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countdown of the seventy-six seconds it would take to reach the Ukio system from their position and trying not to let C'baoth's words get under his skin. He didn't understand himself how Thrawn could so accurately learn the innermost secrets of a species from its artwork. But he'd seen that knowledge proved often enough to trust the Grand Admiral's instincts on such things. C'baoth hadn't.

But then, C'baoth wasn't really interested in an honest debate on the subject. For the past month, ever since declaring himself to be the true heir to the Emperor, C'baoth had been pressing this quiet war against Thrawn's credibility, implying that true insight came only through the Force. And, therefore, only through him.

Pellaeon himself didn't buy that argument. The Emperor had been deep into this Force thing, too, and he hadn't even been able to predict his own death at Endor. But the seeds of uncertainty C'baoth was trying to sow were nevertheless starting to take hold, particularly among the less experienced of Thrawn's officers.

Which was, for Pellaeon, just one more reason why this attack had to succeed. The outcome hinged as much on Thrawn's reading of the Ukian cultural ethos as it did on straight military tactics. On Thrawn's conviction that, at a basic psychological level, the Ukians were terrified of the impossible.

"He will not always be right," C'baoth said into Pellaeon's musings.

Pellaeon bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, the skin of his back crawling at having had his thoughts so casually invaded. "You don't have any concept of privacy, do you?" he growled.

"I am the Empire, Captain Pellaeon," C'baoth said, his eyes glowing with a dark, fanatical fire. "Your thoughts are a part of your service to me."

"My service is to Grand Admiral Thrawn,
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