The A-shuttle glided through the tumbled towers of one of the poorer out-lying areas of the city. Coruscant, famous for its beautiful skyscrapers which had once threatened to overtake the height of the mountains, was now an uneven mass of rubble interspersed with the jagged, broken reminders of its former glory jutting precariously out of the wreckage. Only in the out-lying areas, though, the areas where the ordinary people lived - had lived. The city’s core was safe, and it seemed, would remain so. That made the people in the shuttle even more bitter, as they knew that they, at least, would probably have a bed to go back to that night. And their possessions would be safe. Hopefully, the vast majority of the people who lived in these areas were safely off planet in transports; they would not have had time to take much with them, though, and all would be lost down there. The desolation here was much the same as elsewhere in the areas near to any pockets of what could loosely be called countryside. They had passed over the area that had seen Fett’s Slave I crash into it the previous day, but any remnants of that ship had long been ground into the earth by the numerous ships and AT-ATs which had landed here, and any trace of the small, abandoned campsite that Fett and Arla had shared had long been obliterated by the tramp of hundreds of pairs of armoured feet. Most of the owners of those feet were dead now. It could be considered that they were the lucky ones. At least one of the people in the shuttle though that to be the case, and perhaps he knew better than most. He studied the destruction with a bitter heart, seeing the crashed remains of ships, and fallen AT-ATs and AT-STs, as well as the broken buildings. Not mine, Admiral Piett thought, Army men and woman - but still. I wonder if - he sat up and studied the battered landscape more closely, searching as if he could see the dead from this distance - if there is anyone there - I - I know he finished the thought, but before he could start to dwell on it, a cool voice snapped him out of his reverie.
“It is over.”
He whipped around to look at the speaker. She seemed a model of composure, with not a hair out of place, or a smut of dirt to mark the events of the day on her. She had made a concession to the difficult terrain they had been forced to clamber over by wearing a pair of trousers - he knew this to be unusual as one of her aides had commented upon it when the Mon had boarded the shuttle this morning. There had not been a response to this and the aide had said little else all day, as she had thrown up quite violently at the sight of the first batch of dead bodies they had found. It was heading towards evening now, and they were all exhausted and miserable. But if Mon Mothma felt these things, she did not show it. Her voice held just a little bit of tension to his experienced ears, adept at picking any nuance of uncertainty or worry from his men, but no more than that.
Someone muttered, “At what cost, though?”.
She was not answered.
Mon Mothma sighed inwardly, careful not to let any of the unquiet she felt leak through the veneer of calm acceptance that had taken many years as a senator and leader to cultivate. Her young aides were unhappy, and showed it, but they too would learn in time to act as she did. She glanced across at the Admiral, and caught him watching her. She turned away quickly, her heart beating irrationally loudly. She had forgotten that he too was a leader of men, even though he was an Imperial - had been an Imperial, she corrected herself. She cursed herself at reacting to his nervous gaze, and just when she had been congratulating herself at her poise. She turned her gaze back to the city again.
Her attention was soon caught by the brightly coloured red and yellow ambulance ships clustered over a mass of white wreckage. The battle must have been pretty intense there, she thought, and she decided to leave her aides in the ship and only take the two secretaries to record the scene and her first responses to it. She looked carefully about, then, and breathed a silent sigh of relief when she saw no suspicious vehicle that could denote the press. This would no doubt be all over the galaxy by the end of the day, but she would prefer it if it were her people that produced the bulletins, not itinerant press corps.
She pressed her comm-link.
“Bring us in here.” she stated, and the craft dove down towards the knot of ships and landed just away from them. Mon Mothma stood as they landed, and walked over to where her two aides were unlocking their seat-belts to follow her; she forestalled them with a glance, and said, “Gurin, R’cha - I would prefer you to remain on board for the time being. I will contact you if you are needed - no buts, R’cha, there is plenty of time.”
She turned her attention to Piett.
“Admiral, do you wish to continue accompanying is as we survey the site?” The question held just a hint of a challenge, and Piett felt a recurrence of the old, sick feeling he would get in his stomach when Vader - or anyone out-ranking him, for that matter - would turn their attention to him. He was aware that he had to prove himself to these people, and that this trail around the most devastated areas of the city was a test of some sort. They could not trust him, he understood that, but nevertheless he felt it to be a small shame as he knew, just as Mon Mothma would too, that he would be of much more use assisting in the battle that still raged somewhere above their heads. He tried not to let any of this show in his face, but succeeded only in retreating to his usual apprehensive expression. A muscle twitched in his face before he answered, which blackened his mood further, as he knew she had seen it.
“Madam,” he said, relieved that his voice, at least, sounded clear, “I would be honoured to accompany you.”
The scene from outside the shuttle was even worse than from within, and no sooner had they stepped outside than the wind buffeted in their direction, carrying fresh stone-dust into their faces, and the sharp acrid tang left over from all the blaster fire, and the ion cannons. They coughed, but waited with watering eyes for a couple of the para-medics to scramble back over the wreckage towards them.
“Mon Mothma, Ma’am,” gasped the nearest one, he had more straps on his collar, which, Piett supposed, meant he was an officer of some sort, “it is an honour to receive you, but,” he glanced at the small party behind them, and grimaced, “but, it’s, well, pretty nasty down there - it seems that the battle was at its thickest at this point in this sector. We found, well - I’m just saying that you might not wish to see . .” he petered off at her expression, and swallowed.
Mon Mothma smiled, and said in her calm voice, “we have left most of our party in the shuttle, Dr. Junnin. My secretaries need to record this - and I wish to see the damage for myself, before it is exaggerated beyond my control. The admiral also wishes to accompany us.” It was almost a threat - or an order. Piett was not sure whether it was an order to the doctor, or to himself. He tried to make himself look as self-effacing as possible, despite the lack of good it had done him in the past. At least, he reminded himself, you are still alive, not like the poor bastards sent out by that - that man this morning. As he thought this, the small party moved off , and the “bodyguard” he had been assigned earlier gave him in a poke in the arm with his blaster rifle to remind him to continue walking. Admiral Piett followed the rest of the group.
They were walking over the rubble of the upper level buildings, crunching through plaster mouldings, shards of brightly coloured painted glass which had once caught the setting suns in the windows of the rich merchants who had lived out in this sector. In Coruscant, the sun was the most prized asset to have in your house, Piett remembered from the few times he had spent any length of time on the planet, as perhaps about seventy per cent of the people of this little world never saw the sun in their daily lives, only when they came up to the roof-top public parks to take in the air. He shivered when he thought of those who lived in the lower levels; they would not have stood a chance if they hadn’t been evacuated before the army had started to rampage through the city. His stomach turned a little at the thought of hundreds, perhaps thousands of bodies trapped beneath his feet, but he said nothing of his disquiet. Mon Mothma was too sharp for him, however, and came up and asked him, “Admiral, are you alright? If you feel you can’t, then go back to the shuttle and wait.” In other words, he thought, if you can’t take the heat . . .
He shook his head.
“I was just thinking of the lower city dwellers - I mean, are they - did you,” he swallowed, “get them out?” That last phrase only forced out as a whisper. Mon Mothma sighed, and frowned at him.
“Do you dare to take us as being as heartless as you Imperials have been over the years? We began the evacuation as soon as we knew Thrawn was arriving.” Then a queasy expression washed over her face as well. “Although, we cannot have got everyone - there are always those who do not go.” And with those words, she turned away from him, and continued picking her way to the cluster of medics. Piett followed, fizzing slightly with anger that the people he had worked for since he was a student were dismissed without a thought as “heartless”. The Empire, he reasoned to himself, had done wonderful things to help races, and many economies would never recover from the end of it. It had not been all horrors like Alderaan, and the Republic had ruined places like poor Mandalore before the Empire got their hands anywhere near it. He glanced up at the sky for a moment, aware that, beyond his vision, a battle raged where many of his men - his men were being killed; he wished, in that moment, that he were up there with them.
There was a commotion when their little party reached the medics which had nothing to do with them; Piett, still straggling behind a bit, missed of the drama, but heard the, “No! Come on, you can do it.”
from one of the medics crouched over the supine form of a rebel soldier, his orange flight suit soaked in red blood. His own, presumably, as another medic said flatly,
“Gone. Damn.” as Piett approached. The crouching woman threw something down on the uneven ground, and swore. For a moment that her quiet expletives were the only sound, then one of the Mon’s press secretaries began, in a low, dull monotone to speak into his recorder, “although our medics work very hard to save all the injured, some are too far gone to help -”
Piett soon lost interest in the narrative when he saw what the pilot’s little ship had crashed into. There wasn’t much of it left now, but the giant circular structure he saw against the sky he realised was something he had identified from the shuttle, he could see the leg and charred foot of an AT-AT, misshapen and broken. He hurried towards it, ducking beyond it to look into - the crater the explosion had made. There was barely anything recognisable as AT-AT, just the occasional part that was familiar, and all mixed up with building scrap and ship parts. A complete mess. He sighed, then jumped at a noise behind him.
“An AT-AT?” asked Mon Mothma, coming to stand beside him. One of the secretaries scurried up behind her, then stopped a few feet away. Piett heard his recording equipment click on.
“Yes - or what’s left of one.”
She shook her head.
“Why do they explode like that? I always thought it was a ridiculous waste of life - and machinery, but no doubt there is sound military sense behind it.”
He laughed shortly.
“Yes. It was deemed better that, in a losing situation, the victors could not benefit from any captured machinery. Thus, they explode. We have much the same theory with our ships.”
“But, the people?”
“Are not people, madam. They have joined, in this case, the army. They are willing to give their lives from the very first, and the Empire demands their lives of them.”
She stared at him a long time, then said in quiet, still voice, “and you believe that?”
Piett felt a chill run down his spine, aware that the answer he gave to this one could alter his circumstances for better or worse. He licked his lips.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I never thought of it, much. I just did my job.” There, the truth, or something very like it. Then, gazing morosely down into the crater, he spotted something. Mon Mothma started to respond, but Piett didn’t hear it, his heart was thumping too loud.
Before anyone could stop him, he leapt down into the crater and after a moment’s uneasy skittering, he scrambled down the side towards the tiny fleck of black he had seen - and recognised. He heard the shouts above him, but ignored them, ignored even the shifting of the building debris as he clambered laboriously down towards his goal. He skittered wildly and for a brief moment disappeared from view into the rubble. Seconds later he emerged again, face white and hands shaking as they clutched a black something in their grasp.
“What is it?” Mon Mothma called, impatience heavy in her tone. “We can’t be wasting time in this way, for all you are an Admiral.”
Piett looked in misery down at the object he held, his heart thumping loudly in his throat, so loudly that he thought that everyone should be able to hear it on the unnatural quiet of the abandoned battlefield. Cradling it closer to his chest, he called up, “this is no waste of time, Madam - this is a General’s helmet. There must be a high-ranking officer buried down here -” and it might be a friend, dead down there, he thought, his stomach churning as he thought of the harsh words he and P’Tui had exchanged before his arrest, and desperately tried to remember what he had last said to her lover, Veers, also on this mission, “Doctor!” he called, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. The man broke away from the small huddle of his people, and looked out over the edge at Piett, frowning.
“Yes?”, he called back, and Piett, despite himself, bristled at the lack of “sir” from that comment, and the implied insolence in the man’s tone. He squashed down those thoughts, trying to remember he was in no position to command even the lowest solider in this place.
His impatience and fear welled up in him again, and he snapped more harshly than he had intended, “has there been anyone found alive trapped in a place like this?”
Even from the distance that they stood, Piett could tell that the doctor was taken aback, and his answering call was more subdued,
“Yes, a few, but -”
That was all that Piett needed to hear. He dropped to his knees amongst the debris, and began frantically throwing pieces of broken machinery away from the area which he knew was the cockpit. The first thing he found was the severed remains of an arm - only recognisably human because it was encased in stormtrooper’s armour - and he had to pause, to retch fruitlessly into the air until a dribble of saliva drooled from his lips. He blinked, brushed it impatiently away, and continued to search. It wasn’t long before he found more of the dead stormtrooper, and he had to hold himself in check as he rolled the body parts away to get at what might be underneath, praying that there might be something. He was almost instantly rewarded by the glimpse caught of a flash of very white flesh - a hand. Careless now of what he was clearing, he scrabbled further down, only pausing to tear his gloves off to grip at things that little bit better. Thanks to his efforts, an arm was revealed, miraculously still attached to the body to which it belonged. The black cloth that had covered it once was all ripped away, and Piett sagged in relief when he realised that it was definitely a man’s arm - it couldn’t be P’Tooie, but his stomach knotted in tension as he continued to scrape rubbish away from the man’s body, revealing that a large lump of metal from the head of the AT-AT had fallen and was trapping - possibly crushing the man’s chest. He clutched the free arm, checking desperately for a pulse, only heard his own beating heart. He turned his attention rather more hopelessly back to the crushing metal, and sighed, looking at it, he realised that there was no way he could lift it all off himself, and he sagged, resting his head against the cooling metal in defeat. He closed his eyes and felt the last two days suddenly catch up with him in a wave of exhaustion.
A touch of warmth and pressure on his arm made him jump back into alertness, and he looked up to see the Mon standing over him, looking down with a frowning, concerned expression. The doctor, a vague expression of distaste on his face that appeared to have nothing to do with the surroundings, but was focused on the admiral, stood just behind her, with a small team.
“Admiral?” said Mon Mothma.
He looked up at her in thanks, then wheeled back around as he felt a movement. Something touched at his foot, then again. For one brief heart-stopping moment, he thought it was the ground shifting underneath him, then he realised that the movement was more localised than that and he spun around. This did cause the ground to move slightly, and he heard the doctor snap, “God! What is the idiot doing?” but he paid no heed as he clasped the limp hand of the man who lay buried. Piett opened his mouth, but no sound came out, just a small croaking noise.
He coughed, then said, “he’s alive.”
This time it was the Mon who moved fast, causing more shiftings as she did so, although the medical team made no comment at her moves. Indeed, they followed her. They clustered around, but the doctor pushed them aside and lowered himself down to Piett’s level, and checked the pulse again, then again; he shook his head, not so much in defeat, but puzzlement.
“My god,” he said, glancing up at Piett, “there’s no way he should still be alive with all this on him.”
Piett suddenly felt angry at the man’s inactivity, and snapped, “well, lets get it off him, then.”
The man’s head snapped up, and Piett caught a glimpse of resentment in his eyes which did not endear him to Piett at all. Nevertheless, the doctor did as he was asked.
It took the whole team of them to roll the obstruction away, and when it revealed the wreck of the man underneath, Piett almost regretted that he had pressed them to uncover him. He began to gag again as he realised that he did indeed know the man, very well indeed. It was Veers. Veers, who had been, well, if not his friend, then something very close to it since their long ago student days. Veers who arranged that horrendous, embarrassing stag night for him at his marriage. Veers who had been instrumental to installing gymnasiums as standard on all Star Destroyers, much to Piett’s horror. Veers who had been one of the only men he had ever known that could stand in front of Vader and show no fear - and who had survived. It was Veers who lay with most of his body crushed, with half of his innards exposed to the air - and to the sharp metal that had torn him in the first place. He looked dead. More than dead. Piett’s shoulder’s sagged again, and he looked away, for even the stupid desolation of the pointless destruction that Thrawn had wrought was better than looking into the dead eyes of the still living Veers.
When he looked back he was aware that the doctor had stood up, and was shaking his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but there isn’t really anything we can do - he’s alive, but it’s not really worth trying to save him - there’s so little to save that it -” he trailed off at Piett’s expression.
“Sorry?” gasped Piett, feeling a rising anger - and guilt as the doctor’s words so exactly matched his first thoughts that it made him all the more vehement - at the stupid man’s attitude, and the implied insult in his words. “What do you mean, sorry? Philip is alive - he’s breathing! And that’s not worth it?” He was aware of his voice rising, but didn’t care. “And if he was a rebel - I’m sorry, a republican - would you try - would you?”
The doctor took a step back, but muttered, “bloody Imperials, all the same,” before answering Piett, even though he must have been aware that Piett could hear him. One of his team was swiftly attaching some breathing apparatus to Veers, her gaze flicking back every so often to the tension above him.
Her superior glared at Piett, his fists balled tight, and said, “yes, if he was a republican, then yes I would try - but the galaxy is far, far better off without you all. And the man probably won’t live anyway. He shouldn’t be alive -”
“All the more reason to try to save him, if he has the will to live.”
A new voice broke into the argument, and Piett heard Mon Mothma sigh with relief as the army doctor they had met at the beginning of this tour - Junnin, he remembered - came down the slope towards them with a team of medics and much more equipment.
The first doctor frowned, and said, defensively, “but, he was nearly dead -”
A flash of anger in Junnin’s eyes was the only sign of the man’s rage as he very coldly said, “if he was just barely dead, then I would expect to see you on your hands and knees trying to get life back into him. If I find out that there are other Imperials lives that have been lost today - or at any other time - I will see that you never, ever work again. You are relieved of your duties here, Dr. Mishka - wait for me in the brig.” He turned to Piett, not even watching as the wretched Mishka set off back up the slope, and spread his hands in a gesture of reconciliation.
“I’m sorry, Admiral, we will do everything possible to ensure that your friend lives - and has some quality of life, after. I realise the difficulty of your position here, but Mishka’s attitude was unspeakable, and it will not happen again.”
Piett nodded, startled as much by the man’s calm fairness as by anything else he had seen that day. He noticed that Mon Mothma was nodding too.
“I’m very glad that the spectacle I have just witnessed would appear to be the exception to the norm, but I am almost glad to have seen it. We are trying to forge bonds with those states that were Imperial allies, despite the Grand Admiral’s disruption of our plans, and I would be highly disturbed if this type of attitude was found to be prevalent among our peoples. Since Endor I have tried to instil into people that although the Emperor was without doubt an evil man, his servants were not necessarily so. They were just doing their jobs - we have killed as well. There will have to be an investigation into this matter, I’m afraid. Your Dr. Mishka is suspended indefinitely from this moment.”
Junnin grinned at that, and saluted.
“Yes, Ma’am!” he cried.
Piett, who had been fascinated by the woman’s speech, glanced back to where Veers still lay. There was a cluster of red and yellow clad medics bustling around him, and his form was now wholly encased in soft, porous plastic, which was being gently and slowly inflated around him. He winced as they began to move him away, and the woman who had first gone to his aid gave Piett a tired smile.
“Don’t worry, sir - he really is in good hands now. That Dr. Mishka - well, he wasn’t popular, here, we thought he was a bit of a -”
“Come on, Beth - leave the poor man alone,” interrupted one of her colleagues, and the woman turned away. Piett smiled back at her before she did, though.
Mon Mothma touched his sleeve again.
“I think we have seen enough for today,” she said, sounding very weary.
He nodded, and she started up the rubble with careful, laborious steps. He watched her for a moment taking unsteady steps, then started quickly after her, catching up fast, and taking her arm to keep her upright. She turned to him, surprised, but accepted his help readily. And she smiled. Briefly.
Then a frown settled on her brow again, and she asked, “that man, you knew him well?”
Piett nodded, then realised that she couldn’t see the nod, so said, “yes - General Veers - Philip - I’ve known him since we were at the Academy.”
Mon Mothma stopped, and turned to stare at him, her face drained of all colour.
“General Veers? The General Veers - the one at Hoth? We just saved - ?”
Piett stared back at her, feeling his face grow tight and hot with suppressed anger.
“Madam,” he said in a cold voice, “it was I who found your base on Hoth. If I had not, I suspect that I would not be standing here today - I was made Admiral for that.” He paused, then felt compelled to tell the truth, or some of it, at least. “Indirectly. If Philip had not been victorious at Hoth, he would not be being saved by your medics today, he would be dead now. Vader would have killed him. I thought you said that we were just doing our jobs - not evil. I should have known -”
He broke off when he saw her stricken expression.
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling terrible at her hasty words, and wishing she had never opened her mouth, “I’m sorry, it isn’t easy, there’s no justification for what I just said; you’re right, I -”
He smiled, suddenly liking her very much.
“It’s alright - it’s been a long day, for both of us. Let’s just get back to the ship, it’s getting dark.”
The sharp acrid tang of antiseptic hanging heavy in the air was the first thing that Luke noticed as he came out of trance, as it had been every time that he had done this. He hated it, and gagged slightly as he stumbled away from the makeshift bed he had helped set up a couple of hours previously. Still, the smell of antiseptic was better by far than the smell of fresh blood, burst innards and burnt flesh that underlay and permeated everything here.
He caught himself on the wall behind, and lay back against the warm plastic of the walls, wishing it were cooler to ease his aching head. He closed his eyes a moment, but blinked them open again as a jumbled mass of images of the people he had seen - and tried to heal - that day rose up in front of him.
He gagged again, and stared at the woman lying on the pallet in front of him, and winced as he remembered what lay beneath the bandages that carefully swaddled her. Only her hands could be seen, and her face was ruined forever, despite his efforts. In time, she might be able breathe without the complex equipment that surrounded her now, but seeing her had made him realise what it must have been like for his father after the molten lava. He remembered how Vader - Anakin - had looked as he died, even though hiss memory wanted to run away from the image, and he closed his eyes again to pray briefly that this woman - only a few years older than him - wouldn’t end up like that.
He sighed, and flexed his shoulders, making his body tingle as his numbed muscles began to come back to life. He groaned, and looked about, wondering how long he had been under the trance. He spotted a Sullustian medic down the other end of the room, near the door, and hurried after her to ask her what was happening now. A medical droid looked up and told him to move more carefully in the ward, but he ignored it.
The medic, her jowls dry with exhaustion, brightened as she saw him approach.
“Ah, Commander Skywalker, at last - did you have any joy?” she murmured, eyes flicking nervously about, seeming not to want to settle on any one thing. Luke, as ever, felt slightly disquieted about this, although he knew it was a species trait - he supposed that they found humans’ direct stares just as odd. He pushed the thoughts from his mind as he realised she was waiting for an answer.
“Uh, I think so - but, her burns were so bad that, well -” he shrugged, and the medic nodded, looking sad.
“Um,” he asked, “how long have I - ” but he got no further than that as another medic, human this time stuck her head around the and exclaimed as she saw him.
“Oh, thank God, you’ve finished - you’re needed in sector seven, terrible head injuries, your sister said you might be able to help with that sort of thing.”
“What? But, I’ve only just finished here - couldn’t I just sit down a few minutes?” he blurted before he had a chance to think.
The medic, a harsh faced woman in early middle age, stared at him as if he had just crawled out from under a rock.
“No. This man is dying as we speak. Come on, and leave that attitude behind in this room, young man.”
Luke bristled, but followed her. The woman strode ahead of him, her shoulders set with disapproval as she carefully kept a pace or two ahead of him. He caught her feelings of resentment and irritation as they walked along, which only served to make him feel angrier yet.
Why, he thought, should everyone want something out of me all the time? I’m only human, after all. How dare they just assume that I should want to help them? I was out there in the battle yesterday, I hardly slept last night, and I’ve been doing this since the causalities started coming in this morning. Don’t I deserve a bit of a rest now? He still followed the woman, though, and when he was shown the man he had to try to help heal he just sat down and slipped into the trance state he needed to be in to do this, even ignoring Leia who was working nearby, her face set, pale and tense as she did so.
She flashed him a worried glance when she saw him come into the room, but shrugged and got on with her bandaging when he failed to respond to her.
“Is he alright?”
The voice broke her own reverie, and she snapped her head up to see the doctor that had brought Luke into the room standing in front of her.
She blinked, trying to focus on the woman, although weariness was making her want to continue with the automatic actions she had been doing, and said, “what?”, then hated herself for sounding so bewildered.
The doctor jerked her head back to Luke, sitting slack jawed next to the pilot with the bashed up skull, saying, “him. Your brother. He was very curt with me, when I went to collect him. I’m not sure he should be here, with an attitude like that.”
“Luke?” said Leia, then shook herself in exasperation for sounding so stupid, obviously the woman meant Luke. “I’m sorry,” she said, managing an apologetic grin, “my mind is still bandaging, it needs a good kick to get it going at the moment.”
The doctor gave a tight half smile, then said, “I know how you feel, I remember when I first started. You get used to it. Especially after all these years of war.”
“Um,” said Leia, wincing away from the woman’s bitterness, then she glanced at Luke again, and sighed, “I wish I could do what he was doing, to take some of the strain away. He’s had -”
“Why couldn’t you? Everyone knows you’ve got the same powers that he has - can’t you learn?”
Leia frowned, not wanting to admit that she still had deep reservations about using the Force; even after everything that Luke had told her about it she still thought more of Vader than of the good things that she knew could be done.
She told none of that to the doctor, however, but said instead, “I guess; it never came up.” Then, moved swiftly on before the woman could ask her any more questions, “but Luke - if he’s been short with you, then he’s had an exhausting few days, I mean, I know we all have, but he lost his best friend yesterday, and - ”
“Pah. People are losing friends all the time. This is war. I sometimes think I preferred the Empire - at least we weren’t constantly at war.” snapped the doctor, and she moved briskly off.
Leia was left staring after her as the doctor collected some clipboards and walked out of the room. Leia sighed, looked at Luke again, then shrugged and went back to her bandaging again.
It was about an hour later when Luke pulled himself out of the injured man’s mind. He sat for a moment, his mind still spinning from the strain of trying to reconstruct the man’s brain so that it would work again. He stretched, dropping the man’s hand as he did so, and hoped he had done more good than harm; after all he was not trained in this at all, and had only followed what had seemed right, had seemed to fit together. Standing up, he tested his stiff muscles carefully, and felt his head begin to throb with headache.
“Gotta go t’bed.” he muttered to himself, looking about. And frowned, wondering again how long he had been doing this. For all he knew, days could have passed while he had been sitting there. Not that much had changed since he came in, except that he could have sworn that Leia had been in the room, and now she wasn’t.
Spotting a droid trundling up the aisle to him, he hurried towards it.
It stopped in front of him, and said, “Dr. Hunterson requests you in sector five immediately, sir.”
He groaned, “for fuck’s sake. How did he or she know I was out of trance?”
“Dr. Hunterson asked me to wait until you awoke, sir.”
Luke suppressed his irritation; after all, there was no point in taking it out on a droid, and followed it as it started out into the corridor again.
“Okay. I’ll come. How long have been waiting - no, never mind,” as the droid started to answer, “just tell what the time is, please.”
“Yes sir. It is just past eight o’clock -”
“Is the battle still going on?”
“No sir. It ended two hours ago.”
Luke felt his frustration beginning to mount at the droid’s short answers, even though he knew that was only the things nature to do that.
He tried again, “and what happened?”
“I don’t know, sir, no one tells a droid anything, sir.”
Calm, thought Luke, it means it doesn’t know the details - just be direct with it, it isn’t like R2 or C-3PO, it doesn’t understand, it’s only an A78-D.
“Did we win?”
The droid stopped and spun around to look at him,
“Why, yes, sir. Did nobody tell you?”
Luke took a deep breath.
“Never mind, lets just find this ‘Dr. Hunterson’, shall we? I think I would like to give him or her a piece of my mind.”
“Would that be sensible, sir? Don’t you need it?”
“It’s a figure of speech, alright? Just take me to the bloody doctor.”
To his delight, Dr Hunterson turned out to be the one who had taken him to the last patient. As soon as he saw it was her, he felt himself growing instantly more surly than he had been, despite her harassed, drawn expression.
“You wanted me?” he asked, sounding as churlish as he felt.
She looked up at him, and frowned.
“Commander Skywalker, you volunteered for this duty. I know it isn’t as glamorous as flying your little ships, but -”
Luke felt the last remnants of his control slipping away. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard Yoda saying, “fear, anger, aggression - the Dark Side are they,” but dismissed the memory.
He began to shout, “glamorous? Glamorous? You think that it is glamorous to go out there and fight against the Empire? My God - then you are truly stupid. Look around you - you wouldn’t have any trade if it weren’t for those men and women, God, you wouldn’t even have any freedom at all - you’d be under the Emperor’s grasp, sttifled and oppressed. Don’t you dare say -”
“Be quiet, young man.” The doctor’s words were frozen with contempt, as she spat the words out at him, “This is a hospital, and these people do not need you disrupting them. I don’t care if you are a war hero, I don’t care what you are - you have the ability to help us heal. Now go to bed number eight, and damn well do it.”
And Luke exploded.
“Fuck you, dammit, I will not,” he shouted, not caring now who heard him, or what anyone thought. He began to shake, his anger was now so strong,. “Frankly, I don’t give a shit whether these people live or die. I really couldn’t care less. I’ve had enough - why should they live when Wedge died? When Biggs died? When my fucking father died? Well, they can all just rot in hell for all I care. You’ll get no more out of me today, except this!”
He took a deep breath, took in the doctor’s dumbfounded stare, the nurses, even the droids frozen at his words, the absolute silence that hung in the room, and felt a great rush of power at it.
He snatched as much Force energy as he could, gathered it up with all the strength he could muster, and flung out all his anger and pain at them all so it tore down the ward.
Then he turned and fled so he did not have to hear the screams of agony as what he had done rippled through the people. He felt a perverse rush of pleasure as he saw the doctor collapse to the floor just as he reached the door.
So this was what the Force could do!
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