Dirt - A Story of Grit & Determination
Dirt - Or, Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?  By Colleen Winters

    White uniforms looked splendid, he had to admit; shining and impressive under the soft glows in the ISD Chimaera's wardrooms, or in his private command chamber.  The sight of a Grand Admiral's unadorned white uniform immediately impressed upon the lower ranks the majesty and might of the Empire.  But the pure white uniform had a minor disadvantage, and Thrawn had taken note of it not long after being raised to his exalted posting.  The darn thing tended to attract dirt - like magic the fabric showed every stray stain the environment could offer.  Oh, there were droids and orderlies to keep the several uniforms in his closet well laundered and spotless, so the Grand Admiral could present an appearance of cool, commanding, unruffled calm at all times.  At least, that was the theory...
    "Pass the salt, will you Commander?"
    "Sure, Lieutenant, catch... Oh no!  Look out, sir!"  The warning cry from Commander Givfrens caused Thrawn to look up, just in time to see the saltcellar bounce off a small floating service droid and deviate from its trajectory into the large bowl of Nerf-Stew in Wine Sauce which sat mid-table in the officer's mess.  The resulting splatter would have done justice to a planetary bombardment - the coverage was impressively complete.  Unfortunately, much of the tidal wave went in Thrawn's direction where he sat at the head of the table.  All the officers sat and blinked at the spatters stuck to their uniforms, then they froze in horror at the piebald appearance of their leader.  Purple-brown sauce did not go with that white uniform.
    Thrawn rose and wiped a bit of the spillage from his cheek with his napkin.  "Gentlemen, I believe dinner is concluded.  Shall we adjourn for fifteen minutes before resuming our tactical meeting?"  His voice was dry and calm.
    "An excellent plan, Admiral," Captain Pellaeon replied evenly.  He was trying with fair success not to glare daggers at Commander Givfrens.  Pellaeon rose, as did the rest of the officers.
    Thrawn nodded to the group, turned toward the doorway, then paused to speak over his shoulder.  "Commander Givfrens."
    "Y-yes, sir?"
    "In future, please confine your targeting skills to the batteries.  A little decorum would be appreciated.  This is the officer's mess, not the smashball court."
    Givfrens looked as if he would sink through the deck.  "Yes, sir.  Understood, sir."
    "Very good Commander."  Thrawn smiled slightly.  "Two points to the right and you would have made the toss.  In fifteen minutes, gentlemen."  He strode away then, leaving his officers to breathe sighs of relief and embarrassment.

    "Ah, that's better."  Thrawn smoothed his fresh uniform tunic, tugging at the hem to settle the fabric.  The change of clothes had only taken a few minutes.  A service droid had silently taken the soiled uniform away for cleaning.  Turning from the mirror, he left his private quarters and entered his command chamber.  A low, shadowy form rose from the periphery of the room and a sibilant voice spoke quietly.
    "All is well, Milord?"
    "Yes, Rukh.  It is indeed."  As he walked by his Noghri bodyguard, the grey-skinned alien sucked in his breath with a soft hiss of surprise.
    "Milord, be very still for a moment," Rukh growled, his voice taut with urgency.
    Obediently, Thrawn froze in mid stride, wondering what exactly had alarmed his companion, but perfectly willing to trust to the alien's finely honed instincts.
    "Rukh?" he murmured curiously.
    "Still, still," crooned the Noghri.  Flowing smoothly and silently, the alien plucked up a datapad from a table and moved behind the Grand Admiral.  Thrawn fought down the urge to turn his head to bring Rukh into his view.  An instant later, he felt a solid blow to his back, accompanied by a loud THWACK!
    Rukh reappeared before him with a bow.  "You can move now, Milord.  It's safe."
    "Safe, Rukh?  What did you just do?"
    "A Koober-beetle was crawling up your back, Milord.  We had some come aboard ship hidden in a shipment of rubyfruit.  They are poisonous.  I killed it.  You are safe."  Rukh bowed politely and backed away.
    "Thank you, Rukh," Thrawn acknowledged the save with a nod of his head.  "I think I will..."  A sensation of sticky wetness caused him to pause and turn his head to peer over his shoulder.  From the size of the brilliant green stain, the Koober beetle must have been large.  And well-fed.  "...Go change my uniform.  Again."  With a sigh, Thrawn re-entered his private rooms and headed for his wardrobe.

    Now, where was I?  He wondered, settling with a grateful sound into his command chair.  Above him, an Ysalamiri chirruped softly where it clung to its nutrient frame.  The officer's meeting had gone well, and had been fairly brief and to the point, taking only an hour of his time.  Now he glanced at the controls set into the armrest of his chair.  A touch of a button displayed a holographic reproduction of the works of the great Alderaanian masters.  Glowing red eyes narrowed as he sent the images moving slowly by his point of view. Yes, a pattern of impetuousness expressed in the Rekanian Era.  A pattern which still manifests itself even in these later works.  He sent a few more images floating by, then stopped at one which appeared blank and grey.  He touched the keypad again, and a glowing label displayed along the lower edge of the piece.  Ah, a work of multimedia based on the works of the prior masters.  This should be interesting.  He flicked the Play command.
    A surge of brilliant colors chased each other across the surface of the display, accompanied by a sharp, brief thunderclap of sound.  Above, the Ysalamiri uttered a shrill cry of distress and twitched hard enough to shake its supporting frame.  Thrawn muted the sound quickly.  In the sudden welcome silence, he heard the Ysalamiri cheep unhappily, then a distinct PLOP.  He looked down.  A spreading, grey-ochre stain smelling  of compost was now soaking into the front and right shoulder of his tunic.  Ysalamiri might have been sessile creatures, supported in their lives by the nutrients they extracted from their frames, but they still produced some bodily wastes.  Which they could evidently eject forcibly when frightened.
    "Grand Admiral?" tweeped the housekeeping droid as it turned its photoreceptors on his latest disaster.  Thrawn peeled away the uniform with a grunt of disgust and heaped it into the droid's carry basket.
    "My fault, this one.  Hand me another."  The droid flicked through the Admiral's wardrobe and carefully offered a clean tunic.
    "Grand Admiral, this is the last one.  All of your other uniforms are in Cleaning.  I should be able to fetch them up in 4 more hours, sir.  Or, I could bring you a clean Admiral's uniform from Stores?"
    Thrawn shrugged his way into the clean shirt with a scowl.  "No, that won't be necessary.  I'll wait for my own proper uniforms to return.  I should be able to avoid dirt for a mere four hours."

    Two hours later he rose from his chair, turned off the holodisplay and stretched.  His Ysalamiri had dozed peacefully through the rest of his review of Adleraanian artworks, so Thrawn had relaxed, assuming the day's blitzkrieg assault on his clothing had ended.  He took a step forward and heard a "ploosh" sound underfoot.  Glancing down he narrowed his eyes, thinking at first his Force-dampening pet had committed another indiscretion.  A glimmer of wetness, reflecting the soft lighting, caught his gaze.  The glimmer came from a band of fluid, oily-iridescent in the lights, which had trickled unnoticed across the deck while he was lost in contemplation.  He tracked the stream to its source - one of the walls of his command chamber.  The fluid was oozing in where wall and decking joined.  Returning to his chair he touched a comm button.
    "Admiral?"  The voice of the orderly on duty answered at once.
    "Chief Beril, I seem to have a fluid leak of an unknown nature in my command suite."
    "A leak, sir?"  A pause as the Chief pulled up schematics on his station.  "Ah, I see at least 3 hydraulic lines and one fluid superconductor line shown in the service spaces of your compartment zone, sir."
    "This one is seeping in at the juncture of the deck and the starboard bulkhead wall, Chief."  Thrawn turned up the lights to a level a human would have found almost normal and looked again at the trickling stream, which was now growing a pond.  "The leakage is yellowish in color."
    "That would be the hydraulic fluid, sir.  I'll send a tech-team over at once for repairs.  It's not listed as a toxic substance, but I'm going to increase the air flow to your suite just to be safe."
"Excellent, Chief."  Thrawn closed the connection and settled himself again in his chair, paging through the listings of his most recently acquired artworks.
    A short time later he became aware of a noise, which started as a soft tapping, then grew in volume to a constant volley of knocking, banging, and clanking.  The sounds seemed to be coming from the middle of the room, under the flooring.  Rukh entered to check around, long knife in hand, when a section of the deck plating popped up and was pushed aside by a pair of gloved hands.  Rukh made to approach, but Thrawn held him in check with a gesture as the opening disgorged the head and shoulders of a human crewer, a Repair Technician First Class by his rank markings.  This person looked about the room, spied the puddle and shouted down to his unseen companions.
    "OI!  This way!  I've found it!"  He held a vibrowrench in one hand and was consulting a specialized datapad strapped to his forearm.  This device held a small schematic display which the tech had obviously been using to orient himself in the under-decks serviceways.  The tech pulled himself into the room and sat on the edge of the entrance he'd created, letting his legs dangle into the manhole.
    "Where?!" cried a second voice from somewhere below, the sound echoing.  "I don't see anything!"
    "Of course not, y'blithering fool!  That's coz the leak's over HERE!"  The Repair Technician First Class yelled into the gloomy pit.
    "Perhaps using your comm link might be more efficient than shouting, Technician?"  Thrawn asked quietly.  The tech started at being thus addressed, looked up and blanched to see the Grand Admiral gazing down at him out of fiery red eyes.  For a moment, the tech just stared at him in blank, frozen astonishment, then he recalled himself with a start.
    "Ah... yessir, Admiral!  Very sorry, sir.  I thought the room was empty.  My crew is close anyways.  Sir..." he trailed off as if unsure what else to say.
    Thrawn nodded.  The lower ranks tended to be even more nervous in his presence than his officers.  While a little fear could make his men sharp, it served no purpose to frighten them unnecessarily - especially if he wanted them to perform their work competently.  Frightened crewers tended to be error prone and that he did not want.  "The leak, Technician, is over there.  Assemble your crew and repair it if you will.  I'd rather not have my chambers filled with fluid if the leak continues."  With a slight wave of his hand, he dismissed Rukh, who faded into the background silently.
    The tech nodded vigorously and stood up to give him a respectful salute.  "Yessir!  We'll get on it right away!"  The head of a second tech poked out of the access way, followed by a third.  They looked up at their crew boss, who leaned down and pulled them up one by one.  "C'mon, time's wasting!  This's the Admiral's compartments and he doesn't wanna be swimming tonight, so let's get to it!"
    "Aye-aye, Boss," they chorused as they trooped across the room to examine the area where the leak seemed to originate.  The tech crew were dressed alike in loose-fitting dark grey coveralls with their ranks sewn into their collars.  No buttons or other ornaments protruded to be torn off, but the uniforms did sport many pockets, all of which bulged with tools and spare parts.  Their faces and uniforms also seemed to be quite dirty - a consequence of their trade.
    "Arraah... leak's coming through the bulkhead," said the second tech, probing with his fingers and a slender tool.  Soon he and his companion had opened a section of the wall, crouching on the wet decking to shine a small light inside.
    "Is it the secondary line for the lifts?" asked the crew boss, checking his datapad schematic.
    "Not sure, Boss, got a lot of fouling on these lines... lemme see..." the two techs now had opened the wall further and were halfway into the space beyond, poking about in the forest of conduits and wiring.  The crew began to pass tools back and forth as they worked, murmuring and prodding.
    "OK, you got your secondaries, but that should be the blue stuff... This'is yellow... OK, that's gotta be the main service hydraulics, and that should be behind the lift piping."  The crew boss read the engineering diagrams from his datapad aloud to his men.
    "Lift piping, right," replied one of the techs.  All that was visible of him now was the soles of his boots.
    Thrawn tried to occupy himself by reading the backlog of reports wanting his attention, but the by-play from the repair crew kept catching his attention.  Their accents were colloquial, and he wondered if they had been conscripted from some backwater colony world.
    "Got it!  Pass me a size-09 willya?"  The man in the wall relayed this request to his boss, who passed the requested fitting to the second man, who then crawled in to join the third.
    Clank.  Scrrik.  Drip.  "Oh, frazzit!!  This'is stripped!  Gimme some packing..."  The crew boss now crowded with his men at the opening in the bulkhead, working quickly to pass them components and tools.
    Drip.  Drip.
    That sounds like metal fatigue, Thrawn thought, rising to move closer and observe the techs.
    Drip drip drip.
    "Perhaps you should...," Thrawn began.
    "I've got it!  I've got it!  I've....  AUGH!"
    A great spray of yellow fluid cascaded like an iridescent waterfall into the room, spewing the techs helplessly out of the crawlway, coughing and choking.  The crew boss stabbed desperately at his datapad and the foaming geyser finally ebbed and ceased as the emergency cutoff was activated by his commands.  Thrawn looked at his uniform, which was now sodden yellow to the knees below and spotted above and sighed deeply.  Splashing after the men, he pulled them up onto their feet.  They stood before him dripping and miserable.
    "S-sorry, sir.  The line just gave!" gasped the second tech, looking as frightened as anyone could covered in brilliant oily fluid.  His companions nodded their heads in silent support.
    The crew boss plucked up his courage.  "It ain't their fault, sir.  I should've had the line drained before I let 'em go on.  Chimaera's got 'er quirks and these fluid lines can be touchy."
    Thrawn waved a dismissive hand.  "Never mind that, Technician, this seems to be my day for... surprises.  I'm going to get cleaned up.  See that the line is repaired and have the service droids clean up the spill."
    "Aye, sir!  Right away, sir!"  The crew scrambled to resume their repairs, scattering drops of fluid in their haste to comply.
    Resolutely, Thrawn turned away and waded off to his private quarters.

    A quick shower put him in a better temper.  He stepped from the bathing enclosure shaking the water from his short hair and began toweling himself off.  His improved mood lasted until he remembered he was at least an hour shy of a clean uniform.  "Eigsh'gya!"  He growled a Chiss expletive learned from the lower classes in his youth.
    While he cast about in his mind for an alternative clothing plan that would answer the demands of rank and modesty, the comm in his private stateroom blared the signal of an incoming Priority One call.  Priority Ones were sent directly to him and usually indicated some looming disaster that required his immediate response.  Striding from the refresher, towel still in hand, he moved to the holo and hit the Receive button.
    The holodisplay lit up at once with the form of Admiral Daala, commander of the hidden Maw Installation.  Thrawn felt his skin prickle in reflex.  Of all the Imperial military commanders, Admiral Daala impressed him the least.  Her illicit relationship with Grand Moff Tarkin had been the subject of salacious whispers for years.  Such rumors Thrawn could have ignored.  Her plain incompetence he could not.  She had taken to calling on the secure line now and then to check in.  Thrawn dreaded those calls.  Daala wanted to emerge from her distant exile.  Thrawn much preferred she stay where she was, shepherding her flock of scientists in the Maw kept her out of trouble and far away from everyone else.  So far, she had been willing to obey his commands and stay put.
    "Grand Admiral Thrawn," Daala began without preamble, "My scientists report work on our latest... toy, proceeds well, with only a slight setback to the schedule..."  Her voice trailed off from its memorized recitation as she became aware of Thrawn's state of undress.  Green eyes widened and her mouth curved into a pleasant smile.  Far too pleasant for Thrawn's comfort.
    "What setback?" he snapped, red eyes narrowed.
    "Ah, a technical difficulty that our scientist Qui Xux believes she can solve soon."  She paused, then continued, slowly letting her eyes wander over his holographic form.  "I'm... pleased to see you looking so well, Grand Admiral."  Daala stared at him with a combination of admiration and thinly-disguised lust.
    As Thrawn became aware of the shift in her attention he was suddenly glad he'd been holding his towel strategically.  While his own culture had certain taboos, nudity while bathing was considered not worth noticing by polite adults.  Unfortunately, many of the human cultures in this part of the galaxy did not feel the same way.  Keeping a firm grip on his towel and his rising gorge, he said with clipped asperity.  "Do you require assistance, Admiral, or is this simply a status report?  If so, continue as you have been.  You are competent enough not to require hand holding."  He found the sensation of being not-so-subtly evaluated by someone like Daala uncomfortable.  With grim determination he ignored the discomfort and maintained his air of cool professionalism.
    Daala bridled for an instant, then smiled broadly at him, eyes sparkling.  "Not hand holding, Grand Admiral, but, well...  I do look forward to giving you a personal demonstration of the installation's latest product when it is finished.  Now I will have motivation for advancing the schedule aggressively."
    Thrawn somehow managed to keep the disdain from his face and voice as he answered.  "Very good, Admiral.  Carry on.  Chimaera out."  He cut the connection and exhaled a long snort of disgust, wrapping his towel around his hips.  His species, the Chiss, were seasonal breeders.  Not being in season at the moment,  females, Chiss or not, were not attractive to him.  Admiral Daala was even less so.  Just having her gaze lustily at him was enough to make him want to return to the refresher and scrub down with a disinfectant.  I'd rather breed a Gamorrean!  With another snort, he stalked back into the refresher to complete his toilette.

    The annunciator at his door chimed, startling him from his mental debate over what clothing might be appropriate to his needs.  Poking his head out of the refresher, he called, "Come!"  The voice activated door slid open smoothly, revealing the petite form of a human orderly silhouetted against the lights of the command room beyond.  Behind the crewer the floor was still awash with yellow fluid, although Thrawn was relieved to see that the pond had not deepened during his absence.  The crewer held something in his, no her, arms.  She peered into his chambers cautiously.
    "Sir?  Central Cleaning sent me up with this for you..."  'This' was one of his uniforms, cleaned and pressed.
    "Ah, excellent, crewman!  Come in!"
    As the orderly began to step in, he left the refresher, moving purposefully into the larger room, glad to be reclaiming his proper clothing.  Whatever evil imp had been plaguing him that day decided at that instant to catch a bit of his towel in the doorjamb of the refresher.  Which meant that while he left the bathing room, his towel didn't.
    The orderly halted in her tracks, just inside the door of his suite.  Her eyes went very wide, her face first paled, then blushed, and she crushed his nicely pressed uniform to her chest.
    Thrawn noticed only that she had stopped and was now rumpling his clothing.  "Don't do that!  Come here," he commanded firmly, waving her in.  Thrawn expected his orderly to approach and hand him his uniform.  When she did not comply, he walked toward her impatiently.  "Come on."
    With a scream that proved the existence of healthy lungs, the young woman seemed to levitate backward out the door.  Still howling in terror, she ran, flinging the uniform away in her haste.
    "What in the seven suns?!"  He sprang after her, reached the door of his suite and stopped short.  The orderly had disappeared from his command room, but the repair techs were still clustered around their work area.  They stood looking after her with expressions of surprise.  Their expressions changed to astonishment when they saw their unclad Admiral in the doorway.  Three pairs of jaws dropped.
    Thrawn suddenly realized exactly what this entire scene must look like to uninformed human observers and he halted in dismay.  He wanted very much to catch the orderly and explain, but knew that was now impossible.  Explanations would have to be done later, through proper channels.  With a deep sigh, he knelt and lifted his uniform, which was now sodden with hydraulic fluid.  Gathering up both uniform and dignity, he retreated into his quarters and shut the door.

    Captain Pellaeon frowned at the data screen set into the top of his desk, wondering why he had not chosen this day to stay sick in bed.  I wonder if we have offended the Force somehow?  Or perhaps one or more of the unpleasant gods of space have decided to take umbrage at our presence?  His terminal glowed with a list of minor disasters, annoyances, system failures, and... his frown deepened. A female orderly traumatized by a routine laundry delivery visit to the Grand Admiral's suite?!  What was that all about? he wondered.  A small sound made him raise his eyes.  He swallowed tightly, at first glance thinking, What in the name of Emara's Holy Queen is Boba Fett doing in my office??  He blinked.  Fett was minus his usual helmet.  The face that gazed at him with an expression of wry amusement was that of Grand Admiral Thrawn.
    "Sir!  Are you..."  He began to rise and salute, but Thrawn indicated he could remain seated.
    "I'm fine.  At ease, Captain."  He paced further into the Captain's office, the armored boots making his tread sound somehow ominous.
    "Your uniform, Admiral?"  Pellaeon felt compelled to ask, despite the fact that he had learned over time that his superior would divulge only those parts of his plans he felt his officers needed to know at the moment.
    "Being cleaned.  All of them."  Thrawn smiled strangely.  "Since I seem to be a magnet for clothing-related disasters today, I decided this," here he patted the Mandalorian armor on his chest, "would be the best choice for me if I wanted to venture forth from the supposed safety of my quarters."
    "Doesn't that belong to...?"
    Thrawn shook his head.  "No, this is a similar style of armor to that worn by the bounty hunter Boba Fett.  This particular suit, however, once belonged to one Jodo Kast.  A bounty hunter who used to trade on their likeness to charge higher fees to his clients."  Thrawn smiled grimly.  "At least until Fett discovered the infringement.  I came into possession of this armor shortly afterward, and used it for a covert operation."
    Pellaeon suppressed a shudder at the thought of the danger involved.  "It ended successfully, I assume, sir?"
    "It did indeed.  And since it served me so well once, I decided on this day it could be of service again, even if it is not exactly regulation."
    "Very good, sir."  Pellaeon nodded.  The Captain of the Chimaera, paused, glanced again at the list on his screen and coughed politely.  "Sir, about the orderly..."
    Thrawn sighed, pulled up a seat and settled himself nearby.  "As to that, let me give you the entire chronology of events."
    When the Grand Admiral had completed his recitation, Pellaeon sat looking at him silently for some time, torn between laughter and dismay.  "Well, now that I understand, I'm sure a quick meeting with the orderly will put everything right."  He looked at the screen, which had updated a status report since they had begun their conference.  "Central Works reports the repairs to your command suite have been completed.  And the room has been restored to a dry state."
"That's very good news, Captain.  The best I've had this day," Thrawn said with a smile.  "Perhaps the ah... adventures of the day are finally over?"
The door to Captain Pellaeon's office slid open to admit a humanoid service droid, bearing a tray of hot drinks and sweet rolls for a midday snack.  "Complements of the forward mess, sirs," said the droid, stepping briskly forward to offer Thrawn a choice from his larder.  The droid tripped and caught itself.  It also caught most of the contents of its tray.
    Pellaeon stared in wonder as the Grand Admiral disentangled a sticky bun from his hair.  Hot chocolate dripped down the front of his armor - for a mercy the scalding liquid had been unable to reach bare skin.  The men's eyes met, glowing red and cool grey.
    "Perhaps, sir, it would be a good idea for today if you wore the helmet, too?"


Various Star Wars characters 2000 Lucasfilm.  The original Adm. Thrawn was created by Timothy Zahn for his series of Star Wars novels:  Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and the Hand of Thrawn duology.
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