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Grand Admiral Thrawn's legacy lives on through his heir, but will she survive as the consequence of her parent's disastrous union?
Chapter One: Beginning of the End
The Private Command Centre was dimly lit, as bare as it had been the last time he had sat in this chair, the usual trappings of an Imperial commander missing. There was a careful humility to the room, as if the owner had nothing to prove, and yet, eerily, it seemed that they were confident in their abilities.
Grand Admiral Pellaeon looked thoughtfully at the young woman who spoke, seated in the command chair of the Chimaera, looking at him with vaguely glowing red eyes, a self-amused smile upon her face. The guest had only been upon the Chimaera for a few hours, and she was already settling herself in.
She carefully reached for the bottle, and refilled his glass, her free hand searching for her own. Yes, she was definitely self-assured; her actions seemed to exude a confidence in herself. This first personal meeting would undoubtedly be a test of some sort, on her half, but he was preparing himself to measure her, too. So alike her father.
Distractedly, he considered his motives for entering the chambers. His hand still clasped the chip that had been found in the Empress' hands, discovered by the coroner a few minutes previous. He'd come to Dsai'llyana with the intention of questioning her about it, and somehow wound up sitting before her, sharing a drink with her.
There were many questions that he needed answers to, the temporary distraction of the impersonator, Flim, now over. The emergence of the long-thought dead Dsai'llyana, her guardian Staliae, and her mission to reclaim the Empire as her own would have to be addressed; as would the investigation into the apparent suicide of Dania Laquila, the Supreme Ruler of the Empire.
Dania would not have killed herself without reason; her fear of something must have been great for her to have poisoned herself. He had the sneaking suspicion it had something to do with this strange child, and the impersonator of the Grand Admiral Thrawn.
But his mind returned to the present situation, and the problem of succession now presented to him. Despite her claims, the Grand Admiral Thrawn would only have allowed him to accept an heir he thought worthy to be entrusted the Empire, not purely by who her parents were. And he, Gilad Pellaeon, would be a fool to allow something as trivial as parentages determine who he would hand over control of the Empire too.
Much had changed since last he served under a Chiss; the Empire had all but fallen, pride alone keeping it together, the memory of what it had once been the beacon for the youth still left to aim to restore. But the old knew that it was over; though few would admit it, the pursuit of military gain was a futile waste of life.
In the hands of the one before him was the future of the Empire, and like the Grand Admiral Thrawn before her, his confidence in the inexplicably accurate Chiss insight urged him to dream of a campaign of invasion, of reclaiming what had once belonged unquestionably to the Empire. Even if these goals had not been what had inspired Thrawn's moves against the New Republic ten years ago.
But this thought was over-ruled by logic; it was impossible for what had once been Imperial territory returning to them. The New Republic offered a great deal more than the Empire ever could, and even if they remained independent, they did not welcome Imperials near their systems. Damage that had taken the Emperor years to cultivate would ultimately be the destruction of his dream, his New Order of control through terror.
His attention returned to the present, and as he withdrew from his reverie he realised that Dsai'llyana was watching him almost thoughtfully.
"It is ironic, is it not, that the Empire has unravelled itself; policies that once held sway over billions of life forms through terror and fear do nothing but drive allies away" She said, very matter-of-factly, as if resuming a conversation they'd been having. "It will be difficult for this Empire to reverse the damage done by a previous ruler; Mitth'raw'nuroudo found it challenging, and that was before you had been driven into a mere eight sectors."
"Do you intend to take control of us and accept our territory as your own?" Pellaeon asked; her appearance was deceiving; like Grand Admiral Thrawn, she seemed to be calm, and yet...He got the feeling that if needed, she would act as decisively and as devastating as he had. She seemed to be testing; another trait of his former Chiss ally.
"Would your Empire find that so unacceptable?" She questioned. Her gaze seemed to intensify, those unchanging eyes narrowing in a way that belied her confidence, an unreadable curl of her upper lip.
He wasn't intimated per se, but there was something unnerving about this ...she reminded him strongly of a child imitating her parents, except the cruelty was she wasn't imitating; she was living, and succeeding. And so he made a bold move; he answered her question honestly; her reaction would be proof enough of her intentions.
"I am tired of war, my lady, I have tried to defend those under my authority for nearly 3 decades, I have seen our numbers dwindled, and many fine officers and friends die, as a result of incompetents making decisions, and as a result of betrayal." He sighed deeply. Even after so many years, the hollowness still remained, the shock that a mind as brilliant as his had been beaten by an enemy he had never even contemplated...a cruel irony. Everyone had felt the loss of the alien Grand Admiral, even the most rapturous of xenophobes, and the Empire had only descended into even deeper chaos after the death of the last Grand Admiral.
"The Grand Admiral Thrawn was especially a painful loss, both to morale and as a leader, he was valued. With you alive and capable to lead us, I do not believe anyone will contest your right to rule us." He gazed at her hardly, sure even she could feel the weight of the burn.
She nodded; perhaps he had passed her test after all. Relaxing back into the chair, she exhaled deeply and after a pause, began to speak again.
"I imagine, Admiral, it must be strange for you, having taken orders from my father, and seeing me now in his place."
It was unnerving, reliving these feelings after a decade of them lying buried; feelings and reactions he immediately connected to the Chiss Grand Admiral were now confused with Dsai'llyana. It was mind blowing; the woman before him was the 3 year old who had vanished the day her father was murdered, the spitting image of her mother, and yet coloured like her father, with his attitude, his morals...
"I had never considered his daughter would have taken up his mantle; but that is my Imperial conditioning, we do not encourage our daughters into battle." He paused. Daughters weren't encouraged to do anything except getting married to a suitable candidate. "I see that it a mistake; you are clearly equal to any of our most experienced commanders, and you are but a child when compared to them."
Her smile became genuine at this, reminiscent of his former Empress and her benevolence. In all the years since his last discussions with a Chiss, he'd forgotten the sensation that followed the realisation that they were observant to the point of unnerving. With the new alliances, however, he supposed that with the not-insignificant number of Chiss belonging to the Empire would grow considerably.
"You are most kind, Admiral. But I digress; you asked me earlier to explain the situation that led me to you." She drank deeply, and replaced her glass, before looking at him in a searching way. He blinked; he knew it had to be in his head, there was no reason for her to look at him.
"I have been told very little of my childhood aboard this ship, Admiral, I remember it in a lot of detail, but only through a child's understanding. I remember my father and mother, and I remember fighting. I remember the love they had, and their love for me. But that is it; and I now know the truth to be very different." Her head tilted a little in enquiry. And then, conversationally: "Tell me, when did you realise my mother was insane?"
His eyes widened at this, he had not expected her to be so direct. He considered his answer, turning the unidentifiable chip over in his fingers before continuing. "No one knew; only after the Grand Admirals death, when she was assigned a new doctor and he went through her records. It appears Staliae was prescribing anti-depressants for her, as well as numerous other drugs of unknown origin. With the death of the Grand Admiral, she appeared to return to normal." He nervously ran a hand through his hair. "I am not accusing him of foul play; clearly Thrawn's actions were for her protection. We could only conclude it was her feelings for him that caused her mood swings. She was prone to outbursts, but I, at least, assumed it was merely the stress a man and woman usually encountered."
"Did my parents resist the marriage? Did he love her?" She pressed on with her enquiry, interested, and leaning forward. Pellaeon bit his lip; this conversation was dangerous, she clearly unaware of a great deal, and he was only aware of a few of the particulars. It would be unwise to mislead her, or even continue it.
"Perhaps this is a conversation you should have with another, my lady. Your parents were my rulers; I did not question their relationship, or their feelings for each other." He spoke respectfully and truthfully; The Grand Admiral had been a very private man, and would not suffer invasions onto his privacy, or that of his family and those who knew him respected this.
She did not speak for a few moments, and then, she stood up, fingers trailing on the table, probing the back of his chair. He remained still, uncertain how to react. A few minutes later she returned, and handed him a datapad.
"This contains some information I know to have been encrypted by my father; it was entrusted to me through his aide, Tis'taliae'nuroudo, and was compiled during his time here, I believe this is what he wished me to know about them both. Any help you have to offer me would be appreciated."
Admiral Pellaeon frowned; He could not think why she would ask him; she was the genius, or at least the child of a genius. He really could not see how he could help her. Her eyes seemed to look at him sadly. She sighed, and began to explain, her voice wary.
"I know a great deal about the one you call Mitth'raw'nuroudo, how he thought, his reasoning, almost everything. But I do not know anything about my mother, and his relationship with her, I believe it has been purposely hidden from me, and that datapad is a record intended to answer my questions. I have solved every other problem my father has left behind for me, except this one." She smiled sardonically. "Though only half my heritage is Chiss, I have all of their stubbornness, and I will not rest until I get this final piece. I grew up without them, and their memories are very important to me."
Despite all the alienness that seemed to stalk her like a shadow, here she was, asking for help, looking as if any human would, her pale hand holding out the datapad to him, trusting her as Thrawn had once trusted him.
"Why would you entrust this to me? You have known me for hours." A niggling question that he had to ask; no matter how impertinent she thought him to be.
"I know how my parents both trusted you; I know how hard my father was to please, and so I see you as worthy. I also know how you have looked after my mother since my father's demise, and that it was not as easy as it could have been with her to guard also. Consider my trust a meagre gift for all you've given me."
He carefully scrolled through, a creep of remembrance. Differing colours, sizes and pictograms carefully appeared on screen. It was very familiar too...
"This is derived from Sithscrit."
"Are you sure?" Her eyes widened, her voice toning her disbelief.
"I've seen this language inscribed on Imperial Centre - Coruscant. I also know your parents communicated with it privately. I believe Dania was taught it by the Emperor himself, and she in turn shared the knowledge with Thrawn." Pellaeon said gravely, pouring over the foreign symbology. He could almost picture the adolescent Dsai'llyana, frowning at the unsolvable puzzle, the only thing preventing her discovering secrets precious to her. If she was anything like her father, it would have frustrated her secretly for years, always at the back of her mind, a stain on her thoughts and a slur against her comprehension.
"Then the trail ends." She sighed deeply. There was a deep pause, and the Grand Admiral rubbed his thumb against the tiny metallic chip, no bigger than his thumbnail. Could this be what she was looking for? "My mother may have known the whereabouts of the translation database, but as it wasn't a standard code, and only two people knew it...I'm stubborn, but I know when to give up." She threw the datapad down in defeat, and bent her head into her hands.
She was human. Like Dania, her reactions were honest. And it broke his heart to see her without hope; he could not imagine life without the beginnings his parents had given him, even the Commander Mynar Devis had had some degree of support and attention from him.
Carefully he placed the chip on the table, and pushed it towards her, waiting for her to look up. Her hand reached forwards, fingers outstretched, feeling the smooth wood, until she found the chip. With a slow grace, she groped for the datapad, and slid the chip into the port.
"Grand Admiral, I cannot read what it says." She said with a strong voice, as if disguising a breakage in it. Pellaeon felt his heart slip; how could she not read? Had he misunderstood what she had said in some way?
"Is it the wrong chip?" He assumed that it was just that it hadn't been translated properly, and Dsai'llyana was speaking of that. He hoped, he prayed it was merely that. If the data pad was over a decade old, it was likely to corrupt...but surely Thrawn would have known that?
"No." She sighed. "I ...am blind."
"Truly?" Never, when she was a child, had he noticed; even now, he had not considered her inability to see. Though now the uncertain groping made sense, her dull eyes, barely showing any emotion in the usual Chiss way. She had clearly mastered the imitation of human mannerisms, and was obviously uncomfortable with her condition. She put the datapad down, and pushed it towards him.
"It was a well kept secret." She confirmed. "The Chiss are gifted with acute observation skills, and it is this which makes us able to see what is directly before us, without influence or bias. Did you notice how my father always kept the lights dimmed when he was off-duty?"
"I never considered the possibility your species had evolved so much more than my own." He realised how arrogant he sounded, and felt ashamed; he considered himself liberal, in comparison to others within the Imperial Remnant, and yet here he was, being shown up by a teenager.
"Our species are not so different; it is merely a naturally occurring chemical that has made our skin such a vivid blue, and necessity that had made my eyes this colour." She explained, leaning back in her chair. "If anything, the Chiss and Humanity are incredibly closely related, surely one of the closest in the galaxy. And I doubt it's a coincidence either. It is generally considered taboo for a Chiss to mate with a non-Chiss, for several reasons, but especially so because any child would be..." she strove for the word. "Incomplete. As I am."
"It seems your father was willing to break a great many of the regulations that his people set in place." Pellaeon mused. She stared at him with those red eyes; even without their glow, he could sense she was enflamed, the brilliant glow he'd expected from her father now a mere shade of glimmering red.
"The rules of the Chiss are out dated; see how quickly they will be abandoned with the Yuhzann Vong threat." She did not sneer as she spoke, or have intonations of anger, or even sound unsure; she spoke confidently, as if predicting something as obvious as the sun rising.
"But we shall see; that is the future, I wish to know of the past."
Silence fell again, and Pellaeon looked down at the datapad, taking it up with a shaking hand.
Carefully activating the datapad, he began to read what had been left;
"Dsai'llyana'nuroudo, Child of Unity; congratulations upon reaching adulthood. By reading this, you will have met your mother, the Empress Dania Laquila, my dearly loved wife. I hope that Staliae will have obeyed my instructions, and neglected to tell you a great deal about your mother and I; our relationship was overly complicated, and even today, I assume, shrouded with rumour and half-truth. This is an account from our perspective, complied in the first few months of your infancy, using diary entries and our own shared memories of the time of the New Order. My confidence in Staliae's abilities to have helped you mature and learn as the Chiss do is great; I wish that I could have been there myself. This has been created to be a lasting record for you; if you're anything like myself, you'll want to analyse it, understand every confrontation and motive; if you're like your mother, which I hope, you'll want to know how we met, and how we came to be married, purely because of empathy. Make your assumptions and judge us by what is recorded here, and not by uninformed hearsay."
"I will leave you alone; these are private."
The remaining files were audio. Pellaeon looked up at Dsai'llyana, her face unmoved, a tear falling down her face. He placed it down before her, and placed her hand over the datapad, and walked away, leaving her alone with the datapad.
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