Disclaimer: I am not George Lucas, and I do not own Star Wars. I am also not Timothy Zahn, and I do not own Thrawn, Pellaeon, the Chiss, or the Chimaera. I am making no money off this, so kindly don't sue me.

"But," Thrawn whispered, "it was so artistically done." He fell silent, the glow of his eyes fading. A puzzled expression came over his face. "As'khemnir as ten fir" he said. He closed his eyes. A few seconds later, he stopped breathing.

Security burst into the room, followed almost immediately by the medical staff. "Captain, are you injured?" one of the medics asked. Pellaeon shook his head.

"Captain Pellaeon?," the comm officer called urgently as the medical team arrived. "The Nemesis and Stormhawk are requesting orders. What shall I tell them?"

Pellaeon looked up at the viewports. At the chaos that had erupted behind the defenses of the supposedly secure shipyards; at the unexpected need to split his forces to its defense; at the Rebel fleet taking full advantage of the diversion. In the blink of an eye, the universe had suddenly turned against them.

Thrawn could still have pulled an Imperial victory out of it. But he, Pellaeon, was not Thrawn. Pellaeon glanced at Thrawn, who was mostly hidden by the medics working on him. Alive or dead, he wouldn't be making any decisions right now. "Signal to all ships," he rasped. The words ached in his throat, in a way that had nothing to do with the throbbing pain of Rukh's treacherous attack. "Prepare to retreat."

Despite the disaster, there were still things that needed to be done. Rukh was intercepted by the stormtroopers in the hanger bay before he could make his escape. Good. And now, a call that must be made. "Sickbay, Captain Pellaeon speaking. Is the admiral alive?" Pellaeon was not sure what to expect. The medical staff could pull off miracles. But Thrawn had stopped breathing by the time the medical staff reached him, which was never a good sign.

"He is still in emergency, Sir. I do not know the exact details and I'd rather not interrupt the doctors." the person on the other end replied.

"Let them be. Get them to call me once he is stabilized, one way or the other." There was little else to be done until the Chimaera came out of hyperspace, but Pellaeon did what there was mechanically. He had to think what to tell the others. If Thrawn were to survive, it would be better for no one off the Chimaera to know the full details. What people did not know could not be leaked to the Rebels. But he had to tell them something, both to explain why he was currently running things, and what had happened at Bilbringi. Perhaps…a heart attack. The doctors were confident he would recover, but he needed absolute rest and must not be disturbed. That would explain things nicely, and had the advantage of being almost true. After all, Thrawn's heart did stop, even if the stop was caused by a Noghri dagger.

The Chimaera left hyperspace. After that, everything became busy. Regroup. How many ships do we have, and what damage to each? Give out the heart attack explanation to the various captains, and tell them it is secret. Tell the most damaged ships to go to the nearest repair facility, no, Major, NOT Bilbringi. Call Wayland again. Just what is going on? The cloning chambers have exploded and are a mass of melted metal, glass and plastic. The rock of the mountain has fallen in in multiple places. Joruus C'Baoth is missing, presumed dead. If C'Baoth is dead, that's the only good thing to come out of all this, thought Pellaeon grimly. His head ached, as did his throat. His voice was going. The fleet jumped again, twice, to elude any pursuit by the Rebels.

Pellaeon had finally sat down to eat something, when Sickbay called. "And how is the grand admiral?", Pellaeon asked. "He is alive", answered the doctor. "However, he is still in critical condition. The Noghri used a rather unusual poison, and while we have come up with an antidote, we aren't entirely sure it will work. When paired with the damage to his pericardial cavity and spine, the prognosis is not very good. He is very lucky the dagger only nicked the heart itself."

Pellaeon blinked. "You mean Rukh missed?" he asked, startled. Rukh treacherous he could well believe, but incompetent?

"The Chiss have all their organs organized mirror-image to the human norm. They aren't common around here and medical information is even rarer than they are. It looks like Rukh was aiming for where the heart would have been if Thrawn was human. He'd have hit it dead on, then."

"Good thing he didn't. How long will it be before the Admiral recovers?" Pellaeon asked.

"It is hard to tell yet, sir. We aren't even sure he will survive. If he does, perhaps three months? As a very rough estimate. It could be twice that, but definitely not less than a month." The doctor answered.

"Well. Make sure I am informed of changes in his condition, especially when he regains conciousness. Pellaeon out."

Pellaeon leaned back, and sighed. At least Thrawn was not dead. So long as he survived, there would be another chance to beat the rebels. Of course, he might yet die, but it was better to operate on the assumption that he was going to survive. Three months was a long time, especially in the middle of a war. How long would it take the Rebels to find out what had happened and act on it? So long as they thought Thrawn was in command, they would be cautious, but they would be bound to find out eventually.

For now he should eat and get some rest, if he could. There was nothing now that could not be better done tomorrow.