“I’m sure everything will go horribly wrong,” Kanan had liked to say.
Which basically sums up our pathetic lot in life, Sabine thought bitterly. After spending several years with them, it seemed like the Ghost crew couldn’t accomplish the simplest objective without undergoing some strange and/or disastrous fiasco in the process. Simple refueling mission? Guess what, it’s “let’s get warm and fuzzy with space whales time!” Zeb and Ezra go grocery shopping? Might as well pick up a TIE Fighter while you’re out! Restocking on medical supplies? Apparently, one creepy-ass Sith wannabe wasn’t enough; now we have two!
Sabine silently seethed over this seemingly inescapable pattern as once again, something went wrong, resulting in yet another change of plans.
Given, going back to Lothal to help the local insurgency with the Blue Bastard himself taking a personal interest in them wasn’t exactly the definition of “risk-free”, but hey, why not? As pragmatic as the rebellion liked to think of themselves as, when their new friend Kallus (thinking of him as that was still and would always be way too weird) contacted them with news that almost all of the Lothal cell had been captured, including both Marida Sumar and Azadi, they couldn’t say yes fast enough. The plan was simple, not easy by any means, people get those two mixed up a lot, but simple.
Or at least it was simple before they ran into Lyste.
Kallus had instructed them to use the sewer system running under the Imperial Complex, entering from where the pipes specifically designed for the Complex connected with the rest of Capital City’s sewer system. He provided them access codes to get through the special maintenance entrance connecting the two systems. They had gotten through easily enough and promptly freed the prisoners, who were thankfully still awaiting interrogation in their shared cell. A little dull for Sabine (not one single need for explosives!) but hey, freed prisoners were freed prisoners.
They were making their way back the sewers from whence they came when disaster struck. Slowly but surely the group had been heading down the corridors, Sabine and the front and Zeb at the rear. Each time they had to turn a corner, Sabine went first, blasters drawn to shoot down any unfortunate Stormtroopers she might find so they couldn’t raise the alarm.
After leaving a few dead Stormtroopers in their wake, they finally neared the entrance to the sewers. Just one last corner to turn, and they’d be home free. Right as Sabine was about to check the corner, they heard a sharp bark behind them.
“You there, halt!”
They all whipped around to see a group of troopers running toward them. Sabine pushed through the freed prisoners to join Zeb in facing the Stormtroopers. There were more of them than the pairs they had previously come across, but they still went down relatively quickly between her and Zeb, though not without a considerable, and noisy, scuffle.
“Alright, everyone,” Sabine said after finishing off the last one, “we need to keep mov-“
“This is Lieutenant Lyste, reporting escaped prisoners in Sector J, near the sanitation center!”
The rebels wheeled around to see the lieutenant standing by the corner, the one that Sabine had been about to check, holding a comlink and bearing an insufferably smug look on his face. A look that was quickly wiped off when Marida Sumar punched his lights out and crushed the comlink underfoot.
“That was for ‘reclaiming’ my farm,” said Marida with a cold satisfaction. “Do you think the message got through?”
“Hard to tell,” deadpanned Azadi. “We should probably get going.”
“Well we can’t use the sewers anymore,” Sabine said bitterly. “Extraneous exits are always the first things put on lockdown.”
“We can grab a shuttle in the hangar, it’s not too far from here,” said Zeb urgently.
“Those will probably be on lockdown too,” piped up Azadi.
“Hold on, I got it.” All eyes were on Sabine. “Every avenue we try is gonna be on lockdown. You guys can keep with the sewer route while I go to the control room and unlock the door connecting the Complex and the city systems. By the time you get to the door, I should have it open.”
“No, absolutely not,” said Zeb, “There’s no way in hell we’re leaving anyone behind, Sabine.”
“Zeb, you need to get these people out,” insisted Sabine.
“This is the only way any of us are getting out of here alive!”
“Enough you too!” snapped Azadi. “Zeb, I hate to say it, but Sabine’s right. This the only way we can escape.”
“Alright, fine!” Zeb relented. “But once we’re on the other side, we’re waiting on you.”
“Only for an hour,” said Sabine. “Then you have to leave. Promise me.”
“Arghh fine,” Zeb grumbled.
“It’s settled then, you guys need to get going.” Sabine turned to leave, but was stopped by Zeb’s paw on her shoulder.
“Be careful, ‘Bean.”
“Aren’t I always, big guy?” Sabine teased.
“I’m not even touching that!” Her and Zeb allowed themselves to share a few second’s laughter.
“Sorry to interrupt, but we need to keep moving,” Marida said curtly.
“She’s right,” said Sabine, “Get going. I’ll be right behind you.” At that, Sabine turned around and ran down the hallway leading to the control room.
Every nerve in Sabine’s body was on edge as she painstakingly made her way to the main control room (which, of course, had to be on the exact opposite side of the compound from the kriffing sewers). Doing her best to maintain a balance of stealth and speed, she expertly navigated the utilitarian corridors, knowing that each corner she turned could have bucketheads waiting to find her and alert everyone else to her position.
Finally having made it to the main control room, she keyed in the access code provided by their new buddy Kallus, silently praising the Force when it worked. She immediately set to work finding the area that had access to the sanitation center. After quickly locating the panel, she began hacking the system in order to override the sewer lock. Hacking wasn’t exactly a traditional discipline for a Mandalorian, but it was one she excelled at nevertheless.
In short work, she managed to override the sewer lock, and just for good measure, scrambled some of their data to throw a wrench in their operations for at least a day or two. Feeling quite satisfied with herself, she turned and made her way to the door of the control room, already planning her own escape.
“Leaving so soon, Sabine Wren?”
Sabine froze, feeling every nerve in her body come alight . Whipping her head around, she saw a tall, looming figure poised in a doorway positioned in the far corner. She knew the man on sight, an image straight from the Atollon briefing holotable, from the striking cobalt hue of his skin to unmistakable glowing red eyes.
“Thrawn,” she breathed. Like magnets she drew her blasters into her hand and aimed them only for them to be shot out her hands just as quickly. Thrawn began to walk toward her, smoking blaster in hand, with a strange, almost disappointed look in those cold, calculating eyes.
“For someone with your reputation, Miss Wren, I would have expected you to have some pause at the lack of guards patrolling the main control room. Not even the fact that you encountered not a single Stormtooper in the corridors en route to here seemed to trouble you in the slightest. I must confess I expected more from the famous Mandalorian artist and saboteur.”
“It’s been a long day,” Sabine huffed, angry at herself for being as embarrassed as she was. At this, Thrawn merely shrugged, continuing his casual advance toward her, taking her in from head to toe. She had the sudden feeling of being an object of study in his personal museum, which she quickly put aside.
“Such a strange Mandalorian,” he mused. Sabine’s fists clenched as her heart rate doubled. “You defect from your clan, forswear Mandalorian values, go out of your way to color everything from your hair to your armor,” she was pretty sure her knuckles were white by now, “and yet you feel as if being Mandalorian is an irrevocable part of who you are. Your armor says it all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The mental cable holding her back from blindly going after this guy who outdrew a kriffing Mandalorian was being held together by one increasingly strained fiber.
Thrawn smiled at her as one does an innocently oblivious child. “Well come now Miss Wren, do you really expect me to believe that this,” he gestured to her armor, “is the traditional pattern of Clan Wren? Surely you don’t think I am so ignorant of Mandalorian armor decorations. Bright purple and orange are just about the exact opposite of the muted yellow and gray that is customary of Wren armor. But even so, you maintain the traditional helmet flare pattern, albeit in different colors but still a clear resemblance nonetheless, and each other modification, though they seem random, are all evocative of something meaningful, from the Starbird on your breastplate to the number five on your shoulder, standing for your callsign Specter Five. Despite making every effort to individualize yourself, you still treat your armor with the same honor your ancestor who originally forged it centuries ago did. The very fact that you still wear it speaks to this, and please don’t insult me by suggesting that you continue to wear one of the most recognizable types of armor in galactic history merely because of its protective qualities. Even though Mandalorian culture has branded you a traitor, disowned you, and cast you aside, you still cling to it for your identity, your sense of self.”
“Have you ever considered being an art professor?” Sabine shot back in an effort to ignore the fact that every word Thrawn just said was true. “I heard it has way better benefits than being a mass murderer.” Her tone was casual, but her hands were shaking in anger.
This seemed to amuse Thrawn even further. “So aloof and untouchable. So unwilling to face the truth of your situation. Just like your armor, which is perhaps why you favor it so. Beskar iron is among the strongest known materials, resisting even the fabled lightsaber. Wearing it almost ensures protection from anything one’s enemy can throw at them. So poignant that one of its wearers crafted an exception to the rule.”
“Shut up. Now”
“Or perhaps that is why you wear it. As a reminder that one way or another even the strongest exteriors can crack.”
“Say. One. More. Word. Go ahead. Try it.” Sabine whispered in a fatally low tone. Her entire body was trembling with pure, unadulterated rage, not caring that she was defenseless and was currently being held at gunpoint. If this guy pushed his luck a millimeter further, the next thing he’d be analyzing would be a crazy, pissed off Mandalorian.
And yet somehow even that didn’t deter the bastard a single bit. He continued, still infuriatingly calm and poised,” You misunderstand. I mean not to criticize, but to relate. There is an uncanny resemblance in our stories, Miss Wren, for I too was considered strange and other for my fixation on art and culture. No one truly understood why I so fervently maintained the usefulness of art analysis in battle, as I’m sure no one truly understood why you sought to integrate art into your warrior upbringing.”
Was this guy seriously trying to tell her his sob story right now, during a kriffing standoff? “Why the hell are you telling me this? Are you trying to start up an ‘Outcast Art Club’ or something?”
Thrawn maintained his expression, only cocking an eyebrow to add to his light smirk. “Fascinating that your first conclusion should be that I desire for us to work together.”
Sabine scoffed, “Yeah, because it’s basically Imperial regulation for you guys to try and get us to join you at any and every opportunity. And it’s also Rebel regulation for us to always reply with hell kriffing no.”
“I should hardly be surprised,” Thrawn said, unperturbed. “But I am unable to say I am not disappointed. You have the potential for true greatness, if you would only focus your talents on maintaining order and stability in the galaxy rather than sowing chaos and destruction. You have something most Imperials do not. Vision. True vision. With it, you can play a part in remaking this galaxy into something more. Something truly beautiful.”
Thrawn sighed in resignation. “You disappoint me, Miss Wren. I’m afraid we shall now have to do this the hard way. Governor,” he called.
Right on cue, the door opened, and Governor Pryce entered the control room, her lips curled into a malicious, triumphant smile. Sabine’s heart sank even further. Was the whole thing a setup from the start?
“Hello again,” Pryce purred menacingly.
“Pryce told me of her failure to overpower you back at Skystrike Academy,” Thrawn informed Sabine. “She is eager to redeem herself.”
Sabine positioned herself into a fighting stance. “And I’m eager to kick her ass for a second time.”
Pryce responded, “You got lucky back at Skystrike, and unfortunately for you, little Mandalorian, your luck has just exhausted itself.” She got into a stance to match Sabine’s and started circling her, placing each step with slow deliberation as if walking through a minefield. Sabine pivoted to keep facing Pryce, mentally centering herself, steadying her breaths. In. Out. In. Out. She could hear her heart beating in her ears as her mind switched into hyperawareness, analyzing each painstaking step Pryce took. Finally, Sabine found what she was looking for. The slightest shift in weight differentiating one step from the others, telling her Pryce was about to pounce. Sabine sprang toward the woman, just in time for Pryce to do the same.
Sabine had the give Pryce this: she was good. The fight was just as brutal as it had been back at Skystrike, but this time there was no torture apparatus to throw Pryce into, so it went on much longer. It seemed like Pryce had been studying, preparing for this. Sabine got a few hits and kicks in here and there but for the most part, Pryce dodged every punch, sidestepped every maneuver. Fortunately for Sabine, Pryce wasn’t getting in that many hits either, and even when she did, Sabine knew how to take a punch, as shown from how quickly she recovered from Pryce landing a particularly solid hit to her abdomen and kicking her into the control panel. As Pryce ran toward her to keep her down, Sabine focused through her head spinning enough to leg sweep Pryce off her balance. Blinking out the stars in her vision, Sabine kipped up and made to kick Pryce, until the woman suddenly turned, grabbed Sabine’s foot, and slammed her to the ground.
Kriff. Apparently Pryce could take hits, too.
Before Sabine could react, Pryce had already positioned herself on top of Sabine, holding Sabine down. Sabine bucked and struggled, but Pryce held fast, but not without struggle herself.
“Quickly, do it!” Pryce barked at Thrawn through gritted teeth. Sabine looked up to see Thrawn briskly walking toward her, producing a hypo-syringe from his coat. Her heart stopped, and she fought against Pryce’s hold even harder, but to no avail. Thrawn crouched down beside her and held her head down, making Sabine now completely immobilized.
“Kindly hold still. This will only hurt momentarily,” he murmured as he positioned the syringe at Sabine’s neck. She suppressed a wince as he administered the drug.
The effects were immediate. A warm, tingling sensation permeated throughout Sabine’s body, and she could already feel appendages going numb and heavy. Through her blurring vision, she saw the door to the control room open and the outlines of two Stormtroopers bringing in something? Sabine couldn’t make it out.
“Ver- -ell do-, -overnor.” All of Sabine’s senses were rapidly dulling. She rolled over, no longer inhibited by Pryce, to see her and Thrawn standing over her in triumph.
“-leep, -ittle Mand-rian,” was the last thing Sabine heard before she succumbed to the enveloping folds of sleep.