He had been forced to fight from early childhood as well. “That’s why I agreed. I don’t like seeing kids sent to war. Em’ryn is one of the first few whose skills didn’t fade.”

    “That’s awesome, Ezra!” Sabine’s face softened, her anger at working with the former enemy receding. She’d seen war horrors as a child, too. “Kanan would be so proud of you.”

    “Unfortunately,” Thrawn stepped in, his patience with the two humans wearing thin. “The Chiss Force-sensitives are born almost exclusively female. The few individuals who fully retained the Third Sight are all males, thus the young Jedi’s guidance has been of very limited use.”

    Ezra gritted his teeth. “You just love rubbing salt into the wound, don’t you?”

    “I am merely stating facts.”

    “Nerf****.” Ezra threw back a curse. “Anyway, how did you manage to convince the Syndicure to let Ahsoka join minds with Na’rii? It took months before they let me anywhere near them.”

    For Ahsoka and Sabine, he clarified: “The existence of sky-walkers is one of most guardedly kept secrets of the Ascendancy.”

    Thrawn let out an innocent shrug. “Had I waited for their approval, you would have been long dead. We couldn’t afford to waste time with pointless political bickering and displays of power between the Ruling Families.”

    Ezra let out a loud whistle. “Dude, they’ll be pissed.”

    Thrawn slowly inclined his head. “They will most certainly protest, however, I suspect their anger will be re-directed elsewhere once they hear the outcome of your own reconnaissance mission.”

    Ezra scowled.

    For Ahsoka and Sabine, he explained: “It’s funny how much the Chiss warriors take pride at remaining calm, impassive, and composed at all circumstances, yet the Chiss politicians spit venom in their general direction and shout louder than sellers at a Lothal’s nightmarket.”

    “At least you managed to save Navigator Em’ryn.” Thrawn changed the topic but from the sense of amusement coming from the Chiss, Ahsoka could tell that he completely agreed with Ezra’s assessment of the Chiss government.

    “Not all is lost, then. Once his injuries are healed, he can testify before the Syndicure about the severity of this threat, and then I will be finally given a free hand.” He said, satisfaction clear in his voice.

    A pause.

    “You were attacked first, weren’t you?”

    “Ummm,” Ezra stroked his beard. “I guess. They really didn’t like us poking around the mess they made.” He pointed in the direction of the lifeless planet.

    “That should probably suffice.”

    “So that’s it, Thrawn?” Sabine said darkly, her posture stiffening. “Your own people just died and you’re going to use it in your … favor? Is everyone a mere pawn in your schemes?”

    Ezra couldn’t miss an opportunity to rub salt into the wound either.

    “The only time he ever stopped scheming was when he lay down with a fever from septic shock on the Force-forsaken planet. Karabast, he turned even his own disgrace into his favor when his family disowned him for his Imperial antics. He accepted a senior position in the Chiss military and now the Mitths can’t touch him.”

    “There will be time for mourning later,” Thrawn said in a deceptively mild tone, daring Ezra to keep going. However, his presence in the Force was clouded, reminding Ahsoka of the calm before a storm. Perhaps Thrawn wasn’t as unaffected as his calm demeanor suggested.

    “First you have to come up with a ten-year plan for the two?” Ezra waved in the direction of Sabine and Ahsoka, still taunting the Chiss.

    Thrawn didn’t react.

    “It is impossible to plan so far ahead in our present condition. However, Miss Tano could assume the role of a mentor for our female sky-walkers and I have no doubt that Miss Wren’s extensive knowledge of combat skills, weaponry, demolition, engineering, and slicing would be of use to the Chiss Ascendancy.”

    “See?” Ezra made a wide, theatrical gesture on purpose.

    The Mandalorian rolled her eyes. “A fat chance, Thrawn.”

    “We shall begin by telling the Syndicure about Miss Tano’s successful connection with Na’rii,” Thrawn continued, not bothering to respond to the derisive comments. “Giving them an impression that her years of experience and gender would be the solution to our navigational problem. Only time will tell whether or not the girls’ abilities deteriorate in adulthood, however, it would give the Syndics a good reason not imprison your friends until they have reached the conclusion that their knowledge of sky-walkers poses no threat to the Ascendancy. Which, as you mentioned yourself, could take months.”

    A blue-black eyebrow cocked up. “Unless, of course, you have an objection to the plan, Miss Tano.”

    Unwillingly, Ahsoka had to admit that the admiral was just as sly and cunning as Sabine described. Still, the Force wouldn’t have led her here if it didn’t want them to ally with Thrawn.

    Very well, she’d play his game. Even if she had her doubts that the Chiss would be able to hold a fully trained Jedi and a Mandalorian as prisoners for months.

    “No objections, admiral.”

    “Excellent.” Thrawn said and turned to leave. “I give you an hour to rest and refresh yourselves and then I shall share the Defense Hierarchy Council intelligence reports. Once you realize what we face…”

    The glowing red eyes bore deeply into Sabine’s soul.

    “…what we truly face, then your opinion will change, Miss Wren.”



    THE END
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2020
  2. Katrinka

    Katrinka Jedi Youngling

    Registered:
    Oct 18, 2019
    Nice and funny as always. Can we get more???
     
  3. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Ezra bumped into the Vong, huh?
     
  4. MissKitsune08

    MissKitsune08 Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 3, 2018
    He did. There is a reason why Vongs don't pop up in Canon: Thrawn and Ezra beat the **** out of them.
     
  5. MissKitsune08

    MissKitsune08 Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 3, 2018
    Bonus Chapter

    Author’s note:

    I don’t like present-tense italics in Canon!Thrawn’s POV. It’s so distracting, at least to me, a non-native English speaker. That’s why Thrawn’s observation of Ezra’s body language is in the past tense without italics.

    And as for Thrawn’s new name… I managed to dodge the blaster bolt in the first chapter but this one is written from Thrawn’s POV so I had to come up with a name free of family ties.

    Based on the Al'iastov - Mitth'ali'astov name change I assume that he'd be called Admiral Ra'wnuru. But I might be dead wrong. *shrugs*


    **********************


    SQUEE! SQUEE! SQUEE!”

    Admiral Ra’wnuru let his glowing gaze fall to the floor, raising a blue-black eyebrow at the MSE-6 repair droid that had been running around in circles.

    The machine had a peculiar way of demanding attention.

    “Navigator Em’ryn is out of surgery and his condition is currently stable,” Ra’wnuru informed the repair droid in a matter-of-fact tone. “While he remains unconscious you may tell Bridger that he is permitted to visit the patient. In fact, Miss Tano is already here.”

    It felt unnatural to address the machine as if he was speaking to a member of the crew. However, Ra’wnuru was fully aware that Bridger had not only salvaged the MSE-6 repair droid from the Chimaera ’s shipwreck, he had it completely re-programmed, and never once issued a memory wipe, giving birth to a wholly new, if artificial entity.

    As a result, the machine behaved like an animal kept for companionship.

    While Ra’wnuru had spent years studying battle droids of the Clone War era, it had never occurred to him to let his old droids … ‘live’ their own lives, if such a phrase was even applicable.

    Nevertheless, it turned out to be an interesting experiment, providing Ra’wnuru with a fresh insight into the minds of both his current allies and enemies.

    The MSE-6 unit made a series of unintelligible noises, presumably in acknowledgment, hit reverse, and wheeled to report the news to its maker. As expected, it didn’t take long before it returned with the young Jedi in its wake.

    “Thrawn.” The human said in greeting, addressing Ra’wnuru by his former core name.

    “Bridger.” Ra’wnuru replied in kind, slowly inclining his head.

    They were no longer Thrawn and Bridger, yet they kept addressing each other as such.

    He became Ra’wnuru after accepting a position in the Defense Hierarchy Council, severing the ties between him and the rest of his family – not that he had one; he had been disowned immediately upon his return.

    And the young Jedi resigned to being addressed as sky-walker Ez’ra (or Master Ez’ra once he assumed the role of a teacher), in a similar manner to how Eli Vanto eventually resigned to Eli’van’to and Ivant.

    “I trust that Miss Wren finds her new accommodations agreeable?” Ra’wnuru stated as it was apparent with whom the young Jedi had been.

    The two no doubt discussed the further escapades of the Ghost crew, the political shift in the Galaxy that followed, and the events that led to then-Grand Admiral Thrawn’s and Commander Bridger’s reluctant alliance.

    The human snorted.

    “Oh, it’s comfy, alright, but unless you want New Republic graffiti all over the ship, you’d better return her weapons.”

    “That would only alienate the captain, Bridger.” Ra’wnuru reasoned, putting his hands behind his back. “I would not object to seeing Miss Wren’s art, even if it was to celebrate the chaos which now engulfs the galaxy.”

    “Freedom, Thrawn. It’s called freedom.”

    “Two sides of the same credit.” Ra’wnuru recalled the old Imperial saying. The type of freedom the Rebel Alliance restored in the Galaxy had no place among the Chiss either.

    The Chiss Ascendancy was a form of oligarchy; the commoners had their basic needs provided by their families, and everything else would be obtained through skills and servitude.

    The reward for exceptional skills and servitude was acceptance into one of the Ruling Families, meaning even the poorest commoners could become the decision makers themselves. As was the case with Thrawn.

    And just as anyone could ascend the societal ladder, anyone could also descend back into the sea of ordinary Chiss citizens. As was also the case with Thrawn.

    “Regarding Miss Wren,” Ra’wnuru continued, bringing himself back to the present with obvious effort, “she will be given her weapons back as a gesture of good will. After all, she is a Mandalorian. Weapons are part of their religion.”

    “Thanks,” Bridger murmured. He crossed the room in a brisk stride and stopped next to Ra’wnuru, in front of the semi-transparent door leading to Em’ryn’s medical suite.

    He seemed hesitant to enter.

    In fact, Ra’wnuru was hesitant to enter as well, though for a different reason than Bridger. He didn’t know how exactly the Jedi healing trance worked; whether the presence of another being could interrupt Tano’s deep concentration, thus endangering the patient’s life. So he waited.

    “And thanks for organizing the rescue party so quickly, Em’ryn wouldn’t have made it without Ahsoka’s help.” Bridger added even more quietly. Such an admission didn’t come easily to his former enemy.

    Ra’wnuru waved his hand dismissively. “I have been bending protocol and disregarding traditions all my life, Bridger. It will be yet another reprimand added to my already extensive disciplinary record.”

    His mind went back to the first time he and Bridger had been summoned by the Syndicure. Indeed, Bridger’s colorful exclamation had been highly entertaining: “I can’t believe it! They’re even worse pricks than you are!

    “Have you ever performed this technique?” Ra’wnuru gestured at the Togruta.

    She was bent over the Chiss male, her hands spread wide, her eyes firmly shut, her facial muscles contorted in deep concentration, her head-tails uncharacteristically stiff. There was an unusual shift in her body heat distribution, as if she was transferring warmth from her hands into the Chiss.

    To the Chiss doctors’ further bewilderment, the worst affected areas of Em’ryn’s body became hyperactive in response, as if the transferred warmth accelerated the healing process.

    The Chiss doctors had already noticed that Bridger’s injuries tended to heal at a much faster rate than Ivant’s, but this was the first time they witnessed the effects of Force healing on another being. From now on, they would be insufferable, attempting to claim Tano for themselves.

    “No.” Bridger scratched his head in thought. “I’ve never tried.”

    “Curious.” Ra’wnuru tilted his head to the side. “I was under the assumption that there is no try.”

    Bridger rolled his eyes theatrically. “You seriously gonna quote the Jedi code back to me, Thrawn?”

    “I merely remembered the phrase you once mentioned: ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’”

    “Well then, I never did,” Bridger clipped, his sharp tone clearly stating he did not like to be reminded of his own limitations or lack of knowledge.

    And failures.

    “Would the presence of another being disrupt Miss Tano’s concentration?” Ra’wnuru asked inconspicuously, careful to keep his voice as impassive as possible. After all, it was what he had been pondering.

    He focused his attention on the Togruta, once again making notes of the changes in her body heat distribution in an effort to lure the young Jedi’s mind away from the carefully-laid trap.

    Bridger frowned. “I don’t think so.”

    Success.

    “Yet you hesitate to enter.” Ra’wnuru struck without warning, causing the young Jedi to visibly recoil in shame.

    He had expected Bridger to lash out in anger, to utter an unimaginative expletive or a crude remark at Ra’wnuru’s parentage or lack thereof.

    Instead, Bridger fell silent, his body musculature tensed, the blood vessels in his face pulsing faster, his breathing pattern uneven.

    “You are afraid that Em’ryn could wake up.” Ra’wnuru struck once more as the human clenched his shaking fists, his knuckles going white.

    “You are afraid of his judgment.” Ra’wnuru delivered the final blow, watching as a tear appeared in the corner of the human’s eye, slowly finding its way down the pale face.

    Bridger must have been in a worse mental state than Ra’wnuru had originally assumed.

    It wasn’t the first time he had seen Bridger cry. It had happened before, multiple times in fact, during the time they had been marooned together on the uninhabited planet. Once the young Jedi realized just how many people had died as a result of his reckless actions, once he had heard their screams even after their deaths – or so he claimed. A disturbance in the Force, he had called it.

    Perhaps today there was another disturbance in the Force?

    “It wasn’t your fault.” Ra’wnuru ceased fire.

    “Navigator Em’ryn may or may not understand command decisions, but after analysing your escape it is clear to me that there was nothing you could have done to prevent the death of Commander Kres’ten’tarthi.”

    “I couldn’t do anything…” Bridger admitted in a hoarse voice, closing his eyes firmly shut. “It felt like watching Kanan die all over again.”

    Ah.

    “Your master sacrificed his life to save yours. Just like Kres’ten’tarthi, I presume.”

    While marooned, they had accused each other of numerous deaths; Thrawn listing how many Imperials had been killed either directly or indirectly by the Ghost crew during their entire stay at Lothal, Bridger listing how many beings suffered under the tyranny of the Empire in general and under Thrawn’s Imperial occupation, including the number of civilian casualties at Batonn, and whatever else Agent Kallus had been able to dig up on Thrawn.

    However, the one topic that Bridger had always avoided was Kanan Jarrus’s death. He didn’t blame Thrawn. Or Pryce. He blamed himself.

    “I watched him die…” Bridger’s voice was barely above a whisper.

    Ra’wnuru lowered his glowing gaze to the floor, giving the shaken human an illusion of privacy.

    They had a strange relationship. While marooned, they had saved each other’s lives countless times, tending to each other’s wounds, sharing food and valuable resources. They had loathed each other at first, cooperating out of pure necessity. However, the mutual feelings of resentment came to pass as the sense of loneliness set in, leading them to spend more and more time in each other’s company. Topics of personal nature eventually followed. Until finally reluctant admissions of guilt and shame.

    Statistically speaking, Bridger’s total kill count greatly outweighed his own. However, Thrawn was responsible for deaths of civilians, which constituted a war crime in any sentient culture.

    “Just like I watched Kanan die…” A small sob escaped him. “You know what the moactan teel told me?”

    Ra’wnuru raised his head, resuming his observation of the human. “I was unaware you were familiar with Cheunh derogatory terms.” He said dryly.

    Moactan teel – literally translated as ‘fair haired’ into the Galactic Basic; a fairly potent Cheunh insult implying that something about the addressee was non-Chiss, thus barbarous. All Chiss had blue-black hair which would turn into gray or silver in old age.

    Ktah, Thrawn.” Bridger uttered yet another Cheunh expletive, this time at Ra’wnuru’s expense.

    “Manners, Master Ez’ra. Manners.” Ra’wnuru addressed the young Jedi by his official Chiss name and title. If Bridger’s students heard their teacher speak in such crude language, they would be horrified.

    Bridger barked out a laugh, empty of all amusement.

    “He quoted the Chiss warrior code to me: ‘The role of a warrior is to protect the Chiss people; the warrior’s own survival is of only secondary importance.’”

    Ra’wnuru slowly inclined his head. “That is the Chiss warrior code.”

    Kres’ten’tarthi knew his duty; the survival of a sky-walker was of utmost importance to the Chiss Ascendancy. Technically, it extended to Bridger as well, since he possessed the same precognition ability. However, only a few Chiss would sacrifice their own lives for an outsider.

    “No doubt you called him moactan teel to his face.” Ra’wnuru surmised.

    Bridger and Stent didn’t get along for a reason. By Chiss standards, Stent was considered short-tempered, often seething with anger, openly referring to Bridger as a spoiled brat in a desperate need of corporate punishment. Until one day the Chiss warrior finally snapped and struck him.

    Bridger let out a deep exhale. “Yeah.”

    “What did he say?”

    Bridger’s expression turned grim. “Nothing. He pushed us away. Just like Kanan.”

    For a moment, neither of them spoke.

    SQUEE! SQUEE! SQUEE!”

    The MSE-6 repair droid chose the moment to disperse the tense atmosphere in the room, making a series of unintelligible noises, wheeling in and running frantically around in circles.

    The machine truly had a peculiar way of demanding attention.

    Bridger’s expression softened. The muscles around his eyes relaxed, a corner of his lips quirked up, the distribution of his body warmth altered slightly in the infra-red.

    “Hey there, little mousey.” Bridger addressed the droid soothingly, and lowered himself down on the hard floor, assuming a cross-legged position.

    The MSE-6 unit continued chirping, moving back and forth.

    Bridger reached out to the droid with his hand, a small smile appearing on his lips.

    Ra’wnuru stared speechless, suppressing the urge to take the droid apart and analyze its programming. It behaved as if it recognized Bridger’s emotional distress and tried to alleviate his mood.

    Successfully.

    “Did he…” Bridger trailed off; he used telekinesis to lift the droid from the ground and moved it onto his lap. “Were Stent and Saniva close?”

    Kres’ani’vadia, Navigator Na’rii’s caretaker.

    “They were from the same household.” Ra’wnuru disclosed thoughtfully. “Although whether they were related by blood or by adoption I do not know.”

    Bridger nodded, caressing the droid as if it was a domestic animal.

    Ra’wnuru remembered another Jedi saying that Bridger had once mentioned: ‘The Force is in all living things.’ He wondered briefly, while observing the artificial entity in Bridger’s lap, did it apply to the droids as well? Was that the reason why it … bonded with Bridger so naturally?

    “Did Stent have a family of his own?”

    “No.”

    “Hera has a son. Kanan’s.” Bridger said with a bittersweet smile, then winced, realizing he revealed a top secret. “Umm… Don’t tell Sabine that you know. She’s under the impression that once you’re done here, you’ll maneuver the Chiss Defense fleet into attacking the New Republic, going after the Ghost crew first in revenge.”

    Ra’wnuru couldn’t blame the Mandalorian for her assumptions, not after what he had said at Atollon: “And now, Captain Syndulla, I will accept your formal surrender. Or you will watch your friends perish, one by one, beginning with the Jedi.”

    Bridger added, half-jokingly: “And that you’d probably eat the kid alive.”

    “I dislike the taste of raw meat,” was all that Ra’wnuru said aloud, thinking. Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla had an offspring?

    Had the boy inherited the Jedi Knight’s abilities?

    If so, would he be separated from his Twi’lek mother and raised into a Jedi? By whom?

    Not by Bridger or Tano, that much was clear, the two seemed convinced that their place was here.

    Who else was there?

    Moreover, what were the current military capabilities of the New Republic?

    How much was left of the Galactic Empire? And who was in charge? Was an alliance possible?

    Seriously? ” Bridger threw him a dull look, the expression in his face clear that he wasn’t referring to raw meat consumption.

    Ra’wnuru narrowed his eyes. “Are you reading my mind, Jedi?” His tone deceptively mild.

    “Nah.” Bridger waved his hand absentmindedly. “You just got the ‘I’m scheming’ look.” His face twisted into a mockery of Ra’wnuru’s thoughtful expression.

    Ra’wnuru’s eyes narrowed further. The young Jedi was in a desperate need of corporal punishment.

    “In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the New Republic’s freedom and peace-loving politicians came with ridiculously short-sighted propositions such as decommissioning their entire fleet.” Ra’wnuru delivered coldly.

    Had Ra’wnuru wished, he wouldn’t have needed the Chiss Defense Fleet. He could simply go and re-take Coruscant with his flagship.

    If the Old Republic had been useless as an ally, the New Republic would be twice as useless.

    SQUEE! SQUEE! SQUEE!

    The MSE-6 repair droid intervened, chirping at Ra’wnuru accusingly.

    “Yeah, you’re right, little mousey,” Bridger patted the machine softly on its head, his eyes gleaming with a mischievous spark, “Thrawn is such a prick.”

    Well, at least Bridger was back into his usual annoying self, no longer wallowing in sorrow and misery.

    “Your droid is correct.” Ra’wnuru agreed coldly, giving the young Jedi an exceptionally hard glare. “Which is precisely the reason why I have no qualms to do this.”

    He pressed the button at the side of the semi-transparent door, just as Navigator Em’ryn’s eyes slowly opened. It was time the young Jedi faced his fear of judgment.



    THE END



    The Cheunh insults come from Legends, as does Kres’ten’tarthi, Commander of Thrawn’s Household Phalanx. He had only a few lines in Vision of the Future and Survivor’s Quest but I gave him a major role in the Freak Fleet series.

    My boy, I still can’t believe I killed my boy (T_T) … And the entire Seventh Fleet for that matter…
     
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