They had resumed their
hike for an hour
or so when another earth-quake, stronger than the ones the day before,
flung them to the ground. Piett was once more very worried about Mon
Mothma’s arm, and she found herself thinking that he was
cute when he looked worried. And he looked worried most of the time.
Mon Mothma was not so much concerned about the effects of the
earth-quake on her arm, but that they were passing under all these
trees that might fall over any time.
Another hour or so later Tob Ketelli exclaimed, dismayed, that he had lost the carrier wave of the transmitter. After a short outburst of indignation about awful timing from all sides, they decided that they had to go ahead hoping that the transmitter wasn’t too far away and they would find it before it was completely dismantled.They hurried on in silence, and as if to prove that things could always get worse it started raining once more.
Mon Mothma felt cold desperation creep through her. They could miss the blasted transmitter by only a few hundred yards in this damned forest. These awful trees. She felt completely useless, dammit, if only she knew where this damn transmitter was, or even how far away it was, then they could turn back at some point.
“Damn,” she muttered to nobody in particular. “If only we could make sure we’re still heading in the right direction.”
“I guess if somebody would climb a tree, he should be able to see the transmitter by now.” Needa said. “It can’t be far away now.”
Piett stopped abruptly and looked wryly at Needa. “You’re as subtle as a herd of banthas.”
“I don’t even try to be.”
Mon Mothma stared at the two men in confused silence.
“Do you know what they are on about?” Tob Ketelli asked her, but she could only shake her head.
Piett now took off his cap and backpack and shoved them into Needa’s hands. “You hold on to that.”
“You’re not really going to climb a tree?” Ketelli stared at the Admiral as if he had turned into a ghost.
“Nobody else is going to volunteer, right?” Piett answered. After giving Needa a rather malicious look he walked to the next tree and before Mon Mothma’s mind had completely accepted that he was indeed not joking, the Admiral had pulled himself up onto the lowest branch and was climbing up the tree, soon disappearing between the thickly leaved branches.
“Wow.” Ketelli commented.
Mon Mothma stared at Captain Needa. “I don’t believe this,” was all she finally managed to say.
Needa grinned mischievously at her. “You see, Grigori is from Pokrovsk and you learn to climb trees there before you can walk.”
“Pokrovsk.” Mon Mothma tried to figure out where she knew Pokrovsk from, she remembered it from somewhere.
“Don’t worry, so far I have only met one person who had heared the word before, and he…”
“Wood.” Mon Mothma said. “We had a bookcase made of Pokrovsk cedar.”
Needa looked rather startled. “Yeah. Pokrovsk is known for its fine woods and the fact that it rains all the time.”
Simultaneously they all stared up into the drizzle.
“This must feel like home, then.” Mon Mothma wondered what had persuaded the Admiral, Grigori, to leave his home world and join the Imperial navy.
“That’s just another good reason why he wants to get away from here.”
“You seem to know him pretty well.” Mon Mothma was really surprised by this. She knew that the Imperial officers would know each other but somehow hearing them address each other by their first names was a bit odd.
“We were at the Academy together. I was two years below Grigori but we had a few common interests.” Needa stared silently at the tree which Piett had climbed. “He went through a rough time then. That was the year Palp decided that women were not allowed to be commanding officers and Grigori’s fiancée left as she did not want to get one of these silly secretarial jobs they offered the female students. She wanted him to leave as well and … that was it.”
Mon Mothma remembered this decision well. It had given them, the small groups fighting against the new Empire, a great increase of new recruits. Quite a number of these women, students at the Academy as well as officers, had joined the Rebellion after being kicked out by the regular forces.
“We also served together on the same ship for a few years, under the little lamented Admiral Ozzel, his predecessor in office.”
“You must think I am completely useless, but I never bothered about military intelligence, unfortunately, and now I regret it but …. What was his office?”
Needa and Ketelli exchanged an amused look.
“He is, or was, Admiral of the Imperial Fleet and Lord Vader’s second-in-command.” Ketelli explained slowly.
“Oh, my.” Mon Mothma stared dumbstruck at the tree Piett had disappeared into. Of course, she had known that Piett as an Admiral was among the highest ranking officers of the Imperial Navy but she had had no idea that he had been Vader’s second-in-command.
“He was on the Executor, the Super Star Destroyer.” Needa said. “He was really lucky to get out after one of your ships crashed into the bridge.”
“I’ve seen it. – I mean I saw the ship crash into the Death Star.”
“I …” Needa began but was interrupted by Piett’s re-appearance.
The second-in-command of the Dark Lord of the Sith lowered himself out of the tree and walked over to them, looking not a bit more rumpled than before, and was apparently not even short of breath. Mon Mothma thought that most of her Rebel-friends would not even believe her if she told them that an Imperial admiral did not think it below his dignity to scale trees to check that they were still on the right track.
“The transmitter is just about a mile in that direction.” Piett pointed a bit off the direction they had been heading for. “It looked ok from here, but we better hurry.”
Needa handed him his little cap and backpack. “We just gave Mon Mothma a short introduction into the life and career of Admiral Piett.”
Piett put his cap back on and straightened his jacked. “Never mind him,” he said to Mon Mothma, “Angus just likes a good story and if the story isn’t good enough he improves it a bit.”
“Angus?” Mon Mothma looked at Captain Needa who stood to attention briefly. “I never thought I would be on first name basis with Imperial officers.”
“Now we are of course curious about yours,” Needa said.
“I never thought I’d be on first name basis with the leader of the Rebellion.”
Mon Mothma grinned and just for the sheer hell of it corrected the Captain. “Actually, as of two days ago I am the head of state of the New Republic.”
“Congratulations.” It sounded as if Captain Needa really meant it. “And good luck, you will need it.”
“You’re really the head of state?” Ketelli inquired incredulously. He seemed a lot more impressed by the presence of a head of state than that of the Admiral of the Imperial fleet.
Mon Mothma nodded.
“You saw my ship crash?” Piett inquired as they set out to hike the remaining mile to the transmitter.
“Yes.” Mon Mothma explained what she had seen from the battle and in return both Admiral Piett and Captain Needa described their experiences. But just when Mon Mothma wanted to ask Tob Ketelli what he had been doing during the battle, they reached the site of the transmitter.
The antenna and the receiving satellite dish were standing in the middle of a square and obviously artificial clearing. An empty space on the ground was all that was now left of the small quarters for the staff. Scorch marks on the ground revealed that several ships had landed and taken off here. Next to the transmitter a small green tent indicated that there was somebody still down here.
They had stopped at the edge of the forest and surveyed the scene.
“So, what are we going to do now?” Piett looked questioningly at Mon Mothma. “We do not want to startle your man.”
“Where is he anyway, or they?” Ketelli squinted at the transmitter.
As if to answer his question a short man with brown hair and an enormous mustache appeared around the corner of the transmitter carrying a large box he then deposited on the ground next to the tent.
“There. I just hope that’s not some vital part of the transmitter.” Mon Mothma watched the man who was now busy doing something with the box. She had hoped that she would know the person guarding the transmitter but she had never seen the man before. She would have remembered that mustache.
“If he can take the thing apart, surely he can put it back together again.” Ketelli said. “And I can help. The transmitter looks pretty standard to me.”
“Unfortunately I don’t know him.” Mon Mothma explained. “I guess I should go ahead and warn him of the unusual visitors he’s going to get, alright?”
Piett stared at the man for a few moments. “I guess so. After all we don’t want him to shoot us.”
The man, still fiddling with the box, had indeed a blaster hanging from his belt.
“Ok.” Mon Mothma and Admiral Piett looked at each other silently. She knew that he was probably worried whether she would just run out and tell the man to shoot the three Imperials behind her, and wished she could find a way to reassure him that she had no intention of doing anything like that, but she couldn’t think of a way to say this without sounding as if she was afraid they would shoot her as soon as she turned her back on them.
She grinned helplessly at him and stepped out into the clearing. After pausing briefly she took another two steps towards the man and stopped again.
“Hallo!” she called finally when he still hadn’t noticed her presence. She was surprised about his carelessness. If the Imperials had wanted they could have shot him quite easily by now. And he must know that they were still Imperials on the loose on the moon.
Hearing her shout, the man jumped up and drew his blaster.
Mon Mothma slowly raised her right hand, remaining where she was, and repeated her greeting. “Hallo.”
The man kept his blaster pointing at her for a few seconds, then as the startled expression on his round face was replaced by one of complete surprise, he slowly lowered his hand. “Mon Mothma.”
Mon Mothma smiled, as she hoped reassuringly, at the man and took another step towards him. She was probably quite a picture in her torn and mudstained robes which looked as if she had indulged in a spree of mud-wrestling. He probably also wondered about her bandaged arm.
“They are looking for you all over the place.” The man, his rank insignia identified him as a sergeant, stared at her. “What happened? Where are the others?”
“We crashed.” She lowered her hand and walked over to him. “Sergeant …?” she asked.
“Pringles. Second squadron of the troops stationed aboard the Mircalla.”
“Sergeant Pringles.” Mon Mothma stepped close enough to him so she could, if need be, grab his blaster. “As I said, our shuttle crashed last night and Captain Matrishka and my aide Lina were killed. General Madine and our co-pilot Neko were severely injured.” She paused, looking intently at him, trying to figure out what he would do when she told him who accompanied her. “We were rescued by a couple of survivors from the battle. Imperials.”
Sergeant Pringles stared at her wide-eyed, not certain whether he should believe what she said. “Imperials?”
Mon Mothma nodded, keeping her eyes on his face and making sure to stand between him and the Imperials. “They were very helpful and in return I offered to help them.”
“I offered to help them, and we will now call the fleet to inform them about this development.”
Pringles opened his mouth to protest again.
“Is that clear, sergeant?”
Still facing the sergeant, Mon Mothma shouted, “Admiral.” She nearly added ‘you can come out now,’ but she doubted the Imperials would think this particularly funny.
Pringles stared at her for a second as if she had completely lost her mind, then his eyes moved past her to where the three Imperials were emerging from the forest. She would like to see that, but Pringles worried her. He might still think that she was acting under duress, and shoot. Fortunately he didn’t. All he did was to croak “Ma’am.” again.
“It’s alright, sergeant.” She smiled at him again and finally turned around to the three men now standing behind her. Except for Captain Needa they all looked like mud-wrestlers as well. Piett’s rank insignia were still visible, as were the blasters the three carried.
“Sergeant Pringles, this is Admiral Piett, Captain Needa and Tob Ketelli of the Imperial navy.”
The four men stared silently at each other, deep distrust and hostility in their faces. Mon Mothma sighed. But at least they hadn’t started shooting.
“As I said, Sergeant. We would like to inform the fleet about the crash and our present whereabouts. Is the transmitter still in working condition?”
“No.” Pringles said, and if Mon Mothma was not imagining things there was a certain note of satisfaction in his voice.
“Can we restore it?” Mon Mothma queried.
For a few moments Pringles stared silently at the three Imperials, then he said: “Yes. It won’t take long.”
“Good. I would like to get out of the rain as soon as possible. And General Madine and Pilot Neko need proper medical care as soon as possible.”
“Where are they?”
“They are being taken care of by some Imperials until we get help.”
Pringles’s head whipped around, his eyes nearly seemed on the verge of popping out of his head. “But… how could you. I…”
“Sergeant. It’s alright, they won’t harm them.”
Damn, she shouldn’t blame Pringles for reacting like that, after all she had felt nearly the same earlier, she had been unhappy for having to leave the two injured behind. But she started to get tired of calming the man down. Gods, she felt like a morthos herder, always having to keep her attention on her charges and knowing that only her presence kept them from ripping each others throats out. Disturbingly, she had more confidence in the Imperials to keep the peace than in her own fellow rebel.
“Sergeant,” Piett said. “Is there something we can do to get the transmitter back into working conditions? Tob Ketelli is an expert in communications technique and he should be able to be of assistance. The Captain and I are willing to do whatever you tell us.”
“So am I,” Mon Mothma added.
After frowning briefly Pringles shrugged his shoulders and holstered his blaster. “Ok, this way.”
Pringles took them to a small room in the base of the antenna and together they started to reconnect the transmitter. Mon Mothma felt somewhat superfluous but they were out of the rain at least. Needa tried in vain to get some kind of a conversation going, but after a few of Sergeant Pringles’s curt answers he stopped and they worked on in silence.
Mon Mothma finally decided to leave the men to their work and retired to Sergeant Pringles little tent listening to the rain hammering on the canvas. She was making the tent’s interior all muddy as well, but she couldn’t really care. She definitely did not want to stand outside in the rain. What a dreadful planet. The rain made her depressive but it also lulled her to sleep. When she woke up again, the rain had stopped and she could hear Captain Needa and Admiral Piett talking outside too quietly for her to understand. It was a pity, Mon Mothma would have liked to know what they were talking about, when they were amongst themselves.
You’re a nosy, little girl, Mon Mothma remembered the prissy voice of her aunt admonishing her for snooping into things that her aunt thought were no concern for children. Well, if I weren’t nosy I might never have discovered what really had happened to Governor Sentendre, I might have never been outlawed, and never ended up as the head of state of the New Republic.
Mon Mothma sighed and stared at the canvas of the tent. A dull pain in her left shoulder told her that the pain-killer had worn off. She wondered briefly what would have happened if she had not been outlawed, perhaps she would have married and have a bunch of children. But she wasn’t, and now her duty was to get off this planet and try to defeat the remnants of the Empire.
She crawled out of the tent, which was somewhat awkward as she couldn’t use her left arm. Looking back she saw that Pringles’s sleeping bag was now adorned with a nice muddy patch, but at least she had slept on top of it, so he shouldn’t complain.
Piett and Needa were standing with their backs to her, staring at the forest. The Admiral’s uniform was impressively muddy. Mon Mothma couldn’t quite stop herself from grinning at the sight of the dirty seat of his pants.
“Ah, come on.” Needa said. “She wont do anything really stupid.”
“I don’t know, Rilla’s sometimes given to doing really stupid things.” Piett twirled his cap in his hand.”Though of course, she usually only gets really drunk.”
Who were they talking about now?
“Oh, Mon Mothma.” Piett turned around. “I hope we didn’t wake you.”
“No, no. How long have I been sleeping?”
“Just about an hour.” Needa answered. “The two experts kicked us out so they could fiddle around in peace.”
Mon Mothma frowned. They had reached the transmitter about two hours ago then – shouldn’t there have been some of their ships coming down to load parts of the dismantled machine? There were already a pile of boxes and other parts piled up between the tent and the antenna.
“My friends up there did not get in contact with us?”
Piett shook his head, “No, we’ve been wondering about this as well. – Unfortunately, Sergeant Pringles seems to think this is too delicate information to give to the enemy.”
“They might just be too busy looking for you.” Needa said, sounding cheerful. “After all, it is a bit unfortunate to lose your head of state already on her second day in office.”
Mon Mothma found herself grinning at Needa, knowing that Pringles would probably interpret this as either a rather repulsive joke or even more likely a threat.
“So we have to tell them where to find me … and my what was it the officer said? rescuing angels?”
Piett looked a bit startled by her announcement. At some point she would have to ask what the expression was referring to.
“I guess they would want to pick you up as soon as possible.” he said.
“I guess so.” Mon Mothma frowned. “But then we also have to think of Madine and Neko.” She could ask them for the location of the shelter the other Imperial survivors were hiding in. They had been reluctant to tell her earlier, and they would be still wary of the reaction of the rebellion finding a large number of Imperials. “Considering that this is a tense situation, which we all don’t want to deteriorate into another bloody conflict, it would be best if we all stay together.”
Piett nodded obviously relieved.
“So, I will ask them to pick us up here and then we continue to your base.”And then back to the ship, finally she would get out of her dirty clothes, clean up and go to bed. Gods, she was tired.
“Do you think, there will be any problems?” Piett asked. “Your friends won’t be happy to find you in our company. Sergeant Pringles isn’t wildly impressed…”
“Ma’am.” Tob Ketelli emerged from the transmitter room. “It’s all set. You can call your friends now. – If Pringles hasn’t done so already.”
“Oh, shit.” Just what she needed. Pringles was probably trying to be heroic and safe the day, or something.
Mon Mothma ran into the little cubicle and found Pringles talking into a microphone. “No, I’m not joking, Mon Mothma is here. Can I speak with Admiral Kulthum now.”
“Let me speak with him, would you.” Mon Mothma said sternly.
“Of course,” Pringles left his position at the microphone.
“Mon Mothma here.” she paused for a second, but only silence emerged from the speaker. “You can check my voice pattern with the computer.”
“Already done, Ma’am,” was the brief answer. “I am putting you through to Admiral Kulthum’s office.”
Mon Mothma put her hand over the microphone. “What the hell did you want to do, Pringles?”
Pringles shrugged sullenly. But before Mon Mothma had time to query him further, the speaker sputtered to life again, the booming voice of Admiral Kulthum filling the tiny room. “Mon Mothma, thank the gods. We nearly gave up on you.”
“I am harder to kill than most people give me credit for, Admiral.” She looked up to see the three Imperials standing in the door to the little room. Pringles looked decidedly uncomfortable. Which served him quite right. “Now, I don’t know what you know of the situation…”
“Nothing as a matter of fact. We just were surprised when we received a message from the transmitter. Are you alright?”
“I am fine, thank you. But the other passengers of the shuttle haven’t been as lucky.”
“We found the shuttle,” the admiral said now, “this morning. We were very worried as there seemed to be some indication that imperials had been there. Somebody anyway, and certainly none of our people. And you were all gone. We feared the worst.”
“You were quite right, there were Imperials at the shuttle and they were most helpful. In fact they rescued us.”
“They what?” yelped Kulthum.
“You heard right, they rescued us. Unfortunately, Captain Matrishka and Lina had been killed in the accident …”
“You’re not under duress, are you?”
“Admiral.” Mon Mothma said slowly, feeling as if she was talking to an infant. “No, I am not. And if I were I would hardly be in a position to tell you, now would I?” She paused but the Admiral stayed quiet. “Now, as I said. Matrishka and my aide have been killed in the crash, which you would have been able to find out, as there were two graves at the site of the crash, right?”
“Ah, we did not…” came the stuttering reply.
“Whatever,” Mon Mothma interrupted him impatiently, “General Madine and our co-pilot Neko had been severely injured in the crash so they were taken to a safe place to have their wounds treated. In return for their help and as we are all stranded on this moon I offered,” she paused for a few seconds to let this sink in, “to help them get off this place. At the moment I am at the site of the transmitter together with three survivors of the Imperial navy, there are however some more…” she looked questioningly at Admiral Piett.
“Sixty-nine altogether, plus me, Madine and Neko, so we would need transport for about eighty men.”
“Sixty-nine!” Kulthum moaned.
“Sixty-nine. Exactly. Your hearing is excellent.” Mon Mothma sighed.
“How is your migraine?” Kulthum suddenly blurted out.
“Fine, fine…” Mon Mothma could see from the amused grins on the Imperials’ faces that they knew exactly what this question was really all about. “Now, we also need medics for Madine and Neko.”
“Mon Mothma,” the voice of Captain Notika blared out of the speaker.
“Captain Notika. I hope you are fine.”
“Simara,” Major Tobin sounded just happy.
“Mon Mothma, we have to discuss this first.” Notika said now. “You do understand, don’t you?”
So Admiral Kulthum had called the senior officers of his ship together. She assumed they really had to think this over. They were not asked every day to ship Imperials around, or Imperials that weren’t their captives anyway.
“There are nearly enough officers present to initiate proper peace negotiations.” Piett commented wryly. “Not that we have a lot to offer.”
“Don’t worry.” Mon Mothma turned around to her companions. “I am still head of the New Republic, and they’re going to do as I tell them. They just have to make sure that I am indeed doing this on my own wish. I don’t know yet how to convince them, hell, even Sergeant Pringles here is not yet convinced.”
“Why don’t they just shuttle down and make sure. Instead of holding a small conference up there.” Needa sounded exasperated.
The crackling from the speaker brought her back to reality.
“Mon Mothma.” Liam Tobin said. “We would like to speak with Sergeant Pringles. To confirm your statement.
Pringles moved closer to the microphone, fiddling with a tiny screwdriver.
“Sergeant Pringles,” Admiral Kulthum asked sternly, “what is your assessment of the situation?”
“I can’t say,” was all he finally managed to state. “They seem not to be overtly hostile.”
“Should we leave?” Piett said wryly. “So you can talk openly about us?”
“But they wouldn’t see us leave, so they won’t know that we’re not just shutting up.” Needa answered.
“Admiral Kulthum,” Mon Mothma said again, “you have to believe me, I am fine, I am doing this because we have decided a long time ago to help whoever needs our help, as you might remember.”
“You are there with some of the Imperials?”
“Yes, Admiral Piett, Captain Needa and Tob Ketelli.”
“Admiral Piett?” Notika squealed. “You do know who he is?”
Automatically she turned round to watch the reaction of Piett, but he kept his face carefully blank.
“I know the position he holds in the Imperial navy. Is there anything else I should know?” Mon Mothma wondered whether Piett was responsible for any of the Empire’s particularly hideous atrocities, but somehow she could not imagine him doing anything like that. She wondered whether in his position, he would have a choice if ordered to do something he didn’t agree with. He would be probably be shot on the spot if he refused. There was only silence answering her question, so there was indeed nothing else they knew apart from his position.
“We can probably better solve this problem when you would come down and see for yourself. Why don’t you shuttle down here and we will take you over to where the other Imperials are.”
“This is unfortunately not possible.” Tobin said. “Pringles didn’t tell you?”
“The shuttle which was looking for you had been damaged during the battle, that was why your group took the smaller one. We thought it had been fixed but it was experiencing some difficulties with its engines and returned to the ship.” He paused. “It exploded in the hangar. – Fortunately only the pilot of the shuttle was killed, but the hangar and the ships there were badly damaged. At the moment we can’t get down there.”
“So, when do you think you could pick us up?”
“We have informed the rest of the fleet after you disappeared, but we should have the hangar operational again within a few hours.”
“Great.” What a mess. Just what they needed. Mon Mothma sighed. So she could kiss the soft bed goodbye for another night. “Ok, we are going to stay here for now and you can contact us as soon as anything comes up.”
“I agree. We’ll do that. Is there anything else…?” Captain Notika asked.
“Do you have any news from the fleet about Coruscant?”
“The main part of the fleet is still assembled close to Coruscant.” Admiral Kulthum explained. “Last thing we heard was that fighting broke out around the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately we don’t know who is fighting whom. INS is down on Coruscant. That’s all we know for now.”
“Good. We’ll get back to you soon,” she added. “Mon Mothma out.”
The Admiral replied, “Very well, Kulthum out.”
A small crackle indicated that the link was cut.
For some moments they all just stood there, staring at each other. Then Piett, followed closely by Needa and Ketelli, left the tiny room. Mon Mothma stared at the empty door for a few moments. Sergeant Pringles was still fiddling with the tiny screw-driver.
“Now, Sergeant, would you like to explain what you tried to do earlier, when you called the ship without informing me?”
Pringles looked at her with an expression of sullen indignation in his face. “I don’t trust them,” he finally said.
“Nobody asked you to trust them. But I ask you to trust me.” She paused for a second, feeling immensely tired, tired of having to explain her actions again and again. “Look, so far they have behaved impeccably. I really think they deserve that we give them the benefit of the doubt and not suspect that they will shoot us as soon as they get a chance. Come on, there are many of us who used to be Imperials.”
“But they still are.” Pringles insisted stubbornly.
“But the Empire doesn’t exist anymore – at least it was very badly hit by us. Now, you can at least be civilized to them.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Fine. I wont ask for more.” She smiled at him and followed the Imperials outside.
The three men were standing close together, quietly talking. When Ketelli saw her he nudged Piett. The Admiral turned around startled, then he walked towards her.
“We do have another problem.” Piett said quietly. “The other group has not yet reached the shelter. And we lost contact with them.”
“Damn! What the hell happened?”
“We don’t know. Captain McLaughlin said they would send out a group to look for them, but of course, they don’t know exactly where they were lost and so it’s much like searching for a scoutship in an astroidfield.”
“Do you think they came into a landslide as well?”
Piett shook his head. “It’s pretty flat all the way to base, so I cannot really imagine that, though in this place you never know. It’s just that one of them should have been able to contact either base or us… .”
So General Madine and Neko had disappeared! Just like that. Everything, everything had gone wrong ever since she came to this abysmal moon. And now, her friends had disappeared.
“And there is nothing we can do, I suppose.”
The three men shook their heads.
“You mean they just simply vanished?” Pringles,who had followed her, asked. “Your men with our two wounded?”
“Yes, exactly.” Mon Mothma hissed at him. “And don’t you even think about insinuating anything. There were six of their men with them. I really don’t think it would make any sense for them to …” she stopped. Damn, as if Pringles would believe her. The gods alone knew what he was thinking.
Abruptly she turned and walked away from the others. Why ever did she leave Chandrilla? Whatever had possessed her to go into politics? Why hadn’t she stayed at home, got married and had a dozen children so now she could worry about them instead of being stuck in this dreadful place.
She kicked at a stone, staring sullenly at the ground. What had happened to Madine and the others? What could possibly have happened? There had been the earthquake earlier, but if they couldn’t have come into a landslide she didn’t know what could have gone wrong. The moon seemed reasonably safe, no dangerous wildlife as far as she knew. And the Imperials had been armed. Oh, fuck.
She sat heavily down on the ground. If she could only do something! Anything. Not just sit here and wait. If she could go back in time and warn herself not to go to the bloody Ewok banquet or at least leave earlier. Then Matrishka and Lina would still be alive. And she would be somewhere with the fleet, worrying about the situation on Coruscant.
She looked up surprised to find herself staring into the face of Captain Needa who crouched on the ground next to her. He held out a bottle with a clear liquid in it.
“Topelan Brandy,” he explained. “I don’t know what your position on this is, but I always find that alcohol does help in a situation like this.”
She stared at him for a second, then at the bottle, thinking that she really should not drink anything now, but … damn it. “Thanks, I think I could use some.”
Needa unscrewed the bottle and handed it to her. She took it with what she hoped was a thankful smile. Tears were filling her eyes and she quickly took a long swig out of the bottle. The brandy, tasting surprisingly spicy, left a warm trail down her throat and settled nicely in her stomach. After taking a deep breath she took a second drink and gave the bottle back to Needa.
“Thank you so much. I needed it.” Mon Mothma sighed. “You must think I am so pathetic.”
Needa shook his head. “No. Not at all. You had a rough day.” He stared into the bottle and then drank some of the brandy himself. “Hell, we’ve been through a few lousy days ourselves. And after a night without sleep we all get a bit jumpy. Another one?”
“I shouldn’t… but, hell.”
There wasn’t much left in the bottle, so there was no danger of her getting completely drunk, that was if there was not another bottle stowed away in one of the Imperials’ backpacks.
“Where are the others?” she asked noticing only now, that the other men were nowhere in sight.
“Piett is checking out the area and Ketelli has persuaded your Sergeant to see whether they can improve the transmission.”
Mon Mothma nodded. Perhaps it was the brandy already affecting her or perhaps she just got used to the latest disappointments but she did not feel as quite as depressed anymore. Well, she wouldn’t have a nice and warm bed tonight, but she was safe and in pleasant company – except perhaps Sergeant Pringles. But he might still get used to the idea that Imperials were only humans as well. “At least it isn’t raining.”
“At the moment.”
“Just cheer me up, will you. Here,” she gave Needa his brandy back.
“I was just wondering that I am so lucky that I am not on Coruscant at the moment.”
“Are you from Coruscant?”
“You must be worried about your family.”
“No. That is, I don’t have a family, not really. I was an only child, my parents are both dead. My father had no contact with his sister, so I only know that there was one and that she had a daughter. My mother had two brothers, but one was killed during the Clone Wars and the other was in some sort of illegal business so … better not to know where he was or what he was doing. What about you?”
“Same story, well, similar story. Both my parents are dead, my mother was an only child and my father’s two sisters died young. And as I was busy fighting a Rebellion I never got round to marry and have children on my own.” She looked around, but the Admiral was still nowhere in sight. “Piett, he is worried about his wife, isn’t he?”
“His wife? He isn’t married.” Needa frowned at her.
“But earlier you were talking about somebody called Rilla?”
“Oh, Rilla. She’s his sister. Or rather one of his sisters, they’re all on Pokrovsk still.”
“But they should be safe on Pokrovsk, shouldn’t they?”
“No, he is not afraid that Pokrovsk will turn into a war zone. He’s afraid she might do something silly, when she finds out he is presumed dead or missing.” Needa grinned. “But then, she’s probably just spending a couple of days completely shit-faced and then going on with life. Or that’s what I think she might do.” He paused and frowned at the ground. “You don’t happen to know what the news said about the battle?”
The battle? He probably meant whether they mentioned exactly which ships were destroyed. “I am sorry, I didn’t follow the news closely. We were very busy after the battle.” Truth was, she didn’t like to be reminded of just how many lives they ended. And certainly she did not want to think about all the other thousands of lives which were affected by their deaths. Like Piett’s sisters or Matrishka’s boy-friend. At least Piett’s sisters would find out that their worries were premature. But so many lost their loved ones.
Piett now came strolling over the clearing. “All seems to be fine here. Should we have an early dinner?”
They arranged the few commodities they had to make for at least a somewhat comfortable camp, building a small fire and using the blankets the Imperials had with them as cushions. Those and the emergency rations were ‘courtesy of Commander Pellar’, who as she was told had been the Imperial officer in charge of the troops on Endor. Again she had to admit that she did not know what had become of him. She felt immensely stupid.
Sergeant Pringles was at least considerate enough not to question whether the food was poisoned. But he made a point of sitting next to Mon Mothma and she wondered whether he was trying to protect her and if so what from? From herself and her tendency to fraternize with the enemy?
The emergency rations came in small self-heating containers. Mon Mothma had heard about them, but she hadn’t seen any before. The food was surprisingly good as well, but Mon Mothma reminded herself that she was ravenously hungry and her expectation of the low quality of Imperial emergency rations deeply coloured by her impression of the Empire as seeing in their own troops just canon-fodder.
There must be some truth to it, otherwise they would have bothered to give the stormtroopers reasonable training and would equip their TIEs with shields. Somebody in the Empire must really disregard the lives of their own troops. Palpatine certainly didn’t give a damn about the fate of his troops. But it was too easy just to put the blame on one man – and a dead man at that. A dead lunatic.
They finished their meal and for some time the four of them were sitting silently in the growing darkness, staring into the fire and each of them wrapped in their own thoughts. After some time Needa pulled off his boots and stretched his feet out towards the fire.
The dark sky, not black but a sickly-grey, was alive with shooting stars. No real stars could be seen at all.
“Still bits of the Death Star.” Piett said, staring up into the sky. “I wonder how long it will take for all the debris to come down.”
“Let’s just hope we don’t find out.” Needa leaned back as well. “The sunsets must be beautiful now with that much dust in the atmosphere. But of course with all the trees you can’t see them. Visit scenic Endor. Guaranteed the most beautiful sunsets in the galaxy.”
“Screw scenic Endor,” Ketelli complained. “I want to go home.”
“Home where?” Needa asked.
“Barakat, in the Kanhar sector.” Ketelli smiled at the sky. “My wife’s family has a large vineyard in the Great Plains there.”
“I’ve never heard of any Barakati wine.” Needa made it sound as if as he hadn’t heard of it, it could not possibly exist.
“Oh, you don’t make a lot of wine on Barakat. Most of the grapes are for Kathiza – liquid fire.”
“Wow. Kathiza! I think I will have to visit you at some point.” Needa grinned widely. “After all I can’t, and frankly don’t want to, go back to Coruscant. So I’ve got nowhere else to go!”
Ketelli looked not exactly happy about Needa inviting himself.
“And you, Admiral,” Mon Mothma asked, somewhat surprised at her own forwardness. “What are you going to do?”
“Go home, get drunk.” Piett looked at her and then back up into the sky. “Of course, I have to find out if Darth Vader is still alive. He’s my commanding officer after all.” All of a sudden he looked tired, rubbing his eyes. “Oh, damn. What am I going to say to him?”
“You’re not seriously thinking of going back, are you?” Needa asked surprised.
“I certainly don’t want him dropping in on my family. ‘Oh, excuse me, I just came by to strangle my second-in-command for leaving his post and losing the fleet’s flagship, don’t mind me?’”
“I don’t …” Mon Mothma started, but Needa interrupted her, too wrapped up in his own concerns to notice.
“Do you really think, he is going to do this? After all, he certainly has more urgent business to attend to than hunting down all the officers who lost their ships – including me, obviously.”
“But you’re not his second-in-command,” Piett insisted. “I don’t know what I am expecting him to do, but who can second-guess the Dark Lord of the Sith anyway. And just not knowing would send me up the walls.”
“You…” Mon Mothma tried again.
“Come on, it was not your fault.” Needa insisted. “Actually, it was the fault of his Imperial craziness who told us to play the sitting duck.”
“Do you think that matters…”
“Excuse me!” Ketelli interrupted the Admiral. “Mon Mothma wants to say something.”
Needa and Piett turned to face her.
“What I was trying to say is, that you don’t have to worry about Darth Vader. We have it on pretty good authority that he is dead.” She looked at the four faces turned expectantly towards her. None of them, presumably not even Sergeant Pringles, knew what exactly had been going on on the Death Star. So she better explain some of it. Not the true identity of Darth Vader, that was … no.
“You’re certain?” Piett asked.
Mon Mothma nodded. She hadn’t been in the beginning, but with Skywalker gone to Bakura… . He wouldn’t leave his father behind, if he should have taken him secretly from the Death Star. “Yes, I am absolutely certain.”
“We got this bizarre message from Jerjerrod – that’s the commanding officer on the Death Star –” Needa explained. “that the Emperor had killed Darth Vader and was fleeing with a captured Rebel.” He shook his head. “I mean we all knew that Jerjerrod was an idiot, but that was a bit wild. Of course the Death Star exploded before we could re-confirm the message.”
“It was the other way round.” Ketelli now said making everybody stare at him in surprise. “It must have been Vader who killed the Emperor and was fleeing with a Rebel. I saw it. Not the killing of course, but …” he paused briefly. “I just came out of the loo when I saw Vader and this black-clad man walking towards the hangars. Or rather the young man, whom I’ve never seen before, lugging Vader towards the hangar. There was something wrong with Vader’s breathing, or more wrong than usual and he couldn’t walk properly. That’s when I decided it was time to get out of there myself. If Vader was getting out I would too. So I ran for the next escape pod.”
“You were on the Death Star?” Pringles asked, a mixture of disbelief and disgust in his voice.
“Exactly.” Ketelli looked at Pringles evenly. “I was the man, or rather one of the men, who pressed the button.” He nodded, apparently satisfied with Pringles’s shocked reaction. “Yes, I was firing the super laser.”
Mon Mothma was somewhat shocked herself. The slight, unassuming young man had been one of the men firing that horrible weapon.
“Were you been on the first Death Star as well?” Pringles now wanted to know.
“Of course not,” Ketelli snapped, and it seemed as if he nearly added ‘stupid’. “All the men on the first Death Star were killed.”
“Except Vader.” Piett muttered.
“Yeah, except the Lord of the Sith.” Ketelli shook his head. “But he didn’t make it this time.”
They sat silent for a time, Pringles still staring at Ketelli.
“Did you never have qualms about killing so many people?” Pringles then asked, startling Mon Mothma.
Ketelli seemed to be completely undistrubed by the question. “No. Did you?”
Pringles turned red and started to pull the ends of his moustache with one hand.
“I did,” Mon Mothma said. “I always did.”
“But that was something completely different!” Pringles exclaimed. “They were killing innocent people. On Alderaan! The Death Star was an unethical weapon. It was a weapon of mass-destruction! You shot the medical frigate!”
“The what?” Ketelli queried.
“Do you know how many people there were on the first Death Star?” Piett asked calmly, but his eyes were full of repressed anger. “Do you know how many innocent people were on the second Death Star? People who were not even in the armed forces but were forced to work on the construction of the station? Do you know how many people were on the Executor when it exploded? Don’t you tell me you have nothing on your conscience.”
“But the Empire was an immoral government, exploiting the peoples of the galaxy to pay for military expansion and follies like the Death Star.” Pringles glared at the three men on the other side of the fire. “We had a right, no the duty to fight against it.”
“You had the right to kill all the hundreds of thousands of conscripted men on the first Death Star, did you?” Needa asked now.
“Pringles,” Mon Mothma said, trying to calm him down. “We don’t…”
“They were on a military station. It was nothing like Alderaan!” Pringles exclaimed.
“They were conscripted.” Ketelli explained slowly. “Perhaps you don’t know what this means …”
“They could have refused, joined the Rebellion…”
“And leave their families behind?” Needa raised his eyebrows. “Not very responsible behaviour.”
“Oh, don’t you try to tell me about responsibility, Captain! You just don’t want to accept that you are part of an evil regime…”
“Now we’re evil…” Piett leaned forward. “Don’t you think you’re making it a bit too simple for yourself by just rubber-stamping us as ‘evil’ so you don’t have to think about the fact that you too were killing thousands of people?”
“It’s not like that!”
“Sergeant Pringles.” Mon Mothma finally managed to get herself heard. “We were at war and both sides were killing too many people.” She sighed. “I wish I had found a different way to fight the Empire, but unfortunately there was no way of peaceful opposition to the regime. Now with the Emperor and the second Death Star gone, we might be able to solve this conflict without further recourse to arms. I sincerely hope we can do that.” She looked sternly at Pringles. “And that means, that we have to work together with those of our former opponents who are willing to join us.”
“But they…,” Pringles looked at the Imperials, “they are not going to join the Rebellion, are they?”
“And that’s not the question now, is it?” Mon Mothma said. She glared at Pringles, wishing she could order him to shut up. Unfortunately this was not the way the Rebellion worked. “We’re not here to discuss questions of ethics.”
For a few moments an uneasy silence settled on the group, only the crackling of the fire could be heard. Weird, Mon Mothma found herself thinking randomly, there ought to be animals around.
“Back to the end of our beloved master,” Needa said suddenly, bringing the discussion back on the original topic.“You’re certain that Darth Vader killed him?”
She paused briefly, considering once more, whether she should just go ahead and explain the entire story of Darth Vader being Anakin Skywalker and all that. “Yes, Darth Vader did kill the Emperor, at least that’s what Luke Skywalker said. He was the black-clad man Ketelli saw.”
“Skywalker…” Piett frowned. “Wasn’t he…
“…the man who blew up the first Death Star,” Ketelli continued, glowering at Pringles, who now sat in sullen silence, “killing all one million one hundred and eighty thousand men aboard.”
Pringles sat up and briefly opened his mouth but shut it again, without protesting, very much to Mon Mothma’s surprise and relief.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “And saved our base on Yavin 4.”
“Vader was looking for him, wasn’t he?” Piett said now.
Mon Mothma nodded.
“I have always been wondering why Vader wanted to capture this particular man. It was not as if he was a particularly important Rebel.” Needa said, frowning into the fire. “Ok, he fired the fatal shot, but – why did he want to catch him alive?”
“Luke Skywalker is a Jedi,” Mon Mothma said. She noticed the frown on Needa’s face deepening and a surprised expression appear on Piett’s. “So was Darth Vader. As I understand it, the Emperor demanded that Luke accept him as his master, and when Luke refused the Emperor wanted to kill him and Vader stopped him.”
“Why?” Piett asked.
“I don’t know.” The words were out, before Mon Mothma had actively taken the decision not to tell the truth. Though what harm would be done? Princess Leia had asked her not to reveal her relationship to the Lord of the Sith, Luke had not made a secret about his. But … that had been when he explained the events to the Rebellion’s high command, not people he didn’t know. And all of a sudden, my dearest, you’re making a differentiation between Rebels and Imperials again, Mon Mothma thought, but she repeated “I don’t know.”
“Perhaps it was some part of his religion,” Ketelli suggested.
“I don’t know,” Piett said. “I mean, Vader never had any problems with killing people.”
“Killing ordinary people, yes, but Jedi?” Ketelli asked. “They always thought there were something better than the rest of the galaxy.”
“I don’t think so.” Needa said. “It seems a bit too… naive for the Lord of the Sith. Vader never followed any rules – except his own. And the Emperor was a kind of a Jedi as well, perhaps not an officially trained one, but he could do all the tricks. That’s why ….” he stopped short as if for once he nearly had said something he didn’t want the others to hear. He stared at his feet, then suddenly sat up again. “And while this was going on, the great confrontation between the Emperor, Vader and Mr. Skywalker, the shield of the Death Star came down and that’s why they didn’t notice, right?”
Mon Mothma nodded. “Probably.”
“Bloody hell.” Needa shook his head. “We lost the bloody battle because the Emperor had his mind on other things.”
“And none of the officers on the Death Star thought it necessary to inform us, that the shields were down,” Ketelli said grimly. “Jerjerrod probably thought that if he ignored the problem it would go away.”
“I cannot really blame him for that,” Piett commented. “I guess all Imperial officers suffer from the inability to make decisions when Vader or the Emperor were around. I mean, what should he do? Evacuate the station without having talked to either of them? He was probably trying frantically to get hold of either of them.”
“And when he finally decided to send some men to check what the hell was going on in the throne room, everybody was gone and …” Needa frowned. “No. He probably saw Vader being hauled off the station by this Skywalker person.” He stared at Piett for a moment, trying to figure something out. “Skywalker. Hm. – Anyway, he saw this and completely freaked. That’s when he sent the bizarre message.”
“Well,” Piett said, sounding somewhat tired. “I guess we’ll never find out. Except, of course, Jerjerrod also managed to get to an escape pod, which I very much doubt. The man had about as much survival instinct as a dead weekie.”
“And that from the man who just a few minutes ago was planning to voluntarily return to Darth Vader after – as you yourself said – you left your post and lost the flagship of the fleet.” Needa remarked. “That doesn’t sound very healthy to me.”
Piett only rolled his eyes.
“But then,” Needa continued, “you were the only one who got out of the Executor alive. And you did pretty well with getting us out of a few sticky situations. You see,” he turned to Mon Mothma, “we had all kinds of trouble, and, hell, you should have seen him two nights ago…”
“Oh, will you shut up,” Piett interrupted him, “I was just doing my job. I have to look after my men, after all. – Damn.” He punched at his comlink. “Base. This is Piett, do you copy?”
“This is Base. I hear you. Loud and clear.” A voice answered immediately.
Piett hesitated for a moment. “Lieutenant Corbet. – Do we have any news of the missing men?”
“I’m afraid not. Rezikiel and Sokorovsk are still out there looking for them, but so far they haven’t found a trace, I’m afraid. But we did find another small group of survivors.”
“Thank you.” Piett paused and looked at Mon Mothma for a few seconds. “You will contact us as soon as you have any news.”
Piett nodded and cut the connection. “Damn.” “Is there nothing we could do?” Mon Mothma asked.
“I don’t know. – I guess if your people don’t get themselves sorted out, we should return to find the missing ourselves. After all we have a vague idea where to look for them.”
Mon Mothma nodded. “So, we are heading out tomorrow morning?”
“I guess this is the most sensible option –.”
“Mon Mothma.” Pringles all of a sudden interrupted the admiral. “You’re not seriously considering to leave with them?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“You cannot trust them!” Pringles was completely shocked that she would propose such a thing.
“For gods’ sake, I have been trusting them all day! And they have trusted me!” she said, irritated. “If we want to end this conflict, we have to work with Imperials.”
“You cannot work with the Imperials. It would betray all the Rebellion had fought for.”
“As a matter of fact, Sergeant Pringles, we already do,” Mon Mothma explained. “Not here. But day before yesterday a small contingent of our fleet left for Bakura to help the Imperial governor and army to fight back invading forces. We don’t know yet how successful this mission is going to be, but we are already now working with Imperials.”
“Bakura?” Needa frowned. “Never heard of it.”
“It’s way beyond out there.” Mon Mothma explained. “None of us had ever heard anything about it before.”
“An invasion? By whom?” Ketelli asked.
“We don’t know for certain, the ships are of a design we never encountered before.” Mon Mothma sighed inwardly that she had managed to change the topic of the conversation to a less incendiary topic. “It looked pretty bad in the transmission they sent us… . That is they asked for help from the Emperor, not knowing that he is dead. We decided that it was not only our duty to help but a great opportunity to show our goodwill to come to terms with worlds that were part of the Empire.” Damn her, she was preaching. She clamped her mouth shut before she would really become obnoxious.
“Hell, it’s one thing to work with a civilian government of a planet which was part of the Empire and something completely different to help Imperial officers.” Pringles stated.
“At Bakura we will also work with Imperial officers, Pringles,” Mon Mothma explained exasperated. “Governor Nereus…”
“Nereus?” Piett asked, “Never heard of him.”
“The Empire is a large state.” Mon Mothma said.
“Was,” corrected Pringles.
“If somebody manages to step into the Emperor’s place, he might still keep it going.” Needa countered. “I doubt it, but it is possible. Who is on Coruscant at the moment?” he asked Piett.
“There is Grand Moff Ormrod, who is responsible for the sector, and Moff Nevoy on Coruscant itself.”
“Hm,” Needa stared into the fire. “Nevoy… . He is an efficient officer but I doubt he will take the initiative.” He paused again. “Mulcahy. He should be still around.”
“Mulcahy?” Mon Mothma asked, surprised.
“He used to be the Commander-in-Chief of the New Forces.” Needa explained.
“I know who he is, I just didn’t know he was still on Coruscant.”
“He is. Retired but if you could get him to declare for the New Republic I guess you would get a large part of the army with him. Certainly Nevoy.”
Mon Mothma made a mental note, in big red letters, italicized and doubly underlined, to get hold of General Mulcahy, retired, as soon as she got back to the fleet. Dammit, they should have prepared for this better, they should have tried to get in contact with people who might be willing to join the New Republic before the battle. Coruscant was the single, most important place they had to take. If they could establish their presence there, so many worlds would just follow its lead.
“I don’t know Mulcahy all that well,” Needa continued, “but he’s a good man. Nevoy I know pretty well.” He started to smile suddenly. “Hell, ever since he became Moff he has been bitching about just how bonkers good ol’ Palp is.”
Mon Mothma added Moff Nevoy to her mental list of possible defectors. Damn, one single Captain Needa was worth his weight in gold for the information he could give about the command structure of the Imperial navy. Not just the official ‘who is who’ but what their actual position was, who could wield what influence and whether or not they were disenchanted with the Empire anyway.
So good ol’ Palp is bonkers, Mon Mothma mused, who’d have thought to hear this from the mouth of an Imperial officer.
Piett was sitting very quietly next to Needa, just watching the Captain. He was, as Mon Mothma reminded herself, the second-in-command of Darth Vader. He would be an even greater asset than Needa if he should join the Rebellion. Earlier on he had said they would have nothing to offer in negotiations, but just by being there, giving what information he had …. Gods, if he still held his position in the Imperial fleet, if he were still on his ship and in command of the other forces, he would have been supreme commander after Darth Vader’s death, they could have negotiated a truce, perhaps persuaded him and his fleet to join the Rebellion. Now they would have eighteen Star Destroyers on their side, instead of two, and wouldn’t need to worry about the ships who had fled the field. The Destroyer wouldn’t have played dead and wouldn’t have crashed on the moon, Matrishka and Lina…
“If you are all such good men,” Pringles said in an obnoxiously innocent voice, tearing Mon Mothma out of her reveries, “would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for your men?”
“What?” Mon Mothma exclaimed.
“I beg your pardon,” Piett asked in a dangerously even voice.
“If we said,” Pringles elaborated, “that all your men, including the Captain here, would be free to go, if you, Admiral, would stand trial for war crimes, would you do it?”
“What kind of a shite question is that!” Piett scowled at Pringles. “What do you expect me to say, now, when you are not even in the position to demand anything like that? Do you really expect me to say ‘no’, so you can feel morally justified?”
“Would you do it?” Pringles insisted.
“Hell, you arrogant, self-satisfied son of a bitch,” Piett got to his feet. “you think that your lot has the exclusive rights on ulterior motives. I am not in the situation to be put on trial and you’re not in a position to demand it, so what the fuck do you think I should say? No? And if I said yes, I would ‘sacrifice myself for my men’ as you so nicely put it, would you believe me? Now, sitting comfy at a campfire I could say anything, right? Gods, I don’t believe it. What the hell gives you the right to walk around acting superior!”
“Admiral,” Mon Mothma said, trying to sound calm even though she felt nearly as infuriated about Pringles’s stupid question as Piett, “Pringles doesn’t mean…”
“Like hell he doesn’t,” Needa said scathingly.
“Right, you are here comfy at a campfire, with your blasters to back you and your sixty-nine men somewhere in the woods.” Pringles stated. “You don’t need to be afraid of the consequences of your actions.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
Mon Mothma stared at Pringles as well.
“I was just wondering if you would be acting as ‘selfless’ if you knew you had to stand trial at the end of it. If you would have rescued Mon Mothma then.”
“Dammit, I didn’t even know that Darth Vader was dead then, and I can guarantee you that rescuing Mon Mothma would have had a lot worse consequences for me, if he were still around. But I had my men to think of and like it or not your lot were the only ones around who could get us off this abysmal planet.”
“Oh, you had your men to think about. I see.”
“Pringles, will you shut up,” Mon Mothma hissed at him.
“But what, I wonder, would have happened if Mon Mothma had not offered you to help you get of Endor? Would you…?”
Before she fully realized what she was doing Mon Mothma turned around and slapped Pringles in the face with as much force as she could muster. “Will you shut up now!” Damn him. She glared at him, savouring his stunned expression and the red mark her hand had created on his left cheek. Her left shoulder however had not taken kindly to her sudden move. “I didn’t know that undergoing a lobotomy was an integral part of the training for communications officers.”
Pringles put his hand to his cheek. “What…?”
“You just shut up now.” Mon Mothma stared at him. Then she turned around to the Imperials.
Piett was still standing, looking nearly as surprised as Pringles. Needa stared at his feet, the ghost of a smile on his face, but it was not a happy smile. Ketelli glared at Pringles, with a deep frown.
“I am really sorry.” Mon Mothma said.
Piett looked at her and forced a thin smile. Slowly he sat down again.
An unnerving silence settled on their small group and Mon Mothma silently cursed Pringles. They had gotten along just fine and now! She couldn’t really blame for the three Imperials for being offended by Pringles’s words. Damn it, she would be just too happy to slap him again. What could she possibly say now? Everything would sound trite and forced.
Hell, and there she had been envisioning how they could have stopped the battle and persuaded the remainder of the Imperial fleet to join them. Ha. As if… . There were enough narrow-minded people in the Rebellion who would rather shoot her than allow any peaceful agreement with the Imperial navy. There were too many people like Pringles, who were so used to fighting the Empire that they just couldn’t stop. Not that her people were the only ones who would have problems accepting that times change. There were presumably enough Imperials who would rather fight to the last pathetic, under-trained stormtrooper than admit that perhaps, possibly, the Rebellion was not just a bunch of criminals but had valid reasons for fighting. And then there were those on either side who had lost friends and family, those would be most difficult to persuade.
The least she could do was to take Pringles away from the others. “Sergeant, I want to contact the fleet again, see whether they have any news.”
Pringles frowned, but obediently got to his feet. Together they walked to the transmitter and she talked briefly with the officer on duty, not bothering to have Admiral Kulthum disturbed. There was no news. Frustrated and annoyed with the situation, she sent Pringles to his tent, even though he tried to insist that she sleep in the tent. He gave up quickly when she more or less ordered him to shut up and do as she said. The Imperial way of dealing with subordinates definitely had its advantages. She accompanied him to his tent, childishly enjoying the annoyed look on his face when he saw the muddy stains she had left on his sleeping bag.
The fire was slowly burning down and in the growing dark, she could see that Tob Ketelli had already lain down to sleep. Captain Needa was still sitting next to the fire, while Piett seemed to have disappeared.
“Where is the Admiral?” she asked.
Needa grinned at her – at least he seemed to have gotten some of his good humour back – then pointed towards the edge of the forest, where she could see the dark shadowy figure of Piett, who seemed to be walking around the clearing. Slowly she crossed the short distance to where he had stopped to stare into the skies again.
“Hallo,” she said, when she reached him.
Piett jumped perceptively and turned to her.
“I am so sorry.” She looked at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking, but if there was anything in his face for her to read, it was obscured by the darkness. She sighed. “I am truly sorry for Pringles’ behaviour, he was completely out of line and I should have shut him up earlier. I just didn’t expect he would be quite as rude. He had no right to insult you.”
Piett looked at her for a few long moments, then he nodded. “I shouldn’t have taken it so personally,” he said, turning his eyes back towards the sky. “He tried to make me angry, and instead of realizing this, I took the bait. After all, I don’t have to justify my actions to him.”
For a few moments they stood together in silence, Piett still gazing at the grey sky. Mon Mothma wondered about the bizarre turn her life had taken in the last twenty-four hours. She would never have guessed that she would apologize to an Imperial officer for the actions of a Rebel officer. Not only that, but that she meant it.
“You know,” she asked, “what the most frightening experience in the last day has been?”
Piett shook his head, still looking to where there were no stars to be seen. What was he thinking about now?
“The most frightening thing is that I had to realise that you were right, that I had started to believe our own propoaganda.” She sighed. “The Empire is not a faceless mass of corrupt and evil people. Quite the contrary. – I have to admit that I get along a lot better with the men I thought were my mortal enemies than with those I took for my allies.”
Piett stared at her, surprised and unbelieving.
“I mean it,” she asserted. “At the moment I think you, Captain Needa and Tob Ketelli have more in common with me than this idiot Pringles.”
He still seemed to be unconvinced. “At the moment,” he repeated, looking back to the sky, then he added quickly. “I didn’t mean to doubt your words, Ma’am.”
“It’s just hard to believe.” She put her hand on his arm, felt him flinch away slightly, and wondered what made him so jumpy. “I can hardly believe it myself.”
She paused for a few moments, but Piett did not respond, he did not even move. She could feel the muscles in his arm tense, as if he had to concentrate not to pull it away, so she let her hand drop to her side again.
“You were right this morning,” she repeated, “I did believe our own propaganda far too much. It’s just that you hardly get a chance to meet your opponents in a struggle like this. – It’s just so much easier to believe, like Pringles does, that all your opponents are evil and you have a right to kill them. I thought like this as well, sometimes, otherwise I think I could not have kept going. But, if you meet your enemy and find out that they are just as human as you are, you realize again, just what you have done,” she sighed. “Or you have to react just like Pringles and not accept that.” She stopped and wondered whether he actually paid any attention to what she was saying or whether he just wished she would shut up and go away.
For quite some time, or perhaps it just seemed like that, Piett continued to stare up, then he looked at her. “Thank you,” he said and smiled.
“For what?” she asked and instantly could have kicked herself for asking.
Piett seemed unperturbed. “For apologize for Pringles’s behaviour, and for telling me that you don’t think we, we Imperials are all evil.”
“I knew that all along. Perhaps, I just didn’t quite believe that even the second-in-command of the Dark Lord of the Sith would be …” so nice? Damn that sounded silly. Mon Mothma looked away quickly, to avoid Piett’s questioning gaze, “so un–evil. Or that he would climb trees.”
“I didn’t imagine the leader of the Rebellion to be anything like you either.”
Mon Mothma felt an inane grin spread over her face. She blessed the fact that it was dark, otherwise the Admiral would also have been able to see that she was blushing.
Dammit, she admonished herself, just how old are you? You react as if nobody ever complimented you before. And after all he just said you were not as he thought you were, so calm down. He probably meant, that he hadn’t thought she was that old. But still…
“I guess, we’d better catch some sleep.” she finally managed to say in a calm voice. “You probably hadn’t much sleep last night either.”
“None, actually,” he corrected her. “You’re right. We want to have an early start tomorrow.”
Together they ambled back to where the fire’s last embers illuminated the prostrate figures of Tob Ketelli and Captain Needa. Silently Mon Mothma sat down on her blanket, got out of her shoes and rolled herself into her blanket, somewhat awkwardly, as her left arm was still useless. It didn’t hurt, she realized, worrying for a few moments whether that was a bad sign, but dammit, it wouldn’t fall off before she got to a doctor – and Sergeant Lasalle seemed to know what he was doing. She could see that Piett had some difficulties with getting out of his boots, but he managed just when she had decided to get up and offer her help. Her last thought before she fell asleep was that she actually didn’t feel tired at all.
14: In which Admiral Piett and his companions visit another
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