A/N: Welcome to part II of The Value of Sacrifice. Part I to be found under my profile, of course.
"And what if [Thrawn] doesn't return? What if the rumors are just that: rumors?"
"Oh, he'll return. He said he would, and he always kept his promises."
-Mara Jade and Admiral Voss Parck - Vision of the Future
The Value of Sacrifice – part 2
"There were several attempts to turn Luke Skywalker, and later to capture the girl's mother and her two siblings, in the hopes of restoring the line of Vader to the glory of the Empire. Those attempts were mostly abandoned by the time I disposed of Morgny."
"Well, Morgny was an incompetent fool, but no matter. If anything, this only convinces me further that we were meant to seize the girl and train her for her inherited duty of restoring order and justice to this galaxy."
-Moff Qadrik Croyel and Lord Wrynn, Red Hand – Against All Odds
29 ABY – Governor's Palace, Generis – Atrivis Sector
It was like waking from the longest sleep… the longest sleep, filled with decades' worth of dreams- but those dreams weren't dreams at all, they were… memories.
There was a sensation, like he'd forgotten something vitally important. Something he'd done? Something he was supposed to do?
Something he was?
Red eyes flew open, but he remained otherwise still. A face hovered above his, wrinkled and wizened, with a trace of trepidation and concern in eyes that were dark and bright, even set in an old face.
"Can you hear me?" He managed a slight nod as the memories attempted to reconcile the figure before him. "Do you… know me?"
The answer came easily, even if speech did not. For a moment, he concentrated on wrapping his mouth and vocal chords around the words before he dared attempt them aloud. "I know you," he managed at last. "Jorj." Some of the trepidation washed away from the man's face. "You have grown old, Jorj- and your Cheunh has not much improved for it."
A broad smile lit the face of the elderly Jorj Car'das, and he backed away to give Thrawn room to sit up and take in his surroundings. He did this in several observant seconds, before his forehead furrowed a bit, and he turned back to his companion, still standing watchfully by. "You have grown old, Jorj; and I… I am a clone. Yes?"
"We are not on Nirauan."
"No." The old but vital man sat gingerly on the end of the bed, half-turning his body to face his lifelong friend. "I do not know what happened on Nirauan; but it seems that much of the lower fortress was flooded sometime before the first attempt grew to maturity."
Slowly rising to his feet, willing his unused legs to be firm and steady, Thrawn glanced over the computer console. "Then it seems I have twenty years of news to catch up on, not ten, yes? And then there is work to be done."
"Thrawn, my friend, listen to me." His red eyes burned into Car'das' brown ones as he paused at his serious tone. "The war is over, Thrawn."
A brow rose curiously. "I trusted that Gilad Pellaeon would have long ago put a stop to it."
"No," Car'das stressed, "not with the New Republic; the Far Outsiders, Thrawn. The Yuuzhan Vong."
He worked his mouth around the strange name. "Yuu'zhan'vong?"
"Yes. Nearly five years ago, their forces flooded the galaxy in droves. The war has only just ended, some two months ago."
He stared. "The outcome, Jorj? Was the galaxy prepared to meet them?"
A heavy sigh escaped Car'das. "Not nearly enough, my friend. Much time was wasted squabbling and attempting to appease the invaders. For a time, the galaxy turned on the Jedi in an attempt to gain the good graces of those who feared them. They proved… instrumental, however… in defeating them."
"Then the Jedi have risen back to power?"
Car'das looked at him curiously. "There is an Order, yes, under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker, primarily. Their Academy was destroyed early in the war, but they are seeking a place to rebuild, and are establishing a presence during the reconstruction of Coruscant."
"What of…" his lids fluttered a moment as he recalled the dream-like memories, "Mara Jade."
His friend blinked. "How did you know?"
"They're married. Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade married nine years ago."
A low sound that might have been a laugh slipped past his dark lips. "I did not know, Jorj; even the best strategist of the Imperial Navy could not have foreseen such a union twenty years ago. I had rather hoped that Commander Parck would someday lure her into the Empire of the Hand…" he trailed away as Car'das blinked. "Yes?" he asked mildly.
"It is dissolved, from what I hear. During the war, it became… pragmatic… to integrate your Empire back into the Ascendancy."
A light frown threatened his lips. "And the humans? Captain Parck and Baron Fel?"
"I do not know what has become of Parck," Car'das admitted, "but Fel has removed to Csilla. The Ruling Families have accorded them enough trust, it seems, to request his son be a diplomatic liaison of sorts between the Ascendancy and the… well, you wouldn't know, but the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances has arisen in the power vacuum of the war."
A smooth brow arched. "Indeed? A big step of trust, for my people. Which of the Fel sons?"
"Jagged- the youngest; I believe the others are dead." Thrawn nodded slowly. "He has also just married the daughter of Han and Leia Solo. They have a child, a daughter."
"Indeed?" Thrawn asked with mild interest. "Quite the union, the Fels and the Solos. The issue of such a pair would carry the weight of the Empire, of the New Republic, of the Jedi, and apparently of the Ascendancy."
A wry smile touched Car'das' lips. "Be that as it may, I do not have the impression that it was a marriage made for power. Jagged Fel and Jaina Solo flew together for some time under the command of Fel's uncle, Antilles."
"A Jedi and a fighter pilot?"
"The best seen even in Rogue squadron."
Thrawn seemed to mull that over for a moment before turning his attention back to the computer console. "I have much to look into, Jorj. I thank you for coming, and hope you do not mind waiting another week or so."
A look of wariness crossed his face. "Thrawn, something else- the moff you entrusted this room to- he is dead. Died in his sleep ten years ago. Foul play was suspected but never proven."
The chiss met his eyes unblinkingly before he nodded his reluctant acceptance, dozens of questions surging to the forefront of his mind, but knowing Car'das would not have the answers he needed. "Very well," he murmured. "Oh, and Jorj- one more thing. How did I- my template, as it were- how did he die?"
Car'das blinked and frowned. "You are him and he is you, Thrawn. In fact," he cocked his head slightly, "I've never heard of a clone having such a ready and vivid awareness of the fact that he was a clone before." Thrawn just continued staring at him, and he sighed. "Twenty years ago, during a battle at Bilbringi… your bodyguard, the noghri, betrayed you. He stabbed you through the chest."
"Is that so?" Thrawn asked with great interest. "How delightfully… artistic."
29 ABY – Csaus – Chiss Ascendancy
The alarm had woken him in the middle of the night, and a cold weight settled over him as he quickly dressed and made his way to the most heavily guarded and secretive of scientific facilities in the planetary capital. In the centermost lab of the complex, behind numerous blast doors and several coded entryways, there was an intruder.
And Syndic Csun'abr'inrokini had a fearful suspicion that he knew who it was.
Gripping his charric in one hand, he keyed in the last access code to enter the top-secret facility. There would be no guards to assist him, even in his significantly advanced age- this was his mess, and it was up to him to clean it up.
The exterior entryway was darkened, and he did not turn on any lighting. Creeping slowly along the sterile corridors, he brought the deadly weapon to bear outside a glass door and waved it open with a gesture from his free hand. It slid silently and he ducked inside the darkened control room and took three steps towards the security set-up- when the lights came on blindingly.
"I confess," a low and even voice murmured, "I had rather expected your arrival about ten minutes ago, Csun'abr'inrokini."
Quickly adjusting to the light, he raised the weapon towards the source of the voice… and then felt it loosen in his grasp as his eyes widened and he took an involuntary step backwards.
"But then," the figure allowed reasonably, "you are not as young as you once were."
He opened his mouth several times before managing words. "This- this is impossible!"
"Come now, Syndic- what a way to greet an old friend."
"Who are you?" Csun'abr'inrokini demanded in a voice that quavered more than he cared to admit, even to himself.
The figure leaned back in his seat at the computer terminal and looked briefly pensive. "That is the question that has been pondered by scientists, geneticists, strategists… well, since the very invention of cloning, is it not? For I am at once someone who knows you well, and someone who has never met you before. Strange, yes?" The stunned chiss couldn't quite formulate a proper response. "Syndic, this here shall be the pleasant part of my visit, I suggest you put forth more effort to prolong it a bit."
His throat finally unstuck. "A… a clone?"
"A second attempt, I'm afraid; otherwise, you'd have seen me much sooner. But alas, I have only just… awoken, I suppose… three standard weeks ago."
"How?" A dark brow rose slowly, and a purple flush rose in Csun'abr'inrokini's face. "How are you here? After twenty years, Mitth'raw'nuruodo…"
"Ah," he sounded quite pleased, perhaps at the opportunity to explain his brilliance to someone. "A simple matter, really. Isolationism of the Ascendancy aside, I suspect you were aware of my acquisition of several thousand cloning cylinders during my tenure as Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet…" the elderly chiss nodded dumbly. "I simply… skimmed two of them off the top, as it were. As I said, however, you are looking at the backup- always allow for the unknown, Syndic." His eyes darted to the syndic's left. "I wonder if you remember tales of the Visitors from long ago, Nabrin?"
He spun and found a rather old human male standing idly against the wall behind him, completely missed in the shock.
"Jorj Car'das, may I present Syndic Csun'abr'inrokini, of the Third Ruling Family?" Brown eyes met red, and they inclined their heads in terse acknowledgement of one another. "Syndic, Car'das has remained a loyal friend, even in twenty years of death. It is he who remotely triggered the second apparatus upon discovering the failure of the first, and he has just been kind enough to greet me upon my wakening. I understand that I am too late for the Far Outsiders," he added with a hint of warning in his voice.
Something in Csun'abr'inrokini's chest tightened. "Thrawn, you have to understand-"
"You handed a faulty project over to another!" Mitth'raw'nuruodo stood smoothly and threateningly. "You trusted something of this instability into the hands of unknown scientists in New Republic Intelligence, and yet you have still not destroyed it, after it failed even now, even decades later!"
"You are right, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, but that is the least of our worries." The angered chiss paused and slowly lifted a single brow. "I have not destroyed it because… my teams are working to develop a counter-pathogen."
His expression, if possible, turned even more thunderous. "A counter?" he asked softly. "And why would you feel the need for such a thing, Syndic? The pathogen was purportedly destroyed during the conflict." It was silent for a minute, and that minute stretched on like an eternity, before the clone let out a snarl, nearly baring his teeth in his anger. "Syndic, your carelessness could very well destroy everything this galaxy is now working to rebuild!"
The syndic took a deep breath. "Thrawn, I am aware of my failings, and am doing all I know to atone for them, but until I can determine who sliced into the project notes-"
"They never should have left this lab!"
"I know," he said in deadly seriousness. "But you were not here. The Far Outsiders, they paid us no mind, Thrawn, and immediately began their siege on those who knew naught of their existence. I did not have access to the samples I needed, and New Republic Intelligence would not hand them over without a compromise. We compromised. An attempt to utilize the pathogen showed a continued tendency to mutate and do so quickly, and most of our initial work was destroyed in an act of cowardly sabotage. It was not until I was preparing to destroy our own notes and shut it down for good that I realized the records had been sliced and copied."
Mitth'raw'nuruodo took a deep breath and sank back into the chair at the computer terminal. "Well, Syndic Nabrin… it seems that you have certainly cut my work out for me."