Foundations and Factions 2
The journey to Nirauan was a slow, uneventful and once I had caught up on my sleep, I spent the rest of it catching up on what had gone on in the galaxy. During the trip I saw Thrawn only a few times, usually when he was able to join me for dinner. Our discussions were mostly centered around the events of the last two and a half years. One of the biggest surprises had been reading about the capture of Soontir Fel at Brentaal IV.
Brentaal IV, a small, dry world, was the fourth planet in the Brentaal system of the Bormea Sector of the Core Worlds and sat at the strategic intersection of the Perlemian Trade Route and the Hydian Way. It was a wealthy world, with a thriving economy making it attractive for investors and traders. During the Emperor’s rule it was governed by a man named Lon Isoto, a weak minded leader who was known mainly for his ineffectual leadership style and his greed for pleasurable things.
Thrawn’s lip had curled in disgust when he had spoken of Isoto and I could not blame him. It was primarily Isoto’s fault that Brentaal IV had fallen to the Rebellion, now calling itself the New Republic, as he had essentially given up the planet without much of a fight. It had only been the 181st, under the command of Soontir Fel that had offered any hope of protection from the raiding rebels but even they had not been able to win. The debacle discredited the ruling Cabal and Sate Pestage which, Thrawn had postulated, had been Isard’s plan all along.
“What happened to Isoto?” I asked as we sat in the quiet of the small dining room eating supper.
“He was apparently shot by one of his concubines.” Thrawn replied. “At first he was reviled as a coward but the Imperial propaganda machine marches onward but now, part in thanks to the rumour that Fel actually defected to the New Republic and Rogue Squadron, he is considered a hero.”
“Fel? Did he really defect?”
“Yes and no.” Thrawn answered carefully. “I do not believe that he would have allowed himself to fail deliberately in order to join the other side, but I believe once he realised that he and his men had been sent in on what was essentially a suicide mission in order for Isard to gain more power from Pestage he decided the Empire was no longer upholding the same ideals it once was and that corruption was not an honourable master to serve. I am quite certain it did not hurt him any that he is married to Wynssa Starflare who happens to be the sister of Rogue squadron leader Wedge Antilles. I believe that part of his reason for the defection was to gain safety for his wife.” Thrawn paused to stare at his glass, “Men often do foolish things in order to protect the people the love and care for, especially their families.” He added, giving me a pointed look. “Isard was trying to overthrow the Cabal. She felt that as the current ruling body of the Empire it was useless and riddled with counterproductive bickering and politics. She was vying for power that would set her up as the next Empress, so to speak. Perhaps she does not use this title for herself but she wanted to be the sole ruler of the Empire and she was willing to do what ever it took to have this power even if that meant sacrificing the best pilots we had at the time to do so.”
I sighed. Why did it always come down to this petty bickering about who had the bigger title? “Well now she has what she wants and the Empire is still being eaten away bit by bit.” I grumbled.
“A leader who is only concerned about their own power gain is not a leader at all.” Thrawn replied tartly. “Power is not taken but given and no one gives her anything freely.”
“So why don’t you just remove her then?”
“All in good time, my dear. All in good time.”
Sate Pestage, accused by Isard of treason after the debacle at Brentaal, had fled Coruscant to seek refuge from her and the Cabal. He was arrested by Leonia Tavira, a Corsair ship captain and held pending the arrival of Admiral Krennel who had been given the job of bringing Pestage back to Coruscant to stand trial. The details of what happened are somewhat sketchy but there was a fairly large battle between the Imperials under Krennel and the New Republic’s Rogue Squadron who it seemed felt that rescuing Pestage would be a good thing to do. When all was said and done, Pestage was dead along with Tribune Caller and Plumba, two members of the Cabal ruling council. Once the last member of the Cabal was captured and imprisoned, Isard was free to assume full command of the Empire, which she did so with no let or hindrance from anyone else, making her the most powerful woman in the Galaxy.
Some months after this incident rumours began to surface that the Pestage Isard had killed was not the real on and was in fact a clone. Around the same time other more strange stories about the Emperor began to surface from the Deep Core which led to whispers that he was still alive. These stories led to Thrawn’s old supervisor, Dark Jedi Inquisitor Jerec to be charged with finding the secret Valley of the jedi, a place of supposed great power and secrets. If the Emperor had found a way to clone himself and revive his spirit I did not sense it and as no one actually ever saw him I suspected the stories were the fabrications of pilots who had spent too much time in Deep Core space and who were now no longer quite right in the head. Still this did not stop the publications of books that were supposedly the works of the long dead emperor himself.
“Do you happen to have a copy of these works?” I had asked Thrawn.
“I thought you might ask. I have managed to procure the first volume.” He had smiled and later on had handed me a small pile of data chips. “It is wordy and mostly rambles about a long dead religion and its many permutations. You might find it of interest given your talents in the areas discussed.”
I had looked at the data pads with a mixture of distaste and disbelief. “Do you think it is true? He really is not dead and has just vanished off to some remote world to become an author instead?”
Thrawn had arched an eyebrow. “You were the one having dreams of him being reborn in a different body, you tell me.”
I had just shrugged. “If he is alive some how I don’t understand why he doesn’t announce it and come back to take his place as Emperor again.”
“I cannot answer that, but perhaps those might.” Thrawn had answered, nodding to the pile of data pads I touched gingerly. “If nothing else, reading all of those will keep you out of trouble for the duration of the journey to Nirauan.”
The book was indeed lengthy and it did ramble but as I had read through it goose bumps had rippled up and down my spine. I did not think there was another being alive in the universe with his knowledge of the Dark side of the force. If these were forgeries and fakes then they were very, very good. I could almost hear the Emperor’s voice whispering in my ear as I read words so familiar it was as though he were sitting next to me reciting them rather than me reading them. The Emperor had often lectured me on how he saw the Force and its uses. He had provided for me a secret library so that I might learn more and become better skilled in my own small force abilities. He had had plans for me and I had shivered at the terrible memory of our last meeting. If he was truly still alive, and had somehow managed to cheat death, I did not want to know about it. I was not so sure that if he were still around I would be able to escape him a second time.
In the two and a half years after the Battle of Endor the power that held the galactic empire together had fractured. Isard’s power base was constantly being challenged by Moffs and war lords who felt she was neither strong enough nor deserving enough to lead the once mighty Empire. The petty squabbles and bickering were more to blame for the advances the New Republic made in heading towards Coruscant than anything else. The Empire’s forces were divided, its troops spread thin and the once vast and powerful fleet reduced greatly in size.
“They will come for Coruscant, make no mistake.” Thrawn said. “Some months ago there was an attempt by the New Republic to liberate Borleias which failed. There has been another subsequent attack which was also unsuccessful. I believe that the fight for the core has begun in earnest.”
“Why don’t you go and try to stop this?” I had asked this question so many times I was beginning to feel like a stuttering holovid.
Thrawn only sighed. “I have told you, I do not have the man power and I will not waste what precious resources I do have to save a world that Isard should have taken care of.” He said. “And even if I did have all I needed, Isard would only see this as an attempt on my part to usurp her power. I have other plans and I am hoping that she is smart enough to see what might happen were she to let her guard down.”
“If Coruscant falls to the New Republic it would mean the end of the Empire all together.”
Thrawn’s smile had been nasty enough to send shivers down my spine. “Hardly, my dear. The Empire is an idea. One may occupy a planet to remove the current governing body but it is more difficult to replace an idea. I have said this before, this fledgling New Republic will not find governing an entire divided galaxy so easy. Forming a coup and bringing down a ruler is relatively easy in comparison to setting up the next government that functions in its place. I know for a fact that they will have serious problems getting along with each other well enough to form any sort of coherent ruling body based on a democracy. The Bothans alone will make this job almost impossible.”
I nodded. Bothans were a race of beings known for their ability for subterfuge. Officially they had remained neutral during the primary conflict with the Empire but unofficially they were the reason for so much information trafficking. It was a well known fact that Bothans made excellent spies and politicians. The problem was that they not only excelled in this area they let everyone know about it as well, constantly reminding anyone who would listen that they were willing to sacrifice everything to help out. I had never had many dealing with Bothans but the few encounters I had unfortunately had with them had left me angry and frustrated. Bothans were amongst the most bureaucratic and officious beings I had ever encountered, able to twist words and deeds until they always came out looking like the victims or the good guys depending on which situation suited them better. After a particularly frustrating encounter with a Bothan working at the Ministry of Pilot licensing and Applications Division I swore to stay the hell away from them for the rest of my life. Now it seemed that Bothans had managed to make themselves an important part of the New Republic’s ruling body. Served the Rebels right, I though nastily. Dealing with Bothans was a pain in the rear and I didn’t envy the New Republic this job one bit.
“So what do you think is going to happen next?” I asked.
Thrawn shrugged ever so slightly with his left shoulder. “My guess is that the New Republic will make another attempt o take Borleias and if that happens they will advance forward to the Core. Ultimately they have to retake Coruscant if they are to have any validation as the seat of power for the galaxy.”
“Do you think that will happen?”
“I hope not but that will depend on Isard. I can only hope that she has devised a plan that will keep Coruscant out of the hands of the New Republic but even if the Core World falls, it is not the end of things.” He said. “The New Republic wants Coruscant. They see having dominion over this world as a sign that they are meant to take over rule of the galaxy. It is a symbol more than an actual power base. Coruscant has always been considered the center of the galaxy, and as such, the seat of power for the ruling body. To have ownership of this planet would give the New Republic the advantage of perceived power but again, they are divided amongst themselves and weak in terms of military might. Even in its lessened state they New Republic is no match for the Imperial navy. The bigger problem for us is lack of true and insightful leadership. Too many good men and women were lost at Endor and insufficient funds and time have gone into training new leaders. The current ones are too focused on personal gain to be effective in their positions and until this changes I do not see us winning against the New Republic’s current push towards taking Coruscant which they see as the foundation for a new era of rule.”
“I still think you should just go and take over.” I said crossly. This whole discussion annoyed me. It was all sneak attacks and back room politics.
Thrawn smiled, “I know you do and the thought is not without its appeal but in reality it is simply not as easy as that. Isard lies to me about the status of things hoping it will placate me into staying where I am. I know she lies she is aware of this but we play the game never the less. I send her requests for more troops and she denies this on the grounds that they are spread too thin as it is, I send requisitions for supplies and somehow the requisitions get lost in the shuffle. Fortunately for us I am resourceful and have established a solid base out in the Unknown Regions. I do not need supplies from the core when I have what I need out here. The manpower shortage will be dealt with as soon as I find a way to re-establish cloning without all the subsequent problems that arise from this method of growing troops quickly. In the end it all comes down to numbers and strategy and time. The first item on that list is a problem the second two things I have in abundance.”
“I wonder if there is anything in the Imperial Palace Archives about clones.” I had said softly. “There must be information in the Emperor’s files somewhere.”
“I am certain there is, my dear, but getting to them would be most difficult.”
“But not impossible. I could probably do this you know.” We had also had this conversation before as well.
Thrawn regarded me with a steady gaze. “You are not a spy and such a mission would be highly dangerous.”
“I know my way around the palace better than most, probably even better than Isard does. I have been well trained in the art of Jhal’kai and I can fight to the death if I have to, though really I’d prefer not to do that. I know some of the secrets the Emperor kept, I’ve seen some of them myself. I remember the way to get to these rooms. You know I would do this for you, if you’d let me.”
His stare burned but I did not look away and in the end he simply nodded. “I will consider it.”
I backed down then, knowing it was as close to a yes as I would get for the time being. The memory of almost losing me was still fresh enough that he wasn’t about to let me go charging off on my own without a fully formed plan to follow first. I hoped he would not take too long to consider what I had offered. I was fairly certain, given the reports I had read, that we were running out of time and that Isard was going to do something more stupid than smart. That was the trouble with megalomaniacs, they were so busy worrying about how to hold onto their power they didn’t notice it trickling through their fingers, like sand, one tiny grain at a time.
“Don’t look so worried, Tekari,” Thrawn said breaking into my thoughts by reaching out to caress the side of my face. “I have things well in hand.”
In that moment I believed him. He was a man who could do just about anything in near impossible odds; I had seen this before with my own eyes but the sense of unease remained.
“We have plenty time to plan on how to hold Coruscant and turn this tide back again.” He added as he turned his attention back to his spiced coffee.
Sadly, this was not the case and by the time word would reach him of what Isard had done it was already too late.