Chapter 1: Death Games
IMPERIAL SPACE ABOVE LOTHAL:
Grand Admiral Thrawn glances out of the bridge windows at the incoming ship. Two modified guardian-class cruisers and several recon transports. He watches a lambda-class shuttle depart from one of the guardians and cruise below, towards his ship’s hangar bay.
Sinjir Rath Velus sees a depiction of a large multi-headed monster on the underside of the star destroyer’s hull as he set out to board the Chimaera. “I hate reptiles,” he thinks to himself as he absorbs the detail of the snakelike heads twisting around the massive hangar entrance. His stomach turns. He is nervous, there’s no denying it. But, he is good at subterfuge, even from himself. The shuttle lands in the belly of the Chimera as several stormtroopers race to receive him. Sinjir flashes his identification via datapad barely long enough for an incoming probe droid to scan it, and heads towards the bridge. He slows his pace upon entering the rear hallway to study the details of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s ship; clean lines, gray color palette and diffused wall lighting. As he ascends in the lift, he checks his posture and double checks his datapad. He then fold his hands behind his back and enters the bridge.
Thrawn sits in the ranking officer’s chair with his hand to his chin, deep in thought. “Why are Admiral Screed's troops stationed in the 7th Fleet?” he asks before Sinjir can make it around the platform to meet Thrawn’s gaze. Though no particular expression is visible on his face, the Grand Admiral appears unhappy. But, no one ever is happy to see the Internal Security Bureau Loyalty Commission. Sinjir’s tone is professional, “Grand Admiral Thrawn, it is an honor to finally meet you.” Thrawn merely stares at him and awaits an explanation. Sinjir clears his throat. “I am here on behalf of the ongoing investigation into the treason of former ISB Agent Alexsandr Kallus, sir.” He snaps his boots together at attention.
Thrawn’s glowing red eyes size Sinjir up. His posture is rigid, his muscles, tense. “Ah, of course, Rath Velus -- part of that Loyalty Commission. What can I do for you?” Thrawn asks as he leans in his chair, relaxed, and folds his hands on his lap. Sinjir brings up his datapad to look at it. “Yes, Sir. TK...err... what was his number?” he says to himself as he scrolls.
The corner of Thrawn’s mouth curves up in amusement. He guessed Sinjir would start with the stormtroopers who were ordered by Pryce to dispose of Kallus. They were seemingly at fault given their inability to carry out their orders, but Pryce had given the command. Thrawn had learned of Pryce’s mistake from the troopers themselves upon his return from the Rebel base on Attalon, but he was not about to do the job of a Loyalty Officer. Sinjir would have to conduct his piecemeal investigation himself. “TK-176, I need to have a chat with him,” Sinjir says, finally.
Thrawn pauses a moment and leans forward as the instruments alert his crew to changes in plasmaspheric winds. After ensuring everything is under control, he speaks, “and I need to see your orders.” He rises from his chair. “Then, I will request that this individual be brought to one of our interrogation rooms.” Thrawn walks over to one of the many control panels on the bridge and pushes several buttons before continuing, “tell me, does Colonel Yularen know of your orders?” Sinjir gives Thrawn a slightly confused look and offers him the datapad. “Of course, sir, you can find them here,” he says.
Thrawn scrolls through the datapad, rapidly and analyzes the orders before Sinjir finishes his reply. He stops suddenly and highlights a passage before he, catches Sinjir’s gaze and hands it back to him. “It says here that you are to evaluate all involved.” Thrawn paces calmly around behind Sinjir. “Will you be questioning me?” The muscles in Sinjir’s shoulders tighten. “After all, it was I who discovered Agent Kallus’s betrayal. I have all the holorecordings in my possession.” Three deathtroopers make their way onto the bridge. Sinjir purses his lips as Thrawn continues his circle around him, like a vicious animal that toys with his food.
“It's possible, sir,” Sinjir admits, slightly tripping over his words. “However, you were not present at the time of Agent Kallus's escape. You were on your way to the surface of Atollon at that point, weren't you?” Sinjir catches the pupils in Thrawn’s red eyes.
Thrawn pauses his circling and concedes, “Indeed.” Sinjir regains his composure at Thrawn’s concession. “TK-176 please, Grand Admiral,” His voice commands with insistence. His muscles relax briefly and his posture straightens.
Thrawn smirks and turns to the deathtroopers, who obediently wait for their orders. “Bring the stormtrooper in question.” He commands, then turns back to Sinjir. “I was on Atollan thwarting the Rebels’ plan to attack my fleet. I found their base on Atollon and forced them to evacuate from that base. And now, what I get is a Loyalty Commission investigation despite the simple fact that the information you seek in spelled out clearly in my report of the event.” Sinjir stares into the Chiss’s pupils, slightly tilting his head and giving a reassuring half smile. “It is merely procedure, sir.”
The deathtroopers hustle in TK-176 and thrust him in front of Sinjir. He notices the trooper is missing his helmet, as he announces aloud for all the crew to hear, “ISB procedures clearly state that, when there is a case of Imperial treason--” But, Thrawn unholsters his blaster and fires it into the head of TK-176. The blaster bolt sears straight through and leaves a patch of charred flesh. Sinjir’s speech halts as his eyes widen in confusion. “No need to explain, Officer Rath Velus. I am fully aware of all ISB procedures.” He gestures toward the dead trooper. “As you were saying.”
Sinjir’s face flushes with a mix of frustration and fear as he checks his datapad for the next interrogation suspect. “Grand Admiral Thrawn, it is required that you cooperate with this investigation.” His tone is increasingly aggressive. “Now, TK-213,” Sinjir demands, attempting to echo Thrawn’s commanding tone. “After him, it is Governor Arihnda Pryce, so unless you plan to shoot her too, I suggest you let me do my job...sir,” he adds before Thrawn can respond.
Thrawn nods to his deathtroopers. “Of course, it is imperative to comply with all necessary investigations. However, Governor Pryce is planetside, at the moment. Shall I dispatch her for you?” He asks. “She is under the auspices of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin while she is on Lothal.” TK-213 enters with the deathtroopers. His posture alludes to his anxiety. Thrawn raises his blaster again, and puts a hole in the trooper’s helmet leaving scorch marks on the otherwise pristine, white armor. The helmet falls off as he hits the floor. Thrawn steps over the body to the console, without so much as a glance toward Sinjir and begins reviewing his star maps.. Sinjir’s mouth hangs open in shock. His aggravation at Thrawn’s lack of compliance begins to overshadow his initial uneasiness.
After a few moments Thrawn returns to Sinjir. “Shall I let Governor Pryce know to expect you?” He asks, to see if his antics were successful. Sinjir gives an exasperated sigh. “It would appear so,” he says. Thrawn walks over to the comm station. “I will have my troops release your shuttle. You will, of course, need it to get to Lothal, and their search will have concluded by now.” He said to Sinjir. “Search? You searched my shuttle!? What cause did you--” The volume of Sinjir’s voice begins to elevate and reminds himself to remain collected. “Do not worry, it is merely procedure.” Thrawn mocks.
Sinjir never had this much trouble with an investigation before, even with other high-ranking officers. Although, his time with ISB only numbered about five years. He tapped his foot a few times on the floor as he came to what he suspected was the obvious conclusion. Was Thrawn toying with him? He had heard of Thrawn’s unconventional methods. He had read the files, done his homework. But, his nerves must have gotten the better of him at first. He should be more aware. More careful. This kind of mistake would have earned him a broken finger or two back in his training days. Idiot.
Sinjir takes a slow breath and steps toward the fallen TK-213. “Tell Governor Pryce I would like to speak with her in private.” Sinjir examines the dead trooper’s head wound, cauterized by the blaster bolt. He got off too easy. Sinjir stands. “You know, Grand Admiral, had you turned either of these stormtroopers over to me, I would have suggested a leave period of roughly four shifts. He nudges TK-213’s head with the tip of his boot. I suspect they will need more leave time than that at this point.” He meets Thrawn’s eyes adversely and Thrawn returns the defiant gaze. Was that the hint of a smirk on his face? “Good day, Grand Admiral,” Sinjir says at last.
“Good day, Officer Rath Velus,” Thrawn replies, “and please remember, the next time you arrive unannounced on my ship, I will have you detained or shot on site.” Sinjir slows his stride when he hears Thrawn’s admonishment, and then exits the bridge without another word. His palms feel clammy as he walks to the hangar of the ship. He feels the same turn of his stomach as when he first approached the ship.
That had all been a test, right? A simple assessment of Sinjir’s character. Those were the games Grand Admiral Thrawn played. He began to wonder if he had been too bold. No. An ISB officer should be in control of the situation. He had not really done great at that either, though. At one point, he feared Thrawn might turn that blaster on him. Those were the games Sinjir was not fond of. Death games. He very much liked staying alive. But, he thought, "I have another card to play. That is, If Kallus, or ‘Fulcrum,’ as he likes to go by these days, has everything in order.”