They were interrogated separately at first. When that proved unsuccessful, they dragged Kanan into the room and strapped him to the table beside Hera. They alternated between them for a while. Drugs were administered. Bodies were beaten with fists and batons. Fingers were broken, joints dislocated. But they maintained their silence. They had talked about this at length and were prepared. They were willing to die—together if possible, separate if they must.
Finally Thrawn took over. He raked back the dark curtain on the wall to reveal a one-way transparisteel mirror. Hera raised her head and sucked in a startled gasp.
“What is it?” Kanan asked.
She pinched her lips together tightly, tears welling in her eyes.
“Tell him,” said Thrawn.
In the room beyond, Ezra and Sabine were lashed back-to-back in a pair of chairs, both bound at the wrist, ankle, and waist. They spoke rapidly to one another, heads turning, faces serious. Hera couldn’t hear them, and this far away she couldn’t read their lips.
“It’s Ezra,” she croaked. “Ezra and Sabine.”
Kanan’s body went rigid against his straps.
“Go on,” said Thrawn.
The corners of Hera’s mouth trembled. “They’re tied to chairs. And the chairs are tied together. I don’t think they can see us.”
“What are the chairs made of, Captain Syndulla?”
Hera wrinkled her brow at the oddness of the question. “Wood?”
“Yes. And what are they bound with?”
“Ropes. The old kind, made of hemp.”
“Very good.” Thrawn stood between them with his hands clasped behind his back. Cool and unfazed.
“Are they okay, Hera?” Kanan asked softly. “Are they hurt?”
“They look fine. Confused. Ezra’s talking and Sabine is shaking her head.”
“What are they wearing, Captain?” asked Thrawn.
“I don’t know.” Hera squinted. It was dark in their room, but the room in which Ezra and Sabine were held was glaringly bright. “A uniform of some kind. White. Not their flight suits. It looks… like medical coveralls. The kind they give patients.”
Kanan’s nostrils flared. “What game are you playing, Thrawn? You planning to torture them instead of us?”
“I don’t torture, Mr Jarrus,” said Thrawn. “I interrogate. Sometimes I employ what might be considered harsh methods in order to motivate a detainee. But interrogating you and your companion has proven quite ineffective. Not even the threat of death and dismemberment has been able to loosen your tongues. I daresay I admire that kind of conviction. You two are truly dedicated to your cause.”
He lifted his comlink to his mouth. “You may proceed with Step One, Lieutenant.”
A few seconds later, a death trooper walked into the room with Ezra and Sabine. He was clad head to toe in silver Pyroarmor and toting a large metal jug.
“Tell your blind lover what you see, Captain,” said Thrawn.
Hera knew what was going to happen. She could almost see it unfurling in her mind like some kind of horrific flower. Not them. Not my kids, please. Please, for the love of—
She swallowed. “A death trooper is with Ezra and Sabine now. He’s…” Her voice cracked. “He’s got a can of petrol. He’s opening it and—”
She stared, heart racing, eyes wide and horrified as she watched her nightmare unfold. Kanan twisted vainly in his restraints.
“Continue,” said Thrawn.
Hera finally tore her gaze away. “He’s pouring it onto them.”
Ezra and Sabine thrashed in their chairs, mouths moving in silence. Their clothes were soaked and dripping, but the trooper kept pouring until the can was empty. Four liters at least. Enough to saturate everything. The petrol ran into their eyes and inflamed them, turned them red. As red as Thrawn’s. The fumes must be burning their lungs. They were both coughing. Sabine gagged. She must have swallowed some. Ezra looked as if he might be trying to comfort her now. His face was twisted with fear and anger, gasoline running down his cheeks as if he were standing in the rain.
Kanan surged against his restraints. The walls of the room trembled briefly. “What do you want from us?” he seethed.
“The same thing I’ve always wanted,” said the Admiral. “Names and numbers. People. Places. Ships.”
“And if we refuse?”
Thrawn stepped up to the window. He raised his comlink again. “Step two.”
The death trooper pulled an igniter from his belt and held it at arm’s length toward the prisoners. One spark would set them ablaze.
Ezra and Sabine began to yell and struggle. Their faces were terrified.
“All he has to do is squeeze,” said Thrawn calmly, “and your children die.”
Hera and Kanan were frozen in horror, only their chests heaving as they struggled to breathe.
“Do you know what it’s like to be burned alive? Fire, as you know, craves oxygen. The air in their lungs will ignite first. It will be consumed even faster given the fumes they have inhaled, so the first thing they will feel, aside from blistering pain, is the feeling of being suffocated.
“The fire will then move to the easily combustible: cloth, hair, skin. This will happen very quickly, so they will still be alive and conscious as they burn. Subcutaneous fat will be melted, rather like roasting a piece of meat. Muscles will be the next to go. Digits and limbs have less substance, so they will be used up first. Hands and feet and arms reduced to bare bone, the marrow boiled. Their brains will still be alive to register the pain, though they will likely be blind as the heat will boil the vitreous gel in their eyeballs. All they will know is darkness and pain these last moments of their lives—”
“Stop it!” Hera shrieked.
Thrawn ceased his gruesome narration.
She began to weep wretchedly.
After a prolonged silence, Kanan finally spoke. His voice was like gravel and rust. “We’ll give you what you want. Just let them go.”
“I want three names.”
Thrawn lifted his communicator. “Step—”
Hera cried out a name. Then, after a lengthy pause, she quietly confessed another.
Kanan supplied the last out of sheer mercy; he didn’t want Hera to be the only one to bear the full weight of the consequences. And they would be dire.
Thrawn smiled pleasantly. “There. You see how much easier it is when you cooperate? And hardly anyone had to suffer.”
Hera clenched her teeth and shook her head, a defiant whimper hanging in her throat.
Kanan trembled as if possessed. “We did what you wanted,” he uttered. “Now call off your dog.”
“As you wish. Thank you, Lieutenant. You may leave now.”
The death trooper placed the igniter back on his belt and did as he was commanded.
Hera and Kanan sagged with relief.
“I shall see that Mr Bridger and Ms Wren are treated by a medical droid,” said Thrawn, drawing the curtain closed. He strode toward the door of the interrogation chamber. “And if you continue to cooperate, they might just be allowed to live. It would be a shame for their young lives to be cut short, wouldn’t you agree?”
Hera stared miserably at the floor. Kanan bowed his head, defeated.
Thrawn smiled and gently closed the door behind him.