The Hand of Thrawn: Penelope
based on The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn
Disclaimer: Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last 30-odd years, you know that Star Wars is the property of George Lucas. Thrawn, Mara Jade, and other characters belong to LucasBooks, and were created by Timothy Zahn in his amazing novels. I'm just borrowing them for this fic. Xelarra, however, is my own character, so please don't use her without my permission.
Author's Note: After reading Timothy Zahn's books, Grand Admiral Thrawn was a Star Wars character who captured my imagination like no other in that Galaxy far far away. I was just wondering what was in those personal files the Moff in the Hand of Thrawn books dismissed as irrelevant. I imagined Thrawn as a married man, and that his wife would be just as cunning, just as intelligent as her (in)famous husband. I hope my character, Xelarra, can do Timothy Zahn's characters justice. Thanks for reading!
Part 1: Arrival of an Empress
"The Empress is coming here?"
"I just got a comm from Syal. Xelarra asked her to watch Shran for a couple of days, and I can only think of one reason why she would leave the capital now." Soontir Fel tried not to let the twitch in his lips develop into a smile. Rarely did he see one of his usually stoic Chiss comrades lose the tight grip they generally had on their emotions. Stent, however, looked positively flustered. Fel knew with all the stress the Chiss had been through lately, this should not at all be funny. He tried not to smile.
Stent was not fooled. "This isn't funny, General. We've only just got the fighter wreckage cleared out of the hanger bay, the lower levels of the base are still flooded, and the data terminals are offline as well. I can only hope the paper archives are undamaged..."
"In short, you don't want Xelarra to see the base like this."
Stent hung his head. "Empress Lexx'elarra'nuruodo charged me with taking care of the Hand base. I've failed her, failed Syndic Mitth'raw'nuruodo."
Fel frowned at a blackened piece of durasteel that used to be part of one of his fighters. "I'm not happy about what happened either, but I know Xelarra. She's not coming to play blame games, she's coming to help in any way she can. She did design the Hand's databases, after all."
"I hope you're right, General." Stent sighed. Around the damaged hanger bay work crews, staff members, and even a few off-duty stormtroopers were busy clearing away the last of the wreckage from the ship that had crashed into the bay, plus smaller pieces of broken-up clawcraft and fire-extinguishing foam. Stent's red eyes, dulled from stress, lingered for a moment on a stormtrooper's wet boot print. He would have to remember to check to see how the water removal crews were progressing in the lower levels afterwards. Right now, clearing out the hanger bay was his priority. He would appear even more incompetent than he already felt he was if the Empress arrived and her shuttle had no place to land.
A few hours later the hanger bay was finally clear of debris. Just in time too, since shortly after the last bit of foam was mopped up, a y-shaped, lambda-class Imperial shuttle was sighted coming in from orbit. Since Nirauan's capital city, Chakra, was located on almost the exact opposite side of the planet from the Hand of Thrawn base, the fastest way to get from one to the other was by flying up into space, then orbiting the planet until you reached the spot above your destination.
How many pompous moffs and senior officers had Fel seen arrive in lambdas? He had stopped counting. He was glad this would not be one of them.
The lambda flew into the hanger and hovered momentarily, as if unsure of where to land. Apparently satisfied, it touched down on the cleanest landing pad. Fel and Stent both snapped to attention as the shuttle's ramp lowered. First out were two stormtroopers. Fel's right eyebrow raised in surprise above his eyepatch. These stormtroopers were not wearing standard white armour, but rather white decorated with blue stripes, and the t-visored Mandalorian-style helmets Fel rarely saw outside of Clone Wars historical holovids. This was the ceremonial armour of the 501st battalion, a renowned stormtrooper unit that had been under Darth Vader's command since the end of the Clone Wars, and had somehow come under Grand Admiral Thrawn's control after the dark lord's death. Admiral Voss Parak, the military's supreme commander in the Grand Admiral's absence, must be more concerned about what happened here than even Fel had anticipated to put the Empress under the 501st's guard. The two troopers returned the salute, and satisfied that the hanger bay hid no threat, gestured back inside the shuttle.
The first thing that always came to Fel's mind whenever he saw Empress Lexx'elarra'nuruodo was sadness. The rather short (only a meter and a half tall) middle-aged Chiss woman now descending the shuttle ramp surrounded by her four 501st guards was wearing a dazzling white shimmersilk dress, the same shade of white as her husband's Grand Admiral uniform. The Chiss took this symbolism very seriously. On the Chiss's icelocked homeworld of Csillia, only high-ranking military officers wore all white. This absence of colour meant that they served all Chiss, not just any one of the colour-coded Nine Ruling Families. By also wearing white, Xelarra honoured hers and Thrawn's promise to also protect all Chiss, no matter what the Chiss Ascendancy thought of the Empire of the Hand. Xelarra's dress, however, was trimmed at the end of the billowy sleeves, v-necked collar, and the hem of the full-length skirt with ribbons of the dark violet of her own family, the Third Ruling House, entwined with the burgundy of the Eighth, the House Thrawn had been Syndic to. The white dress contrasted with her sky-blue skin, almost making it look like she was wearing a cloud. Her blue-black hair was done up in a regal braid stretching down her back to her waist, and around her forehead was a slender silver circlet, set in the middle with a single diamond cut in a spiral shape, like a miniature galaxy.
Despite the royal finery, Fel knew Xelarra distained unnecessary pomp as much as any other Chiss he knew. The fancy clothes were mostly for the benefit of humans like him, former Imperials who had followed Thrawn into the Unknown Regions. The very unEmpress-like black military boots peeking out from beneath Xelarra's skirt suggested she wanted to change out of the dress and get to work as soon as possible.
Xelarra reached the bottom of the ramp, the two forward stormtroopers wordlessly moving to the side as she approached the two officers.
"General Fel, Commander Kres'ten'tarthi," she greeted them, returning their formal bows with a curt nod. Her ruby-red eyes glanced at the obviously recently repaired hanger bay. "Mara did all this?"
"My Lady, I..." Stent started.
"There's no need to apologize, Commander." Xelarra assured him, guessing the cause of his hesitation. "What happened here was not your fault, nor was it yours, General," she turned briefly to Fel, "nor anyone else's who was loyally serving our Empire." Xelarra starting walking towards the hanger bay doors, Fel, Stent, and the stormtroopers following. A few curious workers looked up as they passed, then quickly returned to their tasks.
But, my Lady, the base..." Stent clearly still blamed himself for the base's condition.
"The base can be repaired, Commander. With Mara Jade, we should consider ourselves lucky that is an option." A small smile crossed Xelarra's dark blue lips. "In a way, I'm proud of her," she said softly. She then returned to her previous commanding tone. "Mara is a Force-user and a former Emperor's Hand. She was an opponent that none of you were ready for."
Xelarra turned to face them. "I apologize to both of you." When Stent started to protest again, she added "I should have been here to talk to her myself." As she said that, her gaze seemed distant again, distracted.
Fel brought her back to the present. "My Lady, Mara Jade didn't do this alone," he reported. "Luke Skywalker followed her to Nirauan."
"Skywalker? Mara hasn't killed him yet?" Xelarra asked. "It's not like her to procrastinate," she mused again, almost to herself.
"Admiral Parck has returned to Spiral, then?" she asked, deftly changing the subject.
"Yes, my Lady. He said he had a better chance of intercepting communications from Imperial Remnant space from further out in the system." Fel reported.
Spiral was the fifth planet in the Nirauan system, a blue and purple gas giant with a large collection of moons and a very impressive double ring system. Rumours persisted that Grand Admiral Thrawn had originally chosen the Nirauan system for his personal base because of Spiral's beauty, that he considered it a "cosmic work of art". The Empire of the Hand's main shipyards now added to the myriad of objects circling the giant planet, and Admiral Parck had put the fleet's newest ship, the half-built Super Star Destroyer Renaissance, to good use, using its state-of-the-art communications systems to scan Imperial space.
For a moment no one spoke. They all knew why Admiral Parck and others had been scanning what remained of the old Galactic Empire's space constantly, hoping that the rumours were true.
That Grand Admiral Thrawn had returned.
For ten years now, sadness had surrounded Xelarra, an ever-present veil that only her children could lift. Even then, it was only temporary.
Fel could only imagine how he would feel if he lost his wife, Syal, or any of their six children. It was something he did not like to think about. How Xelarra had been able to govern Nirauran and later help form and become Empress of the Empire of the Hand, continuing her husband's dream all the while being torn apart inside by his loss, was beyond Fel's understanding. He did know that he would not wish what Xelarra was going through on his worst enemy.
He hoped that the rumours were true, despite how impossible they sounded. He hoped the Grand Admiral, the only senior officer he had ever trusted, his old friend, had somehow cheated death.
Just like he said he would.