Juleya Kionee tugged up the high collar of her Imperial uniform with her right hand, an obnoxious enough habit to make her conjecture as to why she did it. She had long since concluded that if it weren’t for Den standing two seats away from her in the portside command pit, she wouldn’t have done a lot of things.
For one, she never would’ve felt any loyalty towards the Empire, much less have studied to become a starship navigator. And without Den’s particular help in her training, being stationed on the Chimera under Grand Admiral Thrawn would’ve been as likely as a tonton donning a robe and plopping down in the local tavern for a drink.
Mind honed to a point, as was expected of all Imperial shipman, Juleya watched the changing numerals that designated both current and projected vectors even as she considered these things. She even had the presence of mind to peer sideways at Den – who cut a beautiful, rod-straight figure in his dark officer’s garb – out of the corner of her eye. “Officer” suited him, she thought. He caught her staring, then, and a bare, playful quirk of his lips broke through his impassive leader’s facade. He winked surreptitiously, and circled around to the other side of the command pit to check the progress of other midshipmen.
Juleya felt a blush rise to her cheeks before she could banish it, feeling for a moment like that nubile, clueless delinquent on Tatooine, slipping in and out of shadows cast by the twin suns as she did whatever it took to keep herself alive and fed. To this day, she wasn’t sure what it was that Den Keras had seen in her on his brief stint there so many years ago. At least, she didn’t actually believe that he had seen as much potential in her as he claimed – enough potential to spirit her away from that place to rescue her from her life of crime, and to tuck her under the Empire’s capacious wings.
Whatever Den’s reasons, though, she was here now, and she was with him, and that was enough.
Of a sudden, Juleya heard the Grand Admiral’s powerful voice puncture the electronics-laced silence nearby. She and the other navigators had learned to recognize the slight modulations of Thrawn’s voice, for the sake of determining his mood on any given day. They often laughed and joked about it in mess hall, but they all knew it to be serious business in the end – business that their jobs might someday depend on.
The current timbre of Thrawn’s voice would probably sound unremarkable to a casual listener, but Juleya tensed as she analyzed it, sensing the displeasure suddenly radiating from the rising and falling baritone notes. Glancing at the uniformed young woman next to her, Juleya hissed her companion’s name under her breath.
Swiveling only her eyes to glance over her collar in Juleya’s direction, navigator Guen Justor raised dark brown eyebrows in question.
Juleya jerked her head slightly in Grand Admiral Thrawn’s direction. She watched Guen pause to listen for a moment, then turn a grave expression Juleya’s way, nodding as if to say, “We should step carefully.”
Before Juleya could respond, she was hit by an all-too-familiar shuddering chill. Horror stirred awake in her gut – it was that inexplicable chill that kept her awake some nights, the chill that signaled the presence of one man she’d be happy never to see again. She was sure of the madman Joruus C’baoth’s presence even before she heard the grating-gravel sound of his voice rising in conterpoint to Thrawn’s low rumbling.
Den had circled back around to his normal observation spot, two seats down from Juleya and just behind the line of seated navigators. Turning, Juleya saw that Den’s profile was angled slightly toward Thrawn and C’baoth in the next chamber. His brow was furrowed slightly, just as she was sure hers was, as he listened to the C’baoth’s obviously angry ramblings. He was of like mind with her: the only thing worse than an impossibly powerful madman was an impossibly powerful madman tempting the faster-than-light wrath of an impossible powerful sane man.
The intensity of the conversation mounted. By this point, most of the others in the portside command pit had turned to stare, and were now studiously turning away from the Grand Admiral’s direction if they were not gaping openly like backcountry yokels. Guen leaned over to say something under her breath to Juleya, but it never came.
A wave of icy-cold nothing hit Juleya’s mind with the force of a deep-space freighter. One moment, she was aware of her surroundings, and the next, every neuron, every synapse froze in an arching posture of shock and pain. There was a second of thoughtlessness, of vaccuum, and then, Juleya’s mind returned with the sense of an elastic snap.
Except, it was not her mind. In one, lonely corner of her consciousness, Juleya was aware of a large new presence crowding out everything that was her. It was forceful beyond imagining, though it flickered fitfully, as if struggling to keep hold. The presence emanated a command that Juleya knew equated to “wait,” though it was not made up of words, only a restraining impulse that stretched every once-free fiber of the girl’s being.
That same, quivering corner of Juleya’s consciousness was able to identify what had happened even as the rest of her sat in trembling stasis, pressing fruitlessly outward like a tightened spring trying to burst uncoiled. It was C’baoth – his presence filled her like an unmistakable stench – and he had commandeered her mind.
Juleya could not tell if the pain in her mind was physical or imagined, but there was pain. Could a mind break? If the pressure grew too great, or if that rebel corner pushed back too hard against the block of ice making her feel ethereal, madly confused, indeed, mad, would her true mind ever return again?
That mental ice-block, that presence, flickered once more as something temporarily disturbed its hold, and then —
No transition, no help. Juleya’s mind had been dropped from a height, and her body felt as if it had been dropped, too. Juleya’s eyes flicked open wide, staring down the length of an unfamiliar metal wall. As sensation returned a few moments later, she felt coldness against the skin of her face and realized that her cheek was pressed against that wall.
She wondered where she was for a moment before she saw a pair of feet moving vertically across the wall, and understood she was lying on the floor. Dazed, she tried to move, but her muscles would not respond to her mind’s weak prompting. Distantly, she viewed the other navigators still in their seats above her, but they were slumped over on or beside the controls, groaning quietly or not at all.
Juleya could summon only the vaguest surprise when Den appeared on his knees beside her. He pressed one hand to her arm as if to comfort her with his presence, but the effect was spoiled by his other hand pressed up against his temple, the clean, strong lines of his face contorted with pain.
And then, like the words of some demented god echoing from the end of a heavenly corridor, came Joruus C’baoth’s voice. “I see all possible futures, Grand Admiral Thrawn.”
Den’s face was in front of Juleya’s, now, peering behind her eyes, searching for her and hoping she was still there.
“I see all possible futures, Grand Admiral Thrawn. In not all of them do you survive.”
This story is a fan-fiction piece based on a scene from The Thrawn Trilogy book 3, The Last Command, (c) 1993 by Timothy Zahn. Original characters Juleya Kionee, Guen Justor and Den Keras (c) 2013 by Jaimie Krycho. All credit for the settings and conceit of this Star Wars story belongs to George Lucas and official affiliated parties.
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