When the ramp of the small
shuttle that had taken him to Pokrovsk had been lowered, it revealed a
sight only too familiar to Piett: trees and rain.
Piett stared outside at the well-known sight of the port in his hometown, at the gigantic trees, grey-green in the rain and gathering darkness. He had come back for holidays more often than he could remember and this sight had always reminded him why he had left in the first place. Now that he had come back to stay it seemed to have taken on a much more pleasant tone. It felt like coming home.
Piett walked down the ramp. There were only a dozen other passengers on the shuttle, all of them were transferring to planetary ships that would take them to other parts of Pokrovsk. He had been relieved that there was no one he knew travelling with him, he did not feel like small talk or worse, having to fend off questions of what had happened.
Though this was Pokrovsk’s main port, it was a small operation, mainly used for cargo- Passengers had to walk across the tarmac to the terminal building. The landing area itself was not fenced off, another sign of how unimportant and remote his homeworld was, and family or friends picking up passengers usually drove straight on to the landing stip. But so far there was no sign of Rilla or anybody else he knew.
He had spoken to her from Navenka port and told her when he would land, but his shuttle had been early.
Rain was once more starting to seep through his clothes, plastering his hair to his head. Piett sighed, he had become wet more often in the last week than he had been in the two decades before. He seemed to get used to it, however, as he did not really mind getting wet.
It was Pokrovski rain now, and somehow that suddenly made a lot of difference. He did not even mind the trees. They looked familiar and friendly. It did help that he knew they were not infested with those dreadful, furry creatures.
Dusk was settling over the port, the sun had already disappeared behind the trees. A swarm of cerrecks came flying low over the tarmac, and the crew quickly shut the shuttle door before the curious birds had time to try to investigate its inside. Instead the swarm briefly enveloped Piett, who was the only passenger left on the landing strip, but obviously decided that he was not particularly interesting. With the uncanny co-ordination that still amazed Piett they turned and flew towards the forest.
The presence of animals was another difference to Endor. Except for those strange creatures they had not encountered any native wildlife on the moon. They had not been on a zoological excursion seeking new species, but they should have encountered some wildlife.
Here, he could immediately spot a variety of animals. A large pitter bird was hovering over the lawn surrounding the landing strip, hunting for small rodents, he could hear the rumbling howl of a thal from the forest, a grey-brown striped forest thruppet slunk along the side of the terminal building…
A big, bright yellow speeder came around the corner of the terminal building driving straight onto the landing strip.
That was Rilla’s work speeder, Piett noticed to his surprise. He was just wondering why she had not borrowed Vara’s smaller speeder as she usually did, when the vehicle came to a stop right in front of him and out of its doors came a veritable explosion of children and weekies. Rilla was only a fraction slower than her assembled nephews and nieces. Though Piett did not at once have an immediate overview, it seemed that they were all here.
“Grisha!” Rilla yelled at the top of her voice, and almost knocked him off his feet when she threw herself at him.
Piett was literally overwhelmed by the sudden attention he received from his young relatives. The weekies fluttered around and in between them, adding to the general chaos.
“Ok, ok, slow down folks.” Another surprise emerged from the speeder in the shape of Arkin, Minna’s husband. “Rilla, let the man take a breath.”
Rilla took a step back, grinning widely. The horde of children and weekies sorted themselves out, revealing that it was indeed the full complement of three nephews and four nieces along with three weekies, squawking and only restrained with difficulty by their owners.
“Welcome home,” Arkin said, shaking Piett’s hand. “Good to see you back.”
“Good to see you too, Arkin,” Piett replied. He suppressed the urge to ask whether Minna was also happy that he was alive. He would find out whether his sister’s mind had changed soon enough.
Militsa suddenly shoved her elder brother aside and rushed to him, tears streaming down her face.
“They told me you were dead,” she cried, “they said the evil Rebels blew up your ship, Uncle Grisha.”
He picked up his youngest niece, feeling absurdly guilty for being alive and here to enjoy his family’s welcome when for so many nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, parents, partners there would not be a happy reunion with their loved ones.
“I’m fine, Militsa,” he told her, “I was lucky.”
Militsa wrapped her arms around his throat and buried her face against his neck. It must be difficult for a eight-year-old to understand all this.
Evil Rebels? He would like that arrogant bastard Pringles hear them referred to like this. It was all a matter of perspective, of course. Piett wondered whether Militsa had picked the phrase up from her elders or whether she had coined it herself.
What would they say when they knew he had actually made friends with the ‘evil Rebels’ and in fact kissed the leader of the Rebellion?
“Come on,” Rilla said, picking up his backpack, “Vara is making a welcome home feast. You have to tell us all, how you got out, what happened to you since. We don’t get any reliable news at the moment. The Imperial News Services went down five days ago. Only the local station is broadcasting and they seem to be uncertain of what to believe and what not. We got the list of destroyed ships from the naval base on Navenka. Is it true that the Emperor is dead?”
With some difficulties children, weekies and grown-ups squeezed into the speeder and set out for their short journey to Vara’s home.
Rilla had not exaggerated when she said that Vara was preparing a feast. There was enough food there to feed a small garrison. They seemed to think that he had been starving since his ship exploded. There was plenty of vodka as well as beer and tula berry liqueur.
For the entire time they spent over dinner, Piett had to tell his assembled family about his adventures. They were understandably curious about what happened at the Battle of Endor. So far they had only heard rumours about the victory of the Rebels, no details at all about the destruction of the Death Star, the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. He tried at He tried at first to gloss over some of the more gruesome details but somehow with eleven avid listeners, seven of them curious children, he ended up telling them almost everything – with the exception of the exact nature of Mon Mothma’s good-bye.
He could see that his nephews and nieces were deeply impressed by his tale of adventure, though he tried to convey to them that this was an adventure where real people really got killed. He had been very lucky, extremely lucky to get out of it alive.
His sisters and the husbands were more impressed by the fact that he had met Mon Mothma and Rilla had an almost hysterical laughing fit when he described how this suave and apparently mild-mannered woman had turned around and eradicated an entire Ewok village.
It was almost midnight by the time they had finished the second course of dessert. Vara and Toli shooed their own children to their beds. Militsa had already fallen asleep on her uncle’s lap, and was easily transported off. They told Rilla and Piett to let themselves out.
Arkin gathered his brood of three and their two weekies to return home, the home Piett grew up in and now never saw thanks to his stupid fight with Minna.
After shepherding his family outside, Arkin returned to the dining room and with a broad grin stated, “Minna is really happy that you are alive, Grigori. She just doesn’t want to admit it.”
Piett felt ridiculously happy about this revelation, though he assumed that some of his reaction could be explained by his general state of mind and the amount of alcohol he had consumed.
He returned his brother-in-law’s grin. “That is lovely,” he replied and meant it. Perhaps there was a chance that Minna and he could sort out their differences after all.
“Papa,” Masha screamed from outside, “Volodya is drunk! I think he is going to be sick!”
“Oh dear,” Arkin said, “Minna is not going to be amused about this.” He turned around and walked out, his slightly swaying process ample indication that he was far from sober himself.
“No time like fifteen to get drunk,” Rilla declared.
“As long as Minna doesn’t put it down to Uncle Grisha’s evil influence,” Piett muttered.
“Now what?” Rilla said, leaning her head on her hand. “It’s too early to go to bed.”
“Rilla,” Piett told her, “you know the one thought that kept me going all the time while I was stuck on that horrible moon?”
“No,” Rilla shook her head.
“I said to myself, Grisha, as soon as you are home you are going to get royally drunk with Rilla, and I think it’s time we put my plan into action.”
Rilla threw her arms around his neck and said, with tears in her eyes, “that is so beautiful, Grisha.”
For once it was not raining. Rilla put her arm around Piett’s shoulder as they walked down the main road, deserted at this hour, to the ‘Three Thruppets’.
“Some of my mates from work are there,” Rilla confided to him, “I said that I might drag you here if you were at all up for it.”
“Of course I am up for it,” Piett stated, then he added with a groan, “as long as I don’t have to tell the entire story all over again.”
The statue of the three thruppets in front of the pub made him think of the unfinished thruppet in his backpack that was probably still in Rilla’s speeder. And that in turn made him think of Mon Mothma and her good-bye kiss.
He had been thinking about it on and off since his shuttle had left the Rebel ship, and he still had no idea why she had done it.
Shaking his head he followed Rilla into the smokey interior of the pub, crowded even now. The assembly was, however, strangely quiet. It took Piett a few moments to realise that it was his appearance that had caused this reaction. Everybody was staring at him, but then the silence was broken, as people cheered, clapped him on the back and shook his hand.
“Good to see you alive,” Nestor, the director of the spaceport told him, as he shook his hand vigorously.
“I have always been proud of you,” said an elderly lady who Piett only belatedly recognised as his former primary school teacher.
Nicki, the owner of the local garage, patted him on the back and shouted, “you showed them, didn’t you?” into his ear.
Piett did now know where to turn next, there were so many people milling around him all trying to express their good wishes. Gods, he had had no idea he was so popular. Perhaps he should have tried to be pronounced dead earlier.
The ringing of the pub’s bell suddenly quietened the general din.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” Rilla announced, “thank you very much, but my brother stated the wish to get royally drunk, so let him sit down. Thank you.”
The people around him immediately drew back, allowing Rilla and Piett to find a place at a small table at the back of the pub.
“That’s better,” Rilla said as she sat down. “Anna said the drinks are on the house.”
Piett looked over to the bar where the owner, Anna Koslevska, was filling some glasses with ice. He had never even heard of a thing like that before. Anna was not renowned for generosity, and here she was putting a bottle of real Navenka vodka on a tray. The very good vodka.
“I had no idea,…” he started, but could not really manage to find words. “I mean, was I always that popular?”
“No, you silly,” Rilla replied, “most of them didn’t even know you were an Admiral, let alone on the flagship of the fleet, until after the battle. The local holo station broadcast a long obituary of you a few days ago.” She sighed, “I could not have done it better. I was in tears all through it. – Mind you I was in tears pretty much all the time then.”
“An obituary?” Piett asked, still surprised.
“Oh yes,” Anna Koslevska stated, as she put the tray on their table, “very moving. I recorded it if you want to see it.”
His own obituary?
“Oh, that would be nice,” he replied.
It would be embarrassing, no doubt. Perhaps this was the source that Militsa got her ‘evil Rebels’ from.
“We are all proud of you,” Anna explained, she took a third glass off the tray, and when Rilla and Piett had raised their own, she said solemnly, “Welcome back to the living, Admiral.”
They clinked their glasses together and downed the vodka in one gulp.
“You will excuse me,” Anna smiled and taking the tray and her glass with her returned to the bar.
“I had no idea,” Piett repeated and filled his own and Rilla’s glass again.
“Don’t let it go to your head, little brother,” Rilla told him, “you are the darling of the week. We are so cut off from the news of what is going on that your obituary was the most interesting item in the last week.”
Piett looked around the room. A noticeable portion of the customers had departed, they must have been here to get a look at him and then gone home.
“But I am happy you are back home,” Rilla said, downing her vodka.
“So is Militsa,” Piett added.
Rilla poured more vodka. “Militsa decided that you are her most favourite uncle when you came last,” she explained. “Nobody knows exactly why… but I think when you’re eight years old you have the right to like whoever you want.” She paused, and added, “hell, everybody has the right to like whoever they want.”
“That was profound,” Piett stated, and got a punch in the arm in return.
For a long while they just sat there, enjoying the warmth of the room, the fire of the very good vodka, and each others company.
Piett watched the people in the pub. Most of them he knew at least vaguely, people who worked in the local shops and in the forest industry, some of his former class mates. There were indeed some of Rilla’s colleagues there but they stayed at their own table.
“Do they know anything about the battle?” Piett asked.
Rilla shook her head. “They know that it happened, that your ship got blown apart, but that’s more or less all the hard facts we have heard.”
“The Death Star?” he wanted to know.
“I had never heard of it before,” Rilla stated, “it was a secret project, now nobody has to explain that it’s gone.”
“Do you think they want to know?”
Instead of answering, Rilla hit her glass on the table three times and suddenly every single guest in the pub fell quiet, turned around and looked at them. It was as if they had been waiting for this signal and only pretended to be talking amongst themselves.
Piett stared at the faces each looking expectantly at him, and slowly rose to his feet.
“First of all,” he started, “I want to thank you for the warm welcome you have given me. My sister Rilla has told me that you have not had any reliable news about the recent battle. As I was there, at the Battle of Endor, I can give you some information about what happened. Endor was the place where the Emperor was building his new super weapon that would make him invincible, or so he thought. Considering that his new ultimate weapon was exactly the same design as the one that was destroyed by the Rebellion three years ago with such great loss of life, it is questionable whether it would have succeeded in securing the Emperor’s victory.” There was a general intake of breath as he said these true but highly treasonous words. “No wonder the Emperor tried to keep this project secret. If it had become known he was building another Death Star more people would have joined the Rebellion. However, a project of this size cannot be kept secret for long, and the Rebellion did find out. They attacked us in force a week ago.” Piett thought back to that day, when he was standing on the bridge of his ship, watching the battle unfold in front of him. “We did have superior fire-power but thanks to a string of bad tactical decisions, and I am not excluding myself from blame here, we lost. It did not help of course, that the Emperor who was present on the battle station was not paying any attention to the battle but choose to have an argument with Lord Vader and a captured Rebel at this time. – To cut a long story short, the Rebels managed to disable the shield that protected the unfinished Death Star, and destroy the battle station, though apparently by this time Vader and the Emperor had killed each other. My ship, the Executor, was also destroyed. I was lucky and reached an escape pod. – My sister Minna always said that fortune favours fools, I think she is right. I found myself stranded on the moon the battle station orbited. After gathering as many Imperial troops as I could find in that hostile place I made a bargain with the Rebellion – who by the way have by now established themselves as an alternative government – and we were lifted to safety. And I was able to return home. That was it.” He looked at the people watching him, most wide eyed with surprise. “Several of my comrades have joined the New Republic, as the Rebels now call themselves,” he added, “but I just want to live the quiet life now.” He paused, hesitating for a moment, then he continued, “However, if I were a gambling man, I would put my money on the New Republic. Thank you for your attention.”
He sat down, and after another short silence, the room burst into a pandemonium of voices. There had been enough in his speech to give them something to talk about for a while.
“You did not mention that you rescued Mon Mothma,” Rilla told him.
Piett emptied another glass of vodka. “If I started with that I would still be talking tomorrow morning. And all I want to do is get drunk.”
“We can arrange that,” Rilla said, with a big smile. She raised her glass again. “To your quiet life, hm, little brother?”
“The quiet life,” Piett echoed.
But of course, it was not to be. A stranger approached their table and stopped in front of them.
Piett was wondering whether the man was a colleague of Rilla’s he did not know. But his sister looked at the man and asked, “Who the hell are you?”
The man smiled in reply. “My name is Andrej Samosov. I am head of current news at Pokrovski Media Corporation. I was wondering whether you would be willing to give us an interview – not now,” he continued hastily, “tomorrow perhaps?”
Piett stared at the man for a long moment, then at Rilla, who just grinned at him. “Well, I guess so,” he replied.
“Here is my card.” The reporter handed him an old-fashioned paper card with his name and contact details printed on it. “Just give me a call.”
He turned around and was about to leave, when Rilla called, “Hey, did you tape his speech?”
Andrej Samosov came back to their table. “Yes,” he answered, “if I hurry, we can include the news of your fortunate return in the Early Morning News. – If you don’t mind,” he added.
Piett raised his hands and shrugged. He did not really care.
“Thank you,” Samosov grinned and left the pub in a hurry.
“My brother is turning into a proper celebrity,” Rilla said with a big grin on her face. “I am so proud of you.”
Piett groaned, “all I want is a quiet life.”
“Ah, don’t worry,” Rilla assured him, “if you settle down here you will get that. There is nothing but the quiet life here, it’s so quiet that some people are afraid it has died.”
They fell silent again, slowly drinking their way through the bottle of Navenka vodka. Piett observed the customers in the pub slowly drift away, one after the other. Some of Rilla’s colleagues came to their table and wished him the best of luck before leaving.
Rilla leaned her head against his shoulder, humming quietly to herself.
If he wanted, he could spend the rest of his evenings here in the ‘Three Thruppets’ and drink the very good vodka, though he doubted that he would get another free bottle out of Anna. He had not had the very good vodka for a long time, he realised, he had never seen it anywhere outside the Sarskoi system. Perhaps he could send a bottle to Mon Mothma as a present.
The question was of course, Piett thought, whether Simara wanted to have a bottle of very good vodka.
Why had she kissed him?
“Credit for your thoughts,” Rilla said suddenly.
Well, perhaps Rilla had a better idea of why Mon Mothma kissed him.
“Why do women kiss men?” he asked her.
“Why…” Rilla sat up and looked at him intently. “Is that a rhetorical question or are you referring to a specific incident?”
Oh dear, Piett realised that it had been a really bad idea to mention this to his sister. “Come on,” Rilla said, “I cannot answer your question if I don’t know that. There are many reasons why women kiss men.”
“Specific,” Piett answered with a sigh.
“Who?” Rilla asked, and when he hesitated, she poked him in the arm. “You started it.”
Piett sighed again. “Simara,” he replied, and when Rilla frowned at him, he added, very, very quietly, “Mon Mothma.”
“What!” Rilla shrieked. “You’re joking.”
“Shhh,” Piett hissed, “keep it quiet.”
Leaning closer to him, Rilla asked, “Mon Mothma really kissed you? When? How? Why?”
“I don’t know about the why, that’s what I asked you, remember?” Piett said to her, “As to the when, she was accompanying me to the shuttle and when she said good-bye she kissed me.”
Rilla grinned at him. “What kind of a kiss?” she wanted to know. “Come on, the kind of kiss on the cheek that you give a good friend, a chaste kiss on the mouth or a proper, full-on, passionate kiss. – Oh-oh, you’re blushing!”
“Will you keep it down,” Piett whispered urgently.
“It was a proper kiss, wasn’t it?” Rilla continued, not trying particularly hard to keep her voice down.
“Yes,” Piett hissed at her, “now will you be quiet.”
“Did she say anything?” Rilla asked.
“Rilla,” Piett pleaded.
“You asked my expert opinion as a woman,” she replied, “I want to give it to you, but I have to have all the facts.”
Piett felt like rolling his eyes, but he kept them firmly on his glass, trying to calm down. He felt as if his head was as red as a pitter bird’s beak. Hopefully people would think it was the result of his drinking.
“Tell me, please,” Rilla begged him. “I am dying of curiosity.”
“She said I should visit her,” he answered. “And she wanted my number.” He looked at his sister who was listening with complete attention. “I gave her yours.”
“Oh that is so sweet,” Rilla said. “And as to the why, she obviously has a crush on you. - And what woman could resist such a dashing man as my brother? After all, you saved her life didn’t you? Of course she is in love with you. – Oh, how romantic.”
“I don’t know,” Piett said miserably. “What if she is not?”
Rilla stared at him for a moment. “And you are in love with her!” she stated. “How absolutely romantic.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “This is fantastic!”
“Please, Rilla, calm down,” he urged her.
“You are going to visit her?” Rilla asked.
Piett shrugged, then he nodded. “Yes, I think so.”
“Wonderful.” Rilla nudged him, and then got to her feet.
“No, Rilla,” Piett hissed, but his sister paid no attention.
“Hey folks,” she shouted, and the remaining people in the pub turned towards them. Thank all the Gods there were only a dozen or so left, but that was a dozen too many as far as Piett was concerned.
“I have great news,” Rilla declared at the top of her voice, ignoring his pleas to shut up, “my brother here, Admiral Grigori Piett, has a date with Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebellion, excuse me, the leader of the New Republic.”
Piett wanted to sink deep into the ground.
Everybody stared at him silently for a moment, then they all started cheering and clapping, and Piett really wished he was back on Endor – no, not there, but somewhere other than here. For a moment he contemplated bolting and running out, but that would make the situation even more embarrassing than it already was. So he just buried his head in his arms.
Rilla sat down heavily next to him, putting her arm around his shoulders.
“Do you have to embarrass me in front of everyone?” he asked her, still hiding his face.
“Oh, Grisha, you’re not embarrassed that a woman like Mon Mothma finds you irresistible. Come on,” she shook him gently, “have a drink.”
Sitting up again, he noted to his relief that most people had returned their attention to their own drinks.
Rilla poured more vodka into their glasses.
“To Mon Mothma and you,” she said as they raised their glasses.
“Oh Gods,” he moaned but drank the vodka nevertheless. “I should never have told you.”
“Look on the bright side,” Rilla said, “the guy from the news had already left.”
Piett just groaned.
Did Rilla really have to announce this to the assembled people? It had only been one kiss, after all. It did not mean that he and Mon Mothma were engaged.
Drinking another glass of vodka, he frowned at Rilla, but there was no point in being angry with her. That was the way she was.
Rilla nudged him with her elbow.
“Not mad at me?” she asked.
Piett shook his head.
“It was a good kiss,” he declared.
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