The group of four men worked tirelessly on the task they had been set, too terrified to stop in case they missed something vital that could be the key to unlocking the decoding. Failure was not an option, not these days. In truth, they were fortunate because the commander they served was better than most. He was not quick to anger nor did he expect the impossible, just excellence. He had given them this duty because they were reputed to be the best code slicers in the Imperial fleet and he expected to live up to their reputation. The code they were required to dismantle in order to learn its frequency signature was a marvel in itself. There were so many safeguards and firewalls that it was damn near impossible to navigate through it all and its construct was unlike anything seen before. It was the work of a mad man or a prodigy; the four could not make up their minds just yet.
It was not as if they had never seen rebel scrambler codes before. The nature of politics these days made it impossible for Imperial slicers to never come across such a thing. The Rebellion, considered fledgling at best, was starting to become more and more of an embarrassment for the Empire. Even though the Rebellion was hardly a military opponent that could take on the Imperial war machine with any measure of success, it did offer safe haven to any race who felt itself unfairly treated by the Emperor. Unfortunately, with Palpatine's new policies in place, the number of disgruntled citizens were growing with each passing day. Most did nothing about their dissatisfaction but others were flocking to the Rebellion, offering their support and collaboration. While outwardly, the Empire displayed no anxiety at the movement's capability to cause they any real opposition, behind the corridors of power, the attitude was very different indeed.
That attitude was the reason why the four men were working so feverishly to dismantle the code before them in order to trace it back to its origins. The transmission, sent from an electronic data storage facility on Bimissari, was meant for the rebel agent, Vin Tanner. A former bounty hunter and supposed Jedi apprentice, Tanner had allied himself with the rebels who were rumored to be hiding in the Territory, a large body of uncharted space considered on the stellar charts as nothing more than wild space. It was not Tanner that their commander was so interested in but rather the leader of the rebels in the Territory. Mary Travis. There was not an officer in the Imperial fleet who did not know who she was and when the slicer team final cracked the frequency signature of the transmission in their hands, it would lead the Empire straight to Mary Travis.
The slicer team was aware that the Emperor had charged Grand Admiral Thrawn to personally supervise the capture of Mary Travis. Little was known about Thrawn other than the fact that he was a Grand Admiral and that he was not human. He was in fact, the only non-human still left in the Imperial fleet and for those who did not know the man, his appointment to such a high rank was a matter of mystery. It was not such to those who served with Thrawn. As far as they were concerned, as masterfully as Mary Travis had managed to run circles around the Empire so far, her skill was amateurish in comparison to Thrawn's capabilities in battle. The rumors had it that an attempt had been made to invade his home world and Thrawn, leading a number of smaller frigates, no match for the Imperial destroyers, had turned that invasion fleet into an Imperial massacre.
Shortly after, the Emperor brought Thrawn to Coruscant and entrusted him with a rank worthy of his genius.
If anyone was to be given the duty of capturing Mary Travis, it would have to be Thrawn. The Grand Admiral had not wasted his time combing the space ways as done by so many others sent to capture the elusive rebel leader. No, Thrawn had bid his time and watched carefully the machinations of Darth Vader whose determination to capture the rebel Vin Tanner, had inadvertently given Thrawn the opening he needed to find Travis once and for all. The transmission that they were currently working on so diligently would provide a frequency signature once they unlocked the secrets to its coding. After that it would be a simple matter of tracing all signals that had departed Bimissari at that time and following it to its source.
The team worked on it for almost a week, offering the Grand Admiral's adjutant the proper status report to ensure Thrawn did not come down himself to their sector and shake the answer from them. Instead, the man had been surprisingly calm about their progress, aware that his reputation for mercy would do more to inspire their incentive then threats upon their continued survival. Lieutenant Pallaeon had stated that the Admiral preferred them to be right rather than quick and so the team left no stone uncovered and conducted their work thoroughly. The freedom to carry out the chore in this fashion had allowed their progress to continue swiftly and after what seemed an exhaustive exercise in decoding, they were met with success. The code had been broken and though the team confessed a desire to meet the unorthodox designer, they were more appreciative of the fact that the task had been done and that they had results to present to the Grand Admiral.
That and the fact that they were still alive to savor their success.
If it had been anyone else but Thrawn, failure would have engendered fatal consequences. However, for this occasion, the only fatalities arising out of this whole situation would fall squarely on the shoulders of the rebellion and Mary Travis.
Grand Admiral Thrawn sat in his command chair on board the star destroyer Chimaera and mediated quietly as he waited for his young adjutant to approach with his report. The Chimaera had been in orbit around Bimissari for the past week now and while other commanders might be impatient by the period of time spent in inert activity, Thrawn merely used the time perfect the trap he had been setting for some time now. The perfect traps were never constrained by time if they were precise in their planning and he had no wish to terrify his people into performing out of fear for their lives. The slicers he had assigned the task of taking apart the transmission were the best there were to be found in the fleet. Thrawn knew that if those four men could not achieve success, then it would not be attained at all. The best course of action was to sit back and let them do their jobs. Too many commanders wasted resources by executing personnel who could not accomplish tasks fast enough. Thrawn was not one of these. He expected excellence from those under his command not miracles.
Lieutenant Pallaeon stepped away from the communications terminal where he had been carrying a number of assignments on the Grand Admiral's behalf. For Pallaeon, there had been nothing more rewarding than working for such a great man. Thrawn's command style ensured that those who served under him were more than willing to die for him. He was not only a good military commander but a brilliant strategist. The only thing that kept him from ascending further was the fact that very few people knew of the Grand Admiral's existence. Part of the secrecy surrounding Thrawn had to be his race but Pallaeon liked to think that Palpatine preferred to keep Thrawn's existence a secrecy in order to take his enemies by surprise when he unleashed the Grand Admiral.
"Admiral," Pallaeon announced himself as he approached, not knowing how else to intrude on Thrawn's mediation. "The Nimbus and the Raptor have just come out of hyperspace."
Thrawn opened his eyes and stared at Pallaeon for a moment, absorbing the information. "What about the Shadowstar?" He asked coolly.
"The Shadowstar is in the Tion Cluster but Commander Daris has stated that if we give him the coordinates, he can meet us in Siraj when we arrive ourselves."
"No." Thrawn shook his head. "I prefer not to tip our hand too quickly Lieutenant. Tell him we will rendezvous in the Cordoba star system. There is a riddle there to which I wish solved before we proceed any further. We shall take care of our business there and proceed to Siraj after."
"Cordoba Sir?" Pallaeon looked at him with some measure of surprise, unaware of the Admiral having mentioned the place prior to this moment. "Is that not one of our smaller outposts, a monitoring station for the Territory?"
"Yes," Thrawn remarked. "I have been keeping my eye on that particular region of space and there seems to be unusual amount of rebel activity that appears by my reckoning to have gone unnoticed by the commander of the Cordoba base. Either he is incredibly incompetent which is hardly what his service record seems to indicate or he is not what he appears. In any case, I will know which one he is."
"Yes Sir," Pallaeon nodded and started to turn away in order to fulfil his request.
"Lieutenant," Thrawn spoke up before he could get more than two steps away. "When giving Commander Daris his new orders, be certain to impress upon him that should he choose to share what we are planning to do with the rest of the fleet, I will ensure there will be less pieces of him then there will be of the rebel base when we are done."
Pallaeon swallowed, perfectly aware that it was no idle threat. Thrawn was not prone to revenge but like everything else he undertook, Pallaeon was certain he would do it well. "You think he would betray us Sir?"
"Not really," Thrawn said casually. "However, the man is stupid and loud, with an ego to match. This strike needs to be surgical because our enemy is a commander I respect and she has no peer in the fleet, save myself. I will not allow her to escape because if she does, it will be exceedingly difficult to resume the hunt and I have no intention of disappointing the Emperor."
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