This was foolish.
Admiral Grigori Piett stared out of the viewport at the battle raging around the Executor. Rebel and Imperial fighters were chasing each other around the huge bulk of the Super Star Destroyer, every now and then one would burst and disintegrate into a fast dispersing cloud of star-dust. And, he noted with indignation, more often than not, it was one of their ships, TIE-fighters usually but also interceptors and the occasional bomber, that were hit and destroyed. But then again, none of those ships were fitted with even the weakest shield. One hit and boom! There goes another 10,000 credits. Great. With some effort he managed not to start counting the sum of money turned into dust in front of his eyes.
Not to mention that every explosion meant another young pilot being killed out there.
Even more annoying than watching this useless spectacle was the fact that they had orders to stay put where the Emperor had commanded them to make their show of force for the benefit of the Rebels. ‘He had something special planned for them.’ A shiver ran over Piett’s back, remembering the croaking voice of the Emperor. His briefing from the Emperor had made him realise that there were worse things than having to deal with Darth Vader, not many, but receiving orders from the Emperor in person was one of them.
The Death Star had destroyed two of the Rebel ships. Piett had been as surprised as everybody else when the unfinished Death Star’s superlaser had started to fire. He had praised the fact that any desire to take the initiative had been thoroughly erased from his personality by years of service under Darth Vader. If they had moved forward from their position it might as well have been one of the Star Destroyers that was roasted by the superlaser instead of one of the rebel cruisers. But, very predictably indeed, the Rebels had immediately engaged in close combat with the Imperial fleet, so the Death Star could not use its super laser without hitting their own ships. Some dark, pessimistic corner of Piett’s mind had been surprised that the Death Star had indeed ceased firing. Perhaps the Emperor was busy elsewhere, he would certainly have not qualms about disintegrating some of his own fleet to destroy the rebellion.
The really disturbing fact was that the Rebels had not turned tail and fled after discovering the Imperial fleet but were taking a stand here and now. Something gave them enough confidence that they were willing to risk what was surely a large part of their fleet, if not all. The rebellion was not desperate enough to risk all if they did not have a reasonable chance of destroying the Death Star – with the Emperor on board.
Following the Emperor’s orders, the Executor was still hanging motionless in space, playing the sitting duck, and what an enormous sitting duck they were. A truly inviting target. It was obvious that the Rebels were now concentrating their attack on his ship, their various fighters and the cruisers firing continuously. It was completely and utterly stupid to remain immobile with the entire enemy fleet shooting at them. But then, he had his orders. Imperial officers were not encouraged to make decisions on their own. Every decision might be a mistake and mistakes were usually fatal. Under these circumstances transgressing an order took enormous will-power. It was particularly difficult when one usually had the black-cloaked figure of Darth Vader looming over one, wheezing down one’s neck.
Piett shot a quick glance at Lieutenant Firleigh who was standing next to him, silent after his question about their inactivity. Piett was not particularly fond of the lieutenant who like too many of the younger officers was a token of loyalty from some influential Coruscanti family. And like most of those, the family had sent the member they could spare most easily. Firleigh had just the right combination of shallow-mindedness and power-hunger to think that a career in the Imperial navy was the fastest way to reach the top. It was probably the fastest way to find an early grave. Firleigh’s family was lucky to have somebody who was not trying to get away from the obligation. If Firleigh remained on the Executor he would probably not survive very long, his family would not be happy about this. – Darth Vader did not suffer fools gladly, he rather strangled them.
The battering fire was strong enough to make the bridge’s floor vibrate. If they remained under this kind of fire for much longer, they would lose their shields and become vulnerable. Then they would have to move – better they moved now before they were hit.
It was time to do something, find a suitable target they could pick on. Just as Piett turned around to give the order to turn the ship one of the men standing at the terminals below him shouted at him: “Sir, we lost our bridge deflector shields.”
Terrific timing. The despicable shield generators! Whoever was responsible for that awful design, having this vital part of the ships’ protection stick out like sore thumbs?
“Intensify forward batteries. I don’t want anything to get through.”
At least the bridge was small enough – compared to the whole of the ship – that there was little chance the enemy would hit them immediately. If the Rebels did not know which shield generator they had just shot down.
Piett found himself staring back into space, something large was hurtling towards them. They knew. One of the array of cannons had to shoot the approaching ship down. Dammit, some of them were still not firing. Were all his subordinates not only dumb but deaf as well?
He turned around and shouted: “Increase forward firepower.”
Next to him Lieutenant Firleigh yelled: “Too late.”
The shape of an enemy ship raced towards the viewports engulfed in a ball of fire. Flashes of energy surrounded the flat form.
Without thinking, Piett threw himself into the crew pit.
The fighter crashed through the bridge’s viewports and exploded as it hit the deck.The blast propelled Piett further down and away from the windows. A brief burst of heat waved over him then the fire was sucked out of the broken viewports, together with the atmosphere and all sound. Pieces of both the Rebel fighter and bridge equipment rained down on his back.
Everything seemed to stop.
For a few seconds the bridge was lost in darkness, then the red emergency lighting came on.
My god. I am still alive!
He felt as if a sandcrawler had driven over him, but he was still alive and in one piece. The atmosphere had been sucked out through the hull breach the Rebel fighter had caused. Pressure built up in his lungs, the urge to breathe in the non-existant air. Piett pressed his left hand over his nose and mouth. First he had to get a breathing mask, then he had to get to one of the escape pods. Bodies did not immediately burst in vacuum, but they could not take too much of it.
Pushing himself up in a half-sitting position he located one of the emergency containers right next to him. He pressed the release button and a breathing mask dropped out. Attaching the small apparatus to his face a very unpleasant thought popped up in his brain. Darth Vader will strangle me when he hears of this . Slowly he took a breath, filling his lungs with air.
He surveyed the scene of destruction around him. The Rebel fighter had thoroughly demolished the bridge, all the banks of equipment were destroyed and all screens were dead. As were all the other men who had been on the bridge. Nobody else moved. There were some bodies, parts of bodies, but most of the crew seemed to have been sucked out into space with the atmosphere. Only a few feet away, Lieutenant Firleigh was spread on the crew pit floor. His entire body was horribly flattened. Involuntarily Piett moved away from the dead man, only to bump against another, its chest pierced by some fragment of the Rebel fighter. Blood was still dripping down the metal-shard. There was still gravity, though no atmosphere.
He had to move. If he was not somewhere with atmosphere he would be just as dead as when Vader got his fingers on him – or to be precise his mind. Humans were not made to exist in vacuum, the gases dissolved in his blood were held there only by the pressure of the atmosphere on the body. Without it they would disengage from the blood and start bubbling around in his veins, rupturing the alveoli in his lungs. The vision of his lungs being filled with blood propelled him onto his feet. Rather being strangled by the Dark Lord of the Sith than this!
Clambering over the headless body of one of the officers, Lieutenant Murphy, he managed to pull himself back on the command walkway. More bodies were strewn amid the rubble, most of them had been killed by the wreckage of the enemy fighter which, driven by the explosion had the effect of shrapnell. Heavy blast doors had shut off the bridge from the rest of the ship when the cabin pressure had dropped. Some unlucky bastard’s legs stuck out from under the metal plate. Piett just hoped that the falling door had killed whoever it was the legs belonged to. Otherwise he would lie screaming on the other side of the door.
There was not time to contemplate things like that. He opened the lock to the escape pod and felt the air it held stream past it. These things ought to be able to re-establish an atmosphere. Otherwise he was dead.
Don’t think about it, he ordered himself. He stepped in the small round of the escape pod, and pressed the release mechanism.The interior door shut and with only a small jolt the escape pod dropped out of its socket and into space. A hissing sound indicated that the escape pod was indeed replenishing its atmosphere. After a few moments the status lights turned from red to green.
He had made it.
Piett dropped onto the narrow semi-circular bench that run along the inside of the pod. It was unbelievable. He actually made it. The odds against surviving the crash of an enemy fighter into the bridge were probably quite astronomical. His hands were shaking and it took him several attempts till he managed to remove the breathing mask. He dropped the mask on the floor.
He could hardly believe it. Somehow, sheer luck most of it, he had been the only person on the bridge to survive. So far. There was a battle raging around the Executor and even though the Rebels’ propaganda claimed that they did not shoot escape pods, chances were high that the small craft would either be accidentally shot at or hit by the debris of other destroyed vessels. Escape pods, like TIE fighters, did not have shields. And there was absolutely nothing he could do.
With a sigh he leaned back against the wall of the escape pod. He would find out soon enough, wouldn’t he? What he should really worry about was how he could explain what happened to Lord Vader.Well, you see, there was nothing I could do and so I just jumped into the next escape pod, hoping the crew of the Executor realized what was going on. That would probably help a lot, right? He was responsible for the ship and if those idiots at the emergency controls did not notice that the bridge was destroyed, and something happened to the Executor Darth Vader would make him pay for it.
Was there a way he could contact the crew at the emergency controls? He looked around trying to find some sort of communications panel but there did not seem to be any way he could send out messages. Damn. The pod automatically sent out an emergency signal so it could be picked up by the forces when they looked for survivors after the battle. There were the environment controls, and the storage units contained some emergency rations. This would keep him alive for quite some time. The escape pod was designed to hold six to eight people, so there was enough food and – as he discovered – weapons for eight.
But all he could do now was to wait till he was picked up to face whatever punishment Vader thought fit for an admiral who abandoned the fleet’s flagship, or till the escape pod was shot down.
Piett slumped down on the bench again. If the Executor was destroyed it would probably be better if he died now.
Since he had been promoted he had been suffering from nightmares of Vader strangling him as he had the imbecile Ozzel, but Piett did not even want to imagine what would happen if Vader thought he was responsible for losing the fleet’s flagship. Perhaps the Dark Lord of the Sith would start with stripping the skin off his unfortunate second-in-command.
Piett shuddered, bumping his sore shoulder against the wall of the escape pod. Slowly as the first shock wore off his body started to protest against the treatment it had received. He did not feel well, but given the fact that a Rebel fighter had exploded more or less on top of him, he was fine. His hands were scraped and his wrists hurt, he remembered that he had landed on his hands after his desperate jump into the crew pit. His spine and his knee joints were complaining and the muscles in his back were knotting up. The front of his uniform was smudged where he had slid over the floor. Slowly he unbuttoned his jacket, pulling it gingerly off. The back of the jacket was slightly singed and a few metal slivers were sticking in it, but none had pierced the fabric.
‘Fortune favours fools.’ Perhaps his sister Minna had been right when she had applied this proverb to him. On the other hand it might be that it was his father credo that had been proved, that learning to fall properly was one of the most useful skills one could possibly acquire.
Slowly Piett put his jacket back on. How long would it take till somebody found the escape pod drifting through space? This, of course, depended on how long the battle would last.
Just sit back and count your blessings. Yeah, like the prospect of starving in space. Or would the oxygen run out before the food did? Shit. His lungs felt stretched already. His ears were ringing and a throbbing headache was building up.
In the vague hope of easing pain Piett rubbed his temples, noticing only then, that he was still wearing what Rilla usually referred to as his ‘silly little hat’.
At least he would be able to meet Vader in full uniform.
Chapter 2: In which Mon Mothma watches the Battle of Endor and has some pangs of bad conscience.
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