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Beside You

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Eli hated missions like this. Derelict freighters drifting dead in space with only an automated distress beacon being the tether leading to it. Every time they came across scenes like this Eli could only be reminded of Cygni and the whole Tibanna gas debacle, and they left a sour taste in his mouth. It didn’t help that Thrawn was obsessed with the man and they’d yet to catch him.

Fortunately, with Thrawn being the Captain of his own Star Destroyer, and Eli a newly minted Lieutenant Commander, they didn’t have to personally go aboard to investigate. Unfortunately, the Captain of their Star Destroyer was Thrawn, and so once the all clear was called, he and Thrawn were the next two to board.

He wasn’t surprised, not really, it was only natural for Thrawn to drag them into the middle of every situation they found themselves in. He just couldn’t help hoping they wouldn’t have to go inside the very eerie ship before them. He prided himself on not being a coward, he was, however, very anxious, and boarding dead freighters wasn’t exactly what he signed up for. But, when it came to Thrawn, you never signed up for what you got. Sometimes he found that trait endearing and exciting, other times, such as this, it was frustrating.

Frustrating and creepy, Eli noted as they took their first steps into the ship. They’d already attached their lambda to the freighter and made sure air was being cycled through before boarding. That didn’t help the stale scent that lingered in the air, old and untouched despite the Stormtrooper group that met them at the docking tube. They hadn’t gotten any of the ship’s systems running, but a team was sent with battery packs to try and recharge fuel cels in the cockpit.

The Chimaera ran a little dim for Eli’s comfort already, but this, this pitch blackness only illuminated by the lights on their trooper’s helmets was unsettling to say the least. The ship seemed heavy with layers of dust which was circling through the light beams with all the newly moving air and feet. It was blatantly clear that this ship truly has been sitting here for a while. He turned his attention back down at his blue glowing datapad to keep his mind off of that.

“We tried hooking up the cockpit console to a portable generator like you instructed sir, but it didn’t work.” One of the troopers spoke after welcoming Thrawn and Eli aboard with them.

“How do you mean?” Thrawn asked, and without looking, Eli knew he was narrowing his eyes.

“It just...drained the generator sir, none of the energy seemed to replenish the console. It killed the generator and wouldn’t switch on.”

Thrawn hummed, cupping his chin in his hand in thought. Eli always found it funny how he did that, no doubt he was aware he did it, but never stopped himself from it.

“That is peculiar. Take us there.”

“Yes sir!”

The trooper began walking, Thrawn following, Eli only a half step behind. He really didn’t want to delve even deeper into this dark shuttle, all clear or no, it put him on edge. With only the trooper flashlights, there was plenty of shadows, some large enough that an entire person could be hiding in them without being seen. What if they missed something in their initial sweep?

“You are distressed, Lieutenant Commander.” Thrawn spoke into his thoughts, snapping his attention from where it had been zipping around every shadow they passed. Damn, he hoped to come off as curious and not reflect the fear that was gripping his heart. A fear he couldn’t even fully pinpoint.

“It’s nothing sir. The ship is just kinda creepy.” He answered, taking a slow breath in and out and directing his attention straight forward. Subordinates pick up their mood based off of their commanding officers, Thrawn had told him, acting scared would only serve to scare the others.

“Yes, we will hopefully have the lights on soon.” He gave Eli a smile, one he knew was meant to reassure him, and he felt his heart jump. Thrawn’s smiles always seemed to affect him this way. Something so rare, but was a clear and honest glimpse into Thrawn’s carefully hidden emotions. Knowing the smile was solely for Eli to feel more at ease didn’t calm his racing heart. At least it beat for another reason now.

They made it to the cockpit and Eli was relieved to find it far better lit than the rest of the ship. Lights had been brought in and set up, hooked to a separate generator than the one dead one resting beside the console. Thrawn went right up to the officer who was fiddling with the dead generator, Eli held back, taking in the cockpit as a whole.

There were five Stormtroopers, and two ensigns, along with two generators, and now he and Thrawn. Thankfully the space was larger than some of the smaller cargo shuttles he’s been in, but it was still crowded. Though that only helped to put him more at ease. In tight quarters, having a defense of five Stormtroopers was pretty reassuring.

He watched Thrawn, calm, cool, and collected as he spoke with the ensign and looked over the generator. He cursed himself mentally as he watched. Why was he so spooked? This was a routine occurrence for their patrol route, finding abandoned shuttles was very run of the mill. Just because it was dark was no excuse to be so frightened by it. But something, something about all of this was different, like something was here with them, something cold, something malicious. But that was ridiculous, he was quite literally just jumping at shadows.

“Lieutenant Commander.” Thrawn called for him, his deep voice reminding Eli that he was in fact safe as long as he was at Thrawn’ side. Shaking his cluttering thoughts of fear, he moved to join the Commodore.

Just as he was about to answer him, there was an electrical hiss that started up to his right. He turned as the tone increased in pitch, followed by a pop and the lights all around them went out, plunging them into darkness. It was dead silent, no one moved, no one spoke, all Eli could hear now was his own blood pumping through his ears.

“Trooper, report!” Thrawn called into the darkness, cutting through the quiet like a hot knife through butter.

“Generator...overloaded sir.” The trooper called back, close to Eli’s right.

“Lights.” Thrawn ordered, and slowly, one by one, the trooper ignited their flashlights, bathing them in welcoming light again. Subtly, Eli inched closer to Thrawn.

The second generator was now dead, like the first. Which made even less sense than the first. The console sapping the energy from the generator could somewhat be believed, the console had been dead for a long while, and seemed pretty old. But the second generator overloading from powering four simple lights? That was downright ridiculous. Judging by the look on Thrawn’s face, he thought the same.

“Sir, the generator shouldn’t have overloaded.” He whispered to the Chiss anyway.

“I concur. Run diagnostics on both generators, and call for two more to be brought in.” Thrawn answered before rattling off more orders. There was a chorus of ‘yes sir’s and Thrawn turned to leave the cockpit. He pointed to two troopers then to Eli. “With me.”

Fighting down a groan of displeasure, Eli followed after him, clutching his datapad as if his life depended on it. Things weren’t right here, the machinery wasn’t behaving right, the ship felt cold, and alive? While it felt dead when he first stepped aboard, he felt like the abandoned halls were writhing and crawling with...something.

“Sir,” Eli whispered, leaning closer to Thrawn, unsure if he was keeping his voice down from the troopers or something else, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Feelings are little to go off of compared to information.” Thrawn responded, and Eli wasn’t surprised that was his answer.

“I mean, I, like something here is wrong.”

“Something is wrong here, Lieutenant Commander, the shuttle is dead and we cannot gather information from its computers.” They passed by an open door, the light from the troopers flashlights making the shadows dance strangely and he jumped. What was wrong with him?

“I told you about Human’s ‘gut feelings’ before, right?” Thrawn nodded for him to continue. “Well, my gut is screaming at me that something bad is going on here, like there’s something else here.”

“I’ve noted that Human ‘gut feelings’ are not accurate enough to rely on. However, I trust your judgement, and am inclined to agree that something is acting against us here.” Eli wasn’t sure if it was relieving to have Thrawn agree with him, or even more concerning that even Thrawn noted that something could be here. They’d performed two bioscans, first before boarding, then again once on board the ship, both of which came back negative. And still, Eli felt like he could turn and find someone breathing down his neck.

“Where are we going?” He asked, fighting the urge to turn around. There was just their trooper, Pit, he thinks his name was. And Roe in front of them, no one else, no one else.

“The engine room, perhaps there is an issue to be found there to explain our troubles.” Perhaps, Thrawn always said perhaps, Eli swore it had to be his favorite word in basic, maybe the first one he ever learned, or he just liked the sound of it.

“I just want to get this all over with and get back to the Chimaera.” He never thought an Imperial Star Destroyer, a ship that was cold, empty of emotion, and extremely standard felt like his grandmother’s house in comparison to this shuttle.

“I would send you back, Lieutenant Commander Vanto, but I believe that your skills will be most useful in solving this puzzle.”

“It’s fine sir, I’ll be okay.” He sighed, but he meant it. So long as he had Thrawn by him, things always turned out okay, that was a truth he learned long ago. He’s just never happy with the steps it took to make every situation okay.

They stopped before what must be the engine room, to find the door sealed shut. The two troopers took to the doors, prying them apart and making room for Thrawn and himself. Of course, this room was pitch black as well, but since the room and ceiling was much larger than the others, the trooper’s flashlights did very little to light up all the corners. Slowly the light beams scanned the room, moving up down and left from right, showing dusty pipes and wires, old crates and tools, until they landed on the prone figure of a humanoid near the far most wall.

They froze a second before both troopers jumped into action. They ran up to the body, all thoughts turning to a down trooper or officer. Thrawn placed his hand against his blaster, prepared to take it out should the need arise, and Eli mimicked him. Pit and Roe knelt at the prone figure, inspecting it and turning it over, and even from here Eli could tell it was a-

“Dead body sir, no more than a day or two maybe.” Pit reported, as Roe searched over the body.

“But, all signs showed that no one had been inside the ship for years. There was no breathable air inside, wasn’t there?” He turned to Thrawn, who’s face looked very grave.

“One of ours?” He asked, not even acknowledging Eli, which was all the answer he needed. No one should have been inside this ship before they arrived.

“Negative sir, unknown, civilian by the looks of them.” Eli swallowed the lump growing in his throat. He could see Thrawn’s shoulders tense beside him, a move so small and unnoticeable, it seems only Eli, who has spent the past five years beside the Chiss, could see. Thrawn didn’t like when things didn’t make sense, when an answer was too far out of reach. And an intact body of a person deceased a few days ago found alone on an untouched ship did not have any clear answers.

Thrawn approached the troopers, hand still rested on his blaster, and Eli reluctantly followed. Step after step after step, their boots echoing in the large empty room, sound waves bouncing around and back that Eli couldn’t even be positive the noise was coming from their boots at all. And when they got close enough to see the body, Eli’s blood ran cold and every hair on his skin stood straight up.

It was a woman, and she looked completely and utterly intact. Her skin, while pale, still seemed flush, as if blood still circulated beneath her cheeks, her hair long and smooth, freshly brushed, and her face was peaceful, like she were simply sleeping. He was about to ask the troopers to confirm she was dead when he got closer and could see the other half of her body, which was a mess of angry red burns that had melted the flesh down to the bone in some areas. It looked like she was hit point blank with a concentrated explosion that seared her entire right half. Eli stopped walking, feeling his stomach churn at the sight.

The body was fresh, the troopers couldn’t be wrong about that, and once that realization dawned on him, the scent assaulted his nostrils. As if the smell was waiting for him to see before attacking. The scent of utter decay ravaged him, the rot, congealed blood, the scorched hair, all together made Eli want to vomit. He covered his nose, unable to help himself, and watched as Thrawn’s face grimaced slightly. This only raised more questions.

“Take a DNA sample and have it sent to medical for an identity scan.” Thrawn ordered, Roe calling an affirmative and taking a swab of the poor woman’s burnt flesh. He flinched, half expecting the woman to bolt up and scream in pain as he did, the untouched part of her body still looking so intact, so alive, but she lay still on the floor, not even a twitch to her dead muscles.

“What the Hell.” He whispered, more to himself than anything. A dead ship, untouched and uninhabitable for years, consoles that stole energy, and corpses from only days ago.

“Observe the area around the corpse, Lieutenant Commander Vanto.” Thrawn instructed, as if Eli hadn’t been staring there the whole time without blinking. But he knew what the Chiss meant. Tearing his gaze from the body, he instead inspected around her, and saw exactly what Thrawn was talking about.

“There’s layers of dust surrounding her body. Layers thicker than a few days. There’s no way she could have died a few days ago, her body has been here longer than that.” There was no way that she could have, the area where she had been on her side was completely clear of dust, meaning she didn’t lay in dust when she died. She had to of been laying there ever since the shuttle went dead, but if so, why was her body still so intact.

Roe passed on his side, the DNA sample in his hand, and left in a light jog out the door. That just left the two of them and Pit, far worse odds to fight something off. Though, judging by this, it was possible for whatever they would fight against is something completely otherworldly.

“Precisely.” Thrawn agreed.

“What are you thinking sir? Because to me, this makes no sense.” He looked up at Thrawn, the Chiss still staring at the body.

“I do not yet know.” He answered, and that had a pit forming in the depth of Eli’s stomach. Thrawn pulled out his comlink then keying it on. “Roe, when you return, bring a stretcher and a medical team, I want a full autopsy done on the corpse.”

“Yes sir.” Roe’s voice came over the comm and Thrawn switched it back off. It took a few minutes for Roe to return, meanwhile, Pit went about confirming the room was clear of any dangers. Eli stuck close to Thrawn and busied himself on his datapad, trying to ignore the sleeping corpse on the floor.

He could avoid her sight, but he couldn’t avoid the stench, which only seemed to grow the longer they stood around her. As if her body was rapidly decaying before their very eyes, but every time he did glance at her, she was completely the same as before. Thrawn hadn’t even taken his eyes off of her, if there was a change, he would spot it immediately.

Finally, blessedly, Roe returned with two nurses from medical. Roe joined Pit in securing their perimeter, while the two nurses moved up to the body. They didn’t even flinch at the sight of her, which was to be expected, they’d probably seen far worse than a burned body while working in medical.

“Do we have results from the DNA scan?” Thrawn asked them as the two nurses passed.

“Yes sir!” One called, standing at attention while the other inspected the body. “Positive ID on the body, a Myzel Vite, reported as missing as of seven standard years ago.”

Eli flinched and stared at the woman. Seven standard years ago? There was no way a body could look like that after seven years. And the amount of dust that surrounded her could definitely amount to seven years worth. Eli looked from her, to the body then up at Thrawn. The Chiss did seem bothered by this information, but the look was barely there.

“Very good, take the body and perform an autopsy, notify me once you have your results.”

“Yes sir!” She nodded and turned to her comrade. Both of them knelt down at either end of the body, reaching out slowly to grab at her feet and shoulders. They gave a short countdown, then lifted, moving the body over to the stretcher they laid on the ground beside her. The moment the body left the ground, the room erupted in a shrill scream, so high pitched that Eli and the nurses clutched at their ears, while Thrawn and the troopers barely flinched.

A flash of motion caught Eli’s eyes, and he turned back to the nurses and the body, only to see the body was standing up, completely on her own, jaw stretched wide, pulling at the tendons and muscles, the inhuman screeching coming from her throat. The two nurses, who’d fallen back in shock, scrambled and crawled away from her. Eli took a step back himself, Thrawn standing strict where he was.

“Fire!” He heard the Chiss shout over her screams, and pulled his blaster out, firing directly into the corpse’s chest. The two troopers joined him, blaster bolts riddling the body. Belatedly, Eli helped, grabbing one of the nurses from the floor and throwing them behind him, out of the way, and he too took a few shots at the woman.

But she was completely unphased. Standing and taking each hit without so much as flinch, and the screaming, the agonizing screaming, never ceased. Thrawn stopped firing, having noticed the same as Eli. He raised his hand, Eli and the troopers stopped as well. Surprisingly, the screams stopped once the blaster fire did. Her mouth was still stretched open, head tilted back and up at the ceiling, but her sound had stopped. Things falling eerily silent.

Three seconds ticked by, Eli only knew because he counted, holding his breath, before the corpse moved again. Her head snapped to Thrawn, a sickening snap echoing in the room along with the movement. Her eyes looked hollow, like deep black holes pulling in all the light around, and her gaping mouth had a downturn to it, as if she was glaring at the Chiss. He watched as her dead muscles twitched and tensed, she was getting ready to pounce,

Everything from there happened in an instant. The door they’d come through slid closed with a bang, the flashlights from Pit and Roe flickered out, and the screams started again. Not even needing an order, the two troopers opened fire again, but she’d moved already, their bolts missing her entirely, and in the flashes of light Eli saw her, moving, moving fast, and directly for Thrawn. Everything happened in an instant, but now it all felt like it was moving in slow motion.

She was coming for Thrawn, his superior, his commanding officer, his mentor, his friend. And despite the fact that he was certain Thrawn saw her, that Thrawn knew she was coming for him, that Thrawn could easily handle himself against a corpse, despite all that, and despite his fear, Eli felt an overwhelming urge to do something, to help Thrawn, to protect him.

“Thrawn!” He screamed, and without a moment of hesitation, he stepped in front of the Commodore, raising his arms, prepared to take the brunt of whatever she could throw at him. He felt Thrawn’s hand on his shoulder, tense and firm, and Eli knew he was going to throw Eli out of the way, but it was too late. He felt her strike, like blades slicing into his flesh, her nails clawed at him, with inhuman strength and sharpness, cutting his uniform, into his skin and leaving three stinging wounds down his arm.

She roared at him, clearly angry for missing her true mark, Thrawn, and from over his shoulder, he felt Thrawn’s arm, a blaster beside his face, and it fired once, directly into the head of the body. She cried out, scrambling away from him. Thrawn fired again and again, and this time, she was cowering from them.

No, no no no! ” The corpse shouted, voice deep, gravely, sounding absolutely inhuman, and unlike any being he’d ever heard before in all his years in this galaxy. He took a step back from her voice, feeling Thrawn’s chest at his back. Around his chest, Thrawn’s left arm came around, holding him securely against him.

Suddenly, the flashlights came back on, Pit and Roe training them on the corpse that was cowering on the floor. She hissed at the light, covering her face. What happened next, Eli wouldn’t have believed if he wasn’t watching with his own eyes. The corpse convulsed, her head snapping back, bones cracked as she bent backwards, mouth falling open once again, and from it, Eli watched a gas come out, like a gray cloud it poured past her throat into the air, keeping its shape rather than distributing in the air. The troopers followed it up with their lights, higher and higher until the gas phased through the ceiling, and was gone. At the same moment, the body collapsed into a heap, once again dead and lifeless, only now, sporting many blaster wounds.

The room fell silent for a few seconds, all eyes on the lifeless body. Then a hum sounded through the room, the all familiar sound of running machinery that powered a ship, the room coming to life, in a much friendlier way than the corpse. The hum increased, the floor beneath them vibrating gently and the overhead lights of the room flashed on, brilliantly bright, so much so that it nearly blinded him.

All at once, the room felt warmer. As if, with the gas gone, things felt safer, the presence that had Eli’s hairs on end wasn’t there, no breath on the back of his neck, other than Thrawn’s. He relaxed, practically collapsing against Thrawn, and might have fallen to the ground if it weren’t for the arm across his chest holding him up.

His arm throbbed, painfully, in a way he’d never felt before, blood oozed from the cuts down his arm, staining his tattered uniform sleeve. As well, it felt as if most of his energy had bled out the cuts, leaving his body feeling weak and exhausted. Thrawn hefted him up again, pressing against his back to see if he could stand on his own. Eli wasn’t sure he could. Instead, he was maneuvered to a sitting position on the ground, Thrawn helping him all the way down and stepping away to inspect him from the front. He missed the pressure at his back immediately.

“That was a reckless decision, Lieutenant Commander.” He lectured, grabbing Eli by his wrist and inspecting his three vertical cuts.

“Maybe, but I took the satisfaction of hurting you from her, and you got the upper hand because of it.” Eli shot back with a lazy smile.

“Nurse Leigh, bring a med pack.” Thrawn ordered and the nurse was at his side in an instant. Thrawn stepped out of the way, and Eli’s eyes followed him. Leigh took his arm next inspecting the wound, prodding at the skin and pulling a bit too roughly to get a look at the cuts. She first took a pair of scissors from her pack, and snipped at his uniform sleeve, removing it entirely before turning towards treating his injuries.

“I liked this uniform.” He said sarcastically, noting the many identical uniforms he had in his closet on the Chimaera. Stars, he wanted nothing more than to go back to the Chimaera and crawl into his bed.

“After you have Lieutenant Commander Vanto’s arm patched up, you three return to the Chimaera and give him a full medical scan. Pit, Roe, we will return to the cockpit and inform the rest of the crew of the situation.” Thrawn began ordering, standing back to his full height, arms held behind his back. Then Eli was getting his wish, returning to the safe, crowded, well lit Chimaera, where no corpses lay around and charged at him.

“No.” He said, raising his gaze to meet Thrawn’s. “Apologies sir, but we have a mission to do here, and I plan to see it through. Once my arm is patched, I’d like to accompany you, I am still able bodied.” Thrawn met his eyes, holding them in an intense look for a few moments.

“You are injured.”

“Hardly, this is a scratch.” He shot a look at Leigh so she wouldn’t argue with him. He did, however, grimace as she applied disinfectant and bacta to his cuts, the sting catching him off guard.

“You are compromised Lieutenant Commander.” Eli swallowed slowly. Thrawn wasn’t ordering him to do anything just yet, because if he did, Eli would have no choice but to go, or else call into question his loyalties in front of other crew members. Instead, he was trying to convince Eli to go, meaning Thrawn wanted Eli to stay, but was trying to make him go, most likely to remain safe. It was admirable, and brought a heat to Eli’s chest, but ultimately, Eli would rather stay at Thrawn’s side. It’s where he was the safest.

He waited until Leigh had finished wrapping his arm, the bandage secured before pulling away from her. He stood, legs slightly shaky but he righted himself, tilting his chin up and puffed out his chest.

“I don’t believe so, sir. I’m more use here, you yourself said so.” They stared each other down again, and surprisingly, Thrawn relented, giving him a small smile.

“That I did. Very well, Nurse Leigh, Nurse Jax, return to the Chimaera, Lieutenant Commander Vanto, with me and the troopers.” Eli couldn’t help his own smile rising to his lips.

“Yes sir.”

The nurses took their leave quickly, seemingly glad to be out of the nightmare that was the last few seconds. With what appeared to be restored power, the doors opened easily for them and they were gone. Thrawn, Eli and the troopers wasted no time in leaving back for the cockpit, nearly two paces faster than when they had first went. They faced no obstruction along their way, through the corridors were still empty, but the light made it much less unnerving.

“Lieutenant Commander, thoughts?” Thrawn spoke into the silence, and when Eli looked up at him, he saw his eyes lingering on Eli’s bandaged arm. He looked down at it himself, rolling his wrist and seeing the faint traces of blood that had stained the layers of bandages. Honestly, he didn’t know what to think, and what he didn’t understand, he felt less fearful. Despite knowing there was something here, something he didn’t know of, that in fact could and would hurt him, he was more at ease. Maybe when things were more physical, it was easier to repel, easier to predict, easier to kill.

In terms of what that thing was, Eli was at a loss. A gas that reanimates a corpse? Or was it a gas based organism? A disease? Or even something else entirely. But he wasn’t looking at the picture as a whole, just the one part. He needed to pull back from just the experience in the engine room, and put it together with everything else.

Dead ship, no oxygen, nothing should be alive as of seven years ago, the cockpit was siphoning energy and machines were shorting out with no clear cause, and the power kicked back on the moment the gas had left the room. Coupled with the eerie feeling in his gut, the chill, the sense of being watched, the hairs that stood on end on his flesh.

He stopped walking abruptly, so abruptly that Roe nearly ran directly into his back. Thrawn made it a few more steps before pausing, turning, and eyeing Eli inquisitively. He looked up at Thrawn, meeting his eyes, only one single thought coming to mind, one that was utterly ridiculous, one he wouldn’t even say if it weren’t for the fact that all the signs matched nearly perfectly.

“The gas that left her body,” he began, having all three sets of eyes on him, “I don’t think it was a gas. What if…” He paused, looking across the blank trooper helmets and Thrawn’s own look of encouragement, he swallowed hard. “What if it was a spirit?”

“Define spirit, Lieutenant Commander.” Thrawn asked him while he saw Pit and Roe gave each other looks. It would make sense that Thrawn wouldn’t catch his meaning, to him, spirit was morale, personal motivation, and will, there was a high chance he’s never even encountered its other meaning in all his time speaking basic, it wasn’t exactly part of their job.

“Spirit, like ghosts. The left over soul of a person after they’ve died.” Thrawn furrowed his brow and Eli heard Roe try and stifle a snicker behind his helmet.

“Are such things real?” Eli looked away grimacing.

“Um, I mean, it depends on who you ask. Some people believe in them, others don’t. I didn't, but all the signs match up with ghost stories so far.” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. He hadn’t believed in ghosts, like most kids you grow up and realize it’s all superstition, but, he can’t help but make the connection.

“Sir, if I may.” Pit spoke up, Thrawn nodded for him to continue. “I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, ghosts aren’t real, there must be something real going on here.” Eli winced at the emphasis he put on real. This is why he should have just kept his mouth closed, it sounded stupid and he’s just made a fool of himself in front of them all.

“Yeah, I think I’m just grasping at straws here, sir. It’s probably something else.” He turned down to his datapad, not wanting to look at Thrawn, but felt his glowing eyes on him. Thrawn only hummed in response and they continued forward again.

Stupid, stupid, he chastised himself, trying to ignore the heat that dominated his cheeks and the tips of his ears. Jumping to the conclusion that this was the work of ghosts was such a childish thing to do. He should have just shut up and thought through the idea more instead of admitting to everyone that was his first thought. But, as they walked, he ran over all the signs again, and again, and again, but he couldn’t think of anything else. Unless there was some elaborate trick going on here to make the ship look like it had been abandoned for so long, which even then wouldn’t explain everything, there was nothing else he could think of.

“Explain to me your reasoning, Lieutenant Commander.” Thrawn spoke suddenly, drawing Eli’s attention. Thrawn wasn’t looking at him, still straight forward as they walked so he took his time staring. There was no mirth in Thrawn’s features, or any inclination that this was a joke, but Thrawn never was one to crack jokes or make fun of people. He honestly wanted to know.

“Oh, well, ghosts are always described as sorta nebulous or able to take the form of the people they used to be. They can interact with the physical environment to a degree, knocking things over, making them float, and, in a lot of cases, messing with electricity and machinery. They’ve also been said to possess people and bodies…” Eyeing Thrawn he saw the Chiss actually contemplating his words.

“Are these stories singular to Lysatra?”

“No, you hear stories like that all across the galaxy, the can differ a bit, but a lot of the lore stays the same across cultures.”

“Never feel afraid to speak your thoughts Lieutenant Commander, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, any information is useful information. Perhaps it is not ghosts, but we are meant to perceive that it is by whomever is behind this.”

Thrawn gave him a smile, and he found it did subside his embarrassment slightly. He still wasn’t sure, it would have to be one very, very clever and elaborate ruse if that were the case. But, he supposed that made more sense than the fact that ghosts were real. Thrawn always did get to the bottom of mysteries, so Eli was sure Thrawn would figure out this one in time.

“You are more calm.” Thrawn stated. Eli chuckled to himself, having already thought about that himself.

“Yeah, I noticed that too. I guess seeing how we repelled whatever that was in the engine room made me remember that we could deal with this threat. Fear of the unknown seems more paralyzing than being slashed up by fingernails.” He gave Thrawn a smile which the Chiss slightly returned.

“I have noticed, across all beings, fear stems from not knowing the enemy you face.”

“You really think someone is pulling us along in this trick?” Running his fingers down the side of his datapad, he stared down at the screen, hoping to not let on his nervousness. He may be more level headed, but that didn’t take away the fact that someone or something was trying to scare or kill them.

“At the moment, yes, that is what I believe.” That will have to do for now then.

They turned the corner into the hall that leads to the cockpit and Eli furrowed his brow. The lights all down this hallway were dead, just like they had been when they left. Behind them the way was lit, but ahead, it was still dark. They slowed their stride, scanning up and down the hall, but nothing was out of the ordinary, other than the lights.

A scream ripped through the space around them, seemingly coming from the cockpit, and Eli instantly felt cold. It was one of the ensigns, he recognized their voice, and the urge to bolt to them had his muscles twitching. He made one step forward when Thrawn raised his hand to stop him. He opened his mouth to ask why when he saw it too.

Coming from the door to the cockpit, at the end of the hall in the darkness, was another gaseous cloud like they saw in the engine room. It passed through the closed door, as if it wasn’t an obstruction at all. Unlike the first cloud they’d seen, this one seemed to have a bluish tint, rather than gray, and maybe even glowed faintly in the dark, in a way that was screaming supernatural in Eli’s mid.

“Fire.” Thrawn commanded gesturing at the cloud with his hand, and a second later, Pit and Roe unleashed a barrage of blaster bolts down the long hall, lighting up the dark shadows with blazing red.

Every bolt that whizzed down at the cloud passed right through it without so much as an indication that they were hitting their mark. They fired for what felt like eons before pausing, noting how they were doing nothing to phase whatever that thing was. All four of them waited, staring at the nebulous cloud, Eli with his breath caught in his throat. Slowly, it moved, the edges of the gas changing and shaping, beginning to take a form that had the hairs rising on Eli’s flesh once again.

It was taking the form of a Human. A vague humanoid form at first then began to take on details, face, hair, clothing, all of some man Eli certainly had never seen before. But his eyes, were dark black hole pits just like the reanimated corpse of Myzel, and he felt like they were staring directly into his soul. His arm felt like it was burning under his bandages, as if the stairs of this thing were setting his wounds on fire.

With a flicker, much like a strobing light, the figure moved closer, then closer, then closer again, moving down the hallway in teleporting bursts rather than walking towards them. He heard Thrawn shout something he couldn’t quite make out, as his ears were overtaken by white noise the longer this thing stared at him. Pit and Roe began to fire again, the red flashes doing little to distract Eli or the thing from the hypnotizing gaze.

He wanted to look away, feeling like he was going to fall into the pits that were his eyes if he didn’t. But he couldn’t. No matter how much his brain screamed for his limbs to move, or how his heart hammered in his chest, he couldn’t move even an inch. Thrawn grabbed his shoulder, jostling his body, but it was far too late, he was paralyzed, completely at the mercy of the gaze of this creature.

With a final flicker, he was face to face with him. The translucent of the gas still allowing him to see through to the end of the hall, but Eli’s eyes were still stuck, locked with his. Thrawn was barking orders beside him, and he felt a tug at his shoulders, but just as his body moved, the thing before him reached out with it’s sickly hands, clutching at Eli’s face.

The fingers pressed into his skin, and he felt the cold biting burn, as if he were being flash frozen at the points of contact, the pain welling and overflowing his system in an instant. He screamed, at least he thinks he did, mouth agape, throat going raw, but he couldn’t hear it, he couldn’t see himself move, all he could see was blue tinted gas overtaking his entire vision. Before things went completely dark.

When his sight came back, he felt cold and numb across his entire body. The electric tingles that he’d get when his limbs would fall asleep, but it was everywhere, and he couldn’t even feel the ground beneath his feet. As if he were floating in his own body. But his body was moving just fine without him, because the first thing he saw was his own hands wrapped around Thrawn’s throat.

“Die Die Die Die Die…” A voice echoed in his own skull, a voice that was not his own, but was frighteningly familiar to the guttural grating sound Myzel’s corpse had made. It was in him, that thing, that man cloud was in his body, in his mind, in control of his actions.

All debate on the validity of ghosts was gone, because right now, Eli was being controlled by some malicious spirit, and if he is wrong then let the Universe strike him down where he stands. His own hands tightened around Thrawn’s throat, the Chiss’ face screwed up in a scowl, but he wasn’t fighting Eli. he was clutching at Eli’s wrists, trying to hold him back, but he wasn’t fighting, wasn’t trying to hurt Eli in any way, and neither did Pit nor Roe.

No, no, they had to stop him before it was too late! He tried to pull his arms away, loosen the grip on Thrawn’s throat, get away as fast as he could, but he couldn’t his body wasn’t listening, no matter how hard he tried, he didn’t even budge.

“Let him go!  Let him go!” He pleaded into the void of his own mind, the desperation wavering his voice as he screamed. Surprisingly, the void answered back.

“No, he must die. The blue demon killed my crew, I will kill him.” Eli gasped, feeling the voice bounce around between his ears, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

“No, let him go! Get out of me!” He snarled. Before his eyes, Eli saw Thrawn’s scowl fall slightly, the crushing grip he had on Eli’s wrists weakening, he was losing the fight. “Let go!” He howled, resolved doubled and pulling back as hard as he could against his own arms. Somehow, the increase to his determination worked and he was sprawling backwards on the floor, releasing Thrawn as he fell, the Chiss, letting out a few coughs as air rushed back into his lungs.

“Fool.” Eli’s ears rang, the sensations of the world outside of his mind slamming into him at full force as the creature sneered, voice dripping with malice in his skull.

“It’s in me, it’s in me!” Eli gasped noticing Pit, Roe, and Thrawn coming to his side.

“I am saving us all. The Chiss must die.”

“H-He wants to kill you Thrawn.” He panted, gripping at his ears, he could feel the thing try and take back his limbs, the numbness beginning to return, like a slow ooze of cold water down his body. He wasn’t sure how long he could fight back for, already his body shook with the effort, sweat beading down his face and his heart going so fast Eli feared a heart attack was imminent.

“If you won’t help me, I’ll kill you and take this body.” That had Eli’s back arching, a scream tearing its way through his throat. His right arm fell limp to the ground, electric tingles shooting all up and down the appendage. It snacked its way to his hip, wrapping around the handle of his blaster, Eli just barely managed to grab it with his other hand, biting down hard into his lip as he fought the tremors from spreading.

“He’s going to kill me, stop him.” He grunted, tasting the copper tang of his own blood fill his mouth. Thrawn was on him in a second, pulling Eli up and slotting his back against his chest, while the Chiss’ arms wrapped around him in a hold, trapping his own arms to his sides.

“No.” The demonic voice growled through his own lips and Eli felt the numbness take over again. He could feel Thrawn’s warmth at his back, but the rest of his body was ice cold. The thing made his body thrash around, head snapping from side to side, hands clawing at Thrawn’s arms as best he could.

“Fight it Lieutenant Commander.” Thrawn spoke beside his head, his hold tightening. “ Eli. ” A whisper graced the shell of his ear, Thrawn’s voice, quiet just for him to hear, all the strain, all the strength.

Yes. Yes, fight, he can still fight. He did it once, he’ll do it a million times over again. So he struggled, pulled, screamed into the void of his mind, one arm then the other, his leg, then the next. Pulling harder, harder, all his might, all his mental strength pulling, pushing, thrashing, screaming.

“Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out, get out-” he chanted over, and over, and over again, voice raising each time, until he was screaming louder than he thought any man even could, the creature screaming against him, but the longer he struggled, the more effort he put forward, the louder his voice was over his.

He couldn’t even hear him anymore, only the sound of his own screams and the after echo of Thrawn whispering his own name. It’s all that was around him, and he wasn’t going to allow anyone else to ever hear that too. One final push, a last pull, and one scream and he felt warmth flood his veins once more.

The feeling he felt next was very similar to that of violently vomiting, as if all of his insides were being expelled through his mouth, nose, tear ducts. All his muscles convulsed, going taught, his joints popping at the force as blue tinted gas poured from every orifice in his face. The howling scream that came from his mouth sounded like a grating mix of his and the spirit’s guttural voice, but once the last bit of gas was out, only his scream echoed through the hall.

The arms around him tightened and his entire body went limp. Arms falling with a thud to the durasteel floor, his legs sprawled out in front of him, and his head falling to the side against Thrawn’s breast. Blood dripped down his mouth and his nose, or what he hoped was blood, his breaths ragged and his entire body aching.

“Eli?” Thrawn questioned, his voice still right beside his ear. He tried to speak, only for his voice to crack and no words to make it past his lips, so he just nodded very slowly.

“Maybe we were wrong to ignore Lieutenant Commander Vanto’s thoughts…” Pit spoke, shuffling from foot to foot, which was unlike a Stormtrooper to do. Eli felt Thrawn nod behind him.

“It appears so. Hail the Chimaera, tell First Officer Faro of the situation. We will be pulling out of the ship immediately.” Thrawn instructed, receiving ‘yes sir’s from the troopers. He heard footsteps march past him, and from his angle he saw what must have been Roe go past them and up to the cockpit door. Only now did he notice that the lights had come on.

“Can you stand?” Thrawn asked softly into his ear, and thinking about it, Eli wasn’t sure. He could feel his legs, sure, but they felt so weak, and pain still laced through his veins. He shook his head. He thought that Thrawn would lay him down, wait for a team to bring a structure and take him to medical, but instead, he felt Thrawn stand, taking Eli with him, and holding his limp body in his arms. If he had more energy he might have fought it, demand to be set down, or at the very least speak up, but he was so tired, and Thrawn felt so warm, so he let his eyes close, and just enjoyed the feeling of being in Thrawn’s arms.

When he woke again, he was laying down, and Thrawn’s warmth was gone. The room was unfamiliar, slightly dim, and his first thought was that he’d been abandoned, still on that ship with the malicious spirits lurking in the shadows. He bolted upright, ignoring the pull at his sore muscles and whipped his head around violently to take in his surroundings.

It was a med bay, the Chimaera’s medbay. In an instant, he completely relaxed again. The Chimaera was safe, filled with living, strong people, and plenty of lights. It seemed in here they’d been dimmed to facilitate him sleeping, but it only proved to bother him when the corners of the room were a touch too dark.

“Li-Lights, one hundered percent.” He croaked around his dry and scratchy throat. Thankfully, the computers heard him and the light increased to a much more comfortable brightness. The door to his room whooshed open, and the suddenness of it had Eli flinching. Being possessed by a ghost seemed to make him a bit jumpy, who would have known? It was Thrawn who walked in, and the relief that rushed through him had him smiling dumbly.

“Good, you’re awake.” Thrawn spoke, door closing behind him as he walked up to Eli’s bedside. He came to a stop, and Eli craned his neck up to look at him. Thrawn, his Commodore, his superior officer, his mentor, his friend, his-

“They wanted you dead.” He choked out instead of continuing that thought process.

“I deduced I was the center of their rage. I have an inclination as to why, but I’d rather hear what you learned.”

When that thing invaded his body, his mind, he unintentionally shared his thoughts and memories with Eli in the process. He caught glimpses, snippets of his life before disaster hit, just before his death. And in those snippets, he got enough to see what caused the ship’s destruction, and the reason behind the anger they harboured.

“They were attacked by Chiss.” Thrawn’s face turned reflective and nodded slowly, so he had come to the right conclusion, of course he would. “They came across a Chiss operation, and the ship obliterated them, with no hesitation, no warning. Just disabled their ship, boarded, slaughtering the crew and leaving. The last thing they saw before death was blue skinned Chiss.”

“Which is why they did not become agitated by our presence until they saw me.” Thrawn finished for him. “I had in fact noticed that the corpse of Myzel Vite had zeroed in on me, and only harmed you because you were in her way. And with the male...spirit,” he spoke as if unsure whether to use the term or not, “he used you to get to me.”

“He kept saying that he was trying to save other people from you…” He looked away from Thrawn, down at his hands. “He only got in because of this.” He lifted his freshly bandaged arm. “If she hadn’t wounded me, he wouldn’t have been able to slip in.” He checked Thrawn’s face only to watch it fall and Eli looked away again. “What happened after I passed out?”

“We recovered the remainder of our crew from the cockpit and returned our shuttle. We brought you here and have since been observing the freighter, there have been no changes.”

“I doubt there will be any unless you go back aboard. Was anyone else hurt?” Thrawn shook his head.

“No, everyone is alive and uninjured. A few are...confused, and scared, and have been sent to counseling in the meantime.” They fell back into silence. He was glad that no one from the Chimaera were hurt, but he couldn’t forget the memories he saw from the crew of that freighter.

“You found the ship and the crew manifest in the system.” He said, knowing that Thrawn would have done that first thing.

“Yes.” Thrawn answered anyway. “The ship, Bright Star, went missing along with the crew seven years ago. The mystery had turned into a cold case some time ago, and where we found it is far from its original voyage.”

“Meaning they strayed from it for some reason.”

“Or the Chiss moved the wreckage after to hide their involvement.” That sounded more likely, Eli noted.

“What are you going to do now?”

“File a report noting the wreckage, so the family of the lost crew can be notified and the case may be closed.” Eli nodded, that seemed like the best thing to be done.

“Do you think their spirits will be appeased then?” He tilted his head to the side, looking back up at Thrawn.

“I am...uncertain. Human spirits are an enigma to me.”

“Do Chiss have stories about ghosts?” Thrawn smiled sadly down at him.

“We do not, we believe in the finality of death.”

“Is that scary to you?” He shook his head.

“If the afterlife was what the remains of the Bright Star’s crew, then I would not wish that.” Eli shrugged, that made sense. Maybe it was a Human thing to fear death and Chiss had already gone through and come to terms with that.

“Thrawn.” He said, looking away.

“Yes Eli?” He answered, and he shivered. Eli, calling him by his first name, something extremely informal, and something Thrawn nearly never did.

“Lay with me please?” There was a moment of silence, where Thrawn didn’t answer or move, and Eli refused to look at him. His cheeks had already flared with heat, no need to make it worse by seeing Thrawn’s response on his face, if there was one at all.

Slowly, however, he heard Thrawn move, and move closer in fact. From the corner of his eye, he saw him get up beside his bed, first sitting down on the edge, then bringing his legs up, and moving closer, still sitting up against Eli’s pillows. He was so shocked that Thrawn had complied, he took a moment to respond. Thrawn’s arm came around Eli’s shoulder, and he gladly shuffled up to Thrawn’s side, feeling the warmth there, laying his head against his stomach.

“Thank you.” He whispered into the fabric of his uniform. He could deal with the implications of snuggling with his superior officer later, of what this meant for their working relationship and their personal one. But for now, he was just going to focus on Thrawn’s arm around him, the warmth at his side, and the way his fingers carded through his hair.