“Are these all of the passengers?”
Commander Eli Vanto counted the number of names on the passenger manifest again. Fifty-seven names. Fifty-seven beings. The list checked out.
“Yes sir,” the commander said. He scanned the line of beings that stood before him in the Chimaera’s cargo bay. Most of them were aliens, and several of them were far too young to have been suspects.
Their ship had been a modest civilian transport bound for Ord Trasi from Muunilinst—at least, that was what it seemed like from a cursory glance. Customs at the Skyhook spaceport were more thorough than the ship’s captain had anticipated, and had stopped it for a closer inspection. It turned out that the ship was carrying more than just civilian passengers.
But from what Eli could see, most of the beings lined up before him hardly looked like they could have been suspects at all.
The hangar bay doors opened, and every officer straightened and stood at attention.
“Admiral Thrawn,” Eli saluted. “The passengers are all here and accounted for.”
“Excellent,” Thrawn said. He took the datapad from the commander and skimmed over the list of names.
“Unknown species?” he asked.
“One of the passengers is listed as an unknown species,” Thrawn said.
“Could be a hybrid, sir,” Eli said.
“We shall see.” Thrawn approached the line and began to walk down the length of it, stopping every so often to question someone.
He stopped before a little girl and crouched down to her eye-level. “And what is your name?” he asked her politely. The girl gasped and promptly scurried behind her mother’s legs.
“Her name is Ennis, sir,” the mother answered. “Please forgive her, she’s very shy.”
The little girl peeked out from behind her mother for a short second, met the admiral’s gaze, and ducked behind her again.
“No offense taken,” Thrawn said as he stood up and continued to the next being.
As Eli passed them, he could hear little Ennis whispering to her mother…
“Mama, did you see his eyes? He’s an alien!”
At length, Thrawn stopped in front of a hooded figure. He glanced at the datapad again, and surveyed the line of beings one more time.
“You,” he said, motioning to them, “Is your name…Nilana?”
“Yessir,” a muffled, reedy voice said quietly.
Thrawn took another glance at the datapad. “Remove your hood, Nilana.”
The figure’s shoulders tensed. “Um…”
“Uh…she has a blemish, sir,” a burly, blue-skinned male Twi’lek standing next to her said. “She doesn’t—”
“Quiet, you!” one of the officers barked at him. The Twi’lek glared at him, but said nothing further.
“It’s all right,” Thrawn said softly to the small figure. He reached for their hood, but drew back when the figure’s hands reluctantly came up to draw it back. Eli noticed right away that their fingers were blue…
A mane of long, blue-black hair spilled from the being’s hood, cascading around their shoulders.
Or more appropriately, her shoulders. She opened her eyes, revealing them to be a bright, glittering red.
She was Chiss, just like Thrawn.
Eli glanced at Thrawn, hoping to see his reaction. All the Admiral did was furrow his brow.
“Well…” Thrawn mused, “This is…truly unexpected. Veacar tvakhat, vir’chah? Nerles’iniz?”
The girl stared blankly at him, confused. She glanced over at Eli, as if she were wordlessly asking for help. Their eyes met for a mere second, and Eli suddenly realized he was blushing. He looked away, biting his tongue in embarrassment.
“Vah k'irnah tisut Cheunh, k'irvah?” Thrawn asked her. “Minnisiat? No? Surely you speak Sy Bisti?”
Nilana shook her head. “<<Just…words small, no many>>,” she answered in broken Sy Bisti.
“<<You only know a few words, but not enough for conversation>>,” Eli corrected her. The girl looked at him again, surprised that he could speak her language better than she, and nodded.
Thrawn gave Eli a cold look. “Indeed,” he said.
“I speak Muunish,” Nilana said sheepishly, “if you want to know what I can speak besides Basic.”
Someone behind Eli stifled a laugh.
Thrawn raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” he asked. He gave her a once over one more time before moving on to the next person in line. “I will want to speak with you later, Nilana,” he said. “We have much to discuss, you and I.”
Nilana said nothing, staring after the other Chiss. Eli gave her an apologetic look as he passed by her. He saw her open her mouth to speak, but she changed her mind and stayed silent as he and the rest of the officers continued to question the other passengers.