It started to pour down just as they left the wreck of the
shuttle. Piett looked back, at the break in the forrest the crashing
shuttle had created. If the rain held on all the sign of their presence
would be washed away. Even the shallow mounds of the fresh graves would
disappear. This moon definitely had a worse climate than Pokrovsk.
They walked into the forest, Tob Ketelli with the tracking device was in front, followed by Mon Mothma, Piett himself and Needa brought up the rear.
Piett watched the woman walking in front of him, still marvelling at the fact that of all people it was the leader of the Rebellion who had been in the shuttle, and that she was the only passenger still capable of walking.
He had seen innumerable pictures and read the information Imperial Intelligence had gathered about her so often that somehow she seemed to be almost an old acquaintance. Still, having her here in the flesh was something completely different. If he had ever envisioned what it would be like to come face to face with the leader of the Rebellion he certainly had not expected their encounter to be anything like this. No rain. Definitely no rain, he thought. Neither had he ever thought that Mon Mothma would look as dishevelled as she did. Her wide robes where torn and stained with mud and dried blood. After a few minutes both her clothes and her flimsy shoes were soaked through. They could have brought some spare clothes from the storage, but then they didn’t exactly expect to find the leader of the Rebel Alliance in the crushed shuttle, and the leader of the Rebel Alliance wearing particularly useless clothes – for hiking through a forest in flood-like rain anyway.
Mon Mothma walked along steadily, apparently unaware of the torrent pouring down on them. Her auburn hair was plastered to her skull, and rain dropped from the tip of her nose and her chin. He probably looked no better, actually, they all resembled half drowned nerfs. All their clothes stuck to their bodies – not that Mon Mothma’s robes even in the most soggy state revealed anything. Chandrillan style she wore probably a number of layers of clothes. Absentmindedly he found himself musing whether Chandrillan sexual conduct was as prudish as their clothes. He automatically tried to push any thoughts of this deep into his unconscious, before he remembered that Mon Mothma could definitely not read anybody’s mind – at least not according to their intelligence reports.
What surprised Piett most about Mon Mothma was the calm way with which she reacted to the situation. Obviously she must feel vulnerable, stranded on this moon and surrounded by her enemies. She must have expected the worst, but she had never reacted as if she felt threatened. She had been a Rebel against the Empire for nearly twenty years – and she was a politician for even longer than that, which should have taught her to control her facial muscles. Her only open reaction had been when she found out about the death of her pilot.
What, however, had Mon Mothma been doing on this moon? The Rebels were leaving this sector, so why had their leader been down here? Why wasn’t she with their fleet going to wherever the Rebels were going next? There wasn’t anything down here worth a visit by the leader of the Rebellion, was there? Only forest, rain and those abominable, furry beasts.
For perhaps an hour or so they walked through monotonously uniform forest, then the ground was starting to rise and the forest slowly became less dense, the trees were smaller and more wispy. At first there was more undergrowth between the trees, but it thinned out again to be replaced by grass. Occasionally the trees stood far apart and it was possible to see a range of steep mountains in the distance. Smoke rising from a couple of its peaks indicated the presence of active volcanoes. Piett wondered whether the volcanoes had been active a few days ago or whether they were caused by the geological disturbances created by the battle and its aftermath.
After a few hours the rain slowed to a mere drizzle and finally stopped, to be replaced by a fierce cold wind, blowing up the side of the hill they were still climbing.
Perfect, Piett thought grimly, we’re probably all going to get pneumonia.
He noticed that Mon Mothma used the soggy sleeve to dab her nose now and then. When his nose started to run as well, he tried not to imitate her for a while but finally just gave in. So, you’re having snot on your sleeve, believe me it doesn’t make any difference now, Piett told himself grimly and with more passion than he expected he thought: I wish I was at home.
In a futile attempt to warm himself up by thinking warm thoughts, he envisioned his parents’ home – Minna’s home now – the blazing fire in the main room, in front of which they used to sit to warm themselves up as children, often far too close to the flames. However, he did not feel any warmer. Quite the contrary, it just reminded him that at the end of this hike, there would be no blazing fire and no hot tea.
Submerged in his own miserable thoughts, he hardly noticed what was going on around him, he just followed the fluttering, dirty robes of Mon Mothma. At one point he walked up to Tob Ketelli and asked him whether he could tell how long it would take them to get to the transmitter, but he was not really surprised when Ketelli answered in the negative. They walked on, stubbornly, but with each step they took, the probability that the transmitter was still in working condition was diminishing.
What would happen, when the Rebels searching for Mon Mothma would find the shelter and the group of Imperials? Piett just hoped that Captain McLaughlin and General Ossory would have the sense to surrender.
Then, without any sign of warning, the ground under their feet started to move. One step it was just another bit of soggy grass-covered ground, the next it was pulled out from under them, like a carpet.
Thunderous roaring filled Piett’s ears, like a great hungry beast howling at them. He saw Ketelli fall over, then somebody – Mon Mothma grabbed his arm and pulled at him, throwing herself back. They seemed to fall an incredibly long time. Somehow the noise and the sudden movement made Piett lose all sense of direction and he felt like he was flying upwards for a few seconds, then he landed heavily on his back. The roaring in his ears increased, filling the air around Piett and becoming so loud that his eardrums seemed to be bursting, then with a strangely wet slap the noise died down to a soft rumble.
Piett lay quietly on his back for a few moments, staring at the smudged sky, trying to figure out what happened and whether he was still all in one piece. Only when something stirred under him, he realized that he was lying half on Mon Mothma. He jumped back to his feet automatically, slipping on the wet and loose ground, and immediately fell back on his knees again.
Around him the scene was one of utter devastation. The entire face of the hill had come loose and slid down to the bottom of the valley, taking with it all the soil, the trees and bushes that had grown on it. The slide had started just where they stood, the end of the tear was just behind Mon Mothma, who was sitting on the ground looking around.
On the very edge of the undisturbed earth, now a couple of feet above them, stood Needa, staring down at them open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Piett turned around and his fear was confirmed, Tob Ketelli was gone.
Piett clambered back onto his feet, more carefully this time.
“Firelord.” Needa said now. “Wasn’t I lucky.”
Mon Mothma stared at her now completely mudcaked robes with a disgusted expression on her face. Seeing that he was looking at her, she wordlessly handed him his cap, which must have been knocked off when he fell over. Stupid thing, but he put it back on, nevertheless.
“Are you alright?” Piett asked her. She seemed not to be hurt, but it must have been painful, when he fell on top of her. And her arm was broken anyway.
She looked up and actually smiled at him. “I’m fine. Shaken, but fine.” She started to get onto her feet and accepted Piett's hand when he helped her up.
“How’s your arm?” he queried.
Mon Mothma continued to smile, genuinely amused about something. “Fine, I guess,” she answered finally, “not that I know. I still don’t feel anything of my arm or shoulder.”
Carefully Piett examined the plaster bandages around Mon Mothma’s arm and shoulder, relieved to find that both seemed to be intact.
“Where is Ketelli?” Mon Mothma asked suddenly, the smile wiped off her face.
“Down there somewhere.” Piett stared down the muddy slope. The earth was ripped off down to the rock of the hill. He felt his stomach tighten painfully when he thought of Ketelli being buried under the mud and the trees somewhere down there. And he had nearly followed him down there, only the quick reaction of Mon Mothma had saved him. He turned back to her, who was now staring down the slope as well, her face closed and expressionless. “Thanks for pulling me back.”
Mon Mothma nodded at first absentmindedly, then she pulled her gaze from the scarred hillside. “You’re welcome.” She smiled again, her face livening up and Piett found himself answering her smile.
“He is somewhere over there.” Needa commented now, pointing to one side of the landslide. “I didn’t see properly, it was all happening too fast, but I saw him, over there.” He slowly climbed down to them. “You want to stay here?” he asked Mon Mothma.
She shook her head. “You probably need every hand you can get, and even though I only have one to offer… it’s better than nothing.”
Needa walked over the slippery ground towards the right side of the tear in the ground, Mon Mothma followed him.
Piett inwardly cursed the planet or moon or whatever. This was indeed a nightmare come true. Not one he usually had. After all in the last year he had enough to worry about with Lord Vader, and dammit, he just never expected to be stranded on a dismal planet such as this one. Some part of him just wanted to give up, not climb down the precarious slope, to wherever Needa had last seen Ketelli. The pessimistic part of him, thought that Ketelli was dead anyway, that the tracking device would be broken and useless. That they would never find the stupid transmitter and … . Stop that right now, Piett ordered himself.
In front of him, Mon Mothma slipped and nearly fell, but he just caught her in time, and was rewarded with one of her bright smiles.
“Ketelli!” Needa yelled suddenly. “Ketelli, where the hell are you?”
The three of them stopped in their tracks for a few moments, but no sound answered.
“Damn.” Needa muttered.
They all stared down the slope at the muddy heap of earth at the bottom. How can anyone survive this? Piett sighed. Just when he had thought they would finally get away.
“Ketelli!” Needa yelled again, but as before no one answered.
“There!” Mon Mothma pointed down and towards the side of the slide.
Piett stared to where she pointed and indeed there was a black shape in the piled up soil at the edge of the rip in the earth. Needa was already hurrying towards the spot, slipping now and then but somehow, miraculously, remaining on his feet. Mon Mothma gathered her robes up as well as she could with one hand and followed him, leaving Piett to bring up the rear again. His mind was filling rapidly with images of the smashed and broken body they would find, or just parts of a body.
When Needa reached the black shape, Piett stopped following, waiting to see how he would react, to find out what had happened before he was actually confronted with the sight.
Needa knelt down in the mud and bowed over the prostrate figure. He did not immediately recoil or turn around, so perhaps, perhaps Ketelli was still alive.
Piett started to run down the steep slope again, but of course, he slipped and fell heavily on his backside and skidded painfully down past Mon Mothma, who tried to grab hold of him in vain, nearly falling over herself. Fortunately he managed to stop before he slid past Needa and Ketelli, or whatever was left of him.
“Ketelli,” Needa said in a calm voice. “Can you hear me?”
So he was not dead after all. Piett regained his feet and walked carefully to Needa. Mon Mothma reached them as well and immediately threw herself on her knees next to Ketelli. Surprisingly, Ketelli was lying mostly on top of the heap of mud and earth, only his legs disappeared into the dirt. He seemed to be in one piece, and even still clutched the tracking device in his right hand.
Mon Mothma started to shovel the dirt off Ketelli’s legs, Piett knelt down and joined in the digging.
“Ketelli,” Needa said again, carefully examining the head of the unconscious man.
Suddenly Ketelli moaned. His legs jerked and his eyes fluttered open. Piett felt immense relief wash over him. Mon Mothma and he were grinning stupidly at each other.
“Thank the gods!” Needa exclaimed with feeling. “How do you feel?”
“Awful,” Ketelli whispered. He looked around without moving. “What happened?”
“We started a landslide,” Mon Mothma answered.
“Great.” Ketelli closed his eyes again. For a moment he lay completely motionless, then he lifted his right arm. “Aw, shit,” he groaned.
“What is it?” They all shouted more or less simultaneously.
A faint smile appeared on Ketelli’s face. “I just feel like shit.” He opened his eyes again and looked at the three of them, leaning over him “You alright?”
“We’re fine.” Mon Mothma said. “Can you sit up?”
“I guess.” Ketelli closed his eyes briefly and sat up, swaying a bit but then he sat still.
“Are you alright?” Piett asked. It would be just too lucky, if Ketelli had survived this without at least breaking some bones. “Do you hurt somewhere?”
Ketelli frowned briefly. “No, I’m fine.” he said. “I do feel a bit awful, but nothing serious, I guess.”
“You’re sure?” Mon Mothma seemed to be as doubtful as Piett himself about the miracle-like survival of Ketelli.
“Definitely.” Ketelli looked at Mon Mothma, then at Needa and finally at Piett and a smile appeared on his face. “I can’t believe it.” He said and suddenly burst into laughter. “By the gods, this is so unreal!”
“It is somewhat of a miracle,” Piett agreed, but Ketelli shook his head, for a moment incapable of explaining what he meant as he was still shaking with laughter.
“No, not that. But look at you! I can’t believe it, here I am, a lowly soldier and have an Admiral, a Captain and the most wanted woman of the galaxy being worried about my well-being.”
Mon Mothma smiled at Ketelli, then, still smiling, she turned to Piett, even though she talked to Ketelli, “and I thought you meant the dismal state we’re in, our clothes that is.”
“And when we are not worried about you at all,” Needa commented. “We just thought we lost the tracking device.”
“That’s why you didn’t even look at it, right?” Ketelli turned to the small machine, a worried frown on his face, but it soon gave way to a bright smile.
“So, we have been incredibly lucky,” Piett found himself saying. Incredibly was probably not even a strong enough word. This was absolutely unbelievable.
“Now,” Mon Mothma said. “Can you get up?”
Ketelli grimaced but got to his feet without problems. “Ha, I can!” he exclaimed happily.
Piett, Mon Mothma and Needa got up as well. For a few moments they just stood there marvelling at the immense luck they had to get away so lightly. They should all have been killed in that landslide.
“Oh, damn. I’m all muddy!” Needa exclaimed suddenly, staring at the dirty knees of his uniform trousers.
“Don’t tell us about muddy.” Mon Mothma commented dryly. “Look at me! Or the Admiral! Or indeed, Mr Ketelli here.”
Ketelli truly looked as if he had taken a bath in mud. Piett looked back at Mon Mothma, whose clothes seemed hardly any less muddy than Ketelli’s uniform, and, of course, the loose cloth of her robes all stuck together. She must be damn cold, after all she was soaked through. When she turned to him, he looked away quickly, feeling ridiculously as if caught in doing something unbecoming, particularly when he found Needa watching him with this all too knowing expression on his face.
“The tracking device is still working?” was all he finally said, much to Piett’s surprise and relief. The last thing he needed was his old friend making one of his usual snide comments.
“As far as I can tell.” Ketelli gave the machine a small shake. “It still shows that the transmitter is in that direction.” He pointed in the direction they had been heading for.
“Well, we better get going then.” Piett stared to where the bloody transmitter was – somewhere, the gods knew where. “Do you think you can walk?” he asked Ketelli.
“Perhaps we should take a break?” Mon Mothma asked. “Get dry, if this is possible at all.”
“I don’t know…” Piett started, but Needa interrupted him, “That’s a great idea! Let’s have a little camp-fire romantic! Ma’am.” He offered her his arm, and with an amused smile, Mon Mothma accepted. Together they slowly climbed over the muddy slope to the undisturbed hillside. Needa grinned back at Piett who just stood there and stared. He knew pretty well what Needa thought, but that was just another case of his over-active imagination.
Finally he offered his arm to Ketelli, feeling immensely stupid, but Ketelli gladly accepted his help. He looked pale by now; as a matter of fact, Piett felt somewhat shaky, now that the extent of their luck was starting to sink in. They had just been so immensely lucky. Actually he had been damn lucky ever since the cursed battle, lucky in a very annoying sort of way. There had always been more stupid things happening, but he had always gotten away: he had been lucky to survive the battle, lucky to find his men on this abysmal moon, lucky not to be caught in the shockwave of the crashing Star Destroyer, lucky to find Mon Mothma. Now they had survived this. All of them. But somehow, he just wished for once they would be really lucky and things would run smoothly from now on.
Somehow Piett and Ketelli managed to stumble over the slippery rock surface and up to a more or less dry spot Needa had discovered under one of the larger trees. They managed to build a fire with the help of some flammable material they still had with them from their original supplies. Reluctantly they decided that they would keep the emergency rations for the evening, so they only had some tea.
To Piett’s surprise the little fire did dry their clothes, not completely, but it was better than nothing. Even though he enjoyed the rest just as much as the others, he couldn’t help but envision how the last parts of the transmitter were being shipped off-planet while they were sitting there, sipping their tea. When they finally started off again, he had the impression that it was just as much because the others couldn’t bear it seeing him fiddling about any longer, as because they wanted to be on their way themselves.
They walked on. Their way took them downhill again and back into the denser forest.
Chapter 13: In which
Mon Mothma and her companions reach the transmitter, and the ethics of
war are discussed.
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