Chapter 32: Then Let All Lies be Ended!

When the Eclipse finally shimmered into existence, they were hailed immediately.

"Why hello my former Admiral." said Palpatine via the holocom. "We meet again." The Imperial Clone smiled, showing the usual mouthful of decayed teeth. How he had managed that as a recently decanted clone with the best dentistry money could buy, Thrawn could only speculate. A very special tooth-veneer, perhaps? One nobody else would ever want...

"Your face seems somewhat the worse for wear. However did you come by that black eye?" asked the Imperial Clone, still smiling. "Having trouble controlling your troops?"

"No, my people are commendably loyal." Thrawn smiled politely back at his former master. "How are your forces of late? General Rokarn sends his regards."

"I am glad to hear it," said Palpatine. "Do remind him of the fate of traitors as stated in clause 174 of the Emergency Measures Act."

"I believe he is already aware of the penalties," said Thrawn, "as are the other former officers and moffs of yours whom I have had the opportunity to meet recently."

"They will regret it when I have consolidated my power," said Palpatine. "Those whom I allow to live will gain no share in the rise of the Empire restored."

"That presumes that it is you who restores the Empire," said Thrawn. "I have seen little evidence of you doing anything other than undermining what I and those serving with me have managed to restore."

"Have a care what you say, traitor."

"Why should I, before an unstable pretender to a throne that is currently occupied by rebels?"

"Stormtroopers, arrest this man! Order 366."

Thrawn remained in his chair, fingers interlaced. He'd long ago determined where the true loyalty of all stormtroopers assigned to the bridge lay. No one on the bridge moved. The Imperial Clone's eyes bulged.

"They don't recognize you as the Emperor," Thrawn said softly. "Nor do I recognize you. You are, at best, a poor copy with delusions of grandeur."

"Die, traitor!" The Imperial Clone reached forward with one hand and closed his fist, then opened it, and dropped his hand. "No matter," he said, suddenly calm again. "You cannot hide behind ysalamiri for the rest of your life. But for now, I believe we had talks in mind, although how one conducts such talks with a known traitor I really do not know."

"Who is the traitor? I try to restore the Empire that the true Emperor Palpatine built, and you try to have me murdered for it. I am no traitor to the ideals of the Empire, nor have I ever been."

The Imperial Clone chuckled. "Oh really? Your very appearance denies that, Thrawn. You are not human, much though you like to pretend otherwise."

"Emperor Palpatine frequently stated that the was Empire was for the good and protection of all citizens of the galaxy. He also promoted me to the position of Grand Admiral."

"You know full well that twaddle was merely for public consumption, Thrawn." There were a couple of gasps from the crew pit, quickly stifled.

Thrawn ignored his crew's reaction. "So you never intended the Empire to be for the good and the protection of the citizens of the galaxy?" Dead silence from the crew pits.

The Imperial Clone sputtered indignantly. "You play with words," he said when he could formulate a response. "So you admit I am the original Palpatine returned?"

"No, I do not," said Thrawn. "Were you the true Palpatine, you would not have answered as you have." You would have been just as nasty, but you would have been far more difficult to catch.

"You are a fine one to claim the moral high ground," said the Imperial Clone. "I could tell tales that would freeze the blood of those officers and crew standing right behind you. How would you like me to tell them about Outbound Flight? Or the Serrasta homeworld? You would do far better to come to terms with me while you still can. Rumors of the fate of Outbound Flight are already out. How do you think you will control the galaxy, when they're crying in horror at what you have done?"

"By letting all lies be ended! I will rule with more ease than you, when I dump all the classified files of what actually happened in those cases and who ordered them all over the holonet. As for the Serrasta, I think you will find it very hard to drum up sympathy for a race that murdered or enslaved all others nearby." Even if I wish I could have found another way... I know you reveled in their deaths, but I most certainly did not.

"I don't need the ill-educated masses goodwill. I can change their minds with the Force."

"You cannot change the minds of the entire galaxy's population and hold them forever. And how will you fight the Far Outsiders" - Thrawn leaned forward to emphasize the point. "They are not even visible in the Force, and the day of their invasion draws ever nearer. Long ago I swore that I would do whatever is necessary to protect the people of this galaxy and I still hold true to that oath." It is perhaps the only one I have never broken. "Those world wreckers - no sane being destroys what he wishes to rule. Give up. Whatever happens here, you will never rule the galaxy for long."

At that moment a beep and flashing light in the corner of the console directly in front of Thrawn alerted him to the arrival of a small ship that was trying to hide in the outer reaches of the system. The vehicle was an assault shuttle, and not the same ship that Mara and Luke had been expected to use, but it had to be them. Thrawn entered a command: Fleet Come In.

A/N: I spent a long time wondering whose homeworld Thrawn might have destroyed, but I can find no information. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you.