Chapter 17:
In which the ship-wrecked are finally picked up.

Of course, it had to be raining.
Mon Mothma frowned out over the clearing. This must be one of the most dismal places she ever had been to: grey, dreary, constant rain and then these horrible natives. The Emperor would have hardly picked this location for any other reason than that it was far from anywhere, but somehow it would have probably appealed to his twisted sense of humour to place the most powerful and modern battle station in orbit of this most awful and backwater planet.
Mon Mothma adjusted the hood of her cloak. She felt still uncomfortable that she was the only person who had some sort of rain-proof clothing. Captain McLaughlin and his friend Alexander Dunbee had run up her cloak last night, made of some sort of tent material. It was a very light grey, almost white.
Their reasoning had of course been impeccable. Her friends should be able to spot her at once and they would certainly not expect her to wear Imperial uniform. Her own clothes had been beyond help. Wearing this light-coloured cloak would make her stand out enough to be easily recognisable. The fact that it was water-proof was just an additional benefit.
Dunbee had also renewed her bandages this morning, they were now lighter and she could move her arm, though he had advised her to take it easy and not put any weight on it.
Where on earth was the shuttle?
Mon Mothma looked up, but all she managed was to let the hood slip off her head, and at once water started to seep down her neck.
Pulling the hood back up, she looked to the assembly of Imperial troops on the clearing. They were neatly arrayed in groups, the black clad army personnel on the far right, the white-armoured storm-troopers next, a small group of pilots and on the left, closest to her the navy in their green uniforms.
To her own left Sergeant Pringles sat on a upturned tree and sulked.
Mon Mothma sighed. He was indeed wearing his own clothes, his trousers had not been completely dry this morning but of course in the rain it did not really matter. He had not said a word to her since her return to their quarters last night.
Automatically, Mon Mothma looked over to the imperial troops, where Admiral Piett was talking to Captain Needa and Captain McLaughlin.
It had been a nice evening. Piett – Grigori – had walked her back to her room, and when he had said good-night, she had thought that she really would like to kiss him. Mon Mothma felt her face grow hot, she had not been drinking that much for a long time. But at least she had not given in to the impulse, and had just shaken his hand instead.
‘You are drunk,’ had been all Sergeant Pringles had said to her, as she had come in, stumbling slightly when she had bumped against her bed in the dark.
Well, he had been right, but there had been no reason why he should say it in such a judgemental way, as if somehow she had done something horribly wrong, something treacherous.
Damnation, she had had a good time and she was not going to be sorry for it. Perhaps she should have simply ignored Pringles, but she was not sorry that she had told him to go to hell. If he was offended it was his own damn fault.
Where was that bloody shuttle?
Mon Mothma pulled her cloak closer around herself and walked over to Piett. She involuntarily had to smile, though she tried quickly to hide her amusement, but he looked so charmingly bedraggled she could not stop herself. The rain had soaked through his uniform, plastered his hair to his head, and was dripping from his nose and chin – and that after he had taken so much care this morning to look as neat and tidy as was possible on this horrid planet.
Needa and McLaughlin were equally wet, but looked less worried about their appearance.
“I am sorry about the delay,” Mon Mothma said, “I don’t know what is keeping them.”
Piett shrugged. “We were wet when we got here, it does not really matter.” For a moment he just looked at her, as if searching for something to say. “You seem to be dry in there,” he stated then.
“Yes, thanks to Captain McLaughlin.” She smiled at the young man. “I must be the only person here who is somewhat dry. – And Major Remier, of course,” she added grimly.
Not that Major Remier was able to appreciate the preferential treatment he received. He was still unconscious, tended as well as he could by Alexander Dunbee. Now Remier was waiting, wrapped up carefully in another sheet of the water-proof material her cloak was made of and with a tent like contraption built above his stretcher to keep him dry. At least, Mon Mothma tried to console himself, his condition had not deteriorated, but the longer his injuries remained untreated the more likely it was that any damage would be permanent.
The pilot who had been so badly burned had died during the night. It would have been easy to say that it was probably for the better, but Mon Mothma knew that if her people had been able to pick them up two nights ago, the pilot could have received proper medical treatment and would by now be recovering. It would haven taken time but he would have lived.
Instead, they had buried him this morning. The ceremony had been brief, but surprisingly beautiful. One of the other pilots, Hookainin or Hookainan, had held the funeral oration in his strangely harsh but musical native language. Mon Mothma had been moved, even though she did not understand a word that was said.
She had also been reminded of all the other pilots. Imperial as well as those of the Rebellion who had died in the battle only a few days ago. Most of them never even had a proper funeral. Pilot Mahti Turhku’s funeral had been attended by no less than a head of state, an admiral, two captains, a general and a variety of junior officers. Probably a first in the history of the Imperial armed forces – and probably also a last.
Sergeant Pringles had predictably declined to attend the funeral.
“There it is,” Captain McLaughlin said, pointing up into the overcast sky. Pushing her hood back, Mon Mothma stared up to where the shuttle was now visible. It was – by necessity – the largest shuttle they had on the ship.
If only the awful rain would stop. Within a few moments her hair was sticking to her head and the rain started running down her neck and into her clothes, but her people had to see that she was here, alive and well and not under any pressure, so there was no question of putting the hood back up. It would be an incredibly tense situation anyway, long-standing distrust on both sides and any sort of misunderstanding might lead to a blood bath. The Imperial troops were armed – after all they had not been taken prisoner – and so would be the contingent send by her people.
The shuttle had arrived at its position above the clearing and was now slowly descending to the ground.
Mon Mothma jumped with surprise when General Ossory bellowed this command in his best barracks’ voice.
There was a general shuffling and the Imperial troops who had been standing at ease, talking to each other, fell into line, precise military order prevailing. The four senior officers took their positions in front of the troops, Ossory in front of the army contingent, Admiral Piett, flanked by the two Captains, before the navy men.
Even Sergeant Pringles had risen to his feet.
Mon Mothma walked almost all the way to where he was standing, enough for her to be visibly separate from the Imperial troops.
After remaining next to his tree trunk for a few moments, Pringles sullenly crossed the few meters and stood next to her.
The shuttle set down heavily on the ground. Its design – with the main hatch towards its back – meant that the cockpit was facing the forest on the other side of the clearing and it was impossible to see the pilots’ faces, which might have given Mon Mothma some impression of the mood of her people. On the other hand, it also meant that the main laser batteries were pointing towards the forest, not at the Imperial troops.
There was a hissing noise and the ramp was slowly lowered. Two files of Rebel soldiers, blasters at the ready, came marching down the ramp at the double.
What on earth were they thinking?
Mon Mothma stepped forward, confirming with a quick glance that the Imperial troops were still standing rigorously to attention, no hands had dropped to their blasters – yet.
She scanned along the faces of the Rebel soldiers as they formed up in two rows on each side of the ramp, trying to find somebody who was in charge, somebody she knew, somebody she could address and make them lower their damned guns.
For once in her life she could not think of something to say. Would the soldiers obey her if she ordered them to put their weapons down or would they think that she was coerced by the Imperials? She did not dare to walk faster than at a slow pace, in case her friends interpreted her movement as an attempt to escape.
It was of course an unprecedented situation, mutual suspicion was to be expected, but by god, she would find whoever was responsible for this…
She had crossed about half the distance to the shuttle, when she caught a movement just from the corner of her eye. Instincively she turned towards it, and saw one of the Rebel soldiers raising his blaster, pointing it straight at the little cluster of navy officers and firing.
A red burst of laser fire exploded from of the gun’s muzzle.
It seemed to Mon Mothma as if time slowed down. Her head was turning to follow the laser bolt, while she heard herself shouting at her troops to stop and drop their weapons.
The shot hit Captain Needa, throwing him back off his feet. Mon Mothma could see the expression of utter surprise and bewilderment on his face as he tumbled over.
Piett who stood close enough that his right shoulder almost touched Needa’s, spun around too, and like Mon Mothma he was yelling, “hold your fire! – Hold your fire!”
The order was taken up by Captain McLaughlin and General Ossory.
Turning back towards her troops, Mon Mothma sprinted towards the soldier who had fired, he had his blaster still raised, its muzzle pointing at the officers on the other side of the clearing.
“Drop your guns!” Mon Mothma shouted at her troops, placing herself deliberately into the line of fire of the rogue soldier. If he wanted to shoot somebody he would have to shoot her.
Somebody came running out of the shuttle, the soldier was holding his fire for the moment looking slightly confused, behind her she could hear the imperial officers shouting at their troops, then she had reached the soldier who had shot and punched him in the face with all her strength.
The man blinked once and fell over backwards.
Then everything went quiet – and time started to move normally again.
Mon Mothma took a deep breath and ordered nobody in particular: “Arrest him.”
Slowly she turned around, taking in that most of her soldiers had obeyed her command, only a few were still holding their blasters in their hands but none had raised their weapon. All of them were staring at her wide-eyed, some surely thought she had just handed them over to the Imperials.
On the other side of the clearing, the Imperial troops seemed not to have moved an inch since they had been told to stand to attention. Ossory and McLaughlin were still standing in front of the precisely lined-up ranks.
The only difference was that Piett was now crouching on the ground, next to the prostrate Needa.
Mon Mothma fought down the urge to run across the clearing to see what had happened. She thought that the shot might have just hit Needa’s arm, she had not seen it clearly but she hoped he had not been badly injured. She wanted to pray that he was still alive.
Slowly she turned back towards her troops, lined up before the shuttle, looking confused, sheepish, uncertain. At the foot of the ramp stood a middle-aged man.
Mon Mothma slowly walked over to him.
“Are you in charge of this operation?” she asked coldly.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the man answered. He opened his mouth to continue, but Mon Mothma cut him short. “Take this man and lock him up somewhere.” She indicated the soldier she had hit, who was slowly sitting up, holding his jaw with his left hand.
She quickly glanced to the Imperial troops, where Alexander Dunbee had joined Piett. To her great relief both of them looked concerned and were still examining Needa.
Turning back to her own people, she looked along the line of faces. Most of them were showing expressions of confusion but some of the men and women looked angry. The situation was still tense, possible explosive. Too much blood had been spilled between these two groups to allow an easy truce to prevail.
“This is an historic event,” Mon Mothma said, her voice sounding surprisingly calm even to herself, “a beginning. The Battle of Endor and the destruction of the Death Star, the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader was the end of an era for us, for the entire Empire. We cannot hope that the armed struggle is going to end at once but the Imperial state has lost its two most prominent figures and its most awsome weapon in one day. We have decided that it is time to change our tactics: we are no longer a rebellion fighting against a corrupt and exploitative regime, we now have to take a more positive approach and have set up a provisional government. We are trying to end this conflict as quickly and with as little distruction and death as possible.”
Mon Mothma turned and looked towards the Imperial troops, who seemed to listen with even greater interest than her own people.
To her intense relief, Needa had regained a sitting position, propped up by Piett, while Dunbee apparently tried to examine his injuries. The captain looked frighteningly pale, and his uniform jacket was soaked with blood, but he was alive. Mon Mothma smiled at him, receiving a shaky smile in return.
“There are two options open to us now,” she continued. “We can either continue fighting what we call ‘the Empire’, forcing the men and women who were working within its structures to fight back and oppose us, or we can seek a more constructive, a more difficult approach.” She paused, and turned back to her own people. “Two days ago Admiral Piett told me that we all have been believing our own propaganda too much. In the time since then, I have had to admit that he was right. We have all fallen into the trap to see the universe in black and white, ourselves as the heroes and the people we were fighting as the villains. These people,” she pointed towards the assembled Imperial troops, “are not evil, this is not an army of monsters. Granted there are immoral, vicious people in the Imperial army as this sort of behaviour was encouraged, ruthless and often cruel actions were rewarded. But most of these men have been trying to simply survive within a regime that was as oppressive to its members as it was to its opponents.”
She half hoped, half feared that somebody was recording this. She knew her speech would cause a storm among the command of the Rebellion but it was her chance to get her ideas, her convictions and her plans for the future across. She was the head of state: this was her statement of how she wanted the new government to act.
“Several of these people risked their lives, some of them lost their lives or got seriously injured trying to rescue me and my companions.” She stated solemnly. “Without their unconditional help I would be dead now. The death of my companions is my, if anybody’s fault. We have underestimated, or perhaps overestimated the natives of this planet.” She swallowed, and with ice in her voice declared, “the Ewoks have broken their agreement with us in the most despicable and wanton fashion. We have neither time nor intention to extract retaliation but we are going to withdraw from this sector completely and for good.”
And may the little critters rot in hell. Mon Mothma let her last statement sink in with her own people. She spotted several other people, more of the crew of the shuttle presumably, standing on the ramp of the ship. The more people who heard this the better.
“We are facing difficult times, I do not hide the fact. But the Rebellion as we knew it is over, the old demarcation lines between us and them are no longer valid. The New Republic we have been fighting for has to be tolerant, a state that is inclusive to all. I do not suggest we should forgive and forget, welcome everybody, but equally we cannot refuse all who have been part of the Imperial forces. We have to reconsider our own position. The future is going to be challanging for all of us.”
Mon Mothma turned to face the Imperial troops again.
“Several of these Imperial soldiers have already asked me to join our movement. I have guaranteed all of them that they will be treated fairly, whether they are going to become officially allied to our cause, whether they want to return to their homes, or whether they want to return to their units. We are not here to pass judgement over them, they have not surrendered, they are not our prisoners but our guests for the time being. I expect you to extend every courtesy towards them during their stay with us.” She returned to look at her own troops. “If we are to prove that we are a tolerant and ethical government as we have declared during all the time we were fighting the Emperor, this is the only course of action we can take.” She took the time to look at each of the lined up soldiers in turn, relieved to see that most of them seemed to understand and accept her message, only a couple of faces were showing signs of irritation and disbelief. “Dismissed,” she said quietly.
For a moment her troops were uncertain of what to do then, one after one turned and returned to the shuttle. They picked up their guns again. Very obviously they were still uncertain of what to do, how to behave, but they had stopped being simply hostile and suspicious of the imperial troops.
“At ease,” Ossory hollered on the other side of the clearing, making some of the retreating men and women jump and turn around.
The Imperial troops fell out of the rigid lines they had kept so far, and started talking to each other. The former Rebels continued to climb back into the shuttle.
One of the people she had spotted on the ramp was now hurrying towards here, a medipac under his arm.
“Mon Mothma,” he exclaimed.
Mon Mothma was relieved to recognise Dr. Matlock, a medic she had heard very positive things about.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, obviously very concerned.
“I am fine,” she answered, slightly irritated. Somebody had been shot and he asked how she was. “I want you to look at Captain Needa.”
She walked over to the Imperial officers, finally able to check on Needa, while Dr. Matlock followed behind her.
Mon Mothma knelt down on the ground next to the injured captain. He was obviously in severe pain, his face was deathly white and there was a little trickle of blood where he had bit his lips hard enough to cut through the skin. But he was alive and conscious.
“How are you, Angus?” she asked.
“I’ll live,” he managed to say.
Dr. Matlock pushed her aside, and bent over Needa, holding a medical scanner over the wound. “You’re damned lucky,” he stated after a few moments, “the shot missed your lungs by a hair’s breadth, nor were any major arteries injured.” Matlock took a spray-on bandage out of his pack.
“Lucky?” Needa asked angrily, then yelped in pain when Dr Matlock peeled the scorched uniform jacket from his shoulder.
“Damn lucky,” Matlock confirmed. “The man managed to hit one of the few spots where a blaster bolt of that caliber can pass through the flesh without causing any serious damage.”
“Can’t you be a bit more careful,” Dunbee complained, as Matlock started to pry the melted shirt from the Captain’s skin. The fabric seemed to be fused to the edges of the wound and Needa looked as if he was about to faint. “You can do that on the ship, damn you.” Dunbee hissed.
“Dr. Matlock,” Mon Mothma exclaimed, realising that the doctor seemed to be deliberately hurting his patient. “Just seal the wound and give him something against the pain.”
Matlock perhaps only now noticed what he was doing and stopped his attempt to remove the burnt garment and applied the sealing bandage, both to the entry as well as the exit wound.
“Lucky,” Needa muttered, looking at Piett, who was still holding him in a sitting position. “That idiot did not try to shoot me at all. He tried to shoot you.”
“I’m sorry,” Piett said.
Dr Matlock, carefully this time, injected some pale liquid into the Captain’s injured shoulder. “There is nothing more I can do until we get him to the ship.” He returned his instruments to his bag. “And whatever you think,” he said to Needa, “you were damned lucky.”
“You have another patient,” Dunbee told Matlock, “I don’t think there is anything you can do about his injuries now, but I nevertheless want you to have a look at him.”
Matlock looked unpleasantly surprised that this Imperial soldiers dared to give him orders, but Mon Mothma confirmed it with a nod, and he had no other choice but to follow the younger man towards Major Remier’s stretcher.
Mon Mothma looked closer at the wound, that was now covered with a jelly-like substance. “That was close,” she stated, then looked back up at Needa and then at Piett who seemed to have gone quite pale too. “I swear I would have shot the bastard if something had happened to either of you.”
“Fortunately he is not as good a shot as you are,” Piett commented.
Mon Mothma nodded. “We should get a move on,” she said. “Get out of this abysmal rain and off this dreadful planet.”
“Can you walk?” Piett asked Needa.
“I think so.” Needa gingerly tapped his injured shoulder with his left hand, some colour had returned to his face. “The painkiller is definitely working.”
“Come on then.” Mon Mothma put her good arm around Needa’s waist, while Piett pulled the Captain’s other arm around his shoulders.
With some difficulty they managed to get on their feet and started toward the shuttle.
Mon Mothma wondered again, if someone was recording these events. The incident had made the amount of hostility and suspicion between the Rebel soldiers and their Imperial counterparts painfully clear. She had said that the future would be difficult and reconciliation hard to reach but she hoped that they had made a first step toward it. But there would be some people in her camp who would think she had betrayed their ideals, just as the Imperials who joined the New Republic would be regarded as traitors by many of their companions.
But if they wanted to stay true to their ideals this was the only way to choose.
“Let’s get a move on!” General Ossory hollered at the troops, “don’t just stand there, fall in and follow the Admiral.”

Chapter 18: In which Admrial Piett says his good-byes to his career, Captain Needa and Mon Mothma.

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