1. A Bith waitress in a jizz bar
"I don't like this."
"Like they'll ask our opinion next time."
"Look, she's a major holostar, she makes millions of credits. Why does she need to thumb a lift on a Star Destroyer?"
"Because it's more fun, that's why."
"Fun for who? We get all those spittle-and-polish extra troop reviews, and this is going to delay all leaves by at least two weeks."
"Fun for Captain Corlag. He gets to show us off and to dine with her every night."
"Every night? Fun for him, definitely not fun for her. Unless she's got lousy taste."
"What do I know what Coruscant holostars like or don't like? Pass me that brush."
"Hey! That's my clothesbrush. Get your shoe brushes from your locker."
"You're such a wuss."
"Give me that!"
"Come get it--if you can!"
"You Bantha dropp--"
"Giving up already? Knew you couldn't knock out a Bith waitress in a jizz bar."
"Sshhh! The freak's back."
Lieutenant Per Theel hated the way the newest junior officer had of turning up in their dorm, or indeed anywhere else, without a sound. Suddenly, he was there with no more warning than--
"I believe that's my bunk," the freak said, in his infuriatingly posh accent, as if anyone could believe he came from one the best Core families. What a joke.
"Oh yeah? So what?"
"And I need my dress uniform from the locker behind you."
"So what's that to me?"
"You may choose to be late for the bridge review. I don't intend to be."
"Look, buddy--" Theel started, but his friend Rory Mikam was already up on his stockinged feet, grabbing his half-polished boots. "Prak it, Theel, we gotta be there in seven minutes!"
"Six," the freak said, and there was no mistaking the cool satisfaction in his voice. One day, Theel thought, I'm going to punch that smug smile from your--
But there indeed was no time. Theel shrugged himself into his well-brushed olive-green dress-jacket, hurriedly checking insignia, rank cylinder and regulation regimental pips; running a quick comb through his short chestnut hair. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the new junior lieutenant take the extra few seconds to hang his undress jacket with precise gestures before pulling the other one out of his locker. Yet another dry twig onto the smoldering fire of his resentment -- the new man never seemed to look less than impeccable, the crease in his regulation trousers vibroblade-sharp, never one blue-black hair out of place...
The three lieutenants piled out of the dorm and into the nearby turbolift. 34 levels to the bridge. Mikam's ears popped, and he swallowed reflexively, casting a glance at the rapidly changing digits. Their flicker backlit the new man's impassive profile: high brow, slightly aquiline nose, thin but well-defined lips, firm jaw. There were no lines on that smooth skin, but Mikam suddenly sensed that the other lieutenant was older than either of them. Although how anyone could tell—
The lift doors swooshed open, and the three junior lieutenants sprang out and up the stairs to the main bridge. A small group of olive-garbed officers had already gathered on either side of the starboard crew pit. Captain Corlag, at the forward viewport, could be seen talking to a slight figure in a jade-green dress, blonde hair to the shoulders. Mikam instinctively checked the time at his wristcom, and stumbled on a step, feeling himself trip with a hollowing in his stomach. At the same instant, his left elbow was grasped in a steel grip, righting him up without breaking their pace. They'd reached the top of the stairs. Surprised, Mikam turned to meet the new man's strange eyes.
"Don't mention it. Better take our places."
Wynssa Starflare, the HoloNet star, and Captain Corlag's personal guest on the "Empire's Revenge", pasted a smile on her beautifully made-up lips, followed the captain's expansive gesture to take in the spectacle of rows of impeccably groomed officers, and inwardly groaned. Zilkha, her agent, had insisted that she seize the opportunity offered by the Navy officer who'd besieged her dressing-trailer after he'd discovered she was shooting a new holodrama on Chandrila. "Think of the holo opportunities for the flimsies and the grids! Not only will he fly you back to Coruscant twice as fast as any liner, but I promise you by the time you dock, there'll be newsbeings ten deep to record your arrival with an Imperial hero. You can't buy that kind of publicity."
"Doesn't mean I want it for free."
"Look, Zilkha, I'm tired, the past three weeks' shoot was exhausting, I've got two new offers already, I really don't feel--"
"Fine. Fine. Just don't come to me next time you don't get script rewrites approval, or next time you get locked in a contract with that nauseating little trained monkey, Garik Loran, or…"
Wynssa had thrown her hands up at that. Had to -- Zilkha really was trying her best to get her the kind of bargaining power that would give her her independence. But now, half-listening to Corlag's unctuous speeches, she regretted not sticking to her guns. Whatever possessed military officers to think their attractiveness depended on how many men they could line up in neat stiff rows? She'd been on the "Empire's Revenge" for three days, had seen at least four reviews, and wasn't looking forward to another week of that regimen.
"May I introduce you to my staff officers, Miss Starflare?"
Keep that smile firmly on, Wynssa. "Certainly, Captain."
There had to be a downside to the smaller numbers of soldiers present this afternoon on the bridge. She hadn't been expected to shake hands with every stormtrooper during yesterday's docking bay review. No helping it, though. She followed Corlag down the olive-green line, mouthing polite platitudes to every man in turn. Most were frankly admiring, which really, she chided herself, she couldn't complain about. You're the one who wanted to leave the refueling station, Syal. You're the one who wanted to make it in holos. Deal.
Almost at the end of the row, with the junior ranks, Per Theel, his earlier grumbling forgotten, stared at the holostar working the line, finding a few words for each officer. Wynssa Starflare was smaller than he'd expected, but no holo could do justice to her translucent skin, brilliant blue eyes and flashing smile. Her soprano voice, with her clear actress's elocution, stirred emotions he hadn't known he could feel. When she finally reached him, he felt himself blushing with dismay.
"How do you do? Have you served on the 'Empire's Revenge' long, Lieutenant?"
He stammered something. Suddenly, saying: "Two years and seven months" seemed more arduous than solving a dual-vector hyperspace astrogation problem. The holostar moved on to the next officer--
And very briefly paused. The freak. She was bound to notice the only non-human officer on the Star Destroyer. That idiot Corlag should have found him something to do at the other end of the ship: his precious holostar wasn't going to thank him for making her greet a prakking alien.
"How do you do, Lieutenant? May I ask from which world you come?"
"My homeworld is in what you call the Unknown Regions, Miss Starflare," the freak answered in the same cool voice he always used. "I have the advantage of you in this respect -- you are Corellian, are you not?"
The star's large blue eyes widened even more: "How can you tell? I didn't think I'd kept any accent--"
"Almost none at all. Perhaps those hard 'n's. You see, the first citizens of the Empire I ever met were Corellian traders. They spoke the earliest Basic I heard."
Wynssa Starflare looked with interest into the junior lieutenant's strange, glowing red eyes. "I can't believe you learned Basic from Corellians. Quite frankly, lieutenant, I would have sworn it was your mother tongue."
"You are very kind, Miss Starflare."
"Not at all. I'm an actress. Speech is my profession, lieutenant..."
"Lieutenant Thrawn. Congratulations."
In a haze of red-hot jealousy, Theel saw her move on to Mikam at the freak's-- Thrawn's -- right. And swore to himself that the uppity alien would soon be made to regret showing off to Wynssa Starflare.
Per Theel hadn't been alone in noticing the attention the visiting holostar had paid the newest flag lieutenant. As the staff disbanded to take their stations, the "Empire's Revenge" 's first officer made his way to the tac console, where Lieutenant Thrawn was grading holos of the latest missile exercises.
"Living dangerously, lieutenant?"
Commander Piett leaned into the holo viewspace and smiled pleasantly: "Save us both some time, lieutenant. I'm sure you can imagine what I'm talking about; you're not stupid. So let's say your little chat with Miss Starflare was undiplomatic. It is further suggested that you contrive to be anywhere else than in her presence in the next eight days she will spend on this ship. Do I make myself clear?"
The strange red eyes were unreadable. "I think so, yes, sir."
Piett's own grey eyes narrowed. "You think so, lieutenant Thrawn? Care to share all that cerebral activity with us?"
"I was wondering whether Captain Corlag had sent you, or whether you were trying to prevent an incident, sir."
Piett considered the strange non-human Fleet Intelligence had recommended for this post. One of their special projects; had fast-tracked his way through Academy exams; it was rumored the Emperor approved of his existence. The "Empire's Revenge" 's first officer very much doubted the latter: Emperor Palpatine's anti-alien prejudices were well-known. But the young man was extremely competent, no doubt about that. Pretty self-contained, too, but that wasn't surprising -- few of his peers were likely to want to socialize with him. Not coming from a Core family himself, Piett had a fair notion of how Thrawn -- an alien, not just a provincial -- must have been received by the staff officers of a Navy Command flagship like the "Empire's Revenge". The memory of old but never-quite-forgotten slights somewhat softened his next remark. "The captain was, shall we say, very keen on Miss Starflare's visit. She asked him about you a moment ago. I don't expect this would be his conversation topic of choice with her. Even if she's only talking out of curiosity. Got me?"
The non-human lieutenant nodded once. Was he imagining it, or had the young man's broad shoulders imperceptibly slumped for a second? But there was still no easily-read expression on that blue-skinned, somehow aristocratic face. "Good. Carry on with your tactical analysis. We'll need the rundown in two hours, before the next exercise starts."
Cold fish, Piett thought. For all I know, his kind are hermaphrodites or seasonal breeders or lay eggs.