Piett once more let his
eyes wander over his assembled troops. They were eighty now. Apart from
the thirteen men from the Executor, the parties sent out to search for
the missing men had found two other survivors of the battle, both were
TIE pilots who had been shot down. One of them was in a critical stage
as he had received severe burns when his ship was hit, the other was
not injured. He was another member of Hookainen’s squadron
and had an even more bizarre name than Hookainen and Taakanen, Elias
Major William Wollaston was sitting together with the other survivors of the Executor, talking with his second. Wollaston had been the deck-officer in the main hangar of the Executor. They had met once when the hangar had been damaged in a battle and Piett had gone down there to inspect the damage.
Piett knew it was not logical that he should feel particularly happy that some men from his own ship had survived – but he did.
Wollaston didn’t know the reasons why the Executor had been destroyed. This was not surprising, as he had been in the hangar supervising the launching of the ship’s TIE squadrons. Only when the ship was already falling towards the Death Star had he realized that something was wrong. He had gathered some men and left the ship on a landing barge. But their ship was damaged during take off – internal explosions caused by the terrific barrage the Executor was under – and they had been forced to land on this dreadful moon. Fortunately, they had not encountered any of the furry natives.
Piett mused for a while, whether he should retire for the night, they had had quite a day, but he doubted that he would be able to sleep now. He was still far too wound up. Perhaps a stroll in the fresh air would down calm his nerves. Later he could finish the little thruppet.
If he was really in luck, Needa might unearth some more alcohol. The gods alone knew how Needa managed to do this, but he usually was able to produce some kind of alcoholic drink. Though, in this place the task might even be too hard for Angus.
Come to think of it, where was Angus? He was not in the main hall, so either he was still having a shower or he had gone to bed already – though Piett had difficulties imagining Needa going to bed early.
Most of the men assembled in this main room were in deep conversation; Ossory held forth to a cluster of men around him. When Piett passed the group on his way to the door he heard that Ossory was talking about Mon Mothma and for a moment he contemplated joining the group of listeners, but then he hastened on. He didn’t want to seem to be too interested in this particular topic. Even though it was quite innocent, of course. Like everybody else he was curious about the leader of the Rebel Alliance.
The air outside the shelter was surprisingly warm – and it wasn’t raining. The sky was still covered in a thick layer of debris, blocking out the stars but reflecting the light of the sun which gave enough light for Piett to walk around the shelter without bumping into trees or stumbling over the broken branches covering the ground.
The forest was a mess. After all the havoc the battle and its aftermath had created on the moon this was to be expected, but even keeping this in mind Piett thought there was something odd about the devastation. Of course, he told himself, it was possible that he was unused to a really untamed wilderness which had to be different from the well-kept forests of Pokrovsk.
He crouched down next to one of the larger branches which had been torn off by the storm and carefully inspected the exposed wood. The light was too dim and without knowing more about the tree it had come from he could not be sure, it seemed to him that the branch had been weakened before it had been broken off. Perhaps the tree was infected with a disease or a plague of parasites? Just as he was reaching for his knife to pry some of the bark loose to look for bugs or worms, he heard a voice talking quietly and was ripped out of his musing.
What the hell did he care about the trees of this abysmal place? He straightened up quickly. They might as well all be infested with rot as far as he was concerned. Actually, the thought of the trees breaking apart under the weight of the villages of these horrendous, furry creatures was quite amusing. He could just see their little rickety huts plunging to the ground when the rot had progressed far enough and destroyed the trees’ cores.
Again Piett heard somebody talking, and automatically turned back to where the sound had came from. Between the trees he could make out two figures standing in front of the grey facade of the shelter. In the darkness Piett couldn’t recognize who they were or what they were doing. Not that he would have been able to say what he was doing outside. It might even be somebody who had seen him leave the shelter and wanted to make sure he was alright. Perhaps it was the relief for the patrol, though if that were the case they wouldn’t just stand in front of the building.
Slowly Piett started to walk towards the two men.
The taller figure turned to talk to his companion. At first Piett couldn’t make out what he was saying, then he heard his name mentioned and recognized the voice. Even if he hadn’t recognized it, he would have been able to tell who the speaker was, there were after all very few people who, on occasion, called him by his first name.
Coming closer, Piett could see that the smaller man standing next to Needa was wearing a black jacket, but hadn’t bothered to button it; the lighter fabric of his shirt showed clearly in the dim light. The trousers he wore were also of a lighter colour than the jacket. Involuntarily, Piett frowned. Though, he told himself, in a situation like this, they had to make the best out of the resources they had, and this might mean that somebody had to wear a mix of navy and army uniforms.
“Perhaps,” Needa commented, “we should get into some kind of trouble so Grigori could come and rescue us. That usually summons him pretty quickly.”
The other officer laughed lightly. His voice was surprisingly high, but only when he ran his right hand through his longish hair, did Piett realize that the other officer was in fact Mon Mothma.
For a moment he stared at her in disbelief, standing there dressed in Imperial uniform, she even wore a pair of highly polished boots. The only thing missing was the silly little hat and any kind of rank insignia.The reason why she hadn’t buttoned her jacket was that her left arm was still bandaged and she had only slung the jacket over her shoulder.
“I don’t know,” Mon Mothma said, “the night I spent in the crushed shuttle seemed to be pretty long to me.”
“I can tell you, the time I spent tied up on that tree seemed extremely long as well,” Needa stated, “but then there is nothing quite like watching a bunch of Ewoks eat some of your comrades.”
Mon Mothma stared at Needa. “They …”
“Well, Madine was not the first person to be eaten by this horrible pack of furred beasts,” Needa explained his voice sounding harsh, “as you should know. After all, they tried to eat your precious hero of Yavin, didn’t they?”
“Calm down, Angus.”
Needa and Mon Mothma both jumped visibly when Piett interrupted their conversation.
“It’s not her fault.”
“Heavens,” Mon Mothma said, placing her good hand on her chest. “You gave me a fright.”
“I thought you were looking for me?”
“Still.” She smiled at Piett. “You did sneak up on us. And having a conversation like this doesn’t help either.”
Only now Piett noticed that Needa had several bags slung over his shoulder and carried a pile of blankets under his arm.
“What are you planning?” Piett asked. “Camping in the forest? I though after our previous night a soft bed would be a welcome change.”
If he was not very much mistaken – or his eyesight was getting worse – it seemed that Mon Mothma blushed suddenly. “No, not really. It’s just…” She stared down on her boots.
“The uniform,” Needa said.
“It’s not that I mind wearing it,” Mon Mothma hastened to explain. “But I feel a bit stupid, well actually I feel immensely stupid and out of place sitting like this in front of all those men. It’s bad enough that I am here anyway, but like this, it seems as if I tried to mock them.”
Piett could imagine that for her, having a couple of dozen Imperials staring at one was not nice.
“I found her loitering in the corridor,” Needa added, “not wanting to go into the main hall or return to her quarters…”
“I can really live without having Pringles sulk at me,” Mon Mothma continued. “So we decided to go outside instead.”
“And there is another reason why we wanted to detach ourselves from the rest of the men.” Needa awkwardly rummaged through one of his backpacks. “I know it’s in here somewhere. Hold that.” He pushed a torch into Piett’s hand. “Ah.” With a wide grin Needa pulled a bottle out of the bag. “There.”
He held the bottle up, showing its red, hexagonal label, but Piett had recognized what it was before he read the label. The frost-like surface of the bottle and the ice-blue colour of the glass were enough to tell him.
“Vodka.” Automatically he reached for the bottle. “Angus, you never cease to amaze me. Where did you find this?”
“Oh,” Needa said with a dismissive shrug. “I have my methods. We wouldn’t want to have to share this with all our friends, now, would we?”
“No.” Piett flicked the switch on the torch, placing the bottle on top of it, so the light illuminated the Vodka. “So, you were planning to sneak into the forest and drink all the good Vodka on your own.”
“No, not just us two, with you.” Mon Mothma said.
“And no sneaking into the forest,” Needa explained, “we just sit here, drink, talk and admire the stars.”
“There are no stars.”
Needa rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
Piett frowned at the bottle of Vodka. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of Needa’s idea of a quiet booze up, just the three of them. What would the other men think when they spent the rest of the evening outside? Wouldn’t they think they were devising some treacherous plan with the leader of the Rebel Alliance? Or even worse, suspect that they were seeking the cover of darkness to engage in a wild sex orgy. A speculation made all the more plausible, since Needa was carrying a pile of blankets around with him.
For a moment Piett felt the urge to rush back into the shelter to disprove all suspicions about any indecent behaviour occurring, but that was just ridiculous. If any of the men harboured thoughts like that, his reappearance wouldn’t make any difference. After all, they would have had all night yesterday to indulge in any number of orgies. Anyone who expected them to behave like that, would think so no matter what they were doing.
Stop that, he told himself. If anybody has a dirty imagination it’s you. As long as they stayed close to the shelter nobody could really think that anything untoward was going on.
Needa and Mon Mothma were still looking at him, waiting for his reaction.
If he really thought about it, the prospect of sitting here with Angus and Mon Mothma, drinking Vodka, was a lot more enticing than returning to the shelter, where they would be under the close scrutiny of all the men there.
“Then lets find a place to sit down.”
“What about here?” Needa indicated the ground.
Needa dropped the blankets and then carefully lowered the bags he was carrying to the ground. “I get some crates to sit on.”
For a few moments, Mon Mothma and Piett stood in awkward silence.
“I hope this does not inconvenience you,” Mon Mothma said finally, the seriousness of her voice in contrast with the smile on her face.
Piett found himself smiling back at her. “Oh, no. Not really. You just overthrew all my important plans for the evening, like … finishing the thruppet.”
“Actually not,” Mon Mothma replied and picked up one of the bags lying at her feet. “It should be in here.”
Piett looked back on the bottle of Vodka, which he was still stupidly illuminating with the torch, and quickly switched off the light. “Whose idea was this, by the way?”
“Guess,” Mon Mothma said with just a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Perhaps he was imagining things, but it had been a very silly question, after all, Mon Mothma could hardly walk around and demand to spend the evening with him and Angus.
Mon Mothma smiled, but remained silent. She gazed into the forest, giving the impression that she was at ease with herself and the world. Even the uniform seemed to be very much hers.
Piett realized with a start that it was, gods, nearly fifteen years since he’d seen a woman in uniform. It was one thing to expel the female cadets from the Academy, but another to get rid of all the female officers already serving in the armed forces. Some of them had fiercely fought for their jobs, but in the end they had either given in and retired or had joined the Rebellion. Most of them, however, were dead. The last female officer, Moff Rosalind Barley, had retired five years after the new rules were introduced. Piett only remembered this fact because one of his fellow officers at the time had on a drunken occasion started a very angry and slightly treacherous rant about the no-women politics of the Empire. Piett remembered that he had been a senior officer, but couldn’t recall his name – or what had become of him. At that time it was still more or less safe to complain about the Empire.
When the female cadets were told to leave the Academy, it had been pretty obvious that the policy wouldn’t stop there, but Piett still remembered the guilty shock he had had, when he was told that the armed forces were now an all male club. Somehow he had forgotten about it. Not really forgotten, but not paid any attention to the development; the women had just disappeared one after the other.
“A credit for your thoughts,” Mon Mothma said.
“Women.” He grinned at the surprised expression on Mon Mothma’s face. “Women in the armed forces, actually. It’s been some time, since I’ve seen a woman in uniform.”
Mon Mothma examined her jacket for a moment. “It’s been some time since I wore uniform.” She looked back at Piett, and the confusion he felt must have been plainly visible on his face, as she explained, “when I joined the rebellion I wore uniform – occasionally. Usually we didn’t want to proclaim that we were members of an illegal organization. Though sometimes this was just the point.” Mon Mothma shook her head. “Sweet heavens, were we naive then.”
Piett tried to remember the time, when the first small groups of organized resistance against the rule of the Emperor emerged. It was during his years at the academy, but he hadn’t been interested in politics, as they called it. The news never covered this topic. It was only when one of their teachers at the academy was killed in a skirmish with terrorists, as they had been referred to then, that the truth had struck home that the small groups of disaffected could no longer be ignored.
“I have fought the Empire for nineteen years, nearly twenty.” Mon Mothma continued. “I cannot believe it’s over.”
“It isn’t,” Piett said, but then he added, “I know what you mean. – Not that I have fought the Empire for nineteen years, but I have been in the navy for just as long and now…?”
“Couldn’t you just continue?” Mon Mothma asked, looking intently at him, “As you said, the Empire is still there.”
Piett stared at Mon Mothma trying to figure out whether the question was sincere or not. She sounded serious enough and did not look as if she was making a joke.
“No,” he finally answered, deciding to take her comment at face value. “It’s going to be a mess. There will be half a dozen new emperors to replace the old one, and they’re all going to fight each other. I am not planning to be near any of them.”
They looked at each other silently for some time.
“So you’re going home to Pokrovsk.” Mon Mothma said, in a very matter of fact tone.
Once more they stood in silence. Piett tried to think of something to talk about, but couldn’t come up with any sensible question. He wondered what Mon Mothma had looked like in those early days of the Rebellion, nearly twenty years ago. What had their uniforms looked like? Why had they bothered with uniforms anyway? What had she been doing in the Rebellion? She had been a high profile politician and her out-lawing had been intensely covered by the media, so presumably she had to go underground for some time. Had she learned how to shoot then?
“The Emperor did not designate his successor?” Mon Mothma asked.
“No.” Piett laughed, surprised at how cheerless his laughter sounded to his own ears. “Gods, that would mean that we would constantly be reminded that the Emperor would not live forever.”
“I know that there was no official successor,” Mon Mothma said, “but was there no plan made, no thought ever given to what would happen should Palpatine die?”
“No.” He shook his head, adding, “actually, a lot has been thought about what would happen should Palpatine finally kick the bucket, but as far as I know, nobody ever talked about it.”
He certainly would have been too scared to talk about it. Somehow, without consciously realizing it, he had had the impression that by talking about what would happen after Palpatine’s death, one would automatically become suspicious, as if one was hoping this would happen.
“Do you have a designated heir?” he asked her.
For a second the leader of the Rebel Alliance, no, the head of state of whatever state this was supposed to be, stared at him in surprise, then she slowly shook her head. “No, not really.” she admitted. “I guess, most expect that Princess Leia is going to be my successor.” Then she smiled, “However, I am not the Emperor, and I cannot designate my successor. Should something happen to me, the leaders of the Alliance would have to work it out amongst themselves who is going to be the new head of state.”
Piett doubted that the leaders of the Rebel Alliance would be able to replace Mon Mothma. After all she had been the main initiator of the alliance.
“But you have a point there, “ Mon Mothma conceded, “it would probably make sense to have at least some plan ready should I actually get killed. Some kind of provisional leadership until a proper decision can be taken. That’s a very good idea. I have to bring this up in our next meeting.”
She paused for a second, apparently thinking about the problem of who could or should become her successor. Piett thought he was lucky that he’d never had to think about who his successor would be. That would have been Darth Vader’s problem, and perhaps it would have been just the unfortunate bastard who happened to be standing next to him, when he got strangled.
“Who was Darth Vader’s successor?” Mon Mothma asked. “You?”
“No, no.” Piett shook his head. “No. No way.”
Mon Mothma smiled, amused by his fervent denial. “But you were his second.”
“Still, there are a number of grand admirals in the navy and one of them would have probably be appointed Vader’s successor, or one of the grand moffs. Definitely not me.” Piett suddenly realized he was waving his hand in front of himself as if to stop Mon Mothma or her suggestion from coming closer. “And I think, nobody ever expected Vader to die. Perhaps even less than the Emperor. Palpatine was so obviously an old man, but Vader, who knew who or what he was under all this machinery.”
That was not strictly speaking true. He had after all seen Darth Vader without the helmet part of his mask and could confirm that he was a white humanoid, with scars on his scalp and – as far as he had been able to make out – no ears. He thought it was a pretty good guess that Vader was male and the time he had spent serving the Empire suggested that he was not young anymore. There was, of course, the Dark Lord’s physician, Dr Hayashida, who had to know everything about his patient, but he had always refused to give even the vaguest hints on Vader’s physical condition.
Mon Mothma nodded. “It must have been very strange with somebody like Vader around.”
“Strange is not exactly the word I would use.” Terrifying was more to the point, but he doubted that Mon Mothma really wanted to hear any details about the nerve-wrecking experience of working with the Lord of the Sith.
Why are we talking about Darth Vader anyway, Piett thought, he’s dead, thank the gods, there are dozens of more interesting things to discuss than a deceased Sith Lord. Yes, like what? Just ask her something about her career.
“How did you become leader of the Rebel Alliance?”
“Oh,” Mon Mothma shrugged, “it just happened. I invented the Alliance after all. Well, not really, not I on my own, but somehow …,” She frowned and paused for a few moments. “It was one of those things, where everybody said, ‘oh yes, we should try and get together and unite the different Rebel groups’, but nobody ever did something about it, except me.” She shook her head. “It sounds silly, but somehow, that’s vaguely what happened.”
“But how did you get to the position where you could talk with the leaders of all the Rebel groups?”
“Not dying?” Mon Mothma suggested. “Really, particularly in the beginning so many, many of our people died. And the fact that I had been a well known politician before I joined the Rebellion helped as well.”
In the end, Piett thought, not dying had also had a lot to do with his promotion to admiral. Staying alive for so long after he had become admiral was probably the greatest achievement of his career.
“Stubbornness,” Mon Mothma continued, “a lot of people just give up, think that whatever they do, it won’t matter. Naivety, yes, naivety helped a lot in the beginning. Heavens, we just thought we could proclaim to the galaxy that Emperor Palpatine was a tyrant and somehow the people would comprehend what was at stake and demand a new government.”
“But they didn’t.”
Mon Mothma shook her head. “No. It had to get a lot worse before they started to get nervous.”
Piett wondered when the situation within the Empire had become oppressive enough for a larger part of the population to be willing to risk something, their income, their life, the security of the government that existed in order to establish a new and better government. Was it when the first Death Star had been built and taxes shot up to a level where they really hurt? No, it must have been earlier, as the Death Star had been specifically built to crush the Rebellion, which had grown dangerous enough to require a weapon of this magnitude. When had he first experienced serious doubts about the Empire, well, except when they had expelled all women from the academy? He couldn’t remember, there probably hadn’t been one single event which had started him questioning the righteousness of their cause. Little things had added to little things, but they never had been enough for him to contemplate seriously, or even not seriously, joining the Rebellion.
“Did you ever think of joining the Rebellion?” Mon Mothma asked suddenly, as if she had read his thoughts
“No. I’m sorry, but I never even thought about it.”
Mon Mothma smiled again, then suddenly turned around. “Where is Needa by the way? I thought he was just going to get some crates to sit on.”
Angus, you stupid idiot! I know exactly what you’re trying to do! Piett inadvertently sighed. He just could imagine how Angus thought that playing matchmaker would be hilarious. Damn him. Of course, he would also think it was very romantic to hitch up the leader of the Rebellion with an Imperial officer, but Piett knew Needa would enjoy teasing him far too much. He would never hear the end of it.
“I don’t know,” he belatedly told Mon Mothma, who didn’t look at all convinced at his denial. “Somebody wanted his advice perhaps?” Though on what, was the question.
“Well,” Mon Mothma said after a brief pause, “I guess either he comes back or not. But we have the Vodka.”
Piett lifted the bottle. “That should make him come back.”
“If he hasn’t discovered a greater pile of alcohol somewhere else.” Mon Mothma said, “Why don’t we start on the vodka, I think we have waited long enough now.”
The bottle was still firmly closed and Piett had to pry off the wax seal with his knife before he could unscrew the lid. He handed the open bottle to Mon Mothma. “Ma’am.” “Thank you, you’re too kind.” Mon Mothma took a few sips and handed the bottle back to him. “How can one be too kind? – It’s an odd expression.”
Piett allowed himself a few large mouthfuls of vodka. Not his favourite make, and, which was worse, it was also not cold enough. After the last four days, however, any kind of alcohol was divine.
“I don’t know,” he finally replied to Mon Mothma’s question.
Mon Mothma held out her good hand and took a longer drink. “Perhaps it’s the first half of an expression, something like ‘you’re too kind for words’ or some-such.”
Behind her the door of the shelter crashed open and Needa emerged from the door, holding two crates in his right hand and another one in his left. He kicked the door shut after he had stepped through, creating enough noise for even the dead to notice he was coming, and only then turned in their direction.
Piett wanted to slap him.
“I thought drinking the Vodka would summon the captain,” Mon Mothma said wryly. She might have an idea of what Needa was trying to do after all, but perhaps, Piett told himself, he was just over-interpreting things.
Needa blinked, while his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. “You didn’t …”
“No, we didn’t drink all of it, Angus, we just started.”
Needa walked over and dumped one of the crates behind Piett, one next to Mon Mothma and then carefully deposited the remaining box behind her.
“I was trying to find more alcohol, but the bottle of Vodka seems to have been all.”
It was a good explanation and Piett thought that Needa probably had spent the time he wanted to leave Mon Mothma and Piett alone hunting for alcohol, but it was hardly the reason why Needa had disappeared for so long. But then, Piett thought, perhaps it was in fact he whose mind was wandering on dodgy pathways, and Needa had really only searched for another bottle, had perhaps been waylaid by somebody who wanted to know something, about Mon Mothma for example.
Silently they arranged the blankets on the crates. The sat in a circle, or triangle, and for a while none of them talked. Piett was still angry or rather annoyed with Needa. Mon Mothma, holding on to the bottle of Vodka, was staring into the grey sky. Even Needa was quiet. He was sitting on his crate and looked down at his boots with a small smile on his face.
Whatever Needa was smiling about, Piett was pretty sure he didn’t want to know, and he was uncomforably certain that he would find out. But he wouldn’t ask. He wouldn’t say anything. Though, he had to admit, this made him feel like a petulant child. At least, he couldn’t think of anything to say right now anyway. Perhaps he should ask Mon Mothma to give him his backpack so he could work on the thruppet. But he would need more light to do that and at the moment he felt like sitting in the dark.
Mon Mothma drew a deep breath and sat up straighter.
“It is strange,” she said, looking first at Needa and then at Piett, “even though I know what an awful place this is, it is rather romantic. Reminds me of the books I read as a child.”
“Reminds me of my childhood,” Needa commented.
“Your childhood?” Piett stared at Needa, “I thought you grew up on Coruscant.”
“Summer-camp?” Somehow Needa managed to convey a immense quantity of disgust in this one word.
“I take it, you didn’t really enjoy it?” Mon Mothma asked.
“I hated it.” Needa shuddered, “I was a city kid, I knew how to get round Coruscant without being mugged, but trees? Animals? Somehow my mother thought that I should learn something about ‘nature’ as well, and so I was shipped off to all kinds of holiday camps until I was old enough to simply refuse. That first summer after I realized that they couldn’t make me go, if I didn’t want to was … ah,” he paused briefly, “boring. Actually, it was so boring I nearly wished I had gone to the bloody summer-camp after all.”
Mon Mothma laughed and handed Needa the bottle of Vodka. “Heavens, do I know about boring holidays. All my friends from school would go on trips, but my parents were too busy and so I stayed at home, reading. And helping my parents. Come to think of it, I was the only kid who spent her holidays touring Chandrilla to go to visit the local branches of our party or check out problem areas. – My mother was home secretary of Chandrilla at that time.”
“And that’s how you became involved in politics.” Needa stated.
Mon Mothma nodded. “Yes, I started by just tagging along, being incredibly bored by the entire business, but after a while I just became involved. I always had the problem that when I saw something was amiss, I had to go and do something about it, even if this would get me into all kinds of trouble.” She looked at Needa. “Why did you decide to join the navy?”
Needa laughed. “Reading too many bad comics I assume. ‘Tris Griffin, Star Pilot’ and all that.” He paused to drink a few gulps of Vodka. “And my best friend’s father was in the navy. He was really cool.” Then suddenly, he became very serious. “By the time he got himself killed, I was already serving on my first ship and it was too late.”
Piett nodded, of course, he had heard the story before, on several occasions actually.
“What happened?” Mon Mothma asked.
“The problem was,” Needa explained, “that Captain Galli was kind of a … comic book officer, very dashing. He could tell great stories about the Clone Wars and all that, but unfortunately he wasn’t a very good leader, or strategist. He had served his way up during the Clone Wars and never lived up to expectations. In the end his second-in-command shot him.”
“It was during the border skirmishes with Neluga and after having tried to persuade Galli not to do something that would cost the lives of a lot of men, his second had enough, shot him and completed the missions successfully.”
“You should tell her what happened to the second,” Piett said. If he could guess from the half-fascinated, half-reluctant look on Mon Mothma’s face, she expected that some kind of horrible punishment had been meted out to the officer.
“He was promoted to Captain and last that I heard of him, he is serving as admiral somewhere.” Needa smiled at Mon Mothma’s surprised look. “Darth Vader never suffered fools at all.”
“I heard as much.” Mon Mothma stated.
“You did?” Now it was Piett’s turn to be surprised.
“General Madine is – was not the only Imperial officer to defect to the Rebellion.”
The mention of Madine’s name made Piett shudder, the gruesome scene in the Ewok village springing up in his mind unbidden. At least they were to be taken of this gods forsaken place the next morning. Away from these horrible creatures, the damned forest and the permanent rain. – Though of course he would have to deal with forest and rain on Pokrovsk too.
“And you?” Mon Mothma asked, tearing him out of his thoughts
“Me?” Piett heard himself asking foolishly.
Needa grinned at him, and handed him the bottle of vodka. “Come on, tell her,” he said.
“I did not want to become a shop keeper,” Piett replied quickly, before Needa could start telling the story himself. “I was bored senseless at home, and going into the navy seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.”
“And…” Needa prompted.
“And I was a great fan of Anakin Skywalker,” Piett admitted, and had a long drink from the bottle. “Just like about every other young, bored, stir-crazy fool in the Republic.”
“But how many of them became admirals?” Mon Mothma asked.
Surprised Piett looked at her, and she smiled at him.
“And how many had actually met him?” Needa wanted to know.
The question had the desired effect. Mon Mothma looked surprised, first at Needa then at Piett. “You met Anakin Skywalker?”
Piett shrugged. “I wouldn’t really call it ‘meet’, ‘encounter’ is probably the more appropriate term.” He sighed. It had been a long time, and he would never have thought back then that he would still remember this chance encounter so many years later. “Well,” he said, “it was really not very exciting. Captain Skywalker just happened to go shopping in my dad’s store. – I was lucky enough to be there.” He could still remember how shocked he had been. There he was, grudgingly filling the shelves in his father’s shop, fantasising how he would join the navy as soon as he had finished school when somebody, a shopper he had only vaguely noticed, had adressed him. When he turned he had been face to face with his hero. “He asked me where the chocolate-chip biscuits were.”
Mon Mothma was obviously fascinated by his story.
Piett had to grin, it was an interesting tale. He would probably still tell his grandchildren – if he ever had any.
“After carefully gathering my wits again, I showed him. And he said ‘thank you.’ I was desperate to talk to him, tell him how wonderful I thought he was, but of course I did not dare. After all everybody would tell him that, and I wanted him to think that I was not just some hero-worshipping idiot, but I guess that’s exactly what he thought, if he even spared a thought for me. Well,” Piett shook his head, “Captain Skywalker finished his shopping, paid and left. - And I never saw him again, though I wanted to so badly.”
“He kept the receipt,” Needa told Mon Mothma. Sometimes, Piett thought, his friend was very predictable indeed. He knew exactly what Needa would say next. “He even knows it by heart.”
“There are only five items on it, of course I know it by heart,” Piett replied. “A packet of tissues, tea, chocolate chip biscuits, a small bottle of water and a cheese and onion pasty.”
Mon Mothma laughed. “I fear that I will remember this list now for the rest of my life.”
“Can I?” Needa held his hand out and Piett returned the bottle to him. Needa took a long drink and then, carefully wiping the neck of the bottle, handed it to Mon Mothma.
“You must have met him too,” Needa said, looking at Mon Mothma.
“Who?” she asked.
“Oh,” Mon Mothma frowned and drank some vodka, “I think similarly to the Admiral, encounter is the better word. We attended a couple of the same functions. I think he once said ‘Excuse me’ to me when he passed me to talk to somebody else. I talked to his wife once, briefly, about – oh, I don’t know, the weather or something. She joined the Rebellion later, but I never met her then. A pity really.”
Needa looked as if he was about to say something, but he remained quiet.
Somehow, Piett thought, they all had started out on the same side, during the Clone Wars. With all what had happened since then, it was hard to imagine that they actually had a common past – well, that might be a bit strong word. Piett looked down on the ground, and pushed some of the twigs lying around together with his boot. Perhaps they should light a little fire, to keep them warm.
“I had had a very interesting conversation with Sergeant Pringles today,” Needa said suddenly.
“I noticed.” Piett looked up at Needa who stared up into the sky as if the answer to some all-encompassing riddle was written up there – . Damn, Piett thought, if he wasn’t feeling slightly drunk already.
“Oh, yes,” Needa nodded. “It is interesting to fill in the gaps. There were times when it was painfully obvious, that we only knew half of the story, if that.” He turned to Mon Mothma. “The Imperial command did not really believe to tell its people why they should put their life on the line. You got an order, you obeyed. You did not ask why.”
Piett frowned, it seemed to him that Needa was feeling the effects of the vodka as well. It must be strong stuff.
“For example,” Needa continued, “the Battle of Hoth, or rather its aftermath.”
That was it, Needa must be drunk. He never mentioned that episode, not even when he was drunk.
“Thank you,” Needa accepted the bottle back from Mon Mothma. After a hefty drink he handed to bottle to Piett. “The attack on Hoth was pretty straight-forward, despite some surprise promotions.” Needa grinned at Piett. “We find a Rebel out-post, we go and kill it. Excuse me, Simara, but you know…
“I understand,” Mon Mothma said, but it seemed to Piett that her voice sounded rather frosty. So he handed her the bottle.
“…That was all quite normal.” Needa was on a roll, and Piett knew he would only stop when he was done or when he was shot. “But that chase afterwards. – Very unusual.” Needa shook his head. “One freighter, you know. The entire Rebel fleet who had been at Hoth got away and what was the Imperial fleet chasing: a single freighter.” Needa turned to Piett. “It was Vader, wasn’t it?”
For a moment Piett stared at his friend, surprised by the question.
“If you mean, he insisted that we chase that ship, yes,” he replied. “He was really obsessed with the hunt. Nothing mattered if we only got that ship.” Piett frowned, he remembered how unhappy he had been about this bizarre development. He had just been promoted Admiral, and immediately he had to embark on this wild goose chase. Additionally, he found his ship invaded by a horde of bounty hunters. “It was just weird. We were hunting down a single freighter whose hyper-drive was obviously not working and even though we were on their tail already, Darth Vader hired half a dozen of bounty hunters to catch the same people.” It had been the first time he had been forced to communicate with the Emperor personally, another experience he could have well lived without. “What made it even stranger was that we went to all that trouble to catch the freighter with Han Solo and Princess Organa on board just to trap this other rebel, Skywalker.” Piett shook his head. “I mean he was right, of course. One of them found Solo and the Princess. The one in the Mandalorian Battle Armour.”
“Boba Fett.” Mon Mothma said.
“Yes, him. And Vader said specifically: ‘No disintigration’.” Piett shook his finger in the air, lowering his voice to imitate the Lord of the Sith.
“He really did that?” Needa asked. When Piett looked at him surprised, he continued, “I mean, did he actually shake his finger at Boba Fett?”
“Yes.” Piett replied, wondering what Needa was driving at. Either Needa was really drunk – Piett himself felt a little bit lightheaded – or he had some devious plan for this conversation.
Needa laughed loudly. “That’s just so … I can’t believe it. There is the Dark Lord of the Sith admonishing the most successful bounty-hunter in the galaxy like a little kid. – What did Boba Fett say?”
“‘As you wish.’” Piett still didn’t see what Needa thought was so funny. He knew it was childish, but, damnation, if Needa was playing little games, so could he. “Vader liked to shake his fingers at people. He shook his finger at me more than once. Just after the astroid-field.‘Don’t disappoint me again, Admiral.’ But you probably didn’t hear that.”
He felt instantly sorry for this comment. Needa stopped laughing abruptly, his hand wandering to his throat. “No. I didn’t.”
Piett continued his story, “and I was standing there trying desperately not to think: ‘Again? What the hell do you mean with again? I’ve just been in charge here for a day. I didn’t do anything wrong, did I? Help! I’m too young to die!’ and so on.”
Piett shook his head. Just thinking about it, made his stomach cramp together as if he had ingested poison, not vodka.
“The joys of working for somebody who can read your mind,” Needa said wryly.
“Yes,” Piett agreed, rubbing his stomach, which felt not at all happy.
“Here,” Mon Mothma handed him the bottle.
For a moment Piett seriously considered declining, but who was he fooling? “Thanks.”
Silence settled on their small group. Piett drank some vodka and passed the bottle on to Needa, who still looked rattled. Being reminded of that unfortunate episode usually had him out of sorts for ages. Which made it really bizarre he had brought it up in the first place. There must be something else to it.
Piett stared down at his boots and the small pile of twigs he had created.
“Perhaps we should make a fire,” he suggested.
“Oh, no,” Needa moaned, “this is really turning into summer camp.”
“I think as long as we don’t start singing, we should be safe,” Piett replied. He got up and started to collect some larger branches that were strewn around the ground, results from the crashing star destroyer a few days before.
Mon Mothma sat on her crate, silent, rubbing her injured arm with her right hand. Piett found himself wondering whether there were any songs they could all sing. They probably had to go back to theme tunes from popular holo shows of the Old Republic. Or some cheerful songs from the Clone Wars perhaps?
He piled some of the larger branches on top of the twigs, placing the rest next to him. He added some more dryer twigs and retrieved his backpack from where it was sitting next to Mon Mothma.
The leader of the Rebellion was lost in her own thoughts, making Piett wonder again what she really thought of them. The evening before she had said that she got along better with them than with the people who were her allies. Certainly the events in the Ewok village had proved her point. But how long would her friendly attitude last? When she was back with her people, would she still be so friendly?
He found the last of the matches they had packed before they set out to search for the shuttle, and set the small fire alight.
Mon Mothma suddenly smiled at him. “I was wondering how you would get this to burn,” she said.
“Our admiral is a man of many parts,” Needa stated. “And a master of survival.”
He was surprised that Needa had recovered so quickly. Perhaps knowing that Vader was dead helped, being sure that he would never again find himself choking on the floor.
“Well,” Needa suddenly said, “I have a theory.”
“Oh, no,” Piett replied, while he carefully stoked the fire. Needa and his theories…
“A good one,” Needa continued, which probably meant it was complete nonsense. But at least Needa’s theories were generally very amusing. “And that brings me back to the chase after the Battle of Hoth.”
Piett looked up. What on earth had gotten into Needa today? He brought that damn chase up again!
“Ok, where do I start….” Needa frowned at the bottle of vodka he was holding, took a drink and handed it over to Mon Mothma. “Darth Vader and his obsession with catching this Skywalker person. Vader went to extra-ordinary lengths to catch this young man – he is a young man, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Mon Mothma nodded, “twenty-four, I think.”
Needa closed his eyes for a moment and nodded, as if satisfied with something.
“Extra-ordinary lengths to catch this young man, and catch him alive. Why did he do it?”
“Because this Skywalker bloke is a jedi?” Piett ventured.
“So he is,” Needa nodded, “but do you remember what Vader did with the last jedi he encountered?”
“He killed him,” Mon Mothma answered, surprising both Needa and Piett. “Luke told us.”
“Excactly,” Needa said. “Now, he wants to capture this one alive. They have a heart-to-heart on Bespin, and instead of killing him, Vader lets him escape. Very strange. Then, next thing we know, Skywalker manages to get captured without being killed and is taken to the Death Star mark 2. Unusual. And what happens there? Lord Darth Vader suddenly decides to throw twenty-odd years of being Palpatine’s loyal servant into the wind to save that Rebel’s life, killing the Emperor on top of it, and apparently getting badly injured in the process.” Needa made a dramatic pause that he used for having another sip of vodka. “Unbelievably strange. And the Rebel? What does he do, he tries to haul Vader’s sorry ass off the Death Star. I know that the Rebels are all very nice and philanthropic people – except the ones we meet –”
“Angus!” Piett interrupted him, “you are forgetting yourself.” He extricated the bottle of vodka from Needa’s hand.
“Sorry, Simara,” Needa said, smiling innocently, “I was talking of Sergeant Prick-arse of course. – Anyway, we know the Rebels are good people, particularly their lovely leader, but instead of trying to save the thousands of people on the second Death Star, this young man, dragged the incapacitated Vader to a shuttle and took off.”
“But Vader is dead?” Piett asked. What if that Rebel had saved Vader’s life? Would he bump into his former superior the following day on the Rebel ship?
“Yes,” Mon Mothma insisted. “He is dead.”
“Now,” Needa continued, “this is all very, very, very peculiar, isn’t it? Very out of character for Vader. I am not quite sure yet, but I think I have found out what is behind all of that.” He retrieved the bottle of vodka. “I want you to cast your minds back 25 years,” he stated grandiloquently. “The last years before the new beginning, to a date which I am sure our admiral here can state precisely, the day Anakin Skywalker crashed his c-wing into a building.”
Piett opened his mouth to provide the exact date, but Needa continued. “Anakin Skywalker came from Tatooine, didn’t he? Just like your young Rebel, Luke, right?”
Piett nodded, Anakin Skywalker might not have been born on Tatooine but he grew up there. There had been rumours that the younger Skywalker was a nephew of Anakin.
“There is one piece to the puzzle missing,” Needa stated, “and you, my dear Simara, can probably provide it. Luke Skywalker was not raised by his parents, was he?”
“No,” Mon Mothma stated, sounding strangely upset.
“Ha! I knew it.” Needa sounded very pleased with himself.
“What?” Piett asked.
“Don’t you see?” Needa almost shouted. “It’s obvious!”
“Well, not to me.”
Piett of course knew by now that Needa wanted to prove that this rebel was the son of Anakin Skywalker. It might be possible, he was just about the right age, maybe a bit too young. But Anakin had not returned to Tatooine for years before his death.
“Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker!” Needa exclaimed. “Sorry, was Anakin Skywalker, and this Luke Skywalker is his son.”
Piett stared momentarily speechless at his colleague. He could not really mean that. It was impossible. Anakin Skywalker died and was buried and…
But then he happened to look at Mon Mothma, who seemed to be equally surprised by Needa’s theory. No, it was something else that made her look so pale and shocked. She thought it was true!
“It all fits together perfectly,” Needa continued. “Darth Vader appeared just after Anakin Skywalker died, or should I say, died officially. And Luke Skywalker was born just at the right time for him to be Anakin’s son. Probably he did not know anything about it, his wife ran away just before he died, didn’t she? She might have been pregnant. And, of course!” Needa was still looking at Piett, trying to goad him into contradicting him, “how could I forget, that Princess, she was adopted too, she must be Anakin Skywalker’s daughter. Their mother had friends on … oh.”
Finally Needa looked at Mon Mothma, who still stared at him in disbelief.
“Oh.” For a moment Needa himself was speechless. “Oh. I…” He looked back at Piett. “I am right?” he asked incredulously.
Piett had to swallow. He could not really believe it. It could not be true.
It was Mon Mothma who answered. “Yes,” she said simply.
“Firelord,” Needa said quietly. “I thought I was just making it up.”
Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were the same person? Oh my gods. Piett had to take a serious drink from the bottle of vodka. That meant that he… he had been Anakin Skywalker’s second-in-command.
“Hold it, hold it,” Needa said, and grabbed hold of the bottle of vodka. “You are not drinking that on your own. I am just as surprised as you are.”
“No you aren’t,” Piett replied, but he let Needa take the bottle. He shuddered. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader, the same person? It was… no it couldn’t be.
“This is the first time one of my silly theories turned out to be true,” Needa stated and handed the bottle back to Piett. “I am sorry, Grigori, I did not know.”
“It’s alright.” Piett took a deep breath and an even deeper drink from the bottle. He then handed it over to Mon Mothma. “You are sure, that this is true?”
Mon Mothma nodded. “All of it, every single word.” She then shook her head. “Including the Princess…” She drank a few gulps of vodka. “She told me herself only a few days ago. She insisted I not tell anybody, but apparently it’s easy to figure out.”
“I don’t think so, that was a really wild guess,” Needa stated. “Actually, I don’t think you should even call it a wild guess, I was definitely fantasising by this point.”
“Oh good gods,” Piett said, “I need a drink.”
“Slow down, Grigori, we only have that one bottle.”
“I don’t care. I want to get drunk and die.”
Mon Mothma handed him the bottle.
For a moment he stared at the blue glass, and felt his stomach rumble. “You know,” he said, “when I was a young man, filling shelves in my father’s shop, I was dreaming of getting away from it all. Leaving Pokrovsk, joining the navy. And once I had joined the navy, my genius would be recognised at once, I would be promoted and in a short while I would be serving directly under Commodore Skywalker or Field Marshal Skywalker or whatever he was at the time, I would be his trusted second-in-command and we would bring peace and happiness to the galaxy. – Then Anakin Skywalker died and my dream died with him.” He shook his head. “Or so I thought. Now, you are telling me that it all came true. It just was not as wonderful as I had thought. It was a nightmare.” He looked at Needa. “I think you understand why I need to get drunk.”
“I am sorry, Grigori,” Needa said.
“Not as sorry as I am,” Piett drank some more vodka, grimacing when his stomach protested. He really ought to stop now.
“I am sorry, Grigori,” Mon Mothma echoed. She sounded genuinely sorry, and Piett found himself smiling back at her, despite his upset stomach and despite the dreadful news.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.” He bent over the fire, to avoid looking at her. “In a way, it is almost funny. Poetic justice. They always say that you should be careful about what you dream about as it might come true. I never understood what was bad about dreams coming true. I think, now I know.”
“We’ve been through a couple of wild days, haven’t we?” Mon Mothma sighed. “Lost friends, found new ones, I at least had my perception of the universe thoroughly rattled through.”
She had a drink and handed the bottle to Needa, who looked not very happy about the low level of vodka left.
“The Emperor died,” Needa continued, “as did Darth Vader. And the Rebellion has decided that it is now a legitimate government. You signed a treaty with these furry gremlins, though I guess that has been broken already. That must be the shortest lasting treaty in history.”
“Don’t remind me,” Mon Mothma rubbed here eyes. “It is not exactly an auspicious start to my career as a head of state. Perhaps I should retire.”
“The Ewok treaty was not that important, was it?” Piett asked. He felt strangely moved to try and cheer Mon Mothma up. He liked her, admired her skills as a diplomat, and, most importantly, she seemed to be the person who could guarantee the safety of his men. “You did not intend to keep up a presence in this sector, did you? Diplomatic relations but no other ties, no military or trade links.”
“Some trade, yes,” Mon Mothma corrected him.
“With what?” Needa asked looking around with disgust. “Wood?”
“As far as I can tell, the timber here is of very inferior quality,” Piett stated. “It’s too porous to make anything that would justify having it exported.” What on earth was he talking about? The others really did not want to hear his wise words on the logging industry. “Sorry. Can’t help it on occasion.”
“Fur?” Needa suggested. “Perhaps you could turn those critters into nice, warm carpet slippers.”
Mon Mothma laughed, then shook her head. “No, the specifics of the trade agreement were left open.”
“You are not really going to retire?” Piett asked her.
For a few moments, Mon Mothma just smiled at him, then she shook her head. “No, not yet.”
“Good,” Piett said.
“Why, Admiral, are you thinking of joining us?” she asked teasingly.
Carefully avoiding looking anywhere near Needa, Piett shook his head. “No, I’m sorry, I really want to retire.”
“We could really use your help,” Mon Mothma said.
“My help?” Piett was too surprised with her statement to find anything more clever to say. What help could they possibly gain from a washed-up, former Imperial admiral with no ship.
“You were Darth Vader’s second-in-command, Grigori,” Needa stated flatly, “you are more important than you know, you know more than you let on. – And just surviving for as long as you did under the Dark Lord’s gaze proves that you are good.” He stressed the last word. “Even without all that, just getting you on their side will be a coup for the Rebellion.”
“As if anybody would pay any attention,” Piett replied. He looked at Mon Mothma, who just smiled, and at Needa, who frowned at him.
“A lot of people will pay attention,” Needa insisted.
“All the people here, for example.” Mon Mothma pointed over her shoulder to the shelter.
“You’re not serious,” Piett stated, even though his two companions were obviously very serious. “I am sorry, I … I really, really just want to go home, and go on the piss with my sister and then do something very, very boring for the rest of my life, like filling shelves in a store.”
“Your sister is not talking to you, do you think she will allow you to work in her store?” Needa wanted to know. “That’s a different sister by the way,” he explained for Mon Mothma’s sake.
“There are more stores on Pokrovsk than Minna’s.”
“Well, if you really want to retire, I have to accept it,” Mon Mothma stated, “but if you want to reconsider, you are always welcome.”
“Thank you.” Piett smiled at Mon Mothma. It surprised him himself, how much he was flattered and, yes, happy to be accepted and appreciated.
“If you can’t have an admiral, perhaps you would consider a captain as a second prize?” Needa asked.
“You?” Mon Mothma grinned. “I thought you were far too cynical to throw your lot in with a bunch of idealists like us.”
“Well…,” Needa turned the almost empty bottle in his hands.
It was surprising, Piett thought, Angus Needa of all people joining the Rebellion. He had always thought that Needa would return home too, but then – his home was Coruscant, not the safest place to be at the moment.
“And to be honest, Angus,” Mon Mothma continued, “I already had an offer from a captain.”
“That little snit McLaughlin?” Needa laughed. “I hoped I would be the first to ask.”
“Makes sense,” Piett commented. He could well imagine McLaughlin throwing his lot in with the Rebellion. The idea of Needa joining them, he still had problems coming to terms with. They seemed to be so … well, what did he really know about the Rebells anyway? He’d never thought that their leader was such a nice lady, and the wanted holos certainly did not do her any justice. – Perhaps it was just that uniform suited her…
“Never mind, Angus,” Mon Mothma said, patting him on the knee, “I would be very happy to have you join us. I’d like that very much.”
“But not as much as you’d like Grisha here to join.” Needa replied with a big grin on his face.
“Oh, shut up,” Piett replied, “you have had too much to drink.” He liberated the bottle from Needa’s grip. “And you just’re joining them because you have nowhere to go back to.”
“Now, look who’s talking,” Needa replied, “who drank half of that bottle earlier?”
Needa turned to Mon Mothma, who watched them with an amused grin on her face. “Never mind him,” he told her, “he’s just upset because he lost all his little trees. Lots and lots of little trees.”
“My trees and everything else I owned,” Piett concurred, suddenly overcome with a feeling of great loss about his ship, all his stuff and his trees…
“Don’t you think I lost everything I own?” Needa replied. “My comic collection.” He sighed, exaggerating his sorrow, but Piett knew that Needa was grieving for his comics just as much as he grieved for his trees. Needa loved his comic collection. It had been a good one, as Piett knew; he had borrowed enough of them to know it.
“My dears,” Mon Mothma suddenly said, “I think we’ve all had too much to drink.” As if to confirm her statement, she suddenly hiccupped. “And it is late. We should retire, before we are too drunk to walk straight, or feel so sorry for ourselves that we start bawling. We have to look our best tomorrow when my friends come to pick us up.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Needa got to his feet, swaying a little as he did so. “Grisha, I think you should accompany the lady to her quarters, while I perform the sacred rite of pissing out the fire.”
“I think the person who performs that ritual is entitled to the last drink.” Piett, forewarned by Needa’s difficulties, rose very slowly, and then handed Needa the bottle. There was just another sip in it. They had honestly polished the bottle off.
“Thank you, sir,” Needa said with as much military fervour as he could produce.
“Ma’am.” Piett offered Mon Mothma his arm.
Mon Mothma pushed her good arm through his, and together they returned to the shelter.
Chapter 17: In which the ship-wrecked are finally picked up.
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