The starship shuttle, ICONOCLAST glides into the hanger bay of the Empire's secret base, "The Death Star". It is a large build, near a planet, which black soot snakes around the planet’s stratospheric winds. The soot originates from the Death Star as its construction toxic waste and exhaust pumps and dumps the poisonous gases into the planet's atmosphere. This shifts these greenhouse gases to cause the planet to be unlivable.
The shuttle door opens as the chief occupant, a high ranking Imperial exits and stands as his nose crinkles from the foul stench reeking from Death Star construction burnt metals. As he grabs the rail down to the floor, he stumbles as the area quakes. He speaks into his wrist band the following observations, “Unstable gravometrics on a ship this size?”
The workers ignore his presence as they rivet transparisteel walls in high position with the aid of large float droids. Droids scurry across the hanger floor as stormtroopers maneuver to guard their posts. The Imperial grimaces from the disorganization and speaks more about his observations, “Imprecise calculations to set the orbit from the foul stench of the planet to the construction atmosphere.” He takes a handkerchief from his inside pocket of his uniform and covers his mouth. His blue skin and red eyes do not show his strangulation from the smell. As a Chiss named Thrawn, he turns to his ship’s squad, who are also Chiss to determine if they were aware of the stench. They nod in agreement. Suddenly, they all quickly cover their ears from a clarion blare. A loud sensor alarm. “Toxins,” Thrawn remarks into his wristband as he moves to the security podium to deactivate the sound. Thrawn surveys the area and the workers busy themselves without concern. The stormtroopers did not budge from their posts.
Thrawn puts his hands behind his back and eyes his men to arm themselves. He walks toward an exit to make a note of the incidents in the hanger. His thoughts focus on the discussion of new military project and strategic goals of the Empire with the Emperor. Since Mandalore, his orders did lacked optimization and disenfranchisement. Thrawn is Chiss and Chiss do not complain, but the Empire requires discipline from the leadership with the few skirmishes they have encountered with a criminal insurgent force that indicates Jedi leadership influences. These concerns bubble in his head as calculations to fix this unequal equation with every possible scenario to defend his actions to the Emperor. Another factor to consider is the Emperor's apprentice, Darth Vader. From Thrawn's last communique, Vader will be landing on the Death Star within minutes. Many Imperial officers who met both the Emperor and Darth Vader tend to disappear except close confidantes. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is one of them. “I should have made those calculations with that rubric. I should have used the other battle strategy at Batonn.” He muses to himself.
“Sir, we have we have identified the holospeeder car 723,” announces a squad member.
“Good. Thank you.” Thrawn replies, nonchalant automatic response as his mind reels through his calculations.
“Sir, I am sending you the scheduled itinerary to your holo wristband. A squad will escort you through your tour, and then you will meet at the Throne Room.” The lights move across the Chiss HUD as the information translates into the Chiss language, Cheuhn. Thrawn orders his Chiss soldiers to only speak Cheuhn for their own personal protection. Imperial translators had not made the programs to translate.
Thrawn presses to examine the holoscreen from his wristband as it scrolls through his activities with no logistics. His red eyes glisten as they show little surprise. “Maps.” He speaks into his holoband as it records his note. As he passes a large hall, his eyes dart to the final pallets of shield generators and turbolasers being built at the Death Star equator. Thrawn places his finger under his nose as he holds his chin in wonder of how the large monstrosity propels itself through space. His anticipation was to see how the sphere propels itself through space while on his tour, if that is what the Emperor and Darth Vader truly have in mind for him. He recalls his last mission with the Empire and while he fulfills the Imperial objectives with the best Chiss training he had, there was more politics involved in the Empire. It frustrates him. In the Chiss Ascendancy, his government views him as aggressive and against their "peaceful" ways. They accuse him of murder without due process. He only wants to achieve a military objective without regard to the lives loss. By the time the Empire found him in exile on a remote planet, he defeated the entire squad and jumped aboard a ship to fly back to his sector. But one Imperial officer begged him to stay.
If his past Imperial mission is a demotion, Thrawn thought, he will take his punishment in stride and lead a subsistence life near Chiss space, protecting it from invaders. He follows his men with a brisk walk when they halt, weapons drawn, aiming at his greeter, who is very late to their rendezvous. Two stormtroopers accompanied her "bounce" in gleeful steps that dances next to Thrawn. Was the scheduled tour a social call rather than his review of the Death Star and military inspection?
“Grand Admiral Thrawn, welcome to the Death Star Platform. Pardon our construction zones, we work tirelessly to protect the galaxy from all threats and terrorists,” her voice sings as she grins with straighten and whiten teeth made to appear more human, and her lekku or head tails wag as if she dances her way in the Death Star repulsorlift. “Ready for your little tour, um, yeah, Sir?”
“Of course, cadet,” Thrawn disabuses himself from lashing out at the cheerleader and youthfulness of his greeter. He walks past the labor, most of them Wookiees and other alien from conquered worlds of the former Confederacy of Independent System or Separatists. Aliens that serve as Imperials were few as most Imperials were human. The aliens peer to see a high ranking Imperial Naval Officer in uniform, who is blue skinned with red eyes, a Chiss. He taught himself to ignore their gaze. Many of the laborers that slog on the hangers and docks stop and watch him in awe. He can hear them whisper "Is that a Chiss?" as he walks past them. It was as if he was meant to see only aliens, and not humans on his tour. The Twi’lek cadet catches his eye over her exuberance for a military tour on the Death Star, and prompts Thrawn's inquiry. “How long have you been stationed here, Cadet--?”
Her eyes light as her head tails pique that she had his interest. “Cadet Kore Taa, Sir,” She salutes and clicks her heels.
Thrawn slight grin analyzing her military machinations. “Have you received orders for any missions under your commanding officer, yet, Cadet Taa?” His mind churns as to where he last heard that surname.
“Right now, I am with Imperial Loyalty Office to encourage the workers.” She pauses. “I’m a proud servant of the Empire,” she prattles on with her social schedule as she grabs the rail when the gravity becomes unstable. Thrawn catches her and pushes her aboard the hovercraft to fly through the Death Star platform.
Thrawn looks over the stormtroopers behind him and little security in the alien section. “Delays in comm,” spoken into his holoband and analyzes the Twi’lek that bounces into the hovercraft who seems to be less concerned with security. The oddness of the dichotomy is another mental tick mark he notes. Thrawn’s hesitancy rests on how not all workers from the laborers to the Emperor that seem lax in security protocols for a battlestation, like the Death Star.
The hovercraft jerks as Thrawn, Kore Taa and two stormtroopers take off into airspace to line drive with other hovercrafts and supply transports. Thrawn’s conceals his emotions and takes mental notes unable to record in his holo wristband. The grey bars with rivet structures of durasteel and transparisteel that match in length with an uneven flush. A concussion missile can rip through the hull. The windows lack 100 ply separation versus the 50 ply of its construction.
Thrawn nods courteously to the Twi’lek who rattles the superficial histories of the galaxy to him without permission with a brief squeal of the battlestation’s best attributes. Her hard sell appears to be a forced rehearsed, which was poorly presented. As they turn the bend, he sees human Imperials and stormtroopers beat Wookiee laborers. They bludgeon one. Thrawn realizes that the hairy beasts are too docile for this kind precise engineering work. “Vargaari would be better suited as workers if you could mind control them,” he speaks into his holo wristband, while Kore's dull tone drone on unbothered by Wookiee punishment. Thrawn studies her and realizes her background as he interrupts her speech. “You are the daughter of the famed senator, Orn Free Taa of Ryloth, aren’t you?”
“Huh? What? No…I mean…yes. I’m one of his children. My mother was his eleventh consort,” her obnoxious laugh flutters like her head tails.
Thrawn's brown furrows as he finds her behavior strange when he realizes that it could be the planet’s toxic cloud in the new orbit the battlestation maintains. “Tell me, how many orbits has the station moved since you’ve been here?”
Kore’s childish shrugs reflects her nonchalance. Thrawn recognizes her euphoria, a characteristic of acute dioxis gas toxicity. Kore had no idea that her eyeballs had rolled back into her head and she slurs her words. The hovercraft bump into a tunnel where Kore slings into Thrawn's arms with a loud chortle. When the hovercraft's headlights activate, they almost fly head on in front of other hovercrafts and weave between them and dodges others. Kore tries to grab the stick to gain control, but laughs wildly with a grin as the stormtrooper knocks her away. His eyes spark rage as he attempts to yank the hovercraft stick from her, but by then, the craft was stabilized, and suddenly, they enter the restricted area that glows a soft fluorescent green. A wide berth of space opens as a million tons of crystals in vibrant colors from light green to deep purple light up the area. “Kybers?” Thrawn's mouth agape. "I've never seen so many in one place in the entire galaxy."
“Yes, and we are getting more day by day from our hyperspace lanes from the Perlemian trade route. You know about these crystals, Captain - I mean - Admiral Thrawn?” Kore purrs not minding where the craft drifts.
Thrawn grabs the stick and stops the craft mid-air. As he examines her, he realizes her inebriation. “KARK! She’s punch drunk!” He rips her from her seat and orders the stormtroopers to hold her. “You! Watch her. I want to get off here because I've seen enough.”
The hovercraft rounds to a corner. The stormtrooper holds Kore tightly and as she attempts to fight back. "Captain! What about the tour?" She bleats.
Thrawn narrows his eyes to show her he had enough for his inspection. "Cadet, you are relieved of your duty," in a stern but calm voice. His holo wristband buzzes him every minute with alerts of too much neurotoxic chemicals, which can hurt several species including Chiss. He inhales deeply to gather his remaining air in pride, because Chiss toxicity limits are higher than most sentient beings. He examines the engineering structures that lead him to the top of dish when he realizes that the huge hole is where the kyber crystals will be set to lead to the private chambers of the Emperor. "It would be hike," he states, but he had to get there.
The hovercraft parks several meters from the Emperor’s abode as its grand design glistens with red and black marble against the green light of the kyber crystals. Slate obelisks dot the entrance into the hall as the large durasteel doors that touch the floor to the ceiling remain shut. Imperial Guards with their Force Pikes are suppose to guard the entrance, but they were missing in action. Thrawn's mind reels that if he had been set up to be assassinated. But why a flippant Twi'lek cadet? He probably should kill everyone around him, but he releases a huge exhale decides to spare their lives. “Take her to the infirmary and return to wait on me.”
The stormtrooper unsure if heard Thrawn accurately. “Sir?”
Thrawn's gruff tone rarely seen in Chiss as he chases down an Imperial astromech droid and throws him into the hovercraft with orders. “I am Grand Admiral Thrawn code 021297791 and I order you to fly them to the medical sector.”
The droid toots in compliance once it realizes the identity of Thrawn.
As for the stormtrooper, his elation to finally see an Imperial officer to seize control from a wild crises. “Yes, Grand Admiral, Sir!” He drags the cadet to secure her into the seat, and orders the astromech droid to fly the hovercraft to the infirmary.
As they disappear from the distance, Thrawn unbuttons his uniform to remove a handkerchief to wipe dripping sweat from his decollete after his hovercraft accident. He shakes his head from how bad the problems he’s observed on the Death Star construction and calculates how much these problems were his problems. He fixes stray hairs from his forehead as he looks down from the balcony to survey construction. Alone, the sound was silent without the bustle from the equatorial trench - another problem. He walks a long gray grated galley plank that overlooks the green kyber crystals. The glow intoxicates him and blurs concentration. He stops and places his hands on his hips as he huffs. He looks at his holo wristband as its characters continual scroll not reaching any stable measurements. One number appears briefly as he speaks, “One percent oxygen?” He thinks about the toxins and how they may affect him without a breathing apparatus or helmet. The site of red and gray marble seem to disorient him. He reminisces one of several military Special Forces tests in Chiss space. The voice of his trainer echoes in his mind as he pushes young recruits further along the obstacle course in zero oxygen environments. He grins to himself that all that occurred before he was an adult 8 years old. His red eyes burn like fire and his belly aches in pain as he arrives to the Emperor's alcove. He feels the flood of oxygen pervade the area and inhales in the clean air as it trickles down his lungs filling out his bronchi heaving out the nasty air from his lungs. He repeats his breathing moments several times.
Then he feels a sting rip his back as a force pike from an Imperial Royal Red Guard pokes him. Thrawn unmoved and slowly rises to his feet as the Imperial guard primes his weapon. He glares into the red helmet as his hands rise to surrender.
“How did you get here?” The Imperial Royal Red Guard stunned as the first time seeing a Chiss.
Thrawn hears all the words and examines the build of the Imperial Guard and his red helmet as his mind speaks. “Small enough to take down by carotid collapse choke and grip,” he thought to himself. “The angle of thrust from the force pike suggest he is in pain from his thoracolumbular fascia tear based on his lengthy stance. A pressure point to that area should disable him seconds before his partner comes for backup.”
“Did you just come from that gangplank? It’s near vacuum, no air out there. Who are you?”
He better answer the Imperial Guard in a near normal voice, a bit raspy from the lack of oxygen. “I am Grand Admiral Thrawn summoned by the Emperor Palpatine at his bidding.”
The Imperial Guard rises to face him eye to eye. “There was no air out there. How did you?”
“Cadet Kore Taa, the Twi’lek girl, took me this way and I assumed,” Thrawn decides to play dumb to see how much the Imperial Guard would believe.
A long silence exists between him. Thrawn could see the guard’s helmet was verifying his presence with Thrawn's code cylinders. Then the guard straights in shock as his voice quavers. “Uh, Sir, uh, you were to use the south entrance, not the north, as you can see it is under construction, Sir.” The guard visibly nervous with the slur of his words and his hands shook while opening the door.
Thrawn could utterly destroy him with his own physical force, or leave that to the disciplinary hierarchy. However, as his mind clears as he breathes clean air, his concerns resonate on his punishment for cutting his losses in an useless battle that lost three Imperial frigates in a firefight with Rebels and former Separatist Holdouts near planet, Batonn. He straightens himself to a command position and accept his fate as an Imperial officer, which includes execution, though he thought it draconian. Of course, he could assign blame to his commanding officer that superseded him who ignored his observations, because his fleet admiral withheld Coruscant communications. But assigning blame is not the Chiss way and the starships were under his command. He catches his mind wandering as he stares off into the distance past the Imperial Guard and he comes back into real time. "The Imperial hierarchy decides action, not me." His thoughts betray him.
The Imperial Guard tilts his head and asks the Chiss, again. "Sir? Shall I take you around the hemisphere to meet the Emperor?"
“That would be unnecessary. Show me where I am supposed to be, exactly?” Thrawn’s red-in-red eyes crease with a pleasant smile.
The Imperial Guard gives infinitesimal noticeable sigh of relief in his exhalation, immediately unlocks the huge doors to the Emperor’s Throne Room with one black chair that overlooks a huge window above a tube that is made for a laser. “Sir, if you quickly go to the anteroom down to that location, and stand inside there to wait for the Emperor.” Thrawn proceeds before the guard stops him. “Uh, Sir? Please don’t come this way again or let my commanding officer know I let you through here. I'm dead as it is anyway.”
Thrawn frowns confused by his statement. “There seems to be a lot of fear of dying to serve aboard the Death Star.”
A small balk-chuckle emits underneath the red helmet of the Imperial Guard. “We all serve at the leisure of the Emperor.”
“Of the Empire,” Thrawn nods then walks through the throne room, which he notices the sparse black soot decor with a booth chair and a holotable and he makes his way into the anteroom, aware of the prying eyes of the Imperial Guard. When Thrawn enters the anteroom, he hears the double clank of the huge metal doors and the whirs of the locks behind him. He places his hands behind him and studies his surroundings once more.
Thrawn sees a few brand new control consoles with clear plastiques that cover their new electronics as his sense of smell returns. He turns to a large trapezoidal window that shows the fleet maneuvers of the Star Destroyers and transport ships in silence. He reassembles his uniform quickly from his reflection in the window to make himself presentable and commensurate of an Imperial officer and Grand Admiral of a starship. He presses his holo wristband that seems to reset its function and scrolls through the images as he ponders his concerns of his tour of the Death Star. He ruminates on if he should tattle on Grand Moff Tarkin, which could place him to serve duty on this technological terror. Thrawn ever so slightly grimaces at the dislikes of the place, which includes Tarkin’s doctrine of fear. The Tarkin Doctrine forces sentient beings into submission for the Empire. Thrawn knew it is a poor strategy, one that will lose the people and their loyalties to the Empire. Especially after his tour. “It will backfire,” he muses silently.
Then the hairs on his neck rise as he feels an eerie presence behind him.
The sound of air respiration releases, and then uptakes one cycle. Thrawn turns to see a tall, menacing black robed figure. It is Darth Vader, the second in command of the Empire. Thrawn had seen him from afar and in the Emperor's Throne Room on Coruscant, but never up close. Vader's methods were brutal, but he slays his enemies. Such tactics are a means to an end. Vader is a Force user by his mannerisms, and he is a Sith, like the Emperor. Thrawn’s only interaction with Force users directly were Jedi, and one nearly choked him to unconsciousness. The strange creature on Atollan made him angry, Kanan Jarrus ran away from him and the boy, Ezra Bridger, nearly killed him on Lothal to cause his defeat. Thrawn did not fear the Jedi. He did not fear the Sith. Fear is a pointless emotion as Chiss military training drills into him to not overreact to fear. His expectations of Sith and their subversion requires longer study, time which Thrawn did not have.
Thrawn deals with the Force users like complex works of art in motion. His appreciation extends only to their usefulness from afar. But Thrawn has never seen Vader's mechanical suit, up close and Darth Vader is a masterpiece. He is a cross between man and machine. He survives in the suit but his Force powers exact from it. The chest buttons keep him alive for his physical nature, not his Force nature. Thrawn observes his aura of the color of burning red-orange flames – a color of rage, which seems such a pity, because Vader appears to be trapped in his suit as monster to level fear on all those who cross him, but desires to be good. That is when it dawns on Thrawn that Darth Vader was not who the Empire has come to know, he was a good person, like a -- Jedi?
Thrawn shakes his head of those thoughts, Jedi would not do what Darth Vader does. But between the two of them, they stood, Thrawn with his hands behind is back with raised brows and Darth Vader with crossed hand near his mid-section. Thrawn turns to him without emotion and nods. “Lord Vader.”
“I see your tour of this station is complete, Admiral. Thoughts?” His vocabulator reverberates through the air.
“My Lord?” Thrawn’s lifts his brow as if his disciplinary hearing had commenced.
“Your thoughts. Of this station. I can sense them...all of them.”
Thrawn feels an internal grin as Vader gave him controls to this conversation, which was more predictable. Moreover, the Sith Lord's pattern of respiration indicates an interest in his opinions. “Yes, I know,” he looks at Vader’s naked organic eyes through his visor. “The Emperor and you are Sith, practitioners of the dark side of the Force, correct?” He turns back to the large window overlooking the ships as his right arm crosses over his torso and his left hand moves his index finger under his nose while goes back into deep thought. In his nonchalant pensive thought, he asks another question with deep earnest. “However, you, Lord Vader, your mannerisms are like that of a Jedi’s and quite unlike that of the Emperor’s.”
Darth Vader unsure of Thrawn’s line of questioning. “Explain.”
“Your cordiality. Your walk. Your parlance. It’s like a negotiation for you as you reach for consensus with your subordinates,” Thrawn analyzes the movements of the ships in space.
Vader stands next to him as he respires to await his response.
After a long moment of silence, Thrawn voice has added irritation. “Pardon me, Lord Vader, might I inquire about something that perplexes me?" An even longer pause as a large Star Destroyer floats by in space. Thrawn turns to Vader with direct eye contact. "Do the problems aboard this battlestation annoy you, too?”
“How? How did you know I once was Anakin Skyw-- ?” Vader chose to evade the second question. The inflection of his words fill with pain and masochism. The thrill is subtle that Vader enjoys pain infliction to cure past problems. “My transformation into the Dark Side is how I reconcile my past, Admiral.”
Thrawn did not let on he read the secret hologram of Darth Vader from the Jedi, that he was a little boy from Tatooine, named Anakin Skywalker. While some individuals, knew of Vader's childhood pain, their goal seems to be to dangle it in front of him to humiliate him.
Thrawn’s line of questioning causes Vader to pause when he realizes the second question with great interest. Curiosity from what Vader senses in Thrawn.
For the moment, Thrawn ignores Vader’s non-answer and proceeds to his main concerns of the battlestation. “Just like a work of art, the greatness of this station has beauty. But this beauty has numerous flaws. For now, they’re blemishes that will only become apparent when the station is complete and fully operational. And by that time, these flaws will turn into huge gaping holes that will be too difficult to ignore. An artist must take it upon himself to learn from these setbacks when they are small and retrace calculated steps to correct any blemishes. My tour guide missed these small flaws, whereas I easily notice them as glaring artifacts that will worsen in time.”
Darth Vader slows his respiration as he listens. “What would you suggest?”
Thrawn turns to look directly into Vader’s eyes. “My Lord, if I can see these flaws, our enemies can see them, too. They might find weaknesses to unravel this art quickly slapped and woven together to destroy the entire piece.”
“But the Imperials will not listen to either of us,” his sigh of resignation has more to do with his frustration of Imperial bureaucracy, than a complaint. The memory of Orn Free Taa's offspring by dioxis gas shears his mind. “Our enemies will undoubtedly learn of these flaws and when they do, if I were to ever be stationed here, I would have an exit strategy with clear means of evacuation.”
A comlink alerts Thrawn for the meeting with Emperor Palpatine as Imperial Guards enter the anteroom to admit Thrawn.
“My Lord, may I suggest that I am only critiquing art. Of course, all Imperial builds matter,” Thrawn’s voice light and airy as he searches for a facial emotion, than his deadpan Chiss emotionless face.
Vader speaks after a long silence. “All art matters, Admiral.”
Thrawn nods and pivots to enter the Throne Room to meet the Emperor.