“That is correct. He is the principal designer. However, there’s inconsistencies regarding his loyalties...”
“I understand, Fulcrum. We will investigate on our end. Scarif, you said?”
“Thereabouts. I, unfortunately, had not the time to visit and look into this personally.”
“Thank you, Fulcrum. If what you have told us is true...”
“It is an abomination I want nothing to do with. It would be better for both the Rebellion and the Empire that it is never completed.” And with these words, the Rebels now knew for sure that this mysterious Fulcrum was an Imperial officer.
“We are of the same mind.” Hera assured him.
“Very good… And now... I regret to inform you that this will be my last transmission.”
“Fulcrum?” Hera looked at her companions in alarm. Even the constantly suspicious Kallus showed concern. The information that this new Fulcrum had provided them since his first appearance had been invaluable to their survival since the battle of Atallon. Without him, the Rebel Alliance could never have rebuilt so quickly after their devastating losses.
With the intelligence provided, it had even allowed them to avoid crossing paths with Grand Admiral Thrawn. Though they had admittedly heard the man was lately bogged down in the politics of Lothal and their TIE-Defender factory. Governor Pryce was equally tangled up in the messy politics which would see the Imperials shutting down the factory and withdrawing from the planet. It was an incongruous state of affairs, which could see the planet quietly returned to Rebel control when the Imperials left.
However, once Thrawn was freed from his planet side obligations to take his rightful place on the bridge of the Chimera, the Rebels would need Fulcrum’s intelligence more than ever before. The Rebels remembered full well this alien Grand Admiral’s effectiveness when his only task had been to hunt Rebels. If it hadn’t been for the interference of the Bandu and Tarkin’s order that he take prisoners, Thrawn could have completely wiped out Phoenix cell and General Dodonna’s Forces. As it was, barely 10% of the Rebel forces which had been amassing on Atallon managed to escape.
“Fulcrum are you in danger?”
“I am being recalled to Coruscant.”
“Are you in danger.” Hera repeated urgently.
They could almost hear the smile in the pause. “Possibly... Imprisonment, no doubt. I had heard that the Emperor has not been pleased with me. Perhaps even death...”
The offhanded almost disinterested cadence of the electronic voice chilled their bones. And the Emperor? Just who was Fulcrum to attract the direct attention of the Emperor? It— it couldn’t possibly be...
“When are you scheduled to leave for Coruscant?” Ezra broke in. “We could stage an attack. Fake your death and get you away.”
There was a long pause. For a minute, they had even thought that Fulcrum had already ended his transmission. Then he spoke again with a voice clearly full of amusement.
“Your previous Fulcrum told me once of your capability in pulling a victory from certain defeat. I’m almost tempted... But, no. Thank you for the offer, but— no. Goodbye.”
“Incidentally, Colonel Syndulla. I had contacted one of your staff, the Lasat, to pick up a package for you. Something of yours that I had wished to return.”
“Fulcrum!” This time there was no more reply. The transmission was over.
“Kallus?!” Hera rounded on the former Imperial ISB agent.
He knew what she and all the others wanted to know. “I— this...”
“You spoke to him before, you must remember who you said those word’s to?!”
“But— but it couldn’t be. Not *him*?”
“Oi, Colonel. Special delivery on behalf of Fulcrum.” Zeb strolled in with a mid-sized box.
Hera accepted the box with trembling hands. They crowded around her to watch as she stripped away the tape and opened it to carefully, almost fearfully, pull aside the soft packing foam. Nested carefully in its depths was her family’s kalikori.
“It *was* him...” Hera whispered as she reverently lifted her precious kalikori from the box.
“There’s— there’s a note...” Ezra’s tentatively said soft words felt almost like a rude intrusion into the moment.
Hera snapped to attention to immediately seize the folded note paper, easily flipping it open with one hand as her other protectively held her kalikori to her chest.
“Well? What does it say?”
‘It is a beautiful piece of art. I hope you have the opportunity to preserve this heritage.’
Before anyone else could take the note to read it for themselves, the paper crumbled into a sparkle of ashes in her hands. Leaving no evidence nor proof it ever existed.
“Colonel! We have news from Lothal. The 7th Fleet has just departed.” One of the radio technicians called to them. “Reports are that they’ve been recalled to Coruscant.”
Admiral Ar’alani was at the docking bay to receive Commander Vanto upon his return. She looked upon him with concern for his unhappy countenance.
“What have you to report? Is all not well with Mitth’raw’nuruodo?”
Eli had to suck in a deep breath before he could speak. “He— asked that I not return to Empire Space.”
“Has the Empire become too dangerous?”
“But he— he refused to leave with me.”
Ar’alani studied him for a long moment. “He feared to invite the Empire’s wrath upon the Ascendancy, especially with that abominable weapon in their control.”
Her hands reached over to gently hold Eli by his shoulders. “And you fear his certain death in staying behind.”
“He’s been recalled to Coruscant. He— he’s pretty confident he wouldn’t be killed, but— It’s not fair. He worked so hard to get to his position to— try and be a force of change and guidance...”
“And in the last few months he has had to rethink and sow the seeds for the second scenario. The gamble was not a total loss, Commander Vanto.” She nodded at his hand which was cradled against his chest as if he carried something precious. “Mitth’raw’nuruodo has also given you something else for us, I see?”
“Yes, yes he did.” Eli offered the Chiss Admiral the data chip. “A pet project of his. The one he had a falling out with the Emperor about.
“This is for the TIE-defender. This design currently has its own navigation computer, but that makes it overly expensive and high maintenance for a craft that should be mess produced. He’s told me that our Engineers can probably do more with it if they were made dependant on a beacon ship.”
“A precious gift to our forces.” Ar’alani agreed. “Come then, Commander Vanto. We have new contingency plans to engage and preparations to make. If he should die, Mitth’raw’nuruodo will be remembered and honoured for his sacrifice. And it will be up to us to ensure his sacrifice was not made in vain.”
Palpatine looked upon the sole Chiss in his Empire as he stood at a parade rest before him in his throne room. It still rather amazed him that Mitth’raw’nuruodo never once displayed an iota of fear for him, nor Vader; even now when it was quite obvious that he had earned his Emperor’s displeasure, he was the epitome of quiet calm.
“Your little project is in competition with one nearer to my heart, Grand Admiral.”
“Apologies then, My Emperor. I was unaware the resources I used affected the needs of your Death Star.”
Respectful, neutral… The Sith Lord was sure it was an outright lie. And yet...
Palpatine sighed as he looked at the designs on his datapad. Even Vader had been impressed and interested in the proposed design improvements with this TIE-defender. Palpatine knew that his dark lord was even now back on Mustafa tinkering with his personal TIE-fighter to incorporate some of the innovative features that the Chiss had put in his designs.
“It is an inconvenient time and there are... political ramifications.”
“Our withdrawal from Lothal.” Thrawn elaborated unhelpfully.
“Mitth’raw’nuruodo...” The Emperor growled. “Your political naivety was an amusement to us, but this is a challenge we cannot overlook.”
The Grand Admiral continued to look upon him impassively.
Palpatine knew he should be angrier with the Chiss, however, Mitth’raw’nuruodo had always followed logic to a fault. The Chiss had presented a reasonably argued case to him regarding the waste and inefficiency of the Death Star. And this project of his... It was an innovative design improvement. Given time and more resources, Palpatine was sure the Chiss would produce a viable innovation which could replace the TIE-fighter. But the timing...
“Most who displease me, I ordinarily dispose of. But I find myself reluctant to rid myself of you, Mitth’raw’nuruodo.”
The Chiss did not speak.
“You are a man ahead of your time, Grand Admiral Thrawn.”
Vader had rushed back to Coruscant the moment he heard that the 7th Fleet had been recalled. Even so, he knew that Mitth’raw’nuruodo must have already been summoned before the Emperor and faced his wrath.
He had warned the Chiss, Vader grumbled to himself as he recalled the many messages they had exchanged regarding the designs of the TIE-defender. Though he had been thrilled with the innovative designs, Vader knew Palpatine would be furious with this perceived challenge against his Death Star.
Upon his arrival, the guards immediately showed him to the throne room where he found the Emperor standing beside a table with a long, human sized crate... A coffin. His heart had sunk then, thinking he was too late. At the least, Vader was gratified to see that Palpatine did hold the Chiss in some esteem since the— coffin looked to be made of a fine white lacquer.
“Ah, Lord Vader.” Palpatine turned to look at him as he approached. “I thought you’d eventually appear. You just missed Colonel Yularen.”
“Well, come on then.”
Vader approached reluctantly. He had, over the months they were reacquainted, become rather fond of the Chiss. Not that he would call them friends, but they had a comfortable understanding between them. Vader did not look forward to viewing the horror he perceived the Emperor’s wrath would cause to the Chiss’ body. His distasteful anticipation and the reality, however, were polarly different.
Vader had stared and blinked at the vision before him for a long moment. “I— do not understand.”
“Mitth’raw’nuruodo... I told him he was a man ahead of his time.” Palatine shrugged as they looked at the Chiss Grand Admiral, resplendent in his full white dress uniform and black boots, who lay as if he were sleeping upon a bed of cream silk; forever frozen in time by the silvery translucent Carbonite that encased him completely.
A couple of coughs gave Vader the time to adjust to his new perception. “As he appears quite peaceful, I take it Mitth’raw’nuruodo accepted his sentence?”
“Oh, it *was* gratifying to know he expected a harsher punishment. However, his logic was without fault and the innovation of his designs were exemplary, as I’m sure you’ll agree.” Palpatine sighed. “Left at liberty, I have no doubt Mitth’raw’nuruodo would have quietly started another equally innovative project or two to disrupt supply lines again, and try to— encourage me to abandon my plans for the Death Star. I did not wish to waste this resource, and thus, this solution came to me.
“He understood my goal and acknowledged my victory.” The Emperor cackled as he looked up at Vader. “Our Grand Admiral grumbled more about the flowers, though.”
“Your idea and insistence, of course?” Vader snorted, taking notice now that the inside edges of the coffin was well lined with colourful blossoms of various flower species native to Coruscant and that there were even a few scattered flower petals and blossoms upon his body.
“It irritated and embarrassed him, while it amused me to do so.” Palpatine smirked. “However, you’d think he’d be used to it by now.”
Vader snorted at the reminder of the many times the Chiss had been brought in to be court martialled and came out of it with a promotion and commendation instead. Metaphorically, emerging smelling like flowers rather than dung; just like this situation with the Emperor. Mitth’raw’nuruodo was certainly the only living being Vader had ever come across who’d so brazenly disagreed with the Emperor without dying for his beliefs and subterfuge.
“And so... when do you think you will release Mitth’raw’nuruodo from this— punishment?”
“I haven’t quite decided yet.” Palpatine admitted. “But likely after Krennic has finally finished the Death Star and brought it into service.
“And well after we’ve crushed the rebellion once and for all with this superweapon. After that, Mitth’raw’nuruodo can have his projects— when he’s unable to interfere with the completion of my Death Star.”
“He has valid points.” Vader reminded his Emperor cautiously.
“I have faith in my Death Star.”
Vader dropped the argument. He doubted he’d be accorded the same patience as the Chiss.
“Yularen will return with a safe location to store our Carbonite Prince until I feel like thawing him out again.” Palpatine waved dismissively as he moved away from the coffin.
Vader nodded as he took a last look at the frozen Chiss before he moved away himself. It seemed to him that the Emperor had the intention of leaving Mitth’raw’nuruodo on ice for a few years at least. Until then, he was going to miss chatting with the Grand Admiral on starfighter design.
If there was ever a time they needed the return of the Empire’s foremost strategist and tactician, it was after the devastating loss of the Death Star. Unfortunately...
“What do you mean you *can’t* locate Grand Admiral Thrawn?!”
“M-m-m-my-my L-l-l-lord, w-we-we don’t know w-w-where he was stored.” The pitiful ISB Agent cowered before the furious Emperor. “O-o-only Colonel Yularen and h-h-his trusted staff knew the location they’d hidden h-h-his coffin a-a-a-and they—”
Vader sighed as he watched Palpatine spend his wrath upon the hapless agent. This was not good. Frankly, Vader thought the Emperor should have taken personal charge of Mitth’raw’nuruodo’s Carbonite coffin. No one would have dared to touch his personal possessions.
Few would fault Yularen for doing his utmost to hide their only Chiss Grand Admiral. Mitth’raw’nuruodo had never cared for politics and so had been quite oblivious of the petty jealousies and intrigue surrounding him. He was completely helpless in his Carbonite coffin and Vader well knew a determined saboteur could poison the Carbonite and kill the Chiss. It was just unfortunate that the secret of that safe location was now lost with the death of the ISB Colonel.
Vader hoped that Yularen had the foresight to ensure the integrity of the Carbonite coffin, no matter how long it took for Mitth’raw’nuruodo to be discovered. It would be tragic if the man expired before he was found.
In the meantime... Vader supposed the Emperor would turn his attention on building a bigger and better Death Star. He could well imagine Grand Admiral Thrawn’s look of disappointment in them for following this trek, given the proof of his arguments with this Death Star’s loss.
Leia was tired. Heart sick for the loss of her son... Of Han.
At the least, Starkiller base was destroyed and the First Order sent fleeing into the Unknown Regions once more. However, this war was far from over. The Republic was still reeling from the losses.
After over thirty years of peace, they were too complacent and weak. The First Order was a wakeup call. The Republic was very lucky it was led largely by untried youths. They, however, were too bogged down with the old and jaded who could not control their own youths...
They needed a miracle... If only Luke would come back. They needed a *Legend*.
A hand fell on Leia’s shoulder giving the General a supportive squeeze. Leia looked up at the aged Twi’lek giving her an encouraging smile. “Once more, Admiral Syndulla?”
“For as long as we have breath in our bodies, General Organa.”
“But I’m just so tired. I—”
“Admiral Syndulla, General Organa, we have news from Coruscant.” A radio Operator called to them. “In the last attack, a hidden passage opened up in the old ISB headquarters.”
“The investigators found a Carbonite coffin.”
Leia’s throat tightened as she recalled having chased down a slab of Carbonite once. “What poor creature was this of, and is it still alive?”
“We’re not sure yet, General. Most we can tell right now is that he used to be an imperial officer. A— a— what was that? Can you repeat it? A— a Grand Admiral? Are you sure? He— Oh, he might not be alive after all. His skin is already blue—”
To the surprise of all, Admiral Syndulla had raced over to the radio operator to catch him by his lapels and scream in his face, doubtlessly to ensure she was heard by the ones at the other end of his line. “The man is still alive and you are to treat that Carbonite preserved body with utmost gentleness and care! He is a Chiss, that is why his skin is blue.
“DO NOT let any harm come to that man. Have a medical team dispatched immediately to have them thaw him out.”
“Y-y-y-yes, Admiral! Ma’am! Yes, Ma’am!”
“Hera?” Leia came to her feet to approach the almost trembling Twi’lek. “What the—”
Hera Syndulla turned to grip her by the arms. “Pray, Leia. Pray, that this man awakens from this long sleep unharmed and fully restored. And the Republic could have the finest military strategist and tactician that ever *existed* join us in this war.”
“Wait, Hera, they said he was an Imperial.”
“He was. You’ve heard of the Battle of Atallon?” Hera told her, “this was the Grand Admiral who almost completely wiped out the rebellion.”
“But he was also the same man who slipped enough intelligence to us to help the Rebel Alliance rebuild. And the first to warn us of the Death Star.”
“Grand Admiral Thrawn, Leia. The only alien to ever attain that exalted rank in the Empire. And the highest ranked Fulcrum the Rebellion ever had the good fortune to possess.” Hera had to sit down, almost too giddy with relief and excitement at this unexpected good fortune. “He disappeared before the Battle of Yavin. We feared the Emperor had found him out and executed him. But then there were whispers and teases of a Carbonite Prince that the ISB were hiding.”
“Grand Admiral Thrawn?”
“The xenophobic Empire’s dirty little alien secret, Leia. And a *huge* torn in the side of the Rebellion until the Emperor decided to build the Death Star.” Hera told her softly. “After that, he became one of our most important spies; one of our most *consequential* Fulcrums.
“He never asked for any repayment for the danger he undertook on our behalf.” Hera looked up at her a little teary eyed. “We didn’t realise who he was until he was taken from us with his recall to Coruscant. He even laughed at our offer to extract him.
“I only realised— knew for sure who Fulcrum was when he returned to me my family kalikori before he departed Lothal.” Hera sighed, “Grand Admiral Thrawn was an honourable man who I had always treated poorly at our every encounter, because he wore an imperial uniform. Though he was endlessly polite and gracious to me...
“And we had to keep his identity as one of our Fulcrums a secret all this time since we suspected— we *hoped* he was still alive somewhere in Imperial hands.”
“Well, we have him now. But are you sure he will join us?”
“I’m sure. The Death Star changed his loyalty to the Emperor. Once we tell him of Starkiller Base... There’s no way Grand Admiral Thrawn is going to side with the First Order.”
Faced by the fierce conviction of Admiral Hera Syndulla, Leia found hope blossoming in her heart again. To have the Empire’s last Grand Admiral and, according to Admiral Syndulla, the greatest military strategist and tactician of the age on their side... If this man was as good as the Admiral claimed, perhaps they had a chance to bring this war to an end quickly after all.
As soon as she could arrange it, Admiral Hera Syndulla had rushed to Coruscant. She had to see this miracle with her own eyes. They had parted on such a melancholy note, learning to appreciate the man’s nobility and heroics far too late. She had been forever grateful of his thoughtfulness in returning her family’s kalikori; an heirloom which had already been long passed on to her granddaughter.
General Leia Organa followed as much to determine how useful a find this was, as it was plain curiosity for this Imperial secret which she had previously found numerous hints of though no clear evidence of. Fortunately, the ISB agents who hid the Chiss were thoughtful enough to also have stored their intelligence and data on his history and service together with his coffin. It had been an enlightening read for both women in the long Hyperspace ride back to Coruscant.
Once they got over the perspective of the reports being from the Imperial point of view, the history of the man chilled them with the stories of unflinchingly cruel xenophobia and the inequality he had had to face while serving the Empire.
“I-I can’t believe this! The Empire would often let someone else take credit for his tactical advice?!” Leia was outraged.
“And the number of overturned Court Martial records...” Hera laughed in contrast. “He didn’t care about politics or pulling noses out of joint to get things done. He was a rebel at heart... Oh, the irony!”
“He wasn’t just a dirty little secret, he was an *embarrassment* to the Empire in showing up all the ways they were inefficient, stupid and corrupt.” Leia looked towards Hera in amazement. “No wonder there are so few official records of him apart from what’s kept secret by Internal Security.”
“No one wanted to be showed up by an alien!” Hera frowned suddenly, upset at the revelation they’d reached. “He must have been so lonely...”
She remembered the words on the note he’d left her with the return of her family’s Kalikori. They’d stayed with her though she’d only been allowed to read it just once before the note paper he’d used disintegrated.
‘It is a beautiful piece of art. I hope you have the opportunity to preserve this heritage.’
She thought his tone had been almost wistful, and she’d put it down to his perceived approach of certain death. After reading his history though, her revised impression was that Thrawn could have envied the family she had gathered around her with her Ghost crew.
And now... hidden away and forgotten for what must be nearly 40 years? Did this poor man have anyone in his life he cared for who might still be alive? Her mothering instincts were immediately brought to fore with a vengeance.
They were enemies decades ago. Then too briefly allies. And Hera knew in her heart that she cared more for the lives he’d saved with the intelligence he provided than the lives he took as a soldier in the war. It mattered not whether he did have anyone, because she was going to be a friendly ‘someone’ for him. And she *did* want to truly get to know this man who was nothing like any Imperial she’d ever encountered.
If the reports were true... Grand Admiral Thrawn cared for his men and he strongly disliked causing civilians casualties. When the rebellion had looked back at all the intelligence he had provided them for their raids and plundering of Imperial stores, it had only come to them then that he always outlined bloodless tactics.
The only massacre he’d ever been responsible for was in these secret ISB files attributed to an ISB agent and— Governor Arihnda Pryce. Hera could read between the lines...
It took a while for them to get themselves oriented when they reached Coruscant, but the two ladies eventually tracked down their prize. However, much to their disappointment the medical personnel hadn’t begun the thawing out process.
“Is it really proper, Admiral, General?”
“The man was held prisoner, Dr Wong.” Leia reminded him firmly, “Surely what we’re doing is freeing him from unjust imprisonment.”
“And just what are we delivering him into?” The doctor stood firm as well. “He is an Imperial. Will the Republic hold him as a prisoner of war then?
“He’s been frozen in this foul thing for nearly forty years! Who speaks for him who will actually have a care for his wellbeing?”
“I will speak for him.” Hera stepped forward to face the doctor. “And he will NOT be a prisoner. I knew Grand Admiral Thrawn before he disappeared, and I *owe* it to him to ensure he has a better life now than he’d had to deal with in the past. It is a *life debt* as my family would not have survived if it were not for his actions as Fulcrum after the Battle of Atallon. If I must formally adopt this man to be accepted as his medical proxy, I *will.*”
The declaration surprised both Leia and Dr Wong. And Leia quietly watched this confrontation for a moment as this dedicated doctor, whose foremost doctrine was ‘First do no harm’, studied her friend.
Fortunately for them all, Dr Wong believed her. “Very well. I expect that paperwork to be completed before we’re ready to have him thawed out.
“Please understand our caution, he has been in the ice for nearly 40 years. Any error and he will die of hibernation sickness without regaining consciousness. Added to this difficulty is the fact that he is an almost completely unknown species to us.
“According to the records we’ve recovered with the body, he is a Chiss. We have nearly nothing on that race, save his own details from the various medicals he had had to undertake during his service to the Empire.”
“We leave him in your good hands then, Dr Wong.” Hera sighed with some disappointment. “If you believe it will be to his detriment to revive him then we will store him safely again. It’s just...”
“It is an equally abhorrent idea to just put the man in storage again.” The doctor agreed. “I will do my best.”
“That is all we ask. Thank you, doctor.” Leia agreed.
“Are there any other considerations and complications other than what you’ve already stated, Dr Wong?” Hera asked almost fearfully. “The last time I spoke to the Grand Admiral before he disappeared— he— he said that the Emperor was displeased with him.”
The doctor’s eyes went wide with the revelation. Then his mouth unexpectedly quirked. “Well, it’s certainly a surprise that it was the Emperor who did this to him. And— maybe the Emperor wasn’t— quite as upset with him as he thought...”
At the curious looks from the women, he waved for them to follow him into another room. The vision that greeted them left both women flabbergasted.
It was very far from the Carbonite horror Leia had saved Han Solo from decades ago. In renewed nightmares since his death, Leia would always remember the frozen panic and terror in his expression when the Carbonite was poured upon him.
This Carbonite coffin, however...
Within an elaborately carved coffin of white lacquer lay the last Grand Admiral of Palpatine’s Empire; resplendent in his white dress uniform, white gloves and black boots, peacefully sleeping in his carbonite prison upon what looked like a bed of cream silk; surrounded by a multitude of tastefully coloured flowers of various species, with even some petals and blossoms laid upon his body.
Leia had to cover her mouth to stifle her squeal of laughter. Who could have known the Emperor had a sense of humour?
“Oh, dear... Grand Admiral Thrawn must have been so mortified when the Emperor showed him this coffin.” Hera was as restrained though she couldn’t stop her lips from curling into an outright grin. “We really can’t fault the Emperor for the presentation though. This— sleeping beauty he’s made of him—”
“The Carbonite Prince!” Leia looked over at Hera in sudden understanding. “I remembered Ben— Ben complaining to me one school day about a play the class had to put on. It was supposedly based on a myth...” Leia studied the sleeping man for a moment. “Honestly, he does do the tales justice, you know? The Grand Admiral is a very fine-looking man and according to his ISB records was very nobel and caring too.”
“The very model of a fairy tale Prince!” Hera had to hide her face in her hands as she shook with laughter. “Oh, I will never *ever* let him live this down.”
The doctor’s sigh brought them back to sobriety. “First we need to bring him out of this alive.”
As Dr Wong had warned them, it was not easy. Over the months since his discovery, they had scoured the remnants of Imperial records and conducted as many scans and evaluations as they could possibly make before the doctors finally presented their findings to Admiral Hera Syndulla; now recognised by legal filings as the Chiss’ medical proxy.
The margin for failure leading to the man’s death stood at 38%, and even should he survive, they couldn’t be sure he would be free of brain damage. It was a horrible thing to consider... that this man’s brilliant mind would be in anyway impaired upon his awakening.
They could wait... store him away until a time when the Republic made contact with his people... But when would that be? Having been locked away for nearly 40 years, he was already a man out of his time. Wouldn’t it be better if they woke him while there was at least one familiar and friendly face?
In the end, Hera chose to wake him and live with the consequences. After so long with no voice, she wanted to wake Thrawn and give him a chance to make decisions for himself again.
Hera had thought the moment of dissipation of the Carbonite was almost anticlimactic. She had stood watch as the Carbonite that had preserved the Chiss in time gave out in a puff of cold air, allowing the doctors and nurses to swarm over the still unmoving body; checking vitals, unconscious responses, etc.,
The Grand Admiral stayed in deep slumber even as the medical staff quickly moved him from the coffin to a bed, carefully swapped his military dress uniform for a hospital gown, and attached various monitoring leads over his head and chest. He didn’t even react to the insertion of a needle to provide his body with the much-needed fluids to battle the dehydration that was common with hibernation sickness.
It didn’t take very long at all for Hera to find herself sitting beside his bed in a private room and watching the man gently breathe again with the aid of an Oxygen mask as he slept. Dr Wong had been pleased with their scans and readings of the Chiss taken out Carbonite preservation and induced to breath on his own again, with a heart beating strongly with life. Still, they needed him to wake up to be sure that there hadn’t been any brain damage.
Again, the moment of Thrawn’s awakening was almost anticlimactic. Leia had been visiting her on the second day of her vigil to speak of other business, when they felt eyes on them. Hera turned then to find a pair of sickly orange eyes gazing dully at them.
“Grand Admiral!” Hera quickly moved closer to gently stroke his cheek.
His lips parted as if he was trying to speak, but it seemed his voice failed him. Leia passed her a cup with a straw, and she quickly placed the straw at his lips to watch him suck and take a few sips of fluid before even this simple action appeared to exhaust him. He closed his eyes again, and for a moment they thought he’d fallen asleep until he opened his eyes one more.
“You don’t have to speak. I’ll be here, Grand Admiral. Just relax a moment.” Hera told him softly, as if speaking with a child. “We freed you of the carbonite two days ago.”
“Syndulla?” He rasped weakly as he blinked at her. “I can’t see you very well...”
“Yes, yes, it is. I’m glad you remember me, Grand Admiral. But Shh, it’s okay. Your eyesight should return in time. You have hibernation sickness.”
“Your voice... older.” He coughed, prompting her to offer him the straw again. “How long?” He asked before attempting to use the straw again.
Hera’s hand rested on his cheek, letting him feel the wrinkles and dryness of the skin. “Nearly 4 decades...”
He closed his eyes and turned away from her hand and the cup. The two women watched him quietly, knowing that this must be a devastating revelation.
Just as they thought he must have fallen asleep once more, he turned to face them again. “Colonel Yularen and his trusted staff must have died— for Palpatine and Vader to have lost and forgotten me. I— I take it they have been vanquished as well?”
“Yes. The Empire was defeated just over 30 years ago.”
“And the Death Star? How many years did we manage to delay it?”
“Five.” Hera smiled wryly, this had become very apparent to the Rebellion after Thrawn’s departure that Fulcrum had deliberately set them after the Death Star’s supplies to try and halt its build. “I’m sorry we were not able to keep up your good work.”
“Thankfully, the Emperor never suspected me in aiding your rebellion. In truth, I’d hoped he didn’t notice my particular target. But...” The Chiss sighed. “The Emperor put me in Carbonite to stop my interference in building his Death Star. I suppose I was lucky he thought me useful enough to keep me alive.”
“He was very tasteful.” Hera couldn’t hold back her grin of humour.
Though he couldn’t see her, Thrawn still obviously sensed her mirth. He glared at her with all the baleful menace of a pitiful Lothcat kitten who had been caught in a thunderstorm. “I suppose I will never live this down.”
Hera grinned at him brightly. “We have holos and there are myths, artwork and plays written and recorded about the Carbonite Prince.”
The Chiss groaned. “Well, I suppose I’d still like to see them, especially if there was art made of my predicament.”
“We’ve been gathering them since we discovered you four months ago.”
It was a pity their cheerful banter turned abruptly dark with his next question. “How many died because I failed to turn the Empire from that path?”
“Grand Admiral! That monstrosity was not your responsibility!” Hera told him firmly while Leia looked upon the Chiss in shock. It reminded her of the report on the Massacre of Batton. Thrawn had officially taken responsibility for the massive civilian casualties even though the detonation of bombs while the shield had still been in place was an action attributed to an ISB agent.
“The planet Alderaan...” Hera admitted reluctantly as she looked back at Leia, “before we managed to destroy the Death Star itself— with its share of over a million Imperials.”
He closed his eyes again, and honestly, Hera much preferred that. The Grand Admiral’s eyes were normally a bright ruby red, so this sickly orange gaze was disturbing.
When his eyes opened again, this wan orange glow seemed to be even more faded with exhaustion. “And so, the Empire perished after the Death Star’s destruction?”
“Not exactly… The Empire built a larger Death Star an—”
“They built a *second* Death Star?!”
The sick man almost rose from his bed in fury, and this of course set off all sorts of alarms which had the doctors and nurses rushing in. The women were summarily escorted out to be scolded for not informing any medical staff of the patient’s awakening and for upsetting the Chiss in his delicate state.
Leia had ordinarily intended to depart after her business with Hera. However, after this episode, she stayed with the Admiral in the family waiting area to hear from Dr Wong of the Grand Admiral’s state after the shock they’d given him.
The doctor was clearly still quite annoyed with them when he came to speak with them. However, apparently his patient had been most insistent for their return. So, he extracted a promise from them to keep the emotions calm and neutral.
“But how is he really, Dr Wong?” Hera asked with great concern. “Should we just go in to say our good byes and come back tomorrow?”
“Unfortunately, no. He is insistent enough that you update him on his lost time. But I must admit, he’s coming out of this hibernation much better than anyone expected.” The doctor mused wryly. “Then again, he did share with us that his people, the Chiss, are from an ice planet that’s as cold if not colder than Hoth.
“His people are apparently capable of putting themselves into hibernation as a survival mechanism if they’re caught out in the elements. Granted nearly four decades was overly excessive. His eyes currently give us the most concern, as we’re not entirely sure he’ll regain his sight.
“Apart from that, we’re almost certain he’ll recover completely without complications. However, it will take time. Four— maybe five months for his body to regain its original vigour and strength.
“Today, however— he really should be resting.”
“We will try our best to encourage it.” Leia assured Dr Wong as they were led back to the private room.
The nurses had elevated the head of the bed to allow the Chiss to sit up slightly, however, he still looked exhausted and wane enough to sink into the bedding. Hera knew that Thrawn had blue skin, but she was quite sure it was more caerulean than the pale light blue that it was now. The stubborn man really needed to rest.
“Thrawn.” He interrupted her. “As the Empire no longer exists, I hold no rank now. Unless I am regarded as your prisoner of war.”
“Then I invite you to call me ‘Hera’, Thrawn.” Hera took one of his cold hands in hers. “We are no longer enemies. And I—Gran— Thrawn, I adopted you, actually.”
“Adop—” He looked shocked. The most emotion she’d ever seen from him; apart from the brief flare of temper when they mentioned the second Death Star to him, that is. “I don’t understand.”
“I owe you a life debt for your efforts in helping the Rebellion to grow and regroup after Atallon. You saved my family and ‘yes’ I did pass my kalikori to my daughter and later my granddaughter.
“I would never have had any of this if it weren’t for you.” Hera lifted his hand in hers to kiss his knuckles. “It— occurred to me that you haven’t had anyone— any family since you left your home world. I wanted you to join my family.”
“You would so easily forgive me for Atallon?”
“Atallon was over 40 years ago. And you were ever the consummate soldier. We were your enemy then.”
“We hope for an ally— a comrade in arms.”
“With the Empire gone, what enemy are you at war with now?”
“They call themselves the First Order, and they hide themselves in the Unknown Regions.”
Thrawn rested his unfocussed gaze on her for a moment. “Since I apparently still remain the only Chiss in your known universe, it implies to me that my people have stayed distant to your new order. You call it the Republic?”
“It is hoped that it is much different to the Republic of the Era which encapsulated the Clone Wars?”
Thrawn sighed, “Perhaps you could just talk and tell me what I missed while locked away in my Carbonite coffin.”
They did not rush him or try to overload him with information all at once. Leia arranged to give Thrawn a datapad with full unrestricted access to Republic wide libraries. They did not censor any of the material he wished to access. With his eyes still recovering, Thrawn could not read, but he could speak commands to his datapad to have the text read to him.
Hera stayed with Thrawn throughout; a silent companion giving opinions when asked, providing assistance when needed, offering support when new information appeared to overwhelm him.
It was a pleasant discourse through the days that followed Thrawn’s glacial recovery and restoration. Hera was glad for this opportunity to know the real man behind the image of an enemy she had hated till the revelation of his identity as Fulcrum.
Leia joined them often enough and even grudgingly took interest in the stories he shared about her father as both Anakin Skywalker and Vader; as Thrawn apparently met Jedi Knight Anakin during the Clone Wars, and served with Vader under the Empire. It was certainly a revelation to them that Vader liked to tinker with machinery, maintaining and tinkering with his own personal TIE fighter as a hobby. It seemed this was a hobby that Thrawn shared as he sounded almost wistful about the last project he’d been working on which attracted the Emperor’s ire.
“The TIE defender factory, that was shut down on Lothal?” Hera asked stunned.
“A parallel activity to that of the rebellion in diverting resources away from the building of the Death Star.” Thrawn smiled quite proudly. “Vader even visited to try and dissuade my involvement, but I distracted him with the innovative features I was developing. He forgot about his original mission to return to Mustafa and play with his own TIE fighter with the parts I gave him.”
At this, Leia had to laugh with Hera at the pure subtlety Thrawn had applied to win support for his efforts. However, there was one nagging part about the situation that poked at Hera.
“Thrawn? Who did your true loyalties lie with?”
The Chiss had smiled at her as if pleased by her observations. “To be fair, the Emperor was aware that I only served him so long as he did not threaten my people. At least he respected this enough not to push me about the maps I provided him in the Unknown Regions, noting only that I deliberately avoided revealing any of the Chiss worlds.
“I did not trust him after I found out about the Death Star...”
“There is more.” Hera challenged him.
“I was not exiled. I was left in the path of the Empire’s ships, intended to be taken in and rescued by the Empire to be an observer.” Thrawn admitted to her. “My superiors didn’t expect me to be recruited into their Navy. I saw it as an opportunity to be in a position of power to influence and build a needed ally that my people desired in our defence against the Far Outsiders.”
“There are invaders and enemies far more devastating and powerful out there beyond the borders of your known universe, Admiral Syndulla.” Thrawn told her solemnly, and he said little more of it.
The news of Starkiller base and the utter destruction of Hosnian Prime, and four other planets in the Hosnian system affected him the most. And watching him— Hera knew Thrawn would never be tempted to seek the side of the Empire’s remnants that became the First Order.
“I—feel somewhat responsible for this First Order Too, Hera Syndulla...” Thrawn told her softly, a week after he’d been freed of his Carbonite prison. “It seems obvious to me the remnants of the Empire retreated to the parts of the Unknown Region that I had mapped for the Emperor.”
“And so?” Hera challenged him. “Your maps were not entirely unknown to the Republic either, Thrawn." She reached to grip his hand supportively. “The actions of others are not in your control, Dear.”
“Perhaps... I do understand, but I cannot help feeling a measure of responsibility— that information I provided, or tools that I built were used to— kill so many innocents...”
“The First Order fled back to the Unknown Regions. We overlooked them for too long.” Hera told him. “The next time they come for us... Will you help us, Thrawn?”
“If your government wishes to accept my assistance.” Thrawn looked up at her. “But therein lies the weakness of your Republic that I’d seen during your Clone Wars, when I first ventured into your universe seeking an ally for my people, Hera Syndulla.
“Your Republic is not so very different as the last one to bear that name. There is still much babbling about democracy and diversity while little is done to combat dissent, inefficiency, and corruption. Furthermore, during your thirty years of peace, it seems you have done your best to demolish or prevent the establishment of a strong central body of defence. General Organa has tried with her Resistance, but it is woefully inadequate and weak...
Thrawn lay back and closed his eyes, which were much to their relief slowly regaining their healthier red colour. Hera looked down at their still linked hands, thankful that he hadn’t pulled free.
She had to acknowledge the political mess they were in. For all that together the many nations of the Republic probably were a superior force as compared to what was left of the First Order after the destruction of Star Killer base; however, organising that again...
“Hera, from what you and Leia have shared with me... General Organa does not believe she can be the rallying point of the new offensive because it was revealed that Lord Vader was her father, and now her son became a Sith Lord and is one of the Leaders of this First Order.” Thrawn looked at her. “And you do not wish to step in yourself because of age.”
“*You* are still in your prime, Grand Admiral Thrawn.”
The statement drew a weak laugh from the man. “That is far from accurate.” He gently disagreed. “I am also a man out of time and a former Imperial. A relic of Palpatine and Vader’s Empire. Why would the leaders of your Republic trust me?”
He stopped her before she could try to argue. “In addition, I do not know enough about the current state of your Universe’s military units, deployment, equipment, the cultures of the various races... And I know even less of the same for this First Order.”
The Chiss’ blind eyes met hers. “There is no wondrous Force sorcery or magic in my skill to create success in my many engagements, Hera. My past victories came from a thorough analysis of intelligence and observation. A fact which seemed to have been left out in any mention of me in your history texts.
“I am physically and figuratively blind, Hera.” Thrawn told her bluntly. “I am in no position to assist your Republic in my current state.”
“But you won’t write off assisting us.”
“I am indebted to you for this rescue.”
“What will it take?” Hera asked him determinedly. “This information you need to study us? Clearly the libraries of information available to you on the datapad is insufficient.”
He looked at her helplessly, “it would hardly be allowed by your higher ups.”
“And what authority do you think that would be, Thrawn?” She smirked at him. “Seriously, what do you need to do?”
“I— I’d need to see— speak to—” Thrawn took in a deep breath. “Hera, I was immersed in the Empire’s life and culture for well over a decade, learning how this universe operates. I did not spring into existence fully formed as a Grand Admiral. I lived among the military, rising through the ranks from the Academy to my last command on board the Chimera.
“It is no easy undertaking to learn about your culture. I’m not sure of the image you have of me within the Empire, but I was considered to be politically naive.”
Hera grinned. “Well, that we knew. We’ve seen all your overturned or dismissed court martial records.”
“Case in point then.”
“And us? The rebellion? How did you understand us?”
“Your arts... your culture...” Thrawn sighed. “This takes time that I doubt I would be allowed. You read of the War of Batton? The early engagement?”
“Yes, you took on Scrim Island without loss of Imperial life, after the rebels had successfully fended off Admiral Durril’s attempt and dealt his fleet a devastating beating.”
“I refused the task when it was first handed to me. I asked to be given time to observe their defences and situation, earning the Fleet Admiral’s ire. Durril volunteered his fleet, so I took that opportunity to observe and to pull what was left of his forces from harm’s way when he had to retreat.” Thrawn elaborated. “The point is, the Fleet admiral was angry with me for taking the time to study the situation. I doubt the Republic will be patient too.”
“Thrawn? Who do you think I’m answerable to?”
The Chiss frowned at her. “The Republic does not have an Emperor, but I was given to understand you had a Senate or a general meeting of ruling bodies.”
“‘Had’ is the operative word. Most were eliminated with the destruction of the Hosnian system. We’re now operating in Siege Mode with the military taking the lead for the most part.”
He looked at her expectantly.
“So— it sounds to me that you need to be given the time and opportunity to *know* and *understand* us before you can be an effective commander.”
“That is correct in its simplest form.”
“A grand tour then? Of our universe. Especially of the star systems that have military bodies who are joining with us in this war.”
“During which time, Leia will lay the ground work for your return with the military leaders. Because *Supreme* *Commander* Thrawn, we have read everything that the ISB had recorded of your career and we know your capabilities.”
“Hera, it would take—”
“Years. Three and a half in the best of conditions, five if we need to stretch it.” Hera interrupted him. “And I hardly think you would be idle during this time, as we feed you intelligence reports and get you involved as an observer, if not a participant in the military decisions to be made from here on out.”
“It will be fun, I’m due for retirement any way.”
He stared at her.
“What? You don’t think I’m about to send you traipsing all around our known galaxy with a stranger, ‘my son’?” The Twi'lek gave him a mock look of outrage.
“*I* *adopted* you. It *means* something to me and therefore you are *my* *responsibility*. And I’m not about to trust complete strangers with your wellbeing and safety. Anyway, you couldn’t ask for a better pilot!”
“But your duties? Y— your family?”
Hera laughed. “Thrawn, you’ve just given me a fine excuse to visit my friends and family in all the far-flung galaxy. There are people who you *need* to be introduced to that I’ve spent *decades* working with, who I’ve never met in person. This will not be a hardship.”
“Just say ‘yes’, Thrawn.” Leia advised from the door where she’d been standing unnoticed since Hera began her pitch. “It’s easier on everyone else around when Admiral Syndulla’s on a tear.
“Say ‘yes’ and we *will* make it work.”
Thrawn stared at the two women for a long moment. “And once again my path has turned.” He appeared to say more to himself than to the two women.
“Fine. It is a ‘yes’.” He looked towards Hera. “I am curious as to how society has developed and changed since I was locked away.”
Hera grinned excitedly as she took his hands in hers. “I promise you, you won’t regret this, Thrawn.”
“That— remains to be seen.”
“I’ll not have you make me a liar. Kanan would be happy to receive you on my home world. In fact, I imagine he would jump at chance to dust off his light sabre to join us for extra security. I’m sure he’ll come running if I call.”
“Oh, I— I hadn’t wanted to ask— in case...”
“Yes, I did marry him and we had three children, two boys and a girl.” Hera smiled gently at the light blush which coloured his cheeks. “The council grates on him, so while I’m on Coruscant he usually stays with the grandchildren.”
“But— I thought the Jedi don’t—?”
“He left the Order and had no wish to be reintegrate back when Luke was restarting the Jedi Academy.” Leia huffed. “I don’t believe my brother ever forgave him for declining his invitation to teach.”
“He was fine teaching Ezra or Sabine one on one, and raising three children with me. But standing in front of a class? Even if he can’t see them? Never!”
“Did he not object to your adop—?”
“No. You practically sacrificed your life to give us the intelligence that led to our survival. I have kept him appraised of your recovery. He’s eager to meet you again.”
Thrawn gave her a look of disbelief.
As it was, Dr Wong was infuriated with the suggestion of allowing his patient to be checked out to go on a whirlwind tour of the Galaxy. Fortunately for Hera, Kanan had arrived in Coruscant to add his persuasive powers to hers. As soon as she had put the suggestion to her husband, the aged ex-Jedi had immediately journeyed to Coruscant to meet them. Though Kanan had sworn to Hera and Leia both that he didn’t resort to the use of the Force on the doctor.
Dr Wong had finally relented to releasing Thrawn into their care, only if they brought at least two medical droids with them, checked in with him at least once a fortnight, and only departed after the Chiss’ eye sight was fully restored. That took another two weeks. By which time, the bored Chiss was ready to climb the walls and leave on this promised grand tour.
“So, we’re agreed?” Kanan asked Thrawn, just as eager to set off, as he guided the man’s hoverchair from the hospital. “We start from one of the Rim worlds and work our way in?”
“It’s a good plan.” Hera agreed. “The hustle and bustle of the core worlds would be too much for you at the moment, Dear.” Her hand rested on Thrawn’s shoulder supportively.
“Prudent.” The Chiss agreed, still a little bit awkward and uncomfortable about her unconscious use of the word of affection. “It would also serve General Organa’s purposes that I be already well recovered when she is nearer to presenting me to the new Senate when that time comes.”
“So? Where would you like to start?”
Thrawn looked over his shoulder to give his adopted ‘parents’ a speculative look. “What is today’s date?”
They had been waiting in the Unknown Regions for several hours now.
Hera trusted Thrawn. He had been very helpful in educating them of what he had given to the Empire and which planets he suspected the First Order would use as sanctuary worlds in the unknown region. The coordinates where they currently sat though, was far away from the areas Thrawn had shared with the Empire, and now the Republic.
“Thrawn? What exactly are we waiting for?” Kanan asked carefully, directing his voice towards when the Force indicated the Chiss had settled his hover chair.
“Maybe nothing, maybe—”
Kanan turned to his wife in alarm. “What is it? What do you see?”
“A ship. Like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Hera breathed as she looked at the massive craft with it’s almost sparkling lights that had suddenly appeared before them.
The Comm screen lit up with a face: regal and— human! His hair was red and streaked with silver; his face pale, with faint wrinkles at the edges of his mouth and eyes; his uniform a pristine white, and his collar insignia those of an admiral.
“I am Admiral Eli Vanto of the Chiss Defence Fleet,” he said in a clear voice, his Sy Bisti carrying a certain twang of one of their own outer Rim worlds. “What is your purpose in entering Chiss Space?”
“I had hoped for the opportunity to once more meet a dear friend, Admiral Vanto.”
The regal facade broke with the Chiss’ words. “Well I’ll be— Every three years— I came here every *three* years. How—?”
“May we be welcomed?”
“Of course. You are welcome, Mitth’raw’nuruodo.” The regal expression was quickly reasserted. “We will send an escort to guide you in.”
The man’s mouth quirked in sly grin. “We hope the ships are to your approval, Grand Admiral. The Nssis-class Clawcraft was based on the TIE-defender you were developing before your— disappearance.”
Hera and Kanan looked in Thrawn’s direction with surprise to be reminded of the TIE-defender factory which had once been stationed on Lothal. If Thrawn noticed, he gave no indication. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the two men were the only actors on this stage.
“I’m sure I will be most impressed, Admiral Vanto.” Thrawn smiled at him. “I truly expected nothing less from you.”
“I will meet you on the bridge then, Grand Admiral. Where we may be allowed to welcome you home, Mitth’raw’nuruodo.” The human nodded. “Though I will give you fair warning, that you’ve got som ‘splaining ta do.”
“I look forward to that, Eli.”
“It is good ta see ya again, Sir.” The man’s eyes looked to be on the verge of tearing before the transmission cut off.
“Thrawn?” Hera asked softly, even as Kanan got up from his seat to approach the Chiss who was staring at the blankets covering his legs.
“It is— difficult to get my head around how much time had truly passed while I lay sleeping...” Kanan knelt beside Thrawn’s chair and took his hands to warm them up in his. “How much— time I lost...”
A movement from the periphery of her eye brought Hera’s attention to the approaching escort ships. She whistled in appreciation.
“Eyes up, Dear. You would *want* to see these ships your protege is so proud of.”
Thrawn looked up immediately to bask in the sight of these vastly superior ‘TIE-defenders’. Ships that Admiral Vanto called the Nssis-class Clawcraft. The Chiss engineers had truly matched and exceeded his expectations.
“Come then, ‘mother’, ‘father’. I wished to show you the world I consider my home before we get to work and embark on our grand tour.
“And— Yes.” Thrawn sighed deeply in resignation. “You may show Eli Vanto your holos of my Carbonite coffin to explain why I remained virtually unchanged.”
Hera snickered as she turned her attention to her piloting duties to follow their escort to the Chiss vessel that awaited them.