The door closes after Thrawn as Darth Vader stands and watches him enter the throne room to be in the presence of Emperor Palpatine seated in a large black console chair. Thrawn sees an old fragile man with boils and wrinkles. Chiss did not age like humans, Thrawn thought. That’s if Emperor Palpatine is human.
“I am,” Palpatine’s sinister voice echoes throughout the throne room. “And I can tell you, Chiss that I am a Sith Lord, imbued with the dark side for a very long time,” his swarthy smile slithers across his grey wrinkled mouth.
“My apologies, my Lord. My thoughts seemed to have strayed,” Thrawn’s red-eyes lighten and slowly a mischievous grin enters his face for the first time after being around humans for a long time. He notes to himself to suppress his personal opinions and presents himself respectably before the Emperor.
“My guards tell me you walked across the catwalk in the absence of oxygen to arrive here in my throne room,” his grin widens.
“Yes, my escort was lax in her duties.”
“She will be dispatched for her oversight. Afterall, she is alien. I do not extend preferential treatment to anyone, nor do I reward failure. The Empire requires superior candidates for Imperial officers.”
“I agree and understand, my Lord,” Thrawn’s voice unequivocal in how to manage the lack of diversity in the Empire.
It made him eager to get to the meat of the discussion the protection of the Empire. Talk of Imperial diversity was boring rhetoric. Thrawn believed that good military personnel must be qualified to do their jobs and it should be their best without the demands for representation or diversity. To Thrawn, most aliens that serve the Empire were only there for their title to splay across their planets rather than their duty to the Empire. His assessment of their actions or inactions appears in their responses to his questions. He found aliens require coddling and handholding. Thrawn felt that was beyond his job description.
While it saddens him that aliens fail to live up to standard expectations of the Empire, the Chiss could easily fulfill that need. If he were to integrate a few Chiss, his near-human species as his Imperial aides to him, he knew efficiency would increase several-fold. Chiss never complain. He could reach out to promising candidates as an opportunity to serve under his leadership. He muses about how the Sith work with anyone and the Imperials only work with humans who are often too emotional. Humans segregate themselves further by skin complexion color, eye shape and body variations. Thrawn thought, train a few humans that have faced discrimination, and perhaps, he would have the force he needs to defend the Empire. Then, Thrawn sparks to attention when he realizes his thoughts betray him again.
“You may select the squad you need, Admiral Thrawn. But, first let’s discuss a mission you must complete for the Empire,” he rises from his seat and glides down to a table like an apparition and activates the lighted holoprojection of a planet.
“Uh, yes, my Lord,” Thrawn sees the lit table and analyzes the planet with the Auberesh written label and a series of datapoint that scroll around it. “A planet in what appears to be in the Unknown Region at this star location. Do you know of it.”
“My archaeologists believe there is a treasure trove of strange starships on the planet’s surface.”
“Yes, strange ones. Ones that are built with elements responsive to the Force.”
Thrawn crossed his arms as the lights of his red eyes dart from one position of the holoprojections to another. “Is there scientific proof?”
Palpatine moves a button on the holoprojector well to switch the image to starship similar to modified Corellian Engineering Corvette 1500 that the Rebels have been seen to have. “Long range telemetry scans show what is called prototype ship model CEC YT-1300. It is a simple construction, but contains a stygium crystal for cloaking a ship. There are more ships that have similar technology and I want to reclaim them for reverse engineering by Sienar systems ships available to the Empire.”
“Who was the shipbuilder?”
Palpatine toothy grin glides across his face over Thrawn’s perceptiveness. “My former master’s master, Rugess Nome.”
Thrawn’s red-on-red eyes pierce into Palpatine’s yellow-red Sith eyes to gauge his seriousness. "Rugess Nome, a Bith, had a few interactions with the Chiss. He pandered for parts and Chiss shipbuilding expertise. He would always answer to a tattooed Rutian Twi’lek. Of course, I was not alive at that time, but the Chiss Ascendancy left them empty-handed.”
Palpatine watches Thrawn’s assessment of the known data as he sees a near human as smart being, but one without the Force. Unlike Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, Thrawn's motivation lacks emotion or morality. Tarkin indiscretions with women who are not his wife caused delays to his prized Death Star. Tarkin’s estrangement and philandering caused impaired decisions for the Empire and its spin on propaganda, especially his pronounced “Tarkin Doctrine” that uses fear to coerce star systems to comply with Imperial demands. Tarkin needed to complete the Death Star. But the Emperor decided on a backup plan for an advance weapon fleet. Those machinations in the Force requires him to sway Thrawn to assistance for this mission. “I want you to recover the entire fleet once you identify the exact location.”
“When do I start?” Thrawn studies the Emperor without showing he suspects a ruse.
The yellow-red eyes enhance their glow as Palpatine’s sly grin enhances that Thrawn buys into this mission. He switches the holoprojector image to an abstract painting. Its hues of orange, purple and silver colors shimmer across the painting like blood vessel that pulsate in various directions from a center that fibrillates at a fast paced alien heart. “The Visage Presage by Jaynor of Bith commissioned by Rugess Nome. The painting is a map to the fleet treasure trove.”
Thrawn’s eyes widen as the painting seems to flex its skin when touched as the image rotates from holoprojection. He studies the forms of the painting, then presses a few buttons to examine its 3-dimensional structure with current data obtained by sensor scans. The scans list the painting’s consistency. Thrawn releases a small balk as his eye reflect excitement from a complex analysis of a painting in digital holoprojections. He paces around in directions never getting close to the Palpatine who tests him for analysis. After several moments, Thrawn stares at Palpatine to give his serious conclusions of the painting. Palpatine may have given a nod to proceed, but Thrawn enthrallment to share his thoughts with the leader of the Empire felt compelled to give a complete diagnosis of what he sees in the painting. “My Lord, the colors lack brilliance on the hologram. I would need to evaluate the real painting. Does it still exist?” Thrawn thought Palpatine need not bother answering that question because Thrawn would interrogate the entire digital land to find all images of the Visage Presage and construct a fuller evaluation with Chiss technology. His minds reel of the possibilities and the next steps as he continues. “But my cursory evaluations stem from the strange components of the painting from the sensory data. It is as if one of the component is not paint, but highly proteinaceous. As if-“
“As if, what? Blood? Indeed your analysis serves you well, Admiral.” His swarthy grin returns. “Rugess Nome commissioned this painting and gave Jaynor the paints needed for this artwork. One of those components was blood of the beings on the planet, including a long extinct Terentatek, a Force responsive being.”
Thrawn stares at Palpatine for a long time to comprehend what he stated. Jaynor painted in blood. Blood of victims of a conquered planet, allegedly where the silent fleet rests. He places his finger under his nose and re-evaluates the painting as he shifts it from two dimension to three dimensions. “Terentatek feast off of Force users and are similar in size to a rancor. They have been made by ancient Sith with the dark side of the Force. You want me to use the painting as an expedition to find Nome’s fleet. You want this fleet to be intact, which means you will give me a battalion to pursue this expedition, and you want me to hand over this experimental fleet to Sienar Fleet Systems. Is that correct, my Lord?”
Palpatine stood across from him then returned to his throne room chair to sit. He could order Thrawn to do this mission and have another failure to retrieve the entire fleet or he could give Thrawn a choice to find a mutual interest for the both of them. “Only if you want, Admiral. A promotion I want to give you. But I can demote you because of human Imperial specieist rhetoric. Return my fleet, and you will be promoted to Grand Admiral of the entire Imperial fleet.”
“My Lord, you would promote my rank?”
“Because when you leave here, a Grand Admiral is what you will be. Just like my human admirals. I will make an announcement.”
Thrawn narrows his eyes in confusion and shakes his slightly. “My Lord, I do not aspire to such titles. My only concern is to serve at the will of the Empire and you, as my Emperor. I would have pursue this fleet to learn more of each ship’s construction out of curiosity,” Thrawn veils a thin smile.
“Indeed. I believe you would. The painting still exists. Thought lost for decades, it was discovered by the Empire. It recently resurfaced when the private collector had an unforeseen starship crash and perished,” his eyes glisten as he speaks. “Not many in the Empire know of its existence and as a result, it is up for auction on the planet, Lothal.”
“Governor Arinhda Pryce’s homeworld? Is she the private collector?”
Palpatine smiles slyly. “No. Actually, Pryce hates art. Her appreciation of art is in gray images of large builds of moon-sized spheres. Her sterility in art, music and culture are military precision similar to that of a Separatist B2 Battledroid. The private collector was an alien, and Imperial high intelligence, got him deported to his homeworld and had and unfortunate accident and subsequent death him upon his repatriation.”
Thrawn would ignore the xenophobic comment as it he was accustomed to those microaggressions. He would prove his strength in the battlefield. He stares at the painting as he ruminates on the mission. Then, he shrugs with a chuckle. “You know, I was unsure if I should fully disclose this caveat, but your painting is a star map, actually. But to know for sure, I will have to procure the painting and then find a way to interpret the map. I have a hunch that there is more to this map than this holointerpretation." He pauses to tilt the holographic image to see more pixels. "When is the auction?”
Palpatine presses a few buttons as Darth Vader enters with a few of his stormtroopers, as the holoprojector of the painting dissolves. “Lord Vader, give Grand Admiral Thrawn a crew of your Black Stormtroopers based on his selections for an expeditionary fleet to Lothal and beyond.”
Darth Vader bows to Palpatine. “As you wish.”
Thrawn ponders the magnificence of this painting as a truly complex work of art and privilege to study it. He realizes the meeting is over as his new mission begins.
“Lord Vader, my friend, what do you think of our new Chiss Grand Admiral?” The Emperor grins to Darth Vader.
“My Lord, I think he will serve us well. Chiss have always been loyal to the Sith.”